Newsletters

May Newsletter 2017

Posted by on May 2, 2017 in Newsletter | 0 comments

Civet

Civet, a braised rabbit dish, is one of my favorite to prepare when I get a chance. It requires some old-school techniques as well as some skill and perfect timing to master. Look up Civet de Liêvre, Escoffier Recipe #1821 for those who are really “geeky” and want to check my facts. A civet is a braised dish usually made with hare with a sauce finished with a liaison of fresh blood.

When “whole hog” butchery was normal, animals may have been brought to the kitchen in a state of rigor with little or no field dressing. The processing of small game and birds was normally done in-house. The blood of hares was drained and reserved. Blood, as we know from the scratches and cuts we have had, coagulates well. In preparing a civet, which can be also done with other animals (such as venison and grouse), there are several steps involved, but the finishing of the sauce at the end is where the skill of mastering time and temperature comes into play. If the sauce is done too early or not at the right temp, it won’t thicken, or it will curdle if too hot.

May Newsletter

April Newsletter 2017

Posted by on Apr 4, 2017 in Newsletter | 0 comments

My Morning Ritual

I asked my growing boys if they could remember one constant in our lives over the years of getting them to school on time. They really couldn’t think of anything, but after a little prodding, there was a vague glimmer. From the first day I started to walk my kids to the bus stop or fight the chaos of the morning drop-off lane, there was cup of coffee. There was always a cup.

I drink a few cups in the morning, but by midday I am done. I don’t know what was going on inside my head to think that standing in a pair of shorts on a sub-zero Chicago morning waiting for a bus was enjoyable, but my cup of coffee made me happy and makes me think of my kids. Why drink it? Is it the caffeine, the flavor of roasted beans, or the counterbalance of the richness of the whole milk?

April Newsletter

March Newsletter 2017

Posted by on Mar 1, 2017 in Newsletter | 0 comments

The Game Within the Game

Cooking on a regular basis in a commercial kitchen is a tough sport (if you want to call it that. I do!). With any sport, there is a level of preparation that needs to go into being ready when you need to be at your best. In today’s world, you cannot get away from the fact that media, advertising, education and the medical profession are all promoting a healthy lifestyle through imagery, engineered foods, new drugs, and in some cases, guilt. To work the hours in a busy kitchen and not burn out at the end of the day, you need to think about diet, staying hydrated, maintaining a specific weight and keeping up good stamina.

Other professionals outside of foodservice have a little easier time at their office unless their workplace decides to put coolers of food and snacks 20 feet from every desk. The kitchen environment is a mine field of good and bad choices when it comes to a healthy lifestyle. From the butter, foie gras, bacon and salt to the red wine and beer at the bar, you are constantly exposed to the fat and empty calories.

March Newsletter

February Newsletter 2017

Posted by on Feb 1, 2017 in Newsletter | 0 comments

My Chicago Food Bucket List

Over the years, I have written and talked about how great a food city we have in Chicago. So, I started contemplating my own Chicago food experiences and realized that I have not yet completed my bucket list. In anticipation of the ACF conference coming to town, I thought I would list out some of the iconic food experiences that I have enjoyed-and those I have yet to accomplish-for those of my readers who may visit the Windy City this year.

What makes a place or menu item Iconic? There are those things that are only associated with a certain city, like fish tacos in San Diego, Media Noche in Miami, or Sky Line Chili in Cincinnati. Chicago has its deep dish pizza, hot dogs, and Italian beef, but it’s not just about eating it at any old restaurant or street-side stand. Cities say you should eat at certain places because they have been around for years, but they are not necessarily good food experiences. It’s about the atmosphere, time of day, and location all thrown together that makes something worthy of a bucket list. These places are also very personal and have meaning, as they may represent a moment in your life that intuitively lives in your psyche.

February Newsletter

January Newsletter 2017

Posted by on Jan 4, 2017 in Newsletter | 0 comments

Time to Get Off the Bench

At the start of a new year, we reflect on what has passed and what is yet to be achieved. Every year, we go through this, but do we achieve what we set out to do? In many ways, I believe we do, but we may not openly acknowledge those milestones in our lives or check them off as done. As I closed out 2016, I began to look to 2019. Why so far away? It is a completion date I just put on a calendar. I have an outstanding resolution that I made to myself that is over 30 years old. As an innocent and bright-eyed boy, I said that one day I would take the Master Chef Exam. It was 1983 when I graduated with an associate’s degree in culinary arts from J&W and the year the first CMC exam was given.

In my mind, I had made a pretty bold statement that I was going to take the exam as an outsider and not get dragged into the circles of personal politics. I wanted to do it alone. Looking back, I may have been stuck in a rebellious phase as the Clash and Run DMC was bouncing between my ears from my Walkman. Many years later, I have realized that you can’t do many things on your own, whether that’s being a sports person, a colleague, or even a parent. Even a marriage takes more than one.

January Newsletter

December Newsletter 2016

Posted by on Dec 6, 2016 in Newsletter | 0 comments

Ball and Chain

While walking back from the gym the other day, I was inspired by the colors of the trees, the low light and the feeling of the late autumn dusk. I began to think about the season-and of course the food I wanted to cook. I was interrupted by another coffee pitch on my music service (I am too cheap to pay for the commercial-free service). It was about everyone’s favorite pumpkin spiced this or that and other contrived flavors to make you feel in the season. I generally let these sorts of things pass me by until the next song comes on. However, the next song was “Ball and Chain,” released in 1990 by Social Distortion, an American punk band from Southern California. I have a certain base playlist deeply rooted in late ’70s British punk. The line that got me thinking was “There’s got to be another way…take away this ball and chain.” It started me thinking about what my ball and chain is. I know what these coffee flavorists and marketing companies have as theirs-trends and consumer information that pumpkin spiced lattes are America’s favorite and we all need to run out and pay $5 for one right now. Their ball and chain is flavor trends and market research, not necessarily quality. They believe because it sells everyone likes it and we all need to like it. We all know what opinion polls can be like!

We all have things that hold us back and keep us in a certain safety zone that we can get stuck in; we don’t want to believe that there are other great things to taste. I have in the past called this the “vanilla” effect. In cooking, it can be learned tasting experiences that are both positive as well as negative, keeping us in this safety zone (or more like “behind bars”). We all have things that we like and don’t like to eat. This learned experience is a ball and chain. I have a hard time eating some things like sea urchin and clams on the half shell, as these walls came from bad experiences and stopped me from exploring these tastes. It was the same with raw oysters for years, but knowing that so many people like them, I had to taste them again to see what all the fuss was about. I put my dislikes away and tasted to understand. I remember culinary students who refused to taste things because they don’t like them. How are you able to cook for your guests if you don’t know what food is supposed to taste like? Still, to this day, I see this obstacle affecting our cooking and purchasing habits. There must be another way to expose yourself to new tastes. This cutting of the chain will allow you and those around your table to get outside of that comfort zone and live a little more through amazing food experiences.

December Newsletter

November Newsletter 2016

Posted by on Nov 1, 2016 in Newsletter | 0 comments

Grytts

The word Grytts is an Old English word translated as “coarse meal” derived from the removing of the bran or chaff of grains. Chaff is a word that those who have spent time around the farm know-it’s the dried outer casing of wheat or corn after the kernel has been removed by threshing. Driving around the farmlands this time of year, you see the combine harvesters in the fields, streams of wheat and field corn being transferred to trucks to be processed into the various commodities we use on a daily basis. Did you notice that if you look at the word Grytts itself, it is very similar to the breakfast staple of the South: grits?

So how did the staple of the Native American Indians of Virginia, “rockahomie,” end up as one of the official foods of Georgia? When the British arrived in Virginia in 1607, they were introduced to a corn gruel which, when the name was shortened, became “hominy” and looked similar to one of the many European oatmeal porridges called groats. When seeing the dried cornmeal, these early settlers used the word grytts, and thus the name was born. Yes, it was the British getting involved again-just like rock and roll and motorcycles. Yes, it was a clash of cultures, but food is universal, and through similar visual and taste associations, a common language can unite and make sense of things.

November Newsletter

October Newsletter 2016

Posted by on Oct 4, 2016 in Newsletter | 0 comments

Oktoberfest and Birthday Wishes

Over the years, Oktoberfest has held a special feeling for me. No, it is not the crisp, malty amber lager drank by the liter! Yes, that is fun, but it’s more about my first experience really getting something for my birthday that was over the top. It became a story I tell year after year. It was being dragged to Munich on my birthday in the back of the chef’s car to experience Oktoberfest as best we could. Just thinking about it makes me smile about this act of hospitality.

Growing up, you have big dreams of getting that birthday gift-you know the one. “Mom, I really, really want it! Pleeeeeaaase!” But undoubtedly you never got it. However, after I left home in my early 20s and went to see the world via long hours and the underpaid avenue of a cook looking for a European stage, I found a home for a while in Switzerland and did my best to survive the language, the work, and the inevitable pressure of being the low man on the stick. For American chefs trying to become something in Europe in the late ’80s, there was a bit of challenge to say the least.

October Newsletter

September Newsletter 2016

Posted by on Sep 9, 2016 in Newsletter | 0 comments

The Taproom

I am proud to say that the craft beer business has done something that I thought would never come back in style. They have brought back the true meaning and experience of a “local.” I am not talking about chocolate imperial stout or a funky limited-edition DIPA. I mean the taproom!

The path I took to getting my Cicerone Certification took me on a winding trail of experiences, but it didn’t just start a couple years ago during a mid-life crisis, when I had to figure out where to go after competing with Culinary Team USA. It began a long time ago when I would travel with my parents back to England. There was always a trip to a pub and the treat of a bag of crisps and a fizzy beverage. You went to the pub to relax and enjoy a simple drink. These were the days before the decline of the village pub and the emergence of the mega-brewers taking over the marketplace. There were publicans behind the bar of the little place around the corner. It was a place where it meant something to nurture a cask of beer in the basement or serve a simple mixed drink and the occasional morsel of food. You didn’t care that it was simple. That was what they served, and you went in and were engulfed in the atmosphere. It was an oasis where family and friends found a moment to be together. I was on a quest to bring this simple and pure childhood experience back to adulthood.

September Newsletter

August Newsletter 2016

Posted by on Aug 2, 2016 in Newsletter | 0 comments

Enjoy the Monotony

It has been said many times that the “devil is in the details.” The success of anything can be destroyed if the details are lost or not performed correctly. Many argue that not focusing on details prevents you from achieving perfection. Whatever you do, mastering the little mundane tasks can be the difference defining your own personal perfection. Whatever you think perfect is, it has to be learned over time and with lots of similar experiences. This is where the monotony sets in!

As a chef and weekend BBQ master, I know that it is in the monotony of repetition of a single task over and over that you learn your ideas, your palate and the realization of whatever level of culinary perfection you desire. You can’t just think that if you smoke a brisket once, you know how to properly tend a fire, season and slice! I have spent many years in the kitchen and learned many skills from the simple to the very complex. These experiences have defined who I have become and how I think about food. Looking back, the experiences that have influenced me the most have been those around repetitive, mundane prep. Prep work is generally delegated to the apprentices, interns and more than likely many a dishwasher who has time on his hands between services. This was the tradition of the classical kitchen. You learned through monotonous tasks. Remember-a sushi chef in Japan may spend three years just cooking rice. Don’t expect to a hit a golf ball straight every time unless you hit countless buckets at the range!

August Newsletter