“Know why you cook.”

[This post brings together two previously unrelated drafts that were backed up in my blog writing queue. One was based on a talk I attended last November by René Redzepi, Executive Chef at NOMA, aka the best restaurant in the world. The two-star Michelin restaurant serves modern Nordic fare with an emphasis on foraging, (for) local ingredients, and a philosophy of cooking that celebrates “time and place in Nordic cuisine.” The other “draft” was a lone quote by Gustave Flaubert: “the art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.”]

Here is a decent synopsis of the Redzepi talk, which centered on three specific moments that transformed him and helped define his culinary career. I particularly enjoyed his story of transforming the ugliest carrot he had ever seen (his words) into something incredibly beautiful and delicious–by gently sauteing and basting it with butter, treating it as if it were the most expensive piece of meat he could buy. The farmer who dared to send him this first apparent monstrosity now supplies Redzepi with a steady stream of such “vintage” carrots. During the talk, Redzepi also passed around plates of piquant pickled rose petals and ramp buds for the audience to sample. On the whole, he seemed like a pretty low-key guy, soft-spoken, genuine, charismatic in the understated way that people who possess a quiet confidence tend to be. There was a brief Q&A session afterward, during which one person asked the question most relevant to me: what advice can you give to an aspiring, presumably ambitious, chef?

His answer was plain, but full of conviction. “Know why you cook.” He said it again. “Know why you cook.”

When I was going through my blog posts today, this phrase for some reason spoke to me in juxtaposition to the quote by Flaubert. They seem to be saying sort of opposite things: one that you should have an idea of why you’re doing something in order to do it (well); the other, that you’re essentially discovering why you’re doing something as you do it. But what clicked for me just now, is that these two ideas are very much in tune with one another–you can’t know why you cook unless you’re cooking up a storm, and you can’t just hang out waiting for the beliefs that drive your writing to magically reveal themselves before your pen hits the page. One speaks to the process of knowing; the other the importance of it. There’s a reason why you feel compelled to cook, write, or [insert passion of choice]–find it, know it, run with it. God knows how far it will get you.

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Sole roulade with tapenade, pommes puree, vegetable medley, balsamic reduction, beurre blanc

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Taste of the Nation

A couple of weeks ago, I volunteered for the second time at Taste of the Nation Boston. Taste of the Nation events occur all across the country and are sponsored by Share Our Strength, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger. All proceeds from the event support Share Our Strength’s mission, and the event is made possible through the generosity of local businesses that donate their time, resources, and goodies to the cause.

Many of the Boston area’s most popular fine dining establishments presided: L’Espalier, Hamersley’s Bistro, Rialto, Gargoyles on the Square, Craigie on Main, Hungry Mother, Church; as did more casual places like Trina’s and Redbones. Shops specializing in desserts were also there in full force: Kick Ass Cupcakes, South End Buttery, Glutenus Minimus. The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts also decided to go the pastry route this year, donating an impressive pastry display filled with lots of colorful little treats.

Each restaurant served a small plate of its choice, and the offerings ran the gamut in size, daintiness, and flavors. But I pick up on some trends: hors d’oeuvres served on house-made potato chips, tartares, house-cured meats and homemade sausages, and pulled meats served slider-style. It seemed like there was a pretty clear split in thinking between restaurants who decided to go the comfort food route and those who decided to serve more refined plates. I thought one that bridged this gap beautifully was Brasserie JO, which served the most unctuous braised Kobe beef cheek on brioche:

IMG_0021 Continue eating…

Christmas treats

Today was our company holiday party, which featured plenty of booze and catered food. It’s nice seeing coworkers decompress outside of the workplace, especially after a somewhat challenging year at the Press. The catering service was provided by Chez Vous, which is pretty popular in the area. There were hors d’œuvres of cheese “marmalade” on toast, chicken quesadillas, Asian-style duck wraps, and corn fritters; a lunch buffet of beef tenderloin with shallot sauce, salmon with tri-mustard sauce, sauteed vegetables, roasted tomato and spinach quiche, and a fresh salad of lightly dressed greens, diced butternut squash, asparagus, and parmesan; and a selection of coffee, cookies, and things for dessert. The quiche was my favorite dish; the concentrated sweetness of the tomatoes made for some seriously bright, piquant bites.

I don’t much to add of food porn this time, but I did manage to capture some of the more festive culinary creatures from the event:

Chocolate-covered cheesecake lollipops and holiday cookies:

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A slice of some chocolate mousse cake-roll concoction–I passed, having had two robust servings at the buffet–but saw lots of happy faces over empty plates of this stuff:

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Have a kick-ass last weekend before Christmas!  Still no sign of snow in Boston, but the forecast says Sunday night.  Until then I’ll be holed up sipping a cup of cocoa between bated breaths.

Flour’s cookbook reception: eat dessert first!

Last week I attended a small reception for the Flour cookbook.  The eponymous Boston-based bakery and cafe is owned by Joanne Chang, a local chef who also owns the restaurant Myers + Chang down near Back Bay.  The cookbook reception included a selection of cheese and spirits from Whole Foods and a pastry demo of Flour’s popular pop tarts.

Some very delicious cheeses available for copious consumption:

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Read more, see more…

Smoke This Rib Fest

Outdoor food events may soon vie with weekend brunches as my favorite food-oriented activity, especially when they serendipitously fall on picturesque weekend afternoons.  Sampling good food between sips of crisp autumnal air on sun-soaked city streets, mm.  The Boston Local Food Festival from a few weeks back and the East Cambridge Rib Fest this past weekend have teamed up to convert me. The fact that such events are often conduits for supporting local charities and spreading awareness about important issues does not hurt, nor do the curious sitings that amuse (such as a passerby wearing an “I heart female orgasm” shirt).  Last weekend’s Rib Fest featured ten Cambridge restaurants, including East Coast Grill and Hungry Mother, competing for various charities of their choice.  You could only partake of the rib sampling with a taste ticket, which I did not purchase; but I snagged enough bites from J’s ribs to keep me satisfied.  Had he voted, I believe he would have cast his ballot for Tupelo, perhaps the top cofo joint in Cambridge.  He also took well to the Carolina-style (mustard-based) rib sauce from East Coast Grill.

The competitors and respective charities:

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Oink oink:

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Continue eating “Smoke This Rib Fest”…

Weekend eats: Boston local food festival and Legal Seafoods

This past weekend, my friend L came up for a reprieve from her busy life as a law student in NYC. Friday’s petulant weather gave way to a beautiful Saturday, which we enjoyed to the fullest.  We had a lovely lunch spread courtesy of the Boston Local Food Festival, where we also sampled local cheeses, meats (sniffed out the bacon from five stalls over), and baked goods, and caught some cheese-making action and the beginnings of a seafood throwdown. Here’s a rundown of what we ate/saw:

Scones hanging out, looking pretty tasty, if a bit unconventionally shaped:

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Continue eating…

Taste of the Nation Boston 2010

On Thursday night, I attended Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation Boston fundraiser at the Hynes Convention Center.  Coworker-friend AZ and I volunteered from 4:30-7 pm (the doors opened at 6) and then dove headfirst into the extravaganza.  The event was well-organized, generously sponsored, and a true feast for the senses.  High energy currents electrified the exhibit hall all night, there was a strong community vibe, and it was a special pleasure for me witnessing chefs not just cooking but interacting with each other and enjoying themselves as well.  Of course, the main event was the food, impressive in quantity and spectacular in quality.  It was an extreme dining experience unlike any other; it stimulated, provoked, challenged, pleased, informed, intrigued, satisfied, then did it all over again.  I’m still processing that night (processing on multiple levels, yes) and will be for some time.

Show me the FOOD FOOD FOOD FOOD!