Inspiration, Insight and Intrigue...

A good friend forwarded me this link to an article written by a professional cook-turned-food writer posted on the San Francisco Chronicle's on line web site www.sfgate.com . It is about her experience staging(spending the day in the kitchen o
r elsewhere) at The French Laundry with chef Thomas Keller and his brigade. I found it a very interesting read, and one that was inspiring and motivating to say the least. I immediately made about a dozen and a half copies for my team, addressed them all and handed them each one and demanded they read it and really think about what is written here. In lies touch points about the pursuit of perfection, professionalism, the dedication to excellence, the constant need to be driven to doing what is right and never settling for less than the best. That said, I also realize that TK is in a realm that many of us only hope for and dream of. Meaning, we are all not as fortunate to not have to think about the price of an ingredient(although I have been known to shop like that many a time), or be so fortunate(during these difficult economic times) to have a fully booked restaurant by well heeled and affluent guests seemingly not thinking for a second about dropping $250-500 a head everyday! But what I find overwhelmingly exciting and inspiring is the devotion to it and the commitment by everyone there to be at the complete top of their game. The article also shows the philosophy of TK being unraveled to the journalist as he sees his world, and for that matter...the life and world of many others who are in search of that same perfection. The chef's stamp on everything, and yet the personal perspective and creativity of each cook, and the collective and collaborative interaction, all working together in harmony. A statement about a philosophy posted on the wall("sense of urgency" and "finesse"), a positive affirmation("work ethic is established today" and "the rule of no repetition in an ingredient") or in a word generously gifted to a cook...now that sets an example! From where I hail, the notion and concept of everyone meeting only after the service is over, the stoves have been cleaned, the orders placed and the stock turned down to a gentle simmer to meet and discuss, contemplate, and imagine the creative ideas of the next dish or menu was very much the m.o. of the day. After reading this article, I walked away with a new perspective on running an operation...a refreshed view of leadership and an inspired outlook on food itself. It is because on one hand, the whole thing seemed to mirror how I think and on the other... it was a whole different world. There are so many different and intricate layers here, both written in the article and as well as in a real life professional kitchen such as The French Laundry that it almost only makes true and complete sense only to someone who has done time in one, such as this writer...both her and I! I hope you enjoy it as much as I have and that you find your own inspiration from it.


Savory Fennel Kimchee...

My new BFF...kimchee! I never really gave it any thought, not a one really in all my time of cooking. Sad and shallow I say to myself. It is one of those things that never was a part of my heritage, my upbringing, my mom's repertoire and cooking(she was a damn good cook in her own right) and/or on the menus of the places we dined at. Who knew??? I am quite certain that a lot of folks did(the korean locals), they just never were revealing of the secret that many have grown to go into gross facial movements and expressions at the mere mention of this wonderful condiment. I was too damn busy learning the importance of classic French technique, or the Italian art of salumi and pasta making, or the the regional American nuances from across the country that has transformed me into whom I am as a cook. I think I recall it being brought home one time and then once the jar was opened and the wretched smell whaffed out into the kitchen...that was it...that bitch ended up in the trash. What did a young headbanging teen from W.S. know?!? Well...the joke was certainly on me(and others I suspect for those that turn their noses up at it as well). It wasn't really until I had the pleasure to enjoy an excellent meal at a a great local restaurant called Joule, in Wallingford. Rachael and Seif rocked us with their interpretation of Korean-American regional meets French classic kick ass! But still after that, not much play on my part. I contemplated, tasted, envisioned and then when our team had decided to make a batch, I said sure, let's do it. Once it had time to mature, the flavors were alive. We have made dressings and vinaigrettes, soup flavoring nuances, rubs and brushings, marinades for roasts and various meats such as pork belly as well as just simply serving it as a side. From there, and some inspirational reading from the ever popular book Momofuko, we have embarked upon several new variations...fennel kimchee with fennel pollen(my pick in hopes of a star)...daikon radish(our staff's favorite right out of the gate) and a lemon cucumber version that is still on the fence. The aromas and smells of chilies were fragrant and intoxicating to say the least. After tasting them...I am thinking we already need more! The hotter the better! Heat is good...Heat is our friend! Only time will tell as to which one will prevail as our all around fav. Stick around for as we share our results...after all, what are friends for!


State of Transition...

crispy soft shell crab, baby cahnterelles, corn-bacon "crema", chard
chili threads
slow merlot braised short ribs/horseradish potatoes, corn, squash, slow cooked fennel
chanterelles, smoked chocolate essence
pan roasted diver scallop salad, pesto, black zebra tomatoes, charred tomato coulis

pork salumi/ quince/olive risotto croquette/castellvetrano/smoked paprika

pan roasted halbit cheeks/truffles/chard/corn pancake/jus de poisson

pan roasted halibut cheeks/porcini/hazelnuts/pumpkin flan
px-hazelnut vinaigrette

Transition~this is so where I am right now, yet totally in denial for sure! I admit it...I simply do not want summer to be over...not just yet. Hell, it didn't even really start for us here in the NW, but I have to man up and quit whining already. In the kitchen, we are fortunately still getting great summer fruits and vegetables; ripe with great tasting lusciousness. We are all over it... but are we? With the great "end of summer love", comes the wonderful sexy beauty of fall! Sexy? Really?...yea, for sure! Who can resist the beautiful "first of the season" baby chanterelles, or the voluptuous porcini, or the amazing potatoes, roots and squashes, or the first of the lobster mushrooms or...yea, you get it. It is a state of euphoric inner sanctum from a culinary perspective for some. Truffles and potatoes...is there anything more arousing than this? Ok, well maybe, but I am talking cooking. But not much right? This is where I am at...in this newly found inspiration for something warm and hearty...slow and rendered...caramelized and sensuous...roasted and wonderful! As I sat and planned our last chef's table menu looking at the most sexy looking sheet pan of heirloom tomatoes from Garden Treasures Farm and freakin awesome OMG peaches from Pence Orchards, I could not get past the thoughts of something more seductive to cook like, oh I don't know...a beef short rib or a veal shank!!! Shit, this is what I am talking about peeps. It is an intoxicating roller coaster of gastronomic addiction fueled and fulfilled by a culinary passion and foundation. All I am trying to convey is that although we complain about the loss of fun in the sun or a party in the pool, and no matter how much I enjoy the summer foodstuffs, the fall always has a special place in my heart. Here are some crafted dishes of late...so stay warm, eat fresh and enjoy the art of cooking for the soul~your stomach will thank you later!

chilled early girl tomato-lime boisson/hot lemon verbena-black pepper foam
frozen fennel pollen-yogurt lollipop

pan roasted american bison/glazed sweetbreads/pecan-blis maple potatoes
caramelized heirloom hardneck garlic, baby carrot-apple confit/
blackberry essence


Cramming For Finals...

That is what these last few weeks have seemed like for my business partner, Mr. C and I...freakin finals week in college. We are embarking on yet another year of operation and it is time to get our new banquet menu up and running for the fast approaching busy season and upcoming holidays. It is a really daunting task and not one that I look forward to each year, but alas...it must be done. You have to keep yourself fresh as a business or you are doomed, and yet, it seems like we go through this process and spend a hell of a lot of time and energy on it, only to sell a ton of food that either wasn't even on the menu, or at least in the context of what we planned in terms of flavors and ingredient combinations. Anyway, that is an entirely different story in itself and I simply do not have the energy right now to go into that. All that said, it does mark the time that pushes us into fall with all the good flavors that comes along with it. My crew has seen us both sit day after day working on new menu items, reading...writing...documenting...conversing...contemplating away with piles of papers, books and magazines and notebooks spread out everywhere and I only hope they understand the complexity of it all and can appreciate the hard work and effort that goes into our crafted creations! Time will only tell. Thanks team for your support in getting the production done while we are knee deep in the shit! Cheers to you all.


Shot of Inspiration...

sausage stuffed calamari

chanterelles, heirloom tomato sofrito, olives, tempura of tentacles

a couple simply dishes made by one our team...fitting of the change of season into fall. You can almost taste the flavors and smell the aromas over the web. Now...go cook!

savory burgundy burger

red wine simmered onions, braised beef shortribs, aged bleu, french mustard

on tender brioche

Quest for Cure...

savory bresaola
juniper, thyme, pineapple sage, black pepper
A salumist's mission. An artist's vision. A passionate cooks dream. Just a few shots of some things hanging around...as it were. After a trip in the upper forest region of the state and some amazing, breathtaking views it reminded me of time in Italy and Switzerland and the kick-ass salumi and air dried meats so painstakingly and personal to those that hold the passion for the technique and are willing to share in the dream. In a word...sublime. Enjoy...

sweet coppa...black pepper, and spice

spicy coppa...smoked paprika and chilies

bresaola...cardamom, spice and spice

the box of love...
basilicata, chorizo riojana, culatello traditionale et navarre

bresaola and guanciale


The Fun of the Work...

Business or pleasure??? What are our intentions here? Each day we awake or come to, assess the day, proceed on the journey into our work place and embark on an endeavor which is all about cooking(for those lucky souls who cook anyway). We must then ask ourselves what is it that we are here for and why do we do it?...As we are enjoying the final marked days of summer in the northwest, albeit probably another good month or so, we are able to say with a relatively straight face that we are here to cook for the business of course, but really it is about the sheer pleasure of cooking and achieving sustenance that drives us most. A bit slower in pace...a bit less chaotic...a little less crazy and not so much business at hand that we do not have time to focus on what is front of us. We are able to enjoy the craft as it is and as it should be. We can seek the much needed refuge in a simple task like making fresh pasta and cutting it by hand. Filleting a whole fresh fish and really inspecting the muscle structure and analyzing the protein. Working with the local produce and then simply preparing it and to be able to enjoy the beauty of a single technique is quite a relaxing adventure. Another much-appreciated and soul-soothing process is the technique of butchering, then marinating, then grinding some fresh meat only be made into a wonderful and beautiful sausage or salumi. There is something extremely and emotionally therapeutic about it. Something quite surreal as you watch it transform into a completely different beast over time. The slow baking of a delicate tart or loaf of bread which renders you impatient as it bakes, and yet the virtue itself allows you to overcome the urge as you realize the end product will only be that much better is something that almost can not be put into words...you have to experience it! You do not get this fulfillment in some damn office. The summer finds us toying with many a heirloom tomato or stone fruit only to end up as a centerpiece on some fortunate diner's plate, or...perhaps just a tasty snack for one of our cooks during service. Hell yea! It also leaves us with a yearning for something deeper and comforting as we head into fall. I believe that the fun of summer leads us mentally and spiritually if you will into fall and winter by means of planting the seed for something greater in terms of comfort only to sprout and blossom in the midst of shortened daylight and somewhat colder climates. Maybe not, but that's what I feel and I am sticking to it for now. So I ask you, "business or pleasure"?...you decide. One's art is another's income. I seek the beauty in both as they seem to feed off of each other. Pleasure however is what keeps me alive and the business provides the means to sustain it. That is how I roll...How about you? Think about it.