10.10.2015 beer me.

Beer is big business and business is booming.  In 2014 the total beer market exceeded $100 billion and of that nearly $20 billion was from craft beer alone.  The majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a craft brewer.  In the state of Maryland, there are 40 breweries, a number that has almost doubled since 2011.  Maryland breweries produce well over 200 thousand barrels per year and the economic impact topped 600 million in 2014. 

Over the years my palate has matured and I have learned to appreciate quality over quantity.  I enjoy trying new beers and really enjoy when local craft brewers tackle traditional brew and nail it.  Union Anthem comes to mind.  At the beginning, the west coast brewers dominated the scene and their IPA's were off the charts.  The folks at Anchor brewing and Sierra Nevada brought back dry hopping and really launched the American Craft Beer Renaissance.

Today, many craft brewers are collaborating instead of fighting.  When two rivals can come together and produce a special brew people take notice.  But sometimes its not only two brewers who can collaborate on a beer that can benefit both parties. 

Jailbreak Brewing is a relatively new company out of Laurel, MD.  They came knocking at the Waterfront Hotel a little over a year ago.  They sold us on their beer and their vision instantly and oddly enough our bar manager hails from the same small Pennsylvanian town as the CEO. 

That connection and our mutual love for craft beer helped launch us intoa new relationship.  When Jailbreak asked us if we'd like to collaborate on a beer, I jumped at the chance.  I started mulling over different styles that I enjoyed and what would compliment our food.  Not long into my pondering I started focusing on a friend of mine who is a home brewer and a particular Black IPA of his that I tried years earlier.   Once I settled on the style I started thinking about how we could make it a little different so that it stood out and really paired well with my menu and the atmosphere at the Waterfront.  Since we sell a lot of burgers and we smoke a lot of BBQ in house what better way to stand out than to have a Black IPA with ancho peppers to give it some smokiness? 

When I emailed Jailbreak to tell them my idea for a beer they told me that they had just finished a pilot batch for a Smoked Black IPA as a possible new beer.  I couldn't believe it, what are the chances?  The first batch was to heavy on the smoke and they brought us down to the brewery to try the second batch and we both agreed that it needed more smoke.  After three test batches everyone was satisfied with the flavor profile and Smoke On The Waterfront was born.  To be honest, we had it easy.  The crew at Jailbreak did all the heavy lifting on this and we just sat back, threw out some ideas and drank some beer.  We launched it at the restaurant during Baltimore Beer Week 2015 and got some great feedback.  We are hoping that after the first run of about 30 kegs the demand will be high enough to keep it on tap year round.  This run should get us through the end of the year and is only available at the Waterfront Hotel and Jailbreak Brewing Taproom.  Regardless of if we can keep it going, what a cool opportunity to have.  Cheers.

 

 

6.26.2015 marrying a chef is bad?

I am getting married this summer, and I am a chef.  There, I said it.  I recently came across an article on Huffington Post titled "so you think you want to marry a chef."  I was obviously intrigued.  I though to myself, "I will send this to my fiance and it should be a fun conversation afterward."  Needless to say, I was a little turned off post reading.  Only one thing came to mind after learning  how awful it is for that individual...these are all choices.  

I have been a chef for over ten years and in "the business" nearly 25.  I always said that restaurant folks are a strange breed of people.  And I stick by that characterization.  We are a bunch of weirdo misfits who reject the "normal" way of life.  We work hard and usually play much much harder.  But, only the ones who can find the balance can be the most successful.  If you can't, you'll  burn out, and you'll burn out fast.  I have seen it and it's sad and sometimes tragic.  But, perhaps  our most important trait is that we are passionate.  We take great pride in making other peoples lives better, even if just for a moment.  Parts of the article were true, like the long hours, weekends and holidays.  And, I did agree that most of our lives are not glamorous.  However much of the authors complaints were about the choices that her and her spouse have made.

For example, having to much equipment and cookbooks in the house.  Come on, this is an easy fix.  Not providing your spouse with recipes or even cooking some meals ahead of time if you know you will be working late on weekends is just cold man.  I cook 5-6 nights a week at home. And when I do, I make extra so she can take it to work the next day for lunch.   I'll be honest, sometimes I just can't do it.  I have been known to just refuse to cook.  Then either my fiance will whip up a salad and a pasta dish or we go out.  Together.  

I think it does a disservice to chefs writing an article warning others about marrying or even dating a chef.   I did some more research.  I googled "marrying a chef" and was shocked by what I found. Most of the articles were warnings about getting involved with a chef.  Where are the articles about getting involved with opinionated, clingy, self-centered, whiny people.  If you don't like something in your life, only you have the ability to change it.  Be the change.  Or have the conversation with your loved one about how to make life work for you both.  As I am sure your chef spouse knows, communication is the most important part of a happy kitchen, and a happy life.   

I will admit that I am lucky to have a chef position where I only work about 50 hours a week.  But I busted my ass to achieve that.  There is an unfortunate machismo in the chef world about long hours.  My first big restaurant job I had 82 hours of overtime on my first check.  OVERTIME.  I thought that was badass and it gained me instant respect. And there were a lot of hours unaccounted for because we would be asked to punch out and work a few hours off the clock and be paid in beer or food.  Today, I would never ask an employee to work that much.  I sometimes insist that people take a day off or go home early. And I work for them if they need a day off.   It's about quality of life.  That is rare. (pun intended)  But over the years I have learned that it is ok to go home.  Hire good people who you trust and everything will be fine.  The choice is yours.  

-sjc-

 

 

 

 

 

3.20.2015 so, it turns out I actually LIKE salmon

I don't have many food dislikes.  Even as a child, I had a progressive palate.  The list has always been the same: hearts of palm, tripe, Ethiopian bread (Injera) and salmon.  There are a few that I am not fond of, canned black olives being one, but even fewer that I refused to eat ever again.  Salmon was one of the latter.  As I ventured further into the culinary industry,  I came to narrow that down to Atlantic salmon, specifically.  Wild Pacific Salmon is, in my opinion, on a completely different level than Atlantic salmon.  Most would agree, I'm sure.   I am also sure that it has something to do with the farming vs. wild aspect of it but that is a different topic all together.  Regardless,  I never ate it.  I cooked it a lot, probably tons over my career, but never ate it.  On rare occasions I would give it a taste, but that's the extent of our relationship.   I just accepted the fact that some things weren't meant to be.  

Decades passed.  Then, just recently, I sat down to a tasting for my wedding reception.  The chef prepared an oven poached salmon roulade.  It looked lovely, but I just put my head down and looked onto one of the other upcoming courses.  "This one's not for me," I said to myself.  He went onto explain how he prefers to  cook salmon more gently than most chefs because hard searing and grilling tend to enhance that "fishy" taste that so many, including myself, have attributed to salmon.  My head shot up. What's this?  Could this be true?  I tasted it.  It was...good.  It was better than good.  He nailed it.  

After the fanfare died down, I started to play with it more at home and at work.  I am sticking to steaming, braising, poaching, etc...  It's true.  I like salmon.  I have been trying to research why this is the case.  I have read several scientific studies that touch on the chemical components of this conundrum.  All of them agree that the chemical Trimethylamine N-oxide
begins to breakdown at the moment the fish is killed.  The result is Trimethylamine.  Trimethylamine is what we smell that is "fishy."  The most important factor to remember is to buy fresh fish from a trusted source.  The second is all in the preparation.  

We refrigerate our food to prevent spoilage.  We all know this.  We also know that no matter how cold our refrigerators are the food in it will eventually perish.  For seafood, we keep it on ice  as cold as possible, to prevent spoilage.  So, if icing the fish slows the chemical reaction that causes that "fishy" smell, is it safe to assume that intense heat speeds up this process?

I haven't been able to find any studies that focus on this specifically.  It certainly sounds logical.  If anyone finds anything related to this topic I'd love to hear about it.  I would think Alton Brown would have delved into this topic by now.  Until then, break out your bamboo steamers or try your hand at a court-boullion and eat some salmon damn it!

-s-

 

1.15.2015.celebrity chefs and supermodels.

Lucky for me, I came of age at the height of the supermodel era.  I'm talking about cindy crawford, christy turlington, naomi cambell, and christy brinkley to name a few.  Bombshells.  These statuesque female specimens graced many a magazine and catalog that I was fortunate enough to find lying around the house as a young man.  They paved the way for current models to have their own tv shows, blogs, and movie rolls.  Although beautiful, and incredibly compensated, today's models are not, in any ways, super.

Which brings me to a term which really grinds my gears...celebrity chef.  Wow, really?  If I compete on a cooking game show (yes, they are game shows) and do well, I earn the label of 'celebrity?'  And, some "celebrity chefs" didn't even do that much.  OK, a few are legit and just have a desire to show off, prove a point, or promote themselves.  But a lot of them are merely personalities with a staff of cooking professionals behind the scenes doing the real work.  Once again, this has not always been the case.

Around the same time that I met Cindy and Co., I also became aware of Emeril, Yan, Ming, Jacques and Julia.  Just, in a much different way.  Their shows, along with others, and the beautiful Great Chefs series on PBS, cemented my future in the culinary world.  They not only entertained, they educated!  They were teaching people (me especially) not only how to cook, but introducing us to new ingredients, equipment and technique.  I was mezmerized.  I would watch Great Chefs everyday after school.  What I loved about Great Chefs, is that there was no glitz or glamour.  It was a chef, his signature dish and a narrator.  That's it.  Most of the time they wouldn't even speak or it was in another language.   There was no secret ingredient, no challenge, no judges.  Just amazing cooking.  (The original Iron Chef was an exception)

When I finally got to culinary school the Food Network was just blowing up.  My first instructor told us to look around at each other.  He said that 2/3 of us would never become chefs, and that the Food Network was misleading many young people into thinking that they would.  Most of us thought, "jeez, somebody is bitter."  But he was right.  No longer are chefs rising through the ranks of the kitchen brigade.  They want to be chefs as soon as they finish school, a lot of times without any practical experience.  The Food Network has gone the way of MTV, chasing profits.  Making money is important, but at what cost?  Sure it's entertaining to some, but that's all it is, entertainment.  

I went to merriam-webster to define 'celebrity' and the definition was: the state of being famous; a person who is famous.  I also asked looked at the definition of 'chef', and it was: a professional cook who is usually in charge of a kitchen in a restaurant.  So what does that mean?  It means that although there are chefs that grace the television screen most of them are merely celebrities.

So let's pay homage to the pioneers of the industry, to the chefs who are virtually unknown in today's mainstream.  Here is a new definition:

Ce-leb-ri-ty Chef- noun:  a professional cook who works in, or has worked in, and manages a kitchen, usually in a restaurant, and is famous for doing so  Ex.- Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, Ferran Adria, Joel Rubuchon,Jacques Pepin, Wolfgang Puck, Charlie Trotter, Emeril Lagasse, Daniel Boulud, Tom Colicchio, Jean-Georges, Michel Richard, John Shields, to name a few.  And of course, the originals, Escofier and Carême.

There are a ton of great professional chefs out there that don't get the credit they deserve outside of their field.  They are the real deal.  The fact that these yahoos on tv are credited with being chefs is disrespectful to those of us who quietly shed blood, sweat, and tears to make good food for you.  Here is my advice to young people who aspire to become chefs: start as a dishwasher and take it easy on the 'C' word.

 -sjc-

 

8.9.2014 the boy who cried allergy

According to foodallergy.org, up to 15 million Americans have a food allergy and they have increased 50% among children between 1997 and 2011.  That's an alarming trend.  An even more alarming trend is that researchers have no reason as to why food allergies are on the rise.

As a chef, I come across guests with food allergies at least once a day.  It's important to work with them carefully in order to prevent any possible cross contamination.  Sometimes it's as plain and simple as "I'm allergic to peanuts" and other times guests come in with laminated cards containing a list of foods that could potentially kill them.  It can be frustrating at times but not as frustrating as it is for the allergy sufferer.

Another dangerous trend on the rise is when guests inform their server that they have a food allergy when all along they just don't care for a particular ingredient.  I take allergies seriously, so when I'm told someone has a specific food allergy I stop what I am doing and double check recipes and ingredients to be sure that no accidents happen.  When I find out that this person has just wasted my time, the restaurants money and the servers time, I get pissed off.  Here are a few examples:

  • Just today a guest ordered a waffle for their toddler and asked if the syrup was on the side.  When the waffle arrived, they poured syrup on the waffle THEN asked if it was real maple syrup.  They asked the server for a new waffle stating that their son was allergic to corn syrup.  No problem.  However, the child was drinking a soft drink.
  • Not too long ago a guest was ordering brunch and was inquiring about the ingredients because they had a wheat allergy.  We made the order and sent it with no toast, obviously.  The server returned saying that the guest said "i have a wheat allergy, but whole wheat is OK."
  • Another common occurrence is when guests order food, receive their food, then inform their server that they have an allergy
  • Or, when a guest has a very specific food allergy then they order the only item on the menu that contains that ingredient.

As I type I can't help but think about an interesting book by Sam Harris entitled "Lying."  In the book the author talks about how a dangerous weave of lies can wreck havoc in ones life.  The more one continues to lie the more they have to keep track of and it eventually undermines their integrity.  Harris also warns about what lying can do to relationships.  When a friend or family member witnesses someone tell a lie, that person can't help but wonder what else they lie about or if they lie to them as well.

What worries me about people exaggerating about their allergies is that it creates the potential for accidents.  I can see a chef or cook somewhere getting frustrated having to deal with false allergies and assuming that all are false.  The result could be deadly.  Why not just be honest?   Will you go into anaphylactic shock if you have dairy?  Or will you just be gassy?  Please, don't use a medical disorder as an excuse when their are people suffering with real, potentially deadly, allergies.  Just order something else.

 

7.3.2014 communication breakdown

The one thing that I stress in my kitchen, the most important aspect of service, is talk.  Talkity, talk, talk, talk.  Proper communication is crucial in a commercial kitchen.  It's also a daily struggle.  I have to constantly remind the staff how important it is for our success. 

When someone gets stressed and really busy there is a tendency to shut down verbally in order to focus.  But that is the opposite of whats needed in a busy kitchen.  If I have a cook with a grill full of meat I don't want the salad cook to fire his chopped salad or fried green tomatoes until the last possible minute.  And these guys wouldn't even know to cook that food unless I called out the checks to them.

But it goes further than that.  Safety is very important in a volatile workplace.  We work with knives, fire and boiling liquids.  Communication becomes a matter of life and serious injury.  When two guys are carrying a 10 gallon pot of 200 degree ketchup, they better be telling those around them they are "behind" or "coming hot!"  Anyone who comes in the kitchen and especially on the hot line better be ready to talk. 

We have to talk to the Front Of the House occasionally too.  Sometimes more than we'd like but nonetheless it can be very important.  If I need to 86 an item, I need to let my food runners know and it then becomes their responsibility to communicate that to the rest of the FOH staff.  If that line breaks down then there is a possibility of selling an item that we don't have and maybe some awkward service, an upset customer and then a bad tip. 

As time has passed with the inevitable ups and downs of life, and lessons learned, I have realized something that was in front of my face for years:  communication is the most important part of any relationship.  Think about it.  Whether it's with a co-worker, spouse, brother, sister, parent, child, teacher, student, police officer, waitress, mechanic, family member, your pet;  it doesn't matter.  If you don't communicate properly, signals are going to get crossed and the end result won't be good for anyone involved. 

As with anything in life, it takes work.  And every person/situation requires its own individual touches.  It's important to be calm and respectful and most of all, listen.  Because that's the most over looked part of communication.

 

"That which we are capable of feeling, we are capable of saying." - Cervantes

 

6.4.2014 brody can you hear me?

Homeland is one of the most thought provoking television shows that I can think of, if not the most thought provoking.  The recent news of the captured American soldier being returned home after five years captivity instantly made me think of the show's now deceased character, Brody.  Now I know that this is incredibly far fetched, but that's how good the show is.

I have no idea of the trauma war can inflict on a person, physically or psychologically.  I can not assume anything about why Sgt. Bergdahl abandoned his post.  But that doesn't stop the media or members of congress from suggesting all sorts of scenarios.  There are thousands of young soldiers suffering from PTSD after returning home, what makes us think that it couldn't or doesn't start while still on an active assignment? 

I know this may sound crazy, but how about we wait until this young man has seen a doctor, been given a hot meal, seen his family and has been debriefed by his superiors before we jump to conclusions about how or what happened.  This may put a damper on Fox New's scheduling, but it would be the smart and responsible way to approach this situation. 

That's another thing.  His family.  I couldn't imagine what the last five years have been like for the Bergdahl's.  Before they could put their arms around their son, they have to listen to hack journalists defecate on his character and ridicule Mr. Bergdahl's facial hair.  Give me a break. 

But, who knows...maybe the Taliban watch Homeland and have a wild trick up their sleeve.

5.14.2014 and the cow goes moo

There is a small farm on the edge of the neighborhood where I grew up in Harford County.  The same farmer has been there for well over 30 years.  Elmer is probably in his eighties by now.  He raises cattle and also has fields for hay and corn.  The farm usually has 20-30 head of cattle at any given time.  He grew soy beans last year for the first time that I remember.  (Growing soy every few years is a good way to enrich the soil with nitrogen, an essential nutrient for corn which cannot absorb nitrogen from the air.)  I am assuming that he will be planting corn again this year. 

His farm is essentially self sufficient.  He raises cattle.  He grows food for that cattle.  And also breeds his cattle to replace the ones he takes to market.  Its a beautiful circle.  It took me 30+ years to appreciate what he does for a living and what he does for us.

When I was a kid growing up near that farm, I never gave it much thought.  We used to fish in his pond once in a while.  Since it took so much courage to ask the old curmudgeon for permission, it didn't happen very often.  We would cut through his fields to take shortcuts and that would really set him off.  Looking back I feel bad about having just thought of him as a grumpy old farmer.  Especially since today I envy him.

Nowadays farming is a hot topic.  In a world where big business has merged with agriculture there has been a push for people to use products from smaller local farms.  This is beneficial in many ways.  Not only does it cut down on emissions from shipping, it also supports local farmers, their families and your community.   And by purchasing grass fed beef (like Elmer's) you are supporting a farming practice that could reduce harmful greenhouse gasses.

Cows are supposed to eat grass.  They're grazers, that's what their bodies have evolved to do.  Walk around and eat grass.  Their unable to properly digest corn and soybeans which makes up a large amount of the diet on large scale industrial farms.  They stand around on feed lots bare of vegetation and are so crowded that they usually need antibiotics to combat the unhealthy living conditions.  The marbling in the fat that has become so prized is actually a sign of an unhealthy animal.  This is especially troubling because of what I do for a living.

I don't see Elmer very often.  But I do see his cattle every time I go and visit my family.  His farm still looks exactly the same.  A couple of small ponds and a nice wooded area for the cattle to get some shade.  I hope that he has someone in training to take over his operation.  I'd probably break down in tears if one day I saw new cookie cutter homes being built on that beautiful sustainable farm that I once took for granted.

-s-

 

5.5.2014 another false holiday

Cinco de Mayo.  The fifth of May.  Leave it to Americans to take an international holiday, totally misrepresent it, and make it our own.  It must be the capitalism or the fact that we don't take as much holiday (vacation) as some other industrialized countries.  But we have a knack for finding an excuse to let loose and sell more product (mainly alcohol)  and call it a holiday.

Although Cinco de Mayo is a national holiday in Mexico, it's a very localized one.  The day celebrates The Battle of Puebla so most of the large fiestas and parades are held in the city and state of Puebla.   Many of the people that I know that are from Mexico don't even give it any thought.  When I first heard about that, I was a little surprised given the fact that the day is widely known in America.  But after some thought and some research, I realized that it was just another bastardized holiday.  Many Americans believe that it is Mexican Independence Day but that's actually September 16.

I don't know how this happens.  Do people sit around a table and just decide to promote this day and that?  Is it the alcohol industry?  Because like St. Patricks day, cinco de mayo has become an excuse to exploit and binge drink.  

 I'm all for a celebration but if we are borrowing from another culture shouldn't we get it right?

4.29.2014 driving 101

The past few days it's been raining like crazy and that always brings out the best driving skills in people.  Am I right?  In general I've noticed that the driving skills seem to be getting worse.  Maybe its because that I have a longer commute now and more time sharing the road with these yahoos.  Or maybe there are more cars on the road causing more chances for accidents.  I think it may be the fact that we are taught what a sign reads, how to parallel park and are then given the keys to a 1 ton chunk of metal and permission to drive it 70mph.  Whatever the reason, something needs to be done and it just so happens that I have a few ideas:

1) Real world training like high speed merging, maneuvering a busy parking lot and city rush hour driving.

2) No one gets a license before age 18 and after age 75

3) Re-training every 5 years

4) You have to be cleared to drive large suv's and trucks

5) Truckers need their own private lanes

6) City bus drivers can be fired by citizens complaints

7) Cab drivers need to tell us who they are talking to all the time

8) Cities and states need billboards advertising the local laws.  I mean how long have you been required to use headlights when using wipers in Maryland?

9) Texting and cell phone use while driving should be technologically impossible.  Someone figure out how to shut that down.

10) LEARN HOW TO YIELD

11) Why is the DMV the worst place on Earth?  If we start our driving career in a miserable place with miserable people can we be blamed for being miserable drivers?

The answer is yes.  But still, put some plants in there, paint it a nice color, play some good tunes.  Those three things would probably save peoples lives, literally.  And who's in charge of programing the lights?  If I leave a stop light and drive one block to another red light HOW DOES THAT MAKE ANY SENSE?  All of this will be moot as soon as google gets their cars on the road.  And I for one can't wait.  Computers don't sneeze, talk on the phone, put on make-up, drink, read the paper, text, or get distracted by any other nonsense.  They see 360 degrees and can react in a split second.  That's one piece of technology that I am looking forward to seeing.  I think people would live longer without the constant stress of driving.  Chill out everyone AND OUT OF MY WAY!

-s-

4.25.2014 a flat tire and 5 hours later...

I got a flat tire the other day, no big deal.  These things happen and I can take care of it in 10-15 minutes.  Normally.  When I checked the spare I remembered that I had a locking lug nut.  I went to the center console where I would naturally put the key.  Nope.  Maybe I moved it to my under seat safe when I took the top off.  Wrong again.  Why would I ever remove it from my car?  

Long story short, I was able to get the tire changed by breaking the lock, using two jacks and traveling to three different corners of Baltimore City during rush hour.  But I knew what to do and got it done.   That's because of what I've learned from my father, other elders and some I've picked up along the way.  Even though I can fix and build stuff, I have a desire to know much more.

Which gets me to my point.  We don't know how to do anything anymore.  As a society, we are becoming more and more removed from reality.  Would it be a bad idea to teach kids in high school how to do basic tasks?  Or college for that matter.  How about personal finance, basic car mechanics, home repairs, or growing food?   Even if they don't use these skills later in life, maybe they will have a better appreciation for those who do.  

As soon as I became a chef, which was not the moment I graduated culinary school by the way, I wished I knew more about appliance repair.  These guys make $100 just to walk in the door.  Over the years I've learned a bit by watching over their shoulders and asking questions.  But, thinking back, why wasn't there a class offered in culinary school that would teach aspiring chefs how to fix equipment?  I know my boss would like that idea.

Go learn a new skill, or better yet, teach one. 

 

image.jpg

ouch!

4.22.2014 everybody knows today is earth day

What to do, what to do.  Our planet is in serious trouble.  Climate change is real.  The sea levels are rising and I'm worried.  I was watching an episode of Vice recently and they were investigating the rapid melting of the ice in Greenland.  The scientist stated that when it all melts, it will cause the oceans to rise by over 20 feet!  And yes, he said when.  There is no stopping this from happening.  It's only a matter of time.  It may be 25, 50 or 100 years, but it will all eventually melt.  That's pretty heavy stuff.

We can all do little things to help slow this trend.  Eating food that we grow ourselves and from local farms is a good place to start.  Today I sowed the seeds that will become my vegetable garden.  Add to that sourcing eggs and chicken from the farm that is on my way to work and that cuts down on co2 emissions caused by delivery trucks coming from California, Florida or Mexico.  Well, what if 50% of the population did that?  That would add up fast.  And what a way to create a sence of community, by starting a garden or crop exchange and host meet and greets to share in each other's bounty.  

Today I also made the switch to renewable energy.  I was able to choose to receive my electrical service from 100% wind power.  With what I know, and that option, how could I not?  It's just one of the many small gestures that we can all make in order to make a difference.  

It's Earth's day after all.  Get out there and get in it!  We are so lucky to have all of the key elements for life and evolution.  Although celebrating this beautiful gift on one day is not enough.  

image.jpg

freshly planted seedlings 

4.19.2014 lets talk about brunch

Chefs hate brunch.  That goes for the majority of the restaurant industry as well.  Why, do we hate brunch?  We'd rather be enjoying brunch than working brunch.  But, it goes deeper than that.

People are most picky about how their breakfast food is prepared, especially eggs.  There are at least 8 popular ways to serve made to order eggs: scrambled, poached, over easy, over medium, over hard, sunny side, omelet, basted.  And there are more variations from there. 

Unless a restaurant is open everyday for breakfast, the brunch menu is totally different than the regular menu.  That means more prep, more ordering, more storage space and more opportunities to miss something. 

As a dishwasher, there is nothing worse than trying to clean plates and silverware caked in dried eggs and syrup.  Nothing.  Except when all the omelet pans and the other pots with dried egg, grits and grease come back to your station.  That's why dishwashers eat better than anyone else in the restaurant.

For food runners, they have the pleasure of dealing with the FOH (front of the house) and the BOH (back of the house).  So they deal with the Chef encouraging them (yelling) to get the food to the table before it gets cold and then the customers needs (complaints) once they get to the table. 

And, what about the gatekeepers?  How do you think a hostess/host feels when a group comes in with no reservation and asks if there is room for 18?  Or, when a 6 top shows up and says that its now going to be 12?  And people are almost always impatient about the whole process. 

There is a dark reason why we hate brunch too.  One that most people don't realize.  Wait for it... A lot of restaurant employees are hungover on Saturday and Sunday morning.  BOOM  Cats out of the bag meow.  (See what I did there?)  After a Friday and Saturday night shift slinging food and drinks nothing tastes finer than a frosty beverage, or six.  Add to that only a few hours of sleep and you get a grumpy staff.  And some of the time, that goes for the customers as well.  And 1 + 1 = F&@K BRUNCH

I learned early on that I belonged in the kitchen and not out dealing with customers.  I just don't have the patience.  "I didn't order this."  "This has cheese in it, I'm allergic to cheese."  "I have a gluten allergy, but the wheat bread is OK."  Seriously?  I couldn't take one second of it.  I would constantly get into shouting matches with people, tell them how much of an idiot they are, and then get fired. 

But I love GOING to brunch.  That's what's so weird.  Knowing what I know, I still enjoy a nice brunch.  And, I'm kind of THAT guy at brunch too.  I'll have a water, coffee, mimosa and a bloody Mary please!  Not so much with the food though.  And, I'm not in a rush.  And, I tip 20-30%.  That's how I justify it to myself.

So the next time you decide to go out for brunch: make a reservation, be polite, be patient, read the menu, have a drink, and tip heavily.

-s-

 

4.17.2014 food trends

As I feed Brussel sprouts into my food processor I can't help to wonder what makes a food trendy.  Haven't Brussel sprouts always been this delicious?  So why, all of a sudden, are they such a hot ingredient?  And they are not alone: kale, pork belly, quinoa; I'm talking to you.  We are certainly in the middle of a food renaissance which coincides with the age of information and technology.  Could those two factors have accelerated food trends?  One would have to think so.   The moment a delicious plate of sautéed Brussel sprouts with house cured bacon lardons hits the table, the patron is able to share that delectable concoction with the world via Twitter, Instagram or any number of social media apps.  In a matter of seconds that dish can be viewed around the entire world.  

So who decides what becomes a food trend?  I think we all do.  But it most certainly begins with chefs, right?  We're the ones who create these animals after all.  We are constantly thinking of ways to reinvent an ingredient, how to use vegetables from another time, underutilized pieces of meat, and ancient grains from foreign lands.  And it ends with the customer.  If they don't like it, then there is no chance of a trend.  We rely on media and our guests to help spread the word.  Today they're one in the same.  

When I develop new recipes the first thing that I ask is "does it taste good?" And second, is my clientele the right target audience.  Is this what people want?  For example, a few years ago I was able to convince my fishmonger to sell me tuna collars.  When you separate the head from the body of a fish, the collar is the small amount leftover behind the gills.  It's popular in Asian cuisine but here they were throwing it away so I got it dirt cheap, win win.  It has a really intense flavor because of where it sits on the body so you have to be mindful of that fact.  Many people would call it "fishy."  I call it "intense."  That being the case, I put it in a brine to keep it moist and to introduce some other flavors.  I smoked it and served it as a taco with a vinegary corn salsa.  It was amazing!  Not only was it a crazy food cost (less than 10%) it was fresh and different.  Instant trend, right?  Well, it only took a few weeks for me to realize that it wasn't going to catch on.  People couldn't understand that this was, in fact, tuna.  Really good tuna!  It was just a different cut and flavor than they were used to.  It was very disappointing, but I learned a valuable lesson.  Even though the taste was there, I didn't have the audience.

So, are trends made by trial and error?  Try and be creative and hope for the best?  The way I see it, it's a combination of many factors.  But you can't stand on the sidelines. 

-s- 

 

 

 

 

4.17.2014 gmo's

I woke up early and decided to dive into GMO's.  Genetically modified organisms are ones that have had their genes modified by a means that wouldn't have occurred naturally.  Typically, to add or remove a trait.  

For example, many corn and soy plants are modified to resist glyphosate, the active ingredient in roundup.  Another example is papaya, most papayas that you see have been modified to resist a particular virus.  Several years ago the papaya market was nearly wiped out due to a deadly virus.  Scientists were able to modify the genes in a way that allows the plant to resist this virus.  Although it "saved" the papaya industry, there have been some negative results.  The European Union doesn't allow the importation of gmo products and therefore that market has been lost.  Also, many papaya trees that have not been modified have cross pollinated with these modified plants and produce fruit with traits of the GMO.  This is a major concern with all GMO crops.

As a chef, I’ve really tried to get as much information as I possibly can on this issue. Personally, I avoid gmo’s as much as possible and do not purchase food containing gmo ingredients for my home. I also have an environmental studies degree, so I try and come at this from several angles.  I am not totally against the possibilities of gmo products being a part of our agriculture, it just has to be for the right reasons.

There are some questions that still need to be addressed. One, is why is an organism being genetically modified? Two, how is it being modified? And three, will this be in anyway harmful to other plants, animals or humans?

Chemical companies, like Monsanto, don’t develop GMO seeds to make the lives of farmers easier. They do it to sell more chemicals, specifically roundup. They modified seeds to be able to resist glyphosate, the main ingredient in their baby, roundup. The adverse effects of glyphosate are too numerous to list here. And, the FDA relies on studies conducted by the very companies that profit off of these gmo products.  I don't want to get into politics this early on, but just Google "Monsanto politicians."   Not to mention the connection between Hilary Clinton, Clarence Thomas and Monsanto.  Anyway, the majority of farmers admit to no greater crop yields and eventually have to deal with super weeds that evolve to resist the roundup treatment. I could go on and on, but I think my point has been made.

GMO's have been in the food supply for about 15-20 years.  In that time, there has been a huge increase in the amount of food allergies and "sensitivities".  That can't be a coincidence.  I haven't always avoided GMO's but that's only because I didn't know about them.  Once I found out and did some research, I decided that I would rather avoid that type of food.  To be honest, I feel better than ever.  I'm no poster child for fitness, but I just FEEL better.  At least I am more attentive to what I eat and that is always a good thing.

We need more intelligent conversations about this issue if we want to come to any beneficial conclusion.  And mandatory labeling for products containing GMO's needs to happen.  The problem with that, I feel, is that they are in everything.  That's why the fight for labeling is so intense.  They are everywhere and unless you eat organic or GMO free, chances are, you eat them everyday.

-s- 

 

4.16.2014

I went to the James Joyce in Harbor East tonight with my beautiful girlfriend and another couple.  To be honest, it wasn't our first choice.  We went by Oliver Speck's, but they were closed for a private function.  I have a bit of a BBQ tooth, so we'll have to check it out later.  I normally wouldn't choose an Irish pub for dinner, but there aren't too many casual spots in Harbor East.  I know the chef and a few former employees work there, so I like the occasional visit.  Plus, Guinness.  So there's that.

I bumped into a few friends from my days as the chef at Maggie Moore's Irish Pub. That was a nice surprise. One guy is now a liquor rep., pretty high up there, and of course he was trying to sell me booze.  He succeeded.  And the other was my former line cook who is now a bus boy at the Joyce and has been for the last five or six years. 

Being a former chef at an Irish Pub, I am a bit picky about "Irish" food, but the Joyce is pretty consistent.  I had a Reuben with a Caesar salad which didn't disappoint.  The rest of the table enjoyed the beef & Guinness Stew, turkey wrap, and a cheeseburger. 

Now, when I made my beef & Guinness stew, I used veal stock and toasted barley. I actually just resurrected it a few weeks ago for St. Patrick's day and it was pretty delicious.  (Side note: Governor O'Malley used to order it religiously when he came to Maggie Moore's)  Anyone who does it differently is just wrong, plain and simple. I mean, Guinness, barley, come on.   I also used local corned beef and made my own sauerkraut, but their Reuben was good none the less.  Working at the pub was my first Executive Chef job so it brings back a lot of memories, especially because the staff of Maggie's and the Joyce were pretty close.  Some memories are better than others. Working across the street from a theater was a nightmare but professionally I learned a lot.

I really can't complain about the meal, but the company and the Guinness were the highlights.  

-s-

4.16.2014

So this is my first blog post.  Not as exciting as I would have hoped, but I suppose that will come in time.  What should you expect?  My main focus will be on food and drink, which is my profession and I guess my expertise.  I've done my share of field research, that's for sure.  I hope to talk about places that I've eaten and the experiences that unfold.  I don't want to post reviews or be a critic.  I just want to share with my friends and family and whoever else stumbles across this website.  I'll do my best to keep it positive. 

I also enjoy growing food, so some posts will be about gardening as well.  I think more people should give it a shot.  I think all humanity will benefit by getting back to the basics and phasing out factory farming, or at least decreasing it somewhat.  Along the food lines, gmo's is a hot topic around my dinner table so you can guarantee that will take up some pages.  I'll touch on that in a bit.

Wood working also keeps me busy so I will probably post some of my crude projects on here.    Nothing major, just a table here and a bench there, etc...

I may even delve into topics like politics, the environment, climate change, the universe but hopefully in a responsible manner.  Basically whatever is on my mind is fair game.

I think everyone at some point wonders what mark will they leave on this weird planet of ours so I guess this is part of mine.  Feel free to leave comments, that's the fun part, right? 

Peace

-s-