Star Chefs 2010

Another great year at Star Chefs has passed. I look forward to it every year. I missed 2006 and 2008 but I now make it a point to attend no matter what. It is invaluable the amount of knowledge that is free flowing from the presenters and attendees. i was fortunate enough to meet Linda from Playing with Fire and Water, great blog, personality, photography, and an inspiriation to hang with her for a short time. Kurtis, Chad, Alberto and Jeremiah from Miami are always great to hang with. Pablo from NYC. Sweet bahn mi tacos from Gastropod. Kevin, Mac and new exec chef of Olives NY Tony Susi were a pleasure and very hospitable considering I mailed a bunch of mise en place and equipment to their restaurant for my competition. KOSTA, the mad greek and his chef Pete were as awesome as ever. Can't forget the first the people I saw in the Armory, Aki and Maya greeting me with big smiles then Alex coming along after checking in. It's always a pleasure to see them, you can't help but feed off their energy. Kevin, Amy, and Winbird. Doc Sconz shooting pictures like a mad man between the workshops and the list goes on for days. Brian Baxter, one of my employees, joined me this year. Being his first star chef experience I'm sure he took a lot away from it. Meeting tons of people, networking, talking food, and free flowing Stella doesn't ever hurt. I'm interested to see what he comes up with over the next couple of weeks through his experience at the congress. I knew it was going to be an interesting year when I got off the plane, got in the cab line at Laguardia, turned around and was next to Ron Jeremy. From there it was on, what a crazy 4 days.

My first day started with a workshop hosted by Brad Fermerie of Public and Double Crown. "There Will Be Blood" was the topic of his workshop, and there was plenty of it. Venison blood to be exact. He went over the basics of working with lifes essential liquid, then we all pitched in and put together some boudin noir. Simple and delicious, all about technique, personal interpretation, and execution. Here is the boudin noir that we made, then we tasted some of chef's blood creations. Outstanding to say the least.

After the show we hauled ass to one of the best meals I've ever had. Corton is amazing because of Paul Leibrandt and his staff. Kosta had staged with Chef Leibrandt when he did a dinner at McCrady's hosted by Sean Brock so our meal turned from 3 courses into something extra. Even the three course pre fixe at corton is essentially a 10 course menu. 2 amuse, one was a pea sponge with a pea cornbread of sorts, then whipped foie gras with cucumber gelee. Baxter ordered the foie as his first course so he recieved and entirely different amuse which was very thoughtful. I ordered "from the garden" which had so many components, textures, flavors, and varying temperatures that every bite was something different. Truly awesome. Kosta had the tomato course which consisted of 3 different platings of tomato, each to be enjoyed on their own, separate from the main plating. Baxter's foie was served with fresh brioche, homemade butter and too many other components that I am drawing a blank. This continued for several hours. Baxter and I shared the "mangalitsa pork for two", being a proponent of this rare breed I had to have Leibrandt's version. Needless to say it was awesome, served with a black meringue that when the smoked pork jus was poured around melted into the sauce, f'ing awesome. Koasta's Elysian Fields lamb tasting was ridiculous as well, smoked neck, sweetbreads, loin, tartare! This was a great experience. I knew I was in the right place when the sous chef of Public walked in and gave me "the nod" as we were finishing to have dinner with some friends of his own.

Off to Eataly for lunch. This place is insane, 45 minute wait for pizza and pasta seating at 2:00pm on a Tuesday. There was so much to see, you just have to experience it. A little bit of a cluster F' when it coms to service, I \'m sure that has something to do with the 2,000 people all trying to eat a the same time but overall a great experience. The fish counter was full of fresh fish at decent prices.

The charcuterie was amazing. There is only about $10,000 of proscuitto di parma hanging from the ceiling and another $10,000 worth of parmesan wheels acting as a wall to the left of the meat counter. I got 1/2lb of speck and pete got 1/4lb of sweet sopresatta. Amazing on all counts.

Kind of a shame this awesome Berkel slicer is just for show.

On to some more of the ridiculous.Pastry Chef Dominique Persoone and Food Scientist Bernard Lahousse of Food Pairings released a new chocolate pairings site. After their vibrant demo we ended up snorting chocolate, yes snorting it. This has not yet been released to head super models(which baxter pointed out) but I'm sure is on it's way and will be well recieved but probably not for the intended use. They developed an acrylic piece that they place infused cocoa on, then basicaly shoot it up into your nasil cavity while you inhale. The ginger infused cocoa powder went straight to my brain, then you get the drip sensation in the back of your throat that really brings the flavors up over your tongue. After hearing some of their outrageous demo ideas that were denied by star chefs I can see how this mild version was the safest bet to go with. Really great chefs and entertaining as well. Here is there creation to shoot cocoa. Put the powder on the end of the two prongs, they count to three and flick the switch which shoots the powder into the air under your nose and you inhale. sure they could make a pretty penny selling this to head shops.

Alberto giving it a shot.

Not last and certainly not least, jordan Kahn gave the best presentation of the congress. An awesome interpretation of art comprising of film, music and brush strokes that put everyone on edge. The guy walked on to the stage, didn't say a word, played a video and plated some desserts. Doesn't sound like much but words cannot explain the depth of this yong pastry chef with experience at Per Se and Alinea. I wish he would have walked off stage and not said a word when the video finished. It would have been the shit, and I know that he would have done it if Antoinette hadn't forced him into taking questions. This guy knows he nailed this demo and is a badass in the eyes of everyone that watched it but he seems shy and humble. Appreciative of where he came from and not what you expect. Watch out for this guy. Here is a picture of the hoards of people trying to get an up close glimpse of his desserts.


Fall Menu

The time is here and we rolled out the fall menu at bluezoo tonight. It was pretty quiet in the dining room but we had a ton of prep to do for some special events coming up and stocking up on new menu components. It's a little stressful knowing that we have a new menu running and I will be leaving to go to star chefs on sunday, back wednesday night(missing albert's inopia presentation so i can make the plane) for a function on Thursday, and leave Saturday morning for Seattle, but we have a lot of talented people that have my back and I'm confident they will get the job done.
There is always a lot that goes into a menu change. Tasting, testing, consistent sourcing, producing, re-writing prep sheets, station sheets, costing, butcher tasks, ordering guides, new purveyors and accounts, delivery schedules, and most importantly is the training of the foh and boh. You try to make the shift as smooth as possible but there are so many factors and components that you don't really know what will happen until it does. Trying to predict what modifications will pop up and how to prepare for them is always interesting. Allergy mods, which we deal with on a frequent basis can throw you off if you are not prepared.
Determining what you can get away with is another thing. There is always one or two dishes that chefs prepare for chefs and experienced foodies, not everyone will get thought behind it or the time and effort that goes into it. It may not be the best selling item on the menu but those are the ones you pay special attention to. Appealing to the masses in our environment is a must. In the end of the day bills have to be paid appropriately to be successful. Pick up times have to be sensible, adequate equipment must be in place. Then again five pan pick ups of an awesome dish may make you a culinary god on a good day and a schmuck on a bad one. Sometimes you just have to roll the dice, be flexible, and make adjustments on the fly. The ability, training and knowledge of your team will determine much of this. The "guiding light" has been our tasting menu. We get training, feedback and execution information on a daily basis. Without that this would have made things much more hectic. Hats off to the ladies and gentlemen of the zoo for making this happen without incident. Granted, we have our staples on the menu that never die, this is a half menu change that will enable us to perform during peak season. Here are our fall menu additions, come check them out.

broken rockefeller....spinach, house bacon, mornay, egg yolk

beet salad....pickled beet paint, candied walnut, goat cheese fondue

miso glazed mero....hawaiian seabass, black garlic, shitake-ginger rice

ahi tuna....parsnip, glazaed seasonal root vegetable, olive soil

heritage chicken....fingerling macaire, porcini, charred watercress

beef tenderloin....chestnut, butternut squash, mushroom in various forms

king salmon....espelette infused carolina gold rice, heirloom carrot, parsley root

sea island red peas....ham bone braised, sherry vinegar

Of course our descriptions are vague and left to the imagination so we may entertain new presentations, cure boredom of producing the same thing everyday, and pretend we are not a restaurant within a giant corporate establishment.


VitaMix Challenge

I'm at a point where I needed some good news and today was the day. Caitlin from Star Chefs informed me I will be one of six chefs competing in the VitaMix Challenge at Star Chef 2010 International Chefs Congress. I will be representing the Southeast division of the United States. No complaints here. Judges are Marcus Samuelsson, who I've had the honor of cooking for before whether he knows it or not, Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern, and Harold Dieterle of Perilla who beat out a former colleague in the finals of the inaugural season of Top Chef but deserved the win. By the way, not kissing up to the judges, just the way it is.
The competition, display "a unique application of a VitaMix blender". We are in desperate need of the VitaMix XL at bluezoo and it happens to be one of the 3 blenders we will receive if the competition is won. Our variable speed Vita-Prep 3 is amazing and I can only imagine what could be done with the addition of the XL. Almost every plate in the restaurant has a puree, powder or fluid gel and blender time has to be split between our 15 cooks and 5 bartenders. This is my third year attending and truly an honor to be more than just an observer.
New fall menu tastings and roll out by Friday, leave for Star Chefs on Sunday, Competition on Wednesday, haul ass back to the restaurant Wednesday night, VIP restaurant buyout on Thursday, leave Saturday at 5am for a five day trip to Seattle, red eye arrives at 7am on the 1st then straight to the restaurant for another 125pp party, no pressure. This is what we do and just what I needed to rejuvenate myself.
I've done competitions with ACF judges, won gold but hated it. No offense, but it's old school. This will be another story. I respect the ACF and what they do but this is truly in my arena of thought and execution. I hate to lose, as do most chefs, but I'm sure their will be lots to learn no matter what the outcome. I'm anxiously looking forward to this. So if you would like to see how to cook loup de mer in a blender, come see me at Star Chefs ICC.



We've been working on the fall menu the last couple of days trying new recipes, techniques, and platings. Here is the first version of our "Broken Rockefeller". I can't tell you how many requests we get for this. I guess it makes sense, we have different selections of east and west coast oysters nightly and with all the requests for it why not put it on the menu but at least we can do it our way. We took all the components and broke them down then give the diner a version of the original for reference.

We start with mornay sauce that is gelled and pureed for a pudding effect. Next was the spinach and bacon. We start with a reduced garlic cream, emulsify in some bacon fat, then finish with spinach and blend until smooth. We breaded the oysters in corn flour from Anson Mills, some bacon powder and we're almost there.

Since plating this I have some more ideas to tighten up the plate, a parmesan component and a little more of the spinach bacon puree is needed for the fried oysters to be able to get the full effect. Some dots of the spinach puree around the fried oysters will help break that section of the plate up a little. We'll keep playing with it and see what happens, so far so good.


Meet the Chef's Chefs

I couldn't snap pictures of everyone but here is their food. Diana came up with a nice harissa puree with king salmon, curied carolina gold rice, zahtaar carrot salad and micro carrot tops that we have been featuring on our tasting menu.

Chris Spaulding did a nice job with this brined, smoked, sous vide, then finally grilled berkshire belly. Tomato and lardo emulsion, heirloom tomatoes, crispy wheat berries.

Lupe rolls the s@#t out of some pasta and had some nice "envelopes" filled with braised pasture prime chicken.

Brian Baxter finished the pasta with celery root puree, fiscalini, and malabar spinach.

With a new menu on the horizon we will be utilizing our tasting menu to test new dishes for the fall. It's a great way for us to tweek the dishes, have the line chefs contribute, and let them develop a sense of ownership in the menu.