Swine before Pearls

Mark deNettis and Chef Bob from Fuel

I’ve been wanting to attend a Whole Hog Hoe Down at Il Mondo Vecchio for awhile and this past Memorial Day weekend while most were putting their sausage on their grills we were making ours. Continue reading

Cook Street September 180º Class

Here is the final slide show of the food created by the students of the September 180º class.  They were a good class on the whole and I am content the last class I had a part in teaching was a positive experience.  It really is the students and the dynamic of each group that determines the overall experience of the class.

I accompanied my wife to a Denison gathering at the Sink recently and I am always struck at how conversations strike up between people from completely different classes.  What does a person from the class of 71 have in common with a person from a class of 91?  Dorms, teachers, town, weather, sports, events are maybe the only common threads that can run through a conversation where the two parties reminisce over their experience.

It is a moment in time encapsulated by all the people and events that form that moment.  It is the reason you always feel so disconnected when you go to your own reunion or when you go to visit any space you haven’t been to in a while.  The space has moved on without you.  It has forged new temporal connections and relationships.  It is probably one reason why I am trying to encapsulate all these moments in a blog.  I might be able to reconnect to them when I am older and can reflect on the past.   I hope the visual record of each these classes will help the participants recall their own experience or at the very least allow them to remember the dishes we cooked and they might be able to reflect on that stage in their culinary evolution.  I wish my instructors from l’Academie de Cuisine had created a similar visual record for me to refer back to, but of course that was in the days of Kodachrome.

Addendum:  Another element I was struck with during the Denison gathering at the Sink which was put on by the couple that own it and who are also Denison alumni was the commitment by them towards green energy use and offering grass fed beef options from my friends at Lasater Beef.  This is a CU burger and pizza joint that has been around since 1923 and is right on the Hill.  They certainly don’t need to take the direction of green energy use or using more sustainably raised meat but they are blazing the trail and setting an example to the next generation.   Plus as the owner Chris Heinritz explained “it has paid for itself and is the right thing to do.”  Did anyone see Michael Pollan and Steve Ells on Oprah this past Wednesday?  Anyway, it was refreshing to see Oprah introducing these heroes of sustainability and of positive change of our industrial food system to the people who can make the biggest difference in our food system: Mothers and future mothers, and of course Chefs.

Félicitations 180° September Class

I went down to the crossroads

On Tuesday December 28 my employment at Cook Street was Terminated.

I have always left all my previous jobs voluntarily.  For me this is a new experience.  Of course after I received the news,  I started to scroll through all the foreboding and writing on the wall I had ignored but which my subconscious had registered.

The timing from the perspective of my employer was as perfect as could be planned, given the format of the School’s curriculum.  The last class had just graduated and the new class, who had just finished their wine course two weeks prior, would not be starting until January 4.  If I was faced with the same regretful task I would have chosen the same time to deliver the blow.

I could wallow in the mud of rancor and bathe in a bath of revenge by composing a post that details all the events leading to this moment. That would serve no purpose and would not change my current status.  I recently read a quote that said, “Be careful not to focus all your attention on the door that just closed as you might lose sight of all the doors that just opened.”

I am hardly the first person to find myself in this position in 2009/10.  I am at a crossroads and am excited about what direction I will go in next.  This will be my complete focus.  There are so many avenues for me to explore in this industry and so many of my own talents I can exploit.  If any of you has a potential lead, please do no hesitate to pass it along.

I have been mulling starting my own business for some time and this might be the impetus I needed to move forward on achieving my own vision.  If I choose this direction it will certainly involve culinary education and working with the French.  I have too much experience and passion in both these areas to ignore them as an option.

To all the staff  I associated with at Cook Street:  It was a pleasure working alongside you.  There are plenty of talented people there and these talented people are in culinary education for all the right reasons.

Stay tuned to see how my life adventure unfolds.  I’ve already got some exciting plans brewing.

Summary of 2009

2009 was actually an amazing year for me, even if it was not for the rest of the United States and the rest of the world.  It was a year of extreme growth and I entered uncharted territory on numerous occasions.  I had a lot of successes and faced many challenges.  It was also a year of sacrifice and learning what it was like to seriously focus on living with less.  We survived and as they say what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.  I am stronger, more confident and more resolved to learn even more in the tweens and teenage years of the new millennium.  

I wanted to take an inventory of my accomplishments this year and to acknowledge my challenges.  This is one of the cathartic and obviously narcissistic elements about writing this blog.  Indulge me on this trip through memory lane.  Hopefully my accomplishments will inspire you to take more positive steps in your own life.  

So here it goes:  

This blog has reached its 2 year mark.  Over that period it has received 19,000 hits.  I don’t know what my subscription base is.  I am having retrieving that information, but I know there are a lot of you out there.   Thanks for following me and pass it along to anyone else you know who might be interested.  

I graduated four groups of 180º program students in 2009 at Cook Street:  

December 08 Class that graduated in March 2009

  

March 09 class that graduated in June

  

Half of June 09 class that graduated in September

  

Sorry about that June class, but I must have forgotten to take a group shot of all of you.  Click on this if you want to see all the participants from that class.  

The September 09 class that just graduated a week ago

  

By my count 41 students for 2009.  This is the lifeblood of any school and the future of the profession.  I have been fortunate to have had a hand in building their sensory memory, inspiring and building their repertoire of culinary techniques.  Stay in touch guys.  Let me know how you are progressing and let me know how I might be able to help you in the future.  Chef-Floyd@comcast.net.  You are the reason  I do what I do.  

Early in the year I made a presentation to the Anschutz Medical Center about heart healthy cooking.  This gave me the opportunity to be live on Channel 9 for the first time.  TV was a real learning experience and I was very green on that first spot.  TV goes really fast.  If you ever go on.  Keep it simple and focus on the sound bite.  

Aubrey Cornelius from Sprockets Communications arranged a whole series of other TV segments throughout the year and thanks to her I had a crash course in how to set up for a TV spot and sometimes put together different spots in different studios with only ten minutes in between segments.  First I started doing healthy segments with Dr. John (he seems to have disappeared since) and then I was just doing thematic spots to draw attention to Cook Street.  I stumbled a little at first and over prepared of course, but after a while I got into the groove.  I started to get to know the news and floor staff.  TV is definitely a bizarre world and it is interesting to be behind the scenes.  Of course you are already heavy on the News cast radar because you are bringing food.  Food is a hell of a lot more interesting and tastier than a dog needing shelter.  They had one kitchen I had access to on the Deuce, but on Fox 31 I had to bring my own portable burner and I know once I burned the counter top with a hot pan.  I did a modern interpretation of a Salade Nicoise and Melissa on the deuce told me she couldn’t eat the rare tuna because she was pregnant (she was just starting to show).  On my last spot right before Christmas she was about ready to pop, but she didn’t have a problem along with Tom in devouring my lobster profiteroles.  I even got my former student, Patricia Bellaire, now turned T.A.  on the air.  Click here , here , here or here to see me in action.  

At the annual ACF award’s dinner I was surprised when my name was called out along with my co-worker Chef Dale and was handed an award for “outstanding Contribution to Culinary Excellence.”  I have never been certified by the American Culinary Federation at any level and the membership to the ACF came with my employment.  So I got introduced to the world of the ACF over the last two years.  They are trying very hard to be relevant to a new generation of chefs (their membership is dwindling and dying off).  Their monthly magazine which I always read cover to cover is filled with every top trend in the industry.  They are a helpful tool for networking.  

This year was the year I helped Bauscher plates US branch President Jeff Heaney to successfully launch the Deep Plate blog.  I originally contacted him after going to the ICC in NYC in the fall of 2008.  I wanted to see if he would let me use some of their plates as the backdrop of pictures I was taking for this blog.  He started first by sending me a whole series of their plates.  He then he sought out my advice on how to start a blog that would feature a different plate exercise each month which chefs from around the country and world could show off their plate presentations.  It took off and spread fast.  It brought recognition to our school and even featured shots by some of my past students.  It is interesting to see what different chefs will come up with for plate presentations for the blog.  Unfortunately not all the presentations are stellar.  However if you are interested in getting involved it is a pretty neat monthly exercise and you end up with some very cool plates.  

Every month (except one) I participated in the monthly Deep Plate Blog exercises and even did a challenge with my former student Thomas of a whole menu presented on Bauscher plates.  

  

One of the submissions to Deep Plate Blog

Peggy Markel came to visit us at the school and did a presentation on her trips to Tuscany.  I have never been on one of her trips but I know as a fellow tour leader she embodies all that a good tour guide should.  Passion for travel, food, culture and a strong desire to share with her clients.  I wholeheartedly endorse her trips and hope to attend one someday.  That day is coming soon I feel.  

My wife Lucy and I helped break ground on the garden to table project sponsored by the Growe foundation at our children’s school.  My wife aggressively pushed her agenda through the school district and received grants to get this important project “in” the ground.  She and I both feel very strongly about teaching our next generation to appreciate growing, cooking and eating their own food.  

My son Paris getting his hand dirty

  

Two huge transformative events occurred for me this year.  Our sommelier Debbie Gray brought to my attention an opportunity to accompany the US Potato Board to Uruguay.  I jumped at the chance.   I had to do it.  I speak fairly good Spanish and I would be really going out of my comfort zone to accomplish this.  The USPB flew me to Montevideo Uruguay in Business class during the height of the swine flu scare.  

a smoky interior from all the parillas at a market in the old section of Montevideo

  

It was a great experience and nerve-wracking.  It’s one thing to speak in your own language to people who understand you and another to speak to a group in your native tongue while it gets simultaneously translated.  There is a delay effect.  It was also tricky trying to prep my demo in an unknown kitchen during lunch service.  I finished the day being one of three and the only foreign visiting chef to do a food demo to a group of a 100 grocers and potato farmers from Uruguay.  It was fun and it was great to connect to chefs in a distant part of the globe.  

The other transformative experience was the IACP conference which came to Denver this year.  I was the Director of the Demo Committee and initially I was wrangled into this by Sylvia Tawse as an assistant to Drew Gillespie, but as fate would have it Drew became pregnant and I had to pick up the ball and run with it.  I’m stressed just thinking back on it right now, but I proved that I could overcome the stress and deliver.  I couldn’t have done it without all the help of some of my past students and of the students from Johnson & Wales.  

Andoni Aduriz and his crew

  

I was simultaneously trying to book some events at Cook Street (which I know upset the IACP president as she didn’t want me to provide any competition to the conference).  Nonetheless I scheduled Douglas Baldwin to do a presentation on Sous Vide cooking and Ian Kleinman from O’s restaurant to do a class on Molecular Gastronomy which meant that I had access to a huge dewar of Liquid Nitrogen until my boss forced me to return it.  I played a little with the LN.  It’s fun stuff.  

We had also negotiated to host some classes and events at Cook Street for IACP.  We put on sit down dinner called “Wild and Rare” where I got to cook alongside John Ash, Andrew Dwyer and Will Poole from Wen Chocolates. Unbelievably I also managed to sneak out a last-minute catering event with the help of another staff member to an off site IACP board of trustees event.  I was also blessed with a visit from my former Chef  Instructor and owner of  l’Academie de Cuisine: Francois Dionot and his wife Patrice.  

The gang all together after the wild Rare dinner. From left to right John Ash, Cassidy Tawse, Andrew Dwyer, Sylvia Tawse and yours truly

  

On the last day of the conference IACP scheduled a group of top pizza and dough specialist to do a pizza extravaganza at Cook Street.  I rushed from the conference to catch this special event and noticed that the electricity had gone out in most of the downtown.  Peter Reinhart, Cathy Whims and Antonio Laudisio rolled with it and produced some amazing pizza to a packed house. The lights came back on in the last ten minutes.  After the event was over I went home and collapsed in my bed.  I had survived and it had been a huge success even if they had poor over all turn out due to the economy.  I have since been consulted for advice for the conference that will take place in April in Portland Oregon. I hope to attend this time as a guest.  

In the summer we hosted, Allison Reynaud, the daughter of a good friend of ours from Avignon.  Her mother is the girlfriend of my best friend in France: Robert Brunel and she owns the chocolate factory in Chateau Neuf du Pape: Chocolaterie Bernard Castelain  

I put the menus together for the 180º Dining events that occur twice every program.  A total of 8 sit down dinners for 50 people (in all fairness not all sold out).  I wanted to get my students involved in the production of food to the public and the only opportunity my students had prior to this event was to volunteer for an event which occurred once a month called Taste 5.  Taste 5 was buffet featuring 5 different tastes of food with five different paired wines.  All the staff had to be available to help coordinate and it put a hell of a burden on the facility the whole week leading to the  event.  Add to that the student volunteers would sometime decide to un-volunteer and you had the potential for a huge cluster***k.  My idea was to supplement our student’s education and to focus on our core education of classic regional French and Italian Cuisine and allow the students to get a feeling of what it was like to cook and serve a sit down dinner of 50 paying customers.  It is a hit and now has its own following even without a posted menu.  

Lobster Napoleon with sauce Americaine from the French Christmas dinner earlier this month  

We were blessed with the presence of members of the Mexican consulate and Chef Roberto Solis from the Yucatan.  They wanted to present wines from Mexico and to showcase their chefs.  It was a great opportunity for Cook Street  students to connect with a chef from our neighbors down south.  One of my students is hoping to get down there for a stage in a few months.  Roberto Solis has a restaurant Nectar in Yucatan and has worked with Heston Blumenthal from the Fat Duck in Bray UK, with René Redzepi of Noma restaurant in Copenhagen and Thomas Keller at Per Se in NYC.  

Roberto Solis plating with Duane

  

His style is avant-garde but with an eye on traditional Yucatan cuisine.  Some of his dishes were magical and did what many deconstructed dishes do which is to bring you right back to something instantly recognizable in flavor.  

Of course I am a devout reader and try to improve my culinary knowledge daily.  One of the few advantage of commuting to Denver each day is that I had 30 minutes each way to focus on reading or grading quizzes.  I came to class refreshed, unstressed and more educated than I would be if I had fought with the rest of the commuters that file in one by one into the urban center.  I read Salt, Cod, Devil In The Kitchen, The Sharper Your Knife The Less You Cry, Under Pressure, In Search Of Perfection, Lessons In ExcellenceThe Food of France and I am half way through the The Food of Italy.  

I have become more of an activist in the past year.  I have read some pretty disturbing books and seen some moving movies on the subject.  Rent and watch Food Inc. and watch the Future of Food on Hulu.  Hopefully these movies will make you angry and want to take action.  Vote with your wallet at the supermarket, patronize your local farmers market.  You can make a difference.  

Something needs to be done about changing the Farm Bill.  We need to stop the monopolies of companies like Cargill, Monsanto, IBP, Swift among others.  Wouldn’t it be nice if a farmer could sue Monsanto for allowing their GMO soybeans or corn from contaminating their crops and adulterating their seeds.  Ask your representative about Kevin’s Law.  Does he/she support it.  The processing plants have too much power to contaminate our food supply with impunity.  We need to turn the tables and give the consumer back their rights.  We need to find another outlet other than our schools for the meat that goes unchecked by USDA.  Anyway there is a lot to be vocal about and with the internet it is a lot easier to do.  

My father and I went to CU to talk to a food writing class about our different backgrounds and were pleasantly surprised at the level of involvement these students had in connection with food.  

As you can attest it has been a big year for me.   I can hardly wait to see what takes place next year.  In my next post I will make a big announcement.  

Happy New Year may you all be blessed with good food, wine and good friends to share it with in 2010.

180° Dining, French Christmas Celebration Menu

We just completed the 2nd 180° Dining event for this class and the last one for the year.  The theme was Reveillon or a French Christmas celebration menu.  When the French set out for the preparation of a Christmas or New Year’s dinner they pull out all the stops.  Oysters, smoked salmon, caviar, foie gras, lobster, good beef and of course tons of chocolate and other sweets.  It was with this in mind that we created this menu.

Many of our student’s families were in attendance and even a prospective student for the class that starts in March.  The students did a stellar job and worked well as a team.

The amuse was a smoked salmon bavarois profiterole topped with Trout roe and served with a beurre fondu.

Smoked salmon bavarois profiterole

The appetizer:

Lobster Napoleon with tomato confit and sauce Americaine

The plat principal:

Beef tenderloin stuffed with seared foie gras and black truffles

For dessert we had Opera cake:

Ashley decorating the Opera cakes with gold leaf

Of course we have to end each meal with some more sweets so we served a plate of Mignardises to each table:

Mignardises served on a selection of Bauscher plates

The evening was not without its share of issues to put a monkey wrench into an otherwise flawless dinner.   Our sommelier recently broke her ankle and was making a valiant effort to be at work each day to teach the new class, but on this day her infection got worse and she had to be admitted to the hospital.  She was contained in a bubble to avoid any further infection and obviously could not do her usual presentation of the wine selection.

Also in the heat of plating one of my students Duane’s world was re-supplying us with tenderloin from the combi oven.  We were on our last two tables and I asked Duane’s world to grab two more tenderloins.  He responded that there were none left.  “What do you mean there are none left.”  I go over to garde manger and he is looking into the combi and shaking his head.  I look into the combi and see they are on the top shelf which is slightly hidden out of view for a man that is 6’5″.  Of course I had done my calculations properly and there was the right amount of tenderloins roasted for the number of clients we expected, but I still suffered a minor coronary when I first heard his response.

Normally we do these events on a Friday night, but since we are in full Christmas event mode at Cook Street we had to return the following morning to teach the 180° program.  Since our sommelier was in a bubble, I was going to have to lecture my present students on charcuterie and then go to the wine room to lecture my new students on the Loire Valley and Bordeaux wines as well as do a complete review of all the French wine growing regions.

The following day I believe is the longest I have ever lectured in a single day.  Debbie our sommelier is apparently free of infection and is just having a reaction to the medicine they prescribed.  She has had a rough year and I am sure she will welcome a healthy and accident free 2010 as will I.

My students get creative

I can’t believe we have begun a new class at Cook Street.  On November 30th, 20 new students began the wine portion of the program.  On January 4th in 2010 we will have a student who pulled out of our present program join us again which will make it 21 students or 7 students for each instructor in each rotation. This class size will become a new record for me.

Meanwhile the students in my present program are struggling to keep their energy level high enough to finish out the course.  Nonetheless, the students in my present rotation have stepped up to the creative plate and have come up with some good presentations.  In the final Hot Line rotation I like to give my students a little more freedom to express themselves within the confines of our dish.  They must use all the elements that are intended for the dish but how they are arranged I will leave up to them.

We teach component cooking at Cook Street which means that if you know the techniques of a roast or sauce or purée then you can apply them to any similar ingredient.  The goal is to have our students learn how to cook without recipes and to understand the techniques used in any dish and the proper cooking method to apply to any ingredient.  Once they are liberated from the constraint of a recipe they are free to create within a framework of flavor.

My composition of the dish for the Deepplate Blog:  Bacon wrapped roasted venison loin with chestnut and butternut squash puree sandwiched between potato crisps and served with a sauce Grand Veneur

My plating of the dish for the Deepplate blog: Bacon wrapped roasted venison loin with chestnut and butternut squash puree sandwiched between potato crisps and served with sauce Grand Veneur

The students plating of the same dish

When he had our morning meeting we discussed the dish and Jordan suggested that we add some texture to the dish so we brainstormed a bit and came up with the idea above.  Alan also suggested we sear the bacon after we wrap the seared venison loin so that we could serve it with the loin.   We had not used this technique when we made the similar dish for 180° dining and consequently had to remove the undercooked bacon.  You could tell Alan had been thinking about this for a while and he was able to come up with a solution.  I’m always happy to see when the students start to think critically about a dish and come up with better solutions.

The previous day I let the students loose on a beef tenderloin dish and this is what they came up with.

Beef a la Bordelaise with asparagus and pommes frites

We have our next 180° Dining event coming this Thursday and the theme is a French Christmas dinner.  Christmas and New Year’s eve dinners are when the French pull out all the stops.   The following week I will be back on TV demoing some of the same dishes.  You can catch me on the 8am news on the Deuce and on Fox 31 December 19th.

My present group of students graduate on the 23rd.

Waverly Root


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I just finished reading Waverly Root’s “The Food of France”  and it was a delightful read on a country whose food I love and respect.  I also realized upon reading this book that it is the basis for all the regional French lectures we present at Cook Street.  So if any of you are planning to attend Cook Street’s 180° program, this book along with the “Food of Italy,”  which I have just started reading, should give you a leg up on those lectures.  I was also impressed with how much of the content I already knew.  I’m sure I won’t feel the same about the book on Italy.

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