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No Sleep till the Brooklyn ROOTS Experiment

Brooklyn Roots

It wasn’t until the Village Voice said that it had been six months since our last experiment did I realize that it had been that long. So I am excited to announce that the next experiment is literally around the corner, Sunday, September 12th. Since the last food crazed meat sweat feast, I got married, and NO, it was not the Wedding Experiment for all those wondering. Though, I did cater the damn thing. I guess it has been a life altering six months. I still owe one of my faithful readers an account of the honeymoon (just info about the food people – how sick do you think I am?).  Since the last experiment, I have also taken a new job as kitchen manager. So, life is changing rapidly.

I am really excited to get back into action. This is the first time the Experiment will not be at the Bell House, which will be a new challenge for Nick and me. I had become accustomed to Will’s effortless management. At the same time, I am looking forward to seeing the event in a different setting. We are setting up on the third floor in a gallery/loft in Cobble Hill, The Invisible Dog Art Center.

Plus the theme is slightly different for us. No single ingredient to inspire the chefs, but an entire borough: Brooklyn. From the red sauce joints and kielbasa kitchens of yesteryear, to Chinese food and Tacos from Sunset Park. Brooklyn is New York’s most diverse food destination.

The Brooklyn Roots Experiment is the latest in our series of successful competitive cooking events. It is part of Farm City Fair, a day-long celebration of local food and art, which is part of the fall festival of the French Institute Alliance Francaise. Our amateur chefs will be making creative dishes featuring ingredients grown or made in Brooklyn or inspired by the history of Brooklyn.

I hope to see you there…and for everyone who searches my blog for picture of cats with cheese on their head…

Cat Cheese Head

fizz au gratin

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Petrus 1953 – Simple is Better

Petrus 1953

Petrus 1953

I do not have a fetishism for food or wine. Rather, I have a deep appreciation for both without the need to shove it down your throat. But when my brother asked if I wanted to cook for a magnum of Petrus 1953, my enthusiasm knew no bounds.  I am talking about a very old and very expensive bottle of wine. I immediately shared the news with my wife.  After her lackluster response (she is not one to jump at cooking opportunities), I called Nick and finally got a worthy reaction (he works at Wine Spectator after all).  He was a great help as I discussed my thoughts on the menu. The first menu I thought of was too complicated, probably would have taken me all day and would not have been an enjoyable process. After further debate, we settled on simple was better.

In the meantime, my sister in law did some research. We did not go into this blind. The game plan, according the wine experts at the Wall Street Journal was to open and drink immediately – do not pass go and collect 200 bucks. The big fear was whether we had vinegar or an exceptional wine waiting for us.

The Opening

The Opening

On game day, to my initial shock and horror, the cork slipped into the bottle as I tried to open it. Trust me, I put no pressure on the cork at all. I have no idea what was keeping that dry brittle cork in place. As I started pouring, the odor instantly enveloped the room. It was a funky smell that led everybody to think that we had a loser on our hands. Thankfully, no – we had a winner. It had a true bouquet of death – wet wood, mushrooms explosion. It mellowed beautifully with just a little time and food. It went down smooth and it was unlike any wine experience I ever had.

So what the hell did I serve? I went with steak – simple. I grilled it to a medium rare and topped it with a large pat of tarragon compound butter. I rested it and let the butter melt. The idea was to give a slight sense of a Bearnaise sauce with out making a creamy sauce. Along side of it, I served a mushroom risotto and a side of grilled squash from the farmers market. When serving the plate I thought the risotto was a huge mistake, but it worked really well. I did not finish it with cream, just a touch of Greek yogurt. The mushrooms stood out and complimented the earthiness of the wine.

I am sure that there are a lot of dishes that pair well with a 1953 Petrus, but the dish I made worked just fine. I would not trade the experience.

New York Strip

New York Strip

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If You Want To Cater Your Own Wedding – Must Have Friends!

Checkin the Pig

Checkin the Pig

When I asked my now patient WIFE whether I should write about catering my own wedding or about the amazing food we ate on our honeymoon in Malaysia, she was quick to reply. “Write about catering the wedding, people love hearing about people being foolish.”

I don’t know how I didn’t lose it. I still have the advice of my new Father-in-Law echoing in my head, “Keep it simple Theo.” At least give me a chance to explain myself. If you have had a wedding or just paid for one, you realize that a huge portion of your budget goes to the caterer. We were on a limited budget and I always envisioned great food at my wedding. So why would I pay someone a huge chuck of cash to serve mediocre canapés?

But let me emphasize, my wedding did not just feature my food nor did it rely solely on my shoulders. As I said, if you are crazy enough to attempt this yourself, you must have wonderful friends.

Let me back up a couple of years – I moved to Portland, Maine in 2005 immediately following culinary school. I was attracted to its reputation as an up and coming food center. It has some great chefs working there and wonderful local ingredients. Even though I did not have a good time living there (probably because I relocated with my girlfriend at the time who turned out to be… I am not going to go there). Anyway, I met two wonderful people working in kitchens up there, and it made me realize how life can work in mysterious ways. To meet friends like MA and Camile, you normally have to endure many years in many different kitchens. They are both incredibly talented chefs that I would turn over a kitchen to in a heartbeat.

I remember having discussions with Camille about the menu. I thought I had everything under control, but without using my own kitchen to stage the event I was in trouble early. Breakdowns and chaos reigned supreme. Let me emphasize that this was on my end, not on my friends’ end. I was turning into the Incredible Hulk. Weeks before the wedding I started prepping stuff for the freezer. My first thought was to grind, stuff, and freeze as much sausage as humanly possible in the weeks prior to the wedding. Plus, I could make all the sauces a week out from the wedding. I could also make all the charcuterie for the wedding as well. I had a plan damn it!

Everything under control

The menu was supposed to be a blend of several ideas, but I wanted it to be easy. It relied heavily on the grill. The roast pig was meant to express a bit of my bride’s half-Latina heritage. (Nick came through with the pig box – now he is starting his own company – one man, one pig. I think you get the idea. Yet he did not seem too happy when cleaning the damn box or when he stepped in poop.) And there were French Fries with numerous sauces to please the Belgian half of my bride. What about my full Jewish two halves? Since I didn’t have a Bar Mitzvah, I went with a lot of pigs in a blanket (it doesn’t get any better than that), yet the friggin caterer couldn’t serve them hot for Christ sake!

Sausage

Bratwurst and seafood sausage

Lobster Roll
Lobster Roll

Friday was the toughest day. My friends arrived and I was already in the weeds. I can’t explain the emotion, but I just simply started crying into Camile’s shoulder. I was late to my own rehearsal at the barn, I showed up wearing an apron. I do not really know how they did it or how they did it so well. But without them, there wouldn’t have been a wedding. On Saturday, when I started freaking out, Camile was there to calm me down. She is a true friend who together with MA really knows how to cook. By catering my own wedding a learned more about friendship than food.

In the end, a wedding isn’t about the food.  The food doesn’t matter. It is the very real and very blessed union of two people who love and respect each other. I love my wife, and I will never cater another wedding again. But I am not saying anything about when we renew our vows…

Leaving

Heading straight to the bar

By the way, if you live up north – in Maine – and you need someone to cater an event, let me know. I know two people who would be perfect.

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Forced Out Of Retirement

Just when I thought it was safe…they pull me back in!!!

I last competed in the cassoulet competition, and I said that would be it. I retired on top. I thought I would give Nick Suarez a chance to shine. Retirement has been great, early bird specials, pant suits, and forgetting the past. As Rocky did in number IV, I am coming out of retirement one last time. Instead of staring down Ivan Drago – I have Nick Suarez back in my sights.

Nick and I will be going head to head this Sunday (tomorrow) at the Taste of Williamsburg.    We won’t be the only ones, there will be over 30 other restaurants coming out for a good cause – a community center for the neighborhood. A refuge for those afraid of hipsters.  It will be this Sunday from noon to 4 on north 11 st in front of Brooklyn Brewery.

Maybe you saw the write up in the New York Post. Yes- I have everything to lose, but that is how the life of a champion must be. The lone gunslinger coming back to town for one last job he’s got to do. It is different this time – I am getting married and their are more important priorities. But it doesn’t matter – I am coming back to win.

p.s. what am I making? corned beef hash with deviled egg…

The Devil and Corn Beef Hash

Brunch Experiment – The Day After…

Closing

Closing Ceremonies

The Brunch Experiment was a success. How do I know? Because I taste every dish! And all of the dishes had that special something. It makes me sound like a sap – doesn’t it? But I guess I just have a big heart, I hope this is not a sign of an enlarged heart. Though to be honest, after going through 20 dishes of increasing cholesterol counts I thought Lipitor should be our sponsor.

Judging is Serious Business

Judging is Serious Business

If you weren’t there you missed some real successful experiments. Righteous Burn won the audience prize again, but they better be careful with the trash talk. They might be getting a little big for their peg legs. They wanted to challenge Nick and I to an Experiment. I will tell you right now that we would make them walk the plank! Still, we love the pirates. Plus, they had one of the best “acceptances” I have experienced, karate kicks and all.  And they broke an “indestructible”  Le Creuset pan in the process. The one I wanted to steal for myself!! How could they?

The Winner’s List:

Audience Award

Who Couldn't Love This Man?

Who Couldn't Love This Man?

1st Place: #13  Righteous Burn – The Righteous Kentucky

  • $150 cash
  • 2 round-trip tickets from JetBlue Airways
  • Dish featured at Rose Water restaurant
  • Gold Medal
Pig & Fig

Pig & Fig

2nd Place: #15 Team Vail – Juliana’s Pig and Fig Quiche

  • Brunch for 4 at Rose Water + $100 cash
One & Sup

One & Sup

3rd Place: #18 One and Supp – Pork Hash Tamales

  • $50 Whisk gift certificate + $50 cash

Judges Awards

Wanna Spoon?

Wanna Spoon?

1st Place: #20 Wanna Spoon? – Breakfast Cupcakes

  • Cuisinart Stand Mixer

Mixer

The mixer everyone was drooling over

Bacon Marmalade

Redneck Caviar - Bacon Marmalade

2nd Place: #16 Redneck Caviar – Duck Confit and Bacon Marmalade Donuts

  • Brunch for two at Diner
Working Class Foodie in da House

Working Class Foodie in da House

3rd Place: #11 Working Class Foodies – Buttermilk Waffle Bread Pudding

  • $50 Bark Hot Dogs Gift certificate + T-shirt
  • 3 pounds Plowshares coffee

Nick & Theo Prize’s

Jeffrey is a Hooligan

Jeffrey is a Hooligan

Nick Prize:#9  Jeffrey Olsen –  Mad Tea Party

  • One year supply of dairy courtesy of Organic Valley
No One Works Harder

No One Works Harder

Theo Prize: #7  Andrew Food – Full Brunch

  • One night stay at Le Parker Meridien Hotel and brunch for two at Norma’s

We all know their winner’s dishes were fantastic, but what about the others? The beauty of an Experiment over other competitions is that the chefs go out on a limb, they strive to be innovative… God bless them.

Andrey's Exploding Quiche

Andrey's Exploding Quiche

Andrey as usual tested the limits and surprisingly missed the cut. From word of mouth, I thought he had a chance to place.

Team Philomena

Team Philomena

Team Philomena had a really strong entry, their Italian pastry was very well executed and the acidic lemon glaze was very very good – memorable. Also, my hats off to new comer Andrew Winkler. Even though he did not win, I was impressed with his fried chicken. It is so hard to make anything fried for these events. They generally end up greasy and limp, not so for Winkler- good job.

Babes Who Brunch

Babes Who Brunch

I also would like the recipe for the bread pudding from the Babes Who Brunch. I am not joking Emily. That was great. It was so dense which I like. Actually, Knowlton gave it a thumbs up as well, so close Babes! I was upset because it was one of my last bites and I was so full that I did not have room to appreciate it fully.

When it comes down to it. I am just a fan of the chefs. I like seeing them frazzled, getting ready. I am sorry that some of my sentimental favorites did not get to the podium like Lei-Mo. They are just the nicest people. Plus, we had a new competitor this time who normally covers the event for the Village Voice. She was finally on the other side of the camera, it was awesome to see how into it she got.

Last but not least, I want to thank DJ Workhorse, aka Johnny Con Carne, aka Serious Business Taco, aka Schnapp. What a virtuoso! He made a  playlist of categorized gastronomic songs complete with a printed menu! It is a must read.

Johnny Con Carne

DJ Johnny Con Carne

Fiancee Deserves Some Credit

Fiancee Deserves Some Credit

Lots more pics are up on the Food Experiment’s Flickr page.

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 😦

The Brunch Experiment

Brunch Experiment

I think I can say this with confidence: This experiment will be the best one yet!!!

Why this one?  It could be the prizes, the contestants, or the judges – not sure. First, I am excited to tell you that Organic Valley has agreed to be our sponsor. This means they are supplying our cheftesants with all the eggs, butter, milk, and cream they will need.  I shit you not. I am ordering 170 dozen eggs and 80 pounds of butter to be delivered to the Bell House. I might just cancel the experiment and attempt to create the largest omelet every conceived in Brooklyn. Before getting too sidetracked, how come there isn’t a ‘Brooklyn Omelet’ – I mean Denver has one and none of the stuff actually comes from Denver. Here is my proposal for the Brooklyn Omelet: 1) Salvatore Ricotta 2) Sausage from The Meat Hook (that is if I am not making any that week) 3) Greens from one of these frickin’ ubiquitous rooftop farms and 4) Three drops of hipster blood for color.

Back to the prizes…  We have two round trip tickets to anywhere in the United States from JetBlue.  Very cool, yet, Organic Valley is giving away a YEAR’S supply of product. I do not know if I could eat that many eggs but I am willing to try.  I do not want to forget the Le Parker Meridian is giving away a night’s stay and brunch in the morning – the sophisticated one night stand.  There is also dinner at Diner,  Brunch at Rose Water and all the Bodum French Presses I have in my house ready to give away to the chefs. There will be no losers this time, only varying degrees of winning.

Enough of that, I have been looking over the entries and I am really excited to taste them. I got some favorites, but it never works out that way. The winners usually come out of nowhere. I would let you know about some of the dishes, but people are looking for a big surprise factor. Some chefs are preparing over 300 eggs – insanity my friends.

Maybe I am excited because a production company is going to film the event from start to finish including following several contestants ahead of time. It is The Experiments’ big shot at television immortality. TV never dies, just the people who watch it. I encourage any characters who want 1.5 minutes of fame to sign up – now is your chance.


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