Tag: chef

The Chef’s New Essential Cookbook

The Chef's New Essential Cookbook

There are hundreds of cookbooks released every year (I know because I am addicted to amazon.com), yet very few can be revered as “essential” A book that will appear on every serious chef’s desk, must be one that defines a new standard, is the reference most used, carries the beauty and soul of the food that the author considers his or her signature, and approaches food in a timeless way.

Daniel Boulud’s new cookbook (actually much more than a cookbook) is just that. I do order way too many cookbooks, but in this case I had very high expectations and found myself excited when it finally arrived.

This book does not disappoint in any way, in fact it offers some value added information that was quite unexpected. I have been around for a while and was trained in kitchens that were fairly classical in nature. Many of those dishes and preparations are long forgotten, yet to a professional they become an important part of the history of the profession.

The first 260 plus pages are dedicated to spectacular dishes that you might find on Daniel’s menu. The recipes are accessible and user-friendly and the photographs are fabulous. Having had the fortune to dine at Daniel in the past I can attest to the fact that what you see in the book reflects the same quality that you will find at this superb NYC restaurant.

The next 100 pages focus on what Daniel refers to as “Iconic Sessions”, demonstrating the very complex process of preparing those items from the past that were the staples of Classic French Cuisine during the times of Careme and Point (and to some degree the first hotel kitchens that I worked in). I am not sure that many of us could replicate the dishes offered, but again, I found it refreshing to have an opportunity to look back.

The book finishes with some basic recipes for foundational items and reference terms. All-in-all a tremendous, beautiful book that can serve as a coffee table focal point, a challenge for the serious home cook, but most importantly a book that will likely be worn out in a professional chef’s office.

This is a “must have” book for all of my chef friends. Rush out to purchase it or put it on your Christmas list!

http://www.amazon.com/Daniel-My-French-Cuisine-Boulud/dp/145551392X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1382452412&sr=1-1&keywords=Daniel+Boulud

Onions – The Most Important Ingredient

Two things occurred in the same week a few years back when I was the Executive Chef at a four-diamond resort. A server approached me when I was expediting and stated that a guest was allergic to onions and wanted to know what items on the menu he could eat. I thought for a few moments and had to respond “nothing”. I, of course, prepared something special for the guest, but up to that point I had not realized how important onions, and those ingredients in the onion family were to my cooking. That same week I was interviewed on a regional radio show as the host asked me what ingredient I liked to cook with more than any other. Without hesitation I said “onions”. He was a bit taken back until I explained how essential these ingredients were.

Onions are part of the Allium species of vegetables and include: brown skin onions, white onions, Spanish onions, purple onions, scallions (immature onions that have yet to form a bulb), Vidalia (sweet onions), cipollini, leeks, shallots, pearl onions, ramps, garlic and chives (there are numerous varieties of most items listed) .

I use brown skin onions in mirepoix for my stocks, soups and sauces; purple or Spanish onions for pickling and an accent in salads; Vidalia for those Bistro Burgers that everyone craves; scallions in stir fry and marinades; garlic in dressings, pesto, various saute dishes and bruschetta; cipollini in stews and with various braised items; ramps as an accompaniment to organic chicken in the Spring; shallots in just about everything that I can think of; and chives in numerous salads and maitre’d butter for steaks. The thought of cooking without Allium vegetables would be very difficult.

What is ironic is that members of the onion family are rarely thought of as a primary ingredient. We too often place all of the emphasis on the protein and rarely give credit to those ingredients that give the protein a unique flavor profile.

Onions and garlic define the most vivid aroma memories of life in the kitchen. The smell of caramelized onions can make you salivate. I recall working in a food operation once that was part of an office complex. The manager always made us throw onions on the grill just before lunch to fill the cafe with that sweet, intoxicating aroma. He was convinced that this smell increased sales.

The rich flavor of a perfectly made onion soup granitee’ can best be described as rich and full of umami (the taste of savory). Onions rings on a steak, lightly sauteed garlic in Pasta Vongole, Cipollini caramelized and served with a perfectly grilled veal chop, creamy shallots blended with the rich flavor of Osso Buco, and sweet ramps with roasted organic chicken change a dish from good to spectacular.

I suppose the reason that onions make us cry is a reflection of the onions disappointment in how they are treated in comparison to the more expensive proteins that take center stage. Treat those onions with care for they are the ingredients that define all of us as cooks.

PROFESSIONAL COOKING IS A TEAM SPORT

The cadence of orders in a busy kitchen seems unrelenting. A staccato clicking from the point of sale printer sends out a drum roll of orders while the expeditor calmly, yet seriously calls out tickets in kitchen lingo to the battery of cooks on the line. They in turn signal back receipt of the order by either repeating it or simply saying “yes chef”. Ordering, fire, picking up, re-fire, I need an “all-day”, is part of the script that every professional cook understands and responds to with surgical precision. Orders are pre-fired and finished, plated as per the accepted design, edges wiped, placed in the window, inspected and finished by the chef/expeditor and passed on to servers in a seamless stream of syncopated and rehearsed activity.

To watch this interplay is truly amazing. The orchestration by the chef/expeditor is possible because everyone on the line is in sync. To allow this magic to occur every cook must be on their game. They must have impeccable mise en place (prep and organization), must know not just the details of their station but that of every other station, they must have the desired flavor profile of each dish embedded in their flavor memory, and must approach each single plate as if it were their personal work of art that makes a statement about their abilities and passion for food. Each cook must accept their role and understand how important their role is to the whole. They must respect the chain of command and never question directives from the chef, and must at all costs maintain the desired quality of their work. They must support those who are “in the weeds” and be comfortable asking for help when they see the same issue creeping into their station.

When it works, the busy kitchen is a beautiful thing. WHY? Because this group of cooks has become a team, not unlike any other professional body with a focused mission. Football, baseball, basketball, hockey, the military, or for that matter any driven business adheres to the same “call to arms”: Understanding, acceptance, discipline, preparedness, practice, respect, passion and common goals = TEAM. TEAM = SUCCESS.

Contrary to what you see on these very un-realistic television “reality cooking shows”, kitchens cannot work when there is a lack of any one of the aforementioned components. Chefs who yell and belittle do not inspire great cooking. In fact, this will do just the opposite. This type of chef (and I use the term loosely here) will create an environment of winners and losers and survival of the fittest. The result will almost always be chaos, back stabbing, inconsistent food, and unhappy guests.

Effective chefs can learn from those leaders in any business who aspire to create a team environment. To do so will lead to a cohesive group of committed, proud, supportive and successful cooks. These individuals will relish the opportunity to work in such an environment and treasure their employment as a result. Great teams = longevity among a restaurants cooking staff.

Given the chance, every diner would benefit from touring the kitchen of a restaurant they choose to dine in. If the operation is clean, if the cooks seem focused, if they are able to occasionally smile and if the chef works like a coach whose job it is to support, encourage and orchestrated, then I can assure you that the food will be great.

A LETTER TO CULINARY SCHOOL GRADUATES

A LETTER TO CULINARY SCHOOL GRADUATES

First and foremost allow me to congratulate you on accomplishing a significant goal: completing your degree. Know however that this is only the beginning of your culinary education. You have chosen to pursue a career in the greatest industry on the planet (yes, I do show a bit of bias), one that will provide you with maybe 40 years of challenges, excitement, opportunity and great satisfaction. Allow me to offer some (hopefully) words of wisdom as you cross the stage and pack your knives for this next phase in your professional lives.

1. Appreciate diversity: our industry is a melting pot of every ethnic group, race, young and old, straight and gay, tall and small, male and female, passionate artist and content job seeker, introvert and extrovert – providing you with a tremendous opportunity to experience the world every day you show up to work. Take it all in and appreciate everyone for who they are.
2. Know that every day will provide learning moments as well as opportunities to share what you know with others.
3. Remember that you must become dedicated followers first as you learn how to become the leaders you want to be. YES CHEF is still applicable.
4. Be patient with yourself and with others.
5. Be a team player – always.
6. Have your goals firmly established and choose your steps along the way with that in mind.
7. Ask yourself every day: “Is what I am doing right now bringing me closer to realizing those goals”.
8. Be in service of the potato. In other words, always respect the ingredients you work with and the effort that was made to bring those ingredients to you.
9. Every position in the kitchen is important and every person is a critical piece of the restaurant puzzle. You may have a different job than some, but every person in the kitchen is equal.
10. The foundations are always your friends. Never forget the basics that you were taught in school. They are called the foundations for a reason.
11. Shortcuts never produce the same results. “If you don’t have the time to do it right the first time, when will you find the time to do it over”?
12. Build your flavor memory.
13. Protect your tools –keep your knives sharp.
14. Sanitation and Safety is your most important job.
15. Look and act like the professional that you want to be.
16. Be a person of integrity. Be known for a person of high moral character and know that honesty is of consummate importance.
17. Be known for your dependability.
18. Seek to be trusted by all people who surround you.
19. Read and travel now.
20. Try to find balance in your life. Don’t look back and say “I wish I had spent more time with family and friends”.
21. Take care of your health. Eat right, sleep well and exercise.
22. And as Chef Michel LeBorgne would always say: TASTE-SEASON-TASTE!

Best of luck: now it is your turn to change the world.

Chef Paul Sorgule

A Letter to Culinary School Graduates

A Letter to Culinary School Graduates

First and foremost, congratulations on completing your formal education and welcome to the best industry in the world. Granted I have a certain amount of bias toward an industry that I have spent my life in, but I do truly believe that you have made a wise choice. You must, however, realize that your real education has only begun. The experiences that you will have over the next 40 or so years will be enlightening, rewarding, challenging and unsurpassed. Please allow me to offer a few (hopefully) words of wisdom as you move forward.

* Appreciate diversity. the food industry is a melting pot of every ethnic culture, young and old, every race, straight and gay, short and tall, type A personalities and type B personalities, passionate artists and complacent job seekers: they all make up a dynamic and exciting industry. Take it all in and relish the opportunity to work with others.
* Know that every day will be a learning moment and every day will provide you with an opportunity to share that with others.
* Be patient – you must become a loyal follower before you can grow into the leader you want to become.
* Every job in a kitchen and dining room is important. You may hold a different position but you are never better than anyone else.
* Have your goals firmly in place and choose the steps that you take to get there wisely.
* Be in service of the potato. In other words, always respect the ingredients you have the opportunity to work with and the effort that it took to get those ingredients to you.
* Be a team player. Your opportunities now and in the future are dependent on how will you support the team effort.
* The foundations will always serve you well. Remember the importance of proper cooking techniques and stay true to them.
* Never forget that you are in the SERVICE business.
* Protect your tools. Make sure your knives are sharp.
* Sanitation is the most important part of your job.
* Look and act like the professional that you strive to be.
* Read, travel and taste now.
* Never forget the people who help you along the way.
* Build your rolodex and your network of influence.
* Maintain your integrity, character and honesty.
* Try to find balance in your life.
* and as Chef Michel LeBorgne would say: TASTE, SEASON, TASTE!

Good luck. Now it is your turn to change the world.

RESTAURANTS NEED TO PAINT OUTSIDE THE LINES

What ever happened to creativity and the fun associated with developing something new, exciting, delicious and trend defining in restaurants. Certainly you could cite those handful of unique restaurants that grace the cover stories in trade magazines, win James Beard Awards and Michelin stars, and are home to chefs with names that are present on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but what about the other 950,000 restaurants in the United States along with business cafeterias, college cafes, and health care facilities? Are there exceptions to the rule, you bet, but they are few and far between.

Playing it safe is the rule of thumb, until someone creates that “ah ha” moment in restaurant dining that reinvents a segment. Do we really need another shop that serves Pizza Margherita, Ameri/Mexican restaurants with burritos and Chimichangas, white tablecloth operations with Shrimp Scampi or Veal Piccata? I have found myself many times referring to how important the classic dishes are and that they are always great to fall back on because after all – they sell! The problem is not their acceptability or the taste profile; the problem is that the industry is too boring. Did I really say that? Yes, the restaurant business is boring.

Customers play it safe, just like restaurants do, and thus the cycle continues. Those chefs and restaurateurs who try to break the mold gain notoriety among journalists, young chefs looking for excitement and that 2% of the population referred to as innovators, but walk down the street and you will find dozens of restaurants who are content (or stuck) with doing the same thing that everyone else does.

I am not a fan of what has been referred to as “molecular cuisine”; however, I am fascinated by those chefs who are head-over-heals committed to pushing that envelope. Grant Achatz, Ferran Adria, Wylie Dufresne are part of the pack of rebels who (forget what you think about the food) are trying hard to pull us out of our shells and learn to “think different”.

Steve Jobs was a genius. Some loved him and others despised him. Say what you will, but as the soul of Apple Computer he embraced creative thought above everything else. He had the uncanny ability to go beyond what people wanted or needed, he anticipated what they were going to need before they ever thought of it. So too is the case with a few contemporary chefs and restaurant owners/operators.

If Achatz, Adria and Dufresne are too radical for you, consider some who have been with us for a long time, treasure the classics, but who interpret those items in a way that breaks the barriers of “playing it safe”. Eric Ripert, Thomas Keller, Charlie Trotter, Alice Waters, Charles Carroll, Daniel Boulud, Gavin Kaysen, Marcus Samuelsson and Cat Cora all continue to move their creative ideas to the forefront of restaurants that carry their signature while 950,000 others continue to ignore the need to be just a little unique.

Part of our job as chefs is to educate the staff members who work with us and the guests who choose to grace us with their presence. Of course, I am fully aware of the fiduciary responsibilities that go along with taking the helm of a restaurant and the fragile nature of restaurant economics. It is also our responsibility, however, to grow our business, attract new customers, and most importantly: exceed guest expectations with a food experience that is far greater than the sum of its parts.

To quote a culinary friend of mine from the past: “There is little talent in cooking a steak. Certainly there is a skill that goes along with timing and organization of a char-grill, but the talent is in preparing a chicken leg or inexpensive cut of meat in such a way, and presented with such unique grace, that its value far exceeds that of even the best steak.”

Please do not misinterpret what I am saying: I love classic Italian, French, Asian, German, Polish, Irish, Norwegian and every other traditional ethnic food. I sometimes salivate just thinking about that perfectly cooked steak, but how often is it that a restaurant experience truly excites and builds unforgettable memories?

Creativity is not exclusive to high-end restaurants. Starbucks was a real “wow” when they first began. The quality, the variety, the atmosphere were game changers. When was the last time that this type of change has taken our breath away in the coffee business? I would dare say that there is little difference between the Starbucks of 1990 and the one of today. Remember the first time you experienced an Au Bon Pain or Panera Bread and how it was fun to take it all in? Where is the next game changer hiding?

Playing it safe has a price. The price is complacency and transition of unique concepts into commodity restaurants. I am waiting for the next Steve Jobs in the restaurant business to catch everyone else off guard. Every once and a while we need to paint outside the lines.

The Importance of the Neighborhood Restaurant

The Importance of the Neighborhood Restaurant

I have waited some time before writing this post – I needed to let the significance of the event sink in. Anyone who ever spent time in Saranac Lake over the past 30 years knows Casa del Sol. “Casa” as it was known, was the consummate neighborhood restaurant. It was a staple in everyone’s diet and an important memory for those who moved on from the Adirondacks at some point. This past year, “Casa” closed its doors. Maybe its time had come. Quite possibly it was a victim of the economic downturn. It could be a result of too much competition in a small town or maybe a changing population demographic. Whatever the reason, an important part of our community culture is gone. I felt it was important to talk about the role of the neighborhood restaurant in American society along with some history of this landmark restaurant.

I remember moving back to the Adirondacks in 1976 and starting work at the Mirror Lake Inn as a chef/manager. Like most chefs, I still had a gnawing desire to run my own place (thank God I never followed through) and always had an eye open for the right opportunity.

At the entrance to Saranac Lake stood a French Restaurant/Motel combination called Le Petite Francaise. The couple who owned and operated the establishment were ready to retire and the shop was up for sale. My mind was spinning with ideas. Of course, I would make it a classic French Brasserie with all of the classic dishes that I was trained to prepare. People would flock to try my food (that’s what I kept telling myself and my wife Sharon). Fortunately, I didn’t have any money and the restaurant would require more funds than I had access to.

Harry Tucker bought the building and took a year to renovate it. Harry was going to build a Mexican restaurant in Saranac Lake, how absurd. He opened a year later and the place was packed from that day forward. He had the right concept, in the right location, at the right time. Whether it was genius or luck, I will never know, but it worked. Over the years Harry added many pieces of original Mexican art from his trips South of the Border, but rarely changed the formula: great margaritas, simple but tasty food, and most importantly: a place where everybody knew your name.

The neighborhood restaurant serves many roles, but most important is a gathering place for friends and soon-to-be friends. In most small towns, it is the role of the restaurant to provide a forum for people to talk, argue, laugh, clink glasses and enjoy the reality of where they live. Restaurants with great food come and go, it is the neighborhood restaurant that typically survives swings in the economy and changes in customer tastes.

It is quite disheartening to see certain very important community focal points call it quits and put that closed sign on the front door. Bookstores, Movie Theaters, Newsstands, Groceries, Restaurants and even Churches are falling victim to a disturbing trend. Sometimes it is the convenience of the chains, the pricing that can’t be beat, or the ease of clicking on amazon.com (I am just as guilty as most) to get what we need, but in the process we destroy the soul of our towns.

As we collectively adopt the need for supporting farmers and local producers of raw materials we must also look at the sustainability of our communities. We need to protect the core of what made America great: the small business, and in this case, the neighborhood restaurant.

After 25 years in business, Harry Tucker threw a party for the community to celebrate his restaurant and thank his neighbors. Traffic was stopped, whole goats were being roasted outside, a mariachi band played, and EVERYONE in Saranac Lake came out to toast its important landmark.

A few years later Harry passed away leaving the operation of Casa to his wife and seasoned employees. They did a great job for a few years but as is the case with many restaurant folks, grew tired of the relentless work schedules. Casa was sold to Bryan Morgan, son of Saranac Lake’s most infamous restaurateur: Dew Drop Morgan. Bryan is a seasoned restaurateur in his own right and took his role as operator of a Saranac Lake icon very seriously. Casa was back! Unfortunately, in a few years, the restaurant just could not sustain and closed its doors in 2012.

Saranac Lake is not void of other neighborhood restaurants, nor is it lacking new ones opening up, but Casa was special.

Saranac Lake still has The Blue Moon, Left Bank Cafe, The Belvedere and even the Red Foxx to lean on. Bryan Morgan even reopened a family restaurant called Morgan’s Grill just a few months ago. We wish all of these restaurants well and implore the residents of our community and those passing through to support the small businesses that work so hard to maintain a sense of community.

All across America people must rally around the idea of the neighborhood restaurant. This is, after all, the center of the community, the place where we meet our friends, toast to their good health, break bread and relish the places where we live.

Small business is the backbone of our country and the heart of free-enterprise. Think small!

The True Role of the Chef

Mary Petersen is one of those rare individuals who falls under the heading of a silent superstar. She continues to have a tremendous impact on the quality of culinary education throughout the United States and the integrity of our profession without seeking the recognition that is due to her.

I have known Mary, admired her dedication and professionalism, and have called her a friend for a few decades. Her work with American Culinary Federation Accreditation set the stage for insuring that culinary schools meet a universal standard for excellence and her current organization: The Center for Advancement of Foodservice Education (CAFE) is the gold standard for in-service training of culinary faculty from coast to coast.

I am very pleased that she has agreed to offer this guest commentary for culinary cues.

For those unfamiliar with CAFE, check out their website at: http://www.cafemeetingplace.com.

Mary wrote:

“I was trying to think of a phrase which captured the role of a chef and therefore, the role of a chef instructor. Words like techniques and inspiration and even wellbeing crossed my mind. But it’s a little more complicated than that.

I believe that the role of a chef (like the role of a business manager or bus driver or team captain or blog creator) is to “figure things out.”

As a coordinator of special events (for chefs) around the U.S., I am no stranger to moving various pieces around according to a check list of “things to do to ensure that the event goes well.” Programming, marketing, hotel blocks, meal functions, assessments, etc., are part of my vocabulary in order to make attendees as well as the hosts of these events feel that they have been involved with something worthy of their time and effort and dollars.

What I do three to six times a year, chefs do on a daily basis, multiple times. How can they teach those skills? How do they help eager students learn from their mistakes so that they become worthy of a paycheck?

Schools are offering both cooking and service opportunities through catering and even running restaurants. They encourage internships and then after a couple of years, chef instructors pop a toque on their students’ heads and wish them well.

Their first chefs expect them to work twice as hard as experienced co-workers; they expect an incredible volume of output; and they expect these beginners to keep quiet and learn.

But chefs also take time to show them shortcuts; they complement them on their efforts; and they feel hugely proud when they become a viable part of a team.

I heard a well-known and respected chef say that when a student asked to be an intern in his kitchen, he (the chef) told them that they should pay him for the time they spent with him. The audience gasped when they heard this. The chef then said that if he hired the intern, then he would refund all the money he had been given.

Fair? Depends on how hard the intern wanted to work and how much he was willing to listen and learn productivity. By the way, this was not in New York City!

The chef in the classroom or in the first job wants the student/worker to succeed. They have high standards of effort required and more than anything, they want to produce someone who can figure it out.”

It is Time for Reform – Your Health is the Top Priority

The Elephant in the Closet:

So here is the reality: I praise the president for making an attempt at healthcare reform and unlike some I do not necessarily oppose what has been labeled as Obamacare. I think the greatest nation in the world should be able to make quality healthcare affordable for everyone. The real issue is that nothing has been done to address the sinful pricing structure of hospitals (some of which is driven by extraordinary cost associated with liability, bureaucratic processes, and fund distribution), the immoral pricing imposed by drug companies, and the lack of support for preventative medicine (nutrition, exercise, healthy choices).

Two cases in point: I recently had to spend a few hours in a Philadelphia Emergency room where they drew blood, had a doctor see me for less than two minutes and scheduled a CATScan that took about 5 minutes. I received a bill for $13,800 of which $75 is out of pocket for me and the balance was billed to my insurance company. The bill was not even itemized! This is immoral and should be considered illegal billing.

Another case is a friend of mine who has to take a medication every day for the rest of his life. Each pill cost $150. Fortunately for him, the majority is covered by insurance, however in both cases it is this sinful billing that continues to cause an absurd increase in healthcare costs, fraudulent misuse of funds, and healthcare costs that without government support would be out of reach for most Americans.

We should stop blaming the president and put pressure on our representatives to investigate the drug companies and immoral pricing expenses from many health care providers. Additionally, isn’t it time for another national wellness and physical fitness campaign similar to what John F. Kennedy did in his administration? We can reduce the cost of healthcare by simply addressing the need to take better care of ourselves in the first place.

As chefs and restaurateurs we have a role to play in this. I would support a national campaign for healthier menus, smaller portions, reduced use of sodium, fresh always before processed, and calorie, fat and sodium counts that are required on all menus. As a nation we are killing our people one fork full at a time and restaurants should be the voice of reason rather than the nail in the coffin.

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