Friday, June 19, 2009

New home

Hi all. OK, here is the new address for my blog: http://thecookshouse.typepad.com/from_behind_the_stove/ I still have to get all my links transfered over and do some tweeking, but it's up and running enough that I can start posting there. Hope you follow me over and thanks for your support.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Change of Address

Hi all. I'm in the process of changing blogging accounts to Typepad. For that reason a lot of the information I have on my blog is not here. I had to change the fomat of this blog to import it to Typepad and so instead of changing it back we're just going to have to deal with this until the other site is up and running. I'll let everyone know when that it. Thanks for your patience.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Calling all gardeners!!!

To quote Stewie Griffin, "Victory is mine!". I just got back from the city commission meeting where they gave the thumbs up on our rogue garden I wrote about a couple posts ago. I guess all the grave concerns our nosey neighbor had proved to be not very high on the terrorist watch list as she may have at first believed. In fact, one of the commissioners said it was a perfect use of the space and hopes he sees more pop up around town.
OK, so here's the deal. We need gardeners. All you need to do is give me a call and express interest. There is no rent for the space. We have access to water. There is some good planting dirt around. Penny Krebiehl from Little Artshram Garden has told me she has some manure and other goodies if we need them. The only caveat is your garden needs to be organic. You are 100% responsible for the construction and up keep of it. I would love to buy some of your produce to use on the menu but we can work that out as time goes on.
Call me if you are interested: (231)946-8700

Saturday, June 13, 2009

My happy place

A couple weeks ago, on a busy Saturday night, I was cooking at the restaurant. We had a few tickets hanging and we were a little behind but things were flowing very nicely. We had a great groove going. The orders were going out at a nice pace. I was having a fantastic time when it dawned on me, I was more relaxed than I had been in a while, and as I think about it, I seem to be the most relaxed when I'm up to my elbows in orders. Sure there is the stress and adrenalin that comes with being busy on the line but that's different. That is what makes it so fun. The relaxed I'm referring to is probably better stated, "at home".
I've been a restaurant owner for a little over a year. Before that I was an employee and all I had to do was worry about cooking and running the kitchen. My stress level was up there but as I look back I really didn't have to many worries. Now days, however, it's a different story. Cooking is just a very small part of what I have to be concerned about, as is the case for all chef/owners. But, when I'm in the kitchen and I find myself absorbed in the process of cooking I am happiest. I cook, that's why I opened a restaurant. Taxes, bills, employee problems, cash flow issues, all of this has it's place, but the real center of it all is the food on the plate. I hate running a business, but I love cooking. When I find myself getting drug down because of all the other concerns I try to remember dinner service is coming up and then it's all worth the while.
I suppose there has to be a center point in all our lives. That point we can look to when everything else is dragging us down. The kitchen has became my sanctuary. It is the reminder to me why I do the other stuff. Cooking is my meditation; My happy place.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Happy Birthday Calvin

My youngest son is turning 15 tomorrow. I've spent this past week just watching him and I have tried to talk with him about his dreams and aspirations. He plays the bass guitar and wants to pursue music, which I am all for. I have always maintained that is more important to love what you do in life than be financially well off. If he wants to write poetry and work at 7-11 then more power to him. I know this probably makes me a horrible parent. I should push him to be successful (money wise) but since I don't really have much ambition in that direction I think it would be a bit hypocritic of me to push him that way. We go around once in this life and I want him to be happy during his trip. We talked about different ways he can be involved in music and the various options. I've tried to encourage him to seek the help of his school counselor for advise on how to proceed with his dream. I think as time goes on he will find his direction. While thinking about Calvin I got to thinking about myself when I was his age. The kitchen has proved to be a place of salvation for me. I can honestly say that if it wasn't for the restaurant business I would have had no direction for my life. I would have graduated from high school and not done much past that. I don't think I would have gone to collage, in fact, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have. The kitchen saved me and gave me direction. For the past 25+ years I have had a clear path set before me because of cooking. Though I speak for myself but I know it to be a fact that cooking has been the salvation of many people. Cooking became the paradigm for life for me early on. I learned about life and living in the kitchen. I found a brotherhood amongst the those of us who sweat and toil in it's heat. I learned that no matter whether we are lowly prep cooks or world class chefs, we are in the end, just cooks and that is what makes us equal. I learned that the kitchen is the great equalizer, and everything that happens in that sacred space is entirely up to each person who steps into it. The kitchen proves hard work can make up for lack of talent. It teaches us patience, endurance, and humility. I learned to take pride in what I do and if I don't it will be obvious. I am grateful I have spent most of my life behind stoves and in the heat. I am grateful for the good work ethic I learned at the hands of hard chefs. I am grateful I learned to express my dreams and hopes through food. My son is 15 tomorrow. Though he might not know where life is leading him just this yet, I am confident he will find his path if he follows his dreams. I hope I can help him fulfill his dreams if by no other way than by showing him by example that if he loves something and has a passion for it he will find happiness.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Skydiving

Last Friday was my future daughter-in-law's birthday. She wanted to go skydiving for her birthday and I thought it was a grand idea. So she, a friend of hers, and I pack up and make the 90 minute drive to Petosky to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. Skydiving is one of those things I had on my to do list. To make it even more fun, I'm afraid of heights. Get me over 10 feet and I get that shaky, queasy feeling in my stomach and want to throw up. What went through my mind when I decided jumping out of an airplane at 8000 feet was a good idea is beyond me. We arrived at the jump zone and get a quick lesson on jumping. I remember thinking to myself, "these guys seem awfully relaxed considering what we're about to do." I was elected by the girls to be the first one to jump, just to make sure it all works like it's supposed to. The guy gets me into my harness and got all the little hooks and belts into place and tightened up. We then load up into the van that will take us over to the plane. By now I am getting a bit nervous but it's not that bad. We arrive at the plane and climb aboard. Are you kidding me? I'm not going to die in the jump, I'm going to die in this plane. We take off and I am now very sure this thing is not going to make it. By this time I have already pissed my pants. I'm really going to do this? I can't back out. No way. Two things made me keep going: 1)I just paid $200 dollars and I be damned if I lose that by chickening out, 2)I'll never live it down if I don't jump. So I have to jump and now I'm getting real nervous. Not just a little nervous, but the whole stomach in my throat and I want to throw up kind of nervous. This is it!! I'm jumping out of an airplane, what the hell was I thinking?! So now the jump instructor, the guy I'm going to be attached to when we jump, tells me it's time and has me scoot in between his legs and he starts hooking me up to him. At this point it took all my courage, which mind you is not much, not to start crying like a baby. We're hooked together and he opens the damned door. I don't know if you have ever sat on the floor of a small aircraft at 8000 feet with the door open but it's pretty scary. The wind is blowing tremendously. He puts his left leg out and I follow with both of mine. So there we are with our feet dangling out of the door at 8000 feet and now my fear of heights is kicking into high gear. We jump. From here on out it's pretty surreal. I'm not scared. In fact, it's pretty f#$king cool. We free fall for 40 seconds and hit 120 mph. WOW!!! He deploys the chute and we decelerate pretty rapidly and then it's just a matter of enjoying the view. I'm not scared at this point and I should be. Here I am about 5000 feet above the ground with some stranger strapped onto my back. There is nothing between me and the ground. It's all really pretty surreal. It didn't feel like we were falling or that I was that far up with nothing supporting me. I felt like I was in a bubble of sorts. Below is a from the video they did of the jump. Really.

The real credit isn't ours

Alright guys, I have to clear the air. People keep telling us how great our food is. How talented we are...yada, yada, yada. The problem is this. It's not us. Really. And, I'm not trying to put over any false humility. No, The real genius'. The ones who should get the credit to our great food are the farmers and producers in Northern Michigan in particular and Michigan in general.
One cannot over emphasise the importance of great quality products with which to work. Ecsoffier has a great passage in his legendary cookbook that says no matter how talented a chef may be, that talent will not be enough to make great food out of inferior product. Marco Pierre White is fond of saying that nature is the true artist in the kitchen, which is his was of saying superior raw products is what makes superior food. And I have always maintained that a mediocre cook can make good food if he starts with great product but a great cook can only make mediocre food if he starts with poor product.
Now, don't misunderstand me. It does take some skill to use the products we get and make something good out of them, but there is more than skill required by the cook. The cook needs to learn to trust great products and allow them to speak for themselves. Far to often cooks add unnecessary editions to a dish because they do not trust the product. Take the asparagus soup we currently have on the menu. I have seen numerous recipes for asparagus soup, and everything from cream to Worcestershire sauce added to it. The problem with these recipes is not a one of them trusts the asparagus to make it's own amazing soup. You see, when we make the soup for our menu it's just asparagus, water, and salt that goes into it, and our guests do back flips over it. We use the freshest asparagus lovingly grown by the people at Ware Farm. They are the ones who get the credit for such an amazing soup. All we do is cook it and puree. Very simple. The difference between our soup and others soup is we trust the asparagus to have an amazing flavor on its own.
I want to challenge you. The farmer's markets are getting into full swing. Sometime in the couple weeks take a trip to your local market and pick out some produce or anything else that strikes your fancy, whether it be eggs, bacon, honey, asparagus, spinach, or whatever. Take it home and make something out of it, with the challenge being to trust your product. Don't fall into the trap of thinking more is better. Remember, a great cook knows when not to add something. Now go out and cook!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Terroist Gardeners Unite!!!

We have this plot of city owned land right beside the restaurant. The city does nothing in the way of up keep on it. We have to call and complain each time it needs mowed or it will be over grown with weeds and grass. During the hot months when rainy days are far between the grass takes on this attractive dead brown color. So what to do about it? It was/is apparent to us that no one really gives 4 cents about this obscure piece of land so we thought it would be nice to put in a community garden. I tried calling the city a couple times to get the OK but after giving them ample time to call me back, a month or so, I decided to take action on my own and began to build. We put together two 5 foot by 10 foot raised beds and got some good planting dirt donated. It was not more than 30 minutes after the dirt was unloaded that the police showed up. The police!! Apparently someone in our building, someone who's life is so pathetic, so lonely and without meaning, called the police because they wanted to make sure we have all the proper governmental OKs. Now the whole building is talking about our rouge garden. Each day we see the various tenants walk over to the offending plots and shake their heads and then ask us the status of the project.
The status? Well, we're on hold and I received an email today telling me that it will be at least a week before we get an answer. The city has to look into it. What's there to look into? Out of the almost 18,000 people who call Traverse City home I will bet that 17,950 of them don't even know this piece of land even exists. So what is there to look into? What danger could we possibly present? If they were so concerned for public safety they would fix the poor excuse of a sidewalk that passes in front of the building. I don't know how many people we see trip over the cracks on a weekly basis. Perhaps the person in our building so worried about our garden could make the sidewalk their new crusade?
But if truth be told, I like the idea of heading up a rogue gardening project. Perhaps we are on the cusp of a new revolutionary moment in our country's history. It's not the terrorist from without we have to be concerned with but the pissed off gardener within. It's not the Islamic extremist that is going to cause problems for us, it's that damned organic gardener who wants to plant her seeds of destruction in a raised bed in Traverse City, MI. Maybe rouge gardeners the world over will unite and start planting tomatoes and green beans and other illegal produce like corn, fave beans, fennel, and for the really angry gardeners out there maybe even chili peppers. Maybe, just maybe we can beat our weapons into plowshares, rakes, and buckets. Now that should scare the hell out of my nosey neighbor. Hey, maybe I'll find myself on the federal governments suspected terrorist list. Now that would be cool.
So to that miserable bastard who called the police, f%$k off. We're planting our garden, and we are going to make our part of Traverse City a much nicer place to be, even with you being here. The only thing we'll have to change is to plant more so we can cover up your self righteousness.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye

Hi all,
I would like to announce a dinner that is being put on by us, The Cooks' House and Angela Mackey of By the Light of Day Teas. Angela and I worked together in coming up with the menu so that the food and teas pair perfectly. Most of the dishes have the teas intergrated right into them. I'm pretty excited because as most of you know, I am a great lover of tea and to combine my two loves is going to be a blast.
It being held on Sunday, May 17 starting at 5:00pm. There are only 19 seat available so make you reservations soon as these events tend to sell quickly. Hope to see you here. Call for reservations at (231) 946-8700. The menu is posted below.
Jasmine Oolong Consume with Potato Gnocchi --- Walleye with Soba Noodles, Asparagus, and Mountian Green Tea Vinaigrette --- Stuffed Chicken Leg served with Pickled Wild Leeks, Baby Carrots, and Lemony-Ginger Sunshine --- Rabbit with Spinach, Morels, and Lapsang Souchong Sauce --- Arugula and Rose Petal Salad with a Creamy Strawberry Ice Dressing --- A Selection of 5 Michigan Cheeses with Honey Comb and Dried Fruits --- Panna Cotta with Humming Bird Nectar Sauce $65 per person tax and gratuity not included reservations required Dinner begins at 5:00

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

New Link

Hey all. I just added to the right side of the blog a link to the Wellington Street Market. It's just a menu and nothing fancy. If you live in the area I hope to see you soon. We also deliver.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Roasting a pig at 1030 Hastings Street

So being Eastern Orthodox means we usually celebrate Pascha (Easter) later than the west does. We can be anywhere from the same day (next year for example) up to 5 weeks later, whichs makes getting all the post Easter goody sales a real bargin for us. Anyway this year we celebrated Pascha yesterday, only a week behind the west, and for the traditional feast that takes place after Agape Vespers we had a whole roasted pig. The Agape Vespers is the evening prayer service in the Orthodox Church and the second service we attend after the Paschal Liturgy which was served beginning at mid-night on Saturday. So anyway, the pig, it was my job this year to buy the pig and roast it.
An one hundred-thirty five pound whole pig takes about 8 hours to roast on an open pit and about an hour's worth of prep time, so I up at 6:00am, and this is after getting home around 3:30am from the Paschal service just a few hours earlier, to get the pig ready and at 7:00am I had the charcoal going and around 7:30 I got the pig on to roast. You can't just leave the pig alone and go off to do other things in the mean time because it does take some watching in case of the occasional flare up. So there I was, just me, the drizzling rain, a worn copy of "Fellowship of the Ring", and NPR. I had 8 hours of doing nothing ahead of me.
Since I was a bit sleep deprived I found myself dozing on and off for the first couple hours, and in between times getting in a few paragraphs of my book. At noon time I turned the pig over from it's back to it's belly to finish the cooking. The skin by this time was a nice golden brown and crackeling. As the pig cooked I grabbed the loaf of bread I brought with me and started sopping up the juices. If you ever get to roast a pig or lamb over a pit make sure you bring a loaf of bread with you as this is one of the perks that comes with the job. No flare ups yet. I'm starting to get bored, only two more hours until "Car Talk".
Someone from the parish shows up around 1:00pm to do some cleaning from the night before, askes me how I'm doing, and I share some bread and pig juices. A chapter or so later "Car Talk" starts and is a welcomed break from my boredom. Fifteen minutes into the show the first flare up occurs and out I go to do some fire fighting. Some welcomed excitment, but it quickly passes.
Three O'clock and I stab a themometer into a couple of the thickest parts of the pig to see where we stand. 135 degrees it reads, but I'm looking for 145 degrees which will ensure the meat to be cooked but not dry. A quick word on pork cookery. Pork does not, and I say this emphatically, have to be cooked to 165 degrees like the "experts" recommend. If you cook the pork to 165 degrees I would like to suggest you eat card board as this will be much cheaper and better flavor. Yes, it is true that I cook our pulled pork to 190 degrees, but this is the exception to the rule.
Three-thirty I check the tempature again and it's right where I want it. I get out the knives and start carving which takes me about a half hour. I rush off to Agape Vespers. When we get out of service the banquet is ready and we dig in. The pork is a great sucess and everyone is happily eating. My labors, as well as my boredom, are appreciated.
I went into this day with high hopes of discovering some great insight I could share with you. I mean setting around for a few hours with nothing to do gives me all kinds of time to fish for nuggets of truth about the meaning of life. But alas I have nothing to offer, just a retelling of an otherwise uneventful day and perhaps that's the point. Most of us lead boring lives that consists mostly of waiting for the pig to get done. Occassionally we get to put out a flare up or listen to a favorite show or get lost in a book but for the most part we just sit and wait. But you see, that's life. I don't know what your feast is or even if you believe there is any kind of a feast in the end of it all, but that's not the point. The point is make this time you have count for something. Try to make sure someone will benefit from your labors and boredom.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Wow

I don't know how many of you have hear this piece yet, but you need to take a gander at this. Susan Boyle has given unassuming dorks like me a reason to cheer. She stood there out of place and with little actual "grace", but did she deliver. I can't embed this on the blog but here is a link to watch. I hope it gives you pause... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luRmM1J1sfg

Monday, April 13, 2009

33 moments of happiness in the kitchen continued.

Here is the continuation of my list of 33 moments of happiness in the kitchen that I started sometime ago. Click here to read the first 11.
12. It's a Sunday afternoon and the restaurant is closed today but for some reason my family and I are here. The sun is shining and there is a cool breeze blowing and I have the door open. There aren't many people on the street but on occasion someone pops their head in to see if we're open. I'm not doing much of anything but fiddling around. The family tells me they are hungry and I make a simple lunch for us. We sit at one of the tables eating and just talking about nothing. Ah, is this not happiness?
13. My son and I are out and about when we stop in at a store to buy something. While walking down one of the aisles we are stopped by someone who recognizes me because of the restaurant, and because of this my son feels proud. Ah, is this not happiness?
14. Out of the blue a dear friend, whom I have spoken with for many years, contacts me for advise on a recipe and we rekindle our friendship because of this. Ah, is this not happiness?
15. I'm washing a sink full of lettuce. Each leaf has to be handled carefully so as to not bruise it. While picking the various lettuces from their stems or roots, I find myself day dreaming about nothing in particular. Ah, is this not happiness?
16. A slice of bread with butter and honey on it. Ah, is this not happiness?
17. There is a feast planned and a spit roasted whole lamb is the center piece. Because the lamb will take so long to cook the day has to start early and everybody is tired. There is a struggle getting the lamb wired on the spit so it turns evenly but along with this struggle there is laughter at the difficulties. Then there ensues a heated debate about how to arrange the coals for proper roasting. But after the lamb is on the spit and coals have been arranged we sit down for the long, patient roasting, eagerly looking forward to that first bite. A couple hours into it, another friend arrives with a loaf of bread and a couple bottles of wine. We sit there drinking wine and sopping up the juices off the roasting lamb with the bread and telling stories. Suddenly I realize finishing the lamb in no longer the point. Ah, is this not happiness?
18. Watching a small child pick up their food with their fingers and putting it on the fork before putting it in their mouth. Ah, is this not happiness?
19. It's Saturday morning, my absolute favorite time of any week, I'm walking around the farmer's market looking at the produce. As I move around the grounds talking to some of my favorite farmers one of them pulls out from underneath his counter a dozen guinea hen eggs he gathered just that morning and asks if I'm interested. Without hesitation I buy them and then spend the rest of my time moving from vendor to vendor looking for ideas with which I can pair the eggs for that nights service. By the end of my time I have a basket full of new items and a new dish in my head featuring my guinea hen eggs. Ah, is this not happiness?
20. Later that day I get a call from the same farmer who sold me the above eggs wanting reservations for dinner. I am able to serve him the dish I created with his eggs. Ah, is this not happiness?
21. The phone rings and it's a morel hunter telling me he has a basket of morels for me to buy. They are first ones of the new season. Ah, is this not happiness.
22. The look of a freshly polished copper pot. Ah, is this not happiness?
Eleven more to go.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

1 Year!!

Well we made it. It was one year ago today, April 1, April Fool's Day, we opened the doors and a life long dream of mine came true. My wife, my youngest son, Jen my partner, and myself all stood there scared out of our minds and not knowing what to expect. Theresa and Calvin had no restaurant experience and their training consisted of a 15 minuet run through of proper service, and then on the floor they went. We did 16 for lunch and 14 for dinner, all of whom were friends and family, and all of whom we were deeply grateful for their early support. One year. Wow. The first year is often the hardest to survive for a restaurant. I think the mortality rate is around 75% of all restaurant close in their first year, but not us, and the simple fact for this has been the wonderful support we have received from the community. We thank all of you who have dinned with us and supported us in this first year. Now that this mile stone has past we look to the future with more than the hope of survival, which was our simple first year goal. We now look forward with expectations and plans. We have our cookbook coming out in September. We are planning a community garden for this summer in the space next to the restaurant. The market continues to grow and we have more leads on local products that will make it even better, and we have other things in the works. Today is just another day, however. Today we will open for lunch at 11:00 and dinner at 5:00. Since it's spring break for the kids it will be slow and I don't expect to set the world on fire. But in another sense today is special and no matter how slow we are today I will be grateful we are still here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Thank You

Today is a sad day. Today one of my best friends, Senior Master Sargent Steven Grandalski is shipping out for his second tour of duty in Iraq. Him and his wife Keri, along with their 2 children are the bravest people I know. I want thank them for their service to our country and for keeping me free. Thank you Steve and Keri, and may you have godspeed in your return.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The great Marco-Pierre White at work.

Hi all. OK, here's a series of videos I found on Youtube with Marco-Pierre White when he was at Harvey's in the 1990's. I found them to be fascinating to watch because I got a chance to see one the great masters of our time at work in his kitchen. The food and presentation may be a bit dated but his techniques are wonderful to watch. Keep an eye on how he moves, what his hands are doing, when he stirs, etc. These little details are so important in the learning process. Listen to his thought process. Anyway, I present these to you as a mini-cooking class with one of the best chefs of our time. Oh by the way, keep your eye out for a very young Gordon Ramsay.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The pathetic-ness of Me

So I've been informed that I have a large carbon foot print. Why? Well let me tell you. There is a certain market in town that is known for it's organic-eco friendly-fair trade-bill of fare. I am there almost everyday and often a couple times a day, and because of this there are those who like to think I must have the biggest carbon foot print on the planet; never mind that the restaurant is 1/2 mile from the market. The statement came from someone who buys their organic peaches in the middle of February that have shipped in from Peru. What strikes me as funny (not funny ha ha, but funny hummm) is that one load of organic Peruvian peaches pretty much takes care of a year's worth of me driving the 1/2 mile a couple times a day. I refer you to a post I did on this attitude some time ago. This person said he/she is amazed that for all I do and say for sustainable, environmentally friendly food I still have such a large carbon foot print. Well my friend, I am a walking contradiction. I cook food that is some of the best in the state of Michigan but I love nothing more than a 7-11 hot dog, a pack of Cheetos, and a Big Gulp. I am a member of one of the most conservative religions in the world, Russian Orthodox, but I'm left of liberal when it comes to most issues. I support gay marriage, stem cell research, and believe we evolved from apes, none of which the Church supports. I am a sub-deacon in the same Church but have a mouth on me that would make Gordon Ramsay proud. I watch too much T.V.. I'm a recovering alcoholic because I drink too much. I like fast food. I am a terrible friend and I love cream filled donuts. In short I am a disappointment to most everyone who gets to know me. Here's my point. I'm human. I screw up. I don't live up to expectations. I do most things poorly. And I am willing to bet that when you're alone you too know this to be true of yourself. I gave up long ago, the 3rd grade to be exact and I won't launch into the story that settled it for me, trying to be what everyone else thinks I should be. I am ME and I make no apologies for this and it is my hope you too will give the finger to what everyone thinks you should be. I am Eric, big f@#$ing carbon foot print and all.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A fork in the road

As all of you know, cooking if my one passion; my one obsession. But recently I have began to question the place of cooking in my life. What I mean is where does it fit? What's the purpose of cooking in my life. In a way this blog has been the vehicle with which I explore cooking's place in my life, so it shouldn't come as any surprise to me when I begin questioning why I cook. But this recent episode of questioning reaches down deeper inside. I don't know if I am looking for direction or connection. My gut feeling is I'm trying to see where I am connected in my endeavor. Paul Tillich, an existential theologian, and the one theologian that speaks most to me, spoke often of man's "Ultimate Concern" when referring to god. Faith, according to Tillich is the state of being ultimately concerned. Now, because Tillich's idea of ultimate concern is not the easiest concept to understand, in fact some wonder if even Tillich understood it completely, I'm not going to get into it. If you are interested here is a link to a very good discussion. But I bring up "ultimate concern" because Tillich argued that ones ultimate concern cannot be something finite, hence, my cooking no matter how passionate I am with it cannot stand in the place of my ultimate concern. If cooking cannot bring me fulfillment then what does it do? This is the question now before me. Cooking by itself will not bring fulfillment. It can't, it's grounded in finite existence, but cooking can be that which leads me to that which concerns me ultimately; at least I hope. Aristotle taught that by living a virtuous life we can find happiness and part of living a virtuous life is living a life where the social good of man is the highest aim we can aim for, this is where a proper use of the political life springs. To put it another way, when we put social concerns above our individual desires we are living rightly and will find ourselves more fulfilled and hence happier. My cooking needs to take that next step where I no longer cook for sake to cook, but I cook for a greater end; an end that takes aim at man's ultimate concern. Is the greater good of man our goal? For now I don't know, but I am going to start off in that direction and see where it leads me if for no other reason than it will be a good journey. I do know owning a restaurant for the sake of owning one or for making money is no reason to own one. There must be a higher aim for us. We are coming up to the first anniversary of the restaurant and we have reached the goal we set for ourselves, just survive the first year. Now that we have done that I want to look ahead with loftier ideals for the restaurant and market. What are they? Have not a clue, but give me time and these ideals will present themselves; a path for us will be made clear. What I do know is I am enjoying the adventure.

Monday, March 2, 2009

An anniversary of sorts

So a year ago today we took over the space that would in a month from now become "the cooks' house". We had one month to get the place up and running. I was scared out of my mind. The actual cooking part wasn't a concern of mine, except for the fact I was a bit out of shape. No, what concerned me was how to run a business. I'm a cook, not a businessman. I've spent my life in the kitchen talking to food. I had little actual knowledge on how a business was to be ran, but now I had 30 days to figure it out. It's been a rough learning curve, just ask my poor accountant who has to keep me going in the right direction, but I digress. A year ago I became my own boss with all the trappings. One year ago I launched into the unknown without a rope. It was all or nothing, we had no plan for what if it all fails. A month from now is our first year anniversary. I'll continue this line of thought then.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Catching up

It's been a good few weeks for the restaurant and the market and I thought I would take a few moments to catch everyone up. 1. Our pulled pork sandwich is featured on the cover of Traverse magazine. We pretty grateful for the exposure. The magazine has a pretty wide readership and it has been an honor having some of our food featured. 2. Apparently we have been voted "community heroes" because of the restaurant and market. I guess it's because of our focus on local. I don't have much information on this one yet. Someone came into the market and was talking to Jen about it. I'll keep you posted. 3. Jen and I were invited to a farming summit yesterday. There were about 100 or so people there. The whole process was there; there were farmers/producers, infrastructure people, people who are involved with the governing process, finance people, then there were restaurant, market, and other buyers at the end of the process. What a great day spent trying to see how we can get farming a larger presence in the economy. Hopefully as time goes on this summit will produce some good results that will help stimulate the local economy. 4. So a couple weeks ago I got the worst cut I have ever had; I almost cut off the tip at the nail on my left index finger. The irony of it is this wasn't a kitchen accident. I was down in my office doing some work when I did it. I had, that's had, a folding chair I sat on. Well, I went to pull it up under myself when my finger found itself under the seat part and on top of the bar the seat part sat on. Yea, it was fun; one of those moments in one's life when the lights go dark for a split second. To make a gory, long story short, I needed 4 stitches through the nail. Apparently there wasn't much holding the flap of skin on. Needless to say my knife skills are pretty good but my chair skill truly suck. 5. Business has been pretty good. The market is taking off with people really liking the East Indian food we offer over there. Jen is becoming quite the Indian food chef. It's not an easy cuisine to do correctly; if it's not done right it turns out pretty one dimensional but when done right there is an amazing amount of complexity. We are hoping to make a trip to India next year and spend some time in a couple restaurants. Our friends Mutka and Himanshu are going to help us get in. So that's about it. Now back to work.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

33 Moments of Happiness in the Kitchen

Chin Shengt'an was an 17th century scholar who, while staying in a temple with a friend for ten days because of foul weather, wrote 33 happy moments. While I don't find all or even most of his moments all that happy for me, I do re-read them from time to time just so I can think of my own happy moments in life. For the next few posts I want to give you my 33 happy moments in the kitchen. I hope you enjoy them but more importantly, I hope it makes you think of what your happy moments are while cooking. 1. It's early in the morning and I walk into my kitchen. There are no sounds. The hood isn't on yet. There are no people talking or making noise. It's only me. I slowly begin putting together my work station while thinking quietly about the day ahead. Ah, is this not happiness? 2. The restaurant is full and the kitchen is very busy but the cooks are all dancing with each other flawlessly. The sound of pots hitting the stove top. The sound of knives on the cutting boards. The sound of the chef calling his tickets. Ah, is this not happiness? 3. The look of a perfectly cooked piece of fish. Ah, is this not happiness? 4. I had a guest ask me about how to poach an egg. I wasn't busy and invited her to come into the kitchen to show her. After discovering it isn't all that difficult, she smiled. Ah, isn't that happiness. 5. I hire a dishwasher who has had some bad breaks in life. She has no or little education and often comes with a record. After a few months of washing dishes he shows an interest in learning to cook and I teach him. A few years go by and I hear from her and learn that cooking has given her a good life. Ah, is this not happiness? 6. A couple comes into the restaurant for their anniversary but it is soon apparent they don't have much money to spend. The man, though he doesn't readily show it, wishes he had more so his beautiful bride could have a nice dinner. Without making a show of it, we roll out the red carpet and send them extra courses on top of what they have already ordered. They leave satiated and happy without ever knowing what we did. Ah, is this not happiness. 7. It is late afternoon. I brew a pot of my favorite tea and take it down to the dock on the river just behind the restaurant. I watch the ducks diving for food while drinking my tea, and looking up I see my wife coming down to meet me. Ah, is this not happiness? 8. I have had a hard day and notice there are some dishes to be done. Going back to the dish room I get myself lost in just doing dishes and forget about everything else. Ah, is this not happiness? 9. It is winter time and there is a storm raging outside. The restaurant is warm but because of the storm we have no customers. I'm sitting at the table beside our big window looking outside while reading a cookbook and drinking tea. Ah, is this not happiness? 10. It's my day off. The day outside is beautiful. The sun shines and there is a cool breeze, but off in the distant brews a thunderstorm with it's black clouds. I have spent the morning preparing food for the afternoon. The house is full of our best friends drinking wine and eating food. Laughter can be heard and the kids are all running around getting themselves into trouble. I'm sitting in my favorite chair smoking my favorite pipe. Ah, is this not happiness? 11. My son is at the restaurant hanging out with us. He is not doing anything in particular except looking up points of interest on the Internet. Just when I am at my busiest in the kitchen he wants to show me something and I don't really have time, but because he is with us I make time, usually putting an order on hold. He shows me something trivial. We laugh or plan or look at each other knowingly. Ah, is this not happiness? OK, this is the first 11. I'll post the next 11 in a few days.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Come to the Table

OK, here's the link I promised you to an interview on the "Come to the Table" radio program from Detroit. I guess we are the second half of the program. I haven't had a chance to listen to it so I hope I don't sound to much like a dorkl

Monday, February 16, 2009

Up Date

It seems I have ran into a void in my thinking. I don't know if it's just because I'm busy and don't have much time to just mull things over or if I have hit a genuine wall. My reading hasn't slowed down much; I'm just finishing up "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" by Daniel Dennet. A very good read. Next up are a stack of Middle-Earth books. I love Tolkien and could live in his universe. I could be a hobbit. My cooking is progressing very nicely. For my birthday my wife gave me Gordan Ramsey's new cookbook, "Three Star Chef". What a great book. I am a big fan of Chef Gordan Ramsey despite all the bad press he seems to get. He truly is a great chef and someone I look to as a model. I enjoyed reading his recipes. Ramsey's style is based on great product simply cooked; a style I also espouse. We are keeping busy at the restaurant and market. Jen has done an excellent job at getting the market up and running. She has some great ideas. I am sure glad we are able to use our mutual talents together. I've been cooking lunch since around the middle of December and I think this has a lot to do with my lack of time to get anything else done. It will be nice when we pick up again and I can hire another lunch cook. A couple things of note. Our pulled pork sandwich is featured on the cover of "Traverse Magazine". It's their food issue and our pulled pork was #6 in a list of 46 of the best dishes in Northern Michigan. We've gone from selling 1 or 2 pulled pork sandwiches a day to 15 or so. We were also interviewed on the Detroit based show, "Come to the Table" and it aired last Sunday. When they have a link up I'll post it so you guys can hear it. I suppose for now this is all. I'm hoping to get out of this slump sometime soon.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Just an Honest Word Please

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am a bona fide chef groupie. I follow the careers of the tops chef with a passion. I know Mario Batalli's favorite band is Joy Division. Escoffier was a very devout Catholic and would rub his ear when he got angry. Marco-Pierre White doesn't like music played in his restaurants. Fernande Point loved Champagne so much he drank two bottles a day. Guy Savoy was portrayed as a customer in the French version of Ratatouille, and so forth. I can't get enough information about my favorite chefs. If there was a People magazine for chefs, you could bet I would have a life time subscription. I love finding out small details about those at the top. I get giddy when I discover so-and-so has a goldfish named Bob or some other ridiculous, insignificant detail. My groupie-ness sometimes can be taken to the extreme where I put on rose colored glasses when it comes to their food and believe these guys can do no wrong. I am also a devout restaurant review reader. There are a number of great websites and blogs who write brutally honest reviews of the top restaurants in the world, and I am a regular reader of these sites. What I like about these sites is the fact that the reviewers are not awe struck by the reputation of the chef or restaurant and will write their honest review of what they thought of the food. While most of the time the reviews do give praise for the greatness of the food and restaurant, there are times when the review does not find that particular meal all that wonderful. It is these reviews I enjoy reading most. It's not because I like dirt but because these reviews are learning experiences for me. I read them trying to see what the writer sees as great, good, and just plain bad, and because these sites are written by seasoned eaters, I generally trust their judgments. What I look for in a well written review is the writer's (read paying customer) honest take on the food and overall experience. I make it a habit to listen to the honest opinions of those who eat my food. Notice I say, "honest". There are those who are never happy, or find a demented pleasure in telling cooks their food was not so good, and I do not listen to these folks. But, to those who are honest I am thankful. Often times it difficult for us cooks to really tell how we are doing, and this is because of a couple reasons. Firstly there is the whole can't see the forest because of the trees. You see, we spend our days in the trenches and it is not easy to keep ones bearings straight and it takes a lot of concentration to keep standards up and consistent. Good, honest (read not mean spirited) feed back from the ones eating is always welcomed. Secondly there is ego. Chefs are an ego driven lot and some of us think we are gods and untouchable. Far to often a chef thinks his/her food is above critique. They often think they are so good that the guest should say nothing, sit there, and eat in gratitude and awe. Bullshit. It is for the guest we cook and it is the guest who has the final say as to the worthiness of a meal. A good, honest review of a meal that did not meet the grade is good for us on occasion. It keeps us on our toes. In the end, it is for you guys we chefs cook for, and in the end it is ultimately your opinion that matters.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Not even remotly related to food

Are you kidding me?! Listening to the news on the way in to work this morning I heard that banks were over paid $78 billion from the government for their lame assets. Add to this the the multi-hundred billion we have spent over the past 6 years blowing the shit out of some third world country and accomplishing nothing. Let's not forget the trillion dollar bail out congress is debating, or the billions of dollars spent each year big CEOs give to themselves while their companies go down in flames of glory while we just keep shoveling them more f@%$king money. But, BUT, god for bid we find a way to provide health care for people. No, I am at the end of my rope over this bull shit. Keep throwing money away and keep coming up with lame ass excuses why we cannot have a national health care, that seems to be the plan. I have nothing I can add to the debate of why we should do it, others smarter and more qualified than I have already done so, but what I can say is that I know of to many people who are at this moment struggling to pay for medical help they need and all the while seeing their lives destroyed in the process. Something has to be done. Why can't we take the money we throw away and make this thing work?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bad Dog! Bad Dog!

OK, I'll take this slow for those of you whom may not understand. Let's pretend you are making a reservation at my restaurant... ring, ring, ring... "Thank you for calling The Cooks' House. How may I help you?" "Yes, I would like to make a reservation for 8 at 7:00pm." "8 at 7:00pm. Perfect. See you this evening." It may be me, but I don't see anything there that says, "and we are going to a movie at 8:30". No, I guess it's better to come in and order three courses, take you time, and then at 8:05 tell us you have an 8:30 movie, and this BEFORE you receive your entrees. We must have set a new land speed record getting the entrees for 8 people ready so they can at least get a couple bites before they have to leave. Guys, listen, do you have somewhere to be at a certain time? Great, no problem. Let your server know and I will guarantee you will get out with time to spare and still be able to enjoy your food. Do not, let me repeat, do not pop that on the the restaurant staff last minute. It's not fair to them, nor you.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Something New

Hi all. Just found this on YouTube. I remember these guys coming in but forgot about it. Anyway, hope you enjoy it.

Of Bulls and Ballerinas

There are two type of cooks in the world, bulls and ballerinas. Each has their place and individual roles in the kitchen, and every kitchen needs a healthy mixture of each type. The mix is entirely dependent on the kind of kitchen, for instance, if the kitchen is pumping out buffets or banquets for 100's or even 1000's of people on a regular basis, then it will have the need for more bulls. However, if it is a high end restaurant that is producing world class cuisine where the average guest bill is above the $100 per person mark, then it will have a fair amount of ballerinas dancing around. Get the picture? Bulls are the producers of the bunch. You need 1000 of something made? Give it to a bull, they love these kinds of challenges. You'll get 1000, no guarantee what the place will look like when they are done, but you'll have 1000. Give a ballerina the task of producing 1000 of something and it will take a while, and they may even have a nervous break down in the process, but tell them you need to put tiny drops of vegetable puree around the rim of a dish, all the same distance apart, and in thirty seconds, and they will produce. Give the bull the same task and you will end up with a mess. Bulls cannot be ballerinas and ballerinas cannot be bulls. I have tried to convert each type with no success, but I am convinced that each can learn from the other, and every cook should strive for a happy medium between the two. Let me give you two example of each extreme. I had this kid working for me that was a mess on the line. No matter how hard he tried he could not get the food on the plate the way I wanted it. Tell him I wanted a dollop and he would plop. He had absolutely no grace in his movements and his plates looked like it, but when I moved him to prep he really came out. This kid was amazing when it came to defeating prep lists. We would leave him prep lists that were epic in proportions and I be damned if he wouldn't have them complete every time we came for the shift. It got to a point where we would put anything we could think of on his lists just to see if he could get them done and he did, each and every time. His speed was truly amazing. He not only completed his lists, he did so without screwing anything up. OK, contrast him with this little ballerina who worked for me. I'll call her Jane. Jane was painfully slow at everything, but what she did do, she did well. She had a certain grace when she worked. She worked for me as an intern for a couple months during our slow period. We would do 20 people and it would feel like we did 100. It took her forever to plate anything. I don't know how many times I would pound the table screaming at her that I needed HER dish to sell the order. Oh, she would buzz around the kitchen busy as a bee. She was always doing something at 100 mph but getting nothing done. She would come in 2 hours early to start her prep and not be ready when we opened. Sure, she could make beautiful food, but my god, plate tectonics move quicker than she did. So, what you want to aim for is that happy medium in between the two examples above. The two most important characteristics in a line cook are speed and accuracy. Speed is the bull. Accuracy is the ballerina. A well balanced cook, no matter which side of the line he/she may fall, will have both characteristics, while one will always out shine the other. Discover which one you are and play to your strengths. What am I? I'm a ballerina, which is good because I look FABULOUS in a tutu.

Friday, January 16, 2009

My new obsession

Let me introduce you to my latest obsession, corn tortillas. These little bastards have only two, that's dos, ingredients; water, masa harina. And they are proving my long held conviction that the less ingredients in a dish the harder it is to make. I've tried a couple recipes and have now moved to Rick Bayless' recipe. I think recipe is a bit of a stretch as it is more a technique than a list of ingredients. I mean come on!! How hard can this be!? Well, apparently much harder than I first expected. I'm a chef with 28 years in the kitchen. I've tackled some pretty hard techniques and recipes in my time so it was with much confidence I decided I could make corn tortillas. Wrong! To much water, they stick and are chewy. Not enough water and you end up with a cracker, provided it didn't fall apart during the cooking process. Wrong type of corn meal and they suck. Use cold water instead of hot when mixing and they suck. Pan not hot enough? Suck! Pan to hot and they suck. I could go back to drinking if I don't get this soon. It's a good thing I have a lot of hair because I have pulled out a good amount in the past few days. Now it's all I think about. I have to get a life.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Finally

Well, I just finished the last recipe in the last section of the cookbook. Phew...what a relief. Have no idea what's next in the process, but I'm glad this part is over. I think there are around 100 recipes or so, most of them I have had to do from memory.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

My Cave

Someone asked me this evening when we're going to get on T.V. or on one those cooking competition shows like Iron Chef or Top Chef or the like. My reply was that we're not. Why? Well, it's mostly because my food, our food, is not the type that will win competitions. We don't do theatrics, which is what wins those kinds of shows. We do simple, straight forward food. Our carnival squash soup has 4 ingredients in it; carnival squash, milk, onions, butter. Nothing fancy but in the end what you get is a soup that tastes like, well, carnival squash. Simple, singular, intense flavors is what we aim for. I don't use a lot of garnishes. A vast majority of my plates have no garnish. Take for instance the hanger steak currently on the menu. It's a 7 oz piece of hanger steak served with roasted fingerling potatoes, roasted shallots, and a red wine sauce. That's all that goes on the plate. There is no green stuff, no flair, nothing mind blowing on the plate. It's just a sliced piece of meat with sauce, potatoes, and shallots. Simple and to the point. It has taken me a long time before I felt comfortable enough with my food to forgo unnecessary garnishes. I've seen chefs who have 20 or more garnishes at the ready for all their plates. I have a bag or two of micro-greens, some chopped chive and maybe...no wait, that's all. I think it is an important statement to the guest when the chef doesn't find it necessary to doll up the food. I think it says the chef is confident in what he/she is serving in what it is and no more. I am getting closer and closer to my ideal of what a plate should be like. I like to think my food is finally taking me by my hand and leading me into that simpler life I long for. A chef's food is directly tied to the chef's world view; to her dreams and beliefs; to his life as he lives it. A chef cooks from the totality of what makes them human and I am trying to let my food guide me to a simpler way of things. I find myself facing Plato's cave where what I see is not what is real. I see in my cave, shadows on the wall that merely point to what is real and sometimes during the day while cooking I catch a glimpse of the reality my heart can only see. When I plate a dish and look at and see it's simple beauty setting there unadorned by any unnecessary garnish or when I make a pan sauce for my duck with nothing put the pan the duck was cooked in and some stock and it comes out wonderfully, I am transported to that reality I long for. Like the prisoner who was released from the cave to see the sun, my food often releases me from the shackles of life and grants me a chance to see the beauty that can be found in life. Slowly, ever so slowly, I am beginning to understand I don't have to keep up with the Ramsey's to be happy in what I do. I am beginning to feel comfortable with my desire to take it slow and not heap to much on the plate. Today while talking with the farmer who supplies me with garlic, shallots, and potatoes, I saw in him a quiet happiness that comes from him having his small farm. He isn't going for riches or fame or glory, instead he is farming from his heart and finding happiness in the process. My cave wall still has a lot of shadows on it and it will for some time to come, but I am happy that at least once a day when I look at my food I see the sun for what it is.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Yes, I'm still here

Hi all. It's been a while since my last post. I've been pretty busy with holiday business and the opening of the market. Things are plugging along very well. We had a better than expected December which was a nice surprise. I've spent the last couple hours going through seed catalogs looking at what is available out there. We have had more than a few of the amazing farmers who live up here approach us looking for a list of items we want to them to grow. I've put my two cents in and now I pass the list to Jen and let her go to town. There is so much out there it is truly unbelievable. I am so excited with the up coming year to see what we will have to work with. The goal we set for ourselves for this first year open was to just survive and as each day passes I think we'll do that just fine. That leaves us with looking ahead to the time that follows our first year. We are going to keep incorporating more and more heirloom vegetables into the menu and as we get to know our growers this will become easier with each passing season. It's a blast thinking about not just using carrots, but Atomic Red Carrots; not just potatoes, but LaRatte potatoes; not just run of the mill hard squashes, but Uncle David's Dakota Dessert Squash. What the hell is skirret? I don't know but if someone grows it for me I'll use it with pride. I think this whole business of a scarcity of fresh vegetables available in Northern Michigan will begin to dwindle if we, and by we I mean all of us who live here, show the farmers there is interest and a reason to have items available. We have to give the farmers reason to grow these items and make them available and we do that by buying the items they sell now. Do you want more, buy more locally. OK, off my box. We are going to make the Wellington Street Market the place to come to if you want fresh, locally raised vegetables in these harsh winter months, and time goes on and again with each passing season we will provide a greater variety. The cookbook is coming along slowly now. I have only 12 more recipes to get done, but finding the time to get them done is becoming increasingly more difficult. I guess I'll just have to find the time. Buck up buddy. We are very excited about the book. As I go along it is starting to sound like my manifesto to cooking. Don't know if anyone will be interested in buying it but it has given me a lot of clarity as far as my own cooking goes. I received the cookbook, "Cooking" by James Peterson for Christmas from a couple of our regular customers. If you are a serious cook, then I want to encourage you to go out and get a copy of this book. It is one of the best ever general cooking books I have seen. It is a great reference book for professionals and an even better teaching manual for amateur cooks. Well worth the price of admission. Learned the importance of forgiveness this past week. Can't really share any of the details, but wish I could. Basically I learned that when we are forgiven much, we have to in turn forgive those who may have offended us little. Thank you to two very good friends for teaching me this lesson. Have to run. I have to install the credit card machine at the market so we can quite doing credit cards the old school way. Thank you to all who have supported us this past year and we look forward to the up coming year with excitement, anticipation, and expectation.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Number 100

Well folks, you've had to sit through 99 posts of drivel and now I present number 100. When I started the blog I was employed in a restaurant that was sucking the very life out of my cooking (not to mention my very existence) and I began to blog to help keep my sanity, but now 100 posts later I am co-owner of not only a restaurant but also a neighborhood market. How far I've come in just a few words. Here is a link to a recent interview Jen and I did for the opening of the market. Hope you enjoy it and if you live in the Traverse City area hope we will see you soon in the market. The market is coming along very nicely. We have filled the shelves with produce that is in season. Yes, you can get fresh local vegetables in Northern Michigan even though there is a foot or two of snow on the ground. We also feature a number of take out items ranging from East Indian curries to meat loaf. There are sweets, breads, milk, a bunch of Michigan made cheeses, eggs, and the like. Don't forget about teas and coffee. Hope to see you soon and lets see where the next 100 posts take us.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Today's quiet repose

Today while taking a break from my usual hectic schedule I was drinking a pot of tea and reading through one of my favorite books called "The Book of Tea", by Kakuzo Okakura. I have found a copy online for you to read. I have copied the first two paragraphs of the book below for your enjoyment because they speak so much to me and always remind me why I love tea so much. Hope you get a chance to read the whole book, but if not, I hope you at least enjoy the first two paragraphs:

Tea began as a medicine and grew into a beverage. In China, in the eighth century, it entered the realm of poetry as one of the polite amusements. The fifteenth century saw Japan ennoble it into a religion of aestheticism--Teaism. Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.

The Philosophy of Tea is not mere aestheticism in the ordinary acceptance of the term, for it expresses conjointly with ethics and religion our whole point of view about man and nature. It is hygiene, for it enforces cleanliness; it is economics, for it shows comfort in simplicity rather than in the complex and costly; it is moral geometry, inasmuch as it defines our sense of proportion to the universe. It represents the true spirit of Eastern democracy by making all its votaries aristocrats in taste.

What I love most about those words is how they do not make excuses for the imperfections we find in everyday life, but in fact celebrate them, and raise them to a place of beauty and of art. Tea, as Mr. Okakura tells it, is all about finding what is possible in this life. Tea is victorious in its simple outlook! I especially love his use of the word, "tender" when referring to our attempt to find the possible in the impossible. Tender means given to gentleness and sentimentality as one dictionary defines it, and these are two qualities people generally do not associate with myself, though I would disagree. Sure, I am not the sappy type and I do not goo goo and ga ga over things nor will you find me overly emotional, but I do have a soft streak in me, though you may have to look a bit and over look some of my gruffness, but I digress.

I actually read the word "tender" in this context as not pushing your way through life but being delicate with it. To be tender in this way is to see life as something that is fragile or easily hurt, and life, like a great cup of tea, is fragile and easily ruined if not made with care. The movement of life is subtle and if we are tender with it we will find ourselves able to follow its movements and flow with them instead of battling against them.

I often will spend time just looking at the tea after I pour a cup and find myself simply enjoying the way it looks in the cup. The way it reflects the light and the beauty of its clarity and the delicacy of its color. What is tea really but a few leaves steeped in hot water? But to make a perfect cup of tea takes a life time of practice. There are thousands of varieties of tea in the world and each and every comes from a single plant. How one treats the leaves from the plant "camellia sinensis" determines its flavor. Call me Captain Obvious, but I'm going to point it out anyway; though we all stem from a single source, our shared humanity, we all do not taste the same, and how we treat our lives will be the final judge of its final flavor. My life, like tea, is easy to make, but to make it well takes tenderness, and tenderness is something I find myself having to renew daily.

Market Opening!!

Hi All. A quick note to let everyone know our Wellington Street Market will be opening this up coming Monday the 15th. For those of you living in the Traverse City area we hope to see you, and ask that you help us spread the good word. We are opening up with a menu of 23 or so take items ranging from Jen's famous pizzas to East Indian food developed by our good friends from Kuri Guru, Himanshu and Mutka, to grab and go sandwiches and soups and a good selection of sweets, plus a few more items. We plan on adding to the grocery side of the market as time goes on to eventually make it into a classic neighborhood market. Hope to see everyone soon.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Round Two

Someone left a comment on my last post wondering what my second worst ever was in the kitchen. Well I'll tell you. It was a Friday night and we had 100 reservations on the books. When doing the prep work for the evening the cook will always find out how many covers is expected for the evening and make his mis en place accordingly. After working any given station for a couple weeks one can usually make a pretty educated guess on how much of every item will be sold for the up coming service, and with this knowledge prep what he/she will need. I was the meat cook on this occasion and I knew that for 100 covers 20 orders of rack of lamb should be sufficient, and was very comfortable with that number. It was a popular item and 20 orders represented 20% of all the entrees that would be sold that evening. I also had fillet of beef coming of my station and had prepped 30 or so orders because on any given night fillet always sold better than lamb, but not on this given night. The evening started out and I should have known it was no going to go my way. The first few orders took out at least 8 of my 20 orders leaving me with 12 to finish the evening with. I guess I should let you know that the 20 orders I had prepped was all we had thawed out. The chef kept extra racks in the freezer for emergency reasons but because we were getting in more racks the next day I didn't bother taking any out to defrost, to call this a miscalculation would be an understatement. So now with every order coming in I would develop a knot in my stomach hoping not to hear, "ordering (insert number) lamb(s)", and with each order my once ample supply of lamb dwindled. When I got down to 5 orders I told the chef I had 5 orders and we would have to 86 after that. No go buddy. He told me that was my problem and that I had better get some frozen ones in running water right now because he was not going to 86 lamb on a Friday night. So I ran to the freezer in a panic and threw 8 racks being 16 orders of lamb into some running water to thaw them out. The five orders I had ready quickly were ordered and now it was only the frozen, and I emphasize frozen, ones I had to work with. From here the night gets a little blurry. All I remember is the chef ordering more and more lamb and my not having any of it to cook. Remember, what I did have was a solid block of ice in the back sink. Had the night stopped there I would have survived but it quickly took a turn for the worse. The next thing I remember is the chef calling pick up on orders of lamb I did not have. Why, because they were still frozen and I could not clean them and hence could not cook them. Well, the chef began to get pretty angry with me and in no uncertain terms explained I had better get some lamb in the "god damn" oven because I was the one holding up the entire service. Remember that sick feeling I spoke of in my last post? The dizziness and confusion that can overcome a cook in these situations, it was worse than that. I wanted to throw up. I couldn't think straight. I ran back to the sink to grab the still frozen racks and made a pathetic attempt to clean them. Mind you, we are still ordering and picking up other tickets while I'm doing this. I'm firing and picking up fillets, chickens, ducks, and other items during all of this, and by this point I am a blob of jello. "Pick up 3 lamb, medium rare", calls the chef The usual reply would either be, "oui chef", or "3 lamb medium rare", not in my case. I replied, "The lamb isn't ready chef." "Not ready? Why the hell not?" "Because it's still frozen on my cutting board." "Get it in the oven!!! Fire the f@#*ing lamb!!!". I think he may have a minor heart attack but I'm not sure. So here I am firing frozen lamb for orders that are ready to be picked up. To put how bad this into perspective, on any given day a medium rare rack of lamb will take about 15-20 minutes to cook and need to rest another 8-10 minutes. So in a perfect situation the quickest a rack of lamb can be sent to table is 30 minuets. Not these racks. They are frozen. They will have to thaw in the oven before they even think about cooking. We are now looking at at least 60 minutes before these babies go out, also remember that the guest has already been in the restaurant for at least 1 hour 15 minutes eating other courses before the entree would come out, making the total time from ordering to eating their food over two hours. Completely unacceptable and boy did I get it. From here on out it's only bits and pieces I remember. At some point I shut down. I was way past wanting to cry. I completely forgot how to cook. I was worthless and the chef knew it. He mercifully 86'd lamb and we took the remaining pick ups slowly. I could only pick up one order at a time because I could not concentrate past that. Mind you, on a busy night cooks will be picking up anywhere between 1-5 orders, sometimes more, at a time while at the same time taking more orders from the chef. It can be pretty chaotic but any experienced line cook can do it with no problems. Not me, not that evening. I have never before or since that evening been that bad off. It was so bad the chef didn't say anything to me about it ever again. I wasn't called to the office for a royal ass chewing or anything. It just was never spoken of again. Eleven o'clock finally came around. I cleaned up my station and went home. I really don't know how many lamb orders I cooked that night. I do know it was over 30. When I cleaned up my station I still had more than half of the fillets I prepped. I guessed wrongly.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Eleven o'clock has to come sometime

I have burnt into my memory two of the worst days in cooking career. The first was just not long after I took my first chefs position. The night in question was New Years Eve, 1993. My boss told me we would take no more than 150 reservations and to plan a menu accordingly. I went to work. This was my first time being at the sharp end of the stick and I wanted to impress. I had everything ordered. We did some of the prep the day before. I came in early on News Years Eve to make sure everything ran smooth. Around 11:00am or so in walks my boss. He tells me we are up to 200 and to expect 250. Excuse me, 200 but plan on 250? I thought 150 was the mark we were aiming for? I still get that same sick feeling in my stomach when I think of it that I had when he told me. Plan for 100 covers more than I was told, then I am prepped for, and more than I ordered for. We were still prepping when the doors opened up. Never, and I mean never, have I been hit so hard and so fast with tickets than I was that evening. "We're open" quickly was followed by a barrage of orders that came at me so fast I was lost the first 10 minutes and didn't find my way back until the last ticket came in. The entire night was a total disaster. People left angry. I didn't have enough food. The boss was mad at me. The waiters were mad at me. The only ones on my side were my cooks. About mid way through this hell I felt like sitting down and crying. Walking out never looked so good. For those of you who have never cooked professionally probably don't know this feeling I am talking about. Every cook on the planet has had one of those nights were they just wanted to sit down and cry. One of those evenings where you are so far in the weeds you have no idea what is coming and what is going. One of those rushes where the tickets just keep coming in and you get further, and further behind. Usually in the midst of this mess you are so confused you don't know which way is up. You moves become erratic. The plates you are trying to sell get sloppy. The chef is typically losing his mind because of you. It really is one of the worst feelings on earth. Having your puppy ran over before your eyes is better than this. Believe me. It's something every cook hopes will not happen to him/her, but it's something that does eventually happens, no matter how hard you try. Luckily, as one matures and gains more experience, these nightmare moments become rarer and rarer. It was during one of these moments I had one of the most important insights of my career. I don't exactly remember the rush or just how bad I was in the weeds, but I do remember thinking to myself, "You know Patterson, elven o'clock has to come sometime", and by that I understood that eventually the last order would come in, we would clean up, and we would go home. No matter how bad the rush is. No matter how far in the weeds I may be. No matter how ugly it is, eleven o'clock will come. There is no stopping that. I have since since that day started applying that philosophy to my everyday life. When things start going wrong. When the bottom seems to be dropping out on me and nothing is as it should, I try to tell myself that 11:00 has to come. That this too will pass and tomorrow, or next week, or next year, has to come eventually come. That no matter how bad it looks today if I don't allow myself to get drug down, I am assured that it can't be like this always. I don't get all Polly Anna and crap like that. I don't own rose colored sun glasses. In fact, those who know me will tell you that I am a pessimist by nature, but what I am not is a defeatist. I plan on the worst to happen, but I also know if it does, that it won't last forever. Change is a natural part of life. What goes wrong today will go right tomorrow, or eventually at least. Eleven o'clock will come back around and I'll clean up my station, and I will go home.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I must answer back

Someone recently sent me a link to a bad review of the restaurant that came from the website, "Trip Advisor". In fact, here is the review so you can read it yourself. At first I didn't want to reply to this, at least not at the website, but as I thought about it, and especially since a couple people have encouraged me, I have decide to reply to this post, but on my blog and not the website. I remember this table. They were a nice looking bunch of younger professionals, high energy, fun loving, the kind of people we want to attract to the restaurant. I believe they were a table of 8, but don't quote me on that as I am not sure. So here is my side of the story. That evening we had a 6 top scheduled at 8:00. The table in question had its reservation at 6:00, and if truth be told, this particular table started out as a 12 top causing us to turn away reservations, and dropped down to the 6 or 8 that came in the end. Two hours is more than enough time for 6 or 8 people to eat dinner. We schedule like this all the time and most tables make it out with no problems and usually with plenty of time to spare. The problem came in when the last couple showed up late. Far be it from me to question the reviewers sense of time but it was not 10 minutes like she said. It was more like 45 minutes. I am a patient person. I do not stomp around the restaurant and I do not make it a policy to chide tables. I can, and often do live with the fact that people show up a few minutes late. I would have never called the 8:00 reservation who was following the 6:00 reservation if they were only 10 minutes late. Do you think this is my first rodeo? Do you really believe I have not dealt with this before? I decided to call when it was all but obvious that they were not going to make it out by 8:00. I know how long it takes a table of 6 or 8 to eat dinner, and 1 hour and 15 minutes is not enough time, thank you very much, unless we rush you, and I am sure there would have a posting on Trip Adviser regarding that issue. But when you are 45 minutes late for your reservation I do begin to get a little upset for a couple reasons. 1st, it is rude to the extreme to your hosts, the people who invited you to join them to dinner in the first place. 2nd, yes, we are a small restaurant, and because of that we need to pack as many paying bodies into our 19 seats as possible to pay our bills, and when you are 45 minutes late starting your reservation it makes it very difficult indeed, thank you for noticing. Regarding the table who "we had to cancel". It was not us who canceled them. I called them as a courtesy to let them know the table would be running late and wanted to let them know because we didn't want them to show up with no where to sit. They got very upset with me and told me to stuff the reservation and then proceeded to lecture me on how rude it is to make them wait for a table when the reservation before them was late. They told me it was unacceptable and they would never dine with us again. So, by this point I have just 6 people for ever to this couple who did not find it necessary to show up on time for the reservation on time. I believe I went over to the table in the first place because one of the guests, who found it proper to show up on time, jokingly apologized for their friends being so late. I mean really. Do you really think I am just going to march over to this table and start railing on them? I'm a pro. I've been in this business for a long time. I've dealt with these situations more times than I can count. I am not going to just go over to a table of paying customers and lay into them. I'm not, that is not how one garners repeat business. They had not just sat down as the reviewer said. I mean think about this, they come in and sit down and the first they get is me, a pissed off chef stomping over to yell at them for being late. Really? They had been here for some time already. What pissed me off was how flippant they were with the whole deal. Joking like it was no big deal. No big deal? Hey buddy, I just lost 6 people who will never come back here again because of your friends, so yes, I was a little rude and a bit pissed off. Now, I do believe I sent out a couple appetizers on the house because I did realize I was out of line and wanted to make nice nice. It's not often I let a customer see how I am feeling. I am usually pretty controlled and accommodating. I did fail Chef Fernande Point who always tells us to not let the customer know there is a problem, but for god's sake man, show up on time and by that I do not mean 45 minutes late.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

To be defined

How a cook sees her/himself makes up a fundamental part of that individuals cuisine. Does the cook view himself as traditionalist? Do she see herself as an artist? Or maybe as a mom just trying to get something healthy in the kids bellies? When the cook picks up his pan does he pick it up like a well oiled machine or does he see himself as just doing a job? You see, if I take a basket of ingredients and give it to each of the cooks just listed, that basket will live a different life under the influence of each philosophy or approach. I used to try to see myself as an artist but in the back of my mind I kept hearing, "bullshit, bullshit, you're not an artist." I was uncomfortable with the idea of being an "artist". There are chefs who are artists in the proper sense of the word. These chefs create edible works of art that are so delicate, so perfectly constructed, so beautiful in every aspect. They create food that spurs on conversation about the nature of food and often life itself. They create food that is controversial and cause others to question whether or not their food can be defined as food. That is what an artist does. That is not what I do. I don't cook food that would fit into the above category. Art is difficult to define. Art is often cerebral. Art has an undefinable quality. A great piece of art is often self-evident. No, I would place my food in the realm of craft, and when I think of craft I think of works that are made with skill using knowledge that comes from tradition but is applied to the present moment and often intended for practical purposes and with functionality in mind. I have some friends in Las Vegas who are from Eritrea, Africa. They have some amazing hand woven baskets they brought with them when they moved to the United States. These baskets are beautiful. They were made with a skill I could never master. They also have a practical function to them. They are exactly what I think of when I think of craft. Craft is often not something that is made perfectly, or with exacting standards, but is something that is skillfully made. I think the flaws of a well crafted item is often what makes that item unique to itself and in turn is the source of its beauty. In my food I have never aimed at the perfectly designed and executed dish. I like my food to have character, to have certain "flaws" that come not from inattentiveness, but from life. Just like a great jazz piece is one that has not been perfectly played but one that has its own life, and just as anything in life, its own flaws. Jazz, in my mind, is not a music that should be recorded in multiple takes and then pieced together. No, jazz should be played live without a net, flaws and all. I am more comfortable with my food now then I ever have been, and especially since I gave up the silly notion of me being an artist. I'm a craftsman. I believe in cooking well for no other reason than doing it well. So I guess I need to burn that black beret I own and turn in my turtle necks. I don't live in that rarefied air of the artist. I live in the dirt with the farmer, the basket weaver, and the jazz player trying to make a living.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Cornerstone

Last night when I got home from the restaurant I went to my son's room, which happens to be the basement of the house, to hang out with him. I do this most every night because I just like being with him and catching up on his day. I have said before that there will be too many things in life I will miss because of my profession, but I will not miss my boy growing up and he will not have a distant dad. Calvin is learning to play the bass guitar. He takes weekly lessons. He looks up tabs of his favorite songs on the internet and more often than not he plays for me what he has been learning while I'm down in his room. Last night he was playing his heart out on some song he has been working on. His I-Pod is hooked up to an exterior speaker and the song is playing on it while he plays the bass part. He has some time to go before he'll be playing for Metallica or his other favorite band Tool, but he's giving it his best. As I sat there listening last night I had such a feeling of pride for him that made me form some tears in my eyes, at that moment I was so proud of him and to have him as my son. I've not yet written of my most important source of inspiration, my Mom but last night I caught a glimpse of my Mom's heart and the support she has given me for as long as I can remember. She has always been my biggest fan and my biggest supporter. I look back over my cooking career and at every moment she was there rooting me on, from my beginnings as a lowly apprentice to the opening of the restaurant, every step of the way she has waved my flag with an enthusiasm only a mom could muster. In some of my hardest times as a chef, when all the cards seemed to be stacked against me and I questioned my abilities I would always think of my Mom and how proud she is of me no matter what anyone else thought. She would deny having any influence on my career but in the end she has been the cornerstone that has helped me hold it all together. No matter what, I have always known there is a women in Arizona who thinks I'm the best chef in the world. Thank you Mom.