Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bacon roasted Quail

Foie Gras, Pecan Hash, Date Butter, Pickled Apple

This is a bacon wrapped double quail breast, seared foie gras, dates cooked in madeira and buzzed with butter. The pecan hash has crispy potatoes, shallots, thyme, chives and lemon oil. We finish with bacon sherry jus, and pickled apples warmed in buerre monte.

Monday, August 10, 2009

My New Job

I received permission several weeks ago to blog about my job as a line cook at Heron's. I have been putting it off though because I wasn't sure what to write about. The cuisine is intense and awesome, but it is not mine. I do not create the food at Heron's our chef, Scott Crawford, does. And he is extremely talented and driven. Which is why I went to work for him.

The first three months or so have been crazy. I have learned a lot including that as always, you never know enough. I spent my first couple of weeks not truly knowing how to brunoise correctly to get perfect little squares. It all makes sense now, but then it was a struggle. I have had to do my own cooking research in order to produce the food Chef Crawford wants and I have never had to work so hard in a kitchen. And I have worked at some places that really put you to test.

The big difference is that yearning for perfection. Some say there is no perfect dish, but it is the yearning for perfection that really drives us to make perfect knife cuts and to perfectly season. Most of what we do is beyond the guests we serve. They probably don't notice that the butternut squash was cut into perfect little 1/8 inch squares.

So for now I plan on writing about my station. It is what we call Hot Apps or hot appetizers. On the current menu I have four regular menu items and one item on tasting. On the menu I cook, Mushroom soup, butternut squash risotto, bacon wrapped quail, butter poached lobster. Chef Crawford has agreed to give me pictures of the food and as I get them I will write and describe.

On a side note I got to work with Dean McCord last night. I can't wait to see what he posts about his two nights at the restaurant. Check out his blog to see what he has to say.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Stepping Back

The family and I went on a camping trip to the beach. We roughed it in tents (we even forgot the pillows), and we had a great time. Sometimes it is really refreshing to step back and look at things from a different angle. Going backwards often helps us to move forward. And that is what I am doing with my career.
Many of you may already know that I am leaving Azure Grille. I have two main reasons for stepping back. First and foremost is some family time. I have been working hard for a long time and I have a patient wife and two amazing little boys who I would like to spend more time with. Second is the opportunity to continue to learn and grow as a chef. I will be working for the leading chef in the area and I will post on my new job soon. I have had a great tenure at Azure Grille and Ed and Deborah Roach have been extremely nice and great to work for. I will definetly miss Azure but I will visit often.
My hope is that stepping back will help me see new things and lead me in a new direction. I am a little unsure of where I will go with this bog as I will not be creating the menus for my new job, but I do plan to continue to write.

Nothing beats a chef camping trip. Coleman stove, hot dogs, and All-clad pan. Of course PBR. It is the blue ribbon.

Monday, July 13, 2009


A lot of people wax poetic about salt. Every cook book will tell this salt or that salt is what you should use. Most of them are right. Don't cook with iodized (table) salt, it's terrible stuff. Ask you favorite restaurant what their chef uses. If they say iodized salt... Leave! Iodized salt does nothing but add sodium to your food. It has a harsh and bitter taste and does little for the fine ingredients you are buying.
We use Morton's kosher salt because that is what we know. We know the feel and are able to salt correctly and consistently with it. Kosher salt is a good standard, I've found, because it heightens the taste of food and brings out the flavors. It is really interesting to taste you food change as you adjust the seasoning with salt. We add it slowly and keep tasting until we think the flavors are heightened to the correct level.
I am not knocking other kosher salts. We just know the feel of Morton's. One of our purveyors sent us Diamond Crystal one time. Diamond Crystal is lighter in feel and worked just fine in all of our food. But we had to adjust our seasoning more because of the weight difference. It made us inconsistent. So we switched back.
There are lots of different types of salts on the market especially when you start looking at sea salts. I love sea salt but from a price standpoint it makes it hard to solely cook with sea salt. We finish with it just like you would expensive olive oil. You wouldn't want to take you $30 bottle of high end olive oil and saute onions in it.
But the main reason for this post on salt is not to tell you what you should use. But more over how. We all to often over look the real power of salt. Yes it makes our food taste good, but salt is also, an antibacterial agent. It is also good for seasoning saute pans so omelets won't stick. Well, we recently discovered a new use for our salt. Or I should say a modified use for our salt. It crosses the lines between curing and sanitizing.
One of our line cooks has a lot of experience in Japanese cuisine. A trick he said his old sushi chef would do was to salt his fish heavily for 20 min and then rinse it off. We also found a reference to this in Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking. He would break down whole fish and rub salt over the flesh. this would do a couple of things. One it would leach a lot of liquid out of the fish. Dry fish is easier to brown and make crispy, especially the skin. Two it helps to kill surface bacteria on the fish extending the shelf life of your fish. Three the salt helps to remove parasites from within the flesh. Fourth it helps to season the fish just so lightly.
This is great for sashimi, sushi or any cooked fish. It's like a cross between curing and seasoning. It makes truly amazing fish. So to be a little more clear here is our method below. And we will keep looking for new uses for salt.

Break down your whole fish into sides. Clean the fillets and de-bone. Place the fish on a purforated rack skin side down and heavily salt the top and bottom. Place in the refrigerator and let rest for 20 minutes. Set a timer you don't want to forget. Rinse all he salt off the fish and pat dry. Now you are ready to cut steaks. Skin on or off is your choice.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

From Scratch

Working in a restaurant we often have to make choices as to what we make from scratch and what we buy. I go back and forth a lot on items and for many different reasons. Usually time and space hinder a lot for us. I am no bread baker but I can make bread. We do not have the space or equipment to make bread from scratch so we buy it. And we buy great quality bread. But do we make bacon?, depends on what we want to accomplish with a dish. Sometimes yes and sometimes now.

But we often over look from scratch items that are so simple and so effortless. They only require some time and a limited amount of space. After some recent reading online I found two things to start on. First on the Popular Science website the guys from Ideas in Food layout the specifics of making vinegar from just about anything. I decided to start with they're recipe for maple vinegar. Mainly because I love maple syrup.

The other is yogurt. Yes you can go buy high end yogurt or you can spend a lot of money on a yogurt making machine. But Harold McGee lays it out really simply.I have made creme fraiche before and what a treat. But to have a solid fresh yogurt on hand at any given time would be great. Should my experiments work, I might go for making it at home. What else am I overlooking? Sausage?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

7 course dinner

We did a seven course tasting menu last week for some friends of the owner. I wanted to show some of the highlights from the dinner. We had a lot of fun with this. These first 3 pictures are of the beet root carpaccio with aged balsamic, Greek extra virgin olive oil, mint and radish.
We did a pasta course of Carbonara. Housemade spaghetti, roasted tomato, Meadow Creek Dairy mountaineer, applewood smoked bacon and quail egg.

I got a chance here to work with 2 cool new items to me. Yellow Tail hamachi and Grains of paradise. We seared the hamachi for sashimi and served it with julienne salsify root and orange butter emulsion.

Here we have Cavendish Farms quail stuffed with housemade port, current sausage; black current jus and puffed quinoa.

Like an idiot I forgot to get a picture of our dessert. It was more or less fair food or everything you want from the South in a desert. We made graham cracker grit cakes with sugar and honey and battered and deep fried. We topped the hot grit cake with banana ice cream and sweet tea caramel. Can't beleive I forgot the picture.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A lot to catch up on

It's been too long so I thought I'd just roll a bunch of blogs into one. It's hard to think of where to start as we have been up to a lot in these past few weeks. Spring time has come as well as local produce. It almost makes your head spin. So much produce rolling in and what to do with it all. It's a good problem to have.

Why by a thermal circulator when you can have a Johnski!!!

So many chefs today focus on sous vide cooking and cooking at the right tempurature in order to yield a steak that is 99% med rare and 1% well done. This was a steak on a party of 60 we had one saturday night. John, my sous chef, grilled probably about 35 filets to medium. This was one extra one and had sat for a good 20 minutes after the party before we cut into it. It is pictures like this that makes me up in the air about how so many chefs are begining to use so much equipment to get results like we have above. Proper cooking, using methods proven to give standardized desired results, is almost always as good as any machine. So get yourself a Johnski. He also slices, dices, chops, and gets mad a staff meal!

Of course John always does a great job but we can't let his head get too big. So the front of house sent back a joke ticket. I had no idea and as I called the ticket John looked at me and said "I think I quit."

New Dishes

We have come up with a lot of new menu items. Here they are and we should have these on the menu for a little while longer.

Here we are looking at our new pheasant. It is a provencal style sauce with tomatoes, fennel, olives, roasted peppers, and fresh herbs de provence(we use thyme, parsley, majoram, and lavender). We serve the pheasent with artichoke hearts and grilled polenta.

Here we have a boneless lamb loin. Grilled and served with a lavender-port jus, arugala, asaragus, fava beans, red peppers and roasted tomatoes. This is like lamb over a warm salad.

These are the soft shell crabs we got in for one weekend. The season is so short and we had so few. Here is what we came up with. We battered the crabs in kadafi dough (shredded phyllo) and deep fried them. We served the crabs with arugula, and pommery mustard vinagrette. The brioche and quail egg we made like a tiger's eye, aka toad in a whole. The quail egg tiger's eye is a small tribute to my late grandma who used to make me tiger's eyes in tomato soup.

We finally changed our scallop dish. We pan sear the scallops and serve them over a puree of cauliflower and sauteed spinach. We made a gremolata and used brown butter solids to reinforce the brown butter in the plate. A tarragon-basil emulsion, more brown butter and candied lemon finish off what I think is a great dish.

Some random pics
Exactly as the title says.
This is John making roasted garlic and mushroom butter. It looks really cool on the plate having 2 different colored butters.

Suck it Sergio!!! Winslow is funny!
Jeff stealing the Tryon truck.
Nicely seared salmon. Courtesy of cisco.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Purple Off

Another competition has arisen between myself and my sous John and we have gone to the polls to settle this. Above we have two very different methods of making braised red cabbage. This competition is very specific. Please vote by comments and If you want to be anonymous that's ok. If you know us please tell us your name. It's nice for bragging rights more than anything else.

Here is the question:

Please let us know. John lost last time and wants some redemption. To make this a little more formal we will close the polls one week from today.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ups and Downs

It's been a long couple of long weeks and I have personally had some rough times. But things are looking up again. We had a great Graduation and Mothers' day at the restaurant and now we are looking at some great local produce as well as some fantastic fish.

Today I rolled out our new tuna and I am really happy about it. It's a play on salad nicoise. You can find it in just about any Paris bistro and is great this time of year. We lightly poached the tuna in Zoe extra virgin olive oil, local radishes and mizuna, tomato confit, piquillo peppers, our house tapenade and hard boiled egg with a broken mustard vinaigrette. I look forward to serving this for a while.

Here we paired miso with salmon, nothing out of the ordinary. It's simple and great. We dust the salmon witha spice mixture or coriander, black pepper and cardomom. Daikon, edamame, carrot, cucumber, Spain farm shitakes and sugar snap peas finish this dish. A while back we were trying to re-work a vegetarian option on our menu. I am not sure exactly how we got to this but we can't stop selling it. I am really happy with this dish and the flavor and colors really pop. We roast white and green asparagus and set it atop an essence of red pepper. A black beluga lentil cake and butter braised shitakes and oytser mushrooms top it all off.

Below we have some shots from Mother's Day weekend. Below Ricardo is shaving manchego for our arugala salad.

Kyle came in to help us for the weekend. He never looks as tough as he does in this picture. We never could have gotten ready without his help. Thanks again kyle. This picture really makes his nose look small.
P.S. That's what you get for taking pictures with my camera.

Francisco is reading up on the special menu for the weekend. All great line cooks prepare mentally as well as physically.

Things to work on/ New Ideas

  • We need to get morels that look good
  • I need a new knife
  • Our plating can get better
  • Our speed is really quite amazing
  • Guilford County Grits are good and we need to utilize more
  • Look at what we do with our crab cake
  • Scallops need a facelift
  • Post pictures of our Panna Cotta!!!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Posting Soon

We have been really busy getting ready for Mother's Day/ Graduation weekend here. I have a lot of pics but haven't had time to post. After this weekend I will post more.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Busy Bee Cafe

Three friends of mine have just reopened The Busy Bee in downtown Raleigh. They have put a ton of work into a place that will be amazing. I have not had the chance to visit yet but my trip is planned. Their menus look fantastic, with the chef they have it makes sense, and the decor from the pictures looks great. Go check them out. These are the kinds of local businesses that will make Downtown Raleigh a vibrant and exciting place. Congratulations, Woody, Chris, and Jeremy.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Keep Moving Forward

"Keep Moving Forward" is a quote from one of my sons favorite movies "Meet The Robinsons." It really is a great movie and one I don't mind watching 10 times in a row. But the line keep moving forward relates to an inventor who get excited every time he has a failed invention. So often we come up with dishes and I look at it and think somethings not right. More often than not it has to do with plating. Do we keep it high and tight, spread through out the plate etc. And often I get frustrated with myself for not being able to get the plate the way I want it to look. I was so frustrated the other night I hucked a spoon across the kitchen because I couldn't get my chicken to stay on top of the vegetables. I was also in the weeds and I didn't through the spoon at anyone just a wall. At the end of the shift I thought about keep moving forward. If you don't get the desired result keep moving forward. So I did and completly revamped our pan roasted chicken. I am much happier the dish. We are always refining, improving and revamping in the kitchen to make sure we are putting out our best.

Here is our new pan roasted chicken breast. We use Tanglewood Farms free range chicken from Winston-Salem. Leek and gruyere bread pudding, sugar snap beans, roasted garlic veloute and tomato fondue. It was a big hit this weekend.

We have been getting some fantastic NC coastal shrimp for about 3 weeks. They are super sweet. I have always been a fan of paella since I traveled to Spain when I was younger. We took the paella idea and revamped it slightly. We cook the shrimp sous vide in lemon, thyme and butter. The shells, and heads when we can get them, go to stock for the risotto. We serve the shrimp over a saffron,shitake, and chorizo risotto and top it with basil oil. I can't by enough shrimp to keep up with the demand.
Here are some shots of the guys and the pass this weekend.
Things to work on/new ideas

  • Update dessert menu
  • Floating Islands- on a caramleized white chocolate anglaise
  • Death by chocolate- chocolate marquis, white chocolate and raspberry jelly, mexican chocolate pot de creme
  • Cane Creek Braised pork shoulder- deconstructed NC barbecue, spaetzle au gratin and braised red cabbage
  • Salmon, orzo salad, farmers market sorrel.
  • Foam amuse bouches
  • Hot Foie Torchon.
  • Get to the Farmers Market- produce is starting to hit
  • We need to get ECOS on Board

Sunday, March 22, 2009

New Menu Layout

We have been making some changes in our menu style and layout and we have been really happy. Less is more is the theory. We have been running a two page menu with one side highlighting specials. We now only have one menu which we are printing on a regular basis, and changing pretty often so try and keep up. This allows us more flexability with what's in season. We can change on a dime if need be and we are having a blast with it. This week we are looking at 2 new items going on.

First is a wild stripped bass bouillabaisse broken down. We are going to grill the bass and serve it with a slightly spicy bouillabaisse sauce, rouille croquette, and french bean salad. I
ll try and get picture up soon.

The other is Braised Cane Creek Farms pork butt with spaetzle au gratin, braised red cabbage, and spiced cider gastrique A big twist on Alsatian food and NC barbecue.

We have also been getting amazing NC coastal shrimp fresh!!!. It's been a long time since I have worked with shrimp this good. We are cooking the shrimp sous vide with butter, lemon and thyme and putting it over a spin off of paella. A saffron-chorizo risotto with shitakes, and topping it with basil oil.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Truffle Fest Pictures

PREPARE TO BE OVERWHELMED. My wife took a lot of pictures. As I said before we had a blast as some of the pictures will show.

An obscene amount of truffles from day 1. This was the story for the entire weekend

More of the Same. People were using truffles like they were button mushrooms. Awesome

This is an up close picture of our Tea smoked duck from the first night. We served it on wontons with homemade black mustard. We cured it for three days and slow smoked it with Lapsang Souchong.

Chef instructor Jules Pernell from USC.

A large bowl of truffled ranch courtesy of Sam Poley of Durham Catering. Delicious!

My sous chef John Mersinger cutting up a lot of tea smoked duck.

The beautiful house were we served our smoked duck, foie gras, and truffled brie.

Cane Creek Farms Pork belly made by Amy Lynn Lafreniere of the Umstead Hotel and Spa.

A picture of two of our three passed hors d'oeuvres. The top one is foie gras tourchon, black currant jam and shaved truffle. The bottom is our tea smoked duck with housemade black mustard.

My ugly mug working in the kitchen at the Double Tree hotel in Asheville pre party.

John getting ready the first night.

Sam Poley's roasted salmon.

Bill Harrison from The Umstead.

Me again cutting crostini

A celebratory drink at 11am on saturday. John, Bill from the Umstead, and I after finishing the risotto competition.

Two pictures of the plate John and I put out for the competition. We tried to think of ways to use risotto that didn't involve a traditional bowl of risotto. So we used the risotto rice like sushi rice and served it with seared scallop in the center, Mache tossed with verjus and pickled truffle.

A picture of the photogragher, my beautiful wife, and Amy Lynn from the Umstead.

More Champagne after the competition.

This is John first thing on saturday morning stirring our risotto with a lot of love. He looks so happy to be stirring while I kept asking what was taking him so long.
(It didn't really take that long)

This is a quick shot of the crew from the Umsteads' plate going out to the judges. It looked amazing.

John and I with the man Franklin Garland. Franklin and his wife Betty, provided all the Truffles, and Accomodations for the chefs. We were really pampered.

The large bottle of Chimay going on Ice on saturday morning. If you look closely you can see this is a 22qt cambro. That's a lot of beer.

A bunch of picture of most of the chefs at the competition with Franklin and Betty Garland front and center.

Bill working hard to make sure the chimay gets cold!

Some of us awaiting the results of the competition. Yes that is Iron Chef Walter Royal all the way to the left. He was a judge and is a super nice guy.

Saturday night I am describing our scallop dish to 120 people.

Yes look at the date on that Medoc. I went out into the dining room to brag to my wife that I was drinking a 1996 Medoc in the kitchen. She in turn shows me this bottle of 1988. Both were amazing. This is a little nod to lavash lifestyle we were living for 3 days in Asheville.

John and I trying to look pretty at the last event on Friday. These great outfits were courtesy of our restaurant Owners Ed and Deborah Roach who were so kind to let us both attend the event.