Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Lee Anne Wong Dinner

It was my great privileged to work for Patricia Mowen-Ziegler again this year. It's a case of when she calls, I jump. So one rainy late October day found me out at the CVI again, reporting to rock-n-roll superstar chef wonder-woman Lee Anne Wong. Wow, she's something. I had a fabulous time. The food was beautiful and delicious. Patricia made sure I was able to sample most of the wines. First I'll run down the menu, then I post some pictures (I didn't get a shot each plate, alas).

(many hors d'oeuvres)
~Domaine Carneros by Tattinger, Napa Valley, 2003~
(amuse bouche)
Egg Florantine with Buttermilk-Chive Biscuit & Crispy Prosciutto

Yellowtail Nicoise Tartare with Lemon Confit & Fingerling Potato
~Dagueneau, "Pur Sang", Sauvignon Blac, Loire, 2005~

Deconstructed Chowder with Shellfish, Milk & Thyme Emulsion
Steamed Black Cod with Smoked Onion Broth & Bok Choy
~Etienne Sauzet, Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru, Chardonnay, Burgundy, 1999 (Magnum)~

"Duck & Celery" with Grape Salad & Sherry Vinaigrette
~Echezeaux, Domaine de la Romanee Conti, Pinot Noir, Burgundy, 1991 (Double Magnum)~

Slow Poached Pork Tenderloin with Fennel & Buttermilk Emulsion
~Domaine du Pegau, Chateauneuf de Pape, Rhone, 1995 (Methusela)~

Herb Roasted Rack of Lamb with Olive Farro Salad & Cucumber Yogurt
~Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou, St. Julien, Bordeaux, 1995~

Bleu d'Auvergne Soup with Roasted Beets & Candied Walnuts
~Fonseca Vintage Port, Portugal, 1997 (Magnum)~

Chocolate Ganache with Billionaire's Bacon & Sour Cream Ice Cream

the gougere

starters lee anne cooks pot stickers

maggie plates a starter

the amuse bouche

mise en place for the deconstructed chowder

tuna tartare

the dining room

the black cod

pork in the thermo-circulator

pork two-ways

lee anne, patricia and me

What Restaurant?

shifting gears
It's easy enough to say that 2008 held many changes for the US. It's also been a year of dramatic change and development for me personally. Those two facts directly result in news relevant to this blog. In light of the downward-spiralling economy and a tug in a different professional direction, I have returned the money raised and withdrawn the financing for a restaurant. I would like to thank the many people who gave me great encouragement and support. And I can tell you that were the economy different than it is, I would be in a much different place. Do all things happen for a reason? Perhaps. What remains true is that life tends to hold answers no matter what fortunes or misfortunes befall us. My new direction is not yet completely shaped, although I hope to have news of that in the Spring. What I will tell you is that it should allow me to enjoy a much more diverse life of activity (I have many interests), the likes of which I have not been able to enjoy since leaving Ithaca more than seven years ago. The time has come, the Walrus said...

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Dining at La Locanda di Pietracupa

La Locanda di Pietracupa

Six months later, I am finally getting around to loading pictures from this fabulous ristorante. Perched on the higher ground of San Donato, their dining patio looks west across a valley of olive groves. Somewhere, not far beyond this valley, lies another, Val d'Elsa, the medieval hilltop town of Barbarino, and the rustic tranquility of La Torre di Ponzano, our refuge for one week. We enjoyed the food and service so much that we dined here twice!

Here is my view from our second visit, May 26th, 2008. The picture at the top of this blog shows me (D's view) from the same visit.

The pictures that follow are my best shots from both visits. Hope you enjoy!
Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Always sampling the local specialties.

Tomato Soup

Fava Beans and Salami in a fold of crispy Parmesan. Notice the tiny favas are not peeled.

Artichoke Flan. Outstanding!

House made Spaghetti with Squash Blossoms and shaved Truffles. Even Better!!!

Lamb Ravioli with Pea Broth


Frito Misto

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Recent Press, Internet Style (or Beer Recipes for the Holidays)

beer ice cream, anyone?
Ivan Sheehan (Associate Editor of Food & Dining, Northern Ohio Live) sent me an email last month asking for some beer recipes or pairings for two holiday menus: Thanksgiving and Christmas. Keeping in mind that Great Lakes Brewing Company is celebrating its 20th anniversary, I had to oblige using their absolutely fantastic product. They brew, hands down, my favorite malted hops, bar none. While the micro brew market has blessedly burgeoned and I have tried only a fraction of what's available, I have yet to find a brewery that outshines GLBC. No, I have no affiliation with them. I just LOVE their beer. And, I confess, I consume quite a bit of it. Now, of course, I could not leave well enough alone with this. It's too easy to have simply paired beer with courses. I had to cook with the beer. This is the kind of fun challenge that chefs love. You can click here to read some recipes. For those of you who don't "click" that far, here are the menu items.

First Course: *Pumpkin-Dortmunder Chowder
Second Course: *Roasted Turkey Breast and Sausages Brined with Commodore Perry IPA
Third Course: Baked Apples with Burning River Caramel Sauce

First Course: *White Ale Lobster and Cod a la Nage
Second Course: *Porter-Lacquered Lamb with Eggplant and Roasted Shallots
Third Course: *Spiced Christmas Ale Ice Cream

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

June Photo Shoot

playing with food

You may remember that I was interviewed for an article in Cleveland Business Connects magazine. The article (July 2008) pondered the current state and future of molecular gastronomy in Cleveland. With the clear caveat that I don't practice much molecular gastronomy, I agreed to be interviewed and photographed. Ryan Divita shot the food and a few pictures of me for the magazine. Here are some of the results.

The first two are of me, designing the plates in my friend's kitchen (thanks, Doug!).

These next images do, in fact, represent some of the cuisine I like to practice. The first plate does include some "transformations" of product: carrot into both a cube state and a powder, beet into ravioli and foam. The beets for the ravioli were cooked in the bag method discussed in posts below. I filled the ravioli with goat cheese. For the record, I generally do not like to put food on the rim of plates. I'm not sure what possessed me to put the stripe of carrot powder across the edge like that. It looks cool, I guess, but it's not something I would do in a restaurant.

The language of love and food are often intermingled. We hear chef's refer to food as sexy. I don't often see plate design as a fundamentally sexy endeavor. The actual experience of eating, however, can be another matter entirely. Yet I have to admit, I find the following photograph sexy--the spoon and foam suggesting movement and touch, also the color and suggested textures.

The second item I prepared for the photo shoot was a terrine of sous-vide white asparagus and shiitake mushrooms, garnished with mushroom crumbs and red wine mignonette. This dish is not strictly vegetarian. I used gelatin to bind the terrine. However, I have stepped away from the notion that meat must be the focus of a well centered dish, a practice I would like to continue should I ever get a restaurant together!

Lastly, here's one from a series Ryan shot in my friends dining room. I wanted to shoot a bunch that were a tad more playful, not so serious. This one is neither too goofy nor too serious.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

plastic bags and "sous vide" cooking

I recently posted a method for cooking beets in what might best be described as a faux sous-vide technique. A reader asked me about the safety of this. You can read the comments yourself in the comments section (where else?) of that post. Scroll down to the July 17th post, Beat-the-Heat Cool Summer Dinner. Fortunately I was able to put that question directly to food science guru Harold McGee through a NY Times question and answer session. His answer was short and affirmative. Here is the text of my question and his reply:

Q: Are conventional zip-loc bags safe for sous-vide cooking? If so, up to what temperature? There seems to be a lot of guess work and misinformation (?) about this one on the Internet. Love your books! Thank you.— Posted by Ben Fambrough

Harold McGee replies: Heavy-duty Ziplock bags are made from polyethylene and are approved for contact with hot foods. True sous-vide cooking involves vacuum-packing the food, which zipping a bag won’t do for you. But you can certainly use the bag to immerse food in a water bath whose temperature you control carefully. It can be hard to squeeze out all the air, so the bags tend to float and heat unevenly unless you weigh them down. Sous-vide cooking generally involves water temperatures between 120 and 180 degrees, which the heavy-duty bags can take.

here to read the reply and related questions and answers in their original context.

Friday, August 15, 2008

2008 Food & Wine Celebration.

A Benefit for Veggie U
On Saturday, July 19th, The Culinary Vegetable Institute hosted the 2008 Food & Wine Celebration. This event took place the day after the Chef Summit (see posts below). More than 700 people attended to sample food and wine, watch demonstrations and participate in the auction. The event raised funds for Veggie U, a non-profit program developed by the Chef's Garden, designed to fight diabetes and obesity among children. Veggie U teaches fourth grade students in classrooms across the country how to live a healthy lifestyle. For more information on Veggie U, you can write to them at Veggie U, 12304 State Route 13, Milan, OH 44846.
The day was intensely hot and humid under a threatening sky. Fortunately, storms did not materialize and little rain fell. D and I arrived to find the main food tent crowded and hot. We waited until the emcee, local star Michael Symon, kicked off the show under the demonstration tent. When most people cleared out to watch him and a host of other celebrity chefs (including Jon Ashton, Lee Anne Wong, Bob Waggoner, Marcel Vigneron, Celina Tio and Don Yamauchi), we ventured in to sample the food and wine. I have to admit, I totally skipped out on the demonstrations and cook-off. What follows are select pictures from the food tent with a little commentary. I hope you enjoy.
I tasted almost everything (a real feat!) and thought I should begin with my top choice. This bean salad was hands-down my favorite item of the evening, among what was a decidedly protein-heavy showing for an event at a vegetable farm. It had everything going for it: multiple textures, bright and bold flavors, good color...just terrific all around. It gets my gold star.

Summer Bean Salad, Currant Tomatoes and Black Olive Oil
by Chef Craig Deihl of Cypress, Charleston, South Carolina.

Chef Deihl and crew.

One of the foods vying for second place was this combination of Tea Smoked Currant and Teardrop Tomatoes, Sour Cream and Long Onion Pound Cake with Candied Fennel presented by Chef Kirk Gilbert of Ballantyne Resort, Charlotte, North Carolina.
Another runner-up was this Slow Roasted Molasses Lacquered Pork Belly with Tomato Marmalade by Chef Anne Hart of Provence Market, Bridgeport, West Virginia.
This Quail Breast served with Bacon, Carrot and Mustard Cress also really good. Thank you, Chef Aaron Deal of Tristan, Charleston, South Carolina.
These southern chefs were really stealing the show in my humble opinion.

A Baltimore son, Beej Flamholz, had a lovely tuna tartar.
This beet and horseradish cured beef was pretty interesting. Presented by Chef Patrick McElroy of the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at Union Station.

And here is the friendly Christopher Lee of Gilt (NYC) serving up a delightfully chilled English Pea Soup with Pea Falafel and Cucumber Yogurt.

The soup. He made a mousse out of the cucumber yogurt using gelatin and a nitrous canister.

Chef Jeff Slough of North Hills Country Club, Menomonee Falls, WI served this intriguing Veal Cheek Lasagna.

This Utah Lamb with Huckleberry Sauce, Corn Cake and Weed Salad was great! Presented by Chef Zane Holmquist of The Glitretind at Stein Eriken Lodge, Park City, Utah.

Some local boys made a good show, too. Dante Boccuzzi made this Pork Belly with Santana Eggplant and Basil Salsa Verde.

Dante's a great guy. And a fellow chef that I can talk with about guitars!

Another local boy who really likes to play with food, Johnathan Bennett of Exec. of both Red and Moxie, offered up Kettle Corn and Pork Cracklin's. Yum.

You can always count on Anne Blackwood for chocolate. She's terrific. These chocolate martinis were the bomb.

Finally, if I had to offer another gold star, I would award it to Jeni's Ice Creams. The line for this stand stretched more than twenty people deep. I had the Sweet Corn and Blackberry Ice Cream. All I can say is WOW!...just fantastic, maybe not for everyone, but right up my alley. Where have you been? And why haven't you entered my life earlier? Please get a store in Cleveland.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Chefs Summit Part Three

In two of the demos (described in posts below) I mentioned the use of "bloomed" basil seeds. By bloomed, I mean soaked in water until they swell. This photograph shows dry seeds on the left and bloomed seeds on the right. The bloomed seeds are strained and used as textural garniture. Not surprisingly these taste like basil, but do not have a particularly strong flavor.

Lee Ann Wong graced the stage next with Chef Jeremy (also of the French Culinary Institute) to perform a mixology demo. She discussed molecular gastronomy research at the French Culinary Institute and a man named David Arnold, Director of Culinary Technology. Their mission is to learn how science and technology can improve the taste of food. I took this to mean, improve the enjoyment of food. For the mixology demo they prepared a cocktail of celery vodka with clarified grapefruit. Some fascinating techniques were at play here. First, to clarify the grapefruit, they dissolved gelatin in a small amount of grapefruit juice (to insure dissolution) and then mixed it with a large quantity of juice to make a solution that was .5% gelatin by weight. This they frozen and, finally, slow thawed over a fine meshed cloth. The gelatin binds all the solids (impurities) as it freezes. Slow thawing draws out a raw, crystal clear juice, leaving the impurities and gelatin behind. Very cool. She demonstrated all these steps, yet had product ready to represent each stage. The clarified juice is cocktail-ready. Next, she used a sous-vide machine (really a kryovac machine, a machine designed to vacuum pack foods in plastic) to decompress a pan of vodka and raw, sliced celery. She mentioned it is critical to keep all components as cold as possible before, after and during the process. In fact, she recommends storing the infused vodka in the freezer. Otherwise, high temperatures will cause the flavors to "brown out." The machine is run until it reaches zero atmosphere. The air in the celery is sucked out. It actually looks exactly like the vodka is boiling. When most of the air is sucked out the bubbles become slowed and fine. At this point the machine is shut off. The vodka celery mixture is allowed to sit at zero gravity for one hour. Then the machine is turned back on and allowed to finish its cycle. This process is repeated once to draw the vodka back out of the celery. The resulting infusion is strained through a coffee filter and kept very cold.

Here is Lee Ann Wong working the kryo-vac machine.
Before assembling the final cocktail, Chef Jeremy used a CO2 tank and two-liter soda bottles with specialized tops to carbonate a one to one mixture of celery vodka and grapefruit juice. This was not exactly a simple process. It involved three injections, shaking the containers to get the CO2 into the liquid and releasing pressure after each injection. Finally, they get a sparkling cocktail with a fine bubble quality, not unlike champagne, that will hold on ice for six to eight hours. The cocktail was garnished with lemon stick and various mints from the Chefs Garden. They had plenty to go around. It absolutely wonderful, very refreshing, very flavorful.
Celery Vodka and Clarified Grapefruit Cocktail

Lee Ann Wong then discussed some other mixology applications of this process, including one of her personal favorites, infusing gin with cucumber. She saves the cucumber and serves it as a "boozy snack." Yum.

Lastly, Chef Paul Del Favero of Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace. Faveros demonstrations was the most traditional, using no techniques borrowed from the realm of molecular gastronomy. He discussed the running of a kitchen that does between twenty to twenty-five thousand covers a month. Mind boggling. The food was simple and beautiful: fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with house made ricotta, corn and basil on a pools of yellow bell pepper coulis, spiked with habaneros, a starter that has remained on the menu since the inception of the restaurant. Thanks, Paul, for brining us back down to earth with this beautiful dish.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Chef Summit Part Two

(for part one, see the post below)

The third chef to take the stage was Celina Tio, who recently departed The American Restaurant to build her own. She was joined by a former sous chef, Jonathan, and the two followed suit behind Christopher Lee and his sous in that Chef Tio left most of the "molecular" persuits to her second in command. She made her version of a New England lobster roll. Instead of the roll, she substituted a bread crumb panna cotta. The lobster salad was topped with celery pearls. These pearls demonstrated what is perhaps the most wide-spread use of molecular gastronomy in restaurants today. One may transform any liquid (celery juice in this case) into a pearl by utilizing sodium alginate (or sodium citrate) and calcium chloride (or calcium lactate) in solution. This process, sometimes called spherification, results in a "pearl" with a gelled outer layer and a liquid center. Ferran Adria pioneered this technique with his famous olives. Jonathan had a very cool little tool that allowed him inject many drops into the solution at one time.
Celina Tio makes mayo for the lobster salad.
The finished plate with celery pearls. She made enough lobster salad for everyone to have a bite.

Next up was Giuseppe Tentori, a nine year veteran of Charlie Trotter's (two of those nine as chef de cuisine) now chef of Boka. Guiseppe is all about love and details and spoke with a passion and respect for food unparalleled. He told a brief story about one of my idols, Jean-Louis Palladin. Giuseppe was working a benefit with Palladin. Jean-Louis tossed a small salad so gingerly and lovingly with both hands that he drew looks askance from a host of other chefs. Giuseppe understood this level of attention. He brings this to all the food he touches. He demonstrated making a "skin" out of tomatoes by slow roasting tomato, sliced into petals, and pressed between layers of parchment and dried in a slow oven. He also "bloomed" basil seeds in water to achieve a texture not unlike caviar with a basil flavor. These were arranged with other components (copa, buffalo mozz, tomato powder, and balsamic ice cream) to complete a complicated version of the BLT.
Chef Tentori gives a dissertation on love and sexy food.
The BLT.

After Tentori, Bravo Top Chef, Marcel Vigneron took the stage with close culinary friend. I ate lunch across from Marcel later in the day. I didn't admit that I don't watch TV (what's Bravo?). Recently he had been in Alaska working on boats. He's trying to immerse himself laterally in all aspects of food, both harvest and production, and remains unchained to the restaurant world. That may change, as he and his buddy spoke of opening a place with a third friend in NYC. Marcel's demonstration had many elements. First, he made a gelee with melon juice with agar agar and some gelatin. Agar agar with set warm. Gelatin will not. Both together make a good result, the use of gelatin cuts the required amount of agar agar, which has a flavor of its own. Lowering the amount of agar, allows for more purity of the melon flavor. He also made a mousse out of gazpacho by adding gelatin to it and using a nitrous oxide canister. The fundamental center of this dish is the union of melon and tomato. Garnishes included king crab, cucumber, a toasted mix of ground celery and coriander seed, fleur de sel, nasturtium blossoms, basil flowers, bloomed basil seeds and a brunois of fava beans with rice wine vinegar.

Another beautiful plate, although he covered up the lovely melon gelee with gazpacho mousse and other garnish.

More to follow in Part Three of the Chef's Garden Second Annual Chef Summit at the CVI.