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Hot House Rhubarb

March 14, 2012

Generally I prefer field grown produce over hot house. A tomato is a perfect example. The flavor and texture of a tomato grown in natural sunlight is far superior to its hot house counterpart.

With rhubarb however the opposite is true. I get excited when hot house rhubarb arrives.  A lot of it has to do with the color. Hot house is pink all the way through and holds that color even after it is baked. Field grown rhubarb, not as pretty even in its raw state, turns an unattractive light brown color when put on the stove or in the oven. Rhubarb is enough of a challenge for a pastry chef to sell. Maintaining its bright red flavor helps. The flavor isn’t sacrificed either. Its less stringy allowing me to do more things with it than just bake it in a crisp or pie.

We are now getting hot house rhubarb from Sumner, Washington. For hot house growing, rhubarb stalks are put in soil in a dark room. In the old days the rooms were heated by pot belly stoves but now furnaces are used. This technological advancement freed up the farmers from getting up in the middle of the night and tending the fires.

There are two varieties of hot house rhubarb. First up is Victoria. It is milder in flavor and a beautiful pink color. Once that has been harvested the next variety planted is Refill. It’s tarter than Victoria. Unlike Victoria, Refill can be grown inside or outside. Crimson is the field grown variety we are all most familiar with. Crimson can’t be grown indoors or it rots.

Interestingly the leaves on hot house rhubarb are smaller as the lack of light forces all the energy into the plant rather than the leaves. And yes, it is true you shouldn’t eat rhubarb leaves.  They have a high concentration of oxalic acid.

Botanically rhubarb is a vegetable although it was classified by a New York State Court in the 1940’s as a fruit for taxing purposes. They rationalized since it was predominately used for pies (hence its nickname the pie plant) which are fruit based it should be labeled as such. In other countries rhubarb is served as a vegetable. In Poland it is cooked with potatoes and in Iran it’s used in stews.

As rhubarb season gets into full throttle if you want to brighten a pastry chef’s day, try the rhubarb dessert on his/her menu. They are not as popular as other fruit desserts but we have a soft spot for them and always wish they sold more.

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Michael Recchiuti of Recchiuti Chocolates

March 8, 2012

 

photo credit Tom Seawell

 

Michael first came to the Bay Area on a cross country road trip with is older sister. He was 19 and lived in Philadelphia. He met up with her in Florida and they spent four months getting to California. Once he saw San Francisco he knew one day he would return.

He spent the next several years working at The Frog and Commissary and restaurant catering companies in Philadelphia. He was doing general pastry work and had not yet specialized in chocolate but even back then it was his passion. He would often work and take classes for free, doing whatever was required, at Cacao Barry under Pascal Janvier and Jean-Marie Guichard so he could learn as much as he could. They, along with Alain Tricou of  Maxim’s and Déjà Vu Restaurant, taught him the fundamental techniques he needed to start his life long quest to make great chocolates.

In 1986 he made the move to California and worked at Taste Catering and for other catering companies in the Bay Area. In 1991 he was pulled back to the east coast where he taught at The New England Culinary Academy (NECI) and then was pastry chef at a couple of resorts in New England. It was at Twin Farms Resort and Spa in Barnard, VT that he and Jacky, his wife, were finally able to lay the ground work for his chocolate company. They developed their first line of chocolates and in 1997 returned to San Francisco to start Recchiuti Chocolates.

I sat down with Michael in his factory office on Third Street for some Q & A. Michael spends most of his time making chocolates in the factory part and not lounging in his office but the drum set that takes up a good part of it I know makes him wish he could spend more time there.

EL: What kinds of chocolate do you use?

MR: Guittard, Valrhona, and El Rey. We have developed a custom blend with Valrhona that allow us to achieve my desired flavor profile.

What flavors/ingredients do you like best?

I really like our grapefruit and tarragon. People at first may think this is a bit odd but once they try it they love it. What I love about this combination is how it developed into a chocolate. I first made it as a granita intermezzo, then in a ganache and finally into a formed chocolate. The candy like flavor of the tarragon and the bitterness of the grapefruit pair beautifully together.

What flavors/ingredients do you like least?

Probably cinnamon, lavender, and pepper. Mostly because they are used with too heavy a hand.

What flavor of your chocolates comes to mind when I mention the following kinds of chocolate:

Milk- Hazelnut

White- Espresso

Dark-Tarragon and grapefruit or vanilla. Interestingly many chocolatiers are stopping using vanilla as they use more fruity chocolates. I love vanilla and feel it is hard to overdo. We use whole pods that are ground up, not just the insides. The pod adds a complexity to the flavor.

What chocolate dessert has someone created that you absolutely loved?

Annie Walker’s Chocolate Pot de Crème from 42 Degrees. It was perfect. Simple and complex. She would get annoyed it was the only dessert I would ever order but it was so good. Doesn’t need whipped cream or any garnish.

What flavor do you think is underappreciated in pairing with chocolate?

Pink Peppercorn with Star Anise. I often have to talk people into trying it but then they are hooked.

What’s your least favorite trend in chocolates?

The crazy flavors chefs add- meat, vinegar, mushrooms, caramelized onions.

What kitchen tool would you be lost without?

An immersion blender or a fine mesh sieve.

Where do you like to eat out in the city?

Piccino, Brunch at Zuni, Serpentine, Statebird Provisions.

What was the last thing you made at home?

Chocolate Chicken breasts with a ground up cocoa nib and butter paste. I blackened them on an inverted cast iron skillet (a trick I learned from Jan Birnbaum), finished them in the oven and served it with homemade fettuccine.

What do people not know about you that they may be surprised to find out?

I love playing the drums. In Philly I did experimental music. If you want to hear me play the drums, this Sunday I will be in a marching band in Dogpatch. The clothing company Lemon Twist is operating a pop up store until April in our future café space. The Lemon Twist Marching Band will perform between 1 and 4. We’ll march west on 22nd Street between Third and Mississippi.

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Save Canadian Seals

February 24, 2012

Chefs for Seals

Monday night Farallon Restaurant hosted a benefit for Chefs for Seals. The Humane Society, Project Seals, and famed photographer Nigel Barker are on a road trip across the country to promote awareness for the slaughtering of harp seals in Canada.

Hundreds of thousands of pups are clubbed and shot to death each year for their fur. This commercial seal hunt is the largest slaughter of marine mammals in the world. Since 2005 there has been a growing boycott of Canadian seafood to try to stop these killings. Project Seals has worked diligently to get more and more countries and individuals to participate.  Just recently the Canadian Government finally started discussing ways to end the practice and teach the hunters new skills so they can obtain their livelihood in more humane ways.

A big part of Project Seals campaign is to get chefs involved. We have the power to influence purchasing and ultimately change behavior on a large scale.  I know I know, another good cause for chefs to support. Why can’t someone call and ask us to donate to something that doesn’t tug at our heart strings. Then we won’t feel badly saying no. But this cause is really easy to be a part of.

This time you can have an impact without turning on the oven or heating up a saucepan; without schlepping to an offsite even; and without setting up a display and all your food on a six foot table. And you can stay home. In fact the way to support Project Seals is to not do something. That something is to not buy Canadian seafood.

Many chefs like Dominique Crenn, Roland Passot, Hoss Zaré, Adam Mali, James Montejano, and Michael Reining have already signed on and were at the event. Hundreds of chefs across the country have signed the pledge. You should too.

For more information on Project Seals and to sign the pledge, go to The Humane Society website at http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/seal_hunt/.

This seemingly small action by each of us will have a huge impact. When you sign and email the pledge, you will also get listed on an app that highlights restaurants across the country which support the ban.

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Citrus Census

February 9, 2012

Just One Tree

Last week’s blog got a nice response from people excited to bring in their citrus in exchange for dessert or oysters at Waterbar. We are ready for lots of squeezing and zesting.

I also heard from Dr. Isabel Wade of Urban Resources Systems. URS and Dr. Wade have been pioneers in promoting the concept of urban self-reliance in San Francisco since 1981. They have been promoting sustainability way before it was the hip thing to do.

Some of the projects initiated or incubated at URS include:  CityFood, San Francisco ZooDoo, California ReLeaf, the AIDS Memorial Grove, and the Neighborhood Parks Council.  Dr. Wade is also the founding President of Friends of the Urban Forest, and has served as a member of the San Francisco Commission on the Environment and as Chair of the Parks, Recreation, and Open Space Committee.  She also received the Mayor’s Office first Lifetime Achievement Award (Neighborhood Empowerment Network) in 2009. 

URS is taking the lead on an initiative called Just One Tree. The first step is to register all the lemon trees in the city on The Urban Forest Map. No one really knows for sure how many trees are in the city but it has been estimated to be at least 3,000.

Once all the present trees are recorded, Just One Tree wants to plant 12,000 lemon trees in the city’s 150,000 back yards, public parks, and other public lands by the end of 2013.

Just One Tree will illustrate that even a dense city such as San Francisco, with little arable space, can be a striking model and inspiration for other Bay Area and California cities with far more land.  Its success will also hopefully have global resonance and provide a global model that any city can work toward great self-reliance in food production, even if the best result is Just One Crop.

Soon they will have the Just One Tree website up and you will be able to register your lemon tree(s). In the meantime for more information on Just One Tree and to contact them about donating your time and/or money to this great project, go to urbanresourcesystems.org.

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Too Much Citrus?

February 2, 2012

Walk around any local farmers markets or grocery stores now and you quickly realize we are in the height of citrus season. Blood or Cara Cara oranges, mandarins, tangerines, citron, Meyer lemons, and limes are all piled high. We are blessed and spoiled with this bounty. But as I say pretty frequently someone has to live here. It might as well be us.

The first California citrus trees were planted in The Missions in the mid 1830’s. Soon thereafter they were introduced throughout the state. Once the transcontinental railroad was built in the late 1870’s, our citrus was shipped to the east coast and by the 1890’s California’s bounty was being enjoyed in Europe.

For many in the Bay Area this yearly bonanza is also recognized by simply looking out their front or back window. Countless homes have a citrus tree decorating their yards. These trees produce an abundance of fruit and it can be difficult to use it all. There’s only so much juice you can squeeze, marmalade you can preserve, or rind you can zest. Your neighbors, although appreciative, will only take so much. I speak from experience as I now have thirty five pounds of Meyer Lemons in my fridge impatiently waiting to be turned into something.

Waterbar would like to help you unload your personal harvest. For each 10 pounds of Meyer lemons, Kumquats, limes, oranges or any other variety of citrus you have an abundance of, we will trade you a half dozen of Chef’s choice oysters or a dessert of your choice. Haul 30 pounds to us and we will name the dish we use your fruit in after you for a day and send you a copy of the menu. Also please email us a picture of you and your tree so we can verify you didn’t pick the fruit up at Whole Foods or the Farmer’s Market.  Email me at emily@emilyluchetti.com or our purchasing agent, Eric Hyman, at eric@waterbarsf.com.

Note: For an exceptionally informative book about citrus and its considerable number of varieties, check out Allen Susser’s The Great Citrus Book (Ten Speed Press).

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Suzanne LaFleur Pastry Chef at Perbacco and Barbacco

January 26, 2012

 

 

 

Like me, Suzanne LaFleur, pastry chef at Perbacco and Barbacco, began her kitchen career on the savory side. Raised in San Jose, she graduated from The California Culinary Academy and her work resume includes The Grand Café, Waterfront, Silks and Yoshi’s. Her first pastry chef job was at Silks.

Looking back over her restaurant experiences she feels that savory work taught her many skills she uses on a daily basis in pastry. Among them, how to not crowd a pan for better results and working the grill for speed and efficiency. Bruce Hill at Waterfront was influential as she learned from his impressive palate.

Most recently her go to dessert cookbooks are Frozen Desserts by Francisco J. Migoya and anything by David Lebovitz and Gina DePalma.

Earlier this week we sat down at Waterbar and chatted about desserts.

EL: What flavors/ingredients do you like best?

SL: A couple of different things. Anything with malt. I just got back from Fiji and I found an Australian malt called Milo. I can’t wait to use it.

(Another thing Suzanne and I have in common is going to grocery stores when we travel internationally. It’s fun to see different things on the shelves.)

Cardamom- the green pods, not the ground up black kind.

Caramelized White Chocolate- I put it in a big hotel pan, bake it at 200 degrees and constantly stir it. Anything with crunch- cocoa nibs and feuillentine (crushed cookies that taste like sugar cones.

What flavors/ingredients do you like least?

Licorice and Guava

What dessert first comes to mind when I mention the following ingredients:

Rhubarb – Jam Filled Zeppole

Passion fruit – Pate de fruit

 Chocolate –Devil’s Food Cake

Berries – Summer Pudding (I like to add a splash of Cointreau)

Coconut Coconut Milk Caramels

Apples – Coffee Cake

What dessert has someone else created that you loved?

Christina Tosi’s (Momofuku Milk Bar) Candy Bar Pie. It’s modeled after a Take 5 Candy Bar with a chocolate crust, layers of peanut butter, chocolate, and caramel pretzels.

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

Quince. Before it went out of season I served it poached with gingerbread cake and squash seed brittle.

What kitchen tool would you be lost without?

A Chinois. If you can strain it you probably should.

What’s your least favorite pastry trend?

French macarons. I appreciate them and recognize they take skill to make but they are overdone.

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

I recently got into scuba diving.

Where do you like to eat out in the city?

Sushizone on Market near Destino and Broken Record on Geneva. The latter is primarily a bar but they have a window in the back where you can order really good comfort food.

What was the last thing you made outside of work?

My girlfriend and I made peppercorn crusted New York Steaks with a potato gratin.

What’s your go to breakfast?

Polenta and coffee.

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Yosemite Chefs’ Holiday

January 20, 2012

I just got back from Yosemite’s Annual Chefs Holidays. Held throughout the month of January they offer 8, three day seminars of culinary demonstrations and a Gala Dinner. I have been lucky enough to be included half a dozen times over the last 15 years.

It’s a fun event for a couple of reasons. Yosemite is a magnificent national park but going in the summer can be a bit chaotic. The crowds are loving the place to death. In winter it is more peaceful without the masses. I also look forward to the park in the snow. Nothing beats looking out the windows of The Ahwahnee Hotel at breakfast and seeing the huge pine trees covered in white. But even though they haven’t gotten a single flake of snow yet this year there is an upside. You can still hike in areas that in a normal weather conditions would be off limits.

The other reason I like going is the people who attend the classes. They love food and wine and are very friendly. Many are repeats. They come as couples or in groups. I met a group of 14 this year who are having a reunion here. Many come from the Western States but some travel from Texas and even the east coast.

Three chefs participate in each session. This time I was fortunate to be paired up with two San Francisco Bay Area Chefs whose food I had not yet had the opportunity to try. Peter Chastain from Prima (ww.primawine.com) in Walnut Creek and Sean Baker from Gather (www.gatherrestaurant.com) in Berkeley.

Sean demonstrated two recipes he has served on his restaurant menu. Miso Grapefruit Cured Black Cod with Fried Egg, Compressed Celery, Smoked Oyster and Lovage and Citron Ramen with Dungeness Crab “Fish Balls”, Citron Leaf Confit Pork Shoulder, Trotter Bacon Dashi and Garnishes. I got to taste the Ramen and it was delicious. A perfect balance of flavors. Sean uses sous vide to produce most of his food and he is a master of that machine. I can’t wait to go to Gather and try more if his food.

The demonstrations were moderated by Andrew Friedman, a talented writer who has co-authored cookbooks with many chefs including, Alfred Portale of Gotham Bar and Grill in New York and former White House Chef Walter Scheib. He wrote the book Knives at Dawn: America’s Quest for Culinary Glory at the Legendary Bocuse d’Or Competition.  His newly relaunched website, www.toqueland.com is a wealth of chef and food information.

Peter Chastain is a 10 year veteran of Yosemite Chefs’ Holidays. This year he and his sous chef, Jose Luis Laragazza, prepared the Gala dinner. Here’s the menu.

Fried Ascolani Olives Stuffed with Meat Ragu & Pecorino

Crostini of Cauliflower, Sweet Onion & Marjoram

Marinated Peppers Stuffed with Tuna Conservato

NV Villa Sandi Extra Dry, Proseco Valdobbiandene

Misto of Lobster, Monkfish, Clams, Mussels & Calamari

Salsa Verde- Micro Greens

2010 Poggio Al Tesoro Vermentino

 Baked “Little Scarves” Filled with Porcini Mushrooms

Besciamella & Leek Passato

2006 Castello di Bossi Chianti Classico Riserva

 Long Simmered Niman Ranch Stuffed Pork Spareribs

Valley Rabbit “In Porchetta”, Corona Beans & Tuscan Kale

2009 Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo

 Chocolate-Hazelnut Semifredddo

Shattered Candy & Espresso Inglese

Check out the website  and consider going. There are a few tickets left for some of this year’s remaining sessions or plan it for 2013. You’ll enjoy it.

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