Archive for the ‘Maundering’ Category

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, ok?

And most of all, fuck Julie Powell!


Categories: Maundering

Superbowl Sunday

February 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

Tomorrow is the superbowl. I’m having people over, and for the third year in a row, I’m making “the Bacon Explosion“. (The first one was the plain vanilla Bacon Explosion – the second one was the Bacon Explosion Wellington With Cheese, and this year, the Bacon Explosion Lite.)

I wanted to make something from the Les Halles Cookbook, but to be honest, nothing really suits the occasion. So it’s good ol’ American junk food for us – ribs, atomic buffalo turds, chili dogs, nachos,  and of course – The Bacon Explosion Lite.

I hope you’re having all fancy and sophisticated and stuff!


Categories: Maundering

Grandma’s Secret Recipe

January 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

I really needed an antidote from the Tripes Les Halles. Plus MLF is down with some sort of hideous grippe for the past couple of days, leaving her groaning on the couch. I’m not going to say it’s related to ingesting the offal – but for sure she needs some kind of comfort food. So while poking around in the local supermarket I remembered the easiest, best comfort food I know – my grandma’s secret recipe for Chicken n’ Dumplings.

The truth is my grandmother, a woman of the deep South, was not a very good cook. You wouldn’t know it from hearing her talk, as she was pretty sure Julia Child could have learned a thing or two from her. But she only believed in two spices – salt and pepper, and even pepper was kind of shady. A man who liked too much pepper on his food? That’s not a man to be trusted. But salt – pour it on there like it’s slug Auschwitz.

But Grandma did have a few recipes in her wheelhouse – and those one she rocked. Chief of all of these, was her chicken n’ dumplings. It was the kind of comfort food that you could feed a crying woman who’d just watched her only baby drown, and she’d settle down, snuffle a little, and ask for seconds. In her 80’s one day, she wasn’t feeling well and went to the same family doctor she’d had for almost 50 years of her life. They rushed her off to the hospital, and discovered she had stage 3 stomach cancer. Later that night she lapsed into a coma. The family gathered, like you do when someone is down and maybe not getting back up. While reminiscing, I confessed to my Aunt that if I ever ended up on death row, I wanted Grandma’s chicken ‘n dumplings for my last meal. She didn’t have her recipe. I didn’t either. We checked the family recipe book, and nothing there, either.

My grandmother regained consciousness the next day, but it was clear she was terminal, and all we could do was make her comfortable. I went to see her. She was faint, and wispy. and very, very still – but she was entirely present, her mind unclouded, her eyes clear. And I remembered to ask – “Grandma, where is your chicken ‘n dumplings, recipe?”

She said, “Oh honey, it’s just from the back of the Bisquick box.” So that was Grandma’s secret recipe.

It’s simmering on the stove right now. MLF says it smells like her grandmother’s house. She said the same thing about the guts, but she meant it in an entirely different way.

There’s comfort and home and family simmering on the stove right now. I’ll never lose Grandma’s secret recipe. How could I? It’s on the back of the box. I’ll never lose my grandma, either. When I breathe spirit into my new family, into my home; it’s her spirit I’m breathing, and her gift that I’ll never stop receiving. Food is the soul. Food is the heart. Food is the love we share with our families.


Categories: Maundering

Blood and Guts Extravaganza

January 10, 2011 2 comments

Dear Chef Bourdain;

Just as your recipe in the book says, I got some funny looks while gathering the ingredients for “Tripes Les Halles”. There’s a Mexican grocery in Pasadena called “Super King” where they sell pretty much every part of the animal imaginable, and some far closer to unimaginable.  One of the butchers there actually argued with me, “No, you don’t want to eat that.” But I do!

I didn’t convince them to give me a pig’s heart – and I had to pantomime a beating heart to convince them I really meant it, even though “corazon de puerco” was, I thought,  close enough to correct to be understandable. When they realized what I wanted, they said, “No, no no, we don’t sell that. No.” So yeah, no pig’s heart for me. But when I convinced them I really did want the ears, both kinds of tripe, and some calves feet, I figured I was ready.

So this is also an invitation to any L.A. area culinary adventurers who are ready to really try something unusual – I’m starting the three day process on Thursday, and I’ll be serving up Tripes Les Halles on Saturday night. If you’ve got the stomach and the palate for it – drop me a line, and you’re welcome to join us. Take some comfort in this, bold eaters, at least there’s no snout.

More pictures to come soon;


Foie is not your foe

December 27, 2010 1 comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

I know you’re a pretty avid supporter of pate de foie gras and, to put it slightly diplomatically, irked by folks who are lobbying to get it banned.  So I’m sure you’d be happy to read the following post about the physiology of duck-feeding, de-bunking some of the worst misconceptions about how foie gras is produced.

Certainly from the point of view of this writer, responsible producers maintain a facility that’s as humane as any farm where animals are raised for slaughter. The ducks aren’t crowded, they’re in good health, they have room to roam, and they’re basically unruffled (get it? See what I did there?) by the gavage process.  In fact, ducks swallow their food whole, store it in their crop,  and grind it up in their gizzards like many birds. So giving them more food than they can digest at once just mirrors what they do when they’re storing food for a migratory journey, albeit to a greater extent.

The one thing that blew my mind? Ducks have a trachea completely separate from their esophagus – and it runs from their lungs out through their tongues! So ducks breathe through their tongues.  That’s just weird, man. It’s so weird, I think we should eat them.

So there you go, chef – if ever you want to do something other than spit bile and mock anti-foie gras activists, you can give them as a rational rejoinder. Anyone who eats chicken – which are fattened in their pens like any domestic animal – should feel ethically okay about eating foie gras.

I still can’t find any locally though. What a pain in the liver!




Ah, the Gallic Shrug

December 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Dear Chef  Bourdain;

Based on my extensive research – and by that I mean I read “Kitchen Confidential” and “Medium Raw“; you spent time in France in your youth, but not as an adult. Too busy scoring smack and grilling meat, I gather. But no doubt recently you have, given all your “No Reservations” episodes in France. Some of my favorites, by the way, and I’m by no means a Fraco-phile. So you’ll know what I mean when I say Gallic indifference to someone else’s inconvenience can be infuriating.

There’s a place near my house in Venice that when I refer to it I call “The French”. Though in fact it’s really The French Market and Cafe. But whatever, the point is they serve good breakfasts and have a little market with French imports in it. I checked there for some of the weirder stuff I need for this project and basically struck out – what they’ve got is either pre-prepared, or the kind of stuff I can find at any market around here.

But! Oh joy! I stopped in the other morning for coffee and a croissant on the way to work and discovered they had boudin noir, which previously they didn’t.  I didn’t want to take what’s basically congealed blood with me to work, though, so I didn’t get it on the spot. For whatever damn French socialist reason though, they were closed at 5PM when I stopped by on the way home. So today – I went back. Fuck it, I’ll just throw it in the fridge at work to thaw, and serve boudin noir aux pommes for dinner tonight.

Nope. Frozen packet of congealed blood in hand, I went to the register. A gaggle of people stood around it, confused. There’s a sign that says “NO CREDIT CARDS”. The lady behind the register was utterly unruffled – no doubt due to her utter lack of concern. There was mad buzzing from the circle of people though – they were stymied. They had already got their coffee and pastries from the self-serve, but had no means to pay.

“Will you take a check?” asked one lady.

The woman behind the counter did it, then. The Gallic Shrug. The “sounds like you’ve got a problem” shrug. The shrug that causes all responsibility to bounce off like low caliber rounds off the front glacis of an Abrams battle tank. So invulnerable to responsibility are French merchants, that it’s well known that Tony Stark keeps a “Hulkbuster” Frenchman handy to shrug if the Hulk goes on another rampage. BOOM. Stopped cold.

So she shrugs and says, “No no no.” As if taking a check was some sort of mad request, like, “I’ve got a handful of Africanized bees. I’ll give them to you in exchange for coffee?”

Chef, I wish I was capable of not giving a shit like French shopkeepers are. It’s amazing. It would be so handy in business meetings, or when my girlfriend asks me to take out the trash. Just shrug. “No no no.”  And that’s the end of it.

So no blood sausage for me, until I go and get some cash first or something.

Guess I’ve got a problem, non?


Christmas Beast Feast

December 14, 2010 2 comments

Dear Chef Bourdain;

I’m hosting Christmas dinner for 10 to 12 people, and don’t want to break the bank. The “Les Halles Cookbook” has lots of great recipes for big dishes based on reasonably priced cuts of meat – but the problem is what’s a cheap cut in France is like frickin’ expensive in L.A. I believe this is not the first time I’ve made that particular lament.

Your “No Reservations” holiday special was of very little use – since I can’t count on Dave Chang and Mario Batali sending their contributions, and unless something weird happens, no one is going to give me a side of beef cut to order, and Ruhlman won’t be around as sous-chef. I’ll have the enthusiastic help of Assistant-Chef Bourdain, at least. (If you look closely at this picture, he’s actually licking his lips.)

This is an obligatory dog picture.

If it was a small gathering, I’d go with the Cote d’Boeuf – serve it in bleeding, fat-rippled chunks with a ridiculously expensive cabernet in cheap glasses. Just to show ’em who’s their daddy. (It might not be me. I’ve never seen that woman before in my life. I want a DNA test!)

But with this many, that would easily top $200, and I’m saving up for a wedding, I’ve got car payments,  yadda yadda. Must be nice to be a celebrity chef sometimes, with people more than happy to donate equipment and ingredients. But as a humble IT nerd, cost is an issue. But several of my guests are serious foodies, too, so I don’t want to just phone it in – and we’re having a big Christmas goose the night before, so a smoked turkey is out. Let me tell you, it’s not French cuisine, but when I do a turkey in the smoker, it’s pretty amazing.

So I dunno. I might not be able to use your cookbook on this one. I’m open to suggestions (and corporate sponsors! “This Christmas Beast Feast brought to you by … [The Travel Channel? Monsanto? Wusthof?] and God Inc. ™  bless us, every one.”

I guess it’s unreasonable to expect to dazzle a big bunch of foodies with fine French cuisine and stay on a budget. I don’t think I ever made a claim to be reasonable though.

Help me out here, Chef. You owe me after that rillettes disaster!


Categories: Maundering

Was this a dirty trick?

December 13, 2010 8 comments

Dear  Chef Bourdain;

Your rillettes recipe was so bad, I can only imagine it was a dirty trick. I mentioned it before in a previous letter; but it didn’t seem to be going right even when I was making them. The allotted time for simmering several pounds of various sorts of pork didn’t get them in anything like condition to shred easily with a fork. Even after going an extra hour at higher heat, and then really cranking up the heat to try and render that fat, it didn’t melt. In despair, and recognizing I’d already gone off the reservation anyway – I threw it in a food processor so it was at least shredded.

But your recipe calls for a pound of thinly sliced raw fat. It doesn’t say rendered fat, it doesn’t say it should be cooked – just layered on top of the finished rilettes and “folded in”. Yeah, that was disgusting.

At the end of the day, the only rillettes that were at all like they’re supposed to be, is because MLF’s mother insisted on scraping up the bottom of the pan in which I’d cooked them. Those fatty, greasy scraps? They were awesome. The rest was dry and crumbly and basically no good.

Witness for the Prosecution: They sucked

Well, no good except that in a wretched orgy of fried foods, I wrapped some in a won-ton wrapper and deep-fat fried it, which was delicious. Hot grease drooling across my chin, molten pork-jam scalding my tongue in a last act of piggy revenge on he who consumed it. That was awesome.

I served this as a starter with Steak Tartare. That too seems like there’s something wrong with the recipe. It’s not that it was bad -in fact it was quite good – but it was quite soupy, which isn’t my expectation of what Steak Tartare should be like. I followed the recipe scrupulously, with the possible exception that there might have been slightly  more sirloin than normally – which would seem to indicate it would be more firm. Here’s the plate with  Steak Tartare on it.

Like a Soup Sandwich

If  you’ll refer to your own book, you’ll see that your steak tartare recipe is one of the few that has a picture with it, and it doesn’t resemble the product you see above. I’d be more put out about this except it was good anyway, and next time I’ll just mix the “soup” with the steak bit by bit until it has the right consistency, instead of just glopping it all in at once.

This whole dinner was a killer though. I served steak tartare, rillettes, porc mignons a l’ail, pommes puree with truffles, and onion soup les halles all at once. I was so stressed out trying to get it all to come out at once, I don’t think each individual dish was as good as it ought to be. And also I was so flustered, like a Mormon at a porn convention, that when I finally sat down to eat, I didn’t really pay proper attention to the food. The wine and rum might not have helped, either.

Or maybe it did.

I’ll let ya know how the other stuff came out, but I’m kinda honked off about those rillettes, You let me down, chef!


Categories: Cooking, Eating, Maundering

Pommes Puree, Just a Little Bit Better

November 29, 2010 2 comments

Dear Chef Bourdain;

For MLF’s family Thanksgiving feast, I volunteered to make the mashed potatoes, since pommes puree is one of the recipes in the Les Halles Cookbook.

Just as you promised, they were indeed “just a little bit better’ – no doubt because of on of the great alchemical secrets of your method of French Cooking – copious amounts of cream and butter. When my inevitable coronary occurs, and my doctor asks if I’ve made any changes in diet or activity lately, I’m just going to refer him to this blog.

The buffet, groaning with food. The potatoes, groaning with lard!

By the by, chef, I’m reading “Medium Raw”. It’s a vastly different book than “Kitchen Confidential”. In KC, you were telling your story, but this one feels like you’re justifying your success as a media figure…plus settling the hash of a few jerks worthy of your poison pen. But hey, Tony – can I call you Tony? You don’t need to justify anything. You got where you are because you tell a good story, you’re snarky as hell, but you’re honest. Just do that, Chef. We like it. You don’t have to support an empire like Emeril or Bobby Flay or whatever – tell the truth and make it as funny as much as it stings, and you’ve got your audience. At least, that’s my opinion.

So your Just a Bit Better Pommes Puree are dead simple. I got my meez ready – one of the invaluable lessons I’ve picked up from your book – and set about crafting a potato dish to make the gods weep.

Boss, the meez! The meez is here, Boss!

These are actually Washington potatoes, by the way. But they’re definitely Idaho-style, and worked perfectly both for the mash and the fries. As instructed I put them in cold water cut in half lengthwise, and brought it to a boil (skins on) and left it to boil for fifteen minutes.

It's hard to make a picture of potatoes sexy.

After that, it’s just a matter of slipping the skins off while boiling some cream and butter together – then mashing ’em up and smooshing in the butter and cream. I seasoned to taste, and this time kept adding kosher salt until they were just right – which was quite a bit more salt than I’d have thought. But what a difference a bit of truffle oil made – oh, the delicious, earthy aroma! The whole aura of Winter earth and rustic goodness permeates the potatoes and elevates them from a delicate and wholesome dish into something really sublime.

Black truffles or white, that’s the question, right? Well, I went with both! Ok, maybe that’s like playing the Stones and the  Beatles at the same time, but in this case, the “mash up” really worked. (See what I did there? Pop culture reference about those crazy song mashes these kids today are doing, as well as a little play on the pommes puree!)

Definitely a “hit” – easy to make and really quite a bit better than your run-of-the-mill spuds. This is going on my list of things I’ll keep in my back pocket just for whenever. They went over very well at Thanksgiving, too – I heard folks at the other table oohing about the truffles and the cream and the goodness. There was precious little left over at the end of the night, but they made truly superb leftover sandwiches the next day, too.

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving, too, Chef.


Categories: Cooking, Eating, Maundering, Prep

You want to get drunk with me? Cool!

November 24, 2010 4 comments

Dear Chef Bourdain;

Yesterday I had one of those futureshock moments when I thought the internet had become even more awesome than I ever thought it was. Like CNN had personally written headlines and stories just for me.

Anthony Bourdain Wants To Get Drunk With You

Chef Bourdain wants to get drunk with me? That’s amazing!  But then I realized it was just an article shilling for your new  book “Medium Raw“. Not that there’s anything wrong with shilling for your new book. And in a meta sort of way, I’m doing it for you right here, aren’t I? Except, of course, that I have all of about a dozen readers. But they’ll buy your book, I’m sure. (Do it, slackers! You eat my food, you can buy the damn book!)

Actually, this sort of leads to an “teaching moment” about why I’m doing this. A lot of people ask if I have some sort of a man-crush on you, Chef Bourdain. Well, not really. Not that I don’t think you’re a swell fella – your books are tres amusante and “Without Reservations” is a great show. And you’ve got a great job of which I’m seriously jealous – go to interesting places and eat stuff? I’m in. I liked the first season better that involved more drinking, too.

But really, it’s about the food. I mean, it oughta be right? I wanted to learn to be a better cook, and I was pretty bad at sauces and pretty good with meat. So “Les Halles” seemed like a pretty great way to emphasize what I’m good at and address my weakness. Plus your writing style is funnier than Alton Brown’s. (Sorry Alton. Love “Good Eats”, though!)

So that’s the deal, I want to be a better cook – which I’m already making some incremental progress on. (Apparently the secret is making everything with heavy cream and butter, dear readers, if you want the short-cut, by the way.) Along the way I get to drink more wine than my lovely fiancee would probably support since you told me to, Chef – and eat some fantastic successes and wretched but interesting failures.

Now I’m off to make some pommes puree for Thanksgiving that are going to rock some socks right off.

Your Shill;


Categories: Maundering
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