Saturday, April 23, 2011


The Central Park I am currently sitting in is one completely different from the one I found myself in less than a week ago. I'm in the city visiting a friend from high school, and while he sits in meetings, I decided to take a step outside into the crisp, rainy morning. I walked twenty blocks from the times square hotel where he is staying to a little salumi shop on the upper west side called salumeria rosi. After admiring the display case chock full of beautiful imported pork products for several minutes, I dicided on a bit of parmacotto, a steamed parma ham, and a few slices of arista, a roast pork loin.

I walked a few blocks east to central park and wandered through the empty trails, until I found the perfect spot. Under a shelter overlooking a pond I sat myself and got ready to enjoy my snack. Few people would call a half pound of pork and a block of focaccia the size of my face a snack, but we've already established the fact that I'm not exactly normal.

The rain is coming down, there's a gentle breeze blowing errant drops against my face. The taller buildings are covered in a thick fog, making the city seem a little less intimidating and a little more like home. Cigar smoke from a gentleman on the bench across from me is strangely calming, and the only sounds distracting me from my salumi are the chirping of birds and the sound of rain gently falling. Although my generosity in giving a few small sparrows a nibble of focaccia has escaladed quickly into a "if you give a mouse a cookie" scenario, and bigger, more territorial birds are now stalking my bench, I am at peace.

It's moments like these when you take a little time to enjoy the little things, that life seems so much simpler and so much easier. Take a walk in the park, sit outside and enjoy a really good ham sandwich, you'll be amazed at how happy it can make you. Life is beautiful, folks... Just take a little time to enjoy it.


Monday, April 18, 2011


Today was one of those days where everything just seemed to click. And when at the beginning of the week I was stressed and unsure of what to do, a weekend with family and a conversation with one of the people I look up to most in the world made me realize what is important to me, and what I need to do to get where I want to go.

My Dad and sister flew out from the midwest on Friday night and took the train from Grand Central to Poughkeepsie. I met them there and took them to lunch at Rossi's deli. We all enjoyed massive sandwiches. Then we went back to campus, and I showed everyone around. We took a tour of the building and the kitchens. They got to meet my boss in the CE department. My sister had never set foot on the CIA campus, and my dad had never really experienced it on this kind of a scale. I'm glad they got to see a bit of what I go through on a daily basis, and meet a few of my friends. I took advantage of my Dad's willingness to take me shopping, and picked up some new clothes, along with Chef Kowalski's Charcuterie book.

Sunday came and we went to NYC to hang out before my family had to jumo on a plane and head back home. We got pork buns in Chinatown. My dad is a sucker for dim sum and I couldn't let him leave NY without trying some baked pork buns. He loved them, I loved them. We went to Central Park (I'd never been before) and basked in the sunshine. I used leftover porkbun to bait sparrows into attacking Anna. She has a weird bird phobia I'm sure is induced by the Alfred Hitchcock movie. Then came the special meal.

We got a late lunch at Bar Boulud. A mecca for charcuterie lovers such as myself, Bar Boulud has been on my go to list for months and until now, I had never made it. The charcuterie platter was a great way to start. It satisfied my need for pork, aspic, and old school french delicacies. There was a classic pate grandmere with pork and chicken liver. The creamy slightly livery spread was just what I expected. The next was a terrine of braised beef cheeks packed in aspic. So much gelatin, it was a beautiful terrine. The rabbit terrine stole the show. It was pulled rabbed layered with celery and carrots, (almost an "ode to bugs bunny" in a way) and packed in a crystal clear aspic. A beautiful saucisson sec was also on the platter, along with several slices of sweet, slightly smokey parisian ham.

I was slightly worried Anna would embarrass me. Her slight aversion to pork products in general makes me really question her realtion to me. She was set on a croque madame, a cheesy ham sandwich topped with a fried egg. Either she was going to do the unthinkable and ask for the sandwich without ham, or she was going to pick the ham off at the table, severing the sandwich's integrity entirely. But, to my amazement and hers, she ordered the sandwich with the ham, and ate damn near every bite, saying that she even liked the ham. She said that the sandwich was part of her dream meal, and that she would crave one every time she was hung over. Its shit like this that gets me. I love introducing people to new things, putting things people wouldn't normally eat and saying "trust me".

A few times in my life, not many, I have ordered something, expecting something great, and when it arrived and I took a bite it blew anything I had expected out of the water. Such was the Boudin Blanc at Bar Boulud. I ordered it expecting a solid, fatty, juicy pork sausage over simple, buttery mashed potatoes. Even when the dish was placed in front of me, A shallow bowl with a perfectly formed white sausage, lightly browned on one side, served on the most decadent, truffly potatoes with chives, and a pork jus, I expected something completely different. I put my knife to the sausage, expecting to need to use some force to break through the casing. To my surprise, my knife immediately slid through the entire sausage with ease. There was no casing, but the sausage was perfectly formed, and the meat was incredibly light. I took a first bite, the light, smooth, creamy pork sausage was like nothing I'd ever had. I took another bite and let the creamy forcemeat dissolve all over my palate, while the truffle in the potato brought such a deep earthiness. The perfect bite. I laughed for about a minute, with my mouth full. There was such incredible skill behind this sausage, absolute genius. To get the sausage to have that texture, to achieve that perfect shape, and to somehow manage to either produce it without a casing, to remove it without damaging the integrity of the sausage took a magnificently skilled, and wonderfully creative person... I thought as I laughed and smiled, "I want to be this good." I want to be able to make meat magical.

I said goodbye and headed back to Poughkeepsie. Later this evening I was contacted via facebook from one of the cooks at L'Etoile. My friend Ed. We started to catch up, and I found out that he'd been promoted to sous chef. We talked about future plans and such, and he offered up a HUGE bit of advice, an option I'd never thought of before, but it's right under my nose. I might be considering a butcher training program in the Hudson Valley at a Nationally renowned butcher shop nearby. An apprenticeship of sorts. It would be an incredible chance to learn and would open tons of doors.

I'm going to try and reciprocate and pull some CIA strings for Ed, maybe help repay all the hours he spent pulling me out of the weeds.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Butcher's Apprentice

First of all, I'd like to take a minute to Congratulate Tory Miller, Chef at L'Etoile in Madison, WI on being named a finalist for the James Beard Awards, Best Chef Midwest. For those of you who aren't aware, the beard awards are like the Academy Awards for Chefs and Foodies. It is one of the highest honors in the food world, and I am honored to have played even the smallest part in his nomination. Great guy, Great Chef, and the guy who took me in when no responsible Chef should have really hired me. I have scouted the competition, and this could just be me being biased, but I think he's got it in the bag. I'll be in NYC for the award ceremony, either in the audience, or on the street outside, L'* hat on. Cheering on the guy who gave me the job that changed my life, and the kitchen crew who taught me everything I know.

Looking back only a few weeks, it is amazing to see how drastically my plans for the next few years have changed, at the drop of a hat. A month ago, I had a plan, to work my ass off in the pits in NYC, for celebrity chefs and at nationally renowned restaurants, while hoping to get an opportunity to cut some meat every now and then, or crank out a few yards of sausage every so often. But why bullshit myself, I thought. I don't really like plating salads or prepping garde manger menus, basically things that I'd have to do, for a while, and do really freaking well in order to be moved to positions where I'd have an opportunity to do what I'd really like to do. So why don't I skip all that crap, life is short, I don't want to waste it doing something I don't enjoy, or take up time that could be spent mastering a craft.

I have always had these illusions of grandeur. These images of myself, 21 years old, in a white coat, being the head charcuterie cook at a Boulud restaurant. That's not realistic, though. It's hard to avoid those kind of thoughts when the school I attend breeds cockiness, and pumps out a lot of pretentious, audacious cooks who believe that they are the next big thing in food, even though they've only spent about 5 months in a professional kitchen. And to some extent, they have the right to feel that. For the amount of money we spend on our Education, we should be at the cutting edge of the industry, but the quality of the education does not match the price. The price matches the amount of money most parents, unfamiliar to the food world, are willing to pay to keep their kids in school a little longer, and have the security of that CIA degree, when realistically in today's world, an untrained, hard-working, line-savvy cook may even be more valuable than a little punk in chef whites who can write down recipes and spit back the mother sauces from memory. But the one thing the CIA does better than anyone else, is that it opens up the world to young cooks. Things I wouldn't have dreamed of doing, or even known to exist two years ago, are at the forefront of my to do list today. Without the CIA I would have never been to Madison, without the CIA I'd still be a snotty little wannabe Top Chef with a "Culinary Boner" T-Shirt, and most importantly I'd still be looking at my journey in entirely the wrong way. I'd be trying to follow a path some other famous guy had taken. I'd be trying to stage at the French Laundry, I'd be trying to be promoted to sous chef at a Michelin Restaurant, I'd most likely be picking parsley leaves for the next two and a half years, and personally, I'd be miserable.

I have a luxury that not a lot of people had even a few years before me. There's a movement going on right now, nationwide. Chef's are slowly turning back to the artisanal means of curing meats, butchering whole animals, and specializing in just that. People before me had to work in restaurants, and over time figure out that buying whole animals and butchering them in house, making sure that every last bit of the animal is utilized was actually financially and morally responsible. These chefs eventually left the restaurants entirely to start their own meat centric ventures, and to educate the masses on their newly rediscovered craft. And every craftsman needs an apprentice: some wide eyed, eager to learn, psycho-kid who desparately wants to spend the rest of his life elbow deep in pig, to pass on his trade to. That's where I come in. I want to learn from these pioneers of American Charcuterie, these lone butchers. I want to master everything they can teach me, and then, take some crazy little fuck into MY shop and teach him how to debone a pork loin while leaving the belly attached, so that he too can enjoy the magnificence that is porchetta.

So kids, that means that New York City is a no go for now. There are windows open in other parts of the country that just make 90 times more sense than NYC right now. I will always have a love affair with the food in New York, but it'll be a long distance relationship for now.

"But if not New York, where else is there to go?" you may be asking. I've thought about it, looked around, studied my options, and there are two major possibilities of where I may find myself in three months after I graduate: Chicago, close to my roots, in a familiar setting with awesome food and a shit ton of really cool stuff happening; or across the country, in the Napa Valley, which is scary as shit considering I've never been West of Texas, but hey, I'm not so bad at being the new kid. I've done it so well so many times before.

I apologize if my next post is a little while away. Restaurants are kicking my ass and I'm frantically trying to find a job.

Until then, take care.