Thursday, September 3, 2009

On Internships

No amount of schooling will leave you even remotely prepared for any sort of leadership position in a professional kitchen; only experience can give you that. After spending more time working at restaurants as a cook than studying for class, I knew that the culinary world is where I wanted to be. I did want formal culinary training, though, so a week after dropping out of St. Olaf College after spending three years procrastinating and changing majors, I was living in Minneapolis and starting classes at Le Cordon Bleu.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Comfort Food

As summer passes, I'm really starting to miss being in Uptown Minneapolis on a daily basis. I miss gutterpunks, transvestites, businesspeople, suburban yuppies, and hippies, all wandering around the same couple square miles. Coming from a small town in southeastern Minnesota, Uptown always seemed like another planet, and still kind of does. I miss all the weirdness and eccentricity of the place. Especially since I'm spending the summer in the only place in the lower 48 that is whiter than my hometown - northwoods Wisconsin.

A weekly ritual of mine during my time in Uptown was to go to the Uptown Bar & Cafe every Tuesday for a cheeseburger I had fallen in love with - the Farmer's Glory. This enormous pile of euphoria consists of - burger, ham, bacon, cheese, egg (over easy in my case), lettuce, tomato, and lots of hot sauce (Cholula preferably). I've probably shortened my life by at least a decade for eating it so frequently, but what the hell, you only live once right? Since I haven't had an evening (much less a whole day) off in roughly three weeks, and won't be having one for what looks like at least two more, I decided to make my own Farmer's Glory for lunch today. I used seared braised pork belly as a substitute for the bacon, which only made it better, and some good Louisiana Hot Sauce, since Cholula is a little hard to come by.

What's your favorite comfort food? Why?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


There is something intensely satisfying about growing your own produce. As a child, my mom and stepdad would get a little plot in a community garden every summer in my hometown, and along with my sister, we'd grow green beans, corn, tomatos, sunflowers, etc. Though I was too young to really appreciate the quality of freshly grown vegetables free of pesticides, I remember having a good time weeding, planting, tending to the plants, and harvesting when the time came.

Here on the island we've planted a garden to provide some of the produce we use on our menu, so these memories have come flooding back to me. We got it started kind of late, so the productivity hasn't been exactly what we've hoped for, but what we have gotten out of it has been fantastic. We've got swiss chard, a dozen varities of heirloom tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, patty pan squash, mints, basils, fennel, greens, kale, purple cabbage, sweet peppers, hot peppers, and more.

In the beginning -

August 4th 2009 -

The squash in the foreground are struggling a little, but the purple cabbage and kale are massive, and the tomatoes are just about ready to go.

The difference between the produce we pull out of the garden versus what we get from our produce vendor is really startling. Basil has been the most notable. Running down to the garden for a big heap of basil when pesto is on the prep list absolutely fills the kitchen with its scent, and not just subtly, it's almost overpowering. Pulling basil out of the walk-in (when we've temporarily decimated our garden supply) is a total let-down after that experience. The leaves are flimsier, the scent is weak - even when chopping it, and the color of the pesto isn't nearly as vibrant.

I always thought the idea of what Dan Barber does at Blue Hill Farm was really cool and unique. Having a restaurant on a farm where all produce and protein is grown on-site definitely creates its own niche, but after my experiences with our little garden, I really understand what the driving force behind it is. Buying organic/local/fresh produce is wonderful, and I encourage everyone to do it as much as possible, but the flavors and aromas and textures of something harvested that very day is absolutely un-matchable.

This is starting to get perilously long, but consider this last appeal. If you want organic, don't go to Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, go to your local farmer's market. Those of you in the Twin Cities area are spoiled in that regard. The St. Paul Farmer's Market is recognized as one of the best in the country (all product is from within something like an 80-mile radius, I believe), and the Mill City Farmer's Market is also fantastic. Support your local farmers and growers who provide a number of different products, not the mono-culture industrial-organic giants that supply new-age supermarkets like Whole Foods (think of the carbon footprint on the Peruvian organic asparagus you buy in the dead of winter).

Buy local.
Support the small growers.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Things Every Culinary Student Should Know

In my infinite wisdom, I have decided to provide you, my adoring fans, with a number of things I believe culinary school either doesn't tell you, or misleads you (whether intentionally or otherwise).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Suddenly Sous...or...The Summer I Lost My Mind

Dec. 19th 2008: Final day of my internship at Fugaise under the tutelage of Chef Don Saunders and Sous Chef David Hara. I have completed all requirements for graduation from Le Cordon Bleu Minneapolis/St. Paul.

March 14th 2009: Closing night at Fugaise. Don tells me of his future plans and offers me the sous position if David declines.

July 23rd 2009 (today): David chose to move on, and I've officially been sous chef at Stout's Island Lodge in Birchwood, WI since May 1st.

I feel incredibly fortunate that my career has taken such an unusual trajectory (more on this in a later post), since I was not really qualified (resumé-wise) for a position like this. But, when a guy who was rated in the top 25 chefs in the Midwest offers an opportunity like this, you just trust that he thinks you're capable of the task, and be very grateful.

On the flip-side, I sometimes worry that I may lose my mind out here. I came into this position well aware that I would be working roughly 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, with a day or two off a month, and was perfectly fine with that. I viewed this, and still do, as a sort of chef summer camp. In a relatively controlled environment (though not without its unexpected moments), I've been given the opportunity to learn ordering, menu planning, and all the fun stuff that goes along with title of "Chef." By the end of the summer I should have a firm grasp on these, and roll into our next project (and possibly my own solo project), The Commodore, in St. Paul. What I was not prepared for, and neither was Don for that matter, was the relative isolation of this place. Since the two of us make up the executive staff of the island, and we're both based out of the Twin Cities, we are the only two staff members who live on the island. At the longest point, I went three weeks without setting foot on shore. It's become a sort of endurance test, much more so than I had imagined, but despite the stress and the exhaustion, it has also been a hell of a lot of fun.