Monday, January 24, 2011

No Words: The Blue Hill Experience

I find myself in a fit of speechlessness after my latest dining experience. There are few words that can accurately describe the meal I just enjoyed at Blue Hill, Stone Barns. But, the adrenaline and pure unfiltered inspiration I currently feel is compelling me to make an attempt to allow anyone who may read this to at least, even if on the most basic level, share in the breathtaking joy that has just been placed in my soul. For six and a half hours we sat around a crowded, round table, and for the majority of it, I sat with great friends, silently contemplating the wonders that had been placed in front of me, and patiently awaited the magic that was sure to come.

Those who follow my stuff will know that my good friend and roommate Jon is a cook at Blue Hill; a restaurant that is doing something that is for the most part entirely unique to Blue Hill. They own 90 percent of the farmland that produces products for the restaurant to use. It is a place where the faces of the people behind each ingredient shine through the plates. You arrive, sit down, and simply submit yourself to the will of the Chefs, and prepare yourself to pay homage to the ingredients presented to you.

Jon worked a lunch shift, then met up with us as we arrived. There were nine of us in total. Jon, Myself, and five other friends from school. Two of Jon's friends from home came up to meet us for our meal. At 5 15 we were seated. And immediately Jon was whisked away to the kitchen my the Maitre'D. He was gone for several moments. And while he was absent from the table I had images of Jon being asked to hand deliver a bottle of champagne to the table. I envisioned Jon being asked to suit up and personally oversee the production of our plates. I didn't now what to expect. He finally reemerged from the kitchen, and explained after I asked him what had happened. Apparently Dan Barber, Chef Owner, had taken the time to personally express to Jon that he, along with everyone in the kitchen, would be cooking their hearts out for our table. I knew at that moment, that the meal would be unlike anything I had ever experienced, or may ever experience again.

We ordered the 8 course tasting menu, which comes with several amuse bouches, or small bite courses, and a few desserts. First, we toasted Jon with a little champagne. Then the flood gates opened. First, we received a few vegetable fences to share. Baby vegetables, served in a light vinaigrette served on individual skewers all brought out in a large wooden block. It was a nice start. We were then brought individual serving cups of beet gazpacho (a cold beet soup) with horseradish sorbet. Our next course was the veggie chips. Cooked and dehydrated assortments of vegetables were delivered to the table. There were beet chips, potato chips with sage, parsnip chips, and smoked kale chips.

Next, the first mind-blowing dish arrived. I immediately recognized it when it was presented. Jon had told stories of this dish. A soft cooked egg yolk, wrapped in a gossamer thin sheet of lardo (pure salted slabs of pork fat). I grabbed a spoon, placed it in my mouth, and let the warm egg yolk, and slightly salty pork fat just melt on my palate. So rich, yet so delicate. I wanted more, but was surprisingly satisfied at the same time. While everyone else had placed their spoons back on the plate, I kept the spoon elevated between my thumb and forefinger, eyes closed, hoping that when I reopened them, another tiny egg yolk would appear on my spoon, ready to be enjoyed. I will dream of that one bite for years and years.

Next, a small "beet burger". A patty made of beets ground with spices, vinegar, and assorted pickles served on a tiny, warm sesame seed bun was a welcome contrast to the rich, luscious dish that I had just enjoyed. The dish that followed, a skewered piece of salsify, perfectly cooked, with a base wrapped in a thin slice of pancetta and coated in sesame seeds, was near perfect. The salsify was almost creamy as I nibbled down to the little nugget of pancetta and sesame on the bottom of the piece. When I finally reached the nugget of joy, my whole palate was gently warmed by the melting fat from the pancetta, and was followed by a light crunch from the sesame.

The next course might have been my favorite amuse course. Thin slices of sweet coppa (a salted and rolled pork product that I would describe as a cross between ham and salami) served on top of small rounds of polenta cake. The polenta cake was like no polenta I had ever had before. I was expecting the lumpy, gummy block of boiled cornmeal we all know so well, but it was a piece of the lightest, sweetest, most moist cornbread I'd ever had in my life. And the perfect piece of coppa on top, warmed slightly just to release some of the oils inside of the meat, went perfectly with it.

The next course was a thin layer of shingled out venison salami served on top of a crispy corn flatbread. To die for. The salami was again warmed to release some of the natural oils in the slice. As I ate it, some of those oils rubbed off onto my lips, leaving my licking my lips for several minutes in an attempt to get every last little taste of the salty, gamey, oily goodness.

The next course was one that I was honestly a little worried about. Venison liver pate with caramelized chocolate and sea salt. The guy sitting on my right, Zach, had had this before, but with duck liver. I thought the venison liver would be way too strong, and gamey. And as I popped the little rectangle in my mouth, I was hit hard by venison straight away, but the sweetness from the chocolate slowly coated my mouth and the finished taste on my palate was actually pleasant, chocolate with a slight lingering gaminess. Not bad at all.

The final amuse course, I knew right away. My friend Simon had advised me at all costs to do everything in my power to get the bone marrow. And as they cleared the last course and placed long, slender silver spoons in front of us, I began to cheekily smile, as I knew what was in store, but noone (except Jon) had any idea what those spoons were for. And when the bones were set in front of us, it was as if I had just opened up an awesome present on Christmas morning. On top of the marrow was a bit of roughly chopped parsley, and a sprinkling of toasted bread crumbs. Too good. The creamy, warm meat butter inside those bones is stuff legends are made of.

We were finally given silverware, which signaled the end of the amuse bouche courses. Now for the actual meal we were paying for. It was at this point where Jon informed me that he had spoken to the chef de cuisine earlier. He had asked Jon what we wanted to eat. Jon told him we'd eat anything, including offal (organ meat) and that there was one little boy at the table who would love it if we had a wee bit of pork... i.e. Myself. Our server even asked us if we were okay with a bit of organ meat, I smiled and rapidly nodded my head up and down.

The first course was the most forgettable course of the menu, but it was still delicious. It was a small rectangle of layers of pressed egg crepes, and in between each layer was different vegetables. Also on the plate there was a little espelette pepper and a small pool of sauce grabiche.

The next course was a 12 hour grilled onion. Each of us was presented with a half of an onion which had been grilled over an open flame for 12 hours. It was served with an array of condiments, beet tartar, pickled winter vegetables, olive tapenade, and something with pork in it. For obvious reasons, the last was my favorite.

We were then presented with thick slabs of heirloom grain brioche, gently toasted on one side. Accompanying the bread were large cups filled with warm, soft, made minutes ago ricotta cheese. I spread spoonful after spoonful of the stuff on top of my bread, sprinkled a little sea salt on top, and voila, some of the best shit I've ever put in my mouth. Warm, soft bread, enriched with lots of egg yolks and butter, slightly sweet. The cheese, warm and runny, slightly salty. This is where I stopped eating and exclaimed... holy shit. I desperately wanted my sister to be eating this dish with us. The girl who could live on bread and cheese alone. The girl who on Christmas morning was ecstatic when I melted a little butter and a few slabs of cheddar on a cheap grocery store baguette. This was bread and cheese like I'd never tasted. She'd have pissed her pants. I tried to savor it a little more, in her honor. Who knows, I learned a thing or two about baking brioche from the lady bakers in Madison. Maybe she'll get lucky next time I'm in town.

The next dish was brilliant. We were presented with shallow bowls, and at the bottom of the bowl was a long, thin slice of what looked like prosciutto, but the smoky aroma immediately gave it away as speck. On one end of the slice was a little bundle of sauerkraut, and on the other end was a little white pillow of something. I wasn't quite sure what. The server then explained the dish, Speck with poached cod cheek, sauerkraut, and sauce charcutier. For all of you who haven't had the privilege of trying fish cheeks, especially those of fish like halibut or cod, it is the most delicate, rich and wonderful bit of fish on the whole animal. The salty, smoky speck when mixed with the sweet cod cheek, and the tangy kraut was out of this world.
And it became obvious that the guys in the kitchen were looking for more and more ways to hit us with pork. I like that.

The next course was where it started to get real crazy, real quick. A soft poached egg was placed in front of us, in a small bowl. It was covered with a thin slice of some sort of meat, and served in a pool of a vibrant green sauce. We were informed that the egg was corvered in venison heart. A small roar of excitement was going on in my own head, so I completely missed what the sauce was. Jon later mentioned something along the lines of phitoplankton. It was completely unidentifiable to my palate, but completely delicious. I did the instinctive thing. I cracked the yolk with my spoon, allowing the yolk to run. I mixed it all up until the greed sauce was swirled with yellow yolk, and bits of red venison heart. They had the foresight to deliver a basket of warm, crusty country bread and butter to the table, so after a few spoonfuls of the stuff I began dipping hunks of bread in the bowl. So great.

Then came the dish I will have dreams about for the rest of my life. A brilliant pasta course that I would have paid 80 dollars alone for. The bowls were delivered and I immediately recognized the dish, not from ever having eaten it before, but because I had seen a similar dish many times in an episode of No Reservations. Eric Ripert has a dish that I have been obsessively craving for several years. A pillow of angel hair pasta served with an Uni Broth and caviar. This rendition of the dish I had tonight, was perfect. The server described to us that the thick spaghetti like noodles in front of us were actually made with "honey nut squash", a hybrid squash that the farm is currently developing. The squash is roasted, pureed, and hung in cheese cloth for three days to rid the mass of excess moisture. Then it is incorporated with flour and eggs to form a delectably chewy, slightly sweet pasta. The pasta is served with an uni broth. (Uni is sea urchin roe, and probably my favorite thing in the world aside from pork and cheese). Uni tastes of the deep ocean, it's slightly salty, slightly sweet. And somehow they got the broth to have a slight foam on the top, reminiscent of the ocean. The first bite was pure bliss. The sweet chewy pasta, with the rich salty broth was out of this world. I wanted to slurp op my first forkful, but then I remembered my setting, and the fact that I was wearing my nice suit, and decided against it. The only downside to the dish was the fact that they hadn't left any of the bread out for me to sop up the remainder of the broth in the bowl when the pasta was gone. I thought about licking the bowl clean, but again, decided that to be rather unwise.

The next dish was the kitchen's attempt to hit us with their best shot. I wanted pork, and that's what they gave me. Pork loin, perfectly cooked and sliced in a tower on the plate; slow roasted pork belly, crispy pork brain, tender pork snout, goose tongue, and root vegetables. I started with the loin, incredibly moist and flavorful. I then went on to the belly, a few layers of tender, slightly chewy lean pork kept me occupied as a thick layer of pure unctious pork fat slowly oozed out from between them. The pork brain, out of this world. Imagine a chicken mcnugget, but filled with pork, and every time you bite into it, a little bit of porky cream oozes out. The dish was truly a great cap to the savory courses, and it successfully satisfied my lust for pork.

I, being the man I am, decided to do the honor or ordering a cheese course. I told the server that I loved stinky cheese and she obliged. She delivered four cheeses. One looked rather familiar, and as she started explaining the cheeses, I didn't allow her to finish. "First we have Ban..." Those three letters confirmed my suspicions and I exclaimed, "BANDAGED CHEDDAR FROM BLEU MONT DAIRY IN WISCONSIN!" She smiled, impressed with my knowledge of the cheese. This cheese was my second favorite cheese while I was working at L'Etoile. I've met the people who make this cheese. I made it a point to put it on every chef's choice cheese plate that I put out. It's incredible, the ability food has to bring back the most obscure memories and emotions. And as I sunk into the first bite, I was immediately transported back to that rectangular table, on the second story of that old building on the capitol square in Madison. The first time I ate dinner at L'Etoile, the day before I started work there, having just met Tory for the first time. I had ordered a cheese plate. And the first cheese I tasted was bandaged cheddar.

The desserts were great, though I was so emotional and food drunk at this point that they are pretty foggy in my mind. The one thing that stands out was the fresh yeast ice cream with caramelized white chocolate. Ridiculously good.

At the end of the meal, we went back into the kitchen. It wasn't as big as I had expected. And the cooks were breaking down, scrubbing all the equipment, just like every kitchen in the world. It reminded me that when it all comes down to it, in the end Blue Hill is still just a restaurant. It's an extremely special restaurant, with some very special people, and extraordinary food. But they don't get ahead of themselves. It's still all about the food, all about letting the beautiful products of the farm, and the skill of the farmers and the cooks shine through each plate, whether it was the smallest simplest amuse or the most complex thought out course. I consider myself blessed for being able to experience it with the people I did.

Several times throughout the meal I had to stop, put down my fork, close my eyes, and think to myself. "This is not a dream, you're actually here. You actually just ate that."

Cheers to Jon for making this meal possible for all of us. Happy Birthday bud.

Mike Kolodzej.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

On Wisconsin

I'm not sure exactly what it was about these past few days, but I've been thinking a ton about Madison, L'Etoile, and Wisconsin as a whole. Everything I seem to think about these days somehow re minds me of or points me back to the dairyland. Maybe it's just because I miss everyone and the area, or it's my subconscious trying to get me back over there (even if its just a temporary visit.)

It all started a few weeks ago. I was happily enjoying ideas of trips to the city, and had just arrived back in New York when fellow Glutton, Kim Yu shared a link from one of my personal favorite food sites, Serious Eats. The link on my facebook simply read, "Our Favorite Burgers of 2010." I assumed that it was nothing more than an allusion to Kim and I's beloved Shack Stack. But when I clicked on the link I noticed a different beast. The second the page loaded, I got the chills. I knew that burger. That perfectly seared patty, with all the accoutrements. The fried egg, the tomato, the pickles, the Hook's cheddar. But first of all I noticed that English Muffin that I had made a considerable amount of times: the English Muffins that every day we made them while I was in the bakery, I made a habit of snagging a couple hot off the griddle and grabbed a little nugget of cheese or a bit of butter and horking them down before anyone noticed they were gone. It was the Pub Burger from graze, and the Head of Serious Eats' favorite burger of the year. I immediately wanted to teleport myself to the bar at Graze, and order one with a Miller High Life and an order of warm cookies and milk.

Then, after the Colts' loss to the Jets, I have converted to a Green Bay Packers' fan for the time being. I hate every other team in the playoffs, and I have spent so much time with Packers fans, and they are some of the least obnoxious NFL fans around. They are true fans. They've been through the shitty years, they've been through the great years, and regardless of the quality of the team at any given time, you can expect Lambeau Field to be packed, and the entire fan base will be hammered and ready to go in -20 degree weather. I like that. I watched the Packers put the hurt on the Falcons, and I really wished that I had been at the Avenue Bar on East Wash. I was there when the Badgers beat Ohio St, and witnessed some of the funniest, drunkest, oldest football fans I've ever come across. I wanted to yell at the big screens. I wanted fried cheese curds. I wanted to be back chilling with Craig the bartender.

Most recently, however, I picked up the February Issue of Food & Wine Magazine. I was pleasantly surprised to see "Ice Follies" and a description of an article all about Chef Tory from L'Etoile, and how he deals with the wicked Wisconsin winters. I flipped to the page and immediately saw all the familiar faces in a full page photo. They're all out on the ice on Lake Mendota running around playing Broom Hockey. They're pretty small, But I can immediately pick out Chef Tory, Talish the GM at Graze, Diane the co-owner, and right on the seam of the page they cut off most of a tall guy who I immediately picked out as Ryan, the sous chef, because of the giant nose that pokes out from the left centerfold of the magazine out onto the actual picture.

I still rock my L'* hat on a regular basis. (L'Etoile is French for "the star", therefore explaining the logo." People don't understand why I do. This article in a massive national food publication justifies my wearing of the hat. I put on the hat because I'm proud of the fact that I can honestly say that I was a part of the development of something I feel could be pretty freakin huge on the Midwest food scene. L'Etoile and Graze will both only get bigger. There's great food coming out of those kitchens, and great people behind the food, and there's ambition to do bigger and better things. I'm very happy for Tory and for the whole L'Etoile family. They all certainly deserve it, and I'm honored to have been a small part of the organization for such a small amount of time.

Just when I really missed Madison the most, my good friend Mary had some pretty damn great timing. Probably one of my favorite aspects of Madison is the drive in. I remember the first time I pulled up John Nolen Drive on my way to the Mad City last June. The road leads up between two lakes, and has a perfect view of the capitol building. And right across the street there sits L'Etoile. Mary was on her way back to Wisconsin for school, and as she was driving that particular stretch of road, she snapped a photo and sent it to me with a caption, "Madison Misses You!"
I miss it too.

I want to visit sometime, but not until after I graduate. Who knows when I'll be able to make it back. But I'll be there sooner or later. First order of business when I do, Graze Burger, Hot Pretzel with Widmers, and a cold beer.

Until then, keep it real


Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Snow Day... a Day for Pork

There was an electricity last night on campus. Around five, while I was still in class, students were notified that class for today, Wednesday, were cancelled in anticipation of a mighty blizzard. There were sly smiles. People, instead of bitching about piping homework, laughed and danced while I, being Mr. Fun-killer group leader, ordered people to mop, wash dishes, and overall stop dicking around. I heard whispers around the kitchen, "Yo were getting hammered tonight," I even heard a few, "I'm making a liquor store run during dinner break before the snow hits, who wants me to pick up." Needless to say I envisioned a night of half conscious, (possibly half-clothed) snow angels. I wasn't down to go crazy, so I stayed in Eli and Taylor's room (my home away from home) and watched episodes of 30 rock on netflix until around 2 30, when I decided to head outside, and trek through the blizzard, and hit the hay.

But as I walked down Chive Ct. (one of the ridiculously named streets on CIA's campus) I ran into a few inebriated friends who demanded I sled with them. It looked fun, and relatively safe, so I decided to oblige them. I climbed to the top of the surprisingly rocky hill (at this point I knew i was screwed, but the easiest way down was on my ass), and positioned myself on the shoddy, cheap plastic disc sled that was obviously built for a 60 pound girl (it was pink). My friends at the bottom of the steep, rocky slope shouted things like ,"Yo Mike, it aint bad! Just fuckin' go!" Let me take this time to mention that they had built a decent sized ramp out of snow at the bottom of the hill. I waited for a car to drive past on the street below, and awkwardly pushed off and immediately the sled rotated 90 degrees and I slid down the hill practically laying on my side. Then, I hit the ramp, which almost collapsed under my weight, but the speed I had collected on my thirty foot journey was enough to lift me a few feet in the air. I lost complete control of the sled and came crashing down to the ground. The geniuses who built the ramp positioned it so that the landing area wound up being the curb, which was buried under a few feet of snow collected from the first plows of the evening. My tailbone, sure enough, landed squarely on the curb and I yelped in pain, and turned over on my back, in the middle of the snow covered road for a few moments. Then Jared helped me up. I decided that I had had enough, and stumbled my way back to my room, clutching my ass and wincing the whole way.

I feel old as shit. I woke up feeling like I had been hit by a train. And after potentially breaking my toe playing football in the gym today, I realized that getting old sucks. A few months ago I got hit by a fucking car and was able to limp it off, and struggle through a few dinner services. But today, after throwing a pick and awkwardly falling/stubbing my toe I couldn't even walk. My body can't take beatings like it used to. I'm no longer superman. I need to kick my own ass to get me back into "shape". Nothing, in my opinion, does that quite like working into kitchens. Hours and hours of fast paced work, on your feet, in the heat, with the world weighing down on your shoulders, is honestly one of the most gratifying workouts imagineable. I would literally walk out of work at L'Etoile and feel like I could not be stopped. I felt like a super hero.

So, in order to regain my sense invincibility, I got a job. Tomorrow morning at 6:00 I start work in the continuing education classes where I'll be an apprentice for actual chef's completing their Pro Chef certification program. I'll be working in an actual kitchen again, then I'll be shifting immediately to class. I'll be in kitchens for 15 straight hours on days that I have work. I can't wait. And I'll be getting paid. Guess who's goin to the city this weekend!?

For a while I honestly considered staying at L'Etoile, and not returning to school. Tory told me one day, "Why the fuck would you go back? I know what your classes will be like. You'll bake, you'll learn front of the house, and you'll work in the shitty restaurants." Today was one of those days that I'm glad I came back. Sure the classes have been pointless thus far for the most part, but some of the people here are pretty freakin cool. And the stuff I do with them is stuff I know I wouldn't be able to do with my friends at home. A personal hero of mine opened one of the books that changed my life with the sentence, "Cook's rule." A few hours ago I really came to know what he meant.

Jon and I thawed the leftover uncooked pork shoulder today, and around 5 we set off for the kitchen in Taylor and Eli's lodge. We didn't have much. We had pork, salt, pepper, chicken stock, and I bought a coke from the vending machine. I took control of the pork. I seared it, and braised it in the oven for about four hours. We pulled it out, warmed up stolen baguette from our classes. It was one of those special moments. We had limited silverware, so I volunteered to use my hands. We sat around the large wooden surface with just hot juicy, falling-apart pork, the braising liquid, bread, and cholula. I reached in with my fingers to grab for the first hunk of pork. It singed my fingertips, and I yanked my hand back. I licked my burning fingers and the unctious pork grease that was on my fingers enticed me to carelessly dive in for more. We stood around the table, smiling, not saying a word. Hot pork fat dripped down my chin. My fingers went numb from the steaming pork. I managed a few groans and moans inbetween mouthfuls of salty, incredibly moist meat, dripping with cholula. And as I looked around I knew that every single person sitting around me was in a state of euphoria, just like me. It was special.

Notice the pork fat shining oh so brilliantly on the wooden table. AWESOME

Now, as I sit in my bed, listening to Alex talk to his girlfriend about kittens, I'm contemplating not showering for a while, just so the smell will follow me around forever.

Pure Bliss I tell you, pure bliss.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Baking for Dummies...

Baking and Pastry Skill Development is the class all Culinary students kind of dread, yet secretly are eager to start. First of all, its easy as shit. And the breads that we do are pretty similar to the breads I made at L'Etoile during my stint with the wonderful Lady Bakers. In my class I'm on a team of two. My partner, Eli (who I was able to choose myself because I was recently elected group leader... but more on this later) worked for several months on the pastry station at Commander's Palace in New Orleans, one of the most famous restaurants in the country. Our daily production usually consists of a few easy baking tasks, then we goof around and try and stay out of trouble for the next four hours of class while other groups are trying to do the same.

I mentioned earlier that I was elected Group Leader of my class, which means that I have to wear a little gold pin on my Chef Coat, and that I am the first one in the kitchen every day, and the last one to leave. I'm the link between the students and the Chef. I'm responsible for making sure the whole group is on the same page, and for making sure that my classmates are working in the appropriate manner. Basically, I'm the sous chef of my class.

I got into a relatively decent rhythm for the past week. Here's how a day in my life would have looked. I wake up at ten, give or take a few hours. I do my piping homework. Piping homework, is probably going to be the death of me. We have to make little cones out of parchment paper and fill them with chocolate gel and practice drawing designs, and writing "Happy Birthday So and So" on a piece of cardboard. I thought about inviting my baker friends over to do it for me, because honestly, if I ever come to a point in my career where I have to write "Happy Birthday Somebody" on a cake, I'll know that somewhere along the line I screwed up big time and I should probably start working on a new career in something a little less degrading. But giving the bakers the satisfaction that I couldn't do something that they could was not an option, so I do it by myself. My chocolate cursive is just becoming legible. After I finish that, I sit and watch TV and try and drone out the sound of my roommate Jon, and friend Alex, playing World of Warcraft on their lap tops next to each other. I go to lunch, then go to the CIA storeroom around 1 20 or so. The CIA storeroom is where all the food comes into the school. Each classroom places orders daily and before class you have to pick them up. I, being the Group Leader, am responsible for this most days. So I inventory a 40 or so items on the requisition, then with the help of a few others, cart it off to the bakeshop. I set up stations after I put away the food order. Because I know if I dont, some people in my group will work an entire day without sanitizer buckets or paper towels.

Then class starts. Chef Eglinsky runs through everyone's daily production. So far, I've made Creme Caramel, French Bread, Cranberry Walnut Bread, Apple Pie (Mary you can rest in peace, it really sucked in comparison to your apple pie), and Tiramisu. After Eli and I finish, and other groups are still working, I basically wander around the kitchen and inspect for cleanliness, ask people if they need help, and I do a lot of dishes. My classmates, save a select few, can't seem to get it through their heads that I am not their mommy. Yet I keep wiping their asses for them, and keep doing their dishes. I stop the class every now and then, telling them to thank me for cleaning up after them and to not let it happen again. A "Yes Chef" or "Heard" is spouted out by everyone in class, then the same thing happens a half hour later. I'm about to unleash my secret weapon on them. Most of them haven't had the pleasure of meeting Justin Groom... Dish Nazi.

After Dinner Break, we come back finish cleaning up and have our tastings. We taste all the products produced in class and discuss them. Everyone in the class has a stick up their asses because of these tastings. If one person says something bad about another person's dish, the owner of that dish will retaliate with a negative comment about that person;s creation. It's a viscious cycle. "This ice cream has way too much salt in it." "Oh yeah, well your ice cream looks like puke with blood in it." It actually gets pretty entertaining. After the tastings, I am responsible for making sure the kitchen is spotless, and only when I say so can people leave the kitchen.

I leave, change clothes, hit the gym for a late night game of pick up basketball. Around ten thirty of eleven, I head to Eli's room and hang out there until 1 or 2, come back to my room and eventually fall asleep around 4 or 4 30. And start it all over again.

The Colts game sucked. I don't wanna talk about it. It still hurts. United beat Liverpool. Always feels good.

Next weekend I'm thinking about going to the city. I want to either hit up Ma Peche (Dave Chang's new French/Vietnamese place) or Marea (Michael White's Italian Seafood Restaurant). It just depends on who I can get to go with me, or where I can get a reservation. But it really comes down to whether I'm craving burgundy snails with pork sausage and garlic from Ma Peche, or Uni lardo crostini, chicken oysters with poached egg and mushrooms, and fusilli wich octopus and bone marrow all from Marea. It will be a game time decision. Until then, take it easy.


Also, I came across this today... please enjoy. It's the cutest thing ever.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Final Break

The holiday has come and gone. I hope that everyone had a great Christmas and a very happy New Year. I can honestly say that I had a great break. I'm ready to get back to New York, and start my baking and pastry class tomorrow. But as I tried to slip into a sleep that never really came last night, and as I pulled out of my driveway early this morning, I was overcome with a strange feeling of uncertainty. It wasn't necessarily a bad feeling, or a great one, it was just something I'm not really used to.

You see, this was my last official break as a student, ever. I have six months of straight school, no breaks, then I graduate. And hopefully, I'll be able to dive straight back in to the work force, and transition smoothly and quickly from Hyde Park to New York City. For the first time in twenty years, I am not sure when I'll be back home in Indiana. Could be a matter of months, could be a year or more. I'm not even sure if I can call Indiana home any more. Indianapolis will always be my hometown, but do I really live there anymore? I think the answer is no.

Christmas was great. Anna slept on my bottom bunk like usual on Christmas Eve. I woke up to presents and breakfast meats, and I even made a special breakfast for my sister, who lives on bread and cheese. Among some of the gifts I received were train tickets to NYC from Poughkeepsie, assorted Man United and Colts apparel, and enough money for a three Michelin Star dinner at the restaurant of my choosing. (That's what I'm planning to spend it on at least.) I took Anna's hint that she doesn't like my natural scent, as she bought me some nice cologne. I slaved away over a hot stove for a few hours and turned out some pretty decent food. I roasted off a couple of chickens (the white meat was ridiculously moist), made some gruyere potato gratin, fried brussel sprouts with mushrooms and bacon lardons, and for my picky sister I made Lobster Mac 'n' Cheese. Everything was a hit. And I succesfully corrupted my little nephew into an obsession with nerf guns. I'd say the day was a success. Not to mention one of my dad's gifts was a round trip ticket to NYC. Which means he'll be visiting me soon. I plan on blowing his mind food wise. Should be fun.

It was great to see all my old High School friends again. It feels weird to be saying that. It seemed like we hadn't really missed a beat either. It had been over a year since I had seen some of them, but that didn't change things. I'm still better than everyone at FIFA. We had our poker night like usual. The guys gave me shit for starting a "gay little blog thing". New Years Eve came and went and I learned that the people who couldn't handle their alcohol in High School still can't handle it after a year and a half of college.

I'm at the airport. Ready to say goodbye to Indianapolis for the time being. But I'll always be a Hoosier at heart. I watched the Reggie Miller 30 for 30 last night for the third or fourth time. The overriding theme of it is the contrast between the Indiana "hicks" versus the New York "city slickers". The idea that the small town dreamers can't make it in the concrete jungle is presented on multiple occasions. Then Reggie single handedly turns mayhem on Madison Square Garden on multiple occasions, and emphatically disproves any of those ideas. As I look towards my future, I want to take a page out of Reggie Miller's book. I want to show up in New York, work my ass off, make some friends, probably make a few enemies, fuck shit up on a fairly grand scale, leave my mark on that city, and make sure that New York remembers the name, Mike Kolodzej. Oh, and I'll rain three pointers on the folks at the Culinary Student Rec Center like its my job... but I already do that any way.

I'll miss Indy, but nonetheless I find comfort in the fact that later today I'll be swept with a new emotion. I'll see the statue of liberty from the air plane, it won't quite hit me then. I'll step off the plane at La Guardia, I'll still have that feeling of uncertainty. But as I step onto the cold pavement from the airport shuttle to Grand Central, and the crisp cold air hits my face, and the sound of a thousand taxis honking floods my ears, and a few well dressed young women walk past me, any doubts I may have about leaving home will be wiped away by a overwhelming sense of giddiness. I'm back in the city that I'm madly in love with, and God Damn it, I'm starving.