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).

Advertisements

Chef Certification Is Valuable.

July 26, 2010

Dear All,

I would say the best place for me to do some thinking (other than the kitchen) is when I get to spend a week at home. I’ve been able to catch up on mail and really think about what our company is doing from a culinary perspective. We have a tough job as chefs, but I think Delaware North does a great job at the end of the day.

One of best things our company does is require all chefs to be professionally certified. Anyone can wear an apron that says, “Kiss Me I’m a Chef.” It’s another thing to earn it through a professional organization like the American Culinary Federation. There are many different levels of certification: Certified Sous Chef, Certified Pastry Chef and my favorite – Certified Master Chef, just to name a few. Read about how they are different here.

It’s not easy to earn certification. Chefs must pass tough tests and prepare for months in advance. One of my biggest jobs as Corporate Chef is helping our “up and comers” get ready for these tests.

In the end, it’s worth it. It helps these chefs professionally and it goes a long way to ensure our culinary teams are preparing the best food possible. To my knowledge, we’re the only company that requires all our chefs to earn these certifications.

It’s back to the road next week. I will blog again soon.

In Good Cooking Always,

Chef Roland Henin, CMC


Delaware North and the NBA Finals.

July 7, 2010

Hello All,

I recently spoke with Delaware North’s Sportservice Regional Executive Chef Kevin Doherty aboTD Garden Exteriorut everything that happened at TD Garden during the NBA Finals. I know most people were worried about what was happening on the courts, but our team had much business in the kitchen.

Chef Kevin told me before each of the games, our Sportservice chefs prepared hors d’oeuvres for an NBA VIP party in Banners, one of the restaurants in the arena. Our chefs handled client requests for everything from tofu dogs in a blanket to Boston-themed desserts. According to Chef Kevin, one of the league’s highest ranking officials said “it was the best VIP party food ever.” However, he said he could tell the food was a big hit because of how much the attendees enjoyed it.

Chef Kevin Doherty @ TD GardenI didn’t get much more information other than our food and beverage operations were a big hit. I know Chef Kevin and his team made some delicious desserts including Boston cream pie, toll-house cookies and molasses hermitas.
I will admit I don’t know much about basketball, but I do wish I could have made it to TD Garden during the NBA Finals.

Anyway, back to work for me. I have some proposals and a trip to Milwaukee to work on over the next week.

In Good Cooking Always,

Chef Roland Henin, CMC


Stadiums, Sous Chefs and Shuttle Launches.

April 21, 2010
I can’t believe how time is flying. It seems like just yesterday I had posted a blog about my experiences at Choctaw Casino and now I look and it’s already been almost a month.

I have been so busy working for Delaware North Companies this past month. There is never a really “slow time” for our company, but it’s especially busy in spring, when our ballpark and national park operations are gearing up for exciting summers.

So what have I been doing? I’ve been in kitchens all around the country. About three weeks ago I helped Executive Chef Pastor Jiminez and his team as they did a pre-opening of the brand new Target Field, home to the Minnesota Twins. It is an incredible stadium and you can see how much hard work and energy went into its design. I was impressed with how organized our culinary team was in its first outing at the stadium. It doesn’t hurt that the kitchen facilities and space are plentiful and well-equipped. I know most fans probably won’t think about kitchen space when they watch the Twins play, but it’s the sign of a great ballpark to me.

Then I hopped a quick flight to Chicago where I spent a week guiding nine of Delaware North’s sous chefs from around the company through their certification testing. At Delaware North, we require all chefs to become certified. The training and testing is rigorous, and it challenges everyone. It was fun to watch how they progressed over the three days. I was proud of everyone.

Next, I assisted our team at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex as they accommodated everyone who came to see the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery in early April. It’s amazing to see a shuttle launch in person, and this was no exception. However, our crew worked more than 24 hours in a row to prepare all the food required for those who came to see the shuttle launch. We worked tirelessly, but hopefully it paid off. There is nothing like knowing that you enhanced everyone’s experience with delicious food.

 Then, I did grab a day or two of rest before it was back to Target Field for Opening Day. You wouldn’t believe how many chefs it takes to execute all the food and beverage operations for a baseball stadium, let alone a grand opening, so I decided to show you in the picture below. It really was one of my favorite days as a chef. We worked so hard and so well as a team. Delaware North Companies Sportservice President Rick Abramson and Delaware North Companies Principal Jerry Jacobs Jr. were on hand and had nothing but good things to say. Those who know me know that I can be very demanding and I always have high expectation. I do say that the team at Target Field did incredible though. I give them a 98 out of a possible 100 rating, and I never give a 100. Bravo to everyone.

 That’s pretty much where the last month of my life has gone. I’d love to put together individual blogs on each event, and if I get time I will, but I wanted to give you quick look at my life.

 Now, I have to keep going with my busy schedule. I will blog again soon.

 In Good Cooking Always,

 Chef Roland G. Henin

The culinary team at Target Field.

Opening Choctaw Casino

March 29, 2010

One of the best things about working for Delaware North Companies is it allows me to prepare food in all different kitchens. One week I might be in Yosemite National Park and then the next I might be at the baseball all-star game. There are so many different venues.

Last month, I had the chance to travel to Choctaw Casino in Durant, Oklahoma. While Delaware North operates at several casinos around the U.S., I haven’t worked at them a ton. I’d say the one I’d been at most over my career is Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack in West Virginia.

Regardless, I was impressed with Choctaw Casino. It is an incredible place. I couldn’t believe the offerings the casino has from the perspectives of gaming, lodging and of course, cooking. Honestly, the casino has one of the most useful cooking areas I’ve seen. I was blown away.

The reason I had traveled to Choctaw Casino was to help with its grand opening. Delaware North’s Gaming Hospitality Group is operating all the food and beverage at the casino. Already, the company has unveiled several restaurants and hired a 270-person staff.

As you’d expect, the casino had several events and a huge grand opening celebration planned for the first week. To handle all the cooking, we brought in several of our best chefs to assist. It took an incredible team effort, but we prepared some delicious food for thousands of people over six days. There mouths were watering, as you’d say.

I have a good feeling the people who visit Choctaw Casino will get used to great food. Delaware North’s Executive Chef, Christopher Tunnell, impressed me a great deal. It was the first time I’d worked with him and my initial reaction is that he works very, very hard.

We worked all day and around the clock to prepare the food for the grand opening events. Finally, after the last big party, we wrapped up around midnight. I needed to get sleep to catch my early flight. When I left the kitchen to go to my hotel room, Tunnell was still there. Seven hours later, when I stopped down to grab a quick breakfast, Tunnell was already back and hard at work. I was very impressed.

All in all, I’d call the grand opening at Choctaw Casino a huge success. I look forward to heading back there someday. Hopefully, several of you will all visit there too. It is a beautiful casino. If you do make it there for a visit, don’t forget to check out the kitchen.

Thank you. I’ll blog again soon.

 In Good Cooking Always,

 Chef Roland Henin, CMC


Busy, Busy and the Bocuse D’Or

February 24, 2010

It’s been a busy start to 2010 in and out of the kitchen for me. I’ve been zipping around the country to several events with Delaware North Companies and am really pleased with our chefs’ efforts.

I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had the chance to comment on The Ahwahnee Executive Chef Percy Whatley and his good efforts at the Bocuse d’Or competition earlier this month. For those of you who missed it, Percy earned the award for the “Best Meat Platter” at the competition.

The Bocuse d’Or is one of the toughest culinary events in the world and this was a qualifier to make the U.S. team. While Percy did not make the final team, he should be very proud.

The qualifying event required Percy to create a fish and meat platter within roughly five hours. That may seem like a lot of time, but it’s not when you’re trying to make your work as close to perfection as you can. Every second is important.

I spent time at The Ahwahnee helping Percy prepare. We tried to simulate the timing of the competition as best we could. Percy worked hard. It takes a lot out of a chef to work at this level.

One of the best tips I would give a chef getting ready for a competition like this qualifier is to shoot for efficiency. You have to be efficient in everything you do. With Percy, I had him prepare his dishes and timed him. If he was 10 minutes over the time limit, we went back and looked for ways to save time. You have to understand you can’t get time back in minutes or big chunks. When cooking at this level, you have to be efficient and shave a second or two here and there.

For example, if you have to peel all sorts of items, don’t do it one at a time. Peel everything at once. That way it’s ready when you need it. If you have to wash vegetables, wash them all at once. If you’re pouring sauce from a dish, set the dish right next to your work area and not a foot away. Every second counts and that’s how you conserve them.

Percy worked hard and he took all these lessons to heart. I am proud of his work skills.

Alright, as I said, I’m busy, busy, busy. If you’re looking for more information about the Bocuse d’Or, visit http://www.bocusedor.com/2011/. If you’re looking for an overview of what happened at the qualifying event, read http://www.toqueland.com/ where Andrew Friedman gives a recap.

I have other things I’ll do blogs about soon. Talk to you then.

In Good Cooking Always,

Chef Roland Henin, CMC


My Moment of Clarity

February 9, 2010

Scott Green, Delaware North’s executive chef at Fairgrounds Gaming & Raceway, recently wrote about what it takes to be a committed chef. I wanted to share it with all of you. I thought it did a great job of talking about the “organized chaos” that characterizes so many busy kitchens.

 In Good Cooking Always,

 Chef Roland Henin, CMC

 My Moment of Clarity

 This is it. It’s my time to shine. 

It’s a busy, bustling Friday night and the rush has hit. You hear the sizzling of sauté pans and you can feel the heat of the grill. The micros printer is shooting out a rooster tail of tickets and the rails are already full. We have a saying here: “The tickets are in the pickles.” That means the connected white and yellow dupes have fallen from the machine and dipped into the pickle container on the line. That’s not a good sign.

The kitchen is buzzing like a bees’ nest. Cooks are lost in their actions. They have been down this road before. Each one knows how to work next to each other without bumping, and you hear the constant calls of “behind.” The wait staff and food runners are buzzing in and out of the kitchen in a circular motion. It’s as if the Daytona 500 is being held in our kitchen and dining room. We just hope there’s no big crash that causes food to hit the floor and plates to break. It is at this point that I start seeing the fragile balance that keeps the kitchen and food service operation working together.

This is when it all comes together. This is my moment of clarity. Seconds before the crap hits the fan, everything slows down. I draw a mental picture of how to put the puzzle back together. It’s like The Matrix when Neo realizes his powers of slowing everything down and making his move before he is hit with the bullet. He understands what is happening around him and knows what moves to make. It’s like how Russell Crow puts together all the equations and develops the hypothesis of attracting the beautiful woman from the pack in A Beautiful Mind.

 It is my time to react. I am the conductor of the orchestra and must keep our culinary team working in harmony. I am barking out the calls, assigning people to jobs. Moves are being made three, four and five tasks ahead of time like a chess game. I am seeing things being done before they happen. I know what move to make. You have hired and trained this staff to be able to do the job at hand. You have built a team and done your homework. The plan comes together and you have weathered that perfect storm. Food is flying out of the kitchen. It has been prepared properly and efficiently. I have helped my team accomplish its goals for the night.

I am the chef with has his hands in the pot. You give your team the tools necessary to get the job done and only step in when you are truly needed. I have noticed two kinds of chefs in this crazy culinary world. There is the one who steps in when the kitchen is about to fall into the weeds. This chef leads the brigade to victory. Then there is the chef who is in “the corner chopping parsley.” This chef disappears and hides when the team needs help the most. I will never be in the corner….