Wednesday, June 11, 2014

trying to find the in between

Do you remember being a kid? Not a little kid, but a kid. Not old enough for a real girlfriend. But, old enough to leave the house on your own. It was the beginning of that period in time when you were certain that your parents knew absolutely nothing.

I remember thinking how hard things were back then. Everything good seemed so far away. Money, a car, my own place, I wanted to be a grown-up. I wanted to make the rules. Looking back it was a time of great adventures and many fantastic memories. It was in reality the easiest and simplest of times. Lots of hopes and dreams. But, very few obligations. Then as you get older, and acquire those things that seemed so far off, the job, the drivers license, the girl friend, that kid starts to get lost. (And some how your parents got a lot smarter). I must say, I have a great life. I have been truly blessed. I love my wife and adore our two children. I have a successful business. And still enjoy getting up and going to work everyday. We live in one of the most beautiful places in the country. All of this as wonderful as it is can sometimes pull you in many different directions. The wants and needs of family, staff, bills and obligations can get overwhelming.

 And then you are struck with inspiration. A new ingredient, a comment from your son, a walk in the woods. Or, in this case a lyric. A chorus. "trying to find the in between" Amongst all the distractions, good and bad, You have to remember to keep that kid in you alive. Between work and family and paying taxes, you need to find the in between. If you haven't seen him in a while, go find that kid. Make sure you take care of him. Make sure he gets enough exercise. Feed that part of you, the real you. It will let the other you, the grown up one, be a better person to the folks that depend on you.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Knives and Fire

People that cook for a living are an interesting and diverse lot. Looking from the outside in we used to be considered servants. Then as dining out became more and more popular we were upgraded to a group of drug addled alcoholics payed minimum wage and left to our own devices as long as the lobster thermador wound up on a hot plate. That is, at least if you listen to Anthony Bourdain.

Now, with more and more people graduating from cooking school, preparing food for people is actually considered a profession. There is a certain amount of respect. After some years of experience, and lots of hard knocks you can actually rise to the top, become a chef and run your own restaurant. Or multiple restaurants for that matter. And the general public will actually look up to you. One thing that all chefs have in common is ego. Granted it comes in varying degrees. But, to get to the top we have all taken a lot of crap, it forms in a sense, who you are. In my experience the more crap you deal with coming up the larger your ego gets. Or maybe the more humble you get, depending on who is dishing out the crap. How you deal with the stress and pressure of rising through the ranks ultimately determines the type of leader you will be. But even in the most humble chef, and I could name few that I really look up to, there is still ego. When asked why a chef does what he or she does, the answers will vary as widely as the diverse group presented the question. Part of this is where the ego comes in. The Chef says to himself "I have been busting my ass for all these years and finally someone is asking me a question , and they really care what I think." Of course the shoulders go back, and the chest pumps out. They might even put my picture in their magazine. So why do we do what we do? "I like to take care of people...Instant gratification...I find the transformation of ingredients fascinating...creativity...I like the sense of order and precision...the chemistry of it is intriguing..." All perfectly good answers to the question. I call Bull Shit! If you corner each and everyone of us it comes back to this...Knives and Fire. A fascination of which we were born with.

I have, since as long as I can remember, been drawn to the flame. P.S. The draw towards the blade has been no less powerful. Please don't tell my mom. But as kids we almost set the whole woods on fire a number of times. I personally was never into accelerants...discontinuing that brief period when I learned that rubbing alcohol was flammable and the magic I could work with some paper towels stuffed into the tube of a bic pen. Maybe Let's not go there. My first knife was a 4 inch lock blade that I got on Christmas eve. And yes I did cut myself that very first night. Nestled in my bed waiting for Christmas morning as I ran my thumb along the blade. I don't think I touched it for a week after. The cuts and burns over the years are to numerous to remember. At this point in my career my favorite knife is a custom made blade by Bob Kramer. Although he has made me more than one, the first , a 9" chefs knife is my favorite. From what I am told Mr. Kramer has become so renowned I could sell this knife for 10 times what I paid for it. However the knife I reach for almost as often is a Chicago Cutlery boning knife that you can order online for about 12 bucks.

As for fire...I love to cook over an open fire pit of hard wood. The flavors that are imparted are beyond compare. In the mean time the Big Green Egg, The Caja China, The Turkey frier , and the 14 year old Garland at the Restaurant will have to suffice. p.s. at home we are finally switching from electric to gas!

Apple flambé 1 tablespoon butter 1 local apple sugar to taste brandy orange peel cinnamon in a warm pan sauté the apples in butter, add sugar, spices and orange peel. remove from flame and add brandy. return to flame cautiously. serve with vanilla ice cream.

From "Consider the Fork" by Bee Wilson... One thing is for sure. We will never get beyond the technology of cooking itself. Sporks may come and go, microwaves rise and fall. But the human race will always have kitchen tools. Fire, hands, knives; we will always have these.

Monday, March 26, 2012

the ramps are up!!!

one of the first signs of spring...a little early if you ask goes...

Maybe it's human nature, but as a chef I am always looking forward to the next season. For example I really enjoy working with the bounty at the end of the summer. And then, I find myself pining for the squashes and fruit and mushrooms of the fall.
You can't wait to get it and as soon as you do you start looking forward to the next thing. Like a kid at Christmas, ripping open the most awesome present. Then throwing it over your shoulder to rip open the next one.

The culinary calender and the traditional calender are a bit different. Most people think in terms of four seasons. A very talented Chef and Restauranteur named Alfred Portale wrote a cook book based on the 12 seasons. The premise being that, with the food we eat, each month brings a batch of new seasonal ingredients.
In May we get local asparagus. For 5-6 weeks I eat asparagus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Then come June, I don't eat asparagus for another 11 seasons. I move on.
Next up Strawberries. And so on...

I will say that winter is the longest season for me as a chef. After the glow of the holidays wears off and I settle into things, cooking the roots over and over gets a little tiring. Of course there are highlights. The truffles, game and cured meats help us through the cold dark days of winter. But, really and if you ask any Chef, I think we all agree on one thing. We can't wait for spring!
Bright green and fresh. The menu gets a little lighter and more vibrant.

Which brings me to the featured ingredient of the day. Ramps!
The ramp is a wild leek. It grows throughout North America, from the Carolinas to Canada. The aroma and flavor are like a combination of leeks, garlic and chives.
Ramps usually spring up, pardon the pun, in mid April. They are one of the first things to let us know that spring is here. Along with sorrel, and garlic mustard it means that it's time to change the menu.

My friend Kirk Avondoglio, an owner and chef at Perona Farms in Andover, taught me how to locate and harvest ramps. When I told him last week that the ramps in my favorite spot were 4-5 inches high he said "bullshit! It's to early." But, it's true. The weather that we have had has forced everything to start early this year.
Kinda cool from the creative/culinary perspective. It does make me wonder whats in store for our next 11 seasons though.

If you can get your hands on some...

while you are bringing some water to boil to cook linguine...

a little bacon or pancetta over medium heat to render the fat.
add the bottoms of the ramps after they have been cleaned. Saute for a few minutes.
then add the tops, a splash of white wine, some cream and reduce. add a swirl of truffle butter. Check seasoning. Finish with grated cheese, toasted bread crumbs, and some chopped chives or garlic mustard.

I like to enjoy a dish like this with an Italian white like a Greco de Tufo or a nice Albarino from Spain.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


I consider myself blessed in that I love what I do.
But, every now and then you need to change up the routine.

Please don't take this as a complaint. But, for quite a few weeks now my life has been... sleep, cook, eat... sleep, cook, eat...oh, and there was some drinking in there to.

In any case Rob mentioned the idea of a field trip to NYC to visit Eataly, which is a huge Italian Foodporn-fest from the minds of Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. Awesome products, great food stands, pizza and pasta, raw fish, cured meats, cheeses, espresso, gelato the list goes on and on. And there's a Beer Garden on the top floor with a retractable glass roof! Gather the girls and hit the road.

So, in regard to changing up the routine I thought I would just remove the "cook" portion of my current regimen.

The mantra for the day was eat, drink, sleep...

With the new addition in tow we had all aspects covered.

I bought some fresh pasta and an imported red sauce as well as some olive oil, hand made ricotta, copa and other goodies for dinner. So if you consider boiling water cooking I guess I didn't stray very far from the routine. But, it was pretty tasty.

As far as the day we spent with Rob and Kate, it brought back memories of Vegas. We had a fantastic day.

As far as Eataly...more than one person that I have sent there has said "this place makes me happy"

I couldn't agree more!