Tuesday, March 30, 2010

chicken, chicken, chicken...

Eight years ago Tracey kicked me out of the kitchen and into the dining room. She was pregnant with our first child and I wanted to close the Restaurant on Sundays. I wanted time with our family and at that point in the evolution of the restaurant I didn't have anyone to run the place on a day off. So, she said " if you want to close on Sundays you will have to start teaching those cooking classes you have been talking about." Well, it's true I had been talking about teaching classes but, if you know me, you know I'm a little shy, standing up in front of a bunch of strangers cutting vegetables and sauteing chicken was not my idea of a good time. I figured I'd write a couple of classes, nobody would come and that would be the end of that. Maybe I could get a part time job or something. Of course the opposite has occurred and our cooking classes have become very popular. I truly believe that I have learned as much if not more than I have taught. If you don't believe me you can conduct a little survey of the teachers in your life. Most of them will tell you that after the BS there is great gratification (not to mention decent health benefits) For me there is no, or at least very little BS. All of the folks who attend the classes truly want to learn or at the very least be entertained. It all comes back to the passion that I have for what I do. The cooking classes are my chance to have the face to face contact with people and inspire them to get in the kitchen and cook real food. What follows are Robs fantastic images from my most recent class. I will do my best to post the accompanying recipes shortly. In the mean time, I hope you enjoy and are inspired to cook, shoot photos, paint, or express yourself because I truly believe that creative expression is just one small part of true happiness.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Happy Valentines Day

disclaimer: "and now for something completely different"

So I hope you are all enjoying our blog. For reasons you will shortly understand Rob could not be present during the events as they unfolded. I only hope that my own snapshots will give you a little bit of visual gravy on our holiday.

If you have been following along at all, at this point you get the idea that I truly love what I do. This can however get a bit tricky at times (read important holidays) with the ones that matter most to me. For example I can't remember the last time I sat down to a mothers day dinner. I try my best to pull off Thanksgiving. The Christmas holiday season is the craziest at the restaurant. I am not complaining it's just that there are so many more things I would like to do for them and with them. I know that my family understands, yet it has always been difficult for me to divide myself between the Family and the Restaurant. The People and the Thing.
Squeezing in birthdays, communions, graduations, that's another story!

The big one for me, and really, not my wife but me, is St. Valentines Day. I really try to let her know how important she is to me, to us, everyday. But, Valentines Day is that one day that I am supposed to remind her out loud. In front of everyone. Yet, every year we are flooded with reservations at the restaurant. The prep and planning take over my world. Inevitably I never pull off the big romantic plan. If it does bother her she doesn't let on.

Well this year I planned ahead, made reservations, and lined up all of my ducks, even babysitting, and if you have kids you know how difficult that can be. Well, OK most of my ducks. I didn't factor in that I had scheduled our precious Valentines weekend when the kids had off from school for presidents day. Major wrinkle because we like to maximize time with them and the days off from school usually correspond with my days off. So we had to reschedule.

And now, here we are, one month later. Thanks to friends and family, babysitters and dog walkers, keys to a midtown apartment, you get a glimpse at a chef's valentines day.

1:00 Lunch Reservations www.elevenmadisonpark.com

Tabla for drinks at 4:00

back to the apartment to change after a bit of retail therapy at the Time Warner Center

St. Marks.
Story telling

9:30 cocktails at PDT. a bar hidden
in a hot dog stand accessed thru a vintage phone booth


We capped off our weekend with a wine tasting on Tuesday afternoon which is way my post is a few days late. I hope you enjoyed my snap shots but, I look forward to Rob's Images next time!

Monday, March 8, 2010

game on...

Almost ten years ago I was asked to prepare a venison dinner for the Branchville Business Men’s Club to be held at a local fire house. I was told that it was a traditional Venison Dinner. The club members did the hunting, they had lined up a butcher and they needed someone to do the cooking for 100 men. The man who had done the cooking for many years was retiring. Well, I jumped at the chance. There were, however, a few bumps in the road. First of all, I had never been to a “traditional” venison dinner, but I figured that was easy enough to work out and as you know I was going to put my spin on it anyway. Second and more importantly, my kitchen at the time was tiny (actually 12 foot square) with barely enough space to accommodate the needs of the restaurant. I didn’t have pots for 100 portions, most times I prepared 1/5 that amount.
Using my automobile as a make shift fridge, creatively writing a menu and cooking in batches, sub contracting some items to a local smokehouse and utilizing space at a friend's restaurant allowed me to some how pull off the feast. The firemen and their wives (the only women in attendance) helped with service and cleanup and aside from a few comments about my “spin” the evening was a huge success and I have been asked back every year since.
Each year seems to get a little easier and a little better, though not without a hiccup or two, like the year I stored the braised cabbage in the dining room managers Blazer; she couldn’t get the smell out for weeks. Or the year the butcher ground more than half of the meat. There are only so many ways to fancy that up. And it seems to snow every year which adds a little drama. But, it is a rain or shine event. The preparations have been made, the show must go on.
So every year I tweak a little bit. But these guys are old timers and certain things cannot be touched. There is never enough jerky, There had better be stew, or as they like to call it ragu, and they want the meat COOKED. They do not want their venison mooing! I don’t know about you, but even a well made stew has never been the highlight of my day. Rare to medium rare venison is the way to go and I have never heard a deer say “moo”. I will agree there never can be enough jerky. But, anyway, they built me a box and I am very happy to play in that box once a year.

I have however always wanted to build my own box and see what it would feel like to play there, a box where I could make the rules. Well, I have the box but, sadly no toys. The much needed main ingredient is not readily available to a kid with no shotgun or bow and arrow.

Enter our hero, a new friend and Black Belt from my son’s karate dojo. A bad ass with a weapon that doesn’t mind it rare, as long as it’s not to gamy. Can’t you just hear Anthony Bourdain reading that last sentence? We started talking over a year ago about doing our own dinner at the restaurant. With life constantly getting in the way it’s easy for things like this to become something that you talk about but never do. But, the planets aliened. So with some encouragement from mutual friends we agreed on a date and set the wheels in motion.

It would be a fund raiser for the dojo. He would hunt, I would cook; my little box was coming together. A few weeks before hand we got together for a meeting to discuss details and he said they had decided to donate the money to the Red Cross for relief to Haiti instead of buying new equipment. I love generous souls and I said that I thought it was a great idea and at the same time reiterated to him that my own, selfish motivation for the whole event was to get together, meet some likeminded people, cook, eat, and drink.
So the mutual friends became kitchen help for the day. The menu was not limited to venison; it included sushi, wild mushrooms, duck and boar (one plain chicken) and ice cream sundaes for dessert. The meet new people thing didn’t work out; I spent most of my time in the kitchen. I didn’t get a chance to eat much. But, there are always leftovers. As for the cooking and drinkin? As it can sometimes happen, I did a little too much of both. Next year, and yes, there will be a next year; the kitchen help will take a greater role in menu writing and final execution. And I will try to drink a bit more water. I might even cut a hole in my box.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Why I Cook

The other day I was noodling around on the computer, checking out some of my favorite websites looking for inspiration and ideas. I usually wind up clicking on links and getting lost somewhere, dreaming up amazing dishes that are too complicated to execute in our little kitchen. Anyway, I found myself at http://blog.ruhlman.com/ not a blog I check out often enough, as I have enjoyed many of his books. So, he posed the question "why do you cook?" I have to admit I kinda passed over it at first. But, then I got to thinking that it might make an interesting post (and challenging for Rob). I think Rob really excels when he's put to the test. So, as I write I'm wondering what sort of images he will come up with.

So, here goes...
Cooking is not so much what I do as it is who I am. It's something that I feel I was born with. Like the color of your eyes, not something I have a choice about. Some people get into the discussion of whether cooking is an art or a craft. I like to joke that it's a disease that I was born with. I see how that could sound negative or dramatic and really, I love what I do. The only negative comes in that sometimes I can't get away from it if I try. Like going on a well deserved vacation and spending early mornings in the markets salivating over local products that I have no means to cook (oh woe is me). Or, getting home from work at 2 AM and feeling the need to cook an elaborate dinner, or produce the ultimate sandwich( I know, you feel terrible for me don't you?) By the way look for the ultimate sandwich as a future post. But, to take a step away from all that and really look at the question, I think it comes down to one word, Pleasure. The simple act of cooking and eating are surrounded by pleasure at every turn. It starts with just thinking about what to cook. Then going to the market or the garden and choosing the products. I love to be able to touch the food that I am going to cook, to experience the smells and colors of the raw products. Then there is the joy and magic in transforming these items into a meal. That can come from simply caramelizing an onion, turning the acrid bulb into sugar on steroids or combining flavors to produce an explosion on the palate. As much pleasure as I receive from enjoying food that I have prepared for myself, even more is derived from the pride of watching people enjoy the food that I have prepared for them. The pinnacle, however, is to do the shopping, prep, and final execution and then sit down, and enjoy the food, drink, and conversation with a group of family and friends. Instant gratification, albeit in a slow food kind of way.