One More Day

We ended up doing a little 0ver 350 covers tonight and the boys and girls did good! Just one more 16 hour shift and we can put this year behind us. I will admit at one point Aaron, chef de cuisine, and I looked at each other and it was questionable if we were going to make it through today and tomorrow with smooth services but everyone stepped up and put some really nice food out tonight.
The multivac and the berkel got a workout today along with the two polyscience thermal baths. We sous vide all our fish for tomorrow starting with super nice John Dory from Gary's Seafood, Black Grouper, Corvina, Mahi, Mero sustainable sea bass from Koko @ Honolulu Fish Co., and then moved on to the LaBelle Farms foie gras. We use Bruno Goussault spec for most of our sous vide, brining in a 10% salt water solution for 10min, then into a freshwater ice bath then patted dry and bagged with evo. Aaron made the brine yesterday and put it in the freezer overnight. The salinity is high enough so it won't freeze but gives you a nice slushy consistency that holds at about 20F. It keeps your proteins super cold while your processing it so there are no temperature issues to worry about. Then we use a thermocoupler with the hypodermic probe and sponge tape to cook the fish in batches at 56C until they reach 54C. The portions are removed and we let them sit at room temp for 5 minutes, the put them in room temp water for 5 minutes then in an ice bath for 15 minutes. The cooling procedure helps the fish retain moisture so when we sear the skin side and reheat tomorrow they will be perfectly cooked, moist and seasoned throughout. We do season the skin side when searing because we love salty crispy skin, who doesn't? The only issue to worry about is that sous vide fish skins likes to stick so we butter and oil our flat top excessively when searing and let the skin sit until crisp otherwise your portions won't look so hot.
Some people may frown upon cooking ahead of time but this is the way to go when you have 550+ on the books and your are trying to do some nice food. We are working twice as hard to provide our guests consistency and speed of service. We know that in the end our fish will be seasoned, cooked properly, executed in a timely manner, and will provide us that cushion we need to do the numbers. Not to mention it gives us more time to focus on our garnishes.
You can prep all day and all night but that doesn't mean a damn thing if you can't put the food on the plate. We have a good crew, and they are dedicated and focused. As long as the wheels don't fall once we hit 500 covers we will be able to walk away feeling good about service and enjoy the first couple hours of 2010 with some drinks in our hands and some friends to hang with.


New Years Eve

It's been pretty busy around here for the last 3 weeks and the busiest night of the year is fast approaching. Last year we pushed out 597 covers for NYE and we are on the way to do the same with 550 covers on the books. We have tried tasting menus in the past but for some reason around here they don't sell so we are running some specials on top of the a la carte menu this year.
We have a great deal on our Champagne and caviar using Tsar Nicoulai California Estate Osetra by the ounce paired with an awesome array of champagnes. If you wish to go to the russian route we will also be pairing our sustainable american caviar with 2 Stoli Elite martinis if you opt out of the champagne for no additional charge on top of the caviar. You get to choose from an array of champagnes, Mumm Cordon Rouge a mere $6 for two glasses on top of the caviar, Pierre Jouet Fleur de champagne, Tattinger Comtes Rose, or Louis Roederer Cristal(all at a considerable discount from our listed price when you pair it with the caviar).
The entree specials are
John Dory...hammock hollow root vegetables, parsnip butter, root spinach, FORVM glazed pearl onions
Wagyu Shortrib...horseradish creme fraiche, charred chicory, fingerling potatoes

We wanted to do something old school "special occasion" for the pasta this year so I figured why not put the two things that are ordered on special occasions in one dish. So this is what we came up with, foie and truffles. There may have been some inspiration from my "save the foie" stove monkeys shirt I got for christmas as I was wearing it when we came up with the dish(thanks matt). So we will be doing a beurre noisette cauliflower puree, truffle potato agnolotti, foraged mushrooms, and LaBelle Farms Foie Gras topped with a little arugula and baby radish salad. Of course a heavy handed shaving of nice winter truffles is in order to finish. We will be pushing some serious numbers so I had to figure out a way to do my foie quick and consistent. I did a test run and came up with this

1" thick slices of foie gras
1 tbsp J. LeBlanc Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fleur de sel and pepper to taste

cryovac the foie with all ingredients, sous vide at 65.3C(149.5F), for 5 minutes and put directly in an ice bath.
when ready to use just sear on both sides until warm in the center. The foie retains the fat and is cooked perfectly for pick up.

Tomorrow it all starts, $15,000 of fish, foie, and meat to break down, brine, and sous vide. Braising, blanching, cleaning, juicing, reducing, shaving, dicing, drying, frying, toasting, and trimming of various components. We are attacking NYE, the plan has been set, the stations are stacked with everyone in their strongest positions, most of the cooks know what is coming and the ones who don't are learning fast, we are going to kill this shit. No excuses, just make it fucking happen and it better be right.


The Farm

Well here it is, doesn't look like much other than 3 acres of scrub brush, palmettos, some pines, and a couple of young oaks coming up here and there. Hopefully we will begin clearing within the next month or so and we can start getting the soil ready for planting. This will be no easy task and it will require a lot of time I don't have but it's something that I will be doing for myself. I was a forestry major in Flagstaff, Az before cooking got a hold of me and have since always wanted my own plot. Staging at McCrady's last year had convinced me that this is what I have to do.

By no means will the land be ready anytime soon and there are surveys to be done, expenses to be taken care of like equipment for clearing the hardest plant in Florida to get rid of, the palmetto. Along with being a pain to get rid of they are also considered notorious hiding spots for various poisonous snakes here in Florida like the eastern diamond back rattlesnake. Click on the link to see a perfect example of one hiding among the palmetto's palm fronds.

It's only 3 acres but it is pretty dense. I already have some volunteers from the restaurant to help with the labor aspect of it. The cooks there are dedicated and seem to really want to take on the responsibility of a farm even though this will have no official affiliation with the restaurant. This is my private land and this will be used for my own organic planting purposes as well as a learning tool for any and all interested. It's about 45 minutes from the restaurant and 20 minutes from my house so it will not be too hard to make the trip in the mornings then go off to work when I need to. This is mostly horse and goat country but I'm sure a few pigs wouldn't hurt. If we fence in 1 acre and give a couple pigs 3-4 months they can serve as our personal tillers. They will root up all the soil and eat everything leaving fertilized land to be planted. It's still too early to make any decisions. We have to weigh our options and see what we are dealing with once we find out more about the soil under all that brush.

I will be reaching out to Al Rosas and many others over the next couple months for advice, initial planning, insight into the operations of the farm, organics, seed saving, planting cycles, and soil content. Granted this is only 3 acres but at least it is something and something great can be done with it. We just have to do it. I'll randomly post on the progress of my newest venture, stay tuned.

Black Sea Bass,heart of Palm, tangerine

Charlie at Hammock Hollows is supplying us with some awesome product. He runs the oldest organic farm in the state and supplies to some of the best restaurants around the country. Today we featured some of his tangerines, meyer lemons and spinach along with hearts of palm and black sea bass sashimi. I poached the hearts of palm in butter, sugar, water, salt and meyer lemon juice. We also pickled some HOP in yuzu juice, champagne vinegar, water and sugar. The baby spinach is meaty and flavorful. We did segments of tangerine and a fluid gel to support the round of poached HOP.

Gary's seafood brought in some nice black sea bass for us which got a J. LeBlanc, fleur de sel, meyer lemon zest marinade.

Honey crisp apples were compressed with yuzu rice vinegar and mirin then tossed in O blood orange oil. Micro shiso, some of Charlie's chervil, and sorrel completed the dish.

We also picked up some nice baby collards that will be featured on our "Dirty South Swordfish", red and white baby turnips have been cleaned and sous vide to complete our organic veg of the day. The turnip greens will find there way into our pasta and abalone supplement. Savannah Mustard greens that have been added to our German influenced "Ze' Idaho Berkshire" pork dish. Also floating around we will have blue tuscan kale, baby flambeau radishes, charlie's famed mixed greens along with baby romaine and little gem lettuces as well. I love Wednesdays in the fall, winter and spring when that truck pulls into the loading dock with a palette sized mystery basket for us. Charlie takes a break from Hammock Hollows in the summer to travel and start co-op farms sharing his invaluable knowledge. It is an honor to work with the ingredients he has provided.



In case you haven't noticed our "who we read" widget has expanded. My former sous chef Michael Gleason, a.k.a. HCD, is on his way to open his own restaurant. The Avery Creek Bistro just outside of Asheville, NC. This is a good opportunity for anyone with the desire to open their own place, you get to sit back and watch via his blog how it unfolds. So click on his link and read about the restaurant. We all wish him good luck.


Michael Mina

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Chef Mina for a few minutes in our lounge today to shoot the shit and also to help him out with a casual dinner he will be cooking tomorrow for friends, team, and family.
My wife and I went to San Francisco in 2004 with a spot on our friends couch and a reservation at The French Laundry. We took a couple days and explored San Fran then went off to Napa for the day. After one of the best meals of my life and the descriptions we provided to our friends they wanted to experience something similar. We made our way to Restaurant Michael Mina at the Westin, his flagship of trio goodness. If your counting the trios I had over 25 courses, some plates were trios of hot and cold so 6 entirely different courses on 1 plate. The plate itself was designed by Mina with the help of some folks in Limoges to accommodate his style. We went to the bar for a couple of drinks and if you sit to the far left you can see part of the kitchen where Mina was on expo that night checking all the plates, tasting, pen behind the ear, pointing, marking tickets, instructing captains and controlling the flow.
As a younger chef it was inspiring to watch. I had back to back incredible meals and it was a trip I will never forget. Two years later I was taking over bluezoo as executive chef and the first week I was to be chef we were doing a media dinner with Michael Mina and Todd. So no pressure at all with a 2 michelin star chef coming to your restaurant to cook with you along with your boss. It was a great challenge and experience. Michael is a chef with high expectations but very personable and approachable. His sous chef Junior was a machine and informed us he was on his way to open up the restaurant in Mexico City after this was said and done which seemed appropriate, the guy was good!
So needless to say it is a great honor for myself whenever Chef Mina is around. Here is one course I had a chance to take a shot of for his 20 top in the restaurant tonight.
Sous vide lone peak beef, methocel truffle gnocchi, cauliflower puree, foraged maitake, FORVM glazed pearl onions.


More J. Girardot benefit dinner

We didn't have a driver for the moving truck to get to the Ritz so I was nominated to drive. We loaded all our savory then pulled into the loading dock by pastry and I watched them loading all these super delicate sugar pieces, chocolate sculptures, air compressors, and basically filled the entire back of the truck. So no pressure at all when you have 8 executive pastry chefs from all over the country staring at you saying "don't break anything". Lets just say it took me a while to get to the Ritz and I'm sure there where a lot of pissed off people behind me.

One of the main people that brought all of these chefs together for this benefit was our very own executive pastry chef, Laurent Branlard, two time world pastry champion
Here he is putting the finishing touches on his sugar showpiece which was no easy task to begin with, then add all day rain and 95% humidity but all of the showpieces made it throughout the night. There were 6 in all that I counted, some from Ewald Notter and his team, then Laurent and Frederic Monti along with there friends put up the other half. I like the utilization of the whole glazed cocoa pods on Laurent's showpiece.

The event itself went very well, our dish was
Rouget seared in cultured vermont butter and J. LeBlanc Olive Oil, celery root puree, methocel truffle gnocchi, tangerine fluid gel, minus 8 caviar, manni per mi olive oil, brunoise celery, red ribbon sorrel, citrus coriander blossoms, and chestnut chips. There was a lot going on and it was one of the more complex dishes that was presented. Other noteworthy dishes were the pork belly from primo with pickled mustard seeds and shallots, Voltaggio's sous vide shortrib with bitter crispy broccoli, Clay Conley's lamb tacos were killer. There were too many sweet treats to list but I had the best macaroon I have ever had by far along with candies from Norman Love, Keegan's chocolate cake, Laurents pain perdu, churros from the Notter school were awesome, I could keep going.

The evening wouldn't have been complete without some acoustic guitar and singing from Ace of Cakes co-star Geoff Manthorn who roamed around the event and talked to everyone. Cool guy.

Here are some Links to follow if you would like more info on the dinner and what it was about
keegan and voltaggio
orlando sentinel


Chef's Table,literally

We had our chef's table on Wednesday and it was a blast. We brought in a lot of great product and it was all family style and mostly french-i-fied food. We were hosting the dinner at bluezoo for all of the chefs participating in the Jerome Girardot benefit dinner. Some of our diners included Keegan Gerhard, Michael Voltaggio(who did a good job of not letting anyone know who wins tops chef this season after being harrassed by a couple of people at the table), Frederic Monti, Ewald Notter, Clay Conley, Chris James, Sebastien Thieffine and another 20 ridiculously talented chefs.
Here are some of the products we had for them
Live Maine urchin

We got some beautiful Shigoku Oysters fro Tailor Shellfish farms in Washington.

These are by far the best oysters I have ever had. They come perfectly packed, individually scrubbed, nice cup size, creamy with a hint of minerality.

Some nice size loup de mer was flown in from Portugal.

This is the fish after coming out of the brine and ready to be sous vide, this was served with parsnip puree, petite bouchot mussels, micro leeks, and the sauce was reduced mussel cuisson that we creamed out.

We also had some toro with micro shiso, pickled daikon, and togarashi.

Blanquette de veau, carved cote de boeuf, artichokes barigoule, beet salad, azeitao, brillat savarin, tarentaise, couronne lochoise, humboldt fog, and about 7 different kinds of crusty bread from our friends at Deuce France bakery. Of course there we some traditional french desserts like galette de rois, mille-feuille, and many more.

It was a great night, after putting out each round of courses chef rob, arnaud and myself joined the table to eat with our guests and talk shop. An awesome experience and one that I will not forget.