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.