Friday, November 30, 2007

Small beef

There is not a whole lot of time to take pictures at work so don't beat me up over the skinny little slideshow here. I took this pictures early this morning while I was alone at about 6 AM. By that hour, Trent Hendricks (the farm's founder and the guy who actually runs the place 24/7) is usually up and about. But as I found out an hour later, he and his wife Rachel had been up till 3 AM chatting with Ben would come out from Waco, TX to learn about how Trent runs his raw milk dairy.

The photos show the early stages of preparation for Bresaola a form of air dried beef that is made in the Italian Alps. As far as I know, I've never had Bresaola before. I have eaten a hell of the Swiss German air dried beef called Bunderfleisch, and am curious to see how similar they are.

The process of making Bresaola are as follows: Raise a cow, slaughter it, and remove two eye-rounds from the anterior portions of the hind legs. Trim off all of the fat an connective tissue (silverskin). Rube then with cure, let them sit for 3 or four days and rube them again. Scrap off the cure and hang them for 2-3 months in a humid (>60 % humidity and < 60 degrees F temp.) room with a steady but weak breeze.

New Gig

I've been a busy cook these past few weeks and hope to be a lot busier. In no small part inspired by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polycyn's excellent book "Charcuterie" my passion for the craft that used to be my specialty back in the '80's when fear of animal fat amongst the dining public quickly limited my repertoire to confited duck legs and emulsified sausage, is reborn.

A few weeks ago I reached an agreement with Trent Hendricks of Hendricks Farms and Dairy to help him produce a line of American, Italian and French style charcuterie products. I've got to split out for the farm now, so I don't have a lot of time to blog about this now. But here are a few photos of some of our output. There's a lot more stuff working that I have not photographed. We've got legs of lamb brining (for air dried "lamb ham") and beef eye rounds in cure for Bresaola. After I took these photos I hung 8 more rolls of pork pancetta and 4 versions made from lamb bellies.

Until we build out a special room for air drying we are doing it in the cheese room.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Blame the Chef

According to this fascinating piece, chefs are at least partially to blame for the fact that many people eat too much. How's that, you might ask? Well, by serving too much food, of course.

The article cites a study done by Clemson University and published in the journal Obesity that found that many chefs are ignoring USDA guidelines for portion sizes and, for example, dishing out 6-8 ounce servings of pasta instead of the recommended (Are you sitting?) 1 ounce serving.

Ahem, if you are overweight and you order a bowl of pasta that looks too big, don't eat all of it. Duh.

The study also discovered that 59 % of the chefs interviewed were actually idiots who knew nothing about human physiology and nutrition, to wit

Surprisingly, only 41 percent said calories consumed were the biggest influence on a person’s weight. The majority of chefs believed fat content and carbohydrates matter more. [Emphasis mine]

So there you go. If you eat out a lot and are overweight, blame the chef. Why not, given that there may be a better than even chance that he or she is a dope anyway?

Oversized Portions? Blame the Chef

Shave this on your risotto

Truffle-loving tycoons to bid for giant fungus in Macau - Yahoo! News

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Milk Dud

The hypocrisy of Heather Mills is matched only by her vanity and vacuity. She does not drink milk so she is against the practice of people drinking milk because it contributes to global warming. However she supports the airline industry despite the fact that it contributes to global warming because (I assume) she likes to fly a lot.

She's not bad-looking though. As someone once wrote (Anthony Trollope, I think) about the writing of HG Wells [she's] like miles of shimmering water, one inch deep.

Heather says
When (Viva!) told me it [effects of livestock on global warming] was 18%, that's more than all global transport, I was in shock. Airplanes only bring 3%, while they are being picked on with taxes," she said Monday.

"We are the only species that drinks another person's milk, so why aren't we drinking rat's milk, or dog's milk, or cat's milk, that's how crazy it is," she said.

"It's mad that we are having cow's milk. Even cows don't drink it after one year but we continue forever. [Source]
We are the only species that drinks another PERSON'S milk? Wow, that's deep. I assume that since a cow is a person and I am a person, I am drinking another person's milk when I drink cow's milk. Cool, I did not know that. What's more I think I am experiencing a true paradigm shift. Now I realize that when I eat cheese, I am eating another person's cheese that is not my own cheese. Whew, and that butter is another person's butter. I get it, totally.

But rat's milk Heather? WTF are you smoking? The fact is that humans can drink rat milk, dog's milk, even got-damned whale's milk. But dear god girl, how many rats would you have to breed and milk to meet the needs of even a small city? And who are you going to hire to do the job of milking rats? You are too funny baby.

I do fancy the idea a bit. And how cool would it be if say one dairy farmer raised rats while an adjacent farmer raised cats?

OMG, I cannot wait for the mothership to come and take me back to earth, this planet is much too weird for me.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Liz Hurley is totally hot and guess what? She is a god-damned chef AND, according to this article, she's going to go toe-to-toe against the lip-smacking-give-that-dog-a-bone Nigella Lawson by taking the culinary skills she developed by running her own 400 ACRE ORGANIC FARM to the boob food tube.

Now why she seems to have chosen to teach cooking and not farming on TV is beyond me at the moment. I mean, if she's like an expert farmer, wouldn't it make more sense for her to teach things like how to turn a manure pile or plow a field with an ox? And while food cooked on a farm can be pretty darned good, the skills that one develops in a farm kitchen aren't the ones that most people want to learn. I mean, is there really that much pent up demand among urban and suburban audiences for knowledge about how to slaughter a hog and make blood sausage?

But what the heck do I know about what people who watch food TV really want? Maybe there is a lot of audience demand for a hot looking English actress whose real skill is organic farming, but who wants to share her knowledge about cooking. I'd never know. But I'll tell you what, if Ms. Hurley's chef's uniform looks anything like that farmer's outfit she's wearing in that photo in the corner of this post, she might just have a shot at convincing the TV foodies that she really is the next Nigella Lawson.

Right buddy?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

X Post

I'll refrain from editorializing, while Cezanne-like, provide the minimum of detail and let your brain fill in the rest.

But after she consented to a search, the agents came across a tiny, hairy arm hidden in her garage.

"Monkey," she explained, claiming the arm was sent to her out of the blue "as a gift from God in heaven."


Friday, November 23, 2007

Jellyfish attack wipes out N. Ireland's salmon farm

BELFAST (AFP) - Northern Ireland's only salmon farm was completely wiped out by a freak jellyfish attack, the owners said Wednesday. [Source]

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Pre-Tofurky Day Musing

Seems odd to me that people who refuse to eat meat will eat fake meat. Is the hunger for flesh so great in us that many of those who eschew animal products for religious, ethical or moral reasons, people who won't wear leather or cosmetics that have been vetted though animal testing love meat so much that they will still eat it in facsimile form?

I don't recall eating vegan burgers, tofu hot dogs and turkey (Tofurky) during the approximatively 7 year period when I practiced vegetarianism. Neither do I recall yearning to eat meat. But who knows? That was a long time ago, perhaps I just don't remember.

Whatever, it's kind of strange to think that folks who try to reject a particular behavior of the dominant culture -in this case meat eating- still feel the need to participate, albeit symbolically.

Happy Thanksgiving People.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hungry Children

Be glad that you like to cook and eat and don't make yourself neurotic about any of it. Some people are not so lucky.

"Alright! I'm at the end of day 9 of my 10 day Master Cleanse. It wasn't all that difficult. Although, there were times that I just wanted to eat something for the sake of chewing."


"I am so happy!
I dident eat all day!
(my stomach hurts like $hit)
but thats besides the point!
I am so happy lol"


"1 sweet n salty granola bar - 170 cals10 pretzels - 110 cals
half a banana - 40 cals
cheese cubes - 120 cals
Total cals for the day : 440 cals intake"


This stuff is scary.


No Explanation Needed

Ancient Colonoscope Becomes Cooking Tool

Working closely with celebrity chefs and proctologists from the National Institutes of Gastroenterology, curators from The American Museum of American Holiday Foods and The Busch Foundation for Beer Proliferation, developed a radically unoriginal and inferior method of cooking turkey. The method represents an upgrade from the traditional practices of trailer trash alt/gourmet culinary methodologies and the pre and post football game foodways of inebriated college students with interests in symbolic anal sex and bestiality.

Rather than simply shove a can of foamy beer into the body cavity of a turkey and wait for it to heat and despoil it, the researchers built a device (modeled on an antique Romanian medical instrument that was used to diagnose the condition of the human colon) that combines all of the obscene aspects of the traditional practice, with the convenience of a simple roasting pan.

Patents are pending on this curious product of medical technology and prurient appetitive but the euphemistically named "Turkey Canon" is already on the market. Gotta git it on?

Git one heah.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Comedy Video

Be leery when I write that I think something is comedic. Chances are you might not find this funny at all. That said, can anybody tell me from what well of lunacy people like this are drawing their water from?


All photo's are from the Byron Collection at the Museum of the City of New York.

Portrait of Chef Eugene Bouvier, Chef Atlanta-Biltmore 1924

Pastry chefs at work in the confiserie Delmonico's 1902

The meat room at Delmonico's 1902

Friday, November 16, 2007

Slow Bread

I've written on this subject before and have made similar obeservations and comments. What makes this post different from earlier versions is the slideshow at the bottom -Bob dG

The bread I make for everyday use, the bread I like to eat everyday, is a crude style sour dough with stuff mixed into it. This is what I like to eat day in and out. I never get tired of it because it is extraordinarily complicated -like my wife, for example.

The bread takes a minimum of 3 days to make depending on how sour I want it to be and how much flavor I want it to have. More time means a low pH (more acidity) and a more complex flavor profile. Less time yields precisely the opposite (less acidity, simpler flavor). I not going to get into all the reasons why this is so here. But please let it suffice to say for now that it's all a function of how many and what type of microorganisms are allowed to grow and alter the chemistry of the bread. One could take all of the same ingredients I use here and produce a good loaf of bread in one day. Bu that bread will taste nothing like what I have grown to love so much that I get peeved if I have to buy bread.

No offense meant to any of you artisan bakeshop owners out there. I'm sure you love your bread as much as I love mine. This is not about me thinking that what I make is technically or artistically superior to what you make. This is about me being paternally attached to something that I think of as a reflection of my home, and myself.

I start Day 1 by mixing 6 ounces of coarse organic rye flour with 6 ounces of water. (I weigh everything. Nothing is measured by volume). Organic rye flour, like all organic flour is loaded with wild yeast and bacteria that will give the bread great flavor. But rye flour is kind of bitter and nasty so it needs to ferment for a long time to give the starches plenty of time to break down into sugars. Also add 6 ounces of softened wheat berries.

Sometimes I soften them by cooking them briefly in plain water, or soaking them overnight in cold water. Soaking them in water is kind of cool because the microflora that is on the berries does not get killed off but gets added into the the yeast and bacteria population thats in the rye flour and the air of my kitchen. (It's a "more the merrier" kind of thing if you catch my drift.)

This mixture sits covered my counter top for 24 hours. I stir it around to bring in oxygen when I think about it.

On the morning of Day 2 I add 6 ounces of hi-gluten bread flour and 6 more ounces of water. Then I let this mixture sit for another 24 hours, stirring it around to bring in air when I think of it.

On Day 3 I add about 20-21 ounces of hi-gluten flour, 20 grams of plain table salt, 3 grams of yeast to boost it a bit (one could omit this, but I'm not sure I see the point of taking the chance.)
and between 9-12 ounces of water. I'll not repeat all the steps here, you should be able to get them from the slide show, if not, then shoot me an email or comment. I should add that the oven set up is very crucial to the eventual success of any hearth bread, not just this one.

For the dough to jump up (spring) before the crust hardens, you must begin with a screaming hot oven (I set mine to 550 degrees F), there has to be a stone to store and exaggerate the heat from the bottom for maximum upward pressure, and there must be steam.

Everybody who rigs a bread oven set up at home has a different way of getting steam in. I've probably tried everything in print including spray bottles, wet towels on the stone, bricks soaked in water, and I can't remember what else. What I have found works best is a sheet pan on the top rack of the oven. I preheat this with the stone and dump about 10 ounces of hot water in immediately after I slide in the bread.

The reason this works is that top of the oven is almost always the hottest part of the oven (Don't believe it? Get an IR thermometer and check.). It's consistently hotter than the oven floor and an ideal place to generate steam that you want to circulate evenly through out the oven. This is because as the water heats in the pan, the steam rises and is deflected downward by the oven roof. Convection then assures that the steam will descend to the cooler parts of the oven which is, of course, around the bread. This gives me all the steam I need to delay hardening of the crust and robust and even oven spring. To say nothing about how well that water gelatinizes
the starch molecules which in turn give the crust a lovely sheen. (Poetic, non?)

The slide show below shows almost the entire job from the morning of Day 1 to the evening of Day 3 when I bake the bread. The photos of the cut bread were taken on the morning of Day 4.

Serendipity 3 Shut Down for Rodents - AOL News

Serendipity in this case apparently refers to how fortunate you are going to feel when you find a rodent turd in your 25 thousand dollar Guineess Book of World Records World's Most Expensive desert.

Top Restaurant Shut Down for Rodents

And Now for Something Completely Different

Not For Viewing at Work -unless your boss is as cool as you are.

Make sure you are sitting down for this one. It's a PETA-produced anti-milk propaganda piece that owes as much to Federico Fellini's Satyricon as it does to the "Girls Gone Wild" soft-porn videos it acknowledged by the title, costumes, music and choreography.

Milk Gone Wild!

Posted Mar 23, 2006

This PETA spoof of the oh-so-scummy "Girls Gone Wild" series was apparently rejected by ABC.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thousands fete new Beaujolais

Jennie Cesario guilted (sic) me into to posting this.

AFP: Thousands fete new Beaujolais Nouveau

Le Condo Pepin

Want to rent Jacques and Gloria Pepin's condo in Mexico? It looks pretty nice and at 1500 bucks/ week is not terribly expensive as these things go.

C'mon, you know you love Jacques Pepin and would love to stay at his house. I met him once at a charity event. I was a participating chef and he was a celebrity guest who, along with Martha Stewart, judged the food we made. He was every bit as fine as he appears to be on the tube. If it's an act, its a very, very good one.

Link 2 Pepin Condo Page


It seems that sometimes I've got nothing better to do than make a post about what I ate for breakfast.

Here it is: 2 pieces of sauteed confit de lard (there were 3, but one left the plate early); 2 superb eggs from Bethany Farms (cooked in confited fat of course); 3 very uninspiring pieces of bread from La Brea Bakery.

I usually only eat my own bread at home but I had company this weekend and got behind on my baking schedule. La Brea bread is better than Wonderbread, but not much better. I'll bake tonight so by tomorrow life will return to normal.

Stuff this into your turkey

"Pass the gravy, can ya?"
"Dude, You're in it."

Do you see Thanksgiving as a opportunity to stuff something extra into your turkey? Then you might consider taking this bit of advice from Bonny Wolf via Leah Chernikoff at The New York Daily News

"To supplement the arousing aroma of pumpkin pie for a sexy Thanksgiving meal from start to finish, food writer and NPR food commentator Bonny Wolf recommends starting the meal with raw oysters. "Oysters have high zinc levels, which are supposed to increase sperm count," she says of these known aphrodisiacs, which come into season right around Thanksgiving time. Prepare them as a delicious starter or blend them into stuffing if your guy is squeamish about eating them raw."

Is there anyone out that who can explain to me how inducing a high sperm count in a guy is supposed to make him horny? Or maybe I'm missing the point. Perhaps the object of the aphrodisiac is the woman who feeds the man the oysters. Ahem, ladies. Are you aroused by a man who you believe has a high sperm count?

OMG, what planet is this?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Food Words

By The Foodist

What gets one culinary student excited is different from what gets another excited.

What does it for me? Most of the time great food, done simply and done well. The rest of the time, Books.

I read. I read a lot. This morning I recieved a copy of Elements of Cooking; Michael Ruhlman's new book.

When I first heard about the book, I was excited to get my hands on a copy, thinking to myself it would be another great insider’s look into the professional kitchen. I was only half right on that one.

It is an insiders look. But not in the fashion that I’m used to from Ruhlman. Instead he decided to write a reference book with opinion twisting and turning throughout . The result: a wonderful look at the basics stated clearly, precisely, and with fact along with a myriad of definitions for quick reference and review.

The feel of the book is a little hard for me to explain. It’s like someone took the Pro Chef, Food Lovers Companion, and a short opinion piece; meshed them together, cleaned it up and sent it out into the world.

I normally don’t plug things this quickly, I give them time to digest in me before I give my opinion about them, but in this case it’s really straight forward. Its basics; and basics done well.

RIP Peg Bracken

I just discovered that Peg Bracken the woman who practically invented slapdash cookery passed on October 20, 2007. She had suffered from pulmonary fibrosis and was 89 when she died at her home in Portland Oregon.

Peg Bracken was the anti-Julia Child, and her philosophy of cooking was many ways the antithesis of almost every thing we self-serious cooks believe in. According to Margalit Fox writing in the NY Times (23 Oct. '07)

"In Ms. Bracken’s culinary canon, ingredients should be cheap, common and above all convenient, ideally frozen or tinned. Canned soups loomed large in her recipes. So did crushed cornflakes, powdered onion soup mix and Spam of the pre-electronic type. So did alcohol, though in many cases her instructions called for it to bypass the cooking process entirely and proceed straight down the cook’s throat."

Ms. Bracken was a trailblazer and helped to make it possible for other "guess what, cooking is easy" cooks like Graham Kerr and later Mark Bittman, Rachel Ray and many others to reap the rewards of the love-hate realtionship that so many Americans have with food and cooking.
I will never forget coming home from grammar school and flipping on the TV to watch "Superman" or "Officer Joe Bolton presents The Three Stooges" and seeing Ms. Bracken's deadpan visage and hearing her monotonous voice buzzing through the tiny speaker in our GE, B&W portable TV. Her introit was almost always the same

"Hi, my name's Peg Bracken and I hate to cook. That's why I wrote the 'I hate to Cookbook.'"

Sigh. Goodbye Peg, you were one of a kind.


New York City's sexiest chef

If I was still living in New York, still a working chef, had more hair on my head and tattooed arms I know I would have had this one nailed.

New York City's sexiest chef: Johnny Iuzzini

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A life in pork -Confit de Lard

I began this batch of confited pork belly on Friday 11/9 and finished it up on Sunday 11/12. The sideshow below shows all the major steps save one :putting the final product by in jars.

Cooking does not get any easier than this folks. Tossing cubes of bacon in cure mixture, letting it sit in the refrigerator for 36 hours and cooking it in rendered fat in a slow oven does not require more than 12 seconds of culinary knowledge.

The hardest part is going to be finding someone to eat it. My kids may be the kids of a chef, but there's no way they are eating any of this.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

sLoW fAt : Lardo

Today I took took the fat back I'd been curing out of the cure and hung it up to dry. With the exception of one minor variation I've been mostly following the recipe from Charcuterie by Ruhlman and Polycyn, otherwise it's by-the-book.

The curing rub was made with kosher salt, dextrose powder, nitrate salt seasoned with black pepper, bay leaf and rosemary instead of the specified thyme (pun inteneded). After I coated the six pounds of fat back (from the Reading Terminal branch of Stoltzfus' Meats) with the curing mix, I put it in a dish (pictured below) and covered it with plastic and foil. Then I put a piece of plywood on top and weighted it with two 5 lbs free weight discs (not pictured). It seems that at least some types old exercise equipment don't have to sit around forever feeling useless. Not too sure that's going to be the case with the weight bench or the elliptical machine that we wasted a thousand bucks on 3 or so years ago. But I digress.

Today, after 10 days, I took the fat out of the cure, rinsed it off, rolled it in cheesecloth and hung it up to air dry. The taste of the raw fat coming out of the cure is amazing. It is very similar to the taste of fat in genoa salami but without the acidic edge that is produced when the salami ferments. But in truth there's nothing like it, I'm totally hooked.

BTW, the knife in the picture was given to me by my wife for my birthday (I just turned 53 Arghhh!). It's a pretty fancy Japanese chef's knife, by somebody named Ken Onion. I'm leaving it in the stand for now, but I doubt it's going to stay there much longer.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Drugged Ducks

Wow, I never knew that eating ducks in the form of chocolate could cause hallucinations. So little time to live, with so much to learn.

Drugs Found In Chocolate Ducks

Friday, November 9, 2007

What's Cooking

Pork belly confit (slide show below)

Today I'm finally getting around to curing a slab of belly that Tags picked up for me in Philly from an Amish farmer whose name and business I have forgotten. (I'll update this post with that information later.) I'm going to let it cure overnight then cook it up in rendered pork fat tomorrow or Sunday. Not quite sure of what I'm gonna do with all of it when it's done (there's about 6 lbs) but I'll figure something out.

Brined and slow roasted pork shoulder

I also dropped a small pork shoulder (the factory farmed kind) into a bucket of brine made from 2 gallons of water, 4 ounces of salt and 4 ounces of brown sugar (weighed measures). That'll go overnight then I'll roast if off in the morning and bring it to the tailgate party at my daughter's marching band competition at Hershey Park later that day. Hopefully someone besides myself and my family will eat it. The last time I brought something to one of these things (smoked and braised brisket of beef with red and green tomatoes, corn, chilis etc) I ended up taking 2/3rds of it home. I'm still scratching my head over that one.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The World's Cheapest Brand Awareness Trick

I'm sure Mr. Bruce, shown here with his Guinness Book of World Records Award for the world's most expensive desert, is a very nice man. But don't you think that trying to promote a restaurant with this type of stunt is a just a little bit cheesy? Is a 25,000 dollar desert that is made out of rare chocolate, gold leaf and diamonds something to be proud of?

I totally get why people like Mr. Bruce do this kind of thing. Creating the world's most expensive desert, pizza or hamburger is cheap compared to creating an ad campaign and once the press picks up on it, you get wide and rapid distribution of your brand -for free.

In other words, the same principle that drove Britney Spears to cruise around LA with her pudenda smiling at the paparazzi is used by restaurateurs to sell food.

Restaurant Row, CIA: Hit the ground running -on my face

By The Foodist

Restaurant Row started with 7 days in Saint Andrews Cafe at the CIA. The seven days I spent there were easy going and laid back. Business was slow and steady and left a lot of time for attention to detail and slower cooking. What happened on my next Day 1 was a complete 180 turn from my experience at Saint Andrews Cafe.

We all knew going into The Caterina di Medici -The CIA's Italian Restaurant- that it was going to be crazy. Students tell horror stories all the time of the first three days there.

"You are going to hate life."

"Prepared to get worked like a dog."

"Chef made me cry."

Now I see why.

The hardest part of starting Caterina is the transition. Day 1 you barely know the recipes, have almost no knowledge of how the kitchen runs, and to top it off you have no idea what the chef is like.

To say that Caterina is a "Learning Environment" is both a reality and a false statement. It is the polar opposite of how almost every other kitchen on campus. You are not getting babied along, no hands are being held here. You are expected to perform. You are expected to work from the time you walk in the door till the time you leave (Which, last Thursday was 1 am, Friday was midnight). Chef pulls no punches during service, and will ride you like a tired horse in a thousand mile race if you so much as make a peep or wrong move.

But like all horror stories and moments of chaos it is not without its lessons -its rays of light that peak out from the corners.

After Day 1 you leave the kitchen fearing the rest of your 6 days in the class will proceed just as that one did. There's a knot in your stomach when you wake up the next day, a nagging voice asking "So why exactly am I doing this?".

But when you arrive on Day 2, there's another feeling that comes with you. Behind all the nervousness, behind the tight ball in your stomach is a single repetitive thought.

At least I know what to expect.

And with that thought in your mind you step forward into the kitchen a push yourself harder, faster, and think things through long before you act upon them. When this happens there's a pleasant surprise that follows. There's another thought that creeps in, I'm actually better at this then I was yesterday.

My station in Caterina is Hot Apps where I am responsible for 3 dishes. Penne, Gnocchi, and Pork Scalopinni. Without a real understanding of how service goes down on Day 1 I had Chef hovering over me like a hawk. There was the constant sound of his voice in my ear as I fumbled around trying to do things right. On Day 2 I noticed I heard less of his voice in my ear then the day before. The conclusion was that I was getting better, slowly, but I was getting better. At the end of the night on day 2 I was tired and beaten. But unlike the previous day I was hopeful and proud of my improvement.

It was not perfect, and it will never be perfect. But striving to perfect the way I work and the product I produce is the goal every chef, young or old, should have. It's a lesson that's really driven home at Caterina. Chef pushes us towards perfection, while we know we can never deliver it.

Here's an irony if ever there was one: After stumbling home on day 1 I opened my email to find this quote staring me in the face

"Confront them with annihilation, and they will then survive;

plunge them into a deadly situation,

and they will then live.

When people fall into danger, they are then able to strive for victory."
-Sun Tzu

Makes me wonder if Chef is Sun Tzu incarnate. Nah, who am I kidding? He is however, a damn good chef.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Big Sausage News!

BERLIN (Reuters) - A hobby historian has discovered the oldest known recipe for German sausage, a list of ingredients for Thuringian bratwurst nearly 600 years old.

Historian finds oldest recipe for German bratwurst

Monday, November 5, 2007

one rare weekend, foie gras on the side

The Gunks

This weekend past, I took a drive up to the New York to hang out, dine out, think out loud and discuss a lot of really important things with Ruhlman-mentor Mike Pardus, Krishnendu Ray, and David Livert -a social psychologist who accompanied Mike on one of his storied trips to Vietnam. I had not met David before and was impressed by his calm demeanor, wry sense of humor and robust appetite for so many things of interest to humans. His ability to behave with the confidence of someone who has cleared the formal operations stage was more than reassuring to Mike and I who are when all is said, in writ and done, chefs. Kris was, as always, nonpareil.

We spent most of the weekend in and around the Town of New Paltz where Pardus lives in a house with central heating. I had not been to New Paltz since visiting my youngest brother while he was enrolled at SUNY New Paltz sometime during the Holocene Era (ca 30 years BP). To my surprise and delight, the scene on the streets of New Paltz has not changed much since my first visit there in the late 1960's.

Most of the people on the street look to be about 21 and on a mission to be down. There are lots of restaurants (yawn), book stores (yeah!) and at least one head shop -whose owners seem to think that placing skateboards and Xtreme! SPoRtZ themed T-Shirts in the window is going to magically distract attention from the interior display cases filled with crack-pipes, hookahs and other instruments of psychic and physical self abuse.

It is easy to forget how beautiful the Hudson River Valley is at this time of year. (A shameful admission for someone who lived there for the better part of three decades.) The shear cliffs of the Shawangunk Mountains to the west look inevitable as they soar above the valley of the Wallkill bristling with slamming trees all blown up with color. Referred to by locals and cognoscenti as the Gunks, the effect of their juxtaposition against the wooded valley walls lend new and ironic meaning to the name of the character in the eponymously named movie Forest Gunk. Okay, I'll stop BS-ing now


On Saturday morning Pardus and I broke camp early and drove up to Hudson Valley Farms. Since I began blogging about attempts by radicalized vegans and credulous politicians to ban foie gras, I have become friendly with HVF's operations manager Marcus Henley, who invited Mike and I for a tour. We spent about four hours walking around and I was surprised (and relieved) that I did not find anything that disturbed me.

I had not expected to see animals being visibly abused, but I thought I'd see something to justify all the bad press HVF has gotten thanks to PETA, The Humane Society of the United States and their subsidiaries. Our presence was not going to be a secret to the staff, and I was sure everyone would be on their best behavior. But I figured even if they worked OT they couldn't hide everything. I thought for sure that I was going to find something that gave me reason to believe the worst. But in the end, the worst thing that happened was that one of the barns smelled funky. I'd have preferred an aroma with more subtle notes of urea. But really it wasn't any worse than the aroma of a poorly ventilated locker room.

All the other barns were as clean as the cleanest barn I have ever seen. The pens of the ducks who were being hand fed (gavage) were also very clean. The ducks themselves looked a little ragged because as they become really fat it's harder for them to preen so their feathers loose a lot of their sheen. All of the animal facilities are regularly washed with viricide to prevent infection and the processing rooms were positively immaculate. Even the slaughtering room smelled good. I'm serious about this, it smelled like fresh duck fat.

I am mindful of the fact that some readers are going to look at the pictures below and think "Is he kidding? There are pictures of ducks being force fed, ducks being hung upside down, stunned and slaughtered and he says that the worst thing anywhere was the smell?"

There is not much I can say to this except that if you don't eat meat or have never consciously killed anything and eaten it, then it is unlikely that there will ever be a perfect way to raise and kill animals for food. So let's move on. But for those who eat meat, treasure it as a part of our cultural heritage and who may think of meat as an object of craft, the photos should not disturb you at all. Finally, if you know a little bit about how animals are treated in big factory poultry farms where the birds are de-beaked, jammed into cages and slaughtered by the tens of thousands, Hudson Valley Farms should look like a model of responsible and ethical animal husbandry.

In conclusion I have to say that the image of the foie gras farming that has been put out there by PETA, The Humane Society of the United States (and others) appears to have nothing to do with what I saw going on at Hudson Valley Farms. There may be other foie gras producers who jam steel tubes down the throats of ducks (the tubes at HVF are soft rubber) and force them to eat until they explode and blow their guts all over the room. But that does not seem to be the case here. And no, I don't think that the handlers waited for us to leave before they resumed their torture. Given that they get paid a bonus for every duck they bring alive to slaughter it'd be pretty stupid of them to do anything that might hurt a duck.

BTW, Tony Bourdain was at Hudson Valley Farm the previous week with a camera crew. I think Marcus told me that whatever it was he was shooting for is going to air in December.
Whatever it was he was shooting you can be sure it wasn't a PETA commercial.

Aftermath of the fire that killed 15K ducks

Here are some photos of the aftermath of the fire at Hudson Valley Farms breeding annex. While the results of the fire inspector's investigation have not been released, it seems that the most probable cause of the blaze is related to the heating system.

These pictures were sent to me by the farm's operations manager -Marcus Henley -and I assume were taken by him.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Dope Bagles

So my buddy Tags, knowing how much I pine after the bagels I used to get when the Lower East Side of New York was the home of Eastern European food and culture in the New World, thought he could assuage my nostalgic pining with some (now dig this) bagels from Philadelphia!

Tags, I said, you must be off your medication. But WTF, if it makes you feel better, I'll try them.

So when did they start making bagels with crow?

Seriously these bagels are not quite as good as those rubber wagon wheels we used to eat back in the day but they are damned close. The chew on these bagels is wonderful. There's not dough conditioner or sugar to soften them up. The flour is hi-gluten and they seem to have been fermented longer than usual because they have a serious yeasty bouquet.

BTW, I have never believed any of that crap about bagels in NYC being the best because somehow the water is special and I believe that these bagels, which can hold there own against any bagels from any of the 5 boroughs, prove me right. Not that I need much proof.

When I was teaching at the CIA I ran some tests with my class. We made bagels with water from 5 different cities and the only ones that were inferior were made with water that was so heavily chlorinated that it smell like a public swimming pool. Unless the water is totally funky the quality of a bagel or any fermented bread depends more on technique and the type of flour used than water quality.

Here's a sexy shot of the same bagels posed next to a rock that I picked up on a collecting trip in the Devonian of Pa. The brownish fossil in the lower left hand corner of the shale is part of a trilobite.

Here's a close up. Pretty hot, no?

So anyone in the Philly area looking for some great bagels can go here:

NY Bagels
7555 Haverford Ave
Philadelphia PA 19151


I'm so nervous that someone is going to find out that this bakery ships the bagels in from to think of way to blame it on Tags if it happens.

Fire at Duck Farm

So this morning I tell Ruhlman that I'm scheduled to visit Hudson Valley Farms (the foie gras people in NY) with our mutual friend Mike Pardus tomorrow and he sends me this

Bethel — Some 15,000 breeding ducks were incinerated in a fire Tuesday night near Swan Lake.

Towering flames that could be seen halfway across the county ripped through a warehouse rented by Hudson Valley Foie Gras, destroying the 30-by-450-foot warehouse, a garage containing equipment and a car. [Source]

As of this writing it appears to be an accident; I really hope it isn't arson.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

All in a partial day's work

Today I made a couple 'a interesting things I think: Lardo and Lamb Sausage.
Like a porcine invocation of a Carpenter's song, the Lardo has only just begun. It is beginning it's journey through my kitchen as 3 1/2 pounds of pork fat back buried in a half pound a salt, a few ounces of dextrose, some pink salt (sodium nitrate and salt), a bunch of peppercorns and handful of Rosemary sprigs ignominiously ripped from my garden before the sun came up and I'd only one cup of coffee. (It was brutal.) Oh yeah, and there's 6 bay leaves in there too.

Mr. Lardo is going to sit under a ten pound weight for a week. Then he's going to get rinsed off and hung to air dry for about three weeks. When he's a pointe I'm going to slice him up and eat him on bread for breakfast -just like my grandparents used to do.

When I was a kid it used to flip me out to see them put lard on bread. Don't get me wrong, even as a puppy I liked lard in pastry and barded onto roasts, it was the eating it on bread that I thought was weird. Am I making sense? I think not. Hunger is like that, insensible. But you knew that.

Then I made lamb sausage. This is made from lamb shoulder, fat back (2lbs to 1/2 lb), dried and brined black olives, orange and lemon zest and a bunch of other stuff. You see it here in the raw, but I cooked it up and it was pretty good.

This is slow food. There aren't too many things that you do with your clothes on that are more satisfying than this.

Authentic Hunger Artisit ?

The hunger artist that inspired the title in of this blog and who is the central character in the short-story "The Hunger Artist" by Franz Kafka, may have looked something like this in Kafka's imagination.

You can read about why he choses not to eat here. His reasons appear to have nothing to do with any motivation to make art, but like art, they will give you pause to think.

My immediate take-away is that he like other anorectics feel helpless in the face of the enormous challenges presented by human society, and seize upon the idea that they can control their anxiety by not eating. But really I don't know.