Friday, May 25, 2012

Boulder to Wisconsin to NYC


It has been a whirlwind... Boulder Country Dinner on the 12th of May. Very satisfied with the turnout - guests from Boulder, Parker, Denver, Fort Collins and Niwot. Eight great culinary students from Johnson & Wales assisting in the kitchen and for service. My friend, Sommelier Jesse Slaughter handled the initial wine/food pairings and the wine service with grace and aplomb. Drew from Centennial Liquors in Louisville sourced great wines to be pared with the menu... That is one of the aspects of the Need to Feed. I NEED to FEED not only my guests a wonderful menu but provide the atmosphere for convivality and sharing. The Slow Food movement was my inspiration and and it also FEEDS my soul. We FEED people in a spiritual, visceral and soulful manner. I give the same aspects to myself and, hopefully, the staff which allows me the ability to FEED. It is parts of the whole...
The last weeks of instruction at the University culminated with graduation ceremonies, in the rain, on the 19th of May. I was struck by the students that crossed the stage. many of us have made the same treck, walked in those paths only to discover our own journey. What will be there path? How will they make their way in the world? Who will they become? Emily Abens, student speaker, found her voice when she spoke of 'Moments of Impact', quoting the contemporary movie 'The Vow'. We, as instructors and educators make an IMPACT when we IMPACT with students. We hope that what we say, do and teach will be IMPACTFUL. I write this just 6 days sfter the ceremonies and I have already been impacted by my recent travels. I departed the day after graduation for the fields and rolling hills of the upper Midwest to be IMPACTED by farmers, cheese makers and fellow culinarians. Thank you, Enily, for provided an IMPACTFUL observation...
I arrived in Wisconsin on Sunday, 20 May 2012. Warm sunshine with cool breezes greeted me and 11 other Chefs, Sommeliers and Culinary Educators. We were given the opportunity by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board to tour the Wisconsin country side and meet Master Cheese Makers, Farmers, Artisans, Retail Cheese Purveyors, Research Chefs and Food Service professionals who all had one thing in common. The Need to Feed. In this manner is is the flow of milk from the family or industrial farm, be it cow, sheep or goat milks. The dairy industry and their milk is the raw product for cheese production.  Cheee is easy to make but it is, as I learned, far from simple. Milk, cultures, bacteria, rennet, flavors and salt. Just a few ingredients in cheese. The results are thousands of cheeses. The difference is the focus of the cheese maker. Decisions are made to use raw or pasteurized or heat-modified milk and then to create a cheese in a style –soft, semi-soft, firm and hard. Cheddar, Bleu, Gruyere or Chevre – the process is essentially the same. The results, as we tasted and observed, blew me away... It is evident that these stewards of the land and crafters of cheese are some of the most creative and passionate people I have met in 38 years in food service.

Their names are less familiar to me and, perhaps, completely foreign to you. The following are people and places that are worth looking in to. They are, in order of visitation and tastings: Bruce Workman @ Edelweiss Creamery, Myron Olson @ Chalet Cheese, Regi Hise and Angie Frie @ Emmi Roth USA, Stauffacher Dairy, Chris & Kris Roelli @ Roelli Cheese, Sid Cook @ Carr Valley Cheese, Bob Wills @ Cedar Grove Cheese, Dean Sommer @ Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, Tony Hook @ Hook's Cheese and finally, but certainly not least, Willi Lahner @ Bleu Mont Dairy. These are rock stars in the world of Artisan & Master Cheese Makers. Trained by generations of American cheese makers or apprenticed in Europe to the thousand-year experience of monks, farmsteads and artisans. Add to that some rockin' scientific understanding of what cheese ‘is’ and ‘isn’t’ and we who attended the three-days in Wisconsin have a greater understanding and appreciation of cheese and cheese production and humanity. My great thanks to Sara ill from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and to Mary Petersen from Cafe for the organization and support which allowed us an inside view to the generational culture that is Cheese making in Wisconsin. Bravo.

Between the formal tastings, lunches and dinners (one of them a most memorable meal with James Beard Awarded Tory Miller, Chef @ L’Etoile in Madison, WI) I tasted well over 100 cheeses in two days, some remarkable and some purely ethereal and heavenly. As a chef, these food products are the end result of a long line of passionately dedicated people who care and trust in each other. The purest of milk can potentially make the greatest cheese. Poor quality milk will never make more than poor quality cheese… The lesson is to use the best quality products available, treat them and the people offering these to you with respect, apply sound methods and techniques and let your creativity and imagination lead the way to producing something in ‘your style’.

Rain. Humidity. Crowds. Buildings. Noise. I write these words in a Hindu inspired Bed& Breakfast in the Lower East Side of Manhattan as I prepare for Day 1 of my stage at WD~50 on Clinton Street, just 1 ½ blocks from this apartment. I walked the neighborhood this morning to get a feel for where I am…
First, I shopped at the corner Carniceria y Fruiteria. The Pueblo Deli & Grocery. Bottled water, fruit and nectar of the gods - coffee. As I walk, I can’t think of two more diverse environments than the rolling hills and farms of South Western Wisconsin, populated by immigrant families from Ireland, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, and the bustling, cab-honking, grey-skied environs of the Lower East Side of Manhattan – the East Village – in one of the oldest cities in the Eastern United States, full of representative citizens from every country in the world.

I walked the short route to Michelin-starred WD~50. My block and one-half stroll reminded me of the Hotel Brick in the Roma-Norte section of Mexico City DF. The corner of Tabasco y Obregon, looks, smells and feels the same as the corner of Stanton & Attorney. The streets and playgrounds are crowded with intermittent gardens and piles of plastic bags holding refuse and garbage from yesterday and longer. The language of the street is Hispanic. I was immediately struck by the location. Real Estate dogma be damned. This temple of haute-gastronomy is a storefront between less enticing business opportunities, at least for me.

The skies have just opened up – overhead lightning, just yards away and the resultant torrent of rain crashes to the ground. It is a rainy day in Manhattan. The world outside goes about it’s business and I drink coffee, tap away at the keyboard and look both forward to‘Gastronomic Disneyland’ and backward to a time of peaceful pastures, communal fellowship, placid fields, wine, cheese, bread and – well, enough of those memories, for now. They are burned into my psyche, like photographs from friends that live on into the years.
I feel like I want to share my words and my experiences quickly, yet I know that the more I hermit myself, the better the experience will be for all. The passive nature of this B&B is perfectly attuned to my goal. Immersion, once again in a gastronomic temple (one of many this summer) and the resultant epiphanal qualities of my work will radiate. I prepare myself for my first 13-hour shift; the menial yet important tasks of ironing my chef coat, arranging my knife kit, checking for notebooks, sharpie, pen, baker’s cap, etc. As I wash the dust from my clogs I see these same shoes walking through the pastures and cow barns of the Mid-West, through cheese houses and freshly cleaned production spaces… Thus, I am reminded of doing the same preparatory tasks as a young cook and culinary student and of my day to day mise en place as a Chef and Chef/Instructor, and fittingly to my day today, as a stagiaire @ The French Laundry in 2009…some things never change, not matter how different they seem. Never stop learning. Never stop living. Never stop.

The trepidation of new surroundings are tempered with the fascination of the subject at hand. Wylie Dufresne - Rhode Island native and modernist Chef is my first stop in the summer of 2012's apprenticeship. I must thank Chris Young, from Modernbist Cuisine for helping to set this stage and to the many people at Johnson & Wa;les who have allowed these experiences not be a financila burden...

I believe that the basic premise of restaurant food should have a tradition, a foundation - which makes it satisfying and 'appropriate'. Convention, copying and cooking quips are just masking a lack of culinary history and a mis-understanding of what it means to be a Chef - in my opinion. We, as culinary educators, need to know about and demonstrate all that is happening in the culinary world, however... From that, you and I must keep learning, keep teaching and keep our eyes and ears open... Another aspect of the NEED to FEED. Peace.

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