Author Archive

A-Game

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Hey you. Whatcha doin?

Surfing your collection of food blogs daily? Thinking about food? Maybe thinking about ice cream?

Snacking?

Maybe snacking on ice cream?

You like ice cream, I can tell. I do too!

Didn’t I just see you waiting in an obscenely long line for a scoop or two at Full Tilt, or Mollly Moons, or Humphry Slocombes, or Bi Rite, or Ici? In the rain?

It was you! You were the person eagerly asking for just one more sample, juggling 10 dirty paddle spoons as you reached to take the teensy bite from the scooper, promising the people behind you, “the last one, I swear.”

I’ll bet you have some pretty good ideas for ice cream flavors.

I’ll even bet you could win a competition with some of your original ideas.

Maybe you could even win this competition.

Winner not only gets to brag that their ice cream flavor is on Spur’s summer menu, but gets to do so at Spur, with 5 friends all eating your ice cream at an ice cream social.

And hey, I’m curious. What flavor did you make up?

Oh, I feel ya. Don’t wanna give the competition any ideas. Yeah, that’s cool. I get it. But I’ll just put this out there. I do moderate comments, you know. And I could, if need be, delete any comment that was super duper top secret after reading it.

Hmmmmmm, understood. I see where you are coming from. Well, I wasn’t going to enter the competition myself, that’s not really fair. Those guys are my friends, and I’ve already got my ice cream inventions on a menu. This is about your unsung creative genius. But you’re smart, intellectual property is valuable. In that case, just go ahead and email your ideas strait over to this guy…..

spellmans@spurseattle.com

And put “Spur Ice Cream Idea” in the subject box.

Now get out there and show them what you are made of!

Ice Cream for Sandwiches

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

With summer coming, I have been working on ice cream sandwiches. The format of the sandwich works well for the high volume Poppy, simple to plate, texturally interesting, nostalgic, and focused on a minimal amount of flavors; that of the cookie, the ice cream, and the dish of something or other to dip it in.

Currently, as per the relentless nagging request of one of the line cooks, Abby, I have vanilla ice cream sandwiched between gingersnaps, with lemon curd to dip it in.

However, one of my huge pet peeves in eating ice cream sandwiches, is that of the drippy soft ice cream that often inhabits the space between the cookie. I disdain the ice cream squirting out as I sink my teeth into the mixture, rushing to the back of my throat and covering my fingers.

So I set to the task of making an ice cream that would stay firm through the entire process of eating. This would require a hard ice cream, and one that has a slow melt down. The texture needed to endure the entire time it takes for the cook to pull it from the freezer, cut it and plate it, flag down a food runner, run the plate to the table, and then stand up to the 5 or 10 minutes it takes to eat the dessert.

I found my answer in cocoa butter.  Because cocoa butter has a high melting point, around 90 degrees, it stays very firm at cold temperatures, and is slow to melt. Those who have made an ice cream or two will recognize that chocolate ice creams are always hardest to scoop. This is exactly the quality I wanted to present inside the sandwich. By using deodorized cocoa butter, Mycryo, I have been able to give this quality to ice creams without chocolate flavor.

I have been substituting 3 percent of the total fat, which is at a high 16 percent, for cocoa butter, which hardens the texture just the way I wanted.  It also allows me to use a crisp cookie for the sandwich.  Because the ice cream offers enough resistance to the pressure of your teeth, they are able to cut through a crisp gingersnap.

The flavor combos of possible ice cream sandwiches have been discussed highly in the kitchen, as the sun has made it’s first appearance in Seattle in what feels like 6 months. Any requests?

Follow Through

Monday, March 30th, 2009

In my previous life, the one I lived before I became an adult, I played softball. “Played” isn’t really the right word, though. I lived softball. Fast pitch softball, not the slow underhanded game old men play. I was on a very competitive regional team. I spend every day at 2 practices, at the least. I tournament every weekend. I went home at night and watched training videos on throwing technique, or batting stances, or how to increase sprinting speed within the first 5 steps. I went to every “clinic” within reasonable parental driving distance. Then I grew up, and went to cooking school.

While I make every attempt to subdue the sports analogies in the kitchen, it’s very hard for me to divorce myself from the similarities.

At the moment, a batters box philosophy has been replaying in my head as I collect my thoughts on serving desserts to a diner. This concept is follow through.

Baseball is the great American pastime, so I can make a safe bet that you know the drill. A person with a bat stands in a little box next to home plate, preparing themselves, completing their tiny ritual, and waiting for a ball to be thrown towards them. This is the most exciting part of the game, really, especially for the spectator. The point of contact. When the ball reaches home plate, the bat strikes it, and the game springs into motion. And that point of contact is what the whole game is built around.

However, the fraction of a second that the bat strikes the ball is such a small part of what makes successful contact. You are taught very early on as a batter, that if you only think about the bat hitting the ball, you will fail. You think very little about the point of contact. Rather you train yourself to think of the followthrough.  That is, for you, the bat swings from your back shoulder, past your front shoulder.  That is your main consideration, using a complete motion that strikes through the point of contact, landing the bat firmly on your back, your body twisted forward.

If done correctly, the point of contact is inevitable. But it’s the entire process that achieves it, not the idea of hitting the ball with the bat.

In desserts, I think about this a lot. The point of contact is that of the dessert being set on the table in front of the diner. And if we stop our thought process there, I believe we fail.

Because once the dessert is on the table, just like the ball being struck with the bat, the infinate variables begin. Where the ball goes, who fields it, the errors and brilliance that the other players inflect, this is where the game gets exciting.

But rather than players reacting a ball, we have people reacting to a dessert. When the dessert is set on the table before them, the diner is beginning a very complex process of flavor perception.

To make this long and perhaps cumbersome analogy complete, we have to understand that flavor is a mental construct that does not exist outside the brain. This mental construct is built with the information we recieve from our 5 senses while dining, first sight, then smell, taste, touch and sound. Once the information is provided from our 5 senses, it mingles with mood, memories, and anything else floating around in the diners head.

And what’s in your head, those are the exciting variables. Those are the things I have no control over. Once my dessert, which I have used my hands to physically create perfectly, consistently, day after day, is set on the table, I have absolutely no more control over what happens. I am out there running the bases, and the diner has the ball. Your mood is in the outfield, your memories are fielding 3rd base, and I have just hit the ball somewhere out there. A very good batter has some control over where the ball goes, but still, no control over what happens to the ball once it’s on the field.

So, if I, the pastry chef, only ever think the process through to the point of contact, the moment at which the dessert hits the table, or worse, the point at which the dessert leaves my kitchen, I fail. It’s up to me to understand where the dessert is going, how perception is created, and what, if anything, I can do to encourage that perception to be pleasant.

Lets just forget about the physical dessert itself, the ingredients I have manipulated and put on a plate. The dessert has been built for maximum success, texture spot on, flavors matched perfectly, plated beautifully. Now it’s on the table, the point of contact has been made.

Lets consider follow through, and consider the perception that is beginning, and what’s already floating around in the diners head.

First and foremost is the mood they are in, which is very effected by the service, and the atmosphere of the dining room. This, a restaurant has the power to influence. But what if they have suffered loss within the past week, a pet being sick, a broken relationship, a fight with a sibling, trouble at work. This portion of their mood I have absolutely no control over, yet it still mingles with perception.

And what of the memories of food already implanted in the diner. How can I tap into these, making a dessert they’ve never seen before feel familiar? I can make safe guesses working within the framework of american nostalgia. I grew up eating American food, and so did you, so I bet we share some of the same memories. But what of the diner that grew up in Germany?

The follow through, the consideration of the perception of my desserts is the most fascinating part to me. Maybe because it’s the truly challenging part, the part I could spend a lifetime attempting to effect, yet would be different every day, every year, every city, every restaurant, and especially every person.

I can take the same amount of flour, sugar, butter, chocolate, and eggs, and make the same brownie every day, for 50 years. But it becomes something unique, and individual every time I put it in a different pair of hands, and that to me is amazing.

I once read that in cuisine texture is the final frontier. But for me, the final frontier is perception. The frontier of texture is that of the American west, wild for quite some time, but eventually just part of our country. For me, it seems the frontier of perception is that of outer space. Infinite and ever changing, and there whether you look up to see it or not.

Rest In Peace

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

This is the sad state of the first scale to be brought into the poppy kitchen.  It was part of the opening team, and it’s faithfully helped us measure every batch of naan, every dessert that’s made it to the tables in the short 6 months we’ve been open.

As you can see, it’s on it’s very last leg, but still pulling us through.  New scales come tomorow, and this little helper will finally be laid to rest.

taking back the slight…..

Friday, March 13th, 2009

Under no circumstances will I open the number 10 can of worms that is all that we in the industry think of Yelp.

However, nearly every establishment has received reviews that are unnecessarily negative/rude/absurd. No matter how unreal untrue unbelievable they are, they eat at us. So we do the only thing we really can. We take them back, turn them into jokes, and quote them to each other in our daily routine of kitchen jokes.

A pizza joint in the bay area has done us one more. They have printed these outrageous statements on T-Shirts. At Poppy we too have joked about having T-Shirts made with our own yelp slights.

On the list…

“Poppy hates children, and Poppy hates cake.”

“I would never classify the menu as New American………EVER!”

“If Ikea and a Tootsie pop had a baby it would be Poppy”

“Poppy isn’t even seasonal (oranges in winter!)”

“FAIL”

And on the list for Veil…..

“This is the worst asian fusion restaurant I’ve ever been to.”

“Veil is, umm, skanky.”

In my head

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Wanna get inside my head?  Tune into the steady stream of constant thoughts of food that flood my world each day?

Then follow me on twitter!  @Deensie

I can’t promise it’s all food.  But since i think about food 90 percent of the time, it’s a good bet it’s mostly about food.  And a small taste of the life I lead outside the kitchen!

Yes or No?

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

Last night I ate dinner at one of Seattle’s newest restaurants. After the meal ended, it came time to make one last decision.  To dessert, or not to dessert?

Now, I know this is hardly an original thought. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that nearly every diner in almost every restaurant ends their meal with this thought passing through their conversations. Perhaps the answer defaults to no, or better yet, yes! Perhaps you never speak of it. Maybe you don’t have the choice. But the questions lingers, and must be answered.

At a table nearby, someone knew my friend. They stopped by our table, conversed briefly about this and that, then brought us into their own finalizing decision. Should they or shouldn’t they?

It’s only natural that in asking a pastry chef if you should have dessert, you will hear a resounding “yes.” If said question was asked within walking distance to the desserts I myself create, it’s a safe bet that I’m going to attempt to steer you towards them. So off the decided party went, suggestions made, towards their desserts at Poppy.

But the question still remained for myself and my friend. Should we or shouldn’t we?

We discussed our options. Cheese at the restaurant we were at, or did they even have desserts? Where else near by would we find tasty sweets? We even briefly discussed McFlurries and Shamrock Shakes retrieved on the car ride home, or ice cream from the store.

In the end, I made the decision I almost always make. I chose no.

It seems contradictory, for me to focus most of my time and energy providing a part of your meal that I myself don’t choose to experience. Don’t think for a second this slips my notice. Instead, I grill myself, examine the series of thoughts, feelings, emotions that lead to my own constant “no.”

It is this constant resistance to the kind of closing experience restaurant offer than helps shape my own creations. In looking deeper into my own decisions, I look for qualities my desserts need to posses to entice the diner back into the meal. When the physical hunger stops encouraging fork-fulls of food into your mouth, what other part of the psyche can I tempt?

Perhaps I can play on your curiosity, or a sense of nostalgia. Maybe I can give you another experience to share with your companion, a reason to prolong the time with friends, or even just give you a worthwhile treat for your sweet tooth.

What ever it is, examining my own motivations as a diner helps me ensure my desserts are worthy of your “yes.”

Brioche

Friday, March 6th, 2009

Despite my title, I am not well versed in bread baking. It might even surprise you to hear that two days ago I baked my first brioche.

In working on a dessert based on the established combination “bread and chocolate,” I found myself in need of a loaf or two of brioche. At Veil, I used brioche often. However, when I needed a loaf or two to appear in my pantry, I made a call to Columbia City Bakery and had them deliver a few of their outstanding loaves with our daily bread order. When Veil started serving brunch on the weekends, I didn’t even need to do that, I just opened the freezer and pulled a loaf.

Ok, I was spoiled. With wholesale prices and the attitude, “they can make it better than I can and don’t my customers deserve the best,” I hid behind the fact that I had never tried my hand at the buttery bread. Or any bread, really.

You see, in Baking and Pastry School our instructor drove into our heads that there were two kinds of people in the pastry world; bread people and dessert people. There were 12 bread people in my class of 13. Can you guess who the lone dessert person was?

It’s not that I have anything against bread. Well, not any more at least. I suppose for some reason I held fast to my status earned alone in school. I was NOT a bread person. I even made ridiculous statements like, “bread and I have issues.”

And maybe we did. Maybe I lacked a certain patience that came with age. Maybe I had other things to master first. After all, you can only fit so many things in your head at once.

Last weekend, with bread and chocolate on the brain, and knowing that Jerry, having invested in hobarts, pullman pans, ovens, and a well stocked pantry would never let me buy brioche, I searched for brioche recipes. I consulted with Google, picked a recipe with pedigree, and turned all systems to “bread”.

I first set to the task of destroying the Berlin wall, tearing down the concrete barrier I had built so many years ago, wondering what I was trying to keep out in the first place. I measured, weighed, concentrated, gauged, and did a lot of guessing. And when I laid eyes on my first loaf of brioche, I beamed like a new mother, gently touching the golden glossy crown with my fingers, pressing it to my nose and inhaling deeply. Pride swelled inside me as I thought, “I made this!”

That was Tuesday.

Today I examined brioche 3.0, critical, concerned. Now that I know I can make it work, I won’t be able to stop until I know why it’s working, and how to make it to the best of my ability. This could be a very long winding journey, but I can say with confidence the trip will be filled with golden, yeasty rewards. And who knows what else I’ll unearth along the way. Maybe there is a bit of a bread baker inside me after all.

The recipe

L’Oeuf

Friday, February 27th, 2009

A local poet, Rebecca Hoogs, whom I have had the lucky aquaintence of for a few years now, printed this little gem of hers in the Stranger today.

Since the egg is a cornerstone of the culinary world, I thought you too would find beauty in this playful look at our lovely L’Ouef.

837b/1235761301-l_oeuf.jpg

Ghosts

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

Last night, I drove by Veil.  You remember, that modern fine dining restaurant I worked at until last July?  The one that closed in September?

The papers said it was one of the first casualties of the economy.  A restaurant barely in in its third year, taken down by the tightening belts of the diners in the city.

I spent exactly one year at Veil, hired alongside Johnny Zhu, who left within weeks of me.  Our small crew, who predated our tenure by a month or so, stayed on until they got the bad news, at which point they scrambled to find a new paycheck.

Towards the end of my time there, it was clear Veil was ailing.  The ownership was doing all it could to keep their business floating.  The customers came in erratically.  Brunch service was added.  Sunday dinner service was cut.

I can’t imagine too many things sadder than watching your restaurant die.  It was hard to stomach as an employee.  Watching the numbers in the book read zero twice a week.  Seeing your cooks loose half their shifts and shake their heads at paychecks that won’t cover rent.  Checks that at times bounce.

It was sad in part because Veil held so much hope for me as a pastry chef.  The dining room was modern and absolutely stunning, stark white, veiled and back lit with pinks and ambers.  It set the stage for me to bring striking modern presentations, creative flavors, new textures.  When I returned from my stage at WD-50, it was clear I needed a creative outlet, and Veil was the first place I took a resume.  It was the only place in Seattle I knew I’d have the freedom to do exactly what I wanted, no compromises.

When I drove by last night, the sun was setting, casting pinks and ambers through the windows, a ghostly reminder of the light that once illuminated Veil.  Everything is there, the marble communal table, the Philip Stark chairs, pots, flatware.  The tables sit as if in wait for their next service.

It gave me chills, seeing the empty restaurant left exactly as it was the last day it was alive, a for sale sign the only indication this restaurant wouldn’t be opening that evening.  I pulled over and pressed my nose against the glass, watching the sunset color the restaurant one last time, my memories casting shadowy figures in the kitchen, ghosts striding through the dining room.

It made me sad.