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.

CPCC Culinary Arts Spotlight...

A wise man once said, "Everyone gets their five minutes of fame", lol, well, today I discovered 1:23 seconds of that fame at the web site of the culinary school I graduated from, Central Piedmont Community College.

They came to my my current place of employment and filmed me for about 20 minutes and aired just over 1 minute of that. Very strange to see oneself on TV.

Who knows, maybe this is my way in to my own cooking show or just a blip in my bad-ass career :) Time will tell.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Home-arama 2010

This week, I had the pleasure of participating in the Charlotte HomeArama at The Preserve at Robbins Park, in Cornelius, North Carolina. It was basically a huge open house for homes worth over half a million bucks and an excuse to showcase everything home-related you could think of. From interior design to counter tops to pools, it was there, waiting for you to drool over like a juicy cheeseburger.

There were five styles chosen and five chefs (well, three chefs and two line cooks, to be perfectly honest) were asked to cook in each of the amazingly state-of-the-art kitchens. From 11:00 to 2:00, we were asked to showcase our talents and feed the 300+ passers by that paid the ticket price to join us.

My dish consisted of a local/ seasonal dish of a trinity of ravioli; Fresh thyme pasta filled with wild mushrooms and ricotta, carrot tomato pasta filled with duck confit and spinach pasta filled with spinach and cheese. Each of the three mini hand-made raviolis (900 to be exact!) were placed on a small puddle of butternut squash soup (you know, the award winner I posted about a few blogs back?) and topped with toasted butternut squash seeds, local micro greens and a really nice extra virgin olive oil. Very clean, colorful and autumnal. I, and everyone who ate it, was impressed and loved every bite of it.

My buddy in the house near me made his own blue corn tortillas and stuffed them with the peoples choice of beef, fish or chicken and topped them each with a slew of condiments, pretty delicious. So good, in fact, I was pretty concerned that his would win the little contest we were all trying to overcome. There was a gas grill on the line for the chef that had the most votes for "Best Dish". As far as everyone could tell, I was a show-in.

I spent the previous three days preparing for this "event". Hand-rolling 900 mini raviolis and pureeing 5 gallons of butternut squash soup. Unfortunately, that doesn't just happen in an afternoon. Especially when you're the chef for a busy caterer and restaurant.

Unfortunately, at the end of it all, the winning dish was not mine. The chef that won was a super nice guy, but his scallop was WAAYYY over cooked, which really annoyed me to lose to that sort of cooking 101 stuff.

But, at the end of it all I had a great time. I bumped into a couple folks from a private catering I did a few months ago and got to support a couple local farmers, all was good in the end.

We chalked the winning dish up to politics and since I know a few influential people read this blog, I'll leave it at that.

Anyway, at least the chef was a nice guy, would have made it that much worse if he was a dick, lol.

More pics to come, but check these out: