Friday, October 26, 2007

Peter Peter Pumpkin...gutter?!

 Halloween is right around the corner, and being one of my favorite holidays (yeah that's right..HOLIDAY!) I think it only fitting to mention some Halloween-e stuff here.

As luck would have it in class lecture today Chef treated us to some pictures of some damn good pumpkin carvings. Done by a guy named Scott Cummins, his pumpkin carvings are incredible.

I can only imagine the time and effort it takes to do these things.

Check him out and have a great Halloween! 

Monday, October 22, 2007

I'm a slacker..

Ok I missed this Sundays NIC, I was out of town and didn't get a chance to watch.

When I see it Ill post my humble thoughts but I'm trying my best not to look at Ruhlmans blog or anything to do with NIC till I see the episode.. I don't want to be heartbroken before I see it if one of the ones I'm rooting for get Das Boot.

On With The Hunt...

 As school comes closer to its end for me I find myself in the situation of an all out job hunt. I mean full blown, armed to the teeth, no holds bared, job hunt frenzy.

I think the hardest thing about job hunting is trying to locate a place to work that is both a place to learn and a place to grow. I want badly to find a place where I will be taught something as I go along my daily routine as well as a feeling that when I get out of bed in the morning I'm doing more then just "Going to work".

As far as being fresh meat in the field right out of culinary school I fully expect to get a earful, worked to death, and be low on the totem pole. That doesn't mean that I have to hate what I do.

It also doesn't mean I have to "Settle" for the first thing that comes along. Its a tough call, the choices are wide open but at the same time very limited.

On one end a culinary graduate can find themselves a nice cushy job doing mindless repetitive work peeling potatoes or something of the sort for a large company like Hilton, Starwood, or MGM. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this route. Its a safe job with benefits and set hours, good for someone trying to settle down.

On the other end is the chance to work at places like French Laundry, Charlie Trotters, and the like. A bit harder to get your foot in the door as well as not having allot to offer in the way of benefits you have to be highly motivated, focused, and have some bank to hold your head above water. But the bonus to these places is the fact that you train with some of the best, every single day is a challenge and I would almost bet you would learn allot.

With less then three months remaining its time to figure out where I will end up. I don' t think it would be a far stretch to say that where I go after school will determine where I step for the rest of my career, but only time will tell on that.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

1000 lbs of corn on the wall, a 1000 lbs of corn...

It seems as though Michael Pollan and his book, Omnivore's Dilemma, have had a much larger impact on how we view what we eat then I thought it would.

Aaron Wolf, Ian Cheney, and Curt Ellis have made a documentary, King Corn, in which they follow Americas mass produced feed corn from the earth to our stomachs.

One of the most adhering aspects of the film is that they actually bought an acre or so of land and grew corn themselves.

I doubt it will be at a theater near me, but I'll be keeping my eye out for it as should you.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Next Iron Chef: M.G. Edition

**Danger Will Robinson, Spoilers Ahead**

Well week two is down and another one bites the dust.

Jill Davie put up a good fight, and I really thought her Bone Marrow Potato was a great idea, or at least in concept. Sadly from what Michael Ruhlman hinted to it came down to taste; which the dish failed to achieve.

I'm kind of sad to see Davie go, the second of only two women to be in the contest. I would have liked to see her last at least a little longer, but even since the first episode she seemed to be barely holding on.

She said it herself "At least I had fun." and really she seemed like she was having a blast.

Lets take a look back at the episode and I'll give you my humble opinion and mention things I found to be very interesting.

The first challenge was for the chefs to create a dish that could be consumed in one single bite. What the Chairman was looking for was for each chef to use their signature style to create the dish.

I have to say, given the time allowed there were some beautiful looking dishes being made. I called it when I said that Gavin Kaysen would be the quiet guy in the corner who surprises everyone. His one bit dish was beautifully plated. Sadly he wouldn't do so well on the next challenge.

The one thing that REALLY ate at me during the One Bite challenge was the fact that Aaron Sanchez failed to plate all 6 required plates in the given time. Then he goes on to throw a mini temper tantrum about not being allowed to plate after the timer stopped. Ok man, come on. You competed on Iron Chef America and won, did you have to be totally plated by the end of time on the actual show? yes, so what makes you think the contest to be the Next Iron Chef would be any different. Stand up, say you fouled up, and be thankful your butt didn't get cut because of it. Frankly not being plated on time is a major no no, even in culinary school. Your late plating and you get points off.

I have no doubt in my mind that Aaron Sanchez is a awesome cook, but get it together man.

They let each of the chefs judge each others one bite dishes and the result was the majority felt as though Michael Symon portrayed himself the best in the challenge.

The second Challenge was, for me, an awesome event. There's allot of blow back from the blogging and foodie community about this event, but I'm not everyone else am I? nope.. I loved it.

Molecular Gastronomy is the name of the game this time.

The chefs stood before numerous M.G. gadgets, including an AntiGriddle, a Sous Vide machine, as well as numerous chemicals used in M.G. foods. They each had to come up with a dish using the gadgets to show innovation.

Frankly I was down right startled to find none of the chefs had even seen or heard of most the stuff. Have they been under a rock for the last two years or so?! no, they've been neck deep in their restaurants. Not all of us have time to read the fine print these days, but I was really glad to see they focused a little on M.G.

It was also really interesting to see how the chefs reacted to the gadgets. When Wylie Dufresne walked in along with Philipe Preston, president of Polyscience, I was giggling in my seat like a school girl. As far as M.G. goes they couldn't have picked two better people to step in and give a basics course for the chefs, well next to Ferran Adria of course.

Regardless the chefs seemed to have some fun with the gadgets, but in the end it was Jill Davie; who's frozen composed salad was a big miss with the judges. Gavin Kaysen came dangerously close to losing his head this time, his attempt at a smoke pillow was initially well received but it seems he spent so much time on getting it together he didn't pay attention to flavor in his main dish.

Flash and Glitz is grand, but flavor is above all most important. Its how chefs like Grant Achatz, Wylie Dufresne, and Ferran Adria have made M.G. work in their kitchens, they haven't forgotten about flavor.

All in all it was a fun episode to watch. I'm sad to see no more female contests and I'm just getting sick of all the camera time they're giving Donatella Arpaia. Yes we know she wears low cut shirts and bats her eyelids when Michael Symon tells her how pretty she is, but come on, less about looks and more about the food please?

Even Adam Roberts, The Amateur Gourmet, mentioned how much time they spend swooning over her with the camera and less on the judging.

"-I'm frustrated that we don't get to hear more of the judging. At one point Andrew Knowlton said, "I disagree" about one of the dishes to Michael Ruhlman. What did he disagree about? Why couldn't we hear that argument play out? I feel like we get little snippets-like Donatella's flirty exchange with Chef Symon-but no meaningful discourse. These are all really intelligent judges and I want to hear more of them-it's a wasted opportunity to have their reactions trimmed down so mercilessly. (Luckily, judge Michael Ruhlman is blogging about each episode when it's over on his blog"

I'm with you on that one buddy.

Lets hope it gets better next round, but somehow I wouldn't bet my favorite side towel on it.

Monday, October 8, 2007

One Star Falls and Two Stars Rise

Tom Colocchio and his flagship restaurant Craft (NY) lose a Michelin star, while Gordon Ramsay and The London (NY) gains two.

Next Iron Chef...

***SPOILERS WITHIN, you have been warned***

Its not often I get ants in my pants about a particular television show, even less so about ones on the Food Network, but call it hometown pride at the first part of N.I.C. being shot at the CIA or reference it to the uncontrollable urge to watch a train wreck, I was there in my seat before the clock even chimed 9pm.

I have seen many of the I.C.A. which the contestants were involved, many of which I enjoyed very much (which is a stretch when it comes to Iron Chef America). Some of my favorite past competitions were Traci Des Jardens, John Besh, and Morou Ouattara.

The first trial involved speed. Pitting 4 at a time against the clock and each other to Clean a salmon, Open 8 bi-valves, de-bone a whole chicken, retrieve 2 cups(I think thats right) of coconut juice from a coconut, and slice a daikon so thin you could read a newspaper through it, all in 15 minutes.

I was down right amazed at Morou's speed as he completed the task with 3 minutes on the clock. Sadly speed is not everything, as he was docked points due to numerous bad cuts, which included leaving the fins and bones in the salmon. There was some outrage from blogger's I've seen saying Morou got cheated because it was a test of speed, but think of it this way folks.. would it not take MORE time to go back and correct the problem then to do it right the first time? I stand by the judges call on that one, there's no DOUBT in my mind he could have done it perfectly the first time, he had 3 minutes to spare!

The second contest was to create two desert dishes, and with no cheese, butter, or sugar to be found in the kitchen. On top of that the contestants had to choose one item not normally found in a desert course to work with and feature. Tripe being the most amusing of the lot.

I was downright amazed at some of the creations, most impressive was Besh's catfish and grape truffles, Chris Cosentino's Tripe croutons, and Jill Davie's beef gastrique.

Sadly in the end it was Traci Des Jardens who got the axe. Her choice to use salmon roe on her desert seemed to be the unanimous downfall.

After watching the first show I have to say there are some I am rooting for and there are those I cant wait to see go.

The Good Guys

John Besh- I love this guy. His attitude in the kitchen is both focused and funny. He's busy cracking jokes and hassling his co-competitors as though its no big thing. He's laid back, funny, and a damn damn good chef.

Morou- This guys a powerhouse. His presentation on his deserts were flawless, and I'm going to love to see what he does next. Not only that I loved how even though he was competing he was still watching everyone's back. Calling out to Jill Davies that her cream was boiling over, and calling a 15 minute warning on the clock, sign of a true team player.

Gavin Kaysen- The quiet young guy in the corner no one expects to fly out and wow you. He's not getting allot of camera time, but I think in the end he's going to really wow allot of people.

Jill Davies- There's something about her I both like and dislike. But I find myself rooting for her mostly because of how she both turned beef into a desert AND made a fantastic call of judgement on making her own ricotta cheese and deciding the desert lacked beef flavor, choosing to add another component to the dish to enhance that.

The Goodbye Guys

Michael Symon- I know there are allot of people out there who love him, but frankly I can't stand him. He seems to be an ego-maniac and bull headed. I've worked with people like him before, all of them needed to be taken down a notch, which is what I think losing this competition would do for him.

Chris Consentino- Cooler heads prevail they say, which is one lesson I dont think our friend Chris has learned yet. He's wound up so tight he's going to explode, mark my words.

Aaron Sanchez- I'm still 50/50 on him but I'm going to put him in this camp because there's something about him I dont like. I look at him and look at the way he works and I see the guy who would throw salt in your soup just to spite you. We'll have to see how it plays out in the end.

All in all there are two people I would LOVE to see this come down to: John Besh and Morou. I loved what they did on their Iron Chef America episodes and I love what they've done so far on N.I.C.

Ill be tuned in next Sunday to see who gets cut.

Chili Cook-off Results

Well you can't avoid bad news forever.

The top three winners were announced at the end of the Cook-off and we did not place then. We waited patiently for the results to the cook-off to come in and they did at the end of last week.

The results are as follows:

Jury Selection
1 :: Team Ace (No. 8) * Avg. 82.8
2 :: Hot Thang (No. 10) * Avg. 82.4
3 :: The Pair of Aces (No. 1) * Avg. 75.6
4 :: Hokey, Dokey and Smokey (No 12) * Avg. 75.2
5 :: Smoke ‘n’ Hot (No. 2) * Avg. 75
6 :: Hurricanes (No. 6) * Avg. 70.9
7 :: Red Hot Chili Chicks (No. 7) * Avg. 69.3
8 :: Team Chupacabra (No. 3) * Avg. 68.4
9 :: Team Culinary Lovin’ (No. 11) * Avg. 67.2
10 :: The Three Amigos (No. 9) * Avg. 66.3
11 :: Red Hot Chili People (No. 4) * Avg. 64.5
12 :: Off the Wagon (No. 5) * Avg. 63.8

So what went wrong? How could this be?!

Well looking back there are a few things we could have done differently.

I honestly believe the recipe is solid in its base. The problem came with the act of cooking.

The judges feedback was as follows:

Too Thin and Oily
Uneven Braise, Some Off Taste Like Olives, Way too Salty, Too Big and Random Pieces
Good Heat Balance, Deep Color, A Bit Thin
Meat is Starting to Shred, Bit Salty, Somewhat Watery
Separated Grease, A little Salty, Cumin Overdone
Needs Cumin, Needs Salt, Loose Sauce, Oily
Greasy, Mild Flavor, No Cumin
Way Greasy, Pre Chewed, Funny Flavors
Too Salty, Meat Tough, Way Greasy, Not Hot Enough
A Little Oily, Too Much Cumin

Some of this makes sense. Our stock was not de-greased well enough (Totally my mistake), and the cuts were far too large (also my error in judgement). The biggest flaw that killed us was that the meat began to shred close to presentation time. Even as large as our cuts were they ended up looking like a pulled BBQ then a chili.

We should have held the meat to the side longer and reduced the base a little before adding the meat in, or cooked it on a lower temperature. That in itself was a problem due to the stoves we were using, one side put out a much higher BTU then the other which was unexpected. We adapted to the issue and did the best we could given the time allowed.

Our test batch came out far better then the batch at the cook-off, but I honestly believe with some slight adjustments and some practice the recipe could carry on strong.

All in all we came, we cooked, we had fun and that's what really matters. For my first actual cooking competition I have to say I'm mildly pleased, but knowing me Ill obsess over the recipe given the free time till I cook it right every time.

A very special thanks to Gary Allen and his wife for showing up and showing their support.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

It Doesn't Take Much

There are a few moments in life that truly amaze and inspire me and in recent months I have been feeling that stagnant feeling as though it was about time for one of those things to present itself.

Now thanks to Bob and Michael Ruhlman I am feeling awash with the crisp fresh feeling of happiness and inspiration at another's success.

Ladies and Gentleman I would like to introduce you to:

Kitchen Z

Bryan Zupon is no ordinary Duke college student. While others are cheering at sports games, out drinking on Friday nights, and eating pizza and Chinese food he's in his jury-rigged kitchen preparing meals that would make some New York restaurants look paltry.

Zupon, a Economics and Media Major, started Kitchen Z in his Junior year and has become a sort of underground sensation in the Raleigh-Durham food scene.

I first caught the attention of Zupon from Ruhlman's latest blog entry that mentions meeting him at the BlogTogether event in Durham. Zupan not only cooks in his makeshift kitchen, but also reviews restaurants for the school paper and sits on the dining advisory board at Duke. He also guest blogs at eGullet.

What I find most intriguing about the whole thing... He doesn't want to become a chef.

“The hours are too long for the compensation you receive,” he said. “It’s a hard, sweaty job.”**

He respects the food, He loves the food, and he understands what it means to be a working Chef.

Well Bryan, you may not be a chef my friend, but your one hell of a foodie!

Congratulations on your success with your passion for food and your willingness to accept nothing less then great food.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

I Can Breath Again!..and The Air, its So Crisp!

..Both figuratively and literally. After being neck deep in wines class I exited only to be hit by a series of flu like symptoms. Now after almost a week I am starting to feel a little bit better and have a moment to come back to writing.

I wish I could say allot of exciting things have happened in the last week, but alas, I can not.

But on the horizon there is a light!

I will be interviewing Chef Phil Falsone from Hendricks Dairy Farm, who is their Executive Chef and Culinary Educator. Shortly after the interview I also plan on visiting the farm for a first hand view of daily operations.

Also in the works is a makeover for the blog thanks to Bartoneus over at Hopefully our combined genius will produce something a little less bland, if it doesn't destroy us first.

October is one of my favorite months, and fall one of my favorite times of year. The summer growing season draws to an end, the fall harvest comes rolling in bringing with it a bounty of corn, root vegetables, and a plethora of colour.

I am hoping to make it to one of the numerous apple orchards that upstate New York is so famous for as well as the Milbrook Winery or maybe even The Brotherhood Winery to help build on all that wine knowledge I seemed to have almost forgotten already.

I've had the pleasure of being given a little breathing room in finances, so hopefully I can translate that into a more esthetically pleasing series of entries in the near future.

All in all, October looks to be an up and up for the blog as I try to plan a little more diversity in the entries as well as a possible new look.