Archive for the ‘Random’ Category

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!)”


And on the list for Veil…..

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

“Veil is, umm, skanky.”

Obama Menu

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Barack Obama, Joe Biden, their families, the supreme court, and members of the congressional leadership will eat lunch in Congress on the day of the inauguration. The menu is following a Lincoln theme:

“The luncheon’s appetizer will be seafood stew in puff pastry — scallops, shrimp, lobster — served as a nod to the 16th president’s love of stewed and scalloped oysters.

The main course — duck breast with sour-cherry chutney and herb-roasted pheasant served with molasses sweet potatoes and winter vegetables — is a nod to the root vegetables and wild game that Mr. Lincoln favored growing up on the frontier in Kentucky and Indiana.”


We usually don’t post links on this blog, but this just seems cool.


Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

[Thanks Chris for the pic.]

Attention Restaurants

Friday, September 26th, 2008

I get a boatload of spam from PR folks trying to get me to try a particular restaurant. I never go. I figure, if the restaurant is really any good, I’ll hear about it from someone else. Additionally, going and eating canapes at the opening VIP reception for a restaurant is not exactly representative of what the food’s going to be like for most diners.

But, I have finally happened upon a technique that is almost guaranteed to get me to come to your restaurant and try your food. Name a dish (or in this case an entire section of the menu) after me. This is from my dad who was visiting the Beneluxx Tasting Room in Philadelphia.

Benelux, save me a table please. I’m on my way!

Creating within restrictions

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

When I came back from my long trip, walked into my kitchen prepared to return to work, I saw something that had me a little, well, miffed. The chef had submitted the menu items for a November promotion we are participating, desserts and all. Only he hadn’t asked me for my dessert submissions.

So what I saw on the menu had me a little ruffled. I expected to see two of them there, one an inherited dessert that will never leave my menu, salted peanut butter ice cream, and another of my own creation that has been on the menu for quite a while. But the third dessert, Warm Almond and Carnoli Rice Soup with Ceylon Cinnamon and Orange Blossom, was new. And all I could think was sneer and think, “That’s not my dessert.”

My snit didn’t last long, just until the chef explained he didn’t want to disturb my trip and just put something up there. Our chef, you see, is probably the most considerate person I have met, and it’s hard to be a snoot when he had your best intentions in mind.

As he was talking to me, I remembered how much I love to create with tight restrictions. This was something I loved about school, art classes in highschool, photography in college, and everything in culinary school.

You are given an assignment with boundries, and forced to find yourself within them. I always loved seeing the finished projects lined up next to eachother, seeing how vastly different each one was. Even within the tightest restrictions, everything reflected the individuality of the creator.

So after rereading the dessert that was not mine, I put my ego in check, and began to treat it like an assignment. How would I make an almond and rice soup? How will I incorporate the ceylon cinnamon and orange blossom flavors? And as the wheels started spinning, confined and restricted, I began to love this dessert.

It was something I wouldn’t have come to on my own. My desserts are deep in americana, nostalgic, heartfelt, playful and modern. Shannon’s desserts are classic with much french influence, comforting, ellegant, and simple.

I began testing variations on the almond soup, which in description is much like an almond horchata. In my research I have found a traditional Polish soup taking body from the almonds and rice, and a bit of acid from golden raisins. The addition of fruit makes me ask, can I add body with subtle roasted pears?

Questions still remain, do we toast the almonds or leave them raw? Will the flavor of raw almonds be as distinct warm as they are cold? How thick, viscous, dense do I want this soup to be, and what do I use to achieve that?

We have tested warm rice puddings to garnish the bowl before the warm soup is poured table side, deciding on one flavored with caramelized ceylon cinnamon sticks. Most exciting for me is the venture into the world of poached and steamed meringues. I have only read about them really. The recipes promise a soft, tender meringue much like a delicate marshmallow. Classically presented in a dish called Îles flottantes, or Floating Islands, these pillowy meringues float in a pool of vanilla creme anglaise. Because I am who I am, I spend more time diving into american classics than french, and I may never have pushed myself to make these on my own accord.

Now we are working on including the aroma of cinnamon, either from smoldering cinnamon sticks hidden between the soup bowl and it’s liner, or in an aromatic fog released by dry ice. Either way, a subtle cinnamon should tease your nose as you enjoy the warm soup.

The moral of this story is easy to see. I could have lost out on a chance to grow and expand due to a stubborn ego. It would have been an easy road to take. But it’s a nice reminder to myself that looking around the kitchen, everyone is unique, and each has something to offer that you wouldn’t have seen on your own.

Changing viewpoints

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

I am again out of the kitchen for a short while, traveling and eating for a week in New York and Chicago. A family trip has opened the doors, or simply swung them the opposite direction for me, putting me in the seat of the diner.

It’s interesting how much more aware of myself I have become as a diner as I progress deeper into my career as a cook. I have begun to analyze every reaction I have, from ambiance to seating, menu language to the font, the lighting to the servers clothing. Most importantly, I am aware of every reaction from the moment I can see the food arriving to my table.

I have often told those that would listen, that the experience of a diner all hinges on how strong a memory you create for them. As they walk away, they won’t know exactly why or how you did it, but they will leave with a memory imprint based the entirety of what you created. It is up to you to make it a lasting memory, the kind they retell to their friends, spreading the best kind of publicity, word of mouth.

Just as they won’t know that you took the time to hand peel each garlic clove rather than purchasing tubs of the prepeeled stuff, slicing them open to remove the pale green bitter center, they won’t ever realize that the dish could have been a bit better had it not come off the station of a hung over cook who is a little forgetful this day. They react to exactly what you put in front of them.

I have long known that it is up to me to preconceive their reactions and give them a dish that they will react to strongly and positively. This begins with the initial appearance of the dish, spotted in a servers hands paces away from the table.  The moments the dish sits in front of them as they reach silverware, each diner is absorbing as much with their eyes as they can, making predictions about the flavors, anticipating their experience.

The plating style is an outward representation of the chefs style. Is the food playful, modern, minimalistic, and even cliche, overdone, pretentious, unnecessarily decorated. All this is taken in within seconds of a plate even being on the table. Even the shape, color, condition of the plates is absorbed by the diner, aiding in creating expectations from the food on the plate.

Eyes scan the entirety of the dish, taking it in and looking for a starting point. They can begin by picking out small pieces of what looks tastiest, slowly building the larger parts. Tasting a bit of a sauce, picking up a tiny bit of grain, fingering a small chip of something, and finally beginning to cut into vegetable and meats/fish. If the dish is over constructed the diner will struggle with this starting point. They may not know it, but the initial struggle creates a negative emotional response that is carried through out the time they spend with the dish. However, this initial challenge can hint at the complexity of the dish, where as the experience becomes positive as they are rewarded for their strife.

Likewise, an under-constructed minimalistic plate can lead the diner to believe the dish is either boring, or simple in it’s perfection.  Their expectations are formed before a single morsel is in their mouths, and it is up to you to understand what your plates are suggesting, and present and experience equal to that.

As the food is tasted, these expectations are held against the flavors and textures. I have found that the most satisfying experiences for me, the diner, come from meals where my visual expectations match the flavor profile of the food itself.

Most important to me is of course, dessert. By the time the dessert menu’s are on the table, most diners have enough food in their stomachs that they don’t need any more volume to satisfy them. If their experience hasn’t been positive to this point, they are unlikely to want to go through the motions again of guessing from the words on the menu, creating expectations upon sight, and holding you to your promises made by both. Often with positive dining experiences, a person can feel fully satiated, leaving no desire for more.

I realize that a large percent of the diners I encounter won’t even open the dessert menu. I don’t have a single chance to give them a memory.

For those that do, I must know that I am battling the same things that kept the others from looking. The diners have reached limits, and I need to understand what drives them to choose something beyond them. The choices they make are now intellectual and emotional.

Most of the emotional triggers that prompt a diner to order dessert have to do with comfort and reward. A simple warm cobbler with vanilla ice cream, or chocolate anything will usually do. However, to reach beyond the obvious, I like to use nostalgic triggers to bring the same comfort to the diner. Because I cook in America, and most Americans have a shared history of eating specific things, I can understand a familiarity nearly every diner will sit at my tables with.

This isn’t a revelation. Chef’s have been reinventing the classics for as long as there were classics for this reason. People react to it. Do it well, and their reaction creates a lasting memory. And that memory is why I cook. I look at every evening as a chance to create a certain number of those memories, and I put everything I have into making each one something you can fondly hold for a while to come.

Everything we do as chef’s involves manipulation. We manipulate food into something larger than the sum of its parts. Understanding the ingredients allows us to manipulate the food into provocative cuisine. Understanding every reaction a diner has from the second they enter the restaurant allows me to manipulate your entire experience. As a diner I know that it is much, much more than the food on the plate that gauges the memories I leave with. As a cook it’s easy to forget that and see only what you are putting on the plate, forget that it is an interaction with another person that will elicit emotions and memories.

So for two more days I sit as most of you, a diner, reacting to everything. I will return to my kitchen in two days time, better prepared to cook for you, the diner.

Officially unemployed and working hard

Thursday, August 2nd, 2007

It’s my second day of unemployment, a state I haven’t been in since 2001. Sure, I’ve transitioned from job to job, but rarely with more than a weekend in between. Even my vacations have been used to stage, or work for free, harder and with much longer hours than most of my paid positions. So here I sit, my second cup of coffee going down with ease, lingering in my pajamas.

So what am I doing with my days of no purpose?

Working of course.

I may not be punching a clock, but I can’t keep myself away from the kitchen. With my “free time” I am planning the menu for a barbecue party I was hired to cook for this weekend, complete with a birthday cake at the end. This kind of work seems like play though. Yesterday I visited the Columbia City farmers market researching what exactly I could build a menu from.

My time consisted of strolling through the crowd, petting two Alpaca’s (so cute!), and visiting my sister who sells stone fruits each year. I tasted, purchased a few irresistible tomatoes and flowers, and adjusted my radar for this weeks crop. And here I sit, no whites and checks in sight, sans shoes, and I am “working”.

However, there is a more serious side to this day, and that is in developing dishes for a tasting. This tasting, taking place next week, is comprised of desserts, and makes up the physical portion of a pastry chefs interview. Gaining a new pastry chef job is time consuming, full of various meetings and stages of inquiry.

It begins with the initial introduction, resume in hand. Then there is the get to know you chat, where you talk about yourself endlessly. It feels much like a first date, selling yourself, accentuating your high points in history while showing your individuality. Then comes the in kitchen walk through, where you interview them. Is this a kitchen you can function in? How big is the walk in? Where would the pastries be produced, plated, stored? Who do you order from, and how much freedom do I have in ordering? What kind of ice cream machine do you have, and would you be open to getting a different one?

Finally, provided that they like you, and you like them, it’s time to put the proof in the pudding, so to speak. Sure, you worked in some great places, you talk like a pro, and you are well versed in desserts. But what really counts, what makes or breaks you, is what everything tastes like. When everyone mouths stop talking, and take in that first bite, your job is either secured or lost.

So I am working on a tasting, showing a little bit of each side of me, custom fit to the restaurants profile. Me plus them.

I have been talking with 3 restaurants over the course of the last month, and all of them offer the same unique opportunity. Two restaurants in one position. Each operation has both a fine dining restaurant, and a casual restaurant that would function with one pastry chef. While I have narrowed the search down to just two, rejecting one restaurant because of a hefty commute across a 2 mile floating bridge that often takes an hour, I am still between two.

Luckily for me, both restaurants would be a great fit for me, and I can use the same tasting for both. Here’s the menu so far, consisting of two desserts for the casual restaurant, two for the fine dining, and a trio of petite fours, the final bite, an added touch that is delivered with your check.

Vietnamese coffee ice cream; espresso granite, cocoa sable

Apricot and cherry crumble; brown butter and toasted almond streusel, cherry stone ice cream

Peanut Butter and Jelly Tart; Raspberry pate de fruites, peanut butter powder, frozen milk, carnation raspberries, salted peanut sauce, candied rice crispies

Tahuya River Honey Parfait; Bruleed stone fruits, toasted financier, late harvest Riesling fluid gel, crisp honey leaves

Petite Fours; Coconut haystack cookie, white chocolate coconut truffle dipped in dark chocolate, chocolate caramel chew.

I’ll be working for the man soon enough, meanwhile I’m loving every moment of being unemployed.

PR People Send Us Mail

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

It’s getting to the point where as a food blogger I get at least one e-mail a day from a public relations person telling me about the latest restaurant/cookbook/food product that I should visit/read/try. The PR folks are lovely people who are just trying to get the message out for their client. In the best cases, the product they’re telling you about is pretty good and they genuinely believe what they’re saying. But as you can imagine, not every product can be great, and it’s still their job to tell the story.

Ever being a connoisseur of humorous names (not to mention an owner of one) today I got e-mail from a pr person named “Colleen Lies”.