Monday, December 27, 2010

Some New Year's culinary idea for ya

For those of you hosting some form of New Year's event at your house here are some suggestions.

1.  Invite me

2.  Have you ever tried fondue?  You can buy a fondue set and they aren't very expensive.  Fondue is easy to make and interactive.  You can do either a cheese fondue or a dessert one, such as chocolate

3.  Home made pig in a blanket.
Buy some frozen puff pastry sheets and wrap a whole sausage with it and then bake it.  Find a nice sausage like a chorizo or something.  Make sure the puff pastry is large enough to cover it.  Don't worry about sealing the sides as you will cut them off.  Brush the pastry with egg wash and then bake in the oven at about 350-375F.
slice into bite size pieces and serve with dijon or whole grain mustard.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

One of my favorite questions

I was in the dining room the other night and a guest signaled for me to come to the table.
He asked, "what is good on the menu?"  I have heard people ask that question before and I never quite understood it.  I mean, I am the chef, what do they think I will say? "Everything on the menu is lousy and you should eat somewhere else?"  Now I understand sometimes people don't know how to ask questions and that is fine. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Today's Christmas tip

Here is another Christmas tip for your holiday dinner.

For dessert try a chocolate fondue.  It is very easy to make, more interactive and not very expensive.  Of course you would need a fondue pot but they are not very expensive. 
You can put it in the middle of your holiday dinner table and everyone can help themselves.
I like to take brownies and pound cake and cut them up into bite-sized squares to be used for dipping.  Then, make a small plate of the cut up brownies and pound cake and maybe some cut fruit for each person to facilitate their dipping.

Merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Today's Christmas idea-beets

Here you go.

I know many people eat beets during the winter and while they may not be the most appealing vegetable but that is because it gets a bad rap.  Most people are familiar with the canned beets but have you tried roasting or boiling fresh beets? 

Go to the market and get some beets.  Boil them whole in salted water until a thin knife is inserted in the center of the largest one and comes out easily-just like when you cook a potato.
While the beets are cooking, julienne some red onions and cook them over medium heat in some oil and butter until cooked. 
Take some fresh rosemary and chop it fine.
Take one orange and zest it.
Once the beets are cooked and have cooled down until they can be handled, peel the skin using a towel by simply rubbing the skin. 
Cut the beets into wedges.
Take a pan large enough to accomodate the beets and put some olive oil, the onions, rosemary, orange zest and a bit of the juice from the orange.
Heat this up and add your beet wedges to it. 
Saute this over medium heat until the beets are heated.
Add salt and pepper.

The beets can be made up to a few days ahead of time so when it comes time to serve them they are already cooked so all you have to do is saute them with the flavoring.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Ideas

For those of you celebrating Christmas here are some twists to traditional holiday items.

Sweet potatoes roasted with orange, paprika and cumin
Cut each sweet potato into six to eight pieces, toss them with enough olive oil to coat, salt and pepper, a dash of paprika and cumin and roast at 400F until done. 
While the sweet potatoes are roasting, zest one orange.  Melt enough butter in a small pan with the orange zest to coat the sweet potatoes.  Once the potatoes are done, toss them with the orange butter and some chopped parsley.  The juxtaposition of the sweet, citrus flavor of the orange with the earthy flavors of the cumin and paprika work quite nice.

Stuffed turkey breast with giblet gravy
Make sure you have a sharp boning or cook's knife.
Take a turkey breast and lay it skin side down laying perpendicular to you. To help you visualize, imagine you are looking at a turkey.  You want the turkey's rear facing you, that is how the breast should be laying.
  You will be butterflying it.
Make and incision from one side to the other, down the middle of the breast lengthwise. 
NOTE you not want to cut all the way through the turkey breast otherwise you will have two pieces.
After you have made the incision,  place your knife where the incision ends and slice towards the outside of the breast, cutting parallel to the cutting board.  Think of an upside down letter "T"
NOTE you do not want to cut all the way.  You only want to cut about half an inch or more away from the side.  You only want to cut enough to open up the breast.
When cutting-do not push, let your knife do the work using a gentle sawing motion.
Repeat the same motion with the other side. Open the breast and season the inside with salt and pepper

For the stuffing:
Get some ground pork and add some fine chopped white onion, garlic, herbs (I recommend something like thyme, rosemary or sage) and mix together with some salt, pepper and if you can find it some chorizo spice.You can even use a bit of cajun spice to.

Take the stuffing and spread it over the butterflied turkey breast.  You want it to be about a half inch thick. 
Take the turkey breast and turn it a quarter turn so it would be parallel to you as opposed to how it was before.
Roll the turkey breast up as if you were rolling a jelly roll cake or perhaps even a joint if that is your thing.  Make sure it is fairly tightly rolled.
If your turkey breast was not turned in the right direction before you stuffed it it will be much fatter and not as long. 
Tie butcher's twine at every two inches and place in a roasting pan and cook at about 350F-400F depending on the size of your breast.
Cook for approximately 40 or more minutes.
Once cooked, let it rest about fifteen minutes prior to slicing.
Serve with giblet gravy as you normally would.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Today's tip-goat cheese and Sancerre

Here is a quick tip for you all.  I am in the market for a new computer so getting on to my blog hasn't been easy.

For those of you who like cheese and wine here is a perfect pairing:  Goat cheese and Sancerre. 

Generally the rule of thumb is the best pairings come from food and wine from the same region but if you can't find wine and cheese from the same region get a nice goat cheese and Sancerre or nice Savignon blanc and you can't go wrong........................unless of course, you do go wrong.:)


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A simple point on seasoning

OK, typing is a pain.  I have a band aid on my finger due to a cut so it is twice the size.  The saying "trying to fit a round peg in a square hole" comes to mind when trying to type on this keyboard.

Here is a tip for you about seasoning. Whenever you make something to be served as an accompaniment (such as a dressing for salad, sauce, a dip, sauce for sandwiches) to something else, make sure you over season it. 
Try it.  Make a sauce to go on a sandwich.  Season the sauce as if you were eating it alone.  It will taste fine.  Then put it on a sandwich.  The reason for this is because you have to impart that flavor to something else.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Recipe-Butternut squash soup

With the holidays here I am going to continue to give holiday themed recipes and tips.  Here is a soup I have been doing for the past fifteen years and is always a hit during the winter.

As I have mentioned before, I do not have recipes for many items so I will give you estimates here.....sorry.

Butternut squash  1 ea
Water or chicken stock
Yellow onion,  julienned
Garlic, minced
Pumpkin pie spice
Salt and pepper   
Olive oil

Since I don't have an exact recipe here are the proportions

The garlic and onion should be about 25% of the amount of the squash
The chicken stock or water should be about two parts to one part cream.
If you do not wish to add cream that is fine too, then just add more stock or water

Preheat your oven to 300F.  That is about 160C if I am not mistaken.  If the temperature is too low that is no problem.  You just don't want the temperature too high because you do not want the squash browned.
Cut the butternut squash in half, lengthwise and scoop out the seeds.
Place both halves of the squash on a baking sheet, cut side up.
Add about an inch of water (if your pan has high enough sides) to the pan and cover the pan completely with foil. If you can't add water that is not a problem, just lower your temperature a bit.
Bake the squash for about an hour. 
While the squash is baking:
Place a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat and add just enough olive oil to barely coat the bottom. 
Saute your onion and garlic for about five or more minutes until cooked but not brown.
Set the pot aside off the heat until the squash is cooked.

To check the squash, stick a small knife in the center.  If it is cooked it should feel like sticking a knife into soft butter.
Don't worry about overcooking it as the soup will be pureed.  Just don't overcook it to the point where it is like mush and you have trouble separating the skin from the flesh.
Once cooked, remove the squash from the oven and let rest for about fifteen minutes or so.
Place a folded towel in your hand and pick up one half of the squash. 
Using a large spoon, scoop out the flesh.  Make sure you do not scoop out the skin.
Add the scooped out flesh of the squash and the juice from the baking pan (if you have it) to the pot with the cooked onions and garlic.
Add your chicken stock or water and heavy cream (if you desire cream)-the amount of liquid should be enough to cover the squash by about one inch.
Add salt and pepper to taste and approximately one teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice
Cook over medium heat for about 30 minutes. 
Puree in a blender until smooth.
The consistency should be about half as thick as commercial ketchup.
I personally like my pureed soups to be a bit thinner as it gives it a more silky texture on the tongue but if you want a thicker soup simply add less liquid.
The pumpkin pie spice should not be the predominate taste.  This isn't a strong flavored soup like chili con carne for example, it is more delicate, for lack of a better way of putting it.

To garnish, I like to toast hazelnuts and chop them up

Happy cooking

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wine and food lessons

I have been very busy with the Thanksgiving holiday and other events so I am keeping my blogs a bit brief but will get back to doing more stories after the holidays.

Here is an experiment you can do at home to learn how different wines and foods work together.

Here is what you will need:

A glass of wine that you typically drink. Please note that for this experiment you should pick something that will most likely work together.  I wouldn't suggest picking Chardonnay if you are going to cook a piece of steak.

A piece of meat, chicken or fish that you like.

Glass of water.

Six types of condiments.  For example, if you are using a piece of steak have barbeque sauce, dijon mustard, horseradish, mushroom sauce, an Asian condiment like chili sauce and a lemon wedge.  This is just an example but I picked things that one may normally eat with steak. I picked six condiments but you can use more or less.

Take your condiments and pour a small amount of them on separate, small plates.

Cook your meat, chicken or fish then cut it into at least one more portion than you have condiments.  For example, if you have six condiments, cut your piece of meat, chicken or fish into seven pieces.

Take a taste of your wine. Then take a piece of the meat, chicken or fish and eat it plain.  How does it work with the wine? 
How can you tell if you food and wine are a good or bad pairing?  If you take a drink of wine, then eat the food, if you get a burning sensation in your mouth that is not good.

Rinse your mouth with water.  Take another drink of wine and taste it with a piece of your meat, chicken or fish with one of the condiments.  Note how different the pairing is.

Now repeat this process tasting the wine with a piece of your protein dipped in a different condiment and note how different the taste is.  This is how you learn and develop your palate.

Another way to do this is just the opposite.  Take a piece of meat for example and try it with six different wines. 

The ways you can try this experiment are endless but not only is it fun, it is also educational.  If you do this enough you will also learn that red wine does not always go with red meat and white wine does not always go with white meat such as fish.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Today's tip-duck

For all of you who cook duck for the holidays here is a simple and tasty tip.

Whenever cooking duck always keep the fat, provided it isn't burned. 

Saute your vegetables in duck fat.  Duck fat has wonderful flavor and I am sure you will enjoy it..............unless you are vegetarian.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving leftovers

We all know what to do with the turkey leftovers but what about the other things?

Well, here are some suggestions.

Stuffing.  Take any leftover stuffing, make it hot, or at least warm and press it into a flat pan. It will be easier to do this while warm.  To know what size pan to use you want the stuffing to be about two inches thick. Chill it thoroughly.  Cut it into squares then saute them over medium heat in a non-stick pan with a little oil and butter. Think of it as savory French toast in an abstract way.  If you saute it until it is golden on one side and a little crisp it has a nice contrast in texture to the soft middle.

Turkey carcass and scraps.  I hope you all are making a nice turkey stock.  Put all turkey scraps and the carcass in a pot large enough to accommodate it, cover the carcass with cold water and simmer for about 6 hours.

Cranberry relish.  That will make a nice cheesecake if you just adjust the seasoning. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Today's tip-seasoning

Happy Thanksgiving to all who are celebrating and hope you all have a great holiday.

Here is a quick tip when seasoning food that is going to be served cold such as potato salad or tuna salad for example.
Always season a little more than you would if the food is to be served hot.  The reason for this is cold hides flavor.  Have you ever noticed that if you have a really lousy white wine that the colder you get it, the more it hides the flavor? 

Try testing it.  Make some potato salad and season it as you normally would, then taste it.  Now take some of that same potato salad and refrigerate it until it is completely chilled and taste that.  Can you taste the difference?


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A twist on Thanksgiving stuffing

Here is a neat idea for stuffing that is much more presentable and less messy.

Make your stuffing mix and put the mix in muffin tins as if you were making muffins.  I fill each muffin tin about 2-3 inches above the rim or about the size of a small ice cream scoop

You don't even need eggs to hold it together.  If your stuffing mix is wet enough (although you don't need to make it sopping wet) it will hold.

Another benefit is it only takes about 20-30 minutes to bake them in the oven at 350F depending on the size of the muffin tins.


Thanksgiving tip number three

For those of you who like beets and turnips try this tip.

If you find beets or turnips with the greens attached don't throw them away.  Here is what you do.

Cut up your beets and turnips as you normally would and cook them.

Wash the greens and tear them into large pieces, removing the larger veins.  Saute them over medium heat in a bit of olive oil with minced garlic, salt and pepper and cook them for a few minutes until they are tender.  You may want to add just a bit of water or chicken stock. 

Toss the greens with the beets or turnips and serve

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Yet another Thanksgiving tip

Here is another twist on a classic

Make mashed potatoes as you normally would and add fresh grated parmesan cheese and fine chopped green onions......Very good!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Another Thanksgiving tip

Ok all here is another creative twist to a traditional item: Cranberry relish

For those of you who are using that canned cranberry relish crap you should be aware that it is a form of culinary sin and there is something very easy and much tastier that you can serve. The following recipe is one I have been using for about 12 years and always receive raves on it.

Please note that these quantities are not exact, but an approximation as I don't use recipes.  I just throw a bunch of shit together hoping it comes out well-and it always does.

Here is what you need.

Frozen cranberries-1 cup
Sun dried cranberries -1 cup
Fresh rosemary-chopped- 1 teaspoon
Fresh orange-1 ea
Brown sugar-just to sweeten-approximately 1-2 tablespoons
Cornstarch-to thicken
Red onions-julienned -1/2 cup
Olive oil-for cooking
Salt and black pepper to taste

Red wine
Port wine

Note: for the wine, I use equal parts and you need just enough to cover the cranberries


-In a heavy-bottomed pot, add just enough oil to barely coat the bottom and cook your red onions over medium heat for about five minutes.  Make sure they do not brown.

-While the onions are cooking, run the orange over a cheese grater on the side with the smaller grate and set the orange zest aside.

-Add both types of cranberries, rosemary, orange zest, brown sugar, juice from the orange and both types of wine to the pot and put on high heat

-Put some cornstarch in a bowl and add some cold water and mix it with your hand until it is free from lumps and about the consistency of heavy cream.

-Once the mixture is boiling add about two teaspoons of the cornstarch mix to the pot and stir. 

-Reduce heat to low, season with salt and pepper and simmer for about 10 minutes.

-Chill and serve.  I suggest serving this room temperature as opposed to cold.

A few points for you to consider.  

-Once finished, you should be able to taste the wine but it should not taste too "winey."  If it does, simply add a bit more sugar.
-The thickness should not be like that of a cranberry relish in a can, it should be more like a chutney only slightly looser. It should not be "soupy" though.

-I personally like using 100% sun dried cranberries and no frozen cranberries at all but it is up to you

Remember, this is not baking or pastry where you have to follow a recipe exactly so if you like a sweeter relish, add more sugar.  If you like more orange flavor, add more orange.  If you don't like wine, use cranberry juice instead.

Lastly, when it comes to seasoning remember to add a little seasoning at a time, constantly tasting to see how the flavor develops.  This is how you develop your palate.
You can always add more seasoning but you can't take it out once it is in there.

Happy cooking and I will post some more Thanksgiving ideas and tips for you

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanksgiving turkey tip

Here is a great way to put a twist on the traditional Thanksgiving turkey.

Get some achiote from your supermarket.  You may need to go to a Latin supermarket to find it depending on how much variety your local market has.

Achiote comes in different forms.  I have seen it in big spice bags but I normally use the one that comes in little bricks, about half the size of a pack of gum but it doesn't matter which one you use.

To help you guage how much to use, I use about two of those little 'bricks' for one turkey.

Put your achiote in a bowl.  Add a large pinch of dried thyme leaves, a teaspoon of ground cumin and start mashing this together with between the fingers of one hand while pouring a little salad or olive oil with the other hand until you have a paste consistency.  If you want a stronger flavored paste, use less oil.  There is no rule here.
Please note that you don't want a paste so thick that you can't see the turkey through it once you apply the rub because if it is too thick it may burn.  I always make the paste so it is slightly thicker than a vinaigrette. 

Rub this on the turkey then season the bird with salt and pepper.

Cook as you normally would and BINGO, it is killer!!

I will give you some more Thanksgiving tips soon

If you have any requests please email me at:
I have been told it is difficult to post comments on my blog so my email is better.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Tip for peeling fresh garlic

Sorry for my absence everyone but have had some computer issues.

Here is a quick and easy tip for peeling fresh garlic.

Take a head of garlic and smash it with your palm against the counter until all the cloves are separated.

Put the garlic in a container and cover it with hot water. 

Let it sit in the water for about 30 minutes and that is it.

Use a paring knife to peel back the skin and you will find not only is it easier but your hands don't get all sticky from it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Kitchen tip-slicing roasted meat or chicken

Here is a quick tip for y'all.

Whenever you roast a piece of beef, pork, chicken or basically any piece of meat that you will slice in order to serve it always remember to let that piece of meat rest for about half the cooking time BEFORE you slice it.
Why?  Because while the meat rests after cooking, the juices redistribute through the meat.
For example, if you cook a piece of meat medium rare and slice it right away after cooking it will not look medium rare.

For the average home cook some of the more common items cooked at home is roast chicken or roast beef. If you give that beef or chicken about 15 minutes to rest you should be fine

Happy cooking

Monday, November 1, 2010

House of Frank part four

The one thing about this restaurant that I have never seen before is how low the turnover was.  In most restaurants people leave after a year or two and there is the rare employee who is long term, but many of these employees had been there anywhere from three to ten years.  The owner paid really well to keep it that way and overall, the staff there was not highly skilled.  They knew they couldn't go anywhere else and make the kind of money they were making there so many of them were trapped in a way. To give you an example of how generous the owner was, one day he found out I had started a second job and when he was walking along the line saying goodnight to all the cooks he casually told me "next pay day you will have more money."  It was that simple.  I remember hearing stories about how much of a tyrant and an asshole the owner was before I started but after I got to know him I found the opposite to be true. He was demanding and wanted things a certain way but he was also fair.  You certainly can't expect to have such a highly regarded restaurant by being lax for Heaven's sake.

If you are wondering how a restaurant can be so highly regarded, (for those of you who haven't read my earlier postings, this restaurant was the number one restaurant in the Washington D.C. area by the readers of an upscale Washington publication for, at the time, almost two decades) with a low to average skilled staff, it is because of how the kitchen was run. I don't know if it was accidental or by design but in most kitchens you are responsible for a station and you prepare almost everything for that station. 
At this place about 90% of your prep was done during the day so all you had to do was bring the prepped food to your station from the walk in refrigerator.  When I worked the meat station all I had to  prep was the three hollandaise based sauces and saute a shit load (for those of you who don't know, a shit load is slightly more than a but load) of mushrooms.  That was it.  Then we would move into dinner service and cook the orders. You really only had a few tasks to do.  On the meat station I had to cook six different dishes.  During dinner I would get an order for a steak, cook it, pass it down to the expediter and they would finish the plate with sauce, garnish and some form of accompaniment.

Each cook only had a few tasks to perform which was quite smart because it helped with the consistency of the food and that is one thing I can say this place had that many don't; consistency.  One of the single most important things a restaurant can have is consistency.  Consistency is why McDonald's was more successful than its competitors when these fast food joints started popping up in the 1950's, because if you bought a burger in Washington it tasted the same in New York. 

The downside to how the place was run was I really didn't learn much. I learned how to speak Spanish and that was about it.  After I left this establishment I went on a job interview for the position of sous chef in a leading Washington D.C. restaurant. The chef said I had too much hotel experience and the best thing on my resume was The House of Frank. Because of that he would consider me for chef de partie, a step lower than sous chef.  The funny thing is if he only knew the truth.  

To give you a bit of background, hotel chefs are not thought of as highly for their culinary skills because they are more of managers than cooks.  It is what the job requires.  In my case, I worked in many upscale hotel restaurants so while I may have been working in a hotel, the restaurants I worked in were run more like a freestanding establishment. The thing is, if you didn't know the places I had worked at you would never know.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

House of Frank part three

When I left you on House of Frank part two I was describing the cast of characters that made up this soap opera of a restaurant so let me continue.

When I left you on part two I was describing the cast of characters who made up this soap opera of a restaurant so let's continue.

There was this old Hispanic dude named Freddy who had worked there for years.  He had thick rimmed glasses, balding, graying hair on the top of his head and had the physical appearance that he had a hard life. His walk was a bit "off" which, if I remember correctly was from a car accident years earlier but I can't remember for sure. He kind of moved at his own, comfortable pace.  He also drove like that and if you got stuck behind him on the five mile, single lane road that led to the highway you had better be prepared to drive at a leisurely pace.  The bastard wouldn't even let you pass if you tried to.

What I remember most about him was that he was missing half of one of his fingers and we used to tease him. Instead of motioning to do a high five, saying "Gimmie five!" We used to hold one finger down, only holding four up and say "Dame quattro!" Which means "Gimmie four" in Spanish.  He didn't like that at all but it was friggin' hilarious.  Yes, kitchen staff are harsh people.  

Hispanic men are, generally speaking, more macho than the American men.  For example, homosexuality is not as accepted in the Hispanic culture.  Having said that, one thing I never understood about Hispanics in the kitchen is why they are always grabbing ass. I mean that literally. I have worked in some kitchens were it was to the point that anytime someone waked behind you, you would turn and face them to protect your ass from being grabbed. These were not homosexual Hispanics I am referring to but it kind of contradicts the culture. 

William, the pastry chef at this restaurant would grab or gently tap your genitals as he walked by.  He did teach me a neat trick though.  If you go up behind a guy with a medium sized ladle, put that thing between his legs to where the cup of the ladle covers the genital area and pull backwards with force, that person has to move wherever you take them.

Another thing I remember about Freddy is what he did to this kid named Brian.  Brian was one of four gringos working in that kitchen including me. At the time he was just 18, but a very immature 18.
He was more like the kid who goes and runs to mommy if the other kids teased him so we used to give him shit all the time. He also didn't use his head.  I remember one time he came late to work because he ran out of gas in his car.  The chef didn't even give him a hard time because he knew Brian was a moron. One of the guys in the kitchen said, "hey Brian, you know the letter 'E' on your gas gauge?  Well 'E' doesn't mean enough, it means empty you dumb fuck!" The entire kitchen erupted in laughter.

To get to my point, Brian saw all the Hispanic dudes grabbin ass so he decided to start doing the same thing.  What he didn't learn is you can't just walk up to anyone and pull that shit.  This is where he just didn't have any common sense. If you want to joke with people, you have to know who jokes around  and who doesn't. He started doing that shit to Freddy and he made it clear to Brian that he didn't like it. Brian, being hard headed and stupid didn't listen after Freddy had told him not to touch his ass a number of times.

One day Brian grabbed Freddy's ass as he walked by and tried to blame someone else but Freddy knew and he told Brian to watch out as he had enough. That night after work we were all down in the locker room changing. Freddy waited until Brian got his pants down around his ankles then came up behind him and wrapped one of his legs around Brian's then put him in a half Nelson. He then started violently dry-humping Brian asking him, "you want to grab culo (ass in Spanish) pendejo? (like asshole in Spanish), now I am raping your culo! You like it maricon? (gay in Spanish), You like it maricon? I am gonna make you my bitch!"
We were all in tears laughing and I was at the point to where my stomach was hurting from laughter. Poor, weak maricon Brian was struggling to get away but he couldn't as Freddy overpowered him and just kept humping away for at least a good minute. Imagine watching two dogs mate and the female is trying to get away but can't because the male is stronger than her and stuck in was like that.

What was also funny (and a bit scary) was the look on Freddy's face.  I think he was actually enjoying it. For any of you who have seen a porno movie (not that I ever have) you have probably noticed some of the faces the male actors make while they are engaged in the act; that was Freddy as he was on that barely legal, 18 year-old gringo. It also reminded me of the faces some of these guitar players make while soloing. It is like a cross between constipation, orgasm and a paper cut between the webbing of your fingers.   

I remember telling Freddy "hey man you still got some moves for an old fella!" He promptly told me to "go F_ _ K myself."
I can honestly say that is one of the funniest memories I have from working in kitchens but there are plenty more so stay tuned.

White Pizza recipe

For all of you who are like me and like a traditional pizza such as pepperoni, try this recipe.  It is nothing like a traditional pizza but kicks major butt!  It is called white pizza because there is no tomato sauce.  Basil pesto acts as the sauce

For those of you in the States I know the recipe is in metric but for smaller quantities it is more difficult to convert.
You can easily find a metric converter on the internet and I would suggest to anyone who does a fair amount of cooking to buy a digital scale that can read in either metric or the American system of measurement.  Once you get used to metric you will never want to go back to the American way of measurement.

White pizza

Yield 4 ea individual pizzas

For the pizza
Ingredients Amount
Pizza dough 4 ea, 150gr each
Sun dried tomatoes, chopped 160gr
Fresh tomatoes, deseeded, chopped 160gr
Goat’s cheese 160gr
Ricotta cheese 160gr
Buffalo mozzarella cheese, chopped 160gr
Basil pesto To coat bottom of crust
Flour For rolling pizza
Cornmeal For dusting
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Basil pesto
Ingredients Amount
Basil leaves, not black 125gr
Pine nuts, toasted 18gr
Grated parmesan 32gr
Fresh garlic, small chopped 25gr
Olive oil 63ml
Black pepper to taste
Salt to taste

-Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend for about 10 seconds until thoroughly blended.

Pizza dough
Ingredients Amount
Flour 500 gr
Instant yeast 7.5 gr
Salt 10 gr
Olive oil 175 ml
Eggs 1 ea.
Water- warm 275 ml

Place all ingredients in a mixer using the dough hook attachment.
Mix on medium speed for about 10 minutes.
Remove and place in an oiled bowl for about 15 minutes.
Take out and then portion into 150gr sizes. You will have some leftover.
After portioning let it rise until double the volume.
The dough can be refrigerated until ready for use.
When ready to make pizza, roll as instructed below.

To make the pizza:
-Preheat oven to 260C/500F
-If you have a pizza stone, place it on the bottom rack of the oven. Allow it to get hot in the oven for at least 30 minutes prior to baking the pizzas.
-Dust a clean, flat surface with flour for rolling the dough
-Roll out the pizza dough until it is approximately 1cm thick.
NOTE: when rolling the dough, do not pull it and always roll outwards from the center
-Sprinkle some cornmeal on a pizza peel and place the rolled out dough on top.
-With a spoon, rub the pesto on the dough evenly leaving approximately a one inch border.
-Evenly sprinkle the tomatoes and 3 cheeses on top
-Bake until crust is golden brown
-Once baked cut into 6 slices and place on serving platter
-If you like, you can garnish the pizza with freshly grated parmesan
-Drizzle just a bit of extra virgin olive oil on the pizza

I always recommend people know their ovens well.  Know where the hot spots are.  With pizza dough, I suggest you make 1 1/2 times the recipe so you have a little to practice with . Working with different doughs is not the same as simply roasting a piece of chicken.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Recipe-BBQ rub

Here is a recipe I used for my barbecued ribs.  You can use this for meat, fish, chicken, pork, vegetables, anything.

I lived overseas for a while so if you are wondering why some of my recipes are in metric, that is why.  I really don't understand why America doesn't convert to metric because it makes so much more sense.
If it helps as a reference point, 1 ounce is about 30 grams.



Spice rub



60 gr. Salt
60 gr. Ground black pepper
60 gr. Paprika, sweet
10 gr. Garlic powder
15 gr. Cayenne pepper
5 gr. Chili powder
Lg. pinch Dried thyme

Basic Preparation:

Mix all ingredients together.
Set aside until ready for use.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

House of Frank part two

Being a chef, the ability to speak French comes in handy so I remember thinking that working in this place I would finally get to learn French.  Of course that idea went out the window after I started because I saw most of the cooks were Hispanic and spoke lousy English so instead I learned Spanish.  I did manage to learn some bad French words and phrases.

I arrived to work on my first day and learned that every single staff member had to go and greet the owner (the old man as we all called him) prior to commencing our shift. It was a family run business and he was the absolute ruler.  His wife helped with the bookkeeping, there was another woman who worked in the accounting office we called "the wicked witch" because she was so frigid to everyone.  He also had three sons. One son ran the dining room. He was clean shaven, well groomed and kept to himself so I never knew much about him.  Come to think of it I don't think that dude ever said "hello" to anyone.  He was more like a piece of furniture.

One son was the chef, and talk about someone who hated his job?  Holy crap!  This dude used to mope around the kitchen and was the antithesis to what a leader should be. It's not that he was a bad guy or anything, he was just kind of "there." Being a chef, whenever I meet someone, I like to classify them as a fruit or vegetable based on their personality. I would call this guy a potato. A potato can be really good depending what you do to it but on its own is just a "blah" boring vegetable...that was him.  What's funny is this chef was highly regarded in the public's eye due to the enormous success of the restaurant but he was a shoemaker. A shoemaker is kitchen slang for someone who is a hack. He couldn't cook his way out of a paper bag.  He could only cook the dishes we did at the restaurant. I don't think anyone really respected the guy.  I know if the old man wasn't there to throw down the gauntlet when people screwed up there would have been a mutiny.

There was one cook named Bobby who I was closer with and we used to work next to each other. Most of the cooks in that kitchen were shoemakers but he and I could really cook well. We used to poke fun at some of those losers everyday. That was our fun. One thing we would say to each other is, "if you are only as good as your chef, we are both screwed." 

We all used to speculate that the owner made his sons work in that restaurant because it was obvious none of them liked their jobs. We used to joke that the three sons were waiting for the old man to die so they could get out of that restaurant.  Unfortunately the owner passed away recently.  R.I.P.  He was a good man.  I will get into him more later.

The other son, an alleged ex heroin junkie, we used to call either  "dirt ball" or "ham bone." This guy was scrawny, had greasy, unkempt, salt and pepper hair with a mustache big enough to make a caterpillar look like a toothpick. He had this smell that reminded me of overcooked stew, hence the nickname "ham bone." He had that stereotypical rough smoker's voice and laugh that kind of reminded me of a male version of Phyllis Diller.  His uniform was always stained and wrinkled and I don't mean the kind of "stained and wrinkled" like you just spilled tomato sauce on yourself.  I mean the kind of "stained and wrinkled" in the homeless sense. I always wondered if he slept in the shed in the back of the restaurant.  Garden tools do make nice sleeping company.

One of the guys who ran the kitchen was a Korean man we called Mr. Oh who was in his late 40's at the time and had been with the old man for years.  He was the one who made sure all the food was prepared correctly.  I have to say one thing, while that kitchen was a wreck in many ways, the food was consistent as hell and that is about the most important thing for any restaurant. For those of you who don't know your fast food history, consistency is the one thing that propelled McDonald's ahead of the competition when the whole 'fast food' thing started.

Some people have trouble learning a new language and Mr. Oh was no exception. There were certain vowels and sounds he could not pronounce and we certainly him of this.  In a kitchen when you are carrying a pot of something hot you always say "behind you, hot," to let people know you are coming.   This was one phrase he couldn't pronounce properly. When he would say it, it sounded more like "hiya hop." The guy couldn't pronounce the letter "T." Whenever anyone was carrying anything hot we would all say "hiya hop," and he would get pissed off.

Since he couldn't pronounce the letter "T" he had trouble pronouncing "shut up" as well.  This was another source of humor for us.  He would pronounce it more like "shaw upp."  This guy actually created a new language within the English language. Hilarious. Of course the downside to this was we all had to adapt our English so he would understand us and I think it took me about a year after leaving that place to get my proper grammar back.
The other way to really get this guy fired up was to tell him his daughter was hot.  She really was.  One day I asked him if I could marry his daughter and he didn't speak to me for a week. He would start spouting off Korean and I would be like "yeah , yeah, kimchee god damnit!" That was always my response when I didn't understand something he said..."kimchee."

To be continued

Monday, October 18, 2010

The house of Frank- part one

The title for this post is the English translation of the French restaurant (except for where it says part one) I worked at in the mid 90's.  This restaurant was voted the number one restaurant in the Washington DC area for many years by the voters of an upscale Washington DC magazine.

I tried for months to get a job at this place.  I first applied and heard nothing back.  After a few weeks I called back to ask the chef if there were any openings and he said "no." After that I called every couple of weeks for about a month or two until the chef finally told me to come in for an interview.

I was very excited the day of the interview.  This place had huge recognition in the Washington D.C. area and it would be a big coup for my resume. I hated the place I was working at at the time so I was also anxious to get the hell out of there.

I had never been to the restaurant before but I had seen pictures of it so I drove down the windy, hilly roads lined with trees and lush foliage in search of my new place of employment.  The road straightened out and I saw the restaurant on the left.  I pulled in the gravel driveway and marveled at its presence much like a child sports fan is in awe the first time he walks into a stadium.

To say the restaurant and its grounds were scenic would be like saying Sophia Loren is attractive. The restaurant boasted traditional Alsatian architecture featuring white walls in timber framing and cob and roofing in flat tile. The window frames located on each side of the front were painted in dark red with wooden shutters. A French flag hung to one side of the entrance and an American flag hung from the other.  The green shrubbery that lined the front of the restaurant contrasted nicely with the white walls while two large, wooden (almost Medieval) doors with a rounded top served as the entrance.

I opened the doors, which wasn't easy as they were heavy, and entered a dining room decorated in the style of a French country inn. More white walls, timber beams, chandeliers and one wall was painted a deep red with a hanging mirror. There were antiques the owner brought from France that he decorated the room with which added to the authenticity.  The tables were lined with white table cloths, fine silverware, stemware and candles. The room reeked of comfort, hospitality and gastronomy. I felt at home.  One thing I don't like about fine dining restaurants is the air of pretentiousness many of them have and this was one of the exceptions. Another thing that is sad is how much money some of these restaurateurs spend on their place but there is no atmosphere or character.  Again, that was not the case here.

I was waiting by the hostess stand and was approached by a short, fairly slim man who I assumed was the owner ando looked to be in his eighties. He was slightly hunched over with glasses, white hair and goat tee.  He was wearing the traditional hounds tooth chef pants with an unbuttoned chef jacket. He said hello and I shook his hand firmly while introducing myself.
We sat at a table and he reviewed my application. It wasn't the typical interview I was used to where you are drilled with hypothetical scenarios, quizzed on basic cooking techniques, my strengths and weaknesses and the lot.  
"This is very hard work you know?" He explained firmly.
"Yes sir, just give me a chance, I am sure I can handle it."
I got the feeling he was trying to scare me a bit or maybe he was just trying to size me up to see what I was made of. It wasn't a very long interview and he then asked me when I could start. I told him I would have to give two weeks notice at my current job but then I could start just after that.

So I got the job and I was totally stoked that my persistent pestering of the chef finally got me the job. I was also a bit apprehensive because a friend of mine knew someone who worked there and said that it was a very hard place to work and the owner was a tyrant. I wasn't deterred because the best places to work are the ones that are hard and that is hat I looked for in potential places of employment. For the two weeks leading up to my first day I was mentally preparing myself and getting psyched as I wanted to make sure I delivered once I got there.

To be continued

Thursday, October 14, 2010

More screwed up kitchen designs

So I was telling you some stories about how screwed up kitchens are in many hotels because many kitchen designers that hotels employ have never worked in a kitchen.  Just one of those things in life that doesn't make sense.  Kind of like why some of my hair fell out-doesn't make sense:)

I will take you back to the hotel I worked at in India for some more funny moments.

I remember the first time my boss gave me a tour through the kitchens as the hotel was still not fully completed.  We walked through the room service kitchen and this thing was, I kid you not, the same size as  your average kitchen you would find in a house and this kitchen was to service 700 rooms.  OK, there were more burners and other equipment to cook on but when I asked my boss where the rest of the kitchen was he said "this is it."  I wasn't fully surprised because I had been in the business long enough to know that most kitchens are just screwed from the start.

This is a classic example of what happens when you have some designer who has never worked in a kitchen design one-there were no tandoors in the plan.  They had woks instead.  Hello!  This is India, there is a tendency to use tandoors for their cuisine.  That is like opening a steakhouse and not putting a grill in the  kitchen.

What we ended up having to do was create a room service menu with a number of dishes from each of the four restaurants in the hotel because that tiny room service kitchen couldn't handle everything.  Sometimes guests would order things from each kitchen so the poor room service server would have to run around to each restaurant getting a dish here, a dish there to put the order together. By the time the server even got to run the food to the room, the food could realistically be sitting for ten minutes. What a pain in the ass!  I have heard that these kitchen designers often copy and paste designs from kitchen to kitchen and I wouldn't be surprised.

One of the funniest things was in one of the other kitchens.  All of the kitchens had floor grates which makes scrubbing the floors easier.  Simply douse the floor with soapy water and use a squeegee to push the water into the floor grate and all you need is a dry mop to follow and you are done.  Well, that is all fine and good except for one problem; the floor slanted up towards the grate!  When I first saw this I was in disbelief. It was stupid to the point of funny.  The dishwashers had to work even harder to clean the floor because as they would push the water up to the grate some would fall back.  That is like teasing; you put something there to make someone's life easier but add a twist to make it work against them.  Someone in the corporate office had a great sense of humor.

I had one dude tell me that in a hotel he worked the back corridors had floors in some sections with too steep of an incline so whenever you push a room service trolley with a full place setting, glasses and other utensils would fall off.

Til next time


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Kitchen designers part two

If you didn't read the previous posting I will give you  a bit of background.  The topic was hotel kitchen designers and how many of them don't even have kitchen experience which makes for some interesting (or stupid) kitchen designs.  In my previous post I was talking about the hotel I opened in Bombay, India so let's continue shall we?

What was also funny about this kitchen was the design of the restaurant itself.  We had four restaurants in the hotel and one of them I was in charge of was downstairs with an open top.  The design was like a hole was cut into the ceiling and you look up and you could see two of the other restaurants up above you.  There was a glass railing along the edge above so the people sitting along it could look down into this restaurant.  The idea was nice in principle, but on those rare occasions someone dining above dropped their plate, glass or whatever down into the lower restaurant, (once on a guest) it ceased to seem to be a good idea.

The design of the upper restaurants was open with no walls which didn't exactly help in creating character for each restaurant.  You could sit in one restaurant and look over at the other ones.  These restaurants were situated near the front desk and corridors leading to guest elevators and the shopping mall as well.

The lower restaurant's theme was based off of an American grill so you can probably guess there were a lot of grilled items on the menu. (DUH) That is all fine and good except for one small problem; whenever the restaurant got busy and the grill was loaded up, the exhaust couldn't cope with all the smoke coming off the grill. This isn't the first time I have worked in a restaurant that had an exhaust system that couldn't cope with the kitchen output come to think of it.  What is it with poor exhausts anyways? What would end up happening when the restaurant got busy is all the smoke would rise (as it normally does) and blanket the other two restaurants in the immediate vicinity and the entire lobby and reception desk.  

If you have ever seen a fire and how the smoke blankets the top half of a room than you can visualize what the upper restaurants and lobby looked like. It was hilarious in a pathetic way. The fire alarms would go off at times and we would get complaint after complaint, consequently buying some meals for the really pissed off guests.  I don't know what was worse, the fact that the lobby resembled Los Angeles more than a hotel lobby or that all those vegetarians were engulfed in smoke that smelled of grilled meat.   

I am the type that can find humor in anything so to imagine all those vegetarians going home with their clothes reeking of grilled meat much like your clothes reek of cigarettes after going to a bar just cracks me up. Sorry all my vegetarian friends out there:) Having said that it makes me wonder when those people went home, smelling of grilled meat, if their significant vegetarian other half looked at them as if they cheated on them like your wife smelling the perfume of another woman on your shirt.

India's population is about 75% vegetarian with some adamantly opposed to meat as if it was a sin as opposed to a dietary choice.  I can remember a number of times while servicing a banquet how vegetarians would complain that the non-vegetarian food was too close to the vegetarian food. I mean this is food we are talking about, not the cross pollination of flowers.  Buffalo wings can't cross pollinate last time I checked. If so, tell me where to get some buffalo wing seeds and I will plant some buffalo wing plants. While I am at it I will plant some quesadilla seeds.  I can have a garden full of bar food. Nacho plants, potsticker plants, onion ring plants, hell, if I am lucky I can grow some Long Island ice tea plants as well. OK sorry, I pulled a "Star Trek" on you guys there and went into deep space, I am back on earth now.

I remember the first time we were busy and the grill smoked up the place, the manager on duty came running down the stairs in a panic thinking the place was on fire.  
"Curt, what the hell are you doing?" He asked frantically.
"Cooking, what do you think chefs do man?" I replied sarcastically.
"Shit man the entire lobby is engulfed in smoke, you have to stop the grill from smoking?"
"What the hell do you want me to do? Turn off the grill and just serve baked potatoes?!"
He became more excited and was starting to lose his head, then giving me shit. I didn't like the bastard anyways so him coming down and giving me shit for something I had no control over pissed me off even more.
"Look man, there is nothing I can do, serious."
He then ran upstairs to do god knows what and then a good idea popped in my head.  
We always kept a rolled up towel dipped in oil for cleaning the grill so I told my cook to dip it in more oil and cover that damn grill. He rubbed it back and forth over the grill repeatedly and a huge cloud of smoke rose up from the grill that resembled a small mushroom cloud. The other cooks were watching, laughing as we had our fun for the evening.  
I never liked people who can't keep their cool and I am the type to twist the screws tighter if I see you unraveling at the seams.

To be continued

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Kitchen designers

Sorry for my absence but I have been experiencing a bit of writer's block.  I am on about half-block right now so I think I can come up with something for you.  I am working on a number of blogs that require some research but my blog needs some attention so here you go.

As I have done in past blogs I want to continue to give you an inside look at the crazy (but lovable) world of hotels and restaurants. Today I want to tell you about a challenge every chef will deal with most of the time during his or her tenure in professional kitchens; poorly designed kitchens.

Often, kitchen designers have never worked in a kitchen.  Yes, I know, it makes no fucking sense but it is true.  The way I would summarize my experience in a professional kitchen regarding this topic is like this.  "Expending vast amounts of energy to make something inefficient, efficient."  You can ask any chef and we will all tell you the same thing, "just give us a smart kitchen that works."

When I opened the Grand Hyatt in Bombay one of the restaurants I was in charge of had a beautiful open kitchen with a Molteni range.  For those of you not in the business, Molteni is like the Aston Martin of ranges.  It is elegant in its simplicity.  Anyways, one of the other features of this kitchen was refrigerated drawers.  I think there was about 30 of them and I had to get copies of all the kitchen keys made. There was no proper locksmith in Bombay, nor was there any key machine in the city so it's not like I could have just gone to the local Home Depot (there wasn't one) and had keys made.

I spoke to the purchasing manager and asked him to get me someone who can make keys for me.
A day later some homeless looking dude came up to me who I thought was going to ask me for money but he asked, "you need keys?"  I said, "yes, are you the key master?"  I was thinking of that line from the movie Ghostbusters.

I showed him the keys I needed copies of and he then proceeded to sit down with a bunch of metal pieces he then cut into keys.  Since he didn't have a mechanical key cutter, he used an assortment of tools that looked like a bunch of chisels and was just chopping away at those little metal pieces until he had keys...or what resembled keys.  Actually, it looked more like a bunch of metal he chewed on.

What I didn't realize at the time was that every damn drawer needed a different key. I don't know what the idiot kitchen designer was smoking at the time while designing this but it must have been some good shit.  Hell, I don't do drugs but I wanted to try whatever he was on. To make matters worse, once I finally got the keys, I had to fool with each one to get each drawer open. Because they keys were not cut with a machine using them felt more like fitting a square peg in a round hole. My Indian assistant had some trick to get all the drawers open quickly but anytime I had to go and open up the kitchen it took me like 20 minutes to open all those fucking drawers.  Brilliant design assholes!

What was also funny about this kitchen was the design of the restaurant itself.  We had four restaurants in the hotel and one of them I was in charge of was downstairs with an open top.  The design was like a hole was cut into the ceiling and you look up and you could see two of the other restaurants up above you.  There was a glass railing along the edge above so the people sitting along it could look down into this restaurant.  The idea was nice in principle, but on those rare occasions someone dining above dropped their plate, glass or whatever down into the lower restaurant, once on a guest, it ceased to seem to be a good idea.

The design of the upper restaurants was open, no walls which didn't exactly help in creating character for each restaurant.  You could sit in one restaurant and look over at the other ones.  These restaurants were situated near the front desk and corridors leading to guest elevators and the shopping mall as well.
The lower restaurant was a grill so you can probably guess there were a lot of grilled items on the menu. That is all fine and good except for one small problem; whenever the restaurant got busy, the exhaust couldn't cope with all the smoke coming off the grill because it wasn't designed to handle that much smoke. (another brilliant design idiotic kitchen designers) What would consequently happen is the smoke would rise (as it normally does) and blanket all of the upper restaurants and lobby.

To be continued

Friday, October 8, 2010

Home made stock

I realized I haven't given you guys a kitchen tip in a while so here you go.

Have you ever tried to make any kind of stock at home?  Chicken, beef or other kind?

Here are a few quick tips.

1.  Make sure you rinse the bones well.  If they are bloody, your stock will be ugly.

2.  Make sure you use very cold water

3.  Fill the water up to the level of the bones.  If you fill it higher you will have a weaker stock.

4.  Put the stock on medium heat, not high.  You want the stock to come up to temperature slowly which will help make it more clear.  

5.  Skim, skim, skim.  Always skim your stock.

6.  I was taught that you won't extract any more flavor from bones after eight hours of cooking so keep that in mind.  Fish stock doesn't take as long though.

Now go make some chicken soup or something

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Don't complain

I am sure you have heard stories of what happens when you complain about your food.  I know many people who are afraid to send something back to the kitchen for fear of what the chef will do to it.
If you have ever seen any of these exposes showing what happens in some kitchens it is a wonder why anyone would want to eat out again.  I saw one that showed a waitress putting rat feces in someone's coffee.  One lady blew her nose in a handkerchief and then put her hands in the customer's salad without washing her hands.  There were other unspeakable acts of pure disgust.

Here is a story about something I witnessed while working in a restaurant that is both sad and funny at the same time.

It was the middle of a Saturday night,the dining room was pumping with about 150 people to the soundtrack of conversation, silverware clanking on plates and glass being chimed.  Someone ordered a medium rare steak.  I was on the saute station and Juan was working on the grill, the station that prepared the steaks.  The order was cooked and plated.  The manager returned to the kitchen stating that the guest had complained his steak was not cooked properly.  We looked at the ticket to make sure we read it correctly and it said medium rare.  We then looked at the cut portion of the meat revealing the inside and it in fact, was cooked medium rare.  We asked him how the guest wanted it cooked and the manager replied, "medium rare."  We both looked puzzled and replied, "it is fucking medium rare!"  The manager said the guest wanted it cooked more.
Let me tell you there is nothing more frustrating and infuriating for a chef than when a guest complains about something and they are wrong or if they just don't know what they want, especially if the guest is an asshole about it.  Shit man, if it was not cooked properly I could understand but don't tell me the damn steak is not medium rare when in fact, it is medium rare.

Juan was cursing under his breath, recooking that steak for about a minute on each side.  We knew the guest was a moron because he obviously didn't know what he wanted and those guests can actually cause the most headaches.  If the guest doesn't know what they want then how the hell am I supposed to figure this out?  The reason I wear the big hat is because I am a chef, not a mind reader. Since we didn't know what he wanted we didn't want to cook the steak too much only to have the dude send it back saying it was overcooked.

We plated the steak and sent it out.
A few minutes later the manager returns with the same steak.  We both shook our heads and asked what the problem was now.  The manager said "the guest said it still isn't medium rare."
"I have never seen anything like this!" I shouted.
We put the steak back on the grill for a minute more and sent it out.
If you can't figure out the story by now, the manager came back with the same god damned steak and said the guest wanted it cooked more.

The only thing I could figure is that this guest was one of those people who actually likes his steak well done but felt embarrassed (as you should) to order it that way.  I can understand that because why on earth would you take one of the most premium, most expensive cuts of meat and order it well done?  Oh yeah, I forgot, someone who wants something with no taste that resembles shoe leather.
Juan was livid at this point and understandably so.  I was too and I didn't have to cook the thing.
The funniest thing was what he did next.  He threw the steak on the floor danced around it and stepped on it a few times with a kind of musically aggressive rhythm.  It reminded me a bit of "Stomp," the musical theater of choreographed percussion.
He then put the steak back on the grill, plated it and sent it out.
The manager came back and told us the guest said it was perfect.
Juan and I just smiled at each other and went back to work.  All that frustration was worth it to have that whole episode end like that.

I can honestly say I have never seen anyone cross the line like that because I have always worked in nice places with professionals but that was one of the funniest things I have ever seen.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

To vegan or not to vegan

It's like this......I had this guest that came in who was vegan so they wanted to speak with me about what they can eat.  I asked them if they eat cheese and they said "no." I told them I can remove the cheese but the bread we use for that sandwich has eggs in it and is that OK? They said "that is fine."  I told them we had other breads that didn't have eggs but they said the one with eggs was fine.

Now I am puzzled here-if you are allegedly a "vegan" then how the hell do you eat eggs?

I came across this when I lived in India.  We used to have Sunday brunch in my restaurant which had an open kitchen and people would come up directly to the chefs and order eggs prepared any fashion and we would cook it right there in front of them while they waited.  I remember one occasion when a guy had a plate full of desserts like cheesecake, brownies and other cakes.  I asked him if he would like any eggs and he said he was a vegan.  I said "yes but sir every dessert you have on your plate has eggs in it."  I wanted to inform him just in case he didn't know.  He said "it is OK because I can't see the eggs in the dessert."  To say I was puzzled by this would be an understatement.  Now this was when I was still new to India so I was learning the culture and eating habits so I asked one of my cooks if that was normal.  He said it wasn't uncommon to see that.  I told him that makes no sense.

I could care less about one's eating habits or choices; to each his own. Hell man, don't tell me your are vegan and you eat eggs only when you can't see them.  Isn't that a form of denial?  I do understand that living on a strict diet can be challenging depending where your are, and at times you may have to stray from that diet slightly (like having bread with eggs in it) because you have to eat, but I am not referring to those times.

I have even given thought to being vegetarian simply for the health benefits but I honestly don't think I have the discipline to give up a fat steak, foie gras or my favorite, duck confit.

Some vegetarians eat dairy products, some eat fish and there are also "Jain" vegetarians who also don't eat anything grown in the ground like potatoes and carrots and the strict vegans don't even use anything related to meat such as leather.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Crazy chefs

I am working on a couple blogs that require a bit more thought so for a week or so I will stick to some shorter blogs and recipes and so forth. With all these reality shows on TV you can see what it is like behind the scenes in many professions, including kitchens. 

I have had a number of people who watch Gordon Ramsay's TV shows ask me if working in a kitchen, getting ripped apart by the chef is how it really is and it is, although not like it used to be.  America and UK are very litigious societies so you can't treat people like that anymore although it does happen, just not as often.  In corporations you can't get away with that for sure.

When I watch some of those TV shows it reminds me of some crazy chefs I have worked for and I remember one of my culinary instructors from the culinary college I went to in Baltimore, Maryland.  
This instructor's name was chef Keeney.  He looked crazy, had crazy teaching techniques, acted crazy but everyone respected him because he was good at what he did.  

There are two things I remember most about him.
One was a game he had us play called "baseball."  He would blindfold you and then hold a small bowl of some random spice under your nose and you had to smell it and guess what it was.  The game was called "baseball" because you got three strikes and then you were out.
The other was how he punished one of the students who tried to deceive him.  I don't remember this particular student's name but he was one of those guys who was always screwing up and always thought he could get one over on the teacher.  We all know that normally doesn't work.
One day this student had to make quiche as part of his lesson but he burned it.  He thought the smart thing to do was to hide it in the trash. He then made another one but the problem was the class was about to end and his quiche wasn't quite done cooking.  When the instructor came to check on everyone before class ended he asked this student why it took so long for him to make one quiche.  The student started making excuses but you could see he was tripping over his own words.  It reminded me of watching "Cops" where you see some idiot getting pulled over for suspected drunk driving and the person can't get a sentence out properly.
The instructor, not only knowing this student's track record of being a screw up and not being forthcoming, knew something was "not Kosher in Denmark."  The instructor started searching the trash and found the burnt quiche. How did he teach this student his lesson about not only paying attention to what you are doing but to be honest?
He got some butcher twine, poked a hole through a piece of quiche and made a necklace out of it and told the student he had to wear that fucking quiche necklace for a week.  
Hilarious. We all nicknamed that student "Lorraine," after quiche Lorraine........  Classic

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How to make a roast chicken a little bit better

Here is a neat and inexpensive way to not only add a twist to a whole roasted chicken but to add some crispiness.

Truss your chicken, rub it with oil and seasoning and then cover the entire chicken with cornmeal.  Make sure it is covered completely.
Then roast it as you normally would.

Oh, do you guys know how to truss a chicken?  This is one of those where I would need to show you.  Here is a trick though.  Put the chicken on a tray in front of you with the back of the bird facing you.  Do you see that flap of fat at the tip that hangs over the opening of the cavity?  Carefully cut a whole in it large enough to put your thumb through.  Now carefully put the end of one leg through it and then even more carefully put the end of the other leg through it.
The reason you truss a bird is to bring the legs tightly against the sides of the bird to aid in more even cooking.

If you don't want to truss a bird you can always cook it in pieces.  It is quicker too.  You can still use the cornmeal for this as well.

Happy cooking

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Recipe: Tear gas

I assume most of you don't know how to make tear gas out of a few basic kitchen ingredients so that will be our lesson today.

Here is what you need.

Crushed chili know the ones you put on your pizza?
Some fresh, sliced chilis like jalapenos, serrano or any fresh chili will do
A bit of oil

Put a pan on high heat and let it get smoking hot.  When I say hot, I mean HOT!!
Add your chili flakes and some sliced chilis then add just a little bit of oil.  It is important you don't put too much oil or this won't work.  Once you add the oil it will smoke like crazy and anyone within a close distance will be gagging and coughing. 

Before I proceed let me tell you life in a kitchen is full of practical jokes.  People are always messing around with each other.  In some places I have worked it was so bad that I was afraid to go home sometimes because I knew some smart ass was going to do something to my locker, tool box, station or whatever.  Of course, they had to worry about what I was going to do as well.

I first learned this trick in 1997 when I was working at a Spanish restaurant.  One of the Spanish guys I worked with taught me.  What we used to do is just make a very little then put the pan in front of someone's face so they start gagging.  If you only do a little bit it isn't that bad.

Well, me being me I figured if a little bit did the trick then a lot will be even better.  It was about 6:00pm, right as dinner service was starting.  I took a large pan and left it on a high, open flame for like 30 minutes.  It got hot to the point where the bottom was starting to warp and the handle was beginning to glow red at the point of attachment to the pan.  I remember thinking I was going to get that sucker hot as hell.

So the pan is hot as hell and I put a huge handful of those dried chili flakes in there along with about six sliced up serrano chilis.  I then put a bit of oil and that thing smoked like nothing I have ever seen.  Smoke came out of that pan the way a forest fire smokes.  That "culinary tear gas" spread through a kitchen that was about 20 feet by 30 feet in size within about 30 seconds. I had the everyone in the kitchen gagging and coughing and their eyes watering. Once I added the oil I thought, "oh shit, this is going to be bad" and I bolted out of the kitchen leaving the smoking pan on the fire for someone else to deal with.

To help you understand how strong this was, only a little bit will have you coughing an gagging if you inhale it and I had put about 20 times as much this time.  It was so bad that everyone had to leave the kitchen. Trust me, this stuff is just like tear gas.

The problem was that wasn't the worst of it.  This restaurant had an open kitchen so some of the guests started gagging and coughing as well and this stuff permeated the air in the entire restaurant. We couldn't cook orders for the guests because nobody could work in the kitchen until that shit dissipated. We couldn't go back into the kitchen for at least ten minutes. The restaurant manager had to give the guests some kind of lame excuse to explain the delay in their food and what the hell that stuff was in the air.  He certainly couldn't tell them that one of the kitchen guys has a horrible sense of timing when it comes to kitchen jokes.  All the kitchen staff was laughing their asses off.   That stuff was lingering for the rest of the night.  Coughs and gagging provided the soundtrack in the kitchen for the rest of the night as every minute or so someone would cough just like hearing horns in traffic.

Looking back I really don't know why I didn't get fired.  The chef was really pissed off.  Oh yeah, I remember why I didn't get fired, because the chef had no balls.  For the rest of the night I just kept my head down while I worked, looking over at my colleagues, laughing under my breath like a school student who has been scolded by the teacher,  giggling quietly with his classmates.

So now you know how to make tear gas from just a few kitchen ingredients.

Enjoy and don't inhale when you make this


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Executive chefs and football coaches

I am going to share the similarities in a hotel executive chef and American football head coach.
I have used American football here because: a) I like it, b) I understand it more than any other sport, c) it works for this example, d) it is the only sport that exists in my universe, and, e) to all my international friends out there, soccer and rugby is for girls :)

Below is the hierarchy for football and hotels.  I have then explained each position and the similarities among those positions within the two professions.

American football hierarchy from top to bottom.
-General manager
-Head coach
-Offensive or defensive coordinator
-Assistant coaches-coaches who specialize in one area such as a quarterbacks, receivers and so on
-The players

Hotel hierarchy from top to bottom as it pertains to the kitchen.
-General manager
-Executive chef
-Executive sous chef
-Chef de cuisine
-Sous chef

Please note that when I use the term "team," I am referring to both, the football team and the kitchen  staff because at the end of the day, in both cases they are a team.

Owner.  Do I need to explain that?

General manager (GM)-The top guy in both professions, under the owner. It is a more administrative position and he is ultimately responsible for the team and operation.  He sets the goals, does the hiring and firing of the head coach/ executive chef and has the final say over salaries.

Head coach/executive chef- Responsible for creating, hiring and firing of their teams. They create, implement and enforce the vision and goals for their teams in accordance with the GM's. They run their operation as they see fit although the amount of freedom they have depends on the relationship they have with the GM.  These positions report directly to the GM.

Offensive and defensive coordinator/executive sous chef- Assistants to the head coach and executive chef, respectively. Just as the offensive or defensive coordinator has specialty coaches he is in charge of, the executive sous chef has specialty chefs he is charge of. The executive sous chef is in charge while the executive chef is absent. The offensive and defensive coordinators report directly to the head coach and the executive sous chef reports directly to the executive chef.

Assistant coaches/specialty coaches and chef de cuisines-These positions focus on a specialty.
In football these coaches would be, for example, quarterbacks coach, receivers coach, defensive backs coach and so on.  In a hotel, the executive chef and executive sous chef oversee the entire kitchen operation while the chef de cuisine is in charge of only one kitchen that focuses on one specialty.
In my previous hotel I had an Indian chef running my Indian restaurant, an Italian chef running my Italian restaurant, an American chef running my grill, an Indian chef running the banquet operation and another chef running my all day restaurant. Assistant coaches report directly to the offensive or defensive coordinator and the chef de cuisines reports directly to the executive sous chef.

After the assistant coach you have the players but in the kitchen hierarchy there are a few more layers which we won't go into in much detail as you probably get the picture now.
The next position under the chef de cuisine is the sous chef. The word "sous" is French for "under" so literally translated it means "under chef."
For those of you who don't know, chef just means "boss" in French.  Many people think chef is specific to the kitchen but it is not.  Chef de cuisine is specific to the kitchen with the key word being "cuisine."

Just as a football coach cannot be expect to be equally strong in all positions on a team, an executive chef cannot know every single cuisine.  A head coach cannot kick the ball better than the kicker or run better than his running back and I can't cook Italian food better than my Italian chef or Indonesian food better than my Indonesian chef.  What I can do is make them better chefs just as a head coach can make his players better at their jobs. A chef or head coach is like the director of a play; teaching, training, coordinating, supervising and ensuring each player does their part. In either case success isn't based on one person, it is the individual parts that make up the whole and each part must work together in unison in order for it to work.

A head coach knows what to look for in his players and can recognize talent.  As a hotel chef who has overseen many different restaurants featuring different cuisines, one question I am often asked is "how I can know all those cuisines and oversee them?" I am not an expert on all the cuisines I oversaw but I know quality and have the experience and knowledge to know what to look for in a chef and in food much like a coach does with his players.

Until next time

Burnt toast and dry eggs,


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Update and kitchen practical jokes

I have been working on a blog but after I started I realized I opened a can of worms so I have spent an hour per day working on it but it is not ready yet so I at least wanted to leave my many (maybe 10 is more realistic) followers with a little kitchen humor

I assume you all know what Jello is right?  While all of you think of Jello as a squishy, jiggly, colorful, sugar-laden dessert, those of us with a twisted sense of humor think of other things.

I assume you all know what a tool box looks like so I don't need to explain.  In most kitchens you need to provide your own kitchen knives an some other tools so any professional cook will acquire quite a collection of kitchen tools after some time.  Most chefs use a tool box to carry all their knives and utensils.  Well, those tool boxes also provide the base for a wonderful practical joke.
Are you putting the pieces together yet?  Jello and tool boxes......

One time a cook I worked with got me good with a practical joke so I needed to "up him" one.  As a man of integrity and sick humor I just couldn't allow anyone to get the better of me so one night I stayed a bit later than the other guys.  They were all asking me to go with them to partake in our nightly alcohol-fueled activities but I lied and said I had bit of prep to do and I would catch up in a bit.

I melted some gelatin in water but I made it like 20 times stronger than necessary.  I went in the walk in cooler (where we all kept our tool boxes) with my pot of super- strength gelatin (cement is more accurate) and proceeded to fill up that dude's tool box with tools and all in there with gelatin.

The next day when he came to work I couldn't stop smiling.  He asked "what did you do?" I didn't say anything.  For some reason he didn't get his tool box right away so he was looking everywhere but couldn't find anything wrong.  I could tell he was frustrated so I just kept grinning.  Now I was prepping in the back part of the kitchen on a table that was located about 10 feet from the walk because I wanted to see him pull his toll box out and enjoy that moment.  I told my boss what I had done and he was back there waiting as well.  That cook gave up looking so he went into the walk in to get his tool box.  He must have known something was up because his tool box was much heavier than normal with all that gelatin in there.  Then I heard this muffled scream from inside the walk in...."Curt you mother f@$&#R!"  He came out, face red, pissed off and bitching me out.  What I didn't realize is that I had made the gelatin so strong and concentrated that he had to start cutting it away.  It was like plexiglass.  That shit wouldn't just melt so easily with hot water.  Luckily for him his tool box was metal so he put the whole thing in the over for a few minutes and it made a friggin mess from hell.  And so goes on the never ending circle of practical jokes.

aaaahhhh the beauty of working in kitchens.

I made som