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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Influences, Inspirations, and Aspirations

Throughout our lives we are all influenced and inspired by many people, places, and things.  I as a chef am susceptible to many outside factors. A picture of visually appealing plate on Google Images or an ingredient I’ve never used can influence me to try something different, and meal in the right restaurant can inspire me to improve my work, and aspire to achieve more. So, I thought I would write down many of the influences, inspirations, and aspirations in my life as a chef.

My earliest influence as a chef was Mario Batali. Not the pink-faced obese Mario, but the owner of Pó in Greenwich Village from the Molto Mario show on The Food Network. Remember when they used to have actual shows about real food with real chefs?  Before I actually worked in a professional kitchen I used to video tape all episodes of Molto Mario and watch them over and over, retaining as much as I could about cooking techniques, Italian products, and food history. It was a great show because it was simple and about cooking and the love of Italian food culture. I knew then that that’s the type of cooking I wanted to do professionally.

In 1982 I was taken to a new restaurant, Café Capriccio in Albany. Our waiter was Billy Karabin, a legend. He wore a different tuxedo jacket every time he came to the table.  I told the people I was with that It was the kind of restaurant I wanted some day.

In 1998 (the year I started cooking professionally) I opened a small Italian restaurant in Glenville, NY called Theresa’s Italian Grill. With too little money and too little experience it closed after 14 months. It was said at times that my food reminded them of the cooking of Jim Rua, chef/owner of Café Capriccio.

In 1999 I went to work in the kitchen of Café Capriccio and learned that my cooking was not yet like that of Jim Rua. I learned about putting simple flavors together for wonderful rustic Italian, and some Spanish influenced dishes. Jim Rua to this day has taught me more about cooking than anyone else. If you’ve never seen him work, you have no idea what he can do with the most basic staples. His presentation of individual dishes is not overly exciting, but the experience of the entire meal is.

This philosophy was reinforced when I went to Italy with Capriccio’s travel group in 2002 and stayed at Fattoria Lavacchio, a working farm and vineyard outside of Florence. It was here I saw where the simple, earthy, and organic cooking was a way of life. I’ve never experienced life that way and never have since. I do however refer to it in my mind many times when I plan a menu, a meal, or a single dish. Thank you many times over, Jim for the experiences you’ve given me.

The other thing I learned at the Café was the importance of great service and a solid service system. That responsibility fell on Bill Karabin, a constant educator. He saw to it that there were no amateurs on the service floor, he insured front waiters were well-trained and back waiters often waited many month, or years before gaining front waiter status. Billy’s lessons are still with me and I hope to use them more extensively one day.

For too many years after the Café Capriccio I waffled around in too many Capital Region restaurants void of influence and inspiration.

In 2011 I landed the Chef’s position at The Wine Bar and the freedom to be creative has found its way back into my life. I have become far more serious about my career on the last 18 months than ever before. I closely follow chefs like Thomas Keller and Daniel Humm for inspiration for what is possible.  My friend Jason Baker has given me great insight into the drive for perfection  Dominick Purnomo of Yono’s  has shown me, and others that wanting the best for the local clientelle is not just bullshit, but the proper way of doing business. I’ve worked for many people who say “I want the best,” but do not know what that means. Dominick travels, visits the best restaurants and educates himself in the art of being a great restaurateur.

Also, Tom and Anne Gaughan for their approach to life, Mehmet and Mary Odekon for their hospitality and appreciation for what I do, Jonathan Stewart for his dedication to the proper tending of a bar, and Dale and Judy Evans for their work ethic. There are many others who have influenced parts of my life other than my work as a chef. Perhaps in another post you’ll meet them.

Finally, I am most influenced by my daughter Theresa, who for all the obstacles she has faced, still loves life. And, my wife Jennifer, who supports what I do in many ways.

My aspirations are simple, yet complex. At some point I want my own restaurant, with all of these influences put into play. I want to see what is possible in the 518. One day perhaps.