Sunday, December 25, 2011

My Favorite Cookbooks, Pt. 8, White Heat & The Devil in the Kitchen

Today is a Christmas homage to Marco Pierre White.  The first book, White Heat, was one of those cookbook legends when I started cooking.  It wasn't easy to find.  Most head chefs worth their salt had a copy, and you could steal a glance at it when things were slower or at the end of your shift.  A few things made this book and their author different from most other cookbooks.

He was the first British chef to achieve 3 Michelin stars and the youngest chef anywhere to gain 'em.  He had an epic temper as well, chain smoked, and pretty much invented the concept of a rockstar chef.  Gordon Ramsey came out of his kitchen as well as tons of broken cooks (and some successful ones).  He also peppered his book with quotes & kitchen pictures that suggested a hard professional intensity.

'I've worked for over ten years for recognition, and now I've got it. I've got money now, but I'm no happier. It's not material things that bring me happiness. Perhaps that's why I work with food, with growing things. ... My respect and admiration for life has come from food, through food.'
- White Heat, Marco Pierre White

His second book, The Devil in the Kitchen, is more autobiographical in nature and equals Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential in culinary/literary bad-assery.  The pictures in both books are to be blamed for how they inspired a generation of young tyrants (I'm recovering, I swear).  It's hard to explain how evocative these books are until you've seen them.  They contain an obsessed passion that makes you want to cook, and cook at the top of your game for as long as you can mentally and physically do it.

Also, search his cooking demos on YouTube.  They're awesome.  Many of the preparations are now even more rare, since the style of cooking he does is quickly becoming a footnote in the current dining scene.  But you'll learn that technique & passion are every bit as important in the recipe for a successful culinary career.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Menus, Chestnuts Especially

I love cooking this time of year.  Any time after Halloween and through Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Year's.  Hearty, fun, family food.  I was cooking on the line today and thinking of chestnuts.  You see, this year is the first year in many that I haven't used them on a menu this time of year.  Rapidly my brain thought of all the preparations I've done, and the other foods I've paired with them.  For fun, I'm going to list as many as I can remember.

- Chestnut soup, Jean Louis Palladin-influenced.  Onion, garlic sauteed in butter and duck fat, deglazed with white wine.  Chestnuts, a few potatoes for body, veggie or duck stock, cream.  Little orange zest.  Fix acidity with sherry vinegar.  Few drops truffle oil.  Finished with foie gras butter.

- Le Francais style puree.  Cook in syrup until falling apart.  Puree (little butter & cream never hurt here), dry out.  Pipe into small mounds.  Pair with venison or other game.

- Chestnut mousse for desserts, often piped onto something crispy (puff paste or fillo crisps).  Plenty of powdered sugar.  Pair with blood orange or similar citrus.

- Sauteed in a mix of veggies like brussel sprout leaves, dried cherries or cranberries, and/or roasted squash to accompany duck or other protein.

- Candied as garnish.

- Roasted, minces & then sauteed with bacon or panchetta as a potato soup garnish.  Adding chopped parsley & citrus zest makes this even more awesome.

- Paired with... pears!  All types, really, most preparations.  Apples & quince too!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

R Wines, My Favorite Aussie Wine Company...

R Wines Southern Gothic Belle Shiraz 2008 out of business.  Tis a sad day in the condo.  I've had some pleasant times sipping on their excellent product, one remarkable time when my soon-to-possibly-be-brother-in-law drank a bottle and a half of their 2008 Southern Gothic Belle Shiraz (pictured here) during a Swell Season concert at Ravinia.  I had to drive his car home.  And if I had a dollar for every time he mentioned that his classic car had cupholders, I could buy another case of this stuff before it vanishes forever.  This wine is also remarkable in the fact that it was aged in old bourbon barrels.  Potent & well balanced.  It will be missed.

If you've never had any of their wines, I suggest running to your local liquor store and chasing down some of their product before it's all gone.  My only hope is that whoever gets their fields continues in a similar bad ass tradition. 


Sunday, December 4, 2011

My Favorite Cookbooks, Pt. 7

Fish & Shellfish: The Cook's Indispensable Companion
There aren't many good fish cookbooks.  Trust me.  This one is priceless.

Buy & read this book.  It's that easy.  This is probably the best fish cookbook to have at your disposal.  I can count on one hand the number of seafood books that actually tackle the issues that matter to the professional chef.  Peterson is not afraid to address those issues and it shows in Fish & Shellfish.  Fish names alone can kill the normal text that tries to teach fish cookery.  Did you know the Chilean sea bass isn't even a bass?  It's real name is the Patagonian Toothfish.  Muliply that instance a hundredfold and you'll begin to see my point.

He takes a similar descriptive stance as he did in Sauces, with ethnic recipe breakdowns, generally starting with French or American, and then giving Italian, Asian, and others a healthy respect.  Coupled with his other books, it's very easy to improvise a meal with what you have on hand.  I'd dare someone to say something negative about this book, it's purely educational.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Portrait of a Line Cook, "T"

I miss T.  She's the opposite of a kitchen success story.  Kind of.

A few years ago I was working for a friend of mine, Michael, in the north 'burbs.  We were looking to open another place that never quite manifested.  In term, I ran his kitchen line and was very often training the younger cooks that came through the ranks.

Theresa was one of those.  She'd worked with the boss before at Le Francais and had a distinct fear/respect for the big guy.  I started training her on fish/broiler and she was fast.  Didn't think too far ahead yet, but the girl could dance.  If I ran the station and called the orders, she worked around me.  I could call what needed to be done and she'd react on a dime.  The food was going out better, hotter, and faster than it'd been.  Given a few years and Michael's support, she had the potential to become one of the few female chefs worth their salt in the Chicagoland area (even though I covered for her when she f*cked up veal mousse on two seperate occasions, sorry, Mike).

But she quit.  She got too nervous when the boss was around and took a job with assisted living closer to home.  To this day I'll drink to "T", the line cook that didn't realize her own potential. 

We could all end up that way some day.  Fight the good fight, put your nose down and work through the chaos.  Otherwise, as cooks, what do we have?

Periodical Enjoyment

I've been reviewing a few favorite cookbooks lately, and it brought to mind some of the magazines my wife & I still have subscriptions to.  My fave, even though I don't think it's as revolutionary as it once was, is Art Culinaire (  An industry publication, Art Culinaire only comes out seasonally and has most recently enjoyed it's 100th issue.  I've worked with more than one chef who's been featured, and friends with more beyond that.  It was once a staple to any Chef's office bookshelf.  My only issue is that it's becoming more of a PR mag than anything I'd like to cook or eat. 

That & most of the recipes are either incomplete or purposely leave out steps that'd allow one to recreate the dishes featured.  Absolutely beautiful photography though.  Worth inspiring specials & plating if one's more contemporarily minded. 

For the more intellectual cuinary adventurer, I suggest Gastronomica ( 

The issue featured here had an article I think about again & again...  concerning the psychiatric breakdown of a chef.  Turns out the amount of butter and fat we use is directly proportionate to our desire to be loved.  Think of that the next time you eat out.

Anne & I often get sucked into the pages of this gem of a magazine until we've picked it clean of any juicy tidbits.  I hope that you check out and feel the same way.  Any way, we're going out to eat tonight and I'm sure I'll have another blog post about that later tonight or tomorrow, as there's already an old story about a previous visit.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

My Favorite Cookbooks, Pt. 6

This book both comforts & kills in the same breath.  While a fascinating read, it almost gives away too much detail when it comes to cooking, which contrary to popular belief is quite simple.  And after understanding the basics of food science, even a beginner has ammunition against the old guard.  That is if they keep from making simple mistakes.  But that's the issue with On Food & Cooking.  Knowing the "why's" lets the novice feel more comfortable and dispels some of the mystery.  Couple this with any detail focused fine dining cookbook, and it becomes easy copy a master. 

That might be the issue with the latest generation of cooks.  Books like this let them learn too much too fast.  There's something to be said about paying your dues.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving! (...and gnocchi advice)

The holidays are upon us again.  My lovely wife and I are visiting my family today and we're also celebrating my grandma's 80th (which was yesterday).  My mother decided she wanted me to make sweet potatoes so instead of making what she'd expect, sweet potato puree...

I knocked out a 4 1/2 pound batch of sweet potato gnocchi this morning.  Good times.  Here's the recipe for any who are curious.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

6-8 medium sweet potatoes
4-5 Idaho 90 ct. potatoes
Pasta Flour, "00"
1 egg
1 c. grated parmesan cheese
salt & pepper

Roast both types of potatoes after poking holes in them with a paring knife in a medium heat oven until cooked though.  Do not wrap in foil as you want a drier potato.  Process through a food mill or potato ricer.  Cool.  Add to a mixer with a dough hook attachment.  Add a little over half pasta flour to puree by weight.  Add the other ingredients and mix until it forms a ball and then for about 5 minutes after.  Add flour as necessary, sometimes you run a higher moisture content and need to adjust. 

Get a pot of salted water boiling.  Keep a spider or slotted spoon handy, along with an oiled cookie sheet. 

Turn out the dough onto a floured work surface and knead by hand until it doesn't stick to the surface.  Using a dough scraper, cut the dough into 3-4 oz. pieces.  Cover the pieces with a damp towel.  Lightly flour your work surface.  Now take a dough ball and roll it like a kid making a snake out of play doh.  Use your fingertips.  This is easiest when there isn't too much flour on the surface you're rolling on.  Reserve the "snakes" and keep them from sticking by coating them with a little flour.  When you have a few done, take the dough scraper and cut the "snakes" into gnocchi-sized parcels.  Blanch briefly in the water, but before they float, about 20-30 seconds.  Remove from water and place onto the oiled cookie sheet.  Refrigerate and continue making gnocchi.  Once you've finished, you're ready to get an accompanying sauce or integral garnish together.  When that's ready, blanch your gnocchi until they float.  Remove, toss with sauce, garnish and serve!

I made a citrus & soy reduction to toss the gnocchi in.

Citrus-Soy Reduction

2 qt. tangerine or orange juice
2 c. sugar
Soy & yuzu juice to finish
A few drops of sesame oil

In a large pot, add juice and sugar.  Cook on medium-high heat until thickened, don't scorch the sides.  A little color on the sides is okay, but if you see black switch pans.  Whisk in enough soy to tint, but not overpower the citrus.  Finish with enough yuzu to taste and a little sesame oil.

Then I made some blanched green beans and charred some shallot rounds with a blowtorch.  Kinda mimicking the fried onion & green bean salad we all eat on Thanksgiving.

Well, I'm out the door to see how the family likes it.  Here's a pic to make you smile.

 Marilyn Monroe as a pilgrim.  That's one lucky turkey...

Update:  Gnocchi went over extremely well.  Any suggestions for next year?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Culinary Musings, Fish Talk

I love fish.  Butchering, cooking, and eating it.  Beef is beef, lamb is lamb, but there's a million different fish in the sea.  Yummy, tasty fish. 

Here's a few of the vendors I use in Chicago, sadly since we aren't on a coast, they all come from one place...

...the airport.

Seafood Merchants, Owners Bonnie & Roy,  Located in Vernon Hills, the Merch have been lifesavers multiple times in my career.  They also have a great selection of asian dry goods, and carry some decent frozen lines.

Fortune Fish Company,  Located closer to O'hare, Fortune has more consistent deliveries into the city.  Probably the most reliable company in the area as far as, delivery time, quality, and service... for the most part.  Not to say I've never sent back an order.

True World Foods,  These guys sell mainly to sushi restaurants.  They're actually owned by moonies.  Anyone remember the comedy Airplane!?  Anyways, they cornered a decent amount of fishing ground in Asia by marrying into families that had familial rights to certain waters.  No joke. 

Plitt Seafood,  Is actually located in the city proper off of Elston Ave.  It's convenience is about the best thing going for it.  Gust, one of the owners, is a good guy though.

There's other companies I've used in the past, but these are the main ones.  You can definitely go through some of the smaller companies to secure cheaper prices for bulk shrimp or calamari, but these are the most dependable that I've found and established relationships with.  I always make a point to visit fish companies personally on occasion to view their operating practices.  A lot of times you can even get the fish cut better if you can explain what you want with your fishmonger.

My Favorite Cookbooks, Pt. 5... Combined Giradet!

This is both a double review and an ode to a chef that I wish I could've worked for.

Wikipedia quote:
Fr├ędy Girardet (born 17 November 1936 in Lausanne) is a Swiss chef who cooks in the French tradition. Often considered one of the greatest chefs of the 20th Century, his self-named restaurant in Crissier, Switzerland (near Lausanne, Switzerland) earned three Michelin stars and before Giradet's retirement in 1996 was often called the greatest restaurant in the world.

Fredy's first book is a rarity to find.  They sold out of it's first printings very quickly and has become a cult classic amongst chefs.  Giradet went to show that improvision could be done at a very high level as long as the technique & quality of the ingredients at hand were of the highest level.  I've worked for one chef that came out of his kitchen and it was interesting to have Giradet's books while perusing that restaurant's recipe book.

If you see a copy of this in good condition, buy it!

Reading The Cuisine of Fredy Giradet gives you a look into the larder of an intelligent, opinionated chef with extremely high standards.  But his cooking wasn't supercomplex, just a reaction to the market with an extreme focus on palate and seasoning.  Words to live by.

His second book is pretty intense as well and was released after he'd left his restaurant.

This book has a slew of pictures, which makes it very different from the first.  I love the detail, the minutia of every single dish.  He insists on perfection more akin to a watchmaker than a chef.  The dish itself is simple, but the technique is complex.  Effing awesome.

His foie gras & game recipes are an incredible reference, as you know they're going to work.  Isn't that the best type of cookbook?  Honest & proven.  No bullshit.  I think the best thing is his philosophy of cooking... the complete opposite of the molecular gastronomy movement, which Giradet has actively spoken out against.  He doesn't agree with the fact the ingredients used aren't natural.  I think he views it as cheating or a fad.  I love the old schoolers, even if I can't completely agree with them, they don't back down. 

And Fredy Giradet was one of the best.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Confessions of a Knife

I think my old chef's knife misses me.  After this story, you may just agree.  But first a little background pertaining to the blade in question.  I used to run Deerpath Inn's kitchen (about 7 years ago?) for an adulterous chef that I'll call Johnny Tomahawk.  He was never there (mentally or physically) and I was responsible for the menu and training of the staff, one of whom was excelling quite well considering that he'd had no prior training in the kitchen.  Good kid for the most part, except he couldn't see past the money. 

I bought the guy a Henckel chef's knife, all together heavy & solid, a general tank of a blade.  It held an edge and the point never seemed to tip out.  It cost a little over $75.  The cook finally couldn't deal with the station and walked out on a Saturday night about 2 weeks after I gifted him the knife.  He left it in the kitchen and I'm pretty sure he left to persue janitorial work at the local hospital for a few bucks more a hour.  Fucking waste.

Anyways, she came back.  The knife I mean.  Been in my kit through some killer kitchens, and personally helped end the life of thousands of lobsters.  I've referred to her as the "Lobster Killer" for a few years now.  The tip never bends out.  I think people think I'm lying when I talk about how many crustaceans I've personally sent to crustacean heaven.  I'm not.  Stone cold.  What are they anyway, but giant sea bugs?  Giant, delicious, buttery sea bugs.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Lobster

The strange thing is, I never considered the knife mine.  I'd bought it for another cook and gifted it away.  He left it to Fate, and I picked it up, never meaning to add it to my kit.  So when a promising intern was talking about buying a new knife, I gave it to him.

Well, yesterday the new kid on the line gets the shock treatment from our boss.  He gets a case of the nerves and after service, dropped the knife by accident.  It pierced his boot tip first and stabbed his foot.  He ended up getting 3 stitches.

I sanitized the knife and he isn't back yet.  Lil Lobster Killer is back in my kit, at least temporarily.  I think she missed me. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Culinary Musings, Michelin Guide - Chicago 2012

This is a farce.  They go all the way south to Western Springs and give 2 restaurants stars (who deserve it, btw), but can't review any of the killer restaurants on the north shore worthy of stars?  Is it too much to ask they drive 20 minutes north on Sheridan Road?  Shit, Western Springs is like 45 minutes away.  Just sayin'. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Culinary Musings, Sabotage!

The key to being a good cook is an obsessive attention to detail.  I was reminded of this recently by watching an old school chef expedite tickets on a busy night.  Every ticket was folded exactly in half and stacked about 3/4's of the way over the next order, forming a perfect line of soldiers waiting to be shot down.  Any other way and the pass would've been too full of tickets to deal with.  Before I used to crease the ticket a bit, but I was wasting space. I will never expedite a different way now. 

Another chef I worked really close with, James, was the best cook I've ever had the honor of working next to.  If a good cook sees 3 steps ahead, James saw 6.  I could learn more watching him dance the line during the rush than I could a year on my own.  Honestly.  He was a machine.  When he told me he thought I was a faster cook, I nearly shat myself.  To me, he was the better.

James used to tell me about working at Le Vichyssois ( with Chef Bernard Cretier.  Who hands down is the most hardcore, old school, classically trained, certified bad ass French chef in the Chicagoland area, no contest.  He still cooks on the line.  He opened his restaurant in 1976.  Do the math.  If a cook would do something out of order, or add more steps to a process, he would say, "Sabotage!  Why do you sabotage yourself?"  Think about it.  Every time you add a step, you lose time and focus.  In the craziest kitchens, one extra step on a busy evening can be the difference between getting a pat on the back or getting chewed at by the boss.

By the way, visit Bernard.  He and his wife are awesome.  They also sell art from Gerard Puvis (, who specializes in fusing culinary themes with the embossed foil from old wine bottles.  They're incredibly cool to frame and to give to the onophile or chef in the family.  Hint, hint, for anyone doing any Christmas shopping for me or my friends soon.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

My Favorite Cookbooks, Pt. 4.5

I kinda plugged Foie Gras, A Passion the other day.  So more accurately this is My Favorite Cookbooks, Pt. 4.5.  To anyone who knows me well, they'd know I'm doing more sausage work than I've done recently, especially with dried salumis and their ilk.  With way more of an Italian focus than before.  So I started picking up a few of my older cookbooks, began blowing off the dust, and rereading them for technique & details I may've forgotten.  It's been fun.  So today I'm reviewing, Great Sausages and Meat Curing, by Rytek Kutas.

This book reads more like a person's trade notebook than a cookbook.  In fact, the author self published it originally in 1976.  As you read the book you'll realize that Rytek liked to do everything himself.  Seems like he could've given MacGuyver a run for his money after seeing how he shows different ways to jury rig home & professional smokers.  Almost every detail needed to set up an independent sausage shop is within it's pages.

Criticisms I've heard and respected make the case that Rytek didn't know much or at least detail specific ethnic sausages well.  His soppresata wouldn't match the ones from Italy for instance.  He also was a huge fan of dried spices and was phasing out any nondried, nonmeat ingredients out of sheer fear of contamination, when if treated professionally should not be an issue.  I can both agree and disagree depending upon who you're selling to and in what quantities.

One of the best things about his book is that he scales out his recipes for both 10 & 25 pound batches in the same page, making it easy for conversion.  He also gives the best ways to safely and hygenically make sausage both for production and the home.  If you want rediscover some of these techniques, and delve into Instacures and casings, I highly recommend this book.  It's a great way to get a foot in the door.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Favorite Ingredients, Foie Gras

A breakfast of foie gras, poached egg, potatoes lyonnaise, fresh tomatoes & roaring forties blue cheese

I love foie gras.  I love to cook it.  I love to eat it.  When I first started cooking with foie, it had a certain sexy mystique about it.  When your chef portions the liver and forbids others from cleaning it, or perhaps only one cook is allowed to cook it on the hot line, there's something to be said about learning to cook with it as a whole.  A need to prove oneself.   Chicago banned it for a brief period of time.  There are still people that think it's illegal here now and I think that's sad.  Because no matter what PETA thinks, it's still more humane than the way we treat chickens, cattle, and even our labor in this great country.

The book to read about foie when I started cooking was Foie Gras, A Passion, by Michael A. Ginor.

This book contained a veritable who's who of chefs (including Charlie Trotter who lambasts the gras now) and was the most exciting thing to pass around at Le Francais as we talked of preparations we cooks had experienced cooking at other restaurants or had eaten with our meager paychecks on the rare night out.  I remember talking with a friend for about a half hour on the best way to stuff figs with the liver while breaking down the line.  Good times.

Since then, my experience with the product has grown immensely, yet as of late, haven't had the opportunity to deal with it on a regular schedule.  When I was catering, we sold it often on a large scale, the record being fifteen 2 pound lobes brought in for a party of 550, to be broken down into torchon.  That was fun, and a few of our interns actually got some hands on time while it was still banned.  Chicago doesn't always follow the law.  Heck, technically sous vide is illegal, but look at all the cryovacs & immersion circulators out there.  Kinda expensive paperweights, eh?

My favorite way to make torchon is a hybrid method, lightly cleaning, marinating/curing, and then free poaching in duck fat at 190 degrees for a few minutes, then wrapping and cooling like a free form sausage.  First with cheese cloth and then plastic wrap, and then after cooling, rewrapping after being rolled smooth on a warm surface.  I can control the size of the torchon that way, making logs the size of a saucer or as small as a quarter.  Almost perfectly round to boot.  There's little loss of fat (if done correctly) and the duck fat can be reused or utilized in another dish.  Makes some hella roasted potatoes.

Salt cured torchons deserve some mention.  Very little weight loss occurs, but it can come off as too salty if left in the cure too long.  Smaller torchons and overnight curing is the best route.

A whole lobe.  Sexy, ain't it?

As for sauteed foie, I've seen it done a bunch of different ways.  Some chefs flour it.  Some chefs don't.  Some chefs score it.  Other chefs don't.  Cooking from frozen, as much as a sin as it seems, works insanely well, and you tend to generate less waste.  This is good since the product is so damned expensive to begin with.  However, if you're busy enough, a nice thick piece of liver, vein removed, seared fresh is incredible.  Make sure you get deep color, and DO NOT BURN IT.  Nothing makes me more pissed off than paying for something so sacred... than to see it greasy and without color or burnt to inedibility.  Or for it to be too thin.  Or overcooked until it's rubbery. 

There are plenty of ways to use foie scraps that should be mentioned.  Foie gras is the closest thing we have to edible play doh.  At the right temperature you can mold or form it any which way but loose.  Fun to think about, easy to be creative.  When I have scraps the first thing I usually do is make foie butter.  3:1 unsalted butter to foie scrap passed through a sieve, butter first paddled in a mixer, and the scrap folded in.  Freeze or refrigerate until needed.  Outside of smearing it on bread, foie butter prepared properly does not curdle after being mounted into a sauce or nage.  Effing unbelievable mounted into even vegetable broths.

Foie scrap can also be saved for torchons, worked into strudels, sauteed as a salad special, whipped into mousses, made into crusts for meat or fish with cream cheese, egg & breadcrumb, smeared over your...  pardon me.  Anyways, good stuff.  Don't just throw it out.

 Smiley the Goose says, "I'm no corporate chicken!  I eat a lot more too!  PETA can shove it!  Quack!"

Friday, November 11, 2011

Culinary Musings, Kitchen Knives

I love a good sharp knife.  Hopefully I don't sound too psychotic here, but knives are a big part of what I do.  Just ask any of my friends at Northwest Cutlery off of Lake in Chi-town.  They'll tell you the extent of my obsession, although they only see a slice of it (pun intended).

I'm a big fan of Globals.  Japanese craftsmanship, western design influences.  And while they can be pricey, they still don't get anywhere near as expensive as some of the other professional brands.  In other words, I won't usually go into psycho chef rage if one goes missing or damaged.  Their home site is  I've bought the same 30 cm. chef's knife from them four times (don't ask why, it still hurts inside).  Usually runs about $135 or so after professional discounts.

Messermeister bought out Suncraft knives and these have been awesome to have the last few years.  The bamboo handled "Mu" knife kicks ass, and their paring knife is the best I've ever owned.  Hands down.

Mac knives deserve a mention as being cheap and lightweight, but I find they dent and rust easily.  So if someone borrows one, beware.

Forschners seem to come with any culinary school kit.  They don't keep their edge long, but sharpen easily and are the cheapest, useful knives I currently know of.  They're awesome boning knives have usually been a well respected part of my kit.

Wustoffs and Henckels are great for having a knife to bash around a bit.  Their chef knives are great lobster killers since they don't tip out easily.

I do not like Shun Knives.  Expensive, with shitty handles.  Feels like I'm holding an egg instead of a knife.  Whatever they claim, they are not ergonomic.  Once you get as expensive as Shun, or worse, you better be prepared for theft, denting, and any matter of kitchen hijinks that could cause you to have a heart attack.  Buyer beware.

I used to work for a butcher in Arizona at the resort.  He was old school, worked two jobs up until he retired, and did all the butchery for the property in three days of the week.  He was fast.  He also showed me how to take care of my knives, and sold me a pair after he showed me how to use the whetstone.  Every morning he sharpened his knives on the tristone and he never used a kitchen knife to open boxes or plastic.  For that he used a box cutter. 

"No sense dulling your blade on anything but meat."


As for using a whetstone, the trick is getting your wrist to align at the proper angle. 18 to 20 degrees for a European style knife, and slightly sharper an angle for the eastern designed.  If you use a stone, remember that once you use oil on it, you always have to continue using oil.  If you start with water instead, no worries.  That's what I do so I don't have to carry around mineral oil.  If you know me, I can demo and sharpen your knives if you can catch me.  It's fun and fast.

Remember, if you do hurt yourself, a clean sharp knife will always leave an easier healing wound.  When a knife is dull, you're adding blunt trauma to the laceration.  So you're going to bruise and heal slower.  That sucks.

That's it for now.  I'm sure I'll post some more knife related stories in the future.

My Favorite Cookbooks, Pt. 3

James (Culinary Badass) Beards', American Cookery.  That's right, I'm busting out the Beard today.  Be warned.

James Beard is the reason why we should continue to read cookbooks.  American Cookery taught a bunch of us chefs that there was an American Cuisine out there and that we should take pride in it, polish it, and make a gem worthy of the world's notice.  Then climb the highest hill and scream that we should be paid attention to. 

His writing is extremely rich and descriptive, invoking spirits of hunger and tradition from the days before mass processing.  If it weren't for him, how much would've been lost?  Even now kids are less likely to learn traditional preservation and cooking methods from their family as the family just doesn't have one.  Fucking TV dinners and burger chains destroyed our food history.

Read Beard.  Cook the food.  Adapt his recipes.  And yell out to the void that we will continue to fight for our traditions!

Venison ham, anyone?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Culinary Musings, Professional Disconnect

I've seen a problem recently in a good portion of the kitchens in Chicago.  Let me see if you catch on.  Let's say you used to work at the now closed restaurant, Red Light.  In the morning, prep cooks would set up the stations for the evening and evening line cooks would work the night's service, perhaps getting to work between 3 or 4 pm.  So you learn the fish station and you cook the fish orders for a busy Friday or Saturday night.  You finish working there and you come to see me or a fellow chef and put on your resume, "Fish Cook".

We ask you to butcher a whole striped bass. 

You look at me or my chef friend and say, "I've never done that before," with a confused look on your face.  You can cook it, but you can't deal with it otherwise.

This is a way more common occurence than I'd like to believe.  It also causes something I'd like to call, "professional disconnect".  This happens when we lose respect for an item, because we don't handle it from the earlier stages of its conception.  If a prep cook sets you up with 30 individual lasagnas every day and you burn 6 by accident do you care at the end of the day?  The answer is no, sadly.  But if you had to make those 30 lasagnas in the first place you'd be a hundred times less likely to effing burn them on pick up.  It's worse when it's been a living breathing life that gave its carbon up for you.  If you burn a steak, you dishonor a steer's very memory with your actions if it has to be tossed into the garbage.

No one likes more work for themselves.  Everyone is at least a little lazy and that's what drives us to find different ways of approaching problems or tasks on occasion.  And unless you can catch every overcooked bass or burnt lasagna, look for areas of professional disconnect. Chefs, make a connection by forcing the other cook into the prep cook's shoes every once in a while, it'll help us all in the long run.  You're only as good as the cooks that cook your food.  And I'll probably get your line cooks someday and judge you accordingly.  Respect the food, the process, and we'll respect you.

This whole idea of a "disconnect" also applies to how the general populace views its food.  We don't raise the chickens that we eat ourselves anymore or live next to someone who does, for the most part.  Exceptions occur, but have you ever killed something you've then cooked & then eaten?  Have you seen how your dinner or lunch lived and breathed before you ate it?  People make foie gras out to be a demon on occasion, but those ducks or geese live insanely better than chicken or even cattle raised for slaughter in the U.S., hands down.

Screwed up, isn't it?  If we could all reconnect with that one vital step as consumers, the whole process could change for the better without being steered by lobbyist propaganda.  That'd be something to see, wouldn't it?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Italian Cooking Class Last Night

Last night I taught a three hour plus class on pastas, healthy eating, and Italian fare for a small class of eight.  I planned to have the students each make a batch of fresh pasta dough at the beginning of the session, and then make dinner from their efforts.  It was BYOB and Wine Discount Center is right across the street.  In other words, I'm glad it wasn't a knife skills demo.

Pasta Dough

3 c. "00" pasta flour
3-4 eggs, large
Pinch of salt
A little water or olive oil if dry. 

Mix dough by hand, knead for 5-8 minutes after dough forms.  Fix the consistency if needed.  Let sit 20 minutes or so covered before rolling.

I demonstrated linguine, papardelle, & ravioli.  After having everyone roll pasta though the machine a few times, I began delegating other tasks to start the dinner.  On group made the ravioli filling, simply half ricotta and half mascapone cheeses, chopped cooked spinach, nutmeg, extra virgin olive oil, salt & pepper.

While this was happening, I began showing them some simple sauces with the same fundemental base, toasted garlic slivers, chili flake, and white wine (a good pinot grigio).  One of the sauces (for the linguini), then added chicken stock, and after it cooked for a bit, finished it with chopped Italian parsley, black pepper & toasted almond.

The other sauce took the same garlic, wine, chili base and added crushed canned San Marzano tomatoes (a little sunshine in a can).  After it cooked a bit, fresh ground black pepper and a branch of basil sat in there a bit while it simmered.  I finished both with some really nice unfiltered, 1st cold pressed extra virgin olive oil.

While the sauces cooked, I had them throw together a simple salad of baby spinach, walnuts, pear, meyer lemon juice, and the same finishing olive oil.  Sea salt, fresh pepper, and a scattering of pepato cheese on top bought me some time to cook and plate their pastas. 

After that I snuck out some lemon sorbetti that I bought at Whole Foods by a company called Angelo Gelato out of Bensenville.  I've always liked this company, and we currently serve them at the restaurant to my pleasure.  I also brought some anise biscottini from Tenuta's in Kenosha to cap the meal. 

I believe good times were had by all who attended.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tenuta's Deli. Kenosha, Wisconsin

Since I'm going to be teaching an Italian themed cooking class in the city tomorrow, I decided to take a field trip with my sister, brother-in-law, & nephew to Tenuta's Deli in Kenosha.  My wife and I accidentally found this gem of an Italian deli while missing our exit to see Pearl Jam at Alpine Valley this summer.  They have everything you need to cook authentic pastas and antipasti there.  It's simply awesome, and I encourage anyone that passes Route 158 while going north on 294 to take the detour and stop in.  Their website is  As a bonus it's only one exit north of The
Brat Stop.  Go Wisconsin.

They carry liquor, wine (primarily Italian), a premier deli loaded to the gills with proscuitto, soppresata, pancetta, olives, and on and on.  Their anise biscotti is to kill for.  Cheeses abound.  5 & 1 kilogram bags of "00" pasta flour are always stocked.  Good white anchovies.  Aquerello risotto rice.  Frozen, fresh, & dried pastas.  Pasta machines, sausage making stuff and fresh casings!  Olive oils of every type.  Cheap balsamic, expensive balsamic, & REALLY expensive balsamic.  Dried porcinis & morels.  Canned premium tomatoes.  And did I mention cheese curd?  And smoked string cheese? 

You.  Simply.  Must.  Go.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cooking Classes at Ren Spa

I'll be a part of running some cooking classes at Ren Spa this Saturday from 6 pm-9 pm.  The theme will be Italian and I'd love to see some more people sign up.  If you're interested, give Patti a call at 312-415-5500 or shoot her an e-mail at  Or shoot me an e-mail at  They're located in Chicago off of Elston Ave., right across the street from Wine Discount Center.   

I'm most likely going to have some fun demoing a few easy to make at home pastas & sauces, while doing my best to keep it as healthy as possible.  And knowing me, anything is possible.  Eating, drinking & having fun, right?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My Favorite Cookbooks, Pt. 2

James Peterson is the man when it comes to cookbooks.  Sauces remains one of those books that continues to inspire me on a daily level.  I've honestly read it straight through at least 6 times, and referenced it countlessly.  He has a concise, brilliant way of breaking down sauces by step and technique, making it easy to adapt, and often gives more than one way of making the same sauce instead of telling you there's only one way of doing anything.  That remains my philosophy on cooking, and is only heightened by my worship of Fredy Giradet's style... but more on that later.

This book is a must have for any serious cook.

My Favorite Cookbooks, Pt. 1

This book is incredible.  As you can tell by the dog ear on the top right, it's well used.  Jean Georges Vongerichten pioneered the use of juices and flavored oils in fine dining, and overall helped to change French & American cooking as a whole.  He likes to use the same ingredient multiple times in the same dish, often just dealing with technique & textural differences to excite the palate.  The section on foie gras is also quite useful.  His time spent in Asia really helped add another facet to his cooking, and he could be blamed for the profusion of Asian Fusion into our scene. 

Whenever I hit an artist's block when coming up with a menu or special, I look to the cooler, the season, & Vongerichten.

All Shook Up

I was reminded the other day of an experience my wife & I had at a popular Italian-American restaurant in the South Loop a few years ago.  We had gone for lunch with a close friend and we were recognized as friends of the chef.  The server suggested we have a glass of prosecco (Italian sparking wine, similar to champagne but made with different grapes and with a different fermentation process), which sounded like a great idea at the time.  So after ordering, he quickly came by with a bottle and made a show of opening it.

Now it was pretty busy and definitely lunchtime in the city.  We had tables to either side.  As the server opened the bottle without covering the cork with a towel, it made a loud pop and shot across the dining room.  Wine spewed everywhere, coating our friend, me, and some on my wife.  With much apology and a red-faced waiter, he ran back to grab another bottle while the bussers and a FOH manager came to remedy the situation.

Until it happened again. 

The second bottle also had issues, and while the wine didn't get us, it got the table behind us.  It was kind of funny the first time, but twice?  If I'd been the one serving the wine I'd have opened it away from the guests or in the back the second time and not presented the bottle.  The other customers weren't as happy about it.  We ended up having a great meal, but next time, we'll do without the show (or the shower). 

I'd like to imagine that it was a disgruntled wine reps last day and he shook an entire case out of some spite to the restaurant, all the while shaking his fist to the sky and mumbling about revenge.  Make for good television at least.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Veal Stock & Demi Glace, Obsessive Simplicity

I am a saucier at heart.  The daily ritual of making demi has eluded me lately and I feel a void where this obsessive-compulsive task is missing from my everyday schedule.  Not one chef I've ever worked for has ever made it the same way and the details hold glimpses into the heart of the chef in question (atleast for the French trained).

I start with fresh, not frozen bones if possible.  The only vendor who carries them currently in the Chicagoland area that I know of is Lex Foods, the owner being John Lex.  (847) 432-5741, BTW.  He's related to the guys who run JDY, who should be able to get the bones from John if you're interested in the product.  This isn't cheap, however. 

I personally don't mind cutting hard bones with soft bones 50/50.  Soft bones are cheaper and tend to run smaller.  They're great for second washes or remoulage (the term for making veal stock from the same bones twice, often used to start the next batch of demi instead of water).  The only issue with soft bones is that I can't find them fresh, and I'll only use them if I have to drive down my costs.  Some brands are treated with sodium tripolyphosphate, which is a water retention chemical used in food processing to make the bones hold water and weight more and also helps with preserving the bones. 

This sucks.  I can smell it slightly, I swear.  And when treated bones are roasted, they'll drop water, ruining the beautiful color you need to get from your veal stock.  Crazy story somewhat off topic.  For a while we were able to get ostrich bones at half the price of veal bones in the late 90's early 00's.  Roasted and used in demi 50%, you couldn't tell the difference.  I won't name names but you'd be surprised to know who bought them.  Now the prices for ostrich bones are through the roof, as large soup companies caught on and buy almost the entire market.  I shit you not.  Effing ostrich.

Anyways, the next item is your mirepoix.  I haven't weighed a batch in ages, and I personally go easier on the veggies as a whole (especially the celery).  I like flavor, but primarily the flavor of the main ingredient in a recipe.  Veal stock should taste like the distilled essence of a thousand dead baby steer.  Nothing more, nothing less.  The veggies should be peeled, and no ass ends of carrots or peelings make it into the stock.

Why you ask?  Have you ever eaten the ass end of a carrot?  Tastes like bitter carrot pukings!  If you won't eat it, don't put it in your stock.  It's a building block, not a fucking garbage pit!  Next is the tomato product (I use paste).  It's essential to giving body to your reduction, but I err on the light end.  I will put four heaping kitchen spoons in for 100 pounds of bones.  Michael uses 4#'s weighed out if I remember right, and Bernard uses a full #10 can.  You can taste the difference, and you're able to reduce it more with less tomato.  It is essential to getting the gelatin to take hold in a finished sauce though. 

Speaking of gelatin, a few pig's feet thrown in at the end helps too.  As for color, I will brulee my onions by cutting them lengthwise and charring the shizznit out of them.  Your stock will never pick up any burnt notes, and the end product is worth seeing.  On the other veggies being cooked, caramelization is essential, but not too much.  Deglaze with red wine, but don't use too much.  Again, it's veal stock, not effing bordelaise.  Also, make sure you start with cold water or remoulage and bring quickly to a simmer.  That gives a level of clarity that's desired.

Thyme, parsley, peppercorns, and fresh bay leaves finish the stew.  Don't forget to skim, all the time!  Re-emulsified fat kills a stock if made in the western tradition.  The Chinese do some beautiful things with reincorporating fat into their stocks, but it will make an unappetizing demi with an ugly color and whorish taste.  If you like tasting whores, go eat at the docks, not where I hang my hat.  Cook overnight.

When straining for further reduction, save the bones and make stock out of them to start your next batch.  And obsess!  There's always another step to be taken to make a better product. 

A sushi chef once told an apprentice, "The sushi is never perfect until all the rice is pointing the same direction."  The lesson being that there's always something to improve on, no matter how good you are at the task.

A Culinary School Rant

How do I put this?  I've been to culinary school, graduated, and paid off all my student loans.  I have an Associates of Applied Sciences pertaining to the culinary arts.  But had I been told that I could get the same education by working in the field, buying a set of decent knives, and a bunch of industry cookbooks for a fraction of the price...  I would have gotten a degree in accounting at a community college and just worked in the field. And I'd most likely have been to France by now to boot.  Probably be driving a mercedes too.

So, I guess I want to say is...

...fuck culinary schools.

There.  I've said it.  While I'm at it, the ACF sucks too.  Too many kids go through culinary arts programs, while being told that they're bonafide chefs upon graduation.  Bullshit.  I remember an old school-er telling me to work for 3 years as a cook or chef de partie, another 5 as a sous chef and only after 10 years... or when I felt ready, take a job as an executive chef.  I'm 32.  Do the math.  But too many kids with rich parents and/or trust funds open places or take these jobs after working at one or two good places, and then crash & burn after only a short period of time.  Kinda crashes your credibility when people you want to work for have been burned by this type of tongue-in-cheek "chef".

And currently it seems that overall menus have been dumbed down to become idiot proof, thus making the better trained line cook something most restauranteurs can't afford!  Any shoemaker can make pesto in a blender or reduce cream for an easy sauce.  Not to mention all of the quality store bought prepared products you can buy though most vendors.  I feel that I'm from a dying breed.  Think I'm being melodramatic?  How many good fine dining French or Italian restaurants still exist, atleast in the Chicagoland market?  Name 'em.  Are they still turning out real chefs that are opening new places?  Think about it a bit.  With fine dining growing increasingly smaller here, where do all the culinary students go?

Effing nowhere.  And they don't train them well enough to succeed in the business side of the industry.  Out of the last 15 cooks I've seen come out of culinary school, saying one might make it is being too generous.  However, out of the last 15 immigrants I've seen, most will probably work 10 times harder than the other 14 students without ever going to culinary school.

Do the math.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Arizona Stories, The day I lost all my facial hair...

I ended up taking a lot of 3rd shift work at the resort during the end of my externship.  Part of my contract specified that if a manager got a hold of me personally or via phone and asked me to work a shift, that I couldn't decline... even if I'd already worked a 16 hour day.  I'm not saying that I hated this, but since the night shift had the most no-call-no-shows or other bullshit excuses, I often found myself working with little sleep and having to strain stocks at 4 in the morning.

The best part about night shift was the lack of supervision and the freedom to do things in any order I thought would be the most efficient.  I was always looking for ways to get done faster, especially if room service was picking up due to high occupancy.  The night shift person was responsible for staff meal for about 35 people, mainly security, night cleaners, and over night bakers/pastry cooks.  You had to strain and cool all stocks, prep anything the executive sous dropped onto your plate, handle room service, grind meat for the butcher, and set up breakfast for the 175 seat dining room. 

Breakfast prep for the dining room entailed breaking down a few cases of eggs for omelets, dicing and par-steaming potatoes, setting up bacon, sausage links, and patties, cooking steelcut Irish oatmeal, clarifying butter, and getting all of the ovens, flattops, etc. hot for morning service.

One morning I had gotten towards the end of my shift at 7 am, when I went to light the old school flattop on the line.  It was an old model, and the pilot was about eight inches to a foot under the griddle.  You'd light a wooden skewer to light the pilot, and turn the gas to light the damned thing.  This morning was different.  As I got on my knees and lit the skewer, I reached under the griddle and triggered and enormous blast of flame that engulfed my head briefly.  I immediately shut my eyes and hit the ground.

Apparently, one of the nightcleaners had used the stove as a ladder to reach the hoods earlier that morning and had turned the gas on slightly with their boot, much to my dismay.  I lost a few eyelashes, curled my eyebrows, and burnt off part of my sideburns.  To this day I have difficulty growing hair where my ears meet my beard.  I also looked sunburnt for about a week. 

So the first cook comes in, an old asian dude that rocked the omelet station as if he was twenty years younger.  With one look at me, all he says is,

"That's why I don't light the pilot anymore."

Go figure.  Now I always let someone else deal with pilots and gas first until I'm comfortable with the machine or conduit in question.  I saw a chef friend of mine once light an easy release hose on his fryer on an open burner by accident on his line.  He set his sleeve on fire and it looked like a flame thrower until the grill cook closed the release valve.  Scary, scary stuff to see.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Arizona Stories, Best Kitchen Mispelling

Manually keyed into Micros by a server for a special:

Frog Raaaaa!

At the time, I didn't get it until I said it out loud.  For the longest time I had the ticket taped to an old notebook, now missing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Arizona Stories, Sammy the Grill Cook

Sammy was awesome.  I first learned a busy grill station from him as an intern in Phoenix and he was quite the character.  He originally moved to Arizona from Texas after getting into some gang problems in Dallas.  He was shot a few times in the knee and ended up getting his right leg amputated.  You wouldn't know it except for his limp, and it wasn't the first thing he'd run up and tell you.  This led to some interesting stories... mainly because Sammy had a warped sense of humor.

He used to play box with the saute cook, Kenneth.  Kenny used to draw pictures of Sammy in permanent marker on the line, and repeatedly hit it with things while muttering, "Can you feel that?!  Can you feel that Sammy?"  I had to work the middle and set up plates for them during service when I first started, which honed my trash talk a lot better than my cooking skills for a brief period of time.

One day Sammy decided to play box with a newer cook, and the two of them were having a great time.  It was the beginning of our shift, and the newer cook hadn't buttoned his jacket up all the way yet.  Sammy grabbed a small Braun stick blender from a bain marie and started to "fence" with it.  It was still plugged in, and tore into the skin on the new cook's chest.  While it wasn't a deep cut, the new cook looked down with disbelief before he was rushed off to emergency care.  Neither were fired, but Chef J had an hour long reprimand waiting for them both about goofing off at work.

Now, in Phoenix, the bars close super early in comparison to Chicago, so it leads to more and more house parties & socialization after work.  At one party, Sammy had been drinking quite heavily, and was getting more and more angry at a rich girl that wouldn't stop talking about all of the skiing equipment she'd just bought and how great of a time she was going to have in Colorado when the snow fell.  She was sitting next to him on the couch, when he hopped up, threw off his leg, and stated drunkenly...

"I'll never hit the damned slopes again!"

He then proceeded to hop to the kitchen to pour another rum & coke.  His "friend" screamed and ran out of the party, proceeding to ditch her boyfriend taking the only car.  He was about to start a fight with Sammy until our friends broke them up, and some samaritan gave the unhappy man a ride home. 

I couldn't stop laughing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Michigan Farm Visit Yesterday

Thanks to Midwest Foods, I had the opportunity to visit Tree-Mendus Fruit in Eau Claire, Michigan.  A fourth generation orchard (Est. 1927) run by the Teichman family, the farm is over 450 acres and contains 250 apple varieties, as well as cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, pears, & raspberries when available.

The son of the founders, Herb, was an enjoyable host and general operations have remained in the family.  His son was extremely hands on and knowledgable.  We ended up seeing and tasting some incredible fruit, a couple of apple varieties actually had pink to reddish flesh, which were the first I'd ever seen.  The Black Arkansas variety also stood out, thicker darker skin and an enjoyable flavor.  It's cider season too, check out theirs, it's incredible.

Do me a favor and check them out.  They're open to the public and you can pay to pick.  They'll also ship out on request.  Here's their info.
Tree-mendus Fruit Farm
9351 E. Eureka Rd.
Eau Claire, MI 49111
(269) 782-7101 or (877) 863-3276

Monday, October 17, 2011

Le Francais Stories, My Petit Lapin

I worked with a young Frenchman at Le Francais some time ago, who was aggressive and more than a wee bit sinister.  (From here on in I'll refer to him as Lapin.)  Lapin was the textbook saucier.  Not quite Sous Chef material, with a good deal of potential, but not without some deep character flaws that would keep him from ever going too high in the Chicago dining scene.

One of those was his being violent.

A newer fish cook, young, blonde and female was a frequent target of his douchiness (in France, also known as "showeriness").  One day she was prepping and standing with her legs somewhat crossed.  He kicked her leg out from under her and stated, "That's why you don't stand in the kitchen like that," as she fell. 

I was target a few times, as he often had projects that needed working on.  My first day in the kitchen staging he dropped two cases of beef marrow bones in front of me to scrape the sinew from (prep for the filet on the menu).  I made a chef's knife serrated after a day of scraping.  Another day, I was cutting mirepoix into a very small dice (coincidentally for the same dish's prep that would be sweated and quennelled to order), when he hit my right hand elbow while I was cutting.  His only words were, "Good.  You didn't cut yourself.  You know how to use a knife."

I was pissed off, and saw red.  Grabbing him by the neckerchief (standard unform), I quickly turned my knife on him.  I believe I said something to the effect of, "I do, and unless you want to be a dead Frenchman at my feet, I suggest you apologize."

We got along fine after that, for the most part.  Later on during my stint there, Lapin needed something from the cooler during service, but his heavy accent made it indecipherable to me.  "Hex!"  He called.  I came out with some random thing from the walkin, only to meet with his disapproval. 

"HEX!  Don't you American's know what HEX are!  It's by the mustard!!!" 

Confused, I went back to the cooler and brought out some other random article.  That was when he completely lost it.  Red faced and shouting, Lapin screamed,


I replied.

"Oh!  Eggs!" 

He wasn't too happy after that.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Arizona Stories, A Request

An old Chef of mine (I'll call him Monroe) from Phoenix wanted to hear a story about our old Executive Chef J.  Now Monroe really wasn't too keen on J's rules and general Boy Scoutedness.  There's a few key things for you to know about Chef J to make this post make sense.  So let me give you some background.

Chef J (and our head steward) used to search the employee housing weekly (where I lived) to ensure the interns and/or current residents were living to code.  Heck, we weren't allowed to have food in our rooms, all meals were supposed to be eaten at the resort or somewhere on the town.  Which sucked.  One day he stole the vanilla wafer cookies I had hidden in my sock drawer.  Swear to God.  Never got written up for it, but the empty package was in the trash...  With no cookies! 

With that I decided a prank was in order.

Our fearless cookie thieving leader also had stickers of his face made to put on the tops of the spice rub jars the resort sold and/or gave away as amenities.  With a small distraction from an unnamed intern I was able to lift a roll of the stickers.  Good thing the statute of limitations is over in this epic crime of mine.  Later, I went back to the employee housing and proceeded to hang out with a coworker in their room.  After some drinking, the coworker decided to run some laundry.  I was still in the room, and made it to the restroom.  I quickly turned off the water valve and flushed the toilet to drain the tank.  I then dried off the bowl with a wad of Kleenex and stuck a bunch of stickers (of Chef J's head) to the bottom.  I then turned the water valves back on and walked out of the washroom. 

The epic part of the plan was this was one of the last nights the neighbor was in town.  They ran a shorter internship. 

And after they were gone, the chef had to inspect their room with the head steward. 

Word is the head steward caught the prank only after he'd used the facilities.  And he was the one that had to scrape the stickers off of the basin.

And that's what you get for stealing my cookies, jerks.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Arizona Stories, The Ballad of Lonely Bob

I used to work for a five starred, five Mobile Diamond resort on the west side of Phoenix.  It seems to be the source of most of the stories I retell over and over (much to my wife, family & friend's dismay).  I'd like to share a few of these choice gems that I've been polishing, as most of you won't get the chance to hear them in person.  And if you have heard them in person, well, quit whining.  I'll write about you next.

The property was huge, including three professionally designed golf courses, an incredible spa, a killer pool, over 365 rooms, three high end restaurants led by an ex-White House chef, and had a considerably large area to house workers and interns.  I was one of the latter during my internship from Kendall College.  I worked through every kitchen and station I could over two seasons, eventually working in their four star, four diamond ode to Southwestern cuisine.  We did everything from scratch.  We made our own bread, desserts, butchered only prime meats, and carried the biggest chip on our shoulders for doing this on a day-to-day high volume basis.

I saw an extremely large number of cooks flow though the line over a short period of time though those two seasons.  One of those I shall call "Lonely Bob".  We named him this because there were too many Bob's.  I should know, I was one of them.  My nickname was (still is) Shaky or Shakes.  I drink a lot of caffiene.  Lonely Bob got dumped by his girlfriend for a fellow cook.  Thus the lonely moniker.  Well, to put it kindly, Lonely Bob sucked.  Royally.  The culinary school he'd applied to said that he needed atleast a year's professional experience before they'd let him into their program, and they set him up with us.

Good 'ol Lonely quickly found himself on night shift duty.  It was the consumate bitch shift, 7 pm to 7 am.  The job entailed a few key tasks; to strain and cool the stocks, perform general prep, grind butcher scraps, set up breakfast for the main dining room, and to cook employee meal for the the night cleaners, bakery, & security staff.  Two days in, the night cleaners logged a formal complaint.  He'd marinated chicken in raw white vinegar and then cooked it with peppers, calling it chicken fajitas.  I swear every time a hispanic person walked by him they muttered a death threat under their breath.

The evening before Thanksgiving, Lonely was given the task of cooking turkeys for the next morning.  He was told by the Executive Sous to cook 8 turkeys to 135 degrees, and to set them up in a closed door speed rack with 6 sternos on a sheet pan on the bottom to keep them warm for the next morning, when they'd be brought up to temp before lunch service. 

For those of you who don't know how sternos work, they're the little cans of gelled, napalm heat that are placed under pans on buffet lines.  When lit, they burn blue flame.  They're effing hot.  Well, good old Bobby has never used them before, and interpreting the directions literally, takes the gel out of the cans with a spatula and smears the goo onto the oversized cookie sheet.  He puts it on the bottom, lights the pan, shuts the door, AND WALKS AWAY.  Now usually only a small surface area burns with these things.  He's multiplied this over tenfold. 

Long story short. my friend, a night baker comes out of the pastry shop and sees flames licking the outside of the cart.  Wide eyed, she runs to the dish area, grabs a mop & bucket, uses the butt end of the mop to open the cart's latch, and throws the dirty mop water over the fire frantically. 

All of the turkey's were ruined.  Blackened by Metallica comes to mind.  I remember the smell vividly as I walked into the kitchen for my morning shift.

Lonely had burnt a hole through the sheet pan.  No shit.

We had run to Safeway for more turkeys.  Lonely didn't last much longer after that.