Archive for the ‘On Location’ Category

Fourths and Fifths

July 9, 2009

Happy belated Fourth, for those of you that managed to con your respective bosses into getting the night off. I was no so lucky, but then again like my good buddy Nick. When given the option of money or freedom I almost always choose the cash. (This is funny because if I’m salaried the money is always the same. Cursed work ethic!) At any rate, I made plans to party hard on Tuesday to make up for my culinary exploits over the weekend. When who should call me after I had already gone home for the day on Monday, but the boss!

Apparently, some major snafu happened in Seattle and they needed a caterer, at the Chinese Room, for 80. . .on WEDNESDAY! And with the Sales Manager out of town that cut our full time resources down by 33%. Plans were thrown into action; I raced out to Cash and Carry and managed to pull the event off with little to no snags. (Both Dish Washer and Sous Chef were out of town on respective business.) Which really confuses the hell out of me. This is the first time in my profession where as a caterer I hear of people taking vacation time in the busy season, let alone July! I was always under the impression that you never take time off starting May to September, but here I sit in an empty office. Now I will fully admit to bitterness, I have no one to pass the buck off to while I relax on the sandy beaches of where ever. (Mind you, I couldn’t afford to go there anyway, but it’s the principal of thing.) Granted, I’ll be taking time off on a really busy day to be the best man at a friends wedding, but that’s a day, not a week. Ah well, most of them earned it, and if I had the ability I just might have done it myself. </rant>

Anywho, Tuesday was a blast, I highly suggest you check out Jazzbones on a Tuesday for their live comedy. A lot of comics come through there and they like to try out new material on us on their way up (or down). And Sean Culver picks some truly awesome talent, man’s got skills I’ll give’em that. I think I over did it though, as I was attending the night’s festivities with my new roommate I bought round after round of Mandarin Moon. Where you have your typical pint of Blue Moon Pale Ale with orange slice squeezed in, and you add a shot of Mandarin Absolute. Imagine a punch to the mouth but your opponent’s fist is made of oranges. Good stuff but 5 in two hours is over kill, even for a guy my size. Thank the gods I live with in stumbling distance eh? No DUI for me.

At any rate, the event Wednesday went swell, hang over and all. I did have to invent a wedding cake for them using bits of a fruit tray, chevre cheesecake, and sugar packets when the concierge forgot to order one for them. But they loved it, and even sent us home with their left over booze. Now that’s the kind of tip I can get behind! Time to get crackin’ for the weekend, lots more food to do, and with my Sous out of commission with a shredded right hand (sheet metal is apparently sharp, who knew?) I have some toil ahead of me.

Kitchen’s closed.



Longest Day of the Year

June 22, 2009


The ancient observance denoting the fact that the heavenly spheres are moving towards one of their respective extremes. In this case, Summer Solstice, and what better excuse do you need to put on your Sunday’s finest (which for me is still a chef coat) and drink the day away in sunny Tacoma. The longest day of the year has been a long time nemesis of mine, favoring the dark night as I do, the Day Star’s wrath has been a thorn in my side since I learned what a sun burn was. I have had to since abandon my gothic pale roots in favor of the farmer’s tan I now sport due to my morning commute. After years in the restaurant industry, lightless and windowless dungeons they were, the concept of a window is a largely enviable accoutrement to any chef’s domain. Even if it is a tad annoying for those “up with the sun” brunches.

The dinner was planned months in advance, after our earlier idea of a St. Patties’ day event got scrapped in lieu of guaranteed cash flow. The concept was sound: good food, great booze, a decent band, and an okay locale. For what we charge the waiter at El Gaucho would sneer at you and they don’t even have a view. But despite Tacoma’s slow and inexorable march towards class, (if the $180 bucks a night at the Marriot Courtyard is indicative of), our turn out was less than desirable. The room was festive, wild flowers from the local markets everywhere. Brilliantly colored linens with intricate center pieces, and not a bug in sight. The cocktail hour went smashingly, the plated salad a tad less enthusiastic, and the buffet it’s self followed by dessert station was a hit. But alas, despite the best attempts of Monica, Moe, and Heather our count was low and thus a wash. Sometimes being the chef just isn’t enough, and I know my cohorts did their best. So where did we go wrong? True, it is the first event of its kind (and had this one made money the first of many) and the word was definitely spread out digitally and IRL. I suppose its back to the drawing board, after all, there’s Christmas Parties to shoot for.

But if you were here to listen to me whine about failure I’d just link you to my livejournal. On to the food!

The appetizer portion was split into two attacks: a station and passed varietals. The stationary ones were Green Gazpacho Martini Glasses with Crab and Fruit Skewers with Passion Fruit Dipping Sauce. The Gazpacho was still too thick to slurp from the glass it’s self. I’ve either got to come up with a veggie stock recipe that doesn’t taste bad chilled or just dump a lot of good wine in because you shouldn’t need a fork to eat soup. And don’t tell Monica but I had this interesting idea (that follows along the lines of stupidly labor intensive and annoying) where we stuffed the crab into one of those over sized cocktail olives you see at Tacoma Boys or other upper end olive bars. The fruit skewers looked pretty with their pineapple, honeydew, fig, and strawberry but as always no one ever eats them. I shoulda just put it on the buffet for some color so they could be usefully annoyed instead of breaking them all down Monday morning for staff fruit salads.

The passed ones were more successful but just as lopsided. The veggie cakes with the new Lemon Thyme Topper were very popular amongst carnivores and sissies alike. (Hey, I may be an ass but I hold no love for those that deny themselves the sultry goodness that comes from animal sacrifice.) I’m always pleased when a staff member that hasn’t tried it yet gets swayed from the onion relish that used to top those suckers. Better living through condiment superiority. The new item, grilled fig gorgonzola toasts with thyme honey was hit and miss. The fig was flavorful, and the gorgonzola a creamy foil for the oily fruit. But drizzle of honey (which I was quite frankly surprised at how well it took to the thyme) was too sporadic in concentration. On guest said it was too much and cloyingly sweet, another too little and the balance with gorg was out of whack. I have hence proposed to make a walnut gorgonzola spread to put down on the baguette and candy the fig slices in the honey. Adding a much needed crunch and giving the honey a water proof platform to stand out on instead of making soggy bread.

Next the salad, a composed number on plates borrowed from Jonz Catering in a trade off for other services rendered. They have some really neat avant garde china ware that I would be willing to beg, plead, and generally swindle for. Gone are the days when the round gothic or oval espree patterned plates cut the mustard. Now we have bowls, squares, trapezoids, and many other shapes that mangle the eye and physics. But these petite plates were a touch small for my original intent. Despite my misgivings they were well received and I look forward to acquiring my own in the not so distant future. (If for no other reason than my own nefarious purposes.) The salad it’s self was a composed on consisting of chopped spinach, crumbled feta, white balsamic pickled red onion, and minted mandarin oranges. Though next time I think I’ll forgo the pretty arrangement for a tossed version as all the vibrant colors of the ingredients stand out on their own.

The buffet was ironically simple, as this crew generally favors the large and lavish type. Poor planning on my part held a buffet that held no hot items, the only cold ones present in the apps and the plated salad. We start off with an Orzo Primavera Orzo, composed of grilled artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, olives, and a roasted shallot olive oil and a heaping helping of parm to keep the natives from getting restless. We do so love our cheese at AGA. Next came the vegetable dish, stuffed tomatoes. Yes, I reached deep into my culinary school past for this time honored tidbit but it has always served me well and it did so again this last weekend. The carved beef steaks were a little under stuffed but the roasted corn, smoked Gouda, and vegetable medley bound with panko even sung for me a staunch tomato nay-sayer. I like them in sauces or a salad, but whole and hot generally don’t hack it for me. Needless to say I cleaned my plate of it despite many of the guests only eating the cores. Can’t blame them, all the flavor was there.

The other starch present were our Rosemary Reds, and after many years of spud preparation I have found the golden ratio of fresh to dried to give that earthy yet sweet balance to that oft sought after tuber. Borrowing once more from my past, the addition of Worcestershire sauce (something you don’t often see in potatoes) really helps cut at the butter and gives a different mouth feel as far as saltiness goes. Next came the rolled flank steak roulades, I swear, I need someone sensible to beat me about the head and shoulders during our staff meetings when I suggest these bloody items. The concept was simple enough: combine the quick and tender skewer method of cooking with the moisture saving formation of a flank steak roulade. The result was mostly as planned.

The filling ended up being a bit bland, but it absorbed the balsamic vinaigrette well and did indeed keep the steak moist. How ever even whilst slicing it in the meat lollipop style I determined the meat filling would stick to the grill tines so I chose to 9/10ths cook them in the oven and give the grill a shot at some color and presentation. If I had to do it again (and knowing my own big mouth we will) I would flat top grill them to keep them disc like and give them some real golden color that comes from ample fat and a little finesse.

The last item was one so popular we actually ran out the last time I made it. A HUGE culinary taboo and one made fairly early in my career with AGA, and one I’ve yet to repeat, thank god. A cedar plank smoked salmon with pear cider glaze. Sophisticated, popular, and always a crowd pleaser this dish is. Until that day anyway. Some way, some how, the salt cure I used the night before was just too strong. (Like my criticism I laid it on too thick.) I also wanted to smoke the fish longer but we had guests showing up and the idea of carrying red hot metal through a crowed ballroom on my way to the kitchen smelled of pain and lawsuits. The flavor was there, but hidden under dryness and salt. We still went through 8 sides of it so it couldn’t have been all bad, but it definitely could have been better.

Dessert was something that changed from moment to moment for me. In the beginning I imagined a plated dessert akin to the salad, but as this wasn’t a scheduled event like a wedding or bar mitzvah that would have been impossible. We had a hard enough time getting the people to sit down for the salad, let alone wrangling them in for a final course. Then the concept would be one similar to an event we did for the TCC Alumni party we did a while back where there’d be three tiered trays of varying types and styles but that got scratched when we realized there’d be nothing on the table as far as a center piece goes until dessert came out and that would ruin the look. Lastly we settled for a station where the appetizers were, and that turned out to be the best. I really like the Plexiglas and glass block tower though I wish it were wider and not as deep. Makes it hard for some one with ham fists like me to reach into the back for the delicate morsels.

The items were numbered three, nor more, no less, and five was right out. (Points for the reference) The first was a Lemon Curd Tartlet with strawberry slice garnish. I wish I had the ability to swirl a strawberry compote into it instead by alas I lack the knowledge. Next came a chocolate mousse cup with white chocolate drizzle. This was widely popular and easy to make, a staple for Mini-Dessert Platters me thinks. Lastly came the big disappointment of the evening. The banana cream bouche with grilled plantain. For starters, I didn’t pay attention to my order when it came in and got dark chocolate mousse instead of white, so the color was off. The banana concentrate REALLY tasted like bananas, not that plasticy artificial banana flavor you get in kids drinks. And sadly the plantains were just too under ripe to sweeten up on the grill when I had a crack at them. I really should have ordered them earlier in the week and done them the day of instead of ordering the day of. I’d also shred them and bake them for better color and texture. Now that would be a banana cream pie to write home to mom about.

All in all the event went well. I dunno if we’ll do another of its type, so far the feeling is no. People are just too used to getting free food at our open houses that the concept of paying for an event (no matter what the quality is) is alien to them. But we’ve learned and we know what to do for next time. Either way I’ll have lemonade all week to drink and that’s worth the trouble alone.

Kitchen’s closed.


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.


Hail to the King

May 12, 2009

I have never been what you would call a winner.

I’m pretty big, but not strong enough to be good at any sport. Some have said I have a decent head on my shoulders, but I’m a far cry from a genius. I have skills yes, but there are plenty others in my field that have just the same or better that are also my close competitors. And while I’m still considered “young” I’m certainly not getting any younger if this last week is any indication.

So when I DO win at something it’s first met with disbelief, then shock, and finally the smug sense of victory I’m sure the turtle felt as it crossed the finish line in that childhood fable we all know so well. Case in point, the Herban Horsederve challenge that happened last Friday in Seattle. I had completely forgotten our meeting when we discussed what we’d be doing for it until I peeled back my stack of notes and other paper dietrous to find that it was Veggie Cakes with a new Lemon Thyme Parmesan Creme Friache.

My first thought was that we’d get stomped by a chicken skewer or a spring roll. A vegetarian dish couldn’t win against Seattle’s best and brightest with a much larger budget and time allowance, right? We’ll sure as I’m sitting here now, staring at my Brussel Sprout Crown presented to the Boss and myself by the local plant guru himself, Cisco. We sure did win it.

Admittedly, there was only four companies competing (I was led to believe there would be more like 8 ) but all the same. It’s a nice feeling to know that some one from T-Town was still able to clean up in the Emerald City. Two of the competitors brought Ahi dishes, which really surprised me that we won, because Ahi is the new mango or avocado. It’s the IN food of the moment. The last dish was a personal potato salad that I’m told was a bit too much potato and not enough of the good stuff as far as the flavor department.

Moments like this really put it all into perspective for me. I had put in a ton of hours this week and am glad to see it paid off more than just a paycheck and the knowledge of a days work done well. This is our second victory in a row and I personally look forward to making it third time’s the charm!

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?


Traveling thru Time

April 28, 2009

All of us can: shy of a drinking binge, blow to the head or both, remember our firsts as adults.

First date, first kiss, first car, ETC.

I recall my first open house with AGA. Much as I wish there were parts that I didn’t.

Oddly enough the photographer that night didn’t take a single photo of the food. Which not only boggles my mind but kinda pisses me off. It was my first open house, a momentous occasion. And I would have liked to have had some sort of proof that the event happened, even if it didn’t go according to plan. Granted, this was a freebie to get their name out there but all the same. We’re in the FOOD business and there were more photos of the venue, which we’ll never do business with again, than of our presentation or food. Live and learn I suppose.

The theme this time was an eternal one, ten years in business and much like marriage, you’re supposed to make that gift a diamond. And much like the to-be-wed young gentleman that musters up his courage and bank account to obtain said stone I bit off way more than I or my immediate staff could chew. Thankfully, none of this showed on the floor. I was sweating blood and gargling stomach acid, but the guests never knew a thing was wrong. Which I’ve come to understand is an industry standard. You can fly by the seat of your pants for every event, but so long as they don’t know how close them come to utter disaster everything is easy peasy.

I actually had to go into the archives to look up the menu for this event. I had blocked out, and rightfully so, many of the details that went utterly wrong with this one. But on a second glance I also saw there were some gems there amongst the shrapnel that I could use again, so let it be said that I can indeed learn from my mistakes, even traumatizing ones. If the theme was diamond I certainly choose a rock hard menu, one that I definitely don’t look forward to doing again.

The appetizers were seemingly innocuous:
Bacon Wrapped Scallops, Black and Gold Caviar Potatoes, and Gorgonzola Phyllo Puffs.

My first problem being that I still wasn’t familiar with what was ordered from where or how much is in each case. My food reps, bless their dollar wrapped souls, were kind enough to endure my steady steam of mistakes, corrections, and questions through the transition process. But the phyllo cups and caviar proved the hardest to acquire. It’s not mentioned but I gave the scallops a twist, grilled pineapple was coupled with it and then dredged in flour before frying. It then was drizzled with a white balsamic sage sauce. Beautiful, delicious and very hard to assemble!

You try getting two slick and slimy things to stay next to each other under pressure when you wrap them in another greased thing and try to stab it with a bit of wood. I almost gave up they were that much of a pain. The Gorgonzola cups tasted great but apparently they were meant to be a cold item, and the name puff to me elicits a baked good. So there goes my truth in menu out the window.

Next came the autonomous appetizer station, the “award” winning Lobster Tarragon Bisque. This was another inherited recipe that I didn’t quite nail. For service in a champagne flute it needed to be MUCH thinner in consistency and making my own biscotti instead of buying it would improve the quality leaps and bounds.

The salad, sushi, and veg tray, and carne asada came off with out a hitch but the real gem that shown in my mind was the cheese ball display. It featured four different type, an Italian: pesto, pine nut and parm. A French: shallow, red wine, and brie with pecan. An American: cheddar, bacon, and ranch! And not to be understated Asian: tofu, Chinese five spice, and black sesame. Folks just couldn’t believe that last one was tofu cheese, they went back for more even after I broke the news to them!

The last station was a carving one with some added hot starch. This time: turkey breast and tricolor potato pirouettes. The turkey was a little dry, but the gravy more than made up for it.

The potatoes how ever, they were a whole other beast. You see, I had had little experience in having to make my food travel for an extra hour from my kitchen to your plate. Add in bad Seattle traffic and what started as a towering tuber ended up as multi-colored mush. They tasted great, and we even had some folks switch from a roasted potato to this dish but it just didn’t hold up under the pressure. They were also VERY hard to make, each tier requiring a lot of attention to detail piping a very thick potato through a small opening.

The only other mention of note was the pasta. Originally it was to be my signature dish. Patrick’s Pesto Penne Pasta. What can I say, I’ve always had a love for alliteration. And again, my inexperience with long distance travel let to some very flat, dry, and under flavored pasta. Pesto, and prosciutto in a pasta dish can be very good or very bad and this was definitely on the darker side of that spectrum. I have hence changed brands of pasta, and learned to barely cook the stuff so it’ll hold up that extra two hours necessary.

But the night left it’s mark, and I haven’t done a signature dish since. The following open houses went far more smoothly, as earlier and following posts will confirm.

That’s it, the kitchen is closed.

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.