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- . 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-  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.