Friday, September 9, 2011

Melon Infusion

 Here is a great technique that I first saw Gordon Ramsey do at a chef event years ago and I never forgot how vibrant the melons became after he vacuum sealed them in a cryovac machine.  By removing the oxygen from the bag, you compress all the water in the melon and enhance the color without affecting flavor.  I like to add a light vinaigrette or simple syrup to boost the flavor profiles.  Here are some melons from a local farm that are vacuum sealed before dicing into cubes for our first course.

Nichols Farm Compressed Melon, Duck Proscuitto, Smoked Almonds, Ruby Streak Lettuce, Pickled Vidalia Onions, Cucumber Blossom

Here is the first course from today's lunch.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Hotel Contessa

I've officially accepted the position as Executive Chef for The Hotel Contessa located on the riverwalk in San Antonio, TX.   As much as I will miss the beautiful city of Chicago and all it's splendor, I'm really excited to step back into the public and join this phenomenal team.  The Hotel Contessa has 265 suites with a Spanish themed restaurant "Las Ramblas" or where the water flows.  This will be a great transition since I'm familiar with the city and have lived there once before.  Please check out the website and look forward to some new dishes soon. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Last night my wife and I had the pleasure of dining at alinea for the first time. Since we are leaving Chicago in the next two weeks, my wife thought this would be a great birthday present and also a fond farewell to the city we have enjoyed so much over the past year. The dinner took almost four hours, consisted of over 20 courses, and the execution was most impressive. As soon as you walk into alinea, you can feel the that you are about to embark on a special journey. I've wanted to dine at this restaurant for over five years and now we had finally made it.  The entry was a small hallway lit with curtains shrinking along the walkway to create a Willy Wonka depth perception.  The wall suddenly opened on our left and a restaurant appeared.  The greeting station had only two seats that provided an open view of the kitchen to allow us a glimpse of the staff composing a symphony of food.  The brigade was enormous and still quiet. All of the cooks were constantly cleaning while working intensely, not a single wasted movement. The focus was there and everyone knew how special each component was for the upcoming plate. After a few moments we were taken to the upper floor dining area where we were quickly seated. The decor was quite simple with lots of clean lines, sharp angles, and complimentary shapes to accentuate. The rail lighting above hit the table perfectly creating a spotlight for every course and nothing lied on the table except a perfectly rolled white napkin. After a server greeted us politely, he began his introduction of the alinea story that was about to unfold and offered a wine pairing with each course.  Each course would be a small bite or slightly more to really pace the consumption of so many dishes.  Once all pleasantries were exchanged, the waitstaff placed these tiny square plates in front of us and topped them with tiny white pillows for our clean silverware.  As we talked about our upcoming meal, our excitement built and once the glassware had been filled, our first chapter began.

Steelhead Roe - Watermelon, Kaffir Lime, Oxalis
The golden watermelon was sliced thin like a ribbon and wrapped around a watermelon mousse and topped with steelhead roe.  Distilled watermelon juice was poured around the base with micro greens

Hamachi - West Indies Spices, Pineapple, Ginger
Tempura battered hamachi skewered on a vanilla bean and spiced with banana, curry, pineapple, and ginger

Oyster Leaf - Mignonette

Taylor Bay Scallop - hitachino white ale, old bay

Top Neck Clam - Carrot, Soy, Daikon

Mussel - Saffron, Chorizo, Orange
This was a fun course that was presented on a driftwood covered in ocean scented seaweed.  Each shell was shucked and composed inside and then covered to make the dish very minimalistic.  The oyster leaf and peppercorn vinegar sauce was a good start.  The scallop was raw and covered with a white ale foam that made me think it was actually the scallop shell.  The clam was grilled and glazed with a salty XO sauce and then topped with it's own shell.  The mussel has small chunks of Spanish chorizo and saffron to compliment the orange mussel flavor

Yuba - Shrimp, Miso, Togarashi
The yuba was deep fried in way that it created it's own stick.  The shrimp was wrapped around to create a striped appearance, and the salty miso sauce underneath gave you a really good flavor of umami.  This dish really reminded me of growing up in San Francisco and eating the shrimp chips in Chinatown

Farm Salad - Tomato, Goat Cheese, Red Onion
By far one of the most impressive courses of the night.  This dish truly screamed the end of summer tomato and they actually placed a centerpiece of live lettuces still in the soil for us to cut at the table.  The cherry heirloom tomatoes were perfectly ripe and peeled while sitting on a puree of flavorful red pepper gazpacho and flaked goat cheese.  A bread tuile garnish the dish, goat cheese and red pepper gazpacho, amazing flavor profile

Mackerel - Mango, Bergamot Flower, Juniper
This was a one bite no hands course served on a small antennae.  The mackerel was charred heavily and wasn't too impressive until you tasted the paired wine and found all the juniper.

Wild Mushrooms - Pine, Sumac, Ramp
A fun course that made you feel as if you were deep in the forest foraging for mushrooms.  Chanterelle, hen of the woods were cooked nicely with some pickled ramp bulbs, pine nut creme, and sumac powder.

Hot Potato - Cold Potato, Black Truffle, Butter
A small bowl was presented with a small elevated skewer with a cube of butter braised potato and black truffle.  As you pulled the skewer away from the bowl, the hot potato and black truffle fell into an amazing cold potato soup.  As we drank this quickly, you got the temperature change of cold potato soup and then hot butter braised potato, followed by earthy black truffle.

Agneau - Sauce Choron, Pomme de terre noisette
Sous vide lamb was seared and sliced into small medallions and topped with pickled turnip and green asparagus tips perfectly blanched.  A disc of brioche was toasted and placed underneath.  The choron sauce was a perfect emulsion of butter and tomato.  The Parisian potatoes were caramelized nicely and garnished with some lamb jus.

Black Truffle - Explosion, Romaine, Parmesan
This was by far my most awaited and favorite course of the night.  The ravioli is served in a spoon with a slice of black truffle, Parmesan, and romaine.  You are instructed to eat this course in a single bit and reminded not to open your mouth.  As you bite into this perfectly cooked pasta, an explosion of black truffle floods all of your taste buds sending you into a bliss of passion.  I could eat these all night...

Squab - Inspired by Miro
This dish was inspired by a painting chef achatz saw.  The plate comes out and there are about 8 pieces of silverware interlocking with each other holding a different component.  The squab is sous vide and tender with a slight game flavor.  A large cube of foie is seared hard on all sides and garnished with sea salt.  There is some lavender oil underneath catching the foie fat to create dressing.  Celery root string.

Short Rib - Olive, Fermented Garlic, Blackberry
Two flags are presented at your table 5 courses ago that are become the base of this dish.  They are in fact sheets of tomato pasta that is used to build your own springroll with prime beef short rib, black garlic, black berry, olive, smoked salt, tobacco sauce. 

Octopus - Eggplant, Coriander, Red Wine
A small piece of octopus is sitting on a morsel of creamy eggplant with micro cilantro.  The red wine has been infused into the octopus.

Snow - Yuzu
This was our palate cleanser.  A small bowl was dipped into liquid nitrogen and sprayed with yuzu juice creating a frozen snow of Japanese citrus.  Very refreshing and a good transition to the sweet courses.

Peach - Jasmine, Basil, Balsamic
Cubes of peach, basil, balsamic gelee are placed around the plate in various sizes.  A frozen parfait of almond really compliments that tartness of the peach.  Small marshmallow almond cubes give the dish some good textures.

Lemongrass - Dragonfruit, Thai Basil, Finger Lime
A clear tube sealed with a gelatin is placed in front of you is filled with a lime juice and micro basil, and dragon fruit.  The presentation is gorgeous and you are instructed to take the shot by breaking the gelatin seal.  So flavorful and fun.

Chocolate - Red Pepper, Bitter Orange, Banana
A moon rock appears in front of you with a fog beginning to cover the table.  The server then tells you that it's actually aerated chocolate mousse frozen in liquid nitrogen.  As you crack this frozen chocolate mousse, its mixed in with the banana parfait that has been bruleed, and a mosaic of sauces including orange and red pepper making this your final chapter.

Overall, an amazing experience that I will never forget.  It's encouraging to continue building my skills and striving towards defining my own style of food.  Thanks for an amazing birthday gift honey!!!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mushroom Soup

We had some mushrooms looking for a home so I decided to make soup. The mushrooms were simmered in vegetable stock and cream until tender creating a velvet puree after passing through a fine sieve. The pulp was mixed with shallots, garlic, and herbs to create a duxelle. A lemon creme fraiche, baked Parmesan, and fresh micros garnished the bowl as each guest poured there soup at the table from a small shot glass.

Meyer Ranch Beef, Summer Squashes, Salt Crystal Potatoes, Aspargus Truffle Butter

Pan seared beef, fresh crookneck squashes tossed in butter straight from the garden, potatoes simmered in sea salt water until tender and then crystallized over high heat, asparagus pureed with truffle butter.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Candy Striped Figs, Watermelon Radish, Bacon Powder, Smoked Proscuitto, Pistachio Oil

One of our vendors sent out a upcoming special on candy striped figs and we immediately put our order in for Monday delivery. These Californian figs were drizzled with of course fig vinegar and pistachio oil. The vibrant watermelon radish was placed over a bacon powder (bacon fat + tapioca maltodextrin). A local micro herb blend mixed with some arugula leaves top the thinly shaved speck. Speck is a type of prosciutto spiced with juniper. It is boned out and smoked before hanging giving it a truly unique flavor profile. Some Parisian gnocchi croutons gave a fun Parmesan component.

Pork Belly, Banana Pepper Jam, Crostini, Saffron Orange Pear Jus, Tokyo Cabbage

Main course from lunch today

Friday, August 26, 2011

Gunthorp Farms Pork Belly, Smoked Dragon Egg, Sweet Potato, Cranberry Reduction, Swiss Chard

Here is the main course that followed our arugula salad. The smoky dragon egg is not only fun to look at but was cooked lightly so the yolk was still soft. The sweet potatoes were blended with tangy creme fraiche made in house and the fatty pork belly was cured with flavors of cardamom and peppercorn. The reduced cranberry and bitter chard leaves balanced out the saltiness of the cured pork belly.

Nichols Farm Cherry Tomatoes, Manchego, Spicy Arugula, Sherry Vinaigrette, Walnut Brittle

First course from lunch today, something light to start the meal...The tomatoes are in full bloom right now and these just showed up from the farm yesterday. They were peeled and marinated in extra virgin olive oil. The sweet brittle brought out the spicy natural flavors of the arugula and creaminess of Spanish manchego. A tangy vinaigrette of honey, whole grain mustard, walnut oil, and sherry vinegar brought the whole dish together.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Musk Melon Parfait with Peppercorn Essence, Pickled Rind, Champagne Grapes, and Werp Farms Summer Micro Mix

First course from today's lunch. We had some beautiful melons come in from the farm and with the hot weather, I thought a cold parfait would be a great way to start the meal. The musk melon was blended with creme fraiche, agave, and lemon zest before adding gelatin to stabilize. The watermelon was simmered with pink peppercorns, red wine vinegar, and honey before blending and straining through cheesecloth. The watermelon rind was vacuum sealed with vanilla, citrus, sugar, and vinegar after simmering until tender. A touch of salted Marcona almonds and champagne grapes added some texture to the dish.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Venison steak with cauliflower almond puree

Duck confit stuffed egglpant

Espelette grilled shrimp

Smoked Trout with Black Garlic and Beets

It's important to focus on controlling the smoke when preparing trout in this manner. We brined the fish lightly and gently smoked the filets to create a clean background without overpowering or drying the fish out. An emulsion of black garlic, roasted chiogga beets. capers, and pea tendrils complimented the flavors.

Salt baked lamb shoulder

Here is a lamb shoulder that has been boned out, butterflied, and pounded thin. I've sprinkled the meat with activa, salt, and pepper before rolling and tying with butchers twine. The lamb is allowed to rest in the cooler overnight to activate the meat glue. I covered the lamb roulades with salt, egg whites, and spices to create a crust that would not only keep the moisture in there but also give the lamb shoulder a fragrance of coriander and lavender. The meat baked for 2 hours at 250 degrees before it was carved for service. The result was an amazing tender piece of lamb with a clean salt flavor on the outside and tender lamb on the inside. I was really impressed with how tender the lamb was after only two hours of slow roasting in the salt crust. The meat glue really allowed the roulade to stay in one piece when slicing instead of unwinding like a pinwheel.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Sweet Tea Brined Ham

Here was a cool idea for a leg of fresh ham we got from the farmer this week. When I thought about the ham and how delicious it would be after being slowly roasted, we decided to brine it in a sweet tea base to really bring out a southern flare. Since the leg is about 30 #, it will take close to 15 - 20 days to get the full effect of the brine (about half a day per #). Small hints of lemon, cardamon, clove, cinnamon, molasses, and brown sugar will really bring this brine some flavor.

Beef Cheeks

I will never sell a short rib on a menu rather than slowly braised beef cheeks. This low cost piece of meat is so tender when slowly cooked in stock and has so much more flavor than your standard beef short rib. The gelatin is a unique characteristic that really enhances the beef flavor with every bite. We served these beef cheeks with a pickled root vegetable salad, nichols farm fingerling potatoes, rhurbarb barbecue, and micro cilantro. The beef cheeks took about 2 1/2 hours to cook at 250 degrees before we chilled and portioned them into 6 oz pieces.

Crispy Trout, Broken Remoulade, Cornmeal Okra

Here is a plate from lunch this week. The okra was amazingly fresh from the local farm and was lightly breaded with cornmeal and buttermilk.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Alinea Reservation

The countdown has begun and I'm excited as ever, we have a reservation at Alinea. I've wanted to eat at this restaurant for about 5 years now and we are going for my upcoming birthday. This is going to be an experience that has been well worth the wait and hopefully the bill, Sept 2nd at 9:15pm for 2ppl....Tasting menu, here we come!!!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Lamb and Duck Proscuitto

We have converted a refrigeration unit to hold its temp between 50 and 60 degrees for our sausages. Each day we turn on a humidifier and blast it to create a moist environment. The lamb Proscuitto will be ready after three months and the Duck Proscuitto will be ready after ten days.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Avocado Cucumber

Chilled cucumber soup with avocado sorbet, himalayan salt, "werp farms" summer micro blend, roasted garlic scape, red currant, and Spanish olive oil

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pork belly...mmmmmmmmmmmmm

Hoisin glazed pork belly, macerated stone fruits, micro basil, creme fraiche whipped sweet potatoes

Salmon nicoise

Grilled salmon, dried olives, saffron butter, farm egg, sherry poached potatoes

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rabbit agnolotti

First course from lunch:
Brown butter scallop
Rabbit agnolotti
Shaved summer truffle
Micro mustard
Watercress pesto