Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New "Irish Gastro-Pub" menu

I've been with this new job for over 3 months now. In these short three months, I've knocked out acres of catering from 10 to 500+, baby sat a small but hard working staff of 5 and, sadly, had to cook another chefs menu. No offense to my predecessor, but its time for a change. I've had to witness more brown food than I should have for far too long, lol.

The owner and I have agreed, its time for a change. After a little coercion, I finally got them to see eye-to-eye with me and move towards an Irish Gastro-Pub concept. We'd use local and seasonal food whenever possible, keep it simple and exciting and give the entire food concept and well deserved face-lift.

I started off getting some plate samples. Its hard to put new food on old plates. These, for instance, are well past their usefulness and are badly scratched and tarnished. Reminds me of Greek diner plates you'd see at your local greasy spoon, not those of an up-and-coming gastro pub.

The food? Well, I wrote the menu based on what I know is seasonal, as I always love to do. The farmers I use are ready and willing to deliver upon my request. Gonna be awesome!

Stay tuned for pictures and other info! Meanwhile, here's a teaser of whats to come:

  • Bacon and Pimento Cheese Dip - with Irish soda bread crisps
  • Arancini (fried risotto balls) - Cheese and bacon filled risotto balls, breaded and deep fried, served with pesto ranch and lemon jam
  • Poutine - Hand-cut fries topped with melted “Ashe County” cheese curd, diced Irish Bangers and house-made brown sauce (a Canadian classic with an Irish twist)
  • Charcuterie Plate – Locally produced cheeses sausages and pates served with an array of condiments and toppers, a perfect platter for snacking
  • Lobster and Shrimp Cheese Baked Penne - Penne pasta with three kinds of cheese and chunks of shrimp and Maine lobster simmered to order and...
  • Oreo Cheesecake – Made in-house, best in town!
  • Irish “McN’Cheese” - Buttery Irish cheddar and Guinness cheese sauce, chunks of crispy fried local potatoes tossed together with...
More to come!!!!

Music City Challenge K1 Competition

Back home after yet another competition and another medal. I didn't get the medal I hoped for, but had a great time and, most importantly, learned a lot. I did get fourth overall in points, which is nice, lol.

This one was in Nashville, TN, just about 7 hours from home down I-40. After working an 11 hour day the day we left, it was an above average long trip, to say the least.

Our visit/ hangout sessions

We arrived to our hotel around 2:00 am local time and slept like rocks for a few hours. My wife and I wanted to enjoy a day together in Nashville before the competition that next morning at 7:45 am. What a nice town! They recently had a huge flood a few weeks back. A few of the tourist attractions were still closed after all these weeks later. The Grand Ol' Opry hadn't been re-opened yet and a huge mall was still under water in some areas, apparently, and may never re-open. Was sad.

But, that didn't stop us from have a great time and finding a couple cool things to do. We started our morning off by grabbing some breakfast. We were told by a few locals that "The Pancake Pantry" was the place to be. We, literally, stood in line for an hour for a table. They offered hot coffee while we waited and everyone there was courteous. After, finally, sitting down, we were quickly looked after with more hot coffee and menus. Of course, we had to have pancakes! They were light and fluffy and just perfect. We indulged in some of the usual breakfast fare to include sausages, eggs and toast. Me, well, I had to have the "Grill Medley" of perfectly cooked hash-browns smothered in thin strips of ham, peppers, onions, two kinds of cheese and two fried eggs, lol, topped with a blob of picante sauce, which is a pretty popular food topper in that area.

The dining room was this cavernous place with the typical smells and sounds you'd expect from a place turning tables every 20 minutes. I've never seen so much whipped butter before in my life! This one woman's job was to scrape a big spatula full of this stuff on the edges of everyone's plates before they went to the tables. My kinda place, lol.

After rolling out of there, we waddled across the street to an eclectic old book store where I found a REALLY old copy of Larousse Gastronomique. For those of you that don't know, its one of the leading encyclopedias on French Cooking. Pretty great find!

Off we went further down town to Centennial Park where we strolled around an art fare, which was amazing. Checked out the Parthenon and the little ponds and sitting areas the park had to offer. What an amazing place to hang out. We even saw this dog being pushed around by this old woman, too cute! The weather was perfect in every way too. Was a great day to be alive. Especially for later that evening when we went to dinner!

On our way to a local cigar shop, we stumbled upon a donut shop that sold the best day-old donuts we ever had, lol. Well, they probably weren't "Day Old" but we caught them at the tail end of a long day, they may have just been left over from the morning, who knows, but they were still yummy.

I enjoyed one of my favorite pass times and had the new "Gordo" by CAO. A behemoth 60+ ring, 6.6 inch long beast of a cigar at "Uptown's Cigar Shop". It was almost too much for me, lol, but just amazing. Now time for dinner:

As with most places we visit, if you want to know about the local restaurant scene and what's good, most of the time the local cigar shops tend to send us in the right direction. I mean, its their job to sit on their asses, smoke cigars, watch football and eat out a lot, right? SO, what better people to ask than that? :) They sent us to a place called "Table 3" up the road a bit. This place offers "French Comfort Food" and try to use as many local products as they can, according to a server that greeted us at the door. (I ain't buying it, lol, but whatever).

This place, apparently, just reopened a few short weeks before to this new concept. Unfortunately, I was so hungry and ate so fast, I didn't click any pictures. :(

We started off with an amazing french onion soup. The base was this unctuous veal stock with piles of deeply caramelized onions topped with gooey, stringy cheeses and a crostini, perfect. We split the charcuterie plate that had 3 types of house made pates, pickled veggies and mustard's strewn about on this huge square plate. Sadly, the grilled artisan bread was stale. After asking our server for more, "fresh" crostini, she apologized and brought us yet MORE of the same stale bread. Kinda sucked and made this otherwise perfect noshing situation a little but annoying.

Anyway, moving on...I had the perfect steak tartare topped with a bright golden farm egg yolk (accompanied by yet more stale crostini to spread it over!) and then the main course. My wife enjoyed a hand-formed house-ground burger with house-cut frites, me, well, I gorged myself on the perfect salmon fillet. I asked for it medium rare and it was perfect. Served over a bed of beluga lentils and a roasted tomato hollandaise sauce, yeah, it tasted as good as it sounds.

Dessert? There was no room man, sorry. BUT!! There was a Starbucks and we had a bag of semi-stale donuts from earlier that day. We grabbed a couple hot teas and headed back to our hotel room where we enjoyed a donut and some tea before crashing to bed like a couple of old people at 9:30 pm, lol. I had to get up at 5:30 that next morning so I could listen to a bunch of overly self important Chef/ Judges tell me how much they know about what they know.

The Competition

I've been awake for 10 minutes when the alarm clock went off. I was really excited to get started. We showered and ate a nutritious continental breakfast of stale cereal and cocaine-laced rocket fuel coffee. My wife made a fool of herself trying to make a Belgian waffle, poor thing. We had a good laugh and were off. She was my groupie for the day, taking pictures and cheering me on in her mind.

We arrived an hour early, unpacked my wares and looked on while my fellow competitors jammed out some incredible food. From "Chicken Bacon" to "Maque Choux", there was some amazing stuff going on.

For those of you that dont know, the category I entered was the "K1" which is defined as:

K-1—Rock Cornish Game Hen, Chicken or Duck
Fabricate and cook a 1-1½ lb Rock Cornish game hen, a 2-2½ lb chicken or a 5-6 lb duck,
using the whole or part of the bird.

At 7:45, I began to setup my station and by 8:00 a.m., I was rocking. My dinner item was:

Sous Vide Duck Breast over Local Greens Fricassee topped with Autumnal Crisps

I had my ducks in a row (no pun intended, lol), worked clean, tidy and organized. Got the sous vide machine fired up to 140.9F and cooked the duck for 25 minutes. Let them rest for 10 minutes, seared them to render out the duck skin, making it crisp and yummy. Thinly sliced butternut squash, beets and turnips on my Japanese mandolin, deep fried and salted them, set them aside. I chopped my arugula and mustard greens, sweat some shallots and garlic, caramelized some torn oyster mushrooms, deglazed with white wine, added some cream, reduced it, seasoned it and wilted my greens into this delicious reduction.

Clean, hot plates of course. I was to do 4 plates of this course. One plate for display and 3 for the judges. Laid down my fricassee while my duck rested off the pan, sliced it thin on a bias, placed it gently over that and topped with my crisps, easy peasy! At the last minute, I sprinkled some local red chilis on everything, judges didn't care for that much. It seemed like a good idea at the time, lol. I drizzled some extra virgin olive oil over it for color as well.

So, after it was all said and done, the judges spoke their verdicts. They loved most of everything but nit-picked like mother hens. Most of us over produced, they couldn't figure out why I sous vide my duck, they bitched about the chili strands but liked my dish overall. Flavor was great and my duck was perfectly cooked (because of the sous vide machine, most likely). One of the judges even said I took advantage of the rules by using sous vide. Douche. I followed the rules to the letter, give me a break.

As I've said before in past blogs, the judges, although are great competitors and have an eye for detail, most of them hadn't stepped foot in a real kitchen in years, kills me some of the shit they complain about. You do one thing that a judge hates, being sure not to do it again next time, then during the next competition, the next judge suggests I try (enter complaint from previous judge here). So, one never knows what to expect.

I just compete for myself. Sure, the medals are nice, bragging rights at best, but the competitions make me a better chef. They keep me on my toes and break up the mundane and boring things we have to do every day for 80 hours a week. We also get to meet some great people who kill themselves for this fine business just like I do.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 06, 2010

My experience with the new Polyscience Sous Vide Professional Immersion Circulator from Williams Sanoma

As you may already know, I've had an ongoing relationship with Williams Sanoma. They've had me teach a few cooking and equipment demos in the past and its been a blast!

Recently, they asked me to demo their new Polyscience Sous Vide Professional Immersion Circulator for the home cook. I will be teaching a class geared towards chefs and restaurant owners alike. Before the class begins, I get to play with it for a few days and its just amazing!

So far we've done chicken breast "Greek-style". Simply cryo-vac'd with a little EVOO, kalamata olives, feta cheese and pepperoncini peppers.

I did duck confit, which I eventually stuffed into a ravioli with ricotta, Parmesan and goats cheeses, yum. It took about 8 hours but it was well worth the wait.

A friend and fellow chef did 48 hour braised beef short ribs which were insane inside a house-made corn tortilla topped with a fiery salsa and lime.

Salmon, with a short 20 minute simmer, was just perfect. Tender, juicy and full of flavor.

I even took that bad boy to a competition in Nashville, TN where I did duck breast marinated in olive oil, fresh herbs and orange zest. After crisping that skin up, it was the best duck breast Ive ever noshed!

It's just great machine. If you are a home cook that just loves to cook sous vide, than this is for you! If you are a professional chef and want to save over 400 bucks on an immersion circulator, this is a MUST HAVE!!!

Check out their site for more info and go get one :)