Rival Frivolity Part 1

June 11, 2009

It is rare in this day and age I think, where one invites the competition to an open house. In years past it was a display of power, proof positive that you were confident in your craft and they are restricted to the sidelines watching your prowess unfold on unwitting guests. But we live in a land of industrial espionage and back stabbing back room deals. Where as once it was a chance to pay homage to those that you suffer with in your field of choice now it is a calculated risk full of worry, intrigue and general malcontent.

This is sad because I personally love a challenge.

When I’m invited to an open house that says to me, “This is my best, I invite you do to better, punk.” And I love this kind of open challenge! So often are we restricted from real emotion in catering, constantly having to prostrate ourselves before ungrateful guests and humorless hosts that the very spirit of business is beaten out of us by bottom lines and bean counters. And thus a challenge was issued yesterday in Seattle. The Powers That Be insist I keep things anonymous to avoid legal battles and other lawful trifles but those that were there or heard about will know exactly who I’m referring to.

The event site, tucked away in sleepy industrial George Town, WA came complete with its own biker bar across the street. Lemme tell you, there are few sights funnier than the gentlemen elite having to park and circumvent their grittier neighbors. But no cross words were said or threats made so all in all the physical location of the building met my standards for interest. The building it’s self is an aging brick number that hadn’t been used for it’s initial purpose as a brewery in decades, and this rustic charm is preserved on the outside. You can feel the bygone eras wafting from the pitted brick and ancient lamp lighting. But inside it was a different story.

The concrete floor was brushed to with in an inch of its life and smooth as the day it was poured. The high vaulted ceilings, 50 feet or more up, were all painted as clean and white as the walls supporting them. And in the setting afternoon sun you can still see the traceries of the brick that lies just beneath a coat of paint. The large bay windows, reminiscent of the factory style of the industrial revolution were clean and allowed plenty of natural light in. The only complaint I could muster was that it was very warm and no source of climate control could be found outside of opening the two double doors to the shaded and very large parking lot. (On a side note for all caters reading this and caught unawares at this sight. There are 6 very steep stairs leading to the front entrance so either bring a ramp or travel light, you will be hand hauling things.)

The decor, I only mention because it was done well despite my lack of interest in such things, was a calm motif with old world charm.

And now on to my favorite part, the Food! First the Appetizers:

At a station we had Crab Cakes with Cumin Sauce, Spicy Chicken Wantons, and Starfruit with Ahi. These were presented by an offshoot company part of the whole but doing business in other sectors. I didn’t have any official names for these dishes as there was no signage or person explaining things, but as an industry member I had little trouble discerning the goal intended.

The Crab was colored strangely, no unappealing but not my cup of tea either. There were presented well on micro greens and garnished lavishly. There were VERY crabful, almost 80 percent as such, and they appeared to be done in the dumpling style with egg and flour or possibly tempura flour based on the color and texture. The cumin sauce was good, but it lacked dimension. Perhaps some finely minced red pepper or onion. Some variance of texture and flavor. My only suggestion would be to keep them hot in a small chaffing dish instead of tray. Crab cakes always struck me as a hot item; where as the cold style reminds me of a deli class presentation.

The Spicy Chicken Wanton cups were interesting to say the least. I’m curious as to how they got the cups to form like that, as they appeared to be house made, and fresh by the flavor and crunch. I envision a variation where the wanton wrapper is cut into a shape and pressed into a mold under the oil similar to a taco salad bowl. The chicken inside was flavorful and had just a kick of flavor to round off the dish. I couldn’t be certain but I think the green chunky sauce inside was a chimichuri, and a rather well crafted one. The only real downside to the dish was they were a might bit too large for two bites, even for my big mouth, and fell apart after your compromised the wantons structural integrity. But best of all, and this is a marvel the more I sample other folk’s food, the wantons weren’t over cooked and crumbly, or undercooked and oily. They were just right, and this is harder to achieve than one might be led to believe.

The last item was a Starfruit AKA Camambola and Ahi Tuna snack. It was by far the most beautiful and decadent of the three hands down. I would expect to see something similar in a Food and Wine Magazine cover or centerfold. This is the kinda avant garde visual that gives aspiring cooks food boners. The Ahi was well seared, with a moist pink center and given a light coat of black and white sesame seeds. Sadly, there was little tuna flavor but unless you buy the Grade A sushi product it’s hit and miss on the flavor. There was a creamy drizzle as well as a fruit and veggie salsa garnishing it, like a firework of explosive color, flavor and texture. The only real downer to the dish was the camambola, it’s bland flavor, albeit excellent texture, dominated the dish and it was just supposed to be the platform. And while I complain I’m hard pressed to come up with solution. A marinade would make it even more over powering, grilling would make the watery fruit purge and make it flimsy. Cut it any thinner and it wouldn’t be able to support the rest of the dish. I could see it as a pallet cleansing course part of a much larger dinner but not as a stand alone item.

Next were the two passed appetizers, bleu cheese endive and a beef tartlet.

I heard mixed reviews on the endive, but I always hear mixed reviews on endive. It is a hold over from our French inspired past and while it’s making a come back in the more blue collar arena it remains a more sophisticated item complete with over extravagance and opulence. A hard sell in today’s day an age of cut backs and down sizing, but still welcome on the occasional show of plenty. I thought the damn things were awesome, and I don’t use that word lightly. The bleu cheese was nice and smooth with out being over powering, and the walnuts were small and easy to chew.

The beef tartlet was another matter, while the shell was a new item to me. A small bready tart shell instead of the more traditional pastry dough I would be eager to get my hands on such a product for my own nefarious purposes. But industry secrets are to be kept close to the chest so it’s off to do some research and development of my own. The filling was quite the disappointment, despite the medium cooked and moist roast beef the large cut sage and gritty mustard made the dish try and strangely enough flavorless. Had I a crack at the item I would make the sage and mustard into a light but flavorful mousse, adding a hint of moisture to the much needed dish and then putting the swirls of a finely sliced meat on top, kind of like an open faced sandwich pie.

And then the buffet, the ear mark of a caterer and where the chef truly shows his mettle. It was an L shaped affair, tucked in a corner to allow for more seating and mingling for the crowd. For this, we were given a menu handed out by service staff as we sat down so the contents were no mystery.

The first item was a vegetable tray, a common buffet opener for both appeal and pricing. Couldn’t say I cared for the presentation because there was so little to see, the tray had fallen below 25% which is long after I would pull something to be restocked, and I was there early so it’s not like they were letting it ride at the end of an event. The cucumbers were good, but the eggplant was oily and cut too large for their purpose as a crudités. The carrots were grilled or possibly roasted, they had an odd texture and the flavor wasn’t there, but they looked good.

Next came a Ravioli in Lemon Browned butter, and with out a doubt the most disappointing dish on the table. Pasta, while a simple dish is one of easiest to screw up by not paying attention to the service style and mechanics of the pasta. Ravioli is a nightmare for the caterer, finding its safe lodging with the restaurant chef where he makes them to order. Ravioli does not hold well and drinks up sauces like orzo or penne. This stuffed pasta is also notoriously hard to keep to temp and I would never suggest it for a buffet unless specifically asked for. Even then I would shingle them in the chaffing dish to allow uniformity of cooking and sauce, because the ones I got were stone cold. The garnish was adequate but the arugula was cut to large and limply draped across the dish instead of adding some sort of intrinsic flavor or color. And lastly the sauce, I work for the Saucy Wench and personally believe that sauce is my strong suit and this was the most heart wrenching of all. The Lemon Browned Butter had no lemon flavor, wasn’t browned, and amounted to little more than an oily coating separating what could have been a show stopping dish.

Further down the line was the Lavender Pear Salad, presented in dual small mixing bowls so that fresh additions could be made frequently. So what it lacked in presentation it made up for in crisp greens. No mean feat when you consider that only micro greens wilt faster than spring mix when it comes to salad. The pine nuts and pecorino were good choices, adding both crunch and natural salty depth to the dish. The pears, were a little under ripe, and could have done with a night marinating in the dressing. The dressing it’s self was the confusing part to me. I couldn’t detect any lavender in it at all, I could tell from the tang that it was supposed to be vinaigrette of some sort and I know lavender isn’t the most brilliant flavor. But all the same, it just wasn’t there but then again, I have a hang up when it comes to sauce.

Next came a roasted potato medley, which was indeed fresh cut despite my cohorts inquires as to if it looked pre-bought. They were roasted perfectly, allowing for a firm skin but fluffy texture inside. The only problem with the medley is purple potatoes bleed their vibrant color and turns everything in the dish gray. This is why when ever I do them I roast three pans of one color separately and mix them on site. This is especially useful because red potatoes cook faster than yellow, and yellow faster than purple. The fresh herbs and olive oil that were supposed to complete the dish again were a let down. The herbs obviously dry and not nearly enough to make an impact on the spuds were drunk up with the oil into the potatoes. I would mix a bit of veggie broth with the oil, making a hot dressing of sorts and boil the herbs there to really awaken their flavor. Or if all else fails and I’ve the option, do small bits of partially cut up fingerling potatoes, which add both stability and more fluffy starch flavor. I’m noticing a pattern with the sauce craft and it really makes or breaks what should be excellent food.

After that we had another cold dish, a pair of small fruit trays, which looked like the lids to the salad bowls from earlier. Perhaps I’m spoiled at AGA but I would never choose some of the display pieces they used for this event if I had something more impressive to choose from. While I do consider the tray to be the least important part of the dish it is still important to a degree. The fruit more than made up for that though, the claim that it was hand picked definitely shown through in the quality and texture of the dishes. Not piece was soggy or had the old “I’m past my prime” texture. The pieces were good and small, so you could take a bit of what ever you liked with out compromising half your plate space which is something I see more and more chef’s forgetting. If they want more fruit they’ll take it, but by and large it’s just healthy filling till you get to the good stuff. My only question to the chef would be why you would put that it has dried fruit on the menu if you weren’t going to put any on the platter. Truth in menu is truth in value people.

Essential breads made an interesting on the buffet buffer, something we ourselves do quite often though I’m more traditional in insisting that bread is a valid menu item that deserves a basket instead of table mortar. But alas, with only 12 feet of table to deal with space cutbacks must be made. Essential does good work and their all natural approach provides level of quality I could never hope to duplicate in years of practice. The only down side is they slice the pieces too thick and they go stale very quickly in the afternoon sun. I also wouldn’t garnish the butter balls with bits of greenery. They just wilt where the melting butter is purging oil and it gets in the way of adding your fat to the starch.

By over all voting the salmon was voted to be the pinnacle of the buffet presentation. Its thick side with fluffy flakey pink meat was perfectly poached and the salsa added for an accent of color and flavor was masterfully done. It was presented well on a bed of greens and despite being Atlantic it was of excellent quality. I’m not a big poached salmon fan, preferring the hot smoke variety, but I would have no qualms ordering that for my own event should I get the chance.

Next came a grilled flank steak with bleu cheese and shitake mushrooms. My bit of steak was tender but Moe’s was tough. Which leads me to believe the chef didn’t tenderize the meat enough prior to marinating, or that the marinade wasn’t acidic enough to break down the firm connective tissue prevalent in flank steak. More likely, based on the flavor, it just wasn’t marinade long enough, we chef’s always run out of time even under the best of circumstances but the difference of an overnight soak can not be denied. The bleu cheese is classic on a steak while shitake mushrooms is a fairly recent infusion of the Asian persuasion. To be honest, it had little to no shitake flavor. And I actually like the earthy woodiness of the fungus. Reminds me of a teriyaki version we did at Jazzbones with flat iron steaks. So it is possible to leech a bit more flavor out of them. The trick I’ve learned is to use a mixture of fresh for the garnish and dried ground up in the sauce. Makes a world of difference and adds a much needed flavor profile to the occasionally two dimensional flank steak.

The last dish and my personal favorite was the basil and sundried tomato chicken. I know people generally scoff at chicken because anybody can make it and it doesn’t have any outstanding flavors on it’s own but I consider it the true test of any cook. Chicken is the blank canvas that you can do anything and everything to, freedom of expression in protein format. And this dish was excellent, could not say a bad word about it if you bribed me. The chicken was moist, kept so in an abundant but not overly coating sauce of creamy goodness. This sauce was not studded with bits of sundried tomato that made the sauce that awful orange nor were they leathery and flavorless. The basil, obviously dried with a little fresh mixed in, made a nice background note for the sweet and tender chicken breast that took it all in.

All in all it was interesting to see a presentation on par with our own. There were many similarities in both menu item and buffet set up that couldn’t be denied. Usually when I see other companies their setups seem cumbersome or alien and I could envision almost everything there on a buffet some where down the line. And so the challenge is accepted, and I have learned. Then when my own open house rolls around again I will invite my foes to sample my rebuttal. And would welcome them to critique my work and have the cycle continue.

Kitchen is closed.



The Terrors of Brunch

June 3, 2009

Love them or hate them, America can’t live with out them.

I’m a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to that late breakfast in the morn in that I will crawl out of bed, shower and shave, even *gasp* put on a dress shirt and tie to sit down with my old man or mother and gab about nothing at all until we’re stuffed. But I will fight tooth and nail, eye and claw to avoid making them myself. Doubly so in catering because it financially comes down to me coming in before the sun and finishing after happy hour in the bars is over. I realize this is conceited and lazy of me, but dollar for dollar brunch is just bloody annoying. I am a night person by stock and trade, years in the industry have conditioned me to work well into the wee hours of the night, multiple nights in a row, should my masters require it of me.

But the AM, that’s another beast all together. Part of it stems from the fact that I’ve never worked with anyone that actually toiled BETTER at 6AM than 6PM that was under the age of 50, but all in all it just doesn’t interest me.

American classics like scrambled eggs, Potatoes O’brian, and the plethora of pre-made danish and pastries hold no culinary interestfor me. (I have no qualms buying said danish and pastry because I suck at making them and hold true to my Foodie over Pastie heritage, go Chefs!) And you can’t really tinker with them too much or the GUM’s will turn their noses up at the violation of a classic. And on some levelsI agree with them, many breakfast foods have been taken to their final conclusion, there is no reason to tinker with em any more. Aside from the culinary elite, there is no room for white truffle oil infused Potatoes with golden pepper and caramelized Bermuda onions. And I would never offer something as across the board annoying as Quail Eggs Benedict for fear I would actually have to produce such a labor intensive item en mass, first thing in the morning, for 300 largely unappreciative clients.

For that is the other side of the argumentfor the brunch, people are LEAST picky when they’re least awake. (Case and point for Taco Hell and Jack in the Crack’s legendary sales reports after 2 AM when the bars close.) So you can get away with a lot more, in terms of quantity and presentation. The person that would scrutinize that the carved tomato rosettes have fallen out of the poached side of salmon’s mouth is just as content to load up on her 5th cup of hot coffee she didn’t have to brew or wait in line for herself.

There’s also travel to factor in folks, I dunno about you, but eggs aren’t exactly the most resilient of dishes in my repertoire. And having to drive all the way up to Issaquah from Tacoma wreaks havoc on my products quality and stability. Even if I had the fortune of going to a facility that had a professional kitchen that could handle my work load there’s still the other staff to worry about with their own foibles like coffee, tea, and what not that must be brewed in shop and hauled hot. Imagine tacking an hour wait time at the restaurant from the moment the chef finished your plate to the time the server dropped it on your table.

Soggy hashbrowns. Rubbery Eggs. Stale Danish. And Cold Coffee.

So while yes, breakfast is easier to cook with a lower food cost than lunch or dinner, it comes with many more obstacles that must be over come. And unlike with the other two, working harder and longer isn’t always a fitting solution. It’s why I always wince when ever some one chooses to do one for a momentous event like a wedding or a 50th birthday party. True, last week went with out a hitch. It was by far one of the smoothest events I’ve worked to date for AGA, but there are so many places where things can go wrong. And not just for us, but on the client’s behalf.

Say they didn’t get their liquor permit on Saturday? No liquor store, even if it was open on a Sunday would open before noon, and we had guests there already at 10.

Turn out is always less on a brunch because unless it’s part of a work function where they HAVE to be there people always loose the battle of wills to the pillow. Lord knows if I didn’t have to be in the kitchen heating things up at 6 in the morning I would be soundlessly oblivious to the realms of man.

Last is just common sense. It’s a sunny weekend in Washington. Would you rather A) Spend it wrapped in a thick tuxedo or dress, having gotten up 5 hours earlier than you intended to drive out to the middle of no where and sip memosas to ward off the impending hang over or. . .B) Sleep late, grab a bite at Micky D’s with their magical unicorn meat and lay in the sun while knock back a cold one to the sound of the water and the wind.

I’ll take a sunburn over a late tux returnany day.

Kitchen’s closed.


Seated Meals Vs. Buffet

May 26, 2009

Ah, the age old catering question.

I hear it A LOT and it never really gets answered. Both really have their ups and downs. Personally, I favor the buffet because I just have to garnish a tray or pan ( I personally hate garnishing things, waste of time and distracts from the food, so when I do garnish I KEEP IT SIMPLE!) in stead every single plate. Then there’s consistency to worry about. It’s far easier to make 6 fruit trays look alike by yourself than having 4 other guys always assemble the plate the same. Doesn’t matter if they have cream of the crop training or they’re a server pulled off the floor in a last ditch emergency. People eye ball things differently, have different hand sizes and strengths. Not to mention all no fabricated foods are always different in shape, size, and density. An absolute nightmare for the perfectionist that wants cookie cutter food!

On the other hand, financially, the seated meal has many boons the buffet can’t match. For instance, a good caterer will always have a definitive count before the event even takes place, some times days in advance. This cuts down on waste, loss, and unnecessary prep time. (And for those fools like myself that took Salary this can be a deal maker or breaker.) Not to mention when you’re done with the last plate that’s it! You can start cleaning up and get the hell outta there!

But then I waffle back again, with a buffet you get one gigantic pow of color, texture, and flavor. People can pick and choose what they want with out anything being sent back or changing their mind on the entree. A buffet also requires less servers to run (generally) and has far fewer demands of the chef once on-site.

But the seated meal counters with one thing done very will. Where everything on the plate compliments the next so you don’t get any funky tastes. (You know, like toothpaste and orange juice?) And unlike a buffet where you know people will clean you out of house and home with the crab legs in browned butter whilst leaving the veggie platter full and unscathed, a seated meal makes for even portioning on starch, veg, and entree.

So yeah, it boils down to garnish for me.

I mention all this because we had two last weekend, and they went remarkably well! Granted, they were for less than a hundred each and only had four different entrees between the two. (3 at mine, 1 at Nick’s) But I still felt at the end of the day like I’d been drug across the coals, if you know what I mean. I don’t know if it’s the timed pressure that’s so very restaurant-esque of the seated meal that drains my soul, or maybe it’s the ever prevalent fear that 10 more people will show up and I won’t have anything for the staff and myself to nosh on before the day rolls over into tomorrow?

But I know this much, seated meals are by far no walk in the park and a little bit of me always groans inside when ever I see them come up on the billing sheets. Ah well, it’s a living. I got out of restaurants, returning to my catering roots because of the ease of work and the timing but it’s nice to see how the other side lives every once in a while.

So long as I don’t have to do it all day, every day. Kitchen’s closed kiddies!


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.

Greetings and Salutations!

April 9, 2009


Let me be the first to say thank you for taking time out of your valuable Solitare and Facebooking time to read my blog. In the weeks, months, and as long as I’ve access to the interwebz years, to come you’ll see my various exploits, bungles, and other culinary creations made at work, home, and abroad.

Check back each week and you’ll see something from yours truely in one form or another and with any luck some pictures. Because you’ve gotta have pics, or it didn’t happen.