Posts Tagged ‘Culinary Trends’

Butcher: Smart Casual in New Orleans

Posted 30 Nov 2010 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends, Full Service, Uncategorized

Sometimes I stumble upon a great restaurant without intending to do so. This was the case recently when I wound up on a bar stool in Butcher, Chef Donald Link’s sibling restaurant to Cochon in the warehouse district of New Orleans. Butcher was not my destination, I had originally set out to find the National World War II museum on Magazine Street. After a couple of wrong turns I ended up in the vicinity of the museum but three blocks further west than intended.  Looping back around the block I wound up in a maze of one-way streets woven through warehouses, condos, and restaurants that make up this side of the city. Within minutes I was back at the corner of Tchoupitoulas Street and Andrew Higgins Drive where I originally started feeling frustrated.  Andrew Higgins was the founder of Higgins Industries in New Orleans during the 1920’s. His Higgins Boats, light military landing craft designed to deliver troops directly from ship to shore, are widely acclaimed as one of the crucial innovations that helped the allies win World War II. That I  am on Andrew Higgins Drive indicated that I was in the right vicinity and that it would make more sense to park the car and walk over to the museum than continue wandering.  Thats when I found Butcher.

Fate would have it that I parked the car diagonally across the street from Chef Donald Link’s famous Cochon restaurant. Approaching on foot curious and hungry for lunch it was disappointingly clear due to inactivity that the main restaurant was closed. However, there was activity further down the block at small shop called Butcher.  Although reasonably well informed when it comes to restaurants, I hadn’t heard of Butcher prior to spotting it up the street. The customers seated at each of the two small tables on the sidewalk and group of people standing just outside the entrance are what caught my eye, the entrance being otherwise pretty ordinary.  

Once inside my perspective completely changed.  Although small in size, the seating area in the café was packed and there was a line five deep at the counter. Butcher was humming and the food being served looked excellent.  Customers at Butcher cue up just inside the entry and place their orders at a counter with two cash registers at the back end of the shop. The lines form up against two massive refrigerated deli cases filled with homemade charcuterie and fresh meats on the left side of the room.  A small hot kitchen is just on the other side of the cases.

I am in line now staring into the first deli case on the left which is packed with a selection of sausages, bacon,  long brown links of house made Andouille sausage, packages of Boudin Sausage (four links per pack), fresh pork loin, skirt steak, and ribeye, even a Jambalaya stuffed fresh chicken.  The line moves and I shift forward several feet where there’s another case with gorgeous house-made Pork Rillettes, Duck Rillettes, Duck Terrine, head cheese, Mortadella, Salami Cotto, and Duck Pastrami. I am in hog (and duck) heaven. The quality and craftsmanship on display in these cases is outstanding bordering on inspirational. A fan of all things Garde Manger, my mouth is beginning to water.

The line moves forward again and now I am next to the small butcher block countertop that serves as the pass for plates coming off the hot line. Studying the kitchen for a moment I am quickly distracted by a plate of braised duck on cornbread with poached eggs and mushroom gravy that comes up off the line. It is absolutely gorgeous and a perfect brunch item. A server passes by grabbing the poached eggs and another couple of dishes, forces his way through the line and runs them to a table. Starving, my attention shifts to the three large menu boards hanging above the cash registers and I start to narrow down my order. There are too many interesting items on the menu for me to choose just one so I order a Cubano sandwich, a duck pastrami slider, and a pancetta mac and cheese. The cashier hands me a number and I turn back toward the seating area to the right of the cue to find a place to sit. Seats vacate just as I start to move away from the cashier and I grab a bar stool up against the wall and to wait for my order.

It’s just around noon time on a Sunday morning and Butcher is packed with a mixed bag of late morning revelers, brunch seekers, and folks that strolled over from local residences. Based on the steady stream of food coming off the hot-line it’s clear that these people know how to eat; smoked country sausage with two eggs, house-made biscuit and Steens syrup,  fried chicken and biscuit with caramelized onion and cheddar cheese, BLT of house made bacon, arugula, tomato, and onion. It feels good to be in this restaurant.

The sun is shining brightly through the south-facing storefront and a handsome couple enters and takes a small table up front next to the window.  Glancing over at the couple as they settle in, I consider how warm, pleasant, and comfortable this place is compared to what it must have been like just after hurricane Katrina. Donald Link opened Cochon in 2006 after six months of delays due to the hurricane. In early 2009 Link added Bucher to his growing list of restaurants and the New York Times promptly dubbed it a “smart-casual” restaurant. I like the idea of a place being smart and casual.

Duck Pastrami Slider $6.00

My food arrives and I dig in. The mac and cheese is rich, creamy and full of savory richness from the pancetta. My Cubano is made with slow roasted pork loin (cochon du lait), smoked ham and cheese and grilled golden brown.  I splash a bit of Link’s sweet potato habanero sauce on one half of the sandwich and the sweet spicy flavor of the sauce adds a nice contrast. My favorite item however, is the Duck pastrami slider. A generous portion of sliced duck breast pastrami is grilled with cheese between two slices of bread until crispy and golden brown. By the time the plate gets to me, the cheese is just barely oozing out of the sandwich. It tastes delicious.

Pancetta Mac & Cheese $6.00

 I can only imagine the vision and perseverance required to withstand the challenges of Katrina and the BP oil spill in New Orleans. And yet the city lives on in places like Butcher due to people like Donald Link. Smart, casual, and sated…


Cochon Butcher

930 Tchoupitoulas St.

New Orleans, LA 70130


Inspiration and Innovation: One Chef’s View

Posted 20 Jul 2010 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

Tim Ryan, President of the Culinary Institute of America, starts his presentation by stating that 1946 is a seminal year in American history. He flashes several photos of events that occurred in 1946 across the screen to prove his point; the founding of McDonalds, the launch of Tide Detergent, the founding of the United Nations, the release of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart. He has selected 1946 as the inflection point in the development of modern dining and foodservice in the United States as part of his presentation today titled “Inspiration and Innovation.” Dr. Ryan, one of the brightest men in foodservice and the only master chef (ACF) on the planet with an earned doctoral degree (University of Pennsylvania), smiles subtly and also states that 1946 was the year that the CIA was founded on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. A wave of quiet laughter rolls through the room.

Dr. Ryan transitions in preparation for the topic of innovation, to a discussion about trends vs. fads. He asks the audience to describe the difference between a trend and a fad and one bright woman replies “a fad shoots up quickly in popularity only to drop just as quickly.” Dr. Ryan agrees and shows a slide with an animated trend line shooting up, then down rapidly over time (a fad) along with a trend line that rises and remains steady over the same period (a trend). Implied is the fact that trends are a product of innovation, remain intact, and produce change over time, and fads don’t. To make his point in the context of foodservice, he also compares the current black garlic fad to the sun dried Tomatoes fad of the 1980’s as an example (one that most of the forty-and-older crowd in the room can relate to) and people nod with agreement. Fermented black garlic isn’t going to change foodservice, perhaps the overriding Asian flavor trend in the country will.  

CIA Greystone

At this stage, Dr. Ryan shifts the audiences again by asking two questions: 1) where do you go to get great food, and 2) where do you get great ingredients.  This makes me (and the rest in the room) ponder the questions. My first though is that great food can be found at home, but that’s probably not the case for most people. Analyzing where great food has been served, according to public opinion, over the past 50 years is another way to answer this question and Dr. Ryan indulges us. After WWII in America, each decade had its own famous restaurant that defined fine dining (a place where great food could be found). He starts with what was arguably the most famous restaurant of the post war era, Le Pavilion in New York and famous chef Henri Soule. Jacques Pepin, Pierre Franey and others worked there and the restaurant maintained “best in America” status from the mid 1940’s to the mid 1960’s. Four weeks ago when I spent three hours on a plane with Jacques Pepin, he mentioned what it was like to work for Soule and how, at the time, chefs were no where near as important as they are today. The celebrities of the day were the front of the house maitre d’s, and many had regional if not national reputations. Ryan’s belief that La Pavilion was the best restaurant of its era was validated by Pepin just weeks earlier during our discussion.

Le Pavilion was replaced as “best in America” by Lutece in New York in the mid 1960’s and chef Andre Soltner maintained that position from the mid 1960’s until the 1990’s when he closed the restaurant. Ryan gives other examples including Café Des Artists but then he shows the dining counter at Momofuku in New York. He follows with a picture of the Kogi food truck in LA and notes that in recent months the New York Times has gushed over David Chang’s restaurants and that Kogi has met with tremendous success and critical acclaim. He reveals a startling change in what and where America dines and where good food can be found. His juxtaposition of the photos of Le Pavilion and Kogi Food truck reveal a major shift.  Kogi food truck is a source of great food, has found financial success and critical acclaim as well, but looks nothing like the grandiose surrounds that composed Le Pavilion and Lutece. Point made: good food can be found anywhere and in some of the most surprising places.

CIA Kitchen

Where do you get great ingredients? Dr. Ryan’s discussion didn’t quite answer this question the way it was stated. Instead, he answered the question “what are great ingredients?” by comparing what he referred to as the “holy trinity” of ingredients consisting of foie gras, truffles, and caviar to modern ingredients like pork belly, which David Chang  is known for, and pork shoulder, a Kogi food truck staple. Today, great ingredients are commodities (pork belly) instead of rarities (caviar, truffles, foie gras). This implies that demand is driving our perception of great ingredients downscale putting greater pressure on preparation, flavor and integrity instead of rarity.

This isn’t to say that old-school fine dining is dead. Fine dining has a great future if not a short term struggle due to the economy. Ryan showed a photo of great chefs including Bolud, Keller, Trotter, Ripert, Coliccio, Mina, and Achatz to name a few. By showing these photos, he proved that the number of great American chefs has grown exponentially since the time of Soule and brought tremendous renown to fine dining in the US. One glaring observation is that Ryan didn’t show one photo of a female chef during his presentation, not even a female CIA graduate of high regard like Melissa Kelly of Primo restaurant in Maine. With so many great female chefs in the U.S., I am surprised. Much can be gleaned from what is not said but I predict that the future of fine dining in America will include an increasing number of female chefs.

As Dr. Ryan wraps up his presentation he offers to answer questions from the audience. One attendee asks what he thinks of molecular gastronomy and Dr. Ryan, after a thorough response suggests that the molecular gastronomy movement is a fad that will eventually expire in the coming years. On this point I smile with slight disagreement. Molecular gastronomy will fade away eventually but the cork is out of the bottle with chefs when it comes to food science. Food science, as a culinary content area in training, will expand out of necessity and chefs will continue to develop expertise in science (the why of cooking) in addition to technique (the how of cooking).  Molecular gastronomy will forever be credited with catalyzing this trend. Our profession will continue to professionalize and become more technical.

That foodservice is such a remarkable industry where a professional can go from dish room to boardroom in the course of a decade remains a fact.  The profession has evolved to such an extent over the past two decades that the public’s esteem for chefs and culinary professionals is at its highest point ever. Today, chefs are entrepreneurs, celebrities, thought leaders, agents of social change among other things.  Dr. Ryan is an example of this.

There are very few people in culinary education and the foodservice industry as a whole that are smarter or better informed than Tim Ryan when it comes to food and cooking. The industry is lucky to have a guy like Dr. Ryan leading the Culinary Institute of America which, in my mind, is a national treasure and key cultural change agent in America. I agree with much of what he said though not everything and he still has me thinking…that’s a good thing.