What is in the Air?

I have been publically writing for over  three years now and have yet to share an actual recipe. I have more unfinished blog posts in my documents folder than I have actual shared ones. The reasoning is that I feel there are so many awesome Chefs out there sharing their recipes, you don’t really need another one flooding your facebook page with unwanted recipes and food tips. (Do you?) I would much rather hint at the possibility of one of my quasi-interested readers to actually ask me a question regarding food. This technique has yet to reveal any sign of results so I guess I am acquiescing. So here it goes…

It should be known that my style of cuisine is old-world in foundation built up by just the right amount of “modernist” influence. I am definitely not a slave to trends and it of course is no hidden fact that my disgust for  the watered down industry that I am apart of can be directly linked to the exploitation of cool/sexy Chefs. Now this of course takes nothing away from the accomplishments of my peers and I wish them all the success that is due to them. It however is a known fact that while food TV is one of the most watched networks and cookbooks are the number one type of book being sold right now, for some reason, we are cooking less than ever before. Well, that “some reason” is this; as we watch our favorite Chef prepare the most awesome meal, the processed food companies pay trillions (not a fact, just hyperbole) for their commercial slots to get you to buy their goods. It’s a slick little hustle that sees no sign of slowing down. Besides, TV sucks, and cooking is far more fun!

So why not do what some say has been done for over 10,000 years! Trap the single cell organism we know as yeast, along with other yummy edible microbes, and make some bread. The air is equipped with all the yeast you will ever need to make the perfect loaf of bread every time! The cool thing is that the sour dough bread you make will differ from locale to locale giving a sour dough in Vermont a different taste than one in Cali due to the varying air composition. First we have to make a productive starter:


2 cups of flour

2 cups of good old warm  H2O   and  combine in a glass bowl

And that’s it! No need to buy a sour dough starter online because that’s what you just made… sort of.

My starter keeping a watchful eye on my house grown pea shoots and micro greens. Did you know that chefs pay up to 25 bucks for half a pound? and gues who pays for it...

Now you have to collect the yeast and feed it. So leave it in a warm place to ferment, 4 to 8 days.  Depending on temperature and humidity of kitchen, times may vary. Place on cookie sheet in case of overflow. Check on occasionally. When mixture is bubbly and has a pleasant sour smell, it is ready to use.

Notice the bubbles in the dough. This is what your looking for after about 4 days. You do not refrigerate it during this 4 day period. That way you can collect the yeast from the air.

If your mixture has a pink, orange, or any other strange color tinge to it, THROW IT OUT! and start over. At my restaurant we make bread every day from our starter and never have to throw any away and it never goes in the fridge. But if you are only making bread once a week like most home bakers do when they possess a starter, throw it in the fridge. And if you are making bread once in a blue moon, you can still keep the yeast alive and kicking! you will have to feed it once a week by discarding about 1 cup of the starter and adding 1 cup flour and one cup of warm H2O. leave it out for a day and return it to the fridge! A lot of people refer to their starters as pets, But I WOULD NOT RECOMMEND TAKING YOUR “PET” THROUGH THE TSA CHECKPOINTS!… “May I please ask you what is that funked out gooey substance in your carry on”? Sure to be confiscated! If this happens, no worries, start another one. Just remember that sourdough starters improve with age, so you might want to hang on to it for a while and pass it along to those interested in yummy things. This actualy a trdition for some and it prevents you from having to waist it by throwing it in the trash.

This is a mature starter, which you can tell by the crusty border. (Time for a bowl change)

So how does it work? You can collect yeast for two things that I know of. one is for bread making and the other is for the production of alcohol.  And just as your bread will differ in taste according to what air you are breathing, so will your brew. Now I of course don’t drink, but I will go into the production of homemade alcohol for the sole reason of making your very own vinegar! NO this does not mean two recipes in one post. This is me jockeying for some interested readers (one will do) to ask me; how to make vinegar? Now, anyone can go to the brew shop and get a vinegar mother (you see this hazy strand  sometimes floating in your organic vinegar), drop it into an unadulterated bottled of alcohol: beer for malt, white/red for wine and of course champagne for, well champagne vinegar. But if you want to get your own strain of vinegar mother, a unique one just like our yeast we collected for our starter, hit me up!

Here is the skinny: yeast eats sugar and its waste is alcohol then acid bactar comes in and eats the alcohol and guess what its waste is. VINEGAR!

The bread recipe:

1 pound of starter

14 oz of water

2 T. honey

5 C bread flour (plus more for kneading)

¾ C Wheat flour

1 C soaked kamut (or other wheat berry or steel-cut oats)

3 t salt

Sour dough without the wheat berries

How To:

Combine starter, H2O, honey, the two flours and kamut, cover and let rest for at least 4 hours. The longer the better.  Don’t mix at this point. Just dump everything in, give one quick stir and cover with plastic wrap. Four hours later; when ready, sprinkle salt on top. Stir with wooden spoon and dump on heavily floured surface. And knead until you get one tight ball of dough. You can do this in your kitchen aide if you want to as well. Let it rest for 30 minutes. shape two loaves and score with a razor blade. Bake  at  375 for 45 minutes, rotating half way through.

Hope you enjoyed my thoughts and I hope you try the recipe!

Their name is on our menus… Do we know them?

I am sure you have seen menus laden with citations, bibliographies, indexes, appendixes if you will, all in an attempt to give credit to the farms that inspire our ever changing menus. I have went from listing my farms after each dish, a tallied list at the end of my menu under the name of producers to most recently coining them contributors.  I am here to tell my fellow chefs out there that a name without a face leaves one wondering who “who are these people”. Have you met them? Do you haggle the crap out of them to get your profit margins just right while leaving the farmer with change to pay for the rising costs of feed, waste management, oil for machinery and fees for organic certifications and FDA stickers? The tag line for the Windham farm and food network is, Make the connection. Buy local. Know your farmer. I DIG IT! And, this by far sums up our responsibility as food producers, educators, chefs and consumers to truly become sustainable.

So when you hear advertisements of an aluminum foil wrapped 2 pound burrito slinging  establishment waving the we are committed to local blah blah blah card, don’t believe the hype!  Trust me on this, they are duping you! Does this sicken anyone else? Are companies really taking advantage of consumers who want to eat responsibly? Of course they are and I would expect this type of exploitation from these no scruple having corps.  But when chefs irresponsibly floss the “local” card with absolutely no intention of contributing to the ever so important food awareness and sustainability movement, it saddens me. It actually ticks me off a bit. This exploitation is of course is the hottest marketing trend and restaraunteurs and Chefs are sucking it right up. What are the main issues with the food system? There is no way I can fully answer this rhetorical question in my measly little quick read posts, so watch a documentary or read the omnivores dilemma. Or for first hand experience with our food system issues you could; support your child’s soy, salt, sugar and corn addiction and send them to the school cafeteria, take a drive through a food dessert, grab a five pound “Bryson” all natural chicken breast at your local grocery, purchase a pseudo organic product from “Mole Foods”, plant a garden using new and improved GMO”Franken-Seeds” or try to get sold on buying pre-fabricated microwaveable foods while learning to cook fabulously food via the “Fooey Network”.

When you "make the Connection" you might get some seeds to grow your own micro greens. Sure beets 20 bucks a pop!

Remember, the “stand up guy” card is an easy one to throw down. What’s not easy is backing it up.  It takes commitment, true passion and in my case a lot of trial and error. I for one was extremely apprehensive about butchering. So I would request from my farmers certain cuts of meat. Now of course I see butchering as one of the most important pieces to running a TRUE

An aged veal mid-section ready for butchering.

Farm to table restaurant that truly sustains the farming community. My initial willy nilly hatchet man cuts of meat were almost as embarrassing as me taking forty plus minutes splitting an underwhelming amount of wood, or wearing kitchen clogs to a farm in mud season. (I won’t even get into my countless homesteading blunders).

The small meat producers (not talking meat factories here) biggest problem is of course the food system. It is set up to leave an enormous amount of not so popular cuts of meat. This is what it breaks down to: two of each of the following; rib loins, strip loins, tenderloin and sirloin. Not to mention, of course, the ever popular beef hanger steak.  This cut of meat could feed maybe twelve people. Thats right, twelve people from 1000 pounds! We chase after trendy cuts to keep a consistent menu and remain relevant in todays  ever-changing landscape of foodie satisfaction. Totally un-sustainable.   If you have some rump in your kitchen, some people may get try tips, (again maybe 10 servings out of the whole steer), and of course some short ribs, and a few other cuts of interest. But the fact remains that out of a steer that weighs in at 1000 plus pounds, the majority is left as un favorable cuts of beef to the consumer after all the highly preferred ones are swooped up by Chefs that don’t want to do the work of making as many menu items as possible out of the whole animal. And this is happening across the country at self-proclaimed sustainable/Farm to table restaurants. Again, pretty un-sustainable.  This lack of commitment from chefs and in some cases lack of support from money hungry owners leaves the farmer making sub-par sausage (in most cases) to sell at farmers markets and many a compromise from chefs (use your imagination here). Don’t believe me? Ask a farmer. I am finding them to be some of the coolest people around!

The Garden Shots Have nothing to do with this post. I am just super psyched!

It is super beneficial to both parties involved in the whole animal purchase. Number one. When a farmer has a bunch of leftover meat for grind and unfavorable cuts sitting in their deep freezer (if they have one), this makes the price of a 100% grass-fed prime cut on average 4 dollars more per pound and of course this gets passed on to the consumer which then keeps only the well to do partaking in the joys of true all natural eats. And adds to the notion that some have (I’m on the fence) about the totally clueless foodie elitists out there zipping around in their Priuses. Which still have 7 gallons of oil in each tire, the body of the car is made of oil and they are shipped here on tankers using a bunch of oil and are shipped on semis using crazy amounts of oil and…and… and….  Where are our post oil solutions? This charade and bamboozlement adds nothing to sustainability movement either.

My Award!

The local movement does not end at just having local food. It doesn’t even start at it. Making the connection is the key component. At least that is what the Windham Farm and Food network believes and I for one am all about it. Don’t know how to say this without saying it so…. I WAS GIVEN AN AWARD!  And no it’s not the James Beared or a Rising Star Award or anything like that. Trust me. Not taking anything away from the insanely talented chefs who totally deserve the recognition especially all the great chefs in C-town who get slighted every year. But any way… Mine is the highly touted Farm and Food Chef All-stars award! When Hanz Estrin (he runs the organization) called me up and informed me I was a recipient, I couldn’t wait to put it on my fridge! I even took a picture of it to share with you guys.

One last thought. And I want you guys to help me on this one. As I said earlier, I give credit to my farmers on my menu. Is this necessary as a Chef? Shouldn’t a diner spending hard-earned loot EXPECT the best? And we all know there is NOTHING better than an in season heirloom tomato or an over wintered parsnip! I’m leaning towards the belief that if I run my kitchen with integrity, I will get the respect of the farmer. That farmer/producer will then tell a customer of theirs they can get the goods at my establishment. Once this cycle repeats itself amongst the community enough times, my kitchen would be recognized as a stalwart operation with integrity and commitment to as many farms it takes to sustain my establishment. What do you guys think? I would love to hear from you!

Just want to show you guys what we are up to. Kale, artichokes, peppers, tomatoes, onions and of course herbs.

For more information on the Windham Farm and Food Network supported by the UVM extension Click here! I can attest to its successes (and ease of use) and it continues to make my life easier as a chef striving to support my farming neighbors.

If my knives Could Talk…. A Chefs Journey

The other day I was surfing the net I came across a beautiful Togiharu Hammered Textured  Damascus Gyutou on korin.com. This blade will have the privilege of piercing the flesh of locally raised ducks, from Guilford, rabbits from Dummerston and lamb from Putney. (just to name a few). I started to think about what my other knives experienced outside of the case. And what they witnessed. I then realized, that each knife would have a story to tell. as would I. These thoughts developed into what you are reading now, a journey of chefs’ blades. Every knife would go through its own break in period while witnessing their owners’ trials and triumphs. Some would inevitably become obsolete in a chefs arsenal, and merely act as a reminder of one’s beginnings. Some would be lost, stolen, and even abandoned. As these stories are chronicled, I would like to take you with me on my journey of knives and give you a few tips as well.

Chicago Cutlery http://www.chicagocutlery.com/ (please don’t go to this page)

*warning going to this page may seriously stunt your professional growth*

The beginning of my cooking career starts before I enrolled into culinary school at the International Arts and Sciences Institute in Chesterland Ohio. My first gig was at a run of the meal (pun) restaurant and Pie shop in Cleveland hts.  This restaurant used Chicago Cutlery Knives.  Weighing in at a whopping five pounds and this baby is equipped with a plastic handle that is sure to callous the crap out of your hands and give you a serious brachioradialis work out!  Can you say..Popeye arms?!  These knives were are and always will be absolutely horrid. I am sorry to say this but if you currently are wielding a Chicago Cutlery knife, you just are not seriously that into your craft These were “sharpened” at a grinding company weekly until there was no more blade left to grind. In fact, one of the things I look for in a kitchen is if they have a knife service. This is definitely a red flag. Of course at the time, I thought these were professional grade. I am trying to think of a suitable application for these types of knives but I just can’t! My advice, STAY AWAY! And don’t send your good knives to a grinding service, this will only destroy your edge and make it more difficult to attain a professional edge. Learn to sharpen your knives with a wet stone. It will give you a true connection with your blade and you will learn the strengths and weaknesses of each one that you own. Oh yeah, if you are ever in NYC, stop by Korin (57 Warren Street New York, NY 10007), and ask for a tutorial with the master knife sharpener, its super amazing!   Chefs; basically you need to ask yourself one question….If you were a samurai, would you be wielding a plastic handled, heavy, clunky sword?  NO!

Kyocera https://secure.kyoceraadvancedceramics.com/index.html

After “Estimating Tributary Habitat Using GIS Data Bases” with DR. Koonce of Case Western Reserve University, it became to be clear to me, that I am definitely not a lab rat. My childhood dream of being on the discovery channel was fading, and I turned towards the field that had been putting me through college, Culinary Arts.  After working in a couple of unmentionable restaurants I started to read about some great chefs, started watching the once respectable Food Network, and practicing out of cook books. This became my focus. Since I was homeschooled, it is fairly easy for me to self educate and to become informed. Now, the Food Network at that time was full of wonderful chefs, was not a popularity contest, and Sara Moulton didn’t need to use her cleavage to sell her awesome show.  (Fooey Network) This was the moment I was smitten by the Kyocera ceramic knife that Chef Ming Tsai used on his East Meets West  show.  His was black and super cool, mine is now dull and chipped along the blade thanks to my wife. How did this knife end up at home? Well, the decision was made to take one for the team and donate my knife to the household where an adequate knife presence was seriously lacking.   Within a month the tip had chipped off and my beloved knife had incurred some serious battle wounds, now resembling something closer to a serrated knife.  She still swears up and down (even in its current state) that it is the best knife ever, especially when cutting tomatoes.   We love the fact that it stays sharp for darn near forever! And when it does dull, you send it in for ten bucks. We have neglected to do this seeing as though ten bucks usually buys some cool ingredients instead.   The huge downside of this knife is that they do break and chip.  One of my Chef buddies actually shattered his.  I was so excited after entering my culinary profession, and I longed for this blade but never ponied up the coin to actually purchase it.  I was however fortunate enough to I win it in a cooking competition at the botanical gardens in Cleveland.

Wusthof http://www.wusthof.com/desktopdefault.aspx

The first knife I bought was a Wusthof. It was in the kit of other knifes used in culinary school. I was so excited and proud to walk around with my knife kit. I wanted to be the fastest chopper in class. This inspiration surely derived from my love for the PBS cooking show by Martin Yan “Yan Can Cook”.  Just as sure as Yan could cook, I could chop.  Fast.   This was definitely noticed by my instructor chef Tim, and I LOVED it.    After enthusiastically accepting an assignment of bailing out my classmates on some prep work, I proudly wielded my freshly honed German engineered beauty, right into my thumb.  This incision was a precursor to three stitches, and a story that I always tell my interns.   “If you want to gain speed in chopping it is almost inevitable that you will cut yourself.”    Call it a muscle memory exercise.   Back to the knife…This blade goes from the tip all the way to the base of the handle which gives it nice balance.  Balance is a quality which is an ABSOLUTE NECESSITY to look at when buying a professional grade blade.  This is one my heavier knives and frankly exists now solely for the purpose of reminding me where I came from.  It is a good entry-level professional blade.  There are some higher end ones that are really nice but not my cup of tea anymore…I now prefer a Japanese blade. I should also mention that all of the other knives in my cooking school kit are NEVER used. I find that I can filet a fish, tornade potatoes, and break down a bird, all with  one quality blade.

J. A. Henckels http://www.j-a-henckels.com/en-US

You may notice the absence of a knife on this cutting board.  He is the Sanktoku, by J.A. Henckles, a German-made Japanese style knife with hollow ground.  Hollow ground is a knife blade which has been ground with a beveled edge along the cutting edge of the knife.  This creates a smaller surface to make contact with the food, to help prevent the food from sticking. (Allegedly). I feel like i was duped! The food totally still stuck to this blade! (for true no potato stickage, snag the Glestain, i’ll get to that baby in a sec) At that time, EVERY young chef was all about the santoku. I wish I could find this knife. (Not for the performance obviously)  I wish I could go into 4700 Lakeside Ave. and reminisce on the days of Crust and Crumbs Bakery & Café.  This story is almost like a love story…and it hurts my heart to even think about it. Left behind in a “dream differed”…alas, the Crumb:  My first love.   My second knife.  My dream of a restaurant that was so close to re-opening then the dream dried up like a “raisin in the sun”.    If only I would have listened to those who said “Stay.”  Where would I be?  Closed to reopen in a new and bigger space that never came into fruition.  Unfortunately this knife is still stuck in the old crumb building, amongst old favorite cook books.  Our plan was to open the new Crumb and make some loot so we could go back and settle our debt with the landlord and get back all of our stuff that was comendeered.  Obviously this hasn’t happened yet, although sometimes my delusions of grandeur lead me to believe this still may happen someday.  I opened Crust and Crumbs when I was 23, after deciding to go the culinary vs lab rat route.  In my eyes, The Crumb (as it was dubbed by my regulars), will always be a success.  It was here where pivitol introductions were made.  My landlord knew Brad Friedlander who gave me sound business advice that I still use today. He also introduced me Jonathan Bennet who I worked under at Moxie the Restaurant. This is where I began to truly hone my skills and became SUPER into perfecting my craft. It is also the first time I sharpened my knives REGULARLY, and feasted my eyes on what is still not only a show stopper, but a great blade as well. Lady’s and gents, the Glestain Indented Blade…

Glestain http://korin.com/Brands/Glestain-Indented-Blade

This knife is TIGHT! The design is wonderful and the blade is a razor-sharp one that stays that way for pretty long time. It also is excellent at preventing all of your thinly sliced veggies from hanging around on your blade as I mentioned earlier… I left C Town and I was off to NY in what my family likes to call an “Izzy Whim Worlwind”.  I had no money, no apartment, no food.  Just a sweet stage gig at one of my chef heroes flagship restaurant Charlie Palmers’ Areole.   (By the way a stage position for those of you who don’t know is basically when you work for free, to gain experience and knowledge).   That’s right! This field is full of people who can afford (or have hella connections) to work unpaid in Top Michelin rated restaurants across the globe, growing in skill and buffing up their resumes. Well, I was and still am not one of those guys. (hmmm… this type of privileged network could contribute to why minorities are just a tad under represented in culinary arts…).  Anyway, I knew that this was going to be huge for my professional growth. I guess it’s not completely fair to say I had no apartment no money or food because I did have some wonderful friends who let me sleep on their floor, supportive family who sent me whatever they could scrape together, and a wife to be who would mail me packages of food and some money, a small subway map, and provided me with hours of company via the cell phone.   I remember those conversations vividly. She wired me some money because she was sick of me complaining about being hungry…(I only ate staff meal at the restaurant, unless it had pork in it, and on Sundays when I was off I wouldn’t really eat unless my awesome friends Dominique and Carol would feed me)…anyway, so she wired me some money and expected me to buy some food with it…and to her chagrin, what did I get?  This amazing knife, and some cleaner, neater looking chef jackets.  I remember eyeing it like a kid in a candy store, in that beautiful case, in a store I had no business being in because I really should have been buying groceries.  My only complaint about this knife is it is machine-made as opposed to the other hand forged Japanese varieties which I am truly fond of. This knife is a real beauty sharpens well and will always be in heavy rotation.


Misono http://korin.com/Brands/Misono_2

So, I did get offered a job at Aureole (a dream come true actually) …working under one of my hero chefs and his all-star crew…but something told me to come back home.  I had my kids at home, my wife to be and it really looked like my dream of the new Crumb was going to come true. Man! I still dream of being open in the beautiful Asian Town Center on 36th and superior. Café by day, bistro by night. Working with some of the coolest artist in the city… Anyway, I went back to Cleveland, reunited with the family, got married and got to work on the Crumb re-opening.  But in the meantime I needed cash, money, coin, dinero, loot, what ever you tag it as, I was lacking it. Just as my knives serve as a tool for memory recall, my jobs (and the Chefs that run them) are so important to the Chef that I am today. I found this job at Scott Kim’s Sasa Matsu in Shaker Square. Loved it! I was allowed to give my imput in the menu and learned so much from the most diverse bunch I have ever worked with. Korean, Chinese, Peruvian, Japanese, and your typical American mutt, working together making some yummy food. I remember busting out my knives so proud.   At this point all I REALLY knew about cutlery, is keep it sharp. How I chose a knife was solely based on how cool it looked. At that time I had a gorgeous, respectable shun blade designed by Ken Onion. http://www.kershawknives.com/

THESE KNIVES ARE FANTASTIC! (super pricey too) Its rocking abilities are perfect for slicing super thin and chopping herbs in a text-book fashion. I witnessed Scott Kim cooking with chop sticks, rolling perfect sushi rolls and dissecting fresh whole fish with an unbelievably razor-sharp knife. He didn’t have a Misono, but it was hand-made and I liked that. This is when I found my favorite, super thin, ultra light crazy sharp, rustic looking blade crafted by a company with 750 plus years of forgery. I am curious to see if my Togiharu will replace my Misono as my all-time fav. I highly doubt it. It will definitely be used the most this summer slicing through many a flora and fauna. It will temporarily soothe my addiction to have the coolest “shanks” (knife) in my collection. One thing is for sure, the knives will continue to witness the growth of a professional Chef as I continue on my journey to create super yummy food.