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!