Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day...

is more than just a long weekend and the traditional beginning of summer and grilling season.  For those who don't know what it's about, or who have forgotten, here's a small reminder.

This letter is thought to have been sent to Lydia Parker Bixby by President Lincoln when it was initially reported that Mrs. Bixby had lost all five of her sons in a single battle. As it turned out, she had lost only two sons in the battle. His kind and thoughtful words were typical of his recognition of the horrible price being paid by so many families supporting the Union.

President Lincoln's letter to Mrs. Bixby was printed by the Boston Evening Transcript on November 25, 1864, the same day it was delivered to her by the adjutant General of Massachusetts, William Schouler.   The following is the text of the letter as it appeared in the Transcript:

 Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.
Dear Madam,
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A. Lincoln

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Online Ingredients for Success

Waiter Develops Restaurant Reason to Help Others Who Are Sometimes Forgetful

Last summer, a diner at Eatery asked a waiter what is used to make the mascarpone dumpling filling.
The waiter at the Hell's Kitchen restaurant stared blankly before offering this insight: "Mascarpone." Then he made up nine other imaginary ingredients—right as the restaurant's owner walked by.

"He heard me totally lying to these people," the waiter, Michael Mignogna, said recently. "I totally botched it."
The aspiring stand-up comedian-turned-waiter was given an ultimatum: Learn the intricate menu—or lose his job.

He decided to stay. Over the course of two weeks, Mr. Mignogna snapped pictures of every dish, developed a system to categorize information, designed a set of icons to specify everything from potential allergens to temperature choices and cobbled together a rough website that was made available to other waiters at the restaurant.

Then, six weeks ago, the 28-year-old Mr. Mignogna launched Restaurant Reason, a social-networking site that enables restaurants to train staff, do on-line scheduling and provide an internal discussion forum.
Instead of firing him, Eatery became his first customer.

"A light bulb went off in his head," said owner Sean Connolly, who has since purchased a subscription for his second restaurant, Whym. "Michael's really surprised us."

 Gone are the days when a waiter could simply say he recommends the catch of the day with the chef's special sauce. An increasing level of sophistication among chefs is matched, if not surpassed, by demands from diners, who expect detailed descriptions of where the fish was caught, how it was prepared and even its transportation mode to the plate. An array of dietary restrictions and food allergies have complicated menus further, restaurant owners and managers said.

Waiters are drilled in which salads contain gluten, and which sauces harbor sugar; they are trained to decode mysterious descriptions such as "pastrami-style salmon" (it has to do with the spices) and tested on which dishes contain nuts.

"Some of the cooks don't know all the ingredients [if it's not their station]," said Eatery chef James Henderson. Waiters these days, he said, "have to know a lot."

Most restaurants rely on tastings and printed packets that can run into dozens of pages and need to be reprinted as menu items change.

"They're printing up all this paper," said Eatery waiter Jeff Davies, "and there's always something wrong with every one."

The most high-end establishments still tack up schedules on the walls, requiring staff to come to the restaurant to view their shifts and stations.

"We're still there—low-tech," said Kevin Mahan, the managing partner at Gramercy Tavern, who estimated that each employee packet can run to 50 pages. "There just hasn't been anything presented that would make some of this easier or less paper, which would be nice."

Read the rest of the story here.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


A very flavorful variation on one of the mother sauces.  For an even easier option, just add the pureed chipotle, the lime juice and cilantro to a good quality mayonnaise.

2 Tbsp chopped shallots
¼ cup dry white wine
¼ cup orange juice
3 egg yolks
1 cup melted unsalted butter
1 tsp pureed chipotle in adobo
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small saucepan, combine the shallots, white wine, and orange juice.

Bring to a boil and cook until reduced to 2 tablespoons.

Remove from the heat and cool.

In the top of a double boiler over simmering water, whisk the egg yolks and wine reduction until ribbons start to form.

Whisking constantly, drizzle in the melted butter a bit at a time until all is added and an emulsion forms.

Remove from the heat.

Add the chipotle, lime juice, and cilantro, whisking to incorporate.

Adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.

Cover and keep warm until ready to serve.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.


(Makes 12 cakes – Serves 6 as an appetizer)

1 Tbsp olive oil
½ cup yellow onion, minced
¼ cup green bell pepper, brunoise
¼ cup red bell pepper, brunoise
¾ cup mayonnaise
2 eggs
2 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
½ tsp sugar
12 oz poached salmon, chopped
12 oz cooked lobster tail meat, chopped
Kosher salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste

Add the oil to a sauté pan over medium heat. Stir in the onion and peppers and sauté until soft.

 Remove to a large mixing bowl and allow them to cool.

Add the remaining ingredients, except lobster and salmon and mix thoroughly.

Add lobster and salmon and mix gently. Do not over mix. Form the mixture into 2 ounce balls, and flatten them into ¾-inch patties.

Refrigerate and allow cakes to rest for at least thirty minutes prior to cooking. 

Heat a lightly oiled sauté pan or griddle to medium high. 

Cook the patties on both sides until heated through. 

Transfer to a serving plate and garnish with wedges of lime and sprigs of fresh cilantro and serve with chipotle hollandaise sauce.

Chicken Goulash

It's been a while, so I decided it's time to post a few new recipes.  This is the main dish that I prepared for my C.E.C. practical.

 Chicken Goulash
(Serves 4)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 chicken thighs
4 chicken legs
1½ tsp kosher salt
1 tsp Black Pepper
1 yellow onion, medium diced
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 green bell pepper, julienned
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp paprika
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
½ tsp dried thyme
2 Tbsp tomato paste
½ cup red wine
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 cup canned diced tomato in thick puree
2 cups chicken stock
1 Tbsp cornstarch
½ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil over moderately high heat.

Season the chicken with Kosher salt and pepper and cook the chicken until browned, turning, about 8 minutes in all, and remove. 

Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from the pan. 

Reduce the heat to moderate and add the onion, garlic, and peppers to the pan. 

Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. 

Reduce the heat to moderately low and add the paprika, red pepper flakes, dried thyme, and tomato paste to the pan. Cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. 

Deglaze the pan with the red wine, scraping the bits from the bottom of the pan. 

Stir in the Worcestershire sauce, tomatoes and chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, and reduce to simmer.

Add the chicken and simmer, partially covered, until the chicken is done, about 20 minutes.

Skim fat from the surface as needed.

Remove the chicken.  Dissolve the cornstarch in ¼ cup cold water and add to the pot.

Cook, stirring constantly until the sauce is thickened and shiny.

Temper the sour cream with ½ cup of the sauce and stir it into the sauce. 

Add the chicken and fresh parsley, and season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Serve with noodles, potatoes, or rice.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

For Chefs, Cookbooks Paved Path to Culinary Enlightenment

Looking through some cookbooks these days could almost make a person feel dirty.

“I think you’re first drawn to a cookbook because it’s like food porn,” says Matthias Merges, the chef who ran Charlie Trotter’s kitchen for 14 years. “Most cookbooks — you can see the way that Ten Speed Press does theirs and now [visual art and design publisher] Phaidon is in the cookbook arena — it’s all tabletop-beautiful.”

In other words, cookbooks look better every year. They are great lookbooks. But does anyone actually learn anything from cookbooks? Some of the city’s most celebrated chefs say they have.
Merges credits the Time-Life “Foods of the World” series, which he first read when he was about 8 years old.

“When you’re young, you never know the breadth of the food world,” says Merges, who plans to open his first restaurant, a Japanese yakitori-inspired restaurant called Yusho in Logan Square, in late July or early August. “When my brother and I discovered those Time-Life books, it opened up the whole world to us. It was like, what was that show? Wild Kingdom. Or Jacques Cousteau.”

One night, on their parents’ anniversary, the Merges boys decided to make an ambitious dinner, sukiyaki, or Japanese hot pot, combining beef and vegetables in a single pot. Before he started flipping through the Time-Life series, young Matthias had no idea such a dish even existed, let alone how to make it.

Later, in other volumes, he learned how to cure meats and fish. The Indian book taught him that curry was so much more than just a spice in a bottle labeled “curry.” It is a mix of spices, for one, and it also is a stew, and it differs from country to country. All of this, a boy who would one day become a professional chef, learned from spiral-bound cookbooks.

Some professional chefs learned from cookbooks even after the age of 10.

Jason Hammel and his wife Amalea Tshilds own and operate Lula Cafe in Logan Square and Nightwood in Pilsen. Hammel worked as a chain restaurant line cook in graduate school and is basically self-taught. For years he devoured cookbooks, walking around with one particular volume, The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller, under his arm.

Now, more than 10 years later, he still consults his tattered copy of that seminal book, which introduced him to big-pot blanching.

“The idea is, if you’re going to blanch a green vegetable it’ll be greener and brighter if you use a big pot with a lot of hot water,” he says.

The visual beauty of cookbooks is proof that we eat with our eyes first, and brilliantly green vegetables are much more appealing than vegetables the color of Army pants. But sometimes, even now, Hammel’s cooks crowd their veggies.

“There’s been a million times when I’ve come in and instead of explaining it to them, I just slap down the book with the page open and I say, ‘You need to read this,’ ” Hammel says.

From The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers, Hammel learned about the importance of pre-seasoning.

“Salting ahead of time is one of her major concepts and one part of her book that I love,” he says.
Hammel, who calls Rodgers’ book “probably the best-written cookbook that exists,” often gives the book to his cooks to read.

“One cook didn’t give it back,” he says.

Read the complete story here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Restaurant Trend: Career Waiters

As the old joke goes, two people meet at a party. Guest 1 asks Guest 2 what he does for a living. "I'm an actor," he answers. "Ah," Guest 1 says, nodding. "What restaurant do you work at?"

Being a server has traditionally been the ideal job for aspiring actors, models and artists since well, forever. The flexible hours, social interaction and possibility of generous tips (especially if one is hot, according to a study by Cornell University), make it the perfect occupation for someone trying to make good money while aspiring to be something else.

But more and more servers are taking waiting tables more seriously, seeing it not as a side job, but as a full-fledged career. "It's not a particularly new phenomenon in Europe or in fine dining," says Philip Iordanu, general manager at the New York City restaurant Beaumarchais. "But I do think that both waiting and cooking are becoming more legitimate career choices with the glamorization of the restaurant industry in the media, which is a very positive shift."

Anthony Breyer, 28, started waiting tables to earn extra money while he was a college student—and soon found himself wanting more than just a job in restaurants. "During the daily pre-shift meetings, when we taste new dishes, learn about wines and service points, I began to develop a genuine enthusiasm for the job," he says. "I began seeking out further information and practice on my own time and that's when it began to evolve as a career for me."

Read the complete story here.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Chef Eric LeVine, Five-time Cancer Survivor, is on a Mission

Chef Eric LeVine thought he was done with cancer, that he had long buried that part of his life under years of chemotherapy treatments and dinner services. But there cancer was again – taunting him in front of television cameras, over a basket of mussels, pears and frozen waffles.

A few weeks before, LeVine, 41, had ended seven years of remission with a shattering diagnosis: He had cancer, for the fifth time. And not just any cancer – an advanced form called Richter's syndrome. Doctors said his chances were slim, and sent him for aggressive chemotherapy and radiation that made his muscles spasm and his body ache.

One night last August, he drove into the city for chemotherapy. The next morning, he headed to a television studio to be a contestant on the Food Network show "Chopped."

LeVine was drained and nauseated and thought about canceling, but desperately wanted to prove that "you can have a life-threatening illness … and still push, and still have fun." So he struggled to pull himself together for the show's notoriously bizarre ingredient challenges.

LeVine, the new executive chef of the Montammy Golf Club in Alpine, will be honored Thursday by the American Cancer Society at a fund-raiser in Manhattan.

The chef is no stranger to awards, but this one brings a new kind of validation to someone who established his career while battling both cancer and his own attitude.

"I became selfish and self-absorbed and it didn't need to be that way. I did a lot of damage to people," the charismatic chef says. "In my mind, I used to think, It's about me. And then I came to the realization a couple of years ago that I have an ability that can help others."

Raised by a single mother in Brooklyn, LeVine began peeling onions and potatoes for a local caterer when he was 11 and quickly learned that he felt most at home in the kitchen. Later, he would start his own catering company and cook in France, Italy and Japan, even before graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 1990. Then followed high-profile jobs at Aramark and the Marriott Marquis.

He was 31, with a catering company and two young children, when he began tiring easily and noticed a nagging numbness in his leg. He had chondrosarcoma, a bone cancer.

That launched a four-year cycle of diagnosis, treatment and remission – only to be followed by another diagnosis. After he beat chondrosarcoma, he was quickly diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Then, acute myelogenous leukemia.

LeVine took his usual determination right into the hospital. "I've always thought I would beat whatever came my way," LeVine says. "That's the upbringing that I had — to fight. Even the chefs I worked for [taught that] you never give up, you never give less than the best you can give."

Read the rest of Chef Eric's inspiring story here .