Monday, January 9, 2012

Stumbling into the Modernist

Well I have crossed the line.  I have stepped into territory I had viewed with skepticism a bit of disdain and total ignorance. The ignorance no doubt fed the others.  I have, for some time been visiting with the Ideas in Food blog. What I have been struck by is their complete openness to new ways of looking at food, flavors and technique.  They also seem to have a considerable amount of time on there hands in which to mess about, experiment and be creative.  So looking about our kitchen I found a few things we were having trouble with- Broken apple cider vinaigrette for one,  Chicken and Waffles for another- and thought how can we try to look at these things in a different way.

I did not want to muddy up the Apple Cider Vin with yolks or mustard in a vain attempt to get it to hang together.  I had tried reducing further in hopes the pectin would act as an emulsifier but was left with an overly syrupy, caramelized substance that did not really want to be mounted by a bunch of oil.  Not to mention that in many ways the cider seems to lose much of its Appleiness as it reduces so I wanted to get less cook time not more.  This left me with a watery or cidery concoction that did not want to stick to the leaves of the salad.

Doug asked if I  wanted him to have Brian, the chef from CBC, come down and teach me to make vinaigrette.  Ouch. There are many things I can learn from Brian but making vinaigrette is in my blood.  We used to lobby for it to be the sixth mother sauce.  I love vinaigrette. This tragedy could not stand.  I read, I studied, researched, scouring the my cook books and the web for ideas.  Harvard popped up on the radar with a series of lectures by famous chefs and the professors from Applied Mechanics.  A lot of that went over my head but but I was on the right path.

Bought the book from Ideas in Food and found the bit I was looking for.  Xanthan Gum.  This was out of bounds in my normal semi-purist way of looking at food.  Yes there is already xanthum gum in our kitchen but it was in things that we bought and were massed produced. Sweet Thai Chili for example.  2001's darling that can make almost anything taste good.  We still pass it off on the side of the calamari.  I think it makes sense there and the Xantum gum makes sense in that product but in MY vinaigrette.  

So to google I did turn.  Seeking to buy a bit of the recently off limits stuff.  Were that I had been able to call the local drug dealer I would not have felt any less like I was somehow venturing off into the taboo.  I found a company in New York with a seriously French Sounding name.  (I am not going to link to them.  As a kid my dad made labels.  He went up to the folks at Smucker's to pitch an idea.  They turned him down and then later reproduced the idea with someone cheaper, thereby steeling his idea and cutting me off from Smucker's for much of my teenage years. As you will see these pseudo french guys screwed around with yours truly so no link).  I ordered the xanthan gum and some Tansglutemese and Tapioca Malodextrine.  My card was processed and I sat by the mailbox waiting like a forlorn lover.  No Mail. I told my Sous Chefs about our impending ventures into the hart of darkness. No Mail.  I worked out the formulas, weighed out the ingredients and got my self a cool little scale. No Mail.  I was despondent. Lost. Chagrined. I checked my bank statement and as I had thought the payment did go through.  Where then were my chemicals?

My worry was that the same devious individual who had stolen my most recent lawn mower had purloined my box of culinary chemicals, which I was sure would arrive in an unmarked brown paper box like some unmentionable toys bought off the internet.  I was concerned that they would think "Ah Ha- Drugs"  and end up snorting xanthum gum and somehow become gellified  on the inside.  So to the google I did go.  I found the company I had ordered my new toys from and called them up.  A French man named, I kid you not, Francoise answered and after a bit let me know that my concerns over stolen xanthum gum falling into the wrong hands was unfounded because they had never sent the xanthan gum.  In fact they did not actually have any xanthan gum and it was not clear when they might be getting it.  I was shocked. "Pardon me for saying so but you seemed to have charged me for this thing which you have not sent me and in fact which you do not even have."  Well Francoise seemed bent on proving that the French in New York can be just as snooty as the French in Paris.  "Well we have been very busy" he said. "Yeah busy charging my card".  Well I got a good head of steam up and gave Francoise the business.

Weeks I had wasted. I grumbled and cursed the French while shopping for whole grain and healthy things to put in my Granola.  As with most health food/whole grain  aisles in major grocery stores (normally I would be getting things to make dishes at the restaurant delivered on a truck but since the granola has been a huge flop at brunch it makes little sense to get cases of mise en place for it) there is a huge display of Bob's Red Mill  type stuff at our local Kroger. And low and behold right there in the Bob's Red Mill area was a whole bag of xanthan gum.  Who knew all this time right next to the wine, I had walked past it as I waited in vain for the French, Bob had it all along.

To imagine the all naturalists were clued in from the beginning.  On a more serious note one of the uses for xanthan gum is in gluten free bread and other doughs.  Its thickening power is used to give structure to the dough.  This was the reason Bob was peddling the stuff he is big into the whole Gluten free movement.

So what now.  Right when I got it back we did the Ideas in Food experiment with thickening water.  I made all sorts of cooks, chefs and servers taste thickened water.  One of the things we discovered was that the water does not taste so good but also that lots of xanthan gum can be slimy and nasty.  Since then we have gotten the Apple Cider Vinaigrette to hang together better. We have thickened pureed soups; made an emergency batch of sweet Thai chili when I forgot to order it Substituted for Corn Starch in a chicken Jus Lie and just had no end of fun.   The thing is you use so little of it, we are putting 7-8 grams into a gallon of vinaigrette, that I think we might have Bob's for quite some time.

Monday, November 7, 2011

What time is Brunch?

There used to be a commercial where this tired old guy got up at the crack of dawn and kept saying, "it's time to make the donuts".  Well we are not making donuts but there is some significant prep work that goes into brunch at Milestone  and I may not have been muttering about donuts but there was for sure lots of muttering going on. 

So my alarm went off at 6:00am. I said to myself, "do you really need to be in at 7:00? Couldn't you just hustle a bit when you get in and get an extra few minuets of sleep now? And if you take a short shower and skip breakfast... Hell there is a good half an hour in all that".  I am a bit of a pushover when it comes to self negotiation. So I rolled out of the house about 8:00.  I realized late in the game that we had fallen back last night.  Hell of a time to change the clocks.  There was no point in trying to go back to sleep and there was coffee at the restaurant.  So I kicked myself in the ass and headed in to open the doors, turn on the ovens and unlock the coolers.

Needless to say at 7:00am on a Sunday there are not many folks out and about in Columbus.  The Streets were bare the lights still on.  It was cold and quiet, frost on the grass and the windows of my truck.  I cranked the heat and reminded my self I was going to need a scraper and a shovel before this winter was over.  Add that to the laundry, cleaning the house and writing the New Years Eve menu to the list for my next day off.  For the short drive in I had my choice of NPR's version of Religion called On Being or Selected Shorts which is a really cool live show of people reading short stories aloud to people in NYC (this reinforces the idea that there are enough people in NYC that you can find an audience for almost anything). .   The Religion is usually a bit much first thing in the morning, but there was a discussion of how babies aquire language and the guy reading the short story was quickly getting on my already frayed nerves so I got a lecture on how we learn to speak and felt smarter for it.

The sun was coming up behind Miranova, the restaurant was quiet as I sat and planned out brunch. Holandaise really more a modified Charon, Biscuits, Country Gravy, Caramel for Waffles all needed to be done early.

Page 794 of my copy of James Beard's American cooking has a good biscuit recipe if you are looking for one.  It was where I started.  The first few times I made them I used the Pork fat from cooking the bellies . They seemed overly dense and left a fatty residue in the mouth after eating that I thought just might not go over so well.  I did not want to go the Crisco route and JB called for butter on page 794 so for this morning butter it is.  My sleep addled brain was having trouble taking recipe to eight times and since it was written for the house not commercial kitchen everything was in cups which is a pain.  Weight is so much better to work with when baking.  I could look up what 16 cups of flour should weigh but after having coffee and watching the sun come up I was running behind and had no interest in not being ready to go at 10:00 when we opened. 

So when making biscuits or pie dough it is a good idea to have the butter a bit soft.  Right out of the walkin is just going to make this whole process more of a pain in the ass.  So what you do is cut the butter into little chunks and then "rub" it into the flour.  I know there must be a faster, eiser way to do this but I am always worried about overworking the damn stuff so even with 1.5# of butter and 16 cups of flour I am still rubbing it in by hand.  What that means to me is that I garb handfulls of flour and butter push it through my hands with my thumbs going away from me and my fingers towards me pressing really hard against each other.  Over and Over and Over and Over.  Made all the more difficult since I forgot to pull the butter last night. 

Over time the butter is absorbed into the flour.  The flour changes color a bit and looks kinda clumpy or more ragged in a way.  If there are some bits of butter still hanging out that is ok.  You want most of it absorbed but if your hands are really tired out you can get away with a little bit that is not incorporated.  JB calls for both baking powder and baking soda.  Both of these are leaveners.  The soda is only used because we are going to use buttermilk.  It reacts with the acid in the buttermilk and starts right away giving off gas.  I am not sure how much benefit this really imparts. You are going to at least briefly knead this mess and then cut and tray it so how much of the leavening power is out the window is, I will have to admit a mystery to me.  The baking powder is "Double Acting" (NaHCO3 + H+ → Na+ + CO2 + H2O, don't be to impressed I lifted that from Wikipedia).  The first action is the same as the baking soda and in fact part of baking powder is baking soda.  The second action is slower and is heat activated.  This is what gives muffins that exploded to look to them. A crust of cooked muffin forms on the top and then when the center comes to temp it pops right through.

Anway that is what I was thinking about while trying to figure out how much soda and powder to put in the biscuits.  I will throw in a few photos here to keep you interested. 

That is my gratuitous homage to the Thomas Kellerish menu shot.  Always loved that one.  We tried to hit the highlights.  Steak and Eggs, Chicken and Waffles, Biscuits and Gravy.  There is a whole bunch of bacon, some Pork belly.  We are making quiche on Saturdays.  And we even are making Granola.  Of all the things we have made for this new menu the one I was most excited about was the Granola.  Who the hell makes Granola.  Well I looked into it and kicked out what I thought was a pretty cool version. We have Oats and Sunflower Seeds, Bran, Prunes, Dried Cranberries and Dates almonds and pecans.  The dish also has fresh fruit and organic yogurt.  How could we go wrong with this one.  We sold 0.  Not one.  Not one.  I am not saying I was crushed but when you sell 20 Eggs Beni and 0 Granola it is almost enough for an already grumpy Chef to throw the towel in.  But I persevere I am giving it another week.  Maybe I can get Walker Evans to use that photo over there in the Columbus Underground.

There is the Yogurt as well just want to make sure to hammer home the whole Granola Idea in your collective brain pans.

So when we left them the biscuits were thinking about leavening. We had the butter, flour, soda, powder some salt and some sugar in the mix.  We added in some buttermilk and grated cheddar cheese.  For awhile at this point we were also adding roasted jalapenos.  Mix in the Buttermilk and breifly knead the dough.  We are not making bread so the kneading is more about distributing the moisture and making the mix homogenous, not about developing gluten.  Then  roll the dough into fat logs and cut off biscuits.  Drop onto a sheet tray, brush with egg wash to make Doug happy and into the oven at 350 for about half an hour.  Depends on your oven and how often you open it.

So the biscuits are in the oven we turned our attention to the rest of the prep list.  The Staff was in house and working on their own projects.  After a bit the servers arrived and started setting up the dining room and doing their sidework. Matt Borth rolled in his chipper self right on time (hard after closing the night before, bet he left at 1:00 and was back in at 8:00).  Doug came in right before ten and then popped back out to do some accounting. 

At first it seemed that this whole thing was going to be a flop.  The first hour we could not have done more then 10 covers.  The servers were milling about, the cooks working on projects for the PM.  At one point I looked around and realized that there were no servers in the kitchen.  It is like the tide going out in front of a tsunami, when the servers disappear you know things are starting to move.  I popped out front, the dining room was mostly full and there were lots of menus out.  I went back into the kitchen and had the boys clear the decks cause it was going to get hairy for a bit. 

I ran out of eggs by noon, which meant I was barreling over to Kroger to plug the hole.  I after that it was cutting Quiche, firing Shrimp and Grits, expediting, scrambling eggs and trying to keep everyone moving in the same direction.  Colleen was on the expo line from 11:00 to 3:00 without a break, Matt bailed Maria and tried to find time to make cheesecakes..  The whole thing reminded me of when we opened.  I am glad to be busy but hell we could have used a week or two of practice.  In the end all went well.  We ran out of a few things, figured out you cannot hold the Waffles in the oven, had to refire eggs a couple times, and totally messed up Sarah Bolling's breakfast.  Those things are going to happen.  We will get better. 

Good Night Columbus here are a few photos. Come Visit..


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Braising Into Fall

Well I know it has been awhile.  I thought I would drop a line, send out some words and pictures.  After our crazy opening time, things have gotten into a nice groove.  We are seeing consistent guests, developing regulars in fact.  The food gets better every day and we just finished our first menu change.   We tried 50 to 60 dishes to find the 15 changes.  How it all began was looking at things on the menu that were not selling (Wine Quartet and Belly), throwing in things that were seasonally challenged (Salmon and Pesto) and then topping it off with things I either never liked or was frankly just damn tried of seeing (Walleye and Vegetable Pasta).  So we had our dishes on the chopping block. 

It was then the long difficult process of looking at ideas, tasting food, talking to vendors, thinking about fall, and making decisions.  This was the middle to the end of August.  We still had the patio so things were still hopping.  It was hot out and no one was thinking about braises and roasted vegetables. No one could understand throwing the basil and tomatoes under the bus.  So we struggled.  I was frankly in the creative wasteland. Whatever the culinary equivalent of writer's block is had invaded and wrapped it's wet blanket all around my cooking spirit.  After the heady days of opening the restaurant, teaching, leading, screaming, and working like a much younger version of myself I was spent.  The Sous Chefs (Nick, Coleen and Matt) were putting out ideas but nothing rang true with the tasters.

As September loomed and we were closely approaching the target date for a finished menu, Doug asked if we wanted to just make some small adjustments, maybe only tweek it a bit.  While I was grumpily pacing about the restaurant looking for my misplaced muse, pissing off cooks, managers, servers and vendors in the process, I knew that this needed to be a good sized shift.  That we needed to show that we were alive and not tied to past successes.  We had a few good ideas, Nick and Coleen contributed pizzas, I dug into the past for things that worked and you could see the beginning of the Fall menu taking shape.  We wanted to braise.  To take those parts of the animal that your average shoemaker would not know how to handle and really turn them into something great.  We wanted to taste the fall.  Apple Cider, Sweet Potatoes, Greens. 

It all started to turn around with the Pork Shank.  I asked Jerry Miller if had them and he came through with a beauty.   Duroc Pork Is an old breed in the US and has lots of intramuscular fat and a high Ph.  We brought the shanks in and it knocked their socks off.

So how does one go about turning this:

 Into This:

Well let's start at the beginning.  Cuts of meat that are going to respond well to the braise are tough to start out with.  They are the exercised bits, the Lamb Shanks and the Short Ribs and the Veal Breast and the Pork Belly. They are also the really flavorful parts.  It is the big secret in my world that a tenderloin while it costs a bunch and is ubiquitous lacks flavor and is really a vehicle for sauces and nice compound butters.  The Short Rib on the other hand is a beeforama.  It's not the prom queen but rather that girl you meet at the reunion who turned out to be beautiful, a doctor and also had a secret crush on you all during high school. While the prom queen is on her third marriage and ended up getting drunk at the party and falling down in a puddle of stale beer while eating, you guessed it some overcooked, flavorless Beef Tenderloin. 

So we know what kind of meat we are looking for, that underrated over-delivering kind.  So we have carted it home and now what.


Well lets start by seasoning the meat.  It would be best if you were able to even let it sit overnight with a generous bit of salt, maybe some hard herbs (thyme, rosemary, bay as opposed to basil, chervil or tarragon).  lets stay away from the wine.  Dave Snyder wants to soak his veal shanks in wine for days before cooking and I was with him on that but Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall turned my head and I am a convert.  He claims the acid in the wine "cooks"  the protein in the meat sucking it dry.  So we season, we wait. 

After all that waiting or waiting as long as you can or deem appropriate, dust your meat in flour, heat a large, shallow, heavy bottom pan with a generous amount of fat, I like the rendered pork fat that come off cooking the our bellies. So the pan is hot the fat is in there at this point just go slow, don't crowd things.  When you put the meat in the pan a few things are happening all at once.  For one the temperature dropped and second lots of steam is being released.  If you crowd the pan the heat will take longer to recover and you will end up with meat sitting in a puddle of it's own juices.  Not what we are looking for.

These are the correctly browned pork shanks.  they are this color all over.  You must brown them on all sides.  Why would you not brown them on all sides.  you are in the business of creating flavor, browning creates flavor and to leave one side unbrowned screams of laziness and a lack of true passion.  This is not supposed to be easy, if you want easy go get a prom queen and a tenderloin.  The flour does two things for us at this stage of the game.  One is that it dried the outside of the meat which promotes browning.  It also is taking on color of it's own which contributes flavor later on down the road.  And will also help thicken the resulting Braising Liquid that we are going to use for our sauce.
So the shanks are lined up like soldiers.  We always want to be organized and maximize our space with these adventures.  Uniformly brown.  The next step is Mire Poix.  Mire Poix is generally accepted to be 2 parts onion, 1 part celery, 1 part carrot.  We routinely augment this with other items to accent flavors.  For me almost uniformly there is garlic added, in the case of the pork we will add a few diced apples.  The size of the cut is determined by how long we are planning on cooking and if we are also planning on serving the mire poix as part of the dish.  If the cooking time is long then the mire poix is cut lager.  If it will not be used then a rough dice is fine.  If you are planning on using the vegetables. (think stew or pot roast) then you need to put some thought, skill and effort into cutting it to be attractive.

We will or I will always start with the carrots.  Why you might ask?  well the carrots and the onions both have lots of natural sugars.  The onions are easy to brown the take to it naturally.  The carrots are a tougher nut to crack.  So we give them a head start.
This is what I am looking for out of my browned carrot.  This is going to contribute to both the color and the flavor of the dish.  Now of course the carrot on it's own will do wonders, but sometimes gilding the Lilly is just what the dish needs.  So we brown our carrots add the rest of the veg and brown it as well.  There should be strong heat and a decent amount of fat in the pan.  Not crazy fat mind you but you hve to keep in mind that the fat is the vehicle by which we transfer the heat energy from the pan the the product.  It is the conductor.  

Next up is the tomato paste.  Not so much that we have a pan of paste with a vegetable garnish, but rather a pan of vegetables with a coating of tomato paste.  The paste needs to be browned.  Don't lose focus at this point or get lazy.  the paste will naturally stick to the bottom of the pan.  That is OK with me.  I will set one side of the pan on the heat, one side off. then when the tomato is all crusty and brown on the bottom of the pan I spin it around and let the other side get to work while the natural moisture in the pan pulls up the stuck on, browned up bits, which I then stir about to distribute.  When My tomato is more brown then red it is time to move on the the next step.  

In this case We added equal measure of Apple Cider and Chicken Stock.  We might add some wine as well.  (If we are cooking beef it is always red wine.  with chicken and pork I use white.  If you are using red wine I suggest adding a bit and then letting it reduce and caramelize over and over as opposed to adding all at once). You can also seen a rosemary stem floating about in that pan down there.  I always at herbs, frequently the stems.  Parsley always, in this case rosemary, Thyme usually and bay leaf seems to find it's way into the pot as well.

Bring the liquid up to a boil and pour over the meat to be braised. The liquid should come about 3/4s up the side of the meat.  Pop it into a low oven.  We are cooking in a large convection oven with the fan on low @275.  As the meat is cooking it forms a bit of a crust on the top.  Every half hour or so you should rotate the individual little shanks or ribs.  If you are working with really large pieces this may not be feasible or safe so can be omitted.  The idea is that the crusty bit is extra flavor that you are then adding into your sauce.

  This is a finished pan of Pork Shanks.  At this point remove the meat strain the liquid a few times and reduce.  We are adding fresh cider and a bit of maple to the reduction.

Served with Sweet Potato Hash and Braised Collard Greens This is really a wonderful dish.

Thank you Columbus.  Will write again soon.  Christian

Monday, August 22, 2011

What happened on my day off

I met Jeff from Messer and the guy who was cutting the new trench drain into the concrete out back at 6:30 this morning.  That of course means that I was at the restaurant at 6:00 to make sure all was in line for the work they needed to do.  When we first came into the restaurant there was nowhere to put a walk-in. We could have given up almost half of the kitchen space or somehow done with all reach-ins.  With the amount of business we are now doing, if we had made either of those decisions we would have been screwed. 

So we built the walk-in outside.  That really cool looking white wall with the huge logo on it....yeah the whole reason it is there is to cover the walk-in and the trash (which is a whole other topic).  The ground naturally slopes towards the back of the space and so there was a whole plan with engineers and architects to deal with the slope and the water and the American's With Disabilities Act .  There is also a lake in the walk-in when it rains.  I remember one day splashing about in there first thing in the morning, we had worked really late the night before and it had rained over night. As I tried to deal with cooks getting food to start their day, drivers bringing deliveries and plopping them into Lake Walk-in I discovered I had a hole in my shoe.   Standing in a puddle trying to squeegee water up hill as it squished about my toes was, if I remember rightly, enough to cause me to question my involvement in the whole industry.     

So Messer tried a few things that had marginal or no success and today came through with the trench drain.  It runs the length of the walk-in and we are hoping it will catch all of the water as it runs down hill heading for the walk-in door. 

I am not the best person first thing in the morning.  6:00 am is early for a man who works mostly at night.  I came in, got coffee started and headed out back to move the 14 residential dumpsters where we put our trash, the two Pepsi sales display things that live out back for unknown reasons and the gigantic linen dumpster that was still really full from the weekend. 

Luckily Rumpke beat me to the restaurant so the trash was gone.  The pepsi things had wheels and were empty.  The linen dumpster was full to the top and weighed a ton.  As I moved it a few bags fell off the top, smacking into the wall and landing in a pile of bags of dirty laundry.  I had a moment, see it was also my day off, did I mention that? Yes I was in the restaurant at 6:00 am on my day off. So I had a moment, I decided screw it, those bags are heavy and they can move them out of the way when they go to cut the concrete.

Upon walking back into the restaurant to retrieve my coffee, keys and find my way back to the car, I heard a weird beeping sound coming from the office.  It was not the kind of thing you could just walk away from.  It was one of those beeps that says something is truly messed up in here and you had better investigate. The beep was high pitched and intermittent.  So with each set of beeps I got closer to figuring out where it was coming from.  Not the alarm, not the phone or someone's pager or PDA.  It turned out to be coming from the battery backup for the Aloha computer. The lights were out in the office, the phones were down there was no internet and the computers were all dead.

My first reaction was "blown circuit" .  After looking through all the circuits, and we have a few, I was stumped.  There were no obviously blown circuits.  It was a touch dark since the lights in the office were not working either so I was using the "flashlight" on my phone to look at circuit breakers..  Luckily the coffee machine was working so I got another cup and sent KJ a text that there was something wrong with aloha and good luck but this was not my problem.  So with coffee in hand I continued to poke about looking for blown circuits (this turned into a pseudo key search with me looking at the same circuits over and over.  Admittedly the blown circuit is the extant of my electrical know how)  Things were getting warm in the kitchen so I decided to flip on the hoods to get some air moving (the hoods hang over the hot line and suck out thousands of cubic feet of air) and oh s%*t, the hoods are not working.  This is most certainly my problem.  More frantic key style looking at not blown circuits. 

By this time Jeff from Messer had arrived so I shared my crisis with him.  He investigated the building next door where apparently all electricity originates and came up with no more solutions then I had.  Things had gotten serious.  With no hoods and no computers the restaurant was not opening.  It was time to bring Doug into this.  I sent him a text and waited for the call.  Pretty quick a sleepy grumpy Doug was on the phone.

We came up with a quick plan.  He called the General Contractor, I called the electricians.  Pretty quick we had folks jumping to come fix the problem.  I was worried that we would not be able to open for lunch.  Doug was on his way in.  It is also his day off and he has not had many.  Running two restaurants has meant that old Doug has been in one or the other pretty much every day since we opened.  It made me think of Pulp Fiction when Samuel Jackson asks his boss to say "you ain't got no problem chill them out and wait for the Calvary which should be coming Directly ".  Well Doug was right there.  I had the crisis and he was on his way.

So a bit more coffee (yes I realize that is the third cup in one story but i drink a lot of coffee and it was 7:00am by this point).  I went out to watch the concrete get cut and talk to Jeff.  We were puzzling over the electrical problem when I saw an electrical box on the wall of the restaurant.    The big red switch was in the OFF position.  HELL I HAD NEVER EVEN SEEN THAT DAMN BOX WHO WOULD SWITCH IT OFF, THOSE BASTARDS,  THEY WOULD HAVE HAD TO GO BEHIND THE BIG LAUNDRY DUMPSTER IN ORDER TO FLIP THAT SWITCH, unless of course when someone was moving the big laundry dumpster and a giant bag of dirty laundry rolled off.....if that string holding the bag closed had hooked onto that switch, if that happened as someone, well I moved that damn thing then, well I would be responsible for this whole thing.

The electrician was coming in on an emergency call, the General Contractor got an early morning wake-up and  Doug was riding in from Pickerington on his white horse.  A bag of dirty laundry.  I made the calls, Doug was only a block away. The electrician was called off, an apologetic text to the GC Greg Callaghan. 

The hoods came on, the computer restarted, I got a pile of grief from my boss for bringing him in from the burbs and I found my keys, got some coffee and headed out to start my day off.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I learned to make Gnocchi from Leather Storrs while we were working at the Bijou in Portland, Oregon.  I also learned how to say Willamette and to appreciate the great Pinots that grow there.  Leather had done a stint at the French Laundry and was one of the best cooks I met at culinary school.  I am not sure where he learned to make the gnocchi.  The method I learned from him was pretty close to what was in Thomas Keller's The French Laundry cookbook but Leather was also a pretty creative guy and may have come up with this method on his own. 

As with most things, I have over the intervening years tweeked this a bit.  Making gnocchi is something I love to teach Sous Chefs and cooks.  Adam Jones and Chris Chandler both learned this method at Halyards in Georgia, and I hope they are passing it along to the folks who work with them now.  After I left Halyards I saw that Adam had gnocchi on the menu in a style that was close to what we had done when I was Chef.  It was gratifying to know that he had thought enough of those dishes to expand on them and add his own style.  He never met Leather as far as I know, but has benefited from that original lesson all the same. Cooking is like that.  I once did a stage at the Cherokee Town and Country Club in ATL.  I still do a Chicken Terrine that I saw there on that one night.  It was one of the coolest things ever and I will pull it out now and again.

So a gnocchi is  a potato dumpling.  It sounds, and is I imagine Italian.  One thing to keep in mind is that potatoes did not grow in Europe before the 16th Century. Like so many things that are ingrained in our Culinary vocabulary the potato is native to the Americas.  To the Andes to be more specific.  Anyway, leave it to the Europeans to find a really cool application for produce they stole from people they violently conquered. 

The best gnocchi are pillow light and yet still dense enought that you can handle them.In our method the potato is baked not boiled. What we do is stab some holes into the potato with a sharp knife, rub it with olive oil, coat liberally with salt, Kosher that is.  We will then bake or roast (in reality for most things in the kitchen we say roast.  Generally speaking I would say that we "Bake" pastry, and "Roast" things that are savory.  There is however little difference between the two) the potatoes on a bed of kosher salt.  The holes, the salt and the dry cooking method are all designed to draw moisture out of the potato.  Less moisture equals less flour, less flour equals lighter gnnochi.

The next step is to rub the potato through a tamis. What is a tamis- well imagine that you have a round metal or bamboo frame with a window screen tight across one side and there you have it.  I prefer to use a tamis for this.  You develop less gluten in the potato and end up with a very fine grain of potato and no lumps. 

So after you have rubbed your potatoes through the tamis, which you should do when they are hot right out of the oven by the way, you give them a brief chop with a big knife to sort of spread them about on your cutting board or if you are lucky your really think wooden work table.  In this next part I am again outside the norm on this adventure.  I am going to season and garnish (think truffle or herbs or cheese) at this point and then ever so lightly dust the surface of the potato with flour.  How much flour you ask- my pat, trite answer to this is always "enough but not to much".  Do this twenty times and you will no longer ask the question.  One piece of advice would be that you can add more flour but it is really hard to get it out of the potatoes. 

I will often use a dough scraper for this since it is actually the perfect tool for the job.  What you want to do is cut the flour into the potato.  After you have cut in the flour we are going to add a small amount of egg yolks.  when I was making these I used ten potatoes, maybe 2 to 3 cups of flour and 4 oz of yolks.  It made 150 gnocchi. 

Use the dough scraper to again "cut" the yolks into the potato and then use it to gather the potato into a shaggy pile.  Take a moment to clean the are up a bit. Wash your hands and dry them well, I would also then dust your hands in flour so they are nice and dry.  Sprinkle the potato with flour and ever so gently begin to knead the dough.  It is not bread so you don't need to go at it with all your pent up gusto.  We are gently bringing everything together.  And No you cannot use a mixer for this, don't be so lazy you need to develop these skills.

So once you have a nice delicate little ball you will need again to clean up a bit, go wash all the floury potatoey mess off your hands. Before you make the gnocchi go set up your pan for cooking.  you can see what I did above was to line the little beauties up in a perforated hotel pan (I think this may be one of the part where I deviated from what I learned from Leather.  This is however one of my favorite parts.  Take into account that I am making hundreds of these little dumplings) I also put a hotel pan full of water on the fire as we say before I make the gnocchi so that when I am done I can cook them off, multi-tasking. 

To make the gnocchi I cut off some dough roll it in a log, by lightly pressing the dough against the board with the palms of my hands (this is for sure a departure from Leather's way.  He would put the dough in a piping bag and squeeze out perfectly round logs.  I stopped doing that over a lack of a piping bag, a desire to have one less thing to clean up and because it is really impressive when you can roll out a perfectly shaped log with your hands) .  Then I cut the little suckers to size and give them a little pinch (I saw this I think in the first Charlie Trotter Cookbook or it could have been the green one).  No I don't think you need to press them on a for, which was done to capture the sauce.  I think the fork thing looks cool but by the time you blanch and saute the grooves are shot and it makes the whole process take twice as long so I dropped it. 

Any way then I drop the pan into boiling water, turn the heat down a bit and wait for them to float (sometimes they stick and need a bit of encouragement to float, when that happens I use a spatuala).  I drain them and pop them into the walkin to cool down.

So why were we making gnocchi?  Well we are starting to put together ideas for fall menu and so that brings braises to mind and then of course Short Ribs come next and then gnocchi seems only natural. So I put some scribbles on paper, called Jerry Miller and Ordered some Beef and put the machine in motion. 

The beef is braised, the sauce has been strained a few times through a chinoise, the mushrooms are roasted the asparagus blanched and it is only a matter of bringing the thing together. 

Thanks Columbus, Christian

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Belly, Belly, Belly

Belly, Belly, Belly

I was walking throughout the dining room last weekend and saw a nice looking African American couple sitting at one of the high tops in the bar (I only mention race as it comes up in the story later). As I talked with them the woman mentioned that she had been considering the pork belly but was not sure. I gave her a description and she mentioned that belly had been long used in the African American community (see I told you it would come up). I knew that this was the case and talked a bit with her about the way in which belly had been used in her family as opposed to how we were using it.

She had always seen it as a flavoring or fat adding component, think greens or beans. We are using the belly more as a stand alone main component in an appetizer. I offered to bring them one on the house and they were game. After it went out I checked back and they had really enjoyed it and were pretty happy. (I would like to throw in that their server, who shall remain nameless had actually dissuaded them from getting the belly. He is not a fan of the texture. As I was having coffee at Cup 'o Joe in German Village The unnamed server accosted me in an ernest attempt to "clear the air" . He was concerned that some how I had known he was dissuading folks from ordering the belly. Of course I had no idea of this until he told me. This reminds me of two lessons. First always follow your own interests when ordering and do not let someone else's bias move you off that. Servers can be great guides through the restaurant, but they arrive at the table with goals and biases. Also sometimes it is better not to clear the air as you may be the only one walking around with a cloudy view.)

So Pineapple Glazed Pork Belly with Pineapple Gastrique and Red Pepper Syrup is not something that we sell all that much of. On Saturday Eugenio told me he had six orders and asked if I would cut him a few more. I replied in all my wisdom, that we would not sell more then that. He was unconvinced and offered to bet that we would be selling more and did I want to put Ten Bucks on it. Now it was his first night on the station and I expedite more than anyone else in the place. So I see every plate go by and I am positive that there is no way we are going to sell that many Bellies. Oh Chef hubris is thy name. So we shake on it and and by 9:00 we have sold the 6 we had and there is debate as to if the bet was that we would sell 6 or 7. My feeling was that I am not really OUT until I need to cut more. The debate was immaterial since we sold 11 that night.

On Sunday I paid my debt. Happily. When i was a young Line cook at the Montgomery Inn at The Boathouse my Sous Chef, who was named Hollywood and I bet a hat on the Ohio State-Michigan Game. Well the Bucks pulled it out but Hollywood never paid up. I have never forgotten that. When you are the boss it is vital that the line be able to trust your word.

So anyway this whole thing is an intro to how we make belly at Milestone.

This is Polo. He does most of the Prep in the morning at Milestone. He is a great man very dependable and he makes really good tasting food. Polo came over from CBC. He has been with CBC for eight years I think. That is the kind of longevity you rarely see in our industry. I am ashamed to even think of the number of kitchens I have worked in over the past eight years. When I was his age, I was changing every year.

Anyway, when Polo comes in he seasons the bellies and sets them aside for an hour or two depending on what he has going into the oven.

Pork Bellies come into us from the Folks at Michael's Finer Meats and Seafood. Jerry Miller to be exact.

Think of this as fresh bacon if you will. To turn this into bacon you brine or dry rub the bacon. I prefer a dry rub. Then you smoke it. We are not per se "curing" the bellies, but rather just seasoning them. Bacon like many great things was, I imagine originally developed as a preservation method. Then we, as humans are want to do, made it taste good and kept tinkering with it until today.

We rub the Bellies simply with kosher salt and brown sugar. This whole thing is I should say, what I call a "Modified Momofuku" method. If you want to read a really good, simple discussion of how to prep belly along with a great restaurant story, get The Momofuku Cookbook by David Chang. So after we season it and let it sit at least an hour, and don't tell the folks from the health department but i really want to leave this out at room temp while it is seasoning, we are ready to get cooking.

So at this point I think lots of folks would rinse off or at least brush off the bellies and discard the liquid that has accumulated. I know Mr. Chang wants me too. I am tossing them in the oven.

Those are my sweet ass Blodgett convection ovens that we cook almost everything in. Some folks get excited about Sous Vide or emersion circulators (yes I am looking at you Chef Aaron) but we are really happy to have been granted the great fortune to have received these two ovens in the build-out.

The bellies cook at 220 for about five hours. When they come out they are tender to the touch, the pan is filled with fat and Pork Love Juice.

What is Pork Love Juice? Well I am glad you asked. See that bowl of jello down there.

Well this along with the fat are byproducts of cooking Bellies. You will also get both these things from roasting shoulders. The flavor is intensely sweet, salty and porky. In and of itself, I am not sure you will want to eat it. I am happy to taste the Pork Love but we really use it as a magical additive to soups, sauces and all things porky. When we pull the pork for the Three Little Pigs this juice along with a bit of fat and some Wickers (just to keep Dougy happy) goes into the shredded pork before it is portioned for the sandwiches.

After the roasting the pork is pressed and cooled. The pressing is important because the fat wants to expand when you are roasting and it comes across better when it is tight and compact. We cut it into cubes, trying to use the meatiest parts for the app and saving the fattiest parts for the sandwich.

The pineapple is expressed as both the gastrique (very simply a reduction of vinegar, but here is complicated into a reduction of pineapple juice, rice wine vinegar and a touch of honey), and also as a chutney (pineapple, garlic, onion, ginger, red and jalapeƱo peppers, rice wine vin and cilantro). The RPS is there for a bright splash of color and that is it all in all pretty darn simple.

Thank you Columbus. Love, Christian

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Days Off, Fountain Photos, Temper Temper

Randomly the other day Doug told us the story of his visit to the Hoover Dam. It seems that there were two camps. One camp with folks who were working on the dam, and one camp with folks waiting for the folks to give up on working on the dam. The folks who were working on the Dam for the most part were carrying rocks from here to there. Apparently they only had three days off a year. I am hoping he was not sharing this with the expectation that I was going to volunteer for that schedule. Well any way, after working since the Fourth of July averaging about 15 hours a day, today I went in, did my ordering and ran for the hills. It is a good feeling time off. One of the great advantages that has been handed down by our forefathers is the 40 hour work week. I think France has gone to far and many countries have not done enough, but 40 hours seems right for how much a person should devote to earning their pay. Someday I hope to be able to join the ranks of the 40 hour week. But today I am a happy man with a few hours to rest and recuperate.

Well this is sorta what you see outside our door. Kids running around in the fountain. Everyone having a blast. I was talking with one of our servers yesterday who said it was rejuvenating just to watch.
I have seen a couple shockers including a completely naked child. Not really appropriate. This may as I stated earlier feel a lot like an extension of your backyard sprinkler. It however is not actually your backyard so you need to keep your pants on. There are changing rooms provided so lets make sure we are using them.

This has been a difficult and trying time for me. There have been a few times where I lost sight of one of our tenements, "that work should be fun". The human mind can only push so far until it pushes back, so I would like to extend my most heart felt apologies to my staff and the staff of the dinning room for those moments when my stress spilled out all over the floor, scooped itself up into a mind numbing rage and chased you from the kitchen with your third wrongly plated Chicken dish. You know who you are. Temper Temper Chef.

A little Bacon Wrapped Wild Gulf Shrimp with Slaw and BBQ to send you on your way.
Much Love Columbus Thanks for the support. Christian