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

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