Friday, December 31, 2010

New menu, first month and it's highlights...

If you've been following along, you will no doubt remember that I was rolling out a new menu incorporating local and seasonal ingredients at the restaurant I work for, The Galway Hooker Irish Pub. When the new web site is up, I'll post a link. Well, having just past week four of this great project, it's time for a little reflection.

It took a few days of bumps and grinds, and continues to somewhat, to prefect it, but it's coming along nicely.

If I'm honest, rolling out a new menu of this magnitude for the first time in almost three years of this place during the busiest month of the year was probably not one of my finest choices culinarily, but I digress. My mentality was "Maximum Exposure" and I sure got it, lol. If I had waited a few weeks and rolled it out in January, I would have had less than half of the exposure and, besides, what fun would it be to roll out a menu during the SLOWEST month of the year, lol, I have to keep my boss on his toes, right? (Sorry Chris, didn't mean to stress you out, lol).

Week one was a little crazy. We had a celebrity comedian working the comedy zone upstairs and, well, it was a bit of a nightmare. Ticket times were horrible and, well, a few people were pissed off, including my staff and I. The only thing to do was to learn from it, prep more and be READY! And by the end of the week, we were. Nothing like a little embarrassment to get you motivated.

The next week went a lot smoother. As any decent chef would agree, it's all about mise en place or having your things in their place.

Fast-forward a couple weeks and my guys have a much stronger grasp on things. Shoot, some of these guys never saw a micro-green before in their life before they met me! lol. Aside from having to gently remind the boys how I want the plates to look, I think we've made huge head way in getting the new menu out.

This past week, we've been busier than I expected and the menu is getting rave reviews from just about everyone. Of course, there's always the one or two that just cant be satisfied no matter what (makes you wonder why they even leave the house, really) but I take them to a grain of salt and just try again when they come back.

I'll post a few pictures when I get them.

Sous Vide Demo for my local ACF Chapter

Having fell in love with the Poly Science sous vide machine carried by Williams-Sonoma, I've offered to demo the benefits of sous vide at the Charlotte chapter of the American Culinary Federation (ACF).

It has been a learning experience for my two helpers and myself, for sure. We all discovered that 12 ounces of marinade is enough to flavor over 40 pounds of meat! Pretty awesome. Also, I discovered a way to make amazing fried chicken to order without having to store raw chicken under my line cooks station and its probably the best fried chicken we ever ate!

Short ribs, well, I shouldn't have to tell you how good they are when you cook them low and slow for two days! No waste, no mess, wow.

During setup, I took a few pictures.

This small 12 ounce bottle was enough marinade to do 40 pounds of chicken legs, very impressive.

Hands-free cryo, nice to have when taking pictures, lol

Almost 50 pounds of short ribs, two cans of this great rub from Williams-Sonoma, seared, cryo'd and they took a 140F water bath for over 48 hours. We almost wept a little when we ate them. They even made their own jus, conveniently, which I mounted with some local butter, yummers.

Carrots that don't suck? Oh yes, I figured out a way and yeah, they were awesome. Maple and local butter glazed. They stayed bright orange and tasted like love. I swear, they were the best damned carrots we ever ate! Again, this small bottle of maple syrup was enough for all of this 25 pound batch of carrot bats. Yes, those are nobs of that local butter I keep yapping about.

We had a blast setting up for this event. We cryo'd almost 100 pounds of protein and over 50 pounds of carrots and local potatoes. That's a lot of bags. We used two vacuum machines and my poor little house model cryo machine kept over heating, lol, which slowed things down a little. Only took about 6 hours to rub, sear, pour, season and suck, lol.

[edit] just got the weather forecast, this demo was canceled until further notice. Sad to say, I was really looking forward to this. Well, I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

"Big Boss" of Raleigh, NC local cuisine beer dinner...

Great night tonight. We recently rolled out a new dinner menu using local and seasonal produce, cheeses and such and it's going well. People seem to be very receptive to our new and improved menu and ideas, which is a relief, to be honest. My ideas of great food is not always in keeping with OTHER peoples ideas of great food. To me, there's nothing like an unctuous pork belly sandwich or a rare steak simply seasoned with salt and pepper. Most folks, sadly, eat to live and have the palate of a small child.

Anyway, people are excited about our new dinner menu, which makes me excited.

In addition to our dinner crowd enjoying our new offerings, we ran an intimate beer dinner in our private banquet hall upstairs. Big Boss Brewers offered the beers and I came up with a menu based mostly on locally produced goods. My kinda food. Its easy to pair food with beer if you have access to the best of each.
My morning started off picking up some local micro greens at Lucky Leaf Gardens and then a load of locally grown produce at Barbee Farms. Earlier in the week Ashe County Cheese delivered some of their yummy-ness and a farm in Rutherfordton, NC sent us some quail eggs and mache. Awesome.

Menu was this:


Spicy Sage and Fennel Local Scotch Quail Egg with House-Made Whole Grain Mustard (passed)
Paired with: Blanco Diablo (Belgian Style Wit)


Roasted local pumpkin and toasted black pepper bisque topped with local pumpkin sprouts and pan-fried coriander pumpkin seeds
Paired with: Hell’s Belle (Belgian Style Ale)


Honey Cider Poached Local Apple, Baby Arugula; Ashe-County Crumbled Blue Cheese, Sweet Spicy Local Chestnuts, White Balsamic and IPA Vinaigrette, Parmesan Curls
Paired with: High Roller IPA

Main Course

Slow Braised Local Pork Belly with Roasted Local Root Vegetables, Wilted Local Greens and Bad Penny Pork Jus
Paired with: Bad Penny Brown Ale


Dark Chocolate and Roasted Apple Crème Brulee with Caramel and Apple Chip
Paired with: Aces and Ates (Coffee Stout)

Needless to say, everyone was a little drunk when they left but they all had a blast. Unfortunately, no one had the fore-site to take pictures and I just didn't think to. You'll just have to make sure you come to the next one to see how things look! :)

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Chef's to School Program and my journey with Davidson Schools, continued...

Today during our current "Chefs move to schools" project, we discussed healthy alternative ingredients in baked goods. The 8 students picked out three baked items and I replaced or added an ingredient in the food with a healthy alternative.

Chocolate Chip Blondies where I added sweet potatoes, apple crumble where I used whole wheat flour and oats in the crumb topping and corn bread where I added a little butternut squash. All were yummy and a little healthier than their alternatives.

A great time was, again, had by all. We all enjoyed eating our subject material the best, I think.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Another demo at Williams Sanoma Birkdale...

This new sous vide machine is just amazing. I got to play with the Polyscience Sous Vide Professional Immersion Circulator for a few days then do a small demo for about 12 people at my local Willams Sanoma. People loved it so much, someone actually bought one! That same person is having me over to teach them how to use it, joy.

We showed the crowd how to sous vide a bone-in turkey breast then deep fry it, yum. Tender, juicy and delicious! We also pushed the new "Smoking Gun" made by the same people who make the Immersion Circulator to smoke some of the cooked turkey. Fantastic. There were a couple more toys I got to play with; cryovac machine, a couple sweet knives, and more. I love being a chef. After it was all said and done, I went down the road and had a meal with my wife and relaxed at home, not bad for my "day off".

As a result of this last class, a customer had asked me to come to their beautiful home and show them a few ways to use the immersion circulator. We had a blast.

We did salmon with a simple orange vinaigrette, acorn squash with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon and 48 hour short ribs (which are cooking right now). Here are a couple pictures I took.

Friday, October 29, 2010

New menu preparation, Day 2

Day two of the practice run for the new menu. Knocking out some yummy stuff, as usual.

Sweet potato bacon hash with granny smith apples.

Bringin' back onion soup!

Pan-seared tuna slider with pickled ginger, fresh spinach and soy mustard.

Angus slider with pimento cheese and fried onion strings.

New chicken Philly (will be tweaking this a little)

The last three sliders; crab cake with baby arugula and lemon caper tartar sauce, pork belly with caramelized onion marmelade and pickles and corned beef with braised cabage, Swiss cheese and remoulade sauce.

Onion jam for the new Arancini (fried risotto balls)

More to come. Come check us out when the new menu rolls out in November.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New menu practice run Day 1

Our new menu rolls out in a few days and we're doing a practice run starting today.

So far, rubbed some "Fred Flintstone" sized beef short ribs and pork belly on the braise :) Yum...
Pork belly scored before cooking.

Enormous beef short ribs before being rubbed with spices. :)

Nice hot sear on these bad boys.

Bacon pimento cheese spread. In this pic it's hot, not too happy with the way itAlign Center looks, but the flavor is awesome. Will have to work on presentation.

Lobster baked penne, eh, yummy but lobster was over-cooked, will revisit this again.

McNcheese, yum! A winner.

Braised pork belly, need I say more? Will make a slider out of this when the new bread comes in the morning.

Club steak (our new house steak). 12 ounce bone- in NY strip steak, just awesome.

Braised beef short ribs, OMG! Delicious.

The "local seasonal" salad. Everything grown within 20 miles and picked within 2 days.

More later!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Our stay at The Mast Farm Inn in Valley Crucis, NC

My wife and I feel pretty refreshed. We both lead pretty busy lives and spend most every moment, that we are not working, together. Most of the time we just hang out on the couch watching TV or walk around the neighborhood. Occasionally we'll even make it out to the local mall which is about as exciting as it gets here in rural North Carolina.

More often than not, though, we venture out and check out this amazing state in the ever-loving search for great food, attractions and lodging to match. We try to find places where the views, food and lodging are all perfect and occasionally we land the tri-fecta of greatness.

Unlike a few recent trips to say, Blowing Rock, NC where it was very over priced, the food was very mediocre but the lodging and views were AWESOME. Or Nashville where the food was cheap(er) and great, the views were good only in certain area parks and the lodging was dodgy, we ended up having a great time more or less just because we were with each other, lol. Or that trip to Washington DC where everything was over priced, the views were mind blowing and the food was awesome, this most recent trip to Valley Crucis, NC had the mother-load. The food was cheap AND awesome, the views took our breaths away and the lodging at The Mast Farm Inn made us speechless.

The views from the wrap-around porch made us feel small. The colors were the best thing we've seen since Franconia Notch, NH! Every shade of yellow, red and orange you could think of, wow.

Every detail was thought of. They left us a personalized welcome note on our bed complete with our names and a 10th anniversary congrats! They knew what our coffee preferences were, left us flowers for the occasion, remembered our names, just awesome. With that sort of eye for detail, it saddened me to see the dead flowers on all the breakfast tables the next morning. I met the cook, who bragged about using "local organic produce" but, during the peak of apple season, didn't use any! As a matter of fact, the only fruit we encountered at the inn was the orange juice. :(

I'm not going to hold that against them because, seriously, they hit every other nail on the head. This place, with its multiple cottages on the many acres, organic garden, honey bees (they have great house-honey), reflecting pond, views and just great service, I can let a couple minor things slide. :)

They have a horse and donkey that really enjoy carrots, lol. My wife almost lost a finger in this shot! They were little sweeties those two.

The logo'd soaps and bathroom items was a nice touch and the huge claw foot tub was a nice place to chill after a long day.

We really loved the gas-fired wood stove in our room, it was toasty and warm on a cold autumn night.

There were no TVs in the rooms in the main house, our cell phone signals were pretty marginal and the creaky old wood floors put us back in time where you had to entertain yourself without all the "luxuries" we have today.

While we were there, we visited a couple apple stands, ate boiled peanuts and drank hot cider. The Woolly Worm Festival in neighboring Banner Elk was in its final day and I had my first fire roasted chestnuts I've ever had in my life and BOY, were they good! The other fair food (hand-breaded chicken tenders and hand-cut fries) we had was delicious, especially with the regional Blue Grass music plucking away in the background. Great time.

If you live in the area and need to get away for the day or weekend, check them out. There's lots to do and see in that area and you wont regret it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My cooking demo for a local schools science class

Wow, what fun! Today was a blast. A mutual friend gave a local science teacher my contact information because she heard I had done some cooking related stuff with a few students in the past.

I've always had a personal interest in teaching kids how to make healthy choices with their food and to educate the parents of said children on the importance of eating healthy, local and seasonally whenever possible. It just makes more sense. We have a lot of obese kids in the world because of the combination of video games, parents working two jobs to make ends meet and sedentary lives based on laziness and convenience. What happened to the old days when we played out side and had to be in by the time the street lights were on!? Eh, moving on...

The morning started off pretty early, around 8:00 am, at a Charlotte neighborhood public school's cafeteria. There were about 80 students, their teachers and a nutritionist from the local health department there, cameras in hand, to learn the difference between scratch made items and store bought.

I decided to keep it simple and show them how easy it is to make pasta and pesto sauce from Pesto being processed.scratch. It was fun to see the kids faces when I passed around a little ball of dough for them to feel. A basil leaf was passed around for them to smell. We discussed the reason pesto is green (a lot of kids didn't know what fresh basil looked like, which kinda solidifies my point of how important it is to educate kids about food!) and made three types of pasta with my pasta machine. Rolling ravioli sheets and stuffing them with goat and ricotta cheeses, caramelized onions and Parmesan made a few kids say "ewww", lol.

Fettuccine and angel hair were rolled out too, got a lot of "WOW"s for that. One kid yelled out that it looked like play dough, lol. At the end, I boiled the pastas up in salted boiling water and tossed them all lightly in the fresh pesto sauce. I sent it off to each of the classes and am not too sure on the kids reaction to the new food, but I can only be optimistic.

Off the kids went back to class, I cleaned up, had a chat with a few of the cafeteria workers and off I went. Funny thing, I was looking around in the kitchen at some of the food they were preparing for the students and it didn't really surprise me. Pre-formed breaded chicken patties thawing out on a speed rack, a worker was filling up cereal bowls with salty tortilla chips, another was cutting open boxes of chicken nuggets. I didn't see a vegetable or a fruit anywhere, sadly, but I can only hope they were just sitting in the walk-in coolers for later. On my way out the door, the cafeteria manager made an announcement over the intercom about a pizza special that week, which I can bet wasn't hand-tossed on wheat crust!

We, as chefs, really need to educate our local schools and show them how easy it is to create scratch made locally produced meals. I know that not only would the students enjoy it, but I know the cooks would have a lot more fun working with the freshest ingredients instead of opening so many cans or slacking frozen chicken. Sorry, that's my rant for today :)

They've asked me to come back in the winter and do another cooking demo and I'm really looking forward to it! We are also going to be working together on a garden in the spring, can't wait!

Also, at yet another school, we are making strides towards educating some of the local neighborhood kids about gardening, eating local and the importance of a balanced diet with a school in Davidson, NC. We met with a few of the faculty and plan to begin moving forward mid-November. This winter I will be discussing healthy eating, menu and recipe creation, kitchen tours, charity dinners and much more. It's going to be a blast! In the spring, we will be planting gardens and eating the bounty upon harvest turning this into a huge educational experience for everyone involved. I cant wait!

Promises to be a busy time, but SO worth it. Anything I can do to educate is always worth it.

Stay tuned, more fun to come!

(images courtesy of Alison Mignery)

Chef's to School Program and my journey with Davidson Schools...

A chef has to have passion. If one does not, than one will burn out fast. It's important to me to make sure that I leave behind a legacy. What better place to do this than with children?

My employer and I are going full force with a couple area schools with a program and criteria inspired by the new "Chef's Move to School" program.

We have set up an 8 week class with the middle school. Last week we discussed different types of salts, the health benefits and problems regarding salt and the origin of all types. This week I taught the students about knives and kitchen small-wares in a professional kitchen as well as in the home. Of course, safety was discussed in length.

For the next six weeks, we will be learning how to cook a couple healthy snacks, get a "behind the scenes" look at the kitchen I work in, discuss certain reading materials and much more. Should be a blast. Stay tuned for more.

Here are a couple pictures taken this week;

The road to my ACE certification began today...

A little over a year ago, I got my Certified Executive Chef certification. Been a fun journey before and since! Having the need to constantly grow and better myself, it's time to add a few more letters to the end of my name (and a good excuse to buy new chef coats, lol).

With a little help from a good friend and fellow colleague of mine, I began my journey towards yet another certification, my Approved Culinary Evaluator or ACE certification.

For those not sure what I'm talking about, according to the American Culinary Federation (ACF) national home page, ACE certification is described as:

Approved Certification Evaluators (ACE) are an integral part of any ACF Practical Exam. Levels of ACE status: Approved Certification Evaluators proctor practical exams, Lead Evaluators coach and supervise apprentices and Regional ACE Trainers facilitate trainings and refreshers. As an ACE you can extend your professional experience to fellow chefs while earning continuing education hours. To maintain your ACE status, you agree to attend an ACE refresher course and evaluate at least one practical each calendar year.

I spent the day, which began at about 8:30 am, with five other chefs which were showing me the ropes. I had a great time watching and learning and drinking tons of coffee, lol.

There were 10 chefs going for different levels of certification. From CSC or Certified Sous Chef to CEPC or Certified Executive Pastry Chef to CEC or Certified Executive Chef. It's amazing and exciting to be on the other side of the fence. Not being evaluated, but being the evaluator. When someone is nervous, I can tell and I feel their pain! When someone makes a mistake, I want to cry out to help them, "NOOO!!!!", but I cannot and should not.

To most, certification is HUGE. Its a milestone in our careers as chefs. We spend all our lives busting ass, killing ourselves to make it in this crazy business. To be better than the person next to us, to maybe make a little bit more money and be recognized for not sucking! Sharing this with fellow chefs is an amazing honor and I'm grateful to be a part of it.

Here are some pics of food and some action I was a witness to.