Farmers Markets In Full Bloom.

August 29, 2011

Right now we have tons (and I do mean TONS) of gorgeous Farmers Markets taking place every single week all over the country. These farmers markets have beautiful fresh fruits and gorgeous veggies our chefs are able to use. I would like to think our chefs will have some thoughts they can share via the blog about these markets. They are relatively inexpensive, very seasonal and certainly worth talking about. The fruits and veggies offered at these markets are much more valuable in my opinion than pre-made, pre-packaged, pre-anything or commercial/industrial products. Let’s wake up and get to these farmers markets and share thoughts via the blog about how they impact us as chefs.

Thoughts On Tomatoes.

August 24, 2011

Thanks to Chef Percy Whatley for this post about summer produce in Yosemite. Enjoy.

Just a few thoughts as we begin to see some of the great summer produce that is hitting our shelves this time of year.

It has been a long wait since we had such a late beginning to the warm weather inCalifornia.  With ourYosemitewaterfalls starting to finally recede, it is a sign when the tomatoes begin to show up from our local grower, Brenda Ostrom.  She provides us with two things throughout the year….eggs and heirloom tomatoes.  When the heat is high, the chickens slow down their laying, but the tomatoes keep her busy through October.  When the heat starts to go away, the chickens begin to lay more and the tomatoes start to wind down.  Brenda also keeps herself busy by being the area CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and going door-to-door to deliver baskets of vegetables and fruit that she gathers from other local area farmers.

These tomatoes are something out of the ordinary though.  The French use a word TERROIR, meaning soil (loosely translated to flavors imparted by the earth in which it is grown, generally referred to in viticulture with grapes and wine), there is something about her soil at her farm.  At 3,000 feet in elevation, it is one of the higher farms in the foothill Sierra Nevadas.  The granite sand and loam in these soils make it so magical.  These tomatoes are sweet and tomato”ey” like nobody’s business!  I have done side-by-side cuttings of the same tomato variety with a tomato from our other organic farming friends, T&D Willey Farms in the lower central valley, and there really is no comparison.  Terroir is everything with these fruits, very similarly to our grape growing wine industry.  I wish I could share the experience with the real thing, but to get your salivary glands “a-flowing”…here is a picture of these precious tomatoes!

Happy Eating (or pretending you’re eating).

From the Knife’s Edge

August 20, 2011

A blog post from Chef Frederick Clabaugh at Tenaya Lodge.

Fall tends to be many chefs favorite time of year with the fall harvest of rich squash, savory lamb and deep red wine to accompany all.

The method of preserving the berries for the year and making chutneys is also one that stands out. These methods have lasted centuries as they were and still are important to the stores of a good household or accomplished kitchen. With the clash of cultures the world of food is ever expanding and has change the art of cuisine, turning it on the chef to become evermore creative and more inventive.

I have chosen to share a few recipes that do exactly that, using classic items such as the tomatoes and the basils to add a twist. With the lamb dish using a BBQ sauce thats untraditional, Tamarind Barbecue Glaze with Star Anise Syrup are certainly a new world blend.  To finish the classic Chocolate dessert with the fall twist of pumpkin ice cream.

Bon appetite to all!

The Salt and Pepper Rule.

August 19, 2011

Here is an interesting post I wanted to share from Chef John DiGiovanni who works at Nationwide Arena. All of us chefs do have our own unique methods.

As chefs we all have a method to our madness. It’s the little things that make us who we are. It may be something that was passed down from chefs we worked or mentored under. It may be something new we learn from another area or picked it up. I’m sure if you asked my cooks, I have many, but my main two are that my spices must be arranged in alphabetical order on their shelves and the salt and pepper rule.

The salt and pepper rule basically started one time when I was walking through my kitchen and finding little containers of salt and pepper mixes in random places made by different cooks and each blend was different. It would drive me crazy!   I don’t care for salt and pepper blends, mainly becasue I like to have more control when I season. Because of this, the salt and pepper rule was created:

“Kosher or sea salt. Keep the pepper in the mill. Keep them separated.”

I had to break it down even further:

“Kosher or sea salt“-I generally use kosher salt for curing and seasoning meats and sea salt for everything else. The kosher salt has large crystals and is more effective to pull out moisture in proteins. I like to use sea salt when I am cooking pasta or baking as it dissolves quicker than kosher.

“Keep the pepper in the mill”  How old is that pre-ground pepper in the pantry? Once ground, pepper loses its aromatics quickly.

“Keep them separated” Goes back to control. What if you have the right amount of salt, but need to add some pepper? Or vice versa? Also I usually like to add black pepper at the end of cooking.

I’m curious to see who out there agrees or disagrees with my salt and pepper rule and why. I love to learn new things. Do you have a particular “salt and pepper rule”?

Top Dining Trends.

August 17, 2011

A new article from Luxury Travel Magazine details the results of a study that highlight the top five dining trends for 2011. I believe it’s important for chefs and those working in the culinary/hospitality industry to be up-to-speed on what new ideas are impacting our profession. The five trends this article lists are the Rebirth of the Gentleman Farmer, Omakase with a Mixology Twist, Nose to Tail Dining, The Finish: Torn Between Two Lovers and The World of Wine is Flat.

Those are headlines that the article’s author gives to sum up the trends. You’ll have to read the full piece to learn how these ideas are impacting chefs, our profession and our work. What other trends have you noticed in the culinary world recently that you think we need to focus on?

Photos of Chef Paul Padua.

August 12, 2011

Here are some photos of Chef Paul Padua from his National Pastry Chef of the Year competition. We will post Chef Paul’s own reflections on the experience soon.

Chef Paul Competes for the National Pastry Chef of the Year title.

August 11, 2011

Thank you to Chef Percy Whatley for sharing his thoughts on Chef Paul Padua’s recent competition and the ACF convention. We will post photos of Chef Paul and his own thoughts over the next few days.

I had a great excuse to go to the ACF National Convention inDallas,TXthis year.  The Ahwahnee Pastry Chef Paul John Padua was competing for the National Pastry Chef of the Year title and I wanted to show the support he needed to stay focused and comfortable throughout the days of the convention.

First off, a few words about the Pastry Chef of the Year competition:

Chef Paul has been training for this for three months, along with training for the Amoretti National Pastry Team Championships.  Talk about an extremely heavy workload!  The Pastry Chef of the Year competition begins with the regionals, which took place in April.  Each regional winner, Northeast, Southeast,Midwestand West, goes to the nationals to compete against each other for the national title.  When Chef Paul won the Western Regional Chef of the Year title, it was on the toes of the Pastry Team Championships.  He had to train double, which, anyone who has competed knows is aLOTto take on along with your day to day job.

After the team championships, Paul worked on his presentation every day prior to traveling toDallasfor four weeks.  He would come in around 9 AM and not leave until 1 or 2 AM the next day.  The competition (and practice sessions) entailed a showpiece of 18” minimum height (chocolate, sugar, etc), an entremet (plated dessert) composed of Splenda no calorie sweetener and the mystery ingredients provided, and a glazed petite four.  The entremets and the petite fours need to be in five portions, one for show and four for the judges to taste. All of this needs to take place in 2.5 hours with the assistance of a commis.

Chef Paul and his assistant (Ian Cornelius) travel toDallas…

Thanks to Chef Christopher Tunnell at Choctaw Casino, Chef Paul was able to do a practice run of the competition two days before the event and do some of the necessary prep that he needed.  Chef Christopher was very accommodating and even lent Chef Paul a couple of pieces of equipment so that he would not have to travel all the way fromYosemitewith even more than he was already traveling with.  It is wonderful the subsidiaries don’t hesitate to cross those lines of internal hospitality.  Chef Christopher and his team also came down to root him on the day of the competition…Thanks again Chef Christopher and your team for all of the help and support shown to Chef Paul!!!

On the day of the competition, Chef Paul showed great focus on getting all of the items accomplished.  His time slot was last, so all of the other pastry chefs would show before he would in 15 minute increments.  He had his showpiece complete before any of the other chefs, and he had to repair it once as it was, when the main support piece came off of the mantle it was mounted on…many of the spectators cringed as he almost dropped it!!!  He was quick with his hands and saved the sugar sculpture from shattering though…Thank Goodness!!!  At this point it looked good with his time line.  He had his glazing of his petite fours complete in a timely fashion and everything was looking good at that point.  When it came to plating the entremets, he had some trouble with the ice cream and the caramel sauce and unfortunately set him back 8 minutes late.  Each minute is points shaved from your total.

After observing the other pastry chefs, my opinion may be a little biased, but Chef Paul performed well and without the unfortunate time lapse making him late in his service window, he would have been close, if not above, the front runner.  His showpiece was nice, the spectrum of textures was complete on the entremets, the glaze and garnish work on the petite fours was sharp and consistent between all of the pieces.  We have a very talented pastry chef indeed…

Now, part deux…the convention:

The convention happens every year, somewhere in theUSA.  Throughout the convention are opportunities to network with industry peers, to gather much needed CEH’s (continuing education hours) for recertification, general sessions, gala dinner gatherings, and to dabble in a trade show with various food products and kitchen equipment.  It is, hands down, the largest gathering of culinary professionals in the nation.

There are a number of competitions during the convention.  These include, student team championships, Pastry Chef of the Year, Chef of the Year, Chef Educator of the Year, along with a few others that are sponsor driven, but are in no way, any less intense.  All of these are open to the public for viewing at no additional charge to you, as long as you have a valid pass.

The cost of the convention, if you were to go for the 5 days, is around $800.  This includes various dinners, lunches and breakfasts.  If you do what I did and attended for two days, then it comes to $125 per day, one meal per day is provided.   I went on a budget, as we all should in this economy, and stayed at the Holiday Inn next to the airport for $120/night rather than at the much more posh Gaylord Texan (host hotel of the convention).  This Holiday Inn had a shuttle that took you to the convention center and back, so, a car was not needed, except that we had some affairs to attend to in downtown Dallas, about 20 miles away.  All in all, the cost of the event, including travel, rental car, hotel and meals, was under $2000 for me to go.  The benefits, for all industry professionals, are the networking, the CEH’s, observing the competitions, the trade show, and maybe to bump into old friends.  It has been five years since my last convention, and in my opinion, this is too long of a wait between them.

It is always productive to attend conventions, at the very least, every other year.  In other words, ask your General Manager for support now so that it can be budgeted for next year.