Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Food Pilgrims?

I read many articles, follow many blogs and try to keep up with trends in my industry.  Among the many articles and blogs I read are references to “food pilgrims”.   And I began to think … am I a food pilgrim?  Are you?   Let’s see, what precisely is a food pilgrim?  A pilgrim (lat. peregrinus) is one who undertakes a pilgrimage, literally 'far afield'. This is traditionally a visit to a place of some religious or historic significance; often a considerable distance is traveled.  So a food pilgrim is one who seeks out a great/historic/life changing food experience?  Perhaps it is just one who seeks travel destinations based on a cuisine or a particular restaurant or chef.  I think this sounds right.   If you ask Sage, who writes a blog @ foodpilgrimage.com you would get the 7 reasons to be a Food Pilgrim.  She begins her list with “A Life of Passion”.  Now that’s right up my alley.  She explains, “Life is richer when each meal is transformed into the ultimate pursuit of pleasure.”  Go Sage (funny quinki-dink, the etymology of her name), I could not agree more and perhaps this is the best aspect or greatest virtue to being a food pilgrim if in fact I am or should try to be. 

But I cannot say with great conviction that I seek out a far destination solely based on a restaurant, a location that thrives on excellent food or even a particular chef for that matter.  This year Peggy and I went to Old San Juan, Puerto Rice for vacation. We just love architecture and the Spanish culture.  While I love Spanish food, this trip was not solely for this reason.  I wanted the full Spanish-Caribbean experience; the beaches, the people, the music and of course the food.  However, I did research out the best restaurants, most authentic places where locales go to eat prior to leaving on my journey.  I go to Europe every chance I get but I do not seek a destination/city for a particular restaurant.  But I would I guess if I had unlimited resources.  But since so many other things motivate, thrill and bring serious joy and passion to my life, I can usually find many reasons to visit a city. Last time I was in Paris I did the same thing.  But I did not go to Paris simply to eat at a particular café or restaurant.  I went for the whole experience.  Same goes for Vienna, Prague, Sevilla, Lisbon, Roma, Florenza, Amalfi, Porto, Siena, Lucca, Montalpucciano and many other cities I have visited in the past ten years.  It was for the whole experience or sometimes to visit friends.  But I always search out the places I want to eat with great enthusiasm and vigor.  I will spend as much if not more time finding these places, making phone calls, sending emails etc ….than historic sights and historical information!

On the other hand, I will drive to Charleston, some 55 minutes for a great meal at a specific restaurant.  Is this a “far afield”?  I usually make the trip to Charleston because I have a special evening, an anniversary or birthday and thus want to go out of town.  But sometimes it is to see what a Chef is doing that makes headlines.  Like when McCrady’s chef Sean Brock won a James Beard Award, I went up to see what changes had been made to the restaurant and what foods they were doing. So, in a vague sense I maybe a food pilgrim.

Another reason Sage gives for aspiring to be a food pilgrim is #4; Quality over Quantity. She surmises, “Spending more time and more money on better food has the happy byproduct of forcing you to eat in reasonable quantities. Though nearly blasphemy in our “more-is-better” culture, with its “Gonna get ma’ money’s worth” mantra, eating less of a quality food will satiate your senses, and your spirit, not just your thymus and your belly.”   Well, enough said, I am a Food Pilgrim!  I not only have aspirations but a thriving appetite for quality food and I do seek out the best places to eat based on this new mantra!  I have been wanting to make a pilgrimage to Phoenix, Arizona to visit Matt Bianco’s “Pizzeria Bianco”; heralded as the best pizza in America from EVERYONE I respect in our industry. So I guess I could be a food pilgrim.  Would I be willing to travel to Phoenix just for some of Matt’s delicious pie?  Probably not, but if I were near the area and it wasn’t that far a drive ... yes, I probably would go!  Or, what a pilgrimage to a farm to get fresh produce or vegetables .. isn't this a pilgrimage?  I think so.

There is another reason I took notice of this trend.  My Gastro-pub is somewhat of a journey, albeit only 15 minutes from downtown Beaufort, but to many considerably further.  The thought that reached out to me was how important it is to find out from our patrons … did they journey far to be with us?  Are we the kind of place people will consider making a food pilgrimage?  This thought, and question has me hoping to be, and hoping you are also …. Not just a passionate person about food but one who seeks out specials places to enjoy a meal and friends.  Cheers!  

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The New Pub ... modern gastronomy, Classic Environment!

Gastronomy is described as the art and science of good eating.  Also, it can be defined as the study of food and culture, with a particular focus on gourmet cuisine. One who is well versed in gastronomy is called a gastronome, while a gastronomist is one who unites theory and practice in the study of gastronomy.  Well, I am not sure all that but it seems close to the reality that has become the modern gastro-pub across the English Isles and here in America.
 The renewal of old ways now has a newer, more modern twist that is shaping what cooks and chefs are doing.  The current trend toward older recipes (note the book sales of such classics) presented on modern china, with a flare towards simple but beautiful plates is grasping patrons everywhere.  And it is exactly what people want. A casual, cozy place to meet up, chat up and dine with friends over a delicious simple meal offered with an Ale and or select wine!  This seems a direct accent back to the beginning; a public house, informally known as a pub was how all this began.  Later, the public bars gradually improved until sometimes almost the only difference was in the prices, so that customers could choose between economy and exclusivity (or youth and age, or a jukebox or dartboard). During the blurring of the class divisions in the 1960s and 1970s, the distinction between the saloon and the public bar was often seen as archaic, and was frequently abolished, usually by the removal of the dividing wall or partition itself. While the names of saloon and public bar may still be seen on the doors of pubs, the prices (and often the standard of furnishings and decoration) are the same throughout the premises, and many pubs now comprise one large room. In the 1950s some British pubs would offer "a pie and a pint", with hot individual steak and ale pies made easily on the premises by the landlord's wife. In the 1960s and 1970s this developed into the then-fashionable "chicken in a basket", a portion of roast chicken with chips, served on a napkin, in a wicker basket. Quality dropped but variety increased. "Pub grub" expanded to include British food items such as steak and ale pie, shepherd's pie, fish and chips, bangers and mash, Sunday roast, ploughman's lunch, and pasties.
Now here comes the Gastropub of the modern; and everything has changed and I argue so much for the better!  A gastropub concentrates on quality food. The name is a blend of pub and gastronomy and was coined in 1991 when David Eyre and Mike Belben took over The Eagle pub in Clerkenwell, London. The concept of a restaurant in a pub reinvigorated both pub culture and dining though has occasionally attracted criticism for potentially removing the character of traditional pubs.  I disagree, I believe this is a natural progression of our current society to want better and food grown and harvested closer to home … and they ask this of their Pub.  They want to gather with friends, chat up the days and local events. And, they want a good glass of wine or Ale and tasty food that doesn’t make them feel like they need a jacket or nice slacks on and all of this at a fair price!  Is this too much to ask …. I don’t think so and try each day to create this very thing! Cheers.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Peasant Food is Soul Food … Sourced Locally!

Okay, first the serious stuff … many people claim that local food is "elitist," some of the world's great cuisines - Chinese, Italian, country French, Indian - come from people who had the least to work with - peasants. However, few of us are farmers so unlike peasants our livelihood is not directly focused on feeding ourselves. Still, the point is this, the food we consider sometimes to be beneath us, “food for the poor”, is best because it focuses on food sourced at the source ... if that makes sense!  And, more often than could be explained in a blog, it is soul food!  Many, and I mean MANY famous and not so famous chefs are leaving their Michelin 3 Star restaurants to open small, cozy little places where jackets are frowned on but the food is elevated peasant food! 

The “local” angle is explained like this … peasants are small-scale farmers, ranchers, herders, hunters or fishermen and this means that they are close to their food source - they are “Localvores” by necessity. By US standards, peasants appear to be poor and many of us feel sorry for the "meager" lives peasants lead. In fact, peasant culture is rich in traditions passed down through the generations along with recipes for dishes like Cassoulet and Osso Bucco. These classic recipes are typical of peasant cuisine with often translates into hearty one-dish meals that combine "lesser" cuts of meat cooked in a savory broth with seasonal vegetables and some form of bread. Think Beef Bourguignon and a French baguette; Ribolita, which is a Tuscan bread soup, or Huevos Rancheros and you are thinking peasant food.  How about Coq Au Vin … stewed Chicken with Wine and always served with bread!  This is peasant food at its best and if you are lucky enough to know someone who really knows how to prepare this dish you are money!  Each of these dishes reflects a side of our culture that is pure, rooted in common things.  And, the genuine connection between peasant food and soul food becomes obvious!  In words you can simply say … it is any food that makes your heart warm!

Now, the fun stuff and more to the “ranting” point!  You can go out to fine dining establishments all over the world.  Pay a small fortune and have a nice meal.  But isn’t it kinda stuffy?  The freaking opposite of quant?  You go in, order something off the menu and get a child’s portion that costs $40 and usually is out of season!  What the hell is up with that? One thing is certain about peasant food and soul food ... it is always SEASONAL and usually made from what is available.  And all the while you are enjoying Beef stew or Shrimp and Grits you are full of love for life … filled with the laughter that surrounds this kind of dining experience.  No tie’s or jackets required … not waiters telling you what wine to drink with that fish!  And the best part is … it really  is more enjoyable (spoken aloud with a higher pitch voice).  Two of the best restaurants in Paris right now are serving casual “peasant food” with an upscale twist.  And the price asked reflects this … $20 for that same piece of fish, ½ the price of the Coq au Vin at the POSH beat you down the road to the bank high-end establishment.  Do you know what being over charged really means?  Being cheated out of a moment in life!  It isn’t the money, well sometimes it is, but it is the simple fact that you know, deep down in your heart that you could have had just as good a meal, paid less and not felt like you would be scolded for dropping your knife on the floor! Come-on ya’ll, as we say in the South, get off your stupid think you are better arse and get back to just cooking!  I don’t care if you have Michelin 3 stars … I wanna know if you can cook something simple and beautiful, using what you bought at the market today!!!
I believe that soul food and peasant food are intertwined in a relationship of love … they both nurture us with aromas that makes us want family nearer, friends abound and love one’s within hugging and kissing distance!  If you don’t know what I mean then you are missing out …

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Food in History and in literature.


“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.” —Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Throughout our history food has played a vital part of our lives … obviously right?  Hello, we cannot live without nourishment.  Looking into some of the great works in literature I have found many references to food and what I found beautiful was these writers, these artists of word found the same thing that those who truly love to dine find …. Food is the beauty; it is color of life.   

 My point is that we cannot truly LIVE without a love for food.  It is embedded in our culture for so many reasons they cannot be counted.  Thanksgiving, Easter Feast, gatherings of friends and so on.  Even the denial of food is historical … fasting!  We go to dinner to ask our for our love’s heart and future.  We celebrate festivals for whatever and the food is a vital part.  We eat for nourishment certainly, but we dine for pleasure and it is that beauty in food and what comes from time spent in that manner that is important.  And since the time that humans began writing stories they talked about food and what I find really groovy is the way they describe food and eating.  Take this quote from Chaucer ….

Well loved he garleek, oynons, and eek lekes. And for to drinken strong wyn, reed as blood”, Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales. 

I believe we are two people; some of us never figure this out or let it matter and they are unfortunate. The first is one who eats purely to rejuvenate their body; the second nourishes to rejuvenate their lives. Obviously I am of the later mindset.  I do not believe in fast food unless completely necessary.  I do not think we should rush through a meal in 30 minutes and while I sometimes find myself eating quickly in my kitchen it is the meals I enjoy with time that make my life better.  That’s right!  Make my life wonderful, create situations for great conversations, allow us to try things we would not normally try and   now for ourselves what we like and why.  Anyway, just found it ironic that many of our great writers over time have mentioned food in a way that signifies it is more than just a meal or to nourish our bodies.  I do not think you need to be an artist, or "left brained" to enjoy the power of food in our lives.  You just need to slow down, take a moment and realize that the moment you are in, the table setting and the meal before you is a time for rejoicing life, your life and hopefully with those who bring you joy.

How about the healing powers of food?  Do we not symbolize this ...is it not a good gesture to bring a friend a bowl of soup when they are fighting an illness? We give a meal when someone dies; everyone brings something for the wake ... why?  Because food makes thing better, it unites us, brings forth a better time.  And yes, it was written many years ago in great literature and this quote makes that point.

“And Tom brought him chicken soup until he wanted to kill him. The lore has not died out of the world, and you will still find people who believe that soup will cure any hurt or illness and is no bad thing to have for the funeral either.” 
John Steinbeck, East of Eden.

In the end we all have a choice … to dine or to eat!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Great Spanish love story .... Sofrito

Sofrito means "gently fried." The sofrito is a mixture of sautéed ingredients—onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes -that gives depth of  flavor to many dishes in Spanish cooking, from paella to stew, vegetables to pasta. Sofrito is the first step in many recipes. It’s a procedure, a technique and a sauce.

While a sofrito can be prepared in any pan, it's traditionally made in a cazuela, an earthenware casserole. A cazuela takes longer than a metal pan to come up to temperature, but then it maintains a steady, even heat. Ingredients such as chopped onions can be browned on a high heat or they can be "poached" in oil on a low fire until nearly melted.

Often the sofrito serves as a cook-in sauce, added to foods, usually with additional liquid such as wine, to continue cooking until done. In the case of shellfish, this is a matter of minutes, whereas stewing beef or lamb might take an hour or more and require additional liquid. Herbs and spices are added, depending on what is being cooked in the sofrito.

The essential ingredient in sofrito is olive oil. The basic procedure is to heat olive oil in a cazuela or frying pan and sauté chopped onion until it is lightly golden. Sometimes chopped green peppers are added as well. Once the onions are softened, peeled and chopped tomato is added and allowed to “fry” on a high heat for a few minutes.

Seasoned with salt and pepper, the sofrito simmers until the tomato is somewhat reduced. It's now ready to be added to the main food. For example, in preparing menestra (a vegetable medley), green broad beans, peas and artichokes are first blanched, then finish cooking in a sofrito of onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and bits of ham.

If a larger quantity of tomatoes is used, the sofrito becomes a basic tomato sauce. It can be left chunky or sieved to make a smooth sauce. Chicken, pork or bonito that have been first browned in oil are added to it to finish cooking. Or the sofrito sauce can be served over cooked pasta, for example.

A sofrito of onions, peppers and tomatoes may be the starting point for lamb stew, fish soup or chicken in sauce. And, according to Valencia experts, the secret to good paella is the sofrito. The paella ingredients are fried very slowly to develop their flavor. First, olive oil in a wide steel paella pan on a grate over hot coals. Pieces of chicken or rabbit are added to the pan and allowed to brown very slowly. No rushing. Next, some chopped garlic and grated tomato pulp go in, followed by wide flat green beans and fat lima beans. Once the meat is nicely browned and almost cooked, liquid is added and a golden mixture of saffron. Once the liquid boils, the rice is stirred in. As the rice cooks, it absorbs all the flavors of the sofrito.

Batard Bread

YIELD: 12 loaves

For Poolish:
      8                                  cups     Warm Water
      8                                  cups     Hi Gluten Flour
      2                                  Tbs      Yeast
For Dough
      All                                     Poolish
      8    cups                             Warm water
      4    Tbs                              Yeast
      1    cup                              honey
      1    cup                              Olive oil
      4    cup                              Semolina
      24  cup                              Flour(approx)
      4    Tbs                              Salt

1.   One day before mix poolish ingredients, cover and let sit out overnight.
2.   Next day, mix poolish, oil, honey, yeast,  and water in mixer with hook.
3.   Add semolina and mix, add flour 4 cups at a time, mixing well after each addition.
4.   After 16 cups of flour have been incorporated, sprinkle with salt and let rest for 10 mins.
5.   Mix in remaining flour as needed.
6.   Knead on floured board, place on greased pan covered with plastic.

7.   Knock down once, let rise again, knock down again then form into 12 loaves.
8.   You can retard these loaves over night in the cooler or proof and bake immediately

Friday, February 18, 2011

Curried Tomato Chicken Stew

Another great recipe I thought to share with everyone.  This one is easy, has wonderful rich flavor and can be made in the morning and served later that night for your family dinner!  Have fun.

Curried Tomato Chicken Stew

YIELD: 4 portions

      8          ea         Boneless, skinless chicken thighs
      2          Tbs      Curry Powder
      2          pts       Grape Tomatoes, split
      1          can       Unsweetened Coconut milk
      1          ea         Onion, diced
      4          ea         Garlic cloves, minced
      1          cup      Orange Juice
      1          cup      Chicken Stock
      1          bunch  Broccoli Raab, cut into 1 inch pieces
      as needed        Flour for dredging
      4          cups     Cooked Jasmine Rice

1.   Season chicken thighs with S&P. Dredge lightly in flour and sear in a dutch oven browning slightly and turning as needed.
2.   Add onions, garlic, tomatoes, and curry, sauté for 2 mins stirring frequently.
3.   Add chicken stock, O.J., and coconut milk.  Bring to a simmer and cook 20 mins. Add raab and cook till just tender.
4.   Season with S&P as needed. Serve over Jasmine rice.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Curried Carrot Bisque

Curried Carrot Bisque


2 #                   Carrots
½                     Sweet onion
1 Tb                 Garlic, chopped
1 Tsp               Red Curry paste
1 Tsp               Yellow curry powder
2 cp                 Heavy Cream
                        S/P to taste

  1. Peel and rough chop carrots.  Set aside
  2. medium dice the sweet onion.  Sauté with some oil
  3. Add the garlic, red curry pasted and yellow curry powder
  4. Cook for another minute.  Add the carrots and cook for a minute
  5. Add enough water or chicken stock to cover the carrots by about a ½ in.
  6. cook carrots until soft.
  7. puree carrots with a burr mixer or food processor with all the water or stock.
  8. add heavy cream until the right consistency.
  9. salt and pepper to taste may need to add more yellow curry powder also.

This is one of my favorite recipes, delicious and aromatic and fairly easy to make.  In my continued effort to spread the food love here it is for you!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Anecdotes from a working cookbook ...

Here’s a funny anecdote and conversation that happened recently when we were purchasing fresh Heirloom Tomatoes from our local purveyor …Why do we love food?  Because an Heirloom Tomato is not like any other Tomato … that’s why!

Darnel (the vegetable delivery guy)
“Well I don’t know chef...these tomatoes they sent look so bad I’m not even going to bring’em in, and they charged you $59 a box, that’s crazy. Let me call the office and see what the deal is.”
Chef: “Bring them in and let me take a look at them before you call”
(Brings in tomatoes)
Chef: “Darnel, these are Heirloom Tomatoes and they look like that on purpose.  Do you know what an Heirloom Tomato is?”
Darnel: “No Chef”
Chef: “It’s an ugly, knobby, misshapen, variegated tomato. A tomato that only a tomato mother could love, but it tastes like no tomato you have ever tasted before. It’s what a tomato aspires to be. They are grown from seed stock that has been un-fiddled with, non-GMO if you know what I mea. Here, taste it.”
Darnel: “Mmmmm... yeah...I see what you mean!”
Chef: “What you thought was bad is really good.  As far as the price is concerned... they need to drop $1 per pound and I won’t make you bring em’ back.”(Darnel Calls)
Darnel: “Okay Chef...the office said that’s fine. Thanks for the lesson.”

Sometimes when you want something that is a little unusual or special, you may need to educate even the grocery or produce manager about the products you want; ask, investigate, ask again and if all else fails try pleading with them to procure the freshest products available.  You must be willing to uphold your quality standards, even if it means changing to something else. We do …and we know better … we got what we wanted.

Thoughts from a working cook about ... Moderation. Applying that to parties and everyday life!

Moderation and balance is the key to happiness.

 Too much of anything is usually bad and causes unbalance … well all know this.  More to the point with regard to food and cooking … sometime the simplest things are in fact the best.  If you are able to get Wild line caught King Salmon don’t mess with it.  Just cook it.  Moreover, don’t buy 10 lbs. because you will not think it is that awesome the fifth time you prepare it.

There is a story there, about over indulging in Salmon.  Many years ago at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach I had an opportunity to eat fresh, line caught, King Salmon everyday for pennies … and guess what I did?  That’s right!  I ate it nearly every meal for a month.  The specialty and beauty of it soon wore off and to this day, I hardly ever get a desire for wild Salmon.  This isn’t entirely what we mean about moderation with cooking, although it is a good point.  Specifically what we mean is that cooking takes patients and moderation is the best beginning for that learned journey.  Moderation in cooking is like moderation in life.  While we don’t want to get existential or ‘fussy”, we do want to impart to you that moderation is a key ingredient in cooking.  We think, when you are deciding on what to prepare, you need to consider all the variables.  What type of event, dinner party, who the guests are, what they mean to you, what their experiences are, what their expectations are … and also your ability to create and pull off the feat.  Have you ever been to a party, or hosted one, where the host is stuck in kitchen for most of the evening?  Sure you have, we all have.  Now, if you have guests who like to cook then invite them in and cook for them, or even with them.  If you have “non-foodies” then just make really good simple dishes that can be prepared ahead of time.  What we mean is Moderation can also mean making good decisions prior to the party but always through the cooking process.  An example of this is; if you are working all day and do not have much time to prepare a meal for family or friends think about your menu in more simple terms … in moderation of your time.  Another example is; you have planned a dinner party for several friends who can cook, then get them involved in the the experience of cooking together, which is  wonderful because usually everyone ends up in the kitchen anyway.  This example is even more stated with the regular family meal for ... Tuesday.

What is a recipe?

Anecdotes from a cookbook in progress ....
“Will you share that recipe?
      No, make your own recipe!  Or, okay, sure, I will email it to you.  But when I give in almost always I get a return email or conversations that goes something like this; “I made that recipe but it didn’t turn out right. Did you leave something out?”  Yeah, I gave you a recipe that did not have all the ingredients in it, or better, I changed the quantities of the ingredients so yours would turn out bad! 
      If you’re not insane or confused by the craziness of what’s being sold to you day in and day out by the self proclaimed marketing geniuses then you might, I say, might be able to get this!  And actually I know some very insane people who live by another set of rules and senses but they still get it.  Even the DIY channel can attest.  It isn’t about the recipe!  What’s a recipe anyway?  Isn’t it just a template, a beginning, the origin from which things are created?  A recipe is a place, a starting point for idea forming or a spot that allows an idea to develop in a form to create a certain flavor … or characteristic.  I have been cooking forever, it seems all my life.  Cooking food, cooking up love, cooking something!  Why’s this important?  Because it is!  And the quicker you get it the easier your life cooking will be, and perhaps your life in general.  This isn’t a self help book, okay well maybe it is, but really … I mean really, it is about you and what you want things to be, to taste like, to develop into.  We are all so afraid, it’s breed into us that failing is bad.  Failing is not bad ... if you get over that then you will progress happily in cooking and I bet life!