Friday, December 11, 2009

Adieu, internship.

Tonight I got the last of the paperwork done for my internship hours that are required for graduation. It was in a kitchen I consider myself lucky to have experienced - small and fairly drama-free as far as kitchens go. The cooks listened to jam bands throughout prep and service, and with a young chef they managed to make some lovely and unique food that covered a range of tastes.

Every week was a different tasting menu, whether it be celebrating a specific food (duck, lobster, herbs, cheese, etc) or event. One of my favorites was their "Recession Menu" that included among a couple other courses: "Ramen" (pho broth with mussels and noodles), "Steak and Potatoes" (slow cooked short ribs, truffled mashed potatoes), and a mint chocolate chip ice cream sandwich for dessert. Another one I can't seem to forget was the Phillies menu
involving wasabi water ice and krimpets for dessert.

I helped out whenever I had the time and after my fifth day of interning they even gave me the chance to be the pastry chef for nearly two weeks while their pastry chef went on vacation. Having been there five days, and then having them ask me to fill in for their chef that had been there for five years, I think I nearly crapped myself, and then accepted. It went well for me and was a great confidence boost. The entire time I helped out there I learned a lot, and it made me realize how much I love working in small places where people really care about the food and can give it a lot of attention instead of just trying to bang it out as fast as possible in a crazy service.

More restaurants like this one would be a wonderful thing.

Photo snagged from Philly mag.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Four Seasons and Happy Thanksgiving

I'm now an employee of The Four Seasons.

Yeah, I don't know how I pulled that one either.

My last job was miles apart from this one. Not to talk shit, because that's bad etiquette...but I'm totally going to talk some shit. I was working as a line cook (ie: not learning what I want to learn as a pastry student), getting mediocre pay, working for 12-14 hour shifts without a break because we weren't allowed to take any, and barely eating because I didn't have the time to, on every day when I didn't have school. With school, culinary team, an internship, and work I was pulling about 65-70 hours a week and had hardly anything to show for it. My list of complaints is indeed quite large beyond this, but that's not for this blog. Working in the industry is hard, and I'm fine with that but: it boiled down to the fact that I wasn't learning what I wanted to learn.

So I quit. And my life is much happier now.

There were flyers posted throughout the school about The Four Seasons needing a part time pastry cook to help them out through the holiday season. I sent in my resume, got selected with a couple of others, interviewed, and got the job.

I went from working in a tiny kitchen to working in a luxury hotel with a 5-Diamond rate restaurant with its own pastry kitchen downstairs. A nice, roomy kitchen with plenty of equipment, its own walk-in, and its own freezer. There are seven pastry chefs that prepare the desserts and pastries for the restaurant and cafe, breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, room service, banquets, and special orders.

I've been there a little over a week now and have yet to see the hotel or courtyard or anything other than the kitchens and employee areas. What I was overwhelmed by, however, was the culinary kitchen upstairs that I walked through on my second day.

It. Just. Kept. Going. The dish area alone had to have been at least the size of my entire apartment. There was an entire section devoted to room service, then the hotline. There was a garde manger station and a cold food station. I was in complete awe at the sheer size of the kitchen. The walk-in was the biggest walk-in I've ever been in my entire life, and they have more than one.
Hopefully I'll be able to stay on longer than this holiday season, if not, at least I'll have the experience to bulk up my resume.

Oh, and side note: tonight I had some amazingly delicious food from Dim Sum Garden at 11th and Arch in Chinatown. Great pork and chive dumplings and chicken stewed noodles with a little cilantro and bok choy...only ten bucks, and enough for two meals. Right by Reading Terminal Market, I think I found where I'll be getting something to eat after my shopping.

I don't really agree with gorging oneself to the point of not being able to breathe on Thanksgiving as so many people do. That, to me, isn't being thankful. A normal-sized meal of good food surrounded by family and friends is what it's all about. I didn't get to have that this year unfortunately, but I'm still thankful for what I have: a career I'm passionate about ahead of me, family, friends, a wonderful boyfriend, and a great job at the moment.

Photos on this post were snagged from the chef's flickr photo stream that I found when I googled him to try to research before the interview.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cupcakes & Gelato

I'm not entirely sure why everyone loves cupcakes so much. Perhaps it has something to do with our obsession with all things miniature being adorable, for whatever reason. I read a blog entry somewhere saying that they were the puppies of the food world - an interesting point, considering people can't help "ooh"ing and "ahh"ing at them, despite the fact that it's just an individually sized cake. Why don't people get their panties in a bunch over a slice of cake on a plate?

In any case, I can't say I'm not the same as everyone else when it comes to this. I have a painting of cupcakes and a sundae hung on my wall done by a friend of mine, cupcake necklaces, and am planning on getting a cupcake tattoo in the next month. At least by planning pastry as a career I have more meaning behind it than a lot of other people with them do. I know a few other girls in my classes have themselves some cupcake jewelry as well - we really can't help ourselves.
Tonight we'd planned on going to Capogiro for some gelato. They have some seriously fantastic, albeit expensive, gelato and sorbets. Seasonal, freshly made, light, and extremely flavorful. Flavors are different every day, with just a few that are always available. The blueberries and cream tastes like pure fresh blueberry, and they're not afraid to get adventurous with flavors like lime-cilantro and avocado. Just a couple of the flavors are duds - like plum, grape, and kiwi. When you're having a hard time choosing(it's not a choice of if, but when), you can have as many tastes as you like before deciding. It's the best gelato I've ever had, and it's not hard to see that tons of other people agree - the new location here in University City is packed every time I go by, including just before they close at 1am on the weekends. Having a Capogiro just a few blocks away is a serious danger to both my ass and my wallet.

Anyway, somehow we ended up ordering cupcakes for delivery instead. Cupcakes for delivery at midnight? Really? The peculiar fact that such a thing exists was, I'm sure, the driving force for me actually ordering any. I've never lived in an area where anything like this was available. Obviously, I could just make some, yet that thought didn't stop me from ordering a few to try anyway.

Alas, after a couple bites of each (plain vanilla, Peanut Butter x3: vanilla cake with peanut butter frosting topped with Reese's PB cups and crushed Butterfinger, Coconut Island Breeze: vanilla cake with vanilla frosting topped with marshmallows and coconut and caramel, Just Broke Up: chocolate cake with chocolate frosting topped with M&Ms and crushed Butterfinger and PB cups and chocolate cookie crumbs), I wished I had just made my own. None of it - absolutely none of it - had flavor. The frosting I'm sure was no more than powdered sugar and shortening without even a drop of vanilla extract. The cakes were tough and clearly overmixed: tunneling had occured and far too much gluten had been formed. A cake mix from Duncan Hines would have been better than the crap I'd just paid for.

Clearly the gelato gods were punishing me.

But at least somebody enjoyed it.

By the way - that book she's standing on is Michael Ruhlman's The Reach of a Chef. Go to the store right now and buy all his books and enjoy them as much as I have.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Restaurant.com

Tip of the day: Restaurant.com is having an 80% off deal that ends tonight at midnight. Apply discount code: NAPKIN when checking out - a $25 gift card for $2 is a hell of a deal!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Crappy Restaurants

A lot of restaurants suck.

We know this. Yet we still find it worth it to try new places despite the fact that there's a good chance it will be disappointing. Since I've moved to Philly, this has happened far too many times - to the point where I am slowly beginning to understand why people go to chain restaurants.

So I thought I'd do a recap...at least on the ones I can remember.

Square on Square - last week Gary and I went downtown to try out Continental - a Starr restaurant. Global tapas. Good recommendation. Unfortunately, as we walked in at 3:30 in the afternoon, completely starved and just having spent twenty minutes trying to find a parking spot, the hostess cheerily told us that the kitchen had just closed and wouldn't reopen until 5pm for dinner.

We wandered into Square on Square, a block away, after a quick glance at their menu and having heard a good word about it before. The won ton soup was fine, the same generic won ton soup you can find at any Chinese restaurant or take out place. I had the seafood deluxe special: crab, shrimp, scallops with noodles and veggies in a white wine sauce. The crabmeat was imitation and had no flavor, the scallops were rubbery and they forgot to remove the foot on one of them. The sauce was bland. Gary had their version of General Tso's chicken and asked for it mild. "Mild" was still intensely spicy to the point where that was the only flavor you could taste. When we mentioned it to the waiter, he told us they had only used half the amount of chile pepper they usually use. At the end of the meal we were given some so-so almond cookies. Service was decent, food was boring and not very good - I'd rather not back.

Marathon Grill University City. I walk by this place on a regular basis, and it always looks busy. Usually, this is a good sign. Alas, it's just another example of how stupid people are and how much a nice location can help a business. It looks like a semi-classy place, but once inside when you get a closer look you can see how it's really just faking. The chairs and tables are scratched and worn, it's decorated to look like an upscale restaurant with prices on the menu to match, but the food isn't that great and neither is the ambiance. I had their Thai chicken salad with mixed greens: "Thai sweet chile crispy chicken," sliced red cabbage, carrots, black sesame seeds, almond slivers, orange segments, red onion, citrus-soy vinaigrette, and won ton strips. The chicken was surprisingly bland, there was too much dressing, and I was worried (partly because I'm weird about these things, I'm sure) constantly that I was going to get a black sesame seed stuck in my teeth. Overall unimpressive. Gary's burger was equally unimpressive. The gummy mashed potatoes on the side didn't help. I don't plan to return any time soon.

Philly Diner - I don't even know what to say. Shitty food with service that's even worse. I'm certain the only business they have are drunk college kids in the middle of the night because they're the only 24-hour place located by campus in University City. I'd rather lick the bottom of my shoe than go back.

Oregon Diner - a step up from the Philly Diner, but still nothing great. Seriously, Philly, where are all the decent diners? The only thing worth mentioning is that I tried bison for the first time here...and their pastries look like they're worth a try.

Saigon Maxim Restaurant - my biggest complaint here wasn't actually their food. The whole experience was a bit odd because they apparently were setting up for a wedding, yet seated us anyway as the only people in the restaurant. We sat at a little table surrounded by white fluffy stuff on the windows and numbers above each table, while several employees dressed in their black and whites set up tables in a larger room and yelled at each other in various languages. The pho was good though they didn't bring out a little plate of herbs, mung bean sprouts, and lime for me to add to my liking - the herbs and mung bean sprouts were already added and there was no fresh lime in sight. The general Tso's (they had a Chinese and a Vietnamese menu) wasn't bad either - nice and crispy instead of that doughy mush you get a lot of times. The waitress kind of stood around a few feet away waiting for us to finish eating which was a little awkward, and when we got the check we stood up to go because she had disappeared, and when we got to the bar to pay (since we didn't know where else to go), she reappeared toting a sliced orange for us to eat and we had to go and sit back down to have it. Overall I think the experience was just a little too strange to want to go back unless I'm in the neighborhood and don't have the heart to try a new place.

Next post: some of the good places I've been to!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Peach Ginger Shortcakes with Blueberry Sauce

It's not peak peach season here, but it's still warm out, so it's all about berries and other summertime fruits. This shortcake recipe is basically the one straight from Bon Appetit, and the blueberry sauce recipe is from allrecipes.com. Imagine that - I tried a Bo Friberg sauce recipe first that I hated, and lo and behold this one from a home cook website was just what I wanted.

The biscuit is, to me, the perfect texture, with just a hint of ginger. Combined with the tag team trio of peach and blueberry, and the shortcake soaking up some of the blueberry juice, and it's a kickass rustic dessert.

Peach Ginger Shortcakes
serves 6

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 10 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold salted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger, divided
  • 1/2 cup ginger ale
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 4 large peaches, halved, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk flour, 6 tablespoons sugar, and baking powder in large bowl. Add butter; rub in with fingertips until very coarse meal forms. Mix in 1/4 cup chopped ginger. Add ginger ale and sour cream, toss until moist clumps form. Gather dough into 7-inch log and cut crosswise into 6 equal rounds. Place on sheet, spaced apart (they will spread). Shape each into 2 1/2-inch diameter round. (Brush with one tablespoon milk or cream combined with 1 tablespoon sugar if you like - it helps give it a nicer golden color.)


Bake shortcakes until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, 20 to 22 minutes. Cool on sheet.

Meanwhile, toss peaches in large bowl with 4 tablespoons of sugar and remaining 1/4 cup chopped ginger. Halve shortcakes horizontally, place bottoms on plates. Top each with peaches and the top of shortcakes. Serve with warm blueberry sauce and/or lightly sweetened whipped cream.


Blueberry Sauce

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • pinch of salt

In saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch, salt, and water. Stir in blueberries. Bring to boil over medium heat and boil for 1 1/2 minutes to remove any starchy flavor.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Links

I know the past few weeks I've been a bad blogger and not posting, so I've decided to post some of my favorite links for food reading (plus other useful things) so you can entertain yourself when I'm too lazy to write something on my own.

Food Media Blog from chow.com. Food-related news from all over the internet, movies, cookbooks, and more. Where else can you learn about Michael Ruhlman's new book and chic beer bottles? And I love that they made fun of Sandra Lee on the new KFC grilled chicken commercial.

Scott Ian's Food Coma. Yes, it's on the suicidegirls website, and no, I'm not going to explain how I ended up finding this awesome column. I'm not even into metal but I love the idea that Scott Ian of all people is into food. Plus, he's full of great quotes. A favorite: "There's no reason to eat at a chain. I hear stories about American bands touring Europe and only eating McDonald's. That's it. Maybe KFC. That is so fucking retarded. I have utter contempt for that. It makes your band suck even more."

Gigachef.com. This is a wonderful site that's full of useful tools - they even have a culinary spell check you can download for MS Word! Plus a talking dictionary (for those weird words you've only ever read and never knew exactly how to pronounce), wallpapers, a message board, and collections of recipes from chefs that use the site. Hopefully it will get big and be even better because of it - with more chefs uploading recipes to share, creating profiles, and using the forum.

Localwineevents.com's big list of food and booze events all over the country. If you're planning a trip you can take a quick look at this site and find out if there's going to be something cool to check out while you're there.

Cookingforengineers.com. This site is incredibly detailed (honestly sometimes I really don't care for all that) with step-by-step pictures for most of the recipes. Sometimes it feels like they almost complicate things, but other times it's intriguing and helpful if you're uneasy making something for the first time.

Seriouseats.com. They really just have all kinds of cool shit.

Ideasinfood.com. Pretty self-explanatory. And I'm a sucker for pretty pictures.

Recipematcher.com. Just plug in what you've got in your fridge and pantry, what you're in the mood for, and what course it is, and voila! A recipe just for you!

America's Culinary Heritage. I haven't gotten a chance to read through this completely yet, but if you're into the history of food this is a great place to start.

Food Pairings. Put in an ingredient, and find all sorts of flavors that go along with it. Especially helpful in coming up with new ideas for dishes.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bon Appetit Hot Dogs

This issue of Bon Appetit had no less than 80 hot dog ideas. Some are so insane I have to share - here are some favorites, from the ridiculous to the tasty-sounding.

Trailer Park - melted processed cheese and crushed potato chips. Get your trucker hat ready.

Australian - mushy peas. Only the Aussies.

Korean - kimchi and pickled cucumbers. This probably only sounds terrible to me because I find kimchi to be completely putrid.

Swedish - mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam. For some reason my mother bought me a Swedish cookbook from Ikea once, and of the 30+ recipes they all seem to be rearrangements of the same ingredients: lingonberries, potatoes, salmon, and caviar... and here they are again. As nice as it is to think that their food could be good if combined with a hot dog, I really, truly doubt it.

Colombian - pineapple, ham, mayo, mustard, ketchup, chopped onion, and crushed potato chips. Again with the crushed potato chips. Just thinking of the pineapple or ham coming in contact with the ketchup makes me shudder.

Hippie - alfalfa sprouts, sauteed mushrooms, and vegan mayo.

As far as the ones that I'd actually be interested in trying:

Thai - Thai basil, cilantro, lime juice, fish sauce, and crushed peanuts. I don't actually know if this would work till I tasted it, but I love Thai flavors so I'd definitely try it.

Indian - mango chutney and sliced red jalapenos.

Bistro - Dijon mustard and whole cornichons. Just mustard and relish in a new way, how can you go wrong?

French Dip - jus and provolone.

Tijuana Danger Dog - wrapped in bacon and fried. I gain a pound thinking about it, but I know it would be delicious.

So go ahead, get a little adventurous making your hot dogs this summer. I might even try one with a little Hoisin and cilantro tonight.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Food, Inc



I can't wait.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Darling's Cheesecake

Today my boyfriend and I made our way to the Franklin Institute. Had I actually been smart about it and asked someone how it was ahead of time, I would've saved us both the disappointment. Well, I guess if you're between three and eight years of age, it's actually pretty fun. But I also would've missed out on a lovely foodie experience: Darling's Cheesecake.

Yes, I realize I just talked about cheesecake recently, but you'll just have to deal with it - cheesecake is a heavenly thing and I don't mind talking about it again.

Located right next to the Institute, it was entirely too convenient and serendipitous for us - hungry and looking for something to save the day. Inside the cafe, they have one case displaying their gorgeous cheesecakes, and their cafe menu holds a coffeebar (instant brownie points in my books), breakfast items, and simple lunch items like salads and sandwiches. 

I had a very tasty Tomato Mozzarella sandwich - layers of tomato and fresh mozzarella on a baguette with S&P and olive oil topping. I've had better fresh mozzarella, but that always seems to be a hit or miss thing anyway, and the topping helped a good bit. Their pickles on the side I suspect are homemade. The boy had a "Polska! Polska!" sandwich - try ordering that without feeling like an idiot. Kielbasa, kraut, and spicy brown mustard on a baguette...yum. I had to ask about the baguette - a very good one - and learned that right now they buy out the dough and bake it in house, but at the restaurant they're opening this Saturday, they'll be making their own. 

On our way out, we ended up getting three different slices of cheescake to go. I guess we were getting tired of my ass fitting into my new capris. The Classic of course, because if you're trying something for the first time you gotta go plain - just like trying plain cheese at a new pizza joint or a regular vanilla cone at a new ice cream place. In addition, there was a slice of peanut butter and a slice of berry. 

The verdict? Cheesecake unlike any other I've had. It was amazingly light and airy - they claim it's "Philly style" cheesecake.  In 2006 they won "Best of Philly" for their bananas foster creation. My favorite out of the three we tried was the peanut butter on a chocolate cookie crust - odd, since I usually don't care too much about peanut butter desserts. Both the berry and peanut butter are topped with pretty little rosettes of chocolate and vanilla frosting. The classic is nice and tangy, and the berry was made mostly with blueberries (maybe a little bit of blackberry too), and there are actual whole blueberries in the cheesecake. I should also mention that it's very reasonably priced. I've seen places that charge upwards of $7 a slice for their "gourmet" cheesecakes that are in fact a bit mediocre. But here they range between four and five bucks. 

My only regret is that I didn't think to take pictures of lunch while we were there.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Led Zeppelin Wine Pairing

From City Winery's website:

"This wine pairing is the concept of Joe Bastianich, who is Mario Batali's partner in Babbo, Del Posto, etc...

Bastianich has paired Zeppelin's raw, nuanced, complex and high energy music with fine wine and italian food. The writer David Lynch and Mike Edison have joined the team to discuss the songs and the appropriate wine pairings. Led Zeppelin lends itself to wine; Hearty, robust reds match Page's raw riffs and Bonham's thunderous double bass pedal, while the band's lighter, more playful work calls for tamer, yet complex whites. On stage will be the live Zeppelin cover band Six Foot Nurse featuring special guest guitarist Scott Ian of the band Anthrax, all coming in from Los Angeles for the evening. This event was recently tested without the live band at the smaller restaurant Becco where it sold out instantly..."

I absolutely love the idea of pairing any type of food with any type of music. It started a couple years ago with a friend of mine, when we played music appropriate to whatever we were cooking that night. For pasta, we'd put on some Sinatra. Fajita night? He had a mariachi CD just for the occasion. Baking cornbread? You better believe I'd be putting on one of my favorite B.B. King records.

I got a little bit giddy when I saw an episode of Good Eats where Alton Brown used chords (two tone, tritone, augmented...ah, the days of music theory) as an analogy for cocktails. Scott Ian did a wine pairing to metal songs on his blog a while ago, which I was equally amused by. Now, I don't know wine very well yet. I'm hoping the wine class I'm currently taking will get me started, because it's a field I have much to learn in. Perhaps when I get to the point I feel as though I know enough, I'll attempt a pairing as well...though to what type of music, time has yet to tell.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Florida, pt 2: The Lucky Dill

While in Florida, I got to eat* at one of my old favorite spots when I lived there: The Lucky Dill. A New York style deli right in Palm Harbor of all places.

Inside, they have photos of various famous places in NY smothering the walls, while the customers are jammed in just a couple feet from one another...sitting asshole to elbow is truly reminiscent of New York, at least to me. There is a bakery in house, and the case you see just as you walk in is filled with enticing treats: several varieties of cheesecakes, cannolis, cookies, brownies, and more. And at 5pm, as we found, the restaurant is completely filled with old people; an absolute sea of white hair. As an old friend would say, "it smells like death in here!"



I think my only complaint, other than lack of ambiance, is that they have far too many menus. Upon seating, you receive no less than 3: a special menu, breakfast menu, and regular menu. All of them are oversized and cumbersome at the little tables. But no matter, at that point you usually see a waitress walk by with a sandwich containing what can't be less than a pound of amazing looking deli meat, and you forget about how awkward all the menus are.

Not for the caloric conscious, when you order a drink and sandwich, a cup of soup and a slice of cheesecake are free. My father decided to indulge (congrats, dad! minus 105lbs and counting!), the free soup of the day was a delicious matzo ball, while I had one of the best tomato bisques I think I've ever had. Topped with scallions, it had a kick to it that seemed to come from fire roasted tomatoes and possibly the addition of cayenne as well. Yum. My father got the reuben sandwich, which made me wish I was hungry enough to get a sandwich too: piles of corned beef around a layer of sauerkraut, all between two slices of buttered and toasted rye bread. It looked like it was roughly the size of my head. Now that is a sandwich.


Not to be outdone, the cheesecake with raspberry sauce we shared stood on its own: excellent texture and flavor, and great crust that had a little bit of toasted coconut on the outside. A million times better than the cheesecake at my school (what the hell kind of culinary school chooses to do cheesecake without a graham cracker crust, just a thin layer of vanilla sponge cake?? and then pile every type of fruit onto it, even grapes??).

Come to think of it, I went to high school with the son of the owners of The Lucky Dill and he was in the process of learning how to run it. The family owned one other restaurant nearby, called Molly Goodheads. I went there once and vaguely remember really good crapcakes. Kudos to them for putting out good food for what is hopefully many years to come.

*To be honest, we tried to go to our old truly favorite place, called McCabe's Cafe. It saddens me to say that they are no longer in business.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Florida, Pt. 1: Boiled Peanuts

I recently returned from a trip to Florida to visit my father for my spring break. Land of lizards, beaches, old people, and amusement parks.

After enjoying a fishing area, we came across a roadside stand on the way home: a hand-written sign reading "Boiled Peanuts ahead." Now, I've heard about boiled peanuts. A friend of mine, native of Florida, absolutely loves them, while my sister claims they are nasty little mushy peanuts. I figured it was time to find out for myself.

I did a little research on them to find out how they came about, and came upon this site which had great information. It is believed that they started back in the Civil War, with peanuts acting as a much-needed nutrient source (lots of fat and protein) for soldiers. They began boiling them in salt, and the salt worked as a preservative while the boiling killed the bacteria. Soldiers found they could keep the peanuts in their packs for several days without going bad. This eventually led to boiled peanuts being a southern tradition.

Most recipes seem to agree that green (freshly harvested) peanuts are the only ones to use, while the amount of salt in the water seems up for debate. Some say you can boil them for a few hours, while others say it takes at least 2 days to get them to the right softness. Traditionally of course, you would use nothing more than salt and water to boil them in, but some people add in things like Cajun seasoning, chile peppers, ham hocks, or beer to spice things up a bit.

We pulled off the road to where an older guy with a great white beard sat on a lawn chair. A few feet across from him was nothing more than a table with a sleeve of styrofoam cups and notebook next to a little propane set up for a large stockpot of peanuts. I watched as he slowly got up and walked to his notebook where he tallied my visit: twenty-two people so far for the day. Four bucks bought me a giant cup of the steamy, salty boiled peanuts. And they were malodorous, mushy, foul little peanuts. Hey, I tried to keep an open mind. They had a nice peanut flavor. But that musty smell that surrounded them, and the mushy texture...I just couldn't get past it. I think I'll let the southerners keep that tradition of theirs. We gave them to a friend of my father's. We haven't heard from her since.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cucumber Salad

In Frederick, Maryland exists the best Chinese restaurant I have ever had the pleasure of dining at: China Garden, right off the golden mile. It was one of the places my family visited regularly, and not only was the food great, but one of the special things about them was the complimentary items you'd get before, during, and after your meal. Upon seating, you could pour yourself some delicious hot tea, and munch on a sweet and tangy cucumber salad. And after you ate, they'd always give you something, whether it be just orange segments or a nice scoop of strawberry ice cream.
These experiences have been buried deep in the archives of my brain, when it was suddenly brought to life when I came across a recipe for that very same cucumber onion salad they used to give us. As soon as I saw the picture, I knew this was exactly what I had enjoyed as a precursor or side to Chinese food all those years ago.

Not only did it match perfectly, it takes about five minutes to whip up. Try it next time you're making an Asian-based meal.



  • 2 cups chopped cucumber
  • 1/2 cup red onion, sliced thin
  • pinch of crushed red pepper (to taste)
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • crushed roasted peanuts, for sprinkling

Toss everything together, and let it marinate for at least 20 minutes at room temperature. Not only will the onion get a little less pungent, but everything soaks up the vinegar, which really makes it good. There seems to be quite a lot of vinegar but that's mostly so that it can marinate. Sprinkle on some crushed peanuts before serving.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Watermelon-Cantaloupe Sorbet

It's that time of year. You run to the grocery store for something, and as you walk in and pass the fruit you see it: the year's first summer melons, already pre-sliced and packaged for your convenience. You know it's way too early for them to be as delicious as they will be a couple months from now, but after all the months of cold nasty weather and darkness the idea of sunny summer is so tantalizing that you drift towards it anyway. And it smells like summer. It hits deep: memories of sitting on a porch spitting out watermelon seeds, juice dripping down your chin and arms. Bike riding, water balloon fights, fourth of July fireworks. And before you know it, you have a giant wedge of watermelon and package of cantaloupe in your basket.

Or at least that's what happened to me. And since I recently watched an episode of Good Eats where Alton Brown made melon sorbet, I decided I should give it a try as well. Sorbet is not sherbet. And sherbet is not sherbert(that word just invented itself). Sherbet contains milk solids. It gets really confusing, as sorbet does not have an FDA classification on its own. Sorbets, ices, and granita are all related. According to On Food and Cooking, the word sorbet came from sorbetto, the Arabic word for syrup.


The trickiest part of making sorbet is to keep the texture smooth, without large ice crystals. This is often done by adding liquor to the recipe, which makes perfect sense. Alcoholic beverages freeze at very cold temperatures that you're not going to reach with sorbet, and so by blending it into the mixture, you make a kind of edible anti-freeze that keeps your sorbet at an ideal texture.

Now on to Alton Brown's melon sorbet recipe, with some of the watermelon replaced by cantaloupe:
  • 16 oz watermelon
  • 5 oz cantaloupe
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons vodka*
  • 9 oz sugar, ~ 1 1/4 cups

*Vodka is used because it won't contribute much flavor to the sorbet, but I actually used black cherry vodka because it's what I had on hand. I don't see any reason not to use flavored vodka if it's fruity and you think it will go with the other flavors, or even midori as it's a melon-based liqueur.

Place melon is the bowl of a food processor and process till smooth. Add lemon juice, vodka, and sugar and process for another 30 seconds. Place mixture in fridge until it reaches 40°F, which will take between 30 minutes to an hour. Pour chilled mixture into bowl of an ice cream maker (already running) and process according to manufacturer's instructions. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze 3-4 hours before serving.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Distrito

Yesterday I finally got to Distrito for a meal - lunch, to be exact. Chef Jose Garces is the owner, and when I worked there several months ago the buzz was about him recently being on Iron Chef America up against Bobby Flay in battle melon. The result? He won! Celebrity chef or not, Bobby Flay's food is really quite good, from what I remember when I went to Mesa Grill about two years ago. My friend and I went for brunch, and I was hooked...just by the bread before the meal. There were delicious mini muffins with golden raisins, half yellow corn half blue corn muffins, spicy cornbread. I had the bluecorn waffle with blackberry bourbon syrup and vanilla creme fraiche, and it was mighty tasty. My friend had the 16-spice chicken with some kind of tamale. Both of us were quite satisfied with the food and the price that went with it. But I digress. The fact that Garces had beaten Flay was impressive knowing what good food Flay had.

The first thing anyone notices of this "modern Mexican" restaurant is, of course, the decor. It's insanely bright with pink walls and chairs and tables in various shades of pink and green. Some find the adornment obnoxious, others love it. I found it to be a little unsettling at first, but got used to it. Obviously they're going for the overly-ornamented look, but the shared sinks by the bathrooms upstairs are a little awkward. It's a very trendy place, the hostess had kind of giraffe-like skinniness and looked as though she should be a supermodel, and most of the people there appeared to be on business lunches. The constant theme of Mexican wrestlers is a goofy one that I find hilarious - they even have a giant TV screen upstairs that plays scenes from Nacho Libre(they may have changed that by now to something else). Friday and Saturday nights (I think) they have a flamenco guitarist/singer with a beautiful voice that serenades customers.



Distrito has a lunch special - two courses for $15. This is a pretty good deal, especially considering the quality you're getting (though I've read many other reviews that complain of how expensive it is - it looks as though a la carte adds up quick, and people forget that this is a tapas place). It's a little limiting though, considering how much more is on the dinner menu, including the Kobe beef tacos I'd been told to try that are apparently amazing. There's an incredible range of food even on the lunch menu, from ceviche and soups and salads for first course, with second course items containing duck, chicken, pulled pork, short rib, yellowtail, and even cactus.

For first course, I had the chilango chop: a salad of baby arugula, watercress, cherry tomatoes, green olives (ew), orange segments, and pecans, with shaved coconut on top and a tomato-lime vinaigrette (you can choose that or the chipotle buttermilk dressing). I added the Kobe beef, which will get you about 5 hunks for $7. Except for the olives, it was simple but good. I loved the pecans, and the Kobe beef was rich and served medium-rare. My friend had the camarones ceviche - shrimp served with avocado, a spicy tomato sauce, and plantain chips. He was entirely unimpressed and when I tasted it, I knew why - the flavors instantly made me think of Indian food, and he is not at all a fan of that. Oh well. I liked it, though I've never been impressed by plantain chips. Both were very different in portion size: the salad was a decent spread, while the ceviche was basically 4 shrimp in a sauce and a few little plantain chips.

Second course brought my hamachi tacos - fried yellowtail that resembled a fishstick, chipotle remoulade, red cabbage, avocado, and a lime for squeezing over top. This I really liked - there was good texture contrast with the soft tortilla, crunchy cabbage, creamy sauce, and flaky fish. The sauce had a good balance of spice; it didn't overwhelm the other flavors. It was my favorite. My friend ordered the queso fundido - with duck and poblano and tortillas. Though not healthy or low calorie by any means, it was lovely. It was greasy of course...duck and cheese will do that...but not as much as it could have been. However, it's hard to get the flavor of duck out when it's covered with 3 types of cheese, and it most definitely isn't going to be rare. It could easily be mistaken for pork if unaware.

For dessert we split the coconut flan, as they were out of the tres leches. Having worked the pastry station, I knew how good it would be and it was nice to be able to sit and enjoy it instead of putting it together as fast as possible. Garnished with a quenelle of whipped cream (which had melted on ours by the time it got to us), toasted coconut, and a coconut tuille, it was a good ending to a good meal.

I love the range of dishes available, and the variety of ingredients used. All in all, the food was good - but there was nothing I had that I'll be craving in a couple weeks enough to make me want to go running back. I may go back anyway in a couple of months when I can legally drink to try a margarita - they boast having around 80 types of tequila. And maybe along with that I'll try a couple of the dishes that I've heard the most about, and it will make me want to go back time and time again.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Dumping Cupcake

I just had to share this.

It's one of the most original tattoos I've seen. Not entirely sure why you would want to get a cupcake sitting on the toilet, but I suppose stranger things have happened. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Atlantis Paradise Island

Last night I learned about a place called the Atlantis Paradise Island located in the Bahamas. A resort and waterpark that holds one of the most expensive hotel suites in the world.


This is the Royal Towers building. See that bridge that connects the two? That's a hotel room that costs $25,000...a night.

There are six buildings on the island for accomodations, a casino, the waterpark, scuba diving, Dolphin Cay, a marine habitat, golf, bars, and even a pottery studio and library in case anybody ever decides to go there and not spend all their time outdoors in paradise.

Jean-Georges, Nobu, and Bobby Flay all have restaurants there. Jean-Georges is one of the biggest restaurants in NYC, and working there is one of the most well-known pastry chefs right now, Johnny Iuzzini. I've never tried his desserts so I don't know if it's because he's really that amazing or if it's only because he's incredibly gorgeous, or maybe a mixture of both. Even Jacques Torres approves of his food though, so his looks could have nothing to do with it. All I'm sayin is, working at a Jean-Georges restaurant would be an incredible oppurtunity...but any of the restaurants on the island would be as well.

It would have to be something to work towards, unless you're aiming for one of the lower positions in the kitchen. Right now they're hiring for a chef de cuisine at one of the restaurants and it requires a minimum of a 4-year degree, five years experience at a 5-star hotel or restaurant, extensive experience in high-volume banqueting, and international exposure. You couldn't simply pick up your culinary degree and expect to be hired.

It does look amazing though...maybe one day I'll make a visit to see if it would ever be the type of place I'd want to work at.

So it looks like I got the job! Yay for me! But that means I may not be posting much on this...because apparently when I'm unemployed and have a lot of time on my hands I do things like make food blogs, however, with school and work we shall see how that goes.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thai Eggplants (and truffles)

In a recent drive near Chinatown, I could not help myself but to yell out "Pull over! Pull over!" while yanking on my boyfriend's shirt when I saw a huge Asian market. Obviously you would expect this near Chinatown, but for whatever reason I had yet to make my way to one around here.

I love Asian markets. They're always full of some of the strangest things you'll ever see in a food market - furry and pointy fruits, tons of jarred shrimp and squid, strange smelly items that you can't quite identify. Foods that have been lost in translation - what exactly are "chemical eggs," and what exactly is in "flavor juice?" If durian is making a presence, count on a rotting garbage odor to permeate the fresh produce section. Meats that are ambiguous in their packaging. There were two identical packages of beef testicles - one labeled "Beef Testicles" and the other labeled "Beef Balls." Cue Beavis and Butthead-style laughter. 

This particular Asian market was also a fish market, with huge tanks of live tilapia, live catfish (REALLY big catfish, with quite a few dead on the bottom...it didn't exactly give me confidence in their products), live crabs, and even a large box of live frogs. I hope one day, just for the sake of amusement, someone knocks the box of frogs over and they escape - now that's entertainment better than 75% of what's on prime time TV. They even had bags of frozen crickets...and cockroaches wrapped in sets of four! This was the first time I'd seen it, and it's somehow fascinating and gross at the same time. And I'm terribly disappointed that I didn't have my camera.
Next time I go I'll be a little more adventurous, but this time I played it safe. Various types of vermicelli noodles, a mango, a few cans of coconut milk, and some Thai eggplants (for something new) made their way home with me.

The Thai eggplants weren't as exciting as I'd hoped, but they sure are pretty little things. A little bit of a cucumber taste. I made a curry with them but it was hard to get their flavor out that way - so I'll roast the rest in the oven to see how good they can be on their own. Inside, they're full of little seeds, and on the outside they have gorgeous green markings with a tiny little husk on the top, kind of like a tomatillo.

On another note, I'm worried about my career based on the fact that I recently tried black truffles and found them to be...well...kind of gross. Feel free to give me a good punch. Chefs go on and on about truffles - how could I dislike them? Well, honestly, I don't like mushrooms either and that might have something to do with it. In Scott Ian's Food Coma article about truffles, he describes them thusly:

"When an angel poops, it poops truffles...I was at Providence here in LA and chef Michael Cimarusti invited us into the kitchen and he pulled out a plastic container with what had to be a pound of the good shit. He told me to hold the container to my nose and open the lid. The intensity of the smell that rushed out was the sheer power of the earth. It smelled like ancient forests. It smelled like what food must have tasted like before chemicals, what the air smelled like before we polluted it. It smelled like what I've always imagined The Shire (dork) to smell like. It awakened a primeval feeling of a connection to the land that I've never felt before. All that from just smelling them. Eating them is all that and more as the power of the earth is released into your bloodstream and the euphoria takes over. What I'm sayin' is, they getcha high. And once you've had them, you have to have them again. I've never smoked crack or meth or any of that fun stuff...truffles man, that's my thing. No hangover, no tweaking and you don't lose your teeth."

It's one of the best descriptions of a food I've come across. But really? Other than their value, why are they so sought after when they kind of taste like dirt? Is it an elitist thing, like people that brag about eating caviar even though it's really just salty and kinda rank? Or am I just a complete fucktard for not liking them or caviar?

Maybe Hopefully they'll grow on me.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Meringues

Somehow I had forgotten how heavenly these little cookies are. The simplest thing to make (provided you have some kind of mixer), and just a few ingredients make a lovely, melt-in-your-mouth delectable treat. Not to mention only about 30 calories a cookie and hardly any fat! At some point I'd like to try them with Splenda to see how well they come out...then you'd REALLY be eating a light dessert.


Ultrafine sugar is best if you have it, simply because it dissolves easiest. Or some meringues are made by heating up the egg whites and sugar together over a double boiler till the sugar dissolves, resolving that issue(and the issue of salmonella). Make sure your bowl is completely clean and dry, and egg whites that are room temperature provide better volume than cold ones.

You can pipe these into little shapes, or pipe them into circles to provide a base for something else (berries, ice cream, etc). I just wanted to eat them, which led me to hastily dropping them onto a cookie sheet with a teaspoon(and that works fine too).

King Arthur Flour's Meringues
  • 2 large eggwhites
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • pinch of cream of tartar
  • dash of salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • extra sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 200F. In a large bowl, combine the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt. Beat until soft peaks form, then gradually add the sugar, continuing to beat until the mixture is stiff and glossy. Add the vanilla extract at the end.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil, shiny side up. Drop the meringue by large teaspoonfuls onto the paper and sprinkle each meringue with a bit of sugar. Bake for 1 1/2 hours. Turn off the heat and leave the meringues in the oven until they're completely cool, 3 hours or more(no worries - they're worth it!). These are good to make in the evening; they can be left in the oven, with the heat turned off, overnight. Store them in an airtight container to keep them crisp.



You can add your favorite flavored extract to mix it up a little - almond would be good. Or, try folding in 1/2 cup of mini chocolate chips or shaved chocolate before baking.



For cocoa meringues, sift together 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar and 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder. Use 1/4 cup of granulated sugar while beating the egg whites and fold in the cocoa mixture and vanilla extract before baking.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mmm...crepes

The Frenchies were on to something with these. Light, unleavened pancake things that can be filledwith sweet or savory fillings of any kind. I've been on a bit of a crepe kick since reading about one that Michael Symon did at Lola - a corn crepe batter with red and green bell peppers and scallions in it, with a duck confit filling, topped with cheese and his own barbeque sauce. Now damn that sounds good!

There are a couple different ways of making them. You can use just a regular saute pan with a tiny bit of fat in it - or some people use these handy crepe makers:

You pour a little batter onto it, spread it around like in the picture, flip it, fill it, and serve it. I've had them made this way and personally, I think they come out overcooked and dry. But maybe it was just the guy that made it. There's also another kind of crepe maker, that works as a reverse saute pan:


Dip what looks to be the bottom of a saute pan into the batter, let it sit for about ten seconds, and voila! Peel off a fresh crepe.

When it's made with buckwheat flour instead of wheat flour with a savory filling, according to both Culinaria France and Wikipedia, it becomes a "galette." But I thought a galette was a pastry, filled with fruit with the edges just barely coming up? Like this thing here?

Well, apparently I'm wrong. It's both. A galette can be the crepe made with buckwheat flour with a savory filling or various types of flat, round, or freeform crusty cakes.
Crepes Suzette are probably the most widely known. The story goes that it was the favorite dish of King Edward VII, the British king. At the turn of the century it was usual to spend winter on the Cote d'Azur. The Prince of Wales, who was a great admirer of France, invited Suzette, a pretty French woman who he was courting, to eat with him. When the crepes were brought to the table for dessert, the orange liqueur next to it was set on fire by mistake. With great presence of mind the chef served the crepes, folded twice, as a new creation. The prince was enraptured and christened the flambeed egg pancake with the name of his charming companion.

Crepe batter should be smooth, so a blender is a good tool for making it, but a whisk will suffice. It should also rest for a couple hours in the fridge, then let it get back to room temperature before you start cookin'. The resting process allows the gluten to relax as well as expand and absorb moisture, so you won't get tough crepes. The end result will give you a lovely light and thin crepe. Teflon is usually not exactly my favorite thing, but from what I hear they work well for this.

King Arthur Flour's Parisian Street Vendor Crepes
  • 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 tsp vanilla (only add this if you're making a sweet crepe)
If you're not throwing it all into a blender, follow their method:
In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt. In another, smaller bowl, beat together the milk and eggs. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in about half the liquid mixture. Blend well, then add the remaining liquid and stir until fairly smooth. Stir in the butter. Cover and let sit for at least one hour.
Heat your pan until it's medium-hot. Wipe the bottom of the ban with a bit of butter (a paper towel works well). Pour a scant 1/3 cup of batter into the bottom of the pan, pick it up, and swirl it so the batter covers the bottom of the pan. Cook until the bottom begins to brown and you can slide a spatula under the crepe. (Or, you can just flip it like a pancake!) Cook briefly on the other side and place on a warm plate.

This recipe makes a LOT of crepe batter (of course it is just my boyfriend and I) - I would suggest cutting it in half unless you've got a big family or company. If you're making a big batch, you can toss them onto a sheet tray in a low oven (around 200F) to keep them warm till serving. I used some of my leftover batter the next day and it worked just fine. Keep in mind, you can play around a little bit with the recipe - add a little cinnamon to the batter for that apple filling, or substitute beer instead of milk for your braised pork and cheese filling.

The filling: The French love their Nutella. They have reason to...it's delicious. Try spreading some Nutella onto the crepe, add some sliced banana, and hit it with a little sift of powdered sugar before enjoying. Add berries and yogurt. Make a sauce to go along with it. Whatever you like.



I mixed some ricotta cheese (about 1 1/2 cups) with the juice of a lemon, and added powdered sugar till it tasted sweet enough, plus about 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla. I used this and strawberry yogurt as my filling. Success!


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sticky Toffee Pudding

I made sticky toffee pudding last night. I figure if I end up with this job and the chef wants to make it, I should at least have made it and eaten it once.

There were two things wrong with this endeavor: for one, I can't find a recipe in any of my cookbooks that I trust. And for another, I've never eaten it...meaning I have nothing to compare it to and don't know how good it really is.

In any case, I made it, and since I'm too lazy to look for my cake pan I grabbed the bundt pan in easy reach (shame on me). I also made a toffee sauce to go with it, and because I didn't use a recipe I don't have one to post. Again, shame on me! Not using a recipe is the biggest baking taboo. But I think it's pretty good anyway...I put brown sugar in a pot with a little water, let it caramelize, and added some light cream. The consistency isn't as good as when I do that with regular granulated sugar. Next time I'll actually use a recipe but it works for now.

I decided to go with a recipe from Food Network. In the end, I had a nice, moist cake, and a way to eat dates and actually enjoy them!

Next time, I'm also going to try adding a little rum to the sauce. Also some lightly whipped cream would go well - and I'd like to try folding Bailey's caramel into it. I also evidently need some white plates...it would look much better! Next time, folks.
The recipe:
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup pitted dates (I actually had a box of chopped, pitted dates, which made my life much easier)
  • 1 1/4 cups boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10-inch round or square baking dish. Sift the flour and baking powder onto a sheet of waxed paper. Chop the dates fine. Place in a small bowl and add the boiling water and baking soda; set aside. In a bowl of electric mixer beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla; beat until blended. Gradually beat in the flour mixture. Add the date mixture to the batter and fold until blended with a rubber spatula. Pour into the prepared baking dish. Bake until pudding is set and firm on top, about 35 minutes. Remove from oven to a wire rack and cool.

This is a traditional recipe, but it's a cake that you can easily mess around with the flavors - instead of dates add dried cranberries or blueberries. Like it? Add it!

The Interview: Part Two

This term, Thursdays start for me with pastry production from 6am to 11, a break till noon, followed by "Intro to Cooking Techniques" - a classroom class taught by one of my favorite chefs at the school. Not only do we get out of class an hour early, he even makes us mac and cheese. Straight up, nothing fancy, nothing added to it. Basic bechamel with cheddar mixed in with elbow macaroni and parmesan on top that provides a lovely crust upon baking. Delicious.

I came home for a quick change and headed straight to the Blockley for my interview with the chef, Ross Esner.  I navigated my way around the back of the building, where two men making chitchat told me I was in the right spot (a sign in the front had informed anyone trying to get to the Blockley to go around back, without mentioning where it was in relation to the Korean restaurant that's also around back). The first people I come to are two of the men I originally interviewed with, in a small office to the left. They're going over what no doubt is stacks of applications and resumes. I swallow my nerves, yet again, throw a big smile and say hi. They look up and see me, saying hi back, and Nick the tall one even says, "I told you we'd put in a good word for you." They send me off to the main room where the chef is giving people walkthroughs.

I see no one other than a middle-aged Mexican man filling out an application by the bar, wearing jeans, sneakers, and a letterman jacket. It looks to be a waiting game, just as before. Fortunately for me though, a few minutes later two more people join us - the first guy I actually know. He worked at Distrito with me, where I spent a total of about two weeks before being laid off back in October, and also goes to The Restaurant School. He immediately heads over to talk to me, and we share our knowledge on this new restaurant, the chef, and the menu. It's not only calming, but passes the time. Frank has a habit of giving me his number, despite knowing that I live with my boyfriend. He gives it to me again, "in case you change your mind," and I laugh and tuck it into my purse pocket.

The other job hopeful that came in behind Frank was another guy that looked to be in his mid-twenties, good looking with a plaid shirt, jeans, and some of the strangest shoes I'd ever seen on a man. Finally, the chef appears with a few other candidates, and it's easy to indicate which one is the chef. Not by attire, no - he's wearing dusty boots, jeans, and a denim jacket - but the other three men all seem to have that hope and desperation that seems to emanate from people going into an establishment looking for a job. He finishes talking to them individually to go over their resumes, and tells us he'll take us all on a walkthrough.

It starts off in what is to going to be a small kitchen, back behind the stage, in charge of the food for the bar area. He also explains that there will be an AM crew that comes in and bangs out the prep - breaks down proteins, etc. Night crew will have a small list of responsibilities. Typical set up so far. Then he leads us through a hidden walkway into the restaurant next door. Here is an open kitchen, where the menu will be much more seasonal with higher prices, and more focus on the service. The bar will have more of a set menu - sandwiches, salads, wings - but all done well. As Chef Ross says, "The food's gonna kick ass." He finishes explaining his plans, and takes us full circle back to the bar, where he takes us aside individually.  I'm very thankful that Frank is here - his presence and being able to talk to someone while I wait has given me far less time to build up nervousness.

"Tell me about yourself. Why do you want to cook?" Esner has an oddly shaped nose, scraggly dark hair, and a sense of comfort and confidence about himself.
"Well," I say, scratching my head, "I fell in love with food a couple of years back. I worked at a coffeeshop owned by an Indian family and the owner made a lot of things from scratch. We did soups every day, and baked, and it was the first time I really started getting into it. I played around at home a lot with food. Eventually, I changed my decision to go to school in Memphis for sound engineering to follow this instead."
"The live music will be good for you then," he says. "Why did you change your mind?"
"I was a band geek in high school. I thought I could kind of play off of that, but in the end I realized that this was something I really thought I could be better at."

He nods and thinks. 

"Well, as for me, I'm involved with a couple places already. I closed up Django, a small BYOB, a few months back after having it 3, 4 years." He tells me about the place not turning a profit - something he partly believes was because of not selling alcohol - and how hard it was seeing everyone else get a paycheck but himself. Eventually he couldn't do it anymore.

He then asks me what days I can't work, and what my comfort level is. I tell him I'm a bit nervous about grill - I've never worked a grill station, and I'd be more comfortable on saute. Somehow I also say that I'm fine grilling a whole fish, and I'm not entirely sure how that happened. But the most exciting part, the part that made me call and squeal to one of my friends on my way home, was when he told me he'd be happy to have me take over the pastry area of the menu and put my stamp on it. He says there are some things he definitely wants to do - bread pudding, sticky toffee pudding, baked alaska, and apple cobbler. All simple, all tasty things that people won't be put off by. (Well that's not completely true - people are generally freaked out by baked alaska if they don't know how easy it really is.) No problem, I think. Some ideas have already popped into my head while we speak.

He writes the days I'm available onto my resume, as well as "pastry" at the very top. 

"I'll e-mail you the menu and be in touch." I can't help my smile at this point, shake his hand once more and thank him.

I leave the soon-to-be-restaurant with a quick wave to Frank and a bounce in my step.

The Interview: Part One

This past Sunday I went to an open interview at a restaurant that's opening mid-March. It's called The Blockley Pourhouse, and I found them in an ad on craigslist, stating that they're hiring all positions front and back of the house.

I really didn't think much of it - I've had an extremely hard time finding a decent job, and passed it off as another I probably won't get. But I went to the open interview anyway, and before I knew it, my nerves were setting in. This has been a problem for me in the past. Before I started work at my first real restaurant, I could barely eat for about three days. I did what I could to calm myself - took the car where I can feel confident in my own little bubble, where I can listen to whatever music I like, however loud I like. I thought of all the experience I have - a 3.9 GPA in culinary school that I'm attending, management at a pizza place, sous chef at a fine dining French restaurant where I butchered tenderloin, stripsteak, and removed silverskin from lamb. I learned to fillet Dover sole, though I never got to be great at it, and probably couldn't do it if you asked me to right now. I covered all the appetizers, like crab imperial, stuffed shrimp, smoked salmon with toast, and escargot. I learned a little bit about sauces, though not much relatively speaking. It was the first time I tasted mornay, beurre blanc, and tournedo. The front of the house was one of the most terribly adorned places I had ever seen: the seventy-year old woman owner's doll collection was scattered about, and her presence was further enhanced by massive amounts of doilies. We served our specialty items on gaudy purple and gold plates, like the lamb.


But despite all of this, I think of my weaknesses as I drive to the intersection of 38th and Chestnut. By the time I walk into the building bearing the outdated sign of "Koko Bongo," the business that failed, I'm shaking. The entire building is completely gutted - the walls are all different colors from pink to blue to white, there are giant eight-foot sheets of plywood laying about, while loose nails appear on the floor every here and there. Straight ahead is what looks to be the set up of a stage, and the first thing I reach upon walking in is the giant bar: it looks to be thirty feet long. Standing at the end nearest the door are two girls that look to be around my age, and when I walk closer, I see they're filling out applications taken from a stack laying on the bar. Down at the other end of the bar, sitting at a small fold-out table are three men. In front of the table is a single chair, where another girl about my age is being interviewed. I figure because I have my resume, the application would be obsolete, but as they dismissed the girl from the interview one of the men walked toward me and told me to go ahead and fill one out anyway. His light brown hair is short on top, and he holds a beard that gives him a vague Amish look (pointed out by one of the others during my interview). I hate filling out applications.
The next two girls go one by one to the table at the end of the bar, chasing front of the house jobs. The men are blatantly flirting with both of them. I overhear snatches of the conversations, and they both sound a bit ditzy - someone you could easily imagine saying, "I love The Hills!" or "I can't believe I have to miss the Lady Gaga concert." But they could be good candidates to serve food and booze to people that come in and get shitty.

After standing around for what feels like hours, it's my turn. The man on the left is tall with dark brown hair. The one in the middle looks like he could be a linebacker - but has a very gentle smile. And the bearded man on the right turns out to be the one in charge of the music and booking for the place. They are all young, and seem full of excited ambition. Despite my nervousness, I do a good job at swallowing it and throwing big smiles, acting confident and extremely interested in everything they have to say. They ask me if I would rather serve or cook, and I say for now maybe serving. I didn't tell them that this is because the money is better, and I don't want to get stuck making crappy bar food like potato skins and wings. But by the end of the interview, when I was informed that Chef Ross Esner, former chef of Django (the food of which is the second picture shown), would be the head chef here and there was an actual casual dining restaurant next to this large "fun room," they tell me in so many words that I would be working in the back of the house if anything. I'm fine with this - no - I'm great. In fact, I'd felt a little guilty saying I'd rather serve. A funny thing was that they actually spoke a good bit more than I did - it seemed like I could hardly get a word in. They were young and ambitious indeed. I left feeling like I'd at least gotten a little word in about myself.

The very next day Chef Ross calls me and leaves a message saying he would love for me to come by and set something up. As soon as I get a hold of him, he tells me that Thursday he's holding interviews and to come by then.

To be continued...