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The Cynical Chef

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  1. We will be in Monterey this April for a couple of days and need some exciting food. We will have a car and don't mind driving but we will also have our 2 kids, ages 7 & 8. Looking for something wonderful but not extravagant. Love Asian, Mexican or Californian just so long as it vibrant. Our kids are used to our eclectic tastes in food and will try anything...although sometimes we have to pay them a dollar to do that. On another note if anyone will be in Paso Robles on the 15th of April you can catch us at Matt Garretson's Salute to Southern Chefs at the Garretson Wine Company. You know if Matt really wanted to salute me he would bring me to the French Laundry for dinner...instead of making me work like the dog that I am!
  2. Sara, While doing Primetime was there ever anyone that absolutely floored you with their food? I remember watching Eric Ripert make a beautiful crab salad with a yellow tomato vinaigrette that was so beautiful & elegant yet simple. Was there another chef whose food really rings a bell. On another note I have to tell you that I was so incredibly nervous before going on Primetime. I had already done Ready, Set, Cook but that was akin to being on Family Feud. Very fun yet chaotic. Before my Primetime appearances I was petrified! Live TV, next to Sara Moulton...Yikes! My heart was pounding like a teenager on his first date. In the green room you walked right up to me, called me by my first name, told me to relax, be myself and just have a good time. Exactly what my wife told me before I got on the plane. I was quite flattered that you would take the time to introduce yourself and you were so gracious on the set that you were able to make even me look good.
  3. Sorry folks but La Boheme has been gone for perhaps 18 months. That space has hosted 3 restaurants since Liz left La Boheme and is presently a simple steak place called Justin's. Liz cooks at Northampton Wine Cafe. She is the sous chef under Johannes de Bondt, brother of owner Richard De Bondt. Devereaux's is very, very good, even bordering on exquisite. Much more refined and polished than anything else in town...and I mean anything...even that 33 Liberty joint.
  4. Regulations such as the one mentioned are set forth by State Health departments. In SC we have had to serve our ground beef at least medium well for perhaps 10 years or so. Remember the Jack in the Box deaths in California? Those kids were killed by e coli contamination that survived in hamburger that was served at essentially medium rare. Many states passed hamburger regualtions after that and SC was one of them. All of those food safety labels that we now see on different proteins are the direct result of regulations passed following the Jack in the box deaths. Cast Iron Chef makes the right distinctions. There are cattle slaughtering facilities in the mid West that are capable of grinding hundreds of thousands of pounds of beef a DAY! E coli is a bacteria found in the intestines of cattle and there is always the possibility that intestinal matter will get splattered when a big animal is being butchered by poorly paid & quickly trained meat cutters. That's why you should always cook your store bought ground beef to medium well. Time to buy a meat grinder if you want a med rare burger.
  5. DAMNIT ! I hate you guys in California....lucky SOB's Here in the culinary wastelands this town is practically breathless with the news that PF Chang's is coming. Strike up the freakin' band Gladys, PF CHANGS is here! Our esteemed food writer stated in print that this is "quite an accomplishment" for our city.... Tell me again about that boudin blanc with prunes, only this time I want you to whisper all of those naughty details in my ear while I caress and fondle a warm, supple glass of Domaine Serene 01 Evanstad Reserve.
  6. They were all females except for the ones that were male and the ones that were not French were from a country other than France. Sorry but I do a bunch of business with Michelin so you won't get much out of me!
  7. Thank you Cucina! However, I am holding out for the cover story of Time Magazine.
  8. Greenville, SC is the North American Headquarters for Michelin. In addition to manufacturing tires, all of Michelin’s travel publications are edited and published here. The editors of the Travel Guides have been patrons of 33 Liberty for some time now. Inspector in the House In mid July I got a phone call from a good friend of mine at the Michelin Travel Guide. Some of the Michelin Inspectors will be in town to go over the manuscript to the Red Guide to New York City and they need somewhere to have dinner. Could we accommodate a party of 12 next Wednesday? “Of course” I said “and just how many Inspectors are coming?” “All of them” I was told. Gulp. The upcoming Red Guide to New York City has been perhaps one of the most talked about culinary events of recent memory. If one would believe the trade journals, these inspectors have terrorized New York for a year. The heralded chefs of New York have been lying awake at night sweating the possibility of a Michelin Star. Sous chefs have been fired, waiters berated, pots thrown and sommeliers humiliated in the quest for that star. Now they were on their way here. I hung up the phone and contemplated their visit. I had visions of the Alien Spaceship from “War of the Worlds” laying waste to civilization, panicked citizens screaming helplessly, elevated highways crumbling, entire city blocks engulfed in flame. When they were finished dining at our tiny restaurant, there would be nothing left except a smoking hole in the ground. I closed my eyes and thought about everything that could go wrong during the 7 days prior to this visit. I called my wife Amy to give her the grim news. “That’s so great!” she said. “They will love our place”. That night I sat down with my guys and a bottle of wine and discussed next week’s menu. I threw this question out to my Sous, Tony Keely and cook Juan Muniz. “What would be the last thing that this group would expect on our menu? Something totally French that we serve and do well?” Tony said “Pate” and I said “Bouillabaisse”. Now you may think that this borders on pandering. Should we style our menu just to suit our visitors? One of the great luxuries of owning a tiny, 32-seat restaurant is that we can change the menu at our discretion. Our menus have emphasized what we consider global comfort food with a touch of Southern Hospitality so pate and bouillabaisse are a fine fit. After the proper amount of wine we settled on a few dishes we knew would be appropriate for mid July: Gazpacho topped with a spicy peach sorbet, mini grilled cheddar cheese with a small bowl of warm tomato soup, smoked pork shoulder with cane vinegar, Cole slaw and a buttermilk biscuit, Alaskan salmon over market succotash with lemon & chive butter, hanger steak with roasted summer vegetables & thyme oil, blueberry cobbler with our own ice cream and a roasted peach & brioche tart. That Monday my friend at Michelin gave me a few very specific instructions concerning their upcoming meal. There were not to be any cameras in the restaurant at all. If someone were to accidentally take a photo of this group, even with a cell phone camera, the entire group would get up and leave. I was not to mention anything about the Red Guide in any way, shape or form and I was asked not to mention this to anyone in town, especially any other chefs in Greenville. “Geez” I said. “I can keep a secret, for Pete’s sake!” As soon as I got off the phone I called Ben Berryhill at the Red Drum in Mount Pleasant, about 225 miles from here. “BEN! GUESS WHO IS EATING AT MY PLACE IN 2 DAYS?” “Uh, the Pope?” “No, no…the entire team of the New York City Michelin Inspectors!” “Holy Mother of God Malik! What are you going to serve them?” After going over the menu with Ben and getting his seal of approval it was off to the State Farmer’s market for some grocery shopping. Amy & I fussed over tomatoes, peaches, sweet onions, blackberries, cucumbers, tiny yellow and green squash, baby carrots, fennel, blackberries, leeks, peppers, butter beans, and corn. Shopping at the market in the summer is so pleasurable and so rewarding that I often go 4 or 5 days a week. The sweet aroma of all that great summertime produce can truly be glorious. The next 2 days were spent making lobster broth and rouille for the Bouillabaisse, gazpacho, peach sorbet, blanching & peeling butterbeans, veal stock, corn stock and thyme oil. Tony got the pates made with plenty of hand-ground pork, pork fat, veal brisket and some braised rabbit. We added salt & pepper, pistachios, shallots that were roasted in duck fat, ground mustard seed and some reduced red wine then lined our terrines with bay leaf and thyme, then bacon then filled them with the pork mixture. As the pate baked slowly in a water bath Amy made pastry cream and caramel frosting, cleaned blueberries for cobbler and roasted peaches for the tarts. Brioche dough was made the day prior then rolled into individual 3-inch tart shells, proofed, baked then topped with pastry cream and half of a slow roasted peach. By Wednesday afternoon we were standing tall. I closed my eyes and thought of everything that had gone right. When the group arrived they were all very cordial and relaxed, although I was far from relaxed. They appear to immediately like our tiny restaurant with its mustard colored walls, slow moving ceiling fans and smiling staff. Wine was poured, an Argyle Pinot Noir from Oregon and a French white Bordeaux, Chateau La Grande Clotte. Baskets of Pomme fritte with truffle oil, Parmesan & thyme are passed around and one of them mentions how enjoyable the pinot noir’s of Oregon are. As our waiter Tom begins taking their order, Tony & I are trying to predict how many would order the pate and bouillabaisse. Of the 12 dining, 5 go for pate and bouillabaisse. These folks are definitely homesick. The pate, gazpacho and mini-grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup go out and I find myself glancing over to their table every chance I get. Glasses are being raised, forks are clinking on plates, smiles and cheers all around. They love the food. More appetizers go out, 3 of which are the molasses brined and pecan smoked pork shoulder with the slaw and biscuit. The pork plates are getting passed around and shared and heads are nodding. The main courses are next and as I am ladling up the bouillabaisse, redolent with crayfish, mussels, shrimp, catfish, grouper and leeks I just know that they will love it. I grew up cooking gumbo in south Louisiana and I understand the importance of a dish such as Bouillabaisse. This is soul food, pure and simple. The bouillabaisse is served with plenty of our own bread and the smiles all around are genuine. Everyone orders dessert. One gentleman asks for another smoked pork & Cole slaw in lieu of something sweet. “I cannot get pork like this in France” I hear him say. He changes his mind after Tom describes Amy’s brioche & roasted peach tart. As the desserts are being enjoyed I walk over and say hello. One gentleman immediately asks me if I made the brioche tart. “That was my wife,” I say “and she has already left for the day.” “You will give her a big kiss for me when you get home, yes?” “Of course” I say. At the end of the night several of the inspectors come up to me and shake my hand, tell me thank you. They wave to Tony & Juan and smile. Another mentions that our Pomme fritte are better than many he has had in Paris. Yet another comes up and tells me that the local Michelin folks had spoken very highly of our restaurant and that everyone agreed that their dinner was delicious. I call Amy and tell her how well the evening went and she chides me for all of my worrying. Alien spaceships indeed! The next day my Michelin friend calls to say how delighted they were with dinner. If we were being reviewed the consensus was that 33 Liberty would rate a Bib Gourmand, a category of unassuming, moderately priced restaurants with very good food. As I hang up the phone I wonder what it would have been worth to some of the New York restaurants to get a 7-day’s notice of an impending Michelin inspection. Priceless, I suppose.
  9. A carbonator, huh. I don't have one here because we are just too small but that's cool. My first batch of lemon & vanilla soda was too heavy on the yeast (2 teaspoons for 1 & 1/2 gallons) and too light on the sugar (2 cups). This go round I will up the lemon, add another cup of sugar and make do with only 1/2 teaspoon of yeast. We have been saving wine bottles with the screw caps and that should seal tighter than a used wine cork. And "fifty dollars " if you plan on doing this yourself please make sure you sanitize the bottles and work in an insanely clean enviroment. bonne chance!
  10. The soda was a little heavy on the yeast and that gave it a bit of an off nose, too yeasty. But after allowing it to chill for 7 days there was a huge difference in the texture and nose. The soda resembles a Sun Drop. Next time, more sugar, less yeast and no vanilla. Grapes are in season......
  11. Had dinner at One Midtown Kitchen last week and have to say it was quite wonderful! Richard is very cordial and engaging. Not at all what I expected after what I had read in the paper media. Was expecting some sort of irritable Thomas Dolby type but that was hardly the case. Most everything we had was intriguing, delicious and beautifully presented. That being said I can't go anywhere without being recognized so we did get a few Scooby Snacks thrown our way! Just kidding, my sous has met him before. The staff was helpful and effecient and the place seemed to click. Peach Sashimi with Basil Oil, Tempura Squash Blossom with Romesco Injection, Pate with Lychee Soda & Mustard Ice Cream, Bread Crisp with Sesame Butter and Muscadine Jelly, Beausoleil Oyster with Pickled Cucumber..... Richard does a chef's tasting menu on Monday & Tuesday nights and that is the time to go. Cheers!
  12. Last week I made some Root Beer. It was rather easy because I had some Zatarain's Root Beer extract. Mix into sugared water, add a yeast starter, bottle in sanitized wine bottles and cork. I did wash, sanitize and dry the bottles and corks. After 5 days the root beer was creamy delicious. Inspired by my success I made a batch of lemon-vanilla soda today. 1.5 gallons of water, 2 vanilla beans, 4 juiced lemons, sugar until it tasted right and then added my yeast starter and bottled. It should be ready by the weekend. So does any one know of a possible pathogen partial to sweet water? It will be kept cold the entire time in the bottle. If you're in for dinner there is enough to get me through next week!
  13. In this town? That would be moi! Sometimes known as: The Guru of Grits The Sultan of Shrimp The Hominy Hunk The Prince of Pecans The Country Ham Commissar The Ying & Yang of Yams The Protector of Peaches The Brain behind Sugar Cane I could go on but I am giving a keynote address on "Humility and the Southern Chef" and I am behind schedule...
  14. I really wanted to like N/R...really did. But I found myself nodding off. The Absinthe hallucination scene (anyone remember that same scene in the movie "Jacob's Ladder?") was unnecesssary, too long and poorly done, likewise the bit on the Parisian sewers. The improptu-ness came off as scripted. Tony walks into a bar and just so happens to sidle up next to an artisan distiller of Absinthe? What a conicidence! My host forgets I am coming into Paris so I have to take a cab? Not again! Pan Am has been out of biz for what, 15 or 16 years now and Airline food has been pure crap ever since so why bother telling us? Sorry Tony. I know I am in the minority here but I was really disappointed. I will have to re-read the lobster butchering recipe in my Les Halles cookbook to restore my faith in you.
  15. I fail to see the attraction to a Flat Iron steak. It is off the shoulder, takes an enormous amount of trimming to secure something worth grilling and after all that trouble it is not nearly as good as Hanger Steak. Flatiron does have a cool name though....do not waste your time looking around for a flatiron. It is worthy of a chili pot, nothing more. Hanger, Flank & Sirloin are all better alternatives. A tender flatiron has been pounded to death or needled until it resembles Sponge Bob. The other steaks need no such torture.
  16. I got my first ramps today! Will serve them tonight with Chicken Confit and Cane Syrup & Mustard Vinaigrette. Never understood their ferocious reputation because once they are gently poached in a little water then finished in butter (or in my case, duck fat!) they are quite sweet and delicious. If one were to eat them raw, however, I am certain that the diner would reek like a leek. Will try to pick some myself this Monday near Asheville. Anyone else cooking ramps ?
  17. Pimento Cheese Burger at the Northgate Soda Shop....no wait, maybe the Pork Ribs at the Rendezvous in Memphis.......no wait, Bread Pudding Souffle at Commander's Palace...........maybe the mussels with white wine & brioche at Rathbun's....I know! The Pork Osso Bucco at Magnolia Grill..hhhmmm...I got it, the crayfish etouffe at the Yellow Bowl in Jeanerette, LA! That's it! Crayfish Etouffe at the Yellow Bowl in Jeanerette, LA! That's my favorite! But there is that fabulous chocolate jack daniel's ice cream sundae that my wife occasionally makes
  18. Irony. I meant that ironically. Of course you could have as well. ← It was sarcasm, not irony
  19. I don't think that anyone else thought Trotter was serious about going Lecter. A few of us had a good laugh over his "whup ass" comment. Another post compared his physical appearance to Mihaus on the Simpsons. No one is afraid of Trotter getting physically violent, except for geriatric dachsunds. Yeah, I know like in 5th grade. That's how Trotter comes off to me, puerile. Although I know 6 year olds who can maintain more composure, like my daughter for instance. Trotter chose his own words. Trotter has been playing the PR game long enough not to be manipulated by a reporter. Even after some time, which for some is coupled with greater consideration of an issue and choice of words, he came back with "whup ass." He's coming off as proselytizing Napolean with a sprinkling of Ramboesque machismo. "Watch out! He's big, bad and mean! And he's back!" Milhaus enters the room... ← Excellent Point!? Hardly. No one in this discussion actually believed that Trotter is considering cannibalism BUT Charlie Trotter is a very respected Culinary Professional and up until now I had considered him a mature ADULT. Mature adults do not make such comments. Charlie's ill-mannered comments are what I would expect out of Kid Rock or Alan Iverson both of whom may be over 30 but cannot be considered adults. This is the same person that hosted those wonderful, cerebral PBS cooking series? Has he totally lost control of the English Language. Has he taken leave of his senses? Charlie Trotter is gonna whup ass? This entire episode is quite disheartening. Charlie Trotter behaving like a 5th grader or a spoiled rock star. If he does not want to serve foie gras, fine with me. He wants to puff himself up, publicly deride foie gras as inhumane and then joke about eating Rick Tramonto's liver while cooking dead animals and yet he wants to be taken seriously? His position has more holes in it than Fallujah. Oh Lancelot....Jousted with humility lately?
  20. Where in the hell does Charlie Trotter get off? Foie Gras is cruel but line caught fish is not? What about his roasted Arkansas Rabbit? How did that animal die? By shotgun after being chased by dogs or did it live in a cage while being fed corn...maybe it was allowed to roam across an acre of soft grass while it gorged itself on corn. Did that rabbit then have its throat slit and get hung by its feet to die while it kicked and struggled in vain. Perhaps it was electrocted. Trotter is also serving Kumamoto Oysters. I don't know about Chef Trotter but when I serve oysters I sometimes roast them while they are still alive! And I suppose line caught fish is HUMANE? Has Charlie Trotter ever gone fishing and felt an 8 pound flounder fight for all it was worth because it has just bitten through a stainless steel barbed hook? That flounder may not understand just what is on the other end of that hook but he sure as hell knows he is fighting for his life! Once landed (either on a fishing pier at Pawley's Island SC or a trawler 20 miles off the coast) that fish will gasp for air because he is being suffocated. If caught on a trawler he is thrown into a live well with the other fish and a limited amount of water; the fish still gasp for air because the seawater is quickly depleted of oxygen. They can literally suffocate in water if the live well is not constantly refreshed with seawater. Perhaps the fish are put on ice....ALIVE! Perhaps the fish are butchered at sea, has Charlie Trotter ever butchered a living fish and felt that fish struggle? If Charlie Trotter is so humane, how on earth can he joke about serving another human being's liver! How would he justify that statement to Rick Tramonto's kids! This Foie Gras controversy is not about the humane treatment of the animals we eat. This is Charlie Trotter the self-annointed Chef St. Francis, protector of the far left field, imposing his distorted views on his followers. This is about power & control, isn't it? I suppose that us peon chefs should just give up Foie Gras because Charlie Trotter says so! I have to get out of here. I'm going fishing...
  21. In the fall and winter of 1999 I had the pleasure of being a guest on Cooking Live Primetime 3 times. Sara was such a treat to work with. She was (and I assume still is) very unassuming, friendly, organized and professional and kept the show moving forward. I have to say that Primetime was my favorite F/N show because it showcased chefs as they cooked and presented food from their establishments. Where else could you see Eric Ripert one night, Tony Bourdain another night, Michel Richard, Jamie Shannon, George Germon......The first time I was on Tom Condron (the other guest chef) & I dined at Gramercy Tavern then caught a cab to the studio and before the show went live we were each poured a glass of red wine. Our bellies were already full of wine, foie gras, prime beef and white truffle oil and now we're drinking more wine with Sara Moulton and just chatting it up like we were guests in her house. Who knew one hour could go by so fast? I miss the old Food Network but unfortunately we live in a culture that is obsessed with saving time, energy and labor. Why should anyone bother cooking ever again when the grocery stores sell instant mashed potatoes, frozen enchiladas, and pretenderized steaks. Just season with BAM! and serve....
  22. The Cynical Chef

    Grits Tips?

    Many, many moons ago "grist" was any dried grain that was ground up at a mill. Wheat, Corn, Barley......harvest it, dry it then hitch up the mules and haul it down to Mr. Suber's water powered mill where for a percentage of the total weight, Mr. Suber would grind your grain into grist. The water wheel spun 2 flat pieces of stone that resembled enormous vinyl records (LP's...remember those?). The grist would be sifted according to your instructions. Now you're ready for a long winter because you have a pantry full of flour, corn meal (fine and coarse) and ground barley. Rumor has it that through a typographical error in a Carolina publication (Miss Sugie Ravenel's 101 ways to Survive and Prosper during a Union Blockade....?) that corn "grist" became corn "grits" and that name has stuck like cold grits to a cheap pot. Grits, Polenta, Corn Meal and Corn Flour are all dried corn that has been ground up. The difference is how fine or coarse the grind. And just why do we say ground "up"....there is no altitude involved in grinding. Why don't we say ground "around" because the product is actually going in a circle while it is being ground. It's not going up....but I guess there is some fine dust that does go up but the majority of the product that is being ground is not going anywhere but in a circle so why do you suppose.........
  23. Speaking of fishing to the brink of extinction: I grew up in south Louisiana and always loved fresh shrimp but it was not until I actually sorted a fresh shrimp catch that I was able to see first hand what actually gets caught in a shrimp net. All sorts of small fish, turtles, rays, and anything else that gets in the net are brought into the boat. A shrimp net may stay in the water for 30 minutes or more so a lot of these sea creatures die in the net or die on the boat. These fish are typically groupers, croakers, snappers, pompano and many other fish that would end up on a dinner table if they were large enough. Imagine if every time a deer hunter shot a deer he also shot 10 squirrels, 5 beaver and a couple of blue jays and then left those dead bodies in the field. What a waste. The point is that the average food supplier is usually concerned only about #1. A Vietnamese shrimp farmer is looking to make a buck just like a Louisiana shrimper, Florida farmer or South Carolina restauranteur. Very few of these folks are actually concerned about what will be available for their children to farm, hunt or cook. It has always been that way and always will. Just yesterday the NY Times ran a piece on how the mega-grocery store chains (Wal Mart, Super Target, Ahold....) are forcing the small Central American Farmers into non-existence. These farmers need to supply a perfectly round trouble free tomato (or squash, or eggplant) to their distributor or it will not get bought. Sound familiar? In the summer we have a thriving Farmer's Market where I can buy stunning fruits, herbs and vegetables for less than I would get it from the large distributors. Some of this produce is organic or low in pesticides, all of it is wonderful and usually misshapen but it eats like ambrosia. My produce distributors have no idea what a green zebra tomato is but my customers sure do. The crazy part is that I am usually the ONLY Chef shopping at our market. What's up with that! A typical restaurant in the Outback price range is only interested in price, not taste. Same thing with the grocery stores. Slowly these forces have manipulated taste buds so that the average consumer has no interest in or cannot recognize flavor. So the end result is huge Fish and/or shrimp farms that produce a rubbery, lifeless product that is cooked and served with rubbery, lifeless tomatoes in a rubbery, lifeless restaurant. Demand better in Life!
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