Roasted, Sautéed, Broiled, Fried, and Poached

While preparing for the job search I’m thinking about my strengths and weaknesses.  I think one of my biggest assets is that I’m a stickler for proper cooking technique.  If you’re going through the cooking process, then doesn’t it make sense that you do it properly?  I’ve worked with some really good cooks in the past, but I’ve also seen a lot of bad ones over the years.  Yes, I have weaknesses and faults too, but it’s always been tremendously important to me that the food be done to the best of my ability.  Doing something to the best of your ability means learning how to do that thing you’re doing the right way.

While a chef can be a great technician, it does him or her little good without the support of other management or ownership.  That includes the ability to source good product, hire good cooks, and work with a well-trained service staff.  Tom Burke and Paul McCullough at 15 Church are good examples of providing what is necessary for a successful kitchen.

There’s nothing like an extremely hot grill.

I dig properly poached high quality salmon.

Too often a restaurateur must ask themselves “do I want a great restaurant or do I want to make money?” Few can do both.

Is it poaching in olive oil, or is it a variation on confit?

Franco Rua of Cafe Capriccio recently cooked beans in a flask. That’s not only old school, but it’s also cool. He does a lot of old school cooking, therefore, he’s cool.

I’ve seen too many examples of cooks confusing boiling with poaching.

I once worked with a guy that called it ploaching, and I couldn’t tell him otherwise.

Really good roasting of fruits and vegetables requires knowing why you’re roasting them, and what the desired end result should be. Too many cooks think it’s just to cook them.

Fried food in a mini shopping cart or fryer basket is not cool, especially if the fried food is of poor quality. It’s not kitschy either. I was recently served stale, over-seasoned potato chips in a mini fryer basket.  Good thing the beer was good

I’ve been poached.

Sometimes a wannabe should be, sometimes not.

I’m not against new things, but I do find a lot of modern cooking methods and ingredients to be too antiseptic for my liking.  With that said, a lot of these new techniques require a lot of skill and knowledge.

I love a clean and neat kitchen. I was in a kitchen last week that was dirty, and that was before the kitchen staff was in.  If you cannot take pride in your workspace, how can you have pride in your food?

Learn proper technique above all else, if you have a good palate then good food will follow.

Most cooks who “work sauté” do not know how to sauté properly.  They use too much heat, do not get proper color on proteins, and add liquid too soon.  Despite what bad menus say, it is impossible to sauté in white wine or cream sauce. In fact, you cannot sauté in any kind of liquid or sauce.

When someone who knows next to nothing about cooking and food tirelessly argues with you about cooking food.

Putting a bunch of stuff in a blender generally does not result in pesto, so lets stop calling a bunch of stuff whirled in a blender pesto.

Worst braise I’ve ever witnessed:  Barely browned, unseasoned chicken placed in a deep hotel pan with miripoix, and mushrooms, covered with red wine and placed in an oven for an undetermined period of time and called coq au vin.  It was done by someone who thought they had learned everything about professional cooking and I could not teach them otherwise.  Good, satisfying braises are long affairs that result in deeply satisfying flavors.  I now have the urge to make my chicken alla cacciatora.

This is unrelated, but it bares repeating: When you take a picture off the internet from another restaurant and represent it as your work without giving credit, and without making the potential customer aware that it’s someone else’s creative work, that’s deceptive and wrong.

The maillard reaction is important to understand.

Please cook your pasta in a very large pot of rapidly boiling and well salted water.

Blanching requires ice.

I never cook lobsters whole. The claws and tail cook at very different rates.  I also like to keep the bodies seperate for stock so some of the parts can be taken out, like the gills which can add bitterness to the finished product.

 

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The Duck Isn’t Flying, So Back To The Kitchen

One of the things I’ve tried to do in this blog is to give an accurate accounting of what it’s like to be a chef, and be in not only the throws of restaurant life, but in life as a whole.  It’s not simply cooking great food and making people happy.  The life can be a grind, it can be frustrating, and it can depend on others to do their jobs well and  I’ve always reported on that with accuracy and honesty, and will continue to do so. Therefore, I present this post in that spirit, because this is the current state of this chef.

As many of you are aware from a previous post I, with support from my family, decided to give private catering and consulting a shot, with the hope that I could make a fair living while providing care and support to the newest member of our household.  While I had a great consulting gig this summer that allowed me to be there for Theresa, and I had some small events, I cannot see too much on the horizon that will allow me to make an adequate financial contribution to our household.

Perhaps our decision was made with too much influence from the strong emotions of the time just following the loss of Theresa’s mother, or just maybe the decision to leave the  professional kitchen was made with the hope that we could do something to ensure that we had control of our own culinary destiny.  Either way, things have not panned out as we had hoped, and will not in the foreseeable future.

I suppose we could give it more time to see if the Fall season and the Holidays bring a change in our business outlook, but do we dare take it so far that we end up a situation that forces us to make major financial decisions? This little culinary services operation at this point is not worth the risk, and it’s something we can revisit far down the road if need be. So, with Theresa now in a full-time day program for the first time and working towards some life goals, it seems like this is the right move for the good of the family as a whole.   With a mortgage to pay, and a family to feed, I have to do what’s necessary and look for a chef’s position and get back into the kitchen.

I am grateful for the ability to spend the last several months with Theresa and getting her settled in her new home. In retrospect I should have just called the move a sabbatical or a leave of absence from restaurant life to focus on family matters so the door to the kitchen was left open, but again, deep emotions and uncertainty can play a huge role in decision-making as I have learned. I did the right thing at the time, and I need to do the right thing now for both myself as a chef, and also for the entire family as a father.

With that said, I am in a state of flux and am looking to take on private functions, but am looking forward to opportunities to find myself running the right kitchen again.

 

Snippy Snippets

Sometimes a shallow labor pool can work to your advantage, and even be entertaining.

I’m seeing that some restaurant folks have drifted away from the spirit of the pop-up dinner.  What I’m seeing is events catered by established restaurants being called pop-ups.  The pop-up was established by chefs without restaurants that wanted to showcase their talent in varied locations, often done somewhat illegally with very short notice on the location so they wouldn’t get caught , then a message would be put out on some form of social media or by text to those who reserved spots at the table   The pop-up is now being done by large-scale caterers and restaurants with very accessible  advance notice. There’s nothing cool about that.

This is not cool.  Someone said it’s akin to what McDonald’s does when they show you photo of a perfectly made Big Mac, then you go to the restaurant and the one you get is a mess.  It’s not the same.  What McDonald’s is doing is showing you their own work in its best possible form, then giving you the same work with less effort put into it. When you take a picture off the internet from another restaurant and represent it as your work without giving credit, and making the potential customer aware that it’s someone else’s creative work, that’s deceptive and wrong.

When Jennifer and I operated the Yawning Duck Pasta Co. we decided to hold communal dinners by putting the two 4’x8′ farm tables I had made together to form a large square with sixteen chairs around it.  I called the Saratoga Springs Building Department just to see if there was any permit we needed.  The first thing I was told was to get an architect, which would run us $1500.00.  I thought it was a joke and I told them I thought I could figure out how to place the chairs evenly around the table without professional help.  It was no joke and the now retired building inspector had no sense of humor.  I told him we could not afford that and would not be doing the dinners in our pasta shop.  We must have done at least ten of them.  What’s the statute of limitations on illegal dinners?

I take pictures of my work using my cell phone all the time during dinner service.  Take advantage of the slower parts of the night, either at the beginning or at the end when you’ve got time to snap a pic or two before the plate goes out. This way you are representing your work as it really goes to actual diners.

“Every time I go there its bad.”  Then stop going.  Who has regular customers that complain every time they’re in?

It’s not that you’ve over cooked it, it’s that you served it.

For the first time since 1972 I have little interest in the Olympics.  I remember Mark Spitz winning 7 gold medals, and remember Frank Shorter winning the marathon.  I also remember the theme song on ABC, and Jim McKay.  I also knew that I wanted to be an Olympian, long before I knew I could run.

Steele Johnson is a member of the US Olympic diving team that is.

 

That’s enough tote bags.  One of the cool things to give out at events is an Earth friendly tote bag, one you can bring to the grocery store or farmer’s market so you don’t have to use plastic bags.  Well, we’ve got at least 30 of them at our house, and I’m sure that in 30 years it will become an environmental problem here in the US as we tend to beat a dead horse and over-do things to a fault.

Speaking of dead horses, I’m not sure I’ll get to the track this season.

Cooks that have no interest in food, politicians that have no interest in helping people, doctors that don’t have a few minutes to talk, restauranteurs that think they’re always right, customers that think they’re always right, people who aren’t aware that they’re not the only people at the farmer’s market, people who tailgate on the highway when you’re passing the schmuk in the middle lane going 60mph, even though you’re going 75 mph, the left lane was not made just for you, and when I’m done passing I’ll move over.  People who travel in the left lane, people with little interest in learning to do their jobs better, people who think Fox News is news, people who think MSNBC is news.

No matter what restaurant job I’ve ever had, in both fine dining and pubs alike, I’ve always given my best effort and I’ve always demanded that all those around me give the same effort.  When that effort is not supported throughout the restaurant then it’s very difficult to have a truly great restaurant. The lack of effort across the board is why most restaurants are not great.  Some have great service and just ok food, some have great food and just ok service. This is why in our area Yono’s stands out, they have both.

Welcome to Saratoga Salt and Char.  I have not been yet, but I’m told that quality of the food matches the quality of the service.

This is unscientific, but my observations tell me the most frequent types of vehicles that tailgate are the Audi, BMW, and Lexus.  See a pattern here? I’m not saying all owners of these types of cars are assholes because I have some dear friends that own BMWs and they’re not assholes.  Like I said, this is unscientific so I cannot confirm or rule out the douchiness of the others.  The other vehicle that I tend to have six feet from my bumper at 75 mph is the unnecessarily large pick up truck, like the Ford F-250 with the squirrely little fella driving.  I’m not saying he’s trying to make up for any short comings, but it would explain why you need large off-road tires and roll bars in and around Albany NY.

Also unscientific.  My observations tell me that at least 30% of men do not wash their hands after using a public restroom. I’ll leave you with that.

 

 

Hot for Teacher

Teaching, I mean really teaching someone to cook is a very difficult task.  If they do not have a genuine interest in food and how it should taste there’s no chance they’ll learn.

There are three types of cooks that I’ve trained over the years.  First, and my favorite, is the cook who knows he/she doesn’t know everything and will listen to what you tell them and pay attention to what you show them. They also pay attention when you’re not showing them something.  They learn to understand why you do things a particular way and embrace proper technique.  They also seek information and ideas outside of work and generally end up as chefs.  Second is common, tolerable, and often necessary due to a shallow labor pool.  The cook who pays attention and tries within the work environment to mimic my techniques and present the plates as I would.  They do their job well and have a clear understanding in the professional kitchen.  The third kind of cook has little interest in the food, and is simply there because they started as a dishwasher and moved to the cold station after a while. They’ve been cooking in sub-par in kitchens most of their working days, and see no reason to learn anything new.  They also don’t understand why I’m such an advocate of proper cooking technique, and a clean and organized work environment as the foundation of a quality kitchen.  These guys are a bad seed in the kitchen and will bring the whole group down with their poor attitude and lack of desire to learn.  They are what sports bars were created for.

Some guys have a bigger mise en place than others.

I was going to write something witty here, but I forgot what it was, I should have written it down.

Gray Kunz is in Saratoga. Most people have no idea what that means.

Many years ago I bought a new text-book, The Elements of Taste by Gray Kunz and Peter Kaminsky. If you buy cookbooks for recipes, then this is not the book for you.  If you buy it because you are learning to cook then I recommend you get a copy.

“The accomplished chef understands how taste works, what its components are, how it can be layered, how it must be balanced, and so on.” – Gray Kunz

Typically you get what you pay for.

Really? Dominic the Italian is turning French?  No, not a chance.  I have however been leaning far to the French with my cooking thoughts

“Above all, keep it simple.” – Auguste Escoffier

I watched a very good movie a few nights ago, Haute Cuisine. It reminded me once again of having very tight standards as being a very important part of being a great cook.  It will require you to read subtitles, so if you’re not bright, you’ll have to miss it.

“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.” – Julia Child

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.”  Also Julia

One of my early teachers, even before I worked in a professional kitchen was Mario Batali. I used to record his Food Network show Molto Mario and then make the things he made.  I wouldn’t follow his recipes, but I would follow his technique.  He explained how to sauté, how to braise, how to make a proper vinaigrette and so on.  He made me understand that once technique was mastered, the ingredients can be switched in and out to create your own versions of a recipe, or to create your own recipes.

 

I was at Hannaford yesterday waiting to buy some cod loins. The woman ahead of me asked for about 12 ounces of salmon fillet without any of that flappy stuff.  After the fish guy trimmed off the tasty belly and put the fillet on the scale he reported that it was “about three-quarters of a pound.”  She replied “I don’t know what that is.”  I turned to her as If I Only Had a Brain played in my head and said he’s spot on, that’s your 12 ounces.  Her reply was “are you sure?”  “Yes, I’m sure, I wasn’t absent the day they covered basic math.”

While I have picked up a great deal of cooking knowledge from people I’ve worked with, I’m for the most part a self-taught.  The bottom line is that you can learn if you want to.  Also, there’s nothing wrong not wanting to learn to cook. Of course, not wanting to learn ensures that you’ll not have a place in a kitchen I run.