Gifts from the Earth...

We got there a bit late...unorthodox. A gathering of chefs, all present and in motion for the mission to cook their respective menus for the purpose of helping to raise funds for South Seattle Community College's culinary arts program in West Seattle. Enter Gifts from the Earth. The brainchild of the foundation, it helps to provide scholarships, tutoring, classroom and kitchen equipment as well as instructor support and education. Our 4th year running, it is always a great gig. This year, I was fortunate enough to be accompanied by our sous chef; Rodolfo Guerrero and one of our ace cooks; David Tangkilisan. Good times. I seem to be the only SSCC alumni, but does it matter...not. The chefs still seem to enjoy the camaraderie and chance to cook for a great cause and with only two tables of 10 each, one can play. Not all so, or so it seems. Some keep it simple and to be quite honest, boring and unimaginative, as if it were work. We always come to play, and play hard. Serious fun and serious cooking is our label, and why not? Work is only work if you would rather be doing something else! Some of the chefs I see, appear to be just going through the motions, almost because they had to. It is always nice, however, to see our peers and professional associates, no matter the aura. It gives us a chance to connect and reflect on what's new and happening. Gotta run. We have no time to waste. We have our plate full, no pun intended, alright maybe. We have again taken on a 7-course experience for our twenty guests, waiting at the nicely set tables like some young teens waiting for Nirvana to go on stage, albeit a bit more polished. We started with an amuse of Savory White Chocolate Mousse with American Sturgeon Caviar(from Seattle Caviar), Smoked Paprika Syrup, dressed Demi Daikon Radishes and Mauve Radish Sprouts and lastly a couple of wispy chips of crispy Salsify. We then progressed very rapidly into our Inverted "B.L.T.", (a broiled lobster tartine), it consisted of a smooth puree of Roasted Beet, a Roasted Beet and Papaya Salad, Yuzu and Lobster Oil dressed Maine Lobster, Banana "Guacamole"(thanks aki and alex), Beet "Caviar", made from beet soaked Tapioca, our custom micro greens and a Beet Cous Cous Tuile. This was before anyone else had really picked up any of their courses. We were working fast and in tandem, keeping a keen eye on the pulse of the event. We have a lot ahead of us, and need to finish before they go into the end of the auction. Next was our Seared Foie Gras course, accompanied by a Roasted Apple Jam Ravioli, sandwiched together by Honey Glazed slices of Pear, a crisp Shallot "Financier", Micro Burgundy Amaranth, a savory Cider Foam and a drizzle of Mosto Cotto and Olive Oil. The room filled with that marvelous foie smoke and aroma, and all chefs now at a full-blown hustle putting dishes together, we move into our fish. A beautiful European Daurade, seared then poached in Olive Oil, adorned with roasted Russian Banana Fingerling Potatoes, Crosnes, and a delicate melange of Demi Root Vegetables from the Chef's Garden. A scattering of Micro Celery rests on top as the poisson "floats" on a pool of Roasted Onion-Apple Water, speckled with Rosemary Oil. We are now into our main savory course of Cocoa Nib Crusted American Bison, flanked by a swipe of a silky Celery Root-Walnut Oil Puree, sauteed Wild Mushrooms(think Hedgehog, Honshimejii and Cinnamon Cap), a robust Porcini-Oxtail Abelskiver and a couple of liquid elements of Black Peppercorn and Oxtail Cuisson. As we move into dessert, we notice that some of the chefs are starting to pack it up. Of course, they only did 4 courses. As we plated our "Bite of Silk and Faberge Egg",(a marriage of Valrhona Manjari and Cinnamon Sablee, and a Hazelnut Custard Filled Egg with Dark Chocolate, Fleur de Sel, and a Coffee Foam) we could sense that there was an obvious buzz in the dining room about our tables' experience, and that was the word coming from other tables! I think they were jealous. Hell yeah! The dish became complete by the addition of a saucing of Cocoa Caramel and a Mixed Preserved Berry Essence, Truffle Salted Popcorn, Wild Huckleberry Sherbet, Melted Grapes and Cocoa Paper. As the dessert was meticulously presented to the tables, I could see that the other tables although had desserts, they were curious, if not envious of what was being delivered. That suit followed by our addition of mignardises, which was comprised of Pomegranate Pates de Fruits, Almond Macaroons and Salted Caramels. What a night, and what a blast! I conversed with our guests and made new acquaintances and reconnected with old. I also noticed that there were a good handful of our members in attendance...all at other tables. Bummer. As we made the short drive back to the club, we unanimously agreed that it was a great and awesome showing of our craft. Probably the best outcome of the whole evening to me was the ability and opportunity to spread some of the passion and influence towards our two dynamite helpers; JT and Mike, etudiants de cuisine at SSCC. I truly believe they were inspired. To see them stoked on the whole ordeal, in a word, awesome. To see other students gather 'round our plating table with cameras clicking and questions abound was so invigorating, it only propelled us into the next realm. What a "gifting feeling". It should have read...Gifts from the Heart, because that is what it felt like I was giving to these students. We should all be so fortunate. And so it ends, for yet another year, with all the ideas harvested, and the memories put away for future recollections and inspirations. I bid you adieu.


Degustation Series 01.25.07...

We have started off the new year with many tastings of various nature. Some lengthy, some short and sweet. In a nutshell, it's all good. We have had this new fixation by our guests to do just fish, only meat, only foie etc. It has been a great inspiration for myself and our team, after a busy holiday season and one that does not always warrant the finer points of dining, which for some, consists of a more safer fare. That is all fine and good, but it does not push our intellect and minds to further our own nourishment. That's the biz. We are also finding ourselves in a much better space as we have rid ourselves of a nuisance, and a big bitchy, rude pain in the ass. I will leave it at that...(think inside joke). The chemical makeup of our team has changed significantly, and with that comes challenge. Sometimes painful, it is for the better good. It is always great to those that are truly passionate about their work, their craft and their forward learning, moving together in motion towards something that will enhance the moment. It is an inspiration to myself to create an environment and an opportunity that will help them through their career and teach them what they will essentially need to reach that elevated level of the sought desire to seek perfectionism! As I have seen many times over and again in my kitchen, what starts out as an appearingly struggle and lack of talent,... Persistence and passion with a lot of coaching and teaching will usually prevail. You see that glisten in one's eye. Yearning for more. Looking for someone to take him or her under their wing and guide. To some, I am a father, a priest(yea, right!), a mentor, a coach, and yes, an asshole. I can usually always detect the ones who I can see will grow to become great. Our historic track record is a testament to that. The goal is to keep cooking! Enough of this....here is the menu of the moment....enjoy!
"Candied Squab" Napoleon with Melted Grapes
Winter Squash Sponge, Red Wine-Fig Syrup and a dollop of Pommes Mousseline
Seared Hawaiian Ahi Tuna
Maine Lobster, Yuzu, American Sturgeon Caviar, Savory Avocado Ice Cream
Smoked Blackberry Honey Lacquered Foie Gras
Chestnut Puree, Quince Confit, Salted Shallot Streusel and Pedro Ximenez Vinegar
Pan Roasted Wild Striped Bass
Truffled Potato Cylinders, Crosnes, Cipolline Onion Marmalade and Hedgehog Mushrooms
Lemon Soda and Pomegranate "Caviar"
Ras el Hanout Dusted Lamb Tenderloin
Anson Mills White Grits, Grilled Asparagus Composure, Sweetbreads and Parsnip Milk Foam
Warm Brandied Apples, Pistachio Gelato
Caramel-Coffee Brulee, Valrhona Chocolate Bite
Pomegranate Pates de Fruits, Almond Macaroons, Milk Chocolate Domes


Last Weekend In San Francisco...

Last Saturday, my wife and kids decided to jump aboard a Boeing Jet(United of course) and head south, to S.F. We really were not on a food-find excursion, as we were were accompanied with those that do not tolerate the sometimes obscure ingredients, strong flavors and/or durations of gustatory experiences as well. Enter... my kids, and God Bless em'. But nonetheless, we forged ahead to see the city and just play for the day. I came to find, much to my disappointment, that many of my old stomping grounds, aka; restaurants and shops were no where to be found! What a bummer. I was looking forward to some mini artisan pizzas on Union street, excellent pastries by La Nouvelle Patisserie, the small Greek bistro that served up a great lamb and boulangere potatoes and perhaps some great fresh Italian breads in North Beach. No more Baby Cakes muffins outside my old apartment in the Marina district. What we did stumble across however was a few good and interesting finds~ The first stop, purely out of luck was La Boulange, a small artisan outpost ran by the Bay Bread Group, an outstanding bakery outfit operating about a dozen or so different munchie joints in the city, well recognized for their wares. We had some really tasty chocolate-hazelnut croissants, which was filled with a frangipane-like mixture with dark chocolate. They were still warm! We also tried a unique and fun mini baguette sandwich, filled with roasted chicken, tomatoes, gruyere and basil pesto. The whole thing was about 5 inches long and about 1 inch in width. Tre Chic! Later, we stumbled into the Hard Rock Cafe, obviously not for the food, but for the fun of it and to show my kids. It was cool enough, they loved the big screen video above our table touting everyone from Madonna to Guns and Roses. The only thing from a food standpoint worth mentioning, was some spicy chicken tenders, my pulled pork sandwich with a tangy BBQ sauce and a side of smoky baked beans( the best of the lot!). The next day we wandered, perused, gazed upon, snacked and ate at various places around the city. Nothing in particular, just plain ol' places. An exploration if you will. We drove through the Marina, over to Sausalito, Cow Hollow and Pacific Heights, North Beach, Mission and Potrero Hill areas. Again, to my dismay, many a place closed, or re-opened as something that did not suit. I would have liked to venture into some of them to give them the benefit of the doubt, but that will have to wait until next time, as we were pressed for minutes. We drove back into the city and decided to catch a bite at an old favorite, Postrio at the Prescott Hotel. We sat in the entrance by the bar, which sported a nice wood fired oven and grill, ran by a Haight-Ashbury looking guy wearing more tats than kitchen unis. Cool. We started with a "Caesar" salad, which had shoots of romaine, a nice subtle creamy garlicky dressing, shaved grana padano and herbed croutons, flanked by a basket of fresh local breads, which I believe to be from the same Bay Bread Bakery. My 9-year old took that on. We ordered a triad of Flat Bread Pizzas, which consisted of a Four Cheese(basic, with Provolone, Mozzarella, Parmesan, and Romano), a Roasted Tomato, Pepperoni and Aged Cheddar, complete with Basil and Chilis, and my favorite; a Prosciutto-Dried Black Mission Fig with Mascarpone, Truffle Oil and a scattering of Black Pepper, Balsamic Syrup and Shaved Reggiano...freakin awesome. We had next been presented with a plat du jour of grilled house made sausages...Spicy Chicken with Cilantro Mustard and spices. Very moist and flavorful. Definitely the best made and cooked. The next was Roasted Duck & Pistachio Sausage accompanied by a Golden Raisin and Tomato Chutney which brought out the flavor of the duck to it's fullest extent. The sausages are seemingly starting to get a bit "done" in the oven. We'll see. Yep... The third of the bunch, the ugly duckling if you will, was a savory lamb variety nestled in a bath of spicy stoneground mustard. Unfortunately, this one was definitely overcooked. So far, that the crust was almost too tough to cut through, and it drowned out the flavor of the lamb. Someone took his eyes off the wood fired oven for too long. Inadequency at it's finest! The flavor was muddled and lost. Such a waste of product and time. One might had just as well thrown the damn thing in the garbage and called it a night. There was some highlights however...they make wonderful fresh, petit pretzels, which played back-up to the sausages. Tasty and chewy, with a small hint of salt. The mustards also shined through. Tasty, tangy and tantalizing. My wife has a simple, yet satisfying salad of Santa Rosa Greens, Gorgonzola, Candied Walnuts and an artisan fruit Vinegar. For dessert, we were tempted by only offering, and not that the others did not sound appetizing, we were just full and needed something clean and easy. We opted for the Green Apple Sherbet with a Cinnamon-Dulce de Leche Napoleon,( made complete with Feuilles de Brick) Caramelized Apples, Salted Popcorn and a warm, rich Caramel Jus. By the time we finished, we felt that we had certainly consumed plenty. No stops at a bakery or cheese shop, no drive-bys at the local gelataria...sniffle, just the long haul to the airport. As we drove out of the city, I reminisced of the times spent living there. There are many new places to conquer, exciting eateries to expand my horizons on and plenty of foodie-based lures to continue to do so. Soon, I will have yet another post full with experiences, as I will return.


Degustation Series 01.16.07...

Here is the menu of the moment...a gathering of thoughts, a melding of flavors, a marriage of tastes...a degustation...full-fledged of winter goodies! Tonight's menu was provoked and inspired by the notion of a celebration, albeit if only for the quest to consume nurishment in a gourmand nature. The ingredients were inspired by the wintery and snow-laden surroundings of the city, and, what we could procure based on that. The foodstuffs were cooked with grace, care and thought, to offer some of the best food obtainable with ultra style, taste and distinction of beauty. Tonight's "celebrity" was the paco-jet! It served up an awesome savory avocado-mango ice cream for the ahi tuna crudo. The menu and a few photos are laid out before you. Enjoy!

Truffled Scrambled Eggs/Lobster/Porcini Creme Fraiche
Hawaiian Ahi Tuna "Crudo"/Golden Caviar/Avocado-Mango Ice Cream/Radish
Foie Gras/Diver Scallop/Persimmons-Chestnut "Ravioli"/50 year Balsamic/Foie Gras "Sand"
Squab Wrapped Coral Cod/Quinoa/Pears/Micro Celery
Pomegranate "Caviar"/Persimmons-Lemoncello Soda
Kobe Flat Iron/Hedgehogs/Demi Roots/Artisan White Grits/Mosto Cotto
Stuffed Loin of Veal/Controne Beans/Bacon/Sweetbreads/Crosnes/Truffle Oil
Manjari Praline/Pistachio Gelato/Pineapple/Lemon Souffle
Quince Jellies/Chocolate-Fleur de Sel Domes/Almond-Cocoa Nib Macaroons


Another Creative Outlet...

this post is simply an opportunity to share with those out there who give a damn, a chance to see some dishes and read about inspiring combinations of flavors and tastes from this blogs' "sister site", dubbed as The Digital Kitchen. It is a blog where I can post photos of dishes, creations and concoctions without all the perhaps un-neccessary jargon that sometimes seems to fill these literary walls, and allow for a gallery-like op where one can just enjoy (or not) and take it in. And although I thoroughly enjoy writing, which is a deep passion and form of expression for me, sometimes, it is better to let the works tell the story. I take inspiration from just about anything. Who knows, you just might see something you recognize?!? For now...it's time to read.


A Savory Chocolate...

The passion of our art, wrapped up in consumable fashion. Just short of my expectations however (reads...shit happens). Needs work. An inspiration by way of "south-of-the-border" nuances and tastes. Tasty, yes, and although these flavors are intriguing... it needs more development and further honing and intertwining of tastes to not drown out any one self ingredient. We will not let one ingredient stand alone nor be left for dead! Instead of being placed in the "womb", possibly better served with bacon on top? We are anxious to find out! Needs heavier caramel influence, as this one was short of sheer ecstacy. Too rich of chocolate...need less rich variety such as manjari or Dolphin. Callebaut maybe? Why do I write this you ask??????? To provoke thought and spark imagination and hope. Hope, that you too will try to step out of the box and try new things. Only to push beyond intimidation of failure and those expectations that have fallen short of anything less than perfection! As I sat and read Bau, and his thoughts about "bon bons", I only reconfirmed my own thoughts all too well that this was not achieved overnight. The methodry was solid. The technique sound, the vision clear and the desire to create was iminent. I used Scharffenberger, which was 70% cocoa mass, which I think is just a bit too sharp, thus, masking the other more subtle flavors and nuances of the "concept". Here is my creation...remember, when life hands you great products...cook away! If it does not totally blow your mind...don't stop searching for nirvana! Push yourself. This in and of itself, was not a true failure by any means or stretch of imagination; they are tasty for sure, and I was surprised to find that my kids can not keep my hands off them. This is only the beginning of a new exploration. Enjoy.

Aztec Bon Bons
1 lb. Dark Bittersweet Chocolate, chopped
14 oz. Heavy Cream, infused with Caramel to taste (approximately 8 oz.)
3.5 oz. Butter, diced up small
4 Tbl. Pumpkin Seeds, toasted, chopped
3/4 tsp. Cumin, ground, toasted
2 Tbl. Apple Smoked Bacon, rendered, minced fine
As desired Fleur de Sel on top
Optional: coffee infusion
Heat cream to a boil. Add over chocolate. Let sit for several minutes. Stirring from center outward slowly with spatula in circular fashion, develop a "seed" of homogenous smoothness and gently bring in cream to emulsify. Add butter and stir in until melted. Add rest of ingredients. If coffee is desired, add now. Pour into a small sheet pan and allow to rest at room temperature until set, approximately 8-12 hours. Cut as desired.

New Years Eve Tapas...

This year was a departure from years past. In a word...simplicity. Not the structured and restaurant typical outlay for all to see and savor. Not fussed about for the long hours as history has so clearly defined at la casa. All in all, very tasty, fun and carefree. It was a composure of all things that are meant to be nibbled and gnawed upon, even if that means without justification of thought. Sexy, tasty and cosmo friendly! Here is the guest list...

Roquefort, Yellow Buck Camembert, Boucheron
Aged Gouda, Mahon
Aged Salumi, Macrina Rosemary Bread
Mango-Tomato "Salsa"
Chips of all kinds and dips from afar...

Chili marinated Chicken Wings, Mole BBQ
Grass-Fed Tenderloin Skewers, Pineapple Glaze
Char-Grilled Fingerling Potato Soups
Foie Gras Mousse, Sweet Potato-Pecan "Toast",
Cranberry Tapenade, Candied Walnut Dust, Cranberry drizzle
"Martini" Shrimp, cooked sous vide with Vodka, evoo, Lemon, Cayenne~ served with Dried Olive "Soil" and natural libations
More Bites (mouthful)...
Ceppo Pasta with Caramelized Onions and Shiitake Mushrooms
Crispy Sausage Turnovers, Onions, Pecans, Gorgonzola
Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Muffins
Savory Infused Chocolates (see next post)
Dried Cranberry "Tapenade"
1 cp. Dried Cranberries
1/2 cp. Water
1/4 cp. Blackberry or similar liqueur
3 Tbl. Honey
To Taste Salt & White Pepper
Combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Cook very gently and slowly for 15-20 minutes. Turn off heat, cover and let steep for 1 hour. Transfer to a food processor and pulse to a nice tapenade-like consistency. Season to taste.
Foie Gras Mousse
1/2 lb. Fresh Foie Gras, cut up into 1 inch pieces
1/4 lb. Butter, unsalted, cut up
2 Tbl. Reduced Cranberry Juice, seasoned with Agro Dulce Vinegar, salt and white pepper
Place all ingredients in food processor and blend until very smooth. Season. Remove and chill until needed.
Crispy Sausage "Chaussons"
6 slices Buttermilk Bread, sliced, crusts removed
2 ea. Eggs
2 Tbl. Sausage Meat of Choice, cooked, then chopped, then fried crispy
1 1/2 Tbl. Onions, diced small, cooked slow until caramelized
1 1/2 Tbl. Pecans, toasted, chopped
1 1/2 Tbl. Gorgonzola, crumbled small
1 1/2 tsp. Honey
To Taste~ Salt, Black Pepper, Chipotle Powder
After frying the sausage until crispy, add onions and pecans. Add seasonings and honey. Remove from heat. Add cheese. Check seasoning. Set aside. Take a 3-4 inch ring cutter or something similar in shape and use as a guide for bread. Remove all excess with knife, leaving enough to provide for size of cutter. Place trim in food processor and process until fine breadcrumbs are obtained. Set aside. Using a rolling pin, roll bread slices out very thin one at a time, until almost paper thin, resembling a dough. Stamp out. Discard trim. Place a tablespoon or so in middle of each round disk slice. Crack egg for eggwash. Brush a small amount on bottom portion of bread. Carefully fold bread over to meet bottom edge. Seal with fingers, then a fork. Dip in eggwash. Place in reserved breadcrumbs. Coat well. Brown in oil or clarified butter. Finish in 350 degree oven for 12-15 minutes. Serve with desired dip such as bleu cheese, spicy feta, creamy cumin scented yogurt etc.