Saturday, February 28, 2009

Horchata (Almond Flavored Rice Drink)

Today I've been working on making 'Horchata" for a possible feature on the new menu. Horchata is very simple to make and takes about an hour to finish. I took 2 cups of long grain white rice and soaked it in 1 quart of water with a few cinnamon sticks. In a seperate bowl, I placed 1 cup of toasted almonds in 1 quart of water with a cup of sugar and allowed them both to soak for one hour. After the hour, they were blended and poured through a fine mesh screen. The drink was seasoned with some grated cinnamon, a ton of ice was added, and a little condensed milk to thicken the consistency slightly. When I was a kid growing up, I couldn't eat dairy so I would add horchata to my cereal in the morning since it was dairy free. Adding the condensed milk wasn't part of the recipe but it really enhanced the drink. I'm thinking of the ways that I can incorporate this into the menu and I'm thinking of a flan infused with horchata. I think the toasted almonds and rice would work really well as a custard with caramel base. Only problem is trying to keep the staff away from the gallon of horchata so we can actually start to experiment with it.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Lobster and Salmon Duet

Here is a dish that I put together for my CEC practical exam. The challenge of this dish was utilizing all the required techniques and ingredients without losing my own personal style. This is a lemon infused salmon cake with poached lobster and artichoke fennel salad. The sauce is a corn shoot butter with a hint of saffron. I love the way the fennel and artichoke worked with each other. The corn shoot was a suprise sweetness that balanced the saltiness of the seafood and provided the height and colored needed. I lightly cooked and peeled grape tomatoes to give the dish some acidity.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Knife Skills

So as I was watching my banquet chef dice peppers tonight I thought, why can't all cooks perfect their basic knife skills. I am proud to say that I was put through the ringer on an equal sided tourne or 1/16" fine brunoise of shallots. I remember fluting flats of mushrooms and turning bunches of parsley into green dust. It seems like these pampered cooks who "never even worked the dish pit" want to take all the shortcuts. With the availability of pre-cut products or machines that julienne 50# of carrots in seconds what's the point of even owning knives. It kills me to walk up to a cook's station and use a dull knife. Do they really think that something presentable will be accomplished with that sad excuse for a chef's knife. Good knife skills come from sharp edges and loads of repetition. For all the chefs who read this please start reinforcing basic knife skills, because we are training the next generation of chefs.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


The importance of an amenity is extremely huge in the hotel/resort business. A room amenity can really set the tone of your stay similar to the way an "amuse bouche" starts your meal. Here is a recent VIP cheese amenity that I put together for a guest. The platter has red wine aspic to really enhance the colors of the different cheeses. Aspic is really just a fancy word for "jello" and the technique of using it on a display was something my last mentor taught me. We placed four small pieces of cheese on the plate with a little garnish to accommodate their distinct flavors. The first is a creamy brie with a fresh raspberry, the second is peppercorn crusted goat cheese, the third is smoked cheddar with applewood bacon, and the final is Maytag bleu with candied walnuts. We serve the cheese with a martini of fruits and some "Fiji" water. When I worked for "Hyatt Hotels", I was always excited about the amenity I would receive when I walked into my room whenever I stayed at another property. Whether business or personal, they always went out of their way to make an employee (no matter the level) feel important. Recently, we have started to focus our attention making guests feel the same upon their arrival. Amenities can be a fun outlet for creativity and "WOW" factor when trying to impress someone.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Chevre Cheesecake with Arugula and Prosciutto

This is a dish that I've been trying to perfect for awhile and think that I have finally accomplished an exciting combination of flavors. The dish is a Chevre Cheesecake with Shaved Prosciutto, Fresh Arugula Leaves, and Balsamic Glazed Figs. The cheesecake is your basic recipe except I replace a portion of the cream cheese with goat cheese for a subtle tang with the sweet creaminess. The base is toasted walnuts that are crushed and blended with walnut oil. The prosciutto gives the dish a strong salty flavor that cuts right through the sweet aspects of the figs and cheesecake. Fresh arugula leaves really bring the dish together and give you a taste of bitter and earthy while cleansing your palette of the cream. This appetizer is going to be served on Valentines night as a first course option. I will be taking more pictures of the other courses as we prepare the tasting for the waitstaff tonight.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Food and Art

This picture was just too good not to share with everyone. The graffiti was done on a wall in Rome by an unknown artist. I couldn't help but think that the artist could have been a chef or cook at some local restaurant; thus bringing up the topic are chef's artists or craftsmen? I've been asked that question a few times in my career and have decided that we are a little bit of both. We definitely work with our hands and manipulate things from raw materials making us craftsmen. On the other hand, we strive to compose dishes that focus on each one of our senses; flavors, sounds, smells, colors, and textures making us artists. How can you be an artist if what you composed was not an original idea? People have been cooking for thousands of years and I'm pretty sure someone thought of your dish before you did. Each dish I like to think is a manipulation of some sort of past experience or concept that we heard about. Depending on the intention, food can be classified as art but for the job classification we are a multitude of things: craftsmen/businessmen/scientists/artists/and psychologists.
Art and food work really well together and it's always fun to see some type of urban influence. You would be amazed at the types of individuals that work in the depths of your local hot spot and how their creativity is sparked. Kitchens have always been a place where the people of society who don't fit in can find a dysfunctional family that works. There is nothing more entertaining than working in a kitchen with some of the most eccentric people and learning their personalities in hazardous confined spaces. Most of them have extremely artistic creative minds which are free to be expressed during an intense rush or a menu tasting. Pushing a pencil for 8 hours a day in a cubicle sounds like horror. I've learned to appreciate the freedom of working in a positive environment each day and leaving each day happy, even after working double digit hours.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Emerald Green Salad

Today, I had a tasting for an upcoming event called the furr ball which benefits the local humane society. Their theme is going to be the "Wizard of Paws" and required a menu inspired by the movie for each course. At first the idea seemed silly and we definitely had some laughs creating the menu. The chosen salad was based off the idea of the green color of the "Emerald City". I focused not only on enhancing the green colors in the dish but also the spring produce. The salad consists of asparagus, tarragon, frisee, spinach, kiwi, and cucumber with a kiwi vinaigrette. The salad was so refreshing and vibrant green that it was my pick from the start. It was amazing how well the asparagus brought all the flavors together. I'm never much of a salad person but felt like I was in the zone plating up these different themes. The other two salad were named "Talking Appletree Salad" which was a roasted chili apple stuffed with a bouquet of spring lettuce and "Poppy Field with Ruby Red Grapefruit".