Notes from a Kitchen

I've been reading Notes from a Kitchen, a journey inside culinary obsession, a highly acclaimed two volume set by Jeff Scott and Blake Beshore. They focus on the ideation of food rather than recipes. These are some great books that ignite the imagination rather than direct it.

"Notes From a Kitchen: A Journey Inside Culinary Obsession: is the first book of its kind to accurately portray the daily creative life of a world-renowned chef in a visceral, cinematic format. Never before has a cookbook focused more intently on who a chef is as a person and why they place their culinary passion and obsession before almost everything else in their lives."
As I was digging through some notebooks of mine I found some interesting drawings like the one below. I have 1000's of these interpretive sketches. I would rather draw out ideas than put them into writing. Drawing helps me visualize the idea or record a dish I've just eaten. You may ask, "why don't you just take a picture?" well, I do plenty of that but taking pictures is not nearly as engaging as drawing, plus if it's just an idea there isn't anything to photograph.

As I look at this drawing from about 8 years ago I remember it vividly. I was at the Ana Mandara restaurant in San Francisco, the first notes refer to a crispy Vietnamese roll with crab and shrimp served with lettuce to wrap them in, I can still taste the roll and the uncomplicated Vietnamese sweet & sour sauce it was served with. The sketch is depicting a dungeness crab cake that was baked in a split piece of green bamboo on top of banana leaves with radish sprouts, the crab cake was moist with a very slight scent of mint....Food memories are powerful! I will work on publishing some of my culinary sketches in the near future.

Piles of sketches, notes, and preliminary formulations......

Hatch Chile Season

The Hatch Chile harvest has begun and I got my hands on a couple of pounds. Here is my visual recipe for preparing Roasted Hatch Chile Puree. It's a beautiful thing!

Now We're Talking!

Foie Gras, peanut, and cocoa caramel ice cream at OddFellows Ice Cream Co. This is some serious stuff! The popsicle man never had this.....

Photo by Lauren Tuck

Chinese Restaurant Syndrome

Harold McGee on MSG

This is a great presentation about the myth of MSG and how it got a bad reputation. "Judge" McGee hands down his ruling.

Balsamic Strawberries

Orange panna cotta with balsamic marinated strawberries and "Balsamic Air".

Test Tube Hamburger

There are things that make you pause and wonder if we are evolving as upright mammals. Last week I saw abdominal Spanx for men in the department store, that made me pause, if you overeat while wearing your new slimming Spanx will you explode?

Recently I read an article in the New York Times on a test tube engineered hamburger, this also made me pause. Are you serious? Escoffier is rolling over in his grave and Einstein is smiling!

MAASTRICHT, the Netherlands
As a gastronomic delicacy, the five-ounce hamburger that Mark Post has painstakingly created here surely will not turn any heads. But Dr. Post is hoping that it will change some minds. The burger was created at phenomenal cost — 250,000 euros, or about $325,000 dollars.
The burger consists of about 20,000 thin strips of cultured muscle tissue. Dr. Post, who has conducted some informal taste tests, said that even without any fat, the tissue “tastes reasonably good.” For the London event he plans to add only salt and pepper.

Not exactly the dollar menu but I'm sure someone will pull up to the laboratory drive through window...."I'll take a the Stem Cell Vitro Burger with cheese, hold the onions"

From a culinary perspective I'd like to know if it's engineered towards being 80/20, ground chuck, Wagyu, Kobe, or some mystery frozen burger puck.

A Few Thoughts About the Attributes of Flavor

After building a list of what flavor means to me I conveniently stuffed them into a pig, which somehow seemed very appropriate!

Food or Faces?

The fact that you are viewing this website may indicate you have a problem, at least according to these articles. Are you guilty of taking pictures of food instead of people while eating out? I'm siding with food writer Josh Ozersky who stands up for it. According to the Huffington Post It's actually a trend called "Foodstagramming", which has some restaurants upset.

Two of my favorite sites for food images are Foodspotting and TasteSpotting. Food or faces? your choice, I guess that's why Facebook exists.  I don't mean any disrespect to the people I eat out with, you are all far more interesting than crispy pig ears and artisan salami.

Huffington Post
Instagramming Your Food May Signal Bigger Problem Researcher Says

"The concern becomes when all they do is send pictures of food," Taylor told HuffPost. "We take pictures of things that are important to us, and for some people, the food itself becomes central and the rest -– the venue, the company, et cetera -- is background."

CBC News, British Columbia
Posting pictures of meals online? You may have health problems

"You don't take pictures of who you're with, you take pictures of what you're eating,"

Expert: Photographing Food May Be Sign Of Mental Illness

"In the pro-food corner, food writer Josh Ozersky defends food photography in this week's Eat Like a Man column. "Anybody that has any objection to the use of smartphones and their cameras, for any reason, needs to pipe down right now," he writes. He suggests that taking pictures of food might even be a sign of mental strength. "If anything, shooting food pictures is an act of impulse control, delayed gratification, and long-term planning. It would be a lot easier to just gobble that food up..."

Flavor Math 101 For The Day - Figonometry Equation

Fresh Figs + Truffle Oil + Honey + Gorgonzola + Fresh Herbs = Zero, because they vanished after applying this equation

Savory Rhubarb "Jam"

Rhubarb season is running extra long this year because the summer heat has been delayed until recently. This is fine with me because we've been able to harvest rhubarb 3 times now.

We've made plenty of rhubarb-strawberry pie, and rhubarb compote for ice cream, so I thought I'd experiment with a savory preparation.

Straight out of the garden.

Place the sliced rhubarb in a heavy pan with water, sugar, salt, pepper, fresh thyme, rosemary, and sage.

Cook mixture down until very thick and producing volcanic-like activity.

We ate this with pork and consumed half a jar! It was a perfect balance of sweet, bitter, salt, and savory herbs.

Wish You Were Here

This could definitely become a weekend morning ritual. I'll have coffee with that please....

Rye Restaurant

Rye Restaurant, a new concept by Chefs Megan and Colby Garrelts of Bluestem.

Crispy Livers and Gizzards
house hot sauce, spinach & lemon salad

Whipped Goat Cheese
grilled bread, honey, sea salt, herbs

Table Condiments

Fried Free Range Amish Chicken

Hot Buttered Shrimp
Anson Mills grits, cheddar, pulled pork, scallions

Cornbread and Yeast Rolls

H2O Melon

It's hard not to think about watermelon this time of year. I'm conducting another watermelon experiment with a root beer vinaigrette! More on this later.....

Watermelon with Goat Cheese
Mediterranean olives, sea salt, shallot vinaigrette

Hawaiian Tombo
Watermelon, black olive vinaigrette, wakame, fleur de sel

Dining with the Millennial Generation

When dining out my advice is to surround yourself with young influencers known as Millennial's. They are well informed, more connected, and more concerned about flavor, authenticity, and the wholesomeness of food than any previous generation. They don't care much for the millennial tag, but at least it starts with a more worldly metric reference.

They don't necessarily follow the traditional hours that restaurants have established, those days are changing, at least for this group. They have bucked the idea that there are set times when you must eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Their approach is, "I'll eat when I ready to eat" which is a 24 hour cycle that's geared towards their lives rather than a restaurants schedule.

At first glimpse they may seem spontaneous and unorganized, going out to eat without making reservations! but don't be mistaken. When they are ready to eat you may hear something like "Let's go down to restaurant row and grab a bite". When you get to "Restaurant Row" and you are standing in front of a restaurant that looks promising they're on their cell phones looking at Yelp reviews and viewing pictures on Foodspotting. In less than a minute they decide not to eat there because of bad reviews, but the app on the phone shows a restaurant down the street that has great reviews, so off you go down the street......well informed, nimble, and connected.

Visit college campuses and observe the adventuresome eating habits of the up-and-coming generation of foodies. It's 10:00 pm and the "Grab a bite to eat" kicks in, so off you go. If restaurants are not accommodating at this hour then there's always food trucks or a handful of savvy restaurants. They may not be eating at certain restaurants because the staff at the front door has been trained to say "I'm sorry, the kitchen closed at 10:00". Hey, even if they were open would they pass the social media search that's going to happen before they make a decision? I eat out a lot with these young influencers, so believe me when I say, they want quality and would rather wait 20 minutes at a restaurant that has great reviews than being seated immediately in a restaurant with a mediocre status.....they won't eat boring food just to fill their belly's very often, moneys too precious and flavor is too important.

Here are a few pictures from a recent dining excursion hosted by these up-and-coming game changers. Eating out must be fun for this generation, its got to be worth talking about to have a repeatable appeal, something worthy of Twittering, Facebooking, Instagramming, Yelping, Foodspotting.......

Donut Shop By Day...

But at night the back end of the donut shop has a food truck permanently attached to the building. They serve some really high quality food, and of course a sampling of donuts. A maple-bacon donut is good at anytime, day or night! The real winner was the Mac'n Cheese Grilled Cheese Sandwich, the mac-n-cheese was so creamy with great crusty bread, hands down the best version of grilled cheese I've had.

Tacos In A Grocery Store

This Yelp review pretty much says it all, this is the info my well connected hosts accessed before eating there, pretty powerful grass roots decision making if you think about it!

"Tres Pastor Tacos, Por Favor, Para Aqui!"

I don't often speak Spanish, but when I do, it's for tacos at San Antonio Tortilleria.

It's a grocery store.  It's a butcher-shop.  They have taxidermy, religious icons, and baked goods.  They're making tortillas in the back, and they've got coolers full of any sort of south-of-the-border drinks you can imagine.  PiƱatas. Spices.  And, the reason I go there, the Tacos.

Three of them, to be exact.  I've waited in line, hovered over the condiments, and sat at their tables once a week for over a year now.  Every time I walk in and get in line in the back of the store ala a food-cart, listening to the sizzle of the lard on the griddle as they're working up the piles of meat for everything from burritos to tortas, my mouth just waters in anticipation, which only makes me speak my order with that much more lubricated fervor...

Cheese Goodness

Beef & Bleu Fondue

Maytag bleu cheese melted with white wine and braised beef shortrib. Cubed bread, apple slices and rosemary steak frites.

Balsamic "Air"

I was experimenting with balsamic vinegar and inadvertently crossed over several different science basics and came up with “Balsamic Air” [Y x B / K° = WTwow!]. This is a cross section view of two large slabs stacked on top of each other. You can see the air-like texture that makes it eat like meringue. A 12”x 12” x ½ “piece barely weighs 5 oz. The applications for this are….well, I’ll get to that later.

David Chang Ramen

In October I was inspired by David Chang and his new magazine Lucky Peach, so I recently experimented with alkaline noodles and did a post about it. One of the best cooking shows I've recently seen is The Mind of a Chef. Here is the full version of episode #1 provided by PBS, which mirrors the Lucky Peach Magazine version #1. This video will send you out the door looking for a great bowl of noodles, I guarantee it !

Lucky Peach is a must have quarterly magazine for all foodies, and in case you didn't know, issue #1 is selling on Amazon for anywhere between $150.00 used (plus shipping) and $995.00 (free shipping).

Street Food of Mexico

Here's a few street food pictures of tacos as I traveled through the back roads of Quintana Roo last week between Cancun and Tulum. Dig the cloths pins hanging tickets on the "Wheel".....Love it! Just keeping it simple, fresh and delicious.

Check Back In a Couple of Months

Spring is the season of great expectations. Heirloom tomato ideas are now beginning....

Making Mascarpone Cheese

I love making mascarpone cheese, it's so versatile for desserts, pastas, or one of my favorites is to fold it into creamy polenta. I worked in a restaurant where we made mascarpone cheesecake with golden raisins and pine nuts, it was the best! I'm just hungry and rambling down mascarpone lane.

I recently caught up with a colleague of mine that I worked with 20 years ago. We worked in a hotel where I had a "Cheese Lab" as a side project. The first thing he asked me was "Are you still making cheese?".....To answer your question Joe, yes of course I'm still making cheese!

We Need To Step It Up!

If you go to Cancun Mexico and stay in the "Hotel Zone" you might want to get away to see some other areas. Take the #2 city bus for 8 pesos to downtown. There's some pretty great markets and food to experience there. This post will surprise you because it's assumedly a somewhat mundane trip down aisle's of predictability, plus you already have a comparable to benchmark it against.

Pictured below is a traditional vertical rotisserie called a trompo for making tacos al pastor. The trompo is used to stack marinated pork with pineapple and onions. The meat is sliced off very much like making shawarma. The sliced meat is transferred to a hot griddle where its briefly crisped and placed in a warm corn tortilla with some onion and cilantro.

So here's the comparable I was talking about....This is at Walmart! Precio Bajo! Check out the picture of mole, this was one of 12 different moles they offered. The last picture is the fresh egg selection, unrefrigerated like most of the world.

There was also a huge bakery with 50-60 different types of traditional Mexican baked goods. A great selection of conchas,  bolillos, empanadas, crispy feite, flans, and churros. The best part about the bakery was that none of the items were pre-packaged, you are simply handed a tray and a pair of tongs to go through the bakery and pick what you want instead of buying a dozen of one item.

We need to step it up, when I go to Walmart here in the states I now want the aromas of real cooking, the variety of local flavors and farm fresh eggs.

Hip Parsnip

Caramelized Parsnip Pave
fresh thyme, dijon, and shallots

The pave had a golden almost candied exterior, which provided an earthy yet sweet flavor. After experimenting with this recipe I began to wonder about the natural sugar content of parsnips. Here's what a little research revealed.

The starch in a parsnip readily converts to sugar when exposed to cold. This means that winter parsnips will be sweeter than autumn parsnips. It also means that they get sweeter when refrigerated.

Parsnips enclose natural sugars that give the vegetable a sugary flavor. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth, people in England used parsnips in the form of a sweetmeat by adding honey and spices to it. In addition, they cooked the thick root of the plant and served it as a vegetable. In parsnips, carbohydrates are stored as natural sugars. This is something different from potatoes, wherein carbohydrate comprises 90 per cent starch. In effect, compared to carrots, parsnips are considered to be sweeter, as nearly three fourth of the sugar enclosed by parsnips is sucrose - the same sugar which is extracted from sugar cane. Comparatively, in carrots, sucrose forms just one third of the root vegetable's sugar content. When sucrose is consumed in its natural form along with the parent plant, it is not harmful for our health.

Smoked Leg of Lamb

Three Easy Steps to Great Lamb:

This was a really, really great leg of lamb - sweet, hickory, rich, tender goodness. The next day try using the leftover lamb thinly shaved for making panini with fig jam. I suggest it because that's what I did and believe me when I say, it was an epic sandwich!

1. Apply a good coating of dry rub. Try paprika, brown sugar, cumin, coriander, kosher salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, dry mustard, and....well, you get the idea.

2. Place in a smoker at about 225 degrees.

3. Cook until desired doneness and the crust is so beautiful that it seems like a crime to slice it!