The Team...

We hear it all too often...the team this and the team that. But does everyone place the same importance and truthful meaning in every ounce of the word? Perhaps. For me, it is every bit of the truth. The team that I play on at the club is a great one, barring none! They have my back and I theirs. They are great people.

It is only with the frame of teamwork that we have embedded in our brigade that allows us to accomplish what we do.

Do we have problems and issues? Sure. Do we have some of the similar frustrations that some of the other finest establishments encounter...absolutely. Do we sometimes miss that proverbial mark of perfection only because of our weakest link...I would be lying if I said no. Our team simply plays on a field that is really just a slightly different shade of green, and there is always another side of the fence with some of the same.

All in all however, it is a great place to be and it inspires me daily to come in and cook together, or help to run the operation as a whole and in sync collective driving force, all passionate about food and driven towards a common goal.

There are good times. There are tiresome times. There are times of focus and sincerity and times of contemplation of what could be.

Players on the team move on, and join other teams, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Our sous chefs and chef de parties are totally some of the key players, who for most, have been with me for some time and know what my focus and drive is and what I am trying to achieve in our quest for great cooking.

They enable me to get there. There are players who have stayed a long and great while, while others have joined only to move along or get dropped off.
There is no harm in it or ill feelings toward them, it simply was not the right fit. Whether we are cooking on the line, or working on projects together, trying hard to find that next fix of a dish or concept or scrubbing down the kitchen, there always is the ever-present happiness between the brigade. They work well together.

It is an honor and extremely satisfying to experience as a chef.

I have worked in many kitchens that have a plethora of hostility and anger towards each other. Places that purposely aggravate each other or another shift, or where the cooks find humor in burning the waitstaff with morbidly hot plates. Places that can not seem to get along to save their souls. An environment that breeds vulgarity and uses tactics that intimidate others into doing what they are supposed to, rather than inspiring them, developing their passion and mentoring them.

A kitchen where sometimes at first glance, good food and cooking seem to be the farthest thing from their minds. How can one truly cook great food and focus on ingredients and be passionate about cooking if this is present? I have not a damn clue. When I was younger I fell into it, just like any other young cuisinier, and at times felt like this was the norm.

As I grew older and wiser(well a little bit anyway) I knew but of one thing...that when the time was right, when I was charged with the runnings of a kitchen, I would do it differently. It is unnecessary. It only gets in the way of things that are good.
Sure, there are times when one has to be stern and even borderline abrasive and definitely assertive, but only to make sure the point is made and that the message gets across. Looking at our team and how we work together, is a testament to that philosophy, and one that I will stand by for the rest of my days. This post is really about the team, about them, both past and present and the great things that they do for me and the club. They are truly wonderful. Keep cooking team!


Damn Good Eats...

There are times in my career that I am presented with an opportunity to do something cool. They have a way of touching that inner chef in me and creating that spark to cook without inhibitions, without restrictions and without prior critique or criticisms. It is like when a chef is coming to dine at the club, or a past colleague, or the wine maker from some far away and untouchable cult-like world, or some of our best customers who simply place themselves in my hands and say go for it because they know we will take care of them! It is these times that let me express completely who I am. To communicate through the creativity of ingredients and my cooking like that of a rock star playing their hearts out for a hundred thousand screaming fans. That is the rush I am talking about folks. Sheer coolness on an extreme mission to offer an experience of a lifetime through food. Last week, we were blessed with an opportunity to shine. Being part of an elite group of private clubs, labeled as The Distinguished Clubs of the World, affords you this opportunity, one that can either make you or break you, depending on how you play your cards. You have one chance to kick ass. That is what we did. The dinner was to be the grande dinner of the Annual Conference 2007, held at the Rainier Club in Seattle, Washington. Our Executive Vice President of the club was the host. We wanted to make him shine, and I truly believe we did just that. We wanted to start them with a series of progressive hors d' oeuvres, all presented and compiled in a varied style of bites, tastes and vessels. Tasty, fun, exciting and whimsical(see prior post-Progressive Hors d'Oeuvres). This prelude started the night and got our juices flowing. We were amped. We had just executed a very cool vegetable tasting for the ladies (see prior post-Late Summer Vegetable Menu). The appetizer bites rocked. There were definitely more dishes and bites that I would have wanted to do and present, yet I felt that there was simply not enough time in the evening or stamina in the guests, as they would have just been here the whole week and already anticipating the trip home to wherever that may be~ Paris... London... Dublin... Sydney... Los Angeles... New York etc. So, with trying to combine enough of the things that would be memorable and exciting for them and stimulating for us, which is what makes it the best for all. This is what we "threw down" in our own battle during Hells' Kitchen~

Amuse Act 1
Maine Lobster Salad "en Chemise"
Mango, Heirloom Tomatoes, Golden Whitefish Caviar and Yuzu-Champagne Sabayon
Amuse Act 2
Savory White Chocolate Mousse
American Sturgeon Caviar, Smoked Paprika Syrup, Crispy Potato, Micro Greens

"Crudo" of Vanilla Cured Hawaiian Blue Nose
Oranges, Avocado, Trout Roe, Togarashi Creme Fraiche. Micro Basil and Lemon Oil

Seared Squab & Foie Gras Terrine
Truffled Apricot Conserves, Asian Pear Composure, Cocoa Nob Marbre
and Saba "Paint"

Pan Seared Mediterranean Rouget
Zucchini-Basil Mousse, Tomato Confit, Black Olive Oil, Parmesan Sablee
Aged Sherry Vinaigrette and Micro Arugula

Diver Scallop & Foie Gras "Martini"
Potato Mousseline, 50 year-old Balsamic Condiment and Micro Burgundy Amaranth

Stuffed Atlantic Skate Wing
Sweetbreads, Chanterelles, Corn, Corn Pudding, Truffle Nage and Quinoa "Popcorn"

Spice Crusted Moularde Duck Breast
Parsnip Puree, Fregola Sarda, Baby Turnips, Micro Peppercress
and a Blackberry Gastric

Merlot Braised Veal Cheek
Sexy White Grits, Roasted Figs, Sous Vide Artichokes, Roasted Cepes
and a Walla Walla Onion Mustard Essence

Blackberry Sorbet "Roulade"
Nectarine, Tapioca, Pecan Macaroon and Peach Coulis
part 2
Valrhona Manjari Bouche
Roasted Black Plums, Natural Cuisson, Cocoa Croquant, Olive Oil Gelato

A Late Summer Vegetable Menu...

The week had gone on as mentioned on the last post of the Distinguished Clubs of the World Conference, and with nothing but utter success! From a series of lunches and dinners at other local clubs, to a private special guided tour of Boeing, to a box-seat evening watching the Mariners take it in extra innings, to a mammoth sized yacht ride around the waterfront on the way to dinner, to a spectacular dinner at Rover's Restaurant in Madison Valley...there was a lot of very high expectations. All along, the spouses of the said managers of these prestigious clubs from around the globe were in tow and hopefully enjoyed the festivities as well. The last day of the conference was a chance for them to get away and just be themselves and have fun with the girls...away from all the stuffy and boring things that the male halves do when they attend these gatherings. I know because my wife would do the same thing when at a chef's conference! So, early in the morning, they were trucked off to the Salish Lodge and Spa in Snoqualmie for a day at the spa. Pampered and primped, satisfied by relaxation and rest, and a refreshing spa lunch. After some shopping, they made it back to the club for some freshen up, some cocktails and a light dinner before heading to the 5th Avenue Theatre for an evening of fun. My first thought right away was a vegetable menu. Not vegetarian as many kept calling it. I kept saying "no, it is not a vegetarian. It is a vegetable menu, enhanced by the many great ingredients grown locally and with much care and appreciation." There gentle nuances of veal or chicken stock, bacon and lobster oil. Yet, in and of itself, it epitomized the essence of vegetables. Fresh, enlightening, vibrant and so flavorful. I have to say, that if weren't for the fact that we only could do a few courses, it would have been much more gratifying for me to cook than that of their counterparts(menu to be portrayed later). I can see why many great chefs have turned in that direction. We have been focused on vegetables for a quite some time, but I am not ready to give up on the living beasts...not just yet. The menu started with an amuse of Chilled White Gazpacho, Spanish Olive Oil, and a hint of Smoked Paprika scented Creme Fraiche. After the little snack, we enticed them with an Heirloom Tomato-Watermelon "Martini", which was set in a gelee with a "cap" of Basil Panna Cotta. On top was a salad of Watermelon and Purple Cherokee and Yellow Taxi Tomato Cubes, Micro Basil, a roasted Tomato Sorbet and a crisp Tomato-Nigella Chip. Very refreshing!
Our following course was a Roasted "Pave" of Portobello Mushrooms, layered with grilled Zucchini, Eggplant Caviar, Manchego and Thyme and wrapped in Caul Fat. This was accompanied by a creamy and silky puree of Parsnips, Young Chanterelles, Leeks, Ricotta Gnocchi and a little "Raviolini" of Zucchini-Basil Mousse. This was completed with a drizzle of a Corn-Roasted Shallot-Bacon Nage and Micro Celery from the Chef's Garden.
The ladies were very happy. The team was having a great time. I was stoked. With this we brought in the dessert taste which was comprised of Roasted and Bruleed Peaches, White Chocolate-Lavender Mousse, Olive Oil Sponge, Blackberry Gelee and "Paint", and a Rose Champagne-Lemon Verbena Sorbet. This made for a great start to a wonderful evening. If everything could be this satisfying. Like the addict looking for that feeling of that first rush~ this search will continue on.

Progressive Hors d'Oeuvre...

We had just came to the end of a full week-long conference, hosting some of the very best private clubs in the world, hence the name...Distinguished Clubs of the World, which we are to be so fortunate to be included in this echelon. This year it was chosen to be held at the Rainier Club with a full schedule of educational meetings, lunches, dinners, excursions and of course...excellent food! This is how the evening began with some progressive hors d' oeuvres which preludes the evening's soiree (menu and post forthcoming). Enjoy this view as we journey into an evening of great food, great wines and great times, both in the front of the house and most certainly, the back!

We were charged with coming up with a grand menu for the last night of the event, which was to conclude the weeks chain of events. So with this, we wanted to not only present a multi-course degustation, but a succession of tasty progressive bites as well prior to the sit down. Here's the skinny on that...

First in the line up were~

Heirloom Tomato-Watermelon Gelees

with Tomato-Watermelon Tartare, Micro Basil, Basil Foam and Roasted Tomato Sorbet

these were followed by~

White Gazpachos with Spanish Olive Oil

and Smoked Paprika Creme Fraiche

next were~

Truffled Goat Cheese "Cannolis"

served up in a crisp Golden Tuile

in succession~

Chilled Maine Lobster Skewers

with Spicy Harissa-Yuzu-Lime Glaze, Toasted Coconut and Micro Greens

this was followed by~

Curried Squab "High Heels"

a cool salad with Celery, Asian Pears, Crisp Ginger and Quince Jam

the closing act was~

Salmon Candy Ice Cream Sandwiches

nestled in between Fennel Shortbread Cookies

This all made for a freakin awesome entrance for the 10-course grande menu degustation that was about to follow. Perhaps a bit of overindulgence, but when you have but only one opportunity to create a very memorable culinary and gustatory experience and memory for someone, you better make it unforgettable!


Can it be the Ultimate Fruit...

Some would say so. I love tomatoes, in all shapes, sizes, varieties and levels of sweetness. However, it is hard to say that it is better than say a peach, which at full ripeness, with full-on umami, is freakin awesome. Can there be anything better than that? Or say a single, perfectly ripe and sugar packed wild strawberry or northwest blackberry? Fresh picked crisp local apple, with an utmost burst of flavor...it is extremely difficult for me to quantify to which is best. I love them all! But, it tis the season for tomatoes in Seattle. I have eaten with much affection and delight many great tomatoes since I was a very young child. To pick a fresh large beefsteak tomato off of a vine and just bite into it like it was an apple, letting the juice run down your chin and onto your shirt, or grabbing a handful of beautiful yellow, orange and dark red "cherry sized" beauties from your neighbors garden and stuffing them into your mouth hoping he would not see you, is a memory I will cherish forever while on this planet. Today as a chef with close connection to some very great farmers, I am blessed with fresh-picked and carefully handled heirloom varieties each week. They are the summer-candy of the summer for the cooks. For sure! It goes without mentioning that each and every time one of us proceeds into the walk-in refrigerators, we naturally grab a handful of the little gems and pop them in our mouths, walking out with whatever we went in for(sometimes even not, getting lost in tomato lust!) and our mouths stuffed full like a chipmunk in the fall. Good times! It is really quite strange that although in the Northwest right at this moment, most would agree that the summer is coming to an end, with fall right at our doorstep, and yet, with the grace of god, it only seems that the abundance of tomatoes have quadrupled! As I pick up a latest copy of F&W or Art Culinaire, everything is about what's on our Fall menus...but hell, I am still all about living in the moment! This Ultimate Fruit is still coming on strong. Let me enjoy this moment. Let me cook with these sweet offerings of mother nature until they are no longer. The peaches, are still here, very tasty and ripe, the berries have gone, but are not forgotten, the apples on their way...but for now, the heirloom tomatoes, in all of their shape, form, color and flavor, have taken center stage of this culinary lollapolooza.


The Fruits of my Labor...

It is not that often that I end up writing simply just about a recipe or single technique. Not that that is a bad thing...hell, it is awesome. I just seem to find myself working things from a different angle, and then coming back around again to accomplish the task in my own way. I tend to approach my writing in a more free-form manner, up front and personal, with nuances of sass. However, today I am just writing about the Fig, particularly the Black Mission Fig. I have been roasting them lately for various different applications and dishes, with much success. The flavor of the fig right now is quite tasty, and lends itself well to some very cool pairings~ Foie Gras...Veal...Squab...Artichokes...Duck Prosciutto...Salumi and Charcuterie...Artisan Cheeses and so on, and so forth. Anyway, I am not here today to ramble on about the possibilities, yet offer you a simplistic way to prepare them with a very versatile outcome. You can prepare them and then decide how you want to marry them with others, or keep them to themselves all by their lonesome! Here is what I did~

First, I placed "nuts"(as one of my French mentors used to call them) of butter around a stainless or copper saute pan. Then, I cut the fresh figs in half and placed them around the pan with just enough room to see the bottom. They were nice and snug so as to allow for not to much drying up in pan, yet enable some movement of convection in and around the fresh fruit. A small cluster of fresh thyme, pineapple sage, bay leaf, rosemary, some sliced shallots and a clove or two of fresh whole garlic were placed on top. Next, I generously sprinkled Fleur de Sel de Geurande over them with fresh cracked black pepper. Lastly, a drizzling of some great Late harvest Zinfandel Vinegar from Katz and Co. sealed the deal before heading into a 350 degree nirvana. This basted away in the oven for approximately 15-18 minutes, or just until the figs started to get soft, yet maintaining some natural texture and integrity.

They were pulled from the oven, and allowed to cool at room temperature until we then sent them on to their next mission and purpose. We have even used them for sweet applications, with minimizing the salt, omitting the garlic and adding a bit of Tuscan heather honey or wild blackberry honey. Mosto cotto or saba would be quite nice as well.


A Taste of Provence...

Our second formal visit to Provence via a collaborative dinner at the club with a fellow member/chef/food enthusiast; Brendan O'Farrell, who graciously lent his time and talent to our culinary atelier last week. It was a tasting menu format complete with nuances and tastes of the south of France during this great time of year, as well as flair and "flava" of my own style and persona. I have always said that I do not claim to be, nor want to be "authentic". That is not me. I want to go off in other directions. I want to express who I am and where I come from. I give it my travels, my experiences, my education, practices and research and a twist just because. Why...because I can. Brendan offered his unique experiences of past living in Provence, which is where he co-owned and operated his (now defunct) restaurant...la Table du Michel. So, we were off and running with the menu...a very flavorful pairing of foodstuffs, one which I drew heavily

upon my studying and our executive sous chefs stage experience at Alain Ducasse. This master epitomizes the words cooking in Provence to me. It played out like this...We fancied up the grand entrance to our dining room by decorating with some freshly baked Fougasse(from Bakery Nouveau) and Epis, as well as some of our house made preserves, canned fruits of summer, jams and marinated olives. Throw in one of Brendan's books; "Brothers in the Kitchen" and a bottle of wine, well...you get the gist. We started with an amuse of some basic Provencal staples~ Eggplant Caviar, Fennel Confit, Chanterelle and Goat Cheese "Barbajuans",

which is like a little fried agnolotti and basil oil. Very nice, appropriate and tasty. You could have munched on a handful of these! Next we decided to go straight to the fish course (should have done the salad course next though as we did not have enough time to stage the fish course when we got slammed).

An olive oil poached pair of diver sea scallops, with "brandade" potatoes (mixed with salt cod, salmon candy, garlic and Spanish olive oil), heirloom tomato fondue, sauteed leeks, haricots verts and baby octopus composure, green olive tapenade and olive oil nage. The dish worked well. The flavors were very rich, bold, fresh and Mediterranean in style. Again, the only bummer was we needed some more staging time so that we could eliminate the lag time in between courses. The savory meat course was what followed. Concept and flavor profile were top notch. The dish was designed well. The composition was different from the rest. A nice departure from my normal style of late. However, to be fair to myself and my team, this dish was not executed the best. It boiled down to the cut and the cooking technique. It was not suited for this application. The veal "eye of the round" was the chosen cut... a great moderately used cut that has shown many a great results before. We opted to cut larger pieces and cook them in olive oil, very slow. The shortfall was that one, it was previously frozen and lost it's moisture in a bad way. That also resulted in a tougher piece. It should have been sliced and grilled or sauteed quickly. Tough was the big issue. My hats' off to Matt, who tried his best, but it was a losing battle. The dish was not all lost however. It was a very tasty dish. The accompaniments cooked nicely. It was light and yet very fulfilling in that respect. The myriad of tastes and textures made for a nostalgic gastronomic memory of huge proportion for me and brought me back to Provence when doing some serious R & D in my past.

The dish was paired with artichokes "barigoule", thyme roasted figs, chanterelles, ricotta gnocchi, and fried squash blossoms. A crisp parmesan chip and a fig vinegar essence completed the ensemble. Into our "salade", we served a classic flavor pairing of tomato confit (studded with flavors of garlic and thyme), vibrant zucchini mousse, a savory sablee, nicoise olive dust, micro arugula and shaved sheep's cheese. Creamy chickpea puree, scented with meyer lemon oil, and crispy panisse along with a reduced sherry vinaigrette encapsulated the whole production.

The summery-ness of the salad made for a nice segway into dessert.

A brulee of roasted "Pench Orchard" peach, sitting atop a biscuit of rose geranium, fennel pollen and vanilla, resting on a slab of raspberry pates de fruits (which to my dismay, did not serve well. It overpowered the dish, however tasty). This was flanked by blackberry and peach coulis, white chocolate-lavender mousse, lemon macaroon crumbs and lemon verbena ice cream. The slivery chip was a cocoa croquant thrown in for texture. Nice flavors. Light, incredibly delicious and fun. And of course, in true fashion, we served up a little bite to close the deal...bugnes, which although a staple in Lyon, finds it's way to Provence by many great chef's...so, it works for me as well. I hope you like the read and photos as much as we did cooking them.


Nuthin nu...

As I reflect on the past 20 some years of my cooking history, I am reminded of something that does not spark my enthusiasm. It does not get my passion and creative juices flowing into high gear. In fact, it wears me out. It drains my energy and gets me stagnant and stale. It is the part of this business that is...well...business. Now do not get me wrong, I thrive on the creative art of marketing, the challenge of making every day the most financially fulfilling to us as managers and as entrepreneurs. That is what we need to sustain the fun things and creative foodstuffs that we play with and have fun with. It provides us "research and development" trips, education excursions to say...Charlie Trotters or Per Se and that extra staff member to get an extra edge on the production or to provide that extra nuance in the meals we serve. I truly enjoy the business side of things that make me as a chef, a better diplomat and executive. The kind that helps me to understand and take on the runnings of a business in which to make it run and operate smoother. No, this is the business side that is not(at least at first glance) garnering added income, or increasing revenues that satisfy our investors on the bottom line. It is the type of things that are simply the things that need to be done because they need to be done. Like peeling fava beans. Cooking them is great. Making a cool foam or truffle-laced puree is awesome. Perhaps assembling a concoction that ends up being some sort of new savory ice cream is what keeps me stimulated. But peeling them sucks. It is that kind of business that sucks as well. I have just about finalized a huge project of creating a new and revised banquet menu for the upcoming busy season. Conjuring up new ideas about ingredients was great. Then everything else seemed to be this daunting task of reading page after page of notes from others, editing, proof reading, costing out the whole damn entire work, meeting with publicists, meeting with catering, meeting with who ever. It seemed at times that was all that happened. Realizing that I just sat at my stupid desk for 6 hours and service just came and went without even seeing one plate, much less cooking one. That shit is no bueno! There are other things such as interviewing, reading the resumes and cover letters of persons who you know you don't even want to work next to, yet you must go through the process in search of that diamond in the rough. Searching out for price quotes for equipment, knowing that you want that piece of equipment so bad you can taste it, but you have to go through this BS just to get there. That Paco-Jet better make fucking damn good ice cream! And the major pain in the neck of just about everyone I know, is that never-ending, painstaking process of inventory. I am an intelligent person and I know that it must be done in order to be an effective operation, but when you realize that you have a whole collection of Textura's products or a fresh shipment of the most beautiful heirloom tomatoes in your possession and you have not even had the chance to play with them...what gives??? Anyway, enough bantering on about the inevitable, the necessary and simply the things that make people better managers and business operators. I am anxiously excited to now work with those things in my walk-ins and garde manger, motivate my staff and kick some ass on our upcoming 2nd Annual Taste of Provence dinner which is sure to be a great success(see last year's post). I will be sharing photos, experiences and thoughts about those soon. Until then...here is a dish that came about. As I said...nuthin nu.