Thursday, July 23, 2009

Our family Wilmington trip

My family came to town to visit us for a few days this week from New Hampshire. My entire family has had an affinity with both the sea coast and, of course, food so a two day trip to Wilmington, NC seemed like a great idea to appease both appetites. But, unfortunately, none of them share my love for a good cigar :)

We saw some amazing sites. The Battleship North Carolina is an amazing thing to see. You could spend HOURS on that ship and still not see it all, just awesome. It's one of the highest awarded ships from world war 2 and permanently docked there in Wilmington on the Cape Fear river.

We walked the "River Walk" while gorging ourselves on home made ice cream stuffed in fresh made waffle cones. The smells sucked us in and it was really hard to resist eating at least 2 a day. Every moment the Kilwins Ice Cream shop was opened, there was a line of at least 30 people running out the door. The ice cream shop across the street could only look on with amazement as we all ate our frozen desserts, wondering why said ice cream shop had no customers. Maybe its because they aren't making their own cones. The smell of a house made waffle cone would bring most people to their knees!

We took a horse drawn wagon tour pulled by Ned and Bobby, two rescued horses, around one of the historic neighborhoods in the area. Some of the houses on the tour were built in the late 1700s and still in tact. Its really impressive to see all the amazing homes that look like they did back in the day. Some of the streets are still covered in cobblestone and caused the wagon to bounce us all over the place, lol, funny.

We couldn't be in a great port town without visiting a few great restaurants. There were some really amazing places to eat during our stay. We started off with a great fried fish platter and bar apps at the Surf's Bar and Grille, yum.

One night we ate on the river walk at a place called The Pilot House where I had a really good carpaccio appetizer followed by an awesome tuna main course (I ordered it very rare, of course :) ) mom had a maple glazed salmon, sis had the fillet Mignon and wifey had the crab cakes. We all split a few shrimp cocktail and the girls split a bottle of wine, great night of noshing.

For a quick light lunch, we stopped by a place that makes their own beer, The Front Street Brewery (FST for short). The place was PACKED!!! I mean, there must have been like hundreds of people eating great food and drinking the local brew. There were these HUGE brass beer brewers (no idea what they're called, lol, I'm a chef and I don't drink!). We chowed down on one of the best pulled pork sammiches I've ever had, sweet potato fries, burgers and check out the picture of Frogmore Stew, a local favorite. :)

If you're ever in Wilmington, North Carolina, I think you'd agree it's a great destination to get away for a couple days and hang out by the water. You're really close to some great beaches too. We hung out at Wrightsville Beach and collected shells and put our toes in the sand. That's my idea of relaxation man. Toes-in-sand and the sounds of the ocean is all I need.

And, lets not forget the scenic walks through the local neighborhoods checking out the amazing churches, T-shirt shopping at Wing's, the aquarium and last, but not least, the laughs in the hotel. Wow, good thing we have a sense of humor, eh? Gotta love it.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Cooking demo series begins at William Sanoma

This morning, I began a series of cooking demonstrations for a local William-Sanoma. We began the series with a summer menu based on local and seasonally available produce taking advantage of their incredible selection of gadgets! The demo started at 11 am and went for a couple hours. We also had a local gardener discuss his business and the importance of organic gardening. He brought me some of his victory garden produce which was perfect for the three recipes I demod for the crowd of about 25 people.

More to come so stop by again in a few days!

Check out the pictures:

I started off with a roasted corn and grape tomato salad. The "picked that morning" local corn was rubbed in olive oil, grilled on a table top electric grill and put into this amazingly fresh salad.

This dish was a cold and refreshing cucumber soup. These cucumbers were so fresh and flavorful that when I grated them, people way in the back of the room could smell them, awesome.

Here is a zucchini and tomato dish using really fresh veggies and herbs. Drizzled with some amazingly fruity extra virgin olive oil and maldon sea salt, it was amazing!

The above recipes can be found on their web site.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Farmers market food demos are fun!

I had the pleasure to demo at two local farmers markets in the area these past few weeks. Kinda odd how I got roped into doing that, but was really fun. One of them was a neighborhood farmers market right smack dab in the middle of an eclectic artsy district in downtown Charlotte. I met some of the nicest and down-to-earth people Ive had the pleasure to meet.

I was setup under a small tent in front of the vendors. It was a wicked hot summer day, about 98F and the humidity was close to that as well, yuk! :) With my thick Egyptian cotton chef coat and black pants, I wasn't very comfortable, to say the least, lol. But, when you love what you do, what's a little sweat, ah?

After gathering some generous samples from a few vendors, my demo started. Armed with my wares of a propane burner, salad spinner and cutting board, I did grilled ostrich loin simply seasoned with salt and pepper and local herb infused olive oil, yum, on top of a simple garden salad tossed in a white wine vinaigrette. The entire thing was quick, easy and light almost in a refreshing way. A few visitors gathered around to try the samples and learn a few tricks. I'm such a ham, lol.

The other market was on the other side of the planet, seemingly, in Concord. It's located in a small park in the middle of a tiny rural area in the middle of nowhere. There are some incredible salt of the earth farmers and producers that just rock. They were glad to give me a few samples to cook with, such nice people.

Most vendors at farmers markets are just awesome to be around. They're mostly always happy and love to talk about what they grow or produce. From the health benefits of buying them to where the seeds come from, the breeds, to what soil they use to tons of preparation suggestions. And, when they find out you're a chef, they become almost GIDDY! We both click and realize that their produce, meats or cheeses are going to get a great final resting place.

At the second market, I took my tonnage of samples and, armed with my tiny Weber charcoal grill, hard woods and my favorite boos cutting board, began the creation process. I grilled a marinated skirt steak, sliced it thin, slapped it into a grilled fresh corn tortilla (yes, I made those too, lol) and topped it with their choice of two types of salsas; one made with local peaches, grilled and tossed with sweet onions and hot peppers, the other was a 4-chili and heirloom tomato salsa. Yeah, the 30+ samples went very fast, to say the least.

One vendor gave me like 3 pounds of really fresh okra that I had no idea what to do with. Having grown up in New Hampshire where I've never even HEARD of the stuff, let alone ate it, and, having only ate it in stews and fried in cornmeal after I moved here to North Carolina, I really hated the stuff, to be honest. Its slimy and tastes like it feels, lol. BUT, I had all this left over charcoal heat that was a shame to waste and just tossed some of the okra straight on the grill grate hoping for the best. Wow! It was charred and crisp with no slime! It tasted like the hard woods it was cooked over with a slightly grassy sweet taste, yum! After the cautious okra lovers looked at me like I had 3 heads, I made a few believers out of them. Wow, a healthy way to eat that stuff!? It was a proud moment :)

Cooking, in my opinion, is so much more than just applying heat to food and putting it in your mouth. It's about the creation and thought processes, the gathering of ingredients and information, the teaching and mentoring and the gratification you get from doing all those things. That's what cooking is, its like an all-in-one rush that you cant get from any other profession. Just seeing the look on someones face when they love your food or the excitement they get when they learned how to make something from nothing is what its all about.

I signed up to do a few cooking demos at a local William Sanoma these next 2 months. I'll keep you posted and I'm looking forward to these demos as well!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Last day of the road to my CEC

Yes folks, it's over. I took both tests (cooking and written practicals), blew way more money than I thought the whole ordeal was worth and sent in my paperwork this afternoon for my CEC. I should receive my Executive Chef Certificate in the mail in a few days. I think Ill hang it in my office in a pretty frame. :) More to come about that soon, I just had to share my excitement NOW!

Thanks for following along.

Friday, July 03, 2009

New job, new staff, new menu, new challenges

Wow, what a ride it's been these last 6 weeks. For those of you following along, I started this new chef job at a local country club about a month and a half ago. I was out of work for a good while before that due to lay-offs. We had tons of people praying for us which has truly paid off. Thank you everyone.

Also, I am truly blessed as I know there are many people out there out of work struggling to make ends meet. I thank God that he provided us with this incredible opportunity in my career.

So, I start this job and, to make the biggest understatement of the year, the kitchen was filthy. The equipment had been abused and left in its own grime for a couple years or so. The ice machines weren't fit for healthy ice consumption. There was more black mold on the inside of those things than I care to share. Stuff stuck to the shelves because they weren't cleaned since Regan was in office, lol. You seriously had to pry stuff off of them to use anything. Crazy stuff. To be honest, I'm surprised noone got sick from eating there in the past. So, I held a "cleaning party" on a Monday (clubs closed then) and most of the staff volunteered to help out and we tore the place apart. Now, it's all about maintaining the cleanliness levels.

The kitchen was WAY understaffed. We were like 3 people short or so which effected everything from cleanliness to ticket times to poor moral. It's hard to believe anything got done there at all with the skeleton crew they had back there. I was able to hire a few people who have some great experience which has helped a lot. We have a pretty strong crew now, which is exciting.

The old menu? Um, it's not worth discussing :) Needless to say, I redesigned it from the ground up. We had a new menu tasting last night for the board of directors and it went over perfectly. They loved everything which was a relief. It was a multi-course sampler of most of the menu. From local lettuces, vegetables and fruits to domestic lamb and day boat coastal fish to local made desserts, I was proud of what my guys put out last night.

Tonight, we roll out the new menu unofficially. I decided to run half of the menu tonight and half over the weekend. With the 4th of July weekend upon us, I think that would be a little easier for everyone to handle. Next week we run the entire menu and out with the old menu completely. (thank goodness)

Well, I'll keep you posted with the new job and exciting things that are planned ahead. Cigar and wine dinners are in the works. Chef cooking classes for the members and the like are coming soon. Gonna be awesome :)