Planting my #Garden for #Earthday Today

After WWII, America realized what we thought was the golden promise of an Industrialized Era.  We were (and are) an industrious bunch, working on efficiencies and trying to make EVERYTHING cheaper, better, faster…  at any cost, apparently.  We got good at it.  VERY good.  The problem is, in an era of excess, waste occurs.  We are content with car that get 20 MPG when gas is under $2 a

gallon.  Now it’s over $4 a gallon and we’re worried.  We, as consumers don’t see why it’s so expensive.  We don’t often realize that it takes MILLIONS of years to create the oil we use in practically EVERYTHING we produce from gas, to industrial fertilizers to plastic goods.  It’s taken us under a hundred years to notice that oil is not unlimited and that we maybe running to the end of our supply.  Millions of years to make, a century to use.  Hmmm…  Time to move on to something different.

What does this have to do with my garden?  Nothing really, except that by planting a garden, you too can help save the Earth, just like supporting endeavors to utilize renewable energy sources.  I guess they are linked.  And, it is Earth day after all.  And there’s only one Earth.

So, let’s ALL plan ahead.  Invest in renewable energy now AND start finding ways to conserve water.  Because, the next wars will be fought over H2O.  Trust me.  And it worries me.  Plan now.  Happy Earth Day, Earth.

New Hybrid-Hydroponic System Results for Micro Greens in Our Kitchen

Well, here are some photos of what our pea tendrils look like using the new soiless growing medium.  These photos are taken 10 days after germination with just water and organic fertilizer.


 Needless to say, we will be switching all of our indoor growing operations to this new system. 
 It’s remarkable.  Thanks to the Ladybug Store for hooking us up with the experiment.  

What is Sustainable?

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the USDA Website:

Definition of Sustainable Agriculture

The term ”sustainable agriculture” (U.S. Code Title 7, Section 3103) means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will over the long-term:

  • Satisfy human food and fiber needs.
  • Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends.
  • Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls.
  • Sustain the economic viability of farm operations.
  • Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

 

From Yourdictionary.com:

us·tain·able (sə stānə bəl)

adjective

  1. capable of being sustained
  2. designating, of, or characterized by a practice that sustains a given condition, as economic growth or a human population, without destroying or depleting natural resources, polluting the environment

I need to qualify this by saying I am not a farmer.  I respect farmers/ranchers/food producers.  It’s hard work.  It’s also very unpredictable.  Farming sustainability requires an understanding of the relationships between organisms and their environment.  One must benefit the other.  Consider it a closed loop system.  You don’t really need to introduce anything if done well.  Composting, water catchment and wind or solar power are examples of sustainable practices.  It’s important for me as a chef to understand how this works.  I need to understand why a commercial egg costs me 11 cents while a sustainable egg costs me 25 cents.  It’s important for my guests to understand this as well.

Food is getting more and more expensive.  There are reasons why.  Food in the US is cheaper than most other countries.  It’s artificially kept low by the government.  I don’t yet fully understand why.  I’m in the process of studying it now.  The main thing to know is that the food system must change.  If we are to continue as a people, we need to get back to basics and re-learn what our grandparents held dearly.  Are we as Americans generally privileged?  Yes.  Are we softer because of this?  Yes.  Will this be our undoing?  Only you can decide.  For now, support your sustainable food producers.  Just in case.  It may cost more, but can you put a price on a healthy planet?

Jim, Innkeeper at The Wine Country Inn

I’m currently staying in St. Helena at The Wine Country Inn.  Beautiful even though I have arrived in the middle of a huge rainstorm.  I have been put up in one of the luxury cottages.  Thanks Jim, even though I have yet to meet you.  And thanks to Jerry for setting it up for me.  The purpose of this post is to relay something that occurred to me by staying here.  An epiphany of sorts.  See, I like Jim already and I have not even met him.  Here’s why:

I read a small piece he wrote on how he says he likes 5 star properties. It went like this:

“For this video, my wife wanted me to tell a story, but it was too long. For my 50th birthday, I wanted a huge celebration trip. I               read reviews of great hotels all over the world. I came up with a long list of 4-Star and 5-Star properties to visit. My wife reviewed         the list.

“You hate 5-Star properties,” she informed me.
“What, I love them,” I corrected her.
“You hate them,” she insisted.
“What are you talking about, look at these places, watch the virtual tours, they are all beautiful,” I whined.
“Granted, they are beautiful, but you don’t like dressing for breakfast, or even lunch for that matter. You love the luxury, but you         hate the attitude.”
Of course, she was right. And as The Wine Country Inn has become more and more luxurious, I have kept that in mind. I hope you       enjoy staying at The Inn as much as I love running it.”

I have been writing a lot about fine dining and how it’s changing.  Evolving.  And this is exactly why.  There is a big move to a casual feel. For the most part, guests want 5 star food.  They want attentive service.  They don’t want to dress up.  They don’t want to have to choose from 12 different types of silverware.  They don’t want to sit through a 3-4 hour dinner.  Fun, new, exciting, quick.  2-3 courses.  Value.  But…  must be impressive.  This is how things are changing.  I did not have the words to articulate this, but Jim did it perfectly.  Unpretentious hospitality.  Thanks Jim.

Wine Country Inn

St. Helena, California

Pros and Cons of Working with a Decades Old Menu.

It’s a respectful thing to work with such a time proven menu.  Very traditional.  I am very happy I also get to have a portion of the menu that is highly seasonal and modern.  Best of both worlds.  Drawback?  Well, 30 years ago, it was chic to use what were, back then, modern ingredients.  “Exotic” herbs were dried and used as we use fresh herbs just clipped from our garden.  Broth bases were used and considered a “gourmet” item.  Times have changed.  These recipes haven’t.  So, I continue to work on ways to improve the ingredients while staying true to tradition and the dish itself.  Point in case, I have started making my own chicken base.  There are a couple recipes we use that are over 50 years old and very popular that use it.  My version contains nothing more that organic chicken from Washington.  Nothing more.  And I use it exactly the same as the processed stuff that has an ingredient list longer than this blog post.  Come by and try the difference for yourself.  I reduced 5 gallons of chicken stock to 28 ounces of “base”.  It’s amazing…

More Evidence. Is Fine Dining Dead?

Planting Seeds of Change.

Sometimes in our high-stress industry, the most difficult thing to do is to have the patience to wait and allow something to grow.  This is most challenging when it’s apparent that people around you do not want to change.  As I look back on my first year here in Southern Oregon, I am tremendously proud of everyone I work with.  I spent this year “planting seeds” and as I have mentioned before, now have to choose which ones to cultivate.  It’s abundantly clear from the response that this change is favorable and we are involved with something that has become greater than all of us.  I am truly at my greatest when I can “plant a seed” with a fellow cook and see them take it and run.  I sometimes marvel at the talent that emerges given the proper “cultivation”.  I now see it every day as I work in a basement under 2,000 tons of brick that was layed over 2 centuries ago.  Inspiration is the ingredient, realizing the dream is the dish.  This, my friends, is only the beginning.

Signs of Spring, A New Beginning.

As I go through my front door at home and start walking to my Jeep to depart for work, something catches my eye.  A small cluster of brightly colored yellow flowers. 

Although it’s the middle of February, it’s been sunny and a little warm.  Looks like the nice weather is helping coax the spring flowers from their sleepy winter slumber.  Will it be an early spring?  Will springtime culinary delights be early this year? 

Spring is Coming

Looking forward to the wild Oregon items…  Ramps, watercress, morels (OMG, Morels…) and other springtime favs… Peas, strawberries, rhubarb, asparagus, fresh favas, radish, turnips, beets, garlic scapes, fiddleheads, …  YUM!

Is American Cooking and Food Products “Waking Up”?

Being a chef is a tremendous responsibility.  You take care of your kitchen workers so they are happy and excited.  You take care of your service staff so they are enthusiastic about what they are serving.  And most important of all, you take care of your guests by providing safe food (and an experience) that they will come back for.  As Chefs, we make thousands of decisions a day.  Most are second nature.  Most are not given a second thought.  It comes from experience.  Seasoning, adjusting temperatures, reaching for the right piece of equipment, and so on…  Others require a bit of thought.  Is cheaper and quicker always better?

My personal belief is that American innovation (IN GENERAL) is to produce a product quicker and at a lower cost, thus improving efficiency.  In the food service world, you see this all the time.  Blue cheese and prosciutto are great examples.  European versions of blue cheese take months or years to produce as does prosciutto.  Stack that up to domestic versions that take weeks and you can see the difference.  Sure, the American versions cost a fraction of their European counterparts, but are they better?  Do they compare?  Those of us in the industry know the answer is a big no.  Cheaper and faster is not always the way to go.  Food quality should not be sacrificed for efficiencies.  Why, just today, I made samples of dinner rolls (blue cheese rolls to be exact).  One with Stella Blue Cheese (Domestic at around $2.50/lb) and the other with Rogue Creamery “Crater Lake” Blue at several times higher the price.  Granted Rogue Cremery is just down the street from us, but they produce some blues that age almost 4 years.  The results?  Comments abound at how much better the Rogue Cremery Blue rolls were and that the others “looked and tasted like a mistake”. 

There is a movement that many credit Alice Waters for starting in the ’70’s.  I think now, with Global Climate concerns and the economy in general, people in general are looking for things that are produced closer to home.   There’s an increase in freshness, quality and an aire of sustainability.  It’s an exciting time to be a chef for sure.  However we have a long way to go to catch up with our European culinary friends.  The invention of the T.V. dinner really set us back.  🙂

Is Fine Dining Dead?

Taken from Studio Kitchen’s Blog….  How do you feel??

New Rule #52.

Fine Dining is not Dead.

It is just being reconfigured, the usual bullshit trappings like fish forks, 12 kinds of bread options, American Waiters from Brooklyn with fake French inflected accents, table chargers, gratuitous floral arrangements, Michelin stars, table-side plating, flambeing anything anywhere on the premises especially the dining room, ad-nauseum celebrity chef restaurant type pre-dining instructions on how to consume dishes, the use of any phrase by waiters that starts with “chef prefers……”, solicitous eye contact, among several others.

Think on a case by case basis, a $125 tasting menu at Eleven Madison Park may be a better value than multiple small sharing plates at your “small plates tapas venue” after you factor in the 2 pizzas and couple of hot dogs you eat at Grey’s Papaya on your way home.

Fine Dining was and always will be about Fine Food.

What is happening is we are dispensing with the draperies, no more window dressing.

Okay, Change is in the Air…

So, I think I have it….  The Inn has been running the same core menu for some time now (30+ years)…  To offer a new menu would really displease a lot of patrons who have come to rely on these items.  furthermore, I have come to realize that many of these dishes are iconic symbols of the Inn’s history and to simply delete them would be heresy.  So, I have developed a section of them menu to read “Chef’s Select Specialties” that will allow me to play, and experiment.  On the traditional side, all items come with the Chef’s Choice of Veg and either Mashed potatoes or Rice Pilaf (1970 somethings…?)  On the other side, I have created items that employ more current cooking styles and flavor profiles.  I always keep in mind that I am in the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon and not in New York or San Francisco, but it allows me a lot of creative freedom.  Also, I have learned that our dining room manager (who has been with us going on for 11 years now….) has a certain affinity towards progressive style cooking.  He keeps asking me when I am going to bust out the sous vide…  Well, I do have my own immersion thermal circulator.  Also, we have a cry-o-vac machine from 1978 (still works…)  The china limits the presentation somewhat….  But here’s some stuff….

Chatting with your guests…

One thing that I am learning quickly is that the same people who have been comning here for 30 years are tired of the same stuff…  Odley enough, they have asked me for something new/unique/different.  Jerry reminds me, it’s my kitchen.  He has even said “change the menu.  There’s nothing THAT sacred there.”  Yeah, right.  If I took that advise literally, I’d be in the midst of a revolt.  It’s all good fun, and I have too much respect for all the hard work this man has put into his establishment.  So, I am working on a way to marry the old and the new.  This is turning out to be a great exploration.  What’s more, I am also learning that this region is very up-and-coming in the wine business.  Many appellations are just beginning to be nationally and worldly recognized. 

Learning a new style…

I think that every 4 star and up chef has experienced a change in thinking when it comes to keeping his/her restaurant alive during these tough economic times. Many chefs I speak with turmoil over how to reduce costs while maintaining quality/integrity. Sure it’s easy to spend money to look good, but if people are no longer willing to pay top dollar for all the intricate details, what’s one to do? Quality chefs refuse to sacrifice. It’s true, Jerry has told me on a number of occasions now, “it’s easy to look good as you go out of business…”.

During this economic down-turn, I have witnessed a change in dining habits. People are looking for value. Looking for a 4 star experience at a 2 star price. “You can always trade down.” Do I really need to spend $50 for that 8 ounce bottle of PX Sherry Vinegar? Non-sacrificing chefs may say “yeah, I do”. Others may say “I’ll create dishes that don’t use it.” That is the boat I am in. I am re-learning the trade. Re-thinking how my flavors work. I am spending less time getting what I want and more time wanting what I got. I am fortunate to work at a place that has a loyal following and is regionally famous. It’s me that has to fit into this mold if we are to continue to be successful. 33 years in business means there is a lot of tradition here. Suffice to say that this place is “steeped” in tradition. How does a chef like me that strives for innovation work in this type of environment? A place who’s known for it’s 16ounce prime rib with horseradish sour cream and twice baked potato? I’m a survivor, and this means re-inventing myself. I will have to learn to pay homage to tradition, but at the same time satisfy my own drive for innovation. After all, Chicken Picatta has already been invented (and enjoyed here for over 3 decades…)

Oregon, here I come

Well, after about 3 months of looking and deliberating of where I could end up, I decided to work with Jerry’s team at the Jacksonville Inn in Jacksonville Oregon.  Built in 1861 (I love history) this hotel has been in operation as it currently is for over 33 years.  Jerry Evans, the owner, had faith enough to hire me (he had over 300 resumes to weed through) and I couldn’t be happier.  This is the first time I have worked for an independent owner.  I really has a different feel to it, but there is a huge focus on being the best and taking care of people.  There are no hidden agendas.  This is very refreshing and did realize how much I have missed out working so long in big business type environments.  In its 33+ years in existence, the awards and accolades it has received are too numerous to count.  It’s walls are adorned with celebrity photos and awards from over 3 decades.  Everyone from the Smothers Brothers to former president George Bush have stayed here.   I feel I have found a good home.

A Time of Reflection

Once and awhile we need to step back, look around, and try to understand a bit more of the bigger picture. I have a bad habit (although I think I’ve come a long way) of getting so immersed in something that I may loose site of that big picture. Thankfully I have good friends that help reel me in and remind me of what really matters. Family, Friends, cooking… That really sums it up. Balance between each of these is important.

With that being said, I must say that I have made the difficult decision to move on. While I don’t have a specific place in mind, I know it will be for the better. I absolutely love the times I have had for the past 2 years here and become a bit sad thinking that I won’t be a part of seeing the garden grow, or Culinary weekend grow to the grand scale we all know it will. I have worked at planting seeds all over the place for the last 2 years and while some have been slow growing, many are starting to take form. I know Chris, with his drive and desire, will continue to push and make this region of the world understand that passionate people create passionate food and that goes for chefs as well as the farmers who grow it.
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