Wednesday, December 7, 2011
the symphony of the farm is a omnipresent pleasant present to the eager ear
sounds of leaves on a walnut tree dancing in the wind
the whimper and scratch of the goat herding dogs
mud being knocked off boots
a distant tractor’s whir in high gear
pigs snorting with excitement
foul-mouth frenchmen responding to pigs
rustling mice in the attic above at night
an angry kitten’s hiss
a whistling cuban troubadour
the deafening roar of the life-giving electric generator
roosters greeting the morning
tapping hammers strengthening something weak
grinding hinges desperate for oil
the bumblebee’s ode to a blooming flower
rumblings of an old andalucian and a romanian marveling the beauty of the day
the clang of a forgotten empty liter of beer rolling along the stony yard
chiming rhythm to a bell hung on a goat’s neck
the wind’s reassuring whisper that he is indeed master of all
unseen birds deep in dialog
as I listen I remember I am so far from home so close to heaven
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
when i toasted my colleagues on my last night, i noted that the greatest lesson i learned in their midst was that, great food isn't about little dots of sauce, of foams, gelees or what funky technique has emerged from the avant-garde kitchens in spain; it is about having a team that is dedicated to the proposition that a restaurants' primary function is creating happiness among its guests and staff. i was the first one to grumble upon hearing about a 10:45 walk-in. but i made sure their food was served the same as that what was served to the guests at six thirty. when a vegetarian blessed us with the challenge of cooking for them, our first response was, "what do they want?".
i also feel like the menu at 5ck is product driven, not technique or ego driven. i think that simple expressions of humble ingredients make for really tasty food, that is consistent day in and day out. we have guests return week after week for the chicken. a prime example of something simple where success, relies on good butchery, a little marinade, and a black steel pan.
i know mikey's wise words will continue to inspire me for years to come, "you've gotta give them what they want"; Again this speaks to the lack of ego in the menu. realizing that in menu writing, putting the guest’s desires above what the chef may think is really cool, is paramount.
we in hospitality are in the guest satisfaction business, and those who forget that will fail.
i am forever grateful to Barry for the skills, confidence and friends i acquired while serving behind his kickass jade range. he left a permanent mark in my heart, and changed my mind on many things, and here is a short list of those i remember today.
*soda water with lime
*dirty cooking (next time i deglaze with high life i'll think of 5ck)
*what really matters
*anodized saute pans
Saturday, June 26, 2010
I woke up next to the woman I am going to marry. I drove to work in my dad's truck. I made Kim Chee and berry preserves. I took another stab at this potato and yogurt bread recipe I am trying to nail down. I butchered blue fish and salmon, I baked shortcake twice. At five thirty when I stepped up to my station on the line I looked left and right at my partners in crime and realized what a lucky guy am I. We are a tiny band of pirates and gypsies but we all have that desire in our hearts.
Then we had the privilege to cook for one hundred and ten people. At the end of service there was champagne to toast my birth and a little bit more fish to butcher, and then a surprise I hadn't anticipated, my fiancee arrives cake in hand candles lit.
After getting cavities filled and working a hot day in the sun on a farm, she baked me a cake, and drove it the 40 minutes up to Marblehead Just a simple white cake filled with strawberry jam and frosted in cream cheese. perfect..... what a lucky guy am I...
When I finally got home, I got to reciprocate her generosity by cooking her dinner. Pan roasted bluefish, with chard, fenel and tomato ragout....
Hmmmmmmmm did I do something fun on my birthday??? I guess the real high light was kate, cake in head candles lit as I am elbows deep in fish!!!!!!
Thursday, April 29, 2010
At first I decided that in the bakery I would pass the time and pay the bills all the while refining my talent with flour. I needed solace and found my new colleagues and new work would fit the bill. I would find that, the time would fly by, the bills remained the same, but I fell in love with this little slice of Brookline.
While in Europe I had done a fair bit of baking but nothing that truly prepared me for the daunting task of loaning my hands and my spirit to those souls in need of baguette. So I shaped and shaped and shaped that french dough and slowly found a kind of Zen rhythm to the night. I mixed a few starter doughs, and then earned my place in front of the blazing oven. I felt awkward with that twelve foot long pole attached to a flat shovel (called a peel) in my hands. It was such a symbol for bakers through the centuries, and I, a humble novice was given the right to wield that unwieldy beast of a tool.
There is a moment in the night during a bake shift when you can peek in the oven and realize that all that hard work is paying off. You see that your friend the "Mixer" followed the recipe chart to the letter, and then enriched the dough with and ounce of intuition and decided that this batch of flour a touch weak and needed an extra thirty seconds at high speed to ensure sufficient dough strength. You also see that his/her partner in crime the "Shaper" (most nights that being me) then put the right amount on tension into that dough and ensured the girth and length of the loaf was proper, (the Shaper also insured that the flow of dance music never skipped a beat). Still in this moment you see that indeed those slashes you made in the dough with a razor have opened like a daffodil in April. The steam injection was just right, the temperature of the hearth was just right and indeed you will have a prosperous bake. All this you realize in the blink of an eye as you lift the little window into the oven. Yes that gratification is addictive.
Having cut my workday in half I found myself needing hobbies. I decided to embark on a journey of exploration into those projects I never had gotten to. I spent time tending the embers and coals in my battered smoker. I mastered bacon. I toyed with pancetta, salmon, tongue, turkey and chicken. I discovered all benefited from an afternoon up in smoke. I teased myself with the idea of making my own cheese. Funny that I live three blocks from one of the finest sellers of cheese in the world. I canned and jammed, and pickled whatever I could find. And I cooked.
I cooked my way into poverty feeding anyone who would eat. But in the end I found what I was looking for; a literary critic would say I had found my voice. And I agree, I had discovered my gastronomic voice. I stopped listening to the voices in my head telling me how to design a dish. That direction coming from chefs of my past. I started to cook from that voice in my heart. I cooked how I felt, and shared that with my little world.
Of the many things new to me these months that I value, I count highest on the list the souls I met along the way. The friends I never knew I needed. The management that toiled with great patience in an attempt to mold me into a man worthy to wear that funny little cap and white apron. Among those new to me, I count artists, farmers, cooks, soldiers, historians, cartographers, engineers, philosophers, linguists, nutritionists, dancers and musicians, all with that selfless goal of watching their day's work ending up on the dinner tables of our neighbors and in the lunch boxes of their children.
So I say Bravo Clearflour. Thank you for hospitality. I feel like I was but a few drops in the poolish bucket that is your life. But I thank you for that privilege, and I wish you the best of luck you will never need. I end my little post with an excerpt from my blog from the beginning of my sabbatical.
"feels like the first time"
dated Sept 25th
"Last night I was a commis again. Lost in a world that revolves around the manipulation of the life cycle of yeast. The bakeshop has it's own sounds, it's own language, it's own pecking order and it's own rhythm.
The first sound my ears had the pleasure to imbibe as I rolled up the door (bike in one hand confusion in the other,) was The Clash "Rudie can"t fail". I took it as an omen of good things to come. It was only a prelude of choice musical selections for the duration of the shift.
Then the storm of jargon roared past me. Batches of bread being called FB's or FL's or french 1,2,3,4, or retail, or or or...
Shaping bread will be my primary task for weeks to come I'm told. I must have rolled 200 baguettes, it's so Zen like. With each loaf the opportunity to improve on the last one. Looking down at the other shapers loaves for inspiration and wonder. I ponder how many baguettes I've eaten in my lifetime, and whose hands they were born in. It is a slightly intimate connection I have with my community now, knowing that my work has become their daily bread."
Friday, March 5, 2010
So its official, my brother is engaged and I cooked the dinner to celebrate the occasion. As with any menu I let inspiration lead the way. I let myself be moved to what to cook. This night was no exception. It had to be grand, but humble and accessible; I wasn’t cooking for a group of gourmands. There were nine of us including myself, all very close friends. I set my longest table with white butcher paper; I filled three big mason jars with flowers, and then I went to market. Cambridge is a gourmand’s delight; it’s easy to understand why Julia Child made this town her home for so many years.
Savnors is our local butcher, it was my first stop. The staff is knowledgeable and encouraging. When I explained my use for the Foie Gras the young butcher suggested the “B” grade, slightly cheaper but a good product for charcuterie applications. So from there I walked out with two chicken legs, two onces of Foie gras, one Large Lamb Top Round and a gallon of Massachusetts apple cider.
Next stop was New Deal Fish Market; Carl the owner has a passion for fish that transcends the ages. Fish is in his blood, New Deal has been around since 1928. Again he has an enthusiasm for his clients and his product that gets me excited about shopping there. Gloucester Monkfish was my intention but alas the day boats didn't go out so, Carl sold me Maryland Stripped Bass. It seemed like a good answer.
Then it was on to Christina’s; a locally owned spice/dried goods specialty shop and ice cream shop. It's a fun place to explore and dig around. Every time I'm in there I find some new product I've never seen before. For instance who knew that in south Indian cuisine they use dried mango powder as a seasoning. For this visit I needed dried beans, pink peppercorns, a vanilla bean, bulghur wheat, Muscovado sugar and ginger ice cream.
Finally I made my stop at Ho Foods. I know there is controversy behind the giant that keeps us fed in the winter. From June until October we are a blessed ten minute bike ride from a farmers market any day of the week. But during winter for product that you haven’t cellared, canned of frozen, California produce at Ho Foods is where it’s at. The list was long; beets for the Chèvre canapé; artichokes and cipollini onions, to garnish the lamb course; a baby eggplant to substitute the meat course for our dear vegetarian friend; mushrooms and local arugula for the salade, and pineapple for the dessert.
Home to my kitchen I raced; there I brewed some black tea, set the music up for some hard pounding house, wrote out a draft menu and a prep list, then my hands began to fly. (I confess during the prep of this dinner I had a few hours of help from a dear friend.) The first thing I did was get the beans cooking. First I gave them a hot soak and then in the oven with carrot, thyme, garlic, and a big splash of apple cider. Next I worked on the Galantine; I seared the Foie Gras then diced it into small bits and set it away to cool. I boned and skinned the chicken legs, then diced and marinated the meat and finally put it through a meat grinder. Once ground I folded in the diced Foie Gras, an egg, chopped herbs and then wrapped it all up in the chicken skin and poached it very slowly in a water bath.
The next project was to get some vegetables cooking. The artichokes and cipollini needed cleaning and then slowly cooked in a mixture of olive oil and aromatics. Beets were roasted “en papillote”, which means they were put into a foil envelope with olive oil and seasonings, and then roasted in the oven. The foil packet trapped the moisture that was produced by the steamy beets, inflating the packet and in a sense steaming the beets in their own juices. I cut an eggplant in half, scored the cut surface, moistened it with olive oil, rubbed it with cumin and roasted it in a hot oven, until the outside was almost charred and the inside was molten goodness.
The pound cake was next. Muscovado sugar comes from Mauritius , it is a dark brown sugar loaded with complexity and intrigue. So I beat together the butter and sugar until it was fluffy, then added the eggs one at a time; and finally the flour with some baking powder too. Into a long skinny mould it went, and 325 for about 40 minutes. After that was in the oven my focus went into the butchery. Both the lamb and bass wanted some attention. The lamb needed some trimming, portioning and then marinating. I marinated it in olive oil, cumin, garlic, coriander, smoked cinnamon and chili powder. (Generally I buy my olive oil and some Middle Eastern ingredients like yoghurt and feta in Watertown at Arax. It’s a little Lebanese/Armenian family run market.) The bass needed more love. First I pin boned it, then skinned it, cut it into logs and seasoned it. Then I sliced some bacon, laid it out neatly on plastic wrap, and wrapped the bass up. I tied off the plastic wrap ends and left it to be cooked later.
I then realized I had a load of mushrooms that needed cleaning for the salade. So as I cleaned mushrooms I also started the garlic soubise. I peeled the garlic, then blanched it three times,( I started it in cold water and brought it to a boil and then refreshed it with fresh cold water and started again) this takes away some of the potent sulfuric nature of garlic and leaves behind the sweet and rich goodness. I then added a peeled potato, some time and covered it with milk and let it simmer for about 30 minutes until all was cooked. I drained the liquid put the solids through a food mill and finished it with some olive oil.
With the soubise done and the mushrooms cleaned, I turned my attention back to the apartment making sure it was ready to receive guests. I straightened the cans on our wall of provisions in the living room, I swept the floors, dimmed the lights and I switched the music to Spanish guitar. Not a moment too soon as the bride and groom to be would momentarily ARRIVE. I sent the groom back out for some baguette and additional beverages, snuck the pineapple into the oven for dessert and started on the canapés. Soon the rest of the guests arrived and the party started. And now I give you the written menu presented to my guests on Sunday February Twenty First.
Trevor H. Smith in cooperation with Orrin and Eustis Provisions
Celebrates the engagement of Nathan Scott Smith and Emily Brook Reynolds
Sweet/Salty Almonds and Cashews
Chèvre and Golden Beet
Chicken and Foie Gras Galantine
Graber Olives, (a 4 generation Smith family tradition)
Warm Salade of Arugula, Wild Mushrooms, Poached Egg and Garlic Soubise
Garbure with Maryland Stripped Bass wrapped in House Smoked Bacon
Roast Top Round of Lamb with Artichoke and Cipollini Confit, Spicy Yoghurt, Bulghur, and house-made Preserved Lemon and Pickled Pepper
Oven Roasted Pineapple with Muscovado Pound Cake, Pink Peppercorns, Ginger Ice Cream and August Blueberry Preserves
Martinelli's sparkling apple cider
Thursday, January 14, 2010
So I have been tackling the idea of terrines. It started with wanting a canape for Christmas Eve. We had some close friends over for a small house warming/birthday/ Christmas Party. I wanted to do something with Rabbit; when I was in Vienna I saw a stuffed rabbit belly and it's been on the back burner ever since. But alas Rabbit seemed out of the budget ($30-35), so I settled for something cheaper. Tongue and Cheek.
"Ox tongue and pig cheek terrine bound with aspic and love." First I braised the cheeks and tounge in aromatics, mirepoix, beer and chicken stock. Then I peeled the tounge and sliced it into slabs (all the while reducing the braising liquid into an aspic) and crumbled the cheeks into smaller bits. I tossed all the meat in the very sticky reduced aspic added some chopped herbs and started to layer it into my mould. I pressed it over night, and then popped it out in the morning.
We served it with dark German rye, whole grain mustard and pickled nectorines ( from the summer).
More to follow including ( Pate de Campagne, Rabbit Balantine, Chicken Galantine and just today, Tiramisu......
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Brioche, hmmm just wanted to make brioche because it makes me happy, me and my gal. Brioche may actually make her happier then it makes me, but it is so very satisfying to see/smell just baked brioche cooling.
Must keep cooking, feel compelled to feed the desire in my soul and the hunger in the bellies of others.
Pig head goes on brine tomorrow!!