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My Trip to the White House

September 13, 2012

Bill Yosses and Susie Morrison, The White House Pastry Chefs and me

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the State Department reception in Washington, DC announcing The Diplomatic Culinary Partnership with The James Beard Foundation. Michael Bauer wrote about it in his blog on Tuesday. Hillary Rodham Clinton conceived the idea as one more way we can engage with other countries. This will happen on several levels- JBF will help The State Department identify chefs to cook for visiting dignitaries, be a resource for foreign chefs who come to The United States, and work with American chefs traveling abroad to meet with chefs in their respective countries. The initiative exists regardless of who is President. Its non partisan as food should be.

About 40 chefs attended the event. Before the reception the chefs got a tour of The White House. Chefs, a casual group for the most part, were all dressed up for the occasion. I haven’t ever seen that many chefs wearing ties. We all recognized how unique this experience was.

The Green Room, which is now a sitting room, used to be Thomas Jefferson’s dining room. To stand in the room and envision him eating his meals there was humbling to say the least. We were all surprised by the size of the kitchen- it’s quite small- about the size of the upstairs kitchen at Waterbar. Seven people are on The White House culinary team. A small number considering the number and caliber of the people they serve.

We walked down to see the infamous culinary garden full of late summertime produce and greenery. It was impressive to see the garden on one side of the lawn and an urban city with cars and pedestrians on the other. There’s been a lot of talk about White House beer but did you know they have a bee hive?

It was inspiring to witness, and not just hear, that The White House looks at food the way we do.  Hillary Clinton is right. Sharing food and cuisines can only heighten our relationships with others.

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Heritage Radio Network

August 31, 2012

We all know about 24 hour food television but do you know about 24 hour food radio?
Heritage Radio is a superb online radio station with fascinating content. A 501(c)3 company it offers a wide range of hosted shows dealing with food culture, personalities, and tastemakers.

Patrick Martins, founder of Slow Food USA and Heritage Foods created Heritage Radio.

Chef’s Story, hosted by Dorothy Cann Hamilton, interviews chefs about their careers, food insights and influences. Taste Matters with Mitchell Davis looks at taste trends, memories and global food movements. Other shows explore culinary history, food politics, wine, southern food and traditions, cocktails and artisanal cheese.

Shows can be heard live or go to their website (www.heritageradionetwork.com) and check the archives for past shows. You can also download shows from iTunes. I have a queue ready to go and listen when I am cooking at home or driving in the car. It’s relaxing and I always learn something and feel inspired.

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Jessica Sullivan Boulevard and Prospect Pastry Chef

August 24, 2012

Jessica Sullivan’s Gravenstein apple custard cake with pink pearl apple sherbet and bavarian buttermilk ice cream

Originally from Minnesota, Jessica moved to Montana to go to college. While studying tree biology she paid the bills baking at various Mom and Pop style restaurants. After graduation she moved further west to Portland and found a job bartending but went in early to make bread. After several years working as a pastry chef at small restaurants in Portland she nixed her original plan to become a Life Flight Forest Ranger. She realized the kitchen was where she truly belonged. Jessica enrolled in the California Culinary Academy and moved to San Francisco. Lucky for us.

Jessica is pastry chef at both Boulevard and Prospect. She splits her time between the two and is happy they are nearby. It makes for an easy commute between the two when issues come up. This week at Boulevard I spent some time chatting with Jessica about desserts.

EL: What flavors/ingredients do you like best?

JS: Summer flavors at the market. I’m originally from Minnesota. When I first moved here I couldn’t believe all the produce. I still am impressed. All the different berries- Boysenberries, Tayberries, Black Raspberries.

EL: What flavors/ingredients do you like least?

JS: Nothing really.

EL: What dessert or flavors first come to mind when I mention the following ingredients:

Rhubarb: Crisp

Passion fruit: Semifreddo

Chocolate: Peanut butter- Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Marquise

Berries: Pavlova

Coffee: Cold Infusion (so cream stays white) Date Cake with cold coffee coconut ganache

Almonds: Dark Chocolate

EL: What dessert has someone else created that you loved?

JS: Last week I ate at Rich Table. I had a delicious panna cotta with stone fruits and toasted almond crumble. It was perfect.

EL: Who has influenced your dessert style?

JS: Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers from The River Café in London. Their style is rustic but perfect. I build off of it. Claudia Fleming, Emily Luchetti.

EL: What ingredient would you like to see used more in the pastry kitchen or appreciated by diners?

JS: Cheeses in desserts. Figs. The figs are in the market now. They are so beautiful but they’re a hard sell.
EL: What kitchen tool would you be lost without?

JS: Julie- my right and left hand.

EL: What’s your least favorite pastry trend?

Torn Cake. Liquid nitrogen.

EL: Where do you like to eat out in the city?

JS: Zuni, Flour & Water, Bar Tartine

EL: What was the last thing you made outside of work?

JS: Dinner- grilled Branzino and veggie succotash.

EL: What’s a typical breakfast?

Yogurt or a Vita Prep smoothie of green veggies. Sometimes just coffee.

EL: What do people not know about you that you wish they did?

I have a private pilot’s license.

 

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The Cookbook Library

August 16, 2012

 

I am obsessed with cookbooks. I hear about a new one and have a one track mind until it’s on my kitchen counter or next to my bed. I have come to recognize a quick trip to Omnivore Books to pick up one book turns into an hour of browsing and leaving with an armful of titles. It’s worse since I can rationalize my purchases with the knowledge I can write them off on my income taxes.

My fixation was one motivator when I decided to write my first book. I thought it would be cool to have my name in The Library of Congress. It was.

I love books old and new. New ones with their innovative techniques and creative flavor combinations keep me current. Old ones show me where food has been and how it and even culture has evolved. You can imagine my delight then when I discovered, The Cookbook Library by Anne Willan. Published by University of California Press, it’s a cookbook about cookbooks. More specifically highlights from Willan’s and Mark Cherniavsky’s (her husband and co-author), vast vintage cookbook collection.

The Cookbook Library is a historical overview of cookbooks from the 13th to 19th centuries. The authors translate selected recipes from their original form into English. Even the old English recipes need translating. As one recipe sates “…butter your hoop…”. Each recipe is then updated to current recipe standards so they can be prepared by today’s cook.

I have skimmed through the whole book but am only halfway through reading it from the beginning. So far some of my favorite things I have discovered are:

  • Cookbooks were among the first books printed. Cookbooks in four languages (Latin, German, French and English) were printed before 1501.
  • Early books were for the upper class and nobility as they had access and ability to pay for ingredients.
  • Titles of books back then weren’t the quick catchy titles they are today. In 1552 Nostradamus published An Excellent and Most Useful Little Work Essential to All Who Wish to Become Acquainted with Some Exquisite Recipes.
  • English cooks primarily wrote cookbooks for home cooks while The French wrote books for professionals.
  • Not until the 19th Century did cookbooks focus on providing the number of servings in a recipe. At the time food many dishes were presented in a single course. Leftover food was served at another meal or given to servants.
  • Blanc Mange, the dessert we know today consisting of milk, almonds and sugar originally was made with any white meat or fish and thickened with bread or flour.
  • Weights have not always been standardized. They would fluctuate between regions and town. A little hard to send your recipe for chocolate chip cookies to your relatives two states over if they didn’t know the way you measured.
  • Fast Days were not periods where you refrained from eating. They only eliminated meat. Other foods were still allowed. (As opposed to feast days which always had meat.) And we thought Meatless Mondays was a new concept.

Whether you are a cookbook addict or someone who just wants to learn about the evolution of recipes, check out The Cookbook Library. You will find it a fascinating read.

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Back of the Box Desserts

August 10, 2012

Most people are scared to make dessert for me. When I offer to bring dessert to a dinner party there is usually a sigh of relief over the phone from the hostess. I am happy to make something as I don’t want him or her to feel intimidated. That’s not what a party is about. What they don’t know is you could give me a couple of cookies and I’d be perfectly happy. When I go to a friend’s for dinner it’s for getting together and having fun. I am not going to be a dessert snob. I am way pickier about my own desserts than others. Great dessert is a bonus but it is hardly necessary.

This past month I have caught up with old friends from high school and even grammar school. Funny enough I discovered the people who have known me the longest aren’t petrified to make me dessert. Maybe it’s because they knew me before dessert making entered my life.

Two of the most recent desserts I was served were Cherries Jubilee and Chocolate Wafer Cake. The Cherries Jubilee was fabulous because of the generous amount of premium rum and the cherry chunk ice cream bought from the local creamery near where I was visiting. Who says ice cream has to be store bought?

The Chocolate Wafer cake is also called Chocolate Refrigerator Cake. Most of you have seen this cake. It’s been around for decades. Famous Nabisco Chocolate Wafers are layered vertically between whipped cream. It sits in the fridge for a couple of hours before eating so the wafers can soak up the cream and get a bit soft. It’s to die for. The recipe is on the back of the box. Granted, if you are a purist, it’s best not to read the ingredient label. I tried for many years to recreate these wafers with natural ingredients but I could never get it quite the same. I gave up and figured I would just go to the store and buy them. What’s a few preservatives between friends?

This recipe on the back of The Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafer package got me thinking about other recipes on the back of boxes. Recipes which are actually pretty good.

The oatmeal cookies on the Quaker Oatmeal Canister; the butter cream on the C&H Powdered Sugar box; Chex mix on the Chex cereal box; biscuits from the Bisquick box; sour cream dip from the Lipton Onion Soup mix.

We may have all tweaked them but they all tasted pretty good the first time. What back of the box recipes do you like?

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Cooking with a Mentor- Andre Soltner

May 3, 2012

 

In the early 1980’s I was cooking on the line in a small restaurant in New York City. One of my first jobs out of cooking school, I was learning to set up my station quickly and absorb the finer points of putting out food consistently throughout dinner service. It was a tiny kitchen. The only other cook was my boss. He was a great mentor- taught me a lot and encouraged me to always challenge myself. If I didn’t know how to do something he would put it on my to-do list the next day.

Before service one night at work I got a phone call from my boyfriend (now my husband). At the last minute he had been invited to go to Lutèce, Andre Soltner’s acclaimed restaurant for dinner and wondered if I could go with him. My boss overheard me say “I can’t go to Lutèce tonight, I have to work.” He interrupted and said “Of course you can go. You’ll learn more at Lutèce eating dinner than you will cooking here tonight.” I rushed home, changed my clothes and an hour later I was sitting in the plush dining room on East 50th Street. A dream come true for any cook- young or old.

From 1961 until he sold it in 1994, Andre Soltner and his wife, Simone, were Lutèce. They visited every table providing a warm atmosphere that was unusual for a formal French restaurant at the time.  In the three decades they owned the restaurant they only missed about 5 services. It had a four star rating and was recognized as one of the best, if not the best, restaurants in The United States. He served classic French food with many dishes from his native Alsace.

Fast forward 30 years and this past Saturday night I got the chance to cook a dinner with Andre Soltner. If you had told me when I was first starting out I would have the opportunity to spend an evening in the kitchen cooking with him I would have shook my head in disbelief.

The occasion was the New York Culinary Experience sponsored by New York Magazine and The International Culinary Center. Chef Soltner’s dish was veal cheeks with spatzle. The base of the sauce was a text book perfect beautiful veal stock he had made.  The flavor was rich but not too gelatinous and gummy as many veal stocks can be. The color was a gorgeous deep dark mahogany. The veal cheeks melted in your mouth.

The other chefs preparing courses were New York Chefs. Wylie Durfsne from WD-50 prepared slow cooked trout with a light delicious potato puree and Michael Tropeano from Silhouette served sautéed foie gras with pineapple several ways. The acidity of the pineapple produced the perfect balance to the rich foie gras.

For dessert, since I was cooking with Chef Soltner a French chef of the old school, I chose something classic.  I made Rhubarb Apple Charlottes and served them with Caramel Crème Fraîche.  And to my delight he loved them.
Working side by side with Chef Soltner will be one of my culinary highlights just as eating in his restaurant was so long ago.

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Taste What You’re Missing

March 21, 2012

Taste What You're Missing: The Passionate Eater's Guide to Getting More from Every Bite

How food tastes is much more complicated than I thought. Did you know when you “taste” food about 90 percent of it is experienced by our sense of smell and only 10 percent with our taste buds? But delve even deeper and that equation holds true only if you haven’t taken into account your other senses of touch, hearing and sight.

Barb Stuckey’s new book Taste what You’re Missing- The Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good is a must for any food lover. Barb, a food developer extraordinaire at Mattson one of the largest independent developer of new foods and beverages, takes a complex and technical subject of how we taste and presents it in a straightforward and engaging manner. It’s fascinating. I spent all day Sunday on the sofa reading.

Individually we all taste things a bit differently. I might like things sweeter or more bitter than you. Genetics, biology, your brain, and even the number of taste buds on your tongue all play a role in how we experience taste.

Barb dissects the senses of taste, smell, touch, sight and sound and the role each plays in what we taste. We all know we smell through our noses. The aroma of chocolate chip cookies or roasted chicken can entice us from across the room. But did you know that smells are also sent from your mouth to your brain once the food is inside your mouth and you have begun chewing? Barb calls this mouth-smelling. We experience textures by touch. Think of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream and how all those nuts and chocolate chunks feel in your mouth. Sight often overrides our other senses when eating. If apple juice is served in an orange glass we may think its orange juice. Fajitas served sizzling hot leave a taste impression before we even put them in our mouths.

Barb describes the basic five basic tastes of salt, bitter, sweet, sour, and umami and provides exercises for us to isolate the different tastes and senses. How to recognize what umami tastes like and how the aging of cheese or roasting of tomatoes changes that flavor. Cane sugar, Splenda, Stevia are all sweet but their profiles are all different so they taste completely different.

Are you a tolerant taster, a taste or hyper taster? (With some blue food coloring and a reinforcement label you can find out.) This too influences how food tastes.

Tastes and senses all work together to create the taste of food good and bad. Barb helps us understand each of them so we can increase our overall appreciation of food and make our food taste better when we are cooking in the kitchen.

If you want to hear Barb talk about the science of taste, come tonight to Omnivore Books at 6:00 PM.

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