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