Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Indian wedding part four

When I think of the dichotomy of this hotel it makes me laugh. For all you people out there who don't work in the hospitality business remember this.  You may go to a top hotel and be blown away by the decor, the architecture, state-of-the-art this or that or whatever but little do you know what a disaster can be lurking behind the scenes.  I am not saying all hotels are like this, I am just saying it is not that uncommon. I have found that in most cases, the nicer the hotel, the more professional the staff,  the more pride in their job which means in the kitchen they will most likely work cleaner.  I have been in kitchens of well known or famous places and was thinking how funny it was that the place had such a top notch reputation but the kitchen is horrendous.  How sad it is.

So after the shock of what I saw settled in, I had to start preparing for this wedding.  I had my sous chef who came with me start looking for cooking utensils and anything that was somewhat clean. We couldn't even start cooking for an hour because we were hunting down everything like we were on a treasure hunt.  The average home kitchen has more utensils and miscellaneous kitchen equipment than this place.  I honestly don't know how this hotel did large functions or even functioned like this.
Just as I was about to start working one of the chefs came and told me our fruit delivery arrived.  Ah, at least something good is happening.  We wandered through the maze of back hallways (which were to my surprise, clean) to the loading dock but I didn't see any fruit.
"Where is the fruit delivery?" I asked.
"It is coming now," he said.
"Where?" I asked.  As we were speaking one of those black taxis backed up to the loading dock.
"Here." He replied
"The taxi?" I asked puzzled.
"Yes" he said.
I didn't really know what to say so I waited.  The taxi driver got out of the car, came around back and opened the trunk.  All of the fruit was sitting in the trunk on the spare tire and other car equipment with no case, cardboard, bag or anything to protect it from being contaminated by all the automotive parts, oil and grease.
"Are you kidding me?" I asked dumbfounded.
"No, this is how the fruit comes." He replied as if he couldn't understand why I was puzzled but I was still new to India and learning the way things are done there.
"Holy cow," I said in disbelief, not realizing I made a joke because cow is holy in India..."Holy cow!"

At least all of the fruit had a thick skin like pineapple and watermelon so being in the trunk didn't ruin it.  We brought the fruit to the kitchen and we started cleaning it, removing the skin and the automotive dirt and grease that accumulated on it being in the trunk of a dirty taxi.
By this time it was approaching evening and I decided we had enough for one day.  By this point I was too damn frustrated and couldn't even think straight. Tomorrow the reinforcements would be here and we could get some serious prep done.

Off to take a shower then hit the bar.  The bar was more of a lounge, dimly lit and relaxing.  One thing I loved about being outside the US is that you can smoke in bars.  I had left New York City in August of 2003 and the city had become non-smoking shortly before so I was more than happy to be able to light up.  I lit a Monte Cristo no 2 cigar, had my Johnnie Walker Black Label on the rocks and kicked back.
Perfect ending to a screwy day.

Tune in next time

Monday, August 30, 2010

Indian wedding part three

As I waited in the beautiful lobby of the Hyatt Regency Kolkatta, the executive chef of the hotel greeted me at the front desk and took me to the kitchen.  I met his two assistants and within the first few minutes I could see he didn't want me in his kitchen.  You have to understand that chefs are very territorial so the last thing any chef wants is some other chef having a run in his or her kitchen.  Lions are also very territorial and mark their territory by urinating on trees and bushes.  The only difference between lions and chefs is that chefs don't mark their territory by urinating on kitchen equipment and walls.  Plus, chefs have business cards and lions don't.  It is fine to be territorial but to be a child about it is something different and that is what was happening here.

As we walked through the kitchen one phrase kept coming to my mind.
"I am going to get dysentary if I eat here!"

Remember how I spoke of 'dichotomy?" Well it is personified here.  In my previous posting I described how beautiful and immaculately clean the hotel is, from the lobby to the outdoor landscaping. Well unfortunately it stops there.  We walked into the kitchen and my first impression was depressing and dreary. It was dimly lit with fluorescent lights, (a standard for professional kitchens) some working, some not and some flickering on and off.  The floor was made up of these dirty, greasy, blueish-grey colored tiles that were the opposite of non-slip. Walking on this floor reminded me of the first time I went ice skating.  My feet were going in every direction that I did not want them to go. It took me about half a day of working in this kitchen to actually get my footing to where I didn't feel like I was walking on ice.  I have heard of getting your "sea legs" but not "kitchen legs." Holy crap!

The most appalling thing was the pot sink area in the corner of the kitchen. The drain in the floor was clogged so there was dirty, stagnant water about two inches deep covering the floor which made the area smell like sewage as opposed to a kitchen.  (Note to self: kitchens should smell like food, not garbage dumps) The poor dishwasher working in that area was in his bare feet (can you believe it, no shoes?!) standing in that disgusting, sewage smelling, dirty water washing pots.  

Within the first five minutes I already formed a low opinion of this shoemaker of a chef.  First the stand-offish attitude and then his disgusting, unsanitary kitchen.  I remember thinking to myself that I just wanted to tell him, "dude, you are not good enough to act like your shit doesn't stink because I will cook circles around you and my food won't make people sick." I don't care how good your food is, (and his wasn't)  if you cannot maintain an organized, clean and sanitary kitchen than you don't deserve to be called a chef. From that moment on I just couldn't look at him as a chef.  

One of the common problems in any kitchen is you never have enough tools or some of them are broken but you can always seem to make it work with what you have. Unfortunately that wasn't the case here. Everything was broken or worked at a substandard level and not only was there not enough of many things, there just wasn't anything at all.  The lack of care for this kitchen was blatant.  I didn't even know where to start, I was still in shock from the aromatic smell of ass coming from the one side of the kitchen where the pot sink was.  Everywhere I turned there was filth. Trash cans were overflowing, counters were not wiped down, the cutting boards were stained to the point that I couldn't tell what color they were originally.  To add insult to injury there were six guys in the kitchen and only two cutting boards. The cooks in the kitchen had uniforms stained to the point they matched the cutting boards.  Even the kitchen towels used to clean the kitchen were wet and stained.  I went to wash my hands but there was no hand soap.  Stupid me for thinking a kitchen would have hand soap so the cooks can wash their hands.  The pots had so much of that black, carbon buildup on the outsides that they smoked if you put them on an open fire.

I was concerned.  I had to prepare for and serve a five course, vegetarian dinner for 500 people in these conditions.  How on earth was I supposed to do that?  I couldn't even get friggin hand soap. I also had another concern on my mind that was distracting me from my job- how on earth I was going to eat?  The last thing I was going to do is eat anything prepared in that nasty kitchen and I wasn't in the mood to die from food poisoning.  I had to be there for three days and two nights for that damn wedding and then it occurred to me. The only way I would be safe would be to eat packaged things like crackers and cookies, so that became my daytime meal and after work I went to the hotel bar to have my nightly dinner of Whiskey and pretzels.  I drank a bit more than normal to make sure I killed any bacteria that may have entered my system from that contaminated kitchen and I also enjoyed it.

The good news was that my boss and another Western chef from another Hyatt was coming to help so at least someone could suffer with me. I remember texting my boss telling him what a nightmare this kitchen was and how he was like "ah come on it can't be that bad?" When he arrived a day later he changed his tune.

Until tomorrow tune in for part four

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Vegetable soup recipe

Crap, Amy asked me for a vegetable soup recipe

Here you go

Duration: @ 1 hour

Potato and Vegetable soup

Serves 6-8



40 gr. Green beans, stringed, cut on bias, @ 2” long
175 gr. Carrots, peeled, cut into roundels @ ½” long, cooked.
35 gr. Fennel cut large dice
90 gr. Button mushroom, cleaned, cut into ¼’s
90 gr. Leeks, cleaned, cut into rings @ ½” wide
90 gr. Red onions, large dice
150 gr. Potato, peeled, cut large chunks, cooked.
100 gr. Green Zucchini, cut @ 1” X1”
75 gr. Yellow Zucchini, cut @ 1 “X1”
35 gr. Garlic, minced
150 gr. Tomatoes, rough chopped and seeded
1/2 gr. Thyme, picked
1/2 gr. Rosemary, chopped rough
1/2gr. Parsley, chopped rough
To the same level as the veg Water
To sauté Olive oil
To taste Salt
To taste fresh cracked black pepper
To taste E.V. olive oil

Basic Preparation:
Cook the carrots and potatoes separately in boiling, salted water until cooked.
Heat a large bottomed pot over medium heat.
Add just enough olive oil to sauté.
Add the garlic and onions.
Cook until the onions are translucent.
Add the fennel, mushrooms and green beans and herbs.
Saute for 10 minutes.
Add water, seasoning and remaining vegetables (except the cooked potatoes and carrots) and simmer until the vegetables are starting to get tender. Add the cooked potatoes and carrots and simmer briefly.
Taste. Adjust seasoning as necessary.

Indian wedding part two

In my last posting I started my Indian wedding story and left off at the artichoke dilemma so let's continue.

I was happy the owner didn't rip me a new one when he found out about the artichokes so I had to come up with a new item that he would like.  Fortunately that was easy.

One of the things chefs hate about tastings is you can have almost the entire menu decided with ease but there will be a few of those little details that just can't be decided on and that's what can take time.
Now, the menu was done.  What a relief!  All the food was ordered, everything was organized with the chef of the Hyatt Regency Kolkatta, where the event was to take place, and I got our tickets and flew over there with one of my Indian sous chefs.  

My Indian sous chef and others warned me about how dirty Kolkatta is compared to Bombay and that I should be prepared.  Bomaby doesn't exactly have what I would call that "shopping mall or doctor's office cleanliness" so I was trying to imagine what on earth Kolkatta could be like.  From the way I was warned I had this ominous feeling without even the slightest hint of what to expect.  I felt kind of like I was getting set up on a blind date with a woman who my friends know but I didn't and was being warned before the date "Curt have an open mind and be ready for anything."  What does that mean?

We arrived there in the middle of the afternoon in the customary heat and sticky humidity of Indian climate, hopped in a cab and took the painful 30 minute ride to the hotel.

Before I proceed let me tell you a little about cabs in India as it is something completely different to what any non-Indian is used to.  In some parts of Europe they use Mercedes for taxis.  In America they often use a comfortable, spacious family-type car like a Lincoln or four door Ford.  Hong Kong uses those red sedans with the white top.  In India they have these black cabs with yellow tops and they are not spacious to say the least.  Oh, they don't have air conditioning either.  Did I say those things are small?  Crap, I cannot sit in the back seat with my legs together because my knees hit the seat in front so I have to sit with my legs open.  I am 5'10" so I can only imagine how it is for somebody over six feet tall. To give you an idea of how small they are let me give you another example.

One day I had my electric guitar that I was travelling with and I use a hard case as opposed to a soft case which more resembles an elongated backpack that can be strung over your back.  The hard case looks like a long, slender suitcase and it was longer than the car was wide on the inside so if you put it in the back seat, you can't close both back doors.

Suspension, that is another story.  India has some of the worst roads and their cabs have some of the worst suspension. When you take a long ride in one of these cabs your ass actually gets numb, no kidding, so when the cab driver told me it would take at least 30 minutes to get there I just rolled my eyes, anticipating the uncomfortable, humid, sticky, sweaty journey.

I was sitting (or trying to) in the back of the cab, fidgeting the entire way and since I was still new to India and had only taken a cab a few times I, and my ass wasn't quite used to riding in these things.
As we were riding along I was looking at the scenery and couldn't help but be puzzled.
I asked my Indian chef I was travelling with, "hey I thought you said Kolkatta was much dirtier than Bombay."
"It is," he said.
"What?  Where? Looks like Bombay to me."  Makeshift shacks on the side of the road with blue tarps used as a roof, trash thrown everywhere as if there was a contest to see who had more trash on their side of the street and people squatting on the side of the road taking care of nature's duty since they didn't have any bathrooms.
"No it is different," he said.
"Dude you are on crack, you know our hotel has a vision plan don't you" I said, confused.

After I returned to Bombay many of my friends asked me about my trip and what I thought of Kolkatta and how it is much dirtier it is compared to Bombay and the only thing I could deduce is that maybe because I am not from there I just can't see the difference.

So after our "lovely" cab ride we arrived at the hotel.  If there is one word I can use to most accurately describe India in my opinion it would be "dichotomy."  Here we just took a drive through trash-filled streets and slums and in the middle of this we arrive at a beautiful, five star hotel with a pristine landscape, decorated with exotic looking plants and flowers that transcends into an idyllic vacation spot that make you forget what you drove through to get there.

We entered the hotel and that beautiful appearance we drove up to continues inside.  The hotel's decor is modern and simply stated with earth tones.  It is impeccably clean, dark brown wood panels line parts of the walls and there is a beautiful, off-white colored marble cleverly used in different textures.  Polished and smooth for the floors, and a rough finish for the walls and columns.  (Marble is very cheap in India so it is a commonly used material for decor in many hotels)  The upper level of the lobby overlooks a very large and spacious restaurant/lounge with handsome, grey marble columns, tall trees and beautiful mahogany wood floors and tables with a massive, three story window that reveals the gem of this hotel.  Just on the other side of that massive window is a beautifully manicured garden with exotic, colorful plants, palm trees, the greenest grass I have ever seen, fountains, and tables arranged sporadically along the lawn for al fresco dining.  All of this natural greenery and plant life juxtaposes nicely to the man- made interior of marble, glass and wood.

We check into our rooms and change and I am hit with a massive does of Deja-vu.  This room feels just like the room I am staying in at the Hyatt Regency Mumbai.  Oh, that's right, both hotels used the same designer so it has basically the same feel.
I returned to the front desk and ask one of the staff to call the executive chef to inform him of my arrival.  He comes up to greet me and takes me to see the kitchen.  Now that is another story; the dichotomy continues.
Tune in next time

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Kitchen stories-Indian wedding part one

I have received some very positive feedback about my kitchen stories so I will give you guys more of those.

In January 2004 I was living in Bombay, India.  Yes, I know it is called Mumbai now but Bombay just sounds classier in my opinion.  The owner of the hotel I worked in had a cousin getting married in Kolkatta and they wanted a five course vegetarian menu of Western food for 500 people.  In India they also call it Continental food.    Western food is basically American or European food.  This wedding was going to take place at the Hyatt Regency Kolkatta and since they didn't have any Western chefs working there, the owner asked me and my chef, who was French, to create the menu, order the food and ultimately fly to Kolkatta and handle the event.

So we began creating the menu.  The challenge of creating a Western menu in India is there are not many ingredients to choose from. To make it even more challenging, we had to create a Western vegetarian menu. When it comes to vegetables there are approximately 20 different varieties.  There isn't a strong enough demand to have a large supply and variety of Western ingredients in India so until that day comes there isn't much one can do.

After we created the menu the owner wanted to taste everything.  For those of you who don't work in a kitchen, let me tell you tastings are a royal pain in the ass.  There is nothing worse than preparing one dish of everything.  I do not know one chef who doesn't cringe at the thought of doing a tasting. When you have to do all that work it is just as easy to prepare food for 10 or 20 people.
Well, after he tasted everything he wanted some changes done and of course we had to do another tasting. That just makes my decade!!
Oh, by the way, did I tell you tastings are a royal pain in the ass?

One of the courses that the owner liked had baby artichokes in it. I had my vegetable supplier send me about a dozen pieces to use for the tasting.  After all that the owner was happy with everything, the menu was decided and now I had to work on quantities needed for the wedding and get all that food ordered.
When I called my supplier and told him I needed 15 kilos he told me, "I don't have baby artichokes."
"What do you mean you don't have baby artichokes? You sent me a sample for Christ sake!"
As pissed off as I was I have say I did like his response.  "Oh, I didn't know you wanted to use baby artichokes, I just thought you wanted to see what they look like."
"Shit man, I am a chef, you think I have never seen a baby artichoke before dude? Why on earth would any chef ask to see samples of something?  It is because he wants to use it somewhere!"
I then had to go back to the owner and tell him the artichoke dilemma I was in.
From what I recall he took it quite well.  He said something along the lines of, "Curt, you are learning how things work here.  Welcome to India." At that point I had been in India for about four months so I was still green when it came to how things worked.

Part two coming

Friday, August 27, 2010


Why do people go out to a nice restaurant and order chicken?  I just don't get it.  I can understand that some people may have dietary restrictions and all that shit but putting that aside, what is up with ordering chicken y'all?
If you go out to eat, the whole point is to get something you can't get at home.  Be adventuresome.

The funny thing is I bet those same people that go to a nice restaurant and order chicken are the same ones who go to McDonald's and don't order chicken

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The irony of being a chef

For those of you who want to know what it is like being a chef here it is in a nutshell.

I'm staring at all the containers of food in my kitchen wondering what the hell to eat. It is my nightly ritual that goes on for about 10 minutes or so as I stand there with a blank stare like a deer in headlights. I compare it to going on a shopping spree. There is all this food which is free for the taking but I just don’t know what I want. Everything looks good but at the same time nothing looks good. It is a culinary form of torture. I am pacing, talking to myself. “That leftover chicken over there looks good. No, no, no there is some leftover lasagna from the buffet, that sounds better. On second thought we just got some nice cheese in. Damn, I just can't make up my mind.” It isn't that I am super hungry but know that I need to eat if I want my body to keep functioning.

What normally ends up happening after all that indecision is you get fed up and end up just leaving work on an empty stomach and then go to the bar have a few (or more) cocktails. Plus, drinking on an empty stomach makes the booze work quicker. There is a logic to it.
Scraps of food lying around are the staple chefs diet. Chefs are more like bottom-feeders. When there is some type of sliced, roasted beef on the menu, those end cuts are the ones that everyone goes for. Seeing chefs scrambling for those delectable scraps of meat is like watching Animal Planet when lions fight over a zebra carcass.

I liken a day in the kitchen to a race. Once you start, you are off and running, meeting the relentless demands on your time which usually make eating more of an inconvenience than a thing of pleasure. As hunger settles in you fill that void with empty calories such as coffee or soda and tell yourself you will eat later, which of course never comes. That is the beauty of empty calories. When I need a quick bite to eat (which is almost always) the pastry kitchen is a sure bet. There are always croissants, muffins, cookies and many other baked goods ready for the taking. Pick it up and eat. Convenience is the name of the game.

You see, chefs spend huge amounts of money sourcing and utilising the best products money can buy for their guests, going to great lengths to provide the most memorable dining experience but they treat their stomachs like trash cans. Even the smallest effort is too much for a chef to feed him or herself. Hell man I don't even want to make toast. I imagine my stomach looks more like a colander at this point.

People are under this misconception that chefs are always eating gourmet meals. It reminds me of an occasion that happened the other night. I was in a bar talking to a fine young lady and she asked what I do. “I am a chef.” I replied. 
Her eyes lit up immediately as if she won the lottery. “Really, I would love to be your girlfriend, I bet you cook gourmet meals for your girlfriend all the time.” 
Since I had the hots for her I did what was necessary. I lied.
“Sure I love cooking for girlfriends. If you were my girlfriend we would have gourmet meals and fine wine every night.”
Of course as this conversation progressed my nose was growing an inch a minute. 
“What would you cook for me?” She asked. 
I thought for a second and said. “How about we start with an effervescent Moscato di asti as an aperitif and then we will move on to an tantalising appetiser of sautéed Moroccan spiced prawns and blah blah blah blah.” I could see her going off to never land, mouth watering as if she had a culinary epiphany. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I eat only delivery and take out food.
There have been times when people found out what I actually eat and they had this look of disbelief in their face as if they found out the surgeon general smokes cigarettes.

I don't even have a plate or cutlery in my apartment. What do I need them for? Take out and delivery food always comes with them. The only reason I have glasses is because it is hard to drink from your hands and since I am not a dog I don't drink from the toilet. Hell, I don't even need a kitchen. Going from cooking in a professional kitchen to cooking in a home kitchen is like going from watching colour TV to black and white TV. You can do it but it but most of all it is just frustrating. The kitchen cupboards are used to store take out and delivery menus. I have enough of them that I can wallpaper my apartment and when it comes time to eat at home I have the same dilemma that I do at work. I can't figure out what to eat. I just sift through menu after menu deciding what I want.

When I think about how chefs dislike cooking for themselves and how they neglect their own diet it makes me wonder about other professions. Do doctors neglect their own health? Do comedians only watch drama at home? Do accountants have trouble balancing their own check books? What about housekeepers? Is their house a mess? What about Actors? What about hookers?

People are often afraid to cook for me because I'm a chef. They always think it won’t be good enough. I work 6 days a week, 12 or more hours per day so I am happy to have a meal I didn’t have to cook. It doesn’t even have to be great. Hell I will settle for edible. The times that someone cooks for me are so rare that when it does happen it feels more like a Christmas gift. That’s why the only time I enjoy eating is when I don't have to cook it. So for any of you reading out there who want to cook for me, let me know the time and place and I am there! If you like you can FEDEX me some food.  
I wish there was a pill to take so I wouldn't have to cook for myself. There was an episode of the Jetsons where Elroy was having lunch and Mrs. Jetson was feeding him food tablets. They were tablets that gave the same taste experience and nutrition of the food they represented. Pizza tablets, omelette tablets, peanut butter and jelly tablets, etc. Can we fast forward to that point now?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Life's lesson-Wash your hands

As you grow up there are many of life's lessons you learn along the way.  Don't trust strangers, always balance your checkbook, look both ways before crossing the street and always be suspicious of a grown man hanging around a playground wearing a trench coat and so on.

Well, there is one lesson they don't teach you growing up that I had to learn the hard way.  I was cutting some jalapeño peppers one day at work years ago and it is standard operating procedure to wash your hands a number of times after cutting hot peppers because the heat remains on your hands.  Needless to say don't rub your eyes. Well, this particular day I didn't have my mind on my work so after cutting those peppers I went straight to the bathroom without washing my hands.  I won't get graphic on you because I am sure can figure out what happens when you touch certain body parts after cutting hot peppers.  Well, as I was standing there at the wall urinal I was thinking, "wow, it is getting hot down below, oh crap, I didn't wash my hands!" I kept praying to myself "please god don't make it burn, please god don't make it burn" over and over.  I guess god was busy that day because he didn't answer my prayers and I ended up with my own "hot pepper."

Fortunately it was only jalapeños.  If it would have been a much hotter pepper I probably would have had to go to the doctor.  Did you all know that some peppers are soo hot that you have to wear glove while cutting them?  In all seriousness be careful when you are cutting hot peppers and don't just wash your hands after cutting them, wash the knife and cutting board you used.

One time I had to mince five pounds of Serrano peppers, which are a bit hotter than jalapeños and the heat was still on my hands two days later. It was quite funny.  I was at a bar talking to a nice young lady and all was going well up until the point that I rubbed my eyes because I had an itch.  My eyes started burning and tearing up like you can't believe.  This lady I was talking to was like "what the hell is wrong with you?"  I told her it must have been the peppers I cut a couple days before and she couldn't stop laughing.  Here I was, all was going well, I was about to get her number and the damn chili peppers screwed it all up.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Answer-how to use salt to make something taste sweet

All my culinary mignons

I asked the question a couple days ago "how you can use salt to make something taste sweet?"

The answer:  Put a little salt in some tonic water.

Try it

Friday, August 20, 2010

Pop quiz for you all..........I bet you will never get this

OK, whoever can answer this will win lifelong admiration from me.  Here is the question.

How can you use salt to make something taste sweet?

Please leave your answers in the comments part of this blog.

I will wait a few days before I answer this.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Culinary tip of the day-leftover bread

If you have any leftover bread like the end parts or just too much, put it in ziploc bags, freeze it until you have the equivalent of about 10 slices and make croutons out of it.

Once you get enough bread simply cut the bread into crouton sized cubes, toss the bread in a bowl with a touch of olive oil, herbs of your choice, minced garlic, a little salt and pepper and then place the pieces on a baking tray and bake at about 400F until golden brown

Happy croutoning

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What to expect when going to cook in a restaurant

What to expect when going to cook in a restaurant

I have found that a number of people who want to be a chef fall into one of three categories. Ask yourself which of these you fall under before deciding to be a chef.

  1. If you are one of those many people who want to be a chef because you think being a chef is a glamorous profession due to its heightened popularity then forget it. Do something else.
  1. If you are under the delusion that just because you are a great home cook means you can work in a professional kitchen, do something else. Going from cooking in a home kitchen to a professional kitchen is like going from playing football on your X box to playing professional football.

  2. If you have a genuine passion for food and cooking, have a great work ethic, great attitude, hunger for knowledge, are determined, disciplined and not afraid of being bent over (so to speak) and verbally “violated” on a daily basis then a kitchen is the place for you. Oh, I almost forgot. I hope you like working long, gruelling hours, weekends, nights, holidays, stress, pressure, hard, physical labor, the potential that you will abuse alcohol or some illegal substance, sweat and finally, if you decide to start a family while working as a chef, you will most likely see your kids grow up through photographs. If you still want to be a chef, then read on.

There is a parallel between sports teams and kitchens. They are both physically and mentally demanding, require teamwork, common goal(s), discipline, organization, camaraderie, hard work and thick skin.
That saying, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” is personified in both environments. Everyone must play their part. If the guard doesn't block his opponent the quarterback can get sacked and the entire play can be sabotaged. If one cook doesn't have his food ready when the others do, it can delay the entire table. If one table is delayed, it can delay other tables, possibly and consequently ruining the whole lunch or dinner service.

When you are new in either environment you need to prove yourself. You may catch some flack but take your blows, keep your head up and once you prove yourself you are part of the team. There is strong competition to get the starting spots on a sports team or the higher spots in a kitchen. If you don't perform, you can get bumped down a notch. Mistakes are often handled the same. On my high school football team I dropped a pass once and didn't live it down for a week. I once burned 10 pounds of apple butter at work and my nickname for the rest of the week was “apple butter.”

Every kitchen is different. A mom and pop or small, free-standing establishment will most likely be more laid back and less structured. In corporate environments such as hotels or restaurant chains you can usually expect more rules and higher professionalism. The higher the calibre the kitchen, the more demanding, more pressure and harder it is to work in. Five star establishments are run more like the military. With higher prices come higher expectations so you certainly can't expect to deliver those standards in a lackadaisical type environment.
The biggest difference between free-standing and corporate establishments is human resources. Free standing establishments don't have a human resources department that oversees and regulates how everyone is treating each other. In a corporate environment you would never see someone treat people the way Gordon Ramsay does on TV and get away with it. As an employee you have more of a 'voice' in a corporate environment. That is not to say that every chef in a free-standing establishment is a screaming lunatic. That would be unfair and just not accurate. The culinary world has changed. Employee rights have gotten stronger over the years and you don't see as much of that “old school” mentality of breaking people down to teach them.

Have you ever notice how sometimes professional football players perform well on one team but not so well on another? That is because every team has a different system or way of doing things. A player may fit well in one system but not so well in another and it has nothing to do with the player's skill. Same thing goes for kitchens. You may fit well in one kitchen but not so well in another and it may have nothing to do with your skill level.

The single most important thing any chef will look for when hiring a potential employee is a great attitude. You can teach anything to someone with a great attitude but you can't teach anything to someone with a poor attitude. A stellar attitude will make up for some other shortcomings you may have.
Any good chef , like a personal trainer, will push you beyond your limits to not only see what you are made of, but to make sure they are getting the best out of you that they can. It is their job.

Anyone can maintain a consistent, positive attitude when things are great but how about when things are not going so great? Let me paint you a picture. It is the middle of the dinner rush and your head is spinning with confusion trying to keep track of the 10 orders you have cooking at once. You keep going over the orders in your head, “OK this steak is medium-rare, this one is sauce side, this one no butter, oh shit gotta get that lamb shank out of the oven before it burns and I gotta get that veal chop on the fire.”
The chef then yells, “Where is that fucking steak?! Can I get it sometime before Christmas?! You are moving too fucking slow god dammit!” The chef screaming at you only makes you more nervous and you feel like you are in quicksand. The harder you work the more you feel like you are being pulled under and it only causes you to make mistakes. While trying to juggle all those orders at once you are having thoughts in your head of strangling the hostess because she sat too many people at once and you are, as we say in the restaurant business, “in the weeds” which means you have more than you can handle. Add to the mayhem the rush of adrenaline surging through your body is making your hands shake which doesn't make plating those intricate garnishes any easier.

From my experience I have found that up scale, free-standing restaurants will teach you better culinary skills and corporate establishments will teach you better management skills. There are always exceptions to every rule but as my old mentor once told me, “I don't know many of those old-school mentality, screaming chefs who can't cook well but I do know many corporate chefs with great management skills who can't cook at all.”

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


My culinary mignons
I have added labels to every posting i have done so it will be easier for you to locate any particular type of posting whether it be a tip or recipe or whatnot.

I will also start adding more culinary stories as I received some very good feedback on those so stay tuned.

Steak and potatoes,

Monday, August 16, 2010

How to select chef knives

My culinary mignons,

I had a request for this posting so here you are.  "How to select chef knives"

One question I am often asked is “which brand of chef knife is the best?” That is like asking “is Honda is better than Toyota?” or vice versa. It is not a question of which brand is better; it is a question of which brand feels more comfortable to you. Some examples of top brands are, Wusthof, Henkel, F.Dick, Global, Sabatier and there are others as well. The only way to find out which knife is right for you is by going to a store that specializes in knives (that doesn't include Wal-Mart or Kmart) and speak to a specialist. Ask them a lot of questions. Ask them to show you the proper way to hold different types of knives. This is something that is hard for me to explain on paper as opposed to showing you. Try different brands of knives to see what feels good in your hand.

When you build your set of knives you may not want to stick with just one brand. In my case I have different brands of knives, not just one. For example, I have a Wusthof chef knife, a Henkel slicing knife and a F.Dick bread knife. I guess it is like clothes in a way. I love Levis jeans but not their other products. I love Zegna shirts but not their pants and so on.

What knives should everyone have in their kitchen? That depends on how much cooking you do and how serious you are about it. To cover the basics you need: a chef's knife, paring knife, boning knife, bread knife and a sharpening steel. The downside to top quality kitchen equipment and utensils is it can be expensive. The upside is that a high quality knife should last longer than you. Yes, I know what you are thinking, those knives won't do you much good when you are dead. Depending on what you get you will need to spend about $300-$500. If you don't have the money to get a set of knives and need to put it together piece by piece, I suggest starting (at a minimum) with a chef's knife, sharpening steel and sharpening stone.

How to care for and sharpen your knives. I could do an article on this topic alone but I wanted to provide you with some basic points you need to know. Never put knives in the dishwasher. It dulls them. Keep them in a wooden block if you have one. If not, wrap the blade in a towel and tie a rubber band around the blade. Don't just throw them in a drawer with everything else.
Everyone seems to think a sharpening steel actually sharpens. It does not. A sharpening steel is used to hone the blade, nothing more. If you are going to spend the money to get top quality knives than you must have a proper sharpening stone. I can't emphasize how important a sharpening stone is. Too many times I see people buy the most expensive knives but they don't have a stone. If you don't care for the blade of the knife then why spend the money?  

In closing I can't forget one important point.  Make sure you have a nice, wooden cutting board.  Those are the best thing for the blade of the knife.  Forget all that nonsense about people saying wood harbours parasites and all that.  OK, it isn't as sanitary as polyurethane but trust me, I am a professional and I only use wood and you will be fine.  

oh, ps.   one last word of advice.  When you drop one of your knives, and it will happen, don't try to catch it.  I have seen someone try to and it doesn't end up well.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

You want a beautiful chicken breast?

This is one of the best ways to cook a chicken breast.

Many people go to the supermarket and buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts and I ask WHY?????

If you are on a diet OK, I understand but next time you want chicken breast get a skin-on chicken breast and follow these steps.

1.  Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat with just enough cooking oil to coat the bottom and preheat your oven to about 400F
2.  Season your chicken breast with some fresh chopped herbs, salt and pepper
3.  Place your chicken breast skin-side down in the pan.
4.  Cook it for a couple of minutes until the edges of the skin start to lightly brown
5.  Put the pan with the chicken into the oven to cook and DO NOT turn the chicken breast over
6.  Cook the chicken until it is cooked.  After about 3-4 minutes, check the underside of the chicken with a pair of tongs to make sure the skin is not getting too brown or burned
7.  Once cooked, take it out of the pan and turn the breast over so the skin side is facing up

The skin side of the chicken should be about the color of fried chicken

NOTE:  If you brown the chicken too much in the pan, simply turn the breast over halfway through the cooking process


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Today's tip-Zataar

Having writer's block today so I will just leave you with a tip.

There is a spice you can find in a Middle Eastern shop called Zataar.  It is known as Lebanese thyme.  This stuff is great.  Lamb, chicken, fish.  Awesome.  
Go get some and next time you roast a chicken, put some salt and pepper and sprinkle some Zataar.  I love it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


OK all, my future wife :) asked for some seafood tips so here you go

This is one of my favorite condiments and because I like it, you must like it.  It is very versatile and keeps for a while in the refrigerator.  It is of Moroccan origin and you can even add a bit of tomato sauce to it.  If I remember, the traditional recipe is supposed to have some tomato in it.

Sorry everything is in weights but finding a small scale should be no problem if you go to your local shopping mall and they are not expensive.  If you have problems call me and I will fly over and give personalized service


Ingredients Amount

Olive oil 265 gr

Garlic, peeled, chopped 47 gr

Red onion, peeled, chopped 50 gr

Lemon juice 20 gr

Coriander leaves 22 gr

Italian parsley 25 gr

Green onion, chopped 22 gr

Cumin ground 3 gr

Paprika 17 gr

Smoked paprika 15 gr

Chili flakes pinch

Salt to taste

Ground black pepper to taste

Roughly chop any vegetables and herbs
Place all ingredients in food processor and puree until thick paste

Use on shrimp, chicken, beef, lamb, red snapper, vegtables etc.

Use as a marinade for grilling, side sauce, as a salad dressing.

I recommend you marinade whatever you are going to cook first with this.  Just put enough to coat the food item.  Then cook.

One note:  If you are going to saute your food item I DO NOT recommend marinating the item first because the spices can burn.  Simply saute your food item and add the sauce after.

This is also great for vegetarian items.  Make a vegetable brochette, marinated them with this sauce and grill them.  Serve with a yogurt dip.

Happy cooking

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Kitchen practical jokes-"dirt tastes good"

First I need to give you guys a bit of background so you know what the hell I am talking about.
Have any of you seen hydroponic plants or lettuce? The plants or lettuce is attached to a piece of dirt shaped like a small brick about the size of your thumb. You see these things lined up in greenhouses.  That little dirt brick is like the plant's own little plot of land so to speak.

Well, we used to get this baby lettuce that came like that.  There were these little "bricks" of dirt and you had this petite head of lettuce that grew from it.  You simply take a pair of scissors and cut just above the dirt and serve it.  I will come back to this later.

Well for those of you who have never worked in the restaurant business, we love our practical jokes.  One day one of the servers got me good. We used to get bottles of water sent from the bar that we would drink in the kitchen.  Oh, kitchens are friggin' hot by the way. We didn't drink the tap water because it tasted like horrible.  I just don't like water that tastes like it.   I asked one of the server's to get me a bottle of water from the bartender and unknown to me the bastard emptied the water, filled the bottle with gin and screwed the top back on tightly.  I got the bottle, opened it and took a huge swig.  Once I realized what it was it was too late. I swallowed a huge gulp and what was left got  spit it out to what must have looked like a geyser coming from my face.  Please note this was an open kitchen so guests could see everything.  Well, the entire wait staff  as well as the guests who happened to see got a huge laugh out of it.  Two forms of alcohol I just can't stand is beer and gin.
So, score is bartender- 1, Curt- big ole' goose egg.  Well, I just couldn't stand for that and what this bartender didn't know about me is I have a completely sick sense of humor and when it comes to practical jokes I will not let anyone outdo me. 
Do you remember the lettuce I was talking about?  I took some of our chocolate cake and cut it the exact same size as that dirt from the lettuce.  I covered a plate with raspberry coulis, then placed two pieces of brownies and two pieces of the dirt on the plate.  I then covered them all with powdered sugar. The beauty is that this piece of dirt looked kind of like a brownie, I mean same color, same texture and with all that sugar on them you couldn't tell what the hell it was.

I called the servers and that bartender over for our nightly food tasting.  I told them "this is our dessert special tonight.  It is called chocolate surprise with raspberry coulis."
They all tasted while all of us in the kitchen were standing there doing our best to keep a straight face.  It was difficult to say the least.  The beauty of this was that nobody knew they were eating dirt.  Not one person suspected.  A few of them thought it tasted a bit weird but not one could tell.  One server even said to me "hey is that some kind of new chocolate sponge cake?"
"Sure dude, call it whatever you want."

We all finally busted out laughing and they knew we got them but they didn't know exactly how.
One of the servers exclaimed "OK Curt, I know you did something but I am just not sure what!"
I then grabbed one of those pieces of dirt the lettuce came on, held it up and asked "so how was your chocolate surprise?"

All the servers then started gagging, running to the faucet to drink that nasty-flavored water, spitting and trying to make themselves vomit to get rid of the dirt.
The thing is, only some of them got the dirt.  If you recall, I explained that I put two pieces of brownie and two pieces of dirt. I was so proud of myself.

Cost of dirt-zero
Cost of two pieces of brownies-$.50
Cost of raspberry coulis-$.25
The reaction and look on their faces when they realized I just fed them dirt-"Priceless"

Score is Bartender-1
              Curt- 10!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

BBQ sauce recipe

I had a request for BBQ sauce so here you go.   Now here is the problem with BBQ sauce.  Since there are many ingredients in small quantities a dash for me may be different than a dash for you.  The good thing is that you can play with the quantities and ingredients to suit your taste.  Anytime you are experimenting with something new it is prudent to put a smaller quantity, taste and then add more if required.  Remember this when it comes to seasoning: "you can always put more but you can't take out"


BBQ sauce



1 cup . Ketchup
Dash Smoked Tabasco (regular Tabasco will do as well)
Dash. Worchestershire
3/4 cup White vinegar
1/4 cup Red vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons Brown sugar
¼ cup Tomato juice
Dash Cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon Honey- use a heated metal spoon
Dash. Garlic powder
To taste Salt
To taste Fresh cracked black pepper

Basic Preparation:

Combine all ingredients in a S/S pot.
Bring to a boil.
Simmer for @ 1hr.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The law of kitchen confusion

I can think of times when I had a little extra time in the day and really tried to make a great special for dinner in my restaurant.  It is not that I wouldn't try to make something nice anyways but normally in the day's pandemonium you don't have enough time to sit down to eat so how are you going to take extra time to make something that requires that much more extra effort.

Well, as it would figure, I took extra time and made what I thought was the best special I ever made and wouldn't you know it...........not one compliment.

One day I had a couple people call sick and we were fully booked so I just threw something together last minute for a special and wouldn't you know it, I got numerous compliments on it.

The law of kitchen confustion............."you get complimented the most on the things that take the least amount of effort to prepare."

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cajun buttermilk fried chicken

Ok I had a request for buttermilk fried chicken so here you go Pooja.

8 cut chicken.  I usually figure 2 pieces per person depending on what the menu is
Buttermilk.  Enough to cover the chicken
Cajun spice
Egg wash-whipped raw eggs and a bit of milk
Salt and pepper
Peanut or canola oil for frying
Some extra chicken for a test is a good idea

NOTE:  With all recipes read the ENTIRE recipe before proceeding

-Get 8-cut chicken and place the pieces in a bowl more than large enough to accommodate them.
-Cover the chicken completely with buttermilk and let sit for a few hours or overnight.
-Put a large pot on with the oil over medium heat.
-Get a large bowl of flour seasoned with salt and pepper
-Get another bowl with the egg wash
-Remove the chicken from the buttermilk and shake excess milk off
-Season the chicken pieces evenly with the Cajun spice.  Use the same amount as if it were salt and pepper
-Toss the chicken in the seasoned flour
-Shake off the excess flour and dip the chicken in the egg wash
-Remove the chicken from the egg wash, shake off excess egg and dip in the flour again to coat
-Shake off excess flour
-Fry the chicken.  It is ready when you take the meatiest piece, cut into it and the juices are clear.  You will need to test.  See points below

A few notes to help you.
- When breading anything always keep one hand clean.  For example, use one hand to dip the chicken in the flour, egg and flour and the clean one to remove the pieces that are completely breaded

-Never stack anything breaded (raw or cooked) unless you put a layer of baking paper between it or the breaded item will get soggy

-Whenever breading anything I set everything up like an assembly line.

-Use larger bowls than needed and toss the item(s) with the breading using the bowl shaking back and forth

-Since most people don't have a deep fryer in their house you need to use a pot.  Make sure you are very, very careful with this.  I like to use a pot MUCH bigger than needed so if oil splashes up the sides of the pot you should be protected.  If not, it's your face not mine :)

-If available, use a high temperature thermometer and keep the oil at 180C or 350F.

-If you don't have a thermometer then you need to test.  Start by putting the oil over medium heat.

-Put a piece of chicken in the oil.  The oil should not be smoking and it should make that loud sound that happens when you put the food in hot oil

-I suggest frying no more than two pieces of chicken at a time or the chicken will not get a nice color or get crispy.

-You should be able to cook the chicken and get it golden in color from frying in the oil alone.  If not, use the oven to finish

-When you do fry your chicken, place it on a pan or plate lined with a lint free cloth to absorb excess grease and don't stack the chicken pieces on top of each other

For those of you who are cooking a number of things for a dinner or lunch this will help you.
For those of you who are not, forget it.

-Preheat your oven to 180C-190C or 350F-375F

-Once all the chicken is drained of its excess grease, place the pieces on the baking sheet making sure there is some space between the pieces and nothing is stacked.  Set aside.  You can do this up to an hour or so ahead of time.

-About 20 minutes before the chicken is to be served place the tray in the oven to reheat it for about 5-10 minutes.  Take care not to burn the chicken.  If your chicken is not fully cooked prior to placing it in the oven I assume you know it may take more time.

-While the chicken is reheating in the oven you can use that time to get other things ready

-Place on a serving plate and serve

Culinary regards

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


When you live overseas as I have you learn that it is the little things you miss.  Well, one of those "little things" was being able to put melted butter on my popcorn in the movies.  There weren't many things I missed but I do love movie popcorn.  Overseas you get butter flavored but there is no melted butter.  I have seen movies in quite a few countries in my endless search for that beautiful, artery clogging substance known as butter....................oh yeah baby, bring on the high cholesterol!!!  I am one of those people who drowns the popcorn with butter.  I mean, too much.  The popcorn looks like little goldfish swimming around in a nice, golden colored pool.  For those of you who are like me, you go catch a flick, get a bathtub sized popcorn bucket and fill that sucker with butter.  Problem is you have that popcorn sitting on your lap and some of the butter seeps through and you get butter stains on your pants.  The bad thing about that is because of where the popcorn is sitting on your lap it looks like you went to take a leak and didn't tap it all out because there are a few wet spots on your crotch area.  Of course you try to tell people that it is butter and you didn't have an accident in the bathroom and they are all like "yeah, sure, I believe ya" while they are looking at you funny.

Oh, Moutain Dew tastes like medicine overseas.  I don't know why.  The Coke is the same.

Well, I can't leave you without giving you a culinary tip.  It will cost a few dollars but it is nice.  When you make popcorn at home try vanilla popcorn.  Now, you can't cheat and use imitation vanilla extract because it will just taste like S_ _ T.  Buy a few vanilla beans (which you can find at gourmet food stores) or buy a nice vanilla extract that has some vanilla seeds in it.  Melt some butter with a bit of sugar and add the insides of a vanilla bean or a bit of the vanilla extract.  Toss it with the popcorn and you have vanilla popcorn.  Awesome.  You will need to play around with the amount of vanilla to butter and popcorn.  Remember, vanilla is strong and expensive.  Start with a little.  You can always add more but you can't take out.

Oh, and what to do with those empty vanilla bean pods you have leftover?  Put one in a Mason jar, fill up the jar with sugar and leave it.  After some time you have vanilla sugar.  Try it in your coffee.  You can put more vanilla beans.

I bet you guys were scared you were gonna get another "chef rash" type story.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

If you care about your health

If you want to really know what is happening in the food industry and want to learn how to protect yourself from what goes into your body you should watch these two documentaries.

"Food, Inc."

To say they are eye-opening is an understatement.  For those of you who have children you owe it to them.

These are not conspiracy theory type things they are just documentaries.

If you watch them let me know what you think