Sunday, April 20, 2014

You have to give it away to keep it!?

I really love teaching. As far as the things that get me out of bed in the morning is concerned, it's third only to cooking and eating. I'm not sure where this love came from originally. Maybe it's just that I feel sharing how our food is made is really important. Maybe it's that I believe showing someone how easy it is to create something delicious from great ingredients is our right as humans. Or, perhaps, how nourishing ourselves though food WE CREATE shouldn't be a chore, but something we should look forward to.  Or, maybe, I just like being the center of attention, who knows. Whatever it is or wherever it stems from, I was always told that, when it comes to gifts we've been blessed with, we have to give it away to keep it. 

Throughout the almost thirty years I've been in the culinary industry, I've noticed a scary trend; we seem to be becoming a generation of simple, fast, salty, sweet, and soulless food. Greasy bags of mass-production and plastic wrappers. It concerns me that we are getting away from dinners together as a family, people-watching at the coffee shop and grilling burgers with our folks in the summer. When I teach someone how to cook, it's important that I remember to focus on, not only, the ingredients and where they come from, but WHY we make this instead of buy it from the dusty box stores. Once you've had, for instance, fresh hand-made pasta with marinara sauce made with local heirloom tomatoes, you will always create a new higher standard that everything else will be held against. Can you really tell me that dried linguine and jarred sauce can beat it? If you claim, "Yes", then you hadn't tried it yet or, sadly, you've been eating crap for so long that your pallet just doesn't know any better. 

We chefs have tons of passion. Passion for eating, cooking and sharing this passion with others. For some reason kids ,specifically, love to see how their favorite foods are made. For example, during a recent summer program at an area private day school, I was asked to offer a cooking class for some 3rd graders. It was a five day class and the theme was to create our kid-friendly favorites from scratch.

Don't get me wrong, most of the adults I've taught get a kick out of learning how to cook their favorite foods too! There just needs to be wine and baby-sitters involved first. Adults have filters that kids don't have. Their grandmother is the only one that knows how to make pie crust, for instance. Most of them are convinced that the red-sauce they buy with a picture of some retired famous actors face on it is the best thing you could ever pour over spaghetti! Kids, you see, have no such filter and they are amazed by everything. Fortunately, they hadn't been jaded by years of trial and error yet and their minds are open. 

Check out these pictures below. The photographer took some amazing candid shots.

We are discussing kneading and how awesome my trusty stand-mixer has been over the years. I was amazed that most of these kids parents have one of these but they've never seen it used! I guess this just proves my point; why make it when you can buy it, right? WRONG! It takes the average person about 10 minutes and two ingredients to make scratch made pasta with that mixer, give it a try! (Thanks Mario for your awesome recipe! I use it all the time!)

Cutting the dough into manageable shapes.

The pasta attachment on a table-top stand mixer is worth its weight in gold!

The face!!!

One of the other days, we discussed yeast and made scratch-made pizza dough and my favorite recipe for it. Each student made their own and we ate like kings. Pepperoni and cheese, oddly enough, was most popular. :-) 

Cupcakes with this butter cream icing recipe from Gale Gand (nice woman, I met her at a a food festival), local butter, sugar and vanilla, that's it. Yum indeed. 

Pretzels; (ode to Alton Brown, perfect recipe!!!) boiled and baked with kosher salt, little mustard and that's all you need! 

There are jokers in every bunch!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Back in the competition saddle after three long years...

Besides feeding people that love your food, one of the most rewarding things one can do as a professional chef is to partake in an American Culinary Federation (ACF) cooking competition. Days or even weeks of preparing yourself mentally, hours and hours of menu preparation, practice and eating to end up at the moment we hit start-time is second to none as far as I'm concerned. Yeah, work is work, but competing? THAT'S what's up. When you're working, for the most part, one can easily get into a rhythm and a groove and can soar by most days on just muscle memory and coffee. When you're the boss, you may not necessarily get to cook as much as you'd like or, when you DO get to cook, there's really no one staring over your shoulder pointing out your mistakes. When you are competing with and against your peers and being judged my Certified Master Chefs, the game changes; now one has to be on his/ her toes as if their career/ life depend on it! Ahh, so refreshing.

The competition event was at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY.

Among the many competition categories, this was a Four-Man "W" Mystery Basket category, which basically means "custom" category, or a category which is not necessarily listed on the ACF website.

There were 10 teams of four, each with different backgrounds and levels of expertise. There were corporate food service companies, country clubs, community college students and more competing which led to an amazing three-day event.

On the first night, which I was not able to attend, was just for eating, drinking and being merry. Personally, it was hard enough to get two days away from work let alone three, but I digress. The second night, they gave us our mystery "Market Basket" ingredients listed below:

"For protein, the chefs were given a whole duck, Alaskan king crab legs, monk-fish and pork belly. Additional ingredients included amaranth, sweet potatoes, Nero di Toscana kale, celeriac, Brussels sprouts, trumpet mushrooms, tri-colored carrots, Bosc pears, dried apricots, blood oranges, cranberries and pecans" (Gruse, 2014).

How exciting! We were then given one hour to come up with a menu and were allowed to use a plethora of common pantry ingredients; spices, fresh herbs, seasonal produce, etcetera. The menu we came up with is below. We decided to go with a "Latin-Theme" because Nestle/ Minor was giving away a grand prize of a set of chefs knives.

Not only did we have to come up with a 3-course plated dinner, we had to come up with a fourth course; a buffet item for 10 people. This would end up being all of the competitors lunch so we could share each others food with each other and learn some new ideas.

After the menu was created and turned in to the judges, my teammates and I went to dinner for a couple hours and hashed out our game-plan. They picked each team out of a hat for start-times, ours was to be 6:30 am. Yikes! It took me four hours to drive from Manchester, NH to Saratoga Springs, NY after a really crazy week and even crazier day at work that day but I was so jacked up with adrenalin that I was just fine. As I've heard many times, there will be time to sleep when I'm dead ;-). So, after a terrible salad at a terrible restaurant, we headed to our hotels to get some much needed sleep. None of us slept well that night. I know, for me, since this was my first competition in over 3 years and I had never competed with anyone else on my team, and, the hotel beds are never comfortable, I may have gotten a total of three hours sleep that night. Thank you Starbucks! You saved me! 

My team and I arrived a little early and were allowed to set up our stations 15 minutes before start-time. Crazy thing, we only had two 8-foot prep tables and four butane burners to work with! Yup, that's it, no stoves, no fryers, nothing but four cassette butane burners were allowed to cook on. This would keep the playing field level. Of course it had it's challenges but we are professionals! I mean, I once cooked for 16 doctors and pharmaceutical reps with nothing but a toaster oven, a saute pan and a stainless steel bowl! All you need, really, is heat and the will to succeed. 

Once our start-time was in effect, we broke into our courses. Appetizer, cold soup and entree. Check out the menu, it's pretty amazing. Though I don't work for the University of Albany, my team did, I was just asked to join them. Thanks guys! Enjoy the pics below. More to come of the actual food soon. 

Menu creation, grabbing our ingredients.

 Butter-basted Latin seared Monk-fish and a picture of my good side :-P

Plating window - 15 minutes

Plating our smoked fish course. Love that smoking gun!

A little bit of chaos never hurt anyone!

 Judgement time is calling...a lot of CMC horse-power judging us!

 Grand-prize winners from Nestle, Minor Latin Bases

Silver medal winners, hoping for gold next time!

All the teams. Someone didn't get the "White Jacket" memo.  

It was a humbling experience, to say the least, but wow, did we have a great time! To be surrounded by so much talent and to be considered one of the "talented" was an honor and an experience I won't soon forget. Of course, now I got the competition bug again and I've already signed up for a "K-Category" ACF competition in Boston in March of this year. This should be just as fun as this one. Will be sure to keep you posted! 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Chef Symposium 2013; My Misty Knoll Poultry Demo

Recently, I was asked to do a demonstration on local and sustainable poultry from Misty Knoll Farms in Vermont. One of the owners, Rob Litch, an expert on raising sustainable poultry, and I opened up the all-day symposium held at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). It was basically an all-day team building seminar where we talk about food, watch demos and eat well!

In order to show a way to use everything on their turkeys, I decided to do some charcuterie, which I hadn't done since 2011!

I wanted to show the chefs not only how to utilize the entire bird, but to introduce or, perhaps RE-introduce a seemingly dying craft of preserving meats. Being a huge fan of charcuterie, I went with the classic gallentine, literally uses the entire bird. Rillettes, which is a great way to use roasted scraps of turkey (or any meat, I would guess!) and, everyone's favorite, spicy garlicky smoked sausage. I was able to throw together a quick liver pate for my troubles, which was a nice surprise!


In order to get a cleaner looking pistachio for your galentine, I flashed them in boiling water for about 10 seconds, drained them and then rubbed them in between a couple cooks side towels. The skins came off almost perfectly and resulted in a nice green gem!

In my haste, I forgot to take pictures of the early stages of my gallentine, so I Googled a couple pics and cited them below.

After skinning, de-boning and cubing my turkey meat (equal parts dark and white), I marinated the meat in a little cognac and simple pate spices.

I ground equal parts dark and white meat turkey.


Folded in a garnish of roughly chopped dried cranberries and pistachios and a few eggs to help hold things together.

Gotta do a taster test of course!

 I layed out the skin and spread the farce onto the meat.
Thank you for the great pics!

And is ends up looking something like this: (thank you for the pic!)

Then I made an awesome rich stock by roasting the turkey bones and mirepoix then poached the galentines in said stock at 180 to 190 degrees. I poached them for about two hours, until the galentine reached an internal temperature of 150 degrees F. 

The rillettes, is a great way to preserve roasted scraps of the turkey with a layer of fat. Duck is the most common meat used in such a thing but using this awesome bird and topping it with duck fat seemed like an awesome idea and it was! Just take all the scraps off of the roasted bones before making stock, the cuts that aren't used, etc. Just roasted them up, seasoned them and paddled in some melted duck fat. Once I placed it in a pan, I poured more melted duck fat on top and let it sit in the cooler for about 3 days before eating. Amazing on crackers or great crusty bread. 

This should be enough! (evil laugh)

The rillettes before the cap...

After the cap...

Of course, I made some awesome sausages and, finally, with the livers, made some quick pate. 100% usage of those amazing turkeys. They had a great life and an even better death. :)

Smoked them with this little bad boy gun smoker...

Yes, I even made my own spicy mustard! Can't go wrong with that :) 

Future pate, yummy. 

Random events, helping out..

When you're as busy as I am, you find its awesome to get out of the ordinary and head out to help your fellow chefs and managers during their busy times.

That's a lot of salads!

The main...

Anti-pasta and local cheese display for VIP...

I love traveling around the New England area. I'm heading out in the new year to compete in a 4-man ACF competition. I will be blogging about that in the future. I'm finally on a long awaited vacation and I'll be posting a lot of blog entries for your reading pleasure.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Our trip to Kittery, Maine; purses, a private beach and Lobstah!!

As you may already know, I moved back to my home town of Manchester, NH to be close to loved ones and, being the day-trip-nuts that we are, we decided to run up to Maine the other day. We went to Kittery, specifically, for the shops that town is known for. Of course, being near the coast, we couldn't go up there and NOT see the ocean!

After a jaunt through a couple purse shops, a sweet knife shop and the best candy shop we've ever seen, I was on the hunt for a proper lobster roll.

Winding through the back roads of a small town out-side of Kittery, we stumbled across this lobster shack called Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier that was PACKED full of patrons. It was one of those "BYOB" places that you only find in this sort of setting.

A little expensive but well worth it.

A quick stop into the historic Fort McClary was a huge hit!

We found a private beach that belonged to a neighborhood. Yeah, the "No Tresspassing" sign was really small :) Amazing views!