Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Restaurant Critic

For longer than I've cooked professionally, I've been intrenched with the unique job of a restaurant critique. My senior year of college I read Dining Out, a Dorenburg & Page classic. From this point on the auoroa of the restaurant critique has mystified me, entranced me, filled my fantasies of a disguised fat man filling his belly with the finest food man has to offer. That's why I found Frank Buni's Q&A such a pleasant read, and hopefully you will too. The extensive answers he provides really give you a glimpse 0f the not so great life as a restaurant critique. Yeah right!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Clam Bake 08

I’ll be honest with you, I’ve never been to a clam bake before in my life! I kind of filed the whole idea into the cabinet that has carnival food, sports venue food, and church fish fries. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll dive into a bowl of clams, but the aurora of the bake didn’t interest me much in the past. Luckily I was invited to cook a clam bake, and thus was introduced to what fun a clam bake can be, including the cooking part. These are a few of my insights

The ‘baker’ man and machine:
First you get a propane tank that’s about hip high. Then you hook it up to a unite capable of making a solid blue flame with a 4 inch circumference. Remember that Bunsen burner from high school chemistry, put it on a Barry Bond’s steroid cycle and this is the kind of flame I’m talking about. Over the flame is a sequence of pots that contain broth in the bottom, and in our case two large pots full of clams, and a lid that sits about 6 feet in the air. That’s the machine, Ed was the man. The clams need some care, they need to be cleaned, and bagged for easy extraction. The broth needs attention, and the lid has to be guarded at all time from removal. Ed took care of the clams with the upmost precision. I ate a dozen myself with not even a single grain of dirt. A real accomplishment since we were working with over 600 clams.

The sides/The buffet:
I was able to get a little creative with the sides that normally go with a clam bake. We had fingerling potatoes, creamed corn with panchetta, sweet potato ravioli, foie gras mousse.... see, not your normal ear of corn, baked potato in foil, and pat of butter. As for the buffet someone needs to do a psychological study of how people react to a food buffet. Everyone was hungry, you could sense it. All the food was out on the buffet, steaming hot. Yet no one was willing to be the first one to grab a plate and dive in. Sure there where a few close calls. Where someone sweeps in and takes a look before aborting their mission and returning to the comfort of their table. Groups work better I learned as a small group of 4-5 young ladies approached I made my move...uncovered all the chafers, stuck spoons in everything, and went on to identify each dish. That’s all it took, instantly everyone in a very organized and cautious manner made their way down the buffet line. What a beautiful thing.

A well stocked bar... enough said:
There was a slight chill in the air, the food was not yet consumed, and guests quietly arrived introducing themselfs in low, calm voices. Pour some Jagger down the ice luge on that nonsense! Get the grub, break a sweat, and the clam bake turns into an all out party. Grown men giving each other nuggies, relieving themselves in the bushes, and urging each other to drink more, reminiscent of the last frat party I attended. What a wonderful thing. The somewhat segregated guests came together as one solid mass of happiness as the liquor bottles emptied, and OSU had yet to lose the game. And to think I had the very wrong idea that a clam bake could have anything in common with a church fish fry. I couldn’t have been more wrong on that one.

Opening soon

Even during these tough economic times courageous men are hard at work opening new and interesting venues to appease our culinary consumption. Just the thing is happening with some of my past co-workers, and I can’t be more happy for them. Bistro on Lincoln Park is reclaiming the space previously occupied by Sage. A November opening was planned, so keep checking on their website for more information, or go right to the source. Cory is the Chef de Cuisine at BLP, and he blogs too! How convenient? You can find some of his insight, and currently a draft of the new menu here. It will be fun to see how things come together for what is sure to be one of the most exciting local indie restaurant openings since Lola.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

This is not a commercial

Why lead when you can be a follower....of this blog, and all your other favorites. If you were like me you spent 15-20 minutes a day going through the favorites in you browser bringing up countless food blogs that are erratically updated. That is so old school. Blogspot has allowed me to become a ‘follower’ of all my favorite blogs, whether they are hosted by blogspot or not, in one convenient location on my ‘dashboard’. The best part comes with the ‘all blogs update’ feature that searches through all the blogs you follow and shows you the newest posts.

To the left I’ve added the widget that allows you to become of follower of this blog with a single click of the mouse. If you got sick of looking at that cow for a week because you checked in everyday looking for a new post, then this feature is for you. Plus it’s motivation for me to know that somewhere out there in this big world a few people are looking forward to what I’ve got to say next.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Locally raised, yeah right, give me the details....

Pure breed limosine bull raised in the UK.

After going on about my love affair with local beef in the poll results post I decided a little more information was in order. The following profile of Plesant Home Cattle Company was taken directly from the Fresh Fork Market website. FFM has set up a relationship with Plesant Home allowing for other chefs and I to get our hands on smaller amounts of this quality product without having to purchase a whole side of beef. It's a very good feeling knowing where your beef comes from, and how it got to you.

Pleasant Home Cattle Company is a small family farm in Spencer, Ohio – near Wooster. Tony Stoller manages the cattle operation. Though small, Stoller recognizes that he must consistently provide the highest quality product before he can grow his operation. For 10 years now, he has been improving his herd and selling off his 30 to 40 head of cattle as "freezer beef" to loyal customers in the Wooster area. Pleasant Home Cattle Company focuses on natural and sustainable herd management practices to provide the highest quality products on the market at a competitive price.

What’s a "Naturally Raised" Beef Product. Raising a heard "naturally" encompasses the diet and herd management techniques of the animals. In short, a naturally raised product means hormone and antibiotic free diets, and the animals are usually free range. Naturally raised does not have limitations on the diet of the animal other than it cannot receive synthetic supplements in the food. Pleasant Home Cattle Company takes naturally raised further.

Stoller recognizes that to consistently have the best possible product, he must control ever aspect of that animal’s life. This includes its diet from birth to harvest. To effectively manage this diet, Stoller: - Grows his own corn for feed - Feeds the cattle a "finish grade" corn only diet from the time it is finished weaning to harvest. This practice is very expensive. - Mothers on a nutritious, corn only diet have richer milk to feed the calves during weaning - Free range to reduce stress on the animal Because Stoller’s cattle receive a healthier diet, they are healthier animals. Healthier animals resist disease; therefore, they don’t need antibiotics or hormones.

Pleasant Home Cattle Company has worked for 10 years to perfect their herd. The herd is a cross-breed of Limousin and Black Angus. The Limousin is the key to the delicious flavor. The Black Angus is used to increase the size of the animal and to add better maternal instincts – very important of a naturally raised (and weaned) herd. The Limousin breed is native to south central France, particularly in the Limousin and Marche regions. There, the topography is rocky and dry – typical of the Mediterranean region – and not well suited for crops. As a result, the farmers of the region perfected the Limousin breed, which was both a good eating breed as well as a "beast of burden" (work animal). Beginning in the mid-1800’s, Limousin breeds were prominent Best of Show cattle at agricultural shows. Their reputation for solid muscle mass and spectacular marbling soon earned them the reputation as the "butcher’s animal" - a name which Limousin is still referred to in France. Beginning in the 1960’s, Limousin was introduced in America. For the most part though, it was ignored due to the size and productivity of the Angus breed – features that were very important in a food hungry post World War II country. Over 30 years, however, cattleman began to recognize the flavor characteristics of Limousin and it is now a highly desired breed.

At Pleasant Home Cattle Company, Stoller sends his bull to Pennsylvania annually to breed with other Limousin. This process, although very expensive, has helped him build a healthy and productive herd. This is certainly not your traditional Heinz 57 variety of feedlot cattle.

Processing the Animal: This product is processed locally at Whitefeathers in Wooster, Ohio. The animal is dry aged for a minimum of 14 days to concentrate the flavor in the meat. The animal will be cut to our specs. Grading: Typically this product grades out at a minimum of very high choice to prime. Because of the consistent diets and breed, the grading should be very consistent.

Meaty poll results

Coincidence? I think not! I’m chalking this up to great customer research, purveyor selection, trend reading, and awesome timing. This week-ends special entree is a locally raised, antibiotic/hormone free, grain fed strip steak. We will be offering it simply grilled in a 15 oz cut for about $30. This is exactly what the most recent pollsters suggested they would like to see on restaurant menus. I have to completely agree with these results, and my vote would fall in this category as well, and for more reasons that taste alone. Considering price, availability (from the restauranteur standpoint), sustainability, environmental impact, and taste the local, organic beef seems like the best choice.

I’m told that most beef that is cared for the way this local beef is will generally grade out to be equivalent to a USDA prime. So those 5 votes for ‘prime’ can just hop on over with the local gang. Well, those few votes for true Japanese Kobe, while noble in thought, highly unrealistic for the bank account to handle. Even to offer a small steak at cost would produce a sticker shock libel to knock down the inner belt bridge. I am a bit surprised not a single vote for American Kobe. I guess enough people have tried it, and not been impressed with the product as much as the price might indicate. I like American Kobe, I’ve tried strips, tenderloin, sirloin, and short rib cuts, and they are all very good, but not triple the price good. So the math says.... lets pool those prime votes... and 90% of votes go to local, organic, grain fed beef.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Finally brought my camera home......

This is corriander crust duck breast that we served chilled with a rosemary-fig panna cotta and licorice syrup at a benifit for Secon Harvest food bank in Lorian County.

Foie gras mousse, truffle pound cakes, green tomato marmalade, and cherry tomato salad.

This is a surf and turf that went over all to well a few week-ends ago. There was a half lobster on each place as the rest of the meat went into the risotto, with beef medallions and a garlic cream.

Simple boulliabase.
But what I'm looking for is some advice on taking pictures in the kitchen on the go. I'm fairly unhappy with how alot of them are turning out recently. First, with the flash on the picture is very bright, and can't even be fixed later with Picassa. Secondly, if I don't use the flash and find a bright spot in the kitchen there is a yellowish tone to the photo. I'm thinking of taking photos that aren't so close, then croping them later. Any advice would be appreciated for a working environment where I'm likely to have a camera in one hand and a pair of tongs in the other.
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New menu items, photo.

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The day has come.....

Today we are making some serious changes to the Nemo Grille menu. The customer favorites, the staples, and the money makers all stay, but we found a few items to play with and introduce a seasonal influence to the menu. It was not all that long ago, 8 months or so, that we sat down and quietly decided not to decide anything with regard to changing the menu, and that is in part what makes this change so sweet. We have come along way, Nemo Grille and I. We learned about each other, learned from each other, and gained a mutual trust between us. My favorite part of this change is that we have the ball rolling now, we will have to change in the future. When walleye, apples, and butternut squash are no longer the seasonal favorites, things will need to be adjusted. Not only do I appreciate this sense of ‘in the now’ food, but most customers can identify these themes as well, and look forward to change in the future. At least this is how I hope things are perceived. Anyway, let me tell you about a few of the changes....

Sea scallop sliders, coffee dusted scallops, herb profiteroles, celery root puree, apple-coconut-vanilla slaw.

Herb crusted walleye, truffle sachetti, creamy leeks

Butternut squash ravioli, swiss chard, hot italian sausage, white cheddar.

Seared salmon, fried rice, green curry green tomato, sweet teriyaki.

Truffle veal meatballs, linguini, roasted garlic-sage cream.

Seared sea scallops, butternut squash risotto, cider reduction, apple-fennel slaw.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Dry aged beef?

This past week at the restaurant I purchased some 21 day dry aged bone-in NY strip steaks. The one pound steaks sold like hot cakes, and the small bit I did get a chance to try left me wanting more that is for sure. Was it the best piece of beef I’ve ever tasted, not by a long shot. In comparison I was lucky enough to get a sample of a grain fed, hormone/antibiotic free, locally produced T-bone steak, which Fresh Fork Market will begin to distribute, and I found that much more enjoyable, but that’s not what this post is about. The question of what is a dry aged steak, and why bother came up among the service staff. My original answers of concentrated flavor by evaporation where spot on, yet vague, so I decided to do some more research and this is what I found.

Dry aged beef is that which has been allowed to rest at near freezing temperatures for a minimum of 15 days. Most frequently primal cuts are dried, but half animals might also be hung to age. Dry aged beef is a rare find outside of upscale steak houses because the price is significantly higher than wet-aged, normal beef. This is due to the fact there is significant weight loss during the aging process, the length of the process, and loss due to molding. Up to 1/3 rd of the initial weight of the beef might be lost. The dry aging process enhances the beef by three means. First moisture evaporated from the flesh and the beef flavor becomes more concentrated. Second, the beefs natural enzymes have time to work breaking down connective tissue creating a more tender steak, Lastly, mold growth, Thamnidia, in particular, is known to produce collagenolytic enzymes which greatly contribute to the tenderness and flavor of dry-aged meat.

Is dry aged beef just a romantic tale of taking something good and affordable and making it exclusive and expensive, maybe? The good ole boys bloging on Grocer Guy did a side by side test, here is what they thought.

These are a 60 and 30 day dry aged steaks. If nothing else they do look a lot more appetizing that piece of meat swimming in a pool of red liquid.