A funny thing happened on the way to the kitchen…

Ok – I missed a week. I was hoping to post on a weekly basis, but last week got away from me. This time, I have to share something that happened this past week – a non-culinary event that was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. I promise to get right back into the crazy world of vegan cuisine next week, but for now…

First, a little background. Long ago, in the dim and distant past, there was a time when I was not obsessed with vegan cuisine. Not to worry, however. Instead of being consumed by all things plant-based, I was in the grip of a far more sinister obsession – the guitar. Ah, she was a harsh mistress, indeed. Each day, I spent many hours trying to tame her. I would make small advances, but for the most part, she would mock my efforts. Luckily for me, my culinary mistress has been much kinder – although I’m convinced my early efforts with guitar and music opened up channels in my brain that enable me to approach cooking in a unique way.

Anyways, to make a short story long, one of my early guitar heroes was Randy Rhoads, who played lead guitar for Ozzy Osbourne. In his brief career, he established himself as a unique and innovative voice on the instrument. Through his playing, I was introduced to the music of Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath, and although my musical journey took me through the genres of progressive rock, fusion, jazz and classical music, I always kept a place in my heart for the music I loved when I was a kid.

Now back to the present, almost. Last Saturday (July 31st), I was minding my own business, getting ready for dinner service at the restaurant, when I received a call from Jason, one of my dearest friends. For the record, a call from Jason has the potential to lead just about anywhere, no joke. Somebody needs to write down this guy’s life story, because I swear that freakin’ Dos Equis ad campaign about the “most interesting man in the world” is based on Jason. So Jason is on the phone with Jack Osbourne (Ozzy Osbourne’s son – did I mention that Jason knows everybody?). Turns out Jack is directing his dad’s latest video and needs someone to play the part of a priest (I think Jason recommended me because my dad is a retired minister). My response? Name the time and the place! They told me they were shooting on the following Saturday and to expect a follow-up call in the next few days – and that was that.

The week flew by, as weeks tend to do. Friday rolled ‘round and I still hadn’t heard anything (oh well, sure woulda’ been cool, I thought…). Friday night at 11:00pm I finally received a call from the AD. We were on! Be at the cemetery (this is Ozzy, after all) in Altadena on Saturday morning at 8:00am. Short notice – but I’m there!

Molly and I set out for Altadena at 7:30 Saturday morning and arrived a few minutes after 8:00. We we had a great time and were there until 6:00pm. I’m not going to bore you with the details, but I will leave you with a few thoughts:
1.)Ozzy is still THE MAN!!! The new tune rocks and he has not lost a step – he is still the consummate rock star.
2.)I am no actor. Luckily, not much acting was required, just a lot of being somber while wearing a priest outfit. I actually got busted a few times for smiling too much. Who knew?
3.)The process of filming was very cool. I’m not sure why anybody would want to be an actor (lots of waiting, lots of doing the same thing over and over), but I could see myself being a director or part of the crew – their work was fascinating.
4.)My wife is cool. Not for any reason in particular, just because this is my blog and I can say that if I want to.
5.)Ozzy is a lot of fun. I’ll let this picture speak for itself:

So there you have it – once in a lifetime. A day that I will always treasure. A million thank yous, Jason!

Chef David
August 8, 2010

P.S. – Come eat at my restaurant, Ozzy, pretty please (don’t worry Ronnen, if he does, I’ll make sure you’re there).

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The best fruit in the world!

Today I am going to share one of the keys to great cuisine – use great ingredients! It seems obvious – almost cliche – but it is the backbone of all great cooking. Great chefs are not alchemists, turning poor ingredients into culinary masterpieces. Rather, every great chef I have ever come into contact with places a premium on utilizing the finest ingredients as the starting point for their cuisine. My personal philosophy is get the finest ingredients and let them shine.

Here’s a good example:
The last few weeks I have purchased the most amazing heirloom tomatoes – perfectly ripe, juicy and bursting with flavor. I’ve chosen to utilize them in a panzanella, which is an Italian tomato and bread salad. The ingredients: tomatoes, toasted bread, extra-virgin olive oil, basil chiffonade, minced garlic, sea salt and fresh-cracked black pepper. Simple. Anyone could whip some up in a matter of minutes. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, to say the least. In fact, customers have gone out of their way to praise this simple salad. Am I a great chef? I’m not sure, but I do try to get out of the way and let the best ingredients shine whenever possible. A final note on the panzanella. I grew up in New England in the 70’s and 80’s and therefore was not exposed to great produce, I’m sorry to say. In fact, tomatoes, as far as I knew, were a flavorless, poorly textured piece of produce that certainly did not cause me any excitement. Now let’s just pretend for a moment. Let’s pretend that last weekend I had the tomatoes from my childhood rather than the wonderful tomatoes that I had. I can guarantee that the response to the panzanella would have been very different. In fact, I could offer the same dish in February and not get the same results, as the tomatoes would no longer be at their peak.

Turns out I told you all this so that I could tell you something else. This weekend at Madeleine Bistro, we are offering a Five Course Chef’s Tasting Menu featuring the organic fruit of Etheridge Farms. I’ve known Gene Etheridge for many years, and I can say from personal experience that his fruit is the best that I have ever tried. He is also very passionate about what he does and is always eager to discuss his fruit and how he is able to bring out the best in each piece of fruit. This week, his peak fruits include “tasty treat” plums, “Santa Rosa” plums, yellow and white peaches and heirloom tomatoes. Here is the menu I created:

Panzanella soup
Heirloom tomato “cannoli”, basil oil

“Tasty treat” plum carpaccio
Pickled plums, green papaya noodles, toasted walnuts

Grilled seitan with yellow peach barbecue sauce
Yukon gold potato puree, grilled asparagus, shallot rings

White peach-lemongrass dessert soup and sorbet
Fresh berries, strawberry en gelee, mint oil

S’mores flavors with plum ginger ale
Chocolate ganache, graham crackers, marshmallow fluff

The menu will be available on Saturday and Sunday nights only, Reservations are strongly recommended. As an added bonus, Gene Etheridge will be in the house on Saturday night and will share a few words on his favorite subject: fruit. Hope to see you all this weekend!

Chef David
July 21, 2010

P.S. – I did a Chef’s Tasting menu with Gene’s fruit last month. Here’s a photo of one of the courses:

Rainier cherry gazpacho: Cherrywood-smoked corn panzanella, crostini, avocado foam

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The creation of a dish…

Where exactly does a “new” dish come from? Does it come in a flash of inspiration as though the cosmos had chosen me as its humble vessel? Or do I raid the Moosewood Cookbook for the umpteenth time, fussing over the presentation in hopes that nobody discovers my pilferage? Is it the next logical step in a unique and constantly evolving culinary vocabulary? Or do I riff on a classic dish by simply changing out one of its ingredients? The answer is…

There is no answer! Not one answer, anyway. New dishes are inspired in many different ways (including the aforementioned). So, in an attempt to answer the initial question, I’ve decided to offer a glimpse into the process. In this case, it goes something like this…

It’s Wednesday – back to work day (Tuesday is our only day off – family day with the kids). We’ve reformatted the menu so that more than half of it changes on a weekly basis. The weekend was busy and seriously kicked my ass, so I haven’t planned the menus for the upcoming weekend yet. That means the menus have to be finished today.
I sure hope the cosmos has my back today (just kidding, sort of).

For the purpose of this exercise, I’m going to single out one of the dishes I came up with and try to recreate the process. The new dish will be part of the five-course Chef’s Tasting Menu and will also be available a la carte. This is how it appears on the menu:

Heirloom tomato “garden”
Tomato spheres, mushroom “soil”, mesclun, tomato sorbet

A little back story: It turns out I’m something of a “food nerd” (my wife would argue that although this is the truth, it is greatly understated). I have a lot of cookbooks. I like to read other restaurant’s menus in my spare time. I download photos of other restaurant’s food from Flickr. It can get a little obsessive. Although this can sometimes be annoying when you are, indeed, my wife – it can be of great benefit when it’s time to write menus.

Back to the present: I like to start with seasonality. July 18th, hmmm… HEIRLOOM TOMATOES!!! One of my favorite ingredients to work with. My first thought is to go with the “theme and variations” model. For instance, here’s the verbage for the dessert from last week’s Chef’s Tasting Menu:

Study in corn, the dessert
Ganache, espuma, dessert “chowder”, ice creme

This was a classic “theme and variations dish”. Each of the listed components (ganache, espuma, etc.) was made from corn. So, my next thought was, “I did the theme and variations last week – how can I tweak it a little bit?” Hmmm… the “garden” idea…

Sometimes ideas kick around in my head for a while before I actually take them for a spin. Ever since I read about Spanish chef Ferran Adria’s dish entitled “Thaw 2005”, I had wanted to experiment with this concept. If you are not familiar with Adria, you should be – but that’s a topic for a different day. “Thaw 2005” was Adria’s first dish that literally mimicked the natural world. Love the concept! My dish will mimic a tomato garden.

First, the tomatoes. I haven’t completely given up the “theme and variations” idea. I will present the tomatoes in a variety of preparations. For now, I’ve settled on three: their natural state, tomato spheres and tomato sorbet.
*Natural state – Very simple. I’ll use a small melon baller to create mini-tomatoes.
*Tomato spheres – I’m liking Mr. Adria today. For the spheres, I’ll make tomato water and then utilize another Adria innovation – reverse spherification. This will create a mini-tomato with a soft gel exterior and a liquid interior with an intense tomato flavor.
*Tomato sorbet – Variety is good. The tomato sorbet introduces contrasting texture and temperature.

For the soil, I will make a mushroom duxelle that I will utilize as the base of a mushroom “cookie”. The cookies will be turned into a crumble – voila, soil! Finishing touches will include basil stems (tomatoes paired with basil – nothing new there – sometimes I like the wheel as it is) and micro greens. Although the plating is still a vague picture in my mind, the basic idea is to spread a layer of the “soil” on the plate, then randomly place the three different tomato preparations on top of the soil. The basil stems and micro greens will garnish the mini-”tomatoes” and serve as the tomato “plants”.

So far, so good – but a little too esoteric. Since this dish is functioning as the salad in the tasting menu, I’ve decided to place a more literal salad next to the “garden”. The salad will be mesclun mix tossed with tomato vinaigrette (yet another tomato variation).
Heirloom tomato “garden”: Tomato spheres, mushroom “soil”, mesclun, tomato sorbet

And the dish is complete – in theory, anyway. There are always tweaks and adjustments as the actual components are being made. I’ll keep you updated.

Chef David
July 14, 2010

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Welcome To My Blog

I think about food a lot. I often wake up in the middle of the night with a new way of treating an ingredient planted in my mind, a fleeting remnant of a culinary dreamscape beyond anything my waking mind could ever imagine. When I’m in traffic (which can happen a lot when LA is home base), I’ll run through different ingredient permutations, mixing and matching components until I arrive at the perfect dish – conceptually, anyway. I daydream about using food to communicate, to entertain and ultimately to move people. The way that Picasso’s “Guernica” stirs my soul and Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” kindles my passion – that is what I want my food to do for others.

I am extremely compassionate and idealistic. I believe that we (the universal “we”) will move past most of our problems when we learn to respect all living things. These feelings come from very deep within my being and inform every aspect of my life. As a result, my cuisine is plant-based. Other, more traditional chefs, have asked me why I would choose to cook such a limiting cuisine. You know what? I feel like my creative freedom began when I decided to utilize only plant-based ingredients. I can’t really explain it – you’ll just have to trust me. Perhaps it’s because this is what I was meant to do.

Today, I am painting mostly in broad strokes – but indulge me for just a moment, because I am enamored by the subtleties and intricacies of the world of food. For example, I love that fruits and vegetables are seasonal. Corn that’s so sweet and juicy that you can turn it into custard without adding any other ingredients. It’s only that way a few months out of the year, but during those months – oh, the possibilities! And as the days get shorter and autumn takes hold, I count down the days until chestnuts are available – no, seriously, I do. They actually have them year-round at the Asian market – but when they’re not at their peak, they’re just not the same. Heirloom tomatoes, fiddlehead ferns, morel mushrooms, porcini mushrooms, figs – I could go on and on (and on and on…).

Anyway, this blog is an attempt to share my passion for food. For some reason, people want to know where my ideas come from. A word of warning – it may not always be as exciting or as interesting as you think. Or maybe it’ll surprise you (it certainly surprises me sometimes). Whatever the case, I’m starting this blog so that I can invite you all along for some of the ride. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.

Finally, I’d like to share some exciting news. We’re currently working on opening a new restaurant in the “Hollywood area”. We will be slowing down operations at Madeleine Bistro for the summer to facilitate the expansion plans. Summer hours will be as follows:
Friday: Dinner 5:00pm-9:30pm
Saturday & Sunday: Brunch 10:00am-3:00pm, Dinner 5:00pm-9:30pm
We’re are gonna spice things up, however. All menus will be changing weekly. The dinner menu will feature a 5-course Chef’s Tasting Menu that I will utilize as a vehicle for testing ideas for the new restaurant. There will also be a Vegan Indulgence Menu. A what, you ask? It is essentially a guilty pleasures menu. This week we will highlight the wonderful cuisine of Ronald McDonald – Bigger Macks, “Egg” Mack-Muffin, Fries and Shakes (including our take on the iconic Shamrock Shake), etc. We also have a weekly Home Delivery “Box” available for Monday delivery. For more info, check out the Madeleine Bistro Facebook page.

So there it is – I have entered the world of blogging.
See you next time,
Chef David
Wednesday, July 7, 2010

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