I came across the first candid review of our new book at Still Life With. It is interesting for us to get an outsiders honest opinion of the work we have assembled. It is also interesting to look at what is in a critique. For instance, the analysis of the book discusses the flawed nature of several photographs because of harsh shadows. We actually sought this shadowy effect in a number of our pictures to accent, sharpen and pique the arrangement of food on the plate. So, although we can see how it might not be appealing to everyone, it was a conscious decision on our part. On the other hand, the comment about selective focussing is important. We have been taking pictures for just under two years. We are learning and can always get better. Yes, we culled through our thousands of pictures to present what we believed to be our very best. There are definitely flaws in some of the photos, and our photography is something that we constantly strive to improve. The learning curve is apparent in the progression of our photographs over the course of the last two years. The improvements are due to repeated practice and tips and guidance from several readers of this website and a few professionals who took an interest in us.
The book is not organized chronologically, rather it is organized by inspirational ingredients. That being said, can you see the difference? We can clearly tell which photos are from the beginning and which ones are more recent. For us, the constant progression and development of our cooking, writing and photography is the crux of what we do here. In the end, no matter how long we do anything, we're all still students because there's always room for improvement. We appreciate that someone cared enough to write a review so quickly and we'll learn from those comments as we do from everything else.
White Truffle Consomme
360g white soy sauce
220g white truffle oil
We make the broth by browning the butter in a pot and deglazing with the vermouth. We then add the soy sauce and bring the broth back to a simmer. We then add the truffle oil and water and bring the whole base to a simmer. We simmer the broth for twenty minutes, then skim the base. We then strain the broth and clarify it.
The result is a rich decadent broth which resounds with the flavor of white truffle. We used the consomme to steam a scallop. The lid is removed at the table releasing the aroma and revealing the just warmed sea scallop.
We decided to take advantage of modern technology and self-publish the first book ourselves. It's not a recipe book, although we're working on a few of those, it's a book of photographic inspirations. All of the pictures have been featured here on the site. We've picked our favorites and compiled them into an album of sorts, complete with menu descriptions so that you know what you're looking at. Sometimes a picture is better than a recipe because it gives you a jumping off point without any constraints on your imagination. Alex was the architect, choosing and arranging the photos for your pleasure. So, if you enjoy the site, please take a look at what we've created. If you like it, you can purchase it here or use the bright blue button at the top of the page. *the book is 172 pages long with 172 images and it is soft bound
Last night we were watching Gordon Ramsay's F-Word on Tivo. I asked my husband if he had made reservations at Ramsay's new restaurant in NY for my brthday in January. There was a brief silence.
He stared intently at the television set. "Well no, I didn't make the reservation because you were waffling."
"I was waffling?"
"Yes, you were waffling. I wasn't sure whether or not you really wanted to eat there so I haven't tried to make a reservation." I should note that I was only waffling because he tried to talk me out of going there, not because I didn't want to go. He didn't succeed in convincing me to change my mind but he conveniently seems to have forgotten that part of the conversation. He gave me the puppy dog face. "You didn't even give me a back-up choice."
" Oh really, well the back up is Per Se, although that doesn't help you very much now. You'd better get on it. It's my 34th birthday and they're all big ones now."
He stared at me incredulously for a moment. "Really? You're going to be 34?" I should note that we've been married for over six years and he knew how old I was when I married him.
He slumped over and sighed. "That's just depressing."
Depressing indeed, I think he owes me two birthday dinners now.
That's what it feels like we're doing these days, running in place, just as fast as we can. We made conscious decision this weekend to slow down and take breath. We're in a difficult situation. We'd like nothing more than to be done here and move back East to get on with our lives. On the other hand, we've been asked to finish out the year and train our replacements. Severance has not been officially settled and family members (on both sides) are leaning on us to walk out the door. Thought being that under the circumstances, if they're not willing to put a severance package in writing we're nuts to keep doing what we're doing. It's a tempting idea, but not who we are. It's hard to explain our situation to other people. It's not about letting ourselves get taken advantage of, it's about doing what we think is right. Idealistic perhaps but we've put four years of blood, sweat and tears into this place, regardless of how others feel about it. Any anger we may be feeling is directed at individuals, not at the property itself. Frankly we're trying to move past the anger because it's more baggage than we need. The people left on our staff have been so wonderful and so supportive this past few weeks. We couldn't possibly leave them in the lurch. This whole experience has been unpleasant enough. If we walk out now it would negate everything good that we've done here. It would turn us into people we don't want to be. Collateral damage should always be kept to a minimum. So, we'll carry on training and cooking and collecting a paycheck here until January. Business is business and anyone who lets themselves believe that friendship counts more than business in a business relationship is just fooling themselves. We always knew that to be true. In the long run we were disappointed and angry, but not surprised by what happened. That realization could be the saddest part of this whole episode.
So we're looking at properties on-line and trying to figure out our next move. We're trying not to make bad decisions just because we're in hurry-up mode and it's not easy. We did find some properties that show some real possibilities but it's hard to know for sure when we can't visit them ourselves. Once we settle on a couple of solid prospects we need to finish the business plans and put the money together to make it happen. Finding investors is one of those things that no one really tells you how to do. There are countless how-to business books out there but none of them seems to be particularly helpful in the fund raising arena. We know that we'll need to take on investors, but there are so many pitfalls involved that it can be a little mind-boggling. We get calls every day asking how the search is going and we say--it's going. It's wonderful that people care about our situation but sometimes the constant questions simply ratchets up the pressure. Since we both work better under pressure, I can't really complain about that. If there's anyone out there with some practical advice we'd love to hear from you. Sometimes a different point of view is all you need to put things in perspective.
Speaking of which, we'd like to take a moment to thank all of our contributors to the Culinary Conversations. Shola and Ed were especially gracious about our editorial comments and we loved reading everyone's different perspectives on life in the kitchen. We are going to put this feature on a brief hiatus until after the holidays but we look forward to coming back with new conversations in January. Feel free to email us if you're interested in contributing.
Ed is another who we have met through Ideas in Food. He was actually pointed in our direction by our friend and chef Victor LaPlaca. Ed first asks questions. It is with these questions that we have built a relationship and stumbled upon many inspirations in the kitchen. Ed is currently heading up a new restaurant, and with that on his mind has a fair amount to say and share.
By Ed Bilicki
Looking Back, Moving Forward
November 7th was my last night at bluezoo, a last hurrah of sorts, which was highlighted by the opportunity to work with Michael Mina and Todd English. I have spent the better part of eight years with the latter chef…from prep guy to chef de cuisine, from Westport CT to Orlando FL; it has been an interesting path. The pictures you see are from my tenure there, a little bit of what we were able to do as a team. We served all of these dishes on some level, from two to more than a thousand and in the process provided a lot of people their first experiences with modern technical cooking. I hope that they demonstrate a point of view. I hope that they speak to our approach there and to my approach in the future.
To the point, I am currently working on a new restaurant called Satava. Our broad focus will be on coastal cuisine, drawing inspiration from the intersections of water and land wherever they may occur. Not a new idea to be sure, but my purpose and passion is to do it in a way that has not been done before. Looking back, my life has been intrinsically linked with the water; from surfing at age four in Coca Beach to fly fishing the Rouge last fall for wild steelhead, interaction with water rejuvenates my soul. Cooking replenishes my body and mind, a marriage of the two is only logical.
I mentioned the fact that we served these items in bluezoo not to say “hey look at me,” but to highlight an important aspect of my vision for this endeavor, accessibility. I presume that the majority of regulars here at Ideas in Food are either likeminded professionals or very passionate patrons of the culinary arts. While we at Satava will look forward to serving this constituency, I want to address the issue of the dining public at large, how do we bring them into the fold? For me, this is the crux of this conversation.
The problem with modern technical cooking, hyper-modern cuisine, molecular gastronomy, nueva nouvelle cuisine, cocina de autor (insert your favorite name for the movement) is that, despite being in vogue with the food press, a good number of people don’t initially see the appeal. If we can’t find a way to reach those people, then the movement loses momentum, becomes a fad and fades away. Given this reality, we must consider modernism for the masses. If we confine our growing knowledge of technique to elite temples of gastronomy and force people to consume 10-30 courses, we are limiting our potential audience and potentially limiting ourselves.
In the context of these considerations, Shola’s inaugural piece had considerable resonance with me. After eating out at most of the major restaurants here in Orlando over the last few weeks, it ultimately all boils down to variations on fried calamari, Caesar salad and meat and potatoes. While it would be easy to become disheartened by this reality, I choose to look at it as a challenge and as an opportunity. Regardless of the outlook a restaurant espouses, its price point, its targeted audience, its style of service…someone will always ask for a Caesar salad eventually. I struggled with and even resented this reality for years, but recently I have made peace with it and have even embraced it. After all, I actually really enjoy a good Caesar salad and my mouth waters at the prospect of Point Judith style fried calamari.
Is there a way to serve our guest’s (often) simultaneous desires for familiarity, comfort and novelty, and innovation? While these sets of impulses are seemingly opposed to one another, our understanding of product, modern technique, and presentation provides us with the opportunity to explore integrating these disparate desires. At this point, perhaps an example is in order, so let us return to the (formerly frustratingly) ubiquitous fried calamari.
The classic dish I grew to love while living in Rhode Island is comprised of fried semolina dusted calamari rings tossed with hot cherry peppers, lemon, parsley, and in the best versions a little brown butter. A very simple dish to be sure, but for me it is the quintessential preparation. It does, however, have its limitations. The moisture introduced from the lemon and brown butter in particular, ultimately lead to the loss of the subtle crispness of the calamari. The last few bites of the dish are still delicious, but texture is clearly compromised. How can we improve this aspect of the dish through the application of modern technique?
My approach would involve removing active moisture (items that are physically “wet”) and replace them with elements that supply more passive moisture, but let us first consider the squid itself. If we start with calamari “scaloppini” instead of rings we gain greater control of the application of garniture (and therefore moisture) because we have easy access to its entire surface area. We can then dehydrate the cherry peppers and grind them into a dust which can then be integrated with the semolina. To this we can add a little tapioca starch to enhance the crispness without excessive breading. The brown butter can be turned into a powder with N-Zorbit and the lemon can be mixed with cherry pepper vinegar and lecithin and be aerated. Add a few lightly dressed leaves of parsley and we have a dish that has all of the flavors of the classic, but in more functional and interactive forms.
While we have all likely riffed on classic dishes, my aim is to do so in a way that is distinctly modern while remaining true to the identity of the inspiration, to provide the opportunity to experience new culinary paradigms in an a la carte setting. Beyond this, I intend to be sure each item speaks to a point of view and highlights the ingredients at hand through the combined contexts of flavor, texture, aroma, visual appeal, intellectual stimulation, responsible provenance and historical connection. If we can do this, then we can provide an experience that is meaningful to a broad swath of the dining public. In moving forward, I want to present a cuisine at Satava that is inclusive, not exclusive, one that appeals to the epicurean and the everyman. Who says you can’t do both?
What, no activa? That is how Aki responded to me when I showed her the trout. I made a mousse with trout, marcona almond puree and heavy cream. I folded the trout loins into the mousse and then poached the whole base as a roulade. After poaching, I chilled the trout log, that is what she called it, and sliced it into portions. We served it last eveneing without the pickled cherries, though I think their addition today piques the flavors of the trout and cauliflower.
Well, you can tell by Alex's post that it's been a challenging holiday morning. Alice's Restaurant can usually pull him out of his holiday funk. But it's after noon and things are looking up. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone reading this, whether you celebrate the holiday or not. We're thankful for all of the people who make our lives more meaningful and more entertaining, our family and friends, all of our beasties, modern technology, planes, trains, automobiles, BOOKS!, the Internet, good food, fine wine and all of you who are reading this post. Thanks for stopping by and we'll be back with more ideas tomorrow.
Currently Maldon salt is on the top of my list. We recently smoked Maldon salt and I decided to season it with vanilla beans. This is a great combination of two of my favorite flavored salts from our collection, vanilla and smoked--previously made as individual varieties with fleur de sel as the base. The light delicate flake of the Maldon salt makes for a great textured medium for the smoke and vanilla.
Today we began the work necessary to make pastrami flavored short ribs. We cleaned up some short ribs and put them in a brine flavored with smoked soy sauce and smoked maple syrup. We incorporated a spice mix of peppercorns, allspice, grains of paradise and brown and yellow mustard seeds. We intentionally left the coriander out of the blend because its flavor can become overpowering. We will add the flavor of toasted coriander near the end of the process of making our short rib pastrami. For now we wait while the meat absorbs the brine.
I wish to introduce Sean Brock, the chef at McCrady's Restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina. We first met Sean through this website. It began with questions which have only blossomed into more questions. Sean is driven in his quest for answers and his approach to ingredients and cooking in general. Our interaction and open forum with ideas has helped develop, refine and spark numerous breakthroughs in our cooking. Here Sean has shared a few pictures from his kitchen which capture his process. The rest of his conversation will come when technology permits it (computer problems). For now, check out these pictures and for a bit more on Sean and his world, his website.
by Sean Brock
First of all thank you to Aki and Alex for including us in their brilliant new ”idea”, Culinary Conversations.
We have for some time admired, been inspired by, and jealous of, what
Alex and Aki are able to produce on a daily basis. They are truly paving the way for the next generation of forward thinking chefs. Their generosity in sharing ideas is beyond conception, especially in the beginning stages of such an important time in gastronomy.
I was first introduced to Ideas in Food through a purveyor that we share, Mikuni Mushrooms. They were trying to sell me the now famous smoked steelehead roe from Steve Stallard and directed us to the Ideas in Food website. I have to be honest; since then I have checked their site nearly everyday. It is amazing how creative and passionate these two chefs are. Through their efforts we are constantly reminded of why we cook for a living. The constant pursuit of knowledge and excellence.
For example, every ingredient in our kitchen is put under a microscope. How do we serve the best tasting carrot ever? Common sense would say to buy it from a farmer who pulled it from the ground hours before it I served. But what we are trying to do is reevaluate the entire process from the ground to the plate. We try to think about every step in the cooking process before the costumer consumes it.
We first think about what we were taught in the early stages of our careers. Before service we were taught to clean the carrot, peel it, and blanch it in heavily salted water then shock it in an ice bath. We would then heat it a la minute in a little vegetable stock and glaze it with some butter. Delicious, but can we make it better?
What if we were able to make that energy source that most insanely flavored energy source available. What would that take? My first thought a couple of years ago were to use a carrot-flavored liquid to slowly cook the carrots in. Why use water when we could use carrot water? So we began to cook carrots sous vide in carrot juice. We reserved the liquid and heated the juice a la minute. When we reheated the carrots in their own liquid, we were essentially making carrot-glazed carrots. We became obsessed over discovering new techniques after we tasted the results. We began to use the left over pulp from the carrot juicing process to make a carrot powder using the dehydrator. In our minds we were taking the best carrot we could find and cooking it in a carrot flavored water, reducing that juice to a glace and adding butter to make carrot glazed carrots, we than garnished them with carrot powder. The result was a really intense carrot flavor. Again this wasn’t enough for us, as we are never satisfied or maybe it’s just the ADD. What if we took our carrot juice to a new level? What is we heated the carrot juice until the caratanoid separated from the water and all we were left with was 100 percent carrot and no water to dilute its flavor? We could scoop the separated caratanoid from the juice and emulsify it into fresh carrot juice. We have now begun to make the carrot juice taste better than it did in its original state. We then use this to cook fresh carrots sous vide and eventually make an intense carrot glaze. We then looked at the butter that was used to make the glaze. Why not use carrot butter? As you can see this process is endless. For us it is the constant pursuit of making the best tasting carrot ever. Now our next project is distilling carrot juice to use for our base liquid. Where does it end? Who cares, the idea is to look at things in a different way. We have also found that sometimes this isn’t necessary. Sometimes the ingredients are so unbelievable we leave them alone. But we still feel that it is important to ask those questions and seek the answers before we bin the idea.
Over the years we have realized that we can’t remember everything or every idea that enters our mind unless we write it down. We write everything down, no matter if it is during a busy service or having beers at the bar after a busy service. The process starts with notebooks that we keep in our pockets, we write everything down, no matter how ridiculous it is. When our notebooks are full and there are no pages left to write on, we enter them into a computer program. When we get a few pages we print them out and hang them on the wall. The ideas are always in front of us, they are now constant reminders of our random thoughts. We have now gone as far as using a highlighter to showcase the things we are most excited about and want to tackle first. Keeping in mind that the ideas that aren’t highlighted are not dead, just on the back burner. We may revisit them at any time.
The printed sheets of ideas are also designed to keep everyone in tune with where we are and what we are working on. We have a lot of cooks (19 or so) and it is tough to have everyone together at one time to discuss ideas. With this system a stranger could walk up to the wall and read an idea and begin to think about it.
We then have dry erase boards and chalk boards in the kitchen that are broken down into different categories. The first is a random idea board, hopefully inspired by our idea sheets that are hanging in the kitchen. Everyone is encouraged to contribute to this board (servers, dishwashers, guests, etc). When we get really excited about an idea it gets moved to the next board entitled “projects”. Once it makes it to the project board it is then looked at more closely. Each component of the dish is brainstormed and evaluated. We then start cooking our ideas and tasting them. Once everyone decides that it is a good dish we serve it to our guests. This sounds like a lot of work, but we as a team are convinced that the dishes we serve are as good as we can make them. Trying hard is everything. Thanks again to Aki and Alex.
The question is often asked how does one infuse the most amount of flavor in the least amount of time? We have worked with various ideas which involve the use of pressure to help infuse and break down ingredients for cooking. Nathan Myhrvold mentioned sparked some base thoughts with the ideas of what would happen to asparagus in a giant pressure chamber. We would have the texture of cooked without the heat. In fact, that is what we were working towards with our cryo-blanching we wrote about several months ago. I was reintroduced to the concept and the power of pressure when talking with Wylie who was trying to shorten his brining times. I came away from the conversation with the idea of a high pressure brine box. Actually, I wanted a box where the air could be sucked out and thus the internal pressure would build allowing for an increased exchange in osmotic pressure. This is slightly different than the pressure chamber, though it is along the same lines. Then, just two days ago I was talking with Sean Brock about the infusion of flavor and my quest for a pressure chamber. Eureka. Sean noted that an isi canister can hold about 80 pounds of pressure, far greater than the 14 pounds of pressure applied in vacuum sealing. We then bounced ideas of brines and what we could put in the mini chamber. I liked scallops with chicken skin brine. He had some scallops and foie gras consomme on hand which he could adjust as a brine. He executed the idea and with that demonstrated the great potential of brining in chambers.
Furthermore, Sean will be sharing his culinary conversation later today. I received a note that he is having some technical difficulties and that we should not worry, the piece is on the way.
After we made the black truffle granola, our minds began wandering and wondering in search of a great means in serving the granola. Yesterday, we made a piave vecchio cheese milk to serve with the granola. This was inspired by a conversation with Shola and the applications of flavored milks. That is a whole other post. We made the cheese milk and it is intense and decadent. The flavors of the piave vecchio pique the flavors in the truffle granola. The integration of the scallops was a based on their presence in the kitchen and the pear square acts to balance the richer flavors in the dish.
For the last couple of weeks we've been trying to finish editing an essay that will be included in book about food and philosophy. Having never worked with professional editors before it was an enlightening experience. Fritz and Dave were incredibly patient with us, especially under the circumstances. They kept sending the essay back because it was too colloquial and focused too much on descriptions of food. We were somewhat distracted by our personal circumstances and did not follow their instructions as well as we could have. I didn't listen well and that was my downfall.
The problem was that this is an academically minded tome. I am not necessarily an academically toned writer. So I re-wrote the essay a couple of times and each time there was definite improvement. There's something to be said for multiple drafts. They finally accepted the essay yesterday and I breathed a sigh of relief. Less than hour later I got an email. The publisher had strenuous objections to the style of writing and was not going to include it in the anthology. All of the other essays had been approved and they wanted to get the book to press. Fritz convinced the publisher to give me this weekend to give it one last shot.
It was a rude awakening to say the least. I've always considered myself a writer, it's something that I've done instinctively and usually received praise for. I was one of those kids who always turned in the first draft of all my papers and still got an A. I had countless journals that I either wrote in compulsively or ignored for months at a time. I'm one of those closet writers, who always wanted to do it professionally but never actually tried to do so or risked failure. So there I stood, my culinary life having recently been turned upside down and to add insult to injury, now I was being told that my writing was not up to par. I was not a happy camper. So I went back and re-read all of the initial critiques and re-wrote the essay. It was the best thing that could have happened to me.
This time I followed the directions scrupulously. I sent a rough draft to Fritz to make sure I was on the right track. When he approved the direction I had taken, I continued writing. The essay was approved this morning and sent off with a haste that made me think that if I had taken the weekend we might not have made the cut. It's not perfect. I was hoping to polish it a bit more, but it is a hundred times better than the first draft we wrote.
Part of the problem was that we really didn't know what we were writing about in the first place. Philosophy can be a tricky thing. But I learned a lot about myself through this process and it helped us define our food in a way that we hadn't before. Part of the problem was that I just didn't pay close enough attention to what I was being told. That's the part that really ticked me off. I hate being stupid. Especially at a time when I need to have my game on. We made it in the book by the skin of our teeth. Even though they probably won't read this, I have to thank Fritz and Dave for believing that we could make it happen. Thank you!!! That's what made the difference. If they had given up on us we wouldn't be in the book. It's a timely reminder that it's not always about what you can do. Sometimes it's just about who believes you can do it, or at least thinks that you deserve the chance to try.
Sometimes shots in the dark work. We have been writing, photographing, cataloging and openly sharing our ideas for just about two years now. We have grown as chef's as well as people. We have slowly learned that an open market for ideas can act as a catalyst for something bigger.
Currently we are finishing our tenure here in Colorado while patiently searching for a place, no the place, where we can put our ideas into practice. Our search has us focused on the East coast, primarily from Maine to DC. The goal, as many of you may know, is to have a country inn with a restaurant. The rooms, 6-12 of them, act as an amenity to the restaurant. The food, well if you are reading here, is an extension of our digital notebooks.
So, my shot in the dark is to openly ask for donations to facilitate our relocation and a new beginning. We have had a donate here button on the site for about a year and funnily enough it has not been used. We put it there as a means to generate additional funds to pay for Ideas in Food. Like most half hearted attempts, it failed. That is why today I am making a full fledged attempt at raising money to enable us to leap into our next phase in life and food.
We have always said ideas are free. I truly believe this. And that is why I can openly ask for assistance in our next venture. Any donations received will go directly into financing our next venture. I must also note that these are donations, not a piece of the pie.
Well, if you are up for it, the pay pal donation tab button is located in the top left of our front page. Either way, thanks for reading, thanks for the support and we hope to see you in our new home sooner rather than later.
PS: We're going to keep a special list of all your donations and we will make sure that everyone on the list is the first to be notified about any special events or culinary programs taking place at our new location. Also, for any donations of $100 or more, we will offer a ten percent discount at our place for the first year that we are in operation. We're humbled and astonished to note that the button has aready been pressed. Thanks again for reading and sharing. We truly appreciate all of your support. No matter what happens, Ideas in Food will carry on.
We made a puree with Hubbard squash juice and ultra tex 3, a tapioca starch. The puree is silky and smooth, similar in nature to pudding rather than a vegetable puree. The ultra tex does a great job at holding water, so much so that we thought we could make a thin sheet with the puree and then drape it over other ingredients. This morning we draped the squash over a warm macadamia nut puree. We then heated the sheet in the oven to allow it to melt over the puree and enclose it. We paired these ingredients with warmed king salmon seasoned with ginger salt.
The key today is resulting sheet puree's. Now our the doors of functionality have opened even wider. Think about using green herbs draped over a piece of fish or perhaps black truffle or smoked cashew. And all the work is done on front side of the dish allowing us to just grab a sheet and go.
Today we started working with granola again. We were asked what we were currently doing with granola and we looked at each other and realized we had let a great base ingredient drift to the back of our minds. The question sparked a new investigation into what and how we can flavor granola. I started today with black truffle granola.
Black Truffle Granola
200g steel cut oats
150g rolled oats
135g truffle honey
3g truffle oil
65g melted truffle butter
Toast the oats on a sheet pan in a 350 degree oven until golden brown. Mix the other ingredients with the hot oats in a bowl and then toast the mixture in the oven until the mixture is just shy of foxy brown. Let the mixture cool on a sheet pan then store in plastic bags. The uses are numerous, from breakfast to a garnish for truffle and hazelnut oatmeal.
We began here. Now our thoughts have migrated to soaking the oats in a flavored broth then drying in the oven and making granola. We can exchange the butter for another fat like foie gras or pistachio oil and make that kind of granola. Looking at what the base ingredients are and then juxtaposing flavors it what will allow us to truly expand upon the possibilities of this seemingly ordinary breakfast cereal.
I have enjoyed taking Aki's perfect brittles and pulverizing them into a fine powder which can then be dusted as a fine layer on a silpat, baked in the oven to melt back together as a wafer thin brittle. What I had not tried is dusting the brittle on something else and cooking the something else in the oven. The other day I tried it with Blue Nose Bass. It works, the brittle comes back together and forms a thin crisp sheet on the top of the fish. We paired the walnut brittle crusted fish with marinated matsutake mushrooms, young marjoram and eel sauce. While this is a technique in process, the resulting dish was quite tasty. Now I just need to persuade Aki to make an assortment of flavored brittles to work with.
We continue to use clear broths as poaching mediums to integrate intense flavors while yielding clean, focused usable products. Most recently we poached artichokes in clear cider-buttermilk. The three flavors came together harmoniously and the artichokes retained a clarity in color which I have not seen in a long time. We took the resulting poaching broth and used that as a whipped sauce for the artichokes which we paired with Key West pink shrimp and our tender cocoa nibs.
Our relationship with Steve began with an idea. It was a moment of sychronicity when Alex and I had the same inspiration at about the same time, although it had come from two different sources. We had been getting this amazing caviar from some guy out in Michigan and we had been playing around with smoked salt in our kitchen. The idea? To cure caviar with smoked salt. Alex badgered our purveyor to try and talk the caviar guy into testing the idea. The purveyor in turn gave Alex Steve's phone number and said ask him yourself. Alex called him up and it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship and lots of great food. As with many of our friends and colleagues we have never met in person but I'm sure we'll get together eventually. In the meantime he has been a source of great products and inspirations over the years. We're pleased to introduce him to all of you. As with Shola, Steve will be checking on the comments periodically so if there are any questions for him, fire away...
I was just getting ready to do some fly-fishing for steelhead in northern Michigan. The real reason that I have located the BLiS facility here in Michigan is because of the short drive to the woods and waters. I guess the reasons that I wanted to do this post are not only that we have maintained contact prior to the inception of the company, and the fact that you asked me to, but because we share some of the same styles of food concepts and contrasts, as well as having common interests. Your willingness to share and to be open with the knowledge pool is a real asset to maintaining the culinary arts. It is why success will be forthcoming always, but possibly not exactly if and when you expect it.
Our company, if you might call it that, is not big at all. It’s basically a chef trying to deliver cool things to other chefs to work with. The retail end is not a driving force because the product seems to take a measurable amount of skill to use to their full advantage. There is a lot of dialogue and energy needed to explain how to be creative with Bourbon Aged Maple syrup or with a citrus and smoked Fleur de Sel roe. Fresh wild infused and natural roes do not appear to work well with the beginner gourmet. Although they are not meant to be, we believe that the products can be intimidating for novices. They do not always understand how to utilize them, but if something tastes good, it tastes good. It’s getting to the next stage of asking yourself what to do with what you’ve got, instead of just asking how do you eat the fresh roe, or can you put the bourbon aged syrup on pancakes? This knowledge is something that I have learned by watching the sales trends. I do not want to sound condescending, but the fact is that most of our retail customers seem happiest to use the products as they are instead of as the building blocks they are meant to be.
This is not at all the case with chefs, which has been fantastic! I think we will state right here that we are a chef-driven company. Hey, that’s got a nice ring to it. Where would we be without you? BliS has grown fairly rapidly and keeping that growth in check is the top priority. We only want to sell enough of our products to be able to do it right. When we sell out, that’s it. Much like in the wine business only a finite amount of product per season or vintage is available and when it’s gone its gone. Food and wine have basically consumed my professional life for many years, only second to my enjoyment of the outdoors. I created BLiS as something different, but still sort of in the business. It’s just enough to get my food and wine fix in. We all know that you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. Now I’m off to go fishing. Later I’ll be back to rack barrels in the solera and then I’ll go pick up char at the Canadian border. It’s a great blend of all the things I love to do and it’s all in a day’s work.
I was rereading an essay Aki and I (mostly Aki, this one has just not clicked for me, and I have added not nearly enough) have been writing on balancing tastes and had an idea. The idea was to take another look at apple noodles. What evolved is pretty crazy and tasty to boot. We poached the apple noodles in a broth made from raisins, ginger and saffron. The noodles are a spot on image of real egg noodles. We served them chilled with a Dungeness crab salad.
Irony is giving your notice,
three months later being asked to stay on for another year,
struggling hard with the decision to stay and rearranging our lives accordingly,
then four months later being asked to leave,
because we were only staying on for another year anyway.
We've gotten a few requests for this one. I wanted to post it sooner, but better late than never. These are subtle upon the first taste with a lingering horseradish finish. So we recommend that you taste a few before you decide to add more horseradish to the mix. On the other hand, if you love horseradish then adjust at will...
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
3 cups of flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
3/4 cup hot water
Pulse the first four ingredients in the bowl of a food processor to blend. With the machine running, pour in the hot water. The mixture should form a firm tacky dough. If it seems too dry, break it up and add a couple of tablespoons more water. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before forming the cavatelli either by hand or using a cavatelli machine.
It's been a stressful week here in the mountains and it's not over yet. We've been victims of the ripple effect, where one person gets upset, then takes it out on the person next to them, and the effects ripple through the entire organization. Obviously this effect is much stronger when the first person is in a senior position. When you've got one senior person pissing off another one ( and I don't mean me and Alex pissing off each other, although that does happen) things can really get interesting. People are not necessarily walking on eggshells, but everyone's a bit tense and that makes it easy for misunderstandings to occur. Unfortunately, your first thought when someone lashes out at you is not that you are simply collateral damage. The usual reaction is "What the hell???" and then you get mad and graciously share that with the next person to come along. It's like the movie Pay it Forward only what we've been paying forward is bad karma. So, today we're all wearing our thickest skins, smiling until our cheeks ache, and attempting to break the cycle. Stress is not going to be the boss of us.
We're almost down to a skeleton crew. We lost another housekeeper today which means that by next week we'll down to one part timer and one administrative assistant who helps clean rooms in a pinch. That should make the holidays interesting. Truthfully we were planning to fire the housekeeper who quit today. Let's just say that her work ethic is so poor one would almost say that she doesn't have one. The only reason we kept her around was because her sister, who has been our full time housekeeper for the last two years, gave her notice. She's getting married and moving to Denver. So now we're down to less than one but I can't be sorry about that. Everything happens for a reason and since the holidays are slow around here it may still work out for the best. Besides, I'm not afraid of a little soap and water. If need be I can clean almost as well as I can cook.
At the moment we have no guests next week. I should be sorry about that but we can really use the break. Practically everyone who's left on the staff has asked for time off so that they escape Pagosa for a while. I'm probably going to let them although it will leave us in a pinch if we get last minute bookings. I understand how they're feeling and I know they'll do a much better job for us if they get the break they need. Thank goodness the W.'s are visiting again this week. They're a pleasure to cook for and pleasure to have staying with us. Things like that motivates us and help balance out all the rest. Everyone may not appreciate what we do, but the ones who do make it all worthwhile. Just remembering that, I feel better already.
Eliot, who dined with us a few weeks ago has posted a description of his meal over at eGullet. It's a comprehensive overview, including some of the background behind the dishes, and we're touched and flattered that he put so much time and effort into his write up. So, for another take from someone who's actually tasted the food, check out his post on eGullet. You don't even have to register to read this one.
The Great American Book Giveaway is a boon for all those who love to read (like me). It's a risk free way to read some new books and be introduced to some new authors. As far as I can tell you can't choose the books you want to win, but since they're free, I can't say that I mind being surprised. It's a marketing tool for authors and publishers and it allows them to get their books in the hands of readers who may not have found them otherwise. All you have to do is enter your email and each week they will randomly pick hundreds of lucky winners who will receive hardcover copies of select fiction and non-fiction books. The concept reminds me of In Bubble Wrap, the site where you can win free business books if you register and participate in a goofy Q&A each day. This is the first week of the Great American Book Giveaway so things are kind of bare bones on the site. On the bright side, they have plans to develop the website with author interviews and book reviews. It looks interesting and although I don't see any cookbooks yet, if it takes off anything can happen. Besides, even chefs have to reads something besides culinary tomes every once in a while...
Yesterday we began work on making tender cocoa nibs. While in years past we have utilized the crunch and bitterness of cocoa nibs we, alright I, wanted to know if and what could be done with tenderized nibs. We put some cocoa nibs in the pressure cooker with agave and water. Two hours later we had tender cocoa nibs with a softened flavor profile. These are a neat addition to our pantry. Now we just need to figure out what to do with them. I have thought of folding them into spaetzle and cavatelli. They may also be fun in vegetable ragouts or even risotto. Time will tell.
This week our guest blogger, who shall remain nameless, succumbed to the pressures of their hectic daily routines. We'll be back next week with our regularly scheduled program and we are anticipating a post from Steve Stallard at BLiS Caviar. This week instead of a culinary conversation with someone new, we're going to talk about how we've been affected by our culinary conversations with someone near and dear, Alex's sister Meredith.
Over the years I have been able to take part in many converstations with my younger sister. She has been known as a picky eater. So much so that in her youth she subsisted on a diet of frozen tortellini in pink sauce and carrot sticks. I was the one known to eat and try most anything. At the very first dinner where Aki met the family everyone talked about what a picky eater Meredith was. But from the point of view of a newcomer, it was clear that particular characterization was no longer strictly accurate.
After we moved back to New York after years of cooking on my own, I realized that she had grown up while I was gone. We have been able to engage in conversations about food. She began trying such things as calamari (albeit breaded and fried--actually not a bad way to eat it) and oysters. This is my sister we are talking about, the carrot stick Queen. And when she tried something new, she would invariably pick up the phone and give me a call or shoot me an email to fill me in on her revelations and explorations. I have really enjoyed asking her about her meals and enjoyed watching her tastes evolve.
These days I get emails about where to eat in NYC. She wants to try food. I think she is becoming a foodie. Not a bad thing for a brother who is a chef. Most recently she dined at 11 Madison Park for her birthday and had a tremendous time. However this time her sights and palate are set on an upcoming dinner at wd-50. This is a restaurant we have talked about often and it has truly captured her attention. I look forward to hearing about her culinary discoveries, about the new tastes she experiences and the new ingredients she will try. She's even cooking meals at home with her partner in crime, Brian. They are experimenting with new ingredients, tasting different wines and stretching their culinary horizons. To her, each meal is not about a critique but rather an opening of the mind and the ability to try something new. It is really a great way to look at food. Sometimes we get caught up in analyzing a meal and forget to sit back and enjoy what we're eating. It's a great lesson from the girl who used to discuss the finer points of a carrot stick and the benefits of frozen tortellini.
As the weather gets colder and colder I yearn for something to really warm the body and soul. We have continued our work with sunflower seed risotto and yesterday joined it with those pristine Nantucket Bay Scallops. We enriched the risotto with butter and Piave Vecchio cheese and deglazed the scallop pan with green olive brine. The dish is just simple and tasty.
The two major obstacles that we face daily are apathy and complacency, both in ourselves and in others. Both characteristics are defined by a lack of motivation, although the reasons behind the resulting paucity of energy and efficiency are very different. It's tough enough to battle your own demons but when you manage others you need to find that special can of spinach which works for each of your employees as well.
Complacent people think that they're safe, untouchable and indispensable. These people are usually in for a rude awakening. They tend to slack off and start delegating to everyone around them. They talk a lot. They quit following the rules because they believe themselves above the fray. Complacency is the pride before the fall. No one is irreplaceable and change can and invariably will happen when you least expect it. The flip side of those who think they're untouchable are the ones who actually are. I'm talking about the short timers. People who may have once been the stars on your stage but in the final moments before their curtain call simply stop performing. Their minds have moved on well before their physical bodies and there's no point in jump starting their batteries because the gas is already gone.
Then there is apathy, complacency's fraternal twin. Apathy to me is a total lack of motivation. It can happen for a variety of different reasons but the end result is the same, a shortage of energy and enthusiasm and a total inability to perform well or at all. It happens to each of us at one point or another. Those who can't re-ignite their pilot lights often end up in a serious funk. The trick is not to let apathy take root in your psyche and to dig out those small invasive weeds as soon as you realize they exist.
On the bright side, watching someone take back control of their life and start making positive changes can be awe-inspiring. I know a woman who did that recently. The fact that I couldn't gauge how many of her circumstances were real and how many were loosely woven fabrications did not detract from the image of a woman making hard decisions and getting stronger with each passing day. It reminded me that there are some things worth fighting for and self respect is definitely one of them.
These days we're definitely fighting a bit of apathy. It's tough sometimes to deal with all of the leaky faucets and shattered bidet handles, dirty boots and broken manglers, endless special requests and passive-aggressive behavior, and then walk into the kitchen and create a beautiful meal. Frustration, whether it is with guests or employees or owners, does not make for good seasoning. We're actually getting better at not taking things personally, although there are days when I can't help but wonder why we want our own place. Then I realize that if I actually make all of the decisions that I take responsibility for, I'll be in a much more comfortable position. The toughest part of our days usually involves upholding standards or procedures that we don't agree with. This is the price we pay in exchange for a regular paycheck and that is true of any situation where you work for someone else. This realization is the key to igniting my motivation. Because in order to gain my freedom I have to make great things happen right now, in the kitchen and beyond the swinging door. Now I just have to figure out how to motivate everyone else..
I tried to like N-Zorbit (this is the product name), an interesting ingredient from National Starch which is also known as tapioca maltodextrin. The product is an extremely light powder which when mixed with liquid fats turns the fat into a powder. We first made powdered almond butter which we served with espresso ice cream and licorice. The dish was tasty and the powdered almond butter fun as it melted back into a smooth paste in your mouth. After the success of the almond butter we tried chorizo oil and a few other liquid fats. I was just not happy with the results. The flavors were alright and the taste adequate. We put our N-Zorbit back on the shelf.
Today I pulled the N-Zorbit off the shelf. We have some incredible yuzu oil in our pantry and I just thought why not give it a shot. The yuzu oil is the byproduct of preserving fresh yuzu and when we mixed it with the tapioca maltodextrin we were treated to an intense floral and flavorful powdered yuzu. It was well worth taking off the shelf today. I came to the realization that sometimes it is best to be patient and wait for an opportunity to present itself.
Have you ever noticed how often the characters in the Harry Potter series drink pumpkin juice? At every feast in the dining hall, Harry, Ron and Hermione are drinking pumpkin juice. I noticed it because it's something that never would have occurred to me. Pumpkin juice? Anyway, with fall and Halloween and an abundance of squash in the pantry, we decided to see what the fuss was all about. An enormous Hubbard squash was waiting for some love. We cut half of it into steaks and juiced the other half. We sealed the steaks and the juice in a bag and cooked them at 180 degrees in the immersion circulator until the squash was tender and toothsome. Then we strained the juices and chilled it for making libations. Tonight's result is a play off a Dark and Stormy. After tasting, we both agreed that the pumpkin (okay, okay, squash) juice called for rum. Ginger and squash are an inspired match so we took two ounces of Appleton Estate Rum ( no Gosling's in the house at the moment) and poured it over ice. We added two ounces of squash juice and topped it off with four ounces of Reed's Extra Ginger Brew, a dry, intensely spicy soda. The reviews were mixed, everyone agreed that it was refreshing and well balanced but in the end, it all came down to the squash juice. Either you like it or you don't. But if we served it at Hogwarts I'm sure it would be a smashing success.