December 22, 2005

Kelly's Birthday Dinner

Today is my husband's birthday.

My poor, POOR husband, the subject of all my practice runs and experiments and cupboard-is-bare--so-what-do-I-make meals... (I'm sure those of you who don't live with chefs are all very sorry for him, right?)

Over this past week I have offered to make him the meal of his choice. His tastes are pretty simple. Which annoys me to no end. He's into eating big, hearty, bulky foods like chili, enchiladas, pot roast, pastas (not that you could tell, since he's a very slim guy, but he does eat a lot of food!) and he's not into delicate soufflés or fancy vegetables or fussy things. Here's someone who can have whatever he wants, expertly prepared, and he will choose to make himself a PBJ. GRRRRR!

So I badgered him into choosing something that would be delicious for him to eat and somewhat challenging for me to make, and here's what he(we) came up with:


Omelette of Tomatoes, Fresh Basil and Feta Cheese
Home-Style Potatoes cooked in duck fat
Multi-grain baguette, toasted and buttered
Espresso, and orange juice.


Chilean Sea Bass with Lemon Beurre Blanc
Brussles Sprouts with Smoked Pork Lardons
Ginger-Glazed Carrots
Tri-Color Fingerling Potatoes

... and for dessert, Devil's Food Cake with Kirsch-Macerated Dark Cherries and Crème Chantilly. Sort of a take-off on Black Forest Cake.

The veggies all came from the farmers market, so they were especially fresh and delicious. The curly-haired aussie potato guy is always friendly and polite, but he never remembers me. I don't know why it bothers me so much; I'm sure he sees several hundred faces a day... but I see him both at both Wednesday's, in Santa Monica, and Thursday's, in Westwood Village, and I always try to strike up a conversation, and he never seems to remember me.

Anyway, he has the best fingerlings, just a dash of salt and they're perfect. And the skins of the potatoes actually popped when we bit through them. The carrots came out just right, and the brussles sprouts did very nicely with the smoked pork.

And the sea bass! Just wonderful. Pan-seared in a cast iron skillet with some diced onion, sprinked with fresh herbs and a healthy splash of white wine, then put in a 400 degree oven until the thermometer registered 155. remove to a warmed plate and finish up the sauce: Add a bit of lemon juice, white wine vinegar and whole black peppercorns to the cooking liquid, reduce, add freshly torn basil, remove from the heat and start mounting the sauce. Moist, delicious, divine. Kelly cleared his plate!

I'm positively stuffed, so the cake will have to wait for a little while. In the meantime, we're going to watch a movie, and maybe have a bit of tea.

Last thing I ate or drank: above dinner! Yum!

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December 21, 2005

Amuse is gone!

I was leafing through last month's Los Angeles magazine, and saw a teensy little blurb in the restaurant section that Amuse is gone. over. fini. I couldn't believe it -- perhaps they meant another restaurant in Venice called Amuse Cafe? so I checked the website, which is still up and running (with no mention of the restaurant being closed), but the phone number is disconnected.

Wow. What happened?

Yikes, if it can happen to them, it can happen to anyone.

Brooke and Nick are good kids. I'm sure we'll see them doing something spectacular again soon. Hopefully, together.

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December 19, 2005

Haute Cuisine

Mr. Bix makes lunch

Last thing I ate or drank: I made fried chicken for dinner.

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December 18, 2005

Hey, baby, last night was fantastic!

I got there on time.
All my kitchen workers were on time.
All my servers & the bartender were on time
The food was out on time, and it was great.

We made food for over 100 people in a kitchen no bigger than the one in my little apartment. And there were three of us crammed in there!!

...with an antique stove combo...on which the burners wouldn't light without a lighter (I *so* take it for granted that mine lights automatically!) ...and on which the oven stopped working about an hour before the end of service.
These accursed antique ovens! Don't people realize that this is a Major Appliance, and that one that doesn't work is a Major Pain in the Ass to the chef when you hire her to cater your party?! And they're so small, I have to use these flimsy pans from Big Lots because none of my standard pans fit in them.
On the bright side, nothing broke, nothing ruined, nothing burned... well except for a couple mini pizzas that we tried to cook in the broiler after the oven stopped working. A valiant effort but a failure, in the end.

Anyway, everyone was great, everyone was in the groove, my workers didn't have to be told every silly little instruction, they actually Took Initiative and did what needed to be done. I am so so so so lucky to have found these wonderful people. Erin, George, Larri, Craig, and Jeannine. Plus, Harris from thursday night. Plus Carolyn from the night before that. (I can't tell you what sheer joy it is to look up from my work and see that the dishes are done.) AFAIK, none of them know about this blog, but if they did, I'd want them to know how proud I am of them all over this past week. If my company enjoys any degree of success, it's because of them.

Now, if I could just get my clients to pay their bills, so I can write out checks for my staff's tips!

Last thing I ate or drank: latte.

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December 16, 2005

Santa, changed my mind again.

Ok, $34,000 was kinda pricy for a big old fancy stove. I could replace my cherished old red Miata and still have enough left over to buy the first utilitarian and non-sexy stove I asked for. < whine > But it would have matched my big black fridge, Darth 'Rator. </ whine >

A blog I've started reading, Delicious Delicious, pointed out some
cute refrigerator magnets
that would tuck into my stocking quite nicely.

I really don't need anything else.

Last thing I ate or drank: Latte prepared on my crappy little stove, and home-made apricot scones, baked in the crappy little oven that came with my apartment - The one that won't fit a standard professional baking sheet, as it lacks a mere 2" of width. The one that has only four small burners. The one has been scrubbed so much that the enamel is worn off under the cast iron burner rings. at least it's gas...

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Really, can someone clue me in here?

These are the search stats for my site:
Why do you care if Sandra Lee is married, and WHY do you care if she's married to Bruce Karatz?!
Why do you care if Sandra Lee is married, and
WHY do you care if she's married to Bruce Karatz?!

Last thing I ate or drank: lemon gatorade

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December 15, 2005


n 1: extreme mental distress [syn: torment, torture] 2: extreme distress of body or mind v 1: suffer great pains or distress 2: cause emotional anguish or make miserable
Last night after 8pm, I got a call from tomorrow's client.

He's having a big formal seated dinner, 15 guests, 3 hot appetizers followed by 6 courses, with pairings of wines, as well. It's his executives-only holiday party, so kind of a big deal.

He has a lovely home, but the arrangement is such that he can't seat 15 people in the same room. We arranged to rent heaters, and have the seating outdoors. It's Los Angeles, right? (well, yes, but the night's still drop down into the low 50's)

Seems that the rental company, which was supposed to have arrived betwen 9am and 1pm, didn't, and actually showed up at 8pm. Without the full order. Especially of concern to my client was that there were no heaters. There was no tent. And there was no reason why.

I called the rental representative at the office, no answer
I called the rental representative on her business cellphone, no answer
I called the rental representative on her personal cellphone, no answer

I told Kelly what was up, and he said, "So, what are you going to do? You can't come up with heaters and tents between now and tomorrow afternoon? You'll make it work, somehow."

So I went to bed. With my clipboard on my lap.

When I woke up this morning, I checked everywhere for messages, and there were none. I called her cellphone again, no answer. I called the office at 9:30, got transferred to her, and let her have it: Why was I not contacted about the delays? Why was I not informed of the incomplete delivery? Why did I have to hear it from my client? Why did she not return my calls? Why bother to give me her personal cellphone if she wasn't going to answer it?

She 'reassured' me that everything had been handled with the client. what? I told her *I* am the client. She charged MY credit card. She had messages from ME. Turns out, the delivery guy told my client her phone number, and he had been calling her, too. (in his shoes, I'd have done the same, it would be my party, and I'd want to make sure that it all went smoothly)

But still, she never called me. I'm not sure she would have called me.

There is NO REASON my client should have to lift a finger for this party, even to use that finger to dial the phone. Hire me and I'll take care of it. That's my policy.

But when the people I rely on screw up, (oh, and don't get me started on the wine guy!) it reflects on me. I wouldn't be so mad if she'd just 'fessed up and told me "oops" because I could have smoothed things out with my client, given him a heads up.

Maybe not come off looking like I don't have MY act together, because the company I used doesn't have ITS act together.

So, we'll see how it goes. I may post their name here later, I have to see how I feel after tonight's event goes down.

Thank goodness I've got this blog for therapy!

Last thing I ate or drank: nothing yet, but the blood sugar's dropping quick!

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December 14, 2005

Two kids from Los Angeles: food blog: Cooking lessons for Wade

Yesterday afternoon, my friend Wade came over for a little cooking lesson. He wanted to make egg nog ice cream. I had a fleeting fantasy that we could put a rum ribbon in it. He was game, so we went for it.

Wade, bless his heart, has some food allergies, so we had some limitations. We couldn't use cow milk, butter, or cornstarch. So, how do you make a crème anglaise without milk and butter and cornstarch? well, you can use goat's milk, and you can use rice flour. Which we did. I did a quick-bang little experiment to see if I could get a custard-like consistency out of those ingredients, and it worked, so then, ever so slowly, I put Wade through the paces.

First we learned how to crack an egg. That took a few tries. :-D

Then we made the custard base, tempered it, brought it up to temperature and finished the custard.
Wade tempering the custard.  That sounds kinda dirty!
Meanwhile, I reduced a half of a cup of rum to a quarter cup. I made a gelatin base and tested the strength, and then we mixed the rum and the dissolved gelatin together and let it chill. We also cooled the ice cream mixture under running water, and finally it was cool enough to put in the fridge, after an addition of some ground nutmeg and a teeny splash of vanilla.

I tried to remember to make Wade keep tasting as we went along. One thing people may not realize is that, even though you may want an ice cream that is not going to be syrupy-sweet, it does have to be a bit sweeter before it's frozen because the sweetness will be masked by the coldness. I advised him that it could be a little sweeter, so we added a packet of Splenda (we were too lazy to invert some sugar, and we can't use corn syrup, and I didn't want to add lemon flavor, so the little yellow packet was a good compromise.)

We played with the computer and talked for a while, enjoying some vanilla tea and catching up (he's an MBA student and I'm deep in the weeds in catering for December, but it was nice to have to sit still and just relax with a friend, something neither of us get to do that often)

Then, we poured the mix in the ice cream machine, and went to chat some more. Another cup of tea. More good conversation. Hmmm. we should do this more often!

Finally, it was done. Hurray!
Wade with his finished egg nog ice cream
Sorry the photo is kinda blown out... but yes, that's really ice cream in there! Look at that face! Could he make that face without actually holding the delicious product of an entire afternoon's work in his hands? No, I think not.

I showed Wade how to layer in the ice cream with the jellied rum, but the gelatin was a little too firm. Next time, instead of using gelatin, I might try making a caramel out of brown sugar (or even demerara) and a little acid, then fortifying the flavor with some very reduced rum.

What do you say, Wade, will there be a next time?

Last thing I ate or drank: flourless chocolate cake. yeah, baby.

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December 13, 2005

Santa, you still listening?

Um, Santa?

You know that totally awesome stove & oven combo I sent you a couple of days ago?

Well, I'd like to retract that request.

No, no... wait. I have a replacement in mind.

Can I have this one instead?

It would be so nice to have this sexy black stove to contrast against my white chef's jacket.

Last thing I ate or drank: cri-cri peanuts and a ginger ale

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To foie or not to foie?

I have never liked foie gras... that is, until I had it at TRU, Rick Tramanto's Chicago restaurant. In fact, I didn't even like it the night before, at Alinea, when it was served there. I could certainly live without it, but the people who are militantly against it have come up with some kinky duck posters.

click to enlarge

In Belgium, an outdoor campaign is hoping to educate people about Foie Gras, that fancy sounding fatty liver dish. Apparently Foie Gras is made from the enlarged livers of geese and/or ducks who are force fed in captivity so that their livers dramatically expand. The campaign was supposed to run in 40 major Belgian railway stations but the railway company refused the posters because they are "too shocking" according to one news report.

(Via AdRants)

To be accurate, foie gras from fattened liver CAN be a natural thing: fowl preparing for migrations gorge themselves to get fat for the flight. It's one of those things that producers now exploit out of season, to the (alleged) detriment of the individual animal. For those who protest the practice as cruel, let's talk about your thanksgiving turkey, your christmas goose, the eggs you had for breakfast, or whatever animal you consumed for last night's dinner.

Last thing I ate or drank: coffee made in a French press. Just for the change of pace.

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December 11, 2005

Whoring for votes.

I was just checking my referrer stats (one of my favorite ways to find new blogs to read). Lo and behold, three people have nominated me for Accidental Hedonist's Best Food Blog in the "Chef" category.

Wow! With all the blogs out there, someone likes me? How cool!

It would be nice to win, (some of those prizes are really cool!) so I supposed that I'll keep you posted if I get contacted and I'm an actual contestant. I turn 35 in January, so it would be a nice feather in my cap to have something fun like this happen. It would be special to be recognized for entertaining people with the exploits of doing what I love.

So, here's my plug. I went through my stats to see which entries get lots of referrer hits (below). If you liked these, and you wanted to add a nomination for me in any (one or more) of the categories, it would be cool! Here are the categories that apply:

Hurry, nominations close on December 16th!

A few "blast from the past" entries on the ChefBlog:

ChefBlog: Things you do for friends

ChefBlog: How to be a good client.

ChefBlog: The Life of a Chef to the Stars.

ChefBlog: Recidivist Clients?

ChefBlog: Chef JoAnna's PSA on wedding budgets

ChefBlog: lots to tell, too much to do

Last thing I ate or drank: It's gatorate for breakfast day today! I'm so beaten from last night!

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December 08, 2005

Exaggerated Reality... but not by much!

*RING* Hi, yes, I know it's December 10th, but can you please cater my cocktail party for 175 people on December 17th?

There will be 24 vegetarians, 18 vegans, 14 people who are still on atkins, 10 people who only eat raw food, 8 who are averse to things grown in dirt, 4 who refuse to eat anything made by anyone who was not born on US soil, and one, the guest of honor, who will only eat fertilized sea bream eggs poached in imported spring water on organic wheat-free toast spread with butter made from the milk of a cougar and seasoned with Himalayan pink salt mined by a one-armed blue-eyed virgin sherpa.

By the way, I'm on a pretty tight budget. What's that going to cost, per person?

December 06, 2005

A little humor to relieve the holiday stress:

*RING* Hi, can you cater a party for tomorrow night? I want to throw a sushi party for 50 of my closest friends.

There might be one teensy little tiny little accomodation I'll have to ask you to make: my dad, who is rather elderly, is deathly allergic to fish, rice and seaweed. Can you still make sushi for him so that he won't feel left out?

Sorry, that was a silly question, it says right here on your website that you will "happily accomodate dietary restrictions", so it was foolish of me to ask you, I'm sure you have several alternative ways to make sushi that won't kill my already frail father.

After all, it would be a tragedy if he didn't live long enough to see his very first grandson. I'm pregnant, did I mention? Just 3 months along, but thank heavens, 4 years of fertility treatments finally took hold, and I want to celebrate with an intimate little sushi party...for 50 of my closest friends...Oh, and their spouses.

I'll also need you to provide an assortment sake, to go along with the sushi. Maybe you can make several courses and pair a sake to each course? Oh, and of course there has to be non-alcoholic sake available for all my friends who are in AA. Ha ha, just another little accomodation.

Oh, and I'm kind of on a budget, you know, with the baby coming along and all, we've really got to pinch our pennies. Do you think you can keep it under $400?

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November 21, 2005

December is already feeling like a blur...

...and it's not even December yet! I have two parties a week, every week, from now until New Year's Eve. As of this moment, I'm not booked on New Year's Eve, but I have gotten two calls already, so I'm just waiting to hear back.

That doesn't include the Personal Chef clients.

I still have to do a bunch of filing and taxes and organize my storage and organize my truck, re-pack my ''portable kitchen'' and some day, one day, hopefully in the near future, update my website with all the photos I've taken in the past 6 months!

Last thing I ate or drank: wild cherry diet pepsi and jicama sticks... but I made waffles with strawberries and whipped cream at 11am (YUM) and I'm still pretty full!

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November 19, 2005

giving the gift of ME

This morning I prepared a "breakfast in bed" for a couple. The woman who hired me to do this was repaying a favor to her friend, the wife. I do this kind of thing all the time, but this was my first official breakfast-in-bed deal. I was a teensy bit weirded out: I wouldn't want some stranger in my bedroom, first thing in the morning, no matter how good the food was or how sweet of a gift it was. The husband was kind about it, though, and gave her a 10 minute warning so she could get dressed and cleaned up a bit.

The friend, my client, arranged for everything, and the husband was in on it the whole time. Apparently he snuck out of bed and cleaned the kitchen some time during the night. He was also in charge of procuring the champagne. When I walked in, the wife stood there agape for a while, saying over and over, "How awesome is this? This is so totally awesome! Oh my GAWD this is So Totally Awesome!" (This was in North Hollywood, in the depths of the valley...are you surprised?) *grin* I showed up at 8:30, had their mimosas, gigantic fruit platters and made-from-scratch-that-morning banana bread ready at 9:30, and they had their custom-made omelettes, duck-fat hash browns and my secret-recipe veggie sausage at 10:00.

But I really did serve it to them in bed. They were on top of the covers, fully dressed, and watching cartoons. So cute.

Here's some pix:

Fruit Platter: Canteloupe with pear, strawberry, kiwi, grapes, watermelon and satsuma orange sections.

Omelets and Hash Browns, with veggie ''sausage''.

Mostly people give me (that is, my personal chef services) as a gift certificate, and I always ask the giver to specify if it's for just one dinner, or for a week's worth of food, or if they don't care. I've also done gift certificates for private cooking lessons.

I've been given to new moms, ostensibly so that they can enjoy their time with their newborn without being burdened by cooking... but the truth is, the mom is so overwhelmed by that new little bundle of joy that she's simply unable to coordinate feeding the baby AND the rest of her family... not to mention herself!

I've been given to a mom & dad, on their 40th wedding anniversary, because the kids all live far away and couldn't all get together for a fancy dinner. The mom planned out these multiple-course menus and hung out with me while I cooked. (I didn't mind, truly! It might have bothered me if she wasn't so sweet.)

I was given to a woman who was about to undergo her sessions of chemotherapy, so that on those days she could just come home to a freshly-made meal and relax. All her co-workers chipped in, and came up with enough for five sessions, including groceries. I've done two already, and her son is my biggest fan. It's so great when the kids eat; kids are tough customers!

Earlier this year, a dad gave a gift certificate for a birthday dinner for two to his daughter and future-son-in-law. They brought out their best dishes and drank their wine from their biggest fanciest stemware. The girl was just awed that food that tasted that good came out of her kitchen. The fiancé jeered her with things like, "You can't blame it on the stove anymore!" and "See, the kitchen is NOT cursed!" He joked about having me give her cooking lessons, but I later found out they moved out of state for her job.

At baby-showers and bridal-showers, I hear back that this was the most ooh'd and ahh'd over gift. It's so decadent, and rather unique. It's something everyone can use, and can't be returned! (well, nobody's tried yet...)

In the spring, I get calls on Thursdays from people who have procrastinated finding the PERFECT gift for the newlyweds who have everything. The giver is thrilled that they can get the gift certificate emailed to them. They print it out themselves and put in an envelope or a box to leave on the gift table that same Saturday night.

I think people are relieved that they can give "me" as a last-minute gift, because I can put the whole thing together in a matter of hours. We talk, I put a sample certificate up on my website, they tweak it, I make the changes, and they can print out the certificate and deliver it by hand. It's not always last-minute, but most of the time, it's not exactly planned out! I'm expecting to get a lot of calls for last-minute christmas gifts over the week of the 19th... just like last year.

The wife of this morning's couple kept saying "I feel like a princess!" every time I went back in the bedroom. <invoke RayRay> ''How awesome is that? </invoke RayRay>

Last thing I ate or drank: a handful of red seedless grapes.

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November 13, 2005

A story of triumph against adversity... in a freaking long post

Yesterday was a huge birthday party for the 6-year-old son of a media mogul and his author wife. The mogul's photo is on billboards around town right now, so as I'm driving around I'll see his trademark poofy hair and I'll be reminded of this party for a few more weeks.

I don't want a reminder.... I want to forget.

There was a lot of unnecessary drama about this party from the beginning. I was hired by a party planner, not the ultimate client. It seems that her usual cater moved out of town, and she was stuck without a caterer. She promised (as they all do) that she's looking for someone with whom she can develop a relationship and continue to work with. She has several celebrity clients and this would be great exposure for me. I don't want or need any more exposure, but she seemed really desperate and I wasn't booked, and it was only supposed to be about 75 guests for a 6-year-old's birthday party, so no big deal, right?


The client, (let's call her G), doesn't give the party planner (who I will refer to as A) a final menu until less than a week before the event. (By the way, I had nothing to do with creating this menu, so please don't mock me for making this food, I had no choice!) So A and I are scrambling around trying to figure out how to budget and plan and everything, but we can't really finalize anything because we don't know what we're going to be doing yet. When G finalizes the menu, she chooses a batch of things she wants as tray-passed Hors d'Oeuvres, as well as items for a luncheon picnic buffet. Simply a nightmare of a menu:

        I am instructed where to buy the miniature hamburger buns. That adds a stop I have to make the day before the event. Nevertheless, I always get high compliments on my hamburgers, so that's ok with me.
        Why I am making these, I have no idea. I begged to have them taken off the menu several different times, but A said G had her heart set on them. I went to three stores before I found cocktail weenies that weren't the smoked kind. I had to raid the entire inventory of croissant dough from the Ralphs market by my house. The checkout guy made fun of me. I had to roll tiny pre-made hotdogs in pre-made crescent pastry that comes out of a tube. A CARDBOARD TUBE! Soigné, this is not. Not by a long shot.
        Seems that A thought I would be able to make these myself, from scratch, the day of the event. I told her no way! I've done from-scratch, hand-tossed personal pizzas as an entrée for a party of 15, but no way was I going to do this for 75! I would have to find a supplier for the crusts. Luckily, karma puts me in the right place at the right time, and I find one… but there's more to come on this one, my friends. Oh yes, much more, which I'll include below.
        "Here, make this. No, I don't have a recipe. No, I don't have technique. I will rent you a deep fryer, but that's all I know. The other chef made them and they were great. So just make them, ok?" This is shaping up to be the white-trash menu from hell, is it not? At least they aioli could have been redeeming. Unfortunately, the rent-a-chef (more below) that I hired and assigned to the aioli broke it, so I had to fix it myself. I have fixed more than my share of mayo, aioli and hollandaise in my day, because I'm surrounded by people who break them. Constantly.
        Steamed? Ha, you get blanched and you'll like it. Thank god for packaged baby carrots, and the peas were easy enough to wash and clean. I did find some of the sweetest jicama you have ever tasted. I was delighted with that!
Then, the entrées:
        What? I said from the very beginning that the moment fried chicken touches that napkin it is going to be a sloppy greasy mess. They had to change out the turquoise blue cloth napkin after every single batch. More stuff for the deep fryer (I bought 70 lbs of liquid shortening. What a mess that could have been, but it all turned out fine) Saturday was a beautiful day. The weather was just lovely, and I didn't mind being chained to the deep fryer since it was outside!
        Yes, you saw right, she's serving hot dogs as an appetizer AND hot dogs as a main course. After I got over the shock of that, I realized, "I'm serving hot dogs, after the last time where I swore I would never serve hot dogs again. Crap" it could be worse, I could be a Julliard-trained actor who has to pay the rent doing adult diaper commercials.
        This one is especially funny for two reasons. First, the recipe was given to me by A the party planner. She specifically said that I had to make this recipe, she's made it herself and it was great. All my kitchen staff thought it was terrible. Hardly any of the guests appeared to have touched it. Couldn't move it at all. The second thing was that it included sesame seeds and sesame oil… and Mr. P, daddy to the guest of honor, is allergic. Oh yeah, you know I'll be the one who is blamed for that. However, nobody said anything to me! I am going to have to add another line to my Letter of Agreement that includes an allergy-notification disclaimer. If you or any of your guests is allergic to anything, you are required to inform me of the allergy when you give the final headcounts. Otherwise, get some Benadryl and call 911, and leave me out of it.
        Again, we are re-chickened. Who was holding the crack pipe when they chose this menu? I saw the original full menu from which G could choose, and there were plenty of opportunities to avoid repeating proteins. Sorry, folks, if you don't like chicken or hot dogs, and you're allergic to sesame (which is in this recipe too, btw) you're screwed. Hope you like the potato salad. Otherwise, though, the majority of the guests seemed to like this one, so we made several batches of it.
        This was a shocker. See, I am a paranoid person, and I'm overly cautious when I'm putting out food that's going to be served outdoors, on a hot day. Especially food with mayonnaise as a primary ingredient. So I don't make bound salads for buffets. I simply refuse, citing possible food poisoning, and as soon as you say "food poisoning" people instantly envision their guests projectile vomiting and start having a few cramps themselves. I always get my way. So long story short, I made my own vinaigrette recipe for the potato salad and they ate it up. Literally. Nearly all of it. It was fantastic. I got compliments. It was vindicating.
OK, so let me fill you in on some of the juicy details, plus the footnotes I promised:

So the real thorn in my side through this was that I couldn't negotiate with the end client, G, at all. I had to ask everything of A. Most of the questions I asked, A couldn't make the final decision, so she had to call G and work it out, and then call me back. Did I mention that there was only about 2 weeks between when A contacted me and when this little shindig was going to throw down? Everything was a time crisis, from the get-go. Artificial crisis, though, of course, because this is Los Angeles and people thrive on drama. WHAT~ever.

THEN, to add insult to injury, I get a phone call from A on Tuesday afternoon saying that maybe the guest count was going to go from 75 guests to 150. huh? I make a few panicked phonecalls to try to get more staff, just in case this nightmare becomes reality. None of my people are available, and I start pricing out rent-a-chef companies and get a few people lined up. The company offers a 24-hr cancellation policy with no penalty, but after that, I will be stuck with whatever I say, for a 4 hr minimum per person. I get the final count late on Tuesday, LEFT IN A VOICEMAIL, that yes, the count is 155, firm, and that's what we're going to go with.

I wrote out a long, detailed e-mail to A, telling her that I'm going to need more staff, the estimate I gave her is going out the window, and asked, once again, for the love of god and all that is holy, can we please remove something from the appetizers, oh, I don't know, perhaps the pigs in a blanket??

See, I had arranged to be onsite at 8:00 am, to make food for 75 guests, with the apps out at noon and the picnic to start at 1pm. Now my headcount has doubled, but my prep time has not. So that means my staff has to double. I have to adjust my recipes and my shopping lists and packing lists… and holy shit: Not only is all this food not going to fit in my truck, I don't even have pans big enough to cook this much food! Gah! I request permission to drop off some stuff the day before. A balks, but I told her that otherwise, I'm going to charge her for a truck rental and for my time to deal with it… assuming I can even get a truck for Saturday if I call on a Wednesday. She makes a call, I get a call back and I'm granted permission as long as I'm there before 5pm.

Well, the pigs in a blanket were not going anywhere, but you can't blame a girl for trying. So now, I have to call the mini-bun company and double my order. I have to call the pizza company and double my order. I explained my situation, and they suggested that I could order them pre-sauced and pre-cheesed for double the cost, and I jumped on it. I picked up a couple samples the day I placed my order, and they included plain crusts plus a couple pre-cheesed ones. They were slightly manufactured-tasting, but passable. At this point, I confess, there was not going to be much love left in me to put in this food, so I was grasping for whatever help I could get.

So, jump to the day before the event. I spent 8 hours and a tank of gas driving all over Los Angeles to get the best possible products for the best possible prices. I found boneless, skinless chicken breast at the Asian market for only $1.88/lb. That's also where I found the mini-weenies, and I wasn't even looking for them there. More good karma at work, I guess. I go to a farmers' market store and buy the bulk of my produce for cheap. The shopping cart was totally full, and it only cost about $55.

Drive like a maniac back to the Westside, to pick up the teeny little burger buns. Drive to the pizza manufacturer, and pick up 80 five-inch cheese pizzas. Then head over to Costco for packaged goods like ketchup and mustard, ranch dressing, and hot dog buns. I'm not nearly done shopping, but I've got to make my 5pm deadline, so I drive from culver city to Santa Monica, put perishables in my fridge, put pots & pans in my car, and start heading up to the compound up on a hill north of Sunset Blvd. I meet N, G's assistant, and she hugs me on sight. I am never sure how I feel about that, but it's better than a cold-fish handshake. I empty the truck, with her help, and head back towards home. I called Kelly and asked if he'd be up for going out to dinner. He was, so we made plans.

(If you're tired of reading, imagine how I was feeling…and it wasn't even the day of the event yet!)

Before I catch up with him, I go over to Smart&Final, which is my last-ditch for bulk stuff. I don't really like Smart&Final, but they're more economical than the retail stores. I hate that they can have something one week, and you go in there the next week and they're totally out. It's a drag that you can't count on them! I met Kelly for dinner at Mama Voula's and sat down for the first time all day that wasn't in my car. I stopped at the Ralphs for those 28 tubes of crescent rolls and 10 cans of frozen lemonade. The cashier looked at me funny and cracked jokes. I am getting used to it.

I'm exhausted, but wired. I make myself go to bed, but set the alarms for 5:30. When I wake up, groggy, I put on clothes and Kelly gets up and makes me coffee. He helps me load the truck with my coolers and I'm off. I arrive at the client's house slightly after 7am, and two of my 6 kitchen staffers are already there. By 7:35, everyone shows up, and I start doing my official debriefing. I have printed up all the instructiosn, given everyone their assignments and explained how I do things. I explain that we've got a ton of food to be made, and only 4 hours to do it, so please stay on task and tell me if you get in the weeds. If you're not halfway done by the halfway point, I'll get you help.

My cellphone rings, and it's A, saying that G's assistant, N, was going to be late, so we had to wait; we weren't allowed in until N let us in. Period. So, N finally shows up at 8:30 (using up half an hour of our precious cooking time) and lets us in. The kitchen is still full of the household accoutrements, so she & I stash as much of it as possible in cupboards and cabinets. A shows up and tells me that, uh, oops, since Mr. P came home early last night, he told the rental delivery company to put everything behind the garage. So we had to waste EVEN MORE of our kitchen time moving the deep-fryer and the coffin/hotbox over this freaky Feng Shui driveway of cement and gravel, set up our Astroturf, and the prep tables. This all had to be moved through the house, and Mr. P looked like he was going to have a breakdown, so he left. There was no sterno for the coffin, and there were no leg extenders for the prep tables, so that make things complicated. Well, more complicated, because now I had 7 people crowded in the kitchen to work, and 90 minutes chopped out of our prep time. Fun.

As we were moving the stuff from behind the garage to the deck, and throughout the day, various people would come up to me and pat me on the arm or on the back and say, "How are you doing?" or "Are you ok?" or "Are you going to be alright?" One of the rent-a-chefs told me later that none of the 6 kitchen staff could believe I didn't blow up and freak out and have a breakdown of my own. For one, what good would it be to put even more pressure on my already stressed-out staff… and two, what kind of boss would I be if I lost it, set a bad example and created a negative tone?

I was on autopilot. I barely remember what happened, it all happened so fast. At one point, someone cracked a joke, and I laughed a little too hard at it, and felt myself slipping. It was the kind of laugh usually that turns into tears. Somehow , I got a hold of myself and pulled through it. I clung desperately to the person I wished I could be, and she emerged.

Somehow , I remembered to tell someone to fire up the grill in time to make the hot dogs.

Somehow , I remembered to fill the deep fryer with oil and turn the thing on, so it was hot enough to deep fry those godforsaken Mac & Cheese balls, and then the fried chicken.

Somehow , there were too many cans of sterno in the hotbox (ok, it was my fault) and the whole thing caught fire. There was a huge panic, but I kept saying, "It's no big deal, it's no big deal, it's fine, don't worry"… and eventually I was able put the fire out without using a fire extinguisher.

Somehow , my staff was able to put out the Hors d'Oeuvres at noon, and the entrées out by 1:15 - it was hot and heavy until 2pm, we just couldn't crank the food out fast enough. After I put out the ice cream, I insisted that my kitchen staff be allowed to take a break, We all grabbed plates of food and sat down on the gorgeous deck furniture, enjoyed our gorgeous view, and enjoyed a well-deserved rest.

Family meal is a little bit…sacred. When you sweat together, when you work as a team and pull an event out from the ashes like that, you share a bit of yourself with everyone else. People started apologizing for not being fast enough, or for raising their voices, or for coming across as bossy, or for whatever transgressions they felt they made. When you break bread (or in this case, fried chicken) your defenses come down. I always love stepping back and seeing how it all comes together.

After our break, we got down and dirty and cleaned. And cleaned, and cleaned. Try as you might, it's hard to work fast and clean at the same time. It's kind of a corollary to the saying "fast, cheap and quality - pick two". In this case, it's "fast, tasty or clean, pick two". And I'll choose fast and tasty every time. Cleaning can always come later.

I signed out the rent-a-chefs, because they're expensive. The rest of us loaded the truck (and Kelly's car, since I knew all those coolers wouldn't all fit in my truck), I signed everyone else out, and headed for home.

I am leaving out the details of my personal interactions with Mr. P, because he was rude and I don't want to relive it, not because of any respect for his privacy. G, his wife, thanked me personally with a handshake and tipped us all generously. I think A was impressed with how smoothly this potential disaster went, but I don't know if I could work with a party planner as a middleman again.

Today I slept until noon. Had something to eat, took a shower and went back to bed. After I got up the second time, I went to wash out the coolers and unpack some more of my truck. We went out to dinner at Caffé Roberto in Culver City, and had a very nice little dinner.

A little while ago, I got this e-mail from one of yesterday's staff:

You're the Bomb! Thank You for letting me be on your staff. Great party, you sure pulled it off due to the time delay. I just want you to know I am proud to say, "I work for Chef JoAnna." I'm ready for the next one. Let me know when the next event is. I AM there for you. Great party I think.
Lots of compliments.
Wow. That's what it's all about.

Last thing I ate or drank: a nice glass of Columbia Valley Riesling by D. Ste. Michelle.Technorati Tags: in

November 09, 2005

a little heart-to-heart advice

It's a hectic week. I've got a huge gig that has expanded from 100 to 150 guests (with only 3 days notice!) and I'm also trying to recruit for some december events.

Can I offer the Los Angeles-based catering job applicant two bits of advice?
  1. Maybe you don't want to choose an e-mail address that includes words like "Actor", "Thespian", "TheatreNut", "Sexy", "MegaBabe", "Porn Star", "CrazyGirl" or "SexGod" Just an idea.
  2. If you need to reschedule an interview because you landed an audition, it is not a good idea to actually say so when you're asking to reschedule. You're more likely to get cast as the next president on West Wing than to get another interview timeslot... and last time I checked, neither Alan Alda or Jimmy Smits is looking for catering work these days. Truly, this would be a good opportunity for you to blatantly lie ACT!

Last thing I ate or drank: picking at another batch of stock bones...

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October 31, 2005

it's been a while, sorry...

So, uh, hi. Yeah, I haven't posted for quite a long time. Nearly 3 weeks since I've made a proper post! And I'm sorry. We both know it only takes a minute to throw up a couple hundred words and boy-howdy, when I'm in the mood, you're lucky if you can get away with having to read only a couple hundred.

I had to wake up to deal with my chicken stock, and now it's dealt with. Strained and defatted and cooled...and now resting in the freezer. Just over a gallon of finished product, tho I started with nearly 12 quarts of water. The house smells like a really, REALLY good deli. So I'm not climbing back into bed, instead, I figured I should catch up on the blog.

October was a very twisted month. *sigh* Evidenced by the fact that I had TWO saturdays off. Dos, Due, Deux. Saturdays! OFF! I can still barely wrap my head around it.
Calm before the storm, you can be assured of that... I'm already booked for 2 weekends in november and three dates in december.
So, let me give you a play-by-play. (but, since this is a diary, it's more like giving ME a play-by-play and you can read it if you want, or click on the Next Blog button up on the right.)

So you read about the Chicago food orgy. The first night of three was at Topolobampo. It was very interesting, and we were very pleased with the menu in general. Kelly surprised me by ALSO going with the tasting menu, and surprised me again by going with the wine pairings as well. Without dissecting it course-by-course, I'll say that much of it was imaginitive for the fact that it's a restaurant on par with Border Grill here in Santa Monica. My favorite was the "roasted soup" topped with fried beet chiffonade, that had those lovely little smoked scallops in it. Many of the pairings were good, but a couple were just off. I paid close attention to the platings, and took photos of every course. Thing is, I haven't figured out how to get the pix off my new camera-phone yet... so that will have to wait. One of those pics shows Chef Rick Bayless sampling the tasting wines! hee hee. but it's not like he came over and did the celebrity chef thing. He snuck in and snuck back out. He dashed through the dining room and dashed back out in street clothes.
A funny realization: I asked for a menu at all three places, and the presentation of the menu was directly related to the finesse of the restaurant. Topolobampo gave me one folded up, in a business envelope. Initially it turned out to be the wrong one! I pointed it out, and they replaced it, but it was simply that lack of focus and attention that seemed to permeate the whole experience. They ignored the details.

Day 2 was at Alinea. To eat at Alinea is to experience a touch, a hint, a whisper of what it must be like at El Bulli. It was a great experience. The room was understated and sophisticated. The chairs were really comfy. And good thing: we were in them for nearly five hours! I was really nervous, and when I'm that freaked out I make jokes. I had the waiters stifling laughs, and even Kelly cracked up a couple of times. I didn't opt for pairings this time, because of the sheer cost of it, but even the slightest buzz would have detracted from the experience. Everything was weird and cool and fantastic. The service was on par with Charlie Trotters, but they were younger, hipper, and were far more personable. (Speaking of which: if I had a dime for every time we heard the name Charlie Trotter uttered in that place, I could have afforded the wine pairings... ) I think a good way to describe the vibe is that Trotters' servers were more like docents at a museum: a little too severe, and a little over the top in formality. Alinea's servers were more like guides at a zoo, and I swear that is a compliment: They were more lighthearted about the task, even seeming to enjoy themselves a bit, and that made for a more relaxed vibe. After all, who's got the better job, the guy who's supposed to watch that you don't stick your finger into the oils of a Seurat, or the guy who's in charge of minding the hands-on exhibit of crested basilisks? I pick the lizard guy.

Oh, yeah, the food! Alinea is everything I'd hoped it would be. We wound up with a really early reservation, which is fine, because we knew we were opting for the 25 course menu. OK, yes, it's really 25 courses, but most of them were single bites to be savored. Many times, we weren't even given a fork, things came to us on long sticks wrapped in a napkin, and we just took the morsel off of that. I didn't get the PBJ I'd read about, and that made me a bit sad, but there were some really interesting things. Again, I took photos of everything, and now I've just got to wait until I find time (HA!) to put them up somewhere. Let's see. My favorites were the Duck Skin, the Bison, the frozen mango with sesame oil and bonito flakes. OH god, and there was a pheasant dish that blew my mind. The presentations were spectacular, and most everything was delicious (yes some things were just wierd, like the apple and foie gras thing, it was something that really seemed as though someone was thinking, "hey, we've got this antenna thing that we used before, what are we going to stick on it this season?" Overall, though, a lovely experience, and if you've got 5 hours and a few hundred bucks to blow, you should totally go for it. I would love to go back there in the spring. In fact, it's so interesting and fascinating, I would totally consider doing a stage there... but if I thought about it, I would have to shut down the business for a few months. It's far more likely that I'd fly to Chicago simply to experience the spring menu. (yeah, because I'm made of money...) Oh, I forgot to mention: Kelly dropped that I'm a chef, and one of the host-guys offered us a "tour" of the kitchen. It looked more like a science lab than a kitchen. It was all open, nothing was higher than waist level away from the walls. Also, there was no walk-in. Everything was in refrigerated storage under the counters. Most of the cooking was done on induction. Then there was the freezer thingy that froze stuff solid in a matter of seconds. I want one of those! The Alinea menu was a version made especially for giving away. It presented unfolded, printed on cool translucent paper, and inserted in a black envelope. Each line has a circle icon next to it to indicate the size of the course. See? Attention. Down to the last detail.

OK, more later, I have to go cook for someone, and I scheduled an 11am start time, since it's halloween. I wanna get out of there and off the streets before dark!

Last thing I ate or drank: Please tell me I' m not the only one who picks at the bones from her chicken stock...

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October 23, 2005

When did Alton get all pissy?

Click here to read the pissy little rant by Alton Brown. Poor guy, he never meant to get famous...

October 13, 2005

Chicagoan Food Orgy

Tonight was #3 of 3 of the Chicago Mega Restaurant Food Orgy.

TRU was simply amazing. I have photos, I have notes. I have a vivid memory and a very willing accomplice to help me recall all the things we ate. All I'm going to say here is that if you are in Chicago and you pass up the opportunity to go to TRU, you are an idiot. I have a new bar by which I will set all future restaurant experiences. Thank you Chef Rick Tramanto and Chef Gale Gand. Thank you to all the amazing folks in the kitchen, and the host who gave me a tour of said kitchen. Thank you to Allison, my wonderful server, and all the servers who worked with her, and to Scott, the spectacular sommelier.

Last thing I ate or drank: a white chocolate truffle scented with Kaffir lime

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October 08, 2005

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October 06, 2005

"YUMMO" goes national

Rachael Ray is getting a new TV show that's NOT on food network.

How's she going to find the time to do yet another show?

Maybe everything on foodtv will just go to reruns...

Anyway, it's one of Oprah's projects. Oprah as Fairy Godmother? I guess I'd sign up for that!

God, and people say that *I* do too much. I don't have 3 tv shows, a magazine and a bunch of product endorsements...


(let's start referring to Kelly as Stedmond, shall we?) *grin*

October 05, 2005

How did my week get turned inside-out?

I worked on Monday, 6 hours post-event clean up (ugh!)
I worked yesterday, Personal Chef for the S.O. family
I worked today, Personal Chef for my favorite family
I will be working tomorrow, Personal Chef for the Kosher family
I will be working Friday, catering a fancy little cocktail party for 15

...but Saturday and Sunday, I have the day off?!

How the hell did that happen? I feel lost on a weekend day that I don't work. You know I'll just be wandering around, wondering to myself if I forgot that I promised to cater someone's party.

Last thing I ate or drank: glass after glass of refrigerator-cold water. Kelly made dinner, god bless him, but it was too salty!

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October 03, 2005

For lack of a proper post...

I've been communicating with a guy who has been trying to redesign his site. It's a little on the under-done side, if you know what I mean. He's said that he is "a one man show" and that he takes on so many tasks that at times he misses details. "Wearing every hat in this company has benefits but unfortunately I do miss details. ... Being the developer, president,
marketing director, mailroom guy, shipping room guy etc takes it's toll. While I try very hard to make everything great, at times I make mistakes and do not get things perfect.

I wanted to offer him some advice, so I wrote this e-mail to him.
Dude, we are on the same page. I do planning, shopping, preparation, cooking, service and clean-up for every event, plus inventory, accounting, marketing, advertising, recruiting and market research. Every bootstrapping entrepreneur does it... I'm guessing you're not independently wealthy either, so we can't just hire off the unpleasant or time-consuming tasks whenever they come up.

I, however, spent $70 out of my pocket today to hire a couple people to help me wash dishes from that 300-guest event Food TV filmed, that I volunteered to coordinate. I had a choice of doing it all myself, or hiring help. Since I'd volunteered 33 hours out of the past 72, I wasn't physically or mentally able to tackle a truckload (literally!) of dishes, but I needed them clean for my catering job tomorrow. Should I turn down $200+ of income to do dishes? No, not if I can spend less than half that to solve the problem. I paid two college girls $10/hr each, for 3.5 hrs, and everything is spotless, sorted, and re-loaded in the truck. It was a no-brainer decision, and I met two GREAT workers that I plan to add to my employee roster.

If you can't make money because your website is in a state that people don't want to put money into advertising or whatever... you're actually losing more money than you'd spend. It's a hard lesson to learn; don't learn it from experience, learn it from my advice instead, it's cheaper.

I know this is probably coming across as tough criticism, but please look at it instead as "tough love". It's the Vidal Sassoon principle: If you don't look good, I don't look good.... so it's in my interest to give you the kick in the butt you might need to make yourself look really good. You're so close!

Last thing I ate or drank: a "torta" which is translated on the package as an Aniseed Crispbread. it's a Spanish treat made of flour, sugar, olive oil and sugar. it's like a little crispy cookie, but the texture is more like a saltine cracker. Addictive!

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September 30, 2005

I think this guy qualifies as an actual star!

I'm sorry I haven't posted lately, I've been so busy. I haven't even had time to invoice this past week's clients. But here I am, making a bit of time for the blog. This stuff is so cool that I don't think I'd even be able to make up stuff this cool!

Last night I fed my home-made lasagna and a caesar salad to this guy. He was a guest of this guy, who was hosting a little season premiere party at his house. Pretty cool.

Sunday, is the day that Bobby Flay's BBQ show is going to come and tape the doggy park fundraiser. I am nervous and excited, and oh yeah, totally nervous. I have got to go get a facial. And lose 25 lbs. And develop a fake british accent like Madonna. I already bought a green polo shirt (I'm not allowed to wear white or black on TV) so I can cross that off my to-do list, but I still have to sew my logo patch on the shirt!

Last thing I ate or drank: glass of orange juice. not so exciting, sorry.

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September 18, 2005

Trip to Chicago coming up...

...and I've got my restaurant wish-list lined up!

TRU, Tramonto and Gand
Topolobampo, Bayless
Alinea, Achatz

Grant Achatz is a protegé of Keller. He has also worked under Adriá of El Bullí. (or Señor Foam, as I refer to him. Affectionately, of course.)

I have worked at a place here in Los Angeles where the chef uses foams and emuslions and bakes eggshells in bread dough covered with ash to serve things in the shells. He serves things up on rocks and slate and in test tubes and candle holders. People go nuts over it.

In my little corner of the industry, though, I haven't had anyone ask for foams, gelées, emulsions, or other esoteric treatments. My creations are ususally eaten from plates, with forks. (oh the horror!)

People who hire me want real food, delicious food, good-sized portions, and things they recognize. Nobody's asked for young coconut shreds enveloped in a sheet of carrot gelée. I have fielded no requests for foie gras with broiled filet of peach in vanilla-chili sauce. The other day I made cookies with white chocolate chips and pink peppercorns and couldn't give them away. (they were delicious, really!) I have a hard time getting people to choose the more adventurous appetizers when I'm doing a cocktail party!

I try to put my passion into juicy roast chicken and creamy mashed potatoes and perfectly-cooked green beans... but then I have to explain that chicken that is wet-looking inside is not raw, it's MOIST. No, there is no wasabi or garlic in those potatoes, just a bit of butter and salt, like nature intended. And I'll toss those beans with a bit of salt & pepper and some really nice olive oil; they do not need anything else, they are perfect.

Then the other side of the coin - I get asked, "what do you do that is exciting with beef?" and my answer is "I will cook it perfectly over an open flame or on a grill-pan, maybe serve it with a compound butter...or sautéed mushrooms...what did you have in mind?" and they want wellingtons, they want sauces, they want something DONE to that hunk of beef, or else they don't feel like it's "special".

So you can't win for losing.

Find out what your client wants, and serve it up. Buy good ingredients. Charge a fair price. Wash your hands. Pay your workers. Wear good shoes. Be excellent to each other. It's a simple business, really.

I have a slight problem with the holier-than-thou attitudes of chefs who drop farmers' and ranchers' names on their menus. Do customers TRULY care if you use Niman pork? Will a customer actually notice if your raisins came from a private farm on the central coast or from Sysco?

After all, now you can buy Emeril-brand heirloom tomatoes at Ralphs! (They have no smell and little flavor, but oooh, the colors!)

Make the food with love, don't make love to the food.

I shop at the farmers markets whenever I can, and I admit to using a bit of gelatin here and there...I'd give culinary aromatherapy a shot if a client was into it, but I draw the line at feeding grown adults by hand because I want them to experience the bite as I intend for them to experience it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still going to Alinea in October! Just because my clients don't get off on weird experiential food doesn't mean I won't!

Last thing I ate or drank: a dish that has turned out to be an Enchilada-like concoction, but it wasn't baked. and I added rice. Kelly liked it a lot. Oh. then I ate peanut M&M's with my right hand, which I used to pull the ribs and seeds out of the chilis I used for dinner, and my mouth was all tingly from the peppers!. Pretty fun!

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September 17, 2005

More Gore

This nasty looking food was done intentionally! Eww!

Last thing I ate or drank: Litchi cookies from the 99 Ranch store.

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Use some good judgement, people!

Sometimes you should NOT take photos of your food.

red salad dressing is not an attractive thing. It looks kind of gory.

This is not my photo (god no!) but I'm not naming names, tho, to protect the victims of my harassment.

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September 12, 2005

food of the new millennium

Last night for dinner, I ate something I've never eaten before.

I had read about this product in Wired magazine more than a year ago, and wondered if it would ever make it to my grocery store shelf. Now, of course, when you think of food magazines, god save you if you consider Wired one of them, but this was the most appropriate venue for me to learn about this amazing new food product. It is truly space-age technology.

And i found it in the frozen food section at RALPHS, not Wholier-Than-Thou Foods, not some weird Santa Monica health food store... right there across the aisle from the corndogs and frozen White Castle burgers.

it looked like chicken
it tasted like chicken
it felt like chicken when you chewed it
It even smells wonderful!

but it was a completely non-animal product.

I brought out some barbecue sauce, some Kecap Manis, and was ready to bring out the arsenal of odd condiments i keep to give this stuff a flavor, if needed, to choke it down.

All it needed was a FORK. It was delicious.

While I was eating it, i was coming up with all kinds of recipes for how I could use it. Instead of chicken in a parmagiana sandwich. (tomato sauce, mozzerella, parmesan, over ciabatta) On a bun with a pickle, lettuce, tomato and mayo. Served with a mushroom-wine sauce over pasta. OMG my mind was racing.

Are you ready to hear what it is yet?

OH - wait, the best part, was that to make it, you take it straight of the freezer, put it on a paper towel in the microwave, and make it go for 60 seconds. POOF, it's food.

It's called QUORN. It's a mycoprotein. It's made from a type of mushroom. I only just discovered it for sale, but it's been on the market for a while. I just never saw any advertising for it so I never knew it was available here.

Seriously, you need to try this stuff. There is even a link on their website where you can find out where it's sold where you live. It's not THAT expensive, and it's really, really good for you. Try it. I'm sure you'll be as pleasantly surprised as i was!

Last thing I ate or drank: latte and home-made banana bread for breakfast.

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September 05, 2005

Your 3-day weekend...

is my busy, three-day workweek!

Saturday, I did a 6-course dinner for 6 guests at a fancy condo in Brentwood. I say a fancy condo because there was a valet who parked my car and a security guard who helped me bring in all my containers on one of those brass hotel cart thingies. and you couldn't just get in the elevator, the desk attendant had to let you in and activate your floor for you. Nice kitchen, great family. I worked all by myself for this one: I showed up at 2:30 and had the kitchen cleaned and was out of there by 9pm. I'm getting this whole in-home chef thing down to a science. Everything came off flawlessly, all the food was prepped and served on time, and I kept the kitchen presentably neat throughout the night. I'm really proud of myself. As I loaded out the last of my equipment, another security guard showed up to help me load out... and lo-and-behold, it was STEVE who was formerly a security guard at my culinary school! Imagine that! We gossiped a bit about some people we knew, and he asked me how business was going. I told him that I was really happy and having a lot of fun, I'm standing there with him, wearing my logo shirt, after cooking for people who he knows are pretty wealthy, and the valet came by with my truck, with the silver logos all over the sides, and Steve was pretty impressed. I felt a little embarassed, but hell, what could I do? When I got in the house at 9:30, the phone rang. It was the producer of a reality show that I'd been playing phone tag with for a couple days. Could I go over and cook for the cast tomorrow morning at 7am? Sure! a full, formal breakfast with less than 12 hours notice? After working all day? Bring it ON, baby. I eat some fast leftovers that Kelly had reheated and I get back in the car, with Kelly, to go to the grocery store. Get in at 11, spend an hour fussing over lists and menus and such, and force myself to bed.

Sunday After not being able to sleep all night worrying about how everything would go, I forced myself out of bed (why are you always suddenly comatose at 5am when you have to be up at 5:30?) and finished the last minute loading of my truck. I went over all my lists to make sure that I had everything, and showed up at the mansion right on schedule. I signed a big fat NDA so that means I can't tell you anything good or else they can sue me for two million dollars (!) so I will just tell you that everything went great, smoothly, perfectly, they liked me, I liked them, everyone was so super nice, and I really had fun with the experience. They did a quicky little interview with me with the cast in the background, and so I will probably get some real airtime. And they filmed me driving away in my truck! (Uh-oh, will they blur the phone number? I hope!!) I was high all day thinking about how cool it was. Kelly came with me, and he was going to be my assistant, but they kept him in the control room the whole time, so he got to watch the whole thing. Just before the food was to be served, I got a migrane from the lack of coffee and the lack of sleep and OD of nervous energy, to the point where I started feeling pukey, but I tried hard to choke it down and soldier on. Kelly said he didn't even notice. Thank god, because when the adrenaline finally wore off, driving home, I was sure I'd have to make him pull over. So the show is supposed to be aired late next spring or early summer. <rolleyes> I'm sure that my own reality show is right around the corner... </rolleyes> No autographs, please. thfbbbbt!

Monday Speaking of reality, I'll be cooking for the new clients again. Big batches of simple food, cooked in their lovely kitchen. I adore that kitchen, you can have one hand on the huge viking stovetop and another on the enormous sink with one of those pull-out squirty things that I covet... and there is counterspace everywhere. Walk-in pantry, gorgeous equipment, pretty plain white china for plating. OH, and absolute freedom with the menu. Makes it hard to come back to my apartment and my crowded little kitchen with the wussy stove and the one-compartment sink.

Tuesday I'm going out to dinner and a play with a girlfriend, and Thursday I cook the third of three meals of a gift-certificate deal. Friday I'll be shopping, planning and prepping for Saturday's cocktail party for 30.

Who knows what adventures next week will bring!

Last thing I ate or drank: I sweated some diced onions, added some diced broccoli stems, added some chicken bones (saved for this exact purpose), brought it to a boil, skimmed it, let it simmer for about an hour, pulled out the bones, added some salt, and some Cous-Cous. Sprinkle with a bit of lemon, and it's dinner!

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September 04, 2005

Sorry for the inconvenience...

I'm getting a lot of comment spam trying to send people to these fake ad blogs for culinary school. They come up with a saccharine compliment telling me how much they love my blog, and then they link to their ad blogs that have no intelligent content whatsoever.

I have no problem taking a few minutes time and deleting those posts over and over and over.

I encourage all other foodbloggers to do the same.

and I have to confess, I'm going to be a little more of a stickler over who can post comments. Sorry... Please keep commenting, I love hearing from people who read this blog, but sheesh, I am way sick of being an unwilling shill.

September 02, 2005

Chicago, Chicago!

Even though I've lived in Los Angeles for 10 years, I still think of Chicago as home. Chicago is a foodie's town. We're going to be there for 7 days, and I'm going to plan out as many meals as I can! Gino's East, for sure. Also Reza's. I will have my own sack of White Castle Sliders, and a hotdog at Johnny's and I want to eat at that Greek[1] restaurant down the street from where I used to work, and I want to get a big greasy sausage at Portillo's and, most of all, I want to eat some REAL Italian food.

The last time I was there, I ate at one of the foodie meccas: Charlie Trotter's. I'd called on a Tuesday afternoon and got a seating that Friday. Amazing, expensive, and interesting... but I would have to admit, the only reason I'd go there again would be if someone else made the reservation and if that someone else was paying.

Anyone want to go to dinner with me in Chicago? Anyone got any recommendations?

[1] Greek restaurants not always about gyros and saganaki in Chicago. Many restaurants called "Greek" restaurants are, in fact, owned by Greek families, but they are "family" restaurants where you can get just about anything you'd want. Kind of like eating at a deli, but instead of a Jewish twist on the menu, it's a Greek twist.

Last thing I ate or drank: one giant, perfectly ripe mango.

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September 01, 2005

Martha, you're so mean lame!

Martha Stewart's apprentice phrase when she eliminates contestants from the show is going to be "You just don't fit in" which is the lamest catchphrase in reality television's history. Couldn't they have come up with some varying mutation of "it's a good thing" which is her catchphrase? Even "it's a bad thing" or "it's not a good thing". I just hope she doesn't apologize every single time she fires someone... apologizing is a weak thing in business, and this is not a weak woman. oh well. it's silly, and I'll never watch it. Not because of her, but because I don't watch TV unless I'm on vacation, and the hotel has cable. (I do get movies through netflix, watch video on ifilm and iTunes, and watch commercials through I'm not totally out of the media loop!)

Last thing I ate or drank: a perfectly ripe pear... but that was hours ago.

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August 30, 2005

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August 24, 2005

Ha! and yet, one of the final paragraphs, with the quotes, struck a chord with me: Chefs view themselves as "bringing quality to life," and treat the profession as seriously as any corporate job. Being surrounded by the "beauty and the sensuality" of the food is "what every chef lives for" and why most of them would not dream of another profession. "For most of us, we have no other choice in life."

August 22, 2005

There's too much to know!

One thing that's strange about being a chef is that everyone knows quite a bit about food. Everyone has their favorite foods, their favorite recipes, maybe even a special technique for making something. Besides that, everyone eats, every day!

I went to school for this, so I guess people expect me to know everything about food. Ingredients, techniques, origins, and methods. While I do admit I probably know more about food than most people, I don't know everything. You can be sure that I'll look it up the minute I get back to my cookbooks or get a hold of a computer, but geez, people, can you imagine what life would be like if people quizzed you about your field of expertise all the time? You can't always just give them a straight answer, you've got to research a bit.
     Hey, you're a lawyer, [something] happened to me, will I win if I sue?
     Hey, you're a judge, do I have a chance if I fight this ticket?"
     Hey, you're an architect, will this blueprint get approved by the city?"
   ...or my favorite cliché:
     Hey, doc, why does it hurt when I do "this"?

Of course, the correct (although somewhat snotty) response to any of the above is, "I would love to help you, but I don't know my schedule. Why don't you call my office and make an appointment, and I'll see what I can find out for you. My assistant will go over payment options when you call......" Ideally this is said in one breath, and finished with a huge smile.

The other night I was having dinner with friends, and there was a cheese-shaker jar full of a dark red-brown substance.
My friend asked me what it was. I told her "sumac".
She asked what it tastes like. I told her "it's sour".
She asked what you put it on, I said "anything you'd like to taste a little more sour; it's like adding salt".
She asked where it comes from. and I said "it's common in persian, lebanese, and other middle-east cuisines"
she said. "No, I mean, is it bark, or leaves, or fruit...."
      and I lauged and said, "Gosh, I don't know. Does that mean I get a B- on your little quiz?"

She finally stopped the interrogation....but I think she got the point. Anyway, here comes the science.

Oh, and my other non-favorite thing people ask when I'm eating with them, usually at fine restaurants, is "Can you make this?" The short answer is "yes, of course!" but the long, and more accurate answer, is "Yes, if I had these ingredients, all the accoutrements of a commercial kitchen, an entire day to make it, and a staff of assistants to peel, chop, blanch, puree and mince... of course I can make this!"

Last thing I ate or drank: toasted home-made cinnamon bread and, of course, a latte

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August 21, 2005

testing, 1,2,3...

sorry this is a test, please disregard!

August 20, 2005

people who didn't get the memo.

Everyone has been asking me for beef and pork.
Everyone has been asking me for Italian food, especially pasta.
Everyone has been asking me for rich, chocolate desserts.

Come on, now! This is L.A. people! Don't you read the magazines? The rest of the world doesn't believe you eat pasta and red meat!

Eat brown rice and tofu, with a side of raw veggies like you're supposed to!

Last thing I ate or drank: I'm about to make some tabbouleh for dinner. Completely raw ingredients: cracked wheat, olive oil, tomato, cucumber, parsley, herbs, fresh lemon juice. Someone's got to set an example!

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August 18, 2005

Recipe request

Hi, everyone. I have a sort of a weirdo request. I need a recipe for Shoo-Fly Pie. I want to bring it as a gift to a client who deserves a pie. He mentioned in passing that he missed home cooking, and that was one of the things he included in his list of things you can't find around here in Los Angeles.

Not exactly what they teach you in culinary school, I'm afraid. My Chef-Instructor, a venerable god of a pastry chef, taught us how to do opera cake and napoleons and spectacular danish from pastry we made from scratch. But no shoo-fly pie. I know I could simply google a recipe, or try to find it on any of the plethora of recipe sites, but... well.... know how you can look at a recipe and think, "uh, no. i think something's not quite right with that one..." well, I've never SEEN shoo-fly pie, I've never TASTED shoo-fly pie, and I certainly have never MADE a shoo-fly pie, so I have no frame of reference. All I know is that it's sweet as all get out, and made with sugar and corn syrup (and sometimes molasses? maybe?) It's been described to me as "pecan pie without the pecans", in other words, just the sweet sticky goo. (ack!)

Anyway, that's what he wants, so that's what I'd like to make for him. Do any of you readers have a "tried and true" recipe for Shoo-Fly Pie? I'm not asking for you to divulge your grandmother's handed-down recipe, but if you can tell me if the recipes I linked to seem good (they're pretty close!) I'd appreciate it very much. If you want to send me one by e-mail, I promise I won't post it or publish it or share it in any way besides making it for this one guy.

Last thing I ate or drank: a glass of viogner. overpoured, thank you very much!

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August 15, 2005

lots to tell, too much to do

OH, my friends, I'm so sorry I haven't posted. I hadn't had a day off in about 10 days, and I probably won't get one for another 5 or so...

I keep doing my usual Personal Chef sessions, plus I had a big party in Malibu, 75 guests for a company "barbecue" at the home of the president and his wife.

On Monday, I was trolling the CraigsList ads over breakfast, and one of them caught my eye. I googled the fax number, and found out that the restaurant was a place of some significance. I sent in my resume, and got a call that afternoon! I had an interview at this guy's restaurant! And he liked me! I wanted to work part-time, on-call, but it turns out he only wanted a full-time, six-nights-a-week line cook. Sorry, no. I was so flattered, but I knew that there is so much stuff already booked in my calendar, I couldn't commit to a real job with him. But I've offered to go there every night I'm free if he'd let me, maybe teach me some things, and he said yes! KICK ASS! He does such beautiful work and his food is so yummy. Every time he'd make something on the line, he'd pass the pan over the "island" for one of us lackeys to take to the sink. All us lackeys had spoons, and were encouraged to taste the sauces from the food. OMG, I had to hold back from physically licking the pan. One of the trainees put the wrong foam on the minestrone, and of course, it couldn't be sent out to the dining room like that, so we, uh, ate the evidence. The most delicious crime I've committed. I would be happy to become a recidivist, if that guy keeps making mistakes! I did more than just eat, tho. I skinned, seeded and julienned a 200 pan of roasted red pepper. I made 2 quart containers full of brunoise of idaho potato (a brunoise is smaller than 1/4" dice). I zested (with a peeler) about 25 limes, then chiffonade'd the zest, then sectioned out the little lime sections. Then I peeled about 2 quart containers worth of garlic cloves with a little paring knife, shredding my thumb in the process. Luckily, I did the limes BEFORE the garlic. I had a blast, and I can't wait to go back!!!

Well today was supposed to be the day "off" but I've been trying to do all the other stuff I've put off for those 10 days, and I'm not even 10% done with the crap I have to catch up on. And I promised friends they could come over tonight for drinks before we go out to dinner.

Tomorrow and Wednesday I've got two formal-seated dinners.
Thursday is a Personal Chef gig.
Friday I plan to work at the above-mentioned restaurant,
and Saturday is the Restaurant Expo at the Los Angeles convention center.

Perhaps on Sunday I'll rest.

Last thing I ate or drank: a little snack of candied ginger

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August 06, 2005

Google's recruiting for an Executive Chef...

My friend Ann sent me the following article:
Google in a Hungry Search for Executive Chefs
By Chris Gaither
Times Staff Writer

August 5, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO — Google Inc.'s stock is cooking, but the Internet giant is
having trouble in the kitchen.

Google on Thursday announced a global search for two executive chefs to
oversee preparation of the company's most celebrated employee perk: free
gourmet meals.

To help feed the rapidly growing company, Google advertised an opening in
December for a second lead chef to help Charlie Ayers, who formerly cooked
for the Grateful Dead. Then, in May, Ayers quit to start his own chain of
restaurants. Neither job has been filled.

"It's been a challenge to get someone who has the scale and quality" to live
up to the company's expectations, said Susan Wojcicki, a Google vice
president on the hiring committee.

The requirements: five or more years as a sous-chef and three years as an
executive chef. Must be able to cook for vegans and carnivores alike, and
use organic food whenever possible.

Wojcicki would not disclose the pay. "I'm sure it will be competitive, plus
all the Google benefits," she said, which include — along with the food, of
course — stock options, sports facilities, massage and yoga classes.

Google plans to invite the top applicants for a "cook-off," preparing meals
for several dozen members of a "tasting committee" that will probably
include co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

"You know when you meet the right person," said Wojcicki, who put Ayers
through the same paces in 1999, when the company had about 40 employees.
Today it has about 4,200.

Finding a chef with experience cooking for thousands of people isn't easy,
said Dawn Jantsch, managing director of the American Culinary Federation,
which represents nearly 19,000 chefs. Still, she has never heard of a
company issuing a news release and holding a cook-off to find a corporate chef.

"It almost sounds like a reality TV show," she said.
Even if I were qualified, I wouldn't go near that one... But thanks for sending the article, Ann!

Jobs like those can be a blessing or a curse:

blessing=trying to play around with food to get the best results when making large quantities and feeding many people in a buffet setting

curse=trying to do it under a certain budget. Perk or no perk, I can't imagine them giving carte blanche for food costs for free meals.

When you do huge numbers like that, you lose the ability to feed people food they enjoy; you're stuck making food that will hold up well at 145 degrees for long periods of time. And suddenly, diners find things on the buffet like green beans in the meat lasagna, or nameless soups made exclusively of veggies from yesterday's salad bar.

And the cook-off thing? It's good if it's done right. The staff will probably WANT to eat things like lasagna and chinese chicken salad and meatloaf and mac&cheese and chicken-mushroom pasta, so why have a cook-off where the chefs will do things like "poached skate in a green apple gastrique with pommes macaire", or " kobe beef burgers topped with confit of onion and manchego cheese, served on a brioche-style bun?"

Have them do mystery baskets. [1] That's a real challenge: Here's a chicken, some potatoes, some chard, a lemon, an apple, and a bunch of carrots. GO! Here's a chunk of tofu, a jar of peanut butter, some celery, pea pods, and some barley. GO! You've got to know how to work with food to make something special out of a mystery basket.

[1] For the competition each young chef is given a
mystery basket of food items. Using all of the mystery
basket ingredients and drawing from items in a
common pantry, the contestant must execute a 3
course meal for 4 people. Each contestant is given
30 minutes to write the menu then 3 hours to cook
the appetizer, entrée and dessert and another 30
minutes to serve. Dishes are judged on taste,
presentation and originality. The kitchen judge rates
the contestants on organization, sanitation, product
utilization, and proper cooking techniques.

Last thing I ate or drank: pizza from Dagwoods, the best pizza place in Santa Monica. They just remodeled, too, so they get even more appreciation from me.

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