Epic Wine Tasting

Screaming eagle

Just the reds from an epic wine tasting

So I have to add another service to my blog homepage.  I can create a Food and Wine experience around what’s in your wine cellar.  This is how it went down.  I had very nice couple who came to two of the classes in my wine series at the Kitchen Table.  At the end of the first class they suggested it would be cool if I were to come to their home to take a look at the contents of their wine cellar and come up with a wine tasting for their friends that would be informative and fun.  Continue reading

Treasures from the Garden

a Caprese salad made with tomatoes from the garden

This past weekend we had 21 close friends and family over for lunch at our house.  This time of year the garden is beaming with produce and begging for simple dishes that exploit the flavors of the summer sun.  I made an awesome Asian slaw and used Vietnamese cilantro from the garden (very unique flavor) to give it that je ne sais quoi (most didn’t know quoi) to the salad.  I roasted a 15lb. beef strip loin from my friend Mike Callicrate on the grill and I served the Caprese salad pictured above made with tomatoes and basil from my garden.  I drizzled some Domaine les Bastidettes Extra Virgin olive oil from les Baux de Provence, spinkled some fleur de sel and drizzled some amazing  Campari aged Balsamic vinegar.  The salad zinged with flavor and bold colors.

We feasted and enjoyed the heat of the day and great company.

Putting it all out on the table

The front of the school

The first day at a new job is always interesting.  What to expect?  What to discover?  New people to meet and get to know.

After a fairly long courtship and multiple interviews I have been hired as the General Manager for a small recreational cooking school, kitchen supply store and European style espresso bar called the The Kitchen Table.  The school is located in a small shopping mall off of Belleview called the Landmark Shopping Center. Continue reading

SOBE Wine and Food: Feeling the heat in a cold wave

The mandatory daily Cuban colada at David's each morning

Drinking Cuban coffees first thing in the morning has been our ritual since I arrived.  I love these coladas.  Super concentrated coffee with a heavy hand on sweetness to counteract the bitter.  They have just enough caffeine to jump start your morning.  Of course we get there in Ted’s Carrera and we usually run into the enforced 15 mph school zone which are highly monitored with police.  There is construction taking place on all the roads so it can be slow moving.

Our transportation

Ted has been fighting sickness since I arrived. Ted sick is still a force to be reckoned with.  His 60% is my 100%  rate of energy.

I meet up with Julie Mautner at the Dorchester for a gathering of a chef friend of hers named John Gray.  He owns several restaurants on the Riviera Maya.  We then head over to the Delano and go to a book signing of Tony Ayoub who has written a mixology book . The Delano is a gorgeous property and their infinity pool has been replicated by many of the newer hotels on the beach.

The infinity pool at the Delano

After the book signing we head to the Burger Bash.  It is being held in a huge tent with open sides (thank goodness with the amount of grills aflame) From a distance it looks like a scene from close encounters of the third kind.

Burger Bash tent

The line is huge to get in, but with our guest passes we go right to the front.   It is easy to move around initially and the first burger I taste is from the Morimoto booth and it becomes the standard to compare all the others.  After a while though it becomes pretty congested and the burgers less accessible.  I try some of the big names.  Daniel Boulud’s famous foie gras and braised short rib burger is very nice but still doesn’t quite measure up to Morimoto.  I also try David Burke’s burger.  I am remotely connected to several of the these top chefs through some of my more successful students and it’s great to hear these star chefs praise my former students.

Rachel Ray who is hosting the event tastes each of the burgers in sequence surrounded by seven body guards.  This seems a little over the top and is maybe in place for show, but you can’t escape her entourage.

A view inside the tent

They announce the people’s choice award at the end of the bash and it is between Bobby Flay and Michael Symon.  Micheal Symon takes it.   On the way out of  the tent I am introduced to Bobby Flay as casually as you would introduce anyone.

Julie heads back to her hotel and I make my way to the next venue, which is the Patron party at the W Hotel.  This is a pool side party and the theme is the great Patron debate (crushed ice or frozen, salt no salt on rim).  There are tasting booths everywhere with the same concept played out (tuna carpaccio vs tuna tartare) etc.  Participants of the party are encouraged to text their comments on a huge TV screen with a ticker tape view.

Ted urged me to take a sweater and it quickly becomes a necessity and the envy of many of the party goers who are dressed in Miami high fashion.  Sex sells and this is an open marketplace.   Patron has hired a about ten dancers scantily clad to take turns dancing in front of the huge TV screen.  They are in naughty librarian outfits and have clearly gone to advanced stripping school.  They have all the techno moves.  The rest of the Miami feminine contingency is competing for who can get away with the least clothing and pushing that dress line to the maximum.  Add to that the amount of silicone and body improvements and it turns out to be quite a fashion show.

Towards the end of the party I meet an interesting couple and we decide to continue on to the hotel nightclub.  We run through the hotel and bump into two French men.  I start to chat to them in French. I turns out to be Sacha Lichine and Patrick Léon.

Sacha Lichine is from the famous Bordeaux family (also owner of the famous Rosé Chateau d’Esclan) and Patrick is the former wine maker for Mouton Rothschild and was in the movie Mondo Vino.  Two living legends in the world of French wine.  Later waiting in line to get into the club I run into Thomas Trois Gros the grandson of the famous Trois Gros brothers.  He runs two restaurants in Rio.   These are the types of people I want to run into.  Those body guards can have Rachel Ray.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

Why I Cook?

Provencal Tian ready for long slow roasting

Recently on Michael Rhulman’s blog,  he discussed the reason why he cooks and challenged other food bloggers to do the same.  I ponder this often.  What was the original reason I chose to cook?  What was the motivation?  How did this love of cooking evolve to the present day?

I first caught the cooking bug when I was 7 years old living in Morocco.  My older brother had a good friend who’s father loved to cook and would invite us to his house for great meals.  My parents would show so much appreciation and respect for this man’s skill.  I wanted that same level of appreciation and respect.  He cooked from a book called “la Cuisine est un jeu d’enfant” (cooking is child’s play) and I figured I could cook from that book as well.  Under my mother’s watchful eye,  I started to cook from the book.   I wanted to be left alone to cook without supervision.  I had some success and continued to cook other dishes from the book.  I invited my teacher to come eat at our house and my parents would invite their friends.   I also started to make cocktails for these guests from a Playboy bartender’s Guide  (can you imagine if you told people these days that your seven year old was making cocktails for you).

So I would say my main reason for wanting to cook was for appreciation and respect.  We always ate very well.  So it certainly wasn’t out of necessity for survival.  Some have told me their parents were such bad cooks they were forced into action so they could have something edible for dinner.

As I got older, I found cooking was even more powerful.  It could help me hook up with girls.  I also learned to give good massages for the same reason.  I found out you could really touch (figuratively and literally) people with these two skills.

After my time at the University and a couple years attempting to live a 9-5 life.  I decided to go to culinary school.  Now my hobby had to become my profession.  I jumped into that world and decided I wanted to learn as much as possible.  I wanted to become a specialist.  I saw the respect and admiration my Instructors garnered, which further fueled desire to cook.

When I started to cook professionally, I initially became de-motivated.  It was hard stressful work and the people I cooked with had no appreciation or respect for the limited skills I had.   I then decided come hell or high water I would earn their respect.   I would work for the best.  I would go to France.  I would get skills clearly setting me apart from the rest.

Back to the bottom of the heap.  But working in France taught me how much better cooking can be.  The masters garnered respect and appreciation at a level unheard of in the US in the 80’s.  I would tell French people I was working at Georges Blanc and their eyes would light up.   Paul Bocuse, George Blanc, Roger Vergé and Joël Robuchon among many others were national heroes in France.

Came back to the US and realized that regardless of your background and history you still have to prove yourself in a professional kitchen.  What I brought back from France was a profound respect for the process involved with cooking.  Cooking required skill, knowledge, repetition and the use of all your senses.  I became a craftsman.

I stumbled into teaching Culinary School quite by accident and at first I was intent passing on the skills necessary to survive in a professional kitchen: discipline, hard work, organization and ability to withstand abuse.  Then it struck me that what I really wanted to get across to my students is the passion involved in cooking.  Once you have the passion all else falls into place.

People always ask my wife if I do all the cooking at home.  “You must eat really well” they say to her.

When I was working in kitchens and single the last thing I wanted to do on my day off was cook.  Chefs are notorious for empty fridges.  They might have a tombstone in the freezer nestled in with a bottle of Vodka, some slightly moldy salsa with a gallon of milk and 12 pack of beer.

When I got married and started teaching, I was around food all day and would eat what we made.  I would come home satiated and unexcited to cook.  So my wife took on the chore.  Fortunately she is a good cook.

Recently I have been the one feeding the family.   I have a new perspective after 22 years of Professional cooking.

I cook because I love the process of cooking.  Thinking through a dish and learning from it.

I cook because I know I can cook as well or better and for a lot cheaper than most any restaurant we might eat at.

I cook because I am in control of every element of the process.  I am ultimately responsible for the outcome.  If I mess up (it can happen) then I take stock and learn from it.

I cook because it allows me to explore the unknown.  If I cook the cuisine from a country I have never been to, it allows me to take that journey through the food.  It might not be the way the food is actually made in that country but that’s ok.  If I go there eventually, you can bet I will be looking for validation and authenticity.

I cook because it is a creative outlet that allows me to use all my senses and imagination.

I cook because I love to eat good food.  Important to note that good food does not mean it has to be expensive.

I cook because I want my wife and children to eat good healthy food and open them up to the vast world of food.

I cook because I still love to see that look of satisfaction on the face of the people I cook for.  Which really goes back to the main reason I started to cook in the first place.

Why do you cook?  Leave a comment or share your blog post.

Joyeux Saint Valentin

one of the chocolaterie's specialties: le Palets des Papes

I just wrote a brief post for my good friend and fellow blogger Julie Mautner.   Since Valentine’s day is right around the corner, you must all be thinking chocolate and maybe wine (or Champagne).  Go check out the Provence Post and let yourself be transported to a chocolate factory in the middle of the vines of Chateauneuf du Pape whose owner just happens to be my good friend Robert Brunel’s girlfriend Laurence.

Of course in Provence they are also deep into black Truffle season as well.

Fresh omelettes with black Truffles, hand dipped chocolates with marc of Chateauneuf du Pape,  2009 harvest of olive oil,  nougat,  Domaine de la Janasse and long slow braised dishes is probably what they are digging into about right now.  How I miss it all.

Another of their specialities: les picholines

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

OpenSky Project

Through reading Michael Rhulman’s Blog I became aware of this new online shopping experience called the OpenSky Project.  The concept is that blog writers can become shop keepers on the OpenSky Project site.  Since blog writers are usually specialist in their chosen field why not utilize them to sell the products they care about the most.

So I contacted the people at the OpenSky Project and asked them how I could become a shop keeper.  I was quickly signed up and have since opened my own store.   I will continue to fill the store pages with cool kitchen equipment and other stuff I really enjoy.  They have a whole bunch of distributors they work with and I can choose the stuff I am really into to feature in my store.  Or I can suggest pieces of equipment they don’t have and they will source them for me.  I write about why I like the particular pieces and can upload a picture that features the tool or even upload a video to feature it.  I’m just starting to become familiar with what my shop can do.

So if you want to see what I recommend so far click here.  And if you see something that catches your eye then buy it or tell your friends and family to buy it for you.

This also opens up a whole new topic for my blog posts.  Equipment that works.

Soupe au Pistou

January entry for Deep Plate Blog: Soupe au Pistou

Being at home non stop changes my whole routine, but shouldn’t limit what I can do in the kitchen.  My kitchen at home is well equipped and I can still make a lot of nice food without the vast easy availability of food at my former workplace.  I will continue to submit entries to the Deep Plate Blog each month.  However it will require much more thought and planning than before.

Normally my entries are done pretty quickly after I receive a plate from Bauscher.   Due to recent events it took me a little longer to complete my January entry.

Another major benefit of my new status is that my body is not subject to the 2,000 calories of daily food consumption that came with my teaching position.  I have a much healthier diet now and I am making purchasing decisions  that will feed my family with less meat protein yet leave them satiated.   I’ve been thinking a lot about Provence and France lately.   As I was thinking about my plate presentation for Deep Plate, I remembered a Soupe au Pistou we cooked once with my friend and co-teacher Michel Depardon.   He made his version of Soupe au Pistou and I was completely drawn to the beauty of its simplicity and the complexity of its flavor.

Michel Depardon showing Lisa Dawkins how to sauté

Michel's Soupe au Pistou

I decided I wanted to make similar soup yet keep all the elements whole.   Pistou refers to the garlic, basil and parmesan purée that is put into the soup at the last moment.  Pistou is a very close cousin to Pesto.  In Michel’s version of Soupe au Pistou we used fresh coco beans.  Little white beans that are a lot of work to shuck but add an unmistakable fresh legume flavor to the soup.  I chose instead to use dried cannellini beans, which are available in bulk at Whole Foods.

My recipe for Soupe au Pistou:

2 lbs. Dried Cannellini Beans (you could substitute navy beans or great northern)

1 gl. of Chicken stock

2 Tbsp. of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 onion

1 leek

6 cloves of garlic

2 carrots

3 zucchini

For the Pistou:

1 oz of fresh basil

2 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

3 cloves of garlic

2 Tbsp. of grated Parmesan (preferably Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano)

Method:

Soak the cannellini beans in water overnight.   If you live at altitude like I do, I recommend pressure cooking them, if you are at sea level you can cook them until tender in the chicken stock.

To pressure cook the beans.  Place the beans in the pressure cooker and cover with chicken stock . Cover and put on high heat until the pressure indicator pops.  Turn down the temperature and count off twenty minutes.  After twenty minutes cool down the pressure cooker by pouring cold water on it.  Check the consistency of the beans.  If you are happy with them then set them aside.  If not continue to cook them under pressure in small time increments until they are done.

While the beans are cooking, cut all the vegetables into a small dice.  Add a little olive oil to a pan and cook the onions over low heat until they are translucent.  Approximately 10 minutes. Then add the carrots and the garlic.  Continue to cook until they are almost tender.  Then add the zucchini.  Season and continue to cook for another 10 minutes.  Add the vegetables to the beans and stock.  If necessary add more chicken stock to reach the desired consistency.

To make the Pistou:  Pick the leaves of fresh basil and blanch them very quickly in boiling water.  Then submerge them in ice water.  Remove the basil leaves and wring out any water.  Mince the garlic very fine and then in a blender add the garlic, basil leaves, grated Parmesan and the extra virgin olive oil. Blend until very smooth.

Heat up the soup and serve in a bowl and top with the Pistou.  Enjoy.  If you want to make Michel’s version purée the soup and then top with the Pistou.

Off to the SOBE Wine and Food festival

A close friend of mine, Julie Mautner, who lives part of the year in France and has a really nice blog called The Provence Post, has just finished writing a cookbook based on the SOBE (South Beach) Wine and Food Festival . The book will be published by Clarkson Potter, just in time for the festival’s 10th anniversary in February, 2011.  Meanwhile I am going to be joining her for this year’s festival from February 25-28th and rubbing elbows with Culinary Royalty.  I will be attending a bunch of the events and of course be on the beach in the Grand Tasting Tent.  If I am really lucky I will get to see Padma in a bikini telling me she will “turn my culinary dreams into reality.”

A shot of Padma from her website

I attended a day of this event six years ago.  It was not a huge event back then, but apparently has really grown.  I remember the tasting tent being packed with people and after a while it was too much to bear.  After leaving the tent I ran into Anthony Bourdain and chatted with him for awhile.  It was quite strange.  The epicenter of the event takes place right on the beach and at different venues around SOBE.

This year they will be paying tribute to the great Daniel Boulud.  It will be nice hanging out in SOBE again with my close friend from High School who lives right on the beach.  This should be a great networking opportunity.  I will post about the whole event and my time in Miami.  Always crazy stuff happens when I go there.

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