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  1. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1191813277/gallery_29805_1195_11179.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Todd A. Price Ashley Hansen hefts a box of paper cups out of her 1999 VW Golf and makes space for a week's supply of sugar, chocolate and evaporated milk. Shopping is the hardest part of her day. It's eight in the morning on a hot Thursday in July. Yesterday Mr. Duplantier delivered enough ice to last through Sunday. Today, at one o'clock, Hansen's Sno-Bliz, the best snowball stand in New Orleans, opens for the week. Hansen's sits on a corner of Tchoupitoulas Street, which winds along the Mississippi River and separates the port from the historically working-class Irish Channel neighborhood. One of the older areas of the city, it's several feet above sea level and escaped flooding when the levees failed after Katrina. Ashley lives next door to the stand in a renovated house that belonged to her great-grandfather. She was 15 when she began working behind the counter at Hansen's with her unwavering smile. Now she's 34, although anyone would guess that she's five years younger. Her grandparents, Mary and Ernest Hansen, opened the snowball stand in 1939. Mary died eight days after the storm at the age of 95. Ernest, a year younger, died six months later. Since then, Ashley has run Hansen's Sno-Bliz on her own. A snowball is like a snow cone in roughly the same way that foie gras is like chopped liver. The shaved ice, drenched in flavored syrup, is as soft as snow. And the best, fluffiest snowballs are made by Hansen's. Ernest, a machinist, built the first motorized, all stainless steel ice-shaving machine in 1934. He didn't want his son eating snowballs shaved by dirty, sweaty hands. "He always told me that his inspiration were the drills that went through rock for oil rigs," Ashley says. "He wanted something that would go through ice like that." In 1939, when his wife made snowballs her full-time business, he built the machine still used today. In 68 years, the blades have never needed sharpening. Mary knew her ice and syrups— strawberry for the kids and chocolate for the parents—were the best in the town, and she charged two cents when other snowballs cost a penny. New Orleans agrees that Hansen's Sno-Bliz still beats the rest. In the 2007 Zagat Survey, Hansen't got a 29 out of 30 for food quality. "It's so funny," Ashley says, "we rate up there with the French Laundry and we're just a little cinderblock stand on Tchoupitoulas." When Danny Meyer sought inspiration for the Shake Shack in New York, he visited Hansen's and took to heart its motto that "There is no shortcut to quality." Richard Coraine, chief operating officer for Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group, says, "I still have the picture of me standing by their refrigerator with that sign taped to the door. Their small batch method of daily syrups was inspirational for our daily custard calendar as well." Ashley will also tell you that Hansen's makes the best snowball in New Orleans. For her, though, it's a matter of faith. "I've never had another snowball," she says. "I know how much work we put into it, and I know that they can't be putting the work into it that we do." Ashley stops first for a case of Hershey's chocolate syrup at Groetsch Wholesale Grocers, which began in 1917 as a corner grocery in New Orleans. Now it's a wholesale operation in Harahan, a suburb just outside the city limits. Next, she heads to Sam's Club in Metairie, another suburb of New Orleans. The snowball stand doesn't have much storage and only opens in the summer, so she can't buy enough products to work with a restaurant supplier. Before the flood, she shopped at a Sam's on the eastern edge of New Orleans. That location was destroyed and never reopened, and there isn't anywhere in the city now where she can buy her supplies. At Sam's, she fills a pallet with boxes of trash sacks, ten 25-pound bags of Domino sugar and eight cases of Carnation evaporated milk. Back at Hansen's, Ashley unloads her purchases in the back room, a space cluttered with Mardi Gras decorations and old soda signs. It used to be her grandfather's workshop. After Ashley started working full-time at the snowball stand after graduating from the Loyola University in New Orleans and then spending one winter in Chicago, she made ten secret trips to the dump, cleaning out her grandfather's junk and rearranging big items in front of the empty spaces so that he wouldn't notice. "This is where we keep all our receipts," she says after stuffing today's receipts into an empty Hershey's syrup can. "And this is our cash register," pointing at three fading King Edward cigar boxes labeled 5, 10 and 20 with a magic marker. She checks a calendar above the cash register. "Seven weeks left until the end of snowball season," she says, relieved. Her grandmother used to keep the stand open year round, selling pumpkins, Christmas trees—anything to make money—in the cooler months. As Mary and Ernest got older, though, it became a seasonal business, opening in May and closing around Labor Day. Ashley climbs onto a milk crate and empties into a vat with a spigot several gallon jugs of Abita Springs Water, which is bottled across the lake from New Orleans. She dumps in a 25-pound bag of sugar. This daily routine hasn't changed for decades, except that Ashley, who works as a personal trainer in the off-season, can lift heavier bags of sugar than her grandmother. Hansen's Sno-Bliz makes its simple syrup, normally one part water to one part sugar, with a little less sugar than water so that its snowballs aren't too sweet. She grabs a bottle of red syrup from the ancient General Electric refrigerator, pours a dash into her palm and licks it to see if it's strawberry or Sno-Bliz. The Sno-Bliz flavor is, as Ashley says, "something sweet, something tart, kind of like a strawberry Sweet Tart." Mary invented the flavor early on to give her stand something unique. Almost all the clear glass bottles are empty, because Ashley makes the syrups fresh each day. Leftover syrup is frozen in a Dixie cup and sold to kids for fifty cents. The bottles, with their fading, illegible labels in white paint, are old liquor bottles. Ernest's cousin Velma married a drinker. All winter he would empty bottles of booze and save them for the snowball stand in the summer. With a funnel Ashley pours flavor extracts into each bottle. Some flavors are made from scratch, like Sno-Bliz, orange, coffee, chocolate, lemonade and pineapple. Some were developed by local companies for Hansen's. Others were the best Mary could find from area producers, and she managed to keep a consistent supply as the companies merged or went out of business. Streams of primary-colored liquid—red, yellow, green—twist down the inside of the bottles and pool an inch deep in the bottom. With each pour, the scent of another flavor fills the room. Peach, almond, spearmint, coconut. Each flavor needs a different amount of extract, but Ashley doesn't have to measure. She's been mixing Hansen's syrups for 12 years. When Ashley returned to New Orleans and told her grandparents that she wanted to work full-time at the snowball stand, she feared they were on the verge of the closing it for good. "Naively, I thought they would hand over the keys and let me do it," she says. "Instead, they asked, 'When can you come get us?'" She worked with them—Mary greeting customers and Ernest shaving the ice—for nine years. From the beginning, though, Ashley ran the place. She did the shopping. She mixed the syrups. But if a customer asked, she said that Mary still made the syrups. "People like myths," Ashley says. "Up until the last year people were asking if my grandmother was still making the syrups, and I said yes. She was 95, but people wanted to believe the myth." And Mary would swear that she still did it. "My grandmother always said, 'Don't contradict me in public.'" At first, after Ashley came back, Mary's dementia made her aggressive. She accused Ashley of stealing her car. She got angry with customers. She hit her husband. And then, a few years before she died, she became calm. "At that point," Ashley says, "she was happy to be taken care of and be loved." Her grandfather, the inventor and master machinist, never suffered from senility. "His problem," she says, "is that he would make shit up." (Ashley curses more and more as snowball season drags on, but never in front of customers.) If someone graduated from Tulane University, then Ernest graduated from Tulane. If a customer was a World War II history buff, then Ernest, who couldn't enlist because of cataracts and bad knees, would talk about his time overseas on a U- Boat. In 1992 he had an aneurism, and at the hospital he told a German nurse that he knees were still full of shrapnel from when the Nazis shot him down behind enemy lines. The hospital was about to run extra tests before his son set them straight. "Wait until your obituary comes out," Ashley used to tell him, "and people find out that you never did any of this stuff." "This may sound egotistical," Ashley says, "but I really extended my grandparents' lives for 10 years." She adds simple syrup to the bottles, and they fill with jewel-colored liquids. For each cream flavor she cracks open a can of evaporated milk with a church key, adds it to the bottle, caps the top with her hand and shakes. One bottle is frothy white, one canary yellow and another eggshell blue. "I used to do all this," she says, "and take care of my grandparents." The day's syrups are ready, and Ashley goes into the front room to wait for her dad Gerard, who's shaving ice today. He's a judge. His brother is a doctor. Mary and Ernest didn't want their sons to be snowball people. On the walls a clutter of hand-painted signs explain the many sizes of snowballs, complicated prices—fifty cents more for cream and tart flavors, extra for toppings—and exotic combinations like the Hot Rod, Baby Duper and Senior Atomic. The rest of wall space is covered with fading photos of customers. You once had to buy a bucket, an actual mop bucket full of shaved ice and syrup, to get a photo on the wall. Ashley knows most of the customers by their orders. One man who wears a kilt gets a daily Senior Atomic, a snowball with ice cream in the middle topped with condensed milk, crushed pineapple, marshmallow cream, another scoop of ice cream and a cherry. Another woman trades fresh caught fish for spearmint snowballs. Some regulars are lactose intolerant, so Ashley occasionally makes a batch of chocolate syrup for them with soymilk. Gerard arrives, but first he must sign a warrant for a cop waiting outside. Policemen get free snowballs at Hansen's, so they prefer to track down the judge here instead of in his chambers. Gerard loads a block of ice into the machine built the same year he was born. Outside, a family idles in their mini-van waiting for the doors to open. Soon, a crowd will be standing on the painted yellow line that directs traffic along the pink concrete floor. <div align="center">* * *</div> When not counting the days until Hansen’s reopens, Todd A. Price writes about food, music and travel for various New Orleans publications. His monthly food column appears in OffBeat, a magazine of Louisiana music and culture. He recently wrote Night+Day New Orleans, a post-Katrina guide to the city. More of his work can be found at ToddAPrice.com. Art by Dave Scantland using part of a photo by Jason Perlow.
  2. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1188919036/gallery_29805_1195_24144.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Joseph Carey Fifth in a series. Though my presence in Vietnam was apparently essential to the military, they weren't quite sure why. There was no job for me. Finally -- I had witnessed hundreds of soldiers passing through on the way to a job somewhere -- I received orders to report to the post exchange (the PX), where they gave me a job ordering stuff: just about everything you'd see in a supermarket or drugstore. I hated the place, and my sergeant, a real starched-brain dickhead, hated me. One day I came in to find my Vietnamese assistant crying. She had serious scarring on her face from napalm; I think she must have been given the job as a token reparation. She said her brother, an ARVN, had been wounded and was in hospital on the base. I said "Let's go!" My sergeant wasn't there, so I told the folks in the office I was taking her to the hospital. We hopped in a Jeep and were off. My sergeant was all over my ass when I got back. I'd taken a vehicle without authorization. I'd gone AWOL. I was in big trouble. He was going to court martial me, blah, blah, and blah -- not exactly a love fest. That was it for me. In case you haven't figured it out –- I had –- sergeants run the army. In the end, it doesn't matter what any officer decrees, the sergeants make it work. They'll nod and say "Yes, Sir" and then go do whatever the hell they think should be done to obtain the desired result. If it works out, the officer gets the credit and a promotion. If not, the NCO's ass is in a sling. Usually, of course, it works. I marched myself over to the division information office –- just about the only thing I had to do in the transient company had been to read the division newspaper, The Tropic Lightning News -- and found the sergeant in charge, a kind of managing editor. I told him that my talents were wasted at the PX and that I wanted to be an Information Specialist. They had a job opening, and he asked me about my educational history. He liked what he heard, but warned me that I would have to take photos as well as write. Did I have any experience in that arena? "Sure," I lied. He gave me a Nikon and told me to take a couple of days to take photographs around the base camp, then bring the film back to be developed. So I did. He must have liked what he saw, because a couple of days later, I received orders for reassignment to the 25th Infantry Division Administration Company. Report to the Information Office. Whew. One of the guys took me over to the hooch that would be my home for the next nine months or so. While he showed me my cot, I noticed that my corner of the building -- actually, it was a screened-in tent with a wooden frame and a plywood floor -- was newer than the rest of the hooch. I asked about it as I was unpacking my gear. It seems that a mortar round had hit that corner and there had been "casualties." So that's why there were job openings. I got into the job, and actually enjoyed most of it, becoming fairly proficient with the cameras. I wrote a few stories; learned my way around. Once I got my boots wet and got my war legs, I was fairly autonomous. I would tell them were I was headed –- I could always flash my press card and get transportation, usually by helicopter -- and be off. As long as I returned with photos and stories, they left me alone. In typical subtle military soft-sell jargon, there is just one thing missing from the Army's official, peacefully-written job description of my position, "Information Specialist" the getting shot at part. They carefully avoided mentioning the related civilian occupations "War Correspondent" or "Combat Photographer." From my first foray out in the field with the grunts, I decided that's where I belonged. Not because I was brave. It was the same infernal impulse that has propelled my life: I had to know what the fuck was really going on. I wasn't going to be at the war and not be at the war. I did the same thing at one time or another with just about every drug known to man. If you're curious, I can help you out here. None of them contains "The Answer." I saw my first combat with the Wolfhounds, in an area known as "The Pineapple Patch," an overgrown pineapple plantation. I was just walking along with the infantry rifle team when all hell broke loose. Two men dropped in their tracks. Then a third was hit. We slid down into one of the water-filled irrigation ditches that ran between the weedy plant rows. Eventually, some soldiers threw a few grenades into the hidden bunker the automatic weapons fire had come from; a couple of Viet Cong, still alive, were extracted from it. I became pretty good at my job. From June of 1967 through April of 1968, I spent much more time in the field than in the base camp, and most of the time, I was dirty. I was often out for a week or two, since there was a lot of actual war going on out there. You all may not be aware that it takes nine support people -- soldiers who never do any fighting -- to support one soldier in the field. I wanted to be with the 10%, in the action whenever possible. I was seeing it for myself –- up close and real personal. I spent much of my time with the 1/27 and the 2/27 –- the First and Second Battalions of the 27th Infantry, called "The Wolfhounds." These guys were hardcore, always looking for a fight; this, of course, was their job. Their daily gastronomic regimen included, for the most part, C-Rations. Officially: <blockquote>The Meal, Combat, Individual, is designed for issue as the tactical situation dictates, either in individual units as a meal or in multiples of three as a complete ration. Its characteristics emphasize utility, flexibility of use, and more variety of food components than were included in the Ration, Combat, Individual (C Ration) which it replaces. Twelve different menus are included in the specification.</blockquote> Unofficially: awful stuff, though I must say they were often better than some of the food available to the rear echelon troops in the base camps. (Of course, it was entirely possible for a base camp troop to go through its entire tour without coming into contact with C-Rations. This was strictly field-troop cuisine.) And there was some really bad stuff in those cans. C-Rations came in a case of 12 meals. Everything was in olive drab containers with the contents printed on them. There were three groups: B1, B2, and B3. B1 had a couple of premium items -– peanut butter and fruit cocktail. B2 contained one ostensible "meat" main course that couldn't be given away: the universally despised Ham & Lima Beans. Each group contained an "Accessory Pack," which may well have been the most important item in the case. Officially, again: <blockquote>Accessory Pack: Spoon, Plastic Salt Pepper Coffee, Instant Sugar Creamer, Non-dairy Gum, 2 Chiclets Cigarettes, 4 smokes/pack Winston Marlboro Salem Pall Mall Camel Chesterfield Kent Lucky Strike Kool (Interrupting here: not all the above cigarettes were in every case: brands were serendipitous) Matches, Moisture Resistant Toilet Paper</blockquote> Not mentioned is the most important item in the case –- the P-38. This was a small, flip-out can opener with a small hole in it; we wore them around our necks on our dog-tag chains. The C-Rations were inaccessible without this essential tool. (I wear mine on my keychain to this day). There was a final olive-drab-wrapped item: a block, about a foot long, of C-4 plastic explosive. This was how we heated the C-Rations: Break off a small chunk and set it on a rock. Open a bread can (wider than it was tall -– and dry inside) with the P-38 and dump the bread. Perforate the unopened end of the can with a church key. Light the C-4 with a Zippo and set the bread can on top. Cook. The old hands found it endlessly amusing to watch the look on the FNG's (Fucking New Guy's) face as they explained they were lighting C-4 on fire. Unless he was a combat engineer, the FNG didn't have a clue how C-4 was detonated. In usual circumstances, you needed det (detonation) cord, but pressure could also detonate C-4. It wasn't a good idea to stomp on the fire to put it out. The best meal I ever had in the field I cooked myself. We'd marched all day without drawing any fire. When I went out with an infantry unit, we'd usually make a series of eagle flights, and if we didn't stumble into some action, Hueys would swoop down and spirit us off to another location. Not this time. As we went through the village, I bought a chicken, a duck and some rice from a farmer, and carried the two birds – still alive -– on my belt for a few kilometers. Id bought a couple of pounds of peanuts --they were for sale everywhere. I made a fire that evening and cooked the birds with the rice and the peanuts in my steel pot (helmet to you rookies,) seasoning the stew with salt, pepper and Tabasco from the C-Rations. We had a couple of watermelons we'd bought from the same farmer. Beer was the beverage of choice. Cold beer was best, but any beer would do. (Ice was like gold. We traded for it.) We knew it was sterile and had some carbs. It also helped one swallow the chloroquine-primaquine tablets with which we were dosed. I don't know if it was these pills or constant exposure to shigellosis, salmonella, etc., that caused the constant diarrhea, but I got to the point where I seriously mused about having a spigot grafted onto my asshole. When I'd been assigned to the PX, I ordered pallet upon pallet of beer. Dozens of pallets were stacked in the yard at the PX, under tarps, baking in the sun and rusting. Yes, rusting, in steel cans: nothing but the very best for our troops. (Another example of that would be C-Rations; they were often dated in the 50's. We got leftovers from The Korean War.) The shantytowns that sprang up by every base camp in Vietnam were rife with thin-skinned hovels whose walls were sheets of steel stamped with brand names of American beers. In Cu Chi my favorite watering hole/whorehouse was emblazoned "Girls Beer Bazaar Car Wash": Warholian walls with thousands of flat Budweisers everywhere one looked. Interestingly enough, these places usually didn't serve American beer. Biere Larue was the most common beverage offered. Not all libations were potable. Nowadays, whenever I find myself drinking some Rumpolian plonk, I hearken back to the day we'd been lost for most of the day on an S&D and had run out of water. Not good. Hyperthermia is not a pretty thing. Some guys were vomiting and most were cramping. We hadn't seen the sky for hours, and the Hueys above couldn't find us to drop us water, despite the several smoke grenades we'd set off. Then, there it was -– eau de vie. We stumbled out of the jungle into a rice paddy. Like everyone else, I plunged face-first into the sludge and drank deep. These paddies were fertilized with just about every kind of mammalian excrement: Chateauneuf du Poop. Parasite Paradise. It didn't matter in the least. There are priorities. Let's just say that today I'm tolerant of corked bottles of wine. I also went on what were called "Civic Action" missions. They comprised a combination of medical, military and PR purposes. While the villagers were being fed and examined by medics, soldiers would be looking for arms caches or signs of the enemy. I don't believe the chow served on these missions had a healthy effect on the "hearts and minds" of the locals. Hell, they didn't like our rice. Invariably, the stuff found in the infamous rice caches was American rice. They considered this stuff starvation rations: in case of emergency A. Break Glass B. Eat American Rice. We often ate with the village chieftain on these excursions. I learned not to be in the least picky. These people were, after all, sharing their food with us: most often, some small amount of grilled or fried meat (learned not to ask what) or poultry, with a plate piled high with greens, some dipping sauces, like nuoc mam, and a pile of softened bahn tran (rice paper rounds). You wrapped everything up in the rice paper like a tortilla and dipped. Bahn tran: I didn't know what the hell these were when I first got to Vietnam. They were everywhere! Bamboo racks were covered with these round white things. Sometimes we had bowls of noodles, too. I became fond of Vietnamese food. I took a shine to ethnic Hawaiian food. Typical of my luck, when there wasn't a skirmish going on somewhere on the planet involving the American military, the 25th Infantry Division was stationed in Hawaii. In Vietnam we had the good fortune to be planted firmly atop the largest complex of hand-dug, inhabited tunnels the world has ever known. Ethnic Hawaiian food is not the stuff that is fed to tourists. The one food probably consumed by more Hawaiians than any other single foodstuff is Spam. I'm not talking about the stuff you find your inbox crammed with every morning. I'm talking Hormel lunch meat, used in every conceivable culinary concoction -- that three-dimensional rounded rectangle of minced chicken and pork with ascorbic acid. It prevented the Russians from starving during WWII. When we had a barbecue in Vietnam the center of the plate item was usually Spam. At the PX, I'd ordered literally tons of Spam. I grilled a lot of Spam. (I found out that Hawaiians did eat other stuff when I spent my R&R in Hawaii with Suzan.) Our cookers were 55-gallon drums, cut in half longitudinally. These drums were ever-present in Vietnam, and I still see them for sale today. (It would have been a good idea to avoid those with an orange stripe around them –- they had contained Agent Orange. I don't remember using one myself, but I'm sure many did.) They were used to cook the food -- and served as the final receptacle for the remainders. When cut in half latitudinally, drums were slipped under the holes cut in the boards that made up the latrines: screened-in hooches featuring one step up to a long board with maybe a dozen ass-size holes cut in it. Nothing like communal dumping. Kinda intimate. Every morning great plumes of black smoke rose from all over the base camp; contributing, I'm sure, to the pollution that made the early evening sky so many pastel shades of beautiful. Ode on an American commode –- in shit, beauty. These were the shit burners at work. They poured gasoline on the excrement, tossed in a match and stood back. When their day job was done they went home, put on their black pajamas, headed out to the jungle and lobbed mortar rounds into the base camp. You can see which career path offered the most opportunity. I hope this serves as a segue -– getting me from Indiana to California. I can't see how, though. It is just what it was and where I was and what I did for a year of my life. Maybe it explains some part of my brain I'm not able to elucidate in another manner. Much has already been written about Vietnam, and much of that by those who were there. None of my scribblings will add significantly to that oeuvre, because war can't be described with words to those who have not been privy to the experience. Folly, waste, carnage and idiocy do not do it justice. Wars are always fought by the young with no power on behalf of the old who have something they want to keep or get something they don't have. All other reasons are mere lamination. <div align="center">* * *</div> Joseph Carey, aka ChefCarey, is the author of Creole Nouvelle: Contemporary Creole Cookery and Chef on Fire: The Five Techniques for Using Heat Like a Pro. He cooks, teaches and writes in Memphis, Tennessee.
  3. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1183450732/gallery_29805_1195_22311.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Priscilla In just exactly the same way that some days a city can be a Holden Caulfield playground and others a full-on Nathanael Westian Day of the Locust, the canyon is sometimes Anne Shirley’s Avonlea and sometimes something a bit more Shirley Jackson’s "The Lottery." Fourth of July, for instance, skews Shirley Jackson. Yes, yes, this probably says more about me than about the actual goings-on, which include a parade organized by a shadowy cohort calling itself the Parade Committee. Shadowy is no exaggeration -- no one knows its exact composition, and yet it wields such power. See, the perspicacity of apostasy. The committee puts forth a “grand marshal” of unclear achievement other than residency, who rides on the back of an open convertible as per unwritten Parade Law. But the amenable folks with the cool 1966 Mustang convertible moved away . . . wonder what the committee will find instead. Like thousands of other Fourth of July parades, this one is comprised of children and pets, equestrians and equines of various sizes and colors, cub scouts, Brownies, the local unicycle-riding family, an antique and some modern fire trucks, the latter staffed by jovial firemen spraying the spectators with fire hoses and throwing candy to children. It winds up down at the elementary school, where the fire trucks put themselves on display, hot dogs and drinks are for sale, parade awards bestowed, and an inexorable, benighted death march of a raffle excruciates, whose tickets were sold by the more committed members of the local women’s club trolling early-assembled parade spectators, and whose prizes are SO not worth standing around on the schoolyard tarmac in 100 degree heat it is not even funny. The hot dogs are perhaps the scariest thing. Bought in bulk unknown years prior, stored in the temperature vicissitudes of sundry home freezers, on the day they are not-quite-heated on borrowed gas grills, installed in industrial buns, individually wrapped in foil, and then stacked in a cardboard box. The earliest barely-heateders of course start at the bottom of the box, and there they remain, last-inners stacked atop, all of ‘em certainly quickly attaining and holding a perfect HACCP Danger Zone temp. There has been a little grumbling about improving the fundraising food, if not its safe delivery, now and again, dunno whether it’s been attempted. Several years ago, caught up in the throes of I don’t know what, we were actually IN the parade. We borrowed a friend’s groovy Audi convertible and affixed beautiful banners identifying Ivan as HONORARY GRAND MARSHAL, and Ivan, resplendent in violet Irish linen jacket, pale orchid shirt, paisley silk tie, and Ray-Ban aviator shades, waved and saluted with grave enthusiasm, and at the (many) stops got out and gave flowers to ladies in lawn chairs along the short parade route. I drove, and blasted “Secret Agent Man” and “Agent OO Soul” as appropriate, or, constantly. The firemen from the local station, undeniably hunky but unfortunately still living in Mustache Nation, who traditionally judge all such neighborhood competitions, awarded us first place in our category! Said category: General. We were the sole entry. There were whispers that we shouldn’t have gotten a trophy even so. The vagaries of guerrilla theater, eh? Ivan has an idea percolating for another entry, three guys in dirty torn t-shirts and do-rags, one behind the wheel and two pushing a broken-down car accented with plenty of primer, no motor but its stereo playing “Sweet Home Alabama” (his choice; facile, I think) or “Green Grass and High Tides” (mine; I actually like this song.) So far the necessary throes elude us. Our Fourth of July habit now is to flee. We plan for later grilling, but leave for the day, before the road becomes impassable, have a meal, see a movie, preferably something on the theme of cold. One year March of the Penguins was perfect, for instance. I understand there is another penguin movie out just now; that might suffice. We somehow skipped the penguin movie between this one and that one, I note. Ratatouille is a strong contender, too. By the time we return, the steaming asphalt at the school is empty, and at home we grill and drink cold things, and hear from neighbors stopping by for a drinkie or a bite what we missed. Only, we already know. <div align="center">* * * * *</div> Priscilla writes from a Southern California canyon with the predictable attendant population of militant environmentalists, amateur naturalists, itinerant notaries, entrepreneurial winemakers, and llama farmers.
  4. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1180025966/gallery_29805_1195_33675.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Chris Amirault Like you, perhaps, I've had a long and primarily joyous relationship to breakfast cereal. I reached childhood just as the transcendent sugared cereals hit the market. I was conceived in 1962, the year that General Mills combined Cheerios with Circus Peanuts to give the world Lucky Charms, and Cap'n Crunch and I were both born in 1963, a fact which I celebrated bowlfully deep into college. My brother, Toby, was conceived a year later when Froot Loops were rolled out, and he outlived his birth-year twins, the Cap'n wannabes alien Quisp and miner Quake, by nearly three decades [the brand was relaunched in 1999 -- Ed.]. Since my brother and I were so close in age, for me cereal and sibling have always been intertwined. We were a family built to fuel the marketing juggernauts of processed foods during the 1960s and 1970s, and my brother and I competed both in the aisles and at the table. A devotee of the brown sludge that remained at bowl's bottom, Toby poured excess milk at the outset and then retained it through repeat servings of Count Chocula; I found this practice despicable, and instead poured just enough cold, fresh milk to get me through each of multiple bowls of Franken Berry. Of course, our rivalry was reasonable: like all sensible children at the time, we were in complete agreement that late-comer Boo Berry was an ill-conceived, poorly balanced product that only wicked losers ate. We also shared disbelief about the strange world of "health cereals." I'm not talking about half-baked concepts like those proposed by Dig ‘Em, the spokesfrog for Sugar Smacks, who danced while the jingle asserted that the cereal was "fortified with eight vitamins." I'm talking about morning mysteries like shredded wheat and granola, which would pop up in the pantry now and then. Why in the world, I wondered, would anyone suffer through a bowl of that crap? No surprise, then, that my first notice of Grape Nuts in the house sent me into self-amusing jokes about TV spokesman Euell Gibbons eating pine cones. Throughout the jabbering, my mother munched gamely away at her bowl, refusing to acknowledge her moronic sons. Growing curious, I set aside my Honey Combs and poured out a few brown nuggets to sample. They were parched, had no flavor, and crunched harder than anything I'd ever eaten before. I was befuddled, declaring, "They taste like sticks." My brother sniggered. "Fine," she sighed, grabbing one last spoonful. "They're not for you, are they?" "Good thing," I said, and I returned to my bowl to finish off the last few honeycombs while she placed her unfinished bowl into the sink. When I did the same with my bowl, I saw the last forlorn, sopping bites of Grape Nuts piled, unfinished, in hers. The stuff looked… well, it really did look like crap. <div align="center">+ + +</div> I thought about my cereal days a lot this past March. For the few millennia that human culture has been around to care one way or the other, spring has been associated with growth and regeneration. If you paid attention when reading the Bible, Geoffrey Chaucer, or Dylan Thomas, you know that we're supposed to look at the cold mud of March and see possibility and life. I've always understood that sentiment abstractly, but it never made much sense to me in my gut. Until recently, I chalked up my chilly relationship to the supposed joys of vernality to my being a third-generation New Englander with all prior generations hailing from further north. At times, I wondered whether I, the child of a teacher who would himself go on to teach, saw spring as the end of a long, tiring year and September as another chance to start again. But that's as maybe. Since my brother's suicide in the springtime of 2001, I look at the cold mud of March and see cold, lifeless, bitter mud. There's not much to tell: schizophrenic for years, he died during shortly after his second attempt in three days, fighting off a suicide watch guard, shattering his hospital window with a chair, and diving out to a rooftop a few stories below, crushing gravel into his face and his vertebrae into each other. There's nothing yet redemptive to me about this memory; it's all, still, just shit. As March 13 rolls inexorably closer, my body begins to mark the anniversary of his death in strange ways, and given my relationship to food it's no surprise that most involve eating. I find myself grinding my teeth, chewing nothing in particular, to mark time, assert frustration, or dream. When I look in the mirror, I fixate on my midriff and see my brother's substantial belly, more and more assertive above my belt. During dinner, at once keenly distracted and vaguely anxious, I find myself overeating -- one more dry pork chop; an extra dish of lousy ice cream -- without purpose, awareness, or pleasure. This spring's anniversary announced its slow arrival with a new twist: I became constipated. The armchair Freudian reader will no doubt see this as the logical conclusion of a series of hysterical symptoms linking both phantom and excessive food consumption to body dysmorphic disorder, and I'm predisposed to agree. But over the course of several mornings when, full of too much food and indigestible history, I'd sit, never strain, and hope for a bit more than nothing, I came to believe that the therapy I needed to resolve my dilemma was less Freudian than Kelloggian. I refer, of course, to Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, whose late 19th century therapeutic methods at his Battle Creek Sanitarium set the stage for foodie hand-wringing and contortionist diets up to our own era. Kellogg's methods survive mainly as bucktoothed satire, as in T. C. Boyle's "Road To Wellville," and as joke butt, as in Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma," where Kellogg is sketched as "quaintly quackish" and his sanitarium as "legendarily nutty." But Kellogg deserves his propers. He was the first of the modern US food faddists, advocating nuts over meat, pumping yogurt down one end and up the other of his patients, and, with his brother, starting the eponymous cereal company in order to promote the benefits of cereal grains to break fasts and loosen bowels. I'm not here to raise the flag for John Harvey Kellogg's full regimen -- I didn't give up meat for carrot sticks or go in for Yoplait enemas -- though you have to admit that making a total commitment to the programs of America's first true believer in scientific eating would have a quaint sort of kitsch value in the 21st century. No, I'm here to admit something far more ignominious, something that my mother knew back at that kitchen table while my brother and I scoffed. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Food for me has always been, first and foremost, about pleasure, even fun, and childhood breakfast cereals were the apotheosis of both. Later in adult life, I added an occasional concern, peering at the box's side panels to see if the cereal was healthy relative to whatever information I deemed worrisome at the time: sugar, red dye #2, high fructose corn syrup. While pleasure and health still structure most of my eating, breakfast has lately become positively Kelloggian, thanks utterly to, well, Kellogg's. While I'm sure some other middle agers flush with anticipation when they read about the American Heart Association's "criteria for saturated fat and cholesterol for healthy people over age 2," I surely do not, and I'm proud to admit that the equation 23g carbs – 10g fiber = 13g net carbs makes no sense to me, mathematically or otherwise. I'm certainly not about to dig into a bowl of unruly twigs lacking all discernible flavor for the vague promise of health I cannot feel or comprehend. No, I want results I can feel deep in my gut, and I want them tomorrow morning, preferably with a thorough yet gentle touch. And that's what I get from my daily bowl of All-Bran. The gang at Kellogg's has me pegged. Indeed, the packaging for All-Bran, the ne plus ultra of demographic cereal precision, is the celebratory wrapping paper for colonic crack. The word "fiber" appears no less than eleven times on the back of the current box. The copy alternately treats bran as nutrient ("Getting your fiber from high fiber foods rather than supplements has the added benefit of providing other vitamins and minerals"), stimulant ("Fiber has a positive influence on the digestion process from start to finish"), and opiate ("New Users: Increase your fiber intake gradually. Intestinal gas may occur until your body adjusts. If digestive pain occurs consult your doctor and avoid laxatives"). Having a hard time spotting similarly fiber-packed cereals in the Kellogg's line? Just look for the "easy-to-spot banners designed to help you select cereals to meet your goals for a healthier lifestyle and greater well-being." And in case you don't know what exactly "greater well-being" means, just take a look at the box's mascot, an androgynous, feature-free figure, hand- and fingerless arms waving in air, footless legs indicating midleap joy, all without further details so that you can concentrate on the two loops of curved arrow encircling the figure's gut. It's as precise a performance of gastrointestinal ecstasy as can be: bowel movement as orgasm. Now, reader, you may be chuckling away, taking safe distance in denial or the cynicism of youth. But if you're like me –- and, five'll get you ten, if you were born before 1965 you are -- you may read these lines from the lead copy at the top of the box and see a hopeful vision of many joyous tomorrows: "Having Kellogg's All-Bran Original cereal for breakfast is an easy, convenient, and nutritious first step to providing you with energy and healthy digestion for your day. It's what you need to get happy inside -– and when you are happy on the inside it shows on the outside." It shouldn't surprise that bran, the brown outside we usually strip away to make things smoother, whiter, nicer, should be so very good at making our insides happier. Whatever his late Victorian fanaticism, Kellogg knew something about this modern inversion of outside and in, with his regimens of fiber and exercise, of sunbaths and enemas. Perhaps for all his quackery he might have understood how breakfast could shift my sense of having a belly from external vision to internal sense, or how the death of someone with whom I shared thousands of meals would announce its arrival every year in the deepest regions of my stomach. Maybe, maybe not. But as I confront my body's annual, visceral remembrance of a little boy's milk-stained chin, gleaming below his sated smile, while I finish my own bowl of All-Bran, I wonder if Kellogg wasn't right to think that it all comes down to life's roughage and shit, two sides of the same coin, neither very different from the other. <div align="center">* * * * *</div> Chris Amirault (aka, well, chrisamirault) is Director of Operations, eG Forums. He also runs a preschool and teaches in Providence, RI.
  5. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1178141362/gallery_29805_1195_15294.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Russ Parsons The Daily Gullet couldn't be more proud to present this exclusive excerpt from Russ Parson's upcoming book How to Pick a Peach. Several springs ago I was desperate to get my hands on some fresh wild strawberries. Unless you are a star chef with a secret supplier who hand-carries them to your back door, this is not an easy thing to do. In the first place, there aren't many farmers who grow them anymore. The ones who do tend to have only a few because the plants take so much labor and bear so little fruit. The season is vanishingly short, and the fruit is incredibly fragile. This last turned out to be the biggest sticking point. After much research I actually did track down someone who had them, in hand and in season, but he was several hundred miles away. I told him that I would be happy to pay for shipping, but he refused. They were too delicate to ship, he said. I would pay for overnight. No way, he said, they'd never get to me in decent shape. I persisted: I wouldn't hold him responsible for any less-than-perfect berries. Finally, he caved in -- probably just to get me off the phone. The next day, a big box arrived. I opened it, and there, nestled among shipping materials, was a smaller box. I opened that, and wrapped in a mound of tissue paper was a tiny pint-size box. I opened that and found the most fragrant jam I've ever smelled. Even with all that care, the berries had been smashed beyond recognition. And therein lies the paradox of the strawberry. In its wild state, it is a highly seasonal, wildly flavorful fruit that is as fragile as a soap bubble. Yet in our passion for it, we have managed to turn this dreamy berry into a year-round staple as resilient as Styrofoam and only a little more flavorful. It wasn't so long ago that strawberries were a food you anticipated all through the winter and then gorged on in a brief frenzy that was a ritual of spring. Today it's a year-round garnish, the parsley of the breakfast plate. You can buy fresh, American-grown strawberries at least eleven months out of the year. More than 80 percent of them come from California, which produces more than a billion pounds in total. That means the strawberries have to be able to withstand a four-day truck ride to make it to the East Coast. To provide a year-round supply, farmers harvest strawberries from one end of the state to the other, beginning in San Diego and Orange County in the south right around Christmas and gradually moving north as the season progresses and the weather warms, finishing up around Watsonville, just south of San Francisco, around Thanksgiving. In a good year, one with a mild and extended summer, strawberries never go out of season. And yet finding a berry with true flavor -- the kind that stops you in your tracks when you taste it -- just keeps getting harder. There is a solution, though. Despite the fact that California has an overwhelming commercial edge, strawberries are one of the most widely grown farmers' market fruits. And this is one case where the old "buy local; buy seasonal" mantra really pays off. Locally grown berries, which don't have to make a crosscountry trek before you can eat them, will almost always be juicier and more flavorful than their commercial counterparts -- even if they're grown from the same variety. And fortunately, strawberries are almost uniquely fitted for small farmers. Although they demand a lot of extremely tedious handwork to grow, they offer among the highest cash returns to farmers. So lucrative are strawberries that even in these days of consolidation and ever bigger farms, it's possible for a grower to make a living on less than ten acres. That's why strawberries are the overwhelming favorite of urban farmers -- those hardy souls who practice agriculture in the small, often temporary open spaces found in cities. You can find farmers growing strawberries on a couple of acres under power lines, and you can find them tending their fields on land that is being cleared for housing developments (in these cases, strawberry fields are definitely not forever). This friendliness to small-scale, transient farming is the reason behind one of the more interesting chapters in the history of American strawberry farming. At the turn of the century, when the California strawberry industry was just becoming established, it was heavily populated by Japanese immigrants. The labor-intensive, highly profitable farming was ideal for growers with extended families. Furthermore, these growers were able to turn another of the strawberry's weaknesses to their advantage. Strawberries are susceptible to all kinds of pests, many of which were not controlled until after the advent of chemical pesticides after World War II. Verticillium wilt is particularly vexing. Until the 1950s the soilbound fungus that causes the wilt would kill any strawberry field that remained planted in the same location for more than a couple of years. This vulnerability forced strawberry growers to be a highly mobile lot, and most of them rented land rather than owning it. The situation was ideal for Japanese American growers, because in the early part of the twentieth century, it was illegal for them to own land in California. These growers turned two negatives into a positive by focusing on strawberries. A survey taken in 1910 found that almost 80 percent of the strawberry growers in Los Angeles County were Japanese American. When the Central California Berry Growing Association, the first strawberry marketing co-op, was founded in 1917, the bylaws required that half of the board of directors be Japanese American -- an extraordinary move during a period so virulently anti-Japanese. Certainly, today's small strawberry growers do not face anywhere near the same hurdles as the Japanese American farmers did a century ago. But that is not to say that their lot is a walk in the park. In particular, they have to deal with sometimes cranky neighbors, for whom the realities of agriculture -- dust, early mornings, lots of workers coming and going, occasional spraying -- do not quite mesh with their idea of the good life. But because strawberries are so valued by fruit lovers -- especially good strawberries, picked ripe and shipped only across town rather than across the country -- these farmers are able to earn enough to make it worthwhile. When you do get those perfect berries, remember that they almost always taste best uncooked. The red color of berries comes from the pigment anthocyanin, which is not heat stable. If you cook strawberries by themselves, that lovely crimson color will turn to a bruised purple. But acidity will stabilize the pigment, so add some lemon or orange juice (or bake them with rhubarb), and the color will remain red. You can "cook" strawberries without heat, though. Sugar draws moisture out of strawberries and mixes with the extracted juice to form a delicious sauce. In some cases, this can be bad -- if you want the berries to remain slightly firm, don't sugar them too far in advance of serving, or they'll go limp. In other cases, the sugaring is a big help -- sugar strawberries for ice cream well in advance of freezing, and because of the extracted moisture, you won't end up with ice cubes in your ice cream. WHERE THEY'RE GROWN: The vast majority of commercial strawberries are grown in California. But strawberries are one of the leading "small-farm" crops around the country. Varieties that are grown for the local market -- without the necessity of shipping -- are almost guaranteed to be better than most commercial berries. HOW TO CHOOSE: There are a lot of little indicators of strawberry quality, but the most important is probably the simplest: smell. Great strawberries have a distinctive candied aroma that you can't miss. Beyond that, the berries should be completely red (the exact shade of red will depend on the variety); avoid any with white tips. The green hull should look fresh, not dried out. The berries should be glossy, without any matte spots where the flesh has started to break down. Always look at the underside of the berry basket -- that's where crushed berries may be hiding and where spoilage will start. It's not at all uncommon to pick up a basket of berries that are beautiful on top but are as gray and fuzzy as a freshman dorm refrigerator underneath. HOW TO STORE: This is a tough one, because refrigerating damages the flavor of strawberries, but the fruit is so tender that not chilling will lead to rapid spoilage. The best solution is to buy berries from a local farmer and eat them the same day without putting them in the refrigerator. Failing that, transfer the berries to a plastic bag (to prevent excessive drying) lined with a paper towel (to absorb excessive moisture) and refrigerate them. HOW TO PREPARE: Don't rinse strawberries until just before you're ready to use them; the moisture will speed decay. And don't remove the green hulls until after you've rinsed the berries. Those caps prevent the berries from soaking up too much water. Once they've been rinsed, gently blot them dry with a paper towel. ONE SIMPLE DISH: Whisk together a bottle of light red wine or rosé and a cup of sugar. Add a split vanilla bean. Cut up 2 pints of strawberries and add them to the wine mixture. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Ladle the strawberry soup into bowls and serve each with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a crisp cookie. Ole's Swedish Hotcakes with Quick Strawberry Compote Of all the breakfasts in the world, this recipe, adapted from one prepared at the Little River Inn just south of the town of Mendocino, California, is one of my favorites. The pancakes are served with a big spoonful of strawberry compote in the center. To really gild the lily, you can top that with a spoonful of whipped cream. 4 SERVINGS 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) butter 1 cup all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon sugar 1/4 teaspoon salt 1-1/2 cups milk 1/2 cup half-and-half Grated zest of 1 orange 3 large eggs, separated Quick Strawberry Compote (recipe follows) Melt the butter and let it cool slightly. Meanwhile, stir together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Whisk in the milk, half-and-half and orange zest. The mixture will be very liquid; don't worry. Whisk in the egg yolks. This will thicken the batter slightly. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form and stir them gently into the batter. (You don't need to fold them; the batter is not that delicate.) This will thicken the batter to about the consistency of a good homemade eggnog. Whisk in the melted butter. (The recipe can be made ahead to this point and refrigerated, tightly covered, overnight.) Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until drops of water skitter across the surface. Slowly pour ½ cup of the batter in the center of the skillet, forming as much of a circle as you can. (Using a ladle or measuring cup with a lip makes this easier.) Cook until the bottom of the pancake is lightly browned and the top begins to look slightly dry, about 3 minutes. Flip the pancake and cook until it feels somewhat firm when pressed lightly in the center, about 2 minutes more. Remove from the pan and keep warm in a 200-degree oven as you continue with the rest of the batter. Serve 2 pancakes per person, with a generous portion of compote. Quick Strawberry Compote MAKES ABOUT 1 CUP 1/2 pound strawberries, rinsed and hulled 1/4 cup sugar 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice Place the strawberries, sugar and orange juice in a food processor and pulse 4 or 5 times just to chop the berries small. Do not puree. Transfer the mixture to a small nonstick skillet and cook over medium-high heat until it begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Set aside until ready to use. Serve warm or at room temperature. Strawberry Preserves By preparing preserves in small batches, the jam will cook quickly enough that the fruit retains its fresh taste. This recipe works best by weight. (How else would you know if you were a few strawberries short of a pint?) Use equal amounts of fruit and sugar. We've listed approximate volume measures if you don't have a scale (2 pints of strawberries weigh about 2 pounds). If you haven't made jam before, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the basics on pages 109–11. You do need to sugar the berries the night before. MAKES FIVE 8-OUNCE JARS 2 pounds strawberries, rinsed, hulled and cut into bite-size pieces (about 8 cups) 2 pounds sugar (about 4 cups) Juice of 1 lemon or orange Combine the strawberries and sugar in a large pot and heat slowly until the juices are clear, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon (or orange) juice, then cover loosely and let stand overnight. The next day, get everything ready for canning. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and sterilize 5 sets of jars and lids, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, but leave the jars and lids in the hot water until you're ready to use them. Heat 2 cups of the strawberries and juice in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the strawberries start to simmer, cook, stirring often, until the preserves test done (see page 111), 3 to 5 minutes. Ladle the jam into the sterilized jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of the rims. Cover each jar with a lid and fasten the ring tight. Set aside and repeat with the remaining strawberries and juice. Seal according to instructions on page 111. <div align="center">* * * * *</div> How to Pick a Peach is available on Amazon.com. Please support good food writing, Russ Parsons and the Society, by using this link. One of the foremost food journalists of the nation, Russ Parsons is the food and wine columnist of the Los Angeles Times. He has been writing about food and agriculture for more than twenty years and has won many James Beard Awards for his newspaper articles, as well as the IACP/Bert Greene Award for distinguished writing. He lives in California, which produces more than half of the fruits and vegetables grown in this country.
  6. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1177053870/gallery_29805_1195_12287.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Joseph Carey Fourth in a series. Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse the same year I opened The Ordinary. She named her restaurant after a character in a film by a French director she admired. I named mine after -- well, nothing. About that name -- The Ordinary -- I liked the definition: a public house that served a fixed meal, at a fixed time at a common board. Of course, that was absolutely nothing like what I ended up doing with the joint. I also liked the irony since I had nothing ordinary planned. The two restaurants were just a couple of miles apart, but worlds apart in terms of clientele and cuisine. That gulf grew as time went by. At the time the only interaction I had with that group was going to a spaghetti party held by the Chez Panisse crew; it turned out they had someone they wanted me to hire. We were both interested in organic gardening and sustainable agriculture. Her focus -- and her location -- was a lot better than mine. And of course, Chez Panisse is still there. The Ordinary has followed Gertrude's famous pronouncement: there is no . . . Ordinary there. The first thing you should know about The Ordinary is its location: on a side street off a side street in North Oakland, smack dab against Berkeley. It had all three of the components for success in a restaurant, with the slight addition of a modifying adjective after each, location (bad), location (worse), location (worst). With a catchy name like Ordinary and a rotten location, hey, how could it fail? The building was solid and tall. Thick concrete walls. A smaller, newer building stood in front of that one, and the two were connected by a roofed stoop. We made the front building into the kitchen and office, with a loft above the office. It had originally been a power station or a water pumping station (I heard both), but I don't know about all its various historical incarnations, just the two immediately preceding my occupancy. In better days it had been a day care center. Immediately before I took it over it was a mess -- trashed -- a crash pad for hippies attending the California College of Arts and Crafts, which was just a few blocks away. The inside of the building was broken up into a dozen or so small rooms painted with a series of psychedelic murals. The first thing Campbell and I decided to do was dismantle all these rooms and open the place up. We filled about four large dumpsters. A loft that covered approximately half the square footage of the larger building became the upstairs dining room. Campbell was very handy with his hands; it would be an exaggeration to say I was a "rough" carpenter. The second thing you should know is that I didn't have enough money to open a restaurant. I had never opened a restaurant before. (I have since opened a dozen; some are actually successful.) I had no clue what I was doing. The Ordinary was my graduate degree. But, I could cook good. I had cooked professionally. Hell, I'd been to France! The trip to Paris had made up my mind to be a cook. I had devoured the Larousse and Escoffier's Guide Culinaire. I read the Picayune Creole Cookbook and The New Orleans Restaurant Cookbook, and literally dozens of others, both professional and amateur. (If you've read any of my other maunderings you know I have this misplaced belief I can figure out things by reading about them.) I even subscribed to many of the USDA's agricultural bulletins -- crop reports, commodities bulletins etc. -- they used to be free, folks. I was a pretty good pre-Internet researcher. I was energetic. And I have always been a fan of the impossible. I like to plunge into things before too many people tell me all the ways it can't be done. In the years since, I have had many students smitten with what I call "The Restaurant Fantasy." I certainly was. Stripped of all its decoration "The Fantasy" is basically the belief that if one is passionate about cooking and has a strong work ethic, one can be a restaurateur. So. I had no equipment and a very limited budget. I decided auctions might be one solution. At the first one I attended, I bought a large antique brass cash register that had been electrified: 350 bucks gone. So. I was underway! Because of the heft of the building, I decided I needed a very large bar for scale, but had no clue where to get one. Browsing the San Francisco Chronicle one day, I noticed an ad mentioning that there would be many things for sale through The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, as they were demolishing a number of old downtown buildings. I called and was told to come on down. The director was a lovely middle-aged woman who handed me a set of keys to vacated bars and restaurants. I set off wandering around and peering into boarded-up buildings. One of them was really dark inside, but I wiped away some of the city-by-the-bay grime on the window and saw what appeared to be a bar. I went in and was blown away: a huge bar ran nearly the length of the building. It was obviously very old, and still had the full tile trough along the bottom front bar. I had brought a flashlight. I peered up under the front of the top rail and saw there a kind of decal: "Brunswick Balke Collender Company." This meant nothing to me at the time. Man, this was it: the bar I needed. The back bar was 15 feet tall and the whole thing was about 35' long. It had four square columns supporting a three-foot tall full-length pediment. My brass cash register would look great in the middle of this thing. The only question was money. I returned the lady's keys, and asked what the procedure was if I found something I liked. I gave her the address. She allowed as how she had to put an ad in the paper and solicit bids. She gave me the bid forms, and said I had to bring a cashier's check for 1/4 of my bid amount. The ad ran a week later. I think she liked me -- it was a very small, nondescript ad, saying something like "old bar for sale." I was in her office on bid day. I had a cashier's check for $500.00, pretty sure I would lose my bar. I waited in her office until the last minute to see how many competitors would show up. Nobody. At the last second I filled in the amount of my bid on the form: $500.00. I don't think she was happy with me, but I got it! Now, I just had to figure out how to move it without destroying it. I called Campbell. This find turned out to be a greater decor boon than I ever could have hoped for. Campbell had an old Dodge pickup, and we were going to section the bar to transport it. We made a plan and set about carefully dismantling the bar. On breaks I wandered about the building. Bonanza! It had a basement, where apparently they had held furtive card games. Eighteen massive round wooden tables hunkered in the dark -- we saw all this with flashlights, as the power was off -- cloaked in padded felt. The tables became the tables in my bar and downstairs dining room. When we removed the felt, we discovered the padding was newspapers from the 30' and 40's. We saved them, and with a coat of shellac, they became the wallpaper in Sangria and Pickled Eggs. There was also an ancient refrigerator with the compressor sitting on top. Turned out, it worked. This became the first reach-in in my kitchen. I'm pretty sure I wasn't supposed to take anything out of that building but the bar. We were almost finished with plundering and pillaging the place -- in fact, we were on our last day -- when an old gentleman with a cane doddered up and introduced himself as the joint's former owner. We asked him about the bar, and he told us that the owner before him had bought it from the Palace Hotel, which had decided to remodel after the rocking and rolling in '06. It had been brought around the horn. <div align="center">+ + +</div> After a day of demolition , I often cleaned up and went back to San Francisco with Campbell -- North Beach, mostly. My favorite joint was Vesuvio. I sipped Pernod at the bar and occasionally stumbled across the alley to browse at City Lights bookstore. I bought Howl there and read it while perching at Vesuvio -- I'm sure I wasn't the first. Yeah, I admired the beatniks. Another bar I enjoyed in North Beach was just up the street from a neat little Basque restaurant, and was frequented by a bunch of lesbians. I used to idle away the hours in there playing pool with the ladies. They kicked my ass. I also loved Vanessi's on Broadway, part of a neighborhood that's rife with good Italian restaurants. Vanessi's is peculiarly San Francisco Italian. Anybody who knows the Bay Area will recognize the "Joe's"-type joints: combination lunch counter with stools and a cooking area behind the counter and white tablecloth restaurants. I always sat at the counter; I liked to watch the cooks work. Veal piccata and scampi were two of my favorites here. Vanessi's is just up the street from what was called America's first topless bar, The Condor, at Columbus and Broadway. Carol Doda was very big there. I think you might trace the proliferation of plastic tits on display everywhere in the good old USA to this time and place. But the Beats beat the tits there, and before them came the Italians. On San Pablo, The Pot Luck was a really nifty little joint with a great wine list. They had a several-course "gourmet dinner" on Monday evenings. Brace yourself -- it was six bucks. I ate there every Monday I possibly could. Ed Brown, the founder, closed the Pot Luck shortly after I opened The Ordinary. I went to the subsequent wine auction and bought several wines for The Ordinary, including a sparkling wine from Beaulieu that everyone assumed to be over the hill. I bought 3 cases of half bottles for $1.00 per bottle. It was the best sparkling wine from California I had ever had. <div align="center">+ + +</div> I was learning all I could about health and fire codes – what I really needed to know was the bare minimums for everything. My budget was already feeling the crunch. I only had about $9,000 to do this with. (Yet another way Ms Waters outdid me -- she had ten.) I was still studying and reading. I had come up with a concept and a menu: dishes from my New Orleans youth. Campbell and I painted and built and cleaned for a few weeks. Suzan and her friends helped me strip and refinish the bar out back of The Ordinary. Campbell and I rebuilt the bar and he built a great wine rack out rough redwood. We built tables for the upstairs dining room and put shutters on all the windows. Later on, George, who was really into gardening, prettied up the outside of the joint a bunch. Lots of flowers. I dug up a big rectangular section of the asphalt, about 10' by 30', out back and we planted a garden around a little pool I built. I bought a couple of koi -- carp to you fisherman -- and stuck them in the pool and called them Heckle and Jeckle. Planted water hyacinths so the fish would have shade. I built a gazebo under an acacia tree. I built an arbor and planted it with bougainvillea. We set up tables under it and served lunch out there. It seemed like we were making progress, but I was running out of money. My good friend, college teacher and now noted cookbook author, Denis Kelly, made a small investment in the deal. I borrowed $2500.00 from the Co-op Credit Union. I was going to be able to get the doors open. It didn't take long to figure out that I was going to have to have music to keep the place open. I met a lot of musicians during this period (I think I mentioned my song writing thing in an earlier story). Even before I opened they were asking about live music. My original plan was no, but I did have an old upright piano, which I put in the joint. I had also purchased a Revox reel-to-reel tape recorder for aid in writing songs. One day when Campbell and I were working, we went to get a cheeseburger for lunch (the best food for building restaurants). While we were out, the basics of my sound system and the Revox were stolen. I went out and bought a pistol -- a .38 police special. What always pissed me off is the place became better known for the music than the food (although New West magazine did say I made the best salad in the Bay Area). My office -- behind the kitchen, under the loft, with only a curtain separating it from the kitchen -- served as the green room for the musicians. (I usually fed them a bowl of jambalaya or gumbo.) Furnishings were just a mission-style couch, a desk and a couple of chairs. On my desk was The Drinking Gorilla; the laughing box (the only remaining part of some scary laughing doll); a framed antique sepia-toned photo of a naked man and woman in a standing soixante-neuf position, he holding her up; and assorted business-related stacks of paper. The Drinking Gorilla was a battery-operated toy gorilla that was supposed to lift his glass and drink, then recycle the beverage in a loop. The glass would fill up automatically and the procedure would repeat -- except he malfunctioned and missed his mouth with the glass and spilled the liquid all over himself. I had to keep him in a bowl to avoid a mess. I would turn on the laughing box while he was drinking. It was a metaphor for me. If anyone asked about the photo I would say it was the only photo I had of my mother and father together. This usually shut them up. <div align="center">+ + +</div> I bought the food. I went to the Oakland produce market -- just south of Jack London Square -- a couple of times per week. Since I had to be there early lest the big supermarket buyers gobbled up everything, I usually just stayed up. It was dark when I would arrive and light when I left. My regular purchases were avocados (we could get all kinds there – Fuertes, Bacon, Zutano and, of course, Hass), artichokes, onions, tomatoes, lettuces, celery, whatever fresh herbs were available and citrus fruits. Always on the lookout for okra. At first, I was lost there, and easily tricked, but I did a whole lot better after I socialized a little with the guys. This meant having an after-work drink or two with them. (Naturally, there was a bar smack in the middle of the market.) "After-work" for them was about 6:00 am, and this made for some long days. The regulars -- mostly Italians, all produce guys -- introduced me to Fernet Branca one early fall morning, claiming it was great for a hangover. They laughed their asses off watching my face as I struggled to keep it down -- and to keep my cruller and black coffee from anointing the top of the bar in chunky taupe hues. It's a bitter beverage, folks. I would totter away from the market and head to downtown Oakland and a place called The Housewives Market, a great European-style place with a Louisiana slant: dozens of open stalls hawking produce, meats, seafood, sausage, and cheeses. I don't know how it came about, but there was a large contingency of black folks from Louisiana in Oakland. The seafood market had buffalo and a freshwater drum called gasper goo (supposedly from the French, casse burgau -- "mussel breaker"). They also had fresh crawfish, blue crabs and shrimp -- all from Louisiana. Next to this seafood stall was a sausage stall. He made my andouille and boudin blanc, both of which I had on my lunch menu. I bought some of everything. Joe Pucci & Sons Seafood was also in downtown Oakland, and sometimes I would swing by and see what Steve Pucci had that day -- usually good prices on Mexican shrimp and oysters. Now it was about 9:00 am and I was ready to begin my day. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Once, I bought a couple of goat kids from my meat guy to barbecue for a wine dinner we were having. At first I got just one, nicely dressed and all. But we got a lot more reservations than anticipated, so on the morning of the dinner I called and asked him if had another. He said, "Yeah, but . . . " I told him I'd be right down -- where I met the meaning of "but." My meat guy was on his way out the door -- he had my goat, but he really had to go. The thing was, this kid was looking a lot like a live baby goat. Oh, it was dead, but only very recently expired -- I suspect it had been alive when I called. Its entrails were intact, it had hair, head, all the fixin's. I had already prepped the first one, and had it lying on a shelf in the walk-in. I hung the newcomer on a meat hook in the walk-in while I thought about what to do with it. I set a bus bucket under it to catch anything it might exude, and reminded myself to replace the burnt-out bulb overhead soon. It was nearly lunchtime. I was sitting in my office right next to the walk-in. My early waiter -- Jimmy, a little teeny gay guy (and a great waiter) -- came in, said hi, and started setting up the waiter's station. He went to get butter, cream and, you know, waiter's station stuff, and disappeared behind the refrigerator door. A loud crash immediately preceded a blood-curdling scream. Hmmm, guess I forgot to mention the dead goat hanging in the middle of the walk-in. He had stepped in the bus pan, slipped, grabbed the beast and pulled it down on top of him. After lunch I took it out, hung it in the gazebo and skinned, decapitated and gutted it. We had a good wine dinner that evening. As long as we're on evisceration, I'm reminded of a cocaine dealer quite near The Ordinary: Hugo, a swarthy, stocky Hispanic. He called me one day and asked me to come over to his third floor walkup and help him with a little problem. I huffed and puffed up the stairs. He opened the door and welcomed me, ushered me past a couple of scantily clad young ladies -- they were always around dope dealers -- and into the dining room. There on the table, lying on a bed of newspaper, was a dead deer. He had no back yard to take it to and wanted me to do a number on it right there on the table. I told him it was going to be a hell of a mess. It was. I did it. He paid me. Not money. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Spencer cooked and tended bar and helped with just about everything. Denis did a few stints. The lunch shift was the one that was killing me. Often I had not slept at all. This was the period during which I began my now lifelong habit of the afternoon nap. Spencer and George tended to come in around the time I was completely exhausted. They saved my ass for a few years. The bar was very busy on weekends and I usually helped out after I closed the kitchen. Spencer and George became bored with checking ID's. We were under constant assault from minors -- the music brought them in. So they started checking fingernails instead. I think it began with just the suspected minors, but grew. When someone ordered a drink they were asked to present their fingernails and were told that if they were clean they could have a drink. It befuddled them. One Friday night, we were jamming behind the bar. The noise was deafening, but when the phone rang around midnight, I could still hear it. It was Bunkie. He said, "Joseph, I have it!" I said, "Well, I hope you feel better soon." "No, I'm not sick. I have the answer!" "To what?" I gingerly queried. "Everything!" "You have the answer to everything?" "Yep." "I'd love to hear it." "Everything is everything. It's all so clear now." "That's it? Everything is everything?" "Yes, that's it." "What kind of drugs are you taking?" I was trying to listen to this over the sound of the music. "Just a few hits of acid." "How few?" "Oh, maybe a dozen." I thanked him for the answer to everything and suggested that he go lie down a while. He was missing in action the next day. Later, we got the report from the cops. Bunkie had tried to manually uproot his neighbor-lady's tree shortly after he got off the phone with me -- seems it blocked his light during the day. It was about a foot thick. And oh yeah, he was naked as a jaybird. After he'd been out there grunting and mooning her for a while, she called the cops. By this time he had decided he was, if not the, at least a god. He was handcuffed, upside down naked in the back seat of the cruiser, kicking and warning them all the way to the looney bin that vengeance would be his. They kept asking god not make so much racket. <div align="center">+ + +</div> All the while we were cranking out good fresh food, and got a couple of good reviews. One evening a producer of a radio talk show came in for dinner. He liked it a lot and asked me if I'd like to come cook one night on KGO radio. I said sure. (I say that a lot, don't I?) The show was on at 1:00 am, but at the time I think this was the most powerful station in the Bay Area. I packed up all the stuff I needed to make gumbo and shrimp Creole, put in a couple of bus tubs along with pots and pans and a couple of bottles of red wine, and headed off for Baghdad by the Bay. They actually let us in -- I had my girlfriend with me. The host was toting a large sheaf of papers and reached out to shake hands with me. He dropped the sheaf and the papers went everywhere. As he bent, and I bent to help him pick them up, I whiffed a really strong smell of scotch. Whoa, I thought. This might not be bad after all. We started talking and I, cooking, and pretty soon the phones were ringing off the hook: calls from Canada to Mexico. In the middle of the night? I answered a lot of questions about New Orleans and cooking Creole food and then popped the wine. I had been told we were supposed to be on for 20-30 minutes. Two and a half hours and two bottles of wine later -- the host was kind enough to help us with the wine -- we were done with our radio cooking show. There had been dozens and dozens of calls. Most of them were not from the Bay Area, though, and I had no idea if this would have any impact on business. I hadn't eaten all day, and was really drunk. We drove back to Oakland. The phone started jangling at 7:00 am and didn't stop all day. Apparently, there were a lot more insomniacs than I ever dreamed existed. We did four times the business we had ever done in a single day: the best of times and the worst of times. We were blown out of the water and had people waiting for hours. I think we made an equal number of friends and enemies that day. The air in the kitchen was thick with an irritable string of fucks and shits and goddamn yous. Perspiration flew about the stoves as we fired volley upon volley of Creole cuisine at the waiters. It was war -- war that feels so damn good when you win it. When it's all over: one of my favorite things about cooking in a restaurant. A shiver runs up my jaded old backbone every time I think about it. Everyone who loves it knows exactly what I mean. Finally, we had a brief fling with becoming an international naval power: The Ordinary Navy. I bought a boat, dry-docked in the Oakland Marina -- close enough to the A's stadium that, if the wind was right, we could actually hear the game. Stoned, we scraped and painted the hull and heard the Oakland A's win the World Series. Spencer and George were shade tree mechanics and were going to work on the engine. Alas, much like the Ordinary, the boat -- a 40-foot captain's gig -- never quite floated. <div align="center">+ + + + +</div> Joseph Carey, aka ChefCarey, is the author of Creole Nouvelle: Contemporary Creole Cookery and Chef on Fire: The Five Techniques for Using Heat Like a Pro. He cooks, teaches and writes in Memphis, Tennessee.
  7. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1175177987/gallery_29805_1195_14336.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Ivy Knight All that is wet and delicious comes from bones and feet and fins -- if you know what you're doing. A poorly made stock is just a pot of dishwater, a dirty bath that would make a catfish twirl his whiskers in disdain. As Michael Ruhlman wrote in The Making Of A Chef, "If you didn't know how to make a great stock, if you didn't even know what a great stock tasted like, you were doomed to mediocrity in the kitchen, at best, and at worst, ignorant foolishness." Yikes. I've been working as a cook for seven years, in every position from dishwasher to sous-chef but I've never had to make a stock. How I escaped this responsibility in restaurant after restaurant, I don't know. (Unless it's the heavy lifting. Filled to the brim with hot liquid and bones, your basic stock pot could easily accommodate me as well, with room for my doppelganger.) So I'm a cook who doesn't know how to make stock. A mediocre -- perhaps ignorant -- fool. Not good. If forced to do it week after week, ingraining the process in my head, I'm sure I could make the finest stock known to humanity. But this hasn't been the case. To correct this screaming omission in my training, I talked to some young, up-and-coming Toronto chefs, to take the best advice from what their years of hard work has taught them about stocks, from an ignominious bare-bones start to the illustrious, satiny finish. Nathan Isberg is Executive Chef at Coca (opened recently, it's been creating quite a bit of buzz) and Czehoski on Queen Street West. This young, serious chef is showing the gourmands of this city that you don't have to be over-the-hill and overweight to know food: young and hungry is the new black. When I talk to Nathan about stock, he pontificates a lot, quoting Escoffier and Harold McGee. He talks about the science that goes on, but he also stresses the importance of treating the stock-making process with the respect it deserves. "Don't treat it as a way to get rid of scraps," he says. This is news to me. One of the basic tenets of a professional kitchen is to never throw anything away. When butchering meat, poultry or fish you keep the scraps and use them in a stock. "Why would you put vegetables in at the beginning? Veg stock takes twenty minutes to make, not fourteen hours," he continues. He salts his bones before roasting. "The salt helps draw out protein and helps ensure that there's the right amount of salt just naturally in the stock. Roasting bones adds more layers of flavour. Roasting is of primary importance." When roasting bones for chicken stock he adds a bit of honey when he seasons them. Once the bones are perfectly roasted, he drains the fat and chops the bones to release the marrow. Nathan then pours ice over the bones to just cover. "The ice allows the proteins to bond slower in large pieces, thus resulting in a clearer stock. Cloudy stocks come from lots of small particles of protein." <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1175238249/gallery_29805_1195_19794.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">He brings this up to a boil slowly, then lets it boil rapidly for about five minutes, skimming constantly. Then he puts the stockpot in a 300-degree oven overnight. Not a lot of what Nathan does while making stocks is new except for this last bit. I've never heard of cooking a stock in the oven. He believes that too much agitation goes on when a pot simmers on top of the stove all night. Interesting. The next day the bones are taken out of the pot and the stock is strained through a fine chinois. Then the stock gets refrigerated. The fat congeals; a cook removes it. And there you have it. Perfect stock to be used any number of ways -- many of which will require that the stock be reduced. "When you reduce stock to the level most chefs do it gives too gelatinous a mouthfeel." Nathan continues his lesson. "Straight reducing makes it more intense, not more complex. When trying to make a stock richer, take 250 millilitres and reduce, then add another 250 millilitres, deglazing the pan over and over with stock. Out of sixteen litres of stock you'll get the same amount of flavour but way less waste." Nathan also thickens his stocks with cornstarch to to. He reduces to where he feels the flavor is right, then finishes with a small amount of slurry. "Escoffier was a huge proponent of starch-thickened sauces. His thing was potato starch but cornstarch holds better." I'm surprised, having been taught that thickening with cornstarch is only done in cafeterias and Chinese take-out joints. It makes sense though; when you have the perfect flavor but not the right consistency, you don't want to fuck it up by continuing to reduce if you have the option of maintaining that perfect flavor by thickening without reducing. Nathan tried to show me how to clarify a consomme, which he fucked up twice until we finally gave up. We are in his restaurant, Coca, in between services on a Monday. There are no orders coming in, no chaos -- it's calm, he has all the time in the world to clarify this stock -- so of course it's going to go to hell on him. Whereas if he needed to clarify stock for an order of consomme that some screaming customer needed five minutes ago while the board was filled with chits and the whole place was booming, he'd do it no problem while also doing five other things. It's amazing what you can do when you have to. After the consomme debacle, Nathan drags me across the street to his other restaurant, Czehoski, where he cooks me up an order of steak frites with tobacco-infused jus. He uses Cavendish-blend tobacco to infuse the sauce for ten seconds before straining. "I left the tobacco one second too long, I think it's over-infused," he tells me. I laugh, wondering how one second can make much of a difference. "I'm not kidding," he says. "Hopefully it won't be offensive." Offensive it is not. Silky and loose, softened by some last-minute butter, this jus is wicked. The tobacco adds a peppery heat and undertones of vanilla. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1175238249/gallery_29805_1195_5008.jpg" hspace="8" align="left"><img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1175238249/gallery_29805_1195_1425.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">Next I'm off to Niagara Street Café, where Michael Caballo (far left) and his sous chef Tim Duncan (left) put out a small, ever-changing menu of local, artisanal finds five days a week, from a kitchen that even the most libidinous cat couldn't swing in. Michael is only 26. He's been cooking professionally for seven years, and he's got talent and passion to spare. The boys send out some beautiful dishes that leave me in tears, but the ultimate is a Spanish stew with bonito and Basque peppers. In case some of you food nerds out there don't know what bonito is (or think it is only dehydrated tuna flakes) and want to lord it over your friends at dinner parties, let me fill you in. I had to ask Michael (I thought it was only dehydrated tuna flakes). The bonito I knew was nothing like the tender, unctuous fish he served me. "Bonito is from the mackerel family, which also contains some species of tuna. It is very hard to get and when I do find it, three-quarters of the time it isn't of ideal quality, so I don't buy it. When it is good it is probably my favourite fish." I'm in total agreement; I have never tasted a fish like this in my life. It's so good it makes me want to punch something. The stock is delicious. I think it's everything a fish stock should be until Michael tells me there is no stock in it at all. "The point of this dish is that everything is cooked together; it creates its own stock." He added that he'd tried making the same recipe with stock instead of water in the past and that the stock overpowered the delicate flavors of the fish. We agree that many fish stocks come out stale and bland. I ask how he makes a perfect fish stock. "I can't give you a recipe for the 'perfect' fish stock but I can give you the method I use," he tells me modestly -- a nice trait to find in an industry where cockiness is usually king of the castle. "Whatever fish bones I'm using, I like to first remove the eyes and gills, as they tend to cloud the stock. I wash the bones in several changes of water to get rid of any blood or impurities. Then I simply cover the bones with cold water, bring to a boil, reduce to slow simmer and cook for 30 to 45 minutes, just until the bones have flavoured the liquid. I don't add any vegetables as I feel these can impart a staleness to the flavor. If I desire the flavor of a certain vegetable I will add later when making the sauce." Is a sauce always necessary? Does every dish in the whole world need a sauce? Michael thinks so. "The role of sauce is very important in putting a dish together. It is the common link for all the ingredients of a dish to blend with, it is the link that enhances, balances and moistens the flavors of a dish. I cannot think of a dish that I have made that has not involved a sauce of one kind or another. I believe it is essential." In my current position as menu consultant at the Rushton, I'm asked to put a sauce with every dish I come up with. Sometimes I feel a dish doesn't need a sauce, that it has enough going on already. Martin Kouprie, chef and co-owner at Pangaea, agrees with me. "Not every dish requires a sauce, just like not every occasion requires a present." I ask Martin what changes he's seen in his 20 years in the business with regard to the type of sauces we use. "Over the past twenty years sauces have become lighter-- 'natural juices' flavoured with a last-minute dash of fresh herbs or whipped butter. This has been the rage since the eighties. But, everything old is new again and I'm seeing a resurgence of 'old school' methodology. The difference now from the time of Careme is that the sauces possess a higher concentration of flavour but stay simple and true to form. They are used more sparingly to add balance, to enhance. This trend is exalting the sauce to the craftsman or artisan level once again, and is spawning renewed interest from students and journeymen alike." Nick Drake, 28, and head chef of the soon to be opened Balsam Restaurant (in the old Peppino's on Queen East in the Beaches) tells me, "I feel that the role of sauce has changed because of the world we live in now. Diners are a healthier group of people who don't want the heavy sauces of the past. I feel that diners now prefer to be satiated rather than stuffed. Fruit and veg waters, flavoured oils and vinegars have long been a trend for that reason. I don't always use a sauce. I've created plates in the past that haven't had sauces. The issue with chefs though, is that the sauce is a vehicle for extra flavour and that attracts chefs, that possibility of extra layers of flavour." <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1175238249/gallery_29805_1195_6732.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">Another young chef, Alex Tso, sous-chef at Chez Victor, got wind of my saucy queries and met me for a few too many cocktails to talk stock. Well, you know how these things go, you start off innocently enough, stock talk, then after a few drinks you end up licentiously discussing another liquid asset that would be criminal to let go to waste: braising liquid. "Braising liquid is a different kind of stock, it's more intense, so better for sauces. It may not have the same amount of gelatin but it's meatier. We have a veal breast on the menu right now that needs to be cooked a long time or it's tough as hell. It's slow-cooked for 14 hours in water, a little veal stock, mirepoix and aromatics. The veal, while slowly cooking, is adding its own flavour to the liquid, so you've got to use mostly water or it will end up too strong." When Alex interned at Chez Panisse in 2002 they used bones, meat and a gelatin-producing agent like feet when making their stocks. "They did that to get a more rounded flavour in the stock. Just using bones is too one-dimensional. Since my chef won't let me throw meat into the stock pot, I can braise some meat in that one-dimensional stock and end up with a perfect rounded flavour." Speaking of one-dimensional: vegetable stock too often puts the blah in blasé. None of the chefs I spoke with really had any interest in talking about veg stock; it doesn't get used that often, if ever, in fine dining kitchens. We can use chicken stock in our soups, or if we want to make the soup vegetarian, deglaze with a lot of wine or other booze, add some water and finish with loads of luscious cream. I needed a vegetarian chef to help me out with this one. There's a new restaurant in Toronto that vegans, vegetarians and just about everybody else is flocking to. Sadie's Diner is a simple little place serving brunch and lunch, a kitschy, cozy hidey-hole with fresh flowers, tattooed servers and a flesh-free menu that actually tastes like food, rather than "Meat is Murder" pamphlets. Malcolm O'Hara is the chef and my go-to guy for any veg-head culinary questions. He doesn't believe in any one way to make a veg stock; he prefers to play around with different things that will come together to bring the biggest flavors to the end product. When making a butternut squash soup, he starts by making a squash stock of roasted butternut that he's drizzled with maple syrup. That gets added to a saute of mirepoix; he doesn't always stick with the two-to-one ratio on that either. He might use more onions, less celery, and roast his carrots to get a nuttier and deeper flavor from them. "I just go with what I feel, always keeping the end product in mind." For a really good vegetable stock, check out an article from the October 2000 issue of Cook's Illustrated by Kay Rentschler entitled, well, "Really Good Vegetable Stock." The most forgiving of stocks and the most open to anything in the end is probably the veg stock. It can be tricky because the broth can end up watery and flavorless, but it's a good one to learn on -- veggies are cheap. <div align="center">+ + +</div> The head chef at Chez Victor is David Chrystian, one of the greatest chefs I've ever worked for. Here's a wonderful meditation from his book in progress: <blockquote><blockquote><img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1175238249/gallery_29805_1195_2139.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">One of my favourite things to do and as a way to acclimatize myself to a busy kitchen and a busy service ahead is to skim the veal stock. The stock is always simmering, fat and impurities rise to the surface and need to be skimmed off. The water slowly transforming into a rich broth, getting deeper in colour, more viscous with gelatin and more infused with meat essence. Each time I hover over the pot and skim I am aware of the transformation happening; as the amber colour turns to caramel and then chocolate brown I am reminded of time, hours spent cooking. My time in the kitchen that day, that year and the days and years to come. I am reminded as to how slow and careful the cooking process is. Never step on the toes of your ancestors, never burn bridges and always cook a stock as though it is your future. It is your foundation. </blockquote></blockquote> I'm lucky: I can learn -- from the best -- how to make any stock, practicing over and over again, every week, until it is a part of me, like the part of me that seasons a salad before tossing, can touch a steak to feel its color or can whip up an aioli without glancing at a recipe. A stock is the one of the most basic and important things I can make as a cook. It's the mother of most mother sauces. Without it there would be no jus, no demi-glace, no bouillabaisse and no chicken noodle soup. Screw that. <div align="center">* * *</div> When not writing about food for the eGullet Society and Gremolata, or pillow fighting as 'Vic Payback', Ivy Knight works for a living as a cook in Toronto.<br><br>Photos copyright © 2007 Leslie Vineberg. Used by permission.
  8. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1172538500/gallery_29805_1195_8903.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">The Daily Gullet is proud to present the second of two exclusive excerpts from Cooked: From the Streets to the Stove, from Cocaine to Foie Gras. by Jeffrey Henderson On my first day at the Hotel Bel-Air, I reported to Tom Hanson, a six-foot-three-inch white guy, the executive sous-chef, and the number two man in the kitchen. Chef Hanson was very tal­ented, a great cook, and a master of presentation. He was an out-of-the-box chef, an original, who always worked the line with his crew. Tom was the type of chef who didn't mind getting dirty -- my kind of chef. The kitchen was banging and my stomach was butterflying. I was worried about whether I would be able to hang with this new crew. Though I'd worked at some top places before, the Bel-Air was the crème de la crème of hotel restaurants in L.A. I knew my A-game would have to jump to an A+ if I was going to make it here. Gary was a no-nonsense chef, notorious for reaming cooks and other chefs for not taking care of their business. They're always nice to you at the interview; they never tell you the truth about what really goes on in the kitchen because they want to paint a rosy picture for the fresh blood coming in. After the obligatory grand tour, Chef Clauson introduced me to the crew. The first kitchen soldier was Mario. The most power­ful and talented member of Gary's staff, Mario was a tough Mexi­can guy, the kitchen's saucier and the man in charge of the sauté station. Feliciano was number two under Mario, a stocky San Sal­vadoran who ran hot apps, the middle station in the kitchen. Feliciano never smiled, and I knew I'd have to work to earn his and Mario's respect. No prison-style intimidation tactics were going to have any effect on these guys. This was clearly going to be the most challenging crew that I had ever had to prove myself worthy of. Another tough guy was a sous-chef named U­mberto who had a strong street rep and was tatted up all over his body. From the moment I started, he never so much as looked me in the eye, so I knew we weren't going to hit it off. He controlled the prep crew in the back, and those dudes were like robots. They never even spoke -- all they did was prep, prep, prep from the time they walked in until the time they left. They made all the stocks and the employee meals, and they did all the butchering. They were very talented and focused, but always in the trenches, overwhelmed with work. There were also two women in the kitchen: a very talented Asian woman named Arlene, who'd graduated from one of the top culinary academies, and a Spanish girl named Maria who was beau­tiful but lazy. Women were accepted a lot more quickly than men because there isn't that macho competitive vibe when it comes to females. Arlene was a professional, but Maria was fucking one of the other cooks. She also used her feminine charms to manipulate all the other guys into doing her prep work and pulling her out of the weeds during service. The vibe at the Hotel Bel-Air was different from any I'd ever been around -- even more competitive and professional. And, the place itself was different, too. During my tour of the kitchen, I asked where the walk-in freezers were. "We don't use them," Chef Hanson explained. "This is five-star fine dining. Everything we do here is fresh. All our meats, sauces, stocks -- nothing comes out of a can and nothing goes in a freezer. We ship everything in fresh every day and use excess for staff meals." A big change from the Marriott standard operational procedures mentality. The chef tournot is a jack-of-all-trades; he can work every station from broiler to hot apps, sauté, pantry, and saucier. He's the go-to guy. The head chef depends on the tournot, especially when the kitchen is down a man. I was a long way from excelling as a tournot since I still had so much to learn. If I didn't know how to do something, I would pretend that I did. I'd sneak off to the walk-in with a cell phone to call Robert in the middle of service and ask him how to per­form particular tasks. It brought me back to my first few years in prison, when I'd been told so much about white people being superior because they had all the knowledge. I remembered the teachings of the black prison scholars I studied, who wrote that if anyone wanted to keep knowledge from a black man, all you had to do was put it in a book, because we didn't read. "If you want to know what the white man knows," they had preached, "read his books." Robert had more than a thousand cookbooks so I started add­ing to my personal library after my first day at the Bel-Air. I bought The Sauce Bible, a book called simply Foie Gras, The Food Lover's Com­panion, and the latest edition of The Professional Cook. These books covered many of the basics of the cuisine prepared in the Bel-Air kitchen. Every night I spent hours after work studying those texts and honing my skills. The one skill you couldn't learn from any book was how to suc­cessfully maneuver through the cutthroat politics of a top-flight kitchen. The trouble started one Friday night when I was paired with Maria at the broiler station. That station took the most heat during service, because that's where the majority of the Bel-Air's popular dishes were prepared, like rack of lamb, grilled pheasant and other game, and even some fish. We had to perform above the rest of the crew, just to hang with the flow of service. Maria was my partner on the station and her game was weak. I was cooking the meat while Maria was supposed to be preparing and plating the vegetables and starch. She was fucking up from the get-go. I had a rack of lamb ready for Table One, the table in the kitchen, and Maria was just standing there stressing and staring back and forth between me and an empty plate. It kept going like this until I was so caught up trying to get her to do her job that I misheard the chef when he ordered another rack of lamb. He was yelling back, "Mario, let's go with the twelve top! Pick up! Jeff! Maria! Let's go!" I said, "Fuck. I'm down a rack." We were short one portion of lamb that I'd have to prepare from raw to plated in minutes. I couldn't let Chef Clauson know that I'd fallen behind, so I ran to Mario's station and grabbed one of his hot sauté pans, which the dishwashers always made sure he had plenty of while I was al­ways short clean pans. After quickly seasoning up a rack, I mashed it down and put it straight in a hot pan. By now, Chef Clauson was in a screaming rage. "Jeff, I want my fucking lamb now!" "Lamb's coming, Chef! I'm down one rack. Let's send out ev­erything and by the time the waiter gets back I'll have that lamb dish plated." The chef was going crazy, yelling and cursing his head off. I was sweating bullets and Maria was ready to collapse on the floor -- it was killing her. It was killing me! I felt weak, ashamed that I was let­ting the chef down and causing the rest of the crew to get backed up. I knew I had to put my gangster face on and take full control of my station. Failure was not an option. I remembered what Robert had always told me: "speed, taste, and presentation." And, "Never depend on another cook to back you on your station." Even after that last rack was plated and the service ended for the night, I couldn't face Chef Clauson. Then I came to learn something about him, which I'd later learn was typical of most top chefs. They'd whup your ass during service, get in your face, throw things, the whole nine yards, but at the end of the day, most of them never took it personally. When this night was over, he came up to me, patted me on the back, and said, "Good job, Jeff. You're going to be a good soldier." Damn, I said to myself. What do you mean "good job"? I fucked up. This can never happen again. That girl has to get off my sta­tion. I've got to get rid of her. I knew there would be consequences. I'd have to deal with her boyfriend in the kitchen, not to mention the rest of the crew. Even the waiters loved her. The ones who didn't want to fuck Maria thought of her as their little Latin sister. The next day I came in wearing my soldier's face. Like always, I was there an hour early to make sure I got my prep work done. When Maria came in, I immediately started giving her instruc­tions. She looked at me like I was crazy. She'd been there longer, so who the fuck was I to be giving her orders? I didn't give a shit: I was not going to be embarrassed again. I was taking full responsibility for the success or failure of the broiler station. "I'm tired of your shit," I told her. "I don't give a shit how good you look. Your boyfriend won't be able to do shit for you if you make me look bad again." Even though the boys on the line loved her, they couldn't stand up against me because I was bigger and tougher than any of them, and they knew it. Her boyfriend didn't want any trouble; he was between a rock and a hard place because his team needed me. I could tell that most of the crew didn't particularly care for having a negrito in the kitchen -- on top of that a strong one. They also knew I was no easy pushover, and I would be a better asset in the kitchen than Maria. I knew Mario at least respected me profes­sionally, because he would watch me prep and could see my speed and organization was top-notch. U­mberto watched me, too, but he despised everything I did. As he studied me that night, I stud­ied him as well, watching his every move. I started my prep by searing off two or three extra racks of lamb and wrapping them in foil. I hid them under my little chrome utility cart on the side of my six-burner stove so that, if I fell behind again, I'd have backups that I could pop in the oven and bring up to temperature. Sandbagging food that way was definitely against the rules, but I felt I had no choice. It was crazy in there, it was a battlefield, and I intended to win by any means necessary. Within half an hour of service, the chefs would be ranting and raving, wait­ers stressed out, and all of these Hollywood celebrities watching the show from Table One. Even as I prepped, a part of me felt like waving a white flag and saying, "I give up! I'm burnt!" And then just walking out. We were an hour into the service when I got my first lamb or­der. I seasoned the rack of lamb with my kosher salt and cracked black pepper, seared it off in a hot sauté pan on both sides, and put it in the oven. I told Maria to drop the polenta in the deep fryer and in the next twelve minutes to sauté the spinach and to cara­melize a shallot. My lamb came out; I cut the rack in half and let the pieces rest a few minutes before setting them over the crispy polenta with the double bones crisscrossed and pointing upward. Then I spoon-drizzled the red wine sauce around the chops, gar­nished them with crispy basil, and placed the dish in window. Chef Clauson told me, "Great presentation, Jeff," but within minutes it came back from the customer. "What's wrong with the lamb?" Chef Clauson asked the waiter. "They didn't like it," he reported. "They said it was kind of sweet or something." The chef told me to refire it, and I could already feel all eyes on me. I noticed some of the boys at the end of the line were smirking at me. For some reason, a sixth sense told me to check my season­ing. I'd heard that the more competitive it gets in high-end kitch­ens, the more cooks sometimes tamper with their in-house rivals' seasonings and sauces -- adding water or soy sauce to their sauces and red wine, for example -- things you couldn't fix on the fly. So I tapped the tip of my pinky to my tongue, touched my kosher salt, and tapped it on my tongue again -- The motherfuckers! Someone had mixed granulated sugar with my salt. Immediately, I called to Chef Clauson, "Come look at this bullshit, Chef. Someone put fucking sugar in my salt. I've never come snitching to you but this is over the top. It's gonna get out of hand and someone's gonna get hurt. I appreciate the opportunity you're giving me, Chef, but I was treated with more respect when I was in prison." I let him know that I was a professional, not just some ex-con, and that I could run my station well if he could get his crew to stop interfering with me. I had, after all, run kitchens over some of the world's most desperate men. He ended up just letting it slide. I was furious. I didn't need any more proof that the boys wanted me out. The dishwashers had already stopped supplying me with enough sauté pans and, two weeks before, all of my prep had been thrown out and I'd had to start from scratch. I didn't bitch about it any further to Chef Clauson, but I did get in Tom Hanson's ear a little, explaining that someone was trying to set me up. As far as the chefs saw it, though, the drive and passion I brought to the kitchen was by no means worth their having a conflict with the Hispanic guys on the crew. They simply represented a greater as­set than one lone ranger. I knew I'd have to deal with them on my own. And that's just what I set out to do. I started to flex my muscle on the line, mad-dogging them, staring them down. In my own way, I let them know that I wasn't the one to play with. I further let them know that if we couldn't deal with the situation there in the kitchen, we could deal with it on the street. At that point, I was even ready to bring in some boys from my old days to deal with these fools in the parking lot. The motherfuckers had backed me into a corner by playing dirty. The way I saw it, anything that happened to them now was something they brought upon themselves. If my career was going to get fucked, so was everyone else's. But, before things went that far, I thought I'd try a little diplomacy -- like how the corporate gangsters do it. Of all the Latino guys, Mario seemed to me the easiest one to flip. When I say "flip," I mean play on his intelligence and ma­nipulate him psychologically until he would let down his guard and accept me as a true member of the crew. I felt I could work my way in with Mario because, when he wasn't in the presence of the rest of his boys, he would share some of his insights and knowledge with me. It was always just enough for me to get by, though, never enough to build my confidence. At the same time, I started a crew-wide public relations cam­paign by toning down my aggressive attitude and extending the olive branch by letting the crew bitch me up a little bit. They had me doing prep work that wasn't part of my job, and I let them. Mostly, though, my focus was on Mario. I started coming in earlier and earlier to help him get his fourteen sauces ready for service, set up all of his pans and reduction pots, and put out his wines and the various ingredients he needed for service. The sauce that required the most prep work was the mango sauce that was paired with the duck. I peeled the mangos, removed the flesh from the pit, chopped up the cilantro, reduced the coco­nut milk, and pounded the essence out of the lemon grass. I made Mario's job so much easier that, despite his playing Mexican mafia games with me, he started to respect me. Before long, he began to share with me his secrets about the sauté station and making sauces. Just like with Robert Gadsby and Sarah Bowman, the things Mario taught me in action couldn't be learned from any text or in a culinary school. After the white boys in prison told me I was intelligent and the brothers hipped me to self-help books, I knew that I had as much a chance as any man to become successful. I was learning that no top chef is superhuman. I saw them digging through books, poring over magazines, and stealing other people's creations. They were jackers just like T-Row and me. The only difference was the prod­uct. When T and I were out jacking cars, these guys were jacking recipes, formulas, and techniques. Once I mastered the broiler station, Chefs Gary and Tom knew that I was going to make it. They recognized that I was a sol­dier and not some wannabe. With those two behind me, the rest of the Bel-Air crew grudgingly started to give me their respect. After four months, Tom told me I would be filling in for Mario on his days off. I was happy as hell. For two days a week I would be working the most coveted spot on the line. This was my ultimate opportunity to shine and also hone my sauté and saucier skills. I'd been studying Mario from day one -- his technique, his ev­ery move; how he arranged the pots on the stove; how every handle for all fourteen sauce pots always pointed in the same direction; and how every one of those handles was labeled with duct tape indicating which sauce was which. Within a month, I had the sauté station down to a science. I became so confident that I would even jump from the broiler to sauté when Mario was slammed to give him a hand. I had Mario just where I wanted him. It wouldn't be long, I knew, before the rest of his boys fell in line completely. Although Feliciano was still a little cold toward me, he didn't make any problems either. Soon enough, the only person in that kitchen who I had any real trouble with was the one person who'd been giving me grief from the start: Maria. She wouldn't have been a major problem, but she had one advantage over me -- she was still fucking that other cook and their relationship was starting to get serious. Even after the rest of the crew had accepted me, she still resented me for forcing her to do her job. She brought up fictitious charges against me with human re­sources, claiming I had threatened her, so a hearing was to be held where I would have to defend myself. Sure, I yelled at her and barked some orders, but that happens in kitchens everywhere ev­ery day. Hell, I never worked for anyone who didn't get on my ass when they thought they had to. Still, I was a large, intimidating black man, an ex-con, and a felon. And she was a very pretty and petite young woman who most of the front and back of the house staff wanted to bed. I didn't like my odds. At the hearing Gary Clauson came to my defense. When Gary spoke, he sounded like a top-notch defense attorney. I barely had to say a word. For the first time, I felt like I really was a valued member of his team. The charges against me were dropped. After that, even Feliciano was down with me, and the job became easier, less stressful, and more enjoyable. Over the next couple of months I made another new ally. Josh Thompson was a young chef out of New York City who oversaw the tasting menus for Table One. He had worked under Thomas Keller for two years at the French Laundry and for Paul Bocuse at L'Auberge du Pont in France. Josh's dishes were light and seasonal with remarkably bold flavors and sexy presentations. Josh and I had very similar philosophies about cooking. Maybe that's why he decided to take me into his confidence and started teaching me things. Of course, I always wondered if it was because he wanted to see me grow as a chef and was grooming me to become one of his soldiers, or if he simply wanted to bitch me into doing his prep work. I didn't really care, because Table One was the ultimate. I want­ed to have an influence there. A lot of high-powered African Amer­icans ate at Table One, so I thought I would suggest something southern, something that played on the flavors that most blacks grew up loving, but I was too afraid of being rejected to make the move. After a year, I finally got the break I'd been looking for: Josh had a hernia operation. Gary and Tom started covering Table One while Josh was re­covering from surgery. Gary didn't have a lot of energy. He had been recently diagnosis with leukemia. And Tom didn't have the time and didn't want to be stuck with another responsibility. So I asked Gary if I could try my hand at writing a tasting menu for Table One and execute the tasting. Gary decided to give me a shot, so I wrote up a four-course tasting menu. It was summertime and peaches were in full bloom, so for the first course I went with a strawberry and doughnut-peach soup with a hint of elderflower syrup. The appetizer was a pan-seared Muscovy duck breast with braised Napa cabbage, caramelized sweet potatoes, and a port wine gastrique, and gar­nished with crispy leeks. For the main course I chose beef Ros­sini, a classic dish of filet mignon and foie gras. The finish was pan-seared loup de mer with braised Swiss chard, carrots, and tarragon cream. Once Gary gave me the go-ahead, all the waiters were, like, "How are they gonna let this guy do a tasting for Table One? He's not even a chef!" The first course was easy. I took pureed strawberries and then added a little bit of fresh squeezed orange juice to thin them out and a touch of sugar to enhance the sweetness. I strained the mix­ture through a china cap to remove all the little seeds. As I watched it come through the strainer it was like pure strawberry juice. After a quick whisk of the juice, I drizzled in some elderflower syrup to intensify the flavor, poured the juice into a white soup bowl, peeled and sliced a doughnut peach, and folded in fresh minced peppermint. Then I set that aside for the waiters to taste so that they could talk it up to the customers during service. For the second course, I cut a four-ounce piece of duck breast and scored it with a sharp knife to keep it from buckling and to allow the seasoning to flow through the skin when I seared it. After searing it off in a sauté pan, I placed the duck in the oven at a slow roast. I took some Napa cabbage and caramelized it in a pan of its own. I did the same with the diced sweet potatoes, added brown sugar for the sweetness and the maple flavor, fresh thyme and butter, and gave it a quick sauté until the edges of the potatoes were dark. On a square china plate, I arranged the cabbage and sweet po­tatoes in a little mound. Then I removed the duck breast from the oven and let it rest for a couple of minutes before cutting it into four thin, medium-rare slices. These I placed over the vegetables, then spoon-drizzled the red wine reduction around the artfully ar­ranged dish and garnished it with a poached bing cherry. Next came the Rossini. I seared off a four-ounce beef filet and scored a small piece of Hudson Valley foie gras, which I would sear at the last moment possible because it's as delicate as butter. Rob had taught me to sear filet mignon from the sides, the top, and the bottom, and to sprinkle my seasonings from high up with long, sweeping motions like an artist's paintbrush strokes in order to cover it everywhere. Once the filet was done I plated it, and immediately put the foie gras in the blazing hot pan, seasoning it with black pepper and sea salt. In less than a minute, it was sitting beautifully atop the filet. Finally, I seasoned up the fish and, when I laid it in the hot sauté pan, I could smell the fresh thyme, fresh cracked black pep­per, and salt filling the air as the fish began to sear. I love the sound of fish crackling in a pan -- it's like it's talking to you. It speaks to your senses and arouses your palate. When I'd finished it on top, I set it aside to rest while I quickly sautéed the Swiss chard and fingerling potatoes. When I plated that last dish, it towered over all the others. Rob had taught me how to stack food, which was a technique pioneered by Alfred Portale at Gotham Bar and Grill in New York. It was beautiful, all the colors playing into one another like a rainbow. The waiters were blown away. The crew was blown away. Gary put his hands on his hips and stared down at the food and there were no objections, but one. He told me that strawberry doughnut-peach soup was a little too sweet to be served as a first course. I took his criticism with pride. I felt unstoppable, but I'd still never let my guard down. Shortly after my first success at Table One, word went around that the hotel's banquet chef was about to quit. Even though ban­quet chefs got very little respect, it was a chance for me to make history. No African American chef had ever been in charge of a kitchen at the Hotel Bel-Air. I applied for the job and Chef Gary told me there was one candidate above me because of his long ex­perience in the industry. I didn't take it as a no but, instead, as a consideration -- and I was pleased. As it turned out, the more experienced candidate didn't last three weeks before the Latino boys ran his ass out of there. I was offered the position at $28,000 a year, plus benefits. It wasn't much, but I was more concerned with the title than the pay. But after Stacy did the math, she said, "Jeff, this doesn't make sense. You'd make more money as chef tournot doing over­time than you will as a chef." I hadn't looked at it from that perspective; I'd only kept in mind what Robert had told me, which was that there were two forms of money: cash and experience. "If you go for the cash first," he'd said, "before you get the ex­perience and exposure, you'll burn out before you have the experi­ence to make it all the way to the top." So I took the experience, telling Stacy that the money would have to wait. Within two months on the job I was getting down. I was banging out high-end parties for a hundred people at a time, and everything was made from scratch. Chef Clauson let me be cre­ative with the food I served, so long as there were no shortcuts taken. Some of my best dishes were diver scallops with applewood smoked bacon and pencil aspargus wrapped with smoked salmon. It was intense at times, but I was confident and focused enough to flourish. I was also confident enough to bring up the subject of my pay with Chef Clauson. I let him know that I had been told that my position normally paid $40,000 a year and that I wanted to be compensated at the same rate as all the chefs before me. He agreed and gave me the raise I was asking for. That's when I was issued my first legitimate chef's jacket. It read "Hotel Bel-Air" on one front side and "Jeffrey Henderson, Sous-Chef " on the other. I wore that jacket with pride, honor, and respect -- and I wore it everywhere I went. Even when my shift was over, I wore it on the street, when I went to the store, the gas station, anywhere. People in my community would recognize me and ask about my job and cooking. I thought back to being in prison and telling my family and Mr. Hershman that I was going to be a world-class chef someday. If I wasn't on my way now, I didn't know what "on my way" meant. Six months later, I was being recruited by Joseph Antonishek who, at just twenty-eight years old, was the executive chef and food and beverage director of the five-star, five-diamond L'Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills. I knew it was time to move on. I had con­quered the title of chef tournot, learned every station, and had made history by becoming the first African American banquet chef at the Hotel Bel-Air. I'd earned the respect of Gary Clauson and the crew, and I had even made Robert proud. My resignation loomed heavily for several weeks as I contemplated leaving. Chef Joseph was calling almost every day. I couldn't face Chef Clauson, so I went to Tom. He was angry but he under­stood. When he consulted with Gary, he understood as well. They knew I had to keep moving forward to expand my culinary career and seek out new challenges. After a couple of spy missions to L'Ermitage -- snooping around, asking questions about Chef Joseph -- I was a little hesi­tant because I heard that cooks had a hard time lasting long there. But I was confident that I could make it through anything, so I gave my official two-week notice at the Hotel Bel-Air. On my last day, I shook hands and hugged everyone, thanking them all for their patience and what they taught me. L'ermitage (now raffles L'ermitage) is located in the center of Beverly Hills with 129 incredibly expensive suites and a cool roof­top banquet space where rappers throw record release parties. My first assignment was the lunch and dinner shifts. I was hired as a sous-chef at $42,000 a year. Since I didn't have a name in the industry, I never understood why Chef Joseph had pursued me so eagerly and he didn't even ask me to prepare a tasting, but I soon learned that his other sol­diers were falling off. Two sous-chefs had quit, one of them to work at the French Laundry. Before long, the only full-fledged chefs left were Joseph and myself. I ended up doing breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In return, Joseph promised to teach me the financial end of the business, where I lacked knowledge. Robert once warned me that very few chefs would teach me that, because once you could cook, manage, and understand profit/loss sheets, you could replace anyone. Joseph never did hold up his end of the bargain, but my food took off to another level. Joseph's food was light and Asian-inspired, similar to Robert Gadsby's. There was, however, noth­ing intimidating about him. When he yelled at the cooks, no one even twitched. At that time, he lacked the maturity to marshal his forces in the kitchen. By using my advantage of being older, even I influenced him to do things my way. I had only been at L'Ermitage a short time when Joseph left. That left me as the only chef running L'Ermitage. Just over three years out of prison and I was overseeing a five-star, five-diamond property in Beverly Hills. The pressure was on. And there was trouble ahead. The general manager promised me advancement in the company if I held down the fort until they found a replacement for Joseph. I agreed. For some reason, I really thought I could run the place smoothly and become the permanent executive chef. Little did I know that there was a revolution brewing in the front of the house. There was a conspiracy to undermine me and run me out of there with my tail between my legs. Not yet 90 percent polished, not yet 100 percent distanced from the street game, I allowed the provocateurs to get under my skin and push my buttons. It was Saturday night service. The restaurant was packed. The manager of private dining started to fuck with me by intention­ally delaying ticket times, by not putting them into microsystems so the cooks could prepare the orders; those orders piled up and waiters began screaming, "How much time for table eight?" and "Room service!" My cooks couldn't handle it and started dragging behind. I should have listened to the rumors about L'Ermitage's high turnover rate for chefs and cooks. Now I was seeing it firsthand: Behind the cloak of a prestigious restaurant operation and hotel, it was completely unorganized and unprofessional. If I had Mario and Feliciano down here, I told myself, we would be banging this out with no problem. My anger rose as they kept pushing on me, my blood pressure surging. Finally, I lost it. I went off on both of the managers and whispered to one of them, "I'm gonna fuck you up for this." I meant that I was going to report her to the GM for her sabo­tage in the kitchen. She took it as an opportunity to say that I was going to physically harm her. She screamed out that I was going to kill her. Within minutes, security showed up. "Chef Henderson," the guard said. "You need to grab your things and leave the property." Meanwhile, the girl was sweating and turning red like a beet. She should have won a fucking Oscar for her one-woman show. I grabbed my knife bag, got in my car, and took off for home -- nervous as hell. I was still on probation and didn't want any drama. I never went back to L'Ermitage. (I never even called or got my last check.) It was a long ride home to Harbor City. When I looked Stacy in her eyes, she knew something was wrong. "What did you do?" she asked me. "I fucked up. I talked crazy to that white girl I've been having trouble with at work." "Baby, don't worry, you'll get another job, but you have to work on your anger." "I don't have any fucking anger problem!" I shouted. "I'm just tired of these motherfuckers fucking with me and trying to stop my progress." "But, honey, it's got to come to a point where you deal with it in another way. You can't keep going off on people because it's gonna end up with you not being able to find work in the kind of places you aspire to." My hard head reared up once again. "I'm not worried about that," I told my wife. "I don't believe I have an anger problem. I'm just as angry as anyone else in America. People fuck with you, you're gonna get mad." "But, Jeffrey, never forget something: You are black, you are a convicted felon, and you are intimidating to people who don't get you. You've gotten jobs because you speak well and know how to play the corporate game. But you can't show your street side because they will hang you every time." "I understand that. But at the end of the day, I am who I am. I get fed up not being who I am. I'm tired of living a double life and being fake to learn the cooking game. Sometimes I just lose it." "You can't lose it," she said, "at the expense of your family and your career." "Yeah," I said. "I know that, baby." <div align="center">+ + +</div> This is the second of two exclusive excerpts from Cooked: From the Streets to the Stove, from Cocaine to Foie Gras, by Jeffrey Henderson. Reprinted with the kind permission of the author and HarperCollins Books. Jeff Henderson is an award-winning chef and public speaker. He made history as the first African American to be named chef de cuisine at Caesars Palace Hotel in Las Vegas, and is currently executive chef at Cafe Bellagio.
  9. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1173548013/gallery_29805_1195_10533.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Priscilla I’d never given much thought to loquats, pretty yellow small fruits which look a little like a slightly pointy apricot or plum, although I was not 100% unfamiliar with them. I’d bought them a few times, piled in repurposed plastic strawberry baskets, from a favorite type of farmer’s market vendor, the type of vendor that you just don’t see in many farmer’s markets anymore -- elderly locals, ladies mostly but not exclusively, selling on folding card tables what grew in their venerable suburban backyard mini orchards. (I also like the flowers that these same houses often have: big hydrangeas at a shady front corner, naturalized Amaryllis Belladonna crowding the planting strip along a sunny side.) Often there was an improbably huge old boat of a car, original owner situation, pulled in behind them, in among the farmers’ trucks, commodious trunk yawning open. Along with loquats, pineapple guavas, Persian mulberries and perfectly ripe figs appeared on those card tables too. And one nice lady, even though there was little chance of idle hands at this busy market, while selling would also be shelling English peas into yet another strawberry basket -- peas she’d picked that morning from her back yard, and that evening starred in risi e bisi on my dinner table. Of course this was an especially good farmer’s market, and not just because it was my local. It was run with the archetypal iron fist in a velvet glove by a local branch of the American Association of University Women. Mere mention of the AAUW may not strike the same terror in the hearts of others that it does in mine, but where I lived its members were, to a woman, formidable -- brooking no nonsense, suffering no fools, kicking ass and taking names for all sorts of good causes. Wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of ’em. Wouldn’t want to be caught trying to resell commercial product as my own, for instance, or shorting that week’s local food charity fruit and veg donation box. No sirree. And we all benefited. After I moved away from that market and its card-table vendors (whether through natural attrition or different rules at different markets, you just don’t seem them any more), I thought about loquats even less. A decade or so after my last card-table vendor loquat, I was in Coronado near San Diego staying in the then-Le Meredien with my family. Our room opened out onto a shared courtyard with a beautiful koi pond, part of an extensive, natural-looking water feature that ran all around the hotel property. What we were attracted to first was not koi, but ducks -- a mother duck had a whole string of ducklings following her, and we followed them all around the grounds. They even went up a little rocky waterfall, the babies popping like corn kernels until they made it up there with their mother. But we loved the koi, too. (My koi fixation was firmly cemented during many childhood trips to Buena Park’s late, lamented Japanese Deer Park, where one could buy koi food from vending machines and the big fish would burble up to the surface and eat from your hand. One could also buy dove food and feed gorgeous pure white doves, as well as food for the eponymous deer, tiny adorable things who would crowd around to be fed -- quite a trip, not to say sensory overload, for an animal-loving little girl.) And we were not the only ones soaking in the loveliness of the garden and the fish. Two very old, elegant Japanese ladies were also hanging out in the courtyard, petting the koi and talking to them and each other. They smiled so nicely at my child that I could tell they were fine people and liked them immediately. The pond was enclosed by a smooth seat wall, and graceful, carefully tended trees draped over it. One afternoon preparing to leave the room to go visit the Star of India tall ship, I believe, the trees outside were shaking and shaking, and as we stepped outside we saw the two elegant Japanese ladies up in the tree, way up there, picking (and hungrily eating) loquats. It was pretty astounding -- they had to be octogenarians. But when they were in that tree they were more like 8 year olds. They were a bit taken aback at our intrusion, and looked at each other, but we just smiled at them and went on our way. Later, we ate a loquat ourselves. When my neighbor, who is also a friend, bought a cabin around the corner here there were some mature but neglected trees on the property. She’s a gardener, and set about saving what she could and culling as necessary. One tree, on the side of her garden that I have to pass on the way to my house, was in especially sad shape. It got pruned and fed and watered like the rest, and soon it was all glossy green leaves and stretching, arching new growth. And, presently, unmistakably, loquats. It was a loquat tree. I hadn’t seen one since the then-Le Meredien a decade earlier. It puts out such a bountiful crop that my friend makes loquat butter and loquat chutney and we eat a bunch in the as-is state as well. Lots of things froze during recent historic low temps -- benighted variegated Raspberry Ice bougainvillea, I’m giving you one more chance. Plants with deadly thorns ought not be so demanding, I don’t think. (Two-inch tall fava bean sprouts having lain down looking like total goners, two days later were back up and had grown another half inch.) I hope the loquats around the corner weren’t affected. The tree looks OK, but I realize I’m fond of seeing them, and I don’t want to wait another 10 years. <div align="center">* * * * *</div> Priscilla writes from a Southern California canyon with the predictable attendant population of militant environmentalists, amateur naturalists, itinerant notaries, entrepreneurial winemakers, and llama farmers. Photo reference: University of Florida IFAS Extension Service, Okeechobee County
  10. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1172538500/gallery_29805_1195_8903.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">The Daily Gullet is proud to present this, the first of two exclusive excerpts from Cooked: From the Streets to the Stove, from Cocaine to Foie Gras. by Jeffrey Henderson The next morning, just after the 4:00 a.m. count, I was awakened when the overnight guard shined his flashlight in my eyes. "Henderson," he said. "Kitchen duty." "All right, sir." I hadn't been sleeping soundly anyway -- I never slept sound­ly. I'd wake at the drop of a dime. I knew better than to sleep hard in prison; you just never knew who might creep up on you while you were dreaming away. Slowly, I got dressed, brushed my teeth and washed my face, and made my way to the front door of the unit. Several guards were there to escort inmates to the kitchen for breakfast duty. There were several different guard positions at the prison: The captain, who was in charge of security, oversaw all lieutenants who in turn oversaw the correc­tion officers, and then there were the unit guards, escort guards, perimeter guards, special housing guards, maintenance guards, and food service guards. This last group was made up mostly of guys who had at one point worked as cooks in the military, and they were the ones who marched us across the North Yard that morning. Shit, I really fucked up this time, I thought, and I knew that if I messed up again I'd wind up in the hole for a long while. We were received in the kitchen by the food service guards. A tall skinny one named Parnell gave me a quick briefing about my job duties. Whatever, I thought, as he showed me the pot and pan room where I'd be working. There wasn't much action going on at first. I just sat around the dining room doing noth­ing with the twelve other inmates who relieved the overnight detail. Then the 6:00 a.m. horn blew and the breakfast rush rolled in. "Henderson," Officer Parnell said, "let's get to our area." I jumped up and went over to the dish area. Then it began. One of the Mexican boys showed me the sys­tem they had. I'd be working at a three-compartment sink. One man scrubbed the pots, the second inmate rinsed them, and a third would run them through a sanitizing agent. A fourth guy on the end took the cleaned and sanitized pots and pans and put them up on racks. They started me on the rinse area. Everybody seemed to be pretty cool. There were three or four brothers in there who started rapping and singing as soon as the work started coming in, and I fell right into the mix, banging those pots out. The only thing on my mind was keeping in rhythm with the pot and pan line, to show the other inmates that I could flow with their system. About an hour into the job, an inmate hit the back door. He had a whole pan of bananas. "Damn! We get these?" He said, "Yeah, these are some extra ones we just got from the guards." "That's what I'm talking about," I said. "But what about some chicken? The bananas are cool, but I could use some of that yard bird, man." The inmate said, "Slow down, youngster. You're new, you'll get yours in due time. Be happy about the damn bananas!" "All right," I said, and ate one on the spot while I kept up with the rinsing, shoving a couple more in my pockets. Doing the dishes wasn't all that bad, except there seemed to be an endless flow of them and my hands were getting banged up. The guy doing the scrubbing was older, and going really slowly. And the slower he went, the more the pots piled up. At the rate he was going, I'd be stuck in that hellhole all day. I wasn't up for working all day at a steady pace; I wanted to get done and get out of there. So I said to the old man, "Why don't you get on rinse and let me take over scrub? I got a lot of energy." As soon as we switched, I got right with it, scrubbing those pots up boom-boom-boom and slinging them into the rinse water. We were moving, because I was working hard. But everyone looked at me like I was some youngster who didn't know any better. "I'm not trying to be here all day," I told them. "I'm trying to get my eat on and then hit the weight pile." A little while later, without slowing down a bit, I asked about the bananas. "All you gotta do is hold tight," the old man said. "The guards make sure we eat real well, as long as we make them look good in front of the warden. All we gotta do for that is take care of this dish room -- make sure all the pots and pans are clean and that the room stays organized." "That'll work," I said, thinking it was a fair trade-off. But by the end of breakfast at 7:30 there was an ocean of pots and pans that still needed cleaning, and I was back to telling myself that there was no way I could keep on being a pot man. Then Of­ficer Parnell came in and handed around cinnamon rolls and more bananas. I was sold. I still hated the scrubbing, but I was starting to catch on that the perks of being in the kitchen were worth more than just eating better. "This is cool," I told the old man. "This is how you guys be sell­ing all that food on the yard?" "Yeah man, but keep that on the low," he said. "We always get the most leftovers at breakfast because most of the guys sleep in and just wait for lunch." He explained that the guards calculated how much food to or­der for each meal based on the counts. If they counted fifteen hun­dred inmates, for instance, they ordered fifteen hundred bananas. "So if three hundred guys don't show up for breakfast," he said, "that's three hundred extra bananas. Those go to the kitchen crew." Bananas were a delicacy in prison. Everyone was always trying to get healthy and bulk up, so if you had some bananas and cereal and milk in your locker back at the unit, that was a great snack. Out on the yard, you could easily get $2.50 for a banana. We wrapped on the pots and pans at midday. I thought I'd have to be there for eight hours a day, but I realized it was really only going to be six. A whole new crew came in for the lunch detail and I started to explore the rest of the kitchen. As long as I did my job and was at my bunk for all the daily head counts, I could spend the rest of the day pretty much however I wanted, and could check out unrestricted areas like most of the kitchen. It was about half the length of a football field, just huge. I'd never seen anything like it in my life. I walked down a long corri­dor, looking into all these different kitchens and rooms. My first stop was the receiving area, where all the food and supplies came in through the sally port, a fenced-off loading dock where everything was gathered for multiple inspections. No boxes, no cans, no containers, got into the kitchen without first being inspected for contraband. The inmates were never allowed near the supplies when they first came in from the outside, because if they knew where the food was coming from, they could arrange a smuggling operation with someone on the other end. After receiving came the first big kitchen, the bakery. There weren't any brothers working the bakery; the white boys had it sewn up tight. They'd been there for a long time already, and no one ever left the bakery since it was one of the most coveted jobs in the kitchen. The bakery churned out doughnuts, maple bars, twisters, bear claws, and cakes and cookies, as well as some special items that never hit the chow line. My favorites were the cinna­mon rolls. They were enormous and buttery, with icing and brown sugar, and were laced with maple syrup. The cinnamon rolls were special because, like doughnuts, we only got them on Sundays. For some reason, the Feds always fed us the best foods on weekends. A lot of times I'd even skip the visiting room vending machines because I'd filled up on so many pastries at our jailhouse Sunday brunch. I really wanted to be down with these bakery guys and gain access to their extra sweets. So I walked into the room and said, "Hey fellas, what's up?" They kind of nodded at me. I could tell they weren't fucking with no brothers. On top of that, I was a new face in the kitchen, so I just stood back and watched them work. I was very curious about all the machines in there. One of them was the sheeter. They fed it round mounds of dough on a long electric belt. The machine would knead the mounds into flat, square sheets of dough, which the inmates would then fold and feed back through the machine to make the sheets even thinner. The bakers then spread the sheets out on a wooden table dusted with all-purpose flour, then cut doughnuts with a ring mold, and put them into a proofer to rise. Once the doughnuts had risen, they were put into the deep fryer. After a few minutes in the fryer, the bakers would flip the doughnuts with long wooden sticks to cook them on both sides. I'd never seen that before, and it fasci­nated me. The huge oven looked like something you'd see in a crema­torium. An inmate opened the heavy steel door to reveal six long shelves that held four sheet pans each, filled with cinnamon rolls, cakes, and cookies. I'd later learn that all of the baked items that were served in federal prisons were prepared according to military recipes. The traditional pies served were Boston cream, lemon meringue, apple, and peach, all made with canned fruits that re­minded me of the government commodity food I'd eaten when I was growing up, but the pies were still very good. On the other side of the bakery, a guy was running the giant ninety-quart Hobart mixers. I was amazed. You'd think that all of the baked goods in a prison would be shipped in from outside sources, but everything was made fresh on the premises, all of it run and operated by inmates. Of all the places in the kitchen, the bakery is what really got my attention: the sweet smells, the sugary crusts on all the pies, the cloverleaf dinner rolls with butter seeping out of the creases. I'd always loved sweets. Growing up, we never had a cookie jar in my mom's kitchen. The only cookie jar in my family was at my grandparents' house -- a green ceramic cat with big ears and its belly filled with the kosher cookies my granddaddy lifted from the Jewish bakeries in Westwood. The next stop on my kitchen tour was the butcher shop. It looked almost like the hole because it was divided into a series of tight, caged-in rooms. Inside each cage was another, smaller cage that held the knives. I was, like, how are you going to give inmates knives to butcher meat? But it wasn't as simple as that. A guard brought the inmate into a butcher cage and locked him in. The inmate stood away from the rotating gate that sepa­rated the cutlery from the rest of the cage. The inmate then chose a knife from the guard's side of the gate, and the guard would place that knife on the gate and rotate it around to the inmate's side of the cage. Then the inmate would give the guard a chit for each knife he had selected, and the guard would place the chit in the case where each knife belonged. There was no way to get out of that cage without passing all the knives back through the gate first. A couple of white inmates were at work in the cages. The guys in the butcher shop usually broke down turkey and chicken, but sometimes they'd dice up meat for beef Stroganoff, which I hated and they served at least three times a week. It was such a high-security area that I couldn't get close enough to the cages to see exactly what the inmates were doing, so I moved on. The next kitchen was much smaller than the others, maybe the size of six cells. Another unusual thing about that kitchen was that it had a steel security door at the front. It was opened a crack, so I walked in and saw a little old white man sitting at a table. He had a home-style stove in there with a sink, a table, all kinds of cooking equipment, and his own personal walk-in fridge. "What do you want?" the old man asked with a suspicious ex­pression, as if I was going to jack him for some food or shake him down. I knew the brothers on the yard had a rep for putting pres­sure on the kitchen crews for extra food, so I knew what he was thinking. But I was just curious. I said, "I'm new in the kitchen and I'm showing myself around. I had heard stories about the private kitchens and I just wanted to see it for myself." "You must work the pot and pan detail," he said, as though he knew my number. "What makes you say that?" I asked. "I never seen you before in this area of the kitchen, and I know all of the blacks who run the hot line in the main kitchen." "You're right," I said. "I scrub all of your dirty dishes and see all the food trimmings the rest of us don't get -- all the things you guys eat." "No one is allowed in this kitchen but the kitchen guards and the Jewish cooks," he said sharply. I knew better than to talk shit to the old man. It wouldn't lead anywhere good. Besides, I wanted in on the kitchen hustle and the Jews had major influence with the warden. They also paid off some of the black shot callers with special food so no harm would come to them. I wanted to learn more, so I stayed calm and tried to en­gage him. "So you are the man here?" I asked. "I am," he said. "I'm the head inmate kosher cook." I kept talking and got him to feel important, bigheaded. Then he started giving me a rundown of the place, and the kosher meals he cooked for the Jewish inmates. As he described his kitchen, all I could think about was how great the Jewish guys had it with their own kitchen and special meals. Then I noticed a stack of trays individually sealed with plas­tic wrap and asked, "You guys get TV dinners, too?" "Those are for the Sabbath." He explained how the Orthodox Jews observing the Sabbath couldn't work from sunset on Fridays through sunset on Saturdays, so all of those meals had to be prepared ahead of time. The food in there smelled very good, so I asked him, "How does an inmate get to have kosher meals?" "Well, first," he told me, "you have to be Jewish." Every white guy, I soon learned, wanted to be a Jew -- especially around the Jewish holidays. Every year at Passover and Rosh Hashanah, rabbis from L.A. would come in and do a whole big shindig. They'd have the entire dining room all to themselves. They had fresh potato pancakes, crisp salads, fruit platters, ca­pons, brisket . . . It was all top of the line, anything the rabbis could convince the federal government they needed to have for the ceremonies, they got. The Muslims weren't far behind, either. When they broke their Ramadan fast at sunset each day, imams would come in and they'd have a feast. Then everyone wanted to be a Muslim. Every brother in the prison would be saying "As-Salaam-Alaikum" to one another. I never took part in Ramadan because I couldn't fast from sun­up to sunset for those thirty days. I was a hungry motherfucker. In prison I was making up for all the food I didn't get as a kid. I'd always tell myself, "Religion or not, I don't think the Lord will get mad at me just because I'm trying to eat." After I got done talking to the head kosher cook, I made my way back to the main kitchen area. There were a few Mexicans and a couple of white boys in there, but the brothers had that kitchen pretty much locked up. Everyone appeared to get along, though. Later I'd learn that their good working relationship was based on the fact that it was a win-win for everyone. Aside from the daily leftovers, there were also samples from the big food service com­panies to be divided up. Just like with a restaurant on the outside, all of the big food service companies wanted to do business with the federal Bureau of Prisons. With our facility serving up to six thousand meals a day, a CEO would have to be a fool not to try to get some of those federal dollars. So the companies would send samples of food into the prison to try to get their products placed on the menu. Of course, a lot of that food never made it to the general population, so there was a freezer full of food that no one but the guards and the kitchen staff knew about. When the guards were in a good mood, they'd break out cases from the freezer full of items that most inmates hadn't tasted in years. We had steaks, shrimp, big pork chops, pizzas, frozen burritos, and cold cuts -- all on the hush-hush. The extras we got depended a lot on who the guards on duty were. There were usually four or five kitchen guards on at a time, mostly retired military men. From what I heard, they made more money than the COs. Most of them were cool. Officer P, he was a player from Long Beach. He was cool with most of the inmates. He never went overboard with the discipline. But sometimes we'd get stuck with these redneck or house nigga guards, as the black inmates called them, who played favorites with the kitchen workers. Even in prison the white inmates got more love than the blacks and the Mexicans. There were guards on the yard with long pony­tails, tatted-up, ex-military and biker types who ignored it when the Aryan boys broke the rules. The house nigga ones were always trying to prove themselves to the lieutenants by being even harder on the blacks than the white guards. We could only get a break from a handful of black guards, like P and Fish, who came from the hood. Aside from the guards, the real underboss in the kitchen was Big Roy, a big fat black guy from the West Side of Las Vegas. He was the shot caller in the main kitchen. He ran the whole opera­tion and even had influence with the white boys in the bakery and the Jewish cooks in the kosher kitchen. Before becoming a PCP cook, which was what turned him into an inmate, he'd been a sous-chef at the Horseshoe Casino in downtown Vegas. I knew he was the one to get close to. Even though I was tech­nically now part of the kitchen crew, I wasn't part of the cooking detail. The pot and pan crew was the lowest crew of them all. Even the guys who washed the eating utensils had it better than us. Nobody stayed on the pot and pan line for long. Either they moved up or they found a job somewhere else altogether. The older inmates were the only ones who didn't leave the dish crew. They actually liked it because there was no pressure, no competition, and they ate well. Big Roy sweated so much that he had to strip down to his T-shirt in the kitchen, but he was a great cook and organizer. His food always reminded me of the flavors of my childhood, and be­ing in my grandmother's kitchen. Big Roy put love into every dish, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner were always on time. Big Roy truly understood the importance of food to an incarcerated man. He gave us his heart and soul in the kitchen and knew that we loved the southern touches in his food. Even the warden knew about Big Roy's presence in the kitchen, and he had Roy oversee a special crew who cooked for the guards and the administrative staff in a private kitchen. U­nder the watchful eye of Officer P and another guard named Davis, he cooked them the same food that we ate, but used better ingredients, and they got more selections. Roy's influence meant that he got first dibs on anything extra. Pastries, meat, chicken, fruits, and vegetables -- nothing went to anyone else until it went through him. This is how the hierarchy in most federal prison kitchens worked. There are always guards watching it all go down, and then there is always one powerful inmate cook, like Big Roy, who runs the kitchen, or there's a powerful crew of cooks who run it as a col­lective with part of the crew in every section of the kitchen. The head guy touches everything first, as soon as the guards pull it from the freezer or the sally port. Then he doles the food out to the prep cooks in the main hot kitchen and bakery, then the vegetable guys and the starch crew. Next on the food chain are the servers, who get their cut from what is left on the hot buffet line after last call. The servers have the most dangerous job in the kitchen, because if you had just one small piece of chicken left and some gangster wanted a bigger piece, you had a real problem; even though it's not a server's fault when the food runs out or if there are only a few small pieces of chicken left, a lot of prisoners still go ahead and kill the messenger -- not necessar­ily literally, but most will start a beef with him. The last crew to get its cut was the dishwashers. We got the last pick of everything, but it was more of a barter system than just a handoff down a line. As with everything, it was all about leverage: We had the least and Big Roy had the most. Big Roy ran the meat crew, seasoning and preparing the beef, chicken, fish, and stews. Once the food was cooked, Big Roy made sure to cut a share of the hot food for the white boys running the bakery in exchange for his share of the rolls and sweets. The ko­sher dudes got kicked down next, because they had what no other kitchen had access to. Their packaged kosher TV dinners were easy to smuggle back to the units, and those kosher Sabbath din­ners were always a hot item. The chicken meals could fetch $10.00 a pop, and the kosher cooks always made a killing on what the rab­bis brought in for the holidays. Whatever Big Roy didn't eat himself or hand down to his crew or trade, he sold. He was really in cool with the white boys and the Jews when it came to that business, but he didn't like dealing with the brothers because they'd always try to strong-arm him for cheaper prices. The black guys didn't mind paying two bucks for a chicken breast and a wing, or a thigh and a leg, but Big Roy could get double that from the whites. The brothers knew they were getting cut short, though, and from time to time someone would want to stick Big Roy. So, Roy had to kick down some of his own stuff to certain brothers on the yard -- the shot callers -- to keep himself protected. Roy's best customers were the older, wealthier white inmates (the mobsters and Wall Street moguls). They hardly ever showed up at the mess hall. Instead, Big Roy served them right in their cells. Everyone knew Big Roy and everyone wanted something from him. As far as inmates go, he had a lot of power. From the first day on pots and pans, I knew what I wanted. I was never cool with be­ing small-time -- that's what got me locked up in the first place: I wanted to be the man. Now, I knew who was the man in prison. Like T-Row before him, I wanted to walk in Big Roy's shoes. But after a month, it was starting to look like there would nev­er be a chance for me to move up. Cooking opportunities were few and it took time to get one. I kept having to remind myself that I had almost another twenty years -- it helped me learn patience, but fucked with my head. My chance to cook for the first time came a few months later. It was Juneteenth, an African American holiday that celebrates the freedom of slaves, and the Black Culture Workshop, a black self-help prison organization, got the warden to approve a special menu in observance. I had stayed behind several days in a row to help the black cooks prepare a soul food feast of fried chicken, catfish, dirty rice, collard greens, corn, and peach cobbler. I knew that they'd need a lot of help on the day of the feast, so I decided to skip my workout session and asked Officer P for extra duty. Big Roy was walking around the prep kitchen driving the crew, tasting everything and schooling the crew on what he wanted. There was more work than they could possibly handle, and so I jumped right in. With no real experience, I grabbed one of the large paddles and began stirring the collard greens that were in a really big kettle. Big Roy had them simmering with neck bones, onions, and bay leaf. "Jeff, if you want to get down with us," Big Roy bellowed from behind me, "I need you to wash and prep the chicken." I was happy as a motherfucker to hear that. Just to be in the kitchen, to be part of Big Roy's crew was all I wanted. That day I washed and seasoned more than two thousand pieces of yard bird, and I did it as quickly as I could. The whole crew seemed impressed with my drive, but still there wasn't a regular spot for me. For weeks after that day, I kept after Big Roy, and he'd tell me, "I don't know, youngster, you never know what's going to go down in this place. A lot of people have been waiting to get on the cook­ing crew." I kept volunteering for extra duty, hoping to get off pots and pans. A month and a half later, some of Roy's own crew got put in the hole for having dirties, negative drug tests. His response changed: "Youngster," he said, "if you still want to get down in the kitchen with me, this is your chance." After busting my ass in the kitchen, proving myself on pots and pans, and volunteering whenever possible, I finally got my break. I was issued my kitchen whites -- a short-sleeve V-neck shirt, white stretch cook pants, and black high-top nonslip shoes. We weren't given toques; we wore old-school paper diner hats. I didn't know shit about mass production cooking, or restau­rant cooking, or any noncrack cooking! The only things I knew about working in a kitchen were the things I picked up from watching Roy's crew since my first day on pots and pans. But I was anxious to learn and to prove myself. Right from the start, I banged hard for Roy. The kitchen itself was big, with little windows that faced the Coast Guard station. All of the equipment was chrome plated, and the prep tables were shiny steel. My first assignments were to learn where everything was kept and to get things the other cooks need­ed as soon as they asked. Big Roy and the crew had me doing all the bitch work, but I was hungry to be part of the crew. Once I got to do actual cooking, it didn't come easy: I screwed up the vegetables a few times by boiling them too long, or forgot to add salt to the water, or didn't have an ice bath ready to shock them (plunging them in ice stops the cooking once they come out of the boiling water). When I overseasoned the meats or burned things, Roy would rough me up about paying attention. Still there was something about me that Roy liked. He would often pull me aside and show me how to do certain things, take his own time to train me. Because of these talks Roy gave me on cooking techniques, some of the other guys started hating on me. He wasn't nearly as patient with a lot of the other cooks. I think it was because it was clear I was prepared to do whatever it took to make it in his kitchen. The competition in the kitchen was intense at times. But the pressure while cooking was nothing compared to the constant presence of danger as I walked the serving line, restocking the two hundred pans of food for the servers. Fifteen hundred convicts came through that line three times a day. These guys would stare you down hard. You had to be strong or at least look strong. In the summer the swamp coolers would often fail in the kitchen and the heat drove tensions even higher, especially between inmates, guards, and cooks trying to serve the food. Fights sometimes broke out just over the size of portions served. There were times when I wasn't sure that the kitchen was for me. I wasn't ready to die over a piece of fucking chicken, or get beat down because I chose to sell my share of bananas at a marked-up price. Sometimes focusing on the job was a challenge. I burned my hands on oven doors and cut myself on the number 10 can lids. (I didn't know it then, but I was learning a lot of bad, even dangerous, cooking habits in that prison kitchen.) While prepping, I often drifted off thinking about times in my life when I was a free man. Cooking took me back to the Motel 6 in San Diego. I was at the stove cooking pounds of cocaine and watching it harden as I submerged the glass pots in the ice-cold water one at a time. Then I'd scrape the stove for every crumb of residue and recook it. Was I the only one thinking this while plunging frozen vegetables into a large kettle of boiling water? The more I thought about it, the more my past was beating me down. I was sweating my ass off among the dregs of the world, but it wasn't just my fall that I was thinking of. It was that I had descended to the lowest place a person could fall and that, as far as America was concerned, I was exactly where I belonged -- locked down with the scum of society. I wasn't recalling the good old days of my ill-gotten gains, I was regretting them. As the steam burned and pruned my skin, as I looked around at my fellow inmates and compared this to my life as a high roller, I finally knew this was what America thought of me. I was just a petty criminal. And worse. All the wrong shit I did my whole life started to become painful. The kitchen made me face it head-on. It stopped me from pretending that I did nothing. I could no longer hide from it or ignore it. I had to move on, and eventually these thoughts drove me to want to be in the kitchen all the time. Throughout the prison all of the inmates had created these little communities, in part to try to keep on being the person they were on the outside. Me and my homies were exactly that: the same fools we were on the streets. We spent most of our time talk­ing about the money we had had, the cars, the women.. . . Some of them were just waiting to get out and would probably be back in­side one day again -- or dead. I was no different. If I had gotten out then, I probably would have been back to my old ways. But I was now starting to see that maybe there was something more I could do with my life. I began to dream of a better life. My homies in the other pens started seeing less of me as I began spending more time in the kitchen and studying the world outside of Terminal Island. I spent more of my time watching Big Roy and all of the other cooks. I thought about cooking all the time. I even wrote down some of Big Roy's recipes and looked them over at night when I was in my cell. By the light from the small lamp I had, I committed those recipes to memory and went over each step again and again. I was learning to cook and was proud of how quickly it came to me. Enough that I started sharing my cooking experiences with my family, telling them how I'd cook for them when I got out, how I'd one day have my own restaurant. <div align="center">+ + +</div> This is the first of two exclusive excerpts from Cooked: From the Streets to the Stove, from Cocaine to Foie Gras, by Jeffrey Henderson. Reprinted with the kind permission of the author and HarperCollins Books. Jeff Henderson is an award-winning chef and public speaker. He made history as the first African American to be named chef de cuisine at Caesars Palace Hotel in Las Vegas, and is currently executive chef at Cafe Bellagio.
  11. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1169818388/gallery_29805_1195_25597.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Jay Rayner Seven Sergeant Willy Cosgrave dreamed about food much as other men dream about women. Good dishes, fully imagined, made him feel whole. By rehearsing the stages of a classic daube -- barding the beef with pork fat, enriching the wine with brandy for the marinade -- he could keep the world at bay. And when, in his imaginings, he reached the moment when he raised the casserole's lid to release the first breath of steam, a feeling of calm would overcome him. Only then could he open his eyes and face whatever irritation the commander had foisted upon him. 'My husband,' Marion Cosgrave would say to her friends, with a hand pressed to her well-fed heart, 'he's only himself by the stove.' And the rest of the time he is trying to find his way back there, Willy might have added. He understood himself most clearly as a father in the kitchen, because that was where he had the cleanest purchase on his role in life. That was where he offered Alex the first taste of Marie Rose sauce (before the introduction of Tabasco) to be licked away by a baby's trusting tongue from his fingertip; of crisped lardons handed down to Paula's open mouth; of whipped, sugared cream from a spoon to both of them. Then the tutorials, as the children grew: the garlicky liquor about a true dauphinoise; a teaspoonful of lobster bisque as the flavours surfaced, and then again after the addition of cream. 'See what it does, Alex? See how the fishiness softens, Paula?' And the willing child's blink of recognition, better still, followed by a plea for more. His one regret as a parent, he always said, was that his shift patterns meant he could not be there to cook his children's every meal. 'This is what I do as a father,' he said one day. 'I feed.' At first he recognized this as the sacrifice a family man made to be a good staff sergeant. It was meant to be a job for up-and-comers, for those with ambitions who liked having the ear of the superior they were employed to serve. But nobody now regarded Sergeant Willy Cosgrave as an ambitious man. They did not believe he sought rank or command and he did not look like he sought them either, for, in the service of both his fantasies and his children's appetites, he had become a man of heft who wore his trousers high about his belly in a way that was unfashionable in the Metropolitan Police Service. They wanted their senior officers to look lean and hungry as the commander did and, as Willy Cosgrave said, he had not been hungry since October 1963. He liked to make these jokes about himself before anybody else thought of doing so. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1172348473/gallery_29805_4189_12555.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">It had been different once. When he left the Wiltshire force to take the job with the Met, it was with whispers in his ears from the older officers who had never made it out of the countryside. He was going to do all the things they had never managed to do. Willy was hungry for everything then, and he thought Commander Roy Peterson was eager to feed him. 'I'm here to put some city dirt under your fingernails,' he said on Willy's first day. 'You can waste valuable police time trying to stay too clean.' A few weeks into the job Peterson had a visitor, a big man in a three-piece suit, with a flash of gold-watch chain under the jacket and the shine of silver cufflinks at his wrists. They sat facing each other in high-backed armchairs, holding tumblers of whisky and sucking on cigars, and Willy was instructed to find someone to watch over the visitor's car, which was parked illegally outside. When nobody from uniform was available Willy did it himself, and stood on the pavement for forty-five minutes calculating how long he would have to work to afford the grey Bentley in front of him. He reminded himself that, officially, this was not one of his duties. As the man climbed back into the car, lifting his stomach a little with one hand to help fit it behind the steering wheel, he tucked a roll of notes into Willy's top jacket pocket and patted it with the flat of his palm. Later, embarrassed, Willy told the commander, who said tersely, 'He was showing his gratitude. It's rude to decline.' Willy sensed he had failed a test. Other visitors came to the Commander's office. They were businessmen who owned clubs in Mayfair and Soho or who ran magazine publishing companies from industrial estates in South London. There were always clouds of cigar smoke and tumblers of whisky and jokes half heard through a closed door, which Willy thought were at his expense. Sometimes, at day's end, there was an excuse for Peterson to put on the black tie and dinner jacket that he kept hanging in the cupboard next to his dress uniform. He was off to see a boxing match in the East End with a contact. There was an invitation to dinner at the Café Royal. Once he was given a box at the Royal Albert Hall to watch Sinatra sing. 'He's an old boy now,' Peterson said the next morning. 'But he still has it.' He hummed 'My Way' to himself all morning. Later Peterson graduated to the last night of the Proms, and the big West End musicals. He thought Cats was a masterpiece and after that could be heard humming 'Memory' under his breath instead. Peterson was less impressed by the detail of police work. Sometimes he did call up a case file, telling the detective in charge that he would 'take it from here'. Shortly afterwards, Willy would be given the file and told to 'put it away for now. Some of those boys downstairs couldn't tell a crime from their elbow.' Most of the time Peterson chaired committees and was talked of in the canteen as a future candidate for commissioner, so skilled was he at the politics of the job. But promotions were never offered and, as the rejections piled up, he took it out on his staff sergeant. Willy was sent to fetch dry-cleaning and collect unnecessary pieces of shopping. He was required to get the commander's private car into the garage for servicing. When he wasn't being forced to run around town, Peterson would lecture him. 'Up here, sergeant, you're still thinking like a country copper. There is no space for that in the Met.' And it was true that Willy didn't get on, because promotions didn't come his way either. Around the Yard it was assumed that Willy Cosgrave would not be moved elsewhere unless Commander Peterson moved too and as the years passed that seemed increasingly unlikely. 'We're growing old together,' the commander would say, irritably. On days off Willy prepared ever more complex dishes, from recipes in his copy of Larousse Gastronomique, and enjoyed the rare feeling of control that their completion gave him. He attempted Sole Veronique and Tornedos Rossini. He boned out a whole chicken and stuffed it with a light mousse of chopped pork, green herbs and morels. He discovered the secret to a good Béarnaise sauce and told his wife: 'white wine vinegar, egg yolks, a little butter, and the confidence not to let it know you are afraid', and she laughed with him. He liked having expertise for which he could be respected, if only at home. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1172348473/gallery_29805_4189_3233.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">Tonight, however, there was not enough of the evening left for an adventure at the stove, and when the Oyster House Siege began he was in the living room, dozing in an armchair, dreaming about an authentic cassoulet into its second day of preparation. On the television, men were talking excitably about exit polls and landslides. Someone in a beige suit was predicting that either Guildford or Torbay would be the first to report a result, as if those results, when they came, would have an impact on the Conservative landslide victory. Willy was not listening to any of this. He was working the breadcrumb crust back into the cassoulet, shifting the lumps of goose confit and Toulouse sausage from their sticking places and reaching into the deepest recesses of his head for the appropriate smell-memory of pig, goose and bean that he knew should be there. The telephone rang. 'Will.' And more insistently, 'Willy!' He opened his eyes. He knew from her face, the look maintained by a wife too accustomed to getting into bed alone, that it was New Scotland Yard. He took the call and looked at his watch as he accepted the inevitable. Peterson was on duty that night, while his colleagues policed the election, and now there was an incident from which even the commander could not escape. 'They need me,' he said to his wife afterwards, and she straightened his tie. 'At the Yard,' she said. It was a statement. 'No. Jermyn Street. Something going down.' 'On election night?' 'Criminals don't stay at home just because it's election night.' She nodded. And then, as the thought occurred to her, she said, 'What about the steaks?' Willy frowned. 'I'm not packing my bags. I'll be back in a few hours, I'm sure.' 'But if you're not?' 'I'll be here for dinner tomorrow night.' 'You promised you wouldn't miss our anniversary this time.' 'I'll make it home.' 'You always say that.' 'Am I boring you, love?' She kissed him lightly on the forehead. 'Just make sure you come back in time to eat it, Willy Cosgrave.' 'It's a robbery gone wrong. That's all. I'll see you in the morning. Kiss the kids for me.' Eight Within five minutes of Nathan James and his accomplice storming the Oyster House a cordon had been thrown around the area. Strands of striped police tape, guarded by a car and four officers, had been strung across both the eastern end of Jermyn Street where it met Regent Street and the western end at St James's Street. Police cars were lined up along the south side of Piccadilly, blue lights flashing, closing off Duke Street and the gate through to the courtyard and gardens of Christopher Wren's church of St James's. The entrance to the church led into a series of small foyers and entrance halls which also had an identical doorway on the other side out to Jermyn Street itself, seventy-five yards east of the restaurant. Closing off the southern approaches, an exclusive clutter of art galleries and expensive Georgian townhouses, was a more complex proposition. For the moment, police cars and tape stretched out across the entire distance from west to east, cutting off everything north of St James's Square. 'So the square isn't inside the cordon?' 'No, sir.' Commander Roy Peterson nodded at the torch-lit map spread out across the bonnet of a police car which was parked on Jermyn Street alongside the eastern end of the church. Above him, in the glow of a street light, insects danced against the city's sodium-diluted night sky. 'Give thanks for small mercies,' Peterson said. 'It's mostly residential and they are not the sort of residents to take kindly to being turfed out of their homes.' He looked down Jermyn Street towards the two police vehicles blocking the road, past the shirt-makers and the milliners, the boot-makers and barbers and the cheese shop with its ancient crooked frontage; the businesses that have kept the British aristocracy clothed, shod and fed for decades. In the electric blur of the police lights, blackclad figures could be seen squatting down beside their vehicles for cover. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1172348473/gallery_29805_4189_9004.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">In a basement just behind where the cars were parked, was Tramp, the expensive members-only club, with its entrance on Jermyn Street. Peterson knew Tramp well enough and was aware that tonight, as every night, it would be full. There would be blondes with hair like spun sugar and men who were too old for them. There would be financiers and ageing aristocrats who could measure their status in the weight of the cotton shirts on their backs and the thickness of the gold rings on their fingers. The commander had spent evenings down there, sharing a bottle of champagne with a contact, and he could visualize the situation. He tapped the spot on the map. 'Has Tramp been emptied?' 'One of the clearing banks is holding an election night party down there.' 'Get them out. There aren't any other entrances apart from the one on to this street, are there?' 'The fire exit has a route out into the arcade. We can then lead them up to Piccadilly from there.' 'Do it. What about the other club?' 'Xenon?' 'That's the one.' Peterson only knew Xenon by reputation, as a disco for rich kids who liked to spend their parents' money on expensive cocktails. When it opened, a few years before, the press had made much of rumours that a star attraction would be a caged black panther wearing a diamond necklace which would be placed by the neon-lit entrance on Piccadilly. Peterson had dispatched an officer to investigate who had returned to report that he had enjoyed his night out, and that the panther was not by the door but was an occasional -- and fully licensed -- attraction on the stage. He said that, when the wild animals came on, a wire mesh was lowered to save the clubbers from a mauling. This still did not make the appeal of Xenon obvious to Peterson, who could not see why anybody would wish to visit a nightclub to see a giant cat. He said, 'Can we leave that lot in peace?' <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1172348473/gallery_29805_4189_10619.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">The officer shook his head. 'Don't think so, sir. Their fire exits also lead out into the arcade. Actually we think it's how the gang first accessed the jewellery shop. If there's a sudden emergency in the club then we could have 400 kids trying to -- ' He didn't have to finish the sentence. Peterson could see the problem: an armed hostage situation, interrupted by a crowd of young, spoilt drunks tripping over their own heels on their way to safety. 'Clear that too.' Peterson studied the map one last time. 'What about residential on Jermyn Street itself? How many people are there living over the restaurant or across from it?' 'Not sure, sir.' 'Well, find out. While you're at it get an ETA on the command unit. I can't run this thing from the bonnet of a squad car. And where's Cosgrave? Did anybody call Willy Cosgrave?' 'Here, sir.' Peterson looked his staff sergeant up and down, as if inspecting his uniform. 'You're late.' He turned back to his map. 'Sorry, sir. Just got the call.' The commander took off his peaked cap and ran one hand over his greying, closely cropped hair. He said, 'No flabby thinking tonight, Sergeant,' and Willy blushed. 'Do what I tell you, when I tell you.' 'Yes, sir.' 'I need you to get hold of the top man. The commissioner's people need to know that we have a situation down here. You know the drill.' 'Of course, sir.' 'Keep it pleasant and businesslike.' 'What do I tell him?' 'Bloody good question.' He turned and shouted to a cluster of officers standing by a car parked behind his own, staring at another pile of maps. 'Harris, we need a full briefing. Where's the first on scene?' An officer pointed back down the road towards the cars. 'DCI Marshall is down behind the furthest squad car, sir, weapon drawn.' 'Well, pull him out of there. Get one of the SO19 boys in to replace him and get him round here.' 'Yes, sir.' The officer muttered into the radio clipped to his lapel. Peterson stood up straight and looked down the street, and then, as though he had only just noticed its presence, at the old church behind him. Its high, arched windows shimmered in the burst and fall of police lights. He pointed up at the building. 'Willy, we need to set up an HQ in the church. Go find the vicar, priest, whatever, and see if you can -- ' From down the street, they heard a deep, guttural roar: the muffled sound of a dozen voices crying out as one. Every police officer turned towards the noise, which was coming from the Oyster House, as if expecting to see it manifested on the road. 'Jesus! Harris, what the -- ' 'Checking, sir.' The officer turned his chin urgently to his lapel again. 'Marshall, DCI Marshall…' There was a pause, and then a burst of compressed noise and static from the officer's radio. Harris looked up. 'DCI Marshall says an incident is occurring, sir, in the Oyster House, sir. He's asking for permission to go in.' Commander Roy Peterson turned and stared down the street towards the restaurant. He pressed one open-palmed hand against the centre of his chest, let free the slightest of burps and said only, 'Why tonight?' <div align="center">+ + + + +</div> This is, sadly, the last part of a four-part series. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here. This extract is taken from The Oyster House Siege by Jay Rayner, published in March by Atlantic Books at £10.99. To order an advance copy at the special price of £9.99 including postage and packing, call 01903 828503 quoting reference JR1.
  12. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1169818388/gallery_29805_1195_25597.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Jay Rayner Five They laid the unconscious waiter carelessly down on the floor to one side of the swing doors. A pinkness was returning to his cheeks and lips now that Trevor had released his grip, but the blood around the tines of the fork, where it was stuck in his throat, was beginning to darken and coagulate. Behind them the diners, who had been herded into the kitchen, crackled with terror and pushed towards the back of the room. Most had turned away from the kitchen doors towards a point in the back wall that Nathan could not see. A few were dressed in white jackets and aprons. Others wore their night-time costumes, jewellery shining beneath the kitchen's white lights. Nathan said, as if to himself, 'Quiet.' He turned to Trevor, who was standing by the partially open door and watching the police lights flash against the walls of the stairwell. 'There are too many people down here,' he said. There was a tightness in the way he spoke that made him sound impatient. 'We can't control this many people.' Trevor stared at him, his eyes unblinking through the holes in his mask, and then looked past him to examine the kitchen for possibilities. Close by, next to the stove, was a stainless steel deep-fat fryer. The vat of amber oil was on a gentle roll. A few feet away, his back turned to the gunman, the art dealer was trying to push himself to the back of the room with everyone else. Trevor walked over and took him in a neck-hold from behind. With his free hand, the gunman grabbed one of Walker's arms and forced it up his back. It took two steps to manoeuvre him so he could be pushed forward over the boiling fat. Walker screamed, and a silence fell on the kitchen. The cooks and the diners turned to look, and seeing the involvement of the man who had so eagerly bloodied the head waiter just minutes before, they stiffened. From his position at one side of the kitchen Lord Connaston watched the gunman and saw in him an uncommon and disturbing physical self-confidence. He recognized an animal of instincts who knew how to control others. The art dealer was trying to lift his body away from the oil that was only a few inches below his face, but Trevor's hold was tight. Walker twisted and bucked his body. Sweat rolled down his face to the end of his nose, and dropped into the hot oil forcing it to splash back into his face. He screamed again and opened his mouth wide so that a dribble of saliva spooled into the oil, causing it to fizz and spit once more. Trevor didn't flinch. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1171607687/gallery_29805_4189_5929.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">Nathan watched, and swallowed hard. 'Trevor,' he said quietly. 'Tell them,' the other gunman said, nodding towards the crowd behind him. His voice sounded hoarse from the exertion of keeping the man in place, and his teeth were gritted. Nathan looked at the crowd. 'Clear away from the back of the room,' he said. Slowly they began to walk towards him. 'Faster. Do exactly what we say. Do it now.' Soon a narrow channel had opened up through the crowd of diners so he could walk towards the back wall of the kitchen. He turned to Trevor. 'Leave him.' The gunman kept his hold. 'I said, leave him.' Reluctantly, Trevor released his grip on Walker's neck and arm, and took a step backwards. The art dealer pushed himself upwards, gasping. He turned and slid down the side of a cabinet, his head in his hands. Through the art dealer's fingers, Nathan could see a crust of white blisters beginning to form on his cheek where the boiling oil had made contact, and once more felt the contents of his stomach rise towards his throat and then settle again. Grey Thomas slipped down on to the floor next to Walker, and wrapped one arm around his slumped shoulders. Nathan looked about the room. It was full of smells – of hot alcohol and meat cooking over naked flames. When he was a child in his grandparents' house, kitchens smelt only of frying onions or crisping bacon. This was a different experience entirely. It distracted him from the heat which was causing sweat to build up behind his coarse woollen mask. Nathan pulled the gun from his own waistband and felt the unfamiliar weight of the weapon. He waved it around the room and said to himself, 'I'm taking control.' <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1171607687/gallery_29805_4189_10720.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">Now he shouted, in a voice that surprised him: 'Everybody back off. Give us space.' Pleasingly, they recoiled from him. He might not have Trevor's intent or violent commitment, he thought, but with the gun in his hand he could be effective. He sniffed the air again and told himself to focus. He had to treat this as part of the job, not the job gone wrong. He looked towards the doors behind him and, through the small safety-glass windows, saw the strobe of police lights. That way was not an option. The solution therefore lay in the other direction. 'Stay here,' he said, redundantly. And, 'guard the door.' He walked through the crowd, taking in the changing smells as he passed copper saucepans of thick brown liquor. 'Out the way,' he said, and 'coming through' like it was a busy Saturday night at the pub and he was trying to carry a pint. He felt sweat building on his temples and slipping down the back of his neck, and he gave thanks that nobody could see his face. He didn't have to worry about looking anxious, confused or concerned. He was what he was: the man in a mask with the gun. At the back of the kitchen he could see the open door, and around it a tight huddle of diners. As he approached, people drifted away until he was facing the doorway. He stared at what was behind the door, his weapon slack at his side. 'Not what you were hoping to find?' He turned at the sound of a American woman's voice. He took in the chef's whites and the silk scarf tied around her head. 'When did they do this?' Nathan waved towards the doorway with his pistol. The rest of the room was watching. 'Two weeks ago. Trying to keep the vermin from getting in,' Bobby said. 'They didn't think about any vermin that might be trying to get out.' 'It's a fire hazard.' 'You think so? Like, illegal?' 'Well…' 'Nice, coming from the guy with the rusty gun.' Involuntarily he ran a hand over his head, as if through his hair. He felt the rough weave of the balaclava beneath his palm. Sweat sucked the material in against his scalp. 'Who are you?' 'Bobby Heller,' she said. 'I'm the chef here, and this is my kitchen.' He kicked the back door open further with his foot so they could all look at the bricked-up doorway. 'Not any more it isn't,' he said. And he shoved the barrel of the gun up and under her chin so she was forced to look down her nose at him. Six Up above they heard the diners who had rushed to the back of the dining room when the gunmen arrived leaving the restaurant. Each footfall made a heavy thud that forced those in the kitchen to look upwards and wish they were doing the same. Nathan had a tight grip on Bobby's wrist, and he was walking her back to the kitchen doors. Sheffield stepped forward as they passed, as if to drag him off, but Bobby shook her head. She mouthed 'No' and he sunk back towards the cabinets that lined the kitchen. When they reached the swing doors Bobby stood quietly next to the gunman, waiting, watching the second man who was still staring out through the partially open door, his narrow back turned to her. Slowly, Trevor turned to look at her. She saw him blink behind his mask. The very tip of his tongue emerged from the mouth hole in the mask to rest against the rough material, a flash of pink against the blackness. Even with the mask she could feel his sudden interest in her. He was staring at her. As Nathan had moved through the kitchen the silence had been replaced by quiet voices of diners trying to reassure each other that they would all be fine, as long as they did nothing stupid. Once more the voices stopped. Everybody turned to watch Trevor. 'You look nice,' he said softly, and he took a few steps forward so he was standing in front of her. Bobby could smell cigarette smoke and involuntarily she leaned backwards to maintain the distance between them. Nathan laid his hand flat against the other man's chest. 'Trevor—' But Trevor ignored the gesture. It was as if Nathan was not there. 'I bet you smell nice too.' He leaned in towards Bobby and she turned her head away, to expose inadvertently a long stretch of pale neck. She heard him breathe in, and then sigh, so that a warm rush of air brushed against her skin. 'You're hot.' 'Leave her be, Trevor.' 'You've been sweating.' He sounded exhilarated by the discovery. 'I can smell that you've been sweating. I like that.' He reached out to touch her, his fingers splayed, and she saw the hard bony structure of his hand and the pale grey flesh pulled taut over the knuckles. She took shallow breaths and swallowed, watching the hand, waiting for whatever it was that he was going to do, feeling exposed and vulnerable with her wrist held tight by the other man. 'Pretty skin.' Quietly, in a voice only just above a whisper, she said, 'Don't touch me.' And he didn't. 'I want to taste you,' he said. His hand hovered over her neck and, without getting any closer, traced a path from her ear to the hollow of her collarbone just inside the open neck of her chef's jacket. 'I want to find out what you taste like when the sweat runs down into there.' <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1171607687/gallery_29805_4189_5537.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">'We don't have time for this, Trevor,' Nathan said anxiously, turning to watch the door. His voice was forceful but quiet, as if he was dealing with a child he did not wish to startle. For a few seconds more Trevor kept his gaze on Bobby, then slowly turned to the second man. 'That's a pity,' he said, and he laughed so that his stained teeth appeared from behind red, chapped lips. Casually, and without taking his eyes off Bobby, he returned to his position by the swing doors. Bobby could feel Nathan's tight, solid frame next to hers. She was thinking fast now. She was weighing up possibilities. He was six inches taller than she was and she thought he could be as much as sixty pounds heavier, though she believed that would be to her advantage. He wouldn't be expecting anything from such a slight woman. With her free hand, she felt in the waistband of her trousers for the hard curve of horn-handle that she knew was there. He turned to her. 'Are there any other doors in or out?' She shook her head. 'No. Just this one.' 'Where does that lead?' He was pointing to an open doorway in the same wall as the swing doors. He assumed it led back under the dining room towards the front of the restaurant. Bobby peered around him. 'Wine cellar at the back under the pavement. Staff changing area to the right, plus dry stores and walk-ins.' 'Walk-ins?' 'Fridges. It's where we keep the food, which is the stuff we cook in a kitchen.' She was regaining her equilibrium. She knew what she was going to do. He ignored the challenge. 'No way out through there?' 'I told you. Just these doors here. And the dumb waiter.' She nodded towards the east wall of the room to their immediate left, where a pair of closed cupboard doors were flush into the white tiling. Next to them were two heavy buttons and two dead lights. 'What's one of them?' 'Hand-operated lift. We use it to bring the dirty dishes down.' He looked at the cupboard doors. 'How big is it?' 'Not big enough for you.' From the floor they heard a loud groan and everybody turned to look. Mr Andrews was coming round and, in turning his head, had moved the fork enough to reignite the pain. Bobby decided the distraction was the only opportunity she was likely to get and swung herself around so swiftly that she was suddenly behind the gunman. She pulled out the boning knife and, in one clean movement, pressed it to his throat just below his Adam's apple. He let go of her wrist in surprise and she reached up to wrap her other arm tight about his forehead. This is what boning out ten legs of lamb a week gets you, she thought to herself. This was what peeling a hundred pounds of potatoes and shucking a gross of oysters every day had done to her arms. It had given her the strength to take a big man down. Nathan stood rigid and still. Trevor stared from his position by the door. Mr Andrews lay beside him, blinking. 'Now you're going to let us all go,' Bobby said quietly. From between gritted teeth, Nathan said, 'Trevor?' 'Right.' He turned, lifted his weapon and shoved the barrel into the mouth of the head waiter. Mr Andrews stared back down the gun. Trevor turned to look at her. Nathan remained still, his head back as if waiting for a dental consultation. 'Be my guest,' she said. 'Blow his brains out. You'll be doing us all a favour.' Her blade stayed in place. Trevor said, 'Fair enough.' He withdrew the gun from the man's mouth and patted him on the cheek. Mr Andrews gulped. Trevor stood up and took a step towards the crowd. He walked along the line, staring closely at them – a young man in collar, tie and brassbuttoned blazer, the twenty-something woman next to him with her arm looped tightly through his, an elderly man with narrow nose and high cheekbones. He stopped before the small bird-like woman standing next to him who had grey piled hair and a floral dress, and who smelt lightly of lavender. 'Fine,' he said and he put the gun against her right temple. 'What about her?' He turned to her. 'Name?' 'Susan Guthrie,' she said in a whisper. 'What about Suzy?' He pushed the gun harder against her head, and the woman let out a small squeal. She said, 'Please—' Bobby blinked and swallowed. Trevor stared back at her and jerked the weapon once more against the elderly woman's head. 'Shall I?' Reluctantly, Bobby released her grip. She let the knife slip away from the man's throat. Her arms fell to her sides as Nathan shook himself out. 'Thank you, Trevor,' Nathan said, as if his friend had offered him a cup of tea. He took the boning knife from Bobby's hand. He nodded towards the old woman. 'You can stop now.' Trevor pulled the gun away from her head, as though he was always open to suggestions, and she turned to be comforted by the older man next to her. He closed his eyes and let out a puff of air, his papery cheeks deflating. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1171607687/gallery_29805_4189_14044.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">Nathan walked across to where the head waiter was lying on the floor and squatted down next to him. There was now a thick, black clot around the fork and running down over his neck to cake his skin. Blood had run into the folds of fat and dried there. Nathan knew what he needed to do, though the thought of it brought a familiar and uneasy lightness to his stomach. He looked into Mr Andrews' eyes and then away from him as he slipped two fingers either side of the fork's tines. With his other hand he pulled on the handle. At first it wouldn't move and the head waiter gave a piglet-like squeal and began to pant. Nathan decided the task had to be done quickly. He pushed down with one hand and at the same time, pulled so that with a crisp sucking noise the fork withdrew. A small amount of fresh blood welled up in the puncture holes and slipped out and over the clot. Before he stood up Nathan wiped his hands casually on Andrews's clothes then he turned to face the room. He held the bloodied fork upwards, tines to the ceiling. Only a small amount of the metal was clean enough to catch the lights. The rest was smeared with black or brown matter. Nathan said, 'Look at this.' He presented it slowly to the room, turning in a semi-circle so that everybody could see it. 'And the next time any of you think of trying something like that, remember it. Do I need to say any more?' Nobody spoke. He said it again, only louder. 'Do I?' There was a dull murmur of 'No' from around the kitchen. Nathan dropped the fork on to a work surface. He wiped his hand on his leg and turned again to study the shape of the kitchen. He needed a distraction, something with which to keep the attention of his hostages. On a shelf he saw what he was looking for. Nathan looked at Bobby. 'Does that work?’ he said, nodding towards a small, portable television. Bobby looked over at the set. 'Yeah. It works.' 'Good.' He looked at his watch. 'This is what we're going to do. We're going to watch a little telly. You—' He pointed to Stevie, who was nearest. ‘Do the honours.' The cook flicked the switch and the black and white picture fizzed into life. <div align="center">+ + + + +</div> This is part three of a four-part series. Part one is here, and part two is here. This extract is taken from The Oyster House Siege by Jay Rayner, published in March by Atlantic Books at £10.99. To order an advance copy at the special price of £9.99 including postage and packing, call 01903 828503 quoting reference JR1.
  13. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1171467005/gallery_29805_1195_27705.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Chris Amirault The fish stalls in the center of La Boqueria, the massive market just off the Ramblas in the center of Barcelona that sells every food item available in southern Europe, are a cacophonous sensory onslaught, and they don't stink at all. I walked circles through the stalls for half an hour, trying to find something I could cook for dinner back at our rental apartment, yet another tourist stunned by variety and quality. Dozens of types of fish and shellfish lounged on sofas of ice as the fishmongers, most of whom were women, cleaned guts and heads, wiped bloody knives on their aprons, and slapped bags onto scales while simultaneously haggling with customers, pulling on cigarettes and rearranging stray hairs with scale-flecked fingers. Overwhelmed with possibilities, I was about to chart my third circle when I decided that I needed a categorical approach to limit my choices. The Boqueria labeling system provided the item's name and its sea or ocean of origin, so I decided on something non-farmed and local, as buying something from Peru or Iceland while in Spain seemed a missed opportunity. Looking for wild Mediterranean seafood presented its own problems, since much of the stuff didn't resemble anything I'd seen before back in New England, and their confusing names prevented me from knowing, say, whether that white-fleshed fish would act more like halibut or sole. Other stuff revealed the gaps in the cooking equipment I had packed for the trip, my lack of an oven, and the like. I grew flummoxed. And then I spied the pile of gambes: six-inch shrimp, black-eyed heads intact, resting pristine and pink across the ice between some silver sardines and a few bloody monkfish heads. I had seen two dozen different kinds of shrimp throughout the market, from tiny sweet bits to massive beasts two evolutionary generations removed from lobsters, and none had called out to me. But these gambes under my gaze seemed perfect in every aspect, and I could imagine several fine ways to cook them with the equipment and ingredients on hand. I decided that I had to have them. A closing transaction, however, proved difficult to initiate, as commerce refused to pause its bustle for me. Possessing neither rudimentary Catalan nor Spanish, I managed to point and shrug sufficiently to find out from the fishmonger that the gambes cost 17 euros per kilo -- at least, that's what it sounded like to me -- but I didn't know how to move from inquiry to acquisition. Not that I hadn't thought about the protocols of purchase all morning; indeed, I had done the rest of my shopping before this last step, so that I could discreetly wave my bags of wild mushrooms, lemon, onions, and artichokes around to prove that I was a genuine local. However, my bag didn't offset the dozen or so of my other touristy traits, and thus my strategy was failing. I resorted to more bastardized mime: I pulled out a 50-euro bill, pointed at the gambes, and, in an attempt to get half a kilo, said, "Demi! Semi!" while chopping my flattened left hand into my right palm, arms extended. The crowd guffawed; the mime worked. The woman set her cigarette on the edge of a thick, messy cutting board, exhaled a smoky sigh, grabbed a plastic bag, and lifted the gambes gently into the bag and then onto the scale: just over 700 grams. "Gracias!" I said, relieved and willing to pay for the 200 gram bump. She placed the gambes into a plastic container and then into a bag of ice, while I fished out the fifty to pay for the ten or eleven euro charge. Upon seeing the bill, she pulled back the bag and rolled her eyes. "No," she declared, and she grabbed a piece of wet paper and a grease pen and wrote "52." I looked at her, confused; she glared and sighed more smoke. Then she wrote on the other side of the paper, "70/Kg." The gambes cost seventy, not seventeen, euros per kilo. Flustered, I began apologizing in French, fished a coin out of my pocket, blurted "Gracias" repeatedly as she handed the shrimp over the ice to me, and walked away, having both made an ass of myself and blown the dinner budget on the most expensive seafood I'd ever bought. <div align="center">+ + +</div> To recover from the sticker shock, I popped into Escribá, the legendary bakery behind the Modernista storefront on the Ramblas, and grabbed a cafe con leche for the walk home. It started to spit rain, so, ducking my head, I hustled across the Ramblas, down the Carrer de la Boqueria and the Carrer d'Avinyó to our little red apartment above the Carrer de Milans. Riding up the elevator, I glanced at my watch and realized that I still had a couple of hours before my wife Andrea would be awake from siesta. I slipped into the apartment, placed the produce on the counter and the shrimp in the fridge, grabbed a rain coat, and headed back out into the streets of the Barri Gotic. The skies opened up as possible gambes dishes bombarded my brain. Seeking refuge from both rain and recipes, I slipped into a pulperia to nurse a pair of San Miguels and crunch through a plate of fried octopus. The beery fry-haze emboldened me to duck back outside and face the exorbitant purchase head on, if in a more appropriate venue. I turned down the street so that I could wander through the Maritime Museum at the Drassanes, or Medieval shipyards, which rest at the terminus of the Ramblas, where the harbor waters lap at the old city's base. I toddled past the massive Christopher Columbus statue down to the gray stone buildings that housed the museum, coating my shoes with muck as I searched round the site for an exit from the pelting rain. Once inside, I bought a ticket and inhaled the dank, granite air. Catalunya rose to prominence in the 14th century largely because Barcelona was a port. Filled with silt and dreck, it was not the greatest bay on the Mediterranean, but it proved to be a valuable port nonetheless. The city built substantial trading and fishing industries, and the hulking but delicate arches of the Drassanes were filled with the ships that had sailed those commodities into and out of town. Others in the museum were drawn to the Columbus exhibits or the huge Royal Galley in the center bay of the museum, but I kept returning to the trawlers and longliners at the edges. On these tiny boats in all weather, generations of fishermen had sailed out into the Mediterranean to fill their holds and floors with fish, squid and shrimp. Though little fishing occurs anywhere near the Barcelona harbor these days, the elemental methods used to prepare that seafood -- grilling with a bit of olive oil and salt, say -- reflected the quality of the product then and do so now. Walking around the rudimentary boats, I realized that, far from parading the gambes in an elaborate get-up meant to show off my culinary expertise, I needed to get out of their way: I would boil them just until done, in water as salty as sweat, then douse them with a squeeze of lemon. Simple, pure, and clean. I pulled on my sopping coat and headed back to the apartment, dodging grocery sacks tied around the day's garbage scraps, irritated tourists, puddles of sloppy dog shit and the odd, sudden scooter. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Back at the apartment, there was a lot to do, and I got right to it. The arbequin olives would be a good starter, so I put them out and opened a bottle of wine. The stunning wild mushrooms from Laurenc Petras needed separating, cleaning, and cooking just to doneness, but that last should wait, since I'd want to cook them individually just prior to plating. The Catalan blue cheese I had found looked like it would go well with the local bacon for a crude but rich pasta sauce, so I started water on one burner and dropped half a cup of minced onion into melted butter in a pan on another. Turns out that I had figured a lot out when I was working hard to avoid thinking about those gambes. When everything else was ready, I set a pot of water on high and added a fistful of kosher salt, causing the water to roil briefly. I grabbed the shrimp from the refrigerator and plunged them into the water, bringing it back to the boil and, while counting to 200, set a bowl with ice and water out on the counter. When the shrimp were done, I plunged them into the chill to stop the cooking, dried them briefly, and put the remarkable beasts on a plate, arranged in a spiral with wedges of lemon at 4, 8, and 12 o'clock. The rain had stopped, so Andrea had wedged the apartment's small table onto the balcony overlooking the slim Carrer de Milans, and I piled it with the night's meal. We sat down and poured more wine. Next door someone was frying garlic in olive oil, which zipped through the smell of the wet streets wafting up the building's facade but didn't erase the hint of lightly scented urine that the rain had moistened. A clot of besotted club kids poured onto the street a few doors down from us, shouted giddy German at each other and retreated to a club next door called Manchester from which "Lust for Life" blared. Much of the food I had prepared was great, though none was spectacular. I had slightly overcooked several of the mushroom varieties, pushing their meaty earthiness a bit too close to muck. The pasta clumped due to too little water in the inadequate pot, and the sauce lacked balance: the bacon had a sour note that made the blue cheese even more feety than usual. The rioja and the arbequins cut through the courses like knives through our tongues. And then we were faced with, and by, the pristine gambes. Peeling off the shell and revealing the flesh of the first one, I bit and immediately exhaled through my nose as my mouth filled with a sweet, buttery, powerful taste of exponential shrimp that I'd never tasted before. As I had when eating my first raw oyster and fried clam, I knew immediately that I was experiencing an important evocation of the sea in an elemental form, a deep and pure pleasure. I finished off that one greedily and snapped off the head of the next -- when I found, on the end of the shrimp's body, a greenish, reddish, brownish gunk. Growing up in New England, I had learned how to eat a lobster on the knees of both grandfathers, who treated such rituals with absolute seriousness, and save for gills, shells, and cartilage, no part went uneaten. Faced with the gambes gunk, I had no choice but to forge on, but I hesitated. I knew of course that the gunk on the end of the body was the stuff in the hundreds of heads I had crunched through when eating pepper and salt shrimp in our local Hong Kong-style Chinese restaurant. And yet, I paused, unsure as to whether I wanted to have the purity of this shrimp flesh defiled by whatever the hell that stuff was. Squinting my tongue, I popped the whole tail, gunk and flesh both, into my mouth. I was ecstatic. The next several minutes were rapturous. Breathless, I peeled, licked, bit, and sucked my way through a series of carcasses. I felt a primal frustration if I couldn't somehow pry every bit of rich mucous from each gambes shell; their broken heads littering my plate, dead eyes scattered. Picking up yet another, I pulled off a head and balanced the large dollop of gunk delicately on the end of the tail, placed it in my mouth -- and recoiled. The flavor that filled my mouth had all of the same components -- sea water, fat, tang, umami -- yet the slightly varied proportions attacked my senses with violence. The tang became bleach, the umami rancid; the clean brine disappeared, replaced by the water sitting in a coffee tin in which your tadpoles died days before. And my unbridled, ecstatic pleasure was replaced, at once, by disgust. I grabbed my glass and filled my mouth with wine, then drank a tumbler of water. Turning back to the gambes, I tried a couple more, both of which were stellar, but the ecstasy was replaced by mere appreciation. Meanwhile, my napkin grew dark with green, brown and red smear. <div align="center">+ + +</div> The next morning, I woke up restless at dawn, the sugar jolt from the wine getting a hand from the Germans' boisterous return home after a long night of drinking, and decided to wander alone down to the Ramblas for a pastry. I arrived at Escribá just as it started to stir, the delivery truck dropping off pastries baked elsewhere along with others ready for the shop's ovens, the aroma of caramel mingling with the stinks of piss and motor oil. A young woman smoking a cigarette raised the metal shutters to reveal the pristine interior of the bakery, and a moment later the front door opened to exhale. I got a croissant and walked home, eating it slowly as Barcelona woke around me. It was simply perfect, and smelled only of purest butter. <div align="center">* * * * *</div> Chris Amirault (aka, well, chrisamirault) is Director of Operations, eG Forums. He also runs a preschool and teaches in Providence, RI.
  14. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1169818388/gallery_29805_1195_25597.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Jay Rayner Three Mr Andrews reacted on instinct. He approached the man standing in the open doorway and, bowing a few degrees from the waist, said, 'Good evening, sir. May I help you?' If it had not been for the balaclava, the waiter would have seen a blink of surprise. Mr Andrews smiled thinly and moved closer in the hope that the width of his barrel-chest and his shoulders, correctly positioned, would bar entry to the man. When there was no response he moved closer still, and repeated the question. 'I said, sir, may I help you?' Before the man could answer, there was a crack of gunfire from outside. The man swung about frantically at the noise, only to be pushed backwards into the restaurant by another figure in a black jacket and balaclava. Together, the three of them crashed into the dining room. Mr Andrews just managed to say 'Really!' as they hit Thomas and Walker's table at the top of the kitchen stairs, knocking the two men off their chairs. There was the sound of splintering wood as the table's front legs gave way and it fell to the floor, table-top facing the front door. It was followed instantaneously by the crack and shatter of crockery and glassware, banging against each other on the way down and the ripefruit splatter of osso bucco and boeuf bourguignon landing amid the wreckage. The two masked men lay sprawled against the table-top at their backs, stunned. There was silence in the dining room. Slowly the first of the men turned to look at the gallery of faces staring back at him. A number of people had half risen from their seats, and were fixed there, knees bent, watching. Red wine dribbled off tables where glasses had been knocked over by diners, startled by the commotion. Waiters stood between them, staring down at the masked men, knuckles white from the tightness of the grip on the plates in their hands. The regulars at the Oyster House regarded the restaurant as a place that could be relied upon to keep the world at bay. It was their place, and in these first seconds they saw the intrusion by the masked men as something they should be outraged by rather than afraid of. This, after all, was exactly what they had been voting against all day. How dare these men just barge in? Some talked later of a moment of calm and described how the two men stayed fixed with their backs to the upturned table, staring out at the street, arguing with each other. 'You shouldn't have fired.' 'They were coming for us.' 'They were just girls.' 'I didn't hit them.' But there was still the winded Mr Andrews, who had been thrown by the impact on to his back a few feet from the gunman and who lay there now, surrounded by the chaos of sauce and crockery, listening to the hoarse exchange of words, regaining his breath and planning his next move. As the two men talked, their sentences becoming ever more staccato, he turned himself slowly on his side and looked at the weapon, still clutched in the second gunman's hand, which lay in his lap. Sensing an opportunity he took a deep breath and lunged, one soft hand reaching out for the gun, hoping the momentum offered by his weight and the unexpectedness of his actions would knock the intruders off balance. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1171081447/gallery_29805_4189_11008.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">Unused to physical activity of any kind, he miscalculated badly and threw himself beyond the hand with the gun. As he landed across the men's legs, the impact forcing the breath from his lungs once more, he felt somebody grab him and then he was rolling across the floor, over jagged shards of broken plate and clanking pieces of cutlery, one of the men behind him, the hand with the gun about his neck. He reached up to take it, his fat fingers scrabbling against the cold metal. Now they had stopped rolling and he felt the other man underneath him and pressed down, sensing for once that his excessive weight might give him an advantage. The two of them scrambled with their feet to gain purchase on the sauce-slicked carpet. It was as he finally got his hand around the barrel of the gun, held hard against his cheek, that Mr Andrews felt a sharp stabbing pain in his throat which was so intense it radiated out across his shoulders and into his chest. For a moment the head waiter flailed his arms as though he were trying to stop himself from falling, and then finally he became still as the effects of the injury overwhelmed him. The gunman tightened his neck-hold on the head waiter and pulled him upwards into a seating position sprawled next to him, Mr Andrews' soft back held against the hardness of his bony chest. The two men were leaning against the side wall of the restaurant, by the front door, facing into the dining room. The gunman twisted the silver fork that he had just stabbed into Mr Andrews' throat so that it moved deeper through the layer of fat covering his gullet. The wound released a thick stream of blood. It soaked into the front of his white shirt and down across the lapels of his black suit. Mr Andrews gasped and his eyes bulged and the gunman tightened his grip further, until he was satisfied by the speed of the haemorrhage. 'Did you want something, fat man?' he said, whispering hoarsely into the waiter's ear. The gunman heard screams and looking up he saw that, at the sight of Mr Andrews' blood, the diners in the front section of the restaurant were finally rising fully to their feet. Chairs fell backwards. More glasses tumbled to the carpet in a spray of expensive claret. He let go of the fork for a moment, tossed the Browning pistol into his free hand and pointed it around the room. He shouted, 'Downstairs.' The customers and staff of the Oyster House did as they were ordered, slipping through the narrow gap between the upturned table and the top of the stairs, screaming and hollering at each other to move more quickly so that some stumbled on the way down and called out in pain as they banged against the walls or the doors at the bottom. When the last of them had gone through the gap the two gunmen scrambled behind the upturned table, taking the waiter with them. The first gunman looked down the stairs behind him, at the diners pushing their way through. He turned to his companion and hissed, 'Trevor!' 'Insurance,' Trevor said. The head waiter tried to right himself. Trevor dropped the gun again and reached over to the fork. He twisted it so that his victim gave a tight, wet groan, and his tongue flopped out of his mouth. Mr Andrews stopped moving. His breathing was coming in shallow pants now, and there was a blue tinge to his lips. Blood was pooling on the carpet and was smeared across Trevor's hands. Nathan James looked at the punctured skin and the fork protruding from it which his accomplice was still holding, a lever for the administration of pain, and felt a rush of nausea which only subsided when he took a deep breath and turned away from the bloody mess. He told himself Trevor had done the only thing possible, that this was exactly why he had brought him on the job in the first place. He was in no position to worry about such things now. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1171081447/gallery_29805_4189_5291.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">From their position behind the upturned table, the two men heard the sound of sirens followed by the rapid, nightclub strobe of blue lights, which flashed against the buildings outside, cutting into the Georgian façades. Trevor picked up his gun and fired another shot that took out the glass frontage of the restaurant. It shattered, turning cobweb-white from the impact and holding for a split second before collapsing to the floor like a satin sheet released to gravity's will. Nathan pressed his hands against his ears to ease the ringing caused by the noise of gunfire. 'Stop,' he shouted, and for a moment he sounded desperate. The head waiter's eyes were glazed and rolling back in his head. 'And ease up on him.' Trevor released his neck-hold, so that the waiter slumped to the floor and gasped. The two men peered over the edge of the upturned table, at the shuddering blue flashes outside and the shadows moving among them. The light show was punctuated by the wail and crack of the police klaxons. Trevor said, 'You sure about the door?' Nathan nodded and, eyeing the waiter, said, 'Leave him here.' 'He comes with us.' 'He'll slow us down.' 'I told you. Insurance. Warning to others.' There was no time to argue. They could decide what to do with him later. They would have to decide a lot of things later. The two men slipped a hand under an armpit each and dragged the limp body of the head waiter towards the restaurant kitchen, his head banging on each stair as they went. As they worked their way down, Nathan James looked at the damage his accomplice had done to the man's throat and at the trail of blood it had left behind on the carpet. He felt a familiar rush of anger that made his cheeks burn beneath the harsh mesh of the balaclava. He had spent his life trying to be a man who made things happen. Instead he was a man things happened to. Four When Nathan James was seven years old, his parents were killed in a car crash. That day it was his grandmother who was waiting for him at the school gates. She held her arms stiff at her sides and looked past Nathan into the distance and he wondered if she was watching out for someone else. Then he called, 'Nan,' and she turned to him with an empty stare. She told him that his mother could not collect him today because of a 'problem' and waited until she had walked him silently to his house to give him the news. Even then she was unable to find the right words. She said: 'Mummy and Daddy were in an accident.' She told him 'it was the kind of accident that makes people go to sleep for ever', and she hated the way it made his parents sound lazy. She finished by announcing that he would now be coming to live with her and his grandfather in Streatham. Mrs James assumed she had supplied enough pieces of information for Nathan to work out what she meant without distressing him with needless detail, and told him briskly to pack a case with his favourite toys to go with the one of his clothes that she had already prepared. That September afternoon in 1966 Nathan James began his journey back from London's middle-class suburbs to the fringes of the inner city, a journey that his father had completed in the other direction some years previously. Nathan's grandparents, Terry and Frieda, decided early on that it would be best for the boy if they did as little as possible to remind him of his previous life. Every night at bedtime Frieda asked Nathan if he was all right, but she would never suggest any reason why he might not be. The first night she leaned over to kiss him goodnight on the cheek, and he forced his face down into the soft part of her shoulder, his slender arms looped about her neck, and wept noiselessly. Nathan did this every night and Frieda held him tightly while saying nothing before gently releasing him to his pillow. After a few weeks of this, she said it was time for the crying to stop. Nathan accepted the instruction. Terry James ran a removals business, and at first the furniture in Nathan's new room was made of old wooden tea chests: a high bed of upended chests pushed together with a mattress on top and tea chests on their sides for open cupboards from which he got splinters. Nathan thought that they smelt of other people's lives. Over the next few weeks each piece was replaced by objects Terry had scavenged from households that no longer required them. Every one, Terry said, was 'a lovely find', though Nathan regarded them suspiciously as cast-offs like himself. Nathan went to a new primary school in Brixton, further north into the city. At school he had a hook for his coat, just as at his old school. There was hard shiny paper printed with the words 'Now wash your hands' in the toilets, and wall bars in the school hall for PE lessons. There were many of the things he had known before, but they were all in the wrong place. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1171081447/gallery_29805_4189_7866.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">In the school holidays Nathan joined Terry on his removal jobs. Each day began the same way, the empty van parked up on a residential street in Streatham or Tooting, while Nathan and his grandfather waited for the rest of the removal team -- impressive, solid men called Ken, Tom and Jack -- who would help ease another family towards a life elsewhere. Every day Terry read his copy of the Morning Star. He had three copies of the newspaper delivered, two of which were meant to be read by the others, but they never were and these tightly rolled copies formed an unlit pyre in the space behind the dark green vinyl seats in the van's cab. As he read his paper Terry maintained a commentary, mostly about a war in Vietnam, or about America's 'imperialist ambitions', which Nathan understood was something his grandfather disliked. Occasionally he tapped an announcement of an event -- a summer camp run by the Communist Youth League or a fun day from the Young Socialist Alliance -- and said, 'We should get you on to that,' but he never sounded convinced and nothing came of it. Sometimes he taught his grandson slogans from the Communist Manifesto because he thought it was funny to hear a small boy shouting, 'The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.' At night, over dinner, he talked to Frieda about the newspaper stories he had read. Workers were organizing in Sunderland, he told her one evening. The bosses had gone too far this time in Birmingham. Then he looked over at Nathan. 'Listen to me trying to put you to sleep with all this talk,' he said, and he winked. 'Kick a ball about after tea?' Terry said, businesslike, as he scooped peas on to his fork. Nathan said 'Yeah' even though his grandfather was bad at football and lost interest quickly. Most evenings, after an initial burst of activity, Terry stood staring at the house, while Nathan ran around him, the ball at his feet, and he knew that his grandfather would rather be at his desk, tearing articles out of newspapers and scribbling notes in the margins. Still, he was glad of the offer, and happy that the talk of workers and bosses was done with for now, even though he knew it could start again at any moment. Terry had fought Mosley's Fascists at Cable Street in 1936 and liked to impress his grandson with stories about the crowds who gathered that day, unafraid of violence. Terry James was a man with a great memory. His sense of betrayal at the news of Soviet tanks moving into Hungary in 1956 was as intense as if it had happened yesterday, and when in the summer of 1968 they rolled again, this time into Czechoslovakia to put down the Prague Spring, he fell into a depression. He turned the small plaster bust of Lenin that he kept on the mantelpiece in the front room to face the wall, and took his party membership card from his wallet and placed it on the table in the hall by the telephone. 'I'll get rid of that tomorrow,' he said, though he didn't, nor the day after that. One morning, watching unseen from the shadowed half landing, Nathan saw Terry slip it back into a slot in his brown leather wallet. Before the car crash, Terry had been a distant figure in Nathan's life. He never seemed pleased to see his son's family when they visited, and even on a Sunday he retreated to his desk to deal with paperwork, wearing the brown warehouseman's coat that he kept for weekdays. Terry's son -- Nathan's father -- had joked about his father's membership of the Communist Party, as if it were an embarrassing hobby, and made good his rebellion by becoming an accountant. Now that the son was gone, the grandson became Terry's project. He bought him a large dictionary and told him that everything he would need in life was on its pages. Sometimes he tested him on the spellings of difficult words and gave him a coin or two as a reward, which Nathan put in the toy safe he had hidden under his bed, illicit bounty stolen during a moving job. In his early teens, Terry gave Nathan books to read -- Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell -- though he didn't get far with them. Reading single words in a dictionary was one thing, Nathan decided. Reading whole chapters took him further inside his head than he ever wanted to go. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1171081447/gallery_29805_4189_6751.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">Frieda James died when Nathan was twelve and, wanting to make Terry feel less sad, Nathan went with him a few times to his political meetings. They were held in small halls around Brixton that smelt of bleach and overheated dust and seemed to Nathan to be attended mostly by angry men in duffel coats. The meetings were terribly dull. Still, his grandfather's revolutionary narrative appealed to Nathan's sense of himself as an outsider and once, attending a lecture on anarchism, he felt that he had found an ideology that would suit him. Wasn't the death of his parents so early the 'abolition of government' that the definition of anarchism described? He decided he had been living in a state of personal anarchism for years, and liked to imagine that the circumstances of his upbringing released him from any responsibility to the laws which bound others. After Terry died, and Nathan's life changed again, he threw away all his books. He didn't attend any more political meetings and soon stopped describing himself as an anarchist, because he didn't like any of the other anarchists that he met. He had hung out for a while at the squats on Villa Road in central Brixton and, though he was intrigued by the sense of family they had created, too many of them were middleclass college kids mouthing slogans they only half understood, and he doubted their commitment. Nathan was twenty years old in 1979, and eligible to vote for the first time at a General Election, though he didn't bother. So many of the brick walls in Brixton had been daubed with the smudged black swastikas of the National Front by then, and all he ever heard in response were the empty platitudes of the Villa Road crowd. Stinking piles of black-bagged rubbish piled up during the winter of early 1979. Every office building was guarded by a cadre of strikers, shouting at passers by and adding to their freight of morning gloom, and Nathan couldn't see how voting for the Labour Party was going to change any of that. He reserved equal contempt for Margaret Thatcher's easy rhetoric and wished that Terry was still alive so he could hear him rage with authentic anger. Terry would have called her an 'embezzler', as he did anyone who took the side of business. On polling day Nathan met Ken, one of Terry's former removal men, who told him that the new owner of his grandfather's business had erected a poster of the Conservative leader by the depot's gates. After dark Nathan went alone to the depot and found the poster. She had her teeth set in a grin and her hair fixed in a crashing golden wave that could only be maintained with a heavy dose of lacquer. The poster was attached to a wooden stake, which in turn was nailed loosely to the gatepost. Nathan took a swing at the poster in the darkness, hoping to knock Margaret Thatcher to the pavement. He regarded it as an act of revenge on his grandfather's behalf, but he did not see the long rusting nail protruding from her mouth, where the poster had been nailed to the stake, until his fist was impaled upon it. The blood rushed out over his hand, down his forearm and dribbled off his elbow to the ground, and he had to pull hard to free himself. He went to hospital after that, and saw out the rest of election night watching the blood soak into the muslin strips the nurses had given him when he arrived. By the time they had stitched him up and given him a tetanus shot it was dawn and Margaret Thatcher was the new Prime Minister. <div align="center">+ + + + +</div> This is part two of a four-part series. Part one is here. This extract is taken from The Oyster House Siege by Jay Rayner, published in March by Atlantic Books at £10.99. To order an advance copy at the special price of £9.99 including postage and packing, call 01903 828503 quoting reference JR1.
  15. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1169818388/gallery_29805_1195_25597.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Jay Rayner Yesterday The Oyster House Siege ended on its fourth day shortly before 10am. At a noisy press conference afterwards the authorities emphasised that, during the operation to end it, only four shots were fired inside the Oyster House kitchen by officers of the Special Air Services. They also said that neither police marksmen nor the army had been responsible for wounding or killing a single hostage during the previous four days. They said this was an achievement, for which they deserved to be given credit. When the smoke from the stun grenades had cleared two of the four bullets were found to have penetrated the stomach and chest of a man who had fallen to the floor close to the doors. He was wearing chef’s whites, and was lying on his back. His eyes were open, and his lips parted to present an oval of surprise. Once an SAS officer had pressed two fingers against his carotid artery, just below his jaw, and satisfied himself that the man was dead, another figure in whites came and knelt by the body, as if in supplication. The chef drew a finger through the crimson puddle spreading across the victim’s chest, checking the liquid for consistency, then leaned down and whispered into the dead man’s face, 'You weren’t supposed to die.' One Four days ago In the early hours of the 8th of September 1915 a bomb, dropped from a Zeppelin airship, struck 87 Jermyn Street in central London. It detonated in the basement kitchen killing the three bakers who were working there, and filling the street outside with a cloud of dust so thick it was likened to an Autumnal fog by those caught in it. The subsequent renovation of the Jermyn Street Oyster House tidied away the back staircase that had been used by Edward VII and his mistress Lillie Langtry for secret trysts, and the dining room with its long mahogany bar, red upholstered banquettes and brass rails was restored and expanded. However the Oyster House never returned to baking its own bread. The force of the explosion had been so great that there was nothing of the victims to recover and the guild of master bakers declared it sacred ground. None of its members would work there. Despite this, the restaurant’s reopening in the spring of 1919 was seen by the politicians and businessman who booked its tables as a symbol of continuity, in a city traumatised by the long agony of the Great War. By the time the last bakers who could recall the deaths at the Oyster House had retired only London’s grandest hotels could afford to bake their own bread. The work was instead contracted out and on the morning of the 9th of June 1983, it was the driver of a baker’s van who made the first delivery to the restaurant. The box was placed in the doorway shortly after 7am and retrieved half an hour later by a cook called Tony Simpson who, as most mornings, was the first to arrive. Inside the box there was coarse, open-textured wholemeal to go with the plates of smoked salmon. There were great, domed bricks of white bread with a crust the colour of burnt butter for the Welsh rarebit and baguettes for those who did not want oat cakes with their cheese. Downstairs in the kitchen, the cook unpacked the bread into the dry stores cupboard and sniffed the base of the loaves for the sweet, comforting smell of yeast. It was the smell of the morning bread which made him question his capabilities as a cook; for all his skills in the kitchen he had never once been able to bake anything other than an amateur’s misshapen loaf. Tony had been a chef for four years but saw himself still as a refugee from his home town of Sheffield who, in another age, would have been getting his hands dirty in the city’s steel mills and foundries, like his father and uncles had done before him. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1170485080/gallery_29805_4189_6074.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">It depressed Tony that it didn’t happen that way. The steel industry had gone and by the time he left school there were no jobs. He realised that he had to learn a trade and that eventually he would have to leave the city. When he arrived at the Oyster House, two years after becoming a chef, he was immediately nicknamed Sheffield Tony. Sheffield for short. After that the other cooks would pick up knives that had been left lying around and, with their thumb obscuring the ‘Made in’ stamp, ask if they belonged to him, because his name was on the blade. They thought this was very funny but for a long time Sheffield felt the reference to his home on all the knives as a rebuke. The bread was away, and Sheffield was cutting up vegetables for the stock pot, when the head chef arrived. At first Bobby Heller stood leaning back against the pass, eyes closed, sipping black coffee from a chipped mug and saying nothing. In other kitchens where Sheffield had worked, the head chefs came in shouting orders. They tore up menus or abused the front-of-house staff. Bobby preferred a different approach and Sheffield, who had four brothers and no sisters, assumed this was because she was a woman. She insisted that every order be followed with a shout of ‘Yes, Chef,’ rather than something in the clumsy, mispronounced French London’s old-fashioned kitchens favoured, and if she needed to berate a member of her brigade it was always done beside the walk-ins out of earshot of the others. The cooks liked the atmosphere in her kitchen and told her that was why they stayed. The chefs in London’s other restaurants had a different explanation. It wasn’t about the sweetness of the kitchen regime, they said. It was about Bobby Heller’s blue eyes and the golden peroxided hair, tied up with a colourful gash of silk scarf. The cooks wanted to take her to bed, they said and to hear her whisper in her rich Mid Western burr. They also said she was unstable, and carried a boning knife with her at all times which she was happy to use. Sheffield knew the truth behind that story. Occasionally, in the all-night Chinese cafes of Soho, where London’s kitchen brigades gathered after hours for bowls of rice and sticky roast duck, a drunk cook from one of the other kitchens would try to make a pass at her. One night, faced by an approach, Bobby withdrew a crescent of horn-handled blade from somewhere unseen by her waist and placed it gently, tip upwards, leaning against the edge of the bowl, as if ready for use. Without looking up she said, ‘What was that you were after?’ The cook stared at the knife, and then walked away. Sheffield thought it was a measured and subtle response; he did not regard it as the behaviour of an unstable woman. After finishing her coffee, Bobby fetched her leather knife roll from a drawer and chose a mid-sized blade, which she sharpened on her knife steel. Then she went to work removing the tendons from a long, purple beef fillet. While she worked she stowed the steel in the waist band of her apron for easy access, where it hung like a pirate’s cutlass. Stevie McGrath was the last of the cooks who would be working that day and he did not arrive until shortly after 10am. He said, 'Sorry, chef. It was a bit full-on last night. Bobby looked over at Sheffield, who was preparing vegetables. 'Glad somebody here's got a social life. 'Don’t know where he gets the energy, Chef.' Stevie, who was tying an ankle length apron low around his narrow waist, allowed himself a shy grin. Bobby returned to the sole she was filleting. 'You might as well tell us his name.' Stevie took a breath, as if more air would refresh his memory. 'Patrick. I think.' 'You think?' 'It was noisy,' he said with an apologetic shrug, and Sheffield and Bobby laughed. The kitchen staff was completed by Kingston, the broad-shouldered Jamaican-born kitchen porter, who had only been at the Oyster House for two weeks. As agreed he arrived at noon, because Bobby knew there would be a large enough pile of oven trays and pans by then, and the coming promise of the lunch service. Not that there was much of a lunch service today. Just four tables were booked and one of those was by the owner, Marcus Caster-Johns, who ate there everyday and, as today, always by himself. He liked soups and grilled chops and oysters, though only the natives, which he could eat by the dozen, splashed with sherry vinegar. The Caster-Johns family had owned the restaurant for much of the 20th Century and Marcus spent so much time there as a child that, from his usual table opposite the bar, he could identify the places around the room to which his most important memories were attached. At the bar was the high stool where he sat while his father prepared for him his first oyster, cupping the open shell in the well of his palm as he separated the bi-valve from its sticking place with a stubby knife. Marcus was six years old and he kept his eyes closed as his father poured it over his bottom lip with the instruction to 'taste the sea'. And he did taste the sea, a wash of sweet and salt which made him think of the Northumbrian shore where the family kept the big house. 'Look at my little oyster catcher,' his father said proudly, and Marcus asked for another one, because he wanted to please him. In one corner of the dining room was the table where he had once joined his father, Princess Margaret and the actor Peter Sellers for dinner, and been introduced by them to what they all agreed was 'a pretty good Bordeaux' to accompany the grouse that Marcus and his father had shot on the family’s land. He had just turned 13. ‘In some countries you could get married now, Marcus,' his father said, 'and if you’re old enough to marry you’re old enough for a little claret.' Then there was the store room behind the bar, separated from the dining room by a red velvet curtain, behind which a young waitress, with quick soft hands and shining eyes had eased him from his trousers one lunchtime in the last summer before university, while on the other side ladies ate poached salmon with mayonnaise. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1170485080/gallery_29805_4189_746.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">He knew what people said about the Oyster House because, for a few years while he was a student, he had said it too. He told his father one day that it was a restaurant with ‘too much history and not enough future’ and for six months after that they did not speak. But when his mother died he realised that he had not a single food memory of her. She was too busy going out each evening, jewelled and smelling of lilac, to cook for her children, and every taste he could recall came from the Oyster House. His father died in 1981, when Marcus was 26. The executors of his will asked Marcus if he wished to sell the restaurant to developers but he refused. The restaurant had opened for business in 1825 and he didn’t want to be the one who brought that history to a close. 'It would be like selling England,' he said. So the restaurant stayed as it was, and Marcus Caster-Johns came every day for his lunch of soup and chops. Today, as he drained his coffee, he called over the head waiter, and asked him why the room was so empty. Mr Andrews leaned in towards him and let his eyebrows knot at the centre of his moon face. 'I believe there is a general election today sir, for which I am most awfully sorry.' Downstairs Bobby claimed she had expected election day to be quiet, because people would be voting during their lunch breaks, but she was also relieved because there were so few cooks in the kitchen. When she saw that the restaurant was booked out for the evening, she tried calling in more help but none was available. At 6.30pm a waiter appeared in the pool of light cast by the pass. He delivered a ticket, written up with an order and announced that the first table had arrived. The cooks called on Bobby to play them some sounds, as they did every night and she thumbed through the kitchen’s music collection, looking for something which she thought might raise their energy levels. Bobby found an unlabelled black cassette, which she waved above her head. She said, 'I hold in my hands your redemption,' and she pushed it into the mouth of the ancient, paint-splattered tape machine up on a high shelf. She pursed her lips as she turned the volume up to nine, and glanced up to the ceiling with a look of delight on her face. Two Upstairs in the dining room the head waiter placed a finger lightly against the rim of a wine glass. He could feel the vibrations of the music being played downstairs through the table to the glass. He disliked the way such an ugly sound could make itself felt through such a beautiful object, and he allowed the contrast to encourage his anger. Mr Andrews had given up complaining about the noise to the head chef, but he still felt the need to make his disapproval known. He nodded politely at the lone couple sitting at a back table, tugged at the hem of his waistcoat in an attempt to stop it rising up over the curve of his huge belly, then turned and walked to the front of the restaurant from where he took the stairs to the basement kitchen. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1170485080/gallery_29805_4189_6283.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">He did not recognise the music of the Ramones as he came through the swing doors, just as he did not recognise recordings by the New York Dolls or the Dead Kennedys when they were being played on other nights. But he did hear in the mix of voice, drums and electrified guitars a sound that he considered inappropriate. After 32 years at the Jermyn Street Oyster House, Mr Andrews believed he was one of the few people qualified to decide what was appropriate to the restaurant and what was not. He looked at the cooks briefly enough to confirm that there were just three of them working that evening; this gave him pleasure. Mr Andrews knew that the kitchen would be under the kind of pressure which would make it an unattractive and inhospitable place, and he liked to think of the cooks sweating. He did not, however, acknowledge them. He turned instead to a work surface just inside the door, above which were shelves stacked with crockery and glasses. He took down a tray of champagne flutes and two large Tupperware boxes. Working quickly he half filled both boxes with hot water and added to one of them a champagne glass full of white wine vinegar from a bottle kept on the shelves for the purpose. He lay a second tray with a clean tea towel. He then dipped a glass in the water and vinegar mixture, before rinsing it in the second box. Finally he stood the glass on the new tray where it could dry to a clean, drip-free shine, and started on the next one. After two and a half minutes the Ramones track came to an end. There was a pause punctuated only by the satisfied laughter of the cooks behind him, and a new track began playing. Mr Andrews held his position, dipping glasses. The head waiter felt that engaging in an activity like this, which was necessary to the smooth running of the restaurant, was a fine rebuke to the kitchen’s lack of professionalism. He felt the gesture was appropriate. In the break between songs Sheffield took a drink of water from one of the cleaned, glass milk bottles that all the cooks used for the purpose. As he drank he gestured rudely at the head waiter’s back with his free hand, which made the other cooks laugh. He put the bottle back on a shelf behind him and, as Joey Ramone counted in the next song -- 'One, two, three four' -- prepared to mime lead guitar, one hand clawed over his belly to play the strings, the other outstretched at the neck, thumb cocked. Stevie bashed at the side of the solid top stove with two knife steels, and Bobby took on the bass, nimble fingers flicking at the empty air. As the second Ramones track came to an end Mr Andrews picked up his tray and shouldered his way out through the doors. Bobby walked over to the tape machine and turned down the volume. She picked up the first ticket. 'One grapefruit, one avocado. Two steak medium.' 'Yes, Chef.' The Ramones gave way to the Talking Heads, by way of the B52s. Starters gave way to main courses. Flames leapt from the stove and steam hissed from pots. The solid top fizzed, the temperature rose and the cooks took long drinks from their water bottles. At his sinks, a pile of oven trays and dirty crockery built up next to Kingston, and hot water splashed against the front of his blue, nylon house coat. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1170485080/gallery_29805_4189_9579.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">The last of the diners was seated by 9.30pm and Mr Andrews was finally able to survey the dining room, which he did with satisfaction. Up the three stairs in the L-shaped back room he could see MPs and industrialists. There was a brace of Thatcher-supporting tabloid newspaper editors and a famous political columnist who looked nothing like his youthful picture by-line. There were PR men who had turned their gifts to the black arts of politics and bankers on to their second bottle of Pomerol. On table one, in the restaurant’s prized front section, there was Lord Connaston, whom he recognised from behind because of his great mane of silver hair. He was accompanied by his wife Carla and a friend, who rocked in his seat when he laughed in a manner which suggested to Mr Andrews that he had drunk most of the bottle of Burgundy standing empty in front of him. The small table at the top of the stairs leading down to the kitchen was occupied by the art dealer Carl Walker and his friend Grey Thomas. The head waiter disliked them both, as much for the flamboyance of their dress as the pitch of their voices, but thought it wise to keep on good terms with men like this who had enough money to order wines from the bottom of the list. In the bay window there was a trio of advertising men whom Mr Andrews knew slightly and, on the table next to them, an elderly couple he had not seen before, treating a younger couple to dinner. It was the evening of the 1983 General Election. The Conservative Party was on course for a landslide victory, and it was clear to Mr Andrews that everybody dining at the Jermyn Street Oyster House was pleased, both with the predicted result and their part in it. As they ate their profiteroles and their sherry trifles, the election was what they discussed, to the exclusion of any other subject. So nobody paid any attention to the loud boom from somewhere nearby, assuming it to be nothing more sinister than a car back firing. Nobody noticed when a man's shout echoed down the street outside or when the shutter on the archway directly across the road, the entrance to a tight arcade of expensive shops and boutiques, lifted a couple of feet. They didn’t spot the man dressed in black who rolled out on to the pavement, followed by another, who stayed wedged under the shutter on his knees for a moment, looking back into the arcade. Soused with wine and giddy with the coming victory, none of them bothered to look up, when the first of those men shoved his way in to the restaurant and stood in the open doorway, panting, despite the bashed leather jacket on his back, the black balaclava on his head, and the oily pistol in his tattooed right hand. <div align="center">+ + + + +</div> This extract is taken from The Oyster House Siege by Jay Rayner, published in March by Atlantic Books at £10.99. To order an advance copy at the special price of £9.99 including postage and packing, call 01903 828503 quoting reference JR1.
  16. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1170298798/gallery_29805_1195_27641.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Rachel Dulsey Jars of pickles lined the storeroom, ranks of every-shade-of-green stretching row on row, in all the houses of my youth -- they ranged from tangy dills, with their salty brine and crown of just-cut dill, to fat, clear slices of lime sweets in their thick, sugary syrup. No Southern table was complete without a dish or two of the chosen-just-right-for-the-meal, home-canned goodies. Every jar on those shelves was "put up" at home, and was precious in its own right, having cost the cook Summer mornings of picking in the glaring sun, with the hairy, reaching cucumber vines grabbing at ankles, and the velvety thorns itching hands past bearing. Washing and preparing, slicing and canning, measuring out those long-used receipts -- those brought into being the great shelves of Summer bounty, gained by the literal sweat of brows bent over stoves in the equally-hot kitchens. The scent of vinegar was a constant, from today's cooking, from yesterday's brining, from the fresh-put-down crock of sauerkraut in its strata of salt, from last week's churn bubbling its foamy overflow past the upended dinner plate and the layers of old sheeting yarn-tied as a fly-guard under the lid, and out into the pan beneath. There were Grace Church pickles, with their twenty-one days of attention, a first churn rest in brine made with "salt to float an egg," according to the yellowed old recipe written in faded brown script like that of no other "hand" in our family. They sat quietly in the brine for a few days, then went into another egg-measured brew -- alum the "size of,” for eyeballing the lump needed. Then, days later, rinsings and fresh-waterings and vinegar and sugar for their final rest before canning in the big old white-speckled blue canner, with cloves and allspice tied in little bags made from squares of old pillowslips. I always assumed they were named for an actual church, since little faded steeples dotted the hills for miles around the place of my Mammaw's raising. And those same churches sheltered and sustained many a proud cook whose receipts were coveted by every lady in the countryside. Or they could have been christened for an angelically-named person -- who remembered? These pickles were given the place of honor, jars polished and gleaming, right in the glare of the ceiling-cord single light bulb that dangled in the storeroom. Anything that took that much work deserved looking at, and often. Then there were the close-packed jars of dills, made of the medium-size cucumbers, with their topknot of fresh dill and some sliced garlic in the jar bottom. The recipe started out: “a scant cup of salt,” and the ambiguity did not matter -- everyone’s teacups were a different size. The same tongue-curling salty brine was also used for baby green tomatoes, baby eggplant, and okra, all of which got the requisite scatter of sliced hot red peppers in the bottom of each jar. Yellow squash was sliced, layered with salt to sit overnight, then cooked off with red bell pepper, sliced onions, and a freckling of mustard seed in the clear, sweetish juice. Okra was a category unto itself, a family thing, either loved or hated, and the squat jars saved from store-bought pickles and jams and olives were filled tight. Okra was chosen exactly for the height of each jar. I’d walk up and down the ranks of shining glass, dealing out the pods by size and length. A little bulb of garlic nestled between those pointy tips, the smallest wasp-tail red pepper, and salty vinegar was our recipe, and these pickles were usually saved for holidays and other special occasions. Lime pickles were soaked overnight in a brew of dissolved household lime, the same choking stuff that was scattered on the dirt floor of the henhouse. The cucumber slices emerged next morning crisp and friable, most of their own moisture removed; next came many rinsings, very careful rinsings to keep the slices from breaking apart in their delicate state. Vinegar and sugar -- heavy on the sugar overnight, with another little clove/allspice bag, then the cook-and-can early the next morning -- these were the "easy" pickles. They turned out heavenly crisp, snapping in your mouth like a slice of fresh carrot, but tooth-achingly sweet, with a syrup that ran thick as Grandpa's home-squeezed sorghum. The same treatment went to sliced green tomatoes, with the spices scattered into the jar, and bread-and-butters were prepared according to the squash recipe. On every dinner and supper table sat little bowls of pickles; several small cut-glass dishes were saved for special, and one had three little divisions for different kinds. Beets had a clear glass bowl all their own -- they had been simmered with the peel on, to slip easily off with the press of a hand, then the slices simmered again with a light vinegar/sugar/water syrup, which turned the deep shade of a good burgundy. Sliced beets, baby beets -- each had its place in the canning hierarchy. Days were devoted to simmering and peel-slipping and slicing. Every summer, the heavy yellow Playtex gloves I wore for beets slowly darkened from pale lavender to mauvish to deepest Welch’s purple. I wore them so as not to head off to church looking as if I’d butchered a steer early in the morning. That juice would leave a stain on your hands almost as bad as green walnuts. And the baby ones had to be snuck into the bottom of your picking tub, at least in our acres of garden -- my first grandfather-in-law, who manned the tilling tractor and the watering hoses, kept a keen eye on picking anything before it got to the “worth it” stage. He was a firm believer in getting the most out of every seed and every hour we spent bent over a hoe or squatting between those rows to reap the bounty -- and always, that meant leaving things be until they were big enough to have earned their keep and become worthy of the table. He taught my children the thrift of the waiting, and as we squatted together amongst the steam-rising rows of green, as they picked so long as I told fairy tales and recited poetry, they faithfully chose only the ready-to-pick vegetables. It's odd that the only one not to keep the faith is the one who makes our little home garden now -- he'll come in with buckets filled with all sizes; it's for me to sort and use as I choose. I used to wait and go out later in the evening, after supper, while Walter Cronkite kept Papa’s rapt attention, and gather whatever looked best and freshest and tenderest. Tiny spineless cucumbers to be drenched in the dill brine and “make” before the big guys in the half-gallon jugs; the smaller-than-golf balls beets to pickle into tender one-bite treats for “company,” the smallest turnips for slicing and munching raw with a sprinkle of salt, a handful of the tiniest of radishes, small as beans, and the merest wisps of baby green beans stirring in the breeze, to be mixed with rinsed leftover pintos or northerns, shreds of sweet onion, little red diamonds of bell pepper, and a sugar-enhanced vinaigrette for a salad worthy of any church supper. Pickles have been around since they had to make their own vinegar, standing in a bowl or crock 'til the sourness developed on its own. There's the infamous pickle dish in Ethan Frome, the piccalilli-and-stones disaster in The Long, Long Trailer, a funny Andy Griffith episode involving a midnight refrigerator raid, and of course, the kerosene pickles. My favorite reference in literature is one from a book called The House at Old Vine, by Norah Lofts. It chronicles the centuries of an old country household from the middle ages to modern England, with all its uses along the way. One of its incarnations was as a boy's school of the earlier years -- one of the grim, cold, chilblains-and-gruel chapters in England's history, times which strengthened or killed off many a male scholar. The couple running the school meted out barely-sufficient meals, giving the boys the best they could with their meager income, with great pots of overnight-simmered oatmeal scooped into eager bowls, and a flour-and-water mixture which was mixed with a scant few eggs and scrambled for special days. There's a line something like "the boys called it cowshit but ate it eagerly anyway." But the great reward, the best-of-the-best, awarded for valor or grades or success on the playing field, was a turn at the pickle-barrel. The brine in that barrel was aged and ageless -- the housewife had tossed in rinds, bits of raw vegetables, green plums and knotty apples, purposely-cultivated cucumbers and squash, with nary a concern for suitability or sanitation. Many a paragraph is devoted to the coveting, the enjoying, the maneuvering of that long fork in the jealously-guarded try at getting the biggest piece onto the tines. A cucumber was a prize; a bit of gourd or squash, second place, but a fist-sized pickled onion -- Grail. No imagination needed to understand the great hunger for such a tangy, salty bite, or the guarded, greedy relish with which it was devoured. Words aren't needed to convey the bright-eyed, lusty joy with which the boys tucked into their dripping prize. The bland, bulk-laden floury food, the grain-stapled diet, the greasy boiled bacon -- what a treat to bite into a juicy, sour, salty pickle. Just the thought gives an under-tongue tingle akin to sniffing the French's jar. The prevalence of bland food in so many novels also brings to mind an unforgettable passage in one of the James Herriot books, involving boiled bacon -- a great fat-laden wet plateful of it -- which he, the guest, was expected to down. With his humble host and hostess looking eagerly on, his only salvation was a big glass of Scotch and a dish of pickled onions. I know only the Southern standards, the old recipes, though my refrigerator harbors at any time five or six kinds; a quart Tupperware of turmeric-yellowed thin-sliced crisp sweet onions in a mild brine is a yearly gift from a friend. Some little round Kirbys are in a sesame/rice vinegar soak right now, to go with the lovely baby bok choy I'll stir-fry for supper. A flat fridge dish of beets, straight from a can, are bleeding their juices into a handful of sugar, a dash of vinegar, and three cloves. And, since our move to the city with all its markets and restaurants and shops with their wonderful, exotic offerings, we’ve learned the joys of kimchee, with its sour tang punctuated by the scattered bits of peppery redness; the little dish of quarter-sliced cucumber in its own special brew of rice vinegar, sesame oil, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds, which is set down in welcome, along with about a dozen other offerings, even before we order at our favorite Korean restaurant. We linger at the cippolini tubs in the big supermarket, with their purples and greens and matching aromas; we dip up fat juicy jalapenos and olives of every hue in the spectrum; we enjoy tastes and savors and vegetables we learned of only after we moved here. My own history of pickles is a very narrow slice. But they're the ones I know, the ones I continue to make, the ones that have been passed down through many vine-and-brine-chapped hands, and I'm proud of all of them. But I do love to find a new vegetable, a new brine ingredient, a new combination to add to the long, respectable list used by generations of cooks. However, the biggest crock, an elderly ten-gallon ceramic beauty, has been retired from years of holding eye-tearing brine and bushels of curing vegetables. It now rests in the hosta bed under the huge backyard tree all summer, support for a pretty octagon of marble which holds the biggest parlor fern. In winters past, the longing for something green consumed many an hour amongst people with no way to preserve any kind of salad ingredient, and no hope save spring for a crisp, fresh taste. The wonderful, rich savors of Southern cooking, the pot of greens enhanced by a few drops from the bottle of pepper sauce; the soft, salt-and-pork seasoned vegetables, the great pots of dried beans with several meaty ham hocks falling from the bone, the crusty pan of steaming cornbread -- all needed just that touch of vinegary, tangy pickle to make the meal complete and satisfying. In my own home, I can think of no treasure save for pictures of the children and grandchildren, or our enormous walls of books, which could provide the contentment and feeling of wealth and accomplishment as those shelves of homemade pickles. <div align="center">* * *</div> Rachel Dulsey (aka racheld: G.R.I.T.S. Girl by birth, Ole Miss Girl by Daddy's love of those Rebels, Learned to read at four, and haunted smalltown libraries ever after. Wife, Mother, Grandmother, (about-to-be-again, twice in September). Tender of homefires, the Comfort and the Cozy; Fierce and Loyal Friend. Pretty good cook, Scribbler, Admirer of the Written Word in almost all its forms, Bookstore Junkie. Kind to small creatures and Friend to Fairies everywhere.
  17. Voyage into Creativity, part eight Ferran Adria By John Sconzo <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1169864253/gallery_29805_3926_16180.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">Holding up and peering into a glass of water, Ferran Adria noted that it was without color, odor and flavor; we recognize it as water by virtue of our memory. Yet it is a profound substance necessary to live and also to cook. So started Adria’s small-group breakout session late Saturday morning: Tasting the Unexpected: Science, Technology, and the Experimental Spanish Kitchen, moderated by Harold McGee. The remainder of the workshop was a discussion of philosophy, culinary history and a demonstration of some of the techniques and ideas that have arisen from the spark of Adria, his team at El Bulli and his Barcelona "Taller." For Adria there is a distinct difference between traditional and creative cuisine. For the traditional, assuming one has mastery of the appropriate techniques, all one need do is take a book and follow a recipe. Everything is laid out in front with a roadmap to follow. This is not to say that traditional cuisine is necessarily easy or without value; Adria happens to be a great enthusiast of traditional and simple cuisine. Creative cuisine, on the other hand is made without an explicit roadmap. It is uncertain at first what the results will be and how they will be perceived. The inherent risk is large, and Adria believes it must be kept in mind when dining. Since taste memory is a much smaller factor in the experience of creative cuisine compared to traditional cuisine, complete focus and concentration is imperative to ensure a great dining experience. One can only absorb new sensations with that concentration -- the kind of concentration with which Adria reflected on the glass of water. While it may not be possible -- or even desirable -- with every meal, he stressed its importance in the world of haute cuisine if one is to reap maximum rewards. From holding and examining a glass of water, Adria picked up a potato, and wondered why haute cuisine focuses so much on only expensive products. The question occurred to him back in 1993. He started to peel the potato, asking us to consider how we would deal with this process if the potato was very expensive like a truffle. The peel would be much more respected. His point was that a good product is ultimately what is important, and not the mere expense of the product. (He said much the same during an eGullet Society interview in 2004 by Pedro Espinosa: "a good sardine is better than a not so good lobster.") Adria opined that as far as its culinary potential, "one almond is as good as a caviar." What is important is not the price of an ingredient but its quality -- and extracting the most from that quality. Culinary history is very important to Ferran Adria. He is exquisitely aware of what has come before him, and is focused on studying it as well as contributing to it. He recalled serving a 1998 El Bulli diner a dish of warm apple gelatin with Roquefort ice cream. Although the concept of warm gelatin is not unusual now, this person was utterly oblivious of the fact that he was the first ever to be served this groundbreaking preparation, of which Adria was justifiably proud. Adria, the student of history, was disappointed that the culinary significance of that moment was wasted. Ferran moved on to a discussion of the importance of technique and concept in the kitchen. He pointed to the example of puff pastry, an amazing culinary development from the 15th century which is still being used to create new dishes -- dishes that would not be available had that technique not been developed. He ventured the development of a new technique opens up a new culinary world; with the development of 30 to 40 new techniques, a whole new cuisine will develop. In his opinion, the singular importance of modern Spanish cuisine is in the development of new culinary techniques, and that over the last ten years, approximately 90% of new culinary techniques and applications have come from Spain. Along with his assistant Rafa Morales, chef at the El Bulli/Hacienda Benazuza in Sanlucar la Mayor outside of Seville, Ferran Adria proceeded to illustrate the history of El Bulli with demonstrations of various techniques developed at the restaurant. (The Michelin two-star La Alqueria at Hacienda Benazuza, run by Morales, specializes in the classic dishes of El Bulli, making Morales the perfect assistant to Adria for this phase.) <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1169864253/gallery_29805_3926_12470.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">Adria noted that in in 1987, all the cookbooks of the time (and before) prescribed that clams be prepared either raw or fully cooked. They were never "lightly" cooked. So Adria decided to do just that. It wasn’t that what came before was "wrong," it was simply an evolution. The "best" method depended solely on the context or the moment. "One of the most difficult things about creativity is the logic," Adria said as he prepared the 1989 dish "Bisque Sauce Express." It has been customary in Spain to chew shrimp heads to obtain maximum flavor. To make his bisque, Adria lightly sautéed head-on shrimp for approximately 45 seconds to obtain what he considered a "reflection of the product." He and Morales took the lightly sauteed shrimp, squeezed and strained them, and then combined the juice with a vinegar and olive oil vinaigrette. The novel concept with this dish was, as with the clams, cooking lightly. One of the main changes to have occurred over the last twenty years has been a general decrease in the cooking time for all seafood "so that fish taste like fish." This has been more of a conceptual change than a technological breakthrough. Almost everyone associates Adria and El Bulli with the now ubiquitous "foam" technique. Adria first started making them in 1994 with his "white bean foam with sea urchins." His intent was to preserve the flavor of the ingredient; previously, light and airy presentations depended on making mousses, which necessarily dilute flavor. Adria provided a tip for the home cook. For great whipped cream, he suggested taking the finest vanilla or chocolate ice cream, let it melt and then put it through the siphon. The next step in the evolution of foams was "air." "Air" lightens a dish without reducing the flavor component. He used carrot juice as an example; because of its natural rich pectin content, he could whip it into a very fine froth. Few ingredients, however, have the necessary amount of pectin to allow this transient effect. A product from the food processing industry came to the rescue -- lecithin. Using this natural stabilizer found in egg yolks, soy beans and elsewhere, Adria was able to make "air" out of anything and it would stay stable. Processes and uses for ingredients like these led to an increased dialogue between science and cooking, though Adria disavows the term "Molecular Gastronomy." Science is a welcome adjunct to the kitchen, but it is still cooking. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1169864253/gallery_29805_3926_34556.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">Adria continued describing other technical adjuncts such as xantham gum, a product derived from bacteria. He considers this to be the most important product of the past ten years. One gram per liter of fluid will thicken any sauce immediately, retaining the full flavor profile of the sauce.The warm apple gelatin mentioned earlier used agar agar (seaweed flour), a product that has been used in the Far East for a long time. This was a product that had been co-opted by science for use as a bacterial culture medium, but has since found its way back into the European (and now American) kitchen. Adria also discussed some missed early opportunities. He was first shown a Pacojet back in 1990 when the demonstrator put a whole lobster through it. He rejected the machine until 1999, when they started playing with it and discovered a way to make "snow" by stopping the machine early. Since then, it has become a staple item in the El Bulli kitchen. Adria finished his presentation by encouraging everyone to freely use the techniques and concepts that he and others have developed. Using them is not copying if one is doing something new; however, he said, the first rule of creativity is honesty. From Adria to Adria, I have come full circle with my report of this conference, this voyage into creativity. Ferran Adria represents the face of Spain to the rest of the culinary world -- more than any other person today, or ever. His is a new cuisine, unique, but with clear origins in Catalunya and Spain. He creates new techniques and concepts, but is also well grounded in the old. His cuisine is a clear extension of tradition into new waters, using all the contemporary tools and ingredients at his disposal -- and then some. For this reason, he also represents a microcosm of modern Spain, a re-emerging country proud of its history and tradition, but eager to forge ahead and resume its historical place as a leader of world culture. The conference provided a great example by illustrating and demonstrating Spain’s stunning re-emergence in the culinary world. I will never forget the energy and enthusiasm of the Conference Chairman Jose Andres; the eager eyes of Candido Lopez Cuerdo; the daring imagination of Joan Roca; the warmth and earnestness of Andoni Luis Aduriz; the fire of Llorenc Petras; the professionalism of Carles Gaig; and the personability and talents of too many others to mention. As wonderful as the contributions of the Spaniards were, the Americans who helped put it into context were also amazing -- people like Harold McGee, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, Colman Andrews, Norman Van Aken, Anya Von Bremzen and Gerry Dawes amongst others again too numerous to mention. The power and allure of Spanish cuisine is only now starting to take root in this country. If this conference is any indication, it won’t take long for it to grow and flourish on these shores. Although interest in Ferran Adria and El Bulli has been a significant and deserving component in sowing the seeds of that interest, I hope that I have shown that Spanish cuisine is much more than any one person or style, and fully capable of taking part in the continued flowering of that cuisine on these shores. Buen provecho! <div align="center">* * *</div> All photos by the author.
  18. Sometimes in the course of editing a submission for publication, we have to leave something significant lying on the light table. What follows didn't fit in with the rogues gallery ChefCarey artfully sketched for our entertainment. Still, it's too good to leave behind. So here's a bonus. <div align="center">+ + + + +</div> One of my carved redwood signs out front was "Creole Cuisine and Potables." More than once folks came in and asked why the "Creole Potatoes" that were mentioned out front weren't on the menu. Unfortunately, this kind of thing was not unusual. One dish I labored over for a couple of years before I was happy enough with it to write it down: gumbo. Specifically, seafood gumbo. More specifically, Gombo aux Crabes et Chevrettes. (I stole the Creole French spelling from The Picayune Creole Cookbook, published in 1901.) Now, this was not a dish your average Californian was weaned on, so the ingredients were not hawked on every street corner. I could count on The Housewives Market on a regular basis for blue crabs and shrimp. Getting fresh okra was not the easiest thing; sometimes I found it at the Oakland Produce Market, but I once had to pay a fortune for a crate from Guatemala. Finally, I got to the point where I was convinced I made the best gumbo on the planet. (Of course, every Cajun, Creole, housewife, cook , chef and, sanitation engineer and plumber in the state of Louisiana will tell you the same thing – that they make the best gumbo.) At any rate I was quite proud of it. I sent one of the G-rated frog bowls full of gumbo out to the dining room one night – it was a weeknight, kinda slow, so I manned the line by myself. A few minutes later Jimmy the waiter dashed in through the kitchen door yelling, "Chef, you're needed in the dining room! We have a problem." Hunh. I would have been completely addled -- my universe would have been turned upside down -- if a day went by without a major problem. I was always bracing for a blow. I turned my apron over and sighed. "Where?" "Upstairs," he said, "Solitary diner." Ah, yes, the gumbo. I always sent the gumbo out with a small flat-rimmed Italian soup bowl of steamed rice on a liner plate and the blue and white bowls of gumbo on the side with a ladle along for the ride. When I arrived at the gentleman's table, I saw that the diner (and I use the term very loosely) had set the rice off to the side and had the big bowl on the liner plate. Not the usual procedure. I swear I heard Jimmy, who had followed me up, snickering behind me. "Yes, sir, what's the problem?" "This is too hard," he said with a thick tongue. He'd obviously warmed up for his Creole feast with several cocktails. "You mean it's too difficult to eat?" "No! It's too hard!" And he proceeded to demonstrate this fact by vigorously having at the bright red blue crab shell (with which I garnished the top each of the bowls of seafood gumbo I sent out) with his knife and fork. He attempted to cut it once and then banged on it with his knife. It was not a soft-shell crab. It was hard. Too hard to eat. "Just one moment, sir." I retrieved a bread and butter plate and a couple of forks from a nearby waiter's station and returned to the table. I set the big bowl off to the side and replaced the rice on the liner plate. Using the two forks, I lifted the crab shell from atop the gumbo and placed it on the bread and butter plate, then ladled some gumbo over his rice. "Enjoy," I said. "Try a spoon this time, sir." Jimmy was doubled over in the waiter's station. <div align="center">* * *</div>
  19. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1169703606/gallery_29805_1195_3434.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Joseph Carey Third in a series. Slow nights -- a phenomenon that is cause for considerable despair in the restaurant business -- at The Ordinary were the worst. Waiting for the customers. And staying focused while waiting. It can be an interminable period. Unnamable pain. Hopeful Vladimir, Alors? On y va? And the dour herbal Estragon, Allons-y; biding their time, discussing doing something, but not moving, filling the hours with nonsense. The waiters -- well, we were all waiters waiting --I mean the service personnel, bartenders and waitrons depend on traffic for their livelihood. Part of the chef/manager/owner’s job is to maintain morale during these moments. And while the motivation of the kitchen staff may be somewhat different, waiting is every bit as painful for them. Most chefs and line cooks are adrenaline junkies, never happier than when they’re up to their asses in alligators. They want to move. They want to go! And even the dishwasher, the final receptacle for the detritus of our business, is hoping the restaurant will be there tomorrow, so that he may have a paycheck. There is nowhere to go. No exit. Everyone praying that the game is not up. We need asses in chairs and bellies to fill! Bag ‘em, gag ‘em and tag ‘em! Even the most successful of restaurants have these moments. They are horrific. There is only so much prep one can do, and once one is comfortably ensconced in ennui, a massive energy surge is required to come up to speed. Now, there are some restaurants on this planet that have professional waiters. Usually, these joints are in the “food-destination” cities: New York, San Francisco, LA, Chicago, New Orleans, Las Vegas, where service personnel can make a very handsome living. The last time I ate at Galatoire’s in New Orleans, for instance, they no longer knew me (it had been years and years since my Aunt Maye had taken me there) and I was assigned a waiter who had been there a relatively short time and had no seniority to speak of. He’d only been there 17 years. But, this is the exception; on the remote possibility you’ve never booked an eating tour to Oakland, California, let me clue you in -- it ain’t a food destination. So, what most restaurants do for service personnel is try to find people who possess some social skills, half a brain, and clean up pretty good. Honesty is a good thing, too. Experience would be an added bonus. Without exception, these folks are transient, trawling culinary concubines in the wine-dark seas of gastronomy on their way to riches and fame in a real profession. To them, the restaurant is a temporary money machine to tide them over until they score in their real occupation, so loyalty is something of a problem. Slow nights will cause them begin seeking other employment. These nights, did, however, give me the opportunity to get to know some of these people. Here are some sketches of the front and back of the house at The Ordinary. Partial dramatis personae. Well, lots of gays. I had two guys who were a couple early on, both very moody artists. Trouble from the get go; one in particular. I had just closed The Ordinary one night -- it was very late. He was zonked – and driving me and my girlfriend home. A cop saw him driving erratically in the parking lot. This was at the height of the Black Panther era in Oakland. Running in a couple of hippies was as welcome as a coffee break -- with a doughnut -- for these guys. They rummaged through his purse and found a bunch of drugs. I piped up and said we were just in the parking lot on private property and they had no right blah, blah, blah. They told me to shut up and to pull my legs into their car or the door would be slammed on them. I shut up and pulled my legs in. My girlfriend piped up. They told her to shut up. She didn't. They opened the door, told me to get out, put her in my place, and took the both of them off to the jailhouse, letting me go. I got them out. No charges were filed against her. I also had a black gay guy -- Booker -- who was 6’-8’’. with an Afro on top of that. He decided he knew my white musical taste and once gave me a copy of a Jack Jones album -- this during the early days of The Ordinary, when I played nothing but New Orleans jazz on the speaker system. I never really understood how he came up with the cultural leap to Jack Jones after hearing me play King Oliver (he had a pretty good horn player named Louis Armstrong), and Jelly Roll Morton. Maybe someone gave it to him, and he decided I would be more appreciative. Conrad, on the other hand, paid closer attention than Booker. Conrad was straight, an excellent waiter and a very handsome guy who resembled a young Omar Sharif -- and was also a music critic for The San Francisco Chronicle. He gave me tickets to The Last Waltz, The Band’s farewell concert at Winterland in San Francisco. This was my favorite rock band. Although the night of the concert -- Thanksgiving, 1976 -- had all the earmarks of a very slow night at the restaurant, I had taken reservations for about 20. I was making a special menu featuring a dish of duckling with cherry sauce, and I didn’t know anybody who could pull it off in my stead. I had to give the tickets away. I sigh every time I watch the video of the evening, directed by another favorite of mine, Martin Scorese. Conrad died a very unusual death. A car pinned his leg between two bumpers one night and he developed a wound that wouldn’t heal -- the suffering went on for months. He died of a staph infection. Then there was Richard -- ah, Richard -- straight, but not so you would have known it. Great waiter, but, like many, avaricious. A skinny little guy, he got laid a lot by acting gay -- had it down to an art. (Logic dictates that he got laid by Geena Davis – many times, as he was her first husband.) Richard was very East Coast, cynical and hip. He grew up with some of the East Coast mobsters, and I recollect he was mentioned in the book Murder Machine. He escaped that life, though. One of my waitrons, Tre, was a very gifted potter. She made me a series of neat blue and white bowls for presentation (she later sold a bunch of her stuff to Neiman Marcus.) I still have one of them -- it holds about 1-1/2 quarts, and has a series of happy-looking blue frogs in various postures arrayed around the outside of the bowl on a white background. On the bottom of the bowl is two frogs going at it doggie- . . . er . . . froggie-style. On the outside bottom of the bowl is the legend: Bufo bufo in amplexus, axillary. I didn’t (and don’t) give this bowl to just anyone. (The rest of the series was G-rated, I might add.) Note: For decades I have been calling this “The Frog Bowl.” I only recently found out just how ignorant I am of amphibian anatomy. Bufo bufo is a toad: the common toad.) I had my own Mexican beer connection -- Mr. Ceballos, a truly nice human who for some reason took a shine to me. When they were in short supply, he still kept me in Tres Equis and Noche Buena (this is an end-of-the-year bock, featuring poinsettias on the label). George and Spencer, with some small assistance from me, insured that we never made a profit on these beers. We were also one of the first places outside San Francisco to have Anchor Steam on tap. Then there was my wine connection. My house wine, a closely guarded secret -- Chateau Rege-- was loved by all. To get the discount, I had to pick it up -- ten case minimum -- at their storefront on Powell in San Francisco, at a price of $10.00 a case -- plus tax. Later I moved up to their premium wine, Chateau Rege Reserve: $12.00 per case. It only came in gallon jugs. I served it in carafes. We had a couple of near misses with Hollywood around this time. The first came right after I opened. A location producer asked about using The Ordinary for a week or so for a shoot. Something called Klute. He decided against it at the last moment. Later, a producer approached me about being a consultant on a film about Vietnam. Gave me the script (titled The Prisoner; not to be confused with the Patrick McGoohan thing) to read, and told me they would pay me handsomely. Robert Blake was to star. It sounded great, and this starving restaurateur could sure have used the loot. Calls back and forth for several months. The last call I got said the project was on hold: Blake had accepted an offer -- though he was pretty sure it would be short-lived -- for some television thing called Baretta. Guess the cockatoo got my money. Line cooks were in short supply in Oakland at this time. Mostly I took what I thought were smart people with little experience. Hell, no Bay Area cooks had experience with Creole food, anyway. Well, these were the people I knew: poets, writers, sculptors, painters. They became cooks, kinda. Unlike most of the restaurants I was to do after The Ordinary, where the entire menus were a la carte, most of my items were what we call “batch” items. I settled on a menu that I thought most of my cooks could handle. Spencer had owned gas stations and had been a mechanic. He’d quit all that and was a hippie living in a commune when I met him. Spencer became a very good cook, and went on to have his own restaurants. Denis, who helped out when he could, had always been a good cook. He didn’t make fans of the black ladies to whom he sent out some not-spicy-enough gumbo -- they could be heard throughout the restaurant, shouting “Who done cooked this trash?” In addition to teaching college, Denis taught wine appreciation and wine-making classes. Then there was Bunkie, former air force officer. (This may scare you, folks. Just don’t dwell on our country’s security too much and you’ll get through it.) He was easily addled. He had the attention span of a bipolar gnat -- except when it came to drugs. Psychedelics were his favorite. Lots. Often. He did have his charm though. He had a succession of attractive girlfriends. One of Bunkie’s string of sweeties was Susan, a Foster, the first of four memorable sisters about which, for some reason -- we could speculate that drugs play a part here -- I don’t remember much. Susan was freshly sprung from a German prison -- something to do with borders and contraband. Shortly thereafter, the rest of the Foster convoy rolled in from Chicago: Ellen, Mary and Janet, hard living, brash broads, and all attractive. I’m sure they sucked the air right out of The Windy City when they left there. Berkeley wasn’t ready for them. They didn’t care about political correctness, or fitting into the Berkeley culture. These girls just wanted to have fun: sex -- a man a minute, and no commitments. Mary, given a quarter of a chance, would, upon being introduced to a man, whip out her tits and say, “How you like them puppies?” They were cute and pettable. Kinda large for puppies, though. She and Ellen went on to work for Spencer at Mama’s Royal Café. Nestor didn’t want to work out front -- just in the kitchen. His real name was John and he became a very good friend. He decorated the employee bathroom walls extensively with clever graffiti, drawings, “sandwiches,” and silly slogans, some of which elicited surprising responses. In particular, what Nestor had scribbled about the SLA attracted the attention of the feds: things like, “Call me Cinque,” and “Meet me out back at 11:00, Patty.” One day they came to look at the wall and photograph it. Somewhere in their files are these examples of your tax dollars at work. John lived with me for a while. Nestor Marzipan was his . . . alter ego, or maybe better, his alter id. Most of the time he looked sorta like a hippie -- John, not Nestor, a bright, educated guy. The Nestor part of him wore a fedora, a zoot suit and tie -- or sometimes, a nurse’s outfit. He talked about having an office in a dingy hall in a building in Monterey and sitting behind a desk with a pint in the drawer and a sign on the door, “Nestor Marzipan, Private Detective.” He became obsessed with one case he was working on. A missing emotion case -- what ever happened to tenderness? He became a very good cook. He died too young. I miss him a lot. One last slow-night amusement: throwing a damp plunger at a wall 20 feet away and making it stick. Spencer says he can beat me; I dispute this claim. It’s hard to wrap up this section. Maybe I’ll let Beckett do it for me. From Waiting for Godot. This time in English. Vladimir: That passed the time. Estragon: It would have passed in any case. Vladimir: Yes, but not so rapidly. <div align="center">+ + + + +</div> Joseph Carey, aka ChefCarey, is the author of Creole Nouvelle: Contemporary Creole Cookery and Chef on Fire: The Five Techniques for Using Heat Like a Pro. He cooks, teaches and writes in Memphis, Tennessee.
  20. Voyage into Creativity, part seven Saturday afternoon By John Sconzo <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1169056788/gallery_29805_3926_21247.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">I spent the remainder of Saturday morning at a breakout session. The options were excellent, many and varied, including Joan Roca with Colman Andrews presenting “Tasting the Unexpected: Science, Technology, and the Experimental Spanish Kitchen, in which Roca prepared his “earth” and oyster dish using the local terroir; Canelons and the Catalan Kitchen: Re-inventing a Spanish Pasta Tradition’ with Carles Gaig and Nando Jubany (Gaig’s canelons were one of the most delicious dishes I had eaten over the entire conference); “Of Roasts and Stews: The Live Fire Cooking of the Spanish Interior” with Marco Antonio Garcia and Candido Lopez Cuerdo; “Tapas: Bringing Spanish Inspiration to American Menus” with Carles Abellan, Patxi Bergara and Norman Van Aken; and “The Rice Cooking of Mediterranean Spain: A Live Fire Workshop” with Rafael Vidal and Clara de Amezua. Nevertheless, when my wife and I had the opportunity to choose from amongst these and one other, it was an easy choice. We chose and got tickets for “Tasting the Unexpected: Science, Technology and the Experimental Spanish Kitchen” with Ferran Adria and Harold McGee. I will finish my series with this in the next installment. Lunch followed the breakout session with another feast in the World Marketplace. This one was bittersweet; it would be the last of this conference. A feature of each of the World Marketplace sessions were author book signings. At this particular session Ferran Adria, Thomas Keller, Colman Andrews and Peter Kaminsky were all signing their books. (Previously, authors Jose Andres, Harold McGee, Andoni Aduriz, Joan Roca, Michael Ruhlman, Anya Von Bremzen, Dani Garcia, Max McCalman, Oriol Balaguer, Janet Mendel, Teresa Barrenechea, Guy Buffet, Joyce Goldstein and Carles Abellan sat for book-signing sessions.) <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1169056788/gallery_29805_3926_9979.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">My post-prandial depression following the Marketplace feast was balanced by the continued buzz from the morning sessions. It didn’t hurt that the ever-energetic Jose Andres was amongst the presenters for the first general session of the afternoon on “Tapas: Renewing Traditions, Re-imagining Possibilities,” which also included Patxi Bergara and Carles Abellan, and was moderated by Michael Batterberry. Bergara and his wife Blanca, who hail from one of San Sebastien’s most heralded pintxos bars -- Bar Bergara -- prepared a number of different pintxos, which is the Basque version of the Spanish tapas. Carles Abellan, most well-known for his Spanish vanguard restaurant Comerc24 in Barcelona (and who has also recently opened a traditional tapas bar in the same city, as has Albert Adria), presented his take on tapas, including his version of the Arpege egg, which he calls “kinderegg.” But it was left to Jose Andres to sum it up, as he invited everyone to find his “own meaning as to what tapas are.” The last general session before Adria’s showed the influence of Spanish cuisine elsewhere in the world. Entitled “Spain and the World table – Perspectives from Latin America and Asia,” it featured presentations from Maricel Presilla, chef-owner of Zafra and Cucharamama, pan-Latin restaurants in Hoboken, N.J.; Arturo Rubio and Marilu Madueno from Lima, Peru’s Huaca Pucllana; and Kiyomi Mikuni, chef-owner of Hotel de Mikuni in Tokyo, Japan. Between Presilla, Rubio and Madueno, it became apparent that although Spain had provided much in the way of influence and foodways to the cooking of the Americas, it had also taken its share of foodstuffs from the Americas. Indeed, it helped to pass them on to the rest of the world through the Colombian Exchange, which included items like cacao beans and chocolate, chile peppers, tomato, corn, potatoes, beans and other items.According to Presilla, Spaniards preferred sweeter, fleshier peppers; the result is that the hot "padron" is an occasional exception to most of the peppers available in Spain today. Prior to the exchange, large animal meat proteins were scarce in the Americas from Mexico southward. Inhabitants of the Meso- and Southern Americas were limited to venison, fowl such as duck and turkey, the camelids of South America such as the alpaca, llama and vicuna, and smaller mammals, amphibians and reptiles. The Spaniards brought pigs and cattle, as well as horses. While the latter were not used much for food, both of the former items became staples. Maricel Presilla, a restaurateur and chef with an academic background in medieval Spanish history, called "Latin America Spain's greatest creation," noting some particular contributions of Spain to Latin American cuisine, including achiote, which took the place of saffron, and the Moorish-rooted escabeche. The foods presented showed the influence of Spanish technique, as well as native ingredients, such as a paella-like dish using duck from the Peruvian Madueno. I was particularly curious about this presentation, since Peru is next on my list of destinations. Fortunately, Madueno and her staff from Huaca Pucllana in Lima prepared this and other dishes in the World Marketplace. The cooking was unique and delicious; I am very much looking forward to dining there on my upcoming trip. Like Spain, Peru is also a very fertile area for culinary creativity. With a broad multi-ethnic heritage (the population includes Inca, Spanish, African, Chinese, Italians and Japanese) fusion cuisine is a natural culinary result. Twenty-eight diverse geographical areas, with differrent agricultural products, contribute further to the country's culinary smorgasboard, the end result of which was described as the "revolution" of New Peruvian Cuisine, combining Peruvian flavors in a contemporary way. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1169056788/gallery_29805_3926_11599.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">Mikuni showed another side of the influence of contemporary Spanish cooking as he prepared several Spanish-influenced sushi creations that emphasized the similarities of the cuisines of Spain and Japan, two of the most popular in the world today. The cuisines of both countries highlight small plates, rice, seafood and an enhanced sense of umami, spurring the recent rise in interest of Spanish food in Japan (as well as the reverse). Mikuni's creations, including "Paella-Style Sushi with Seafood," "Sushi of Beets with Salmon Chips" and "Red Wine Sushi with Serrano Ham," had also been presented throughout the World Marketplace sessions and were quite tasty. There was one more breakout session before Adria brought the conference to a rousing close.While I had been enjoying Spanish wines throughout the conference, I had not focused on them at all. I had a great opportunity here to taste a variety of Spanish wines under the heading of "Aromatics, Wine and the Spanish Kitchen: Of Sherry, Albarino and More" with Steve Olsen and Jose Andres. In addition, Jose's D.C. staff (including Ruben Garcia and John Paul Damato, Executive Chef of Jaleo) served some wonderful tapas.Though the wines served focused on aromatic whites, they also included a rose, a red and a dessert wine.The whites included Spain's finest white varietals and regions including albarino (Rias Baixas - Pazo Senorans 2003), Pansa Blanca (Alella - Parxet/Marques de Alella 2005), Manzanilla Sherry (Jerez - La Gitana), godello (Valdeorras - As Sortes 2005) and verdejo (Rueda- Naiades 2004). The rose was a 50:50 blend of tempranillo:garnacha (Rioja - El Coto 2005), the red Mencia (Bierzo- baltos/Dominio de Tares 2004) and the dessert wine a proprietary blend (Malaga - Jorge Ordonez 2004). I must mention that the tasting facilities at CIA/Greystone are exceptional and built to be able to judge the various qualities of wine -- particularly the visual elements that are not often adequately accounted for. We had a variety of foods to taste the wines with, and we were asked for our pairing preferences in an unscientific, fun way. Needless to say, there were a variety of answers. The one constant was that all the wines were good both on their own and paired with the food items, which included oysters, sea urchin with pomegranate, PEI mussel with compote of tomato, garotxa cheese, Ensalada russa, toast with tomato and serrano ham, marcona almonds, olive stuffed with pimiento and anchovy and cabrales with fig. Of course, some of the tastes worked better with specific wines -- though not always intuitively. This was so much fun that we almost wound up being late for Ferran Adria's closing session. <div align="center">+ + + + +</div> All photos by the author.
  21. Voyage into Creativity, part six Saturday morning By John Sconzo <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1168614496/gallery_29805_3926_8554.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">My wife and I arrived early at the conference, for a leisurely breakfast and good seats. In fact, we got front row seats. They would come in handy. The day started with an impassioned talk (In Pursuit of Flavor, Culture and Authenticity: Bringing Spain Home) by Colman Andrews, cookbook writer, former editor of Saveur and Gourmet staffer. According to Andrews, Spain has become a hotbed not only in the US, but also the rest of Europe and indeed much of the rest of the world. He cited examples: Gazpacho avec 'quelque chose'” is “one of the hottest dishes in France” of late. It wasn’t too long ago that no Spanish chefs were known by name in the US. Likewise, few dishes other than paella were known. What changed? As others had said earlier in the conference, Franco’s death opened the way for a resurgence of regional character and creativity that became obvious to the rest of the world during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, followed by the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the ascendancy of Ferran Adria and his culinary disciples. Andrews explained what it all meant for the US: Spanish food products such as pimenton, piquillo peppers, olive oil, rice and various conservas are making huge inroads, with other foods -- like iberico ham -- now following; an upsurge of new “Spanish” restaurants, like Tia Pol in New York City in which the food is highly authentic (though its owner is from New Orleans), as well as others that are Spanish in name only. He implored the attendees “to give your audience a chance” and not assume that they don’t want what is right. He said that instead of “taking a variety of items from across Spain, mixing them up and thinking ‘they won’t know the difference’” that it is “better to focus on a few things” and to “trust simplicity.” He continued: don't learn “the wrong lessons” such as “foams are everything;” don't let Calcium Chloride become the “new balsamic vinegar.” He said that Ferran Adria has taught chefs to question why things are done certain ways and whether there may be other ways of doing things. Andrews finished with “don’t try to bring everything home -- leave some things in Spain.” With an opening like that, the Illy Cafe man could have simply sat down -- additional caffeine would hardly be necessary. Nor would it be necessary with the panel discussion that followed: a veritable who’s who of culinary experts including moderators Richard Clark, Richard Wolffe and Greg Drescher, and panelists Clara Maria Gonzalez de Amezua, Jose Andres, Colman Andrews, Michael Batterberry, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, Thomas Keller, Karen McNeil, David Rosengarten, Dr. Tim Ryan, Gabino Sotelino, Norman Van Aken, Anya Von Bremzen and Clark Wolf. The topic was “Spanish Flavors, American Kitchens: Appetites for Change.” The discussion was dedicated to R.W. “Johnny” Apple, who would have been leading the panel had he not passed away shortly before the conference. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1168614496/gallery_29805_3926_12465.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">The opening question to the panel was "How much of the creative energy now in Spain is a reaction to it having been closed for so long?" Clara Maria Gonzalez de Amezua, who has lived through those years of closure simply stated that in Spain there always has been "a creative spirit." Anya Von Bremzen added that the current creative surge is not due to "just a bunch of people who happen to be in Spain at the same time." She added that it is "very much (due to) an 'open door' policy" with the exchange of ideas and that the culinary community of Spain is very well organized as exemplified by conferences such as "Madrid Fusion" and "Lo Mejor de la Gastronomia." Indeed she noted that other European countries are picking up on that and holding conferences of their own. Jose Andres addressed the balance of traditional and creative cooking in Spain. He noted that he started making traditional Spanish cuisine in the US so that the creative cuisine could be understood. He also jokingly said he used Washington political correspondent Richard Clark to write his book so that he could have greater influence in D.C. politics on behalf of Spanish cuisine. Clark answered that that was all well and good, but the "President doesn't like 'wet' fish," a reference to the lightly-cooked fish recipes in Andres's book. David Rosengarten wished that what Jose Andres did was actually happening more in the U.S. as "there is a notorious lack of traditional Spanish food here." He felt that the historical reasons have been a dearth of real Spanish ingredients, but noted the current efforts to change that. Clark Wolf chimed in that just as important as bringing in Spanish ingredients is "bringing in Spanish foodways and style such as 'tapas.'" Nancy Harmon Jenkins mentioned that in Spain, the King "understands cuisine" and that "in every restaurant, the King of Spain has always 'just been there,'" evidence that strong culinary culture begins prior to the restaurant. Jose Andres elicted chucles by offereing to share the King of Spain with the US. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1168614496/gallery_29805_3926_2659.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">"What is the future of modern cooking in Spain?" Clara de Amezua pointed out that Spanish cuisine is the product of centuries of culture, with various adaptations added along the way, and that its evolution will continue that way. Thomas Keller, who considers himself "a true francophile" asked "what is real 'Spanish food' vs 'inspirational food?'" He added that "Basque is neither French nor Spanish -- it is Basque." He opined that modern cuisine is more "personality cuisine" that "goes beyond borders" and that "inspiration is more important than creation." He said that "this forum (was) a great way to find inspiration" and that after the inspiration comes evolution. More discussion ensued on the interplay of traditional and vanguard cooking in Spain. Jose Andres noted that the creative chefs are the ones with the vast majority of the limited number of Michelin stars seemingly available in Spain, and that they were necessary to support everyone else. Moreover, it is the vanguard chefs who have been pushing for quality, artisanal produce. Richard Clark noted that when he visited the Adria's Taller in Barcelona everyone ate tortilla Espanola, at which point Norman van Aken asked, "Why not have it both ways?" He said that it was fun to play with tradition and turn it around and likened the process to having both acoustic and electric Bob Dylan. Dr. Tim Ryan stated that the interplay between tradition and innovation was really only pertinent in Spain and Europe right now. He listed obstacles on the path to a higher profile for Spanish cuisine in the US, most the Spanish immigration necessary to create demand for the cuisine; the innovations of Ferran Adria are largely what has captured the US imagination to date. Nancy Harmon Jenkins asked what the audience could take away from the discussion. David Rosengarten replied: tradition tweaked with personal idiosyncracies is something of value. Karen McNeil noted that the dichotomy discussed is not really felt in the world of Spanish wine -- that there is "a harmony between alta expresion and tradition, as the Spanish are very insular about their varietals." She asked, "What if the greatest wines in the world have yet to be discovered?" (The resurgence of the Spanish wine industry is a major reason for this question.) Anya Von Bremzen agreed that modern vs traditional "is not an either-or situation" so long as they are used appropriately." This theme recurred throughout the conference; indeed, I had heard often in Spain as well, where at El Bulli, Ferran Adria had said that his cooking was based on traditional Catalan cuisine. Talk turned to the situation of artisanal food products in the US. Thomas Keller called the situation against foie gras "abominable" and that the industry happens to be an "easy mark," upon which Dr. Ryan wondered if we were "at the dawn of a new era of dietary prohibition," asking "what's next?" The panel finished with Ariane Broadbent stating from the audience that "everything is fusion and evolution over and over again." Gerry Dawes, returning to the theme of modern vs. traditional in Spain, noted that "one of the most important movements in Spain is 'modern traditional.'" Jose Andres concluded by noting that "tradition of today was yesterday's avant-garde and today's avant-garde will be tomorrow's tradition -- the good stuff will survive!" <div align="center">+ + + + +</div> All photos by the author.
  22. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1168408601/gallery_29805_1195_8384.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Shaun Chavis "Go down east and it's quiet," Jack Tapp says of North Carolina’s coastal plain, where the land is a checkerboard of agricultural fields. "There's nothing natural that flies anymore." Tapp works 16 hours a day, six days a week running a Chapel Hill-based apiary with a thousand beehives. Only a few decades ago, farmers could rely on wild bees and other insects to pollinate their crops. Now that wild bees have all but disappeared, beekeepers like Tapp play an increasingly important role in putting food on our tables. Bees are responsible, directly or indirectly, for every third bite of food Americans eat: $15 billion worth of food each year. Trouble is, Tapp and many like him worry beekeepers are disappearing, too. Tapp didn't set out to be a commercial beekeeper. Retired from work as an aeronautical engineer, a test pilot, and a sheriff's detective, he decided to keep a few hives as a hobby. One day he got a call from an agricultural official. "I hear you've got twenty hives. I've got a small blueberry farmer down south, and he needs twenty hives. The larger beekeepers won't touch him." Tapp loaded up his bees and drove to the North Carolina - South Carolina border. Now in his mid-60s, Tapp owns one of North Carolina's thirteen largest commercial apiaries. Of those, eleven owners are at least 60 years old. Tapp's wife helps him with his business, along with two men who are both Tapp's age or older. The three men work building and repairing hives, extracting honey, and loading 80-pound hives full of bees onto trucks so they can be taken to fields. Their ages are not unusual among beekeepers: seventy percent of America's beekeepers are over 45. Many are retired. During my visit to Tapp’s apiary just outside Chapel Hill, I asked him, "I'm wondering, does fifteen billion dollars worth of food a year depend on a bunch of retired hobbyists?" I fully expected him to tell me I was exaggerating. Tapp turned his head, looked me in the eye and with a straight face said, "Well, yeah." There are about 125,000 beekeepers in the United States. More than ninety percent do it as a hobby; eight percent are sideliners, people who keep bees as a part-time business. Only 600 are commercial beekeepers with a thousand hives or more. Some of those are migratory, spending the better part of the year on the road, moving as crops bloom. Farmers typically pay anywhere from $35 to $60 to rent a hive of bees during bloom; most crops need at least one hive per acre. Even among commercial beekeepers, there's quite a bit of gray hair. Dan Conlon, who owns Warm Colors Apiary in Massachusetts, says, "you go to these meetings, if you're 50, you're young." Conlon and many others worry about the future of beekeeping: with few young people getting into the business, beekeepers wonder if their skills and experience will be lost. Beekeeping isn't the most attractive career, and not just because of the insect stings: the costs are high, the risks are great, and the lifestyle can be hard on family. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Besides honey, bees are perhaps best known for pollinating. They work more than ninety different food crops. Some of those are very dependent on bees just to produce anything; bees help others yield better results. Citrus trees don’t need insects to set fruit, but $504 million worth of oranges a year can be attributed to bees -- enough of a difference that Florida growers rent hives. Bees don’t just pollinate your food, they pollinate food for your food. Alfalfa and clover, both cattle feed, need to be pollinated in order to produce seeds for the next year's crop. California alfalfa growers bring in honeybees to do the job. Bees, then, are an important link in dairy and beef production. Bees also make fruit and vegetables more perfect by impacting shape and size. With commercial demand for uniformity, growers put a lot of trust in bees to turn a profit. While it may take only one night and a single sperm to produce a human being, perfect fruit doesn't happen in a solitary encounter. Jack Tapp says he can guarantee a 300 percent increase in strawberry volume with just one hive of honeybees per acre. Each time a bee pollinates a strawberry flower it creates a seed. The berry must then develop the flesh to support each new seed. More bee visits create bigger berries. Cucumber growers are heavily dependent upon bees for perfection. Cucumbers and melons need insects to reproduce; the pollen grains are too heavy and sticky for wind to do the job. Bees must visit a flower a minimum of nine times to produce a cuke, and a minimum of thirteen times to get a perfect one, the kind that fits nicely into pickle jars and makes a farmer money. (Gherkins make the most.) If a blossom is inadequately pollinated, the cucumber will be deformed: too short, large on one end and small on the other, or curved. Bottom line, a deformed cucumber doesn't make a pretty pickle or top dollar, and can only be sold for products like relish. Almond growers are just as dependent upon bees, and it is the almond industry appearing in headlines most these days when it comes to bees. California produces 100 percent of the US commercial almond supply and 80 percent of the world's almonds. Two years ago, when the American Beekeeping Federation estimated half the bee colonies in California died over the winter, panic ensued. Keepers imported bees from Australia just to meet demand. Rental fees shot up to $80 a hive, and as much as $120 at the last minute. Keepers reported stolen hives, with at least one losing tens of thousands of dollars overnight. Some growers hired patrols. Thefts not only hurt the beekeeper, but the almond orchards where the bees are working. Bloom, the window of pollinating opportunity, only lasts about three weeks, with each flower open for three to five days. And it takes time to get bees. No cattle rancher could survive a fifty percent loss in livestock without assistance, and beekeepers are finding it just as difficult to manage with their livestock losses. Some are getting out of the business. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Bees get ready for winter by storing food, kicking out male bees, and sealing the hive. (Male bees don't do any work, and so they are a drain on resources.) Bees survive the winter by clustering together and shivering their wings. One tiny bee's shivering wings might not make much difference, but together, 50,000 bees can produce a lot of heat. It can be below freezing outside, but the inside of a hive will remain above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The bees slowly move through the hive as they consume their honey. Winter can be a particularly anxious time for a beekeeper. Opening the hive could jeopardize the colony's survival, so the keeper must be content with a hands-off approach. Beekeepers have come to expect some winter loss; sometimes the bees can't get to a frame of honey and they starve to death. Hungry bears destroy hives. The worst threat to honeybees in the past twenty years is much smaller: the mite. Two types made their way to the US in the mid-80s. One type, trachea mites, attach themselves to a bee's tracheal tubes, making it difficult for the bee to breathe. Bee breeders are able to help fight problems like this by breeding bees to possess certain traits. For example, honeybees are bred to be gentle, to be better pollinators, and to resist the impulse to swarm. Breeders have been able to combat the trachea mites in part by breeding bees to use better hygiene. By keeping themselves clean, the bees can help keep themselves free of trachea mites. Varroa mites are the worst of the two parasites. Nicknamed "vampire mites," they literally suck the life out of bees. A keeper can open a hive at winter's end and find tens of thousands of dead bees inside. Varroa mites are responsible for the massive losses in California. Across the United States, beekeepers lost thirty to fifty percent of their colonies in 2004. Mites, along with pesticides used in farming, have wiped out North America’s wild honeybees. Breeders are working on genetics to develop bees that are resistant to mites, but that takes time and generations of bees. Scientists have come up with chemical treatments to medicate bees, but some render drones infertile. In recent years, scientists have discovered the mites are developing resistance to the drugs. For thousands of years, bees managed to thrive without human help. Now more than ever, bees need caretakers to help them survive their fight against their most devastating enemy. Trouble is, the same mites draining the life out of bees have had a similar impact on their keepers. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Full-time commercial apiaries make up less than five percent of America's beekeepers, yet they own fifty percent of domesticated honeybees. Most of them are family-run businesses. As Massachusetts beekeeper Dan Conlon says, "it's too much work to not be family." Conlon is quite busy himself. Through Warm Colors Apiary, he and his wife, Bonita, produce honey, provide pollination services, sell beekeeping equipment, and teach classes. Upon finishing the course, Conlon's graduates are ready to start their own hives. Come springtime, Conlon headed to Mt. Vernon, Georgia to pick up bees for his students and other clients. (Many northern beekeepers lose their bees over the winter, so they depend on southern beekeepers to supply them with bees.) Conlon's supplier is Jon Hardimon, a queen breeder whose career has spanned six decades. The Hardimons recognize Dan when he pulls up, and they know he's got a long road ahead of him. Even though other beekeepers have been waiting for days, the Hardimons will "shake" Dan's bees first. Shaking bees is exactly what it sounds like. Hardimon recruits strong, young people for this job; it's hard on the knees. The workers lift 80- to 100- pound hive bodies and physically shake them over small wood boxes with screens on two sides. The bees tumble through a funnel into these packages. Each one holds three to four pounds of bees. The package is finished with a punctured can of corn syrup -- food for the bees on their trip -- and a small cage that holds a queen and her attendants. The men shaking the bees work from dawn to dusk; they will work 12- to 16-hour days from the beginning of spring until June. Conlon and Hardimon talk business. When Hardimon started, keeping bees was easier. The greatest worry then was a bacterial disease called foulbrood. "Now, people new to beekeeping have a much steeper learning curve," Conlon said. Conlon says keepers who didn't follow the rules are to blame for the quick spread of mites in the United States; with little regulation, mites spread throughout the country in a matter of months on the trucks of migratory keepers. The impact was so disastrous, even the best keepers couldn't keep a colony alive for more than a few years. 30 years ago, the government counted 200,000 beekeepers in the U.S., with more than 4 million hives. Now there are 38 percent fewer beekeepers managing 2.4 million hives. (The number of hives has been steadily declining for almost 60 years; in 1947 the US had 6 million hives.) Many experienced keepers quit in frustration, including a significant number of people who specialized in breeding queens. In Conlon’s words, the industry lost a lot of collective brainpower. When the Hardimons finish loading Conlon's bees, the clock starts ticking. The bees can survive only a few days at most in packages; they need new homes. Conlon and his wife drive 24 hours straight, hauling 2400 pounds of bees in a pickup truck and a makeshift trailer. He uses digital thermometers to keep a close eye on them. Conlon can stand in front of his truck and feel the heat coming off. In the center of the mass of packages, the temperature could reach 130 degrees -- hot enough to literally cook the bees. He controls this by pulling over at a rest stop occasionally to spray the bees down with water. Conlon says he used to apologize to people who gave him strange looks. Now he just waters his bees and keeps going. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Money, or lack of it, can keep a hobbyist from becoming a commercial beekeeper. It takes an investment of about $200,000 to start with 300 hives, and most of that is infrastructure. Each hive costs about $200, including bees. "Most young people don't have that kind of money, or don't have access to it," said Jack Tapp, who is a vocal advocate for bees and keepers in North Carolina. Low interest loans aren't typically available to beekeepers. "Every cent of it is a risk," Tapp said. "The banks want land or something in collateral. A bee isn't good collateral." Three hundred hives aren't really enough for a commercial beekeeper to turn a profit. The margins are thin, and the first real profit comes in slowly: a beekeeper can't survive off pollination rentals alone, and it takes time to produce and harvest honey. David Tarpy is an entomologist at North Carolina State University, and much of his work helps support beekeepers. He notes the government doesn’t give beekeepers the same financial resources it gives farmers. "The government says beekeeping is not an agricultural enterprise. It assists agriculture." Just how much assistance bees provide is a recently hard-learned lesson in North Carolina. Historically, tobacco has been the state's primary crop, but after the tobacco settlement, legislators encouraged growers to get into other crops. What the legislators overlooked, though, was that the farmers would need bees to pollinate those new crops. "Thousands of acres didn't get pollinated because there weren't enough bees," Jack Tapp said. In 2004, Tarpy secured a grant from the non-profit Golden Leaf Foundation to help increase the number of beekeepers in the state. The cost-sharing program provides mentoring and two hives of bees to 250 new beekeepers. More than 2800 people applied, including farmers who wanted to start keeping bees for their own crops. Even people with a few hives, Tarpy says, have a significant impact on pollination. Hobbyists own half the domestic bees in the nation and produce forty percent of America’s honey. <div align="center">+ + +</div> The morning after Dan Conlon returned to Massachusetts with a ton of bees, he and his wife get up early, preparing for students to pick up their bees. By 9:00am, there is a small crowd standing around a shed as Conlon marks queens with paint so new keepers can easily find them. Some escapees are buzzing around his head, landing on his clothes, in his hair, and on his fingers as he works. Conlon doesn't seem to notice they're there. In the afternoon, Conlon's class sits on the ground around an empty hive body for their last lesson: how to install a bee package. Conlon's three dozen students are a diverse group, with just as many women as there are men, many of them in their 20s and 30s. They have their own reasons for getting into beekeeping: some for honey, some for their gardens, some because they want to support the environment. Some are interested in apitherapy, the practice of using bee venom to relieve arthritis and other conditions. One woman says the charmer in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes inspired her. Conlon takes the queen cage out of the package and gently lays it aside. Then Conlon gives the package a shake, and a cluster of bees rolls into the super (a wooden box) that will be their new home. More bees fly into the air, circling around his head and the students on the ground. No one flinches or waves them away. There are still some bees in the package, which Conlon sets aside. Conlon reinforces lessons he's taught throughout his time with this class. He shows them organic methods to help control varroa mites. "If you do nothing, you'll probably lose your bees at some point," he tells them. Conlon, though, doesn't advocate excessive use of chemical treatments. He encourages his students to think long-term. One of his goals is to help rebuild a native sustainable bee population. It may take generations, but over time, descendants of the queens from Georgia will build colonies with the strength to survive the Massachusetts climate; bees may even develop resistance to mites. "Strong colonies can medicate and heal themselves," Conlon says. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Just a few decades ago, the beekeeper's main message to the general public was to limit use of pesticides. Now, keepers like Jack Tapp believe people need to be even more aware of honeybees and the people who keep them. Cutting back on pesticides in the garden, or finding organic alternatives, is a part of it. "People will have to choose," Tapp says. When he was young, food didn't have to be perfect in order to be acceptable. "If there was an apple with a yellowjacket [bite], you just ate around it." Tapp says another solution is to encourage more people to keep bees as a hobby. Tarpy says two states are taking a good look at the North Carolina cost-assistance program as a model. Classes can be found in every state, and hobbyists live in the country, the burbs, and urban areas. There are beekeepers in New York City, with hives on rooftops. Bees and humans have had a beneficial relationship for thousands of years. Without new, stronger generations of bees and keepers, we'll all feel the sting. "Where it'll hit is in the grocery store," Tapp says. "Soon people will be paying two dollars for a cucumber if we're not careful." <div align="center">* * *</div> Shaun Chavis (aka shaunchavis) is a soulful Southerner back home in Alabama after a spell living up North, where she finished a Master of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy at Boston University. She awaits the acceptance of her thesis. She's spent most of her life in newsrooms and kitchens.
  23. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1167783622/gallery_29805_1195_16164.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Tim Hayward I was recently shown a cutting from an Arizona newspaper by a food writer who, having returned from a trip to France, waxed poetic about the experience. Like many of us, he'd been blown away by the quality of food he'd encountered and told us so, in florid prose, for the first 800 words. He then wrapped up by explaining that hopeless, incurably crap food would always remain in his part of the world. It saddened me to see that sort of weak-minded, unthinking dreck coming from an American -- because I'm so used to reading it from English writers. There are a lot of historical reasons why the English have problems with food. Some blame the industrial revolution, some blame a class system that puts the responsibility for cooking solely into the hands of servants -- these theories are well documented -- but there's something else. There's a powerful strand of middle- and upper-class worship of French cuisine at the expense of English, and it goes back a long way. The French Cook, a translation of La Varenne's Le Cuisinier François. was a bit of a bestseller in the UK (insofar as a book which could be read by few and afforded by fewer could be considered a bestseller) back in 1653. In 1747 Hannah Glasse averred that: "If Gentlemen will have French Cooks, they must pay for French Tricks. So much is the blind Folly of this Age, that they would rather be impos'd on by a French Booby, than give Encouragement to a good English Cook!” Half a century later, Tallyrand was losing his chef -- Careme -- to the Prince Regent, and the British aristocracy were falling over themselves to worship at the feet of any Frenchman in a toque -- and they've never stopped. Things probably reached their most egregious after the war in Elizabeth David's early books, where her breathless worship of everything Mediterranean bordered on the lubricious. Though St. David is often credited with the regeneration of food appreciation in the UK, the way that she redirected the moneyed classes towards France at the moment the privations of war were over means she could equally well be blamed for keeping English cookery in the dark ages for a further three decades. This is a shame, because by all accounts, by the time she was into her later books, Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen and English Bread and Yeast Cookery, she had matured enough to realize that perhaps all the sun, sea and shagging had turned her head in her early years. She acquired a little historical rigor and began to get really interested in English food. Much to her disgust, of course, it was too late to redirect her myrmidons, who were rushing off, lemming-like, to clog up Provence with their Volvos. The French, obviously, think their food is the best in the world. It's a fair opinion, but I wonder if, at the peak of their international influence, had the English not agreed with them so very much, that the whole of the English-speaking world might not consider other cuisines just as worthy of attention. But the idea that French is the ur-cuisine and the only one which matters is just one of the many tired tropes that food writers slide so easily into. It offends me that the French are so unquestioningly worshipped as the best, because the Brits are equally thoughtlessly singled out as the world's worst. Our national attitude towards food has been questionable, but -- for example -- the Dutch, who with a religious predisposition to regard enjoyment of food as actual sin and with almost no culture of dining out or entertaining, are benignly ignored by those who pontificate on culinary matters. Similarly, though our nation could be characterized as half a dozen foodie hotspots interspersed with a moaning, crud-chewing herd of junk-fuelled semi-morons, one could argue the same for the US and Australia, both regularly praised for their exciting, cutting-edge attitude towards food. Ask any honest Frenchman and he'll tell you how French supermarkets are filling up with packaged rubbish, French farming is going to the dogs and burger bars are despoiling his city. In fact, he'll tell you, it's every bit as easy to eat crap in Paris as in London. The authentic cuisine of the British Isles has solid, unbroken and documented history as old as the nation itself, and every bit as dignified as the French. If the middle classes hadn't been quite so distracted by the worship of French food, they might well have written about it, instead of allowing recipes to drop off the cultural radar. Now we're starting to rediscover the stews, pies, pasties, cawls, hotpots; the game, the smoked goods, the amazing fish recipes; the superb lamb dishes -- any of which would, in France, have a 'confrerie' founded in its honor, be declared a national treasure and get written up by panting international gourmands. With a bit of luck, our food culture might be extricating itself from generations of neglect and perceived inferiority -- but not unless we can wrestle our concentration back across the Channel and give it a fighting chance. Now, lest you think I'm just indulging in the olde English sport of baiting the French, let’s drag ourselves back to Arizona. There are several reasons the article pressed my buttons. First: I’d always assumed that blinkered, romanticized Francophilia was a disease of the English middle class (and, of course, the French), which is why it's shocking to see it trotted out in a country that has no reason, cultural or historical, to bother with it. Second: it's ill-mannered that anyone with a public platform and a desire to communicate about food should attack his own food culture for failing to be French. But these are minor gripes -- the real problem is much wider. I believe that unthinking reiteration of these tragic old prejudices damages the interests of anyone who loves food. When I was at art college, I was probably over-influenced by critics like John Berger and Peter Fuller. They argued that what was regarded as "art" in the West fitted into a tradition shaped by imperialist expansion and that the acquisition and collecting habits of the wealthy -- basically, western art starts with the Greeks, and passes through the Italian renaissance and the Dutch masters because Victorian gentlemen nicked or looted so much of it to populate their museums and stately homes. This didn't mean, as some people have interpreted it, that everything from Fra Lippo Lippi to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was unmitigated crap, but it did mean that in order to understand art, it was important to understand its historical and cultural context. Articles that parrot the same old nonsense about French cooking without context show that appreciation of food and cooking today is as developed as art history was in about 1890 -- ill-informed and elitist, and a poor reflection of the intellect of its perpetrators. Writing that French food is great, that English food is unremittingly awful -- or even that Phoenix lacks decent chefs -- is easy, but without an understanding of the web of national, cultural and class preconceptions behind it, the statement is pointless. Food -- to me -- is one of the most important creative outlets available to human beings. It will never be taken as seriously as it deserves -- as seriously as art, literature or music -- as long as our appreciation of it remains intellectually naive. Maybe the ability to write a pleasant thousand-word, adjective-laden piece on why French food is simply lovely is the very definition of a food writer. I believe firmly to the contrary. In 2006, it displays a complete lack of objective taste, zero knowledge of food history and an almost criminal ignorance of a wider world of food appreciation. <div align="center">* * *</div> Tim Hayward is a freelance writer living in London, and former host of the UK forum. He publishes the newsletter Fire & Knives. Photo by the author.
  24. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1166630330/gallery_29805_1195_6866.jpg" hspace="5" align="left">by Margaret McArthur I remember going to Woolworth's -- which sported its year-round but especially seasonal red-and-gold shop sign -- on the rue Des Forges in Trois-Rivieres, and casing the racks of Christmas cards. I had 50 cents, so I had to settle for robins and holly. The two-dollar assortment, so out of reach for a seven year-old on an allowance, gleamed and glittered and glammed. I wanted that box -- it showed the landscape from my bedroom window as I pressed my nose against its lacy ice-etched pane, waiting for Santa. The sky was deepest midnight blue on those cards, plastered with foil stars, the snow a dusting drift of metallic sugar. Lights peeped from the windows of steep-roofed cottages. All was cold, all was bright. There's no describing the cold of those Christmas Eves. I’ve lived in Chicago for 30 years, and, by comparison, I'm living in Palm Springs. When we were courting, my Chicagoan husband waited at a bus stop with me in Montreal in January and we wrapped ourselves around each other against the stunning cold. He breathed on my face to warm me up "like the animals did in the stable, breathing on the Baby" -- and Montreal was a sultry microclimate away from my home town. Christmas Eve snow stood five-foot deep, glassy and hard as a Caspar David Friedrich sea. A child could walk on that polar continent until she crashed through the crust and felt the shards bite the exposed inch between boots and snow pants like the fangs of a white shark. It hurt, that crust. But as Christmas Eve turned to early Christmas Day, it shone gold from the bungalow lights of my neighbors (French Canadians returning from midnight mass to break fast at the reveillon). Just like the snow on the two-dollar box. The reveillon is an early Christmas morning fete, traditional in Quebec after midnight mass. It was a right whoop up: The Cinqaunte and Ex flowed; so did the Canadian Club highballs. Oysters on the half-shell, viandes without number, desserts and music -- happy families packing calories against the cold. (Christmas Eve was a day of both fasting and abstinence -- no snacking between meals, no meat.) The tiny Anglo population in our town woke early for stockings and shortbread and Santa, rested and refreshed, except for the Dads who crashed at four a.m. after hours of dollhouse wrangling. Our French Canadian neighbors slept in later, checked out the cadeaux Pere Noel had left, and rested up for le Jour de L'an -- New Year's Day, which remains the true Quebec family holiday. But I’m willing to bet the contents of my stocking that they were eating at two a.m. what we’d polished off at suppertime: that sublime carb-and-pork antifreeze called tourtiere. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Tourtiere is a double-crust ground pork pie -- and it's my vote for the national dish of French Canada, not just because you can find mass-produced versions in any frozen food aisle or bakery counter, but because it’s such an old dish. The seasoning -- that whiff of allspice, nutmeg and clove -- testifies to its seventeenth-century origins, the age of the first great push of Norman and Breton settlers to Voltaire’s "few acres of snow." These immigrants brought with them the heady spices of the late Renaissance cooking, flavors we associate with eggnog. French chefs in the eighteenth century began to play with the herbs we use in modern French cooking, but in far-away Quebec, the seasoning for tourtiere changed little. I'm not saying that tourtiere tastes or smells like a porky pumpkin pie: there's the mere hint of nutmeg and clove that can't compete with the onion, and that pinch of sauriette (savory, winter or summer) that flourishes on farms and in kitchen gardens all over Quebec. There's argument about the etymology of tourtiere: some say it refers to a French meat pie made from a dove-like bird called a toutre, a pigeon so witless and slow it begged to be massacred along with its dim extended family. Others trace the dish to the old iron cooking vessel of the same name: a tourtiere hunched on the hearth on short legs and had a heavy concave lid, into which coals were poured -- our New England brethren would have called it a spider. There are regional recipes and traditions too: the tourtieres of Lac St. Jean or the Mauricie or Quebec City may differ in big ways, like using chunks of game instead of pork mince, or including ground beef and veal. Quebec City’s ancient tourtiere was thickened with oatmeal, not potatoes, the culinary legacy of the Highland regiments who stayed on in Quebec City after 1759, marrying the local desmoiselles and producing descendents who rejoice in names like Jean-Marie MacDuff, the boss machine tender on number three machine at the CIP newsprint mill in Trois-Rivieres. Julian Armstrong, in her 2001 book, A Taste of Quebec explores these variations for the filling: Tourtiere de Quebec: straightforward ground pork, onions and aromatics, with the aforementioned oatmeal. Tourtiere de Charlevoix: One inch chunks of pork, beef and potatoes. Tourtiere Leboutiller from the Gaspe – two to one ratio ground beef to ground pork. Tourtiere de Fleur-Ange, from the Laurentides: ground pork once again, but a cup and a half of celery and celery leaves and: Tabernacle! -- a half cup of parsley -- a renegade tourtiere for vegetarians. In truth, things green and leafy were items conspicuous in their absence at la table de Noel -- the vegetable accompaniments to tourtiere were as traditional as the sides at Thanksgiving: pickled beets (store-bought -- we ate them once a year) baked beans (I pimp a can of Campbell’s these days like any traveling pit master) and a big dish of chowchow or piccalilli. Some fine modern cooks may roll the crust from puff pastry, pate brise or phyllo, for all I know. It's tempting to fiddle with the filling: my mother bought a caribou and cranberry version from a fine charcutier last year. There’s nothing the matter with these tourtieres nouvelles, but they’re the products of professionals with too much time on their hands. Tout le monde understands that a tourtiere is a bland pork pie, encased in pale flaky pastry made with vegetable shortening or lard, cut in with a pastry blender or subjected to the gentle frottage of deux mains. Last December my daughter Honor called from Los Angeles, mildly bummed by her first balmy Christmas -- there's something so wrong about stringing lights on palm trees. But she made me dictate my mother's tourtiere recipe, so she could duplicate her traditional Christmas Eve dinner for some in-laws. When I asked her how it turned out during our Christmas Day chat, she sounded discouraged. "Well, it kinda stank. My pastry was hard and tough (too much water, I thought – she’s a novice pastry chef) and it all looked grey and depressing. The crust never got really brown. The beans were good, though." Well, my tourtiere never browned up nicely either, though decades in the kitchen guarantee me a flaky crust. I was thinking of the box office suicide of Honor's LA tourtiere when I dragged the November/December 1986 issue of "The Pleasures of Cooking" from its hallowed sticky stack. Jehane Benoit, "the Canadian Julia Child" and a medical student in 1920s Paris of Edouard de Pomiane, wrote about "The Night Before Christmas in Quebec." Tourtiere, of course. A golden-crusted beauty. The filling was straightforward: ground pork, grated potato and onion, big pinch of clove. But what rocked me was the pastry recipe: boiling water, baking powder, lemon juice, an egg -- all whizzed about in the Cuisinart along with the salt and the flour. Could it be edible? Remembering her chapter in Christmas Memories With Recipes (Farrar Strauss Giroux, 1988) I checked out the recipe for the crust. She uses a pastry blender for the crust, and ice water. The leavening is there: baking soda this time, and the lemon juice. She tosses in a quarter teaspoon of savory -- sure, why not? Her method may be conventional in this version but one ingredient sure isn't: "A pinch of turmeric?" A pinch of turmeric wasn't going to add a whole lot of flavor, so this must have been Mme. Benoit's cagey solution to my daughter's dismal grey dilemma. Genius. Presented with a pastry recipe as counterintuitive as the one in "Pleasures of Cooking," not to mention a set of whacky ingredients, I decided to push the tourtiere season up a couple of weeks. I had a lovely tub of lard in the fridge (the supermercado down the road renders its owns -- no hydrogenation happening here), a Penzey's a few miles away to provide a fresh stash of savory, and a pound and a half of ground pork. I prepared the filling and placed it in the freezer to cool. Then I assembled my pastry mise-en-place -- instead of my faithful four ingredients (flour, salt, lard, water), I found I'd acquired ten. I whizzed the dry ingredients in the Cuisinart, then pulsed in two-thirds of the lard. I added the rest of the lard, a teaspoon of lemon juice and a beaten egg to a third of a cup of boiling water and stirred well. Madame said "With the motor running, add to the flour mixture and turn off the motor immediately. The dough will be soft." It was as shiny and soft as a baby's bottom, if the bottom in question had picked up a faint glisten from a turmeric self-tanner. I diapered it in Glad Wrap and tucked it into the fridge for a four-hour nap. It rolled out like a dream -- I'd been afraid that its very suppleness would make for a scrappy, pieced together crust. I peeked into the oven after twenty minutes or so: the baking powder was doing its magic and the crust had puffed. When I pulled it from the oven, it glowed like the gams of a Brazilian supermodel. I nabbed a nibble of the crust while I stirred the beans. Flaky it was not, but I'd known from the get-go that the boiling water would nix all possibility of flakes. Tender and crispy it was, sturdy enough to stand up to the filling and melting on the tongue -- it would be excellent for Cornish pasties or empanadas. Had I not made it myself, the flavor would have seemed mildly mysterious: meaty from the lard, a touch of tin (in a good way!) from the turmeric -- or maybe the lemon -- and savory from the savory. Merci, chere Mme. Benoit, We from Chicago and the kids from Los Angeles are meeting at my parents' home in Ottawa this Christmas. I'll tote along the recipe with the Christmas presents, so Honor and I can make tourtiere together. In my childhood neighborhood, every back yard, including ours, was glazed into a skating rink. Every school had a professional set up: lines, boards, center ice. Trois-Rivieres owned the farm team for the Montreal Canadiens; gods like Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau and Boom Boom Geoffrion had walked among us. As their parents partied on, serious boys tested out their new skates, a present from Grandmaman they'd begged to open early. No lights except the stars; no roughing, no slashing, no fighting, no high-sticking. I like to think that my hoped-for grandchild will place a funky French Canadian pork pie on her Christmas Eve table, next to her paternal grandmother's spring rolls. But what she won't hear is the Christmas morning lullaby that once escorted me to dreamland: no singing, no talking. Just the icy slice of sharp new blades fueled by tourtiere, and the thwack thwack thwack of the puck against the boards. <div align="center">+ + + + +</div> Tourtiere Belle Femme Filling: Marilyn McArthur/Jehane Benoit Hybrid 1-1/2 lbs. ground pork 2 medium potatoes, grated 1 small onion, grated or chopped molecularly fine 1/2 t salt 1/4 t ground clove, or to taste 1/2 t savory Pinch of nutmeg Pinch of celery salt 1/2 C water Combine the ingredients in a medium frying pan and cook for about thirty minutes. Grey the meat, do not brown it. Chunk up the pork with a spatula: you don’t want lumps, you want a fine uniform mix. Stick in the fridge to cool off -- room temperature minimum. Pastry: Patched from two recipes by Jehane Benoit 2 C all purpose flour 1-1/2 t baking powder 1/2 t salt 1/4 t celery salt 1/2 t savory 1-1/2 t lemon juice 1/4 t turmeric 1 large egg, beaten 5-1/3 oz (150 g) lard, cut into pieces 1/2 C boiling water In a food processor, pulse the dry ingredients, herbs and spices until combined. Add 2/3 of the lard and pulse until it resembles coarse crumbs -- about 8 pulses. Add the remaining lard to the boiling water off the stove -- stir until melted. Beat in the lemon juice and egg. With the motor running, add to the flour mixture and turn off immediately. Knead briefly on a floured surface, wrap and refrigerate for at least four hours. Roll out the bottom crust in a standard pie pan, preferably Pyrex. Smooth in the pork filling, spread the top crust thereon. Slash, decorate, and bake in a 350 oven for 35 to 45 minutes. Remove when the pastry is puffed slightly, golden and crispy. Let stand for at least 15 minutes before serving. Joyeux Noel. <div align="center">* * *</div> Margaret McArthur, aka maggiethecat, is host and Dark Lady of the Daily Gullet Competition forum. She writes, cooks and tends her garden near Chicago.
  25. Voyage into Creativity, part five Friday: Aduriz and Petras <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1166469141/gallery_29805_3926_19093.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">By John Sconzo As far as I was concerned, Friday afternoon belonged to Llorenc Petras and Andoni Luis Aduriz. Both were participants in the post-prandial General Session on “Spain’s Vegetable Kitchen: From Artichokes, Piquillo Peppers and Chickpeas to Mushrooms and Other Forest Botanicals”; the second half of the title involved these two. I also attended two breakout sessions after the general sessions. Both involved Aduriz; the second involved Petras as well. Teresa Barrenechea, former chef/owner of Marichu restaurant in New York and now a cookbook author living back in her native Spain, oversaw interesting demonstrations using vegetables by Pedro Moran, Francis Paniego and Enrique Martinez in addition to the mushrooms of Petras and the woodland botanicals of Aduriz. Martinez, from the restaurant Maher in Navarra, cooked vegetables by a technique that he called “condensation.” He used the broth a number of ways, including as a gel. In the Marketplace later, I had a gelled piquillo pepper broth of his that was both delicious and beautifully presented. Aduriz, from the restaurant Mugaritz (the name means “the oak next to the border”), gave an account of his interest in woodland botanicals. He credits his inspiration to Michel Bras, who is renowned for his intimate knowledge and use of the wild botanicals in his region. In homage to Bras, Aduriz created his own version -- accompanied by a video -- of one of Bras’ most well-known dishes, using 60 to 80 native botanical ingredients. Friday afternoon and Saturday featured a few general sessions interspersed several breakout sessions. Each session required a ticket and was available for pre-registration prior to the conference. My wife and I got our first choices, although almost any of the sessions would have been interesting. Although I have not yet had the pleasure of dining at his restaurant, I am intrigued by Andoni Anduriz and his work. I turned in my ticket for his Kitchen workshop at the door of the massive work-kitchen, the gateway to all the kitchen workshops. I soon found myself one of about thirty other admirers, squeezing into a small space in front of Aduriz' work area, craning for a view. (This is my only significant criticism of the entire event. Since tickets for all the workshops were collected at the door, it didn’t necessarily matter which ticket was originally held. I will give credit to the organizers, though, as they learned their lesson for the following day’s demonstration by Ferran Adria.) I was obviously not the only one intrigued by Aduriz as the audience consisted of a number of his peers such as Dani Garcia, Oriol Balaguer, Jose Andres, Harold McGee and Ferran Adria amongst others. Despite the tight quarters, Aduriz’s discussion and demonstration were fascinating. He spoke through a translator while several assistants nimbly performed the tasks set out for them. Young, with an intensity behind his eyes that belied his age, Aduriz spoke about the benefits of systematization in the professional kitchen. He said that “all recipes are subjective until systematized and made uniform with a common language.” He felt that systematization is vital to do things correctly and consistently and to "filter out prejudices that everyone has." This reminded me a lot of the philosophy of the Italian chef, Davide Scabin of 0.Combal in Torino, who spoke strongly about his desire to systematize such things as salinity within specific dishes by using defined salt solutions and volumes rather than a simple shake or imprecise pour over a dish. The biggest question, according to Aduriz though, is “Why?” He feels that above all, when cooking, one must ask “why” as in "why does a particular technique or ingredient work" or even "why do X at all?" Under his direction his assistants used starch from kudzu, the common roadside pest, to make “gnocchi” flavored with Idiazabal cheese. An interesting element of this neutral starch is its ability to change texture at varying degrees. Like “butter” at 73 degrees C, the texture changes to a pasta like consistency with boiling. Aduriz served it with a tasty pork bouillon with "contrasting" vegetables. Aduriz also demonstrated several other techniques. He prepared an intense chive soup by impregnating the herbs in liquid and cooking them in a pressure-vacuum cooking device. Using lecithin powder, xantham gum, salt, juice and fish tank pumps, he prepared flavored “bubbles.” Aduriz mentioned that he is currently working on a dish with smoke-filled bubbles called “Vanity.” <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1166469141/gallery_29805_3926_3679.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">Next I attended “Of Mushrooms, Botanicals and More: Cooking from the Spanish Forest." involving both Aduriz and Llorenc Petras, with Petras initially describing and showing various woodland mushroom species. He was amazed at the variety and quality of cultivated mushrooms available here, though it's not just the US that has shown an increased interest in the tasty fungi. Spain has seen a 20% increase in mushroom consumption in the last ten years alone. It seems likely that Llorenc Petras has had a hand in that. For this second workshop, Aduriz shifted gears and focused more on ingredients than technique. Describing his style of cooking as “Techno-emotional Cuisine,” Aduriz prepared an oxalis salad in a special see-through bowl. The salad consisted of herbs from a beech forest (wood sorrel and ground ivy) and wild mushroom slices on a bed of ratte potatoes cooked in a truffle and yeast stock. He also did a demonstration of potatoes cooked (meant to evoke small stones) in gray clay, with a light cream of garlic confit and farmhouse egg yolks. A unique aspect of this dish is the insulating quality of the clay, which kept the potato quite hot. The clay is eaten, but not digested. Finally, Aduriz showed that Joan Roca was not the only chef with “earth’ on his mind and palate. He finished with a fun demonstration of deconstructed scents, passing six different scents on smelling sticks around the room, asking us to identify them. The scents, easily identifiable, were not necessarily pleasant. One was, in fact, cat urine. He then sent the six scents on a second round -- this time joined together. The joint scent turned out to be that of sweet basil -- an interesting exercise in the effects of combining disparate components. I had the pleasure of being able to speak to Aduriz for a time after the session. He is a very, warm and accessible man eager to discuss food. He is also as big a fan of eGullet Society member Judith Gebhart as she is of him. <div align="center">+ + + + +</div> All photos by the author.
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