Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sometimes it's extremely hard to understand why we do things. Like taking a job we know is going to be tough. Months pass and you keep asking youself why you did it. But then something comes along to reassure you that you did the right thing.

I recently experienced this. After months of break out in pimples stressed from work, a long commute, bad diets, and lack of exersize, something finally came my way. Another job offer will soon change my lifestyle so drastically it will feel as though working in restaurants was a oh so very crazy and stupid idea.

I wonder if i'll miss it. I wonder if the crazyness of it all will haunt me while i'm strolling though a grcery store. No more plates under the lamps getting ready to be delicatly plated with a steady hand. No more calling back orders or sweating perfusly under the watchful eyes of a famous chef and his sous chef.

While stepping out of one's comfort zone is nessessary for growth, it's also pretty scary.

But in the end it's always about the food and what you want people to know about your food. and this time around i'm pumped i took that horrific job.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Fine dining goes local

I thought I would be taking a hit when I went to cook at a fine dining restaurant. I thought that since I was taking this leap into this line of work, that the amount of local, organic, and heirloom produce would be slim, if any at all. Fine dining is about the exotic, the unknown, the aw and the showmanship of ingredients. It’s about lobster, fois gras, oysters, caviar, and exotic fruits.

And while yes, the restaurant I work for does import 1,000 dollars of caviar a week, 55 lobsters every 6 days, and 14 pounds of fois gras a week, we make the effort to buy from local farmers whenever we can.

Just the other day farmers, or I should say “foragers”, came into the restaurant’s back door selling us fresh picked morel mushrooms. I will never forget the amount of morels we had to clean and sort through that week. For the four weeks that morel mushrooms are in season, middle Virginia becomes a beacon for these fungi and mushroom foragers. A belt with a mesh net attached, the forager sets up into the forest looking near trees and cool dark areas for large honeycombed triangular mushrooms that sell at Dean & Deluca for 35 dollars a pound. Here, we offer the foragers 28 bucks a pound and they pocket all of it. We write them a check and give it right to them for the time and skill they spent getting these priceless, exotic mushrooms that will be served on the breakfast and dinner menu in omelets and in napoleons.

You won’t see fresh local morels at Citronelle or Cityzen. And if you do, chances are they are imported or dried. Who knew fine dining could impress a locavore.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

A note from the world of fine dining

It's truly amazing the length cooks and chefs will go to make things "perfect".

A baby carrot grown in Ohio is peeled and then scrubbed with sand paper and thrown through a pencil sharpener to remove any impurities and scratches or dents.

These little touches are what make the difference between a restaurant with three stars and one with four. It's looking at food with a different and more abstract eye. And to tell you the truth, it's both impressive and crazy that these people for who have created these well known restaurants around the country are dissecting a basic ingredient.

Learning to think outside the box is proving to be harder than I thought.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Praise for Chipotle

This week the Chipotle Company, known for serving fast burritos, has made even bigger news for continuing to source and serve local ingredients. Their largest effort thus far, and most recent, has been to ensure that one small farm will supply most of the pork for its Virginia and D.C. restaurants.

Recently, with the massive exposure that “greening” methods have received, companies across the United States are finally working to ensure that their consumers get a better product. This may mean getting seasonal, local, and even organically grown produce and other supplies. This wave of “green” business, if just to save the companies money, is a huge stride in getting consumers to realize the purpose of eating locally; IT TASTES BETTER!

To read more about the ethical direction Chipotle and other companies are going read this article:


Monday, March 17, 2008

Along came a Pom Pom

Every week I go to the farmer’s market on Sunday morning in Takoma Park knowing I will be learning something new. Each week I see a new vegetable, fruit, or grain I can learn about and make into a new recipe. One rainy morning in March I walked through the market to find a long table of assorted mushrooms. There were green cardboard boxes of 7-inch wide portabellas, shittakes, chanterelles, button mushrooms, and even yellow oysters.

A wired headphone set wrapped around the vendor’s head leaving her to conduct a very important phone call while we all vied for her attention on these odd mushroom varieties. The woman sneered and shouted into her phone while both taking and ringing up customers without having compassion to answer any of our questions. After asking her about every mushroom she was selling and how they grew and where they came from (her wooded farm in Pennsylvania of course), I took away a bag of gorgeous but very odd “pom pom” mushrooms (and I am sure she was not happy to take the time to explain o me all of them). The skin on the “pom poms”, which is exactly what they look like, are soft with a dirty white appearance. These, I thought, would be great on a menu. Too bad more chefs aren’t using them. But you can. She seems to have them every time I go.

Buttered Pom Poms with creamy angel hair and bay scallops


Handful of pom poms, sliced length wise
Parmesan cheese
Angel hair
Handful of bay (small) scallops
1c White wine


Sauté mushrooms in butter
Cook angel hair drizzle with little olive oil to keep it from sticking
In a pan with 1 tbs of butter, on medium heat, cook scallops to little color on each side till just tender on the inside. Open one to check if the inside is cooked.
Deglaze the same pan with white wine . Cook on low heat. After about 5 minutes add a little cream.
Remove scallops when done and reduce the wine/cream sauce more. (Sauce should be semi thick, but thin enough to soak up that pasta.)
Combine mushrooms, scallops, angel hair and season with salt or Parmesan cheese if you have
Serve in a bowl with some garlic bread!


Sunday, February 24, 2008

How to eat a cactus

On a recent trip to Phoenix, Arizona, I was walking through a Mexican market and saw the pads from cactus wrapped in plastic next to the other greens. Wondering how it was cooked and served I inquired with the locals. Apparently cooking cactus, an often bitter plant, you must first sweat it first. Often prepared into salsas, the cactus is chopped finely and then sweated down in a fat to extract any sweetness that may exist inside. From there you can grind it, blend it, or just serve it along with your main dish. I would attempt the salsa, adding in some finely diced red onions, and tomatoes. Serve with some blue corn chips and you're set for eating as the South westerners do.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Personal Chef does not a chef make

I recently just got certified as a personal chef. It allows me to start up a business designed to cook meals for people in their own homes and get compensated for it. The only aspect, aside from the loneliness, is that I could be packaging these meals for about two people for a week or up to two weeks. Everything is placed in a container so that when the person gets home they can place it on a plate and reheat it.

Now, as a classically trained chef, I immediately felt some kind of well "sell out" sensation. I felt that all the stress and hard work I had gone through was now being dumb downed so that any home maker can throw on a chef jacket and toque and call themselves a chef. Years of experience and you still aren’t a chef. You have to earn that title and it doesn’t come by passing a two-day course. It comes with knowledge and discipline. I digress. But yes, I was left with an odd feeling of guilt. Hell, this job wouldn’t even let me be creative with plating dishes.... because I can't plate in a tupperware.

I spent the money and got certified. I learned a lot. And while I understand the need for personal chefs, we have to remember that back in the 1800s and 1900s personal chefs were the ones living in the homes of royalty, politicians, and the wealthy. They had one role and they were held with the highest regard to perform grand, elegant, food; not, to place them in zip locks.