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!


Private "Day School" management; never a dull moment

As many of you may already know, I've been involved in the food service industry for quite some time now. For almost 30 years, I've been doing everything from scrubbing pots to food purchasing to turning around bad kitchens to educating people how to cook and make good decisions when eating. I guess I've done almost everything! Most of my career revolves around challenges. I've always accepted challenges head-on with above-average results. I have a lot of people to thank along the way and give back when I can.
My latest venture is a private "Day School" on the North Shore of the east coast of Massachusetts. I run a small kitchen with a staff of 5 dedicated culinarians where we pull off some pretty amazing miracles. When I say "small kitchen" I'm referring to about 600 square feet of cooking space to create about 150 breakfasts and 400 lunches 5 days a week. Not only do we pull that off, but there are dozens of catering and banquets thrown in there on a weekly basis as well as the countless concerns for food safety and allergy awareness. Throw in ordering, dealing with vendors, financial stuff, paperwork, constant training, menu development, inventory, complaints and unforeseen circumstances and you have yourself quite a juggling act on your hand.
Yes, I know some of you out there are rolling your eyes right now saying stuff like, "We do that many meals on a good Friday night!" Well, you guys and gals are setup for that sort of thing. We are working out of pretty much a walk-in closet with minimal equipment. Tiny kitchen and a small staff to boot. But, Im not complaining! I have an amazing staff, very qualified and most of them are foodies, like me! We pull it off and everyone loves it (well, you can't please everyone, lol).
I absolutely love my job and my career path. Working at this amazing school with amazing faculty, staff and, of course, the students, I always look forward to making the hour trek to work and back each day (glad I have a comfy car, lol).
There is never a dull moment for us, not ever. I'll keep you posted with new and exciting things soon.
This is my view most mornings...
New drink station went in, custom logos :)
Fresh, local and delicious!

Hoop house went in, now to fill it with produce!?

Each day we integrate a new and interesting item on the menu. Pushing the "Try Something New" campaign gives everyone a chance to try unusual foods and expand their palates!

Helping other chefs in the district is always a blast! Networking, mentoring and pulling off the impossible is just a great day for me!

Bamboo signage, beautiful and sustainable!

That's my ugly mug ;)

Custom bev-naps please! Nice touch.

The catering board stays full of amazing events.


North East Family Farms Beef, carved to order.

Senior Dinner!