They Said It, Not Me

Following are some of my favorite quotes from chefs.

“It’s so good to be classic and not trendy.” ~ Chef Gabrielle Hamilton

My work is based on classic Mediterranean cooking and ingredients that have been around for centuries.  I try hard not to follow trends, trendy ingredients, and the latest and greatest techniques.  I certainly do learn new things, new ingredients, and new techniques but I will always stay true my roots and present classic cuisine first, and add new methods and flavors second.  I think if your work is based on the use of trendy products and techniques it appears forced and exposes a chef’s lack of education, knowledge and experience.  That comes through the food as mediocrity.  Learn the trade before you learn the tricks of the trade.

“A jazz musician can improvise based on his knowledge of music.  He understands how things go together.  For a chef, once you have that basis, that’s when cuisine gets really exciting.” ~ The late Charlie Trotter

For me this is closely tied to the previous quote, almost an extension of it or the next step in the thought process.  Classic technique and ingredients are so important when building a solid foundation of knowledge and experience no matter what your cuisine.  I can make you a Thai dish that’s pretty good, and most people would like it a lot.  I can make you a Mediterranean based dish that’s great, and I would be hard pressed to find anyone that didn’t like it.  The difference is that I have a limited knowledge if Thai cooking.  Good enough to pass but never great.  My wide array of knowledge of Mediterranean cooking and ingredients however allows me to draw from a much larger pantry of methods and flavors that I can easily improvise on the classics and go from pretty good to sublime simply based on my knowledge.

“We go through our careers and things happen to us. Those experiences made me what I am.” ~ Chef Thomas Keller

If we learn from the things that happen to us we are truly better for it even if it takes us many years.  One of my goals in the restaurant world is to help young cooks understand how their experiences shape the kind of chefs they’ll become and how they can be happier and more productive in both their careers and in life.  Working for shitty owners and in kitchens with chefs that exhibit a poor example of the profession are no excuse for becoming a solid and respected performer.

“We’re hoping to succeed; we’re okay with failure. We just don’t want to land in between.” ~ Chef David Chang

You want to play it safe?  Mediocrity will be your reward.  Time to take some well-calculated chances.

“When you have made as many mistakes as I have then you can be as good as me.” ~ Chef Wolfgang Puck

I have been through the “trial and error” phase.  Young cooks, you should go through it too.  Your advantage is that I will alert you to the mistakes.

“Chefs are leaders in their own little world.” ~ Chef Eric Ripert

Not everyone understands our world.  That’s OK, let them be critical.  Our gift to them is making them feel better about themselves.  Yes, I’m talking to you anonymous blog commenters.  There is a difference between an educated critique and sitting on your ass bitching and throwing barbs. Your Hot Pocket is ready.

“I would much rather be a chef who remembers I am a cook then a cook that thinks I am a chef.” ~ Chef Ric Peterson

“To me, there’s no great chef without a great team.” ~ Chef Daniel Boulud

This is not just about the kitchen staff, this is about all the people involved in the daily operation of a restaurant.   A breakdown in any area can hinder the performance of other parts of the unit.

“If you have a restaurant with a great chef but no one goes, is he really a great chef? ~ Chef David Kinch

I don’t have anything to say about this one, I just like David Kinch.

“I always thought I was as good as anyone else but I was never in the club.” ~ Chef Jake Bickelhaupt

 

Have a great weekend folks, thanks for reading.

 

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Snippets of Closure

I’m writing this collection of snippets this afternoon during the snow because The Wine Bar is closed tonight.  I truly appreciate the concern ownership has for the staff and not requiring us to be traveling on hazardous roads, especially after dark.

“Take care of your employees and they will take care of your customers, and the customers will come back.” ~ J. Willard Marriott

One of the things that gets me through the winter is spending time developing the Spring menu.

How does hand cut linguine with scallops and sea urchin broth sound?  Perhaps a healthy grating of bottarga as garnish.  I can call it roe roe your day boat.

I’ll wait until next Fall to introduce duck, duck, goose.

My list of experience has resulted in having taken over my share of existing restaurant kitchens.  It’s rarely easy, and sometimes downright hostile.  Those stories are for another time.  My current takeover has been pretty darn good.  My advantage however is 41/2 years in that kitchen.  It also helps that the current kitchen staff is very receptive to the change and looking forward to learning and becoming better at what they do.  I’t’s funny, the kitchens that I got the most resistance from had a staff with poor kitchen skills and a track record of low quality cooking.

Keep in mind that this blog is not required reading.  Sometimes I say things that need saying.

Antiques Roadshow is quite a wild ride.

Have you ever thought that what you’ve always believed is believed because you’ve always believed it?

Apparently Charles thought he was in charge to a greater extent than he actually was.

Professional golf is insignificant without Tiger Woods.  A few weeks ago he finished about 70th in a tournament and he was the lead story, the winner was an afterthought.

Our current menu has no bacon or pork belly.  People still seem to like it.

I apparently have a neighbor who likes to throw his dog’s poop bags in our recycling bin.  When I find out who it is I will have a surprise for him.

The best thing to sooth your face after shaving is something sold as hemorrhoidal wipes.  No, I’m not kidding.

Kylie Jenner had a baby.  Who cares?  She named it.  Who cares?

I really like a slow and easy Sunday morning complete with a pot of coffee, pancakes, and sausages.

I cannot tell you how many times over the years a server has put an order into the POS system and then come into the kitchen to see if it went through.   “Mr. Watson–come here–I want to see you.”  Yes, you can really communicate from one room to another.

When you make comments anonymously they are of diminished validity and merit.

I got into the express line at Hannaford the other day and the woman ahead of must have had 25 items.  She noticed the look I gave her and asked if I would like to go ahead.  I said “no, I’ll let you live with the guilt.”

It’s called a touch screen, not a finger-smack screen.

If for some ridiculous reason you need to write a check at the grocery store please don’t wait until the cashier gives you the total before you decide to dig through your purse looking for your checkbook and a pen.

Mrs. Hallisey, a frequent substitute teacher in third grade called me inappropriate on more than one occasion.

 

Saratoga Chowderwreck

I’m not sure what year I first experienced Chowderwreck in Saratoga.  Perhaps it was 2010 as a regular citizen rather than as part of a participating restaurant.  Two places were enough.  The first was about a twenty-minute wait and the second a bit longer.  I remember the second chowder on my itinerary as inedible and thinking there’s no chance I’m waiting in another line for a scant 3 oz. portion of chowder or some concoction people are calling chowder.  That doesn’t mean there weren’t (and still aren’t) places making good chowder or soup.  It was just that I’m an impatient person and wasn’t willing to gamble 30 minutes of my time in hopes that I would stumble on a culinary gem.

My next experience was during a short stint at The Seven Horse Pub.  I was called into work early to help prep more of their “award-winning” seahog chowder that contained no seafood aside from Sysco lobster base.  The lines were long and the building was packed with obnoxious drinkers.  I remember thinking to myself that most of these people aren’t as good at day drinking as they were passing out on the sidewalks and vomiting in the streets.

There’s an award for most chowder served.  What about the most served chowder?   Southwest……….

I believe in thinking outside the box.  But chowder is chowder, and soup is soup.  In other words, variations on chowder start with chowder and the chef’s imagination leads it to something interesting, but still chowder.  Soup is still soup.

My first time making chowder for this event was at The Wine Bar in 2012.  I went against the grain and made clam chowder.  It was a lot of work.  Hard work doesn’t scare me a bit.

I have never had a desire to win Chowderfest.  My philosophy is that the best way to promote the virtues of your restaurant is to work  hard every day and make it the best you can.  Winning event prizes does nothing to better your food and service.  In fact, too much focus on outside events can deter you from what’s important.  While I will agree that some events are a good way to support a favorite cause or to help expand your customer base, it’s a waste of time and resources to extend yourself for a day to cater to a crowd that will not improve your business throughout the year.

The current state of Chowderfest can best be described by a prominent local musician. He said the following:  I’m not crazy about the direction of Chowderfest in Saratoga. Without getting into a whole diatribe I will cite a few things that I witnessed while being on-site between the hours of 2-7 pm. At least 4 fights and countless inebriated people being tossed out of bars. Three young ladies sitting in the snow vomiting. One of them had their cooter out. Completely overwhelmed staff at every corner. Plates, cups, chowder, human chowder, broken glass, piss. Everywhere. It was disgusting.”  This has also been my observation over the past few years.

We decided not to serve chowder at The Wine Bar this year, but we did open at 11:00 rather than our usual 4:00.  It’s difficult not to take advantage of having 30,000 people walking around in February.  We served our happy hour menu and of course, drinks.  The food part was easy.  The difficulty really fell on the FOH staff.  These events in Saratoga bring a different crowd, a drinking crowd.  As 2:00 rolled around the place started filling up and the party soon got into full swing.  From the kitchen I could hear the hooting and hollering, the f-bombs, and the general obnoxious behavior not generally occurring at WB.  There was a customer complaint about the language flying around, and one of our employees that was using the men’s room reported that a couple of drunken yahoos were trying to break the door handle while he was in there because they wanted to get in immediately.

I’ve come to expect this behavior at Chowderfest, but for some reason I’m always surprised by the behavior of grown-ups.  I’m not only talking about the 20-something crowd, I’m talking about the 40-50 crowd. The two men trying to break into the men’s room were my age and clearly intoxicated.  This is the scene all over town. If you didn’t attend and only saw a blurb on the news, it looked like a family-friendly, meet-your-friends-for-some-chowder kind of event.  Sure, of the 30,000 that attend there were plenty of folks having a good time waiting in line with their friends and rating all the entrants.  Their experience was chowder-centric and they acted like adults.

You cannot tell me it’s just a few bad apples that give the impression of a wild drinkfest.  There are an awful lot of people who come for the party with no interest in the spirit of the event.  Given a choice, I’d avoid Saratoga on Chowderfest day, as well as St. Patrick’s Day and May 5th.

Complaining without a solution is just whining.  I’ll give you some thoughts on that next post.

Peace.

Fake News

 

Real news first:  I just finished my second week back at The Wine Bar.  It was a great week.  I presented my 18th menu there and with 100% truth I could not have done it so successfully without the entire team from the top down.  Everyone played an important role.  I think both the FOH and BOH are some of the best I’ve worked with there (I’ve worked with a lot of great individuals in the past).  There’s a mature and professional attitude and a desire to learn and elevate. I expect some very great things to develop over the coming months and believe The Wine Bar has its best days ahead.

 

They lost their lease.  A lease is a contract with a starting point and an ending point.  If you have “lost your lease” between those two points, then you’ve done something that violates the rules of that lease.  My guess is that you didn’t pay your rent.

BJ’s Brewhouse.  Don’t you need to brew beer to be considered a brew house?

Searing meat seals in the juices.  If you see anyone on TV or the interwebs telling you that, turn them off.  Science.

You’re a great cook, you should open a restaurant.  Most people who open restaurants shouldn’t.

Ramen is a new thing.  I have no more to say on this topic.  I do love good ramen though.

Using a temperature probe lets the juices run out of the meat.  Actually, the cell walls are only broken at the site of the insertion, the remainder will be intact thus holding the fluids.  Science.

If there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean.  Time thinking, talking, and fantisaizing about food has value.  Keep your kitchen clean, too.

Champagne is sparkling wine, all sparkling wine is not Champagne.

Marinating will tenderize meats.  The penetration by marinades is minimal.  The best way to get a tender steak is to buy a tender steak.

Restaurant servers are personal servants.  No, relax and allow them to do their jobs.  They are working hard and have other people to care for.  

You should not discuss politics or religion.  Why not?  Perhaps if we learned to discuss these subjects in a reasonable, informed, and mature way, we would have a better understanding of each other.

Pork should be cooked through.  Science.

Turkey Bacon.  Do I really need to explain this one?

You should only turn your steaks once.  NO!  Cook them in a pan and turn them every 30 seconds to 1 minute. Science.

Organic is healthier.  Not always.

Chefs have to have full, unquestioned control in their kitchens.  Yelling at the staff is one of the methods to keep everyone in line and on the same page.  That’s old thinking and really quite unnecessary.  I’ve been there, and trust me, it only gives short-term results.  What it leads to is high turnover, higher labor cost, and everyone thinking you’re an asshole.  Use your noodle, think, and act like a reasonable person.  Work with your organization, work as a unit, and everyone will profit.  

Everyone who cooks professionally is a chef.

Using Sysco will give you a bad restaurant.  Not necessarily, but it can tempt you to have bad habits and use less-than-desirable products.  

I was a model student in school.

Red Bull is good for you.

Most food “allergies.”

All people who drink coffee like coffee.  Go to Stewart’s and watch young men put cream and sugar in their coffee.  They like caffeine and sugar. 

I love to give food away because you want to go off the menu and meld two separate items.  Not really.  Last night I had someone want chicken on top of one of our salads.  I’m always willing to do that but it’s necessary to charge for the chicken and the salad minus a few bucks since I was eliminating the sides of the chicken entrée.  What people who order chicken on a salad in an upscale restaurant often fail to understand is that we do not have boneless, skinless, commodity-grade chicken breasts in our coolers like places that offer sliced chicken on a salad.  I use a properly raised chicken from nearby farms that come to me unprocessed and fresh.   So, not only are you paying for better product, you’re paying for that product to be properly prepared and cooked with fresh herbs and real butter or good olive oil.  I also make that call because I’m not the one paying for our food and I have an obligation to those who do pay for it to sell it for a price that will allow them to run a business. 

The Patriots are successful because they cheat.  The statistics on fines for rule violations says otherwise.  Violations by the Patriots make the news, violations by the Broncos and Jets (biggest cheaters) do not.

The refs help the Patriots.  C’mon, a system that favors one team over the others for 15 years would involve an awful lot of people.  Someone would have talked by now.

Most people make their own pizza.  Stella and Tate were amazed when Jennifer told them this morning that most people do not.  We must be doing something right.

My First Weak Back

 

I’m exhausted and sore.  Not only did I start working again after a 7 month lay-off, I’m overweight and a decade or so beyond middle age.  I also worked my off day on Sunday for a previously scheduled pop-up event with my friend Daniel Chessare.

I did drop eight pounds this week and had a great time doing it.

It’s often tough taking over an existing kitchen with a staff already in place but my past tenure at WB made the kitchen comfortable and the staff in place appears to have a genuine happiness that I’m there and they seem eager to learn and advance their knowledge.  As well, I think this may be the most dedicated FOH group I’ve seen there.  They are mature, experienced, and ready to take a step or two forward.  I’m pleased.

It was a pretty quiet week until Saturday night when I was challenged.  I’ve still got some moves and as a group we were able to deal out the plates pretty well.  We’ve still got some work to do as far as getting used to each other in the fast environment but our core group is very promising and I think as we roll out our new menu we’ll be able to provide some great food.

The menu will be quite simple, and I’ll be doing a few old favorites (or at least variations of those favorites) until we get our wheels turning at full speed.  Spring should see some exciting stuff.

Starters

Nuts – Sweet and salty cashews, pecans, almonds, and pistachios   7

Warm Olives – Mascarpone, pine nuts, and orange zest   8

Whipped Feta – Spinach-walnut pesto, warm pita   12

Tartare & Boquerones – Beef tenderloin, marinated anchovies, caper berries, olives, pickled red onion, radish, chives, olive oil, and grilled bread   13

Chicken Liver Pate – Pickled pearl onions, and grilled baguette   10

Egg on Toast –  Soft scrambled egg, toast with chive butter, vodka spiked creme fraiche, caviar, and cracked pink pepper.  12

Cauliflower Soup – Curried sweet onions, apple gastrique, crouton, fennel frond   9

 

Salads

Simple Bibb lettuce, radishes, red onion, fresh herbs, and shallot vinaigrette   8

Arugula – Fennel, orange, red onion, olives, toasted pistachios, and citrus vinaigrette   12

 

Pizza

Cheese – San Marzano tomato sauce, mozzarella (vegan option), and basil.   10

Eggplant –  San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, smoked gouda,and Parmesan  13

Mushroom – Mozzarella, fontina, and Brie, mixed mushrooms, shaved truffle, and soft baked egg   14

Chorizo and Peppers –  Mozzarella, manchego, chorizo picante, and shishito peppers   14

Entrees

Beef Tenderloin – Pan-roasted tenderloin, potato pavé,  Carmenere pan sauce, shallot-cracked pepper butter.  18/34

Lamb Chops – Pomegranate glaze, pine nut gremolata, eggplant and honey, charred fennel, yogurt.   17/32

Cod Loin – Papas arrugadas, mojo verde, chorizo emulsion.   15/28

Moroccan Chicken – Chickpeas and spinach, spicy-sweet carrots.   24  

Tangerine Duck – Seared breast, confit coquette, wheat berries, beets, green peppercorns 16/30

Farmhouse Ragú – Beef, lamb, and pork ragu, duck egg pappardelle, and goat cheese crumbles.  14/26

Burger – Chuck, brisket, and short rib blend, American cheese and caramelized onions on grilled challah roll with shoestring potatoes.   15

Eggplant Tagine – Eggplant, chickpeas, potatoes, carrots, olives, tomato, and couscous.  17

Desserts

Chocolate-Cardamom Cake – Ginger caramel, bitter chocolate ganache, and pistachios.   12

Lemon Tart – Sweet pastry, lemon custard, ricotta, and honey.   10

Blueberry Crumble – Maine blueberries, cinnamon, oat and nut crumble with vanilla gelato.   10

Gelato Selection – Local, small batch.   8

Happy Hour

Hummus –  Classic preparation with warm pita  6

Warm Olives – Grilled Baguette   6

Cheese and Charcuterie – Chef’s daily selection   6

Simple salad – Bibb lettuce, radish, red onion, shallot viniagrette   6

Tacos – Duck confit, hoisin, Thai coleslaw  /  Cod, pico de gallo, avocado puree /

            Black bean and sweet potato, spicy corn crema   4 each or 3 for 10

Cheese Pizza – San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, basil   8

Steak frites – Grilled and sliced tenderloin, shoestring potatoes, and cracked pepper butter.   15

New menu rolls out Friday.

As I’m writing there’s a study group here at Uncommon Grounds behind me.  The words like, literally, and metaphor are being used an awful lot.

My return was posted on Table Hopping.  The picture isn’t flattering but it’s certainly a fair picture of me.  Steve said I had a long resumé which isn’t true.  Yes, I have worked at a lot of places, but my resumé only lists relevent experience.  Most of my experience hasn’t relevant.  OK, I do have a long resumé.

I can’t decide if I should buy a new bathrobe or not.

With our government shutdown I was wondering how long we could go without it. Leave the essential people, pay them, and ditch the non-essentials like the elected officials.

The long layoff has definitely given me a new clarity of thinking.

It’s really feeling like I never left.

I don’t like beanies.

Please don’t garnish with a sprig of rosemary anymore.

Someone called me a drama queen for talking about my personal issues as they relate to my line of work.  We have a lot of problems in the restaurant business.  Just last week a fellow chef in Saratoga took his own life.  I’ll talk about these issues all I please.  If you don’t like it then that’s too bad, don’t read my blog.

 

Coincidentally

“What chefs should accept is that the people who are judging them have less knowledge than they do.” ~ Marco Pierre White

I’d like to start with a great story and an even better life lesson.  My son Tate who’s in kindergarten has been talking about a boy at school who’s been mean to him. Tate has also declared that he’d like to fight the boy but that has been discouraged.   A few days ago Tate had a red mark on his face and reported that he had been pushed into the snow by the mean boy.  Jennifer decided that was enough and needed to speak to his teacher before Tate either got hurt, or clocked the kid and found himself in trouble.  The next day Tate came home and announced that he had made a new friend at school.  When questioned he said that the mean boy came to his classroom to apologize.  Tate told him it was OK and then asked the boy if he wanted to be his friend.  The boy hugged him.

“We practically always excuse things when we understand them”  ~ Mikhail Lermontov

We often don’t know why people are mean, why they’re poor, why they’re depressed, or difficult, sad, alone, or in any other position.  We know nothing about that boy but my guess is that he needed a friend and a hug for a reason.  The next time you don’t understand someone’s behavior, actions, or situation simply offer to be their friend.

My first visit to The Wine Bar was just before I opened the kitchen at Chameleon on the Lake whose owner took me there to see the taste some food.  I remember liking the size of the place and vibe at the time and soon made it one of the places I took pleasure in spending some of my time off and enjoying the food and wine.  I always thought if the chef’s position opened up I was going to get it if I could.

Well, the position opened up several days prior to the start of the 2011 racing season and I was hired quickly to take the place through the impending onslaught and happened to remain for a bit of time (aside from a brief and poorly concocted absence in 2014).  We eventually parted ways on January 5, 2016.

I found myself days later at The Inn at Erlowest as a consultant and leading candidate for their Chef’s position as a result of some discussions with the General Manager of the property prior to my departure from the WB.  That didn’t materialize.

Over the next couple of years I floundered while working at a couple of places and doing a couple of consulting gigs while working my small catering business.  Everything has kept me afloat and the lack of true commitment to an employer has allowed me to handle some personal situations.

On January 2nd I got an email from the GM at The Inn at Erlowest as I was writing him an email.  They are in search of an Executive Chef and he inquired about my possible interest in the position while I was inquiring about their open Executive Chef’s position. That’s a coincidence for sure.  Add that on January 5,2018 I sat at The Wine Bar and discussed my return and got an offer to oversee the kitchen again, two years to the day that I last walked out of the building.  That’s coincidence.

Those of you that follow this blog know how up and down my life has been over the last couple of years since I left the Wine Bar.  I’ve dealt with personal tragedy, intense life changes, deep personal discovery, alcohol misuse, and lack of direction and focus in life and career.  I have not hidden much from you and will continue to let you into the life of this chef.

“Often people who criticize your life are usually the same people who don’t know the price you paid to get where you are today. True friends see the full picture of your soul.” ~ Shannon L. Alder

I have taken a long rest and my body and mind have been through a lot of healing.  With cpap I’ve gone from ninety apnea episodes per hour to under five allowing me to get sleep for the first time in years.  I have battled my long-term depression head on through medication and therapy, and I have completely altered my alcohol habits.

Over the past week the WB offer has developed into an agreement and I am delighted to announce that I’m returning to take my place back in the kitchen as their chef.  I am looking forward to working with some old friends and to working with new associates and colleagues.  They say it’s better to join the devil you know rather than the one you don’t.  I use the term devil as part of a well-known expression but am compelled to point out that the descriptor is much stronger than I intend.  The point is that both parties know what they’re getting in this deal and there are enough good qualities on both sides to continue with the relationship.

From this point on I will focus this blog on food, restaurants and a chef’s working life.  I have covered my personal issues adequately and am far enough away from the mental and emotional breakdown I experienced that I can move on with those things that need moving on with.   Although I still have demons to fight I am in a much better state now.  I have been given the very rare gift of a “do over.”

“I am aware that I am less than some people prefer me to be, but most people are unaware that I am so much more than what they see.” ~ Douglas Pagels

 

 

 

First Snippets of 2018

I foolishly started another blog a few weeks ago as an outlet for thoughts beyond restaurants and food.   In an effort to streamline my life and practice better time management I changed direction and decided that all my thoughts will be in chefsday.  Mostly my posts will be focused on food, dining, and life in the restaurant business.  On occasion I’ll veer off and throw in almost anything.  Today I have a mix of snippets for your reading pleasure, and a sure waste of your valuable time.

Some of you may recall from a recent post that I had announced to our Thanksgiving guests that I planned on doing a Moroccan themed Christmas dinner.  That plan was eventually overruled and ended up doing Kitschmas dinner instead.  I really thought my idea would be ok but since I do 90% of the holiday cooking.  What was I thinking?  The funny thing about doing Christmas (or any other) dinner and appetizers based on the 1970s is that no one really noticed.

My 2018 mantra comes from Karen Page, author of Culinary Creativity“Decide not to copy.  Decide to create your own food, your own way.  Feel your own fire, look inside yourself, and make your own thoughts edible.”  

Progress.

MTV – Food Network – ESPN

I recently got an email from someone I haven’t seen it almost two years.  Interesting? Not really, unless you consider that I was writing him an email when I received it.  If you think that’s a coincidence wait until I tell you the rest of the story.  Hopefully later today or tomorrow.

According to Piper the 10 year-old chocolate lab who lives in our house, I’m a wonderful and caring human being.

Trump: “Pakistan has given us nothing but lies and deceit.”  So, the same thing you’ve given us Mr. President?  At least Pakistan does something useful and makes the kitchen towels with the blue stripe.

I get irritated when you get a bundle of blue striped towels back from the linen service and there’s an orange striped one in the mix.  Who allowed this chaos to happen?

Terrorism is a reaction to imperialism.

Ice bars.  Why?

Portobello carpaccio.  Why?

I’ll put my vegan pizza Margherita against anyone’s.

Babies are honest.

Some preparations of produce were meant to be eaten out-of-season.

I was in the doctor’s office last week and there was a woman waiting with a little boy.  He was there for a lingering cough and she reeked of cigarettes.

Just because people will order it does not mean it should go on your menu.

History does not lie, only the telling of it.

My wife asked me if I could be nicer.  I told her I’d try but couldn’t commit to it.

While the nut was standing guard at his front door waiting for a donkey to come confiscate his weapons an elephant slipped in his back doors and robbed him.

What is New American Cuisine?  How quickly does it change?

Excessive American indulgence was a term used recently in the Times Union’s review of a local restaurant.  That’s the term I’ve been searching for in my feeble mind to describe much of the dining scene.  Do we really need to continue to pile pork belly, fat-soaked meats, heart-stopping piles of cheese and cream sauces on everything to make it palatable?   How about making good quality, fresh foods taste great?  Fresh produce, fresh herbs, interesting spices, interesting proteins, and excellent cooking technique are losing out to the deep fryer.  You shouldn’t have to “wash your food down.”

Don’t ask why good food costs so much, ask why cheap food costs so little.

Religion keeps the poor from murdering the rich. ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

My wife asked me if I had a preference for a mop at home.  I told her no, I could watch her mop with any kind she felt comfortable with.

Are you just trying to survive, or are you trying to excel?

People are still doing mango salsa.

As long as I can remember I’ve never been allowed to use the good scissors.

Before learning the tricks of the trade, learn the trade.

The crock pot, like Rosé and Lambrusco get a bad rap.

For Christmas my son asked for an Optimus Prime figure from The Transformers.  To save money I got him an Optimus Select.

Most things that pass are nothing.

Have an overall plan to running your kitchen.

The shift of one moment in either direction in one person’s life can affect the rest of the lives of so many.

The menu you execute says a lot about you, or at least your current situation.

Acceptance is difficult.

Menu writing is an art form.  Some compare to Pollack, Rembrandt, Botticelli or Cole.  Others compare to a dry erase board, a photocopier, or a small child’s finger painting.

I shall remind you that I’m not a Democrat or a Liberal in any way.  I view every policy and situation on its own and I lean right in many cases.  I have voted Republican in three Presidential elections and would do so again.  I  think Barack Obama was the finest President of my lifetime.  I also think Ronald Regan was a very good President.  

Dignity.

The Wine Bar Pop Up Again

For those who couldn’t make the date last month for our inaugural event in our pop-up dinner series we have decided to run the event again on January 21st.

The evening will start at 6:00 with a cocktail hour featuring great wines, and some French inspired cocktails along with their complete bar offerings. There will also be Cheese and Charcuterie consisting of chef-made patés and cured meats, local and French cheeses, and marinated olives.

The four-course French-inspired dinner will start at 7:00

Frisée Salad – lardons, sous vide local egg, and Champagne vinaigrette.

Bourride (Marseille style seafood stew) skate wing, head on prawn, mussels, aioli  (with suggested wine pairing).

Game Cassoulet – wild boar belly, duck and foie gras sausage, and pheasant sausage in slowly baked French flagolets  (with suggested wine pairing)

Chocolate Sponge Roulade – chestnut gelato and mixed nut praline.

Reservations can be made by calling The Wine Bar at 518-584-8777.

The cost is $50.00 plus tip, tax, and alcohol.

For those of you that don’t know, I was Chef at The Wine Bar for about 4 1/2 years.   It is a genuine pleasure to join The Wine Bar team again.  If you can make it you will not be disappointed.  I’m eager to cook for you and you can be part of a great night by making your reservation right away.  If you’re unable to make it, be sure to visit The Wine Bar as part of your dining routine.

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.

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?