Tuesday, December 13, 2011

CCA dinner take 2

Again a few months ago we were asked to host a benefit dinner at the hotel that my restaurant is attached to for the Clatsop Community Action Food Bank. Our regional food bank backed by the Oregon Food Bank. If you remember it was a dinner that I was deeply involved with last year, and was a great experience for me. The hustle and organization to pull off a dinner like this is mind blowing. Weeks of meetings, emails, phone calls, research, more meetings, and more emails consumed my daily routine in the restaurant and from home. While my staff is more then capable of pulling a dinner like this off, we again reached out to other local chefs for support. It spreads the financial burden across a plane of other restaurants and in turn other purveyors and in turn is a less expensive event for the CCA to put together, which in turn helps them raise more money, which ideally feeds more people, during a time of year when those in need- need even more. Another year of experience under my belt, and a new title to prove, I went all in. The dinner itself was a huge success last year raising over 40K for the CCA, so the bar was set pretty high. We talked about the service and really got serious about the small things that we needed to deliver for a dinner that was invite only with a ticket price of $150, and while almost anyone who bought a ticket obviously had some sort of pre-existing relationship with the CCA, and was buying a ticket just to be in support of them, and we could've served them almost anything and they would've left happy with the giving they did, we couldn't let that happen. Copious discussions about flatware, glassware, silver, table arrangements, linens, uniforms, and more as we led up to the dinner. If you have ever seen an empty room decorated for a multi course dinner you understand that in the arrangements of the place settings you can actually create a mood, or a flow. Four wine glasses, coffee cups, water glasses, and four courses worth of silver ware on a table makes a statement. A statement that needs to be made when you are working a dinner that people paid this much money for.

Some of the same chefs from last year were invited to help with the food as well as some new restaurants and chefs. Some of the chefs politely declined with previous commitments, and others were disrespectful in their lack of effort to even return a call or email. All in all we assembled a team that I felt really good about. There is a bit of presumption by "outsiders" that all the chef's in a town or city all hang out together as well, and while there is a few chefs outside my company that I speak with on a regular basis, nothing could be further from the truth. The only time I talk with other chefs is when we are volunteering an event together. Or I actually go to their place for dinner, or they come to mine. None of which happen all that often. Furthermore there is always some drama involved when you get that much ego in the same room. Again it was decided that menu/bio/recipe packets were going to be handed out to guests, allowing them if they desire, to replicate the items they had throughout the evening at home. The chefs gathered, the volunteers- mostly again from my Prostart class at the local high school arrived, wine corks were popped, and guests arrived. Cutting a touch from last year we passed two appetizers for half an hour during a sparkling wine reception. Ideally this is important because it gives people a chance to mingle and chat and show off their outfits. If they can do this when I need them to, they won't or at least shouldn't be chatty during service, hence we stay on time. App passed from my Seaside restaurant chef team was a potato and blue cheese gratin topped with confit of pork belly, topped with micro green beats and pear balsamic. My appetizer was a brown sugar and citrus cured salmon with a horseradish aioli on a toasted baguette. We got those rolled out, guests were seated, grace was offered (again in an effort to absolutely control the pace and timing here the priest was given a 2 minute time limit- one of the funniest and most awkward conversations I imagine he had ever had) and we were off to the races. 160 plates in 10 minutes was the goal, break down, re-set the kitchen, repeat for a total of 4 times. An Astoria restaurant was up first with a "true cod" (oddly not really a cod) dish over a carrot puree with marinated fennel and a butter sauce. Second came the beef course of filet mignon, over truffled root vegetables, duck fat baked fingerling potatoes, topped with foie gras butter and oyster mushrooms. Third was a vegetarian dish of a curried squash simosa and a roasted cauliflower sauce. Dessert again was my cohort and myself- a flourless chocolate souffle cake with cinnamon ice cream, hazelnut toffee, and whipped cream. Our purveyors really stepped up and donated almost all of the food involved, and I heard that the meat course food bill was upwards of $1500 dollars alone. For a local company to bite that bullet was amazing.

All in all it was great. Money was raised, people were happy, and I left feeling good about the night. We learned a few things about what to do differently next year, and some of those things become a really fine line of personal preference vs another chefs preference. I was also so impressed with my service staff and their leader, and while we get to do dinners like this once or twice a year, this event is more people then usual and with the addition of outside chef's and help always a bit more stressful. In an odd turn of events the director of the CCA is also my neighbor now so that can't hurt at all. Not bad for a days work. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Zweifel Farms

A gentleman entered up the back dock a few weeks back, but this was no ordinary man. Larry Zweifel along with his wife Pam, have been in the Tillamook Oregon area for years doing exactly what people do in Tillamook.....dairy cattle. Tillamook is about an hour south of the restaurant and is the home of the Tillamook creamery. Everyone in Tillamook is a farmer, grower, rancher, or is employed by the creamery in some sort. The whole town smells like cow poo. Fairly often we trek down with the boys to take the creamery tour and come home packed with cheese curds, jerky, and Cheddar, full of ice cream. It is a fun little trip for us and Tillamook reminds me of the true dying breed of small farm towns throughout middle America. Larry has been a dairy man for over thirty years and since "the dairy farm is finally paid for" he figured that he would get back to a true passion of his... EGGS. He and his wife have decided that they will build an egg farm where eggs are produced the way Larry thinks it should be done, cause "no one else can do it right". Truly brown eggs, that really are free- range, from chickens without fake light, cages, or hormones.

The thing that really struck me with Larry is his splitting resemblance to my own Grandfather. After a life of farming my grandpa "Buzz" was taken earlier then he should of been due to some complications from a stroke. My oldest son was born only a few weeks before his death, and they never got to meet. In remembrance both of the boys bear my grandfathers names as middle names. Buzz was a no bull kind of guy. He knew everything there was to know about the weather, dirt, crop, tractors, and livestock, but made no bones about the fact that was all he knew. He was one of the smartest men I have ever encountered, but at the same time dropped out of school at an early age to run the family farm. His work ethic was uncompared by any standards. The life of the small farmer is almost impossible. Whole crops can be wiped out, bad years happen far more often then good years. Buzz like Larry, assumable, didn't farm because he decided he wanted to be a farmer, he didn't farm like 80% of the small, organic, farmers market people do now as an excuse to smoke pot, and take 6 months a year off. He farmed because he needed to. I imagine there was never an option for him not to go till a field. I don't know if he loved it or hated it..... he did it, and did it really well because that is what guys his age did. Then it was how he fed and provided for his family. I rekon that as men and their wives of this age get older and land is sold for housing developments, and our pricing structure continues until it is absolutely impossible to be profitable for these guys, we lose a huge part of our country. We lose years of experience, we lose a backbone of the rural development of our country. Trading off for bigger machines, and scientist farming. Buzz like Larry didn't need a weather report cause he could tell what the weather was going to do before it knew. He didn't need soil test because he got down on his knees and felt it. He could tell by looking at it. And it doesn't matter if you grew wheat, hay, tomatoes, corn, Christmas trees, or beets. These guys are getting older, I read the other day that the average age of the American farmer was 62. Like people that can and preserve food, this is another bracket of American people headed by the wayside. The subjects of an OPB special 25 years from now.

Larry is a crack up. He doesn't use the computer "cause honestly I don't spell really well". He is left handed and pointed out that I am as well, and so is Obama, "but I am not a huge fan of him". Larry you are a white male that lives in Tillmook, and is a dairy/egg farmer. You don't have to tell me you don't like our president. I knew when you walked in the back door. I bet you drive a ford too. "I have five pickups four are Fords, and one is a Dodge". "After owning nothing but Fords for 40 years I was ready for a change". I bought 10 dozen eggs from Larry and I could see him sweat, maybe five will be fine for now, "I am not in the cold storage business and my chickens don't lay that many". The eggs needless to say are absolutely amazing, and I already serve a brown cage free egg at the restaurant and his are much brighter and taste way better. Problem is my egg consumption at the restaurant is near 120 dozen a week right now, so Larry's eggs won't be the only egg I can use for quite some time if ever. For now we flipped for it and my pastry chef gets all the eggs Larry can bring. It was a meeting and relationship that really struck home with me on a very personal level. Larry explained he may need to up the price of the eggs at some point as if I wasn't going to buy them any more after I saw that. By all means Larry do everything you gotta do to be profitable. More then anything in the world I want guys like Larry to succeed. As for my grandpa, I so wish that my boys would have the opportunity to get up early and have a farmers breakfast, and hit the field with him in the back of his blue Ford tractor. Perched on top of the little built in cooler right behind the drivers seat, drinking an orange Sunkist soda that grandma Mona packed up for them. Some of the best times of my life where in that chair and I miss him dearly. I am a better person for knowing him, and it brings me to tears that they will never have the chance to do that with him. For now I will continue to buy as many eggs from Zweifel farms as they can produce, and crack up at Larry's words of wisdom. If you have a chance check them out at http://www.zfarms.org/, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


The threat of fire caused in a kitchen both commercially and at home is a serious matter. In a restaurant my hot line is somewhat protected by what is called and Ansel system that is inspected every 6 months or so along with my fire extinguishers. The system has heads over various equipment and senses an excess of heat or smoke and when triggered, either automatically or manually, will release a very fine powdered chemical over my entire line. While I have never triggered one, it will create a nightmare of a cleanup issue, as well as a loss of product. The professionals tell me at least 4 or 5 hours to reload goods and wipe and hose everything down. That will ruin a day of service for any restaurant. While the safety of the people involved is much less of a worry then it is in a home setting because, well no one is sleeping when something in a kitchen will catch fire, the layout is so much different, as is the equipment. It is still a worry. Small burns happen almost daily in kitchen. Saute pans, five hundred degree ovens, hot pans, and boiling liquids can scorch you pretty good. The classic chef jacket is actually double breasted, and the buttons are made how they are, so that if your shirt was to catch on fire it can be ripped off of you in one fluid motion. At work the risk of fire is always there, it doesn't bother me, but we still need to be prepared. Of the most horrid kitchen accidents your hear about they are rarely the slicer, or a knife. They are always the heat of the grill, fryer, or stockpot of boiling water.

Home fires are a whole other story. Even what begins as a small manageable fire in your home kitchen can be devastating. Kitchen hoods aren't able to manage as much smoke as industrial ones, and the tools we have in a restaurant are much different then the ones in most homes. From my home I push my kitchen equipment to the brink. I will leave a cast iron pan on full whack for ten minutes to get a good sear on something. I get my Weber grill so hot sometimes you can't stand within three feet of it. My ovens are on 500 degrees more often then not. At some point earlier this year a family I know well was affected by a devastating fire, and while thankfully no one was injured, the house and all of their belongings were gone. This shook me up and made me look at the way I am cooking in my own home. While I had always had a pee-wee Costco type extinguisher, I knew that in a bad fire with a hot grease accelerent it wouldn't be able to do the job. So the next time the Ansel system service guy came by I started asking some questions. How big a fire extinguisher do you need in a home, how many should you have, where do most home fires start, etc. He was happy to sell me a refurbished extinguisher capable of putting out almost any fire that one could create doing the things I do at home. He sold it to me for $30. Which was about a third of what I thought I would spend on a fire extinguisher that would be effective. I feel safer with it in the house, and even Skyler and Abe learned how to use it in case of a real emergency. While it seems a bit silly to be preaching it, I think it is important. After a few conversations with some friends and some staff almost no one has a capable extinguisher in their own kitchen at home. A simple investment that can protect your family, and potentially save your home, or life for less then $50. It is a no brainer for everyone, but especially if you find yourself pushing your equipment and talent to the limit in the kitchen.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Understandably so at this point I was beat. Thinking we could sleep in on Thursday we put up the do not disturb sign and had the uppermost intentions of not leaving the room until the afternoon on Thursday. Again the city beckoned to us and we were up pretty early. We hooked up with two more in our group and rode the green line subway to little Italy. We were eating cannolis by 10:30 or so. We wandered slowly through little Italy, stopping to eat, and enjoy the scenery. We walked into a small deli and bought bruschetta, soppressata, cheeses, and even an arancini (a ball of risotto that has been breaded and fried). I was so taken by all the things just this one small part of the city had to offer from a culinary standpoint. You could literally walk down the street and buy any sort of gelato, cured meats, aged cheese, and knock-off cologne. As we wandered we crossed into Chinatown and again were absolutely stunned by the options. We walked by a seafood market that had 9 different types of salmon for sale. NINE. From all over the world. Another market with geoduck clams and live Dungeness crab. Geoducks are a Washington coast specialty and if I called my best seafood purveyor I would struggle to get a few in the next four or five days and here they were. I never see live Dungeness crab unless I am cooking them for a friend who caged his limit. So many types of fish I have never seen, Chinese meat markets with duck feet and tongues, veal liver, fresh veal bones, and all other sorts of things I cant even begin to explain. 7 different types of prawns live and dead, all different sizes, wild and farmed, sitting on ice in the corner of this shop. I couldn't help but think of how much more I could push myself in my own kitchen at home, or even at work if I could stop and pick up a bag of cockscomb on my way home. With all this product available there would be no excuse to not push the boundaries. I struggle to find anything in my town. If I want a protein I usually have one choice, not nine. If I want fish I usually buy it from the restaurant and pack it home. To have this access is such a blessing to so many people that I am sure don't either realize or appreciate it. We decided to eat at small noodle shop, and had an authentic ramen style noodle dish that was really amazing. Not that we were hungry though, more because we needed to sit down for a few minutes. Melissa even found a small purse shop, that in hindsight I am sure was less then Kosher in some of it's dealings. We rode the subway back towards the hotel still in awe about the amazing size and hustle of the city, and the availability of anything, anytime of day or night. On a promise to the boys we marched back to Times Square and got pictures and souvenirs from the Lego store and Nintendo store in Times Square. It was getting late and we needed to pack. We snagged another "normal" pizza from a place just down from the hotel, and called it a night at a modest midnight or so.

We were up early on Friday as our flight was gone from JFK at 11am. We got our first really cliche ride in a horribly smelly cab, or rather with a horribly smelly Russian cabby, but it all added to the experience. With the time change were back on the ground at Sea-tac by 2pm, and I was in the kitchen at work by 6:30 pm that night.

All of it was amazing. It was awesome to spend that much time with Melissa, even if I worked and she fended for herself for a few days. It was great to have her there to share this with me. We saw maybe 1/10th of the things we wanted to see, and I feel almost guilty about not seeing the World Trade Center Memorial, or The Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn, or even anything around Central Park. We stayed in motion the whole trip to return back to some sort of normalcy on little to no sleep, and still couldn't absorb everything that happened. Being able to make this trip was truly an honor, being able to make it with such a great group of friends and team of chefs with so much talent was awesome. Being able to take our food, and tell our story thousands of miles away from our restaurants was an inspiration beyond words. Coming home to our staff and family and telling the stories over and over, and the show of support the community offered up for us were in no way expected. The event, the city, the pace, was awe inspiring. I almost wanted to go apartment shopping..... I can't wait to go back.


On Tuesday we awoke early and scored some Dunkin Doughnuts, one of which was conveniently located about 50 steps form the hotel lobby. Then set out on foot for the James Beard house which is in the Chelsea neighborhood. Four chefs, knives, chef jackets, and no idea where we were going. In hindsight we probably should've taken a cab but again the allure of the things you see on the street and wanting to get the full NY experience led us in the other direction. We found the James Beard house fairly easily, and if you were looking for a big banner we would still be searching for it. A very small, barely marked entryway was all that was there. We rang the bell and were promptly greeted by the staff at the house. Most of our goods were yet to arrive, but our wine made the trip and was checked in, as well as some of the other small things we needed, that weren't sent overnight but rather two day air. The house was amazing. A true brownstone that has been transformed into what is a very capable kitchen space on the ground floor, and then the second floor is the dining room. The third floor contains some offices and a small part of the James Beard Foundation library (the rest is at NYU) where we were actually able to sit and chat, and read while we waited on our lamb braise to finish later that afternoon. We were greeted by a daytime kitchen manager and his assistant, and to say they were eager to help would be a drastic understatement. Both of them were amazing. At one point I whisked together a vinaigrette, and dumped it into a smaller pan to store overnight, by the time I turned around the bowl and whisk were gone and already being washed. They had answers to every question, and even advice on equipment, and the nearest grocery stores. We needed to make ice cream and so we asked them for the machine, they went and got it, and then broke it down and washed it, then tested to make sure it was working correctly and then said "machine is ready chef....would you like me to help you get it started?" we started the machine and I was assured he would keep and eye on it, and sure enough after about 30 minutes the machine was done, he removed the ice cream, broke down the machine, cleaned it again and said "the machine is ready for the second batch now if you are....chef." The professionalism and true hospitality was something I have never experienced on that level. Most of the time chefs are forced to do this dinner from scratch the day of, and I knew we were lucky to get access the day before but it wasn't until later that I realized how lucky we were. The day was great, we sent two of our team shopping for basic things that we opted out of sending- cream, lemons, butter, eggs, etc. I worked on getting our lamb shanks seared, then built a braising liquid, and then got them into the oven for their four hour ride. The kitchen while very small was extremely capable of anything you could ever ask of it. It was very organized, and very clean. We started receiving most of our goods around 10 am or so, and everything looked to be in really good shape except some fall raspberries and the greens for our salad, neither one traveled well, due assumable to the fact that it looked like the box had been thrown out of the plane rather then being unloaded. We found a produce shop that sold to restaurants and they had the things we needed to replace them, and while it wasn't from the Oregon coast as the items we lost were, it still got the course to the table without any drastic changes. After a pretty full day of relaxed prep work we finished the big ticket items on the prep list and thanked the staff profusely and hopped in a cab for the ride back to the hotel.

As a group all 17 of us employees, family members, friends, etc had been invited out to dinner by our owner at Otto, a Mario Batali restaurant. Melissa and I went for a quick walk to take advantage of a few minutes to add to the stockpile of goods we planed to pack home for the boys and ourselves. We changed and I put on a pair of slacks for the first time in probably 5 years. The dinner was an amazing arsenal of flavors and never ending plates. Our owner, who if you haven't noticed takes pretty good care of us, had talked to the restaurant before hand so we never saw a menu, but rather just had a steady stream of food placed in front of us. First it was house cured meats and cheese, then olives, more meats, pickled veggies, lentils, etc. Promptly followed by what must have been 20 pizzas and pastas, followed by a gelato tasting, all of it served family style passed from person to person. It was hard for me to hang through the whole thing. We thoroughly enjoyed our night and into the wee hours of the morning. After our trip back to the hotel, I remember being in the hotel lobby and asking Will what time we needed to start in the morning and he said we needed to meet in the lobby at 7:30. No big deal until I looked at my phone and it was near 3AM.

We hit the lobby perfectly on time and got a cab back to the house, the prep load from the day before had taken almost all of the pressure off of us as we banged out the day of prep list. Canapes were prepped, polenta was made, risotto cakes were stamped out and seared, braising liquids were reduced, vegetables were prepped, cut, and counted. Garnishes of all sorts were prepped, inspected, labeled, tagged, and organized. I had been told by a few chefs that I know that the service staff will push you pretty hard if you aren't moving fast enough. While I have done quite a few multi-course dinners with this many customers I have never had a server tell me that my pace wasn't quick enough, as usually it goes the other way. I was a bit intimated by it, and really tried to focus on making sure we had everything we needed for each course including equipment and seasonings together. The day flew by and with our lack of sleep we ran on mostly adrenaline for what would prove to be about 16 hours in the kitchen. The same staff members were there to help during the day, as well as a few interns from Culinary schools in the city. All of which proved to be huge assets. I trekked down to the produce market and picked up the things we needed, as well as a few basics to make breakfast for the lot of us. As dinner approached our interns left and were replaced with a new one, who did an amazing job for us. The intern gig is a tough one in that you never no what you will get. You could get a well educated 50 yr old woman, or a over privileged punk 18 yr old. Issues almost always arise, but we were extremely lucky in that we were given a super capable hand who proved to be a huge asset in the assembly of our plates, and execution of dishes. We have exchanged emails a few times now, and I hope and I can talk her into coming out west for an internship/employment next summer with the company. The service staff showed up near 4:30 and our daytime kitchen staff was replaced by a night time staff. Probably 8 servers, 2 maitre d's, 3 dishwashers, and a nigh time kitchen manager. All of which were extremely professional. The service staff rolled in bantering between themselves, and goofing off, and then changed clothes and instantly were transformed into the most professional staff I have ever seen. Every piece of stemware was polished, every utensil shined, linens were pressed and set, tables organized, seating and flow charts made, it was truly amazing to watch it take place. The kitchen manager lined us out on the time frame he wanted to stick to, and lined out our plates to be heated or cooled depending on the course. At about 6:30 family and friends started to show up, and in order to get to the dining room are walked through the kitchen. This is where things could get ugly. If you were in trouble, or in the weeds, at this point it would be obvious to everyone in the building. People want to come by and chat, take pictures, shake hands, talk about the menu, etc. We were more then able to do that thanks to some serious work in the prior few days, but if things went wrong at that point it would be pretty, and I wonder how many chefs get themselves into something nasty at that point. Passed apps began at 7 and then people were encouraged to take their seats at 7:45. First course was out perfectly on time. The maitre d split was so that one was in the kitchen to expedite food from me to the servers, and the other was to expedite food from the servers to the dining room. They were so organized and professional it blew my mind. We had a few dietary restrictions which we were prepared for and they knew exactly who they were and when I needed to plate the plates so that the flow was never interrupted. In all appetizers and then five plated courses were executed as well as we possibly could've to almost 80 ppl. We were never pushed by the staff, a sign of us being on the ball, even at one point as I watched our candy cap mushroom ice cream melting I was hustling them. We felt like we were on fire, the emotions and adrenaline were mind boggling. We went to the dinning room meet and great and were presented with a bag of goodies from the foundation as a thank you for our hard work. Everyone was happy, and in the limited amount of time I was able to chat with some pretty amazing people from the foundation, NY, writers, and foodies. The kitchen staff began to break down and clean all of the equipment and we sent our wonderful intern home with a huge armload of things as we weren't going to pack them home. Photos were taken, hands were shook, many thank yous were said and we left the house, famished, at near 11.

As a person in the hospitality business I notice more and more when people are treated with the manner of service that is over the top and truly a representation of hospitality. By so many people at the foundation we saw this, and it was a lesson of a well trained staff that really enjoys what they do. While I can't be sure what kind of money the staff makes, one of the dishwashers told me "I don't need to work another job, they pay me very adequately" That coupled with the fact that they ate very well that night, and on an almost nightly basis they get to see some of the best chefs in the world cooking food from all over world, I cant imagine a better gig, and they know it. They are seriously down to business, and make no jokes that what they are doing is of the uppermost importance. At one point the kitchen manager said something that was vaguely inappropriate about one of the dishwashers work ethic in Spanish, and both Will and I understood, and made a quip remark in Spanish in return. The manager turned bright red, even after we tried starting up a conversation in said language (my hope being I could bring back some sort of crude slang word to my kitchen staff) and he shot us down and then continued to address the dishwasher in French. Part of this hospitality that is so satisfying to me is being part of the giving end. Our company takes this extremely seriously, and that is true in Cannon Beach as well as New York. As if the effort of getting all of us, and our stuff across the country wasn't enough, our top brass decided to really up the ante. The chefs were measured and Egyptian cotton jackets were embroidered with a fantastic logo celebrating Oregon harvest, named, and labeled with the company logo. A jacket I most likely will never wear again, that was so beautiful, and felt so nice I almost cried. Each of the guests were presented with a take home bag containing a book about NY travel written by the travel writer for the Oregonian, that has done some great work on us in the past, as well as a bag of the locally roasted coffee that we served as the pairing for dessert, and a small jar with a really cool label of Will's backyard honey, which was one of the accompaniments to the cheese course. The menus were printed on our end with a gorgeous painting of the James Beard house, but were printed in a small enough format that the guest could easily tuck them in a purse or pocket and have them to remember the night. I know that many chef's make this pilgrimage to do the exact same thing, but none of them do it with this sort of over the top effort. It makes me so proud to work for a company that takes this stuff seriously.

We jetted back to the hotel and I showered and put on a pair of shorts and sandals, and after the few days we had had I have never been so amped. We met at a small dive down a few blocks from the hotel, and toasted our success, and had a burger. The work part of the trip was done with success, and a huge load of pressure and months of anticipation was gone. We stayed there talking, and reminiscing for hours before we headed back to the hotel. It was near 4am. I didn't even feel tired.

Monday, October 24, 2011

NY- 1

I am home from our trip across the country to the James Beard house in NY. An almost surreal week of eating, walking, getting lost, and sleeplessness. Too many things to touch about in one post so I will continue to gather my thoughts and photos in an effort to break the trip up in a few different sections. Melissa and I flew out from Sea Tac airport on Sunday the 9th of October. Our trip in was really uneventful and upon landing we were greeted by what our cab driver said was abnormally hot weather in the mid 90's. With little to no effort on my part we were checked into our hotel room at the Affinia Dumont on 34th and Lexington. It was getting late, and the time change made it feel even later and we were both starving so upon a recommendation from my sister we headed out to find a small pizza shop named Grimmaldis. Originally under the Brooklyn bridge we were not feeling like we were ready to make that trip yet so we found another location and started out on foot. Wearing flip flops. Both proved to be bad ideas. I had always heard about the excessive walking, and had better shoes packed. A few hours later we still had no idea where we were going and I was having an almost impossible time trying to figure out my bearings. Are the streets counting up or down, and why do some have numbers and some have names? We were both getting blisters and after walking by the same buildings more then a few times decided to give up on the cell phone GPS and use the map our concierge had given us. Finally we made it to a small standing room only pizza joint. We patiently waited for a table and were sat within a foot of another couple already enjoying their pizza. No names were taken, barely any English was spoken, and we loved every minute of it. It could be partially due to our famished state at this time but the trek was far worth the prize, and easily one of the best, if not the best pizza I have ever had. Simply ordering "normal" in NY will give you a pizza with a super thin crust, fresh mozzarella, torn basil leaves, and less of a sauce but rather simply crushed tomatoes. Apparently it is the NY original, the same pie we call the margherita in every other part of the country. The cheese was hand pulled on site, and Grimmaldis really sends it over the top pushing what they call the only "coal" fired pie around. Was interested in that, and am going to try to do some research because I just assumed it was charcoal fired, but at some point was led to believe otherwise. We finished our entire pizza, some assorted salamis, and with a touch better idea of where we were going we headed back to the hotel.

Monday morning we we awoke and quickly got going. Every time I sat in my hotel room I felt like I was wasting such a great experience that I immediately got up and figured out what to do next. If I want to sit in a hotel room I will go to Pittsburgh or something, not New York City. Still alone as most of the others in our group were flying at various times on Monday we walked to the Empire State Building on our way to Times Square and Rockefeller center. I was beginning to get the hang of how the city blocks were aligned. Almost a full day later we returned to the hotel and hooked up with a few of the other chefs in the group and decided that a trip to East Harlem was in order. We bought subway passes and rode uptown in hopes of getting a table at a Marcus Samuelson restaurant called "The Red Rooster". Upon arriving it was near 8pm and we were told that the wait would be near an hour. We set out again wandering the Harlem streets recalling all of the things my mother taught me about not wearing my hat backwards, or making eye contact with strange people. It proved to be perfectly fine and we returned for our table right on time and ordered a vast plethora of the menu. The restaurant specializes in American comfort/soul food and it didn't disappoint. Marcus Samuelson (top chef master fame) is Ethiopian by birth, then raised in Stockholm and now lives in NY. So you see touches of all of those things on the menu. Lingonberry jam for example came out with our bread, the Swedish staple that you can find in Ikea stores.  Everything that we had was amazing, and we sat outside on the patio watching the Harlem traffic pass us by. It was about 10 pm and a perfect 70 degrees. We found the subway again, and even saw a few huge subway rats, and were able to get home without any issues at all. We quickly discussed our meeting time to venture to the James Beard house for our day before prep, and the much anticipated receiving of the overnighted goods from the restaurant here, to the kitchen there. All in all about  7 boxes were entrusted to the fine people at FedEx containing every piece of equipment and every ounce of product we needed to pull the dinner off. The heaviness of that was doubled by the fact that just a few weeks before another local chef had made this exact journey and 80#'s of frenched lamb racks (about $20/#) had mysteriously not made the journey. A nightmare for him to track down the lamb (his entree course) in a place where you don't know anyone, and are already under pretty serious pressure to pull the rest of your meal off. It was decided that we needed to be awake and dressed, ready to hit the kitchen and in the lobby by 7AM.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


In my line of work I deal with what seems to be the oddest request from diners sometimes. I had a gluten free woman the other day for lunch and we stopped the whole kitchen to make her the dish she had to have because none of the existing things without gluten were "satisfying" enough for her. While she ate this gluten free dish, she helped herself to a full baguette worth of bread. This stuff is happening more and more often as well. If you don't like garlic, just say that...... don't tell your server you are allergic to it. It is bad karma.

I remember a day when people who were vegetarians were just that. Now I see an increase of vegans, pescatarians (we eat things like tillapia still) and raw food something or others, and it is hard for me to keep them all straight. Then I see a whole line of people who don't eat pork, because they are dirty animals, but will eat chicken (have you seen how meat birds are raised) it doesn't make any sense. The same people who hate on veal, when in all reality veal is more sustainable then a full size cow. We aren't using them to breed anyway. Younger steer means it lived less, which in turn means it consumed less, releasing less gas into our atmosphere in waste, and was easier, and cheaper to harvest and transport.

If you have health or religious eating restrictions that is fine. If you feel very firmly that we shouldn't be killing off animals for food, while I couldn't disagree more, that is fine as well. If you don't eat meat for sustainability reasons that is also fine. The problem is those people are so grossly misinformed I can't help but get pissed. I know a pescatarian- a person who doesn't eat meat, but does eat fish, who thinks that meat is too un-sustainable to consume. The same person though consumes some of the most unsustainable fish available. Farmed salmon, tillapia, halibut, farmed prawns, dredge scallops, etc. All of which are the least sustainable things that come from water, not even the ocean mind you, but water.

Vegans are another one that is tough for me. I have tried multiple times to get a solid vegan dish on the menu, and regardless of what it is, I can never sell it. So vegans proudly walk into restaurants all over, during the crunch of service and demand a special meal. I don't really have a problem doing this, I have a problem with the time frame though. With even an hour of heads up I have the opportunity to really get creative, time to cook a real starch, marinate, etc. On the spot I only have a few things I can do, and I never feel as good about them as I would like. If you are a vegan- call ahead. This time of year I have so much cool stuff in my walk-in that I want to show off to you, if you just give me a few minutes I can really serve you an amazing dish, that is a great reflection of the restaurant and my own style. Due to the changing seasons, and peak business, I don't always have the same things available to create for you, so it is hard for me to say: here is the stand by vegan dish. Instead it turns into-here is the standard vegan dish, unless it is after ten, during breakfast, figs are out of season, and you are looking at 15 other tickets hanging.

The other thing I have always wondered is where most vegetarians and or vegans draw the line. Where is close to meat too close for comfort. Liquid smoke is a smoke flavorant that is made by collecting smoke extracts from smoke houses. Smoke houses usually smoke bacon, on an industrial scale at least, so does the fact that your barbecue sauce smoke flavorant that was yielded by air permeating around a slab of pork belly make you not eat anything with liquid smoke. And if you do, then a simple stock is just the exact same thing, but instead of flavor being transferred by air it is transferred by water. Stock is just a meat infusion. It doesn't contain any meat per se. So in my head if you eat liquid smoke, then you should eat stock, and if you eat both of those then why not eat a steak. If you are a vegan what about honey. It is an animal by product so you would think no, but I have know some who do. If you are a vegetarian because you don't eat meat for sustainability issues, and you were gifted the nicest pork chop around. Raised by a guy who treated the animal well, harvested with decency, and then cooked perfectly- would you eat it? If you only eat raw foods (an idea that could put me out of a job) then do you eat cured things, or what about things that have been cooked by citrus or vinegar. Is it the application of heat that makes something not raw, or can it be a combination of salt and time as it has been for thousands of years?  Where did you come up with your own boundaries, and when. Are you just a vegetarian for a few months, or for a while in college, or have you done your own research and made your own decision, not just the decision that was trendy. Did someone tell you once that "eating animals is bad....mmmkay" and you bought it. I am all for eating more vegetables I am even all for eating proteins in smaller sizes. I am really hardcore about eating more sustainable proteins, but also am not naive enough to believe everything out there. I have read everything I can get my hands on, on both sides of the argument and have had to form my own opinion. The things I take away from that are different then what you take away from them. Even if you love eating meat, it is worth your time to do some investigation. As a consumer you need to be aware of the scams that are out there. Free range on a chicken egg doesn't mean that they get to run around happily on a small farm somewhere. Organic labels on all meat can be a load of bull, natural can mean they weren't fed antibiotics "excessively" but it still can mean they were treated and harvested in a horrible manner. Becoming a vegetarian is a life changing choice, do some research and become one for your own reasons, not someone else. And if you are in a spot where you are saying to a server that you are "allergic" to something when really you don't like it, just be honest about it. The increase in food allergies is worrisome to all good chefs and cooks. Kids and adults with tree nut allergies are a serious thing. People who have a serious reaction to gluten, can still be getting side effects from its consumption a month later, and we take that very seriously. That is way different then someone saying they are allergic to corn because they don't like it. Every time that happens, it softens the seriousness of the underlying real allergy issues. That isn't fair to the people who cook food, and can be tragic to those who consume it.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hot August Nights

The restaurant runs on a very seasonal schedule and that means August is a big month for us. People flock to the coast line of Oregon to escape the heat of the cities and to experience beach life for a day, or a week before kids head back to school and a sense of normalcy returns to most peoples routines. Our city streets become swollen with traffic, bicycles, and entitled pedestrians. The restaurant buzzes with more customers, and staff then any other time of year. The amounts of food I purchase, store, prep, and cook arrive to the back dock in what seems like a constant stream. Sometimes I feel like I am barely holding my head above water. While the capacity of holding food, and equipment to heat and cool food remains the same, the increase of needed things always presents some logistics issues. My walk-in is so full most days that you can hardly move inside it, and I am forced to schedule staff through the night to help keep the kitchen clean, and prepped. It is an easy time to allow our customer service and food quality to dip, and I fight everyday to preserve it. Corner cutting becomes the norm of some of my most seasoned staff, attitudes get negative, people get overwhelmed, and the kitchen gets hot. On Friday we received, then portioned 100#'s of halibut before it even made it to the walk-in, and bought and cut more on Saturday. Even with the amounts I purchase I still pay $14.99/# for it. Everyone is working hard, many of my cooks work multiple jobs, spending upwards of 15 hours a day on their feet over hot ovens, grills, dish machines and pans. I come home smelling like food, and nothing will take it off of my skin. The great news is that I have a strong staff, and while we get frustrated with each other, everyone is doing a stellar job and we will fight through it. Financially it is an extremely important time for us as we need this harvest to survive the upcoming slower months. September is always a fantastic month for us, assuming we can get some decent weather, and October is great as well. The pace becomes much more manageable but still sufficient, and without as many children it becomes more relaxed. Our guests are able to enjoy the experience we are struggling to offer, rather then just a meal for a hungry belly.

Last week, and again this week I have lost a few key members of my staff to different ventures for varying reasons. Both were huge assets to me, but one will be particularly missed for his wise opinions of almost any question, and his ability to be both stern but fair with his staff. His input, and always standing offer to hop in and help, as well as his funny demeanor will be a loss for our restaurant and my career. I wouldn't have what I have now without his guidance. This means we will be hiring staff, and I was able to interview a very qualified candidate just yesterday. It was nice to be able to fully disclose my goals as the Executive chef for the first time to someone I will work closely with, and to get some feedback that this gentlemen was looking towards working those same type of goals. A person who understands and appreciates the level of food and service we are trying to offer, and wants to be employed at a place that is striving to offer these things, rather then just saying they are working at it.

Melissa, Skyler, Abe and I are all moved into the new house, and while I feel like I haven't spent much time here I am so happy about it I could scream. I look forward to coming home and pulling in my own driveway, and walking into my own home. We have a few things we are working on around the house already, and struggling to make it a reflection of our identities. It is a bit late in the season to worry about a garden, but I have grass growing in the back yard and all winter to try to figure out a landscaping plan for the back. I love getting at in the kitchen, and we even scored a second full fridge for the garage. The appliances are all stainless, and the work surfaces are all granite and I couldn't ask for more. Two ovens, and a gas stove, and plenty of gorgeous cabinets. We are so fortunate. I still look around sometimes and think I might be dreaming. The colors and finishes that Melissa picked out fit perfectly, and while she wont be too quick to admit it, I know she loves arranging furniture, buying things, painting and staining old things, etc. Almost everyday I come home to something new she has moved, bought, or changed and I love it. I am so lucky to have her to support me.

We are getting down to crunch time with the James Beard Foundation dinner in New York on October 12th, and I am really looking forward to that trip. This is a link to our profile page with the foundation and the menu is listed on the right of the page if any of you are interested in the food we will be showcasing, as well as ticket information if any of you are interested in attending- http://www.jamesbeard.org/index.php?q=events_beardhouse_101211 . We will also be cooking a preview dinner of that exact same menu as a benefit for the Make a Wish Foundation on October 5th in Cannon Beach so I will keep you all posted on the details for that, if any of you are interested in attending.

I also recently was interviewed by the marketing person for Oregon Culinary Institute, and as a alumni of that fantastic program I was flattered to spend the afternoon talking about the restaurant, me as a chef, and my experiences at OCI with him. The video of the interview was recently posted- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQb_CXXkpxg  and I am excited about a continued relationship working with them, as I truly believe they are doing the right things with their students, and I am proud of the time and effort I put in to be able to say I graduated from that school.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


At one time or another you have had Albacore tuna, I would further wage that you have had Albacore caught from my local waters at some point. Not one but two of the big tuna companies used to be based in Astoria Oregon, just a few miles north of my house. Albacore is the tuna that we see packed in tins on shelves at the grocery store. It is the only species of tuna that can be sold as "white meat". It is an amazing fish that is better then it is given credit for. To properly can a fish you have to cook it to death. I have read recipes that call for boiling the tuna itself for 45 mintues, then shredding it, and then jarring it up and pressure cooking it at 15 #'s for 90 minutes. For those of you not familiar with the pressure cooker I can cook black beans from raw to finished in 15 minutes at 15#'s of pressure. It is a horribly destructive amount of heat, but it is absolutely neccesary to kill off the threat of botulism both at home and on your grocery store shelf, and of all the food borne ilnesses people stress about, botulism is one you dont want to mess with. It wont make you sick.... it will just kill you. The canning then subsequent eating of those meats should be approached by only those people that are very highly expreinced. Because of all of this, and the fact that there are many more prized types of tuna in the seas the Albacore has gotten a pretty bad wrap. Fear not though, there are a few talented chefs I know that are trying to bring it back, and I am going to ride their curtails. Albacore is good, sustainable, and cheap. My efforts are working towards only local seafoods on the menu at the restaurant, and if I am only going to showcase local seafoods at the restaurant, then you wont see any Ahi or Bluefinn tuna on my menu, because they don't swim in water this cold. Sure I can get it, I can buy it from a guy in Hawaii today and it will be on my back dock in a super cool chrome cardboard box by tommorow by 2pm, and if I buy 20#'s he will even ship it for free, and I can sell it. It just has always seemed silly to me to do that, as my customers sit in the dining room they can see the ocean, it seems pretty basic to me to serve only food that came from that water, the same water they are seeing. You wont find lobster on my menu, ever, if you want lobster I can pull a string or two, but I am trying to put foods from Oregon and the Northwest at the forefront. There are no lobster on my coast...... sorry.  So to give the customer the tuna they want I have to feed them albacore, but they have to be educated on the differences or the meal wont exceed their expectation. Most people are so used to the sight and flavor of fully cooked Albacore that they are off-put by a piece of rare seared Albacore, even though a piece of Ahi cooked identically would be perfectly acceptable, even though the Albacore has had the same sashimi grading process and treatment. On top of all of this- Albacore gets the wrath of the high mercury level frenzy as well. Warnings against expecting mothers, children, etc are rampant on some types of fish, and tuna is always involved. Any time you eat an animal that has lived for over a few years you run the risk of ingesting some of the things it has ingested. The solutions are very involved but the fix is simple- limit your large fish consumption to once or twice a week and a healthy body will take care, naturally, of any mercury that you ingest.

Albacore is an amazing looking fish, they swim fast and like most other tuna they are shaped like a cartoon rendition of a bomb that would be dropped from an airplane. Very streamlied head into a fat round body, tapering into a slim and efficient tail. In whole fish form they are much heavier then they look and the rounded seams and shapes are a perfect example of a animal that has evolved out of neccesity. I will also add that I despise grilling almost all fish especially salmon, and halibut. I dont think that it is the proper technique for the texture of the meat. Grilling is an abrassive technique that requires very high heat, and the flesh of most fish is too soft to properly move around the grates of a grill. Albacore is one of the few fish that I will gladly grill, as it will easily stand up to the heat and is firm enough that I can move it, spin it, turn it, and remove it without destroying its flesh. It only needs to be seared but again to meet expectation I will usually go into medium type temps for service purposes. It is great in a sashimi format as well, raw with some oil and flavorings. Cooked and cooled it can easily be shredded into a tuna sandwich or over a simple salad. It can also be caught for recreation but they tend to be 20 -30 miles off the coast so you need a big boat. If you can get there it is rumored that there isn't a limit on take home, and that if you can get on a school of them it is as simple as drop a baited line and pull one up... then repeat. While much of the canned Albacore tuna was at one time caught off of the Oregon and Washington coasts it was overfished, but local populations are coming back now. The best news is that Oregon Albacore tuna no matter how it was caught is always "dolphin safe".


As my palette develops to taste more and more nuances throughout different foods, I find myself in a continuing struggle to perfectly balance flavors in any given dish. The balance of acidity in food is an important one, and often underestimated by great home and professional chefs. The addition of vinegar (a worthwhile post on its own) or citrus juices is of the up most importance to round the flavors of more dishes then you assume. Now while citrus is a great addition to many things, and I feel naked if my home fridge doesn't have a few lemons and limes sometimes when trying to balance flavor vinegar is a much better bet. That being said the freshness that happens while finishing a dish with the juice of a lemon or lime is unmatched by any other product. I find that it will brighten the overall flavor in almost anything, rounding and highlighting everything else involved. It offers a crisp, clean, refreshing boost to soup, sauce, starches, salad greens, and even proteins. The acidic content of lemons and limes (limes have a higher acidity then lemons, and the highest of any natural ingredient available) can also cook a protein. Ceviche is a dish that is popular in many cuisines especially ones that are dependent on seafood. Usually raw prawns (squid, scallops, lobster, halibut, clams, and many more can be used) are chopped fine with a blend of peppers, onions, aromatics and salt and then allowed to soak in the lime or lemon juice. Depending on the size of the protein involved as little as a few minutes the acidity will begin to denature the protein structure. A quick warning, even though the risk of food borne illness is pretty slim here, it is important to buy good fish, from a trusted source, or when ordering at a restaurant use common sense. If you walk into a fake Mexican restaurant that looks like it hasn't had a customer in two months then I would stay away from shellfish in any form especially raw.  Classically in Mexico ceviche it is almost always served with saltine crackers and a sort of spicy cocktail sauce condiment.

While we assume that citrus is a winter crop (I still get oranges every year in my Christmas stocking from my parents) citrus is a rotating crop and comes from all over South America, Mexico, Florida, and California as the seasons change. This helps them to have fairly stable pricing throughout the year and helps them to always be available. The availability of tangerines, mandarins, kumquats, and others is always late fall into spring. I am a big fan of lemons, but love a meyer lemon as well if you can get your hands on them, a bit sweeter and less aggressive. Blood oranges are another one that seem to have faded in and out of popularity a few times. They are a variety of orange that has orange skin speckled with red, and a magenta or maroon flesh depending on the variety. They aren't as sweet as most oranges but the juice and segments are an amazing color to offset color and add flavor to all sorts of things. Look for both of them January and February...ish.

My favorite thing in the world is to buy arugula and dress it with some really good olive oil, salt, and then just the juice of some lemon. Again showcasing the simplicity of seasoning and allowing the products to showcase themselves. Anytime I am cooking any sort of bean or taco dish I will small dice an onion and some cilantro and toss them with some salt and then toss it all with the juice of a lime. I always try to get it to meld for at least an hour or so, but the lime juice will take away most of the harshness from the raw onions, and you will end up with macerated deliciousness that you can eat with a spoon, as a condiment, or as a garnish for soups or beans. Almost any time I am going to serve a raw onion (sandwiches, salads, etc) I try to do this to soften the blow that can be the raw onion, making it easier to digest, and easier on your breath afterward. Lemons and limes can help your efforts to create cleaner flavors, don't overlook their importance or underestimate their abilities.  

Thursday, June 30, 2011


While business increases at work, and I am on the end of a really long straight run at work, and due to a link posted on a facebook page somewhere I have an uber-upgraded amount of views in the last week, I really wanted to get a technical post together. On my dinner menu at the restaurant I have a bracket that reads "off the boat" a direct shot at the classic fish house. There is no price listed, no description, and no wine pairing. Seeking out cool stuff to sell for that part of my menu, and educating my staff on how to cook and describe them is one of the coolest parts of my job. Since this menu debuted I have had the opportunity to work with seafood I would have never been able to encounter otherwise. The only boundaries are that the product is fresh, and is local as well. Ideally it gives us an opportunity to sell things that pop-up for a few weeks a year, or even by-product catches that are only available for about 15 minutes before they are passed to the next eager chef in line. That scenario has skyrocketed me to the top of the call list when cool stuff is coming out of my local waters. My fish purveyors know that I only want the stuff no one else has, and because the price is flexible on the menu I can pay a lot, or just a little. Black cod, ling cod, spot prawns, oysters, whole Dungeness crabs, Springer salmon, Albacore tuna, perch, sea bass, red snapper, petrale and dover sole and more have all taken their run on the menu, usually lasting no more than three to five days. Then I am on to something new. The gambling on how much of each item we will sell over a weekend is a game every week for me, and provides a shear satisfaction when I am successful with my hypothesis.

Of all of them sturgeon is one of my favorite to eat. An amazingly ugly prehistoric creature that locally in our Columbia River is rumored to reach over 16 ft long and weigh close to 1000 lbs. Locally they can swim in fresh and salt water, and can live to be 100 or so years old, not even reaching sexual maturity until they are around the age of 20 yrs. Sturgeon eggs are also the only egg that can be technically called caviar. While we see other fish eggs as garnishes in dishes it has to be called "roe". Early this century the desire for caviar led the sturgeon to be so highly prized for its eggs that its meat was often ignored, and like the stories of the American buffalo it was almost driven into extinction in parts of the world for our glutenous approach to it. Thankfully stocks for the most part have returned, and the sturgeon I buy (Columbia River White) is almost always a by-product catch of the local salmon fisheries. Recreational the season opened in mid April and I had the chance to go out on a charter with some friends, and while we didn't catch anything, and I am not much a fisherman, I still had a blast. The days tag cost me only about $17, and in the right conditions you can catch them off the some of the piers and jetties in the area. If you have a hankering to get your hands on some then get a tag and a pole, as it will be almost impossible to find even at a very good fish mongers.

The flesh of a sturgeon is very fatty, and the fat tastes like dirt. It all has to be removed, sometimes even having a yellowish hue to it, the skin side is even worse, laced with a redish purple fat and a cartilage line carrying down through the middle of the skin side. Often I will trim almost 30% of the side off to get to the perfect flesh. This is the inside (bone side) side of sturgeon I was working with a few days ago. When I work on my cutting board with high end beef the marbling throughout the cut will begin to render with the heat of my hands and the friction of the knife. It leaves a thin film of fat on my hands, board, scale, and knife, and sturgeon does the exact same thing. Making for a slippery and sharp situation. It also has a different smell to it, not necessarily bad, but different. Really fresh salmon, or halibut for that mater doesn't really have a smell, or maybe just a slight aroma of oceanic brine, but sturgeon is very aggressive comparatively.

The magic of sturgeon is the taste. The texture of the meat itself is much "meatier" then any other fin fish I have had. Often on my menu I try to play with that- pairing it on the menu with a preparation that is much more classically done with a steak of some sort. It is the only fish that can stand up to those aggressive flavors and techniques. I find a piece of trim salted and seared to medium to be one of the best things I could possibly be eating anywhere at that given moment. It always boggles my mind when a creature that ugly, with spines, and whiskers, that lives that long could be good for anything but crab bait. But I will bend over backwards to get it, cook it, or eat it. It is always received very well in my dinning room as well, and when that happens it always makes me happy to know that my customers are appreciative of this fantastic creature that due to its age, size, and time as a species on planet earth deserves nothing but the uppermost respect.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


The best way to raise money for a charitable cause is usually to feed people well. Sure raffles, auctions, and other stunts will attract "customers" but the idea of eating is appealing to everyone. As a chef I am lucky to be involved in so many different fundraisers throughout the year. Some I do on the curtails of the company, while others are personal decisions, done on my own time. Cannon Beach children's center, Clatsop County Food Bank, Clatsop County United Way, Seaside Heights Elementary, Seaside High Prostart, Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, Oregon Zoo, and the Make a Wish Foundation are all causes that I have executed food for in the last year. While the swaray of the actual events isn't always attended by me personally, my food or the restaurant's food is often called upon to help these causes. As chefs the requests can get frustrating. As a company we have to have some boundaries, some causes that we focus on, and others horribly we have to decline. At the end of the day food isn't free, or even cheap, and neither is the labor of those individuals involved. Add to that the removal of one or more of your key staff members for an evening, transportation, rooms to stay in the city as needed, etc and you have a huge financial obligation for a business that operates on an extremely slim profit margin in the best case scenario. We simply can't be involved in every event we are invited to.

Tomorrow I am cooking a benefit dinner solo, off the company clock at Broadway Middle School in Seaside for a 13 yr old girl who just had a brain tumor removed, and is now on a chemotherapy schedule that will last until she is out of high school. She is the sister of one of my best friends, and I can't help but to get emotional thinking about the road to recovery she will have to endure for years to come. As a parent, the thought of having a child in that situation is sickening, and my thoughts go out to any of you who have had to endure the loss, or extended recovery of a loved one. Anything I can do to help this family is still not enough. We talked earlier this month about the logistics of making an event like this happen, and I agreed to call in some big favors. The kitchen at Broadway was donated as she is a student there, a kitchen that I hadn't seen until this afternoon, and we are expecting about 240ppl. The menu will be as simple as we could pull off. A choice of roasted prime rib, or roasted chicken, potatoes, asparagus, and a dinner roll all for the cool price of $20/ per person. While the menu doesn't push any sort of culinary boundaries it is extremely important in situations like this to appeal to the general public. A time to execute the food perfectly, not a time to show off my ego.

Graciously I had a few purveyors that ponied up big to help me with this. Local potatoes, and local asparagus were donated, and Prime rib was sold to me for cost, and two each of the ten ribs I bought were donated. Chicken was sold at cost as well. I am fortunate to have these people on my side, who at the drop of a hat will blow my mind with generosity. Purveyors who stear me in the right direction anytime I go looking for some crazy off the wall cut of meat or piece of produce. Purveyors whom I have been crafting a relationship with for years now. When you are in charge of purchasing what I purchase, and require it to be received in the shape I demand, these relationships are worth their weight in gold.

Often in the past I have thought that my career would take me anywhere I wanted to go. Melissa and I have always been precarious about owning a home or anything else that would really strap us down in this community, as my work options, if not for the company I am with now, are extremely limited here in our little corner of Oregon. More and more though I come to the realization that I am here for a reason. Like my purveyors, my relationships in the community run very deep. I am flattered and honored to be asked to execute this event for this girl and family that are in such need. I am grateful that I get to cook the meal in a kitchen, in the same school that I attended as a 7th and 8th grader. I feel more gratification readying and executing a meal like this than I do doing almost any other type of event in my line of work. I am proud to be part of this community, and proud that I can help those in need with the talents that everyone presumes I have. Now I just have to not screw it up. Thanks for reading.  

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dear Blog

Dear Blog-

I have not forgotten you. I potentially may have underestimated how much more work being an Executive chef would be. I have been aggressively attempting to staff my kitchen with the best cooks possible, and ringing every ounce of skill out of my existing ones. The days have gotten longer, and the restaurant much busier. The movement of product through the kitchen and dining room, even for me, is mind boggling at some points. Even on my days off I make phone calls, write emails, and respond to requests at a rate which Melissa is never very excited about just because I haven't had the chance to approach them at any other time. All of the sudden I am called in to meetings with people who don't understand my work load and by kitchen standards (the only standards I know) are extremely unproductive gatherings. 

Melissa and I have also made an offer that was accepted on a home in Gearhart a few miles north of where we live now, catch is that the home is only about 70% finished right now, so we are extremely busy figuring out carpets, granite, tile, paints etc, to guide the builder while he finishes. Needless to say though the kitchen will be finished to a spec I am so excited about. With solid work surfaces, and plenty of them, two ovens, gas range, some pretty cool appliances and easy access to the back patio, and a huge back yard (think brick oven in the coming months, garden, chickens!). Best case scenario we hope to be moving in late Julyish. Still a tad bit worried things could go south but we are working with an extremely motivated builder and we have been looking for so long, we are trying to keep a very positive attitude about the whole thing. Also I bought a truck that needed quite a bit of work but is in progress as well, and looks much better then it did when I picked it up last week.

I did plant some simple things in the garden here but am worried to go much more deeper then that, as the thought of ripping it all out to move is a tough one and waste of valuable time. Radishes, snap peas, and some super big pumpkins as well as some various herbs, tomatoes, and even some flowers are all absorbing sunlight and growing really well.

Last week the four chefs in the company also sat down to pencil a James Beard menu for October, and I am excited about the things we came up with. The attempt is to cook only things that were grown or harvested within a range of 100 miles from the restaurant, and to really showcase some foods that we are known for. It seems odd to be going with our same old stuff, the stuff we order, prep and sell every day but at the end of the day I think we wisely decided that those are the same foods we want to showcase in that forum. As we finalize menus and make small adjustments I will of course keep you all posted. The bios for the chefs all had to be received by the foundation last week sometime, and the menu is supposed to be approved by them by mid June so we are attempting to hustle this process as much as possible. Whatever is decided I know it will be fantastic, and again am so looking forward to the opportunity to be in NY, and cooking this dinner.

The Executive chef changes are happening as well. A new bio is being worked on for the website, an interview with the marketing person from my culinary school scheduled to use for some Internet media sources, and a press release is in the final stages of being approved by myself and the company before it is released to the local papers and trade magazines. New jackets are on back order (my chef coats take quite a bit of fabric), and my paychecks show a dollar amount I grin about. The tag on my work email still makes me laugh a bit. In a meeting with a director of Clatsop Community College as well as the principal of Seaside High School the other day to discuss the future of our budget cut prone program "Prostart" I introduced myself as the Executive chef and then quickly explained to him that I just like saying that, he laughed and made me do it again.

Progress is being made, and work is always happening. I apologize for my lack of technical posts in the last few months and hope to be getting back to talking ingredients and how my readers can approach them in a better manner. Local morel mushrooms, sturgeon, ramps, spring onions, radishes, and local asparagus are all things I am working pretty heavily with in the restaurant. This blog has definitely helped me more then I can explain to really get to the nitty gritty about what my own food is. Which is good because people are expecting to hear about it and eat it more often then ever. It has forced me to define and refine the ingredients, and techniques that I am passionate about, and when I think about why I started writing it, that is the biggest reason. Honestly- after a long haul in a kitchen I am always excited to write things that are my personal opinion, that aren't a reflection of other managers, operators, owners, or a whole company. It feels really good to be able to talk about things going on in this genius forum that blogger has given us, as I think it encourages me to talk from a much more personal level then I would with anyone else ever. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Brigade System

The brigade system is the classic French approach to organize the hierarchy of the kitchen. Often you will hear titles like Executive chef, Chef de Cuisine, Dinner chef, Banquet chef, Pastry chef, Sous chef, etc. My roll in the kitchen is as the Sous chef, sous being the French word for "under".  In a perfect brigade the executive chef is the boss, bar none. As the sous chef I run the kitchen in the absence of the executive chef, but I run the kitchen in his way. We never argue, and I offer advice as needed but always in a closed door situation, then the decisions are up to him and I back him up on them. Always. It is not odd for me to answer questions in a meeting with- I will see what (blank) wants to do. It is all kitchen discipline really. We cannot afford to come at things with a different approach, and I am there to see his vision through. He dreams big, and I focus more on the execution of things. In return for all of this work a sous chef gets one on one time with a chef that is more experienced or older, on a mentoring basis. When I am struggling to break a sturgeon down on the prep table I know I can count on a good chef to help me through it. Even long after that relationship is over good Executive chefs offer support and advice to past sous chefs. Often chef teams leave and arrive at different restaurants together, when that relationship is formed, especially if it works well, all have strengths and weaknesses that the other understands and can capitalize on.

In almost any kitchen the Executive chef is boss, sometimes a corporate chef is involved and there is always someone else to answer to, but as far as fundamental execution of the food he rules.  Young cooks are taught to answer only with the term "yes chef". Really there is no other reason for anything else. There is no maybe, if i get to it, or no. In a really big kitchen operation there may be an Executive chef, a chef de cuisine (usually means that the executive chef sits in an office all day doing administrative stuff) and he is the boss regarding the actual execution of food, he may also have multiple sous chefs, or maybe especially in a hotel a banquet chef to execute banquets, and then a dinner chef (also sometimes called a lead dinner cook). A corporate chef usually oversees the purchasing of and pricing negotiations with different purveyors, and sometimes spends time at the different locations on a daily basis. In the fast food, and chain restaurant settings there is always research and development chefs who do much more number crunching then cooking. I watched something on the Discovery channel once about ice cream and there was a chef for Dryers (about 60 yrs old, wearing a huge gold Rolex) who had the really rough task of taking quarts of ice cream off of the production line and then splitting them in half to check for equal swirling and placement of the flavors, and then testing the ice creams with (not joking) a gold spoon (something about how anything but gold would add off flavors to his work). A gig like that I can only dream of having one day. If you are ever in a situation with a chef one on one it is always good to call them "chef" until you have been instructed not to. It is a term of respect that they have worked hard to earn, and never hurts either in or out of the kitchen.

Hopefully that answers some of the questions that arise when we get technical about the "chef" title, because this last week I was offered the Executive chef job at the restaurant I work at. While I haven't officially accepted it yet, we hopefully will hash out some details tomorrow and then attempt to get it all in motion with various press releases, articles, announcements, etc. My feelings are hard to put into words about all of it, but understand please that this hasn't been easy for me. I have been working in restaurants since I was very young, and especially in the last 7 years have tried to put my head down to work for this title. While you could argue it is not much more than a different name on my jacket, I know that i have literally poured blood, sweat, and tears into this. When I think, or talk of its repercussions I cant help but get emotional. The year I spent at culinary school was the hardest of my life. It took a huge toll on my family and I. The commute, the birth of our second son, the homework, and the horrible financial situation it put us in were at times unbearable. The hours and the work load I assume in the restaurant is enough to break most people. The stress is relentless, the relationships strained, and the environment is at times the most intense you can imagine. While there are other 30 yr old chefs running kitchens in our area (a fact I have been very jealous of) they are all running relatively small operations. This puts me at the helm of a 3.4 million dollar a year enterprise, that feeds 800 ppl some days, there is not a better or even bigger restaurant anywhere around. In the long community history of the restaurant it has never been trusted to chef my age. This will wear with pride and respect on my resume for as long as I continue to cook, and ideally my title will never return to sous chef. It is a huge opportunity, one I have no doubt in my mind have earned. I have not only fulfilled but surpassed any expectation set in front of me for the five years I have been with them, and this pays for all of that work ten fold. I am on cloud nine with the chance to prove my strength, and leadership abilities to the company, and my staff. We will strive to be better, and I am committed to pushing harder then ever before. We wont tell customers "no", we wont bring bad attitudes or complacency in any of its cancerous forms into my kitchen or my dining room. As a vital part of a well qualified group of people that run that restaurant I will push them to be better, and expect them to push me harder then ever before. More than anything I am so ecstatic that my work and efforts haven't gone unnoticed. I cook because I can't see myself doing anything else, and I work hard at it because I have to go home every night knowing I did everything I could. I am fortunate those morals were instilled into me from an early age, and I have a wife, and family who understand that, and respect it. All of them deserve this as much as I do.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Spring Chinook

I know I have posted about this before but it was quite some time ago and I feel like it is such a great product it is worth focusing on again. Most salmon runs on the west coast begin in early to mid June and wrap up in mid October. During the peak months of July and August I can buy salmon from my fish purveyors that comes from all over the NW and Alaska. All of them are different, some inlets in Alaska will yield different and more vivid colors then anything else available, while some of the Northern Washington fish can get astronomical in size. It is important to remember, and my staff has to remind customers that even though you can see the ocean from the dining room it doesn't mean I can always buy fresh salmon. Like all seafood there is a fishing season, there are months that there is not a fresh WILD salmon for sale anywhere in the world. Sure you could buy farmed salmon, but between growth hormones and dyes, and the horrible things they are fed, and the fact that I can support my local fisheries by not buying it we have decided it won't be in our restaurant or in my home ever. A definite argumentative point as some people consider farmed salmon more sustainable.

The spring run of salmon come to the Columbia River and it's bay beginning sometime in late January to mid February. They are Chinook (King) salmon that are headed long journey into the Snake River, and even further for spawning and death. While a salmon is at sea they swim and eat for a few years, and then return to spawn at the exact same place they were born. Once they hit fresh water they will hang out sometimes to make sure water temps and currents are right and usually will stop eating, living off of the fat they have stored up while at sea to get them to their destination. Then they spawn, then die. Some species even begin to take on a different shape in fresh water to make themselves both a bit longer, and more streamlined. It is a journey that is one of natures most amazing. Once a fish has been in the fresh water for more than a few days it's flesh begins to deteriorate, taking it from one of the best things you could put in your mouth to one of the worst.  The best time to catch a salmon is in shallow/open sea at the inlet of a large river, or in the river or inlet itself right at the points it reaches the ocean.  The Chinooks that hit the Columbia River (15 miles North of my house) have stored fat for two years at sea, they have developed muscle in open swimming that same time. They hit the Columbia really early as they have some distance to go before fall. They are at the absolute peak of their life. There are not many of them, and they are very hard to catch. Their speed, motivation, and ability to run makes them one of the best bets for sport fishing. and even commercial fisherman enjoy the amount of skill and patience involved.

Columbia River Spring Run Chinook salmon are the first fresh salmon to be had anywhere in the world. After a winter of frozen salmon I am always excited to get the first ones into our hands. Sometimes paying as much as $30/# for them once you factor in head/bone/innards loss, total fish price can push close to $400 for a larger fish. We then of course pass that price on to customers in a hail mary of hope that they can understand/or we can educate them on why it is so expensive, and for the most part they do. I can sell it in the $40-$50 range all night. We cook it as simple as possible usually searing and finishing in the oven over a cedar plank to medium rare, paired with a simple butter sauce. While filleting them I will sear a piece of trim and it never fails to blow my mind with a depth of flavor that is unmatched anywhere. We are nearing the end of the run, heading towards salmon season up and down the coast of which I will attempt to keep you all posted on what is available and why we are buying it. For now the best way as usual to get your hands on a huge King spring salmon is to catch one. If that isn't an option for you then you can get it at some local fish markets.....sometimes. A few weeks back the fisherman pulled only three fish from the water commercially, and we bought two of them for the restaurant. It pays to have these relationships with my purveyors, relationships we have crafted for years now so that when the cool stuff shows up, they know I will always buy it. If you are a salmon fan, the side of fish in the picture is the best tasting, and most expensive anywhere the world over, and one of the nicest I have ever seen. We received the fish still in rigor, and if you look close you see no damage from nets (this one, like most springers are line caught)and some beautiful color exchanges.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


A quick thanks to all of my readers as today celebrates exactly one year since my first post. I appreciate your support, feedback, and well wishes. The blog is getting more and more hits everyday, and my Twitter following seems to increase almost everyday. I have struggled with what I wanted to accomplish here so again if you are interested in seeing something in particular please just ask. Until then I will try to keep things unexpected and a tad different. I just really want this to be more than just a blog full of piss-poor recipes, and have always believed that if we can teach and learn technique we don't need to rely on recipes, instead learning what things should look like, smell like, and taste like. Nothing erks me more than a recipe that someone has cooked multiple times and still has no idea why they do what they do, when they do it. There is a lot of food information out there and more and more I am seeing info that I don't think is accurate, or helpful, or sometimes just plain wrong.  Feel confident that the topics I choose here are a true passion of mine, and that the writing of even a simple post takes me about two hours, and while I cant always guarantee that everyone on earth would agree, they are always the most accurate information I can gather through hands on work. As a chef I spend hours and hours in a kitchen everyday and on the days I am not in the work kitchen I am usually in my own kitchen at home. This is an absolute passion of mine, and more than just a job or a phase. The support I get from you as readers, and the encouragement, help to make that more enjoyable and encourages me to continue to strive for excellence. Thank you all for reading.


Got to get this off of my chest. I have a bit of a fascination with McDonald's, and while I haven't eaten at the golden arches for some time, and very rarely do, I still find their business model to be absolutely fascinating. A while back I received and email from an acquaintance explaining that I should boycott McDonald's as they were beginning to purchase beef from South American countries that didn't have the equivalent inspection process that we have here in the USA. Nothing will get me more fired up then an uninformed person sending out bulk chain emails. As consumers we have demanded certain things from McDonald's for years- eg- dollar menu, burger promotions, super sizing, etc. and these things make it tough for them to spin a profit. McDonald's is a business, and like all business they are in it to make a profit. As consumers we have forced them to do this sort of purchasing, because if we went through the drive through on a road trip and the dollar menu didn't exist there would be an uproar. They aren't at fault for buying beef from other countries, we are at fault as consumers for not opening our wallets wide enough to pay for better beef or chicken or whatever. As a corporation they found a niche, and have done extremely well in promoting it. Now whether you eat there often, or you don't is up to you. I personally have decided that it shouldn't happen in our family as it is pretty far from what I think food should be, but that doesn't make me want to trash their business ethics in the least bit. I think they are a fantastic company, and while I struggle daily to execute a menu in a relatively small restaurant every day, they execute menus in over 100 countries, at the rate of 62 million people a day. The logistics of buying, shipping, storing, prepping, and selling that much food is one of the greatest feats in the culinary world.

Some other cool facts-
     McDonald's is the largest toy distributor in the world, thanks to the Happy Meal
     When they decided to sell apples with the Happy Meal they overnight became the worlds number one consumer of apples
     They will open a restaurant in China everyday for the next three years
    They sell an estimated 75 hamburgers every second
    According to their own industry stats they have employed one out of every eight people in the American workforce
    There is a McDonald's within 100 miles of every person in the USA, except in a small part of South Dakota

I have often wondered if I should just go get a job there. It would be amazing to me to see how things work, how the fries taste the same everywhere, and the cheese is always melted just so, on every burger anywhere in the world. Not to mention, while I couldn't find it published they must have some sort of agreement with Coke, because the fountain Coke that you buy there tastes better than it will taste anywhere else. Is it a mixing thing, or a special McDonald's formula syrup? Whatever it is I crave it every so often. I wonder how fast you could be up for a promotion, or how high up the ladder a person could get in 3 or 5 or 10 years. Personally I know a few people that have worked there for many years and seem happy doing it (they higher over 1 million people in the USA every year) and are rather notorious for promoting with-in. And while I run food costing sheets to the nearest penny, think of how many digits on the right of the decimal point they have to run to ensure their profitability.  So while you are driving by one of them feel free to drive on by, cause food can be better and better for you. But that doesn't mean that they deserve any less respect then any other restaurant chain. A meal at McDonald's is the consistency Gold standard, as well as the consumer service Gold Standard, all of those customers everyday, and I guarantee they wont hesitate to make that burger again if you were disappointed with the first one, or refund your money, when really we all know it wouldn't hurt them in the least bit if you never walked in to one again. So many people, in so many countries working under the arches, maybe just for a few months, or a year depending on that job to feed their families. For the bosses it must be one of the most stressful jobs ever, the training alone for every employee has to be one of the most rigorous system in play anywhere, and the marketing effort is an example of what to do when you try to market a business. So while I strive to feed people new things, better for them, cooked as well as possible, they strive to feed people the same things they have been eating for years, at the same price they have been paying for years. Food costs and labor costs more everyday, and they somehow have built a system to where they can hide those costs better then anyone else. If you don't want them to buy South American beef that is great, but educate yourself and your family as to why that is important. Don't blame them, because they feed more people everyday then we can fathom, and are hell-bent on doing it in a consistent and inexpensive manner. Somewhere there are people that are sustained on mostly fast food, and while that is horrible, eating there is a much better option then starving. If anything, we need to look at the way we feed people in general. If we all demanded higher product quality from McDonald's they would change their purchasing, and price structure to match. That would mean that some would go hungry, and that is not a solution.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Market Metrix

As a company that is obsessed with customer feedback, a few years ago we upped the ante and designed a guest feedback survey from a company called Market Metrix that is emailed to every hotel guest that we have, at every hotel we own when they check out. Gathering feedback in both a restaurant and hotel is extremely important. My service and kitchen staff are trained to asses a guests needs, and exceed them, with every interaction possible. I work really hard to teach staff (especially servers) the different things to look for, and personally try to see food "going and coming" (leaving the kitchen, and returning to the dish pit) as much as possible. Seeing plates come off of the dinning room floor can be a really, really, good tool to asses what people are eating, and more importantly what they aren't. Why didn't the finish that? Portion too big? Not what they wanted? etc. I can flag a problem find a server and make it right. Sometimes I will just walk into the dinning room, approach the table in question and fire up a conversation. At any cost we need the dinning experience to be fantastic. If I can head that problem off at the front, and solve it I can prevent that customer from leaving with a bad taste in their mouth. Not to mention the bad PR that can come from a bad meal- online forums, emailed complaints, blogs, travel website reviews, and person to person conversation. Even the best restaurants deal with these issues. Food is tough- people have different expectations, and different tastes. Also those expectations seem to multiply with the amount of money spent. The best meal of one persons life is barely palatable for someone else. No matter who you are I want you to have a great experience, and if you don't, I want to know so I can fix it.

Our market metrix surveys allow a guest to give us instant faceless feedback. People will say things in that forum that they would never say to your face. While comment cards in the guest check book are helpful they are rarely filled out, and when they are it is more often then not positive feedback. Of course that is great, but if you only hear the good, and you know that that bad is happening you miss the point. The survey is broken down into about 10 questions regarding your dinning experience with me. Wait time to be seated, attentiveness of server, handling of reservations, quality of food, presentation of food, handling of dietary restrictions, quality of beverage, wine pairing recommendation, attractive and enjoyable atmosphere, and overall value in your meal. A guest can only answer less than expected, as expected, or better than expected for each one and then has a opportunity to leave some comments as well. This system allows me to get more feedback than I know what to do with. The surveys from the previous week are emailed to me as attachments and I can really asses any sort of problem we are having. Emergency guest issues are emailed instantly for an even quicker response. It isn't odd for me to receive 10 emails with 10 surveys attached every few days. If there are food issues, and lets face it some times the anonymity of the Internet causes people to say things that they would never ever say to someones face, I try to respond as soon as I can, personally from my email at work. The goal here is not to offer something for free though, although sometimes we do that as well, but it is usually taken care of by one of our Front of House managers. It is more important to these guests that I made an effort to remedy the situation. A email from a chef who not only responded to your issues, but also saw them and is making the required changes to remedy the situation is way more than most people expect. It opens a line of communication between them and I, and in turn builds a relationship that will ideally make them want to return again. Never fill out any sort of survey like this thinking it will only be seen by a few people, recently I received a comment card that suggested "the chef should be fired". The companies that will send you surveys like this are serious about customer service. Every single one we receive is seen by every manager, and then many are posted offering positive encouragement for our staff. Servers named by name can be recognized for their efforts, or the whole team for providing an exceptional service for someone.

While dealing with customer feedback is never easy, it is a "gift" a customer has given you. We have decided to do as much and get as much feedback as we possibly can. Heading off an issue directly is the best way, a good restaurant will solve your issue on the spot so if you are out and having a problem tell someone. If your server is any good they may already know. If you are uncomfortable with that then find an email address or telephone number and call to talk to someone. I care about this stuff, good restaurants take this very seriously. The information is so valuable. A restaurant can not fix what they don't know is broken, so give them the opportunity to do it.