Archive for the 'Restaurants' Category

Cochon 555 – Felt so good, at least it did yesterday…

After seeing the hordes stuffing themselves with pig and drink, I am relieved to know that the all important health care bill passed in the House. I had the great honor of being a judge at the Cochon 555 event. For the uninitiated, we are talking about a premier professional cooking competition.  Why 555? 5 Wines! 5 Chefs! 5 Pigs!

I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I started this amateur cook off thing as a diversion and now I am getting fed by some of the best chefs in New York for free!. Who knew being broke could be so fun, yeah! I must thank Brady Lowe. I did not even get a chance to introduce myself, which is probably a good thing because at some point in the evening I became shit-faced.  I do not get belligerent, just chatty, loud, and an inflated sense of my sense of humor – make sense? When did I become such a light weight? I only drank 5 cups of beer, 5 glasses of wine, 5 infused whiskeys. I appreciate that I got to eat before going down the devil’s path.

Using both hands for optimal drinking

Using both hands for optimal drinking

Unlike other events I have judged there was a lot of fan fare. We were sequestered to a side room where we sat a huge frickin table. It looked like a table from a 15th century castle: good/bad – I don’t know. When I looked around the room, everyone I saw was a big part of NYC food culture. Rachel Wharton of Edible Manhattan and Brooklyn, Mylan da butcher, Josh Ozersky of the internet, etc. I had the luck of sitting next to Garrett Oliver the brewmaster of Brooklyn Breweries. The man knows his beer, he is no bullshit. Plus, I didn’t realize how much he cooked.

But it is all about the food, each chef had a pig and was judged on Utilization, Presentation, and Taste. They all had their strengths. In my opinion, there was a clear winner. First to present was Michael Canora of Hearth.

Canora - Hearth

Canora - Hearth

He gave us the pig from nose to tail. He utilize the entire beast from fried heart and kidney risotto to a wonderful chocolate ravioli. There were at least 8 tastes on that plate. Second came Corwin Kave of Fatty Cue which I thought of as an odd move went with one dish to sum it all up. Bold move!

Fatty Cue

Corwin Kave - Fatty Cue

I thought it was a wonderful dish, but I think he suffered coming right on the heals of Canora. I was really looking forward to seeing what Mark Ladner of Del Posto had in store, but I became worried when  he showed up with one dish as well. My dream of pigging out on pig seemed in doubt.  Ladner’s dish was a memorable 100 layer lasagna, packed with porkiness. The texture of the pasta undeniably perfect. The dish was served cold, on purpose, but I felt that left it slightly underseasoned. I missed the pork’s unctuousness.  It was served atop a intense tomato ‘sauce’. Arriving fourth, was Gavin Kaysen who won my second place vote.

GAVIN KAYSEN – Café Boulud

GAVIN KAYSEN – Café Boulud

A great and diverse selection of pork, his best work, I thought, was his charcuterie. His pork pie put Myers to shame, no HP sauce necessary!

They saved the best for last with Adam Kaye of Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

Adam Kaye of Blue Hill at Stone Barns

A little back story, I worked with Adam when I was at Blue Hill. He was actually my boss.  Oh how the tables have turned. I promised to be impartial once I saw him on the Chef list. I am not ass-kissing when I say I know how well he cooks.

Face Bacon

Face Bacon

Fried Baloney

Adam Kaye's Fried Baloney

He had me at fried baloney. He has the ability to bring together unique combinations with flawless technique. His pate had a unexpected lightness that worked well with the crisp bitter chocolate wafer. Mazel Tov Adam – yours was the best.

As for the rest of the evening – drinking – oy vey 😦

Part II – Did Actually Do Something Right? What a Night!!

Feelin Alright

Feelin' Alright

Wow, I am in a ‘crappy’ position. (I put crappy in quotes because I think it is a lame adjective, but I cannot think of another) My editor-in-chief a.k.a. my girlfriend left for a family trip today for three weeks!!!  So now I have no editor and barely recollect a story that is already two weeks old. She told me to post sooner, but I was trying to get all this other stuff done before she left. Plus more importantly, I had to do the frickin’ beer event. So, I hope you still care what happened and do not mind all the grammatical mistakes. I think the only person who will email me the list of errors is Nick….that’s right… callin’ him out and I haven’t even written a paragraph.

Where was I? That’s right, I just sitting down with Nick and Nate.

They arrived while I was ‘trying’ to put away all the food I prepared. I was still feeling the effects of a ridiculous hangover and could not figure out the refrigerator, they look so easy to use.  Nick looked a little worse for wear and he forgot his wallet, but he did bring the five baguettes.  I had met Nate once before, he is tall. Frankly, he is way too tall. I will forgive him. Do you know that tall people get paid more than short people? It’s a fact.  Just so you know, I balanced the tables of justice – I paid him barely anything, really.

Nick had the type of experience in the kitchen I had before going to culinary school.  His mother is a chef and he grew up watching her cook. He has great culinary instincts. I think if he wanted to work in a professional kitchen, it would be no problem.  I hear he has even done well in some cook-offs.  Between a culinary school grad and a food enthusiast (I have come to detest the word “foodie”) I think that there is only one major difference. Once you go to “Cooking College” you learn to stop asking, “How long until it’s done?”  Because: it is done when it is done, got it.  Otherwise, if you love food, if you know food, it’s all good.  I hate the recent arrogance that is now associated with food.

Time to cook. Nate, Nick, & I mumbled through the meeting. The meeting itself started with such high hopes – we were going to have our production list and make plate diagrams. Well, I had to rewrite the production list three times because it looked like a scrambled mess. Plus, each plate design chart looked like a lopsided circle with a trapezoid in the middle.  As I said before, it had been sometime since I have cooked professionally.  Luckily, I cooked most of the food on Friday.  I thought that we wouldn’t have enough to do on Saturday. I thought that we would be sitting around trading stories of bullshit waiting for the customers. As my girlfriend loves to point out, I am wrong, often.

The day of prep would be defined by the egg yolk ravioli and the effort Nate and Nick put into creating them. Like a typical head chef, I said I wanted something done, that did not mean I knew the human cost.  I have this great recipe for pasta which I have shared with you in a previous post. I wanted to incorporate the pasta in the dinner, and I thought I would make a pasta “carbonarra” (I guarantee that is spelled wrong) with lightly cured pork belly. I knew right off the bat that this could be mocked as a “DECONSTRUCTED” dish which I am doing.  I did not think I was creating a cure for cancer. It was not meant to be revolutionary, just delicious.  I have made this pasta countless times. I used to make it almost everyday when I worked at Hugo’s.  So, I asked Nate to make the ravioli. I thought it would be the most fun thing to tackle that day and he was nice enough to come out and help. I thought I was doing him a favor.

Egg Yolk Ravioli...Seems easy right?

Egg Yolk Ravioli...Seems easy right?

It must have been my hangover because right as we started the project there was trouble. I have worked with OO flour in the past. OO Flour has a higher protein content thus more gluten is formed when kneading the dough. I know that a lot of chefs use it in pasta doughs, so it’s only natural to assume that it would be fine for this recipe.  It is pointless to experiment the day of an event. Frankly, right as it started to come together you could tell that there was too much gluten. It didn’t feel right. I wanted to freak out and get pissed, but that is the beauty of a hangover. You do not have enough energy to get crazy.

When I have made the pasta before, I have always kneaded it by hand.  Well, I saw the dough hook in the Kitchen-Aid. Sadly, it was the Terminator: Rise of the Machines. It didn’t work properly. So, adjustment after adjustment was necessary.  I have to give Nate props because he kept at it, until it felt just right. Pasta dough should feel like a woman’s breast, a real breast, not the fake kind. Pasta making is great for people with fetishes. I guess liking a breast is not really a fetish, my bad.

I purchased a ravioli mold for the occasion, unfortunately the mold was too small to fit an egg yolk. Now, I am stuck with a ravioli mold and no pasta roller. It’s like having the amp and no guitar. Back to square one, making them by hand. This is not as easy, sure you can make circles of dough, but you got to worry about the yolk breaking throughout the entire process. Plus, the hardest part sealing them now had to be done by hand.

All the while, Nick just powered through. He prepared the asparagus, pureed the kale, and started the perogi.  He worked so hard in the kitchen.  Both Nick and Nate are starters in my book.  It’s like if I were starting a baseball team, I would start with Johan Santana. A-Rod = A-Suck. That was a meaningless throw away line just so I can disparage the Yankees. Anyhow, they were great, I could not have done it without them.

I had to pull Nick off the perogis and ask him to help out Nate. I was starting to get antsy. It was taking a long time to make these ravioli.  I started asking Nate and Nick to stop. Just make the bare minimum, please! When they finish 21 pieces, I begged them to stop. They wanted to make extra. God bless them. They were right, even though I want to yell at them to finish, finish, finish, more people showed up. There were no left overs.

While they spent the afternoon perfecting the ravioli, I finished the perogis.   The filling was really good.  I was proud of it.

lamb perogi

lamb perogi - It had cured lamb belly, napa cabbage, carrots, shallots, butter, mustard, and spices.

Does any of this still make sense? Basically, three hours passed and I cooked some grub.  I did have one more intense fuck up. I made a monkfish torchon. I have made it many times. When I worked in Maine, it was very common to have access to monkfish liver. Let’s just say it didn’t work, and I found out an hour before service. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  It tasted foul, I mean like ass. Actually, I would probably have preferred ass. I nearly sent my staff to the hospital because I asked them to try it.  I was scared to taste it.

It was disappointing solely because I had spent hours searching for the Monkfish liver in New York.  The liver I did find might have been sitting out to long.  Once I pierced the outer membrane, it turned to liquid. I thought I could save it.  When looking for this rotten crap,  I actually listened to Nick, who told me to go to some fancy Japanese beef butcher.  The butcher shop looked so fucking fancy. A blank white cube of a shop that looked like an over sanitized 2001 Space Odyssey commissary with really great looking Waygu Beef.  Plus, the butcher was wearing a suit and tie. The Butcher looked at me and said in broken English, “This is beef, no fish, why you here?” I asked my self the same question. I was shocked because after trudging through Chinatown, calling all the fish markets in town, I found the liver at the Green Market.

It’s now 6:45 and the doors open in 15 minutes. Let me emphasize, everyone in the kitchen is getting along and were having fun. We take a few minutes to relax. I give them some chef coats to put on. We are ready, but deep down inside I am a wreck. This is the first time I have cooked for money in a while. I am wondering if anybody is going to like it. I was worried about the construction of the menu.  At the same time, I was super excited. I thought that this could be a great boost to my cooking confidence.  All this was swirling in my head and we have no idea how we are going to plate the dishes or what plates we are going to use.

Yet it all came together…it will be a night I remember for a long time.

Pate is so beautiful to me

Paté is so beautiful to me

Course 1: The Chicken Liver Terrine served with Candied Rhubarb, Rhubarb Jerky, Smoked Bourbon Aspic, Ver Jus Syrup, and Pink Peppercorns.

The Pate Plate

The Paté Plate

Can you believe after all that work nobody took a picture of the egg yolk ravioli? Idiot…I am referring to myself. So instead, I have decided to insert a scary picture of Nick, looking like a crazy mother f’er.  It looks like he is being seen through night vision goggles.

Nick - Be cool and nobody gets hurt

Nick - Be cool and nobody gets hurt

Action Picture – Lamb Belly Perogis – By the way, this is how I will always spell perogis. Do I care if I am wrong? No…

Perogi Action

Perogi Action

The Final Course

Finish Line

Finish Line

What you see here is the last course: Seafood Charcroute.  It is (SIDE A) – seared scallop, homemade tater tot, kale puree, and Pernod Beurre Blanc – (SIDE B) –  seafood sausage, pickle fennel, pernod beurre blanc – (MIDDLE) –  Tuna Belly Bacon with spicy olive oil.

Back in the Kitchen: Did I actually do something right? Part I


in the foxhole

I do not even know how to answer that question.  On Saturday night, I cooked for a “Private Event” a.k.a. underground supper club, and it went better than I could even imagine. First let me mention that I was very fortunate to have the best culinary team ever assembled, Nick and Nate.  Also, I want to thank the hosts, Tom and Jackie, for making a great night happen. Plus Tom makes the best drinks. I am now hungover for a second day in a row.  Last but not least, Indira made a memorable and wonderful dark chocolate cake. I ate at least four scoops of her pistachio semi-freddo.

Thank you is the most import thing you can do in any situation. In this situation, I double that sentiment. That is why I wanted to start my post with ‘thank you’s’ . I almost forgot, I thank everyone who came and feasted on my menu. You all were great.

Yet, if you asked me Saturday morning at 6:41 am for a prediction, it would have been very bleak. Considering I woke up at 6:40am with a piece of frozen birthday cake congealed to my shoulder and a debilitating headache from all the booze I drank the night before.  So what did I do the night before my first cooking gig in a year?  I got shit faced off an unknown mix of alcohol. I went to a going away party, and I had a simple agenda: keep it together dude. Well, there were two small factors that led to my down fall. First, by coincidence, my friend and sous chef, Nick, lives in the same building the party was in. I do not know about you, but “small world” shit gets me all worked up like a tot getting a Tonka Truck. It meant that I had to drink not only to my friend’s new life, but also to my new friend.  Second, my girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend was at the party. I am not a jealous person, but these things have a way of feeling slightly awkward and forced. This is on both our parts.  So, when the Ex asked me how I liked my whiskey, I felt there was only one answer: On the rocks. The slippery slope, my friends, had appeared before me and I took it, diving head first.  I am not sure exactly what I said but I ended up in Nick’s apartment at 2 am ranting against some injustice to the utter embarrassment of my continually ‘long suffering’ girlfriend.

At least I remembered when I got home that night to take the lamb and pork bellies out of the oven. They had been cooking at 200 for 7 hours. I think I had been drinking all seven hours. There was a small problem at this point, I took the bellies out of the oven and I never put them into the refrigerator. Ooopsie…While I was eating cake of seriously unknown origin patiently waiting for them to cool, I passed out. I woke up with a killer headache, nauseated to the point of sickness. I ran to the kitchen, “The Bellies!!!” In my utter panic, I immediately cut a hunk off the lamb belly to see if they were still good. The problem, I had grabbed the lamb liver that was attached to the belly and popped it into my mouth. I am going to tell you right now that cured lamb liver is not a good hangover cure.

(Let me emphasize to all the people who are reading this who ate at Peerless: there was nothing wrong with the bellies. They were cured.)

Anyway, the morning was getting away from me. I was now up and simply yelling at myself for being such a shit with the drink. I took two showers, popped three pills, and did four jumping jacks. It was 8am and I was ready to roll…at a slower than normal speed, but rollin I did.  I was shaky, literally. It is so hard to organize with a hangover, really it is. Am I the first person ever to realize that?  The hours between waking up and getting into the car to head over to WillieB are just a blur. I was half way over the bridge to Williamsburg when I realized that I left the pasta machine home –  There was no turning back, traffic was a bitch. So, I started this coping method which has been very helpful to me over the years, I started hitting the roof of my car with my fist while shouting, “fuck, fuck, fuck…” This started even before I forgot to buy the baguettes. Thank you Nick. I still owe you $15 dollars, remind me.

12:15 and things are looking up as I see Nick and then Nate saunter in the door. A meeting is in order, a chance to sit…

Part II is on the way….

I’m Back – Cooking it – Feelin it – May 30th

Piggy Please

Piggy Please

I have an announcement. I am heading back into the kitchen, a somewhat professional kitchen.  I’m heading back for one night only, and I am excited. I am excited to get back into the kitchen, and I am excited that it is only for one night. I am cooking for an “Underground” supper club.

Underground supper clubs have been around for awhile now. There have been articles in all the papers, and there is even more than one current book on the subject, but that does not change my excitement. I think these events are successful because they are unique experiences. At a restaurant, they perform the same task night after night. With this situation, it is a chance for utter success or utter failure. I am confident mine won’t be a failure.

It’s a chance to create a menu again, which I will admit was difficult at first. I have a tendency to make a menu more difficult than it has to be because I don’t know when I’m going to get a chance again.  The space is great and drinks are included…if you are one of the three people who read this, come for dinner.  Here is a link to the official website:  Peerless Platters.

The Menu

Chicken Liver Terrine, Smoked Bourbon Aspic, Candied Rhubarb

Monk fish Torchon, Ver Jus Syrup

Egg Yolk Ravioli, Braised Pork Belly, Spicy Olive Oil, Age Gouda

Lamb Belly Perogis, bitter greens, mint, brown butter

Scallop, Wrapped in Tuna Belly Bacon, Kale Puree, Tater Tot

Seafood Sausage, fennel Charcroute, Pernod Beurre Blanc

Hope to see you there….

The International Restaurant & Food Show or How many variations of frozen pizza can you shove in your mouth?

I think the title says it all….

I think I saw this guy at the show

I think I saw this guy at the show

I remember in college that if they wanted students to attend a meeting, they would offer free food. If the president of the university was speaking, they would give you enough food to last a week. Well, the food show is no different. It is basically a trade show where they try to give you enough food so you will slip into a food coma and forget that you are at a trade show. Frankly, there is not enough food in the world to forget that you are being continually besieged by salesmen who smell from old spice after shave, and saleswomen wearing inappropriate attire from the late eighties, think Daryl Hannah from Wall Street.

I think the reason I want to lash out at these trade show lifers is that I was one. I was a food salesman for the worst year of my life. I have compassion for the salesman. I want him to succeed. It is a tough life.  I feel it is because they work on commission, it gives the transaction a sense of desperation.  They rehearse the ABC’s of sales, A-always, B-be, C-closing. The only way I survived that year in the trenches was to feel that I was better than them.  It is cathartic for me to say this…I was not better than them.  They work hard, so what if they all slick their hair back, make bad jokes, and drink too much…  Imagine trying to raise a family and never knowing how much you are going to make that month. I guess you can tell which way I vote.

Of course I took no pictures at the show (I am still getting used to blogging).  I think that the trade show was an accurate snap shot of our economy. It was less crowded than usual and it had a third fewer booths. To my surprise, I was sent a free ticket.  That is a sure sign that attendance is down. The restaurant industry is in trouble, but that small fact will not stop people from dreaming. Sadly, I am one of those dreamers. I also play mega millions. To my horror and dismay, my herbivore girlfriend had the nerve to tell me I wasn’t going to win. I almost didn’t get up this morning.

This sums up the show
This sums up the show

Anyway, I wanted to report a new product or something unusual…well nothing to report here. Just a line of booths giving away free frozen pizza.  If you are selling an oven…give away free pizza. If you are selling cheese….give away free frozen pizza. If you are selling table tops…give away free frozen pizza. I felt sick within an hour. The irony is that people rush, fight, and stomp their way to the free pizza, even though five feet away there will be another opportunity. They have other freebies – if you are aggressive, you could manage to eat your weight in poorly made Kobe Beef or cold squishy sausage, and top it off with chocolate rabbit crap. Who goes to this even to design and plan their menu. Let me help you, do not bother…

The only reason to go….the free pizza


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