Archive for the ‘Food Creations’ Category

NACE with grace

June 17, 2009

In a field of entertainers we do so love to show off for one another. You’d think that after spending most of our cognicent waking hours toiling away for the parties of others we’d all just sit down in a bar and chat, complain, and trade war stories over cocktails and snacks. But if the National Association of Catering Executives has anything to say about it, we party on in the style of and some times better than, our clientele.

Case and point yesterday, at our very own Suite One Hundred (SOH for short), where the movers and shakers of the Tacoma Guild made their monthly meeting in the CTA building. Sadly, we drew the “Healthy” meeting package, an expose of how small changes in the diet can have tremendous results. This is some what regrettable as our general feel is something more upper class and extravagant. Our events are those times where you’re cheating this week because it’s so and so’s birthday, or wedding, or just cause it looks delicious. So we settle for a menu that nods at something healthy, but by and large it was our tag line: “A grand affaire, at a great value.” And being on the inside doing a good chunk of the purchasing I definitely think our group got it’s monies worth.

We had a stationary appetizer buffet which held a new version of the Gorgonzola Rose Petal, and a new item, Saltim Bocca bites. Monica had built a Plexiglas and clear block tower which hosted our new four compartment trays. Which I really want to use for a seated appetizer menu or wine tasting. A little something different in each one, with sauce and garnish. On the other hand, as my buddy Nick pointed out. Left to my own devices I have a nasty tendency to choose projects and ideas that are very labor intensive and annoying to the back of the house. Food items that I would be staunchly against if one of the ladies suggested them. Apparently I’m a glutton for punishment so long as I’m the one serving it, but I’ve gotten off track.

The Gorgonzola Rose Petals were very pretty, though the petals themselves were a bit large for our purposes. The Red Onion Relish with Pecan and Gorgonzola mousse had a pop of flavor but became flimsy if you had to take more than one bite. And if you have any sort of manners at all, you would for petals that size. I am happy to report after tinkering with the recipe I’ve finally learned how to candy nuts like Nick does. Before they always came out over done or bound together like peanut brittle. This only comes to mind because we’ve topped the dish with a candied pecan.

(Now before I start to get crap about not knowing how to candy nuts, ask yourself this: how bloody often does a standard dinner or catering chef need to candy nuts? Yes they covered it in school but I sucked at it then and to be honest I didn’t take full advantage of my two week pastry rotation. Down with Pasties, long live Foodies!)

Though with a throw back to last weeks post about food that induces a chef’s visual foodgasim response this would be it. If I had my way I’d serve that in a booth at Cater Source next year come winter. It looked THAT good. The Saltim Bocca bites were a bit of let down. To be honest, I left it to the end, and as I had to get the fish fresh off the truck (moar on that later) I was running out of time and told Nick to just deal with it. Something I’ve been burned on in the past, but to be fair, I can’t exactly expect perfect results when I don’t make it clear what those results should be.

Another odd habit of mine, when ever we put on an event for general populace consumption instead of say for a specific client’s family or organization we always choose things that are untested or worse experimental. I’m only now realizing the problem with this, as menus that have been unbroken and run wild are wont to throw you for unexpected loops. Case and point the Saltim Boccas. For starters, they were too dense. The mixture of egg and panko that made the for lack of a better term “meat ball” wasn’t in proper proportion to the chopped raw chicken. This also cut down on the chicken flavor that was really necessary to pull the dish off. I’ll definitely up the ration to 4 to 1 and mix some fresher cheeses like Gouda, brie, or even mozzarella to balance the dry sharpness of the parm.

But what the bites lacked in flavor they made up for in style. They had the shape of what would happen if you mixed a corn dog bit with a bacon wrapped scallop. The prosciutto wrap shrunk down in the fryer and hugged the meat ball tightly, whilst the fresh sage leaf between the two poked out from the sides still green and flavorful. They came out a little dark, but reducing the size and par frying them before finishing them in the oven will really perfect this dish.

The passed appetizer was a Green Gazpacho with Crab shooter. I was most leery of this dish because I had only made gazpacho once, eaten it thrice, and liked none of them. The mixture of raw ingredients just didn’t call out to me and while a tomato is a great food, I can find better applications for it elsewhere. But this green variety, partially altered for catering uses from the Herb farm book was perfect to round out the appetizer trio. It was cool, refreshing, had a good chomp too it with out being overly rich like the other two. And best of all, easy to serve and bright green. Call me juvenile but I’ve always had an appreciation for bright colors in my food.

The salad course was a new twist on an old favorite. I’ve been making Caprese salads for years, and they never piqued my interest one bit. To me a salad composed of three items is a sign insufficient ingredient, not avant garde cookery. And to be fair, this one had five, but the five impressed even Moe, our resident sales manager and avid salad consumer. The base was a series of heirloom tomato slices; I tried to make it so every one got a piece of each type. (Heirlooms being strange in that they come in different shapes, colors and sizes despite the singular name.) The rich purple almost brown mixed with the summery yellow. Paired with the smooth almost beef steak slices to rival the wavy odd ball ones that came from some long lost aberration of evolution. To which a faint sprinkling of CAPS (Colin’s All Purpose Seasoning, yes we have a bucket of it in the kitchen labeled as such and no you can’t have the recipe.) Followed by extra virgin olive oil, the pure and expensive stuff. Not that watered down pomace crap. The real deal. Cap that with a couple of breaded and pan fried goat cheese slices for flavor, texture, and FAT. To which we finish the dish with some chiffonade basil and balsamic reduction. (The tangy sweet sauce that the staff lovingly refer to as motor oil.)

Served with this was a house made Pesto Spiral Loaf with Smoked Shallot Butter. Sadly, the dish just didn’t come out how I wanted. If I were to do it again I would make a thinner pesto, almost a paste and wring all the moisture out of it. That way there’s less weight when the bread goes through its second rise. As it was, the final product was some what flat and the rings of bright green pesto not as prevalent as one would hope. By it’s self it was average at best. But slather on some of that “I will take the recipe with me to the grave” shallot butter and the dish came alive. I guess there is just no separating bread and butter.

The main course, served in the largest bowl I’ve ever seen on a plated meal, came the thyme infused cous cous with Romesco Halibut. It could be my upbringing, or my training, or perhaps my job experience but I’ve never really had a lot of call or use for cous cous. It’s certainly a cheap pasta, easy to cook and maintain. And it’s striking me more and more as an invaluable staple for the aspiring chef. (Not that I qualify, but all the same.) This held flavor and heat well with out getting tacky like rice or over cooked orzo. The halibut was perfect, could not complain in any way. And coming from the eternal pessimist that’s saying something. I literally watched them butcher the fish and back the sides in ice that morning when I picked it up from Northern Fish off of 56th. If you’re a lover of anything that swims or crawls in the sea stop on by and check out their retail outlet there or down on Ruston Way. They do fast, inexpensive and best of all, high quality work. Followed by a traditional Romesco style sauce, it was the perfect accompaniment to the fish and the cous cous. Mike from the Landmark was so impressed he poked his head in the kitchen and thanked me personally. And considering the size and volume they do DAILY over there, that’s a compliment.

This was all well and good so far, folks had enjoyed the informative speaker and were enjoying their second round of drinks when Monica and Monique made their way to the front and had a small stage show to explain the dessert. They had chosen a flambé, bravely enough, because if I had to stand in front of my peers wearing clothing that isn’t strictly flame retardant like my coat you’d have to herd me toward the stage with a whip in one hand an my paycheck in the other. Could be my paranoia, but the concept of lighting things on fire in a place not designed for it harbors all kinds of problems but the ladies went on ahead undaunted so far be it from me to hinder them. I went through it with them once and was fine, dusting off that old knowledge imparted into my by Professor Mac Cabe from SSCC (Now retired and living in France with his boyfriend I believe) as he was the front of the house instructor. I was surprised, I didn’t even light the airy lace overlay the table was decked out with on fire. Then Monique gave it a shot, a little clunky but not bad for some one who doesn’t sling pans for a living. The main stage show was only interrupted when it became evident that when Monica came back for the dishes base I didn’t give her the finishing sauce so they had to call back to the kitchen for it.

The dish it’s self, was triple berry stuffed crepes with Chambord sauce, white chocolate drizzle, and chocolate covered strawberry for garnish. They, like much of the meal, were a hit and the staff in particular was quite voracious when it came to devouring them. In the beginning I was worried the crepes wouldn’t hold up long enough in the oven with the macerated berries inside as they were purging their juices long before they made it to the plate but the crepes were of excellent quality and soaked it all up after the initial purge. The only thing I would have done differently is display it on a larger plate, but that had precious little to do with the food quality it’s self and after seeing how much stuff was on the table they needed all the space they could get.

So all in all, a job well done. Many thanks were given and I’d like to think I accepted them all graciously. I look forward to next year when we don’t just have health to worry about. Now give me something like cheese to work with and I can pull all kinds of tricks that would impress even the most jaded member of my industries heart.

Kitchen’s Closed.



A night at the theater. . .

May 14, 2009

Mother always said I would have really shined on the stage.

I’m not sure I agree with her on that one but certain degree of acting is required in this job and I will be the first to admit that I am not always willing ready and able for that task. Case and point the Sunday before last at the Broadway Center in my beloved down town T-Town. It had been an uncharacteristicly long week. With 6 events in three days I was running on a mixture of spite and honor by the time the Lord’s Day rolled around. HE may have gotten to rest on that seventh day but as my contemporaries will tell you, few caterers ever do.

The even was a fundraise for local schools and getting the Arts BACK into the classroom. Something myself, and my girlfriend have felt was direly needed when WE went to school and it’s apparently only gotten worse. So when this idea was pitched to me a month or two ago I had no problem doing a freebie. Which I generally abhor, I mean, if my food was good enough to sell why am I giving it away? And between three different owners and four different jobs it was methodically beaten into my skull that a bit of “Pay it Forward” and it’ll come back to you is required in small ponds like Tacoma and even works out in larger lakes like Seattle.

What I failed to take notice was that so many other things were coming to a head that weekend and I would be paying for my humanitarianism in spades this time. I have hence learned to ALWAYS consult the ordersheets and callendar before committing to anything. If you asked me if I regretted it now I would still say no. My home recipe for Herb Roasted Cocktail Shrimp Shooters cleaned up. So popular were they, I had one left afte what I saved for my fellow presenters in the appetizer portion of the evening. The Roasted Red Pepper Bisque with Gorgonzolla Drizzle were mildly popular, but it was much warmer than I anticipated, though the older crowd raved about it.

Maxwell’s Speakeasy and Lounge was in attendance, I recall eatting there when they first opened a while back and it was the BEST porkchop I had ever eatten. I often come across food far superior to my own but they even beat my old meat loving training Chef Hawley from SSCC and that’s saying something. Not to mention porkchops are so commonly used and abused by chefs either ignorant in their preperation or worse, use the item as filler. So I was surprizing disappointed that they their jalepeno shrimp curl was overly strong and chewy. The chicken wrap they paired it with was also a bit chewy, but they complimented one another. I would probably be less critically if their fat assistant chef hadn’t been running his mouth about how much decor we had. Espeically when they had nothing but a chalkboard and a flat table.

Brix 25, a small restraunt out in Gig Harbor, that until this event I had never heard of. Brought some decent competiton, with their napa roll and a lettuce roll. Moe didn’t care for the lettuce roll but I thought it’s semi-crisp texture paired with a creamy center was a nice addition to their spring roll. Albeit, Monica would never let me serve something as colorless as that, but if the flavor is there that’s an easy fix. And further kudos to them for slicing them on site. That’s no easy task espeically packed in with four other chefs in a 6 square foot area and 200 hungry socialites chomping at the bit for more. Their presentation was also very nice, and their chef quite cordial.

My only real complaint for that evening was the rentals.  I ordered shot glasses and small demitase cups, I had ordered these before, and expected shot glasses and small demitase cups. Granted, these were a donation and not paid for on our part but even then, the equipment I received was more than substandard. Their idea of a shot glass, resembled a clear glass votive that one puts a 6 hour candle into that you’d find in cheap bars. The demitase cup, turned out to be an undersized coffee cup instead of a petite bit of china.

As a Chef I have certain limitations once I get “On-Site”. Things can only bend so far before quality or quantity are compromised. This is doubly so when it’s done in front of the guest in a live action station. So after starting off the day at my wits end and coming across this bit of news I will be the first to admit that I lost it. I was a right certifiable ogre that afternoon and worst of all it showed. Not to the clients that found me both quote, “Enguaging.” and “Very professional.” but to my peers. Apprently I snubbed both my Boss and the event coordinator with some sort of curt answer about how my day was going. I can only apologize to all the parties involved and take it as a learning experience.

Kitchen’s closed.


Re-leaf Re-visted.

April 28, 2009

Very rarely do I have the chance to look at the events I go to through another’s eyes. With out a doubt I pay attention to what’s going on around me as well as take stock of what other’s there have to say. Which is why the concept of an open house where we have almost complete control of the event from start to finish really grabs me.

Dani does some awesome photography and here’s some of my work seen through her shutters.

Good photo work makes a world of difference eh?


Spring Open House 2009- Re-leaf

April 21, 2009

With out a doubt, these open houses are my greatest source of pride and joy, as well as pain and suffering. On the one hand you have  decadent food, often chosen exclusively by me and my peers, new and exciting ideas crafted from the raw product for the first time ever! And then you have the fact that it’s all free to those invited and it comes directly out of the company’s food cost. A bit of a downer but with any luck we’ll be charging for these things in the future. Kinda like an advertising restaurant, hell, I’d be happy to break even at cost and not make a dime if I got to write the menus all the time.

Like all open houses there’s usually a skeleton crew as we never make any money on staff, despite what we charge, so it’s always stressful to prepare and present. Granted, the day usually ends with all the folks who worked the event, their significant others, and anyone lucky enough to know the boss to drink themselves silly and party like a rock star now that the event is over. I abstained this time mind you as the van still had to go back to Tacoma to be unloaded but even if not, getting up at 8 to put the event out the door at 2 just takes more out of me than it used to. And while my contemporaries would scoff at the fact that I lament my lack of resilience, they being much older, it doesn’t change the fact that I can’t drink any day of the week and come in fresh as a rose like I used to. Alas, time marches on as it does for all of us.

But enough whining, on to the food! (With apologies to all photographers and photography buffs, my skill and equipment are lacking.)
First up, my Green Goddess Canape
Rating: 5.5/10
This one wasn’t the win I was looking for. The original recipe was actually a chicken filling I adapted to a canape form because I had a lot left over. How ever, what I didn’t take into account was when you sub out fresh garlic and onion for powdered like I had in the recipe and leave off some of the panko for a more readily pipable product the garlic flavor gets WAY too strong. Even Moe our sales manager whom loves garlic to death was even thrown aback by it. How ever the color and texture were spot on so the next time I make it the dish should be perfectly palatable. The dish it’s self is presented in a phyllo dough cup and garnished with a cherry tomato quarter for color and just a splash of something fresh to compliment the spinach in the smoked gouda mixture.

Next, Mini-Cupcakes from Sugar Rush

Rating: 8.9/10
I will be the first to admit my skills are a baker are average at best and sub par most of the time, thankfully, there are those out there that have made it their passion and it shows in the delectable nibbles they craft for parties such as our party in the Chinese Room of the Smith Tower. Monica and Moe had raved about them all week prior to the event and now having finally sampled their work I can see why they’re such staunch supporters of these sugary confections. I’ve had good cupcakes and bad cupcakes, and these were the BEST I’ve ever eaten. I don’t normally endorse pastry students, out of culinary school rivalry, but I will always recommend them in the future. The chocolate mint was very moist and flavorful, not always easy as chocolate flavorings can dry out a cake. The lemon was nice, though lacking a little in the flavor department. But again, very moist and the frosting on both was complimentary not the main attraction. I can’t stand coconut or coffee so the other two remained untested but based on the fact there were none left at the end I can only assume they were a hit and with the discerning Seattle palate that’s a compliment in and of it’s self.

More bakery follows with Rolls from Baker Boys!

Rating: 7.5/10
I know what you’re thinking. “But Chef, how do you screw up a roll?!” Well I’ve seen it done and it’s an ugly sight. Either the bottoms are over cooked, the dough isn’t proofed enough and you’ve got a bread rock. Sometimes they put nuts or olives in so large it’s interupts the texture or tries to mask the flavor of substandard dough. Not with Baker Boys! Their light fluffy rolls are a welcome addition to any meal, and for what they charge easy on the wallet as well. As a testament to their staying power I had my first Bocca roll from them in 1998 and I haven’t changed since. In addition to the fluffy dinner style roll they have more rustic additions as well as a wide varriety of other items they can order from pastry companies for your consumption. Featured here are brioche, french, bocca, wheat, and some kalimata olive rolls I threw in for a change of pace.

And here we have Sole Amore in Passionfruit Burre Blanc

Rating: 7.3/10
Now this one surprised me, despite my PNW heritage and living situation I have never been a big fish eater. Something about the nightmarish dishes my old man would cook up put me off it for decades. But more recently, especially in the sushi department I’ve become more open minded and adventurous. Case and point, sole. It’s often over looked because like chicken it doesn’t have a huge whopping flavor like hailbut or salmon. It doesn’t have the texture of calimari or swordfish. It’s not even pretty like ahi or torro. Which makes it perfect for my flowers idea. You take a plain piece a fish and with a little marinade, some butter mixed with panko, and a flavorful sauce you have cute little preportioned tulips perfect for a seated meal or buffet. The trick to this one was to grind up mandarin oranges for the filling. The extra sugar makes for those browned tips giving it a more three dimensional shape. It was by far the most popular item by both staff and guests polled.

Another appetizer follows with the Award Winning Veggie Cakes
Rating: 6/10
Easily one of our more popular appetizers. With the clients because of the taste and texture, with me because they cost almost nothing to make. This is a varriation on a predicessor’s,I put flour and more onion in mine. Mostly because I don’t feel you should call something a cake unless it has bloody flour in it! Granted, panko is bread crumbs which is made from rice flour but it’s not the same. Besides, there’s a lot moisture that gets purged when you grate and shred the veggies and that extra bit of starch geletanizes it trapping in flavor and moisture. This fine dish, while not my favorite, is topped with a spicy sweet thai onion relish. Personally, I think the dish is missing something. Perhaps an herb cream on top instead of spiciness, as there’s already a bit of kick in the cakes themselves. Ah well, a work in progress.

Well, that’s about it. The only other thing I really wanted to report on was the Chicken Punjab I gave a shot at for the first time. Personally, I think they’d do better as a beef meatball alternative being mostly protein and panko, but it works as a skewer as well. Definately going to have to work on the mango dipping sauce. The ones I ordered were two woody and underdeveloped. But that’s what I get for not peeling my own.

KM CD out.