Saturday, January 31, 2009

A moving target

I’ve pleased myself happy with my ability to control my emotions through the opening of the BRC dinner scene. I’ve taken everything in stride. I’ve been able to laugh off a lot of things that would have drove me mad in the past. There was a rose bush, and I stopped to smell it. I’ve been able to relish in the apperant chaos around me. There have been ups and downs, inside and out, those that involved me and those that haven’t, but it’s been a fun coaster to ride. Unlike some of my collegues and some of my own thoughts recently… I can wait until things get back to normal. The un-normality of things has been a good time.

Unfortunately, soon enough things will get bogged down and repetitious. My new goal is to rejuvenate myself in times of monotony with memories of how much got accomplished during these times of un-ease. In the future, when the days turn into weeks, and every day is another groundhog day, I hope to push myself though the drudgery by ways of harder work, and a dedication to excellence. I’ve found myself in the recent past telling myself, “this is fun,” and I hope to keep it that way for as long as possible.

Friday, January 30, 2009

BRC opens for dinner

The Black River Café opened for dinner service tonight promptly at 5:30pm. Our first printed menus arrived promptly at 6:04, and made for an interesting 15 minutes or so that as a few of our early reservations arrived. We started with roughly 40 reso’s and I can’t imagine we did less than 70 covers. The few times I was able to peek out at the dining room, every table was occupied.

The kitchen rocked out for a first night, with new pans on new flames with a new tempatured grill and new surroundings. What’s great is the lunch crew had a rough morning and they walked out laughing that we would be caught off guard and get crushed. Ha ha ha, who is having the last laugh, me, now, because we did a great job. Not a single viable complaint. And prep for tomorrow…we are looking fairly good. We will have to braise something new next week for sure.

So what happened? Well, the rabbit and short ribs where the best sellers, with the mac&cheese a second along with the risotto app. Not many salads ordered at all, yet a lot of people opted for half portions. I was very surprised by how well the rabbit did, maybe that’s because Kari cries everything she sees it on the menu. I ordered them on the phone the other day with her in the car and she was sobbing so hard, I kind of felt bad, but not for the rabbits.

We are baking our own bread. Tonight we featured foccocia, brioche, baguettes, and sesame rolls. It was the best looking bread baskets I’ve ever seen go out at any restaurant in Cleveland. We cut the bread and rest it in an aluminum basket lightly crimped and heat up exactly as much as we need. This is just a great way to do it that I’ve never done before. Why cook whole pieces of 4 different kinds of bread? I’m happy with bread service as long as we can find a way to keep track of who gets what. Not impossible, just have to force it on the FOH.

The BRC still runs with hand written tickets. Not a totally bad things, it’s easy to amend items, or substitutions, or special arrangements. On the other hand, in the kitchen we can’t decipher each different server’s personal language. We decided on a procedure, that some of the FOH adopted, other decided to make it their own. This will change. We decided that every course will be given to us on a different chit. Well, to me that means even if two of the seven top is getting a salad, it get’s its own chit, not circled on the entrée ticket. I’m sure it’s easier for the server, but I’m not here, nor is the BRC here to make their life’s easier. So follow directions!!! Same story, different people.

The 40 minute drive home was very pleasant tonight; a feeling of accomplishment accompanied me on the ride.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

After much anticipation......

Black River Cafe
Dinner menu for winter 2009


Cheese Plate 8
An assortment of local cheeses with bread, apples, toasted nuts, and olives

Seared Scallops 9
Seared diver scallops with a bacon cream sauce

Fried Calamari 8
Corn-dusted Point Judith calamari with marinara

Artichoke Crock 6
Artichoke hearts baked with cheeses and herbs with focaccia tuilles

Soup of the Day cup 5 / bowl 6
Always different; always good

House Salad 5
mixed greens with vegetables in a balsamic dressing

Cress Salad 7
Watercress and napa with goat chevre, almonds, and dried cranberries, thyme vinaigrette

Grilled Caesar Salad 8 / with grilled chicken breast 11
Grilled heart of romaine with white anchovies, parmesan cheese, and lemon caesar dressing


Zuppa di Pesce 22
Mussels, scallops, squid, cod and lobster in a tomato-lobster broth

Rib Eye Steak Frites 22
Grilled 14-oz. local rib-eye steak with sweet potato fries and swiss chard

Braised Pork Shoulder 14 (half 7)
Braised local pork shoulder with butter-braised cabbage and herb spätzle

Mushroom Risotto 14 (half 7)
Classic parmesan risotto with porcini, button, oyster, and shiitake mushrooms

Lemon-Thyme Chicken 16
Half of a boneless Organic chicken marinated and sauteéd, with root vegetables and bok choy

Braised Short Ribs 18 (half 9)
Local beef short ribs braised in red wine, with roasted root vegetables and swiss chard

Rabbit Ragoût 20 (half 10)
Ragoût of locally farmed rabbit over Ohio City Pasta parpadelle, with herbed ricotta

Macaroni and Cheese 8
Macaroni baked with cheddar, gouda, and parmesan cheeses

Tofu Frites 12
Soy-glazed seared tofu slab with sweet potato fries and swiss chard

Wednesday, January 28, 2009 this kitchen?

Music in the kitchen? It’s an interesting question. Do people in other professions get to listen to music often, at all? I wonder. I guess there is something of an artistic bridge between cooking and music, as well as the motivation music often provides, a’ la the audible red bull. Some people have strong preferences toward music-less working environment. I’ve not worked in such an intensely pure environment, but I have worked in quiet kitchens.

There are some valid reasons a kitchen would be quiet, all involve being polite to your neighbors, whether they are the next door neighbors, or the cook next to you. When the type of music becomes more of a distraction than a mental escape, it needs to be eliminated. Fortunately, when everyone can agree to not disagree on the music, it’s a very pleasant way to work the day away.

At somewhere like the Baracelli Inn, there is enough traffic that music would be a distraction. Yet, at Fahrenheit we played music all day. We turned the radio on…then the cooking equipment. We rode a wave of music up to a hysteric crescendo right before service began, then cut off the music and got elbow deep in the nitty gritty. On the other hand, no matter what would have been played someone would have been offended at Blue Point Grille. Jazz ruled at the Wonder Bar, shoot, it was the theme, and music played all the time, loud as could be. Nemo Grille was a big music kitchen too, swapping iPods and Pandora for commercial radio after the Sirius radio busted of which we enjoyed the comedy and sports channels thoroughly. I’ve not figured out the music ratio at BRC yet. Sometimes it’s seriously loud, yet last night the dishwasher had theatrical compositions playing, while the FOH had Rage Against the Machine blasting loud as could go. Weird!

My favorite work tunes go something like this…..

1. Classic Rock
2. Punk, because it gets to people eventually
3. Any song relating to the state of the ‘working man’
4. 80’s music…to make fun of

Monday, January 26, 2009

Steaks and Chops, Part 2

Well, we pretty much got what I expected. There is a huge, 30 pound boneless rump roast, wow, I’m gonna have to go to work on that things some time soon. We have some nice looking inch think cut shanks. I figure those should braise up nice. Each tenderloin is just under 5 pounds. Some cuts like the flank steak are trimmed up beautifully; others like the strip loin have a huge fat cap. I guess you can always trim, but you can’t glue it back on.

I understand that this cow was considered a ‘fat’ cow, not necessarily meaning a well marbled cow, just one with huge deposits of snow white fat. A few of the short ribs the butcher cut where too fatty and we had to supplement our single cow with some other short ribs to make it worthwhile to but on the menu for some time. The end product of the short ribs I am not a huge fan of. They taste greasy to me, even when all visible fat is trimmed or rendered?

Taking on a whole cow is a huge commitment. I did not think the sheer volume of the butchered beef would be so much. I’m sure taking whole primal saved us space on top of it. For a family, seems like a commitment centered more on ethics than economics, and that much I can appreciate.

What do you do with a beef heart? Cat food perhaps? Any suggestions?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ricotta cakes

These little guys take a little bit of work, but if you enjoy ricotta, and can find a quality product you will be very happy with this preperation.

What you need:

1 cup ricotta, I like Leone whole milk ricotta
2 egg yolks
1 tblsp grated parmasean
1 tblsp bread crumbs
1 tsp each thyme, corriander, roasted garlic paste, and siracha or other hot sauce
1/2 tsp sherry vinager, unless you use tabasco, then skip

breadcrumbs to coat.

Mix everything and let sit for 10 minutes or so. The mix should hold its shape as a 2 inch diameter ball, but just barely. Coat the sized balls you desire in breadcrumbs and form into thick patties. Squeeze the breadcrumbs into the mixture at the ball stage so the end result holds. Sautee in butter untill golden and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

I've served these as a starch under fish, but would also go great with a nice tomato sauce. If the egg offends you leave it out and add more breadcrumbs, no problem.

Steaks and chops. part one

I’m having the rather pleasant experience of control over how my locally grown steer will be butchered in the coming days. I’ve done some research online, and found little more advice than, “trust your trusted butcher,” This is no advice for an untrusting man like myself. The best knowledge I came across was my experience with Fresh Fork Market, and knowing what cuts they prepped to sell after they fell a few heads in the past. My straight forward, but ignorant advice went like this;

“we want whole primal cuts, but cleaned well since you will grind it.
whole tenderloins, strip loins, boneless rib-eye, hanger steaks, skirt steaks,
and as far as roasts go, brisket, short ribs, and the chuck for us then keep up
with what the Burrito Bar needs,” Top rounds and other roasted as pre-arranged,

” and that leaves plenty for burgers. We can find a use for the tail and tongue, but I'm not a fan of the liver or heart. If we can get clean cut pipe bones aka marrow bones, reserved out of the stock bones that would be great roasted marrow bones! Also, sirloin steaks, I see
them on a lot of menus, I'm not sure how to butcher them from a primal cut, but
if we ask the butcher for 6oz sirloin steaks and he obliges that is really cool.”

In retrospect I think the only cut I forgot was the Flank, and I’m not so unsure that this cut isn’t part of the brisket? So this is where we stand. I will get things delivered in the next few days and we will see how things turn out. While at the restaurant we can utilize a lot more ground beef and roasts than a family would like to go through, but on the other hand, those steak cuts are much more lucrative for us, so we want to maximize their usage.

I’ll be back soon to let you know what I find out. If you have any questions, let me know, and I promise you an honest answer. I will say that I’m not looking to critique the butcher or the farmer, and since they have been part of the Black River Café in the past I consider them trust worthy purveyors.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Current State of Emotions

I’m beginning to get very excited about the opening of the Black River Café. That’s not to say I was less motivated in the past, just that I’m a man who rarely will display dramatic emotional outbursts. For some reason people around me think less of me because I have very guarded emotions, too bad for them is what I’ve got to say, because if you stick with me, and get to know me, I’m actually quite confident and secure. I just can’t help myself this week-end though. We are siting on our hands waiting for a fryer to be installed, then we are ready to go. I’ll need 2 days until I’m ready to go full boar. I cooked for everyone the other day and everything came out at least satisfactory. When chicken sits for 15 minutes and the critique is that it’s dry, I’m cool with that. If less than half the people trying anything suggest it’s salty, then it’s fine, at least in a statistical sense. You will never please everybody, unless some of those people are prepared to lie.

I was reminiscing a bit earlier today about my time at Nemo’s and how peaceful that time was, even when I was itching through my skin to take on tasks and assignments that where in reality, quite imaginary for that specific position. An air of positive complacency seems to hang over Nemo’s. I have always used complacency in a negative connotation, as in "ok, this is cool, I’m not gonna try any harder," but at Nemo’s it was more like, "ok, this is cool, I’m happy with this, it’s working, let’s stop and smell the roses." It has been my nature in the past to turf the rose bush and go full speed ahead chasing an aspiration or goal that was, and still is undefined for me. Reminds me of a song, a good only Country Joe tune, but I’ve changed the words, "1,2,3, what are we striving for, don’t know and don’t give a damn, just a number in the un-employment line.....1,2,3, what are we working for, don’t know and don’t give a damn, just want to pay for that 6 foot deep hole in the ground"

So what have I learned, and what do these two paragraphs of introspection have to do with food. Well, I’ve learned that stopping to smell the roses is not a bad thing. Also, that it’s more important to be happy with what you have than to strive for those mostly unattainable things you don’t have. This outlook will help me be the best chef I can be in the moment, without putting unnecessary attention toward unattainable trophies. Yes I’ll have goals to work toward, and they will revolve around cooking, kitchens, restaurants and food, but they will not neglect the driver of the buss...the man who chooses exactly which roses to stop and smell.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Black River Cafe Menu, pre-opening

Black River Café
Dinner Menu, Winter 2009


Sauteed Main Scallops, bacon cream, wild rice. $9
Crispy fried Judith Point Calamari, Gribiche sauce. $6
Baked Artichoke crock, toasted breads and raw veggies. $6
Artisianal Cheese plate, toasted nuts, olives, jam, toasted breads. $8
Killbruck Farms Mushroom crepe, fried egg, spinach, truffle oil. $7


Daily soup presentation $5

House Salad with carrots, tomatoes, peppers & onions. balsamic vinaigrette. $5

Watercress and goat cheese salad, napa cabbage, toasted almonds, sun-dried cranberries.$7

Grilled Caesar with white anchovies, pickled red onion, foccocia tuille, parmesan cheese, lemon-Caesar vinaigrette. $8


Baked Mac&Cheese, cheddar-parmesan cream, caramelized onions, roasted peppers. $12

Lemon-Thyme marinated Organic Chicken, half a chicken served boneless, starch, veg, roasted chicken jus. $16

Grilled Local Beef Steak, 14 oz rib-eye, starch, veg. $20

Braised Local Beef Short ribs, red wine jus, starch, veg. $18

Falafel encrusted Tofu, fried chic-pea salad, tahini. $14

Ohio City Pasta fresh black pepper parpadelle, local rabbit ragout, herb ricotta. $18

Seafood stew, scallops, squid, cod, and lobster in a lobster saffron broth. $19

Braised Local Pork Shoulder, butter braised cabbage, herb spatzle. $18

Classic Vanilla Creme Brulee. $4
Chocolate Lava Cake. $5
Tiramisu. $6
Woo-city Ice Cream $3

This is something of a solid first draft. We tasted over half of the dishes today and made some headway on a final edit. Of note: some dishes here say, "starch, veg" because it's our intention to change these offerings frequently and will re-print the menu accordingly. Also, we intend to bake our own bread including a white dinner roll, a multi-grain bread, foccocia and gougeres.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Snow drift, I don't care about no stinken snow drift!

Finally, I’ve made it to the Bistro on Lincoln Park. Forest and I arrived just as the snow storm ended on this lonely Tuesday night in the restaurant business. Between the two of us we knew everyone there, shoot even the couple that sat at the bar next to us was friendly enough to be considered part of the family. We only ordered two happy hour dishes, both of which where very well executed. The croque monsieur was exceptional. The fennel on that dish was very well prepared, succulent, yet firm. Very well done. The lamb sliders where very hardy, and a filling dish for $5. Our new friends at the bar where close to orgasmic over the black bean cake and the polenta! We enjoyed an amuse bouche of salmon in savoy cabbage topped with horseradish cream and cucumber. The flavors of this single bite lead me to believe great things are ready to come out of this kitchen. It’s inspiring to see the menu has stayed as ambitious as when the doors first opened, and to hear from Pete that making ketchup, and baking bread are things the kitchen has been able to perfect beyond what is available off a semi-truck is very encouraging. I’m very much looking forward to my next BLP experience.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I'll take mine on the rocks, even in the snow.

I'm suprised so see that such a large percentage of people enjoy warm alcoholic drinks. I'm sure the 8 inches of snow make the ideas of a warm beverage and a stiff cocktail equally desirable. Personally, I can't stand to drink, or even smell so much as a Baily's and Coffee drink. I have the upleasant experience at work to heat up cognac for customers an a regular basis. It reminds of of pumping gasoline on a very hot and humid summer day. It's as though I can feel the vapors snake into the pit of my stomach. A small sip of a coffee drink makes me think of an oil slick, or a burning river. I find the smell of a fresh sharpie, or some modeling glue more enjoyable. So be it then, I'm glad to be in the minority on this opinionated poll. Feel safe leaving your warm drinks around me, I'm not gonna touch it! other than to move it a little further away.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Welcome to 2009

In the new year a fresh opportunity.

I’m moving on from my post at Nemo Grille. It’s a bitter sweet move as I’ve come to really appreciate what NG has to offer me. My next opportunity will be to open the Black River Café for dinner service. The Black River Café is in Oberlin, Ohio. The restaurant has been open for 10 years, and is enjoying great success serving breakfast and lunch. The BRC prides itself on it’s dedication to local purveyors and farmers, looking for organic and sustainable products as much as possible. This is something I’ve become more and more interested in and it will be a great opportunity to work for someone with the same aspirations. The idea is to keep things simple, affordable, and comforting. A menu is in the works. We hope to be fully open and operational for dinner by January 27.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

2008 Year in Review

Only because I’ve done it the past 3 years, I’ll do it again, but I’d rather not re-hash the instances of the past year. While pocked with low spots and depressing imagery, there where some signs of life, some uplifting, hope filled times.

Nemo Grille has been good to me. It’s been somewhat of a roller coaster ride, at least my personal feelings have peaked and slumped over the past 10 months. Nemo’s is a very wholesome working environment. Rarely does anyone get very angry, and for the most part a little common sense is all that’s needed to get the job done right. This is the first restaurant I’ve worked at where the word ‘zen’ comes to mind. Things tend to get done, and for the most part timely and properly. There is a lack of bickering, badgering, yelling, fighting, jealous hate full people and moments. It took the better part of the past 10 months to realize this, and now, most likely my time at Nemo is limited. I hope I learned something, that elusive something that makes Nemo run without all the crap that accumulates in most places.

Little catering events makes me happy. I was lucky enough to be the Chef at two modest catered events for some friends. I was definitely the Chef, not the caterer because there was a lot of set-up and work done by the host that I didn’t have to worry about, and for this I’m very thankful. Early in the summer Forest and I worked a great little plated dinner for eight. Six beautiful, seasonal courses that peaked the interest of both the guest and myself. It’s really a great feeling to be appreciated for doing something your passionate about. It’s equally fulfilling to know that all the thought, passion, and craftsmanship you put into a dish is being appreciated at the table, and in a forum like this dinner party it’s a win-win situation for everyone. This little event was definitely the highlight of my year.

The second event was an awesome clam bake for the same hosts. The number of guests raised dramatically, but the quality of the food was still high, and I was given a little wiggle room for creativity. I’d never been to a clam bake, let alone cooked one before this, so I was very thankful for all the help I got on this particular day. Kristen was the best assistant on this night, as I got caught up in a passionate conversation just as the food started to be done. She didn’t miss a beat and took care of things better than if I was meddling around the kitchen myself. It was a brisk night, and everyone ate well. I actually ate! And the shiitake-panchetta cream corn was my personal favorite.

Everyone is effected by the economy. Of the two huge topics that gauged the year of 2008, politics and economics, I have little interest and/or understanding of either of them. These things are out of my hands, uncontrollable forces that as I’ve found recently can play huge roll in your daily existence. In February, I traded in my trusty yet tiny 2 door coup that lasted me 5 strong years for a good old Explorer, a man’s man vehicle, store things in it, or tow things, or just drive. It didn’t seem possible to me that 5 months down the road there would be stress in my life over the fact it cost $80 a week in gas just to get to and from work. This didn’t make sense to me, it was unreal. What had I done in purchasing this monstrous truck? Who is to blame for these mind boggling gas prices? Shoot, I still don’t really know.

The scope of the economic downturn reared it’s vengeful head last month when my very job was put on the chopping block. Saved only by drastic cut backs and restructed pay scale, I’m still going to work every day. For the past 8 years I’ve been a salary kitchen worker. This means when the times are slow, I had to send hourly workers home and I worked more, but now, all of a sudden I’m on the short arm of that symbiotic relationship, and hope for every day to be a busy one. Unfortunately this is not likely to be the case. I’ve been in contact with a vast majority of Chefs around town, and everyone is crying the same song. Business at Cleveland indie restaurants is down 20-40 percent across the board from my estimates. Everybody! Ten year old establishments to places where you can still smell the paint. Weather it’s steak and chops or fish and chips, beer or wine, tablecloth or sans, everyone is being effected. Personally the most frustrating thing about the situation is that neither I, nor the owner of Nemo, or any of these restaurants did anything wrong to be punished in such a way. Nobody violated health or building code, nobody made bad business decisions, nobody got caught doing anything illegal or immoral. Just a reared back, open handed slap in the face leaves you seeing stars and in the corner an old bearded man playing the fiddle over a shallow grave.

Breath of new life. This new life does not necessarily indicate a bettor or more prosperous life, just a new one. The facts are out there, there is no hiding it. Small businesses will be falling out of the sky like clay pigeons. High paying salary positions might be a thing of the past. So what are we gonna do? Kill the fiddler, steal his money and pawn the fiddle? Or trip into that lazy hole he calls a grave? I plan to keep working hard and on the look out for that rare and ever more elusive opportunity. I plan on widening my horizons as far as work opportunities. For 9 years I’ve been stubborn and steadfast in my desire to work in smaller, unique indie restaurants, perhaps this is a fault. There is a growing list of jobs that fall under the culinary category and one that is of interest to me is the farmers market, local food chain, sustainable agriculture realm. This is something I can be equally passionate about as cooking. At the other end of the spectrum, those 4 years at OWU with my nose in chemistry books might make my resume look appealing to someone more interested in molecular gastronomy, or the packaged food industry. We will have to live the life to see what happens.

On this happy blog I’ve been active enough to have 260 post over the past 3 years, and since I’ve installed the site meter, I’m working on roughly 20,000 hits this past year. I’m very gratefull for those of you who return, and are interested in what I do, and/or my few of the world. I want to take this occasion to open a forum with anyone willing to make suggestions, pose questions, or comment in a constructive manner. Thank you.