Une Fourche dans la Route Sunday, Aug 2 2015 

A Fork in the Road.  I chose the northern one.

After some revitalizing altruism in the nation’s capital, cooking at a venerable soup kitchen, I had the blessing of my sweetheart to try to be happy elsewhere, rather than miserable in Washington, DC.  I’m on the North Fork, living on a sheep farm with some friends, cooking for a former chef of mine who has been sidelined from his restaurant in a physiacal capacity by a debilitating disease.  Doing the best we can with the local products, of which there are plenty, within a 20 mile radius.

Duck and Pork Pâté in Savory pastry.

Chunky style, in it's own crust.

Chunky style, in it’s own crust.

 Ricotta and Zucchini Tartelette with Beef Heart

Whittled squash and summer whimsy.

Whittled squash and summer whimsy.

La Caniculifornie Sunday, Apr 12 2015 

If you’re going to San Francisco,

don’t put flowers in your hair because they will wilt.

That blows.
That blows.

With California’s racy pool parties withering on the vine for about 4 years and change now and on the cusp of runnin’ dry,  I’m committed more than ever to steadfastly avoid buying produce & agricultural products from the freak state, more so considering the resources and environmental consequences of having them shipped on crumbling roads & bridges from 3000 miles away.

Drought blame flowchart:  Chickpeas ->hummus->Middle East
Drought blame flowchart: Chickpeas ->hummus->Middle East

Before the asphalt epiphany of easy cross-country commerce, folks of generations past ate more seasonally, and seasonal often meant canned, frozen or dinners of the TV variety before the permafrost had thawed.  Supermarkets are riddled with California produce and the statistics of what California grows is absolutely stupefying.

Sometimes dry is funny.
Sometimes dry is funny.

Somehow, despite our craven war-room committee meetings that strategize red-blooded energy independence and frantic USA #1 cheerleading, America has succeeded in consolidating the majority of its food production (#1 producer of milk & dairy, garlic, celery, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuces, strawberries, artichokes, etc…) to a state that does not have enough irrigation to wet it’s own pants and is thousands of miles away from the most populated areas of the country.  During a “know your enemy” surveillance exercise at the P street Whole Frauds in the nation’s capital, a humiliating and thoroughly dispiriting outing, the reality of the Mid-Atlantic’s (at least) absolute dependence on California was wholly startling and, seen through Rowdy Roddy Piper’s Ray-Bans, revealing of targeted consumers’ willful blindness or ignorance. Despite the cleansing allure of the Whole-Food, a vast majority of the produce at that location was factory farmed, with pesticides and fertilizers that compromise everyone and everything downstream and  downwind.

Dusty fruit bowl.
Dusty fruit bowl.

One could make the conjecture that Whole Foods caters to a conscientious, Obama sympathetic shopper who are willing to pay a premium for equality-brewing free-trade coffee and canned goods with 10% more “organic” something reads newspapers or hyperbolic news flavored websites and has heard the rumor of California’s drought –though whether the drought is caused by humans, not enough dams to retain nonexistent water or volcanoes has yet to be settled unanimously.

The Jerky State
The Jerky State

What’s more, rice production (a crop that demands lots of water; lots) is subsidized in dry California to the tune of $170,000,000 a year.  Rice should apologize. Rather than growing produce and concentrating in fertile states along the Mississippi river, we subsidize and grow crops for animal feed.  That, in a nutshell (CA leads the country in almond and walnut production) is how fucked up the food system is in the United States.  We have lost track of seasonality and where food comes from or when and accustomed to all foods available all year-round.  It will be our downfall, when crop prices rise and the ripple is felt throughout the food system from 7-11’s & Olive Gardens to the fancy  temples of bullshit that preach quality & seasonality but pounce on 1st of the season ingredients from very, very far away.  Maybe they’ll just pave Los Angeles County and put up solar panels, like they should ISIS strongholds.

Pot-au-Phở Saturday, Mar 7 2015 

Núi Vừa ý Phở

Beached noodles.

Beached noodles.

Mount Pleasant Pot-au-Phở

Western tweed scholars and irritating “foodie” epicures alike maintain that the etymology of Phở can be traced to the iconic, non-partisan, French dirty-water beef “pot-au-feu“.  Low cost cartilaginous cuts of beef are slowly left to simmer on the corner of the stove for days on end, renewed with water, meat and vegetables as needed; a carnivorous proxy to a bread baker’s starter.  The French, who have a sweet spot for beef and colonizing swampy parts of the world from the late 19th through the early 20th centuries, introduced pot-au-feu to the Vietnamese, in addition to goldfish, flip-flops (which they previously introduced to the Egyptian trailer park community in the 15th century BC), novelty prophylactics and Jerry Lewis.

East meets northwest DC.

East meets northwest DC.

The Vietnamese took a liking to the soup and French soldiers are alleged to have been heard crying “feu!” (fire) whilst pointing to the steaming bowls of broth and wood fire below -both allegories to the syphilitic burning in their sweaty, mischievous linen trousers.  Scorching cases of crotch-rot sped up France’s exit from Indochina but they left the “feu” behind, both as a nourishing broth and cootie contaminated prostitutes and toilet seats, the later of which would be America’s downfall in both the Vietnam war and failure to popularize the STD sounding “Beenee Weenee” in the Eastern hemisphere.

Dr. Reinhold.  Draft dodger and Beenee Weenee glutton.

Dr. Reinhold. Draft dodger and Beenee Weenee enthusiast.

As snow fell on Nation’s capital this week, short-ribs were simmering (after a proper blanching) with warm spices and vegetable aromatics.  Lemongrass should have been in there, but I forgot to buy it and couldn’t be bothered to ride through the snow again. Forgot the fuckin’ lime too.  Lemons would have to suffice.  A spoonful of fermented chili paste, some of that squid brand fish sauce, some vinegar, vegetables glazed tender in olive oil (should have used the beef fat) with lemon zest and segments.  Then some bánh phở (rice noodles), broccoli, the picked short-rib meat, scallions and “ăn ngon miệng nhé!”

Fancy chopsticks in a woven koozie.

Fancy chopsticks in a woven koozie.

A couple slurps of the broth and I thought “it’s not fantastic and it’s not like some homeless grandparents crapped in a bowl. It’s Alright.”  Needed more of the beef fat for richness but the noodles were absolutely delicious, though they sucked up most of the broth.  If you are going to drink a case of beer before something important to do and gym-mat-filling  inspired injera is not readily available, eat a pack of rice noodles and you’ll be sober as a judge by lunchtime. A 2.0 version will be assembled shortly, with beef neck, the missing lemongrass, pretzels, marshmallow Fluff, herbs and more liquid.

Merci France, pour les déssins rigolo Friday, Jan 9 2015 

A tribute to balls cartoonists. Nope, Charlie Hebdo is not dead.

A tribute to ballsy cartoonists.
Nope, Charlie Hebdo is not dead.

I can’t say for sure if the dozen who lost their lives this past Wednesday in the merciless attack on Charlie Hebdo are heroes;  at least by French and European standards.  Personal heroes perhaps.  They did their jobs, aware of the consequences –particularly the editor in chief and the cartoonists- but there is nothing heroic about enjoying and using the expressive liberties bestowed upon the French.  Courageous perhaps in their resilience after condemnation from extremist threats and firebombs and while they were proponents of freedom, they certainly didn’t save any lives.  By contrast, in America, too often the pasty notion of a hero  is a commoner who died,  passively maybe, statistically probably shot, and their legacy –whatever it may be- is emboldened with the coronation of a flimsy hero’s ribbon crown and sensationalized salute by special cable news drama. Americans think the caricature of French surrendering is a good rib-tickler, but US media is a blue ribbon pussy by comparison.

Oui nide iou.

Oui nide iou.

When Charlie Hebdo poked our abhorrent collective enemy in the eye with a pencil, the only camaraderie we can muster  is to shit our pants and paste pictures of dead people on the front page, though yes, we allow assholes to speak their mind on the back page, with Ziggy trying to get a break in between.

FYZ5[1]

The members of Charlie Hebdo were champions of the freedom of expression which we seem to value just as much over here, but the dingle-douches on the Supreme Court  have obstensibly hobbled freedom of speech with US$ shackles and we use it to oppress others rather downhill rather than goofing on those who rule and threaten us (Mitch McConnell turtle jokes nothwithstanding) .  In America, freedom of speech is about money, using it to vilify the 99% and the repulsive cowardice of the American media at large in saluting and defending the liberties which people died practicing is a spineless bow to executives fearful of losing advertising dollars, be they on the NYTimes, CNN, WSJ, Comedy Central (censuring South Park) , MSNBC, etc…  Those vile outlets could have published any one of the more mild cartoons as a noble gesture of compassion and brotherly support, but instead that splashed pictures of a wounded officer seconds before he was shot in the head, and if you have something electric it is in video.  It is important to understand that Charlie Hebdo wasn’t goofing on Islam in particular just for sport.  They lampooned the extremist fringe’s revered yet invisible icon that they demands subjugation and the killing  of innocent thousands. Charlie Hebdo has social merit but no seething hatred

"Laughing Kills"

“Laughing Kills”

If there were a cartoon to lampoon the courage of American freedom of expression, it would be a quixotic fat cowboy http://www.popularemails.com/user/shahbaz143/fat_cartoon.jpg with an assault rifle riding a dollar sign straining under the weight.  And that fat cowboy would be charging towards abortion clinics.  We use freedoms to pummel what is otherwise plenty acceptable in the rest of the civilized world.

"Communism soon... so we can laugh a bit."

“Communism soon…
so we can laugh a bit.”

We censure breasts  and “shit” on standard TV but footage of senseless violence with the bright red “discretion”  lure is just as American as processed reduced fat gluten-free apple pie.  In this case the press celebrated the dead with graphic neon head shots of how they died rather than, ironically, not publishing the pictures of their very little foreign brothers’ cartoon paper.

No comment...

No comment…

I’ve always been an incorruptible,  steadfast wet-panties cheerleader for Francophilia (except matters concerning their clumsy grasp of the internets) and while saddened by the events which will no doubt foment and ferment already sour relations between a majorly peaceful Muslim population and the secular French, the patriotic call to arms against tyranny,  rebellious satire’s “theme song” and France’s national anthem “La Marseillaise” always gives me exhilarating chair de poule. France has an epic tradition of food culture, but comics also rule the day, notably the goofy, sexually irreverent scribbles like Édika, Gotlib, Reiser, and the triumphant Fluide Glacial that are the hallmark syllabi of mine and every other’s Gallic youth.

RS06[1]

Merci France, pour les déssins rigolo et bandant.

Un Crime Contre les Dessins de Charlie Hebdo Thursday, Jan 8 2015 

Charlie Hebdo

Ducks (French slang for newspapers) will fly higher than guns.

Ducks (French slang for newspapers) will fly higher than guns.

Media outlets in the US who consider themselves to be noble, almost essential stewards of the news were far too happily to show video up until the moment wounded Muslim police officer Ahmed Merabet was executed on the sidewalk, then blurring the shot to the head for a second, and then continuing.  What the cowardly major news dispensers were reluctant to do, was to shirk away from journalistic solidarity and publish the scribbled sophomoric cartoons that perpetuated the murders.  Well, except for the HuffPo, which is just news flavored junk-food.

Stéphane Charnonnier.   Charlie Hebdo editor in chief.

Stéphane Charnonnier. Charlie Hebdo editor in chief.

It is appalling, infuriating, an injustice and affront to those who proudly preserve the fundamental right, since antiquity of satire and more recently, free speech as it relates to goofing on the king, queen, God, Jews, Italians, Obama and even Mohammad in the spirit of provoking thoughtful laughs.  Though crude, irreverent, hilarious and out of context nonsensical, political cartoons are critical parodies intended to question the status quo rather than senseless efforts to offend the self righteous.  Even Nazi sympathizers got a shout out.

Lucille Clerc

Lucille Clerc

If the extremely fundamentalist Islamic dipshit misanthropes sought to snuff out Charlie Hebdo with their triggerfinger expedition, they didn’t think it through and cut the starfish.  Instead of a 60,000 circulation, next Wednesday’s will be printed 1,000,000 times and what was once a somewhat obscure, esoteric  comedy newspaper  now a world-wide cause célèbre.  Suck it Al Qaeda.  It blew up in your face.

Charlie Hebdo needs a veil!

Charlie Hebdo needs a veil!

Having been a senior writer for the pioneering DC based literary-ish ‘zine of sorts “Gluttony Digest”  in the mid 2000’s, we were fortunate enough to have the charmingly perverted pencilwork of Trenton Duval (no relation to Robert Duvall).  In his 2007 oeuvre “A Quaker feels his oats”, the Quaker Oats guy is sodomizing a gimp with a ball gag, drinking whiskey and shooting a clearly labeled box of live puppies.  Eagle-eyes art enthusiasts will notice the shock lines emanating from the gimp, and appreciate the smooth, synergetic ying-yang thing going on where the Quaker’s belly meets the gimp’s butt.  Not sure if we were ahead of the curve, or the fray, or behind it, or what that curve/fray is/was, but we lived through the Quaker fury and praise their decidedly unbelligerent ethos.

A Quaker feels his oats.

A Quaker feels his oats.

So lets see what the all the Allah-Hubbub is all about.  (Editor’s spoiler alert note: if you don’t speak French they probably aren’t very funny, save for the cartooney googly eyes on Mahomet. So I translated them and you can prepare to chuckle.)

100 lashes if you don't die from laughter.

100 lashes if you don’t die from laughter.

Mohammad overcome by the extremists. "its hard to be liked by assholes."

Mohammad overcome by the extremists.
“its hard to be liked by assholes.”

"Killing in Egypt" The Coran is shit; it doesn't stop bullets.

“Killing in Egypt”
The Coran is shit; it doesn’t stop bullets.

"And my butt cheeks, so you like them?"

The movie that embarrasses the Muslim world.  “And my butt cheeks, so you like them?”

"Charlie Hebdo please". "Take off your mask Mohammad, he recognized you."

“Charlie Hebdo please”.
“Take off your mask Mohammad, he recognized you.”

And for the Christian zealots who shoot up abortion clinics and feel left out, there’s even a few cartoons for you.

The father, the son and the holy spirit.

The father, the son and the holy spirit.

Dinner of Jerk. "Dinner is served!"

Dinner of Jerks.
“Dinner is served!”

Mohammad and satire Jesus- "you'll see, you get get used to it."

Mohammad and satire
Jesus- “you’ll see, you get get used to it.”

A la Dèche Entre DC et New York. Thursday, Jan 1 2015 

Down & Out in DC and New York

down-and-out06[1]

This blog burgeoned 7 years ago in an effort to better myself as a professional (paid) cook and amateur shutterbug.  It forced me to document fabrications, to be accountable, creative, and as with all theory & practice, trials & flubs, all the muck ups and successes that helped define the thresholds of culinary science –the limits and proportions of heat, time, water,  faith, salt, fat, protein, starch, hope, expectations and confidence.  I made some good things. With passion and soul. At times consistently delicious and a satisfying measure of technique and skill.  And some were awful shit salads, more so after comparison to the work of others, notably those with a finer control of the shutter and access to some of the best product.

Joe Henderson's Randall-Linebacks.  Berryville, VA.

Joe Henderson’s Randall-Linebacks. Berryville, VA.

I was grateful to have been the 1st and so far only American to have been selected as a finalist for the World Pâté Croûte Championship in Tain l’Hermitage, France.  It was the proudest I’d ever been of my work, being chosen.  Validation of sorts, even if it cost me a fortune to get there and I had the misfortune of making 3 pâtés at once in my home oven.  I didn’t do that well, but learned a tremendous amount and since am very confident of my fabrications thereof, though its been a while since I’ve made them on a regular basis.  I put all the effort I could muster in presenting a worthwhile offering for the Cochon 555, but didn’t get any credit and lost to a someone who bested me by making dopey T-shirts and deli hats.

Tubesteaks at Biancardi's.  Arthur Avenue; The Bronx, NYC.

Tubesteaks at Biancardi’s. Arthur Avenue; The Bronx, NYC.

I don’t think there are too many people making whimsical pâté en croûte, crepinettes, pressed ham in aspic, stuffed shad, a proper aïoli (garlic and olive oil, little else.  Its not a mayonnaise) in the DC area, if any, and it is either a testament to it being hopelessly outdated, not enough cooks who are interested in making it or consumers don’t care for it. Too few know what a real bisque is, or the trifecta of cassoulet, true brandade, and a few other tales of culinary history and folklore.  Never sold too many boudin either, or jambonneau. I spent a great deal of time and energy making telegraphs in an age of cell phones. I was often told that hard work would pay off. I had some decent reviews as a bona fide chef, but the one in the paper was a favor from a used up crony critic to the owner who he is chummy with and barely ate anything of note.  And praise from friends is exactly what you’d expect, from friends.  The bosses weren’t making the money they had hoped for and I was presented with the non-negotiable option of changing course, cutting staff and limiting the menu, or else.  Rather than compromise on my standards and repertoire I chose “else” and jumped ship, swimming, or at least treading water, in the direction of integrity.  I went to Mexico with a dear friend and got the chance to go home for Jewish/Swedish-Christmas.

Soppressata ceiling.  Calabria's, Arthur Avenue.  The Bronx, NYC

Soppressata ceiling. Calabria’s, Arthur Avenue. The Bronx, NYC

So all the hard work never paid off.  I’ve begun to come to terms with it.  Maybe it wasn’t my time and I made bad decisions.   I begin 2015 somewhat unemployed, relegated to a temporary prep-cook job for a NYC empire making 15 gallon batches of chili and soulless soup for a brand name that fraudulently sells commodity feedlot beef as “grass fed“.  I’ll go back to DC in a fortnight with some hay in the loft but no job prospects.  If I am reduced to line cooking at age 40 I’ll have to start all over again since that kind of dip on a résumé for a chef job is more likely to inspire caution rather than excitement.  What I’d really want is to run a food shop though, and sell my wares with pride and integrity, but that requires partners and people with capital, neither of which I have.

Split lamb.  Arthur Avenue Market.  The Bronx, NYC.

Split lamb. Arthur Avenue Market. The Bronx, NYC.

Maybe I should have sold out earlier and taken a higher paying higher profile job with a PR company to boot which would keep me at the forefront on all the gossipy Eater.com dribble and StarChefs starfuckers.  Or perhaps I’m just bitter, because my fish pie didn’t make the rising star cut and something out of a can with raw onion and peanuts did.  I should follow trends more closely and highlight such unsavory food qualifiers on menus that conjure food that is inedible as “burnt”, “fermented”, “sour”, “foraged from a vacant lot”, etc… I’m not motivated to make things at home like I used to be.  The kitchen is smaller and more cluttered and I’ve made just about all that I wanted, and whatever was worth the effort.  I might just apply to art school after all.

5 Deciembre fish market.  Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

5 Deciembre fish market. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

It is easy to be cynical, albeit emotionally draining. DC has a 20% poverty rate and is littered with trash; America’s public transportation system, crumbling infrastructure and energy grid is 30 years behind Western Europe (at least); about 1% of the US population is in prison (we have 25% of the world’s prison population); we have more fat people; more guns; too much pollution; religious zealots in elected office; college education is by and large unaffordable; the food system is all fucked up; campaign finance reforms only benefit the wealthy; the Supreme Court has bigots on the bench (which is a good representation of overall American bigotry); commercial real estate landlords are greedy parasites who deserve syphilis; there is only 1 independent quality bakery in the nation’s capital (in a city of 600,000); the poor are vilified by a majority of elected officials; the right to vote is infringed upon with absolute impunity; wealth disparity is the highest it’s ever been and we elect people who plan on keeping it that way; we don’t know what quality is outside of electronics that are obsolete in 6 months; we are cheap, impatient, shallow and overall prefer the reassurances of an awful chain food store/restaurant rather than the Mom & Pop local whatever that the same want, in theory, but won’t pay for in practice. And our interwebs is slower and more expensive than in western Europe.

Thank you to the few, lonely, random visitors and perverts who came up with blog with the intentions of learning a thing or 2 about making fancy meatloaf and getting me to click on SPAM.  I’ve been on vacation for the better part of the last 2 months and will reflect on the better parts of that time.  In the upcoming year I resolve to be more judgmental and ornery.  I’m going to do more bicycling, read some historical stuff and catch up on crappy TV.

Thanksgiving 2014, as seen through 1914 spectacles.

Turkey consommé Dubarry.

Turkey consommé Dubarry.

Turkey Wellington.  Breast and forcemeat, bound in collard greens.

Turkey Wellington. Breast and mushroom forcemeat, bound in collard greens.

Pasty English pastry.

Pasty English pastry.

A golden bird.

A golden bird.

Homeslice.

Homeslice.

Turkey salmis, Jansson's temptation, oyster stuffing.

Turkey salmis, Jansson’s temptation, oyster stuffing.

Roasted turkey leg salmis.  Picked, with gizzards, turnips, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms and kabocha squash.

Roasted turkey leg salmis. Picked, with gizzards, turnips, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms and kabocha squash.

Tête de serpent Monday, Jul 28 2014 

Snakehead pie.

Pie from the sky.

Pie from the sky.

Snakeheads, in mother fucking savory pastry

with mushroom catsup and some pickles.

 

Nasty creatures. They can live outside of water for up to 4 days, cross from one body of water to another and are alleged to even use public transportation.  They eat just about every and anything.  By law they have to be killed if you want to keep it.  Everything from mice to batteries have been found in them.  The flesh is similar to sturgeon in texture, but kind of tastes a but dirtier. With proper brining, curing and smoking however (and cutting with catfish), it can be quite delicious.

Ugly little bastard fish.

Ugly 10lb bastard fish.


 

if an angler wishes to keep a legally caught northern snakehead, the fish must be killed to be in possession, and the angler must call the hotline and report the angler’s last name, date of catch, location of catch and size. Kill the fish by:

  1. removing the head,

  2. separating the gill arches from the body, or

  3. removing the internal organs and put it on ice as quickly as possible.


The pasty is made by clarifying brown butter as with all afore-detailed pâtés in pastry.  A fine shortcrust with thyme or summer savory, eggs, vinegar, water, molasses, discipline and such.

Hotdog fish

Hotdog fish

Mushroom catsup is an olde timey English condiment and reads more nicely than the initial “white devil” sauce, particularly in a gentrifying, historically black neighborhood.  Mushrooms (button and chanterelle) are roasted and simmered with beer, white wine vinegar, shallots, aromatics and blended smooth.

Snug as a bug in a savory rug.

Snug as a bug in a savory rug.

The snakehead is a bit drier than the other fish I have used for fish pies (most of them are frozen immediately after they are caught and thawing releases too much moisture) so forcemeat is more of a farce fine with up to 100% cream by weight of the fish trimmings.  The smoked filets are put in the middle of the forcemeat, bundled up all nicely and baked at 425F for 17 magic minutes.  Some say it smells like hotdog via the far east.

Fin d’un chapitre Monday, Apr 28 2014 

End of a chapter

Palena restaurant

2000 – 2014

My home for 5 1/2 years.

My home and mentor for 5 1/2 years.

Thank you Frank.  And to the stranger at Tonic in Mt. Pleasant who, in January of 2006, upon overhearing my conversation of where to work next, kindly urged, without hesitation, “go to PalenaIt’s the best place in the city.”

I just re-read the first 10 pages of the Palena thread and with the exception of the Pojarski detractor (a dish you will have trouble finding anywhere else, in this century, and is representative of Frank’s fiercely classical repertoire) and grumbles of service, long waits for a table (for a damn burger) and other bullshit white whines there was near universal and effuse praise for the food, on a weekly basis.  We all misfire from time to time but on Frank’s watch those fumbles were rare exceptions.

Frank’s tenet #1.  Anything worth fucking up once is worth fucking up twice.

Hey, Pojarski!  My version.

Hey, Pojarski! My version.

Jonathan and I (Logan, Brian, Sarah, Carl and quite a few more) are fortunate to have found that door to culinary Narnia and been able to work at Palena.  After 8 years cooking for Laurent Manrique, Charlie Palmer, Gerry Hayden, Buben, Cathal and Bryan Voltaggio I thought I knew a bit, as most young-ish cocky cooks are wont to do, but all the while we were playing checkers to Frank’s chess. We unlearned some clumsy, bastardized -though standard- practices and were exposed to an entirely new reality of deliberate discipline, finesse, proper technique, sound theory, resourcefulness, professionalism, practicality, humility, layering of flavors and elegant compositions that highlighted traditional techniques of yesteryear, seasonality, regions and well established combinations that made sense and had exceptional flavor.  Never anything that was purposely random or conceived because of the pervasive “it sounds cool” variety of ideas.  Decadent, but no gimmicks. No hollow celebrity inflated by the curious praise of leaving things to go bad on natures terms, but what Michelin and big-shot bloggers fawns over. We learned to make everything that was worth the while.

Tenet #2: Anything worth doing is worth doing right.

Pea soup of the finest caliber.

Pea soup of the finest caliber.

We were treated to premium, tippy-top shelf products.  We had the privilege of cutting up and cooking wild loup de mer, glass eels, abalone, live urchins, live snails, periwinkles, crayfish, turbot, Dover sole, shiimaji, fresh anchovies, fresh Alaskan king crab, all types of things with wings, cockscombs, wild game, the best beans, olive oils, grains, luxury mushrooms, truffles, all sizes of animals all in raw state and then all the stuff from his garden which you can’t really make out from Google Earth, but probably rivaled Le Potager du Roi.

Consistent,stuffed noodles.

Consistent,stuffed noodles.

We learned a better way to make pasta (a well made dough never needs eggwash for sealing ravioli), a better way to make stocks and sauces, a better way to cook rice and grains (stirring risotto is folksy and romantic but totally unnecessary if you do it how he learned in Italy), the proper way to braise, to brine, to marinate, to butcher, to season,  to sear, grill, simmer, roast, clobber, poach, cure, corn, to turn vegetables to glaze them, to taste, to test, to feel, to smell, to cook until tender, to use spice, to be patient, to make breading, doughs, condiments, soups and an ethereal consommé, stews, ragouts,  to be efficient, be professional, make use of everything and waste nothing, to stuff things, to use recipes, take notes, to write recipes,  proportions, percentages, formulas, to measure, calculate the weight and be remarkably consistent without sacrificing soulful cookery.  Seeing how the butter was cubed on the stations was the first of  5 ½ years of revelation, immeasurable inspiration and 4 years of seasonal affective disorder. We also got a free turkey every thanksgiving.

Top shelf quail galantines.

Top shelf quail galantines.

Frank learned from stalwart Olympic heavyweights at the White House (Haller, Raffert, Messier), bonafide masters of the trade who knew how to do everything better and faster than the rest.  A flabbergasting  amount of skill and craftsmanship to be exposed to, and 50 ways to cook a potato. Frank regaled us one day with some pictures from his White House tenure (needlessly apologizing for the barely distressed 20 year-old photos).  Drive-in theatre sized glasses, an unruly soup strainer under the nose and one of those unfortunate mini-aprons that wouldn’t conceal one of those random workplace erections.  There was a nougat cauldron with sorbet flowers courtesy special pastry tips from the WH engineers, lobster Bellevue, elaborate centerpieces with stuffed this and jellied that, monkfish ballotines, booties on crown roasts, a dozen of hundreds of sweet potatoes whittled into Santa’s boots, fanciful desserts… “L’Art Culinaire Moderne” and Escoffier’s whimsical highlight reel revisited by Kodak.  I sucked up that inspiration like a depraved tick.

Proper pot au feu.

Proper pot au feu.

Frank was the first I ever saw to make a pâté en croûte from start to finish (though technically it was more of a pâté plantain).  Marinated in truffle juice with venison, prunes, ham, fatback and such.  A very elegant and particularly savory farce fine.  Though it would be cut up in slices he decorated the top just as if it were a centerpiece, painstakingly weaving vines, leaves and motifs and lavished layers of eggwash to give it a golden luster.  He told me he once made a pâté en croute for an event attended by all the city’s big toques.  One pointed and said “now that is technique”.  Another asked why he took the time to decorate it when the guests would never see it in the slices.  He answered that he himself would see it and so would all the other chefs.  Some humble showmanship and proud upstaging that showed off know-how.

Grind & salt

Parts of the pig

Palena was DC’s premier seminary for learning indispensable fundamentals and essential practicum (then go to Cityzen for a proper polishing) and I’ll never know another chef personally that and so heavily influenced my passion and who’s style was in my immediate orbit. We did a retrospective dinner that celebrated the White House years back in 2010 and Frank made the salmon bavarois with stuffed artichokes.  There aren’t many others, if any, who have the trained hands and talented mind to fabricate such a professional old world composition these days.  Frank can do it all, from baking the breads (all starter based, naturally), butchering, curing, puff pastry, vinegar, mostarda, donuts, savory tarts, pies  evenougat petit-fours.  And all the fancy napkin folds cradling the even fancier canapés.  A working chef who cooked something every day for almost 14 years gracefully, with composure and absolute pleasure.

Tenet #3: Perfection doesn’t happen by accident.

Frank’s wild king salmon bavarois with Prosecco aspic and artichokes filled with English peas.

Frank’s wild king salmon bavarois with Prosecco aspic   and artichokes filled with English peas.

I am eternally grateful for Frank’s tutelage and congratulate his remarkable reign. Palena’s untimely expiration is a bummer. That’s life. Every patron, cook and chef worth a damn anxiously awaits his inevitable rebound.

Alors, l’alose. Friday, Mar 28 2014 

I had a shad.  And painstakingly deboned it.

Swim Shady.

Swim Shady.

Shad.  The hallmark Mid-Atlantic harbinger of spring, along with the ubiquitous asparagus, those tired ramps, the pods, the peas, mushrooms, rhubarb, berries and such.  However the shad demands more than a peeler.  Nimble and sensitive fingers, insurmountable patience and a dexterous knife rule the day.  Shad roe is the folksy popular progeny while the mothership is generally an afterthought, overlooked on account of the maddening maze of bones; pin bones, “y” bones and everything in between.

Pocketbook style eggs

Mothership & crew.

Provençal culinary folklore suggests that the oxalic acid  in sorrel melts the multitude of minuscule bones. There are as many fables to support the homeopathic shad-butchery of yesteryear as there are tales on the intrawebs declaring otherwise.  Undeterred and fiercely obedient to traditional French cuisine, the shad was butterflied through the back, the pin bones removed, stuffed with an ample amount of sorrel, bathed with brandy and slow baked for 10 hours at 160F.

My fish butchery has been commended as being strongly vaginal which bothers some men.

My fish butchery has been commended as being strongly vaginal                                which bothers some men.

The fish didn’t fall apart.  In fact, it held together quite well.  If the oxalic acid had worked as well as advertised, I would get a boneless slice of shad, the bones having melted away much like those in pickled herring.  Perhaps a pressure cooker would have sufficed.

Shad in  steel cercophagus

Shad in steel sarcophagus

Mummified

Mummified

It didn’t work.  The results were discouraging and left discomfort in the craw.  The “y” shaped pin bones are as remarkable a choking hazard as they are irritatingly baffling. Deboning shad is an enterprise in another reality of fish butchering and the handful of old timers that still know how to do it cleanly and efficiently deserve a comfy repose somewhere between the Smithsonian’s American History and Folk Art Department.  The meat was picked apart and we made shad cakes like they used to do back in the 50’s when you could still find canned shad roe at the grocery store.

Shadurday night fever.

Shadurday night fever.

There are about 400 bones, maybe even more, in each filet.  After fucking up a couple filets the bone matrix was finally deciphered and eventually, with dainty fingers, insufferable patience and delicate knifework, about 99.27% of the bones were removed.  The roe was rolled up in the beta version and inlayed in the forcemeat; a mixture of ground fluke, cream and egg white then sieved and mixed with J.O. spice, lemon zest and sorrel. It was rolled up as one would for a ballotine then poached, gently.

Tube fish.

Boneless tubefish.

A revised 2.0 version had the roe washed clean with water to remove the blood and bound with 10% of the forcemeat.  Much better results.  What’s more, the sorrel, without contact to the air or too high of cooking temperature kept green.  A sauce was made.  Loosey-goosey soubise of sorts (fish fumet thickened with butter, rice and onion) then blended smooth with blanched sorrel, watercress and parsley.  Lardons from my venrèche, little onions and red thumb potatoes filled out the rest of the plate after the slice was seared in lard rendered from the cured belly.  The dish was well executed, properly harmonized and exceedingly well received.

Hopelessly dated discipline and technique.

Hopelessly dated discipline and technique, though delicious.

Un jeune hareng Friday, Jan 24 2014 

Matjes

Fish tales.

Fish tales.

Pickled young herring

They are immature female herring.  Matjes is Dutch for v-vvv-vv-virgin herring.  Young females that have not yet laid eggs.  Traditionally they are brined with the guts still in and the pancreas does something that makes them more better but I’m not ready to start experimenting with the benefits of pancreatic spoilage.  They were salted then packed in a vinegar based solution with sugar, allspice, carrots and onions.  Accompanied by la ratte potatoes made better with some soured cream, lemon zest and parsley; you know, for freshness.  And a nice medley of handsomely colored pickled onions.

Pickular circles.

Pickular circles.

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