Archive for the ‘Events’ Category
What would you expect when you meet a person who has twice won a James Beard Foundation Award and two International Association of Culinary Professionals Cookbook of the Year Awards, not to mention being listed on the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America?
You might expect a big head and a blustery mouth. In many cases, that’s exactly what you would get.
But that’s not what I found in Dorie Greenspan. I met her at “An Evening with Dorie Greenspan,” a fundraiser held by New York Women’s Culinary Alliance at the Institute for Culinary Education in New York.
When Dorie was speaking to her rapt audience, as well as when she was speaking with me personally, Dorie was gracious, humble, and as sweet as any of her famous desserts. Plus, she had a great sense of humor.
When I first spoke with her, she saw my name tag and asked, “Did you marry into that name or did you come with it?” I told her that I came with it and she asked, “Do you just love it?” When I said “no,” she said, “Well, I do.”
She had me at hello. Right there she showed me the kind of person she is. She directed that comment toward me—that is, the remark was about me, rather than her. What that told me was that she is not all about herself, that she takes an interest in other people. And when I told her that I had baked her Marie-Helene’s Apple Cake for the event (about 30 people volunteered to make something out of Dorie’s latest cookbook, Around My French Table), she acted as if I had done HER an honor.
I also expressed my concern over having had to transport the cakes on the train twice (once to work and then to ICE), she replied that she didn’t think that Marie-Helene had ever put it through the subway test. I told her that now it’s been through the subway test and it passed. Later, when she was signing a copy of Baking: From My Home to Yours for me, she thanked me for making the apple cake, which I thought was very sweet.
When she addressed the gathering and talked about her life in the food writing business, she was genuine about herself and her career. She did not sugarcoat her experience; rather, she was almost amazed at how it all worked out for her.
What struck me, though, was how similar her experiences are to mine (or her feelings about them). Although we obviously have very different levels of success, her life seemed to mirror mine in many ways (which probably means that many food writers have been through the same exact obstacle course).
She mentioned that after getting her very first piece published in Food & Wine, she didn’t have anything published for 2 years. She said, “There are always dry spells.” Boy, don’t I know it. She also asked the audience if we all found that we never have the time to cook for fun because we’re always so busy testing and developing recipes. Many of us nodded and I, in particular, was glad she voiced that sentiment because for someone who loves to cook, I can never really do it in the way I want. In the little “free time” that I have, I’m always working on some recipe or another.
Anyway, the event was a success and everyone seemed to have a really good time. I saw a few people whom I’d met before and met some people for the first time. So, for me, it was worth dragging 2 apple cakes up and down subway stairs, lifting my rolling case above my head to get it through the turnstile then rolling it across rutted and pocked streets. I was actually amazed that it survived and that it stayed in one piece.
Marie-Helene’s cake has truly been through the subway test and survived.
I just got back from FoodBlogSouth 2013 in Birmingham, AL, and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. I learned some really good stuff about optimizing my blog, working on TV and in radio, how to take great food shots with my smartphone, strategies for creating a brand, and using video content. Plus, I met some really nice people.
The most informative and helpful (to me) session was the optional one I took on Friday, called Honing Your Edge (which was a great play on words). We got a detailed lesson on using various media outlets—TV, social networking sites, print, and radio—to market ourselves and increase our visibility. It was a really useful session. So, a big thank-you to Lisa Ekus, Virginia Wills, and Tamie Cook for the information and help on my personal marketing material.
I got to meet Dianne Jacobs, author of Will Write for Food, which is a necessary book to have if you’re a food writer. She was not only very nice but funny and witty, too. She did a seminar about the ethics of food blogging. Most of what she said I knew already because I follow her blog (also called Will Write for Food) and she talks about this stuff regularly. But seeing her talk about this stuff in person brought her points home and clarified a couple of things.
The pre-party was catered by Jim & Nick’s BBQ and the afterparty was at Good People Brewing Co. and sponsored by Visit Baton Rouge. BBQ before and Bayou cuisine after. (If you’re wondering what Bayou cuisine entailed, let’s just say that along with crawfish, I was looking at alligator meat and frogs’ legs. The alligator tasted rather bland, but I couldn’t bring myself to try the frogs’ legs.)
The thing about creative conferences (i.e., writing, cooking, etc. versus business/work-related) is that I often go feeling discouraged and depressed. The reason for that is twofold: 1) By the time the conference rolls around, I’ve reached a level of frustration over the fact that I’m still not doing what I want to do (for a living); and 2) knowing that at the conference I will be meeting people who ARE working in the field I want to be in, if not full time, then at least part time successfully. And seeing other people enjoying their work and being paid for it gets me a little crazy. I become quite envious.
Envy is a horrible thing. It eats you up and makes you unhealthy, and karmically, it’s bad too. There’s a reason why envy is one of the 7 deadly sins. It’s just bad. Very bad. But I digress.
So, I go to these conferences with those factors bringing me down. On the plane, I sit there and wonder just how many of those people I will meet and hate. When I shake someone’s hand and say, “Nice to meet you,” will I really be thinking “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you?”
But something happens while I’m at the sessions. I find myself getting inspired. I mean, that’s the whole purpose of going there—to learn new things and get inspired—but because I’m so low from my screwed head, I just don’t expect it.
But when the sessions are interesting, informative, and fun, it sparks the ambitious part of me that was dampened. Then I start meeting people and I discover that they’re a lot nicer than I thought they would be. I manage to step out of my comfort zone and talk to people (a few) and exchange a few business cards and that makes me feel good.
I don’t expect anything to change right away, but I feel more positive about my possibilities. And that alone makes it worth the trip.
This year’s FoodBlogSouth conference in Birmingham, Alabama, will be my first bloggers’ conference. The first FoodBlogSouth was in 2011 and I wish I’d known about it then because I certainly could have used some help in building my blog site. I think I have refined it substantially since I first launched it in 2009, but it still could use improvement. In fact, I’m in the process of migrating my site to a different platform but that’s going to take a while. In the meantime, I have resources like FoodBlogSouth to glean from to make my content more appealing to readers.
I’m really looking forward to meeting others in the field—some of whom I’ve admired for some time—and figuring out just how I’m going to use my publishing experience and culinary degree going forward.
Although only a day in length, the agenda seems robust with some useful sessions. This is what the agenda looks like:
Well, my internship at the James Beard House is over and my feelings about it are mixed. I miss spending the day working with food, putting my skills to use, and using new equipment. I miss preparing ingredients that I would normally (or rarely) be in contact with, such as truffles, fresh-from-the-farm baby golden beets, and micro-celery. I miss the adrenaline rush at service time, when 80 beautifully designed, identical plates have to get out in 5 minutes, which has to be repeated at least half a dozen times, and usually more. It’s a rush that lingers even at the end of the night, when it’s 11 p.m. and you’ve been on your feet for 12 or 13 hours, and your feet are throbbing and your back is screaming and your fingers ache from chopping several pounds of onions, and your hands are scarred and burned from the momentary lapses in memory or judgment, when you forget that the pot was only just turned off or the sheet pan has been sitting on the industrial pilot light all afternoon. I miss the satisfied smiles on people’s faces as they come through the kitchen to leave, and their comments about how fabulous everything was. I miss being part of that creation. I miss the satisfying contrast of having just done a shift doing something I love when I am at my full-time job hating what I’m doing. It gave me something to look forward to—a glimmer of hope that there is something else out there for me.
What I don’t miss is being on my throbbing feet for 12 or 13 hours, the backaches, the painful burns. I don’t miss getting home at midnight, thoroughly exhausted, yet unable to fall asleep because of the adrenaline still coursing through my body, and having to get up early to go to work the next day.
If I were younger, I would probably be able to deal with the “cons” for the rewarding “pros” of restaurant/catering work. But, unfortunately, I came to this juncture in the road later in life and, physically, it’s just not something I can do full time. Sure, I can handle it on a temporary basis, in short spurts, or occasionally. But all the time? No. I’ve been a personal chef and that is exhausting as well, but it’s on a totally different level in terms of time constraints and control, both of which are in your hands. But it’s also a tough business to negotiate. You’re totally in control…and you’re totally responsible. Cooking, cleaning, shopping, bookkeeping, marketing, etc. Just the marketing alone was daunting enough to make me run and scream. So, I’m looking elsewhere.
But I digress. I was talking about James Beard and I wanted to share some of my observations.
While every chef had a different take on food, a different disposition, and a different way of running a kitchen, I also noticed some common riffs. For example, ice cream was a common component of dessert. I understand this, since one of the rules of good meal planning is to use a combination of textures. Ice cream fits the “smooth and creamy” bill easily and it’s a crowd pleaser. But I read somewhere a criticism of the use—or rather, overuse—of ice cream in desserts. Whoever it was said that they were sick of seeing ice cream in every chi-chi dessert. On one hand, I agree. Surely, these highly acclaimed chefs could find something else to fill that texture bill; on the other hand, people really love ice cream and the flavors that can be created are boundless. (Of course, some people get a little out of control with the flavors, but that’s another story.)
Another similar theme was the use of gaufrettes (waffle chips). One chef using them was not remarkable; three chefs using them meant it was a trend. It told me that waffle chips have become a go-to item to make dishes look pretty and appealing. I don’t know if this has been the case for a long time or if it’s a relatively new trend, but personally I can take gaufrettes or leave them.
I also noticed that most chefs have embraced the use of the “spoon push” when saucing plates. I know that there are only so many ways to sauce a dish, but pretty much everyone has adopted this particular practice. Micro greens were the ubiquitous garnish, but since the JB House supplied those, it made sense. Duck ham, or duck prosciutto, seems to be another currently hot product. Maybe it’s been around a while, I don’t know, but it was certainly new to me. Poached pears were also a popular dessert component.
Each chef also had their own little touches that were unique to him or her. Chef Kaldrovic, from Sea Glass at the Inn by the Sea, used his own homemade lobster oil to garnish his lobster bisque. Blackberry Farm used their own charcuterie. Chef Ryan Poli, of Tavernita in Chicago, created a really nice “natural” serving platter by combining kosher salt with whole spices. Tony Esnault, from Patina/Los Angeles, cut his imported French truffles into thin little circles to garnish various dishes. And Fortunato Nicotra at Felidia had his gluten-free ravioli, as well as housemade burrata. Only one dinner had themed drinks: Blue Inc., with their Anorexic Model (Pierre Ferrand Cognac with Lychee Bubbles, St. Germain, and Berry Garnish) and Blonde Afro Puff (Chocolate Martini with Giant Marshmallow) and liquid PB&J, courtesy of wine director Tricia LaCount.
I also want to say the staff at the JB House were all so helpful, patient, and hard working. I always felt particularly terrible for the dishwashers as the evening went on and the massive piles of bowls, pots and pans, dishes, and multitude of utensils piled up higher and higher. Those guys have their work cut out for them.
The things I experienced and the lessons I learned at James Beard will always be in my mind as I move into the next phase of my life. I suspect that as I work with food, at home or at a job, I will have flashbacks to my days and nights at the JB House. I welcome those flashbacks as reminders that I was lucky enough to not only get a scholarship from the James Beard Foundation but to get some training at one of the most prestigious organizations in the culinary world. In the end, it may or may not get me where I want to go, but I’ll always have that particular notch on my belt. I met some really great people—some humble, some eccentric, all intensely focused on their art. If I learned only one thing, it’s that no one is perfect, not even highly acclaimed chefs at the top of their game who have been invited to cook at the James Beard House. And if those people can make mistakes and still be considered great chefs, then so can I.
Thanks to everyone at the James Beard House for being so nice. It was a pleasure to work with them all and I hope to see them again, as both a volunteer and a diner.
On Saturday February 25, 2012, I worked my last internship dinner at the James Beard House. I was so excited to get my hours completed so that I can get my diploma and move on. But I walked in there a little sad, too, knowing that it would be my last time, at least as a “student.”
This dinner was with Chef Jason Santos of Blue Inc. of Boston, and his theme was Modern Comfort Food. The idea was to take comfort foods, the kind many Americans remember from childhood, and “adultify” them—that is, to give them a modern take.
So, for example, one of the hors d’oeuvres was miniature corn dogs. But these dogs were made of kobe beef, which explains why I didn’t get that hot dog repeat action when I tasted it. I haven’t had a hot dog in more than 20 years, but the chef de cuisine, Brad, handed one to me after they were cooked, and everyone, including Chef Jason, was standing there watching. I felt obligated to taste it. But it wasn’t bad. Anyway, for that hors d’oeuvre, I cut up the hot dogs and skewered them on lollipop sticks, which I’d split in half for little mini munchies. Although, mixing the batter for the dipping of the dogs was the easiest thing I did all night, the frying was probably the most complicated because the Fryolater decided to be difficult on this night. Thankfully, I was not the one doing the frying.
The housemade ketchup was a flavorful sauce that was definitely a notch up from the store stuff. It was a nice balance of acid, sweet, and tomato flavor, and everyone was treated to a jar on their way out (I made sure to grab one for myself, too). The “pot roast” was actually short ribs, doughnuts were filled with fig jam, and…well, I really don’t know what the foie gras was supposed to represent but it was the focal point of a “PB&J”—it was served with a peanut purée, toast crumbs, and strawberry gelée. The Nutella powder on the seared scallops was another nod to childhood delights but served in an entirely new medium.
One hors d’oeuvre that was not on the menu was the deep-fried eggs. These eggs were soft-boiled, just until the whites were set, and I helped to very carefully peel them. This was a difficult task because they were truly just barely set and, therefore, so fragile that they broke open very easily. The other volunteer rolled them in flour, dipped them in beaten eggs, and coated them in panko breadcrumbs, and laid them out on a sheet pan. Later, they got lowered into Fryolater for a crisping. At that point, the hope was that they would not break in the oil. When diners cut into them, they got a yolky treat. Personally, I’m not a fan of runny yolks, but many people are and (I suppose) that was a delightful surprise for them.
I so wanted to try the pretzel rolls with mustard butter, but they all went like hot cakes. They were served as dinner rolls at the table but were made from pretzel dough, and the mustard was in place of butter. Needless to say, they were a big hit. They looked soooo good, too. Damn.
Probably the favorite part of the meal for most people was the soup course. This was Creamy Tomato–Goat’s Milk Soup with Pumpernickel Croutons and Micro-Basil, which was served in Campbell soup cans. No, really. The soup from the cans was dumped and was replaced with the homemade soup. I made the croutons, which I made really small to fit into the cans comfortably. The idea was to put a whimsical twist on an old favorite; people seemed to enjoy the whimsy.
The pre-dessert (which was a new concept for me) was a real throwback to after-school treats with a strawberry milkshake and jelly doughnut, and the dessert course was a holiday memory made up of Sticky Toffee Pudding with Gingerbread and Eggnog Ice Cream.
His wine director is Tricia LaCount, a really sweet person who mixed up some wild elixirs to accompany the menu. The most intriguing of her concoctions was the Amarena Cherry–Infused Vodka with Amarena Cherry and Peanut Butter Powder, which was essentially a liquid peanut butter and jelly sandwich (with a kick, of course). And the lingering flavor in the mouth really was like I’d just eaten a PB&J. I really would’ve loved to try her other drinks—especially the Chocolate Martini with Giant Marshmallow—but she had set up her bar in the atrium, removed from the kitchen, and I just didn’t have the time to chase anything down, so to speak.
And so went my last James Beard event. I walked out happy, proud, relieved, and sad. I really am proud of my work there and despite moments of sheer depression over things that I’d done not quite right, I think I did most things right. I’m going to look back on this experience fondly and, hopefully, as the start of a whole new chapter of my life.
Kobe Corn Dogs with Housemade Ketchup
Deviled Eggs with Tuna Tartare and Olive Tapenade
Buttermilk-Fried Chicken Fingers
The Anorexic Model — Pierre Ferrand Cognac with Lychee Bubbles, St. Germain, and Berry Garnish
For the Table — Pretzel Rolls and Mustard Butter
Caesar Salad with Crispy Egg, White Anchovies, Crème Fraîche Dressing, and Pickled Onions
Krupp Brothers Chardonnay 2009
Pan-Seared Scallops with Slab Bacon, Tabasco-Soaked Cherries, Nutella Powder, and Maple Aïoli
Krupp Brothers Black Bart’s Bride 2007
Creamy Tomato—Goat’s Milk Soup with Pumpernickel Croutons and Micro-Basil
Krupp Brothers Black Bart’s Bounty Syrah 2007
Foie Gras PB&J with Peanut Purée, Toast Crumbs, and Strawberry Gelée
I Know I Jamm Jamm — Amarena Cherry—Infused Vodka with Amarena Cherry and Peanut Butter Powder
Pot Roast with Carrot Purée, Blue Potatoes, Onion Ring Salad, and Horseradish
Krupp Brothers The Doctor 2007
Milkshake—Fig Jelly Doughnuts with Vanilla Bean Mascarpone
Sticky Toffee Pudding with Gingerbread, Eggnog Ice Cream, and Micro-Celery
Blonde Afro Puff — Chocolate Martini with Giant Marshmallow
Day 9: Chef Ron Eyester, Rosebud, Atlanta, GA
Day 9 of my internship was non-stop. I began working almost immediately and it seemed like I never stopped. There was no break to speak of, although food was brought in to munch on as we worked.
Chef Ron Esyester has a little bit of a reputation. He created an alter ego for Twittering and called himself “The Angry Chef.” It was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek vehicle for venting his frustrations with the biz. Eatocracy, CNN’s food blog, invited him to do a blog, called “Six ways customers tick off chefs,” and he was skewered by commenters who did everything from calling him names to sending him death threats.
I asked him if he really tells off his customers. He said, “I’m not afraid to let customers know what’s on my mind. I’m of the belief that the customer is not always right. But I do believe that a guest is a guest.” (I hope he realizes that I was just kidding by asking him that!)
But that doesn’t seem to really be him. In fact, I didn’t find him to be angry at all. On the contrary, he was very even-tempered and quite patient with me, even when I wasn’t sure about how to do something. And he’s quite involved in philanthropic activities: he volunteers at local schools, serves on the board of a local farmer’s market, and donates meals to firefighters on Thanksgiving.
But he definitely marches to the beat of his own drummer. He infuses his work with humor and a tongue-in-cheekery that reflects his non-traditional path in the culinary world: he didn’t go to culinary school—he went to The Citadel, a military college, and received a degree in Literature. And when another volunteer and I called him “Chef,” as we were taught to do in school, he told us to just called him Ron, that he couldn’t stand the whole “Chef” thing. In fact, everyone to him is “brother” or “sister,” as in, “How’s that salad coming, sister?” and “Can you take care of this for me, brother?” His menu is an example of his down-to-earth style: the beverage selection is called “stuff to drink,” the eggs on the brunch menu is “stuff with eggs,” and the favorites list on the brunch menu is “stuff regulars eat.” The pricing of the available wines are described as “cheap,” “decent,” and “good.” He is a believer in locavore eating, something he picked up from his former boss, Scott Crawford, who came to assist him the night of the Beatles dinner.
He’s very into music and got this idea from a Jerry Garcia dinner he did a couple of years ago. In fact, he has different ideas for combining music and food. To him, they are often (if not always) intertwined. For example, he found himself so well prepared, that he had time to devised an extra hors d’oeuvre—a soup shooter, which he concocted from the poaching liquid from the haddock (see menu below). He called this “Beatles Bisque,” and commented that it’s like an encore after a concert—a little extra something. We had music going in the kitchen all day long, from (of course) the Beatles to the Band to James Brown. One of the JBF staff who came in said, “It’s like a jam session in here.” I sang my way through dinner that night.
By the end of the night, I was showing my work on my physical being: I was covered in chocolate from the dessert and smelled fishy. One of the things he had me do was to make a roux, which I whisked into an oyster soup, which got on my hands; I trimmed and chopped scallops; later, I removed the little suction cups from the tentacles of several octopi; then, I chopped anchovies; and during dinner service, I poured the impromptu “Beatles Bisque.” By the time I left the JB House, I had a somewhat oceanic aroma about me. I think a couple of cats tried to follow me home.
On the other hand, oysters and chocolate are considered aphrodisiacs, so it could have been a worse combination.
I’ve never heard of anyone removing the suction cups from octopus tentacles, and that was definitely a new experience. My favorite task that evening was cutting up and cooking mushrooms. But I’m talking about a HUGE pot of mushrooms. The pot I used was a rondeau, which a child could take a bath in. Seriously. The mushrooms were for the Braised Mushroom Manicotti with Lightly Pickled Leeks, Lamb Jus, and Midnight Moon Cheese, and it was a combination of cremini, king, shiitake, enoke, and trumpet mushrooms, plus a black mushroom that I had never seen before (and neglected to ask about). They were foraged and were mixed with leaves, twigs, and rocks that I had to pick out. But what a gorgeous mixture of fungus! Part of the dessert was a pistachio cream, which I made using the fabulous Vitamix blender (one of my fantasy toys). It was so smooth and delicious, I fell in love with it. It’s going to be my new dessert topper. You can see more photos HERE.
You say you want a revolution? Well, you know… Okay, I don’t know where I’m going with this Beatles song reference, so here’s the menu:
Beatles Tribute Dinner
I Am the Walrus — Scallion-Baked Eggs with Milk-Poached Haddock and Cornflake Crostini
Eleanor Rigby — Carolina Rice Fritters with Dates and Curried Honey
Penny Lane — Fish’n’Chips with Potato Gaufrettes, Onion Crème Fraîche, and White Anchovies
You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away — Spaghetti and Nantucket Cape Scallop Egg Roll
Lamberti Extra Dry Prosecco NV
Octopus’s Garden — Chilled Octopus with Baby Fennel, White Beans, Borage Cress, and Citrus–Oyster Vinaigrette
Conti Formentini Pinot Grigio 2010
Magical Mystery Tour — Braised Mushroom Manicotti with Lightly Pickled Leeks, Lamb Jus, and Midnight Moon Cheese
La Scolca Pinot Nero 2008
And Your Bird Can Sing — English Tea–Braised White Oak Pastures Chicken with Georgia Grits, Olives, and Natural Jus
Museum Tempranillo Crianza 2008
Piggies — Crispy Pork Cutlet with Mean Mr. Mustard–Bacon Sauerkraut and Lemon and Honey–Marinated Dried Apricots
Hugel Riesling 2009
The Ballad of John and Yoko — Buttermilk–Chocolate Cake with Pistachio Purée and High Road Craft White Chocolate–Toffee Crunch Ice Cream
Churchill’s 20-Year-Old Tawny Porto NV
Savoring Spain with Chef Ryan Poli
Day 8 of my Internship at James Beard was spent “Savoring Spain” with Chef Ryan Poli from Tavernita restaurant in Chicago.
Working with a different chef and crew each time has given me a broad view of attitudes and atmosphere in different circles, and it’s been very interesting. You can get a general sense of what it’s like to work with that chef because a person is usually the same at work as they are at home.
Of course, how a crew behaves at the James Beard House can be different than how it behaves in its own environment because it’s a special occasion for a chef to do a dinner at the JBH. A spotlight shines on them that they don’t have on them every day (even if they are a celebrity chef) and everyone who attends is focused on the food in a way that the average diner is not. Not to mention that the press is always at these dinners: representatives from such publications as Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and at one time, Gourmet. Interviews take place, photos are taken, and the food is reviewed.
There was a sense of nervousness in the air that I felt the moment I walked in to work with the Tavernita crew, and much of the day was spent working in silence. There was shop talk and a little bantering, but for the most part, everyone was focused on their task. Chef Ryan checked and re-checked his mise en place for every single dish and I could see the focus in his eyes.
I’m not sure where the anxiety was coming from—I’m sure he’s been in the spotlight before. But he seemed to know exactly what he was doing and I had no doubt that it would all come off well in the end. Even when trying to figure out the plating, he seemed to have a vision that he managed to express, even if everything wasn’t exactly as he had planned.
Working at the James Beard House, I feel the way Steve Martin and Alec Balwin must feel hosting Saturday Night Live: I know the behind-the-scenes crew, even though the “on air” talent changes; I know how the stage feels; and I know where the bathrooms are. Therefore, I had no qualms telling him not to worry, that it would all come together. I’ve seen moments of panic, anxiety, and frustration, but, always, the dinners come out marvelous and the diners walk out exhilarated. Dinner on this night was no exception. Everyone walked out with the usual look of sated euphoria and compliments to the chef. And with a sigh of relief from Chef Ryan.
I don’t do oysters so I can’t comment on those, but the croquettes—a round mouthful of a crispy coating with an incredibly smooth, creamy interior—and the Pintxos de Escalivada (roasted peppers and eggplant on grilled bread) were quintessential Spanish tapas fare. The patatas bravas were Chef Ryan’s spin on the classic Spanish dish, which is usually potatoes cut into chunks, fried, and topped with a spicy tomato-based sauce. Chef Ryan’s version turned the potatoes into little cylinder-shaped cups and filled with two sauces: a spicy chile sauce and a garlic aioli (unless I’m getting my sauces mixed up). One pop into the mouth and you got all flavors coming together to make one composite burst. (The cape gooseberries that went with the gin-and-tonic drink for this course was delicious—sweet-tart with a slight hint of tomato.)
I didn’t try the octopus either, but it was visually stunning. They cooked it sous vide (a slow, low-temp bath) and then grilled them for that smoky flavor and bright color. Arranged on the plates, it was a work of art. And one of these days, I’m going to have to try making crispy artichokes. Delicious!
People were duly impressed with the leche frita (fried milk) and many people asked how that was done. I wasn’t in on the process from the beginning, but the “milk” is made into a custard, which is allowed to set in the refrigerator. Then it is cut into rectangles, breaded, and fried. It had a appealing texture and a mild custard-y flavor that was enhanced by almond ice cream, almond crumble, and dulce de leche. People were fascinated by it.
More photos HERE.
Here’s the menu:
Pickled Oyster Cocktails
Ibérico Ham Croquettes
Pintxos de Escalivada (Roasted Vegetables on Grilled Bread)
Housemade Sweet Vermouth
Winter Gin and Tonic > Death’s Door Gin with Clementine, Cape Gooseberries, and Winter Spices
Fluke Crudo with Artichokes, Tomatoes, and Pine Nuts
Arabako Txakolina Xarmant Txakoli 2010
Beet–Artichoke Salad with Arugula, Cabrales Blue Cheese, Crispy Artichokes, and Pickled Shallots
Burgáns Albariño 2010
Octopus with Fennel, Orange, and Olive Tapenade
CVNE Viña Real Reserva Rioja Crianza 2007
Rib-Eye with Potatoes, Sweet-and-Sour Fennel, and Habanero Chile Butter
D. Ventura Viña do Burato Mencia Lurra Garnacha 2009
Fried Milk Pudding with Almond Ice Cream, Almond Crumble, and Dulce de Leche
Lustau Solera Reserva San Emilio Pedro Ximénez Sherry NV
Day 7 of my internship at the James Beard House was called “Champagne Elegance” and was headed by Chef Todd Hogan, Executive Chef of Indigo in Roswell, GA. Chef Todd’s menu was a French-inspired blend of easy-to-love modern classics, such as fava bean hummus, to more daring plates, such as Corn-Dusted Smelts with Lemon Aïoli (almost whole except for the head and tail) and Veal Rib-Eye with Bacon–Onion Marmalade, Fiddlehead Ferns, and Fried Chanterelles.
Chef Todd’s demeanor throughout the day was calm, cool, and collected. Even when I screwed up. Which made sense after he told me that he had been an instructor at Johnson & Wales University, one of the best culinary schools in the U.S.
I was put to the task of slices gaufrettes on the mandoline. (Graufette is just a fancy French name for waffle fries. Well, technically, gaufrettes are dessert waffles, something like Italian pizzelles. Gaufrettes pommes de terre are waffle fries— pommes de terre being “potatoes.”) Anyway, Chef was concerned about the size and shape of the potatoes so he had one of his crew slice the potatoes while I laid them out on a sheet pan and then helped brush each one with browned butter. They were then put in the oven to crisp up like chips. Unfortunately, they baked unevenly and some of them burned. Chef decided that they were burning where the butter was dabbed on (as opposed to being brushed on).
I’m not entirely convinced that this was my fault. First, I wasn’t the only one brushing on the butter; second, the gaufrettes were so thin and fragile that to run the brush across them without destroying them was almost impossible; third, one tray burned entirely—and quite evenly—which means they were just in too long. Whatever the case was, I felt terrible and I apologized, because I was a part of the whole thing. But Chef just said to stop with the butter and to spray the rest of the potatoes with cooking spray, which helped them bake more evenly.
The next task I was given was to make sweet potato pancakes. The pancakes in my first batch were too fat. Then they were too small. Then the grill got really hot and they started to burn. Then I was flattening them too much. It seemed that I just couldn’t get them right. Enough of them came out well, but I was getting pretty frustrated there for a while. On the plus side, I used a flat-top grill for the first time and learned how to cool it down when it gets too hot.
This evening proved my theory that you can do something a million times, but it’s when they’re watching that you screw up. C’est la vie.
On a sad note, Chef Todd’s restaurant, Indigo, sustained a fire recently. Hogan considered the possibility of canceling his James Beard gig but decided that they needed to soldier on and do something that would make them feel good. I said, “And here I come along and screw up the sweet potato pancakes.” They were very nice about it, and Chef Deborah Willyard, Chef Todd’s assistant for the day, told me to “Stop that!” It’s a life-long habit I have of beating myself up, and I’m working on stopping it. (Chef Deborah, by the way, has a catering business in Marietta, GA, called Blue Dragonfly Catering. I love the name and told her so.)
One nice aspect of the evening was that one of my classmates, Elena, came to have dinner with her boyfriend. It was really nice to see her and I was glad to cook for one of my peeps. Once again, I’m hoping to get some professional photos, but for now, here’s my gallery.
Here’s the menu:
Hot-Smoked Lamb Loin with Sweet Potato Cake and Spicy Tomato Jam
Corn-Dusted Smelts with Lemon Aïoli
Fava Bean Hummus with Black Truffle Pâté
Housemade Duck Prosciutto with Blackberry Conserve and Bleu de Chèvre
Iron Horse Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2008
Duck Confit–Goat Cheese Napoleon with Crispy Potato Gaufrettes and Meyer Lemon–Infused 25-Star Balsamic Glaze
Iron Horse Vineyards Russian Cuvée 2006
Double Beef and Thyme Consommé with Short Rib–Butternut Squash Dumpling
Iron Horse Vineyards Classic Vintage Brut 2006
Baby Arugula with Warm Walnut Morbier, Dried Apricots, Red Onions, and Orange Blossom–White Balsamic Glacé
Iron Horse Vineyards Wedding Cuvée 2007
Veal Rib-Eye with Bacon–Onion Marmalade, Fiddlehead Ferns, and Fried Chanterelles
Iron Horse Vineyards Ocean Reserve 2005
Farmhouse Pear Tarte Tatin with Drunken Fig Gelato
Drambuie Caramel Milkshake
On Saturday, January 21, 2012, I went to the Kids Food Fest to be a culinary volunteer. Co-sponsored by Share Our Strength and the James Beard Foundation, the festival was created to get kids interested in food and teach them healthy eating habits.
The event was a two-day affair in Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan. It was a snowy, cold day and while it brought out the skaters to the ice rink (CitiPond), it kept away a lot of visitors from the festival, which was a shame. They had prepared for 50 children per event, and the numbers were nowhere near that. The most kids I saw at any demo/performance were perhaps 20. But there was a nice cross-section of kids. They ranged in age from toddler to teen; they were black, white, and Asian; and I even saw a couple of kids who, I had reason to believe, had two daddies. These are all good things.
Although there was a lot of frenzied running around, it seemed that they really didn’t have a whole lot for the volunteers to do. I tried to brave out the cold in my chef jacket, in an attempt to maintain a professional appearance at all times. I even helped deliver trays of prepped foods from the event services pavilion to the main building, where they were doing other demos, with no coat.
After a while, another volunteer and I were assigned to the stage tent to help out with the demos. The stage tent was one of those temporary metal-and-Plexiglas structures, and although they had heaters in there, it was absolutely freezing. Over time, I slowly donned parts of my outwear: first my gloves, then my hat, and after about 2 hours, I couldn’t take it any more and finally put on my coat. And despite the fact that I was wearing my snow boots, my toes were frozen after several hours. I eyed the main building, a café/lounge called Celcius, with envy, wishing that I’d been assigned to the demos in there.
The first demo I assisted in was “Avocados From Mexico: Guacamole Mashing with Cricket Azima.” Cricket Azima is a co-founder of the Kids Food Fest and The Creative Kitchen. I had gone in with my knife roll across my back, kind of like an arrow quiver; Cricket told me to put the knives down so as not to scare the kids (not that they would have known that there were knives in there.) Kids were given plastic bags with an avocado and some tomato. The other volunteer and I handed out the bags, along with limes, cilantro, and salt. The kids squeezed the limes into their bags (or their parents did), pinched off the cilantro leaves, and grabbed a pinch of salt, sealed the bags, and then squished everything together with their hands. Then they got to eat it with sweet potato chips.
Next up was “Table Time with Mr. Manners,” hosted by Tom Farley, an etiquette specialist. He engaged the kids in a talk about table manners and the kids’ answers to his questions were pretty cute. For example, he asked them to name some bad table manners, and one kid responded, “No spitting on the table.”
I was interested in “Akiko Thurnauer: Japanese Onigiri Rice Balls,” Chef Akiko and her sous chef taught the audience how to make Japanese rice balls by hand and by using a mold (which actually yielded rice rolls). One of the ingredients she used was red shiso, which is often referred to as Japanese basil. It did have a basil-like flavor, crossed with maybe oregano. Green shiso, also called perilla, is part of the same as basil, but red shiso is another type called akajiso, and is used to dye umeboshi, which are pickled ume plums. (We used a lot of umeboshi paste and vinegar quite a bit at The Natural Gourmet Institute. The medicinal benefits of umeboshi is the subject of another blog. Stay tuned.)
I took a break during “Circus Balancing,” as it did not require any culinary assistance. Cricket was up next with “Snack Time Choices.” At that point, I could no longer feel my toes and decided that 6 hours was enough for me.
All in all, it wasn’t the culinary experience I’d hoped it would be, but it was educational to see the behind-the-scenes activities of an event like this. Well, at least I got a few Clif Bars out of the deal.
If you read this blog, or know me on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter, then you know that I just graduated from The Natural Gourmet Institute on January 6. I briefly reflected on this event, and now I thought I’d share the menu with you.
Every meal at The Natural Gourmet Institute is a fabulous one. I’ve done shifts working Friday Night Dinners for other classes and guest instructors, but on this Friday evening, my class was being served. We got to sit back and enjoy the meal without working, fussing, freaking, and, best of all, cleaning. The menu was created and overseen by instructor Chef Elliott Prag, who did a great job. So, here’s what we had:
Trio of mushrooms:
Mushroom Sherry Soup with Cashew Cream
Mushroom Walnut Paté with seeded (gluten-free, homemade) crackers
Mushroom Tempura with Shoyu-Yuzu Dipping Sauce
Shepherd’s Pie with hazelnut crust, spiced and seared tempeh, root vegetables, and sweet potato topping
Roasted Brussels sprouts and cipollini onions
Salad of Frisée and radicchio with olives, raisins, and pickled shallots in sweet rice vinaigrette
Cardomom-ginger poached Seckel pear
Gluten-free ginger tuile
This was a completely vegan and gluten-free meal.
Everything was expertly plated and looked beautiful. But, more importantly, it all tasted delicious. I enjoyed everything, and so did everyone else at my table. What’s interesting is to see people who are usually carnivorous, or just meat-and-potato people, taste the food at Friday Night Dinner and surprise themselves by enjoying it. The look on their faces of utter astonishment that they could possibly enjoy and be filled by a vegan meal is priceless. And I know a few people who enjoyed it so much that they plan on going to more Friday Night Dinners.
What made the mushroom appetizer trio particularly good was the fact that they used several different mushrooms—cremini, oyster, chanterelles, porcini, and perhaps others. Singly, these mushrooms all have their own distinct flavor—some earthy, some woodsy, some with nutty undertones—but together, they create something that is flavorful and complex.
The shepherd’s pie was a clever combination of tempeh and root vegetables and rather than be accompanied by sweet potatoes, they were topped by them. At the risk of insulting Chef Prag, I want to say that the pie was so cute! I don’t know if he would appreciate the word “cute” being applied to one of his entreés, but I mean that in the best possible way. They were these little, individual pies, decorated in a way that was both classy and quaint (see photos). And dessert was sweet and gratifying without being too much after such a filling meal.
I am getting sad writing this. There was something electric about going to class that you don’t get just anywhere. Friday Night Dinner was always a rush of adrenaline, and the frenzy and excitement always outweighed the anxiety over doing a good job. Ultimately, we always did a good job.
Thanks to everyone at NGI. It was an experience I’ll never forget.