Wednesday, November 30, 2011

We're currently working on a new interface, coming back bigger and better than ever!

Here's a little taste of what's to come:

  • New Food/Recipes
  • Chicago Area Restaurant Reviews
  • Digital Media/Video how to's
  • Stories, interviews and more!

Any input/suggestions for what you want to see is always welcome! So feel free to comment!

Until then, feel free to browse around and check out my previous posts!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I got an interview at a Mixology bar thats opening up in Lincoln Park Tuesday. Seems like a good sign considering Eater featured the guy who is opening it. Here's a link to that story

Former Violet Hour Mixologist to Open New Mixology Bar

It seems like a great idea, its going to have a prohibition era type of feel with house made bitters/punches from locally grown farms. Sweet concept and I hope they take me on as a server, maybe they even think I'm bartender caliber...we shall see!

Friday, September 2, 2011

I was exploring this new world they call Chicago last night with my friend, Michael. We were just roaming with no actual destination in mind. We were just talking about what Chicago has in store for us as we were walking up this bike path. We were trying to find a decent view of the lake where we found the perfect spot. On our left was Lake Michigan, on our right; a beach and marina. And straight ahead was the most perfect view of downtown Chicago. Chills ran down both of our spines as we realize what we actually got ourselves into.

Smiles ran across our faces and we started freaking out. There is SO much opportunity here and both of us are beyond excited to see what this city is going to bring us.

And to Chicago, I have 3 words:


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Just The Tip

I'm going to tell you about the American way to tip someone. You'd think this is simple/no brainer, but you'd be surprised working as a server as to how many people don't know how to tip.

First off, a little history lesson on it.

When the tip was first "invented" God knows when, tip stood for "To Insure Promptness" meaning if a patron who is trying to show someone a good time, whether it be clients or close friends, came into a bar and handed the bartender a 20 spot, it was communication to the bartender saying: "Hey treat me better than your normal patron"

Since then the tip has become a little more required. It varies from state to state, but since the tip has been assimilated into our culture, our employers and government have become savvy to that. Employers are now legally allowed to pay us less than minimum per hour because the tips servers make will make up for the wages they're not paying to make minimum wage. The government even taxes the tips we make (on paper anyway, shhh) because tips alone can for sure make the difference between tiers of income that uncle sam uses to tax people.

The tip can be a gift and a curse at the same time. On the good side, you are leaving your place of employment with cash in hand every day. On the bad side, you are leaving your place of employment with cash in hand every day. The reason its bad because it destroys budgeting skills because the server gets the 'oh I'll make enough to cover expenses tomorrow'.


On the other side, the tip is an extra expense for good work. A server is prompt, talkative, funny, and engaging. He/she is obviously working for the 20+% tip. The problem is that its up to YOU to give him that tip. To put it simply, back in the day, tips were given before hand so the server will treat them before everyone else. Say a gentleman wants you to get him an orange, he offers you $5; then say another gentleman wants the same orange, but he offers you $20. Who will you get the orange to first? A true capitalist would get the 2nd gentleman an orange first.

But nowadays a tip is merely used as a 'review' of the service that is given. The problem is that everyones definition of a good tip is totally different.

A server that is funny, personable, engaging and prompt might get $10 from one family, but $25 from another. Its dependent on so many variables like average home income, mood, service, RACE(yes race, on the giving and receiving end) that it makes it a challenge to keep a steady tip percentage. Some people cap their tip at 10%, some at 20%, but some servers who actually go above and beyond can get 50-100% (I've seen it happen). Show someone the best 1-2 hours of their life and they'll hand you their life savings, its how things work, your time might be worth more or less to certain people.

Some people don't even know better, I'm not trying to offend anyone, considering its the way they were raised, but people from out of the USA. They don't tip as much as we do, not even Canada does! In Germany, this 'tip' is actually given for beer money or considered an insult. They tend to give 5-10% according to Wiki (

If you happen upon the perfect server, please realize they're jumping through so many hoops for you that they're mentally and physically exhausted at the end of the day and probably do more work in 5 hours than you do in your 9-5 day, and tip them accordingly. We are not the scum of the earth, we are not there because nobody else will take us, were some of the more brilliant minds of the world, we think fast, walk fast, and act fast, all while 1000 things are going through our head.

I hope this will help you in your next restaurant adventure and I hope your server works as hard as I do.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sorry for not updating recently, been really busy on this side. I've just stopped by to rant about some things.

Recently I've noticed that some people are pretty comfortable with going to the chain restaurants, too comfortable. This is unacceptable. People don't understand how much work is put into a local restaurant. Blood, sweat, tears and money is what it takes for a single person to open a restaurant.

You have no idea how much it takes for one human being to open a single restaurant when there is a chili's or red lobster opening up every day.

For a corporation to open a restaurant, it merely takes a few signatures from the CEO of the company to give someone a green light to start building something to specifically fit the needs of that specific restaurant. Money is not an issue for them, the only issue is one question: "will this location make me money?"

The local restauranteur has many things to consider; like, is it a good location, does my menu fit the needs of the possible clientele, will I have to sacrifice food cost for liquor sales (referring to a gastro pub)

Needless to say, it takes a lot more for a local to open a restaurant than a corporation. I haven't looked much into it, but I believe there should be a tax benefit for locals opening restaurants because they bring so much more tourism and money into the actual community than some restaurant based in indiana with restaurants across the U.S.

We don't realize that when we go to the local olive garden, that only a small percentage goes towards the actual community, and that small percentage is based on your state sales and property tax, but when you eat dinner at a local restaurant, all of your money goes towards a local entity, a percentage goes into the owners pocket; this owner is a citizen of YOUR city, he/she will make purchases in your city and help your local economy. another percentage goes towards wages, which will also be put into your local economy because of the local employees, and a decent percentage of profit will be put towards possibly funding community projects, or improving the restaurant, which in turn will bring in more guests and improve all of the things involved.

In conclusion, your local chef is working hard, REALLY hard, and you should support them because nobody goes to a specific location for an olive garden, they go so they can eat something that is only best served at that location.

Your challenge: Eat local for a month. If its the same restaurant, that's great! Restaurants may not have loyalty cards, but if they see you enough, you will be treated well and maybe get some freebies!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Palate

I've been watching a lot of the Food Network recently, as much as I don't like the Food Network and what it stands for, it gets me thinking. How relative is the human palate exactly?

If you watch the Food Network enough, you will notice a pattern. Although in most of the shows there is a secret ingredient, or ingredients that will be required in every dish and from then on its improvisation. But, even though these competition shows require improv. many of the dishes will result in a certain flavor to get the 'perfect menu' in regards to FN's palate.

The Midwest American palate has failed. I don't travel outside the Midwest, but from what I've seen, there are too many people scared of 'fancy food' and too used to the well-done bit of leather with a side of ketchup. Where's the flavor?

The beginning of most of our lives we spend hating veggies and loving chicken nuggets. Our palates start to evolve and we start to enjoy better things, but at some point, the palate evolution becomes less of a 'nurture' aspect and more of a self starting method. From my experience, I started really enjoying food my senior year of high school. I was more willing to try new things. That, for me, was my self started palate evolution, and I'm afraid that's usually where it ends for some people. I started to enjoy the crunch and flavor of onions on my burgers(try a burger with red onion and avocado, awesome!), I tried new methods for new things, and read up on foods I haven't tried before. At this point in my life, I'm willing to try anything TWICE. I say twice because a past co-worker had a good point about not just trying things once, he says the first time you try it, you are going into foreign territory with a non-experience based first impression, but the second time you know what to expect and what flavors/textures to concentrate on.

A couple months back I had my first offal experience. First off, don't judge it by the name, but offal are the parts of the animal that you would never think to eat, like livers, brains, tongue, any sort of organ meat. I'm not sure why there has been this whole fear campaign about organ meats that make people so scared of it, because it is always delicious. Stop thinking about where it came from and start thinking about the flavor and texture, the fat content that can make something like Foie Gras melt in your mouth.

This brings me back to the 'nurture' part of the palate, the palate you were raised with. In countries other than America, that may or may not be less fortunate, they eat offal on a regular basis. Think waaaayyyy back in time, royalty would get the prime, muscle tissue cuts and the peasants would get the organ meat from the animal, this has been going on for centuries. It would be a waste to not use the parts that royalty didn't eat, the animal would just decompose and rot. In that time, you couldn't afford to waste any part of any animal because then you would eat nothing. This is the same in second and third world countries, if it weren't for organ mean people would starve.
So children in other countries are raised on offal and most likely think its delicious, its a way of life, they were raised with organ meats as quite possibly the only means of nutrition and had their palate trained accordingly. If every American (or any first world country) were raised eating things other than muscle tissue, it would save so many animals from just rotting away and being wasted.

What it's taken me so long to get at and try to explain is this:
Every singly palate is different and ultimately based on the way you were raised, at some point, it is up to YOU to develop a taste for newer things. What you think is delicious might not be the same for someone else; what the Food Network says is the best thing in the world to use in a dish, might be completely and utterly disgusting. The FN palate is extremely specific to the point it resembles a corporate restaurant. For years since it first started airing shows, it has been training people to make their food the Food Network way, and this is a very small and specific window.
So don't listen to the corporate giants who think they know what you'll like, YOU know what you like, and don't hesitate to try something new at every opportunity, if you haven't tried it, how will you know you don't like it?

Punish your palate, abuse it while you're young, as you get older your senses dull and you wont be able to taste as much.

There are some ways to develop your palate that I've found extremely helpful:

Eat many different fresh fruits: chew it, slosh it around, make sure it hits every part of your tongue and take note of the flavors

Smell fruits and vegetables: The majority of taste actually comes from your sense of smell

Drink wine: Here's your excuse to drink wine, there are so many flavors in most wines that you can even detect the dirt it was grown in (you dont taste dirt, but it gives the grapes a certain flavor)

Don't smoke: it takes 3 hours to get back some taste receptors, but ten days to 'unblock' your taste receptors after a cigarette, and also smokers don't tend to taste salt content as easily as non-smokers

I hope this has been a big help to you, and go to your local butcher, ask what they have for 'offal' (ironically pronounced awful) and how they suggest you prepare it. Its cheap and packed with nutrients, also extremely flavorful.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Job Hunt

It has been six days since I've done a minute of work, eight since I've cooked something even remotely home made and delicious.

I'm going crazy

This 'forced vacation' is much needed, don't get me wrong, but going from forty hours a week and nonstop movement to zero and being inactive, it can get to a workaholic like myself. The job hunt started today to no success, the same restaurant but different location I applied to has all positions filled, and told me to keep checking back, which isn't going to happen. I visited the other place that called me which was a cafe, I didn't get through the door without developing a "fuck this" vibe. Where I'm at right now, there are very few restaurants that would be a step up from some place like Biaggi's and even fewer at the same level. And with the impossible generalized rule of "Only come in between 2pm-4pm it makes this whole thing a more than one day adventure.

Considering I'll only be working at this(these) place(s) for three months, that makes me even more un-hireable as a cook. Employment turnover is insane for a server, but practically non-existent for cooks, which is unfortunate but there aren't many people who will do backbreaking work forty hours a week for ten dollars an hour.

My goal is at least one job by Tuesday, once I have that down, I will try to work the opposite side of the house (I.E. score an A.M. kitchen job, look for a P.M. serving/bartending job or vice versa)
I'm not excited about serving again, but this summer is about making and saving so I can be comfortable finding my niche in Chicago.

Tomorrow is a new day to pursue a job in this masochistic field, I might go across the river to see what Illinois has to offer me, but we shall see.

Your mission today: Go to your local foreign market and see what kind of goodies you can find. You'd be suprised

Thursday, May 19, 2011

As time dwindles down I have found myself reflecting more and more on how much I have changed in the past six months. I can't help but think how different things would have been had I been ok with staying on as a server. Yes, I would have been pretty decent financially, but is it worth it? I can with total confidence say that yes, it is worth it.

The relationships that I have developed are ones that I will never forget. It's bittersweet that we all have to part ways but we need to in order to expand. I'm confident in the fact that I will never lose touch with the people I have grown so close to recently. I hope they feel the same way and wish everybody equal or better success than I plan on having. I'm moving to Chicago in a few months and I'm anxious to see what sorts of opportunities it has to offer.

I swear this will be the last gushy post until the very last day(possibly) but I will leave you with a nice, fast spring salad, that sounds weird, but I swear its tasty!

Yield: 2 servings, about a 1.5 cups per person

3 cups large dice watermelon
1/2 cup feta cheese
2 tbsp olive oil
pinch of salt to taste
cracked black pepper to taste

since the watermelon is kind of a watered down flavor, use the salt to bring out the sweetness and balance it with the feta, garnish with some mint and you're good to go!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

New Chapters

As the current chapter of my life draws to a close, and a new one about to open, I can't help but think of the new relationships and experiences I have encountered and know that I'll never forget for the rest of my life.

It was summer of 2010, I was a server at an Italian joint in Cedar Rapids, IA. I was making money, but that was the only thing I liked about the job, I didn't like smiling while getting yelled at for not cooking this guy's steak well-done enough; running around the front, legitimately stressed out and in the weeds, but unable to get any help while trying to keep from breaking down. In the server world, no matter how much you say you're a team, there becomes a point in a busy night where its every man for himself.
I was one of those people that went into work, dreading it.

I realized then that it was time for a change, I wanted to do what I enjoyed. So I took my chef aside and asked him that the next time they had an opening in the kitchen that I wanted to be considered. Of course there were no openings at the time, so I was a little let down, but I didn't give up.

By November, I was set to have my first day in the kitchen. I was so excited that they were willing to give a person with no kitchen training a chance. I was so excited...I was an hour late for my first A.M. shift.

Its been 5 months now and I think I can finally handle things, I have made friends I'll never forget and will hopefully see or work with in the future. It's the hard times that bring out the greatest friendships, our boys overseas come home with friends they'll still talk to on a regular basis in twenty years. Especially with the implementation of social media, it is that much easier to keep in touch with someone across the country or world, phone numbers change, but facebook names stay the same.

In this world its all about who you know, throughout the many jobs I will have taken so many names and numbers of people I respect as cooks and hopefully, one day, I will make a few phone calls to recruit my all star team, or at least I hope they will do the same for me.

In the last 5 months I have grown so much closer to my fellow employees, they're my only friends in this city and I don't want that any other way. I will miss the bonds that have been created on Friday or Saturday nights, deep in the weeds and just wanting to catch up.

Where's this next chapter going to take me? Am I falling for the 'big city big dreams' cliche?
I would like to hope not, I hope that I have what it takes to tackle and succeed in the big city.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Chicago > New York?

Forty minutes of watching acre after acre of barren, cold land pass me by at 65mph, the child who is surprisingly quiet, the lack of power outlets, really helps someone with writer's block think. I go through things in my head, peruse every food related news article looking for SOMETHING to think about. Then it hits me, the kid on the bus threw a Nerf ball at my head, but then a thought comes to mind: "hmm I'm on my way to Chicago, there HAS to be something in that!" I think of every restaurant that I've possibly heard of and like a (insert epiphany related simile here) I realize that Chicago is smack dab in the middle of the country, almost equidistant from all directions of the country, so why does New York get all the fame?

Considering the centralized location of Chicago, its no surprise that you can get anything your heart desires within minutes. You want fast food? McDonalds' locations are every two blocks or so. Fine Dining/Modernist Cuisine? Alinea or Moto, which has tasting menus that cost an arm and a leg(arm $195, leg $300+).

You get the West with vegan and new age type restaurants, you get the east with seafood that was swimming 2 days before it made it to your plate. North? Fresh cheese from Wisconsin, and south with authentic Mexican food or BBQ as good as if you were in Tennessee yourself.

Any ethnic cuisine you can think of is readily available, and sometimes even delivers. And don't even get me started on the food carts, I seem to have an unhealthy obsession with meat on a stick, streetside.
Need some good hunting advice? Go down that alley (not the creepy ones) the ones that are well kept, few dumpsters if any, chances are you will find that burger joint that you fall in love with, the Vietnamese place that has Pho you cant even get in vietnam this good. The fine dining place that has Foie Gras (true story, in Evanston behind American Apparel)

I'm just passing through Crawfordsville, Iowa, with another 5 hours on this bus and so many thoughts going through my head to post about, might be a 2 post sort of day, who knows. But I leave you with this closing remark:

You don't have to be familiar with the restaurant scene there, realize that you can have food from any direction of the country. I would consider it the new melting pot, the new New York.

Eat something you've never tried before today.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Culinary Black Market

Next Restaurant, a brand new restaurant in Chicago run by Chef Grant Achatz and partner Nick Kokonas, Just started selling dining seats for opening night. But they're doing things a little-- scratch that, completely different from any restaurant. Instead of the usual "pay after the meal" that were all very much used to as diners, you buy tickets for a certain time and table (less for a two top, more for a four top, and much more for the Chef's table). This is a pretty genius system because they can inflate or deflate the price based on the day and time. For example, 2 tickets would be less expensive on a Monday then on a Saturday.

This brings to mind the idea of 'scalping'. You've been to those college/pro games where you saw the guy on the corner of the stadium with a sign in his hand that says he has tickets and will sell them to you more than box office price, call it a 'convenience charge'. Well for the first time that I've ever heard of, possibly in history, this is actually happening for a restaurant. I predicted this, so the day after the tickets went on sale, I searched Craigslist for Next Restaurant, below is what I've found, which is a step above the guy on the corner with a sign, which would turn anyone off a restaurant, unlike a Cubs game.
Keep in mind, the basic tickets are ~$85. I haven't seen an exact price for the Chef's table, but I'm certain its not $3000.

Then, like sport scalpers, you have to take into effect the validity of these tickets, some are selling the tickets along with the confirmation e-mail, but that can be easily faked. I'm sure someone is going to lose money on this, unfortunately.

Chef Achatz has accepted nothing but perfection and I'm sure, even with a smaller price tag than Alinea (by about $100), that this will be no different. I'm glad someone has realized that there are people who can't afford a $400 tasting menu with wine pairing, but can enjoy the food more than those that can.

This is a new and exciting chapter in the industry and I'm sure Chef Achatz won't be the last one to use this system. Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce you to the Culinary Black Market.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sauces 101

Its hard to go one week eating food without having at least one meal that has some sort of sauce on it. In the culinary world, sauces are divided into 2 categories: Mother or Leading, and Small or compound. Sauces are an amazing thing because there are five sauces that you use to make basically any other sauce. Those five sauces are: Bechamel, Veloute, Espagnole, Hollandaise, and Tomato.

Now, I'm not going to tell you about every single sauce, because thats just too much to read and type (a couple of my books have twenty page chapters devoted to sauces), so heres a brief about Bechamel!

I could tell you what to look for in a perfect bechamel, but you will know when its just right. No chunks, rich flavor, thats all you need. Heres a pretty basic recipe.

1 Onion Piquet(This is half an onion with a bay leaf pinned to it with a clove)
1/2 Gal Milk (I prefer whole, but its up to you, remember, the less fat in the milk, the harder it is to thicken)
4 Oz. Flour (not a good time to use whole wheat or anything fancy, just all purpose will do)
4 Oz. Clarified butter (Melt 4 ounces of butter, take the white stuff out, voila! clarified butter)
Salt, White Pepper, and Nutmeg to taste

So you have a saucepan with the milk, add the onion piquet to that and let it simmer for about 20-25 minutes. I cant stress this enough, this isn't a set and forget type thing, set the heat really low or else you risk a massive boil over!

In a different pot, combine the butter and flour and on medium heat. This is where you create the thickener known as a Roux. You'll wanna stir constantly until its a little bubbly in appearance. USE YOUR SENSES! The smell should somewhat resemble a light smell of popcorn and a pale yellow color.

Now while whisking pretty heavily, add some of the milk to the roux pot, make sure there are no lumps and bring it to a boil. transfer the milk/roux back to the big batch and whisk some more. Let it simmer for about a half hour, strain, and boom! Bechamel sauce. for storage pour a little melted butter on the top to stop that nasty film from forming.

This single sauce can compound into a lot of different sauces like: Modern, Cream, Mornay, and Cheese.

Hope you learned something today!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Why cook?

I started off my restaurant career as a server. Which from my perspective now, is the easy route. When I switched from serving and making on average 14-20 dollars an hour, to 10, people would (and still) ask me why I switched. I joke around saying, "Oh, I've decided I was making too much money." But really I decided I want to do now, what I plan on doing the rest of my life, and I love it. Sure, I'm living less than paycheck to paycheck, but I for sure don't dread coming in to work every day for long hours and hard work with minimal pay. I would say its an even trade.

It's not only a passion thing, its also the fact that I look up to so many Chefs, I follow their ever
y blog p
ost, every tweet, every news story. Below are a list of just a few Chefs that I see as role models and strive to be.

Grant Achatz
Pronounced to rhyme with "rackets" this Chef has some story about him. He's the single fastest rising chef, working at the culinary Mecca called The French Laundry at age 22, and owning his own restaurant at the age of 30. Shortly after his restaurant opened, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 tongue cancer, there is no stage 5. He was given only months to live, but underwent an experimental procedure involving Chemotherapy radiation, as opposed to losing his tongue and part of his jaw.
This Chef creates the most outrageous gastronomic creations in the country, with influences such as Thomas Keller(French Laundry), and Ferran Adria (El Bulli, Spain) breaking down and reassembling simple meals into complex works of art. From what he's been through, to the food he creates, every ounce of his lifetime effort saturates each plate that walks out of his kitchen.

Anthony Bourdain
The culinary badass and creator of Kitchen Confidential, the book that tells the real story of what goes on in a kitchen, from the 'left over bread' conspiracy, to the brunch fiasco. To explain what I'm talking about, you will have to actually purchase the book, and it is well worth the read. Chef Bourdain has the life I want, traveling to all four corners of the world at least twice all while eating local cuisine, no matter how crazy or taboo, and drinking local adult beverages (copious amounts to be exact)
Aside from writing the single most accurate book about a kitchen, I wouldn't say he's done anything "majorly groundbreaking" in the culinary world, but I would without a doubt say he is formerly known as the best line cook, EVER. Working at a restaurant, open to close, while tackling over 1500 covers on the day; Oh and by the way a cover is a single person, no matter how many courses/plates they order.

These two are the ones I've looked up to most, I'm not looking to follow in their footsteps, I plan to create my own path so I can one day write a book about my journey and inspire someone in my position.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Take #2

I've totally forgotten about this thing!
Well lets start off with a how-to, shall we?
This one started off a couple of days before St. Patricks Day. I was bored and so far doing nothing on my day off; I've come to feel more useless when I do nothing on my days off so I always have a project lined up usually food related. This time, I decided to try to smoke something. Not having smoked anything animal related I researched how to do this. Below I'll show you how to create a makeshift smoker.

Things you need:
Oven safe brownie sheet that you don't mind ruining (its still useful afterwards though)
Bag of woodchips, your choice (I used appplewood, really good for pork
Propane grill

Fill the sheet tray with the wood chips and water. let them soak in there for a good 30 minutes. Drain half the water so much of the chips are exposed, place on grill. Turn the grill on to low heat and make sure your tank is filled, because smoking takes at least 3 hours. Place protein of choice on top rack. I used a 5lb corned brisket so I had it on for about 4 hours til it hit 165F.

For the brisket, I wanted to play it safe in seasoning so I used equal parts of cinnamon, thyme, chili powder, salt, cracked black pepper, deli style mustard, and a little horseradish.

This is the messy part:
Coat the meat with a generous portion of the mustard and the horseradish, 100% coverage
Take the seasoning blend (for me it added up to about 4Tbsp of the blend) and rub it all over the meat.

And you're done, its weight determines the cook time, for pork and beef it should be 165F which is well done but dont worry, it will be fork tender.

Hope you enjoyed this post, better planned and more interesting posts to come!