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Gourmet Food on the Move!

May 4, 2010

Dim and Den Sum:  Two Men and a Food Truck!

Chef Gusteau

Jeremy Esterly (left) and Chris Hodgson (right) pose in front of their food truck (Credit: Janet Nguyen)

Imagine for a moment the answer to one of life’s more difficult situations; you don’t want to eat at home, and you don’t want to go out to dinner at a restaurant.  What are you left with?  How about the restaurant comes to you?  Now we are talking!  Mobile food carts, which have been popular in Boston, New York, Chicago and San Francisco, are making their way slowly to Cleveland.  Now although the first thought when hearing food cart is that of a hot dog stand, food carts really have come a long way.  In fact, you’d be impressed by the level of gourmet cuisine that you can find in these portable kitchens.

Cleveland now has its first official food truck under the new city regulations.  The chef owners are no strangers to Cleveland, or to great food done well.  Chefs Chris Hodgson and Jeremy Esterly now own and operate Dim and Den Sum.  As you might guess, Asian influences pervade the menu with inventive Dim Sum selections.  The food is reflective of cuisines from Japan and Korea, combined with the southern comfort food approach – comfort food with an Asian twist. Also, no menu item is more than $6.  This is a great deal considering the quality of ingredients and creativity of the food.

Chris and Jeremy worked together previously at Fire Food and Drink at Shaker Square, and knew from their first encounter that they would eventually open a business together.  Trust me; these chefs are very talented, inventive, and enthusiastic to bring mobile cuisine to Cleveland.  They will also focus on locally sourced food ingredients. From the picture above of their truck, you can’t help but conjure up childhood memories of the ice cream truck driving through your neighborhood, with children trailing behind hoping to get their hands on a Rocket Popsicle or Fudgesicle.  Look at this as the adult version of the same magical experience, and I expect you’ll see many people chasing this truck hoping to get their hands on a Dim Burger or a Kimchi dog!

Be sure to follow Dim and Den Sum on Facebook ( and Twitter ( to see where they are and their next stops…you don’t want to miss out.  Their website is and they expect to officially launch the truck into action May 10, 2010.

Monsieur Anton says:  I think that mobile food carts are a great addition to the Cleveland culinary scene, at what better use of the carts than Dim Sum?  It is reminiscent of the carts that are pushed through the eateries in Chinatown bringing along little bite sized bits of goodness.  I think that this translates well to the food cart.  I am also happy to see that the first food cart to hit the streets under this new endeavor for the city is something of culinary worth, and not some run of the mill “roach coach.”  Well done Chefs Hodgson and Esterly. And start me out with some shrimp shumai and steamed buns!


Sake: The Other Clear Alcohol

April 7, 2010

By Monsieur Anton

Sake has been around since 4800 B.C., so why is it not more popular in the United States?  There are probably many reasons that may include cultural bias, lack of knowledge, and of course lack of marketing, but I have another theory.  Hot sake in sushi restaurants.

The stuff is terrible.   I’m not talking about a quality sake warmed properly, although the vast majority of premium (read; good) are served chilled, there are some sakes that can be drank warm, but not hot.  Remember, as James Bond said, sake should never be above body temperature.  The offensive sake I speak about here is the nasty variety served out of a box and dispensed by a machine.  This swill is awful, and sadly is the first and often only experience people have with this otherwise noble beverage.  In most cases when I give somebody a taste of a premium chilled sake it is a revelation to them. Their face lights up and I know I’ve got them. They are now sake people ready to explore the vast world of this mysterious beverage from the Far East.

People tend to be intimidated by sake.  They know nothing about it, and the names make French wines seem easy to pronounce, but once you start drinking it, sake is just like any other drink, the more you learn about it, the more you enjoy it.  A little background and you’ll be navigating sake lists like a pro.  Don’t worry; I’m not going to go into the science of brewing sake (at least not much).  I don’t expect people to go out and home brew sake, just empower them with knowledge, and that brings me to my first point.  Sake is often referred to as “rice wine,” and while that is a practical description because you drink it like wine, it is actually brewed much like beer is.

Sake is made with rice, water, yeast and koji.  Koji is steamed rice that has aspergillus spores added to it (sounds tasty, right?).  The koji then is able break down the glucose in the rice to create alcohol.  The rice and koji are added to the yeast and water and allowed to ferment for about 18-32 days.  It is then filtered and pasteurized.  Water is again added to bring the alcohol content to around 15%.  The sake is then aged anywhere from 6 months to 1½  years.

Much of the quality and characteristics of the sake comes from the amount of polishing the rice gets.  When the outer layers of the rice are removed, so are the undesirable starches and impurities.  The greater the milling rate means that the brewer is using more of just the “pearl” of the rice, resulting in a more nuanced, higher quality brew.  Sake made from rice that is milled to no more than 60% of its original size considered to be ginjo sake.  When the rice is milled to at least 50%, you have a diaginjo, and of course an even more delicate, high end sake.

Sake made with only the four core ingredients is classified as Junmai. The rice used in Junmai sakes must be milled down to no more than 70% of its original size.  Junmai sakes tend to be assertive and sometimes rustic sakes that match up with food very well.  When a sake meets this criteria, and the rice is milled to a ginjo grade you have a junmai ginjo which tends to be a layered, complex and fragrant; when milled to a daiginjo grade, the sake in your glass is a junmai diaginjo. Junmai diaginjos are generally light and fruity and extremely complex.  They are normally the sakes the brewer puts up as their best.  A grand cru of sakes so to speak.

When a small amount of brewer’s alcohol is added to a junmai sake, it now becomes a honjozo. This makes the sake more full-bodied and a good candidate for those who are intent on warming their sake.  It is taxed at a higher rate making its exporting to the United States a bit less prevalent.  It is also illegal to make in the US.

When the sake is not totally filtered you have nigori sake.   These milky sakes, with some exceptions, tend to be rather sweet.  Most all are thick and milky with a strong coconut milk quality.

Enough with the science of sake.  You want to taste the fine brew, and I can’t blame you.  When tasting sake, do it in much the same way you would taste wine.  First stick your nose in the glass.  Don’t be shy.  Get that shnozz deep in there and take a good whiff. The bouquet is a great preview of things to come.  Now take a sip and let it flow over your tongue allowing it cover all the areas of your taste buds. Is the   acidity balanced, or overwhelming?  Pay attention to the flavor components.  Is it bitter or tart, sweet or dry?

The dryness of sake is measured in the nihonshu-do, or as us New Worlders call it the SMV or Sake Meter Value.  The higher the plus number the SMV, the drier the sake will be.  The lower the negative number, the sweeter it will be.  Logic would tell you that 0 would be neutral sake, but as modern consumers tend to like drier beverages, sake producers have adjusted.  In reality a SMV of +2 should be considered the benchmark.

Enough already, it’s time to imbibe!  There are so many sakes to choose from.  Where does one start?  Lucky for you, I’ve drunk a lot of sake in my time, and I have some sakes to recommend. Some I do enjoy:

Wakatake “Demon Slayer” Diaginjo   SMV 0 The $45 or so this brew will set you back is money well spent.  Very well balanced with a hint of white pepper and a slightly sweet finish.  This a very well made sake.

Dassai No. 50 Junmai Ginjo   SMV +4 The rice in Dassai No. 50 is actually milled to diaginjo levels and it shows.  Why is it not classified as a diaginjo?  Who knows, and who cares?  It’s probably due to tax reasons.  I would say to just enjoy this well rounded sake made from the best Yamadanishiki rice.

Shoin Junmai Ginjo   SMV +3 The somewhat floral fragrance gives way to a balanced easy to drink sake with elements of granny smith apple.  This is an excellent food sake.

Ai San San Junmai Ginjo  SMV +3 Another balanced sake with crisp, clean flavors.  It runs toward the light side with a fine taste of steamed rice.  Very complex and satisfying.

Daischichi Kimoto Honjozo    SMV +1 A rich full bodied sake made using the painstaking traditional kimoto method.  This process results in an earthy quality with root vegetable notes.  A unique and food friendly sake.

Rihaku Dreamy Clouds Nigori   +3 I generally don’t like nigori or unfiltered sakes.  As a rule they tend to be cloyingly sweet with SMV’s of -20 or more.  Not this one.  Dreamy Clouds has a pleasing acidity, and a rich rice taste that is highlighted by a slightly fruity nuttiness.   There is a fun story behind this sake.  Rihaku was the name the Japanese gave to 8th century Chinese poet Li Po.  It is said of Li Po that he could not write his poetry until drunk on sake or wine.  My kind of artist!

This is just a start.  The only way to learn about, and appreciate sake is to get out there and drink some.  Find a good sake bar, or retailer and sample some sakes.  Once you get an idea of what you like, you might want to try an online retailer to widen your options.

I often tell people not to stress when it comes to the often confusing world of wine tasting.  After all, it is just grape juice.  The same can be said for sake.  It’s just steamed rice.  Go out and try some.  Kampai!

Chef Gusteau says:  I love Sake!!  I will also be the first to admit, that Anton has taught me everything I know about sake…and he knows A LOT about sake!  I like to tell people who have never tried this type of sake (I will not try warm sake) to think about the smoothest vodka they ever tasted…and this is better!  The subtleties of sake are very similar to wine, and as such, the food pairing is just as much fun.

Obviously, whenever you have sushi, sake is a great accompaniment.  For every course before dessert, I recommend the drier sakes, +3 or more.  Although many people enjoy beers like Kirin Ichiban or Sapporo with sushi and Japanese cuisine, I recommend trying pairing this food with sake instead, which tends to compliment the food more than beer tends to.  You will be surprised with the new flavors you discover (and the fact that sake is typically 15% alcohol compared to beer’s 3-5%, you’ll feel much better, too!).  For dessert, a nigori or sweeter sakes are quite enjoyable as well.  As far as non-sushi types of food, the pairing can be a bit more challenging.  Italian food, such as, tends to be acidic in nature, and not generally conducive to sake pairing.  Chinese and Thai foods, with their spiciness and rich flavors match well with drier sakes.  French cuisine…sorry, go with Bordeaux style red wines, not sake.  Sorry Anton, I can’t even make that work.

Ok, now the fun part…cooking with sake!  Now, I don’t recommend using a $50 bottle of sake to cook with, but you certainly shouldn’t cook with anything you wouldn’t enjoy drinking.  Sake and Miso paste are the best combinations to make a great marinade for most white fleshed fish.  Usually a 2-1 ratio of sake and miso paste will get you great results (a bit of canola oil adjusts the consistency nicely).  When you do marinate fish with this mixture, you get two great benefits.  The first is clearly flavor.  The marinade adds a roasted sweetness to the fish…heavenly.  Next benefit is for “cheaters” who have trouble with overcooking fish.  Now I am sure that NONE of our At The Pass readers have this problem, but for those non-fans that do, you can tell them that while baking fish with a sake and miso marinade at 375 degrees, if they watch closely they will see that the marinade caramelizes just as the fish is done cooking.  If you see a nice toasted brown color on the fish, it’s done.  No need for “test cuts” or opening the oven every 5 minutest to check for doneness…not that anyone we know does that, right?  Oh, and the other benefit of cooking with sake…it’s unlikely that you’ll need much to marinate the fish…so drink up the rest to ensure that you get as “toasted” as the fish!  Enjoy…and be sure to send ALL of you sake related questions to Anton…he is without question an authority on the subject!

Anton says:  While I have total respect for Gusteau’s culinary expertise there is one small point that I will have to differ with him on.  Sake is an incredibly food friendly beverage, and that goes beyond sushi.  Canton native Beau Timpken, the owner of True Sake, the nation’s only dedicated sake retailer in San Francisco has put this to the test.  In his newsletter for his fine website he has paired sake successfully with all manner of cuisine including French and Italian.  He has even gone so far as to sneak bottles of sake into McDonald’s!  While I’m not ready to eschew Bordeaux for sake with fine French food, a somewhat dry, nuanced sake with a well balanced acidity like Chiyomusubi Daiginjo would go nicely with French fare.  I would also never hesitate to pair sake with seafood of any cuisine.

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TV Review: Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution

April 2, 2010

By Monsieur Anton

Reality television has a well founded reputation for being exploitative.  It is often the fast food of our culture, tasty and easy to consume, but with little to no substance and never really good for you.  Jamie Oliver‘s Food Revolution is at least a step toward making the programming more relevant.  Oliver would lead you to believe that this show has a mission, and that mission is a revolution, and it is, in as much as a television show about food can be.

Oliver has traveled all the way from his native England to the unhealthiest city in the United States, Huntington, West Virginia, to teach its residents how to eat properly.  In doing so, it his hope that the alarming obesity levels of Huntington’s populace will go down, and with it the many associated health risks such as diabetes and heart disease.  He bases most of his efforts on the children of Huntington, because as we all know, the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way!  I guess it’s too late for the hefty adults.  How about the concept of parents and teachers as role models?  Should Oliver ignore people just because they’ve attained puberty?

In fact, Oliver likely focuses his attention on the youth because the grown ups are largely too entrenched in their ways, like the radio host who mockingly retorts to Jamie, “what do you expect us to do, just eat lettuce?”  What Oliver would like them to do is to decrease the consumption of processed food, and dine on meals made from fresh ingredients, not an unreasonable task given the nutritional and culinary benefits.

To accomplish this goal, Oliver uses a three-pronged strategy.  He attempts to revamp the grade school lunch programs, focus on one family as an example, and set up a kitchen in Huntington to demonstrate sensible nutritional cooking.

The kitchen so far takes up the least screen time, probably because it is the most mundane.  As a focal point for the community, it is a valuable asset.  As television, it is uneventful.  It is more useful to pay more attention to the scenes that will tug on our collective heart-strings, and what could be more moving than an obese youngster facing impending diabetes.  Some of the most touching scenes are when Oliver attempts to get the morbidly obese Edwards family which strikes a stunning resemblance to Eddie Murphy’s Crump family, to change their eating ways.  Once the parents see that their food habits are leading their young son down the road to diabetes, well what parent wants to see their child sick?  Will this be the motivation needed to force them to eat more healthy.  Stay tuned.

The crux of the show’s focus, and Oliver’s as well is on the city’s school lunch program.  Oliver asserts that we are raising a generation of fat kids through the institution that is supposed to be looking out for them, our schools.  To this end  Oliver goes to work in a grade school attempting to upgrade the nutritional, and flavor aspect of the food served to its students.  Upon arrival, Oliver is appalled at the food being served to the young lads, with some glaring examples being chocolate milk, chicken nuggets and god forbid pizza for breakfast.  Now any fool knows that you shouldn’t eat pizza for breakfast until you’re old enough to use it as a hangover cure after an evening out during your college days, unless it’s one of these pizzas.

Oliver runs into some not unexpected obstacles in his efforts to feed proper food to the kids.  There are the skeptical uncooperative “lunch ladies,” the school administration, and most of all the kids who have been brought up to expect pizza and processed food in the cafeteria.  The hurdles Oliver faces are further complicated by the  bureaucracy of the school lunch program that among other things places certain restrictions on a bogus nutritional system, and most of all cost.  Here is where I’m going to get political on you, and ruffle some feathers along the way, something Oliver seems hesitant to do in this instance.

As a nation we have just gone through a drawn out, heated and divisive health care debate.  Sadly, the school lunch program was not a part of the health care bill that passed.  Michelle Obama has laudably made childhood obesity her signature issue, but even with her passion she didn’t get her husband to address the problem in the health care bill.  Well meaning people like Jamie Oliver can try all they want  to emphasize better food for children, but the reality is that better food costs more money.  As a nation we have to place a value on the health of our children, and in doing so their future health as adults.  Can you really put a price tag on the well being of your boys and girls?  In my mind this is not a financial issue, it is a moral one.  Nutritional meals in our schools come at a price, one that we cannot afford to not pay.

Jamie Oliver who has been dubbed “The Naked Chef” in his native Great Britain clearly has his heart in the right place.  He has fought this fight before in his home country, and has had some positive results, but can he be successful on this side of the pond?

One thing Oliver needs to be careful of is to not be too preachy.  It is clear that cares deeply about the subject, and who can blame him?  But like the cranky radio host we spoke of, none of us like to be preached to, especially from a foreigner.  Not only that, but it doesn’t make for good TV.  Americans don’t like to be told what to do.  The good news is that we have shown a proclivity to be brain washed by the boob tube.  If the mild mannered Brit can entertain us while he informs us, he may have a fighting chance.  In the meantime what we have is a rare instance of a reality show that is not exploitative, and has its heart in the right place, and that is to be applauded.

You can read more about Jamie Oliver’s attempts to improve nutrition in American schools and the nation as a whole at his website.  While there you can also sign his online petition stressing the need for better nutritional standards in our nation’s schools.

Chef Gusteau says:  I totally agree with the mission, or at least the intended mission, of this concept show.  I also understand that in a selfish way, this is great publicity for Oliver to add to his culinary empire.  Why so cynical Gusteau?  If you really wanted to succeed in this pursuit, here are some critical points that should have been noted:

  • Partner with a knowledgeable and influential chef WITHIN the United States you Donkey!  Do you really think you won’t experience a little backlash when you come from overseas and begin telling people in West Virginia how unhealthy, lazy and obese they are?  Come on, you could have the cure for cancer, and if you don’t approach it the right way, you blow the whole mission!  Doesn’t he understand that this is NOT a new topic in the US?  Many chefs and nutritionists are fighting this same battle and have been for some time.  Coming here with a “Now here is how you do it” attitude isn’t helping anyone.
  • Understand the local politics and economy.  Hate to say it, Jamie, but this is as much a political/economic issue as it is a health one.  Not to say that this is justified…it’s just the way it is right now.  Schools are under very serious budgetary constraints.  Sure, fresh foods and vegetables would be great, but they tend to cost more.  Additionally, you need more skilled cooks in the kitchen to work with raw foods.  Anyone can grab processed foods, toss them in the microwave and get them to the kids…these types of workers are of a much lower cost than experienced cooks that need to clean and cook raw foods for kids.  Whether or not fresh, healthy foods are better for the kids is not the main issue.  School budgets don’t have room for more experienced staff or better ingredients.  This is a fact right now…once again, I don’t disagree with the objectives; I just understand that it takes more than Jamie is portraying.
  • Although focusing on school lunch programs is important, I believe that the bigger issue might be the food provided in children’s homes.  Think about it…kids like the cheap pizza and chicken fingers at school, so it makes sense for the school to serve these foods.  If the kids instead preferred chicken, salmon, brown rice and healthy soups, then schools would eventually have to alter their menus to meet this demand.  The question is, do kids eat like this at home?  Mine do, and it isn’t that difficult.  Does it take a little more time and money preparing these foods for your children?  Absolutely, but isn’t this worth it?  So a bigger, more pointed mission would be educating parents in how to prepare better foods at home in an economical fashion (both time and money).  Jamie does spend some time on this, but it needed even more emphasis.  Gusteau sounds crazy?  Not really…I actually offer cooking classes at my sons’ school for parents, teachers and their kids, to prepare better foods at home.  I may not have the global reach as Oliver, but I wonder if my success percentage might be slightly higher…

To the very least, Jamie Oliver is bringing more attention to this important topic.  But the solution will come from within the US, and from US families/parents.  We need to want to change, and practice the proper habits at home first, and then drive the forces at work (schools/government) to meet this new demand.  The biggest challenge is no one believes that we want to change.  Sound crazy?  Not really…go grocery shopping or to farmers markets and look at the crowds…then watch the lines outside a McDonalds, Chipotle, Taco Bell, etc.  In one fist we pound the tables demanding change, and in the other we have a handful of greasy fries.

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Culinary News of the weird and Useful: March 26, 2010

March 26, 2010

by Monsieur Anton

Why is this gin different from any other gin? Ah, the culinary delight of the Passover Seder. The light, fluffy matzo balls in the savory chicken broth, the roast chicken, the matzo, the macaroons, all washed down with the syrupy sweet Manischevitz wine. Well there’s something else to wet your whistle this Passover. Normally many liquors are not kosher for Passover because they contain grain. Distiller No. 209 has introduced a Passover-friendly gin with a sugarcane vodka replacing the usual grain base. Additionally they had to replace he prohibited cardamon with California bay leaf giving the gin a slightly sharper taste. A bottle will set you back $39.

Monsieur Anton says: Now that’s one Seder I want to be at. Can we replace the four glasses of wine required during the ceremony with four martinis? And before you ask, yes there is a kosher for Passover vermouth made by Kedem.

Chef Gusteau: Still trying to get a handle on the whole Passover tradition and keeping kosher. I do like the idea of a martini over that “wine”, but not sure if I’d be ruining it all (Passover that is) by dropping blue cheese stuffed olives in the martini. At that point, screw it and give me the scotch.

Dear Lord, can you super size me? A study by Brian Wansink, the director of Cornell University‘s Food and Brand Lab finds that the depiction of the portions served in artistic renditions of The Last Supper have increased over time. The study, co-authored with his brother Craig, a biblical scholar, studied 52 versions of the iconic religious painting. They found that the size of the plates increased over 65%, the size of the entrees on the plate grew 70%, and the bread portions were up 23%. They used the size of the apostle’s heads as a reference point for their finding which were published in the International Journal of Obesity.

Monsieur Anton: Who knew Morgan Spurlock was a prophet and that McDonald’s was a place of worship? Would you pass the communion fries please?

Chef Gusteau: I’m just waiting for someone to notice the glass of Coke, or the martini (see above) with olives, next to the pager with ESPN sports ticker on it. If you look closely, you can see the Duke T-shirt under Jesus’s robe…because he is a Blue Devil fan as everyone knows.

Gourmet matzo to go with that Passover martini. New York Times food writer Mark Bittman has fashioned a Passover-friendly matzo based on a Sardinian flat bread carta musica-sheet music. The flat bread replaces the yeast (forbidden during Passover) with olive oil. Whether it is truly kosher for Passover is questionable.

Monsieur Anton: Who cares if it’s kosher for Passover. It has to be better than the usual flavorless cracker. Pass me an olive oil matzo to go with my No. 209 martini!

Chef Gusteau: See why I don’t get Passover? Just look at the food below…it doesn’t scream “eat me” but rather, “you want to know about suffering and cutting back, eat this stuff.” I understand the importance of tradition, but at some point someone had to realize that making this all look and taste better isn’t such a bad thing. When I see someone lathering up a piece of Matzo with jelly, I have to think, “friend, there’s got to be a better way, that just looks plain goofy.”

Everything’s bigger in Texas. The Cowtown Diner in Fort Worth, Texas is serving up a meal that has

been certified by The Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest chicken-fried steak. The entree checks in at ten pounds and is served with six pounds of mashed potatoes and a loaf of Texas toast. The meal which is around 10,000 calories sells for $69.95, but is free if you you finish the whole meal, which nobody has been able to do. Cowtown’s owner Scott Jones admits that the meal “was never intended to be serious.”

Monsieur Anton: That’s a lot of bull! I’ve been known to put away a lot of food in my day, but my arteries are begging me to not even attempt it. As a side-note, instead of an after meal dinner mint, they give you a month’s supply of Lipitor.

Chef Gusteau: Do chickens even have ten pounds of meat on them? How the hell are you getting a single filet that big? And if you did, I have to think that the chicken-fried steak preparation of it would be the equivalent of eating a shovel full of lard and chasing it down with a big tall glass of melted butter. Sounds tasty, right?

Mama Mia, that’s a spicy meatball! Not to be outdone by the Cowtown Diner, staff and students at Glen Oaks Community College in Sturgis, Michigan attempted to make the world’s largest meatball. About 327 pounds of beef chuck was seasoned and cooked for 32 hours and was taken out of the oven and placed on to a scale with a forklift. The final product weighed in at 400 pounds. The first 250 pounds were cut up and donated to Meals on Wheels, with the rest served to the audience of 400 people. The whole project did not totally succeed. The inner part of the meatball failed to reach the required 160 degrees meaning it was not fit to eat, and thus not counted toward the record. Organizers cut around the undercooked area and served up 254 pounds of meatball, which would be a record by 30 pounds. Certification by Guinness awaits.

Anton says: Does anybody else think Alka Seltzer should revive their classic spicy meatball commercial. At least this publicity stunt was for a good cause. This just in. The Cowtown diner is planning a 700 pound bowl of spaghetti.

Chef Gusteau: Now, just look at that picture closely. Sorry to get gross, but it looks like King Kong took a dump in the room. Who the hell would eat that??? I don’t know how they got the internal temperature of that big boy either…did they tape a thermometer to a javelin and throw it in? I appreciate it was all for a good cause, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that even Meals on Wheels clients said, “Sorry, man, but I’m not that hungry to eat that mess.”

Preheat the Nintendo. Nintendo is coming out with a new game for its Nintendo DS platform. America’s Test Kitchen, Let’s Get Cooking is due to be released soon. The game includes 300 recipes and is light on the play aspect, and heavy on culinary minutiae.

Anton says: Screw the game. Just get the kids in the kitchen and cook with them. We’re raising a generation of video game addicts who live their life through a video screen. Make the kids get out and play sports, and yes cook.

Chef Gusteau: Agree with Anton on this one. Kids will learn the love of food and cooking through examples set within the family. I understand that kids love video games and the thought of reaching them through that avenue seems obvious, but unless the game involves slaying beasts made of hamburger (or giant meatballs from Texas), they won’t play it, and thus won’t learn about cooking…or worse, think cooking is boring. Cook with your kids and see the satisfaction in their eyes as they create with you.

Saturday March 26th…National Spinach Day

Sunday March 27th…National Spanish Paella Day

Monday March 28th…Something on a Stick Day

Tuesday March 29th…National Lemon Chiffon Cake Day

Wednesday March 30th…Turkey Neck Soup Day

Thursday March 31st…Tater Day

Friday April 1st…National Sourdough Bread Day

“I’d get stabbed in this country if I charged that! Even if the chicken had its arse wiped every day by the farmer and they said its feathers were shampooed by John Frieda – I’d be shot.”

  • Gordon Ramsay on Overpriced Chicken.

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Kitchen Nightmares Recap and Review: Le Bistro

March 25, 2010

By Chef Gusteau

Has Gordon finally met his match? In this episode Gordon goes head to head with another stubborn, outspoken and rude French trained chef from Britain, who apparently is destroying his restaurant located in Boca Raton Florida. French, British…in Boca Raton…not sure that sounds like a natural fit does it? Another thing that doesn’t fit…these two chef egos in the same kitchen. Throughout the episode we see the two go at it, typically with Gordon taking the bigger hits, which was amusing in of itself. What wasn’t amusing, however, was how Chef Andy treated his employees, his wife and even his guests. Many clips show him telling everyone to “F-off” and when a guest complains about the temperature of their filet, he responds with a casual “F-him.” How nice indeed.

Right from the beginning I felt a cringe of the pain to come. Chef Andy’s wife Elin answers the phone at the restaurant warmly, and then the scene cuts to Chef Andy grabbing a bell (the large kind you see during Christmas time that carolers shake during performances; you know, the large ones you could knock out a reindeer with?) from the pass and ringing it to get someone’s attention while he stands at the grill. What’s that? I have heard of yelling to get someone’s attention, but ringing a bell? Does the local bellhop come by to help with the expediting or something? During the pre show interviews, Chef Andy is heard saying “I can run rings around anyone in the kitchen…I know everything about everything.” He actually says this with a straight face! Now, granted he was a chef at a Michelin Star restaurant in France…but come on! You’re just asking to get slapped at that point…and Gordon is the man to do it. My favorite Chef Andy quote: “The last thing I want to do is close the restaurant and go to work for some idiot. I hate idiots.” Don’t we all.

The show begins typically, with Gordon coming in to visit for the first time. Talk about making a bad impression. Gordon walks in during a cooking class that Chef Andy is hosting with many guests. He casually sits down and begins to make fun of Andy’s technique and food with the other guests. As you might guess, Andy notices and takes issue with Gordon. Hate to say it, but I agree with Andy on this one. These are paying guests for the cooking demo and Gordon walks in like he owns the place. Show some respect and decency…humiliate in private and praise in public…isn’t that the saying?

In any case, we learn that Chef Andy and Gordon had worked at the same Michelin star restaurant (at different times…those two in the same kitchen at the same time is scary), yet clearly their paths have changed since then. Gordon asks Chef Andy to show off and cook for him. I am sure everyone knows what comes next, as Gordon proceeds to hate everything that Andy touches, and later criticizes him for not listening to his waiter when constructive criticism is sent back to the kitchen. At this point, Gordon attacks three major flaws that he sees about Chef Andy. Number one, Andy doesn’t seem to care about his guests. He cooks the food his way and to his liking, regardless if it even doesn’t fit the local tastes (like curried lamb and coconut in Florida)…and if they don’t like it, “F-them” is his response. In one funny clip, we actually see Chef Andy telling his wife to tell a guest to choose something else from the menu after the guest reported not liking the way he prepared a particular dish! Next, Gordon wants Andy to allow his sous chef to do some of the cooking. We learn that Andy does ALL of the cooking and plating, and his sous chef merely grabs produce and meats from the cooler and gets it ready for Andy to cook. Finally, and Anton will love this one, only the waiter named Alex takes the guests’ dinner orders for the whole restaurant! Apparently this insanity was created by Chef Andy so that it deliberately slows down the pace at which tickets come into the pass. Why? So Chef Andy, who does all the cooking, can keep up with the orders. Absolute insanity.

To address the caring about guests’ feedback, Gordon has the dinner guests fill out a questionnaire as they leave. As you might guess, pretty dismal results. Later, Gordon takes Andy and his wife Elin on a boat, seemingly for a bit of relaxation, and then surprises him by taking him down in the cabin, where more “ex-guests” are waiting to provide more feedback. Andy each time demonstrates his lack of concern for what anyone has to say. Funniest comment there was when one guest says that the bistro was dark and gloomy and while eating, he felt everyone was staring at him. Andy, truly grasping the hidden gem behind that comment responds with “What are you looking for, naked women dancing on tables?” Astonishing.

Riding on that wave of success, Gordon then addresses the cooking issues. He first gets the sous chef, Hendrick, to cook at least one item. Hendrick will be in charge of cooking that night’s special, pan seared red snapper. We quickly realize that the sous chef is quite good, and more than anxious to begin cooking. Andy, on the other hand, is less enthusiastic about the move. Oh, did I mention that Gordon also has two waiters taking orders that night? Prepare for dinner “rush” Andy! During that night’s dinner service, Hendrick’s snapper is getting rave reviews, but Andy and the rest of the menu aren’t doing as well. And then Gordon does the cruelest thing, although both funny and informative, that evening. As Andy falls behind on the dinner tickets and wait times exceed 70 minutes, Gordon runs next door to another restaurant and gets a takeout dinner. The process takes 10 minutes, and then Gordon shares the meal with Elin. Both realize that the quick takeout food was quite good…almost too good. Sharing this tidbit with Andy at the end of the night totally breaks Andy. Now time for the building back up…cue Gordon’s overnight makeover team.

The next day, waking up to a new restaurant design, and a new menu designed by Gordon, with no input from Andy, Andy and Elin prepare for a new path for Le Bistro. The new menu showcases local flavors, smaller portions, and quicker cook times, all to help out Andy. To add to any pressure, Gordon has invited all the high profile VIP’s, celebrities and food critics for dinner. Dinner service starts out well, and some food makes it out, but suddenly as the pressure builds, Andy starts to shut down again and resorts to previous bad habits. Quickly Gordon pulls him aside for a “pep talk”…or yelling at a “Donkey” as the Brits would say. To his credit, Andy comes back and gets his act together and has a great dinner service.

Fun episode to watch, and very interesting to see a chef so similar to Gordon in many ways. I think another interesting point was that I never once questioned Andy’s ability to cook. When some of the dishes came back from the guests, they actually looked fine. In the case of the filet that was medium rare and the guest wanted medium, I admit that the filet looked great to me. So really the issue was that Andy needed something to rejuvenate himself and to lose a little of his control over others. That said, no chef likes to give up control. He said it at the beginning, “this is my food and my reputation.” Now he has something to be proud of.

Monsieur Anton says: “Humiliate in private and praise in public?” I like that! I resolve to never again humiliate Gusteau in public. Ah, who am I kidding?

This episode to me illustrates to some degree what you see from many neophyte chefs straight out of culinary school. The school provided them with all these great techniques and tools, and an appreciation for fine cuisine, and you want to show it off, the customer be damned. The chef knows what is good, and the customer must be educated at all costs. While this can be excused for the newly anointed young chef, there is no excuse for an old hand like Andy. Let me scream this so there is no escaping my message. YOU COOK FOR THE CUSTOMER YOU &*#@*?* DONKEY! The chef that cooks to his own taste exclusively will soon be serving a party of one.

One interesting point that was demonstrated in this episode is that service takes place not only in the dining room, but also in the kitchen. If the kitchen is not getting the orders out in a timely manner, and of a quality to please the guest, than nothing the server does will leave the customer with a fine dining experience. That is kind of the message of At the Pass. The chef (back of the house) and the manager (front of the house) working together. Now if we could just get Gusteau on board with the concept (“Praise in public, humiliate in private? I kid. I’m a kidder).

What exactly is the idea behind only one server taking the orders? Is it because you want to show off all the free bread you’ll be giving away while the “diners” wait. “Diner” is in quotes because nobody getting a whole lot to eat at Le Bistro. Chef Andy wants to slow down the guests because he is doing all the cooking and relegating his sous chef to pulling food from the walk in. Do you know who pulls the food in many kitchens? The dishwasher! Hendrick is an overpaid porter. Andy may have worked in some fine kitchens, but I’ll tell you right now, no one chef can handle a busy dinner service doing all the cooking themselves, not even Gusteau.

What amazes me about Andy is that he has any staff at all. The way he barks out orders, and leaves his servers and his long suffering wife out to dry with the customers is shameful. Exactly why do they stay there, let alone his poor wife Elin who seems like a charming, lovely lady who probably needs the number a good divorce lawyer.

But this is Kitchen Nightmares and we know the routine. Somewhere around 50 minutes after the hour, the obstinate chef will see the light, and the error of his ways, there will be a successful dinner service at 55 minutes past the hour, and at 58 minutes after the hour Ramsay will walk down the street expressing hope for the restaurant.

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The 20% Solution?

March 22, 2010

by Monsieur Anton

Many restaurants automatically add a gratuity, be it 18% or 20% to parties of 8-10 or more. This surcharge is a way for the restaurant to safeguard against their servers from being stiffed by large parties. This becomes an issue for servers because when they are tied up with large parties, they are normally unable to take other tables. If the large party leaves a small, or god forbid no tip, the server has worked for little to no wages on that evening. The automatic tip is the house’s way of looking out for their employees, but that could end if a Maryland lawmaker has her way.

Baltimore City Democrat Cheryl Glenn has introduced a bill to the Maryland General Assembly that would make such fixed tips punishable by a fine of up to $5,000. The first offense would receive a warning. The second infraction results in a fine of up $500. The third, and all subsequent occurrences triggers the big money fine.

Glenn insists that it is a consumer protection issue, and on the surface it is hard to argue, but is it? Where does consumer protection end, and free market begin. After all, nobody is forcing the diner to patronize a restaurant that practices automatic gratuities. As long as the policy is clearly outlined, is it government’s job to protect diner’s from such charges? If legislation is really needed to protect diners from themselves, maybe McDonald’s should be outlawed.

Let me preface my position by stating that when I was a server, I never added the automatic tip. I felt confident in my own abilities, and in turn it usually worked out in my favor, but that was me. As a manager, I’ve seen many able servers stiffed on both small and large tables. It is the big ones that hurt though, because they account for large chunks of dough at a time.

Tipping is a hot button issue. The last time I raised the subject on this blog, it produced some heated comments. I contended then, and nothing has happened to change my view, that most diners do not know the difference between good and bad service. If you have not worked in the business, can you really be sure that the bad service you get is the result of an indifferent wait person, or an overwhelmed kitchen? I maintain that very few customers can truly tell beyond doubt where the fault lay, so why punish the sub-minimum wage employee?

I’ve seen many a patron take out bad food on the server. Why should they tip 18% for an overcooked steak, or because they had to wait 45 minutes for a table? Don’t think it happens? Try working for a week in a restaurant. The way to handle this situation is not to take it out on the server, who in Ohio is payed $3.65, but to raise your concerns with the manager. In most cases management will address legitimate complaints by “comping” an appropriate amount of the meal, or otherwise compensating you. If they do not, then you’ve got a gripe with the establishment, and can, and should respond accordingly by taking your business elsewhere.

Restaurants do have a responsibility to clearly state their policy on tacked-on gratuities. When you order a meal at a dining establishment, you enter into an unwritten contract. If government wants to really look out for consumer protection, then I have no problem with requiring restaurants to post their policy either at the door, or on the menu, or both. Most eateries that have such policies already do that. If the diner has any questions, they should ask the server or manager for clarification.

Equal protection under the law is a principle we all learned in grade school Social Studies, so how about some protection for the servers? The restaurant industry represents four percent of the nation’s workforce. Compare this to the auto industry, which received government bailout protection, and accounts for roughly three percent of the workforce. How about bailouts for the servers who get stiffed by big parties?

Chef Gusteau says: Definitely a tough topic. As a guest, I felt bothered by seeing the automatic tip on the bill. I knew how to tip appropriately, so that might account for the sense of disgust. Also, I hoped that the server wouldn’t slack off since they knew that regardless of the performance, they were getting a 20% tip. On the other hand, running a large table is a lot of work and coordination…just think how many times they come to the table. Inevitably at least 40% of the guests begin asking for extra drinks, sugars, more napkins, etc. Tough work. As far as punishing the server for back of the house issues (kitchen issues, heaven forbid!), a skilled server will know how to handle that in such a way that they neither bash the kitchen, nor make ridiculous excuses. A simple “Sorry, but the kitchen has been particularly busy this evening, and is working hard to get your food done to our Chef’s satisfaction. May I bring you some bread or additional drinks in the meantime?” works wonders.

Another big issue is whether or not the server acknowledges the automatic tip. I am sure there are some servers out there hoping that their large party gets all “drunk and goofy” and doesn’t notice the automatic tip, hoping to get an additional tip on the bill…netting a total tip of 40% or something. I know it’s buyer beware, even in restaurants, but it seems wrong to take advantage of the guests that way. I always tip extra when the server acknowledges the automatic tip as a reminder and expresses their hope that everything went well with the meal.

In summary, I don’t mind seeing an automatic tip, nor do I think it wrong for an establishment to utilize one for larger parties. In most cases, the server clearly works harder and forgoes smaller tables with faster turnovers. I truly appreciate servers that acknowledge the automatic tip as both a reminder as well as a point of honesty. Finally, your server must have been pretty awful if you have an issue with a 20% tip, regardless of the party size.

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Culinary News of the Weird and Useful: Reality TV Edition

March 18, 2010

Gordon Ramsay Watch At the Pass’ favorite reality TV whipping boy Gordon Ramsay has been a busy boy.  In addition to FOX renewing Kitchen Nightmares for a third season, it appears Gordo owes $377,887.77 in back taxes for the failed Gordon Ramsay New York. That didn’t stop him from shelling out for a little cosmetic surgery.  At the urging of Simon Cowell he had laser surgery to even out his wrinkly chin.

If that’s not enough Ramsay news for you, vandals have hit his London home with some R rated graffiti, writing “Gordon is s**t!” and “Ramsay is a douche.”

Monsieur Anton says:  This makes me feel absolutely civilized in the way I make fun of Ramsay.  It is good to see however that Gordon is making himself more telegenic for the renewed Kitchen Nightmares and his other boob tube projects…and for the tax judge!

Chef Gusteau: At what point will Gordon be doing an episode of Kitchen Nightmares concerning one of his own restaurants?  A little self-deprecation might suit him well.

Who Wants a Reality Show The roster of food based reality shows is on the rise.  CBS has green lighted “Beat the Chefs,” where home cooks will take on professional chefs in a cooking competition.  The amateurs, along with a staff of friends and family will attempt to cook the same dish as the pros with a cash prize at stake.

Not to be outdone, NBC has a new show in the works.  America’s Next Great Restaurant, hosted by Bobby Flay challenges amateurs to come up with a restaurant concept that they feel is the next big thing.  They will be judged by a panel of investors and restaurant professionals who will invest their own money to make the American Dream come true.

Monsieur Anton:  Soon everyone will have their own reality show!  Seriously though, the Next Great Restaurant is intriguing.  I’ve got a feeling it is time for Gusteau and I to get our business plan together for a chain of At the Pass Cafes.

Chef Gusteau:  Chef pros against home cooks…beware of this one.  First of all, being a chef is NOT just about cooking great food.  It’s about organization, consistency, execution and leadership.  The typical home cook might be great at several dishes, but that doesn’t mean they can run a restaurant, guide a host of chefs towards completing a dinner service, etc.  This is an interesting concept for a show, where obviously the excitement will be watching the chefs lose to grandma’s apple pie or something.  Will I dare watch an episode?  I’d rather cook with my boys at home so they could beat Bobby Flay someday.

Now about Bobby Flay and the newest of his TV shows.  Doesn’t this show concept seem familiar to that inventor/investor show called “Swimming with the Sharks” or Shark Tank or something?  Guests would come in with an idea and a panel of “experts” would determine if they would invest in the idea or not.  By now people have to understand that even a great idea isn’t nearly enough.  Neither is a boat-load of money.  It’s about hard work and persistence, and a gluttony for punishment and pain.  Now make that a show…how much abuse can a guest take before giving up?

As far as a chain of At the Pass Cafes…has a great ring to it.  But how’s this for a bonus.  Each guest gets a heavy sauté pan and one swing at either Bobby Flay’s head or Rocco DiSpirito’s.  You knock them out, dessert is on us.  You wound them severely, I’ll throw in an appetizer.  You make them howl like Nancy Kerrigan, dinner is on me.  I can see the line outside the door now.

Rock On Rocco Reality show reject Rocco DiSpirito says he owes his career as a chef to 70’s rock gods KISS.  It seems Rocco was trying to build up his record collection, and chanced upon a career.

“As a child growing up in the Seventies, I was big time into Kiss. Their album ‘Love Gun’ came out when I was around 11 years old, and I had to have it. I asked my Mom for the money to buy it, and she said to me (in thick Italian accent) “You want the money? You got to get a job.” I didn’t even know I could get a job at that age.”

And the rest as they say is culinary history!

Monsieur Anton:  Me, I was into The Who, and I found smashing dishes was cheaper than smashing guitars.  And the rest as they say is definitely not culinary history.

Chef Gusteau:  What parent lets their 11-year-old get a job, let alone listen to Kiss and Love Gun?  I guess I am a bit old fashioned on that one…but I didn’t miss the mark on his getting a job…he’s still looking, right?  He could always land a job at At the Pass Café catching sauté pans (See Above).

British Food Celebrities Got Talent Piers Morgan of America’s Got Talent, and the second most irritating British judge on television behind Simon Cowell has written a list of “100 British Celebrities that Matter, “ and a few TV chefs made the cut.  The highest rated was Jamie Oliver (new reality show coming up next week) at 11.  Gordon Ramsay checked in at 54, Nigella Lawson at 64, Marco Pierre White at 69, and Delia Smith at 69.

Monsieur Anton:  Gordon Ramsay at 54?  Doesn’t Piers read At the Pass.  Gordon has to be much higher.  In related news, Anton has listed Piers Morgan at 102,423 on my list of celebrities that matter.

Chef Gusteau:  I assume Piers made it to the top 5 on his own list?  I guess the bigger question would be who really cares about British Celebrities?

Dude, You’re Getting a Dell Padma Lakshi of Top Chef has been out and about with her newborn baby daughter Krishna.  Lakshi has been quiet as to the identity of Krishna’s father, but the New York Post is reporting that the father is venture capitalist Adam Dell, brother of Dell Computers Michael Dell.  The website reports that Lakshi 39, and Dell 40 are working out visitation rights.

Monsieur Anton:  Any story that elicits a picture of Ms Lakshi is fine with me.  Seems like young Krishna has hit the jackpot with Padma’s genes for looks, and all the Dell Computer money.  Not bad.

Chef Gusteau:  I thought the Daddy would be Chef Colicchio or something.  Wouldn’t that be a scary looking baby?

Sleeping with Paula Deen Is there nothing that southern belle chef Paula Deen will not pimp? The Food Network star has teamed up with Serta to roll out a line of Paula Deen Mattresses.

“You can definitely tell that these mattresses have been inspired by my life in the South and my home in Savannah, Ga.,” said Deen. “The collection is all about feeling good, comfortable and getting a good night’s sleep in one’s home. And just like my food, I send you comfort and love from my home to yours.”

The mattresses will run from $799 to $1499.

Monsieur Anton:  OK, I’ll eat Paula’s food, but no offense Ms Deen, I really don’t want to even think about you while I’m in bed.  Now if Padma Lakshi came out with a mattress…

Chef Gusteau:  Mattresses? You’ve got to be kidding me? How about a line of moonshine…someone had to have had tons of it to think her ass selling mattresses was a good idea?

Friday March 19th …Poultry Day

Saturday March 20th…Bock Beer Day (Anton took the day off…hint hint)

Sunday March 21st…National Ravioli Day

Monday March 22nd…Coq Au Vin Day

Tuesday March 23rd…National Chip and Dip Day

Wednesday March 24th…National Chocolate Covered Raisin Day

Thursday March 25th…Waffle Day

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