Looking Back on a Great Year and Forward to a Better One

With 2018 just in the next room it’s human nature to both look back on the previous twelve months and reflect, and to look ahead to the upcoming year and think about what we’d like to accomplish.  My last resolution was to stop trying to change myself.   I have never used January 1st a some magical date that gives me the power to morph into something else but I’m going to try to make some changes in the spirit of the new calendar and get myself a tune up and some body work.

I’ve spent time recently reflecting about the past year and saw it as a real down year.  Nothing really happened that was tragic or traumatic but for most of the time I was in poor spirits.  I was feeling the symptoms of depression but never really made the connection that I was depressed.  It wasn’t until yesterday that I made the discovery that 2017 was a great year after all.  A friend asked on Facebook what our peak of 2017 was and I immediately answered “the realization and treatment for depression.”  I suddenly saw that the event was so important and positive that it not only turned my year around it also turned my life around and set it on a  course.

I’ve made a move to change my drinking habits in early October.  I was consuming a lot of alcohol and knew I needed to make a serious adjustment and not drink for a while. As I discussed this with my therapist he told me I need to replace the time drinking and the alcohol with other things like walks or hobbies.  Well I replaced the booze with food and my belly has paid the price.  Although I joined a gym I have not been going as I should and my weight has gotten to be a problem.  Back to the gym and watch the food.  How’s that for a cliché of a resolution?

Another thing I’d like to follow-up on as 2017 comes to a close is to become focused with my time.  By streamlining I’m looking to find those things in my life that are distracting and time-wasting.  There’s a lot of fat to trim when it comes to time management and I started last night by cutting my friends list on Facebook from 869 to 411. I also deleted my LinkedIn account and think I got rid of Instagram as well. Also, the new blog I started recently called dominicsbrain to separate the food related stuff from the non-food related stuff has to go  What the Hell was I thinking?  So what if I include non-food stuff in chefsday? If you’re here for the food then skip the other parts. It’s my blog and I’ll write what I want.

I go grocery shopping a lot because I don’t think about or plan meals more than a day or two in advance.  The nice thing about being a chef is that I can make pretty much anything on a whim and do it without planning. Life is a bit more interesting that way but it does waste a lot of time.  Better lists and better plans will equal fewer trips to the store.

My career as a restaurant chef has been on hold while I have gotten my shit together and figured out how to proceed with life.  I’m in a great position now to return to the kitchen on a daily basis and I’m looking forward to it.  I miss writing menus and creating great food.  A goal for 2018 is to regain a chef’s position and start creating again.  I have a refreshed outlook and a lot of new ideas.  An awful lotta chefs could use the break I’ve had.

My biggest goal for the New Year is to continue mending as many fences as I can.  This includes some relationships I’ve let slip, others that I’ve damaged.  I have gotten a great start recently as I’ve extended the olive branch to several people whom I missed.  The responses have been more than I could hope for.  I have a lot of work to do in this area but it will be a pleasure making connections with those I have disappointed or neglected.  I don’t keep a lot of friends and don’t have a lot of family but I value those I have and they deserve more from me.

2017 turned out to be a great year for me and I believe 2018 will bring some wonderful new experiences.  I hope all of you find the New Year to be fulfilling and generous. Thank you for reading, see you all next year.

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I Like it Like That

I need things a certain way which is something I sometimes discuss with my therapist.  If I invite you to my home and say snacks at 5:00 and dinner at 6:00 then that’s the way I would like it. I plan on things to be that way and I get quite aggravated if things don’t keep on schedule.  I’m sure the anxiety stems from years in the restaurant business.  If the door will be unlocked at 4:00 then everything must be ready by 4:00.  What if a party of six arrives as the key is turning?  Those six people will be paying the same price as those that come in at 5:30 so they should have the same experience.  That’s just good hospitality.  I also have the same rule at home where I practice good hospitality and need my plan adhered to.  I also like my food and drink a particular way.  Not having it the way I like it can cause mild anxiety to disappointment to deep agitation.  My emotional state depends on the violation but it’s generally not too bad.

Obviously I love food and drink.  I love to work with food, write about food, read about food, and watch anything food related.  I also love to eat good food and enjoy good drinks.  Lately my beverages are restricted to a lot of Polar flavored seltzer and as always, coffee. As a chef people often ask me what I like to eat and what restaurants I like.  Keep in mind that there is a right way and a wrong way to enjoy the following items.  If you want to enjoy things properly then do it the way I like it, you’ll have better life experiences that way and become a happier and more fulfilled person.

These are a few of my favorite things.

Coffee – dark, strong, and a little bitter.  A bit of cream and a teaspoon of sugar.  I don’t over-spend for coffee. I never go to Starbucks and rarely Dunkin Donuts.

Steak – Tenderloin rare.  NY strip mid-rare.  Rib eye medium. I like steak seared in a hot cast iron pan, turned every 30-60 seconds until a good crust is formed then finished on a lower heat with butter, garlic cloves, and thyme sprigs until the desired temperature is reached.  A great steak needs no sauce, just some flaked salt, freshly ground pepper, good olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon.

Ice Cream – I like anything that’s very chocolately and has caramel or peanut butter.  My favorite commercially ice cream made of all-time was Ben and Jerry’s In a Crunch which isn’t made anymore.  My favorite home-made is my own chocolate which when eaten causes one to have a sexual experience before the next morning.  I don’t make that one as much as I used to.  I like to pop my ice cream in the microwave for about 15 seconds to soften it up a bit as it improves the flavor.

Pizza –  Anchovy and hot peppers for the flavors or sausage and mushroom for the memories.  I do however love many kinds and combinations.  The crust is vitally important.  I rarely get take-out pizza anymore as I make it far better than almost any local pizza joint.  While I’m pretty pleased with my dough recipe, I know I can improve it greatly.

Eggs – I love eggs, and I eat a lot of them over very easy, properly poached, or soft and creamy scrambled.  On a Sausage McMuffin is also acceptable.  At the point you think your scrambled eggs are done you’ve likely gone too far.

Scallops – FRESH!  Well seared on one side, barely cooked on the other and finished with butter.  Raw with a sprinkle of lime and tabasco.

Bone Marrow – Roasted marrow bone, toast, course sea salt. Also rendered and whipped with butter for finishing risotto.

Cocktails – I like classic cocktails properly made.  The bartender that pours you a glass of rye or Bourbon when you ask for a Manhattan is not “hooking you up” or doing you a favor.  Just make me a good drink, I’m not in college.

Beer – Cheap beer that’s really cold.  Good Beer that’s cold enough. I love beer.  I haven’t had beer in three months. Perhaps New Year’s Eve I’ll have one.

Bagels – I don’t like bagels much.  I don’t know why I brought them up.

Pasta – Made fresh, properly cooked, and lightly dressed.  No goofy concoctions, not swimming in garbage cream sauces, and no mention of Buffalo chicken anything.

Tacos – Every once in a while I get a hankering for very untraditional tacos, so I get hard shells and fill them with seasoned ground beef, Monterey Jack cheese, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, and a dollop of sour cream.  More often than not however I like regular tacos.  Hand-made soft tortillas warmed on a cast iron griddle and filled with slow braised pork, beef, or goat.  Add some quick-pickled red onion, a little bit of shredded cabbage and fresh-made hot sauce.  Grilled steak or lobster tacos with pico de gallo and a spicy salsa verde also thrill me.  It’s also nice to try new things and new combinations.  I like to make many kinds of hot sauces, especially when my garden is producing lots of chili peppers, tomatillos, and cilantro.

Pho – Piping hot with flavorful and moderately spicy broth, properly cooked rice noodles and tender shaved beef.  Lots of basil doesn’t hurt.

Friends – Honest and comforting to be around.  I have many acquaintances but very few friends.

I also like foie gras, fresh truffles, potatoes, wine, mushrooms, choucrute garni, porchetta, good hot dogs, cold milk and Oreo cookies.

The truth is, I like about anything as long as it’s made properly.

What are some of your favorite things, and how do you like them?

Over-used, Misused, and Annoying Words and Phrases

The restaurant world often seems to have its own language, from kitchen lingo to descriptions on menus and critiques of food.  We all use a form of code, silly, annoying or inaccurate descriptions, or simply misuse the English language all together.  My last post talked about trends in restaurants that I think need to go.  Here are some words and phrases that need to go, or at the very least be used less frequently and used properly.  Like following an occasional trend, I too have been guilty of this heinous crime, though not nearly as much as some, and far less in the future.

Curated doesn’t mean what a lot of people who use it in menus think it means.

Artisanal has become pretty watered down.  It no longer means anything when the crappy bread sold by Price Chopper’s bakery department is called such.

Tuscan, Provencal, and Asian-inspired dishes are generally made by people who know little about Tuscan, Provencal, or Asian cuisine.

Sando, sammie and sammich are cute, but I’m just looking for a sandwich.

Heirloom doesn’t mean fancy or expensive.  If you don’t know what it does mean, stop using it.

Moist is a word nobody likes.

Menu categories like Shareables, Little Bites, Noshes, Prologue, and Sweet Endings all belong at chain or hotel restaurants with silly names and bad food.

Isn’t everything at a restaurant crafted?  Not necessarily well-crafted, but crafted in one way or another.

People tend to point out that some ethnic restaurants or dishes aren’t authentic, but I’m willing to bet that if they were to have the authentic version, in the majority of cases, they would not like the preparation.  Make it good, I don’t care if that’s the way they do it in Mexico or Belgium or France as long as I can enjoy it.

Y’ever look on some takeout menus or the sides of pizza boxes and see “We use only the finest ingredients?”  Does anyone actually believe that?

Wouldn’t the finest ingredients make the food pricey?  What does that even mean?   Is 15 Church pricey?  Is Yono’s pricey?  Sure they cost more than some other restaurants, but they’re not necessarily over-priced nor do they fail to deliver good value.  The question is whether it’s affordable, another relative term.

Bread for mopping and sopping up sauce or broth. Mopping is what is done in the kitchen every night after service.

If you think food can be orgasmic or better-than-sex, then either you’ve got some food I’ve never heard of or you’re having sex completely wrong.

There is nothing amazing about chicken wings, cheeseburgers, short ribs, ramen, foie gras or any other food that we eat.  A professional cooked it, I’m not amazed.  Impressed, happy, excited, or satisfied?  Yes.  Being able to run a mile in 3:43.13 is amazing.

Yummers, yummo, nom-nom, delish, and tummy are not grown-up words.

Finger-licking isn’t sanitary even though we all do it.

Mouth-watering makes me think of a big wet mouth on a dog panting, not what I want to imagine when I’m reading about or discussing food.

 Deconstructed lasagna.

I’ll be doing a twist on pub food as I take it to the next level.  Included will be my riff on the traditional Caesar salad.  I’ll also be doing my interpretation of Buffalo wings.  They’ll be cooked to perfection then tossed in a hand-crafted  honey-hot pepper sauce and served with baby celery and bleu cheese.

I once had a server relay a question from a customer.  “Is the tuna farm-raised?” she asked.  Terms like line-caught, wild-caught, locally sourced, farm-to-table, organic, free-range, cage-free, gourmet, and foraged get thrown about quite often, but I know in many cases the terms mean very little to customers and are not accurately or honestly used by restaurants.  In my experience most people simply don’t care that much.  If a restaurant has a stellar reputation, then the diners trust the restaurant and it’s kitchen to use good products.   You can’t convince me your food is better with these terms.  As they say, “the proof is in the pudding” as long as it’s made with local milk, fair-trade chocolate and non-GMO corn starch.

Trending

There are many things to criticize about the restaurant business and the people in it.  By it’s very nature it’s unlike most other businesses, as it’s quite open to close scrutiny by so many people.  I do on many occasions on this little blog of mine make references to things I see as sub-par, silly, or downright awful in this business, and I must confess that while it appears that I’m almost perfect, I, by my own admission, am not.

I have always tried to keep away from trends and just cook what I like to cook, which mostly consists of Mediterranean flavors.  I have certainly been guilty of many missteps, errors in judgement, and some seldom tendencies to follow trends.  Trends are just that, trends meant to have a starting and an ending point.  The problem I see often is some chefs and restaurants unwilling to give up on trendy items, preparations, and presentations when they have clearly passed their peak.

Following are some of the trends I think have run their course and it’s time to retire them, give them a break, or learn to use them with some restraint.

I really love hamburgers, and no, it’s not time to stop making hamburgers.  What it is time for is to go back to the burger itself and appreciate a well-prepared, high-quality ground beef mix from great cuts like chuck, brisket, and short rib with the right lean-to-fat ratio without too many additions and condiments.  Too much bacon, too strongly flavored cheese, eggs, chili peppers, and the now over-used sriracha should be left off.  A good burger with a nice deep char and a good bun that holds up well without overwhelming the beef is all I ask.  The time has passed for super burgers.

The gluten-free thing got old years ago.  Eat better quality bread and other properly grown and processed wheat products.  You can’t eat three slices of pepperoni pizza and then blame gluten for your twisted belly.  If you’re one of the ¾% of people with an actual allergy, then you’re excused.

If you follow trends just to survive, then perhaps you need to reevaluate your place in this business.

Sometimes riding a trend is necessary.  Who do we blame, the restaurant owners and chefs or the dining public?  Or do we even need to blame anyone?  It’s like what came first, the fried chicken sandwich or the egg on everything?

I love eggs on things, just not everything.

Balsamic reduction should have been eliminated a long time ago.

Everybody is doing octopus now.  I had it on the Wine Bar menu five years ago.  In truth, octopus is good, but it’s not great.  What is great is bacon.  However, bacon is over-used.  It’s not the cure-all for adding excitement and flavor to otherwise bland cooking.  Let’s add pork belly to the list, as well.

Avocado toast is one of the first solid foods Stella loved.  She’s seven now.

Tuna nachos should have never started.

I’m OK with serving things like cheese or charcuterie on slates and boards but not everything works.  Please figure out what works and what doesn’t.  Steaks do not.

The overloaded Bloody Mary is just silly.  If I want a drink I’ll order a drink.  If I want brunch I’ll order food.  I just don’t want to have to eat my drink.

Misuse of truffle oil.  It’s not a condiment, so stop pouring it on french fries.  One tiny drop of good quality oil from a trusted supplier is plenty to add at the end of something like a mushroom risotto.  You’d be better off making your own truffle butter with high-fat butter and truffle shavings.  Never get hoodwinked by a “great deal” on truffle oil.

If we could do away with the gluten-free paranoia, then perhaps quinoa would go away and the demand would stop hurting the poor farmers in Peru and Bolivia.

The Food Network, sex scandals, mac and cheese, kale, sliders, micro greens.

There are so many other choices besides sriracha.  Explore some other chili sauces and spicy condiments.

Nitro brewed coffee, I just don’t get it.

Bone broth, or in other words, stock.  Been making it for years. Escoffier made it. Millions of chefs have made it.

I love ramen, but it’s been around too long to be a trend at this point.  I learned to make it in my dorm room in 1981.  My roommate was Chinese (he’s still Chinese) and from Cambodia.  Have you seen The Killing Fields?  He had to walk 52 days out of the country with his father and brother to Vietnam to escape the Khmer Rouge.  Anyway, he taught me how to make ramen on the Coleman gas stove we hid in our room.  We had to feed our RA well.  Even better when he found out about the deep fryer we had.

David Chang opened his noodle spot back in 2004.

Restaurants without focus perplex me.  Ya gotta figure out what you are and stick to it.  If you don’t know, then how will the public know?  Many years ago I did a one night stage at Mare which was upstairs from Luna Lounge at 17 Maple Ave in Saratoga.  At 9:00 pm the music from the dance club started and the floor in the restaurant shook to the beat.

I don’t have to explain the issue with pumpkin spice, do I?

We’ve done Brussels sprouts to death.

Let’s get some new ideas in 2018, I certainly will when I get back to the kitchen.

Twists on carbonara.

 

What’s Old is New…………Snippets too

Update:  I did start a new blog but decided against it as I want to streamline my life and make better use of my time. Read on.

I’ve changed.  My blog should change too.  In fact, I think it’s time to start a new blog.  No, I’m not ending chefsday.  I try not to be political here but with the fools in Washington, and all the non-food and restaurant related things I experience I often feel myself wanting to include my thoughts about the daily happenings in my world (which has a different color sky than your world) in chefsday.  So, I’ve decided to start a new blog about the world inside my head away from food and the restaurant life. As a rule I don’t invite too many people into that world but since I’ve started to open up my life with discussion about my long-term depression and alcohol misuse  I think the natural progression is to keep the gates open and let everything flow like sewage from a politician’s mouth.  While I certainly intend to keep a personal life as everyone should, I’d love to share my thoughts outside of my life as a chef in a different forum.

I’m starting dominicsbrain as an outlet for those thoughts to stand on their own and I’m refining chefsday with some new themes, a new layout, and expanded features and perhaps even some useful information, culinary tips and interesting and original recipes.  The original intent will remain the same as always; an insight into the experiences and thoughts of a chef but with a generally more positive approach.  Also I will pay closer attention to the technical aspects of my writing.  I am fully aware that I misuse commas, and several other rules of punctuation and grammar.  I guess Strunk and White never got through to me.  I also need to have my work edited.  2018 will see some great changes in this blog, in my life as a chef, and in my life as me. Stay tuned.

Now a few snippets

By telling us that you don’t need to rinse dishes before putting them in your dishwasher Cascade® is suggesting that it’s ok to run all that debris into your machine.

Spot Coffee has the worst black and white cookie I’ve ever had.  As dry as dirt in Kansas.

I think it’s funny when restaurants advertise the fact that they use imported pasta.  If you want to impress me tell me you make your own.

Although I’ve done it, I dislike special menus such as those put out by restaurants on New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day.  Why overspend for a menu the kitchen is not used to doing.  I think most culinary professionals will agree the first night of a new menu is very difficult.  50 covers feels like 100 on those nights.

Y’ever go to a casual place like a pizzeria or fast food restaurant and notice every guy eating alone has one leg out of the side of the booth as if to say I’m just stopping quickly to eat, I’m on my lunch hour and I don’t normally eat alone?

Look at Me!

There’s not much writing here, just some links to some stuff I recommend you take a look at.  Some of them are short enough to watch now and others will require you to make some time to sit and enjoy for a while.  Cooked is a great series, and the Water segment is my favorite.  The first YouTube link is from that section and seems like a great rule to live by.

Watching this is a very good use of an evening.

This is important.  Our land, our space, and our soil are all natural resources that are being used up.  We’re also adding people.  Doesn’t look good.  https://chefsday.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/dont-blame-factory-farms/

We have some very good restaurants in our area, but none are close to Michelin Starred status.  https://chefsday.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/twinkle-twinkle-little-star/

This is a longer one, but the good use of an hour that you may have wasted anyway.

I just found this interesting and it gives you a little insight what it’s like on the busy line.

If Marco says it, then it must be true.

Just because Freddie Mercury is pretty damn good.

That’s it, and you can thank me for the entertainment by being nice to each other. Peace.

It’s My Birthday

It really is the anniversary of my birth, but this post has little to nothing to do with that glorious day.  Today my family and I went out to Bailey’s tree farm in Cambridge and cut a 9 1/2 foot tree, decorated it, and had some eggnog.  Eggnog is much thicker than I remember, but then again I normally thin it out with some Bourbon.

I did some shopping as well and took some pictures for you.

Byron’s, the little grocery store here in Schuylerville, sells these as dog bones for $2.29 lb.  Sold elsewhere as marrow bones for a trendy restaurant dish?  A few more bucks.  Yes, I bought them all so don’t waste a trip.

You think running out of cheap TVs at the Walmarts on Black Friday makes people act like animals?  Wait until our food supply runs low.

Organic “chocolate flavored” syrup.

When I was in college, the dining service would not set up the hot food line until 9:00 am since it wasn’t too common to have students up that early on a weekend.  What they did was put some eggs and pancake batter out by the flat-top and students could drop whatever they wanted on to the griddle and be on their way.  Well, I would find my way into the coolers and find some prepped items I could use for omelets, French toast, ham steaks, sausages, and bacon.  After a few weeks of that I started to get a 7:30 following, but the dining manager eventually got wind of what I was up to.  I was banned, so I went back to sleeping in.

Some people tell you what they’re going to do, others show you what they’ve done.

Do I even try to explain this?

 

Just the other day I took notice of an interesting Instagram photo of a quiche with a salad.  The plate was posted by someone eating at one of the restaurants that’s part of a local restaurant group and apparently one of the better places to get a meal.  What struck me was that the crust for the quiche was clearly a poor-quality pre-made pie shell you’d see on a $4 pie at Hannaford.  Also, the salad was simply a thoughtless handful of mesclun greens straight out of a bag.  The person reported how good this lunch was.  That’s the problem.

I watched these glasses for 15 minutes and they were not entertaining at all.

 

Tate was mad because there were no onions in the guacamole.  Five-year-old kids generally get mad if there are onions in anything.  It’s not that kids are picky, it’s more plausible that parents assume kids won’t eat “adult” food items so they give them chicken fingers and spaghetti-o’s instead.

I had grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch today.  Campbell’s tomato soup.  It’s my birthday so stop the judgement.  We all need that sort of thing in our lives.

If you’re always posting on social media about how busy you are then I’m guessing that you’re not all that busy.

A true loaf of bread is 3 ingredients, a commercially manufactured loaf is up to 35 ingredients.  Don’t tell me it’s the gluten that’s bothering you.

Adolescent kitchen humor here.

 

Inconsistent restaurants are often open too many hours (brunch, lunch, dinner), too many days (seven days), and cannot staff themselves with enough quality people for long-term positions to create solid dining experiences as a rule.

Tuscany, known for their cheddar.

Tate asked me why all the pictures on my Instagram are of food.  I told him because I’m a chef and the things I like to follow are food and restaurant related.  He disagreed and told me I need more pictures of Godzilla.

When using a public restroom I find it troubling that there’s too often a urine puddle either in front of the urinal or toilet.  Whoever is responsible please do not invite me to your house for dinner, or anything else for that matter.

“Fresh” out-of-season cherries at Fresh Market for $9.99 lb.

 

I was working in a small kitchen many years ago in Albany and during dinner service the owner came into the kitchen to microwave some coffee from lunch for a customer.  I called him on it and said he should be ashamed of himself, and that’s no way to treat a paying guest.  Oh, and I didn’t work there anymore.

Stella:  “Real is better.”

Yes, and we know how well the Federal Government has managed our nutritional needs.  These are the people in bed with Monsanto.

It was a great day with the family packed with Christmas decorating, carols, and eggnog.  Since I slept in, as well, I didn’t have time to make the pot of Sunday sauce I was planning, nor did Jenn have time to make a cake.  That’s just fine, we’ll do it tomorrow and call it Monday sauce.  It’s my birthday, I can do what I want.