Ferry Market Sights 4.5.14

Beautiful Saturday market at the Ferry Building yesterday with herbs, blossoms and flowers prominently displayed at almost every stand.
Bright green snow peas are the perfect raw snack right now. I was surprised at how juicy and sweet they already are and ate a handful on my walk through the busy market. Last week’s rain left us little to no strawberries, which made way for other interesting finds, like Shetland Sheep Fleece from Tierra Vegetables in Santa Rosa.
So exciting to see what the Spring season brings to us each week!







La Primavera at GourmetFest 2014

Whenever other Chefs ask me what it was like to work at elBulli, I always say the same thing: 2008 was the single most inspiring year of my life. Living and working in Spain’s Costa Brava in such a state of constant creativity changed me, it was so different than the French kitchens I had been trained in. It was freedom and regiment and camaraderie. If I could go back in time and work alongside Alberto, Mateu and my fellow pasteleros, for just one more day, I absolutely would do anything to make that happen. It was the most memorable and challenging year of my life. Even six years later, I constantly draw inspiration from my season of Natura; I was lucky enough to see every single dish included in Alberto’s amazing book and even given the opportunity to contribute personally to the finished work. I frequently use the techniques that I learned at elBulli in the pastry kitchen today.

Branches and Blossoms

Branches and Blossoms

Over the weekend, Alen and I were invited to attend first annual Relais & Châteaux Gourmet Fest in Carmel-by-the-Sea as guest Pastry Chefs. We were absolutely thrilled to be included in the line-up with so many Chefs that we admire. Grand Chefs Justin Cogley and Ron Mendoza of Aubergine were incredibly welcoming and made us feel right at home. It was an incredible privilege working alongside them as well as Barbara Lynch, Patrick O’Connell, Derek Poirier and so many other Relais & Châteaux Chefs and Winemakers from around the world.

La Primavera Plate Up

Evan crushing La Primavera Plate Up

The flora and fauna of coastal Carmel-by-the-Sea reminded me so much of my time in Spain, it just seemed right to create a dessert reminiscent of our time at elBulli to commemorate the Spring season. Our dish was called La Primavera and for us it was a continuation of Alberto Adria’s Paisaje de Otoño, or Autumn Landscape. We focused our composition around Dirty Girl Farm’s first strawberries of the season, variations of Sicilian pistachios, Fior di Latte and the Quince rooftop garden’s own herbs and flowers. Our vision for the plate was a beautiful and organic representation of the Spring, complete with budding and blossoming branches that are coming back to life all around us this time of year.

La Primavera

La Primavera

We would like to thank everyone at Relais & Châteaux GourmetFest 2014 for hosting us, especially Aubergine Chefs Justin, Ron and Aaron Koseba, and of course, Michael and Lindsay Tusk, our amazing Chocolatier and Sous Chef, Mindy Beebe, the indefatigable Chef Tim Caspare, Evan Ingram and the entire Quince team for all of their support this weekend! It was such a celebration of craftsmanship and creativity, and so much fun to be a part of.


Channelling Valentino, Spring 2014 Menu Inspiration

Many of my cooks have witnessed it: me, mid-stride, hauling ass through the bustling kitchen with a million and one things to do on my list and stopping suddenly, as abruptly as if I’ve run into an invisible pane of glass, to pause for a moment and observe some thing that I find particularly compelling. Whether it’s a gorgeous tart shell, a perfectly folded parchment cornet, a flicker of dancing gold leaf, a well cared for knife, a mise container overflowing with blossoms, a sick quenelle or a flat of the season’s perfect produce, I excitedly declare to the nearest cooks, “See you guys, see?! Beauty is everywhere in the kitchen, inspiration is everywhere!” That’s when I tell them the story behind the thing that I’ve seen or make them hold out their hands so that we can all taste the thing together or pull everyone’s attention to the technical feat of the cook who said thing belongs to. Many times, my eyes well up with tears, and as awkward as it is for my audience, I can’t help it, for it is the truest moment of inspiration and love for our craft that I feel. Whether something has been created by our universe or by our hands, beauty and inspiration are everywhere, we just have to open our eyes.

The Perfect Cornet

The Perfect Cornet

As the launch for Quince’s Spring Menu approached, I turned to another trade for my seasonal inspiration, the craft and creativity of the high fashion industry, The runways of New York, Paris, Milan and Berlin were teeming with incredible designs to spark my inspiration. The colors, textures and compositions of the fashion universe were perfectly translatable into my world of colors, textures, compositions and best of all, taste in the pastry kitchen.

My biggest source of inspiration is Valentino’s line of Spring 2014 Couture. I am always drawn to Valentino Couture for the incredibly saturated colors and delicately detailed designs that are the trademark of this iconic house of fashion. The designers of Valentino’s 2014 Spring Couture line were inspired by Operatic musical pieces, each ensemble drawn directly from a musical work of art. One of my favorite looks is an insanely beautiful cape, made up of beautiful and colorful butterflies that was, of course, inspired by Madame Butterfly. When I saw this design, it screamed “Spring!” to me and I was quite literally inspired to design a composed dessert on our Spring menu to honor it.

Valentino Spring 2014 Butterfly Cape

Valentino Spring 2014 Butterfly Cape

When I saw this design, I immediately began to connect flavor profiles with the colors and textures of the gown and cape. Espresso immediately came to mind as a frontrunner flavor to represent the gorgeous and deeply coffee colored gown, while the brightly colored butterflies offered me the opportunity to enhance the main flavor with other complimentary supporting elements, of which I chose bright first of the season strawberries, Sicilian pistachios, citrus peel and deep mahogany caramel. I thought it necessary to pay homage to the Madame Butterfly in a literal sense with a winged garnish perched delicately atop the composition.

Espresso Strawberry Butterfly

Espresso Strawberry Butterfly

We, as Chefs, are so incredibly lucky that we have the job of creating experiences and memories based on the influence of some beautiful thing that has inspired us. So take a look at the design, architecture, craftsmanship and artistry surrounding you. It is all there for the taking. Become inspired. Life is too short not to take the time to stop and smell, and appreciate the roses. After all, that’s where the butterflies are.






Repetition in Preparation, or How to Succeed in Cooking

Cooks are funny people. We are just as superstitious as athletes or performers when it comes to our work. Maybe lucky underwear isn’t our thing, but finding a certain pot, spoon or that awesome quarter cooling rack can literally make or break a day’s service because without it, disaster could strike at any time. I mean, who knows what could happen?? Who wants to go into battle without their artillery of weapons?? Nobody, that’s who. And that’s what working service is. It’s being on the front lines of a new battle everyday whose variables are so far beyond your control that your only strategy for coming out clean on the other side is complete and utter preparation. No surprises, no ambushes. Only anticipation and execution.

This attachment to specific inanimate objects can sometimes go rogue and become a full blown hoarding issue – we’ve all seen it, maybe we’ve all been there. Quickly surmising the room and the cooks around you while you inconspicuously set the step ladder beside the Traulsen to perhaps dust the top, or to retrieve the stack of 1/9 pans that you carefully wrapped in layers of film and labeled with a “You Touch, You Die” label after last night’s service. Shamelessly, like a squirrel stashing acorns for the long hard winter ahead, you check all of your secret hiding spots and set your station up for success. And then there are those moments of paranoia and panic, when that punk in Garde Manger somehow has your special {fill in the blank} (!!!) on his station, or Chef comes around and opens your lowboy, asks if you really need 14 kumi trays and takes half for another asshole cook whose station is not set. You sigh. Time to begin again.

When I first started cooking professionally, I had no idea about the importance of repetition of tools and equipment in a kitchen day’s work. I can only imagine what a disaster I was, the greenest of the green, working the 3am shift, on the opening team of Michigan Avenue’s newest luxury hotel, The Peninsula Chicago. Everyday was a struggle. Everyday I braced myself for immediate termination. Every single day, searching for that one moment of connection, one tiny validation from my Chef that would puff my sails back up to continue to navigate the terrifying open waters of the breakfast line.

Then, I began to understand the rules. And by the rules, I mean, that there really are no rules in kitchens when it comes to setting yourself up for success. This epiphany came to me early one day as my Chef called me over to him and placed in my sticky hot little hands 4 brand new, labels still on, non-stick egg pans – 2 for eggs, 2 for omelettes, and told me that I needed to keep them in my locker, because if I even think about going into service without them, I’m toast. I thought he was kidding. My locker? I could do that? Was it necessary? Immediately I began looking suspiciously over my shoulders at the other cooks – no one was trustworthy, everyone a possible thief of my beloved egg pans, my lifelines of breakfast victory – my naive mentality that “we’re all in this together” began to dwindle, as the paranoia started to set in.

Luckily for me, it only took a single “NUGENT!! How the FUCK are you going to poach all those FUCKING eggs without a FUCKING slotted spoon?!?!” in front of the entire kitchen to understand that I needed to have every single tool, every single time, every single service. Setting up my station became a ritual, an obsessive act of familiarity and repetition that provided me with such a sense of comfort that I looked forward to every day. It eats at you, though. Get too deep and you will crash and burn from trying to regain your focus before service even starts, all from not finding the smallest size bowl for readying your frisée salad or the deepest third pan for holding the french toast royale in your refrigerated drawer.

Because I worked the first shift of the day, not counting the dreaded weird “overnight guy,” I had my pick of pans, containers and utensils at my disposal every morning. As most good cooks do, I began to memorize exactly what quantities of every item I needed to take in one trip so that I could gain two minutes here and a few seconds there, because in the long run, when you are preparing for a busy service, time is what you need the most of. I learned to live and die by a list. I befriended the potwashers by feeding them test omelettes, crispy bacon and potatoes every shift, and in return, I’d seen them openly lie to other cooks searching for a coveted small rubber spatula, to turn around and present it to me with a smile. Glorious. Lesson here? A little bit of kindness goes a long way. Never underestimate who your biggest, best and most loyal resources of support are, no matter what their position. Even to this day, if I see a cook disrespecting the dishwashers, it’s an earful from me. I won’t stand for it.

Over the years of working in kitchens, you can instinctively find the other hoarders. You know the ones I mean. That CDP who always has the one container/lid/extra towel that you need for service. The unsuspecting cook that has a cabinet on her station, or a sliding under-the-counter storage area filled with the things that you’ve spent God knows how much time scouring the kitchen for. That one you go to to ask, beg or grovel for the one missing piece to your puzzle, with the promise of “bringing it right back” or “getting them next time” or even bringing a similar shaped item to them as a possible gift/bartering tool? With said item in hand, the ultimate feeling of relief puts you in such a state of euphoric achievement that you hear yourself promising to buy them a CASE of their favorite beer after service, and you quickly curse your emotions for rashly going from one beer to one case of beer in this joyous occasion. Dammit.

Upon returning to your station, though, with the very last tool that you need to be completely set up for service, that missing piece in it’s place, your promise is worth it. Because you know that at the end of a crushing service, that case of cold, cold beer will be shared among all of the cooks as a moment of triumph, or perhaps defeat, that will bring you even closer together as a squadron, a brigade and most importantly, a family of misfit cooks. And at that moment, that collective first delicious sip, all of your trust issues temporarily fade away, because all of you have survived service and will live to fight another day.

Flattery through Imitation, Le Pré Catelan

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery-Charles Caleb Colton

Our Green Apple Sugar Sphere was directly inspired by the iconic La Pomme dessert from Frédéric Anton and Christelle Brua of the Paris’s three star Michelin, Le Pré Catelan. Although Alen and I have not yet had the pleasure of experiencing Le Pré Catelan, this was one of the standout dishes of Chef Tusk’s meal there, so we were very excited to recreate it with our own creative license. Mindy took the lead on creating the beautifully saturated green sugar spheres, each one looking more stunning than the last. The key to achieving a perfectly round and thin orb is understanding  the malleability of the sugar, the pressure of the air pump and how and when to apply heat and cool air while forming them.

Green Apple Sphere

Green Apple Sphere

Although we do not exactly know for sure what the filling is for “La Pomme” at Le Pré Catelan, we think that we did the original justice with our layers of calvados spiked mascarpone cream, cider compressed apple “bubbles,” crumbles of speculous biscuit and super fresh green apple sorbet inside each sugar sphere.

Green Apple Sphere Open

Green Apple Sphere Open

We could only hope that our version of La Pomme would indeed flatter the very talented Chefs who created it. But, until we reserve our table at Le Pré Catelan, we will just have to imagine how incredible a meal prepared by Frédéric Anton and Christelle Brua would be. À bientôt, j’espère!