Petits Fruits de Mer Wednesday, Jan 23 2013 

A little plate of seafood.

Flatter with fish platter.

Flatter with fish platter.

Higher than normal winter temperatures are not conducive to hearty hearth braises, roasted roots and the chocolate-like whiff that red wine & red meat seem to waft.  So something a bit lighter, well marinated, fragrant, delicate and compatible with vinegar -which, I am pleased to drink by the spoonful or get  fix through the venerable breakfast pickle sandwich.  Pickled mackerel, blue prawns gently steamed in their shells, and barely poached-in-their-shells  Chincoteague oysters.  A couple of pickled mushrooms and pickled onions from last summer’s pickles.  Some bits of lemon and a considerable drenching of the finest quality French olive oil.  Some herbaceous crunch and verdant punch from the parsley.  Mustard seeds dredged from the bottom that would make the Rice Krispies gnomes blush.  Briny, floppy oysters; succulent, meaty mackerel; delicate, plump shrimp.

Poseidon's buffet.

Poseidon’s buffet.

A re-imagined, betterized version will include octopus or squid, cured sturgeon and its caviar and grilled bread to sop up the oil slick* and fried squid tentacles for he essential crunch that I crave.

* I have proposed to environmentalists and oil industry cleaner-uppers that an efficient culinary method for transforming the oil into an easily scoopable product would be to drop a few million egg yolks and ride over the affected area with a multitude of outboard motors, whipping up the oil and egg mixture into a stiff mayonnaise.  You’re welcome Neptune.

Championnat du Monde de Pâté Croûte 2012 Tuesday, Jan 8 2013 

2012 World Pâté Croûte Championship:

Special Chump Edition.

World Champ.  Slices of life on the farm

World Champ. Slices of life on the farm

Here is a close approximation of my performance at the 2012 World Pâté Croûte Championship. I was exposed to dizzying level of professionalism and experience and feel that I fell short. Having to bring my wares from so far away put me at a considerable disadvantage, perhaps more so without the ooh-la-la garnishes & flair (though presentation accounted for few of the 200 total points) and I picked #12 at random, placing me last in the tasting, at which point the judges may have had their fill of 23,000 calorie forcemeats. Judges included Regis Marcon (Le Clos de Cimes ***), 2011 winner Eric Desbordes (Le Bristol ***) and numerous MOF’s. My mistakes were significant, but at least my slices stayed together –another contestant’s aspic was too loose and the pastry collapsed when cut. First and foremost, my pastry (80 points) did not achieve enough color, likely a result of baking 3 at once, thereupon lowering the temperature of the oven. Had I cooked it longer at that temp, I would have risked overcooking the forcemeat. I did not have a consistent gap for the aspic either.

Color me humbled.  Bravo Yohan (insert applause emoticon).

Color me humbled. Bravo Yohan (insert applause emoticon).

Upon speaking with Patrick Henriroux (La Pyramide **, MOF) he said that the judges prefer a chunkier forcemeat, and that I should have kept the gizzards whole. Keeping pace with the gin flavors I finished the slice with fleur de sel mixed with lime zest and ground juniper berries. M. Henriroux explained that juniper is not a flavor that the judges crave. Pickled cauliflower lightly dressed with an orange zest & confit fat soffrito didn’t compare to some of the Bocuse d’Or inspired garnishes put forth by other competitors, but wasn’t worth many points anyway. Lastly, I should have pulled the pâté out of the fridge earlier so that it would have been served at room temperature which otherwise mutes the flavors. Now I know better and being exposed to such work has been invaluable.

My piddling pâté, in all its underbaked splendor.

My piddling pâté, in all its underbaked splendor.

This is the high water mark of cookery; the confluence of discipline, theory, practice, technique, artistry and finesse. It is an absolute honor and pleasure to have been selected. Any and every cook should aspire to have the substance of their work judged blindly in such a format that transcends the stylistic pandering to photogenic tattoos and irritable congeniality. The gentleman whose work I witnessed and tasted are legitimate craftsmen*.

I represented, at the very least, be it ever so crooked.

I represented, at the very least, be it ever so crooked.

Yohan’s pâté had been in the works for almost a year and was stunning, though I thought the liver flavor was a bit strong. The theme was “the farm” and included something from every farm animal. The black dough fabrication & application of the lettering was clever and the detailed flower inlay nicely centered. Virtually all the forcemeats were chunky to the point where they fell apart after cutting the slice (mine had a firm yet moist texture) and more than half featured exceptional quality foie gras, not the excessive 2 ½ lb+ David Crosby sized lobes generated here which loose too much fat. Very rich and significant amount of care went into layering and inlays. One criticism from the judges is that they fear the aesthetics may begin to trump the flavor. Other inlays included especially savory ballotines, intricate designs and even whole cèpes with an intensely mushroom flavored aspic. All other pastries were cooked closer to perfection than I have ever seen and nothing short of delicious. An absolutely remarkable event with plenty of Mumm bubbles and M. Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage Les Meysonniers to wash it all down. We plated in 10 minute intervals and I was not able to see the first 8 pâtés plated.  I got pretty juiced on complimentary wine afterwards.

1% meatloaf sampler.

1% meatloaf sampler.

*The romantic suggestion that cooking at this level is art is nonsense. I do not know of any artist that must consistently replicate such a varied standard of work on a daily, weekly, monthly basis (we each had to bring 3 identical pâtés). These cooks are in the rare league of polished tradesmen like woodworkers whose creative artistry is seen through clean dovetails and moldings. Artists make one-offs. Craftsmen don’t.

Bocuse d'Or is next month, sir.

Bocuse d’Or is next month, sir.

Pâté en Croûte: Édition Spéciale Rédemption Monday, Jan 7 2013 

A slice of redemption, be it ever so little. Squab and foie-gras inlay.  Currants in there too.  Yep.  The new Electrolux oven does not allow cookery without a fan, hence the lop-sidded chimneys.  For what its worth, a good technician always blames his tools.  For 2013, I resolve to be more ornery and judgmental.  And to hold equipment that has a USB port but no “no-fan option” more accountable.  Technology breeds dumber cooks.

Rosey squab flavored glasses.

Rosy squab flavored glasses.

Kind of really busy running the engine-room at Range. In the interim, support motion-sensor escalators and screw buzzwords.