Time Well Spent...

Well...now that the craziness is behind me, and the rush is past, I am enjoying some much needed R & R at home with the familia. This is a time when we shut down for the rest of the year to send all of our staff on vacation, do some much anticipated remodeling and cleaning on the old girl and get things back in order before the new year. It is a time that has always found me in the past working Christmas dinner, and then rushing like mad to get set up for the big NY's dinner soiree that we would typically put on at wherever I am cooking at the time. Well...not here. At least this year. I actually took Xmas off! After 11 years. Finally home with the wife and kids. They were ecstatic. At least the kids were! Ha Ha. Yes, my wife was too. Yet, as luck would have it...she had to work! Total bummer dude. Time has been spent hanging out, reading cookbooks, researching recipes and web sites, writing my own blog, working on new menus and the like. One really simple, yet cool thing we did, was to go meet my father-in-law for lunch at a local Mexican joint, which I have long before this determined it is my favorite. I have been going there since it's inception. It is the very popular Taqueria Guaymas in West Seattle. If I have been there once, I have been there a hundred times. Literally. We go there every chance we get. My kids both crave the cuisine facon du amigos who cook there. Recently, I have been ordering the super burrito with carnitas. It is a slow cooked savory goodness, made reality by means of a shredded pork shoulder, which is then grilled crispy and layered with rice, pinto beans cooked soft and rich, onions, sour cream, avocado, some "ranchero" type sauce and a layering of cheese. Sounds pedestrian huh?!? Not even! The flavors are rich, very deep, soothing and succulent and down-right tasty. It's deep flavor captivates your thoughts and for a span of time, enough to consume the beast, you say nothing. Hear nothing. Devour it, you must. And you do. The best thing about this place is that they offer you a salsa bar that is quite possibly the best in the city. They present about 6 or so different salsas, about as authentic as you can find and are simply awesome. I always go for the salsa verde, made rich and clean with tomatillos, cilantro, garlic and onions with a nuance of vinegar, then blended to smooth silkiness, as well as the fire-roasted ancho chile variety done up with garlic, chilies, tomatoes and rich spices. You can feel the "fuego" as it scorches the skins of the pepper, then taste the liveliness as it burns so good. There are as mentioned, quite a few others and equally as tasty, but I tend to leave those for the rest of the diners at my table. The salsa that accompanies the fresh tortilla chips is the best around for basic table "condiment". I am writing about this experience as I think it is just wonderful, and one that should be made public. Nothing fancy, or top shelf, just good, wholesome cooking by some of the local cowboys and not a gringo in sight! Most clientele are from south of the border, or least white center it seems. If you are looking to satisfy that type of craving, and are in this neck of the woods, or in the vicinity of their other stores (white center, downtown etc) for that matter, give it a try...unless you simply do not like that type of juxtaposition of flavors and ingredients, you will not be steered wrong. Until something more exciting is concocted or ingested...that about wraps up the year. Who knows...perhaps New Years Eve will find us cooking something interesting again at home. Afterall...there is some foie in the fridge!


The Holiday Offering...

...a "digital kitchen" of things I have been doing with our team during the "rush". These depict the images of a typical day and night(and into the next) of the holiday madness, that at times, makes you want to swallow a 45. And although this may be the case, and it seems like utter psychoticism, in the midst of it all, during the chaotic bedlam, the innate passion and true craftsmanship shines through and prevails. You do what you do to get through, and to be the best~ Cook!

Cooking during the holidays is different than any other time of year, as it is a totally different space of mind. It is not only the time of year that one would perhaps rather be with friends and family, but a time of year that congers up things to cook that happen only during this period. It is fun, once you can overcome the sheer insanity of the already fast-paced industry being kicked into overload almost overnight.

Giving your food and dishes a holiday "boost" by means of new ingredients that seem to be out-of-place at any other time (what...like you are going to do a spiced cranberry consomme with smoked maple glazed duck, savory pumpkin seed brittle and a hot persimmons gelatin in july?) are definitely an invigorating experience, and one that tends to satisfy the soul. We wait all year to be able to do this, and yet, with an almost immediate climax, we are already longing for Spring. Go figure.

Seasons come and go for us in the Northwest. They are something that as chefs, we base our existence on them. It gives us life. Revitalized energy. Creative inspiration. Our seasons are more strung out than in some other regions and locales in the lower 48. They are true. The are real. They allow for ample time to adapt and overcome the very nature of their existence. To get fully in touch with itself and really take hold of what is being offered. But alas, as mentioned, typical humans...we get bored quickly and start to scratch that itch to cook something new that lie ahead. In hindsight, that is what keeps us on edge and thus, exciting for the guests. Afterall, how interesting would it be if we did the same thing all year long? Not.

The weather is definitely an inspiration for us all. Some recent research of a cool blog that was turned onto me by a friend confirms that. Check out ideas in food. What inspires one, could be total bog down for another, and visa versa. This time of year in Seattle, for me, is a time that fuels the drive for good, solid hearty cooking. Tasty flavors of the festive nature. Hell, if I can't be at home with the family cooking for them, I might as well do it for everyone else with a sense of holiday spirit. In good food and cooking...cuisinier.

The Xmas Rush...

So...here's what we have been battling;

The Rush~ It comes on like a hurricane...slowly building velocity while seemingly dormant in the wake of the fall months. Then, like a freight train coming without any intention of stopping, it hits and the intensity thickens. Ala carte and especially banquets become overly saturated with clientele, searching for gastronomic pleasure with hunger-stricken eyes in which which we provide.

The People~ hoards everywhere! They come from near and afar. Out of the depths of the cellars and from the grain of the wooded walls, or so it seems. As most service industry will testify, this season is crazy! It seems to propel the thirst for entertaining all at once. Unfortunately, for us in the thick of it, it gets to the point where it sucks and sadly for some, they flat-out hate it, and it shows! What will tend to separate the professionals from the hacks, is that those that are here to see it through until the end, even if it kills us, are the only ones left standing.

The Chaos~ The chaos comes in many forms, in every second of every moment. It is something that early on, one must learn to manage and deal with, and ultimately live with. Being able to control it and still cope on a somewhat conscience level, is the goal I chose in this pursuit long ago. I am not freaking dead just yet!

The Hours~ All of them...fed by adrenaline, excessive amounts of coffee, extreme lack of sleep and copious levels of inner self-propulsion towards achieving excellence and reaching the finish line at the end of the day, only to come to and go at it the next! Another thing that works for me to get through the rush, or so it appears at the time, is the constant musical mayhem that replays itself in my head to the likes of a conductor of a symphony in his or her zone... where ever i may roam, outlaw torn, alive and once, cochise and birth ritual to name but a few. 15-18 hours @ 6-7 days a week, for several on end do not make for a very savory lifestyle, but we love it! My only real regrets are to my wife and kids, as they take on the grunt of it.

The Physical Demand~ The toll this takes on the human body is one that is not for the frail, the weak or intolerant. Or for that matter, the social queens that need that beauty sleep and time out with friends- forget it! This takes serious stamina, commitment, dedication and devotion to making it through the battle. The strong will to succeed & sound piece of mind to persevere are those that endure the holocaust.

In the end...it is all just cooking, and the pursuit of something great in which to share with someone else who chooses to dine in your establishment, which we should all be so lucky.


Winter Cooking~ In Touch with Your Soul...

If I have written about it once, I have done so hundreds of times...with much love and heartfelt sincerity I might add. It is a time in our lives as cuisiniers, that we sink our teeth into something real. Something concrete. Something that touches your soul! It is a type of expression that allows one to be whole. To be free from the superimposed pressures of becoming posers for the high society of diners and cooks alike. It is true, slow, succulent winter cooking. By that I simply mean that there are times when although our profession warrants it, and for that matter, demands it, we tend to cook and prepare things that are driven by a higher power, a stronger force set into motion by our peers, competitiors, business leaders, owners and media. A style that can be misconstrued as something it is not, if by no other reason, than perhaps just not being what one really, truly wants to cook. It is restaurant food. Glamorous and sleek~yes. Sophisticated and elegant~ absolutely. Avant Garde and cutting edge~of course, and why not? These dishes we see and cook in our restaurants each day are what we live for. They are what we seek to find in the worlds best eateries. Now, don't get me wrong. I love the food that I cook each and every day. It is what kicks my ass to keep going, and trustfully, those who follow along in the wake of my employ. If the femmes et hommes in our kitchen read this, and I know they will...("hi guys")...they will all surely think I am faux. But honestly, it is the true winter cooking that can allow us to release our identity and connect with the seasons offerings. To bring out more of ourselves than quite possibly any other time of year. For me, it is cooking that is simple. It screams the bounty of the region in it's profound beauty, brought together in harmony by means of the art of cuisine grande mere. That warmth and precious sense of wholesomeness is what penetrates the superficial nature of what we tend to get caught up in. This labor of love, simply put, is "one in touch with itself". As we commit to the long process, commit completely to it's existence, we soon realize what cooking is, and can be, all about. It is my hope and vision, to share this with my sons as they grow so that no single important part of this memory and knowledge will be lost. This done, will ensure the legacy of my soul as a chef.


The Sweet Taste of Autumn...

Tis th' season! Rich, bold flavors. Warmth. Sexy elements of preparation. Intoxicating tastes. These are just a few descriptors of our sweet "fashion show" this month. We unveiled the menu with great success and much satisfaction by our team. The ingredients and flavors just seemed to fit like a glove. Dessert is always near to my heart...and stomach. If there is one thing that the staff in our pastry kitchen can attest to, is the fact that I can always be seen dipping my hands into the "cookie jar", or nibbling on chocolate...it's only my favorite food!

The first of the interpretations of Autumn came by way of the Spiced Pumpkin Brulee! It is a melding of richness, yet one that brings a nostalgic memoir from our childhood in a way that reminds us of the pumpkin pie baking at grandma's.
It is accompanied by a "lattice" Curried Shortdough Sablee, Poached Quince and Pumpkin Salad, Vanilla studded Bosc Pear Sorbet...smooth and silky. A Pomegranate syrup is splashed along side the Valrhona Jivara Milk Chocolate Truffle, laced with Pumpkin Seed Brittle. A Linzer Stick lay on top.

Our next taste is a Fuyu Persimmons "Charlotte",...a bavarian enrobed with gentle poached slices of Bartlett Pear. We have dubbed this one the "Winter Fruit Salad", due to the utter reason of the bounty of fall fruits nestled on top. Cranberries, Pears, Kumquats, Pumello, Tangerine, Grapefruit Confit are laden with spices and napped with a Cranberry Foam. All of this sexiness is sitting on a pillow of Tangerine-Ginger Curd. Sliced, Baby Fennel is poached and strewn around and moistened with a Citrus-Vanilla Reduction. Lastly, a very suiting Sweet Potato Sorbet finalizes the simplicity.
This dish exudes the Autumn...especially in Washington! We have basically taken one of the most easily recognizable fruits of the fall and gave our interpretation of a classic strudel. A bit deconstructed, a bit skewed in nature, and every bit as sublime! Roasted local apples, cooked slowly in a mixture of orange, brown sugar, cream and vanilla. Then with the addition of currants, it is layered upon a base of cocoa powder, hazelnut meal and graham cracker crumbs, and is baked in the oven until set. We then embellish with a Smoked Vermont Maple Foam, sirop au naturel, Crispy Kaitafi and Kumquats and Caramelized Walnuts. Lastly, a different presentation of Toasted Walnut-Cinnamon Ice Cream
makes it's appearance.
Now, many of you may have seen the silk before, and for those that have tasted it...you know the realism and intensity of this dessert, no matter what alteration and interplay of parts I may decide to throw at it. In this case, we made the declaration to follow our South American influence from our last dinner and make it part of the show for this month. It is a rich, silky, as the name suggests, concoction of Valrhona Manjari Chocolate, a crisp hazelnut crust, and a rich dark ganache. It is flanked by a swipe of roasted liberty apple jam, made from apples from Dog Mountain Farms, toasted Brazil nut "crumble", mixed with turbinado, fleur de sel, butter and honey, Melted Red Grapes in Black Pepper, Bay, Vanilla, Honey and Riesling, an Apple Brandy "Snap" Wafer and lastly, the Dulce de Leche Ice Cream succumbs to the climax of the experience.
There are not many things sweet, or savory for that matter,
that I do not like. I enjoy trying everything.
I look to inspire those around me with the visions of taste.
It is a breed of excellence, through the palate, mind and skill
that I strive to reach.
May these thoughts provoke further search in the extreme truth of cooking.


Degustation Series- 11.30.06...

So...although we have logged approximately just shy of 400 chef's tables to date, in which we have seen the likes of many distinguished foodies, gourmands and connoisseurs of taste alike, I have only just began to include them in my blog. Not for any reason other than all the menus, thoughts and memories have either been juxtapositioned as an on-going mega file of media, sitting and hibernating for a proposed collection for print or simply sitting in my mind, there for the foundation of something new. From all vegetarian or vegan to offal. From signature ingredient menus...tomato, asparagus, fish, mushroom etc, highlighted to bring to the forefront of gastronomy to our highly regarded Potato-Truffle Degustations. We are inspired by the table itself, and those who grace us with their presence. By the season, in which we pay homage in every form and fashion. By the moment, which is the mood and stress level we are under, that drives in the direction we tend to progress upon. Tonight...was no different. The menu was a collaboration for sure, but definitely executed and muscled through by one of our newly appointed culinary leaders~ Sous Chef Rodolfo (aka Rudy) Guerrero. He is one who's humble, subservient nature allows and provides for the ability to understand and soak in the philosophy that I lay down. Without it, it is almost impossible to achieve. The elements of taste lie ahead...
Warm Maine Lobster Salad
White Sturgeon Caviar, Chervil, Champagne-Yuzu Sabayon
Grilled Hawaiian Ahi Tuna
Pumello-Kumquat Composure, Baby Fennel, Beet "Caviar"
Vanilla-Orange Reduction
Pan Roasted Hudson Valley Foie Gras
Onion-Fig Jam, Celery Root "Financier", Pomegranate Syrup
Cranberry Foam and Grape Confit
New Zealand Tai Snapper
Heirloom Beans, Oca, Crosnes, Chanterelles, Pumpkin Nage
A Study in Pear
Smoked Paprika Dusted Loin of Lamb
Carrot-Parsnip Custard, Sweetbreads, Poached Crab Apples
Manjari Silk, Pumpkin Brulee, Persimmons
Quince, Cider and Smoked Maple
Food for thought...
may it inspire the thought, the mind, the soul...
next up to bat...
as it is too chaotic to try and do one during this hell.