Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving with our nephew

I had two days off in a row for the first time since my honeymoon, and my wife and I traveled to Connecticut to see our nephew James (and of course the rest of the family). Part of me loves seeing James, as infrequently as I do, just to see family! But another part helps my wife and I look into the future world of parenthood. Smiles, toys, dribbling, medication administering, and lots and lots and lots of reading.
Looks fun!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Join the Free World

I caught an Associated Press article in the Philadelphia Inquirer today. Lawyer Peter Erlinder, infamous for taking on unpopular sides of the law, was in Rwanda helping Victoire Ingabire's legal team. If you recall, President Paul Kagame declared his opposition running man (Ingabire) an agitator and a promoter of genocidal ideology during his campaign against Kagame in the Presidential elections last year. Simply by association, Erlinder was jailed last Friday for "conspiring" with Ingabire. Erlinder is a professor of law and stands that the genocide of 1994 was instigated by both sides.

President Kagame has now sat as Rwanda's President since 2ooo when President Pasteur Bizimungu was deposed. Re-elected in 2003, his seven year term was coming to a close at the beginning of the year. Unfortunately, Ingabire's campaign was crushed and Kagame continues as President. That is the short story.

The longer version stems from Kagame's humble beginnings as a guerilla who studied Che Guevara and fought in public and private wars in Congo, Uganda and the former Zaire. It was also claimed by several of his former intelligence officers that it was Kagame who ordered the plane to be shot down in 1994 (the spark that lit the genocide).

Rwanda is full of life today: economic, social, technological, touristic and agricultural. Kagame sits behind a large steering wheel; one with lots of power, but hard to turn off its path. The racial issues of the past (Belgian made, of course) still loom, but it should not prevent such an ally to turn its head on democracy and justice. The American Bar Association has directly spoken out to Kagame demanding that lawyers not be condemned for their clients actions (or lack thereof, in this case).

Erlinder tried to take his own life a couple of days ago by swallowing and overdosed amount of pills in his Rwandan cell. Is this really worth it? I understand genocide is unacceptable, but allowing this lack of freedom to continue is the Western world sympathizing with a "poor, uneducated, simple African country". Hey Rwanda! Is that what you are? Join the free world and set an example. Free Erlinder, and call for a new election!!!


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

God's Creatures

Yesterday in the kitchen, we got news that tonight they would be bombing. This means that the exterminator is coming for his monthly visit, as they should in all food service facilities. It requires that the stewards cover and wrap any utensil used in food production: pans, plates, silverware, etc. It is a long a tedious job, but kind of breaks up the monotony of a dishwasher's daily chores.

I reminisced of the kitchen in Djibouti. It is a dream for a professional chef to open brand new kitchens. Everything is clean, new equipment, fresh menus and ideas; it's absolutely wonderful and inspiring. After a couple of months in Djibouti, I was checking over the Kitchen Department's finances, and came across two monthly bills from low and behold, an exterminator. This would not have caused me to pause except for the fact that I realized I had not seen a roach since I arrived! I quickly went out to the hot line where the cooks were busy with the lunch service, and called for the chef de partie on duty.

"Ali Abdullah! Viens ici!" He dropped his tongs and rag and jogged over. "Oui, chef." I asked him if he had seen any cafard? "Non, non chef. Qu'est ce que c'est des cafards?" My gosh, he didn't even know what they were. Amazing. So why were we spending money on an exterminator, you might ask? What is the most common household insect? What do you see on all of those misleading and misguided Sally Strothers commercials on dying African children? Flies. Flies were everywhere. So much, in fact, that we needed a bloody exterminator. I remember when we opened the hotel, there was a lot of excess trash including staff meals and packaging from unwrapped equipment. It had all been piled up in the loading dock awaiting removal. As I pulled up in my pickup, the entire pile, literally the size of an elephant (I should know), was black and moving, covered in flies.

The most interesting thing, socially, is the acceptance of the flies that occurs after a couple of months. Waving them away just becomes SO tiring, that one gives up. The land on your hands, legs, arms, hair, face and eventually, they fly away. All the swatting and smacking and frustration is a waste of time. They're God's creatures. (However, if you are in Djibouti and bored in the hot afternoon, sit down, have a cold beer and buy a cheap fly swatter. I think Charbel, Cedric, Djibrine and I counted 47 in 20 minutes. Beat that.)


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Plans for Philly's Kids

Michelle Obama's campaign against obesity in American children led her to invite several Philadelphian youth to the White House to help plant the Kitchen Garden. Teaching children where their food comes from is not a new idea. Jamie Oliver has been pushing food and nutrition education for the past decade, and school food is on every parent's proverbial dinner plate.

Regan's school vegetable "ketchup" showed us that we had better not leave the future of our children up to politicians, although the Obama's have so far proven to be champions of children's futures. I just hope any education reform goes more smoothly than his recent Wall Street reform. The biggest difference, instead of lobbyists for credit card companies, we face the soft drink lobbyists and the like. Will the mythical 5 cent/ounce sugar tax ever kick in?

I have my own plan. Along with my book, I have been sitting on a steering committee of s school to open in North Philly called St. James the Less. Last year, the diocese along with Father Mullen of St. Mark's Episcopal Church ran a City Camp for the local children. In the Western Clearview area, this is considered a vulnerable community and is in need of education reform. We are hoping to open a middle school on the property in the next year or so, but in the meantime, we are working on other projects such as afterschool programs in the meantime. I am opening a children's garden.

I will use this garden to instruct planting of seeds, maintaining the herb's and vegetable's growth, the harvesting, the cooking, and of course, the eating! My goal is to show children that food comes from the earth and not a McDonald's bag. That you can eat something green and have it still be delicious! This is the beginning of a new adventure for the One Legged Chef. Wish us luck!


Monday, May 10, 2010

The New Rwanda

Dear Readers, I am sorry its been awhile.

In last weekend's Saturday New York Times, a fascinating story on Rwanda appeared front page. Under the headline photo read "Hundreds of young adults and minors suspected of petty crimes have been rounded up and sent to an island in Lake Kivu." It later explains that those brought to the island in the middle of the huge western lake were being taught basic skills such a patriotic songs, marching, motorcycle maintenance, bricklaying and hairdressing. This is a classic social re-structuring format used in many pro-socialist African regimes, but in Rwanda, there are clearcut goals and clearcut problems.

The rebel buildup of genociders in Uganda and former-Zaire are a constant border problem. I myself was friends with the Lieutenant Colnel of the western RPF guard whose daily job it was to send guerilla patrols into the jungles in search for these militias. Rwanda is in constant need of trained military personnel and what better than a bootcamp for petty thieves and young male citizens already inclined towards danger or nefarious activities. Therfore, on one hand, the island on Lake Kivu could be a feeder into the RPF armies. A problem I see however is with the infrastructure of the prgram. One boy interviewed by the New York Times coorespondent begged to tell his father that he was alive. The boy was literally picked up off the street and sent west without any contact with the boy's family by telephone or otherwise. In African countries where a majority of families live without a phone or other telecommunication, it is atrocious to think that the government would practice such behavior.

Paul Kagame has pushed for a brighter and bigger future for his country. In fact, in the midst of the post economic global downslide, Rwandan businesses grow as does there business abroad. His love for his country is clear, and it has taken some strict policy, but has nonetheless been effective. This most recent (and internationally publicized) move on petty street criminals is not a step in the right direction. Too long Kagame has ignored the sound advice of European and other Western powers, but he must put the differences aside. It does not make sense to continually bad mouth and ignore countries who unfortunately were not there during the genocide. But they are there now, and deserve a voice. Kagame was a great general, but now must learn to be a great President.

You can read the story yourself at this link:


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Polish mission

Preface: a Dutch couple mentioned a beautiful Polish mission orphanage in northwest Rwanda. Their description: "totally amazing, but the trip is a little dangerous." Just the thing to spark my interest.

A few days after my GM left me in the mountains with the gorillas, I went into Ruhengeri (the second largest city in Rwanda), to chill out. I stopped by with a friend to a local bar/night club hangout called the White Gorilla and ordered a small bottle of Waragi (Ugandan "war gin")n and a coke. Some girls were dancing on the patio outside, and the guys at the bar were giving me the "white man" look-over. After the war gin started working, I got up and strolled over. "What's up fellas?" "AhHH! You are American! You see the gorillas?" "No, I'm just working up here at the Nest hotel. Say listen, do you guys know of a Polish mission northwest of here? Maybe near the Congo border?" One of the guys stood up and told me to wait. He got up, left the bar compound through the large white gates. I sat there drinking with the others, not saying much, until the kid returned close to 20 minutes later. A man in military fatigues with a RPF symbol sewed to his arm followed him. "This is my uncle Joseph. He knows the mission."

Its funny, one bottle of Waragi followed an adventure of border jumping, a gunfight with interamwe (Hutu killing squads of the genocide), gorilla infested jungle treking and a weekend with orphans dispersed by the events of 1994. But it is definetely not a PG story. You'll have to buy the book....


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Djiboutian Khat Flight

One of my responsibilities as Purchasing Manager at the Djibouti Palace Kempinski hotel was to ensure that all air and sea freight deliveries pass customs upon entry. Although this sounds bureaucratic, I can assure you it was just as physical. Being at the airport with the proper ID, paperwork, and trucks were a weekly event, and the timing of the flights were essential. It would mean, sometimes, a hit or miss when trying to recover a pallet of frozen food product from Amsterdam from the belly of a Emirates 727 cargo plane (usually arriving at 2:30 pm ETA).

What became perhaps the biggest nuisance was the daily flight from Ethiopia (1 pm ETA)which brought the khat. You might be asking, what is khat anyway? Khat is the narcotic leaf of a tree that, when chewed, gets you high. I would say a clear majority of the population either chews daily or at least every other day. In muslim countries, it is very popular as the majority of chewers can personally and politically reconcile it as not haram (forbidden) in the Q'ran. Ismael Guelleh, the President, loves the stuff. The delicacy of the situation is that after 24 hours of being picked, the khat begins to lose its potency. This is why a delay in the flight from Ethiopia screwed us. If the khat was being unloaded, all of the custom guards and police would abandon their posts and stand by the khat trucks waiting for a hand out.

Waiting behind the wheel of one of the trucks, I would anxiously watch the Emirates flight land, unload and take off within the time that locals were unloading the khat from, yes, a smaller plane. I would sit and watch my pallets not 200 yards away baking in the mid afternoon sun which, during the summer, could easily reach 130-140 F. But one thing I learned working in Africa was patience. There was nothing I could do, so I waited. Once in, I would load up into my refrigerated truck as quickly as possible, and take the product back to the hotel. If it was damaged beyond use, I would take digital photos, send them to purveyors and try to squeeze some credit. The problem was Emirates' efficiency: as they did not want to be blamed, they took their own photos, and occasionally the reponse from the purveyors was a big "no way"!!

Eventually it took a little bribe to the Belgian airport director to get special passes. Its Africa!


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Kigali Evening

I arrived in Rwanda via Ethiopia in the begininng of May 2007. I was sent by Kempinski hotels to assist in the takeover of two properties, and was excited to further my travels in Africa. We landed in the early afternoon and I was met at the airport by the General Manager and an Indian accountant from our hotel in Jordan who would become a close friend in the months to come. But I wasn't thinking about friends that night. I was thinking about Rwanda.

More than 800,000 deaths following the coup 13 years before had left a blood stained countryside and a global emotional stain on the inaction of powerful nations watching the massacre from afar. We jumped into a rented 4x4 and began the drive up to our hotel sitting on a hill overlooking the city. We were staying at the Hotel Mille Collines, or as the rest of the world knew it, Hotel Rwanda. There are many emotions I experienced being in the presence of this hotel, but it wasn't Rwanda's past that most moved me.

After a wonderful dinner at the French restaurant on the top floor, I took off to the pool and sat down with a pack of smokes and a couple Mutzig beers. Overlooking the lights of the city, I came to a revelation. I was about to experience a nation, people, and adventures that were beyond my emotional stretch. It was an exciting feeling, but I stopped by the hotel boutique and picked up a history of the genocide. I felt like I needed to prepare myself. The worst thing to do would be to experience Rwanda's future without knowledge of its past.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Mediterranean tour of Philly, PART ONE

This past weekend brought both my mother and future mother-in-law, Pat, to Philadelphia (not to forget Mimi, Meredith's aunt), which meat we were eating out. Osteria on Friday night was great. Our table was perfect: central, but not too close to bathrooms, the kitchen, or waiter stations. To start, we shared a parma style pizza with mozzarella, prosciuto and baby arugula. The dough recipe is tasty and the in-house stone pizza oven delivers a consistent finish. Having worked in Osteria's kitchen for about a week, I had wanted to taste the chicken liver rigatoni. The liver is cooked down with aromatics and finished with a little cream (Lombardy style), and comes out to look like a dry bolognese. Pat and I both love chicken livers, and this presentation made it easy for Meredith to try this delicious offal.
Pat lucked out with the entree. She ordered the grilled lamb saddle with fava puree and mint. Absolutely wonderful...moist and fragrant. Meredith ordered the rabbit "casalinga" and I the spit roasted pork (various cuts). Although the flavors were there, both cuts were dry. Unfortunate. The wine, a medium bodied Sicilian, was fantastic after a moment to breath. Price points were great, but then again, it is Italian country style. I had a Taylor LBV port, and Meredith got the Blood Orange and Meyer Lemon gelati. The gelati were tasty, but WAY too sweet. Osteria is a great place in a great space, but if it ever wants its hands on another James Beard award, it needs to step up the details.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Magic of the Mother Sauce

The five French mother sauces as described by Auguste Escoffier are Tomato, white (Bechamel), brown (Espagnole), Hollandaise and Veloute (seasoned thickened stocks/jus). It takes time, discipline and practice to create these masterpieces. However, once completed, you have opened up a world of flavor pairings and creative thinking in your kitchen. Adding to each of these sauces, you can create deeper sauces. If you add an orange reduction to Hollandaise, you have Maltaise sauce (oranges grown on Malta) which goes very well with roasted duck. If you add a chopped tarragon and white wine vinegar reduction, you have the classic Bearnaise!

Using these disciplined backgrounds with some personal creativity, you can have a lot of fun. Tonight, an Italian friend and I experimented with Alfredo (Bechamel+parmegiano) and added a little chopped black truffle and white truffle oil. We made some fresh ricotta gnocchi and added diced lobster. We loved it so much that we sold it as a special in the restaurant....for $29 an entree. These are all simple ways to take basic cooking methods and giving them a little lift. Another great lobster dish would be Butter Poached Lobster with a champagne vanilla beurre blanc. Start with a simple beurre blanc by reducing white wine and finely diced shallots, only this time use cahmpagne instead of white wine and throw a vanilla bean (sliced the long way in half) in the reduction. This will draw out the flavor of the vanilla bean. Once you "monte la beurre, remove the vanilla bean and remove the "speckled" interior (add this back to the sauce). This is a sure way to create an innovative to your dinner party.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Children of the Church

This week's Economist contains a brief article demanding the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, declare paedophilia not only a sin, but a crime. Many priests accused of such disgusting acts (as well as the bishops who covered them up) are still practicing and "remain free to abuse boys" long after their misconducts were enacted. The Catholic church maintains that it is being singled out; that many other groups such as orphanages and other care centers (mostly in despotic and authoritarian areas of the world) are also inflicted by this outrageously filthy practice. The reponse of the writer was simply that "if [the church] preach[es] absolute moral values, [it] will be held to absolute moral standards.

However, the quote that sparked my interest was the following. "The church now has exemplary child-protection rules - so strict, in fact, that they sometimes stifle healthily affectionate behaviour." Growing up in the church (albeit Episcopal), I have fond memories of my priests in the past. I served as an altar boy and in the choir for the majority of my childhood and was never mishandled. On the contrary, several of my priests (even now) were important and affectionate people to me. They continue to comfort me when I'm upset, advise me when confused, celebrate with me when I am happy, and are not afraid to show (appropriately) their love for a member of their flock...all the while leaving their frocks on. Part of my love for the church is the friends, mentors and confidants I have gained within its care. It is very necessary to personalize the clergy in order for trust and respect to gain full ground with parishoners.

Therefore, if children in the Catholic church are not allowed some sort of close friendship, it risks losing followers and therefore its own future. There is not a fine line between friendship and abuse. It is a BIG CLEAR LINE. Anyone who can't understand those parameters and abuses them deserves immediate defrockment and serious mental help. The children are the future of our churches. They need to be welcomed as genuine lamb of God and need to be treated as such. Children need guidance in the church so they may be able to grow into strong believers and future peacemakers. I pray that His Holiness will set records straight and begin a path towards openness and affection in his ministers of faith so that the powerful Catholic church might go from the bottom of the moral barrell to a leader in fair treatment of our precious children. He needs to criminalize paedophilia no holds barred.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Sushi Theory

When I was cooking with Chef Gray Kunz in New York City, I was given the opportunity, after a few months of the opening, to dine in the restaurant and ate, as part of the chef's tasting menu, a lobster dish paired with a French sparkling rose from the coast of Brittany. The grapes were grown up the hill from the ocean and you could taste the sea in the vintage. This pairing was an eye opening experience for me. It showed me that the perfectly paired glass of wine can uphold the theme of the dish, while, if truly, truly well matched, allows for every bite to taste like the first bite on your palate. It gives you the opportunity to savor each bite at height the chef intended.

Tonight, my girl and I went to Moshi Moshi, a small sushi restaurant on 18th. We sat at the bar upon my request, because I like to be where the fish is. Sushi is definetely cook's food. The fresh, meaty and briny pure taste of raw fish, mollusks and crustaceans is something those of taste (respectfully) can't resist. Now many drink sake with sushi, but tonight I had a couple of Sapporos. Served with our sushi (I had eel, soft shell crab and scallop), came the standard wasabi and pink pickled ginger. The wasabi allows the diner to attain the level of spicy-ness he or she desires, but the ginger serves the less obvious. DO NOT PUT GINGER ON YOUR FISH!!!!! God did not mean for these beautiful cuts of the sea to taste like sugar water, and that's all your doing when you combine the flavors. Pick up the piece of sushi, put it in your mouth and savor that fresh flavor. After it is finished, take a little piece of the ginger and put it in your mouth. It will clear it like the "backspace" button clears a sentence. Put another piece of that same sushi in your mouth, and you will understand why. It will taste like the first bite.

Friends, maximize your dining experience, palate, and your wallet. Clear your taste buds, and eat again. Whether it is a $17 glass of wine or a small piece of pickled ginger. If paired properly, they will change your eating experience.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Contemporary Ladies

Tonight Meredith and I were invited to dinner by our close friends Kevin and Ashley. Ashley is one of those rare young modern women who, like my beautiful fiance, contains a rare yet distinguished sense of class, style and grace bragged about by parents and grandparents everywhere with phrases such as "when I was a child" or "there was a sense of etiquette, blah, blah, blah". Upon arrival, Kevin (like a gentleman), picked us up from the train station, and delivered us safely through the rain. We were greeted by an open (literally) door, drinks and hors d'oeuvres. Marinated mushrooms, grilled eggplant, prosciuto, cheeses, and a mini caprese well arranged on a platter. The table had already been set, and we enjoyed each other's company in the living room before eating. The ladies retired briefly to the kitchen to finish the meal while the gentlemen finished a drink (I like not cooking once and a while!). When sitting at the table, Ashley, the hostess took the end closest to the kitchen, I on her right, and so forth in proper form.

Dinner was a beautiful pork chop seared and cooked with tomato, capers, fennel and lemon essence. It was served with crushed new potatoes seasoned nicely, and a couple of bottles of Merlot from Tuscany (well paired, I might add). It was a wonderful evening guided by friendship, a great cook, terrific conversation, and yes, etiquette. Not "in your face" etiquette, but assumed and natural. Even in 2010 there exists young ladies and gentlemen who appreciate social form and manners. You don't need to be at a fancy dinner party with "adults" (I'm obviously still a kid:)) to enjoy this. Ladies such as Meredith and Ashley emerge from the post-extreme feminist past and bring a sense of traditional feminine charm to an equal and free future. It is an honor to marry a lady of this upbringing, and to be in the presence of many the same. Thanks for a wonderful evening!


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Gelato, an Italian Art found in Philly!

When I was a young boy growing up in Rome, my mother would take my brother Jamie and me to the Borghese Gardens to walk, play, ride the merry go round and inevitably grab a gelato on the way. In Italy, grabbing a gelato is almost as commonplace as an espresso or, in some places, a slice of pizza. Now espresso and pizza are amazing Italian culinary inventions, but have been replicated all over the world from Beijing to New York. And everywhere seems to have their own "favorite joint". Well, after a trip to Capo Giro in Philadelphia, I have a new gelato spot.

Gelato is Italian for "ice cream", but the method is different. There is not as much air incorporated in the churning process, so the effect is a denser, and as my fiance described it, "custardy" texture. "Charlie, do they put eggs in it? Isn't that what makes it a custard?" It is true. One of the main ingredients to a custard is egg, but this is not so in gelato. The finest artisanal gelatos attempt to perfectly recreate the flavor element in an iced form.

My favorite thing about gelaterias is the chance for the customer to join in on the creative experience: making your own combination. Whether you have the palate of Escoffier, or that of Cassie my terrier-mix, gelaterias make you the chef. Last night, mine was Nocciola Piemontese e Cioccolato (Italian hazlenut and chocolate). This combination sparked memories of Italian Christmases eating those little Ferrero Rocher arancini. Meredith mixed cinnamon and Thai coconut milk...a reminder of summer nights in Bangkok?!? Maybe we should go there to test that theory. Whatever your thoughts crave, use your palate and your instincts. Visit a gelateria and become a chef. Spark a memory like a childhood madeleine!


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Cognac and beer

When I took myself out of the confines of the beautiful New England prep school world of Hotchkiss and moved to Gambier, Ohio, I stumbled on something new. The education was superb, and I am to this day ever grateful for the preparation Hotchkiss gave me (as well as meeting the future Mrs. Reinhardt), but Kenyon College was something different. Sure, there were New England prep schoolers, but there were mid west public schoolers, west coast montessori grads, and everything in between. I was not thrown off...quite the opposite in fact. I was drawn to the diversity. I thrived in it! I was so interested in learning about different students, their backgrounds, and their experiences. It was part of my education.

I think I had an advantage growing up abroad, getting the chance at an early age to meet people from different nationalities, language backgrounds, and general walks of life. But the thing that was most inherent of this education was not the quantity but the quality. When I graduated college, my father and I sat down for a heart to heart as we sometimes do. I was preparing to leave for my first job out in Chicago, and we were talking about the world.

He himself had grown up abroad, the son of a diplomat, and his father had said the same thing to him. "Charlie, it is important to be able to sit with the President for a glass of fine cognac and talk of the world. But it is just as important to share a beer and talk the same with a White House gardener. It's in the vernacular, and its what makes you a well rounded man."

This lesson is one that I try to live by. It becomes extremely important as a chef. You must know how to speak comfortably with the dishwashers, immigrant workers, and fellow chefs from different persuasions. But it is just as important to put on a fresh white apron and hob nob with the clientele. Being a chef is the perfect balance between blue and white collar work. I love the diversity and I love my father's message.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Welcome to Your Motherland

During my travels in East Africa I was fortunate enough to spend time in Addis Ababa, the thriving capital city of Ethiopia. The Rift Valley, which runs up the center of the nation is what many anthropologists believe to be the Cradle of Civilization. It is where Lucy (Austrapenthicus Afarensis), the earliest full humanoid skeleton, was found and is believed to be the area where we evolved into the upright (and upstanding!) people we are today. I spent four vacation days in Ethiopia en route to Rwanda in early May 2008.

Ethiopian Airlines is probably the best airline in Subsaharan Africa, and it is what I flew time and time again while in the continent. The airport in Addis is a modern, fully functional operation rivaling those in the West. Walking through the dark airport terminal after a 10 pm. arrival, I approached the customs officer with the same caution that I had in every other African airport. The man took my passport, looked up at me, and with a big smile said, "Welcome to Your Motherland". I was awestruck.

Growing up in America and around American culture, there is an underlying sense of difference. Whether it is race, culture, creed, social standing, or religion, Americans (and plenty of other nationalities) are very aware of these differences. But in Ethiopia (yes, I realize the generalization) I experienced something new. I was treated like I belonged there. During the four days of that particular vacation I made friends, went on car trips into the countryside, visited churches older than the Vatican (including an amazing Easter service in Axum), and all the while I stopped looking over my shoulder.

When I met locals, they offered to take me to restaurants, pizzerias, to the Palace where Haile Selassie kept his lions, to the National Museum, and to see the bones of Lucy. They didn't expect gratuity, as in most African cities. They were not "paid" friend/tour guides for the week, but real people. We discussed politics, women, the best places to buy a beer, everything. Except for the fact that they were (obviously) very poor, black, Orthodox Christian, whatever. It didn't matter.

They did not have to attend these "culture awareness" clinics that major companies sponsorfor their employees, and they didn't need an "I have a dream" speech. Its true, there are so many differences between the two, and Martin Luther King Jr. turned the direction of America out of a blinding darkness of fear. But nonetheless, in Ethiopia, it was just different. You didn't need to be forced or coerced from any point of view. Everyone was equal, everyone from the same place. Mother Africa.


Sunday, February 28, 2010

How To Introduce Oneself at a Party

I attended an amazing Adult Forum this morning before my regular Sunday 11 o'clock church service. Amazing because its had me thinking all day. A wonderful professor, whom I'll call Beverly asked the question: "How do you introduce yourself at a party?" Quickly, a friend of mine replied "my name is Kent, and I am a carpenter." He is in fact not a carpenter, but he clarified the point by adding "Americans always say their name and what they do". Americans are obsessed with wealth and how much money other people make. After learning ones profession, the American automatically figures out the next logical much the person makes. Another parishoner offered it might be easier to skip the name and job and just give people a number!

I know its uncomfortable to hear this simple insight into American pop culture. But is there other ways to introduce yourself more clearly? If you are a Christian do you way, "my name is Charles and I am a child of God and a forgiven sinner?" Well there is nothing wrong with it, but its funny that the latter question makes people more uncomfortable than some 26 year old blond Hollywood leach asking "I my name is Barbie, what kind of car do you drive?"

I prefer to allow people the benefit choosing how they wish to introduce themselves, but be careful when the next guy who comes up to you at a party with "hi I'm Jeremy! Want to see my new Rolls?" I recommend getting more punch instead.


Beverly and my fellow parishoners have inspired my blog today.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tentative Mission: Haiti

Through sources and friends of my co-author, (and originally a great idea of my father), I have begun to think about a trip to Haiti. One of the most common injuries during the earthquake were crush wounds delivered by falling debris, including mostly buildings. These do not leave simple fractures or simple breaks, but bones are crushed and, in many cases, irreparably. This of course leads to amputations.

After two years in French-speaking Africa, I can communicate pretty well. Well enough, I think, to talk to people about their lives, past and future. More importantly, I was a child amputee. Granted, I was not caught under a falling apartment building without warning, but I understand these things: poverty, pain and hopelessness. I am interested in spending time in Haiti for this reason. I can have the opportunity to show children that they have a future. In a poverty stricken and politically hopeless situation like that in Haiti, it is extremely important that the new generations learn from the mistakes of their elders. I am not blaming the government for the earthquake, but I do blame them for attempting to tax entire plane shipments of aid from the US and others.

With the formation of the Community of American and Caribbean States (sans United States) during the summit in Cancun, our neighbors in the southern hemisphere are becoming more united in the hopes of a stronger political and economic future. Haiti needs to get back in the politcal sphere. It is understandable that after close to 300,000 deaths, such a poor country needs time to recuperate, but I believe that any bit of help pushing hope will help to give a positive example future Haitian leaders.

The children of the world are everyone's first priority, or they at least should be. I want mine to include those I can help with my background: amputee and mediocre French speaker. I am still waiting to hear, but this would be a excellent chance to witness this tragedy and allow me to do something positive for children who deserve it. Let's wait and see!


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Diving into History

When I was growing up with a prosthetic leg, I could do almost everything. Ride a bike, climb mountains, play sports and swim... but I could never swim with the leg on. Swimming pools were not a problem, but the beach was a total nightmare. I would get sand in my prosthetic irritating the skin, and I needed assistance getting from my towel into the water. And boy, did I hate assistance. I hated depending on someone else to do simple things. It drives me crazy, honestly, to this day.

I had heard when I was younger about something called an aqualeg: a leg for the water. I asked around and came to the conclusion that, because it was unnecessary, that I would have to pay out of pocket. Obviously, at the going rate of $10,000-14,000 a leg, this was out of the question. And so life continued. I traveled the world and its beaches. From Bali to Africa, Europe to the Caribbean islands, West coast to East, I technically swam in 3 oceans (Pacific, Atlantic and Indian), 3 gulfs (Mexico, Aden and Persian), and 6 seas (Caribbean, North, Mediterranean, Tyrrhenian and Bali).

We have been planning our honeymoon, and we finally have decided on Turks & Caicos, which is supposedly not as rainy in the summer as other islands. We have looked at beautiful pictures on the net of the hotel, the island, and of course, the beaches. But this time, it will be different. While procrastinating on the internet, I came upon a prosthetic cover, which you slip on over, remove the air with a valve, and allows the wearer to shower, bath, walk in the water and (they claim) to swim! I couldn't believe it! I went to the order page.... $68!!!!! It hasn't really sunk in yet, but can you imagine how this makes me feel? Finally, I can take the last little piece of physical dependency and throw it out the window. On my honeymoon, I will walk out of the hotel onto the beach, run full strength, and dive into the water by myself. I am smiling uncontrollably as I write this. I will take a video of it for my blog followers. It will go down as a day I will never forget, especially because I will be doing it with my new bride at my side.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lunch with a friend

Today I had a lunch date with my future flower girl Esme Ashcroft, and her Nanny and my friend Sarah Bates. I made kid friendly Italian Quesadillas, and Esme enjoyed a sippy cup full of organic chocolate soy milk. When I was a kid, it would have been microwaved tortillas with melted Velveeta and a glass of Nestle Quick. My how times have changed. After lunch in front of "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs", Esme wandered the apartment searching for Dexter the Cat while Cassie the Dog tagged along. As I witnessed my nephew's birth last fall, plan my wedding for this summer and soon to move up a notch on my "30s belt", children are becoming more and more a part of my life. Perspectives have shifted. My parents are now my closest friends, cops 'n robbers is not as fun as it used to be, and the idea of going to a nightclub just makes me tired.

Is this how my parents felt before they got married? Tired, slower, wiser and quieter. That's what I am. That is, until I am with a kid... During my lunch date with Esme, we stood together on the window sill, we went and teased Dexter in the closet, we watched cartoons, drank chocolate milk, and laughed about anything and nothing. I felt like a kid. When I was home in Connecticut visiting my nephew James, I held him and stared at him for hours without getting bored or tired. And I talked his ear off.

Moving forward towards parenthood, it seems, is a chance to raise children in your image, with your values, appreciating life, and blah blah blah. What it really is, is a chance to become young again so that your children are not only your children, but your closest friends. Man, it's going to be fun! I'm going to name my son Thor! (Just kidding, baby...)


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Self Reflection

A couple of days ago, I was getting my haircut at a barber in downtown Philadelphia. Both the establishment and barber were new to me, so the standard questions came up. Where do you live? How long have you been in Philly? How on earth can you like the Mets? These I had heard before and had my standard quick responses ready. I also asked him of his life, and he told me his son, Joey, was a smart kid but confused about his future. He said Joey had decided to take a semester off from college and was living at home and working at a nightclub to his father's chagrin. His father had warned him that many kids taking off time from school often never went back. Joey's response was, "Dad, I just don't know what I want to do! I don't want to waste my time and your money." What a thoughtful kid.

The fact is, everyone makes decisions in life that seem brilliant at the time, but often come to a quick end and one moves on to other things. In a way, my entire professional career has followed this path. I worked hard in high school and went to Hotchkiss, one of the top prep schools in the country. Afterwards, I went to Kenyon spending vacations working internships in Chicago on foreign exchange trading desks. After graduation, I was offered a full time job from the same company and I headed there. I got tired of the work, and decided to go to the culinary school that I passed on my commute every day (lucky I rode the Ravenswood Line, huh?) After getting laid off a few months later, I used my growing skill to get into the professional kitchen which brought me to New York and then, eventually to Africa: an experience that has rearranged my life and put me on a new path. This path has me questioning my spiritual future and my faith. During my time in Africa, I also began communicating with my best friend from Hotchkiss whom I hadn't spoke to in years. So I moved to Philadelphia, and eventually asked her to be my wife.

I have heard, "why did you need to go to an expensive boarding school and a 4 year liberal arts college to become a chef? Wasn't that a big waste of time." Absolutely not. My life has led me through amazing situations, jobs, adventures and decisions. I regret not a single one. I am living the dream. Following what makes me happy and doing what I think is right. In fact, now I am in the process of writing a book with Judy Block, a friend of my mother's, but now I can say, a very close personal friend of mine too. You see? All of these decisions mean something.

So maybe Joey goes back to school and becomes a doctor. Maybe he doesn't and it leads him to something else. It sounds cliche, but following one's dreams is a very personal adventure, and one hardly ever understood fully by others. If you are following dreams, push on through. If you care for someone who is, give them a boost. As long as you move forward with positivity and love, your life will be the greatest adventure ever told.

Now let's see if a publisher agrees....


Monday, February 22, 2010

Check Your Fly

I love my fiancee for infinite reasons. One humble reason is that she knows me so well that she can see my small, quirky and often inane mistakes and, if necessary, will correct them...sometimes before they even happen. Some of you, readers, might think "that would drive me crazy! Like someone is breathing down my neck!" But for those of you who are in love, you don't even think in that direction. When you have truly found that life partner, these helpful hints become a blessing.

Now specifically, one of my big ones is the fly unzipped. Awful. I remember when I was a kid my grandfather Si Si (opposite of No No, or grandpa in Italian...he preferred Yes Yes!) constantly suffered this malady, but, although he tried several times, never quite found that companion to give him that advice just when he needed it. Ie, before going out in public! He was a famous author and professor and one of the most brilliant men I have known, and his head was always full of ideas and refelctions...probably not leaving much space to remember the simple things, like zipping up. I think a lot too. I am not a professor, but am writing a book... I like to think I have a lot going on upstairs, and that forgetting occasionally to button my fly might be the result as well!

Now that Lent has begun, I have tried to consider the man I am and what God would like me to concentrate on. Not biting fingers, going on a diet, or something deeper! I decided to try and cut cursing out of my daily usage. Growing up professionally in kitchens has left my vocabulary nothing short of piratical. But, considering Si Si and my own disposition, I realize I cannot just "remember" to stop swearing. In order to stop, I have to concentrate on being a better person, therefore more polite in public, and therefore not swearing. This, I believe, can apply for all things. If I wanted to diet, I would have to concentrate on being a better person, therefore respecting my health and body, and therefore dieting! Lent is not about giving something up, but about being better. Respecting this sorrowful time in the Church's calendar and remembering that we are not always great. That sometimes we have to look at ourselves and remember that we are free. And with freedom, as they say, comes responsibility (do they say that? Maybe they do.) Be responsible and be a better person. It's that simple. Check your fly.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Parallel Bars

Some people are amazed when they find out I have one leg. They say things like "oh my gosh, you can't even tell" and "I guess I only see you in pants!" These are, in fact, compliments. My gait (walking pattern) is something I have been practicing since they day I fit for my first prosthetic, and it is something I continue to do everyday. Its not that I am thinking about having a prosthetic all day long, but sometimes, if I don't pay attention, I can get lazy, start limping a bit, getting sloppy.

When I was younger, it was not so easy. Growth spurts and wear and tear had me fitting for new prosthetics regularly, and a new leg meant a new gait, and, essentially, learning to walk again. Don't get me wrong, I didn't care. I wasn't unhappy, depressed or angry. It was just the way things were. Leg was old, get a new one. Get a new one, learn to walk on it. Simple.

This lack of "caring" or getting emotionally involved was the best thing ever. A gift from my parents, actually. I know they worried about me, got me the best medical care possible, etc. But at the end of the day, I still had to tie my shoes, brush my teeth, and make my bed like my siblings. Nothing different. Therefore I grew up not feeling different, and to this day I don't feel different. Now I can imagine things going differently: everyone sympathizing, taking care of me, sitting around not doing chores, and feeling sorry for myself. No thanks. I have taken the gift of normalacy and will never let it go.

The truth is, I still need help. Maybe not physically, but this blog and my up and coming book has allowed me to settle many unanswered questions. Questions gone unanswered because, at the time, I refused to ask them. I didn't need them. I needed, at the time, to be normal. It is now that I have matured that I have the ability to look back at myself in order to understand things a little better.

This is a piece I wrote in high school when I first started looking into my past as an amputee. I am using several of these vignettes in my book


I try not to think about it. I am forced to take another step, so I lift the burdensome leg constructed of metals and plastics and place it some few inches before me. The robot-like machinery is scary, and I try not to look at it. Biting down to cope with the therapeutic pain, I begin to place my weight on it. The end of the stump, pressing down on the hard plastic sends a sharp pain up through me. My brain sends an unexpected excess of blood which overflows the amputated limb, making my knee ache to the point when it feels as if it were going to explode. Using the parallel bars I have come to depend on, I force myself forward. As soon as I possibly can, I set the prosthesis down and take in a deep breath as I hold back tears of accomplishment. Never before in my life has taking a step with two legs meant so much. The doctor eventually decides that we have had enough for one day, and releases my swollen limb from its bulky plastic leg.

As my life continues, and therapy becomes less frequent, I find replacement parallel bars. My family and friends make the greatest pairs. Whether my father holds a glass to my mouth when I am thirsty in bed, or my brother stands up for me when other kids laugh and make fun, they are my support. When I fall, all there is to catch me are bars.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Coal Miner Pasta

One of the best things about getting married is being engaged. A few weeks ago, friends threw us a big party, and last night, my friend Bob Brano organized with another engaged couple a dinner with friends at Melograno. It is a wonderful Italian BYO with a concentration on Tuscan and Roman dishes. I brought a couple of bottles of Ruffino, in the style of the place, and, in the style of Episcopalians, they were opened well before ordering. The open kitchen stands at the end of the room, and it seemed like our seating, at 6:30, was the earliest. Every table seated had their menu and the cooks stood at attention, staring out into the audience, awaiting the mass firing of orders that they knew would hit all at once.

After ordering everything got very quiet as all four waiters approached the kitchen pass with their order pads. Then, like an orchestra, you could hear burners flickering, pans clinking, and that beautiful sound of the first sizzle of saute. The kitchen erupted into full force, and the smells so well utilized in an open kitchen scenario filled the room with pure Italy.

To start I had the squid and shrimp salad, served warm with tomato, garlic and Tuscan white bean. Excellent flavor, and tart with a perfect amount of lemon. The carne that jumped out at me was coniglio ripieno, a roasted stuffed rabbit. Unfortunately, the tip had been a little burned. This could have been a cook's error on such a busy night, but rather the owner needed to replace the salamander (overhead broiler) which was heating the meats unevenly. I had an espresso with excellent crema (the foam created by the pressure of the espresso machine...not milk obviously). For dessert, a great trio of gelato: pumpkin, vanilla and cappuccino.

The only question I had was my friend's spaghetti alla carbonara. The homemade pasta was great, but the sauce salty, pork minimal and cheese grated too large. Maybe I am biased having grown up in Rome, the origin of the dish, and I happen to have a mother whose version is a masterpiece. All three of her sons have called her at least once out of college for the recipe attempting to swoon a young lady. My sister, who spent half her junior year studying in Rome, made a hundred dollar phone call back home for instructions on the prized dish. From Rome! That's how good it is.

It is called spaghetti alla carbonara for unknown reasons. Some believe that it is the coal miners sooty hands that leave black speckles (pepper) on the white plate. The first recorded recipe came right after WWII, because of the eggs and bacon eaten regularly by GIs during the occupation. The restaurant Carbonara in Rome has a fantastic recipe used since the war. Now, depending where you are in Italy, the cream can be added (Parma) or not used (Lazio). My mom used the cream because she is brilliant. I taught this recipe to 7 cooks in a Rwandan kitchen who couldn't believe their taste buds. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the recipe that will change your life.

Mama Lucy's Spaghetti alla carbonara
1.) 1 pound spaghetti
2.) 1/2 pound bacon or pancetta, small dice
3.) 1 clove garlic, minced
4.) 1/2 cup white wine
5.) 3 egg yolks
6.) 1 cup cream
7.) 1 cup parmegiano, finely grated
8.) salt and pepper to taste
9.) 1/4 bunch parsley, coarse chop

Boil 1. in salted water. In a medium saute pan, add 2. and cook till just brown. Add 3. and saute until translucent. Add 4., cook till almost glazed, and turn off fire. Should still be very moist. Whisk 5., 6. and 7. together. In a serving bowl, add cooked spaghetti with 1 Tablespoon of the cooking water. Toss. add the bacon pan with all juices and fat. Toss. Add cream mixture. Toss. Add 8. to perfection. Garnish with 9. and fresh ground black pepper.
Buon appetito.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

An Amputee Reawakening

In early January 2007, the prosthetic that I had been wearing through rough kitchen work three years in a row was finally breaking down. The padding and "skin" had fallen off leaving the terminatoresque metal pole for a calf and the ankle joint had long since broken and was dangling, dangerously close to falling off. My brother was visiting me in Djibouti for New Year's, so I bought the two of us some cheap tickets to Dubai for a long weekend. I would also use the opportunity to meet a contact I had made throught the American hospital there, to fit for a new prosthetic.

We had a great weekend, skiing indoors, going to fun restaurants and 4x4ing out in the Arabian desert. And I found a guy to build me a new leg. Because of time and cash constraints, I walked out of the clinic with a 10 year old fashioned leg, heavy and oversized...but new. It was, I assumed, the best I could ask for. It was strange feeling, but ok the day I got it. As we landed back in Djibouti that evening, I picked up my carry on bags and an intense pain filled my stump. After limping back home, I got to my room and took it off. The bottom of the stump felt as if it had been sandpapered, leaving a red and bloody mess. But, as stubborn as I can be with pain, I put it back on the next morning for my 12 hour shift in the kitchen.
I suffered on this painful prosthetic for the nex 15 months, pretending it wasn't as bad as it really was, not being able to run or even walk for more than a few thousand yards at a time.

I moved to Philadelphia in October 2008, and started working as a chef at Sofitel with the same prosthetic. I didn't tour the city, didn't want to go out, and became seriously depressed...something I stubbornly never discussed with loved ones, dreading attention and sympathy. Finally, after a new insurance plan, I fit for a new, high tech one in April of 2009. It was absolutely amazing. It felt like I was running on air with carbon graphite parts, and a high-intensity refelexive ankle joint. After getting home with it, I threw on a pair of shorts, and ran down the parkway Rocky style to the art museum and back. It felt like I had an angel on my shoulder. My spirit was lifted. for the first time, I went to see the liberty bell and began to take walks with my finacee in the evenings. I also started walking to church on Sundays, which has changed my life immensely over the past year.

Sometimes we allow things to progress to a self-destructive level, affecting not only ourselves but our faiths, people around us, and denying ourselves true opportunities for advancement, spritiually or whatever. I believe suffering helps one grow, but one needs to realize there is a light at the end. We learn incredible things about ourselves from the light, but even more on the path to reach it.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010


My blog was erased!!! I have to work now...
I am sorry everybody, and will have it out promptly tomorrow morning. I am very sorry.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Phil's Philly

As snow beats down on Philadelphia again today, setting records for most Nor Easters the city has seen, and inches of snow laid in a single season, the first thing that pops in my head are the homeless and infirmed. Snow storms like these are absolutely crippling. "Whiteout" conditions allow for poor visibility and very high, freezing winds. Enough to keep the hardest skinned indoors. That is, if you have an indoors. Phil is a gray bearded homeless man who attends church with me at St. Marks Episcopal on Locust. He, like me, sits in the same pew every week as we pray, sing, listen and bask in a glory higher than ourselves.

Phil does not like speaking to anyone. The only multiple words between us occured when he happened to buy a cup of coffee and a bagel at a Starbuck's I was training in. I went up to him, cleared his bagel wrappers from the table, and asked if I cold buy him a refill. "Ok." "Alright, here you are, Phil!" "Ok, thanks." He didn't look me in the eye, his facial expression unchanged. But those words were enough for me. Phil, I've been told, also sleeps in the church courtyard when the weather permits, and can therefore, most of the year, get his much needed rest amongst flowers, grass, a secure gate, and the knowledge that he is welcome.

Well, Philadelphia Februaries and whiteouts are not welcoming. I look outside the window and wonder where Phil is today? Where is he staying? Is he getting his cup of coffee? Is he welcomed wherever he is?

During my tenure with some painful prosthetics, days like this would just put me down. The pain I would suffer walking over poorly shoveled streets, clenching my stump when blindly stepping on a patch of ice, or detoured around hills the plows have left behind (and therefore adding to my dreaded and excruciating step-count), was, as I look back on it, was the absolute worst. But the solace I had was a warm home. A place I could remove my prosthetic, and sit and heal myself. Everyone needs a place to heal themselves.

I am sorry that Phil is homeless and that this weather really shuts down his daily routine. But I know there is a place that welcomes him; a place where he and I can sit together, albeit in different pews, and feel that same warmth together. A place where he and I can sit and heal ourselves. In a cold Northeastern city like this one, I am thankful for things like St. Marks, refillable coffee, secured gates and especially for my brother Phil for reminding me the true meaning of home.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Most Beautiful Place I've Been

During the Belgian occupation of Rwanda (part of Belgian Congo), Belgian doctors created templates of head and nose sizes on cardboard by which to measure, record and label the local population into two (really, three including the 2% Twa) ethnic groups. They marked "Tutsi" or "Hutu" on their national ID cards. This was the beginning of a nightmare. The "wind of destruction" in 1959 left 20-100 thousand Tutsi minority dead, and had the survivors accusing the Belgian commandos for sponsoring the Hutu murderers. A special commission from the U.N. called the Belgian actions "Nazism against the Tutsi people." After 1,000,000 deaths in 1994, including the thousands killed by the retaliating Rwandan Patriotic Front "inyenzi" (cockroaches) led by the now-President Paul Kagame, this beautiful nation has become one of ultimate sadness and despair.

Yet, today, hope grows through the telling of stories, the friendships made between ethnic groups, the growing universities and the influence of Western and Eastern people; not just Belgian colonialism, Belgian destruction, Belgian ignorance, and Belgian superiority. At the tenth anniversary of the genocide, Belgian Senator Alain Destexhe blamed General Romeo Dallaire (Canadian Commander of the UN mission in Rwanda during the genocide) for the death of ten Belgian soldiers (working for the UN). 10. 10 soldiers. In the midst of a 1 million citizen genocide, Dallaire should have concentrated on 10. Insane.

When I lived in Rwanda, I experienced friendship, troubled pasts, heart break, tears, love, caring, mountains, rivers, lush gardens, wonderful cities and people genuinely moving forward. Christiane Amanpour's "list" article in yesterday's NY Times Magazine read "19. Worst Place She's Been: Rwanda. In the space of 90 days, around one million people were killed with machetes and clubs. When I was in Rwanda in 1994, all you could see was darkness, even on a bright day."

For me, I can't wait to return to Rwanda and to see how far it has come. Where you will probably never see me is the home of the real problem, Brussels. I pray for Belgian charity and compassion and a push to try to soothe the nightmare wave they have left behind in a wake of greed.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

A luxurious evening in Philadelphia.

Last night Meredith and I went out for a night on the town to celebrate her birthday, and the obvious Valentine's ritual. Last year we had gone to Steven Starr's Tangerine (now closed and only used for private functions). The atmosphere of Tangerine was excellent, and the food amazing for the price point. It was dark and one of the walls beautifully lit by hundreds of small candles sitting in personal little stone cubbies. The tables were small, and the chairs short to the ground, but not so that my prosthetic, an old one at the time, did not feel comfortable. A fantastic evening.

Yesterday was mixed. I got out of work at 8:30 and rushed home to change and make it for our 9 pm reservation at Bar Lyonnais, the downstairs restaurant of Perrier's Le Bec Fin classic. We got their 3 minutes early, and stood there in front of the host's podium for five minutes, unwelcomed, and listened to an assistant manager tell the manager of three customer complaints, while the manager replied to him that "[he] didn't care about Mr. X. He can wait. He doesn't impress me!" Wow, as a guest, I really enjoyed that conversation. We were led downstairs, our coats taken and left to mingle. There are about 8 tables and a long beautiful bar. The lighting is perfect and Charlie Parker gently played. But it is Saturday night and the the place is packed!

It took another 15 minutes to get a drink order taken (time now is 9:20), 10 minutes to get the drink, and only then did they realize that our reservations were for downstairs. We sat down at 9:30. Besides this pointless half hour, at least we were hanging out in a nice place! For our first course, they had ran out of the Rabbit terrine, so I had the Mushroom Ravioli with Ivory sauce. This was five postage stamp ravioli stuffed with duxelle, centered sauteed lobster and chantrelle mushrooms, micro green garnish and doused in a creamy mushroom ("ivory") sauce. Good, and the dished tasted what it was supposed to taste like. A mushroom. I think there was an acid component missing...maybe a trinkle of sherry or white port in the cooking. This would have kept the flavor consistent from start to finish rather than what really happened: I couldn't really taste it by the last mouthful. Meredith had snails in a hazlenut butter served in a silver cassoulette, and was delicious. We had a bottle of '96 Bourdeaux, Chateau Bourg. At about $80, one of the cheapest on the menu.

I took a steak frites rare (ribeye) and bordelaise and Meredith had the cassoulet with rabbit sausage and duck confit. Cheese course was ok, but they were described as "Spanish blue, triple cream, smoked gouda, italian hard???, and goat cheese with ash." I am a chef, and would like to have known the real names. Oh well. Dessert was arguably the best part of the meal. We had a tasting of three cakes: the Mathilde (raspberry and key lime) was AMAZING! Then the Le Bec Fin chocolate cake and an apple tart were both excellent.

After dinner we headed to the Four Season's Swann Lounge for jazz, campari and dancing. Truly a romantic end to a wonderful night.
Hope everybody had a fantastic weekend!


Saturday, February 13, 2010

A lesson in patience, love and poop

I know everyone has seen Marley and Me and thought, "oh, my dogs were never like that when I was growing up! What dog would ever jump out of a moving car????" To all of you, I personally invite you into my cave where the beast Cassie lurks. Originally, my finacee Meredith bought the apartment in which we currently reside. It took some time (and a diamond) for me to really feel at home here as well. (JUST KIDDING, BABY!) Then, in June of '09, we found a cute, loving, 29 pound puppy at the dog shelter and brought her into the mix. Since that day, Meredith and I no longer have a home. We live in the presence of a monster. I'm talking poop, pee, vomit, bones, chewed up leather gloves, shoes and shampoo bottles. We have witnessed things being ingested and regurgitated (sometimes 2 weeks later) that we didn't think could fit in her mouth! On top of all of this, she is now 56 pounds, still energetic as a lightning storm, and we love her more and more every day. This may be her cave, but I kinda like it here. She kisses me all the time, she is my bodyguard, and becoming my other best friend. She also, in her favor, has eyes like a baby calf.

I know parents will tell me, "you haven't seen anything yet! Just wait till you have kids! They can actually talk!" Well, before we got the dog, the biggest warning came from my mother, who has raised 4 dogs and 4 kids in her tenure. "Charlie", she said, "you can't put a diaper on a dog..."


Friday, February 12, 2010

My first post

I am happy to finally be on a blog, and I hope this is a way to reach out to my friends all over the world in Canada, Italy, Djibouti, Rwanda, Tanzania and even far-away California!
I have been working hard on my book, THE ONE LEGGED CHEF, and Judy and I are getting a proposal ready for an agent. As much experience as she has, and as positive and optomistic as I am, it is still a strenuous process. I am so proud of what we have achieved and cannot wait to share it with my friends, family and the world. It is a story of an amputation, of cooking, of finding a new meaning of life in the heart of Africa, and about a journey forward. I will have a facebook and twitter page up soon that I will link with this blog. In the meantime, "favorite" my blog and stay tuned for adventures to come!!!