Wednesday, December 5, 2012

In Memory: Dave Brubeck

To live to the age of 91 is an admirable accomplishment, and we must accept that all our jazz mentors will one day pass.  But, Brubeck's passing (one day short of his 92nd birthday), especially at this time of year, is significant for me.  I can't think of a time when I was first learning about jazz that there wasn't a Dave Brubeck.  He was a giant in his art form, and like Bill Evans, had a style that was all his own.  Just listen to this version of "Santa Claus is Coming To Town" and tell me you don't hear that joyous quartet synergy that exists in every one of his recordings.  Somewhere in Manhattan (or Paris) Woody Allen is having a moment to himself.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Take Stock: The 5th Annual Stock Up For Seniors Sale!

About 15 years ago I first became affiliated with Meals on Wheels Delaware when asked to participate in their Celebrity Chef's Brunch while chef at Deep Blue.  Over those years, it's given me immense pleasure and personal satisfaction to be affiliated with this organization.  I have met innumerable good friends, shared some great laughs and memories, cooked in the homes of some wonderful people, drank some amazing wines, and cooked some really great food.  I never dreamed all that fun would actually equate to raising millions of dollars to help provide home-bound seniors in Delaware with hot, nutritious meals.  It must be how The Boss feels when he does a benefit concert!  Everyone wins.

But, that's only half the story.  Now in its 5th year, the Annual Stock Up for Seniors event teams Meals on Wheels Delaware with the warehouses of luxury cookware brands EmileHenry, Rösle, Duralex, Mauviel 1830, and Lékué located in New Castle, Delaware.  The weekend warehouse sale gives Delawareans a chance to stock up on kitchen and cookware at deep discounts while the good people of Emile Henry USA donate proceeds to MOW Delaware.  Another win-win.  

On the evening of Dec. 6, 2012, shoppers will have an opportunity to shop exclusively and get first pick of the sale items, which continues through Sunday, December 9.  A mere $25 (which also goes to MOW) gives you this amazing privilege.  And, just to show you we care, I'll be on hand preparing all sorts of delicious appetizers and snacks for you to feast on while you shop.  I'll demonstrate a classic risotto with locally foraged mushrooms, parsnips and Winter Black Truffles.  Or, how about a simmering pot of Fall Squash and Apple Bisque?  Got that, too.

This is an event that, like M.O.W., is becoming a true Delaware tradition.  But, get your tickets today and get there early, because this event sells out fast!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Four Years Later, It's Still About Hope and Change

The Fall of 2008 was a dark time for me personally. The previous 8 years had put me in a long-term, deep depression. Two elections had been stolen from the American people and fear, lies and war dominated the American landscape. A crippling financial storm rolled in to blanket the country, and those who created it slunk quietly out of town with no repercussions and their pockets stuffed with your savings. Jobs dried up and pay was cut for many, with employers admonishing those who remained, “You should feel lucky you still have your job.” I am grateful I have a job and am working. But, I do not feel “lucky” about having a job. Luck has nothing to do with me earning my place in the work force or keeping my job. I accepted that I had been kept under thumb by a frozen economy while making the same salary for the last 8 years, but that I also had the power to change that.

I cast my vote for our current President that November because his opponent showed little sign that he would do anything other than extend the failed policies of his predecessor. 

Barack Obama ran on a platform of “Hope and Change” with many campaign promises. So many people like to focus on the ones that were not kept. But, for a man who promised hope and change, he delivered on the promise of both hope and change to me and many of the people I care about. 

I for one would have loved to have seen President Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleeza Rice prosecuted for war crimes and perjury, but our President decided it was more productive to move forward and not back. He went, instead, after the Wall Street criminals who abused the system to personally gain and rob Americans of billions of dollars of their hard-earned money. 

Obama ended the Iraq war instead, hitting them where it hurt most. Naturally, this upset those cashing in on the profits of war. And just as importantly, on his second day of office, he reversed torture policies of the Bush administration known as “enhanced interrogation techniques”. Perhaps Americans against Obama forget what it felt like to wake up every morning and read how disliked America was for our conduct in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Or that we had given up fundamental civil rights (Patriot Act) “for our protection”. I do not. Maybe they just miss the fear-mongering that gave them a false sense of nationalism. 

My gay and lesbian friends couldn’t safely serve in the military, to say nothing of doing so openly or with pride, but now they can. And, while same sex marriage is decided by the states, knowing our President thinks everyone should be treated equally is indeed hope that our country can move closer to a day when we all actually get the freedoms guaranteed us by the Constitution. 

President Obama fought for and won what so many before him had failed at: a fight for a health policy that is inclusive and fair for a majority of Americans. If you admire tenacity in a leader, you have to admire his determination and commitment to keep a promise that for so many other candidates would have just been a campaign talking point (i.e. 12 million new jobs). 

Passing credit card reform may seem like a minor issue, and no one seems to talk about it, but how many people are able to make ends meet now that they aren’t persecuted for being one day late with a payment and then having their balance jacked up for over-the-limit fees applied and criminally high interest rates for doing so?

Eliminating the Bush administration’s restrictions on stem-cell research has allowed countless discoveries to be made that further the study of diseases that shorten the lives of our young and old. We all know someone affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia, as well as childhood cancer. How was this bad for our country? 

There’s your change, America. And only a tiny portion of it. 

Now, how about hope?

With the passing of four years, I have hope that America is moving in a direction where everyone has a chance to live the American dream, not just those with privilege and access to power. 

I have hope that with all the education reform of the last four years and the reversal of the failed No Child Left Behind policy that our young people will get the education they need and deserve to live that dream. And, that the reform in school nutrition under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act will allow them access to better and healthier meals that help stem obesity and a reliance on the medical crutch that so many are reliant upon today. 

I have hope that the economy will continue to gain confidence so that so many people who have lost jobs (and are infinitely qualified to hold them) can return to work, earn a living and have pride in a doing a full day’s work. I have hope that those whose pay was cut can return to being rewarded for their hard work and competitive nature, because nothing kills a person’s spirit more than knowing they will never get a raise or bonus for their hard work because “times are tough”. Bullshit. Employers: if you think you’re being held hostage by workers’ wages now, wait until the economy fully rebounds and these people start their own businesses (a.k.a your competition). Yes, you see I can believe in my President AND capitalism and a free economy. 

I have hope that my daughter can and will read about this dark time in our history and learn from the mistakes of human greed and fear. From ignorance and bigotry. To know that a lie is a lie, and that those who speak them says volumes about that person, especially those seeking to govern. That she will grow and come to realize that every time her mother and father told her that her body is her own and that no one should tell her what she must do to protect her health and happiness, was not a lie, but a reality and a right. 

I know that four years later supporting the policies of an administration, while imperfect, has vastly improved (or will improve) the lives of more Americans who hadn’t those chances before, and was the right choice. 

I reject your labels of liberal, left-wing, Democrat, socialist, communist, free-loader or whatever bullshit tag you may be mumbling to yourself right now. I am and have always been a registered Independent, and I pride myself on being an intelligent, articulate and free-thinking human being with common sense. These are not regurgitated talking points of the left, but my own observations as an active member of our society and of the political process. I care enough to know what the hell is going on.

I know that when someone who craves power, money and position so much that they will say and do anything to wield that power, should never, ever be allowed to govern this country, ever AGAIN. 

Put aside your fears. We are better than this.

Finally, why more Americans aren’t outraged at Congress and Speaker of the House John Boehner and his obstructive politics of “hold our breath until we get our way”, is staggering. People: Congress makes and votes on the laws that make our lives better or worse. To accept the gridlock of the last two years as partisan politics is apathy at its absolute worst. It is a criminal waste of two years of an opportunity to get our country out of the hole that President Bush put us in, and Governor Romney says he can fix. As citizens, you have an obligation to throw those who have contributed to a frozen government OUT on the street November 6.

If the Mayans were right about 2012 being the end of civilization, it will be as a result of a Romney presidency. And I can tell you this: there is no way in Hell I intend to take it lying down.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Chef Quote of the Week: Marc Vetri

"I'm not all that interested in knowing that you spent two months picking herbs at Noma, and three months scrubbing the floor with a toothbrush at Alinea. I would prefer to hear that you cooked at a bar for the last three years and can make a medium-rare hamburger like nobody's business. That's something I can work with!"  Chef Marc Vetri

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Change is Good

We loves it when the seasons change, Precious.  This Chef's Table we dove in with both feet, and Fall splashed out all over the place.  Of course, it never hurts to have great ingredients.  And, this was the first dinner we've done using the new combi-therm oven (with confidence, anyway).  All I can say is, after only two years of Chef's Table dinners, we're just getting started.

at the
SEPTEMBER 27, 2012

A last taste of summer: Maryland crab with hon dashi, heirloom tomato, corn "butter" and scallop chip

Andre Bonhomme, Vire Classe, Macon, 2010


Cavollotto Fratelli, Langhe Pino Nero, Piemonte, 2011
 Scented with root vegetbles, white wine and sage, the tender barley popped with flavor and the Grana pulled all the earthiness out of that rabbit.  The wine, extremely rare, is white pinot noir from Piedmont, exhibiting all the raciness of a Tocai from Friulli.  It was a delicious foil to the rich flavors, and a nice surprise for guests.

Jean-Luc Colombo, Chateauneuf du Pape, “Bartavelles “ 2009

Three plump, meaty tortellini sit surrounded by a poelle of North Western chanterelles, swimming in the braising juices of the veal which is tucked inside the pasta with gooey Taleggio.  


Faustino, Rioja “Riserva”, 2005

SIW Farms rises to the occasion again with rich, velvety red kuri squash (here both as a sauce and roasted with vindaloo) while Swiss chard rests beneath the sous-vide breast of duck, kicked up with Szechuan peppercorns and roasted cauliflower "crumble".  

The Rioja Riserva had legs to carry over for this sampling of Fall goat cheeses.  We had Humboldt Fog enrobed with cranberry, and Amazing Acres (PA) fresh goat with pumpkin.  Plum mostarda, pomegranate and baguette toasts tagged along.

Warre’s Vintage Porto, 2000
Soft to the fork, this bombe had the smoky essence of chestnut bound with sweet and creamy mascarpone, nutty pecans and deep, ruby port wine syrup.


Next Month has BRAISE written all over it, and mushroomer Art Inden arrived yesterday with the first of what he thinks will be a banner year for locally foraged mushrooms. 

Good Morning

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

F&C Rewind: September 11, 2001; A Tale of Three Towers

Musee Rodin, Paris 9/11/01- Photo R. Lhulier

It crept up on me this year, I have to admit.  So many things going on- school starting, the campaign, your life.  The first reminder was a crystal blue sky and slight chill in the air.  Or so I'm told.  I wasn't even in the US on 9/11, but the dichotomy of that beautiful, blue sky and the sheer terror that rained down on it will forever be etched in all Americans' memories who lived it.  

When the anniversary nears, I hear and read words like "dredge up" (as in feelings), "unhealed wound" and other ways of trying to put that day in to context.  We all can attest to the effect it had on us, and for each, the healing process has been at a different pace.  I waited 10 years to put mine on paper.  And when I did, I felt a calm release.  Here is that story.  My hope is that each person has their chance to tell theirs.  It's part of the healing process, and one of the critical things that make us uniquely American.

I'm not going to write anything.  I am gonna write.  I'm not going to write something.  No- I am.  I should.  No:  I'm not.  As the days counted down closer and closer to this Tenth Anniversary of September 11, I felt the grim milestone inch nearer and the pull of its weight like 110 floors of concrete and steel.  It would be naive to say I was profoundly struck by what I had witnessed and felt on the day of September 11, 2001.  Because, all Americans were.  But, just like the days following the attacks, we had to seek the therapy that came with telling where we were when it happened.  Ten years later, we feel the same stirrings- viceral and wholly unnerving- to relive those feelings, whether we want to or not.  So, I've decided to write.
My mother and brother share a birthday.  On the morning of September 6, 2001, I called to wish them well on their day and finished packing my bags.  I left Philadelphia early that evening on a flight to meet up with my two traveling companions and good friends, Dan and Kasia, for a 10 day vacation to the city I had always dreamed of seeing in person.  I had spent the month leading up to that day watching live webcam shots of the Eiffel Tower throughout various stages of the day- sunrise, sunset, rain storms, fog, lights on, lights off- I was enraptured.  

Courtesy of
From the moment I landed in Paris, I began to search for my precious icon.  When I finally spotted her in the morning rush hour traffic from my cab, I didn't take my eyes off of her until the morning of September 16 when I left.  In the city that twists and turns and climbs and falls, there are no straight streets.  But, once you've positioned in your mind the location of the Tower on a map of the city, you can get your bearings in the instant you spot the spindly, iron landmark.  It was most comforting.  I felt no fear or apprehension walking the city, day or night.  It was like having a second sun on the horizon.  Always at your side, warming to your skin, nudging you through the shadowy streets.

It made sense, then, that it wasn't until I had been in Paris five whole days before actually making my official visit to the Eiffel Tower.  I had lots of time and she wasn't going anywhere. 

In the shadow of le Tour Eiffel~ Photo R. Lhulier
We had spent the days leading up to that ill fated day gregariously embracing the gustatory history of the city.  Each meal was spent discussing where the next one might come from.  So many bites and sips were taken with eyes at half mast, it felt every bit like the final minutes of a dream you never want to awaken from.  And as I now know, that's exactly what it was.  

But, as dreams fade, memories last.

Marble Study~ Photo R. Lhulier

What was a crisp, blue September morning for this side of the Atlantic, was a greying Tuesday afternoon for us.  We three decided to visit the Rodin Museum near Les Invalides, the glistening gold-domed Hotel of museums and monuments that was a former military hospital. And, which happens to be a short, but spirited walk away from le Tour Eiffel.  Dan and Kasia had already made their pilgrimage a day earlier and decided to spend the afternoon strengthening the French economy by visiting the world famous shops of the area around l'Arc de Triomphe. And why not?  It was Dan's birthday today. 

As we approached the high-walled Musee Rodin and gardens, the day took on an austere quality.  In retrospect, it was the perfect weather to do the museum.  Afterall, it's hard to concentrate on paintings, marble and bronze when golden sunlight is streaming through the windows.  

I started on the ground floor looking through the sketches and small bronzes, instantly recognizing so much of what I had studied in school.  Rodin's human figures were the most real for me.  No vaunted, ideal, bigger than life beings- just gorgeously sculpted muscles and bones beneath a thin skin of marble and bronze.  I don't recall any floors in between the ground and top, just that when I reached the top, I was struck with an urge to stay for as long as possbile, alternating between the life-sized studies and peering at the lush gardens, which I could now see spralling out in all directions, the city not far behind.   

I began to shoot.
Marble Study 2~ Photo R. Lhulier

Walking around sclupture gives you a sense of the real.  But, framing a figure with a lens helps put those figures in perspective and can make them a bit dreamier.  Or nightmareish.   I moved between Rodin's impossibly silken-skinned figures rendered in grey marble with arched backs, tilted necks and delicate limbs- and the lurching, twisted, tortured faces of his studies for The Gates of Hell.  Clenched fists, taught triceps and gaping mouths of sorrow, despair and pain.  

Gates Detail~ Photo Ken M Photography

I kept shooting.

Bronze Study~ Photo R. Lhulier

The walls started to feel closer now.  And the crowd was thinning as we approached the early afternoon.  I went out into the gardens.  Almost empty, I took a deep breath and let my camera rest at my side.  If you're an audiophile like myself, you always carry a messenger bag when traveling to keep a discman and selection of changes on hand.  I had done some recent music shopping, too.  Aqua Bassino is an electronic band who produce atmospheric instrumental and vocal music.  Their just released album "Beats and Bobs" was in my player at the time, and I decided to walk, my soundtrack at my side.  Its tracks are all over the map, musically, but Moonlight (listen below) was playing while I strolled the gardens.
How is it, you say, that you can recall what was playing at that time?  

Well- listen to it.  It's profoundly reflective and haunting.  It's a soundtrack for sadness.

It is said we can detect when "big" things are about to happen.  Even feel that something is happening while it unfolds without knowing that it is.  I remember what it was I was listening to, therefore, because as I sat in disbelief a full 24 hours later, it struck me that the song that played in those lonely gardens would stay with me until my final hours knowing what was unfolding (or about to) at the exact same time some 4,000 miles away.  It even feels tragic.  A story unfolding, a slow montage of wiping and fading images, telling a terrible tale of epic proportions.

I was done with Rodin.  It was time to get on with my day.  And, as I looked over my shoulder, there she was.  It was time, at last.  

Different music, different attitude, different walk.  I was on my way to see the Tower up close.  

As you approach, she becomes more exhilarating, her web of iron beams woven into a constantly changing lattice of steely, sensual beauty.  I spun around as I reached the underside of the Tower, snapping pictures furiously, giddy with pleasure.  The mall before her stretched northward toward the Trocadero, a popular gathering spot for viewing and taking full scale photos of the Tower.

Courtesy of
There was a tremendous buzz of activity at the foot of the steps at the plaza.  It was a gathering of people from what seemed to be every nation on earth.  All races, colors and creeds- hugging, posing for pictures, arms entwined, laughing and smiling.  Jugglers, musicians, and hacky sack.  It was magnificent.  After I shot a dozen or so photos, a young girl asked if I wanted my photo taken.  It seemed indulgent, but I was completely caught up in the touristy moment and said, "yes".  I wasn't really prepared for my photo to be taken, but ready or not, it was.  It was approximately 3:30 pm, Paris time.  The photo serves as my "moments before it happened" portrait.
The Carousel at the base of the Eiffel Tower~ Photo R. Lhulier

I was feeling really energized and happy.  We would be meeting back at the apartment in a little while for some Champagne, perhaps a little nap, and then off to celebrate Dan's birthday in style.  I walked all the way from the 7th, back to our flat in the 4th and eyed up a little boutique that cut hair just around the block.  On a completely spontaneous whim, I ducked in and asked for a haircut.  

I was ready for a change.  

Normally, English is spoken all over Paris, but my little shoppe was inhabited by all Parisians.  And in Paris, if you don't strike up a conversation with someone, they'll just assume you aren't interested in any light banter (quite the opposite of US cities).

There were only two chairs in the salon, so there was a bit of a wait for a walk-in. Carefree and my mind on our evening, I thumbed through a magazine from my bag and didn't pay attention to anyone else.  Finally, it was my turn.  I began with a quick wash, and when I sat in the proprietor's chair, le jig was up:  I was an American.  I had to explain what I wanted done, so in my worst broken French, I used a combination of Charades-like hand motions and "snipping" sound effects, punctuated with "un peu" and "un petit peu" to explain.  As he began to cut, I started to tense a little.  Just then, a very voluptuous and stylishly dressed Madame came in, flitting around nervously and speaking very quickly in French.  Again- sometimes I'd tune it out when I didn't need to listen- and so I wasn't.  But the word "American" kept slipping into the conversation catching my attention, and my curiosity was peaked.  My cutter kept darting his eyes back to me in the mirror, and mine to him and back to her.  

"You have heard what has happened, monsieur? In New York?"
"Umm- no?" I squeaked.
Madame was next.  "It eez terrible- two airplanes- they have crashed into zee towers, and they come all the way down- all the way down."  Whether or not she uttered the word Pentagon was completely superfluous, because I was now fixated on whether she was a crackpot, or telling the terrible, horrible truth.
"Yes- this is true", said my guy.  

At this point, my entire body locked up and my eyes shot to my ashen face in the mirror, wondering how much longer this haircut could possibly take.  As the snipping continued, I began to feel the blood drain out of my limbs, straight through my feet.  My palms were sweaty, and I couldn't fathom what it was that had really happened and why, to say nothing of the real magnitude.  

What seemed like the longest 25 minutes of my entire life, was finally over.  I paid what I now believe to be $75 for my haircut and burst out the door.  I feverishly ran through the curving streets that only days earlier might have taken me an hour to navigate.  I began looking around at the people on the street, sitting in cafes, walking, talking on their phones and to each other. They all knew what had happened- except for me.  

I ran faster.

Down the Rue du Bourg Tibourg , passed the Lizard Lounge and up to the heavy door, I pushed hard and stumbled to the lift.  As I got to the door, I burst in looking for a familiar face and found Dan sitting on the couch, putting on his shoes.

"Did you see? Did you hear?? Dan- Dan- put on the TV!"

The first images were of a city street strewn with fluttering papers and thick clouds of dark dust.  There were pictures within pictures on the screen, and I could see emergency vehicles, scrambling people and jittery camera shots.  A beautiful wide image of New York City sky was muddied by billowing black smoke, and then- right there, where the two most iconic of all American buildings once stood, there was nothing but blue sky and smoke. 

The replay showed in succession the toppling of the south tower and then the north.  I held one hand to my mouth and the other instinctively reached for Dan's knee as I uttered, "No.  Noo.  Oh, my God, Dan, no."  
The Next Day: A State of War~ Photo R. Lhulier

In France, we had the unique opportunity of seeing footage of the first plane hitting the first tower. If you recall from the miles of coverage, the only footage shot of the first plane was from a team of French film makers doing a movie on fire fighters in New York.  That footage belonged to them- and was subsequently transmitted back to the stations in France. In it the beautiful clear sky and towers are framed in the rear, the cameraman completely unaware of what was about to happen.  When the plane hit, it made a loud "POP", and the camera shook a little.  Smoke began to immediately pour out the sides.  

The footage then cut to the moments after the towers fell.  By then the brothers had turned their cameras to the streets beneath the shroud of ashes and smoke, a place that would forever be known as Ground Zero.  That's when it got surreal.  No movie or news footage ever looked as ominous or desolate as the images being broadcast.  Men in business suits, still holding their briefcases, doused in soot, stumbled the streets along side dazed rescue workers.  Bloodied women fought to keep ashes and tears from their eyes.  Glass everywhere.  And the paper continued to fall. 

It wasn't until we saw the next round of footage that we "heard" about the Pentagon and saw it burning.  

We had to get out and get information, we needed to get the story.  We went where we had gone just about every day since arriving, to the local internet cafe.  The tiny storefront was lined with Americans who had pulled up real-time footage and headlines as they developed.  Some were crying, some were dumbfounded.  All were petrified.  The picture was beginning to sharpen:  4 planes, terrorists, scrambled jets, a missing president, New York, DC, Pennsylvania, and always, the replay of that second jet hitting the tower.  

The only way to reach anyone in the States was through the internet.  And at that time, most people were using the wholesome community of AOL for chatting and email.  Phones were so jammed with calls, they didn't work until the next day.  When we signed on, no one- and I mean no one- was answering their chat.  We finally reached a friend who promised to pass on to our families that we were "ok". 

As we resumed a slow, dogged pace back to the apartment, we spoke little as the facts were settling in.

The world had changed.  In an instant.  There was no going back, and it would never be the same again.

We ducked into the Lizard Lounge across from our flat, owned and operated by American expats.  Our Champagne was replaced by big glasses of vodka over ice.  We talked of what was next.  What could we do with the little resources we had, this far away from home.  On Thursday of that week, we were supposed to leave Paris and head to the Loire valley for a wine tour for the rest of our stay.  That plan was quickly scrapped.  Would travel be disrupted?  Would flights be cancelled?  How long would we be "stuck" here (if there is such a thing as being stuck in Paris)?  Were we at war, and if so, with whom?  I don't remember exactly what else we talked about except one thing:  sitting in front of the television or computer wasn't going to change anything.  We were going to go out and celebrate Dan's birthday. 

The Metro and stops along the way to the hotel where we would eat was empty, and suddenly, it was easy to get a cab on the street.  The entire time prior to today, we three had done our absolute best to fit in among the French- using our French whenever we could, double-kissing, trying distinctly regional foods and drink, and buying clothing and eyeglass frames with a particularly Gallic feel to them.  Tonight, however, we decided to be the people we were:  unique, diverse and resilient Americans.  And, hungry ones.  

The appetite returned, the vodka kicked in, and we began to do what any red-blooded American would have done in our situation:  we made fun of and mocked our snooty French waiter.  After all, he was being a complete turd to us, so we let him have it- and we laughed and laughed over our opulent dinner.  We even managed to drag the young busboy/fromager over to our side, as he became clearly aware of what we were doing.  He managed to get in a jab or two at his maitre de salle in English. We had made a friend out of a stranger, and without his pity.

As we caught a cab back, we sat silently, drinking in the beautiful colors and amber lights of the city.  I kept a close eye on my now-illuminated, golden companion in the distance, her vigilant search light skimming the low-hanging clouds.  This was to be no dream I would awaken from.  And- yes, there was no going back.  We all lost something that day, some significantly more than others.  But, I was one of the lucky ones.  For even though we had just met, I would go to sleep knowing she was there, watching over me. 

And, it made it somehow a little easier to dream that night.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Thursday, August 30, 2012

3 Years and a Blue Moon, Again

Three years ago this week (8/27/09) I began ForknCork.  With not much of an idea about what I would blog, I set forth and let the creative process develop.  It's been a very rewarding experience, and one wholly self-indulgent.  Rather than reflect on posts of the last three years, I decided that in observance of tomorrow's Blue Moon, I would re-post my Blue Moon post from October, 2010.    It's a tribute to really rare wines, delicious food and very good friends.  That pretty much sums up, for me, what ForknCork has been about.  Enjoy.

A "blue moon" is one of those over-used superlatives indicating something so rare and so fancy-pants that everyone should take note.  I admit it's both fun, but trite to use, but then my friends and I didn't really consider that when we dubbed what we thought was a once in a lifetime opportunity to taste uber-rare wines, while attempting to pair lofty cuisine worthy of their pedigree, would be the first of...more?

While a true lunar blue moon occurs when there is a second full moon in a calendar month (that's about 7 times every 19 years), we truly thought our opportunity was more akin to the mythical type (you know- like almost never?) than the literal.  Yet, math was on our side.

Last year, I blogged a dinner amongst these same friends that documented the very scenario above.  Given the enormity of it's rareness, we thought we were not likely to see one again, any time soon.  It featured some of the most precious and sought after wines in the world- including a 1975 Chateau d'Yquem, multiple first growth bordeaux, a 1963 Vintage Taylor Port and a 1919 Chateau Haut Brion, all provided by a passionate food and wine lover simply because he saw the enthusiasm with which we produced the first menu.  It was, like the first time 10 years earlier, a night to remember. 

Two months ago I got the call that our benefactor was coming back to town for business, and he wanted to do it all again, just 14 months later.  As with the first two times, he chose 12 wines from his expansive and impressive cellar, emailed us the selections, and then shipped them overnight with painstaking care.  Except this time, we had not six weeks to prepare a menu and line up our game plan, but three.   

When faced with the prospect of pairing world-class wines from first-rate vintages, you don't think about busting out the molecular gastronomy and culinary bells and whistles.  It's all about the classics.  Example:  a pairing from the first dinner 10 years earlier, which will forever be indelled in my memory, was as simple as it was brilliant.  A 1962 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti "La Tache" was paired with a locally raised, braised rabbit leg with parsnips and local mushrooms.  Simple.  The rabbit was simmered until "confit tender". 

It wasn't until days before our seafood purveyor, of all sources, queried whether we'd be interested in taking some fresh Maine wild blueberries that were being brought in by the same guys who were shipping day-boat halibut.  The answer was a resounding, "DUH?".  And so, to bridge that all important gap between what could be a white wine course or a red wine course, we added the berries to our braising juices and let them simmer.  The result defines the term "sublime" (there was another impressive Burgundy paired with the dish from an equally impressive producer and vintage- but, the la Tache was so incredibly on point, and our elementary rabbit dish was so wonderfully complementary, that it silenced our group).  Its extraordinary complexity and delicateness commanded a moment for us to regroup our thoughts before continuing.  The perfect balance of components, married with a harmony of fruitiness, acidity and earthiness leaves me swooning to this day.  Such is the power of the classics.

Sticking with that formula, a forward team that consisted of just myself and my surrogate "chef brother" Paul met one steamy, humid Sunday eve last month to handle the latest challenge.  We gathered our notes on the latest round of wines, and, to lend some inspiration, we opened and reverently sipped a 1990 Chateau Latour.  As is common, we aligned the wines in order of likely service and fleshed out an outline of the basics:  main component and main flavor profile.  With 12 wines slated for consumption, we decided to pour two per course, with the dinner lasting at least six courses (supplementary wines are often added by equally passionate attendees).  But, we knew the crux of how it would all go down.  We had only three days after that to consult a couple other possible chef friends who would participate to fine tune and finalize the menu, order our special ingredients and prep.  All this while working our full-time jobs, managing our personal lives and performing our duties as Pere de la Maison.  Challenging? Yes.  Fun? Of course!  Nerve racking?  Well... you answer.  The previous two dinners had consisted of no more than 10 attendees, and the most recent was looking more like 7 or 8.  No matter, it like the others, had to be perfect.

Why does great wine command such respect and awe?  Like architecture, it's man's greatest achievement of harnessing nature to produce a product solely for the purpose of his pleasure.  

The menu was finalized and the pieces fit into place, as they so often do.  Pairing food and wine is an art, yes- but, it also becomes an exercise in common sense.  Delicate wines require delicate preparations, aggressive ones need a little push.  Never repeat ingredients.  Create diversity of textures and temperatures.  Contrast and complement.  Multiple courses should build in intensity then back down- begin gentle, finish gently.  Leave the table sated, not stuffed.

Despite how it may read, the following menu and wines were the final choices, and they followed all the guidelines above.  The pictures, of course, tell the real story.

Warm up: A little pre-game with Charles Gardet & Co.

1st Course
Ragout of Veal Sweetbreads “Blanquette”- with beech mushroom, local sweet corn, tarragon and veal jus (not pictured)

2000 Chevalier Montrachet~ Bouchard Pere et Fils
2000 Montrachet Marquis de la Guiche~ Joseph Drouhin

2nd Course
Braised Oxtail over quinoa and Doctor Martin lima beans - with thyme infused braising juices

1989 Chateau Mouton Rothschild~ Paulliac
1989 Chateau Lafite Rothschild~ Paulliac
A little "fuzzy", I know- but trust me. 

3rd Course
Crispy Colorado Lamb Rillettes – risotto style “potatoes” and hen of the woods mushrooms
(Rillettes in prep stage)

1990 Chateau Latour~ Paulliac
1966 Chateau Gruaud Larose~ St. Julien (not pictured)

Fourth Course

Pink Peppercorn Crusted New Zealand Veal Rack - truffle scented heirloom eggplant and lingonberry demi glace

1995 Colgin~ Cabernet Sauvignon
2000 Inflagrante SQN~ Syrah

5th Course
Coconut Milk and Rum Braised Short Rib
With mole sauce and savory baked ricotta

2003 Harlan Estate~ Cabernet Sauvignon  
2006 Erna Schein “Fat Boy”

6th Course
Roasted Black Mission Fig – gorgonzola dolce, pulverized prosciutto, pistachio and honey

1971 Chateau d'Yquem~ Sauternes

7th Course
Chocolate Espresso Pot d’crème with blackberry

1963 Graham's Vintage Porto

Chef Contributors: 

Paul Bouchard, Matt Crist and Robert Lhulier
Wine Inspiration:
D. Paige and Ron Bouchard

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Saluting a Mentor and Master

When cooking for someone of importance, there is an undeniable motivating energy that comes while doing so.  You have an extra "umph" to your slice, an extra "snap!" to your dice.  When I first got out of school, I made a goal of setting a standard: "Never put out a plate that you wouldn't be proud of serving one of your instructors [from CIA]."  I still use that credo today.  But, when you're cooking to posthumously honor someone- and a very famous someone at that- not only do you step it up, but you feel a twinge of apprehension and a pang of pensiveness.  "Must- not- mess- this- up."  

Mind you, high-end restaurants do their best work when the conditions are just right.  That is, the tone is set by the chef and drives the rest of the kitchen.  Create some "healthy anxiety" (as Charlie Trotter would say) and you'll get a lot more out of your people.  They know it, too.  When preparing the same food, day-after-day, this kind of diversion can be a welcomed change in the line-up.  Such as it was earlier this month at The Whist Club.  We honored the late Julia Child on what would have been her 100th birthday with a special Chef's Table event.  All the courses were chosen from or inspired by her essential cookbooks and ground-breaking cooking show.  

As I spent the days leading up to the dinner, I became engrossed in Julia's books (Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vols. 1&2 and The French Chef).  Having met Julia while employed by the Virginia Hotel in Cape May as dining room manager, I felt a certain connection that brought me back to her memorable presence.  And, what's not to love about her off-the-cuff, self-deprecating style of charm?  You can actually hear her voice when you read the recipes.  I can't say that about very many cookbooks I own.  And so, with precision and determination, my team performed admirably.  A great time was had by all.  Here is the menu and some shots from the dinner.

at the
AUGUST 16, 2012
Diner en Bleu
a nod to Julia's alma mater, Le Cordon Bleu

Gosset Brut Excellence, NV
Outstanding, robust style of sparkling
from the oldest Champagne house in France
Chicken Liver Mousse, p. 559 Mastering the Art of French Cooking  Vol. 1, here on toasted brioche with fig jam and chervil
Our version of "palmiers" or elephant ears- savory;
one with sundried tomatoes, the other with pesto and goat cheese


A not-so-timid bite to begin:
dusted lightly in almond flour with cognac demi-glace and mushroom

Domaine du Carrou Sancerre "La Jouline"
Vieilles Vignes 2010

Velvety and fresh- the oysters from Cape May (Salts), NJ

J.M. Boillot Meursault, 2008

Delicate fillets of Dover sole with shrimp-scallop vin blanc,
black truffles and mushroom


with candied ginger

Château Bahans Haut-Brion, Pessac-Leognan, 2000    

Julia recommends buttered peas- but, we couldn't resist the Doc Martin limas we got earlier that day.
Hand-cut pappardelle noodles for the stew.


Mas Amiel Muscat de Rivesaltes, 2009

layered meringue, genoise, espresso mousse with almond Anglaise


As always, a little last few bites: apricot petit fours, chocolate-cherry and strawberry macarons.



UPDATE:  See a feature article in the Wilmington News Journal that ran today on the dinner!  And more photos on the Second Helpings Blog.

RE-UPDATED: Ok- and now some video, too!  This from Signature Brandywine Editor Lucia Blackwell (also in attendance for the dinner).


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