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.