Thursday, December 30, 2010

How Many Salts are in your Kitchen???

One of my waitstaff asked me the other day why we had so many different salts in our kitchen and I realized that not everyone knew about the various types of salts that are out there. I then explained to him that each dish or cooking technique requires different approaches in seasoning and various types of salts provide the solution. Right now I can think of at least 5 salts used in our kitchen on a daily basis. First off is your multi-purpose kosher salt. The granules are large so they adhere to the surface of ingredients fairly well, the flavor is softened because of the plate like shape, and it contains no additives such as iodine. The second would be my favorite which is "Fleur de Sel" (flower of salt) which by definition is only the top layer of sea salt that is hand harvested before sinking to the bottom of the salt pans. The crystals are extremely small and melt fairly quickly once in contact with liquid. I prefer to use this salt as a finishing touch on desserts, high quality meats, or fresh fruits as a flavor enhancer especially since it's pretty expensive. Third would be the Himalayan pink rock salt which is mined and does not come from the ocean. I use this salt mainly for curing food such as fish or meats. The fourth would be a black Cyprus salt which is actually blended with a small amount of charcoal for coloring and detoxifying purposes. This one has an amazing visual appeal and looks on the table. The final would be our infusion salts which can range from anything we can think of. The latest has been a smoked hickory salt we made with our recently purchased handheld smoking gun. The beauty of infusions are that they can be anything that's laying around such as vanilla beans, citrus zest, truffle shavings, fresh herbs, or hard cheeses. If your only carrying around one type of salt in your kitchen then I would suggest getting to your local market and start experimenting.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


I've realized that some of the dishes and ingredients we prepare on a daily basis aren't that common to the average home chef or beginning culinary student. One of the simplest yet most intimidating ingredients to prepare is the octopus. Simply put, the octopus is either cooked really quick or really slow. I recently prepared a marinated octopus salad with kalamata olives and lemon that made me realize how foreign this could be to a first timer without basic cooking knowledge. It's an ingredient that is not that expensive if found in the right setting such as your local Chinese market or frozen gourmet market section. I like to remove the heads from the tentacles and cut away the black beak. I think that no matter what stage the octopus is in age, it's best to braise. A braise by definition is " a combination of cooking methods using both dry and moist heat; typically the food is seared in hot fat until golden brown and then finished in a covered pot with a variable amount of liquid resulting in a particular flavor over an extended period of time and temperature". By braising the octopus it breaks down the muscle tissue and allows the texture to become quite tender. My salad started with onions, garlic, and tomatoes being sauteed in extra virgin olive oil. I then added the octopus and lightly cooked it until the color had become a vibrant pinkish color. I seasoned the broth with capers, tomatoes juice, vegetable stock, lemon zest, fresh herbs, and kalamata olives. After 90 minutes of lightly simmering, the octopus became very tender. From this point on it can be chilled and served in a salad with greens, skewered as a lollipop, or grilled as an antipasti. It's one of those ingredients that most people will consider a wow factor because it's not a common item seen on most menus. I would suggest that everyone try cooking this or taking on the challenge of learning the technique of properly braising. A braise can be a great technique to use when cooking cheap cuts of beef, poultry, or game meats.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Root Vegetable Mosaic

Here is the salad course that really became the show stopper, many guests would rather leave it untouched. The dish consisted of slowly roasted candy cane beets which were cut into cylinders with a piece of piping. We cut the celery root in batons and blanched them in boiling salt water. The kohlrabi was shaved raw and were topped with cubes of lightly cooked turnips. The carrots were strung and soaked in ice water to really give them a crisp exterior. The pistachio paint really packed some amazing flavors with the blended micro greens. We drizzled extra virgin olive oil and 25 year balsamic onto each plate as the dishes were served.

Roasted Chestnut Bisque with Pear Chutney and Creme Fraiche

Here is the first course from a dinner we hosted this past week. The soup was served table side from tureens by two waiters into garnished china. The roasted chestnut bisque was perfect for the winter season and made complete sense to start off the meal with these flavors. The chestnuts were caramelized with sunchokes to enhance the soup with not only body but an amazing nutty background. The soup was slowly simmered with dark chicken stock and heavy cream. After blending thoroughly until the soup was silky smooth it was served with a spiced pear chutney and house made creme fraiche. The creme fraiche sat on top of the oven for just over three days to give it that perfect tang. It feels nice to be cooking again.

A return to the blog

Sorry for the lack of blogging over the last few months, my new position in Chicago has kept me extremely busy while opening this property. The facility is amazing and everyday seems to get better with our service, food, and organization. We have been entertaining a multitude of high profile clients and creating some amazing things from a hospitality perspective. It's been quite an experience trying to not only produce in the kitchen but also in maintaining the facility with a much smaller staff. All those things we take for granted in a larger property start becoming those necessities really quick. I have been fortunate to find extremely talented individuals that are supporting me in this venture. My culinary staff is smaller but they are truly passionate about current trends, high quality ingredients, and focusing on the core fundamentals of good cooking. My front of the house leaders really keep me busy with the challenge of stepping it up each event and not relying on just my plating skills (thanks). Chicago is great and I cannot wait for the weather to warm up. We have two amazing patios that meant for entertaining. They overlook the downtown river area and have state of the art grills (they are begging for a whole roasted pig). I will follow this update with a few pictures from an event that we did this past week. It's nice to be back and once again, sorry for the delay.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Upcoming Function

Here is a reception menu that I've written for an upcoming function that will be focusing on some of the mainstream neighborhoods of Chicago at our new facility for about 250 people.

Wicker Park

Roasted Beets with Cambozola and Stone Ground Mustard Vinaigrette Spoons

Endive with Pancetta, Quail Egg, Avocado Puree

Deconstructed Potato Salad

Ice Chilled White Tomato Gazpacho


Bamboo Steamed Dim Sum - Pork Potstickers and Shumai

Chinese Stir Fry with Lo Mein Noodles, Assorted Vegetables, Jumbo Shrimp, Chicken Breast, Teriyaki Sauce, Red Chili Paste, Sesame Ginger

Little Italy

Deep Dish Pizza Tartlettes

Forks of Fresh Linguine Pasta with Hand Crushed Basil Pesto

Wooden Boards of Italian Cured Meats, Artisanal Cheeses, and Pickled Vegetables


Butter Poached Lobster Dogs on Bamboo

White Truffle Fries in Cones

Prime Rib Sliders with Roasted Tomato, Garlic Chips, Horseradish Crème

Bacon Parmesan Popcorn

Lakeshore Drive Clambake

Clambake filled Silver Dollar Rolls

Steamed Cherrystone Clams, Black Mussels, Walleye, Smoked Sausage

Fresh Corn, Baby Carrots, and Shallots

Gold Coast

Petite PB&J Cupcakes

Amaretto Tiramisu Shots

Strawberry Shortcakes

Coffee and Doughnuts

Hazelnut Chocolate Tortes

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Chicago Deep Dish

After all the stress of packing, scheduling movers, final goodbyes, and relocating to the windy city; I'm back to begin a new chapter of my blog. I've been working downtown each day overlooking the fast pace of many day walkers in suits and tennis shoes, bridges rising and splitting for boats on the river, and a different type of mountain such as the Sears, Trump, and Hancock buildings. This is an amazing place and I'm happy to say that the locals aren't anywhere close to the street crime reputation they've been given. The cabs don't generously nudge you out of the cross-walks like in New York, the pan handlers actually take no for an answer, and the people are extremely friendly. Last night after many hours of apartment searching ($$$), we asked about of course the signature "deep dish pizza". We ended up at the famous Gino's for a pie and after the 45 minute cooking time, it arrived. A beautiful golden brown crust that wasn't too thick, airy underneath, and still carrying those favorite characteristics of doughy goodness underneath the tomato sauce. The sausage patty was handmade and had many hints of fennel and garlic. The cheese was stringy and every bite required you to wrap it around your fork (yes a fork and knife are required). I have to say that I'm very impressed with this style of pie and cannot say which version is my favorite. A slice of thin crust while walking down the streets of New York City or sitting down to a pie of deep dish in Chicago. Regardless, I'm happy to begin my culinary dining experience with this cherished local favorite. I'll make sure to keep everyone posted on what's next to come, maybe Rick Bayless or Graham Elliot (still need to hit the silver palm and get a 3 little pig sandwich.)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

New Position

Today will be my final day at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort and I'm extremely sad to close this chapter in my life and begin anew. Living in Colorado has been an amazing experience and I've had the pleasure of creating and implementing my own style within this amazing property. I feel that I've put a huge amount of passion into this place and now the culinary team understands the true importance of "guest experience". I'm excited to see how they take it to the next level and will definitely keep tabs on all the talented individuals I've had the pleasure of working with. I'm now off to the windy city of Chicago as Executive Chef for a private facility downtown. The actual property is "meeting space only" and will focus on creating a "WOW" factor for every client that comes through the door. I will be working with a much smaller staff and challenging my creativity daily by taking each event to the limit. I'm positive that there will be many pictures to post on the blog from all the events I will be hosting and of course will keep updating the blog. Now it's time to start packing and begin the next chapter of our lives. Here is a photo of the historic building that's currently being renovated for our arrival. Only the rooftop and clock tower floors are going to be apart of this new project, how exciting!!!!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Black Mussels / Saffron Banana / Lemon Verbena

My favorite dish of the night was the starter course. Black mussels were steamed in white wine with shallots, butter, and lemon verbena until they had naturally opened. The broth was reduced down with the addition of honey, banana, and saffron. I added a dash of heavy cream and reduced the mixture by half. A few Tablespoons of butter were swirled in to finish the sauce and a pinch of salt. The color was amazing after straining the sauce and pouring over the mussels. I will most likely add some type of bread to really soak up that beautiful sauce at the bottom of the bowl.

Duck Breast / Blackberry Gastrique / Sweet Potato Fries

This is a duck breast that has been rendered down until the skin was extremely crispy and sliced thin. The sweet potato fries were lightly cooked until tender in boiling water and then fried at 350 degrees until golden brown. A salt infused with cracked pepper and fresh rosemary seasoned them to compliment the sweetness. A blackberry gastrique garnished the plate and gave the dish a unique fruity component to harmonize itself with the wine.

Caramel Apples / Foie Gras / Field Greens

Last night, we hosted a tasting for the upcoming wine dinner at the country and I was able to take some photos of the dishes in between descriptions. Here is the salad course that has a medallion of seared foie gras, tart green apples, caramel sauce, and field greens from our garden. I drizzled some of the fat after searing the foie gras to really give the caramel a fatty taste to enhance the richness of the wine. The green apples were a perfect crunch to the bitter leaves of red oak and baby romaine. Very happy with the finished dish and wine pairing.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cheese Amenity

Yesterday, I was working on a few cheese amenities that would blew some clients away upon their arrival. I thought it would be nice to add some unique colors by placing some rainbow swiss chard from the garden as a base under the cheeses. There were 3 types of cheese on the plate which were a cambozola, wedge of brie, and a sliced of herb chevre. A few pieces of fruit and the end result was beautiful. I was truly amazed by how much the rainbow chard enhanced the plate giving it a unique flare. The best part was seeing the staff's reaction to seeing rainbow chard for the first time and knowing that we grew it from seeds.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Squash Blossoms

I picked some beautiful squash blossoms out of the garden yesterday and brought them to the kitchen to play around with an idea I had for a starter course. I've been challenged to create a vegetarian menu that showcases some culinary techniques and I thought what's more perfect than starting with an unusual vegetable/flower. I removed the stem end with a sharp knife and exposed the hollow center of the flower. After rinsing the insides and removing the center, I filled each blossom with a goat cheese that had been spiced with chipotles, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, and cumin. The stuffed blossoms were dusted with corn starch and dipped into some beaten eggs. I deep fried them at 350 degrees for about 3 minutes and seasoned with a pinch of salt. The result was an amazing vegetarian course that would satisfy and carnivore and impress any herbivore.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fresh Trout

I finally got some time to take a fishing trip into the mountains and catch some fresh trout. We started shore fishing around 9am and found a cove that was considered to be the spot for 11 mile lake. Within the first 5 minutes, we had a fish hooked as soon as the line was cast. The trout were beautiful and we caught mostly rainbow and one cutthroat. At the end of the day, we left with about 8 fish ranging from about 16-18 inches. I'm thinking about smoking some of the trout and pan searing the rest. It was a beautiful day on the lake and I can't wait to get back out there.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Taste of the Springs

This past Sunday we participated in a local fundraiser benefiting the "Care and Share" food bank here in Colorado Springs. The focus of the event was to raise money and assist in feeding hungry families. During the summer breaks, most children do not get that daily free meal as they would each day during the school year and that was the true cause of gathering all the local talent. Our job was to help raise money by showcasing our culinary abilities and attracting locals to attend and donate for a good cause. We had about 25 local chef's participate who served up some amazing dishes and we were able to introduce people to our signature "Buffalo Short Ribs". Attendance was close to 250 people and everyone seemed to enjoy the Sunday afternoon. I think that we definitely made a difference in feeding some of the less fortunate of our community.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Walleye / Chorizo Potatoes / Cucumber Jicama Salad

Earlier today I was inspired to cook off the menu when I went into the patio dining to say hello to a few guests. The gorgeous view of the mountains, fresh air, and sunny skies made me think of the beautiful walleyes I had in the cooler. One of the staff had just caught them and gave me a few to cook up for myself. The fish was so fresh and amazing that I felt obligated to share them with others who would appreciate some high quality food. The fish was cut into smaller fillets, pin bones removed, and lightly seared in whole butter. I roasted some purple and fingerling potatoes with shallots until golden brown. A quick salad of shaved cucumber and jicama garnished the dish giving it a refreshing finish. I drizzled some ancho chile cream around to enhance the spiciness of the chorizo and give the dish an extra touch of fat. I'm looking forward to actually getting out to the lake and catching some fish myself if I ever get the chance.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mini Puffy Taco

After noticing some masa harina (ground corn flour) lying on the shelf, I decided to make some fresh tortilla dough. After mixing the 3 cups of flour with 2 cups of warm water and a pinch of salt, I rolled the dough into small rounds. I then placed the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap and pressed each one flat with a large saute pan. The masa dough was deep-fried at 350 degrees until golden brown and puffy. Towards the end of the cooking process, I used a pair of tongs to squeeze the tortilla together forming a taco shell. The filling was ground beef with ancho chiles, wild mushrooms, pico de gallo, and queso fresco. A dollop of sour cream was placed underneath to stabilize the taco and also give that extra touch of richness. This dish is familiar to me from living in San Antonio, Texas and having discussions with my wife about how good they were. She was so upset when I told her that I made some tonight at the restaurant and most likely would end up eating a few for dinner. Fresh tortillas are great and this is an easy recipe for anyone to follow. Maseca can be purchased at most grocery stores in the Latin foods aisle for a few dollars.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Quail Lollipop with Gooseberry Compote

I had a few extra quails that I decided to turn into a small bite for our diners last night. One of my daily goals is to show one of my staff a new thing in the kitchen and quail lollipops happened to be the technique of the day. The quails were split into 6 pieces and each bone was Frenched and skewered through itself to give the impression of a lollipop. I cooked down some fresh golden gooseberries with brown sugar, rice wine vinegar, Riesling, and marjoram. The compote had an amazing flavor that worked well with any game bird. The quail lollipops were lightly browned in a pan and roasted for a few minutes. Fresh chives were sliced to garnish the plate.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

From the Garden

My favorite part of the day is taking one of the cooks into the garden and letting them taste the true definition of fresh and local. Here are some of the first harvests from our resort garden that I picked yesterday. I went down to water the garden and couldn't resist the urge to pick some radishes that were popping out of the ground. The greens were vibrant and the bright red skin was begging me to pull them out of the dirt. The mixed lettuces were crowding each other and needed some thinning, so I cut off a few bundles and decided that it would be our amuse bouche for the evening in our restaurant. The radishes and lettuce were rinsed thoroughly and served with a simple lemon oil, cracked pepper, and a pinch of salt. It's amazing how buttery a radish taste right out the ground and finishes with an intense spiciness. The tomato plants are starting to fruit and the sweet 100's will be ready in another two weeks or so. The herbs are looking great and I officially have a new found respect for the clean intense flavor of dill. The alpine strawberry plants have little flowers all around them and will start turning into berries soon. Our peppers are starting to hang out the husks and grow into spicy fruits. I will get down there today to take some pictures of how the garden is progressing since we planted almost two months ago.

Monday, June 21, 2010

James Beard Menu Selections

Here are my menu ideas that I will be submitting to our corporate office and hopefully selected to cook at the James Beard House in December. I'm really happy with the outcome of all this brainstorming and will be able to feature some of my current dishes with a few new ideas as well.

Passed Hors D’oeuvres

Chorizo Stuffed Pheasant
Jalapeno Marmalade
Sopaipilla Dough

Saffron Poached Shrimp
Bloody Mary Gelée
Crystallized Celery

Pumpkin Cotton Candy
Ginger Honey Tuile

Salmon Pastrami
Rye Flour Blini
Pickled Leeks

Black Tea Stained Quail Egg
Beluga Caviar Crème Fraiche
Parsley Breadcrumbs

James Beard Ideas Continued

Celery Root Puree
Foie Gras Ravioli
Shaved Orchard Fruits
Rosemary Toasted Walnuts

Smoked Duck “BLT”
White Tomato Mousse
Tender Butter Lettuce
Olive Oil Toast

Striped Black Bass
Blue Potato Salad
Cilantro Emulsion
Crumbled Queso Fresco

Arabica Braised Buffalo Short Rib
Orange Chipotle Glazed Yams
Chimichurri Forest Mushrooms

“Haystack Mountain” Red Cloud Goat Cheese
Pale Ale Caviar
Black Truffle Pommes Anna

Chocolate Coconut Smore
Milk Chocolate Mousse
Burnt Coconut Marshmallows
Ginger Graham Cracker

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Arabica Braised Buffalo with Chipotle Yams

Here is the main course from my dinner the other night. The buffalo short ribs were seasoned with a ancho chile coffee rub and seared until caramelized on all side. The braising liquid is an extremely important part of infusing flavor and was based on cinnamon, orange juice, coffee, molasses, and beef stock. After four hours of slowly cooking the meat, it was fork tender but remained whole pieces. The yams were grilled on all sides and glazed with a orange chipotle honey to really enhance their natural sweet flavors. A salsa of sauteed wild mushroom, tomatoes, and cilantro chimichurri took this dish to a whole new level. This dish is really starting to become one of my signature dishes to give a first impression of my cuisine.

Colorado Bass with Purple Potato Salad

This was a fantastic course that really showcased many flavors for a single dish. The bass was really fresh and pan seared to give the skin a really crispy texture and leave the meat delicate and buttery. The potato salad consisted of purple potatoes, roasted corn, red bell peppers, cotija cheese, and red onion. The sauce was a spicy puree of cilantro, avocado, green onion, jalapeno, and lime juice. The colors were vivid and the presentation was simple enough to really impress the guests. I will be submitting this course as one of my upcoming James Beard Menu selections and hopefully it will get picked.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Smoked Duck "BLT"

This was the salad course that I put together for a dinner yesterday at the country club. The duck bacon was sliced extremely thin and layered upon a white tomato mousse and warm brioche. The natural sweetness from the maple syrup glaze on the smoked duck complimented the buttery flavor of the brioche. The bitter greens and creamy tomato mousse really made you feel like the salad was an actual "BLT". I harvested the greens from the garden right before the dinner and simply tossed them in extra virgin olive oil. A grind of black peppercorns, salt, and thinly sliced tomatoes really transformed a commonly known sandwich into a show stopping salad. Everyone enjoyed this course and I'm proud to add it to my repertoire.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Smoking Duck Breast

I'm working on a salad for a dinner tomorrow evening that will require Smoked Duck Bacon as a component and decided to give everyone a glimpse at the process of smoking meats. I took about 10lbs of duck breast raw and completely buried it in a mixture of 1lb kosher salt, 3lbs brown sugar, and 1/4 cup of ground black pepper, this is called a dry cure. After allowing the duck to cure for 24 hours, I rinsed them completely and tossed in maple syrup. I set up my smoker with some hickory wood chips and placed on high heat to really get the smoke going. All the duck breast were placed on the racks and smoked on medium high heat for 30 minutes. The results was a beautiful golden brown duck breast with a sweet bacon flavor that I've chilled down. The salad is what I'm calling a Smoked Duck "BLT" and will consist of freshly harvested lettuce out of my garden, a white tomato mousse, and olive oil toast. I'm really looking forward to smoking other meats over the summer like chickens, ribs, brisket, and pork butt.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

First Round: Colorado Goat Cheese "Twinkie"

Here is the first batch from experimenting with this cheese course. The cake is still a little off with the amount of air from the egg whites and I'm working on bringing it up another level. The lemon zest and dried lavender inside the cake are a perfect compliment to the whipped chevre. I use a paddle attachment and beat the chevre until completely soft which acts as a perfect cream filling. I made the molds by folding foil around a spice jar to resemble the twinkie. I also found out that Williams Sonoma sells a baking pan containing 1 dozen slots for twinkies. I'm thinking that I will make a trip to pick one up and really get that nice crust on the outside. I might also try leaving the egg whites out of the recipe and backing off some of the sugar.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Colorado Goat Cheese "Twinkies"

I'm working on a new dish for a cheese course and have decided to take the fun route. I was thinking of dishes that are mainly composed of cheese such as a quesadilla or a grilled cheese. Eventually, I thought about the cream filling in a twinkie. It made me compare the texture and color to really good chevre that is always locally available in the rocky mountains. The cake is a simple pound cake with whipped egg whites folded in. I'm going to infuse lemon zest and lavender into the batter and fill with a really tangy goat cheese spiced with crushed black peppercorns. The plate will be garnished with a red beet syrup and fresh arugula. Give me a few hours and I will have some pictures to post.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Peach Tamale with Lime Ice Cream

One lesson that I strive to teach my staff is too continuously challenge the techniques and flavors of what you are preparing. Tamales are classically made with masa harina (corn flour), shortening or lard, and liquid. After spreading the dough into corn husks, it's rolled and steamed for approximately hour. For this preparation I cooked some grits in milk with a touch of cinnamon, honey, and toasted almond. After spooning the hot mixture into softened corn husks, I placed some caramelized peaches in the center and allowed them to chill in the cooler. Once the grits were completely cool they became solid resembling the same results as using a corn dough. A simple salsa of strawberries and mint are used to garnish with a scoop of lime ice cream.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cheyenne Mountain Resort Garden

After 3 years of requests, pleading, and begging; our garden is finally here. The resort has put together an amazing team of individuals who really made this project special. The engineering department has constructed 9 different raised garden beds and added a 9 foot fence to keep all the animals out. The grounds keeping team dug the area and installed an irrigation system with multiple sprinklers timed to start 5 times a day at 2 minute increments. Finally our club food and beverage manager (Steve "Saus" Kander) has organized and executed an abundant list of herbs, fruits, and vegetables. The thought behind how everything intertwines with each other is phenomenal and I'm looking forward to seeing the results. Partnering with a local organization (Pikes Peak Urban Gardens headed by Larry Stebbins has been not only been educational but also inspiring enough to start my very first garden at home. He has been involved in this project from the beginning to consult and ensure that we would see maximum returns from our labors. The list of ingredients that have been planted reach over 30 items but here are some highlights:

Berry Box: Alpine Strawberries, Blackberries, Blueberries, Raspberries, Currants
Mint Box: Ginger Mint, Apple Mint, Grapefruit Mint, Chocolate Mint
Herb Box: Pineapple Sage, Curry Plant, Stevia (Sugar Plant), Garlic Chives, Lemon Verbena
Vegetable Box: Spring Lettuces, Collard Greens, Carrots, Onions, Squash, Horseradish
Chalices: Dragon Beans, Concord Grapes, Baby Cucumbers