Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Slow, sensual, bistro food….a culinary journey…preview.

October 23, 2008

People ask me what my specialty is all the time. What does that mean? Can anyone tell me? I can’t say I know many cooks that really enjoy getting that question. I mean, why limit us? Who wants to be tied down to one type of cuisine? Then I try to explain what I do. I usually spout off the same bullshit as everyone else like, uh…seasonal, market-driven….organic…local…blah blah blah. I mean, that is what I strive for, certainly. Do I do it without fail? No. I still shop at Costco. I was there today.

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You know what? They have GREAT Parmagiano Reggiano. They sell a giant block of it for like $15. I think the brand is Cello. It is the best quality Parmagiano Reggiano I’ve bought in the LA area. (And yes, I’ve bought from the Beverly Hills Cheese Store,
Say Cheese, etc. etc.) It has a moistness to it. It doesn’t have that waxy texture or SUPER hard texture that a lot of them have. If you shave it, you don’t get this hard, shiny, plasticky piece of pseudo parmesan. You get a beautiful, salt-crystal-filled, paper-thin slice of REGGIANO. That’s what I buy at Costco. No, I don’t ever buy produce, maybe an occasional avocado for my breakfast. I do have to say their rotisserie chickens are a seriously guilty pleasure. They’re dirt cheap and so delicious…. you KNOW they’re pumped full of water, ‘butter flavor’, salt, and God knows what hormones and they probably sit in some sort of torture cage that ass-rapes them once a day. But GODDAMN, they’re TASTY.

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My friend Matt is a private chef for a wealthy client in Malibu. NOTHING irritates him more than chefs who pontificate about how they only shop at farmer’s markets and change their menu every day to reflect the seasons. He’ll say something like: “Bitch, I was AT the farmer’s market this morning and I didn’t see your happy ass there. Oh, and tomatoes in February?? What the hell is that?” He’s got a point. A lot of chefs are blowing smoke up your collective asses. They’re sure as shit not shopping at farmer’s markets. They’re getting their crates of mealy tomatoes in February from the same distributors that serve your local senior housing. Now, I’m not saying ALL chefs. For instance, just about EVERY time I have EVER been to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, I have seen Mark Peel personally tasting and picking out the produce for Campanile. Granted, I used to work there and I know from experience that he AND someone from pastry is there every week, but, without fail, I always run into him. Other chefs I used to see all the time were Nancy Silverton, Govind Armstrong, Josiah Citrin and Corina Weibel. Oddly, I would also see Jake Gyllenhaal ALL the time. He’s a serious foodie and I thought I read somewhere that he attended CCA for a while.

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Anyway, my point is that I am not so much of a purist that I won’t buy Velveeta. (Velveeta + Rotel Tomatoes = Queso…after all). I cook all sorts of different types, nationalities, schools of thought…etc., etc. I guess one unifying theme would be “SLOWWWW” food. Now, that means different things to different people. To me, it means SLOW literally. I’m ALL about cooking the ULTIMATE bouillabaisse that takes 3 days. (Oh, and remind me to tell you guys THAT story some day. It’s pretty funny. ANTHONY knows.) I will feed a damn sourdough starter 3 times a day for 2 weeks straight, like a fucking pet, to make a transcendent loaf of bread. You know why? I love the process of it. I get joy from cooking and it’s meditative for me, much like gardening. If you’re looking for quickie meals in 30 minutes or less, go ask that untrained and lucky-ass hack Rachael Ray…don’t come to me.

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Oh, and speaking of hacks…give Rocco Dispirito a call…you ain’t finding it here.

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That said, a lot of my recipes SEEM like they take longer than they actually do. And I don’t like to use the word ‘recipes’ anyway….I like to teach techniques…because, once you learn the technique, you don’t need a recipe. It may take me 3 days to cook something, but it only translates to a short amount of work per day. It’s not like you’re standing over it for 72 hours straight. So, keep that in mind with future blogs that you might read. Don’t be scared that you won’t have time. You think I have time? Ask MAGGIE if I have a lot of extra time on my hands….yeah…you guessed it, she says unequivocally: NO!

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Anyway, back to my ‘specialty’…I guess a lot of what I do is very ‘Bistro’ in style. I think, if I was going to open a restaurant, it would either be a Gastropub or a breakfast/lunch sort of place. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I was just at The Hungry Cat again the other night. A bunch of us, including the above-mentioned Matt and a prominent food blogger and editor for Variety.com, Dana Harris, among others… went to grab a meal and drinks after our friend (published author and sometime BabyNanny) Catheryn’s book release party. The Hungry Cat could be called a bistro, seafood house, gastropub. I love their food…especially their brunch and Bloody Mary’s, as some of you know. Ahhhh, there’s something about a bistro late at night, when the lights are turned down low, there’s Tom Waits on the soundtrack, the foodie conversation is bitchy and raucous and you’re drinking martini’s and slurping down Chef Creek oysters on the half shell from British Columbia:

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The burgers come with house-smoked bacon, blue cheese AND a fried egg on top, just to make sure you’re really dead.

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I love the unfussy vibe of a bistro…along with the care and yes, Matt, seasonality of the menus. Bistros, Brasseries, Gastropubs, Enotecas, Trattorias, call it what you want. It’s the convivial feeling of sitting around a candlelit table sampling each other’s food, drinking maybe a bit too much, gossiping about how no one can actually taste the fresh sage in the Granny Smith apple cocktail, drinking hearty wine out of shitty glasses, slurping oysters…eating stick to your ribs food. Well, I should say….stick to my ASS lately.

Anyway, my point is…I was inspired. Inspired to a do a series of blogs based on what I consider to be my ‘specialty’. Slooooooowwww…relaxed…..seasonal…..regional…sensual food. I guess I’ve already been doing that but I want to focus on the Bistro-vibe for a little while. Specifically, French Bistros….I’ll be exploring different regions of France for a little while because I think that this kind of food just fits the season. Yes, I will occasionally be anal about my ingredients or techniques because I want you to know the very best way that I’VE come up with for making a particular dish. These dishes aren’t fancy, they’re not ‘new’ and ‘avant-garde’. They’re classics, for the most part. Stews….peasant food….UPSCALE peasant food. You won’t see me doing ‘tall food’. Been there, done that. You won’t see me doing foams….and if I do….feel free to just shoot me right there. (To me..they always look like spit….not that Ferran Adrià isn’t a genius…it’s just not my thing.)

So, relax….have a drink…loosen your tie….maybe loosen that belt a little. You’re going to need the extra room. Slurp down those last 3 oysters. We can always order another dozen.

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To be continued….tune in next time for a bit of a culinary tour of France.