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.