Belgian Beer, European Food, and a New Adventure

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For the better part of the last five years, I’ve developed dinner menus with the thought of matching the cuisine to a basic selection of wine.  Well, that’s about to change as I will be taking over the kitchen of The Merry Monk in Saratoga as of Thursday March 24th. I couldn’t be more excited since I find food and beer pairings far more interesting than food and wine pairings. Overall, I find beer more interesting than wine.

Don’t get me wrong, I love wine. But the beer category has more varieties, styles, and flavors than wine could ever hope to have. While wine is produced well in a limited number of places, beer is produced everywhere, showing it’s versatility, its style, and its tendency to be loved the world over.

While beer is brewed all over the world, it is Belgium that is known as one of those special places for producing great beers, and having a long tradition of excellent brewing.  I will not get into the history or the unique quality of Belgian beer against the often dull and pretentious nature of wine.  That is an argument for another day as my focus is not on the merits of beer over wine, but the task of making The Merry Monk a great dining destination among the several good choices in Saratoga.

Recently, I was chosen to run the kitchen of a fine dining restaurant in Saratoga. I accepted the position with the hope that I’d be happy with an established system that has a deep-rooted customer base.  I welcomed the opportunity to be part of a well-run organization with a long history of success.  I had a delay in starting due to another hernia surgery which gave me time to lay on the couch and really think about what I wanted as my career heads into its later years. I had been unsatisfied for a while and was looking for something different.  Parting ways with The Wine Bar didn’t bother me a bit, the relationship had run its course and it was time to move on for both parties. While I found an opportunity at The Inn at Erlowest that, through nobody’s fault, did not work out,  I’m actually kind if glad it didn’t  https://chefsday.wordpress.com/2016/02/07/no-room-at-the-inn/ .

So, as I deeply contemplated the ramifications of continuing to work in a fine dining setting, I got an offer to run the kitchen at The Merry Monk.  At first I turned it down because I had already made a commitment, and I had convinced myself that it was a good move, but as the time drew near for me to return to the kitchen I became very apprehensive, and realized what I really want.  I want to have some fun, and I haven’t had fun in a while.  So, I had to go back on my decision once I learned that the position at Merry Monk was still available to me.  I felt horrible, but what I figured was that it’s better to do it now than six months into a job that I didn’t want.  I’ve taken too many jobs over the years that were not right for me and they have never ended well.  What’s done is done, and I look forward to my new challenge.

Both the kitchen and the menu will be overhauled the first week of April, and a new sous chef and a couple of new cooks will be brought in.  My new sous chef is Dan Chessare, who was my sous chef for a couple of years at The Wine Bar. We had a great working relationship and he’s a real professional. I’m pretty excited to be working with him again.  I have interviews with a few cooks, some that I’ve worked with in the past.  There are some spots open, so of you’re looking to join a professional team that will be delivering some great Belgian/European inspired food without the pretense of fine dining, let me know by sending a note and resume to dominiccolose@gmail.com .  The best way I can describe the cuisine is gastropub-bistro, if that makes any sense.

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A basic outline for the menu is done, but not complete as there are many details to work out. Here are some of the ideas, keeping in mind that not everything is certain.  Naturally mussels and hand-cut fries will be important and have their own menu section.  There will be a selection of fun bar snacks, including fried smelts with a not yet determined dipping sauce,  roasted nuts, flageolet humus with house made flat bread, smoked duck chicarones, and a variety of cheese and charcuterie.  A vegetable section that will feature my 5-lily soup, and various Springtime salads and warm vegetable preparations like chicon au gratin.    A small plate section will include fried oysters, steak tartare, whole chicken wings, Parisian gnocchi with black pepper sabayon and Spring vegetables, and roasted bone marrow.  A street food/sandwich selection will have a great burger, a grilled duck confit reuben, a grilled Gruyère, Black Forest ham, and Dijon sandwich, various sausage sandwiches, lamb doner kebab,  fish and chips, and a trio of flammkuchen,  small German-Alsatian “pizzas” popular in Belgium.  Large Plates will feature Carbonnade, Seafood waterzooi, bistro style roast chicken. choucroute garni, oven roasted whole trout,  and of course, my steak frites that features a prime NY strip, duck fat fries, and bone marrow aioli.  I’m also considering offering the same dish with a smaller hangar steak.  Desserts will likely include Belgian chocolate cake or truffles, an apple tart, Dutch doughnuts, and of course a Belgian waffle.

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As I move into this role, I look forward to the future.  I’m not sure how much longer I’ll spend in a professional kitchen, and if I will ever get back to fine dining.  One thing is for sure, I’m going to make it a priority to have fun, and really enjoy what I’m doing.  I am inspired by places like The Ruck and Peck’s Arcade in Troy.  It looks like they’re having a really good time.  I’m going to enjoy the casual nature of what we’re doing, without trying to make every aspect of the dining experience perfect.  I think my food will be better for it.

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Thyme and Time Again

Thyme is important to cooking.

Time is important to cooking.

Americans spend less time preparing meals at home than anyone else in the World. People say it’s because we are busier than ever, but I don’t believe it.  industrial food production has made it too easy for people to get food cheaply, and prepare it quickly. Mass produced food also contains lots of low-cost, low quality sugars, salt, and fats, which we humans are susceptible to developing cravings for.  industrial cooking over time has actually changed our taste buds, and as a group, and we now desire manufactured foods over raw, unprocessed foods.

I find great pleasure in taking the time to prepare a good, fresh, and flavorful meal for people I love.  Heck, I even enjoy it for people I don’t love.

Americans spend less time eating than anyone else, yet we have an obesity rate of 34%.  We eat quickly prepared food on the go, in front of the TV, in the office, and in the car. Not only is this damaging our physical health, but it’s damaging our mental health.

There are a lot of products disguised as healthy foods to eat on the go. Bars that claim to be healthy alternatives to a full meal.  I think those claims are bullshit.

There are over 400 types of thyme plants

There are countless studies that tell us that eating more slowly will lead to a greater feeling of satisfaction.

We spend an average of 30 minutes on meal preparation, who says Rachael Ray isn’t evil?

Time, by Pink Floyd is my favorite song.

Thyme oil is apparently a good treatment for toenail fungus.

I can drink a pint of beer far faster than most people.

Cool Hand Luke ate fifty eggs in one hour, that was a great movie scene  Joey Chestnut ate 141 eggs in 8 minutes, that, and other competitive eating is disgusting.  We’ve lost the concept of food, and have turned it into an entertainment prop.

Guy Fieri is a tool, and his bacon wrapped, sausage stuffed, deep-fried, and cream sauce drenched style of eating and its glorification are part of our obesity culture. The Food Network its chefs started out teaching people how to cook, but that was a long time ago. The Food Network, like other businesses, seems to have discovered that there’s no money in actual food. How do we separate money from food?

The United States spends the least per capita on food, and the most per capita on medicine.

The connection between food, nature, and life are important.

Thyme grows well in dry and hot conditions in poor quality soil. Clearly, despite the conditions, time keeps on going.

The ancient Egyptians used thyme for embalming, a process to ensure the dead body would last a long time.  Adding time when choosing, preparing, and eating will help our bodies last longer.

My son Tate is very concerned with two times each day. He will ask often “what o’clock is it?”  The times are 10:00, when Sesame Street is on, and 2:00, when Bonanza is on.

My best time for a 10k is 29:30, that was a long time ago.

I’m not a fan of most dried herbs, but thyme is one that I use with confidence.

Thyme is an important ingredient to many classic spice blends.

Time is important.

 

 

Anti-Social Media

This post has taken me several days to write as sitting up is difficult right now due to a second hernia surgery last Friday.  I had the same surgery in October, and had a reoccurrence that actually required 4 incisions to repair what the surgeon said was a crazy looking hernia.  Last time was 3 incisions and it is possible, as my wife will claim, that I got back to work too soon.  I guess that’s what happens when you continue put your job ahead of your own health. . I’ve learned a lesson.  Hopefully, however, I can start my new position next week in some capacity.

The ATT girl is a real cutie.

Gold band oysters do not need shucking.

http://blog.timesunion.com/tablehopping/51507/workers-sue-delmonicos-for-wage-violations/  This is common practice by restaurants. There is necessary side work prior to, and after service, but I’ve never been a fan of wait staff doing food prep.  Very early in my career I worked at a place that required the servers to prep and make all the house salads.

I love beer and sausages.

I’ve dry aged beef in several restaurants over the years.  It’s easy,

When I talk about social media, I include Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.  That’s all I include because those are all I’m familiar with. You’re right, I’m not too social media savvy.

Currently I’m on all but Twitter, which I tried, but didn’t like or at least didn’t understand.  For the most part, I really do not feel confident that too many people have the need to know what I’m thinking or doing at any given moment of the day or night. Perhaps I’ll try it again and try to understand it, but I easily get frustrated with things I cannot grasp. Funny, I can see in my head, and do with my hands some very complex things with ease, but cannot navigate something (Twitter) that even Donald Trump can.  Of course, I’m sure he could never learn to break down an entire lamb in 20 minutes.

Just say you went out of business without all the bullshit excuses. I opened a small restaurant many years ago and didn’t have enough money or enough experience.  My planning was poor and I just couldn’t make it.

I just got on LinkedIn, I think it my be fruitless, but I’ll keep it going just to give it a fair chance. It’s a work in progress.

A nurse called me from Saratoga Hospital on Monday to check up on me. I told her I was still very sore and she asked if I had gotten my prescription filled for the pain meds. I said yes but I was saving them for recreational use.  She had no idea how to respond,

I have a love-hate relationship with Instagram right now due to being on the second day of a ten-day detox diet. Most of the people I follow are chefs and restauranteurs that post great food pictures. I’m hungry.

Facebook I like, mostly. There’s an awful lot of stupid  shit on Facebook like much of the political commentary, and all the “can you solve this puzzle?” stuff.  Even worse, the “can you think of a name without an e in it?”

One of the supplements I’m being forced to take is fish oil. When you burp, I makes you wonder if you recently ate some bad salmon.

I could also do without the constant stream of motivational memes.  You cannot be that motivated if you’re wasting so much time on Facebook looking up and posting motivational memes all day.

Not much food related stuff to report as I have not been working. That will change next week, I think.  The break has been great, and my batteries are recharged. I’m fully prepared for a new challenge.