Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In a Pickle

I know that I have already professed my love for over-extending myself by hand-making the components of my specials that could otherwise be purchased like vinegars, cured meats or chips, but what you may not know is that the same holds true for our everyday menu as well. From condiments like Tomato Jam, Tzatziki and Ginger Dill Pickles for our burgers to the Sweet Pepper Relish under our Deviled Eggs. Aside from the concept that the more you do yourself the better the outcome, there is another factor here: my passion for the old world technique of preserving.

This time of year is the highlight of agriculture, with an overwhelming abundance of produce falling off faster than we can use, and just as much now as before fruits and vegetables are being jarred, dried and canned, but what was a method of survival is now a matter of flavor. So now I take it upon myself to carry on those traditions - not out of necessity, but of desire.

So for this dish I went with a more delicate approach of the pickling method; a tribute, if you will: instead of the heavy infusion of a boiling vinegar solution poured over the ingredients I decided to quickly marinate thinly sliced Green Beans, Red Onions, English Cucumbers, Red Bell Peppers and Celery in seasoned red wine vinegar over a period of hours at room temperature in order to retain their color and crunch, but still imparting that acidic bite.

The next component is something that I have been bouncing around my head for quite some time, being someone from Indiana and having a background with some Pastry Arts skills: I pureed fresh corn kernels with half 'n' half, cream and egg yolks and baked the mixture in a shallow pan (like a savory custard base for creme brulee), which was then cooled and cut into rectangular bars and topped with a new ingredient - Seared Sea Scallops, and for added dimension I dotted the plate with a sweet and spicy puree of thickened carrot juice cooked with Madras curry powder. The dish pops from the pickled vegetables and the spiciness of the carrot curry puree in contrast with the rich and creamy custard, all of which compliments the naturally sweetness of the scallops.

I know that this may seem like a backwards way of composing a dish, but you have to realize that accompanying ingredients are just as important as the alleged "main" ingredient, thus creating a balanced dish.

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This time, I can't take the credit for this week's drink special, and I am more than happy to do so. Our Brunch Manager Extraordinaire Kari Zumwalt took it upon herself to come up with this one.

Sometimes my cocktail specials don't translate well from nighttime to brunch; some people just don't like the taste of bourbon at 9 am (go figure...), so we have been augmenting them with more accessible concoctions like pomegranate mimosas or apricot bellinis in order to soothe the beast instead. Last weekend Kari was inspired by my use of local raspberries in the raspberry mojito and decided to implement her own version of a Kir Royale, but instead of sparkling wine with creme de cassis she used Chambord and garnished the glass with the same local raspberries! I loved it so much that I had to showcase it here!!!

It just goes to show you the dedication that everyone here has, and that I am not the only one here that has love to give.

With Love,


Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Life is not without irony, and that is certainly true for me as a chef. These days my specials have a tendency to be inspired by what I can write about them in this blog instead of the other way around, which is fine since it not only allows me explore another form of creativity in tandem with that of food, but sometimes those literary conceptions can come back to slap me in the face.

Case in point: this past Sunday my wife and I sat down to watch the much anticipated season premiere of Mad Men, an amazing show about an advertisement agency set in 1960's NYC. During the show a character's wife told him that he is "an ambitious man, and an ambitious man is never happy with what he has". The dialogue struck a chord with me because I too am never satisfied with what I have done in my profession; I am always trying to push the limits of myself and my kitchen further to create something better than I have before that can still be expedited quickly without sacrificing quality.

So I sat down later that night to do some brainstorming and I came up with an intriguing technique of wrapping partially cooked slices of potatoes into a lattice-woven crust around pork tenderloin. My mind was piqued with the possibilities, and after a couple of nights of stewing on it I finally had the chance to try it out early today at the restaurant, and the result was:


Not on a large scale, but since I didn't want to serve raw pork wrapped in a beautiful, crispy crust, I decided to go without. Fortunately, this idea wasn't the focal point of my dish... the succotash was.

Last week my purveyor presented me with some local fresh cranberry beans (cranberry beans are a fresh legume that have a chestnut-like flavor with a creamy texture, pictured here) and I knew right away what I could do with them. In the past I have used various beans in the place of lima beans to make succotash, a southern dish of shell beans cooked with corn that became popular during the Great Depression, but this time I added some local favorites: Red Corn, Yakima Tomatoes, Baby Swiss Chard and Walla Walla Onions.

To go with my now naked pork tenderloin I chose to make a bold and flavorful sauce that is still light enough to be enjoyed in the summer heat: a combination of pancetta broth with some beef stock for body and slowly simmered with a good dose of sherry wine for added refinement and depth.

"We aim above the mark to hit the mark." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Keeping with the theme of local I decided to once again tweak a personal favorite - The Mojito.

I didn't want to go too far with it though... after all, I have touted in the past the importance of simplicity and using quality ingredients in order to let them shine, so this week's cocktail is no different: to our already delicious mojito recipe I have added a muddling of some of the country's best raspberries from Richter Farms (not just by my opinion) for an added twist on the greatest heat-beater.

"A drink a day keeps the shrink away." - Edward Abbey

With Love,


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

'Tis the Season

Being a chef relatively new to the Pacific Northwest (2 years this month) I am still getting used to the way produce grows around here. In the east, the scorching hot sun nourishes plants and ripens tomatoes faster than a chef can sweat, but here, the anticipation builds slowly, developing the flavors of some of the best fruits and vegetables that I have ever tasted, but the window in which to get them is short. Sure, these days it is as easy to get produce from Peru as it is from other parts of the US, but if you're living here, I don't need to explain to you the difference.

Obviously I wanted to take advantage of the summer bounty before it runs out, but I also wanted to take it a step further this week. In the past, I have served a variety of interesting meats as specials like Pheasant Meatloaf, Wild Boar Stuffed Cabbage and Venison Meatball Subs, but there is another type of meat that I love that you won't find on most menus, at least this time of year: Turkey.

We all know it during the holiday season, but for the rest of the year it is an ingredient that lies somewhat dormant. Somehow, someway this delicious bird has been "Hallmarked" as a treat only for Thanksgiving. Personally, my wife and I cook with it often, mostly ground for fillings and burgers; an even healthier alternative to other lean substitutes like chicken or pork, and I think that it is time that turkey makes it's debut here.

I started with the idea of pairing local peaches with local basil, something that I have been toying with in my mind because of the fruity notes that basil has and the fact that they couldn't have come into season at the same time just by accident. For me, grilling peaches has been a way to bring them out of the dessert world and into a savory dish like this because the high heat caramelizes the natural sugars in the fruit, which is not only less sweet to the tongue, but chars it just enough to balance out the sweetness.

Turkey breasts are a very lean cut and can become tough quickly if not handled carefully, so I pounded them thinly and sprinkled with some salt, pepper and a subtle amount of Ras el Hanout, a popular blend of herbs and spices used in the Middle East and North Africa. After rolling and skewering the cutlets I sliced them into thin medallions, which are pan roasted in the oven to cook through while I assemble the rest of the ingredients for the dish.

Another great component to this dish is sauteed Treviso, a cousin of radicchio that is longer yet just as purple and mildly bitter. It acts a perfect balance to the sweetness of the peach, a classic Italian pairing with the basil, and an unusual new friend of the dish's final component: Chinese Black Vinegar, often compared to typical balsamic vinegar but with a far more complexity and added spice.

I plan to introduce more specials with turkey as the main ingredient, but with the bar set this high, it might take a lot more time to come up with something comparable to this one!

Another idea that spawned from my home life is one of my favorite summer drinks, Sangria, and although I have introduce a basic version of it already this summer, I now have even better intentions.....

You see, traditional sangria needs a bit of sugar to balance the fruit with the brandy and the tannic wine in order to produce a beverage that is easily drinkable in the summertime without being heavy. So I dispensed with the refined sugar and used fresh juiced watermelon in its place, along with diced peaches, pineapple, and some sour green apples (for balance, don't you know!).

With all of the uncertainty in the world, it is comforting to know that there are things here that will put us at ease.

With Love,


Wednesday, August 5, 2009


The weekend before last my wife and I headed to Chicago for a wedding/birthday celebration for me, starting on Friday in the 'burbs for the reception of my childhood best friend and ending with two nights of culinary debauchery in a seriously food-centric city. At first we were to go at it alone, but with my home town a mere (!!) six hour drive away, I asked my mother, stepfather and brother to join us.

For the first night I plotted out dinner at Graham Elliot, with a fun and playful menu by award winning Chef Bowles that paired elegantly plated food with an impressive cocktail list in a trendy environment. For the second night, I had bigger plans... dinner at Alinea, one of this country's greatest restaurants, helmed by a culinary genius, Grant Achatz. I have his cookbook, so I was somewhat prepared, but my mind was just as blown away as everyone else's! To see course-by-course pics, check them out here.

I knew that going to Chicago wouldn't be just a self-fulfilling prophecy of inspiration, nor do I need to eat at high-end restaurant to find a muse; it can come from vegetarian delivery from The Hill to simple bar food to festive east coast traditions.

As a chef I am constantly learning, and learning comes from researching and reading books like Chef Achatz', which goes beyond the importance of fresh ingredients to focus on new ideas like:

Global Awareness - using ingredients and techniques from other countries that are unfamiliar in order to create unique combinations

Form Mimicking - making familiar food by manipulating other items to look like it

and of course,

Technology - using what we now know as "Molecular Gastronomy": the process of using new techniques to create different textures and profiles that are unachievable with traditional cooking methods.

I am paraphrasing of course, and there are for more insights in his book and in this realm of "Modern Cuisine", for lack of better terms, than I want to get into here.

So, to get to the point, I wanted to create a special that is not only a part of our culinary view, but embraced the ideas of these great chefs, and be simple enough to execute in our small kitchen. With that in mind, a bar food type sampler was in order, with a twist.

Here's the breakdown:

The Clam Bake is a New England classic, so I centered the plate with our shot glass full of clams, brunoised purple fingerling potatoes, corn and a chorizo and beer broth that I foamed with lecithin for an airy texture. Next I went with some variations on the classics: Lamb "Wings" - seasoned ground lamb wrapped around pieces of sugar cane to act as a bone over a fresh made harissa sauce; herbed goat cheese stuffed cherry peppers, breaded and fried, over powderized house made ranch dressing (a now common substance called Tapioca Maltodextrin can turn any fat into a powder, until it touches your tongue and becomes liquid again); and my version of potato skins - hollowed out purple and red potatoes filled with an unbelievably light and smooth mousse that I made by filling a whipped cream dispenser with hot mashed potato, bacon fat, milk and truffle oil.

Not on the level of such great chefs, but well above what you will find from a small kitchen like ours - but, as you know, big things come in small packages!

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As I noted above, Graham Elliot had an exceptional cocktail menu, and one drink that I (vaguely ;) remember had an infusion of bourbon and plum, which I took as soaking prunes (an ugly way of saying dried plums) in good ole bourbon for a few weeks. So when I came back to Seattle, wouldn't you know it, Northwestern stone fruits such as peaches, nectarines, and yes, plums are in abundance. I started out with the intention of making an intricate cocktail with fresh juiced plums blended with my new favorite whiskey - rye, maybe some herbs, or perhaps some of my house made limoncello.... but once I tasted the simple combination of the plum juice with the rye whiskey I realized that anything else would be going overboard. The plum's naturally sweet and tart flavor balanced perfectly with the slight bitterness of the rye whiskey, omitting any need for additional filler. A perfect summer sipper to compliment the fruits of my labor!

With Love,