Posts Tagged ‘Sustainability’

Sitka & Spruce: Seattle

Posted 11 Feb 2012 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

I make one last stop on my Seattle tour at chef Matthew Dillon‘s Sitka and Spruce back in the Melrose Marketplace. It’s rainy and cold again and each fat drop falling from the sky cuts across my face. Stomping the water and weather off my feet, I head inside past the specialty butcher, the wine shop and bar, and flower stand. Tucked into the rear corner is Sitka and Spruce; separated from the rest of the market by a partition composed of large windows and white framing. It’s warm and bright in here. Although inside the market, I am outside the restaurant looking in through the large eight over eight windows while I wait for the doors to open. Staring at the blur of cooks prepping and planning on the other side has me captivated with memories of my line-cook days in a prior life. Lost in thought, it is forever in a second before the double red doors slide open and I return to the moment and enter.

Inside and alone, I sit at the long hewn wooden counter of single stools running along the wall under a bank of exterior windows. Suddenly it feels overcast in here, with dim street lights casting a glow into the room, painted in neutral colors. Staring out through the glass while I wait for a menu, I notice that the window is old and probably original to the building. The glass is dusty and slightly fogged over and in places caulking has come undone. The rest of the restaurant space is mostly renovated, efficiently designed, otherwise spotless but with a planned historical texture and character. With high ceilings made of exposed timber and a large open kitchen with fireplace, it is clear that someone chose to respect and enhance this space rather than blow it to pieces. Overcast is the wrong word, the restaurant is subdued, the intensity retro but not fake, the vibe and the people smart, environmentally green, respectful and happy in that “we have a great restaurant and we know it, work our asses off but never take it for granted” sort of way.

The menu arrives, she takes a minute to talk with me and figure me out “try the fresh anchovies from Oregon” she says remaining suspicious because I have a camera. “Do you like liver mousse?” Always I say especially when properly prepared and yours is served with sherried chanterelle mushrooms. Liver, chanterelles and sherry are flavors matched in heaven. Send one of those out too. “We have a small plate of buckwheat crepes with salted ham and endive, the endive is caramelized and wilted over the crepe.” Yes please. She sees that I am fair game “how about the local halibut with sauerkraut?” How about it I offer.

Sometimes I don’t even need to see the food to know that a restaurant is good. This is that kind of place. She could have sold me the entire menu if not for a limited budget and appetite, curious as I am. The fresh anchovies arrive first, five gorgeous fillets glistening with olive oil and fresh lemon. Medium thick slices of pickled green chili pepper as round as a pencil and a sprig of parsley provide shades of green to compliment the silvery white fish. These aren’t salted and cured anchovies they are beautifully fresh, light and sweet fillets with perfect seasoning and spice; I could eat a dozen of them.

Marinated Anchovies from the Oregon Coast with Pickled Chili Pepper

A few more sips of sauvignon blanc and the liver mousse arrives. A thin coating of mousse tops lightly toasted slices of French bread and tart little huckleberries.  Sautéed chanterelles are layered on a sherry cream reduction with fresh herbs including dill and tarragon. These flavors are meant to go together and I sop up the mushrooms and sauce with the French bread slices.

 Cooked in Sherry with Huckleberries and Liver Mousse

Now I am overly distracted by the food and, when the crepes come, start to eat the dish before taking a photo. Catching myself, I pause, click a quick shot and dig in. The endive is caramelized just enough to wilt and sweeten, the bitterness having cooked out. There’s more fat in this dish providing richness and depth. The portion is perfect. Then the halibut with sauerkraut and white carrots arrives. When in Seattle I usually order Sablefish with halibut a close second. Tonight Sablefish wasn’t on the menu so I didn’t think twice about the halibut. Seared then steamed gently, it arrives perfectly cooked albeit lacking contrast and color other than the golden brown top of the fish. However, the dish is a study of elegant simplicity pared with a level of craftsmanship worthy of praise. Each course arrives in perfect 12 minute intervals. In less than an hour I am sated and comfortably so.

Buckwheat Crepes with Salted Ham, Onion, and Endives

I will return to Sitka and Spruce, it is one of those restaurants that has an identity, simplicity, confidence, and level of execution that comforts and pleases in a manner similar to Avec in Chicago and No. 9 Park in Boston. More important, Sitka and Spruce is a reflection of Seattle itself in style and character and this too makes me want to come back to the city and to this place.

Seared and Steamed Pacific Halibut with White Carrots and Sauerkraut

Sitka & Spruce

531 Melrose Ave.  Suite 6, Seattle, WA 98122

(206) 324-0662

The Home Port ~ Martha’s Vineyard

Posted 16 Aug 2011 — by S.E.
Category Full Service, Travel, Warms My Heart

You would think that sustainable seafood is a focus on Martha’s Vineyard but it isn’t, at least not to the extent it should be. Some restaurants, more than a few in fact, offer a sustainable choice or two but there are few if any as dedicated to sustainable seafood as The Home Port restaurant in the sleepy little fishing village of Menemsha located on the lower west side of this triangle shaped island. Don’t get me wrong, there are good restaurants on the island and some of them offer a sustainable seafood choice or two but none have integrated sustainable seafood into the operation in a manner that even comes close to The Home Port.

The Home Port Restaurant Back Deck, Menemsha, MA

The Home Port is an institution. In business since 1930, it’s a beloved landmark and family dining destination. Situated just on the eastern side of Menemsha harbor The Home Port faces south west offering deck side diners a view of one of the nicest sunsets on the east coast. My first visit here was twenty years ago and nothing about the restaurant has changed….except the menu.

Dining Room with Blue Glasses

I arrive in a group of four and a smiling college-age server leads us over to a table along the far wall along a bank of windows. She takes a quick beverage order (The Home Port is BYOB) and departs for a few seconds while we settle in. The sun is hanging low over the horizon painting the interior of the restaurant in light orange and yellow. Tables are hard pine and maple as are the walls and trim that compliment solid wooden chairs with just the right patina for a restaurant this old. The flatware and china are simple and you won’t find table linens or cloth napkins here.  This is the type of place where, when eating a lobster, you wear a goofy plastic bib printed with a step-by-step set of instructions for how to eat it (you know the one). No pretension here. Dozens of fish, well preserved by a taxidermist, line an entire wooden wall.  It’s such a wonderful, bright, warm and inviting dining room and I love being here.

Customers Under Taxidermied Fish

For years the Mayhew family (a Vineyard institution in and of themselves) ran The Home Port. More recently, for 32 years until 2009 to be precise, Will Holtham owned and operated the restaurant. Holtham, author of the just released Home Port Cookbook, decided to sell in 2009 and the Town of Chilmark proposed purchasing it for cool $2,000,000 so they could demolish it in the name of progress…a parking lot and public bathrooms. Enter a counter offer from Bob and Sara Nixon, owners of the Menesha and Beach Plum Inns. After a quick vote by the residents of the Town of Chilmark, the Nixon’s saved The Home Port and Holtham was on his way into retirement, cash, recipes and cookbook deal in hand.

Oysters on the Back Deck

After becoming involved with the local Fisherman’s Association Sara announced on May 27th, 2011 that The Home Port would only serve locally caught fish. By locally caught, she means fish that are caught in the coastal waters surrounding the island and landed on local docks.  I love it (go Sarah)! No one on the island is as deeply committed to sustainable seafood as Sarah and Bob and they changed their business model to prove it. This is why I am here.

Server With Specials

My server is back and she presents the table with a medium sized chalk board that lists all the specials for the evening. The Cherry Stones and Little Necks are from Menemsha (delicious), the Oysters are from Katama (exquisite), the Fluke, Bluefish and Squid are from Menemsha too. I order the bluefish with creamed corn just to give it a shot. To my delight, the fish is absolutely delicious and perfectly cooked. Bluefish is great but is has to be perfectly fresh, the fish has no shelf life. It’s best when seared or broiled hot with the skin intact, scales removed, since the flesh cooks quickly and falls apart easily. My fish had the skin intact, was crispy on the top and moist in the middle. Most people think of bluefish as a trash fish but when served correctly like this, it’s wonderful. I also have a taste of the local fluke and, although presented
simply (almost too simply) it too is perfectly cooked and well seasoned if not a bit ugly.

Blue Fish Looking at You

As I said before, The Home Port serves simple food. You won’t find the latest culinary trend or the most outrageous presentations in the world but you will find good and, better yet, local fish served properly cooked and well seasoned. Arrive just before sunset, sit on the back deck, bring your own booze and order one of the local sustainable seafood items. Enjoy!

Sautéed Fluke with Lemon Brown Butter, Kale and Local
Tomatoes, Boiled Potatoes

Broiled Bluefish with Parsley Butter and Local Creamed Corn

Menemsha Sunset

The Home Port Restaurant

512 North Road

Menemsha, MA 02252

(508) 645-2679

La Laiterie: Three Reasons to Dine at a Restaurant Operated by a Rising Star

Posted 19 Jul 2011 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Food Alert Trends

  

La Laiterie Bistro Dining Room

One of my favorite ways to experience great food is by visiting a restaurant owned by a chef whose reputation is on the rise. Matt Jennings, owner of La Laiterie and Farmstead in Providence, Rhode Island is such a chef. Jennings exhibits the three traits common among up-and-coming culinary talent; he is relentless when it comes to quality, extremely innovative, and present rather than absent on most nights at his restaurant (although he is known for hiring talent behind the stove to handle daily operations). You might think these traits are common at all great restaurants but this isn’t always the case.

Chef Matt Jennings and Chef Daniel Bolud outside the South Portico of the White House

When I first met Matt Jennings he was preparing food for a private catered event in Providence. His sleeve of tattoos reminded me of Jesse James, his size of Fernand Point. And like Point in his day, Jennings’ commitment to quality is relentless. The cheeses and salumi he served were impeccably sourced and he knew every detail about each one. He radiated emotion when speaking about certain items and explained how he was experimenting with raising his own Berkshire hogs to assure a level of consistency and quality for house-made salumi and sausage at La Laiterie. Jennings showed the same passion and commitment when I caught up with him on the south lawn of the Whitehouse in the fall of 2010. As I listened to him last October I imagined Jennings’ mind moving a mile-a-minute as he contemplates new sources and resources for food and ingredients in keeping with his mantra of honest, seasonal, handmade food. A chef who is on the rise never relaxes when it comes to ingredients and quality nor does he or she fail to produce food that is unique and innovative. Such a commitment is enduring.

 

Roasted Beet Salad, Sorrel, Pickled Beet Puree, Marcona Almonds

Innovation, in the broadest sense, means to modify something for the better; to renew or change. Jennings is one of the first chefs in Southern New England to innovate procurement of ingredients and to focus on sustainability. He and his wife and fellow chef Kate make sustainably sourced ingredients and quality a focal point at La Laiterie and have since it opened in 2006. As the restaurant has matured, the menu has evolved along with the artisan level ingredients used to produce each item. Although artisan sourcing and sustainability are not uncommon today, these practices were uncommon back in 2006 when Kate and Matt got their start. Their innovative sourcing practices have influenced a wide pool of culinary peers, this is something I really like. Another reason I like Jennings  is that he is consistently present.

 

Chestnut Trofie, Pumpkin Puree, Tallegio, Juniper, Crispy Garlic

Over the past year I have dined at more than two dozen nationally ranked restaurants where the executive chef was absent due to other commitments. What could be more important than supervising his or her own cuisine? Although I completely understand the expanded demands placed on a chef once the full attention of the public and the press is drawn it’s still disappointing to dine in a well know restaurant when the chef is absent.  Whenever I visit La Laiterie or Farmstead in Providence, Matt Jennings is there.

 

Arctic Char, Smoked Ham Broth, Autumn Vegetables, Chicarones, Manchego Cream, Shellfish

Jennings is representative of one of my favorite culinary communities, the growing number of rising star chefs in the U.S. If you visit a rising star it is likely you will discover each of the three reasons I list to be true. One way to find rising talent that is just emerging onto the national scene is to keep track of the chefs that populate the annual list of James Beard Award nominees published each March. Jennings earned a nomination this past March (2011) and I suspect he will eventually win a regional James Beard Award. Knowing Jennings, such an award will not change his approach to culinary arts, but there is always a risk.

Farmstead Counter

Three Reasons to Dine at a Restaurant Operated by a Rising Star Chef:

1)     A rising star chef relentlessly pursues quality because s/he burns with the desire to become a member of the community of varsity chefs in the U.S. as a matter of pride, professionalism, and accomplishment

2)     A rising star chef is innovative as a means for differentiating his/her self and as a strategy to uniquely satisfy the
ever-changing cravings of a public that is obsessed with food

3)     A rising star chef is consistently present rather than absent out of financial necessity and personal concern and commitment

 

La Laiterie Bistro

 184-188 Wayland Avenue

Providence, RI 02906

401-274-7177

Menton Restaurant, Boston

Posted 01 Jun 2011 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

I love the city of Boston for many reasons. It’s a large American city with a great skyline, tremendous history (by American standards), an active cultural scene, great architecture, the best academic institutions in the world, and fantastic people. The city also has the highest proportion of female celebrity chefs in the country and that in itself is worth celebrating.  Barbara Lynch is one of those chefs.

Lynch is incredibly smart. Just over a year ago she chose to locate Menton, her latest fine dining outpost, in the rising Fort Point neighborhood of Boston. Menton occupies the first and lower floors of the FP3 building, an old brick mill building that has undergone a thoughtful adaptive reuse under the watchful eye of Hacin + Associates architectural design and Berkeley Investments. Berkeley started the project during the dark depths of the recession and recruited Lynch as an anchor tenant. Talk about doubling down when times are tough! I love this kind of visionary thinking.

Menton is within walking distance to the Seaport district, Boston Convention center and surrounding hotels and other major new construction projects coming out of the ground in that part of the city. The location is easy to find although parking is tough and valet is a must. The restaurant entrance is completely understated with nothing but a small brass sign bolted to the side of the building marking its presence. I initially failed to notice the restaurant but spied the valet in front just as I was passing. Traffic on this side of the city is light so I spun around and handed over my keys. Just 15 minutes from Logan via the Ted Williams tunnel, I strategize timing for a quick multicourse menu prior to making a run to the airport.

The color palette inside the entrance and sitting area is awash with gray upholstered furniture, rich brown paneling, mustard colored throw pillows and tall table lamps. Entering the dining room, the mood and design shifts to a stark and contemporary yet softer feel.  Each place is set with a service plate, napkin, knife, fork, water and wine glass and candle. Tablecloths are seamless and pressed and servers are formal. The building and environment have a central European chic with a truly local feel as does the food.

And the food starts to arrive. Each dish is carefully prepared but not overly fussy. Flavors are bold and well executed and portion sizes are balance and precise. Foods are locally sourced and perfectly cooked. Seasonal flairs flourish on each plate and I find the culinary aesthetic balanced and well controlled. The food is delicious.

 

Amuse of Tarragon Puree, Porchetta, Crispy Mandarin Orange, Red Beets

Green and White Asparagus, Araucana Egg, Morel, Fines Herbes

Salmon with Spring Peas, Ramps, Caviar

Casco Bay Codfish with Stuffed Squash Blossom

Giannone Farm Poulet, Porcini, Fava Leaf, Spaetzle

 

MENTON

354 Congress Street
Boston, MA 02210-1295
(617) 737-0099

American Mussel Harvesters, North Kingstown, Rhode Island

Posted 05 May 2011 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, In Case You Missed It!, Travel, Uncategorized

When Bill Silkes approaches me he is smiling and, as a shellfish lover he has much to smile about. Silkes is president of American Mussel Harvesters, Inc., and he’s a fish guy. More specifically, Bill is a shellfish guy whose office window view is the pristine waters of Allen Harbor just off Davisville, Rhode Island. American Mussel Harvesters, Inc., is one of the largest producers of mussels in North America and a major distributor of oysters and clams as well. In addition to farming mussels, oysters, and clams, Silke’s company also markets and distributes nearly three dozen varieties of oysters from the east and west coast of the United States and shellfish from several provinces in Canada. The company is headed toward total sales of over 10,000,000 pounds of shellfish.

A dozen workers in orange colored rubber overalls are working to pack pallets of oysters and mussels as we tour the cold and damp packing floor. Although the room is chilly, the sweet, clean aroma of fresh shellfish gently touches my nose. I too am a shellfish lover (and a fish guy at heart) and the smell of such pristine, high-quality shellfish is more than enticing; it’s intoxicating. Slikes shows me the massive hydraulic pumps that drive the fresh seawater circulating in the thousand pound totes full of shellfish stacked at one end of the floor. Although American Mussel doesn’t grow every product it sells, it does prep and purge a good portion of its inventory on any given day.

As the oysters and clams sit inside these massive totes full of circulating salt water they filter and purge while gaining strength. Silkes has designed the system so that circulating water passes through a massive ultra-violet sanitizing process assuring that the sterile salt water arriving out the pipe at the top of the system is absolutely free of bacteria. In turn, the shellfish in the totes become happy little buggers, plumping up to peak freshness while purging sand, grit, and trace bacteria prior to being packed and shipped as “restaurant ready” product. The process is brilliant and a perfect example of the food-safety solutions so needed in the global food supply-chain.

Now we are sitting in Silkes conference room with a big pile of fresh shellfish (Raspberry Point Oysters from Canada and Quonset Point Oysters from Rhode Island, mussels and little-neck clams from Narragansett Bay, )

Raspberry Point Oysters, Canada

These meaty, briny, cold water oysters are farmed in the shallows off the rocky coast of Prince Edward Island. It’s not unusual for icebergs broken free from the arctic to float buy in sight of where these oysters are grown and the cold water (along with other factors that Silkes can share) are why it takes 5-7 years for Raspberry Points to grow to market size. They have a beautiful briny flavor with an above-average  saltiness, good density and texture, and an outstanding clean, sweet aftertaste.

Quonset Point Oysters, Rhode Island

The Quonset’s are a bit saltier than the Raspberry Points and have a meatier texture and composition. They grow faster than their cousins from Canada and take just 2-3 years to reach market size. According to Silkes the plankton levels in the bay are high right now and this impacts the flavor and texture of the Quonsets. I guess we came at the right time because the taste  is perfect with an almost crunchy texture they are so fresh.

Little Neck Clams, Narragansett Bay Rhode Island

If you are a clam lover, there is nothing like a perfect Narragensett Bay little neck clam that is ice cold and just shucked. The ones I sampled were perfectly pale orange in color, plump, healthy and fresh with a mild saltiness, great clam flavor and minimal iodine aftertaste (which I like by the way). These clams are what put the “Ocean” in Ocean State.

Restaurant Ready Whitewater Mussels, Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island

For years I have been spiking the sauces I serve over fish with reduced mussel broth. There is nothing nicer than the rich, deep, seafood flavor of mussel broth when the salt level in the mussels used to make the broth is mild. These Whitewater Mussels were mild in salt, sweet and, like the other products I sampled, distinguished by their ultra-fresh state and perfect flavor. Makes you want to pull this photo off the screen and eat it doesn’t it!

American Mussel Harvesters, Inc.

Salt Water Farms, LLc.

165 Tidal Drive

North Kingstown, Rhode Island 02852

 

USA

MIT Food + Agriculture Collaborative: Local Haddock Brandade Tart with MSC Certified Red Crab

Posted 01 Apr 2011 — by S.E.
Category Uncategorized, Warms My Heart

 

Haddock Brandade Tart with Red Crab, Pea Sprouts, Lemon Rind, Salmon Roe, and Pickled Red Onion Brunoise

I had the pleasure of demonstrating this item at the MIT Food + Agriculture Collaborative today. As a professional chef, my concern for food integrity and sustainability is deeply rooted as is the case with most chefs worth their salt. Of the many food issues associated with sustainability, sustainable seafood is my passion and I had sustainable seafood in mind when I created this item (a riff on an item orignally created by Charlie Trotter).

The recovery of haddock due to expanded use of the Eliminator net, a net that reduces by-catch when harvesting haddock off shore, is an amazing story. Fisherman and net designers in association with the Rhode Island Sea Grant Institute figured out that haddock, while being caught, tend to swim up toward the surface while codfish in similar circumstances swim down. The Eliminator is a net with not bottom and a tightly designed top. Haddock get caught in the top, cod and flounder escape through the bottom. The numbers are staggering. Cod by-catch is reduced by 81% and flounder by-catch by 95%. What a success story; one that chefs and others need to celebrate. Now professional chefs have a much more sustainable source of haddock in the Gulf of Maine than ever and cod stocks are actually recovering.  

Let’s also celebrate the sustainable fishery that Red Crab has become in the northeast as certified by the Marine Stewardship council (MSC). The folks at the Atlantic Red Crab company spent the time and resources to properly certify though the MSC their sustainable approach to harvesting red crab, a species that can live up to 15 years at depths of up to 2000 feet. Slow growing deep water species like red crab require and deserve careful handling and harevsting and MSC has validated that this is the case (at least for now).

The recipe below, supplemented by line-caught Norwegian salt cod, is a celebration of sustainable seafood done right! The recipe follows:

  

Local Haddock Brandade Tart with MSC Certified Red Crab and Leek Emulsion

 Ingredients: Brandade

1          Cup     Salt Cod (line caught, Norwegian)

6          Ea        A.P. Potato (PEI, Organic, peeled, cooked*)

2          Ea        Eggs

¼         Cup     Shallots (roasted whole, pureed)

¼         Cup     EV Olive Oil

Ingredients: Haddock Puree

1          Lb        Haddock, Gulf of Maine (MSC Certified)

2          Ea        Eggs

¼         Cup     Heavy Cream (steeped in Red Crab shells, strained)

1          Cup     Red Crab (MSC Certified, cooked)

¼         Cup     Dill, Fresh Chopped

Salt & Pepper

 *Cut 3 whole potatoes into 1/8 inch slices and reserve to line the tart. Use trim pieces in brandade.

Method: Brandade

Soak the salt cod for 24 hours, changing the water every 4-6 hours. Place the salt cod in a sauce pan and cover with cold water. Simmer for 10 minutes until fish is tender. Lightly simmer fish, don’t boil. While warm, place the cod in a small mixer fitted with a paddle and slowly beat it on medium speed until it starts to fluff. Add the warm A.P. Potato bit by bit until fully incorporated. Add eggs, shallots, olive oil. The mixture should be light and fluffy while holding together when scooped. If mixture is too thin, add a bit more potato. Add roasted shallots. Drizzle in the olive oil and mix until smooth.

Method: Haddock Puree

Cut the haddock into 2 inch chunks and chill. Place the haddock into a food processor and pulse, add the eggs, heavy cream and puree until smooth. Keep chilled.

Tart Dough:

1          C         All Purpose Flour

½         C         Whole Wheat Flour

1          t           Kosher Salt

1          C         Butter, cold, diced

1/3       C         Water

Place the flour, salt and butter in a bowl. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until fine in texture. Add the ice water and mix until combined. Form dough into a ball and wrap tightly. Refrigerate for one hour.

For the Tart:

Dust a ½ sheet pan with oil and flour and line pan with 1/8 inch of tart dough. Place an even layer of sliced cooked potatoes on the tart dough. Fill in gaps in potatoes with a small amount of haddock puree. Top the potatoes with a ½ inch layer of brandade. Add a layer of haddock puree. Seal with a layer of dough, glaze with egg yolk and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until done. Cool, slice and serve.

Oil & Flour a 1/2 Sheet Pan (cookie sheet)

Line Pan with Whole Wheat Dough

 

 

Add a layer of sliced cooked potatoes

Fill in teh gaps between the potatoes with Crab and Haddock puree. Smooth it out with a spatula.

Spread a 1/2 inch layer of brandade onto the potatoes, be sure it is even.

Add the final layer of red crab and haddock puree. Be sure to spread it evenly.

Add the final layer of dough.

Oven ready tart. This is a rustic dish, it doesn’t haev to be perfect. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, cool and serve.

Grilled Island Creek Oysters

Posted 05 Sep 2010 — by S.E.
Category At Home

Next Saturday one of the best blowout oyster events in the country will take place just forty five minutes south of Boston in Duxbury Massachusetts. The fifth annual Island Creek Oyster Festival attracts up to 3000 people to Duxbury beach where the folks from Island Creek Oysters serve an estimated 30,000 oysters over a seven hour stretch from 3 to 11 p.m. The festival is a fundraiser for the Island Creek Foundation, a foundation that supports multiple causes and serves as proof that my favorite oysters are raised by people with giving hearts. If you like Oysters, there’s no other place to be.

Inspired by the approaching festivities, I took some time today to purchase a couple dozen of Island Creek’s best as a warm up for next week. These oysters are delicious. They are healthy and plump, briny and sweet. Like many cold water oysters, they have complex, crisp flavors that inspire me when I work with them.

Motivated, I scan the garden and fridge to see what’s on hand for a quick snack. There are two beautiful organic cucumbers from Grateful Farms, three bursting ripe tomatoes from my garden, a handful of just-picked shallots, a fresh red onion (onions are great this time of year), and my out-of-control patch of fresh herbs out back. Just to be sure I am on the right track I step out onto my pack patio, shuck three oysters and slurp them down refreshing my memory of how good these oysters are. It’s cool outside and I decide the weather is perfect for grilled oysters.

Grilled oysters are fantastic. When grilling oysters the trick is to cook them flat side up over a blazing hot preheated grill just until they start to pop open. Once they begin to open up, remove them from the grill and shuck off the top shell while taking care not to spill the juice. Just to be safe, I like to keep a large plate under my hands to catch any juice that may spill. If done right the oysters should be medium rare when served.

 

With eight medium rare grilled oysters topped with mignonette ready, I sit down with an ice cold Boston Larger and a napkin. Halfway through, the warm-up act takes effect and I start to wonder what next weekend will be like. How much effort does it take to shuck 30,000 oysters? Will there really be 3000 people there? These oysters are so good that I am sure both estimates will prove correct.

 Grilled Island Creek Oysters with Tomato Water Mignonette

 8 ea      Island Creek Oysters, scrubbed clean with a soft brush,

 Grill over high heat, remove top shell.

 For the tomato water mignonette

 ½         tsp        minced shallots

1          tsp        Extra virgin olive oil

½         tsp        Salt

½         tsp        Red Onion, minced

¼         C         Cucumber, peeled, seeded, fine dice

½         tsp        Italian Parsley, chopped fine

            pinch    Black pepper, fresh ground

3          tbsp      Tomato Water*

 Combine all ingredients. Taste, adjust salt and pepper. Spoon ½ teaspoon of the mignonette onto each hot oyster and serve.

* For the tomato water, cut a medium size tomato into 8-10 pieces and toss with 1 tsp of salt. Place in a small bowl and allow the tomato to rest for 20-30 minutes until the salt extracts 2-3 ounces of juice.

Four Ingredients

Posted 26 Aug 2010 — by S.E.
Category At Home

  

It is rare that I talk about foods that I prepare myself on this blog. However, tonight I ate a tomato that inspired me. While poking around outside my back door I discovered and harvested a beautiful ripe red heirloom tomato from the small patch of vegetables I tend. I was drawn to it by the fragrant aroma radiating from the group of tomato plants on this side of the garden. The smell and taste of fresh home-grown tomatoes are two of a handful of sensory experiences that define summer for me.

As summer begins its gradual transition toward shorter days and the autumnal equinox moves closer, I stop taking my fresh tomato supply for granted. By the time our first frost arrives I often have several dozen green tomatoes that have no hope of ripening on the vine. These are tomatoes with the best of intentions that will never reach their prime. Thoughts about the fading days of late August and the end of summer flash through my head as I carefully pluck the tomato from its stem with a heightened level of appreciation.

The lucky specimen I select is a plump, globe shaped Ceylon tomato although this Ceylon doesn’t look like the others I have grown in the past. It’s perfect round shape and lack of pronounced ribs cause me to wonder if this plant was an actual Ceylon or some other varietal. However, when I rinse, cut, and taste the tomato it is perfectly sweet with slight acid and good bite much like a typical Ceylon. Perhaps this is the real thing.

 

Across from my tomatoes, there’s an out-of-control group of broad leaf Genovese basil plants. They are full and healthy with perfect shaped shiny leaves and a deep and sweet aroma. I snip off a handful of leaves and bring them in to my sink for a rinse. After gently patting them dry, I roll and roughly chiffonade the leaves and toss them in the bowl with the tomatoes, a rough teaspoon of sea salt, and several grinds of fresh black pepper.

Four ingredients, that’s it. Four ingredients that when combined define summer and, after one bite, provide an unrivaled flavor experience.

Oil Spill Could be Disaster for Chefs

Posted 03 May 2010 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

French Quarter

Watching the news about the oil spill inching its way closer to the delicate New Orleans coast leaves me worried about the various food and tourism related industries that are life support to Louisiana. The impact this spill could have on the marine and terrestrial life so woven into the culture of the state is unprecedented. That Louisiana faces another potential environmental blow after hurricane Katrina is a tragedy.

I was in New Orleans last September for a wedding held at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen. Paul Prudhomme doesn’t often close his restaurant for a wedding but he was excited to do so for a mutual friend who has a deep love for the city. Ironically, Jean Michel Cousteau was one of the guests and I spent some time speaking with him and Chef Paul about the recovery of the city of New Orleans and the Louisiana coast after hurricane Katrina. Both Prudhomme and Cousteau were hopeful about the future of the coastline and Paul stated that things were slowly returning to a level of reasonable stability I the city. However, Prudhomme was pensive about the toll Katrina took on members of the working culinary community in New Orleans.

Prudhomme & Cousteau

Chef Paul made clear that in addition to the physical and environmental damage, an unexpected consequence of the Katrina disaster was the loss of a large number of foodservice employees who had been with him for years if not decades. When the hurricane hit, many of Paul’s employees were evacuated to other parts of the country (Houston, Atlanta, Denver etc) and they never returned. The loss of institutional history and overall culinary capacity at K-Paul’s (as well as other restaurants) was nearly crippling. These weren’t the celebrity chefs or owners that we often read about. These were the working class cooks, utility personnel and servers that make up the backbone of the culinary community both here and throughout the U.S. Paul had retained a reasonable percentage of his crew, enough to start over with, but it took him months to get food and service back to where it was prior to Katrina due to the lost personnel and shortage of supply. Paul’s business was directly connected to the whims of both human and Mother Nature in a way that I had never thought about. And now this oil spill!

Various news agencies are projecting that the impact the oil will have on the seafood industry will be devastating. It is estimated that twenty percent of U.S. seafood originates from the Gulf of Mexico. Further, there are reports of potential risks associated with the consumption of seafood contaminated by the oil that will surely have an impact on consumer purchasing patterns. Restaurant sales throughout the gulf coast could be as threatened as the shoreline ecosystems themselves. What a disaster. I wonder what Jean Michel Cousteau must be thinking, or Paul for that matter.

Cousteau’s mission in life, as shared with me during our conversation (and on his website) is to educate people throughout the world to act responsibly for the protection of our global ocean while also documenting the connection between humanity and nature. Prudhomme echoed Cousteau’s view while exhibiting a deep sense of personal history and connectivity with all of Louisiana. It’s a shame that Cousteau has to have this sort of life mission but the current crisis proves his point. My thoughts and prayers are once again with the Gulf Coast communities that are threatened. Hopefully this time they will be spared.

Community Supported Agriculture: Be Green to Create Some Green

Posted 02 Mar 2010 — by S.E.
Category At Home

Reading Kimberly Weisul’s article titled Why More Are Buying Into ‘Buy Local’  from the March 1, 2010 issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek reminded me that it’s that time of year when we send checks into our local community supported agriculture partners. My local yokel is Grateful Farm which has been in operation and organic since 1983 (way before organic was mainstream). Of the many things I look forward to in late winter, signing up for Grateful Farms greenbucks program is near the top of my feel-good list. Grateful Farm, like many CSA operations, offers slight discounts (more produce for your money) to those of us that are early to renew and, in turn they receive the start up capital required to launch a successful season.

Weisul makes a strong argument in her article that the benefits of buying local are good for the local economy. Although this may seem self evident, the benefits appear to be even greater than I originally thought based on Weisul’s story. Weisul presents several graphs by Stanford Kay that illustrate the number of jobs created and dollars generated within the local economy when buyers shift from chains to local stores and sources (like Grateful Farm). Of $100 spent, the amount that remains in the local economy is more than three times greater at a locally owned store compared to a national or global chain. Buying local may prove to be green environmentally while also generating some green economically. So keep buying local and send a check to your local farm today.