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Originally uploaded by linecook
I feel like a fuckin million bucks right now...but if you want to know why, you have to ask....

On a seperate note, here is the hamachi/cocoa/white chocolate/caviar dish I made this weekend. Sounds gross. Tastes good.

If it were easy, more people would be doing it...

Some scenes from kitchens i have worked in...

PAV - Friday Night - 2 Angles, shot at the same time.

VDV - Saturday Night. The Fantastic Four hard at it.

Chef Mavro - Honolulu. Stage in summer 2006.


The only thing that's spoiled in this kitchen are the cooks...

First things first: One of my best friends for fourteen some odd years is a to-be father. Congratulations Nick. I hope Uncles Dan, Dylan, Casey, Pat, and Rich all get to be present for that kids first beer.

My spice rack is blowin' up.

First Gelatin Clarification

Grilled Escarole. Not popular.

Not sure if this was bluefin. It tasted frozen.

CFL's. Trying to go green.(er)

It's been foggy. I love it.

This was a big ticket.

Polyscience Ciruculator and 45 min Egg Movie on Youtube soon...

Frisee au Lardon. Everyone loves this salad. These are the afforementioned eggs.

Sometimes it seems crazy that we get to see so many pristine ingredients every singe day.....

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Plate Up: Orange Julius and Fennel.

I've been slipping...as the plate-up feature on this blog has been missing. I've been changing the foie so frequently, it's been hard to keep up. It's been interesting...as some nights, every single plate will go out differently...as we try to feel our way through the plate up. Heres a quick recap:

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We needed an amuse for my chef when he came in with the food editor for Diablo magazine. I had a 9 pan of terrine that was extra, so spooned that, bitter orange puree, and foie powder in a bowl and foamed coconut milk and mandarin orange juice over it. A new dish is born--foie gras "orange julius."
The bitter orange puree is simple...three oranges, in sous vide at 210 degrees for an hour. They're then pureed with a cup of sugar and half a cup of fresh orange juice, and passed through a tamis.
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I also wanted more coconut than just the foam...so we took coconut milk with just a bit of sugar and gelled it with genuvisco J carrageenan.
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The orange puree gets dragged up the side of the plate, then topped with the foie powder/effervescent powder mixture.
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Next, the foie is added, and topped with the coconut sheet. On top of the sheet is diced mandarin orange supremes and grains of paradise. The dots are minus 8 vinegar.
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Next the foam is added (stabilized with versawhip @ 1%) and topped with a nasturtium.
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In the end, it looked like this.
Foie Gras Orange Julius

Even before the orange julius, there was the fennel plate up. This also had the foie powder/effervescent component. Surprisingly, our guests really liked the fizz they got from it.
New FoieNew Foie
Admittedly, there may have been way too much mise for this plate up.
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New Foie
This is the honey cake...same as the tea time plate up.
New Foie
At first, foie and a piece of cryoblanched fennel would go on. Eventually, this switched to a sauternes cracker and sous vide baby fennel.
New Foie
New Foie
New Foie
The sauces were pretty simple...rhubarb cooked sous vide with sugar and lemon, and caramelized fennel. The minus 8 vinegar also shows up again.
Foie Detail
The final garnish is fennel fronds, fennel stalks, and some micro greens. As per usual, this plate up changed, and added some more fennel.
CryoblanchFoie new way
Back to the drawing board.
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Compressed Cake

365 11/10/07
Originally uploaded by linecook
Ideas In Food did a compressed cake a while back, and it got me thinking about childhood birthday parties, eating cake with my hands, and smashing it between my fingers. The result is a dense, chewy cake...similar to a really soft cookie. This is spice cake for the holidays...tasty with cranberry sauce and quince.


Missing: Cooks.

Nearing the end of culinary school, a student starts to feel the stress of finding a job. Top of class in culinary school usually means a certain aptitude towards some arbitrary classic techniques (and generally kissing up) as opposed to the actual head down-im focused and listening attitude needed to hack it on a hot line. Some students start to realize that at the end of their culinary school "fantasy camp" vacation that they are deeply in debt, and despite having made that really neat Thai consomme for their Asian Cuisine test, do not have the firm grasp on their technique. Others don't realize this at all...but more on them later.

A month before my last day of school, I started to weigh my options. I had done my time with a catering company that had fostered me through the days of barely knowing how to make vinaigrette, and had spent some nights toiling away in the Sushi Ran kitchen. I could talk a good game, but in my heart of hearts I was shitting myself. Could I hold down a sautee or grill station on a three hundred cover night? Would I be the weak link that dragged the restaurant into debt with an endless list of guest comps due to quality or bad timing? Chris Ludwick, at the catering company, had made me a smart cook. He made me think. Taught me ingredients. Taught me seasonality. Taught me to care. Sushi Ran had made me tough. Taught me humility. Taught me the poker face a cook needs to survive. Now I was on my own. Now I needed to start teaching myself.

A plan to go to New York had slipped through my grasp. I had the dreamy plan to work in Nobu, or some other high profile kitchen, but had neither saved the money to do so, nor even tried to contact any restaurants. Rossi and I decided that some mutual support through this strange time might be a good idea, so he moved to the east bay, and we set out to find work. My start was not promising. Ironically, the first place I stopped, Va De Vi, was the first place that shooed me away. The place was full of sawdust and construction workers, and I wanted desperately to be a part of an opening. The sous chef told me they weren't hiring anymore, but that they would give me a call. I ran around town and dropped off resumes, interviewed, and tried to sound smart, but not so smart as to come off like a pain in the ass. In the end, I got called back from every place I stopped at...and not just for interviews. Even my eventual call from VDV went like this: "Richie, it's Kelly, the chef at Va De Vi. Can you work tomorrow night?"

Initially I chalked all this up to my brilliantly typed resume (Helvetica neu only please) and my charm and wit in my interviews. Perhaps they could see that, yes, in me, was an amazing chef. Now I can see there was something else at work completely.

This past week saw the Chronicle put out a cover story about where all the line cooks have gone. The article more or less chalks it all up to underpaid cooks living in a very high rent city...a problem that Ginger has told me she runs into in NYC. Shuna wrote a great follow up, and the whole thing really got people talking. Some of the best comments:

  • "I think tipping should be banned."
  • "You know? The cooks could fix this very easily. Basically they need to
    extort the wait staff into tipping out. All they need to do is slow the
    line down and get the orders wrong so that the wait staff don't get
    tipped as well, and when the wait staff finally decides to tip out to
    the cooks, and the rest of the help, the line would speed back up to
    normal. The only way you will get the wait staff in line is to hit them
    in the pocket book"
  • "Bottom line.. I have decided to become a waiter intead of a cook. Hey cooks!.. if you can't stand the heat.. get out of the ..."

Either way, I think this article misses a key point, and thats asking the question of why cooks do it in the first place. Its a conversation ive had many times with my cooks, and generally goes like this:

"You need to ask yourself why you do this...and obviously you dont do it for money. You need to ask yourself what the point is...after all the burns, and missed weekends and holidays, and the yelling, and back breaking work. YOU need to know why you do it."

Cooks are in short supply...there is no doubt about it. At my work we often lose cooks in the time it takes them to go have a smoke before their stage. Kids come and go, and more and more often, they cant cook, and they can't keep their mouths shut. When Joey, Rossi, Angelo and I worked the line together, there was something else at work than just four cooks on a line. There was a collective passion, a need to be the best. Money, hours, burns, cuts, yelling, screaming...these things simply did not matter. The only thing that mattered was the food...and our guests. I have not seen a cook in the past year that thinks like this...except for Chad, who is now a co-sous with Rossi, Angelo, and myself.

A cook quits because I tell him to wear a side towel, and stop wiping his hands on his apron. Another cook quits after he spent his whole shift telling our pastry chef that he was making his truffles the wrong way. Another cook quits because thinks he's ready to be an executive chef, despite a woeful problem with being able to fry an egg.

I dont know where this industry is headed, but its comforting knowing that all these people are making me look really good.

And now, notes.

  • How did I end up on Chow.com and not know about it? And here, and here. And here. Thanks technorati.
  • Marisa. She will make you laugh.
  • Oil spill. Assholes.
  • Barry Bonds. Pwnd!
  • Dylan leaves his xbox360 here, with Call of Duty 4. I consider never working or blogging ever again.
  • Tasting menu's piece on breaking down your station after service.
  • Your cheese plate is nice...but Ideas in Foods in nicer.
  • Studio Kitchen asks for help...and the result is an eye opening conversation about hydrocolloids.
  • Chadzilla visits Bluezoo.

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This was called "scary" today...

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I personally think this is scarier...although delicious.
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But if you really want scary, check out this nasty bruising I saw when I was cutting salmon the other day. Luckily we got a credit on this.
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And of course, you always get a little nervous when there is alot of smoke in the kitchen. Or when J-Russ sneaks up on you.
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Lastly, scary for me was losing my cell phone while taking this picture. Sad (scary?) how dependent I am.
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I should be getting ready for work right now. Friday night is here, and I threw away all my foie mise last night, with the ambitious plan to go in today and completely re-work that dish. (Quince and cranberries anyone?) Winter seems like its finally settling in...and yesterday was just gloomy enough to make me happy to be in a warm, dry kitchen. It's been an interesting week so far...with some drama at work, an oil spill in the bay, and a general feeling of uneasiness...but then again, that might just be me. (Whats up with being asked three times yesterday "What's wrong?")

Style has been on my mind lately...and I dont mean how to dress. If you were to ask me about "style" two years ago, I wouldve told you that I didnt have one yet. I work for a chef whose style is clearly Asian, with elements of European cuisine peppered in. A guy like Joey has a rustic sensibility. I used to think I cooked French...and while those techniques are deep in my bones, I think that "American" is the more apt term. It's a fine line to walk, incorporating several cultures cuisines without it becoming fusion...but its walking that line that keeps a cook like myself sharp. (And on occasion, humbled.)

Growing up hapa has had a huge impact on the way I look at food...with my Mother cooking American comfort foods. Nothing over the top or too fancy, but always delicious. She cooked dinner every single night...and even had time to make cookies or brownies afterward. My Father, the son of a chef, could cook Japanese food with his eyes closed...and I got to eat alot of that food growing up. It was his interest in Italian cooking that was interesting though. He would find a recipe in a magazine, and re-create it flawlessly. I'll never forget watching him make a pie late night...from scratch. He is not a chef...but you can tell that blood runs through him. The lessons I learned from my parents are more important than those learned in school...and every now and then I get a happy reminder of these lessons that ive often taken for granted.

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Mexico DF. Sometimes I get mad.

Image taken from the KQED Bay Area Bites Blog
Industry people get it. We know how to order, how to act, and how to tip. Despite certain bacchanalian tendencies, we are generally civilized folks when dining out. We don't mind a wait, and are willing to make compromises...and as long as we eat well and get a smile, everyone ends up happy. Even when a party of 8 is involved.

I work at one of the biggest restaurants in the city--and we get a lot of large parties. I'll be the first to admit--these parties can be a pain in the ass. In the middle of 350 covers, going 100 miles an hour, having to stop and figure out how many bowls of pommes frites will satiate a ten top can be...annoying. So it was taking this into consideration that made me almost hesitant to call around on a Saturday night, asking for an 8 top reso. Patrick was in town, and Sky and I had just moved, so I was lucky enough to get a Saturday off. Friends that I rarely get to see at all, much less on a weekend came out. All were hungry. I didn't start calling for a reservation until almost 8pm...so I was ready to compromise.
  • Nopa. Nothing until 11:30
  • Poleng Lounge. No deal.
  • Globe. Booked with a large party.
  • Mexico DF. "We can take your party at 9:15."
This was not my first trip to MDF. I had been there the first week they were open...excited about a Fonda-esque spot just a short drive away. I expected mass confusion and chaos...but the service was efficient, and the food delicious. It was on this experience that I planned my trip back...and subsequently ended up telling my friends how good I thought it was.

We headed downtown...and upon realizing that we were going to run a little late in our search for parking, I called MDF. My exchange with the manager was a little strange, but I brushed it off for the moment.
"Hi, I have a 9:15 reservation under Nakano...we're running just a little late."
"OK, that's fine. Your table isn't ready yet, so you're working with us just as much as we're working with you."
That last part seemed kind of strange.

We got there, and waited in the bar. 9:15 had come and went. Then 9:30. Then 9:45. The bay doors in the bar were open for some strange reason, and it was freezing. Stueart street is a block from the water...and the breeze was a chilly one. We asked politely when our table would be ready.
"Well, the guests at your table are on dessert...so you should be sat shortly."

Around 10:30, I was beginning to wonder about how table timing was being managed...and considering that I had made my reso with a manager, and not a hostess, this was especially worrisome. I went to the host desk for the third time to ask what was up. I was feeling my smile become a bit forced. She offered a free appetizer. I went for a cigarette. When I cam e back in, I saw a decimated plate of chips and guacamole. Plenty of guacamole...but no chips. Extra chips were never offered. Around this time, the hostess came up and leaned on my shoulder, like we were old friends. She told us our table was almost ready (again) and thanked us for waiting. My wife didn't look pleased with the shoulder lean.

An hour and forty five minutes after our initial reso, we were seated. We were eventually greeted by the kind of server that's a prototype for El Torito, or Chevy's...but not a supposedly hip, upscale restaurant. He was loud, and tried to force us into these weird interactions...like we were MDF cheerleaders or something. I don't know if this was some kind of badly advised attempt at making us happier...but it was not working.

The good news is that the food is good. But as Joey points out, paying top dollar for what boils down to fried tortillas and braised pork shoulder is a bit absurd. Fonda at least offered a wide range of nuevo-Latino cuisine...and at a very affordable price.

"Um..i'll have the twelve dollar guacamole, two nine dollar tacos...and a ten dollar margarita."

Around this time, things at MDF were clearly winding down. Although they stay open until 1am for dinner, that neighborhood isn't exactly full of nightlife. Busboys polished silver, cooks put away mise, and our server...was no where to be seen. This was a small problem for me, because he had talked us into getting the one pound portion of carnitas...and had only brought out three tortillas to go with it. (Seriously, was there a tortilla shortage that night or something?) We decided to cut our losses and skip dessert...but ended up waiting around for our server.

The bill. This is where things get good. They added gratuity, which was fine. Everyone paid cash, and I picked up the balance with my credit card. Strangely, when my card came back, another 18% gratuity had been added to the balance. I double checked everything, and looked around for our server to ask about this, but again he was AWOL. I got up and went to the host desk and asked to see the manager, who was out front smoking. I had to wait for him to finish smoking before he came in. I showed him the problem with the bill, and his response was "No, that's just the way the POS (he really said the letters POS) works...you're reading it wrong."
This was the last straw. I had been pretty damn polite about this whole fiasco...and now they were trying to get over on me, and insult my intelligence while they did it?
"I work in a restaurant. I know how the POS works. You cant tell me he didn't add a second gratuity. I'll do the math for you."
He stared at me blankly. I looked at my friends, who had been the victims in this whole ordeal...our very rare Saturday night wasted.
"I'll just pay it. Nevermind."
His response? "OK, thanks." And he walked off.

An amateur host desk, an inexperienced server--these things I can forgive. But bad management is a sure fire way to bring your business down.

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The Omnivore Effect

Who do you buy your food from?

The times, they are a-changing in the restaurant industry. I've noticed a sharp increase in what I call the omnivore effect...people who read Omnivore's Dilemma and simply said, freak the fuck out. Example: Waitress A comes to the window on Saturday night and says: "I have a guest that's asking if the lamb is local, if it's from California, if we buy it from a farm, and if we do buy it from a farm, what the farm's name is."
I'm surprised they didn't just ask what the lamb's name was.

This is Jerry. His rack is a little shy on meat, but tender as hell. (Picture from statesinn.com...thanks guys)

People have "food allergies"...and while im sympathetic to my nephew, who has celiac, I am not sympathetic to the guest that has an allergy to shrimp, but is ok with "just a little" shrimp stock in their cioppino. If you don't like a particular food, just say so.

I may want to know where my food comes from...but im not going to demand to know before I order. Sad that something supposedly as enjoyable as eating out might someday come with a checklist:
  1. Is it organic?
  2. Is it local?
  3. Is it sustainable?
  4. Is it in season?
  5. Does the farm it came from have a really cute name?
  6. If it isn't local, did they use bio diesel to get it here?
  7. Was the container it came in recyclable?
Having said all that, I have to say that the small farms we deal with are great. Knoll, Brookside, Star Route...they keep us in gorgeous, unique produce all year. Knowing them is even better...like calling Knoll tonight at almost midnight, and Kristie Knoll answering the phone to take the order. In this way too, the time are changing...with pretty much every restaurant in this city boasting local/sustainable/organic. Have we been, as Dr K puts it, "intellectually shamed"? Or is this a true step towards a utopian pastoral world?

Rachel said something interesting to me the other night. "You're lucky. You get to experiment all the time..." It was something I knew, but hadn't really thought about much recently. I am lucky. I do get to experiment. And it really made me think about exactly why this point in my development as a chef is going to end up being so important. Thursday night saw me struggling with genuvisco j...constantly gelling and melting and checking notes. And in the end, it was experimenting...but under pressure, and during a dinner service. I doubt the guys at dow chemical are ever given a two hour window to develop their formulas.

It would be nice to get be like Ferran Adria and experiment and develop new techniques six months out of the year, but sadly, freedom like that will not be very likely in my lifetime, unless my lucky lotto numbers end up paying off.

Another Rachel interaction was the age old argument of food as art. The catalyst was the new foie.

I've had this conversation many, many times...and the conclusion always seems to be that yes, cooking has artistic elements to it...but as Rachel said, is not "high art." I say that cooking is simply a craft. I can teach you how to cook. I can teach you how to plate. I cannot teach you how to dance, or sing, or paint. Does plate presentation take a certain eye? Sure. So does carpentry...which for the most part, is craft. I can say that a guy like Grant Achatz kind of confuses my argument though.

The Round Up.

Top 5.
  1. Saturday night. It went just fine.
  2. A waitress asks Justin why I hate her. He tells her "Get over it. He hates everyone."
  3. Dinner Tuesdays. Joey, booze, and way too much food.
  4. Brazilian Blue Bottle Coffee
  5. Not setting my clock back an hour, so when I wake up in a daze, I freak out and jump out of bed, thinking i've slept in.

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Blogging from work...with a busy night ahead. Saturday, no backup in my station, with a crew that has me nervous, and the other sous chefs tied up with a 90 top. Im slightly shitting myself right now. This is pretty though...but might make my evening a little more difficult.