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Chef Bourdain on Reddit

June 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Eric Ripert, Anthony Bourdain, and me!

Dear Chef Bourdain;

I see you’re a redditor, too! You’re taking questions on a forum on reddit.com, and will answer the top ten in a video.

I’ve chimed in – wanting to know if you’ve checked out this site yet or not. Sure, it’s shameless traffic-whoring, but in my defense, you’d be traffic-whoring for your cookbook, too! Any fellow redditors who stumbled in here, let say straight off the bat, get yourself the Les Halles Cookbook, and learn a whole slew of fast recipes that will seriously up your cooking game.

I started last November cooking every single recipe in the book. Since then I’ve finished 57 of them, which puts me exactly halfway through the 114 total. I’ve got just over four months to do the other half, which is going to be tough – but I’m ready to up my game and get crackin’.

Hope your reddit experiment is a success, Chef!

Davy

Categories: Maundering

Frickin’ Veal

June 23, 2011 3 comments

Dear Chef Bourdain;

I’m down to the last half of the recipes in the book. Of course I took a lot of the low-hanging fruit for the first half, guts night notwithstanding. Now I’m trying to find the stuff for some of the harder-to-find ingredients.

Fuck you and your veal, Chef. Seriously, there’s no single ingredient that you use more than veal. You know, people don’t eat a lot of veal these days, have you noticed? Trying to find the more exotic cuts, most butchers are happy to oblige – if I buy a half a metric ton of it. And the dirty looks I get from other people when I ask for veal – you’d think it was THEIR baby I wanted to serve up on a platter. (Which would probably be fine with my wife.)

Frickin’ veal, chef! Why couldn’t you have gone nuts with like..chicken or pork chops or something?

Davy

Categories: Uncategorized

Vicious Saws Les Halles for Father’s Day

June 21, 2011 1 comment
Vichyssoise Les Halles

Vichyssoise Les Halles

Dear Chef Bourdain;

I’ve never had much reason to celebrate Father’s Day in the past. Without getting bogged down in therapeutic self-revelation, let’s just say my actual father is a shitbird who was far better gone than present, and the nearest analogue I had (my grandfather) was really careful to remind me in many ways that he was not my father and I shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking of him that way. So what a strange feeling it was to have a father-figure (my now father-in-law) who is not only worthy of respect and admiration, but also almost universally well-liked. This is the kind of guy you really don’t mind going an extra mile for on Father’s  Day. Or, for fuck’s sake, any day, but certainly this one in particular.

So what do you make for Father’s  Day, chef? Sorry, but the fussier French dishes in Les Halles Cookbook don’t really cut it. I wanted the kind of food that guys typically crave, but infrequently get unless they make it for themselves. Knowing also that my father-in-law has a perhaps strange obsession with coleslaw and corn-on-the-cob, I found more recipes in Ad Hoc At Home than in your book. But I didn’t want to bail on the project entirely, especially since I’m falling a little behind my goal of getting the whole thing done in a year.

So I settled on vichyssoise as a starter. It’s been quite warm lately, so a cold soup seems like a good idea. I decided to smoke some beef ribs (beef being his particular but not-oft-indulged favorite) and make coleslaw, corn-on-the-cob with lime salt and butter emulsion, and asparagus with poached eggs and smoked garlic-sausage. I spent the day before rubbing the ribs and letting them marinate, making the vichyssoise, and for the first time making my own sausage.

Nathan from Ikillit.com helped me with the sausage-making as well as the beer-drinking. He wouldn’t have any of the pork sausage, but we also made chicken and apple sausage, and since he’s murdered and dressed a chicken, that he could have. You know that expression “you don’t want to see the sausage being made”? Well, it’s not quite true. Really, you don’t want to see the cleanup. It’s fucking gruesome. There were literally gobbets of raw ground meat hanging from the wall, the cabinets, the counters…yikes, man.

Anyway, after the effort of making and packing the sausage (not a euphemism) knocking out the vichyssoise was no big deal. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m already planning my next batch of sausage, because it was really, really good. Good and fresh and lively in the way that lets you know what you’ve been missing with store-bought stuff. Next up, I think? Duck, plum and ginger sausages. (I’m not working off of recipes, I’m just improvising. It’s sausage, you can do that.)

So I chopped and sweated the leeks, then added the potatoes. Simmer in chicken stock – and then carefully – CAREFULLY – pureed, and combined with cream and seasoning. I brought it to a simmer without letting the cream burn. Then it just goes into an ice-bath and put in the fridge overnight when it’s thoroughly cool. In the middle of all the smoking, cabbage-chopping, corn boiling and so forth – it was a relief to be able to just portion the vichysoisse into mini-cocottes and serve when everyone arrived.

One mistake I made though, when seasoning I misjudged how much salt was in my salt cellar and just dumped it in. That horrible “Oh shiiiiiii…..” moment didn’t stop my other hand from stirring, thus keeping me from actually sifting the salt out. The result, it was a bit too salty. But that’s my fault, definitely not the recipe.

Dinner was a hit, I think – and the low-fuss starter course is part of what let me get it all out together. I’ll keep this in mind for future events, or just if I end up with a crap-ton of leeks for some reason.

I hope you had a great Father’s Day too, chef – though if your daughter isn’t making you man-feasts yet, clearly it’s your fault for failing to properly motivate her.

Happy Father’s Day;

Davy

Categories: Uncategorized

Butchershop Bar & Grill in Glasgow

June 7, 2011 1 comment

UK headquarters for the New Old School - Butchershop Bar & Grill

Dear Chef Bourdain;

What do you call this sort of new movement in cuisine, that takes the tradition and heritage of classic dishes, and updates them with a healthy dose of attitude; all with a lot of love and respect? Badass Gourmet? I think of it is as “New Old School” when I try to describe it to friends and other foodies. And I found the Mecca for the New Old School in the UK – Butchershop Bar & Grill, in Glasgow, Scotland.

I’m back from honeymoon and already cooking, but I had to take a second to tell you about this joint. My (now) wife and I were headed for the Kelvingrove Museum and half-starved from driving across a significant chunk of Scotland. Without anything to go on other than the exterior, we randomly pulled over and checked it out – but as soon as the owner, James, sat us down and gave us a menu, I was in love. The menu is all about the good stuff – classic cuts of steaks, you name it. We started with a parfait of chicken liver and pate de fois gras that was out of this world – like butter made from animals. I mean, butter is made from animals, but I mean – shit man, you know what I mean.

It must be in space, because it was out of this world!

For mains, I had a cote de beouf. I know you have it at Les Halles all the time, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it anywhere. James was happy to chat about his menu, and confessed that they nearly always have it, but took it off the menu because it didn’t move, but if it’s a special – everyone orders it. My wife ordered lamb’s liver, and it was succulent, earthy and decidedly lamby – perfectly prepared, beautiful ingredients. Weird – we saw lamb everywhere we went, but it was almost never on the menu; an affront to my wife who loves to eat anything innocent. I guess if the Scots were eating their lamb, though, they wouldn’t all have been gamboling around the meadows like they were.

Later in our trip we ate at some famous and highly regarded restaurants, like The Witchery in Edinburgh, but none of them held a candle to the Butchershop. If you’re ever in Glasgow again, Chef – drop in on James; he’s larger than life and his restaurant is a beautiful homage to classic steak houses with a bit of a rock-and-roll attitude. Something tells me you’d like that!

Davy

Categories: Uncategorized

Wedding Hiatus

May 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

Well I meant to catch up on all the back entries of stuff I’ve made, but best laid plans and all that. I’m getting married this weekend (speaking of best laid…) and that’s been a whole big thing to organize.

I’m cooking a whole pig! Actually I don’t have the faintest idea how to do it, and I wish I had your advice. But I figure I’ve got a whole locally raised heritage pig, and a big fire. When pig and fire get together, it’s a beautiful marriage, right?

So that’s what I’m shooting for. I hope my lack of rotisserie and/or pit doesn’t trip me up too much. After everything’s done, we’re off for a little adventure around Ireland and the U.K., so I’ll be back to writing in June.

I know you got the invite, so hopefully we see you there! We’ve got 100 guests dressed like pirates, 150 bottles of wine, gallons of rum, and a pig.

What could go wrong, Chef?
Davy

Categories: Maundering Tags: , ,

I’ve been working on my mussels.

May 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Moules Marinieres.

Dear Chef;

Look at those gorgeous bastards. That’s some food porn, right there. Like a lot of fond summer memories, they’re beautiful, easy and smell vaguely of the sea. I think it was you that said if someone threatens to come over and take pictures of one of your fancy dinners, mussels is the way to go.

You famously advised people not to order the mussels at any restaurant in Kitchen Confidential. That, and my mother’s deathly allergy to them has always made me leery, but now I’m converted.  I know I can take care to make sure that the mussels are nice and clean, and my local Costco has them fresh out of the ocean. We can’t eat the local mussels in the Summer due to red tide – which I was crushed to find out is not really a throw-back Soviet plot. I would have been more than happy to shake an AK-47 at the sky and holler “Wolverines!” if that would make mussels safe for all Americans.

But hey, a little care and cleaning and these ones from Northern California are fresh, safe and delicious. I let them sit in fresh water for a few hours before I even start to think about cooking them. Periodically I change out the water, so even though they’re pissing on each other’s heads, it gets flushed. If I’m ever captured for the purpose of eating, I hope my captors extend me the same courtesy.

"Privacy, please? We're peeing."

An hour before dinner or so, I put them in a plugged-up sink, run water and scrub and beard them as I toss them back into the (re-scrubbed) pot. This is basically the most tedious part. Those little suckers do not want to give up their last little snack of seaweed.

The rest is dead simple – throw some butter, shallots and white wine in the pot. Let them get nice and moogly (that’s totally a word) and then toss in the mussels. Once the mussels are all open, put on the lid and shake.

Action shot!

I put them all in a nice color bowl, poured the liquid over top, and served with a loaf of rustic bread and soft butter. They were simple, fresh and delicious. I sort of outsmarted myself though – I was serving other stuff for dinner, so while my fiancee and friends sat down to eat some mussels and chat, I was still cooking.

I will definitely make this again, so it’s totally a hit, Chef. Moules marinieres was much easier than the moules normandie, and I think even better, to tell the truth. If I have one lesson learned, it’s that I should plan to serve them with plenty of time to go before dinner – what a fine bowl of deliciousness to share on the deck with some crisp white wine and  friends on a warm Southern California day.

Next time you come over, I’ll make some for you, Chef. The wine is definitely a key part of the experience, but I don’t think I have to explain that to you!

Davy

Charlotte de Marron – I’ve dishonored Charlotte, I hope she forgives me.

May 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Charlotte de Marron. Don't tell Charlotte.

Hey Chef  Bourdain;

Look at this random picture of a charlotte I found on the internet. Then look at the fucking travesty I created. You’re probably thinking “That’s a goddamn nasty-looking mess.” You’re right. But you know, it was delicious anyway! The fault in this one was entirely my own, and my lack of experience, and not with your recipe. (This time.)

I hang my head in shame.

I know that thing looks sort of like a cross between the Horta from Star Trek and an Egg McMuffin, but it tastes creamy, light, fluffy and sweet, with a delicious note of rum and chestnut. There’s not a lot that has a delicious note of rum and chestnut that wouldn’t be awesome. Maybe like…axle grease with a delicious note of rum and chestnut? Nah, I’d still eat it.

The travesty occurred in not having enough ladyfingers, and also not being particularly adept at soaking them in the simple syrup of water, sugar and rum. The first few completely disintegrated. You specifically abjured me not to do that, so hey, this one’s on me. Once I figured out how little it takes to soak the ladyfingers, I figured out how to maneuver them into the cake mold without them falling apart like a biscuit at a frat-house on Soggy Biscuit Night.

The cream filling was a snap to make, and I’d found chestnut puree at the French Market and Cafe down the street. I love The French (as us locals call it) and enjoy any excuse to eat there. I’ll have Le Cheval on baguette, thanks!

I didn’t have a tureen pan, but it seemed like any kind of form would do the trick. Sorry if that’s less authentic, but hey – it resulted in that gorgeous mess up top, right? Lining the form with plastic wrap was an important step – after a few hours in the fridge it slid right out and unwrapped easily.

If I did this again, and I might, I’d save some ladyfingers to wrap around the outside after it came out of the pan. I’d also dust the top with some chocolate powder or something. I’d also make a point of getting bigger ladyfingers, not from a packet, in larger numbers.

But if your name is Charlotte, and you’re reading this – I apologize for the aesthetic desecration I committed to you. However ugly you were, Charlotte, I assure you that you were creamy and delicious.

Thanks Chef and sorry Charlotte!

Davy

Categories: Cooking, Eating

We Meet At Last!

May 2, 2011 3 comments

Eric Ripert, Anthony Bourdain, and me!

Dear Chef Bourdain;

It was an honor to meet you and Chef Ripert last night! I saw your lecture in Santa Barbara. Tickets to the event were a wedding gift from my fiancee’s cousin Hannah and her boyfriend Nic, himself a chef once upon a time. Being regulars at your favorite restaurant, they had secret intelligence that you might be there later that night. I had hoped to attend the after party at Joe’s Cafe, but Jesus Harold Hopping Christ, Chef, it was $250.00 a head to get in. And for what? Cocktails and canapes? For that much, it better come with a blow job and a framed picture of the occasion. And when it comes to blow jobs, I’m afraid I’m all booked up. So dropping a grand to get the four of us in for bad food and watery drinks was just out of the question. You’re a cool dude, Chef, but you’re not a thousand dollars cool.

Happily our strategem worked. We killed some time getting a drink and wandering around, and when we came to the restaurant, voila – there you were! I’m mindful of the fact that you weren’t at the (egregiously overpriced) public reception for a reason, presumably to enjoy a quiet dinner without being hounded by fans. Still, Chef, I couldn’t let the opportunity to say hello go by. I’d brought with a folder with a printout of the picture from the infamous Guts Night to prove that we’d really done it, as well as a printout of that entry. But we put into the hands (with help from Hannah) of the organizers at UCSB, so I have no idea if you ever got it. (Also included, wedding invitation. But hey, you knew you were invited, right?)

Anyway, one way or the other, you got this URL if you’re reading this, so it worked! Thanks also for taking a minute to chat about this project with me. And In Re: Julie Powell – I had no idea about the whole “Julie/Julia” thing before I started this dealio. As a matter of fact, I was poking around for a recipe from Dave Chang‘s Momofoku cookbook and found a funny, interesting blog called “Momofoku For 2” – where the author, Steph, cooks her way through Momofoku. I had no idea this was an idea that had been done to death. So, hey, sorry to be treading well-trodden ground. But you know what? Fuck Julie Powell. I went back and read that book, and she’s smug, self-absorbed, and as neurotic as fuck. Personally, I will cop only to being smug. Maybe a little neurotic. I had the happy privilege of meeting Julia Child on the day her kitchen was opened at the Smithsonian, I just happened to be there, and I stood in line and shook her hand, and thanked her for a lot of the recipes that my family enjoyed in my youth. This was, by the way, a filthy lie – my mother and grandmother were terrible cooks who were more suited for operating a microwave than anything else, and wouldn’t know a braise from a raisin. Except gravy – my Grandma rocked the gravy. Her gravy was the shit.

Anyway Chef, here I am. Friday night I finished my 50th recipe from your book, and already I’ve accomplished some of what I set out to do. I learned how to make a proper sauce, something that’s always eluded me in the past. I’ve learned a passel of great  French recipes – and no joke – most of them in your book are absolutely excellent, and a few are goddamn life-changing.  Like poulet roti, the first. I had no idea chicken could be that good. It was the first pan sauce I made, and the first in a series of realizations about how to take great ingredients and make them shine.

So thanks for taking a bit to talk to me. Your rilletes recipe needs some work, Chef. And listen, if you don’t dig this whole project, I have “no reservations” (see what I did there?) about registering letterstoripert.com, ok?

And most of all, fuck Julie Powell!

Davy

Categories: Maundering

Cassoulet – improvisations in the key of bacon

April 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Cassoulet Les Halles

Dear Chef Bourdain;

Let me just say, this cassoulet was one of those dishes that made me appreciate the time and trouble really good food can take. And be completely worth it. Your method of cassoulet takes three days, and each of them requires a bit of work, especially day two. Since I was going on a skiing vacation with a group of friends, and would be snow-bound in Lake Tahoe, I’d have the time and the appetite. Perfect.

Day One

The night we arrived I put the legs in a dish to sit overnight with salt. Easy. I also soaked the beans overnight in a bowl of cold, clear mountain water. Easy. Drinking ensued. It’s not strictly in this particular recipe, but so many of your recipes do include compulsory drinking, I figured it was ok.

Naked Duck Legs

Day Two

I hadn’t been able to find the duck fat in which to confit the duck legs. I had to make do with some substitutions. Since I was make Tartiflette, aka “The Triumph of  Bacon” in the afternoon one day, I got a lot of extra bacon and skimmed off rendered bacon fat. In this, I confited the duck legs, with the garlic and herbs required. The smell was absolutely unbelievable. Especially after I sauteed the sausages.

Like jell-o, there's always room for sausage.

There’s a lot happening here in day two – all this confiting, sausaging, and also some bean-cooking with pork rinds. I couldn’t find that, so I used what essentially boils down to a giant hunk of bacon instead. It was some sort of cured pork belly I found at Whole Foods. I hate Whole Foods’ politics, but they do have good food, so I end up shopping there even though it means lining the pockets of a Right-Wing Libertarian extremist. But bacon? Yeah, well, that’s my kryptonite, and it knows no politics or national boundaries.

There are beans down there somewhere. Under all the pork.

After all this was done, the final triumph of smells occurs. Magic happens here.

This is magic. Can you smell it?

There’s thyme, and beans, and duck legs, and sausages, all swimming in fats of various sorts. It cooks slow and simmers. Your recipe doesn’t call for it, but traditionally cassoulet has crumbs on top, so I rolled with that. You mention a crust that needs breaking – I figured a little bit of bread crumbs would soak up some of that delicious fat and set up nicely. So I called an audible and threw it in there.

Cassoulet by Bourdain. Crumbs by Krieger.

Day Three

Everyone came back from skiing and was heartbroken at the amazing smell of day two, and were fairly well raring to get at the finished product. I’d been tasting and nipping here and there, too, so I was pretty excited. But it was that overnight soak with the beans that made the sorcery go down.

When it came out, my friends were hovering like vultures. Cold mountain air, steady snow, and a day of sledding and skiing, and everyone was starving for some good comfort food. And this is kind of the granddaddy of comfort foods – the meats melt right into the beans and make a soft, chewy fatty blend that is beautifully flavored with the garlic and thyme.

Literally hovering like vultures, in this case.

With much anticipation, we divvied it up – everyone got a sausage and a duck leg, with plenty of beans for all. That duck was superb – soft and silky and very tender. The sausages had soaked up a lot of the bacon fat, and were  EVEN fattier. I mean seriously – this is sausage crossed with bacon, essentially, creating a sort of super-pork.

But to me, the best part was the beans. They were so incredibly rich, so smooth, and bursting with the fatty flavor. I had a fairly small bowl just to get a taste of everything, and was basically full afterwards. I can’t imagine a more perfect apres-ski food. Though actually I didn’t go skiing, but HAD I, I would have wanted this. I mean, even more than I did. My fiancee, who hates cassoulet, liked this. Apparently her experience of it was tins of franks-and-beans in France. I’m sayin’ – this was a lot more than just that.

It was fantastic. A friend paid me a compliment and said, “Davy, you can cook.” Given that she grew up in a house full of Southern women who express love by feeding, it was high praise. And in this case, at least a little bit deserved, since I hadn’t slavishly followed the recipe. I mean, MOSTLY I did, but not completely.

When I depart from the plan, it usually involves bacon.

What could go wrong with that, Chef?

Davy

Categories: Uncategorized

You’re invited to an upcoming feast!

April 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

This is totally just to make people hungry.

I’ll be seeing you next weekend. I’m pretty excited – my fiancee’s cousin and her chef boyfriend got tickets to see you and Chef Ripert next weekend, May 1st, in Santa Barbara. They’re bringing Pascale and I as their wedding gift to us. So hey, I’ll bring you a printout of the infamous guts-night to sign, and maybe one to keep for you, too! I know you’re excited to meet me at last, Chef. So the night before I’m going to make a dinner from your book. You’re totally invited – drop  me a line, ok?

For my other friends and readers, you’re invited too! But here’s the deal – I’m getting married in a few weeks. (Seriously. A few weeks. Ok ok, deep breaths…) and I need to save up for the wedding and honeymoon, especially since things have gone more than a bit sideways at work recently, and I’m not guaranteed to have the time off and pay I was expecting. So if you’d like to come, will you help me cover the cost of ingredients? That’s all I’m asking – and in return, you’ll get a really excellent meal. Here’s the menu:

Starter:  Moules a la marinieres (mussels in tomato broth)

Veg: Leeks vinaigratte

Mains: Filet of beef, sauce porto with roasted shallots

Side: pommes sautee au lard. (Potatoes sauteed in duck fat.)

Dessert: Charlottes de marrons. (A bit like tiramisu, it’s that beautiful bastard I enticed you in with up top.)

I figure I don’t really want to cook for more than six with this many courses, so that’s four open spots at the table. I have the luxury of not cooking for more than six, because this is a hobby, not a job, thank the gods. I figure most of that stuff isn’t terribly expensive, except for the filet, so about $20 a head will cover it. Now come on, that’s a five course meal for the price of what the sides would cost in a good restaurant! So please let me know if you’re into it, and how many. First come, first serve – it’s all going down Saturday evening, April 30th, probably around 6pm.

And Chef Bourdain, if you show up, I promise there will be plenty of good wine and a solid Venice freakshow on top of it all!

I’m hungry just thinking about it. The food that is, not the freakshow. Though that’s awesome too.

Davy

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