April 29, 2006

Uh, excuse me, ma'am ...

I've been wearing these white polo shirts with my logo on the left chest. I wear them with black pants. It's my uniform for days when I'm cooking. It looks put-together, pseudo-professional and neat, but it's still a comfortable outfit.

I wear this as my "uniform" while shopping, on the way to go cook at my clients' homes. Even though it's TOTALLY different than the uniforms that the grocery stores' staff wears, I'm constantly asked for directions, help or other information.

I am always entertained by the reactions I get from people when I tell them, "I don't work here"... everything from embarassed apologies to raised-eyebrow stares that imply the attitude of "So? Answer my question anyway!"

If they say "please", "excuse me", or "pardon me", I'll usually help them, but not if the just blurt out their question with an unfriendly attitude. Heck, the actual store employees shouldn't even have to help them if they're rude!

Last thing I ate or drank: Take Five candy bar. Covers the sweet and salty craving all in one shot, really a nice combo!

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April 21, 2006

for when "microwave until warm" is too complicated...

When I do Personal Chef sessions, I put a little tag on each package of food that gives the description of the food, the date it was made and reheating instructions, whether it's "Bake at 350 for __ minutes" or "Microwave until warm".

"Samsung has teamed up with Birds Eye frozen foods to develop a smart oven that knows how to cook a meal by just reading “Smart Codes” found on specially marked packaging. Buyers seeking the ultimate in convenience will appreciate this oven, just scan and cook. It’s priced at $525, no word yet on availability"

April 20, 2006

The Language of Baklava: A book review

Ever read a book that makes you jealous for not having been invited to the party? Then, as you continue reading, you gasp, Oh, wow. that's just like me! Diana Abu-Jaber has written such a book. Intelligent, and moving, and hilariously funny at times.

This was a lovely story, reminding me somewhat of my own childhood and my over-the-top overprotective father. The descriptions of her family's meals are incredible. I found myself rushing to make the recipes, looking forward to enjoying devouring them as I read, like I was sitting at the table with the author.

One of those books that you think, "Ok, it's late... I'll just read until the end of this chapter," then you don't put it down.

Well, if you're a foodie daughter of an immigrant like me, anyway.

By the way, if you are interested in hearing an interview with the author on NPR: Click here then click on the red LISTEN icon. If you use quicktime, you can play it at just less than double speed and hear it without losing your mind.

Last thing I ate or drank: a latte from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Did they use decaf? because, dammit, I have a lack-of-caffeine headache!

P. S. it's funny to re-read that I think I'm missing caffeine, and that I'm putting Abu-Jaber and Block on doublespeed.

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April 17, 2006

Kosmonaut Photo Blog: Food Styling with Chef JoAnna

I did a food styling session with Kathryn Hill, a photographer who works out of both San Francisco and Los Angeles. We spent an afternoon working on this project together, and it was a blast! We spent 5 hours from beginning to end, making all the food (in my kitchen), setting up the table (against the orange tree in my front yard) and all the props (it's all about the the props), and taking lots and lots and lots of photos.
Los Angeles food stylist   Los Angeles food photography   food styling and photography in Los Angeles
click to embiggen.

This was all actual food, everything was not only edible, dare I say, everything was delicious!
Click over to Kathryn's blog for the rest of the photos, and to her site to hire her.

April 13, 2006

The Itty Bitty Kitchen Handbook: a book review

I was recently sent an itty bitty book targeting people with itty bitty kitchens. I have worked in kitchens that are bigger than my entire 2 bedroom condo, with every appliance known to mankind at my disposal, so my modest four-burner standard-rental-issue Tappan oven/range and my stupid (no really it's stupid) one-basin sink is a chef's horror. Kelly and I are constantly fantasizing about how we could just tear out the walls, convert the dining room area into part of the kitchen, and have a big, lovely, roomy space in which to work. Fact is, I've got too much stuff to move around well in my current space, I really need to move some of that stuff out.

Stuff, however, is exactly what Justin Spring, the author of The Itty Bitty Kitchen Handbook is telling me to get rid of. And he's right, I know. I'm just in denial.

I have a full set of everyday spatulas, spoons and whisks.

...but I also have a backup set of spatulas, spoons and whisks. In the kitchen.

... not to mention, the complete set of spatulas, spoons and whisks I use for when I go do Personal Chef work

... and, um, the equally complete set of spatulas, spoons and whisks I bring with me when I need to hire kitchen staff on catering jobs.

...and the two abbreviated sets of tools I keep for cooking Kosher.

It's all color coded and organized, so even if stuff gets mixed, it's easy to get separated and reorganized. But it is a lot of stuff.

It's just a guess, but I'll bet I've got over 75 spatulas to my name. Rubber ones, plastic ones, wooden ones, metal ones, offset metal ones, and my favorite, the silicone spatulas, and my favorite of those is Greenie. (insert angels singing here) Whenever I see Greenie for sale, I buy the store's entire stock. I have bought greenies in New York, Chicago, and Las Vegas. Do I need that many green silicone spatulas? YES! They're awesome. They're not indestructible, though, so when I find them, I buy them. They're $3 apiece, so it's not like I'm investing my retirement money in spatulas, however I do confess, I'm single-handedly cornering the market on Greenies.

Anyway, back to the book review CHEFFY!!

So, this book was really good at making me feel guilty for all my stuff. (The author actually used a special font or a graphic image that made the word "stuff" look different than the rest of the typeface, so you know he was serious.)

But, just as seriously, how am I to make waffles without a waffle iron? How am I to make delicious frozen delights without my cool Cuisinart machine?

But, then again, do I need a toaster AND a toaster oven? Do I NEED a standard countertop blender, an immersion blender, a countertop mixer, a hand mixer, and a hand-crank eggbeater? They perform similar but very specific functions. Do I NEED that hotpot on the counter, when I have a stove and microwave at my disposal? No, probably not, but you can have it when you tear it from my burned, calloused, ragged-cuticle-beset hands. so there.

Actually, there's a very, VERY good list of the drop-dead essentials at the end of part one. Even if you don't use the 100 recipes he includes, that list alone is worth the price of admission! Plus there are lots and lots of useful tips for how to economize space and make tools do double-duty.

I also love that he doesn't hold the space sacred. Hang things from the walls! Hang things from the fridge! Hang things from the cabinets! It confounds me when I go to cook in other peoples' kitchens, and find that the counters are decorated with tons of useless trinkets, and all the useful stuff is put away in remote cabinets. *then again, these people don't cook, and that's why I'm there!

Anyway, even if you don't cook on a boat, even if you have graduated from college and don't have to cook in your dorm, and even if your kitchen is larger than 45 square feet, I think this book is well worth the paltry $10.

The pants hanger trick was the one that really hit home for me.

Anybody need a spatula?

I just had the freakiest experience...

So, long story short, Stephanie is no longer employee #2 of Chef JoAnna, Inc. Too many times showing up late, or not showing up at all, too many mistakes that I caught her on, and a general lack of professionalism. It's sad, when she first started she was a lifesaver, and then the last two weeks of March, everything went straight to shit. And she knew it.

Anyway, so I've been calling my old culinary school, and trying to speak with someone in the placement office. Several times. Today when the receptionist, ahem, pushed my buttons:
   Career services, please
Who do you want to speak to?
    Career services
I can't transfer you unless I know who you want to speak with.
    I don't know, the last three times I called, just asked for career services.
So who did you leave a message with?
    I don't know!! (just transfer my call, bitch!)
Well, what is this regarding?
    [very pregnant pause] Can you please put me through to Chef Bernard?
[shorter, but even more pregnant pause] Umm. Just a moment

Chef Christophe Bernard is the super big shot director of the culinary department. He came in after sweet, sweet Chef Joe Zoellin left the school to go start his own school in Northern California. Chef Z was a "ain't broke don't fix it" kind of guy, but as soon as you told him something was broke, he'd do something about it. Like the time I told him that the spices were a mess, he said, "If you give me a list of what you think should be in each kitchen, I'll make sure it's there." Within a week, it was done. On the other hand, I thought that most of his policies were kind of lax, and everyone (myself included) exploited them to the fullest.

When Chef Bernard took over, reigns were tightened. Tightened so tightly they left angry red marks. Everyone (myself included) wasn't happy about the new boss's new rules, and he was very strict with them. You know what sucks? A mild-mannered, soft spoken French guy who won't let you argue with him. You didn't exactly lose an argument so much as get frustrated by banging your head against his proverbial wall. He would say some equivalent of "because I said so" and get away with it. Damn that accent!

On the other hand, when you'd ask him for something, and he agreed with the request, you'd get it. But if he didn't agree, he'd simply say no, blame it on policy (Which was likely a policy he just made... It was a dictatorship, no question there)

So anyway, I got him on the phone, and told him that I wanted to hire an assistant, and he asked me my name and my company name. I told him, and he asked "Do you park your car by xxx hospital?" and I said yes, and then he asked, "And your name is on the truck?" and I said yes. He said, "Yes, I've noticed it. I make a point to notice these things. It looks very good..." and he proceeded to ask me what kind of vehicle it was and how I liked it.

so that was "arresting moment number one" -- that he noticed my truck and said it looked very good.

Then he asked me how I knew of the school, and I told him I went there, (he was only there for my final quarter, which ended in March 2003, so I didn't expect him to remember me from mentioning my name.) He congratulated me for being successful and said that it was great that I was looking for help through the school. He told me who I should get in touch with, gave me direct lines, e-mail addresses, and such, and told me that if I had any questions that didn't get answered by Career Services, that I should contact him. He invited me to the school's onsite "bistro" for dinner, and I said, "Thank you for your help, Chef" and he said, "It is my pleasure, Chef" and he hung up.

I'm so tickled: he called me Chef!

Last thing
I ate or drank: the sweet, sweet nectar of success.

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April 12, 2006

It's the Chef JoAnna Show!

Well, no not quite... Not like anyone told me (I found out by looking at my stats) but woo hoo, Microsoft finally put my interview video online.

Click to watch the clip!

and less interesting, but still pretty cool,
clip #2 and
clip #3

Last thing I ate or drank:

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April 11, 2006

Where have you eaten?

Here is a link to an article about the Top 50 World-class Restaurants according to Restaurant magazine. Personally, I've only eaten at Charlie Trotters. How about you?

April 10, 2006

I got a new puppy!

Of course, food things are still happening, but the big news right now is that I have a new puppy.

April 06, 2006


When you're looking for Raz Al Hanout, and you call Penzey's , and they don't have it but they suggest Baker's Catalog, and they don't have it, and they suggest another place, Spice House is not the place you're looking for! (Not Safe For Work, depending on how likely it is that your boss would look over your shoulder!)

Update, It's actually THE Spice House

(Thanks to Debby M for the update!)