June 28, 2006

Menu for 10 to be served on Friday night.

I haven’t been posting lately because I've got so much going on...   but I am really happy with this menu that I came up with, and I wanted to share.  

The client didn’t make any requests besides “no pork” and “no veal”. She didn’t even specify a certain cuisine that she wanted to eat!  She just suggested that I propose my own ideas for a menu for her and her 9 guests.   

That’s pretty exciting, but I didn’t want to go TOO off the wall and go all El Bulli on her. Foams and airs and agar-poached things and freeze-dried things and other such culinary nonsense are NOT first time kitchen things. Not that I didn’t have a wonderful and memorable experience at Alinea but when you’re working in someone else’s kitchen for the first time, you get a little nervous about how things are going to turn out.   

Foreign kitchens can be tough, but I have made everything on this menu in the past. I've tweaked certain components a little to make it a bit more exciting, yet not so much that anyone’s going to look at it and say, “uh, what is that?”

What do you think?

    Manchego & Pine Nut Empanadas with Mango-Yogurt Salsa
First Course:
    Sweet Corn & Roasted Red Bell Pepper Soup w/ Garlic Custard
    Pollo a la Chilindrón (Chicken in a rich tomato sauce w/ green & black olives)
    Sautéed Julienne of Farmer's Market Vegetables, Saffron Rice
    Olive Oil & Almond Pound Cake, served with Tangerine Sorbet

*MY* mouth is watering just reading it again.  I'll have to take pictures to post here.


June 21, 2006

New and improved feature of ChefBlog:

If you enjoy reading other people's real-life cooking questions, (maybe because you're too embarassed to ask for yourself?) you're in luck. I'm going to make answering cooking and kitchen-related questions a regular part of my posting repertoire, and I would love to have a few more real questions to answer.

I am not going to post any fake questions, to fill space with namby-pamby softball requests like

  • "I need ideas for how to make pork chops more tender and juicy, do you have any advice? "
  • I always have lots of leftover egg yolks after making angel food cake (which calls for only the whites). What can I do with the yolks?
  • How can serrated knives be sharpened?

    (By the way, these are actual questions from the Feb 2002 issue of Martha Stewart Living. The fact that such magazine is in my house shall remain undiscussed, and is not a question that may be posed via Chef Chat. Mmmmmm-kay?)

I'm looking for questions that can get answered with more than a cursory google search. (which is what I just did, in to include the links above.)

So, would you please consider posting a link to my Chef Chat page on your blog?

Ask me things that draw upon my experience as a Personal Chef who works in a dozen kitchens each month. Let me provide answers that can only be provided by someone who has catered parties in private homes under the most horrific of circumstances.

...And for the love of bacon, please don't ask me for specific recipes or for other things that you can look up on your own. There are lots of very good recipe listings, covering various cuisines and diets all over the Interwebs. Use them.

Anyway, here's the full HTML of the link. I would love it if you'd post it on your website, or your blog, or even have it ironed onto the posterior of your favorite sweatpants. Assvertising seems to be trendy these days, so why not?

Got cooking questions?
Ask Chef JoAnna

If you don't know how to put HTML into your blog, I think you can copy/paste the following HTML code into your blog and it should work. If it doesn't, just e-mail me and I'll send you the proper code.
<center>Got cooking questions?<BR><a href= "http://ChefJoAnna.com/chefchat.html" target="_blank">Ask Chef JoAnna</a></center>


Last thing I ate or drank: smoothie made of frozen pineapple chunks, rice milk, and soy/spirulina powder, blended up with a few ice cubes. My latest personal culinary fad. I've just discovered that blender leaks, though, there's a crack in the blade mechanism, so there's a sheen of green I have to clean up everytime I make breakfast. Bummer!

Technorati Tags: in

June 14, 2006

Funny Food Flashback

A long, long time ago, Paul Rodriguez did a standup comendy routine where he is talking about "white people" going to a mexican restaurant. Sara from The Delicious Life just reminded me of it, in describing her trip to La Talpa one of Pico's many mexican restaurants. That skit is easily one of my favorite comedy routines, and it goes something like this. (I may have either destroyed it or punched it up, I can't be sure because I can't find it online.)
Husband: (Long Island accent) Yes, waiter, I have a few questions about the menu here. What's in a taco?

Waiter: Beans, cheese, lettuce, tomato, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, in a tortilla, sir.

Wife: Oh that sounds nice... What's in a (carefully sounding out) Burr-eeeee-toe?

Waiter: Beans, cheese, lettuce, tomato, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, in a tortilla, ma'am.

Husband: Well, that won't do at all. Uh, what's in a (pause) jimmy, chimmy, cha cha?

Waiter: Yes, the chimichanga, sir? Beans, cheese, lettuce, tomato, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, in a tortilla

Wife: I feel like having a salad. What's in a taco salad then?

Waiter: (becoming frustrated) Beans, cheese, lettuce, tomato, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, in a tortilla bowl.

Husband: This is a rather large menu to choose from, and I am rather confused. How about a tostada?

Waiter: (condescending) Yes, sir, that's something very different. A tostada is made with beans, cheese, lettuce, tomato, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, ON a tortilla!
It goes on for a while, but every time I make or eat mexican, I strive to make things a little different from each other.

Thanks, Sara, for reminding me of that routine!

June 12, 2006

That's not ice cream!

I must remember to label things I put in the freezer.

I just grabbed a spoon and was ready to dig in to a smooth, cool, creamy tub of chicken fat.(YUM!)

I thought it was a bit of home-made vanilla ice cream. Oops!

Let's just leave it at that, okay? Can we just skip over the part that that addresses why I have a small deli container with about 8 oz of frozen chicken fat?



June 07, 2006

Text from an e-mail interview

The follwing is the text of an e-mail interview I did a few months ago. I'm not sure whether the reporter got the article published, but as I re-read it, I thought it might be interesting to post it here.

Special Events: Dealing with Celebrities


1. Why do celebrities bring visibility and attract more media attention to public relations campaigns and special events than most other public relations strategies?

I can’t comment on this one, but many celebrities have hired me, and several have been guests at my clients’ events.

2. Why is it important to understand the mindset of a celebrity? What motivates a celebrity to say “yes” (beyond money)?

The “mindset of a celebrity” as it applies to my business:

I serve more than food, I cater to egos, too. The people who expect to receive special treatment, get it. They’re used to having people fawning all over them and doing their bidding. The ones who are more humble, and down to earth, the ones who don’t expect special treatment, however, are just a joy to work for. It’s almost as they’re trying to be accommodating to me, apologizing for the fact that my staff or I might be nervous. It’s actually cute to see celebrities get nervous before their events. One guy kept going out and buying things: one time he’d come back with flowers, another time, a few bottles of wine, then he went out again for sparkling water. I think he’d have kept it up until the guests arrived. Another celebrity spent too much time re-doing her flower arrangements, then her assistant showed up with several dozen candles and she moved on to rearranging them compulsively until the doorbell rang.

3. How do you successfully contact, negotiate, and work with celebrities? Does it require critical research and specialized rules of protocol and etiquette?

  • Negotiation:
the trickiest part of negotiation is that you can’t just ask your client a question and get an answer. Sometimes the question has to go through assistants and planners, so you have to be extremely patient, and you have to be very attentive to following up and getting the answers.
  • Research:
I made sure to have a vegan entrée available when I became aware that Richard Gere was to be a guest at a dinner that a client hosted. The client never mentioned Mr. Gere’s attendance to me, but gratefully, her assistant was a bit star-struck and told me that he was on the guest list. He’s known for being a practicing Buddhist, and even though the client didn’t ask for a vegan alternative meal, I had everything ready to go just in case. He didn’t end up attending, but I was ready. I always want my clients to come off looking good, so anything I can do to prevent a faux pas or remedy one, I will do in a heartbeat.
  • Research:
I might not suggest serving a dessert of Bananas Flambé, for example, to the certain super-svelte someone who has had an intimate (and infamous) on-screen moment doing something with a banana... I served a flourless chocolate cake instead, she ate the whole thing!

4. How do you budget for celebrity participation?

doesn’t apply to my part of the industry, my clients make those arrangements.

5. Celebrities can be very demanding and difficult to work with. How do you best deal with this? Please give some examples.

  • Difficult:
I worked for a celebrity who is allergic to peanut and sesame products... but no mention of this allergy came up at ANY point over my menu negotiations. He kept sending servers back to the kitchen asking for ingredient lists for each thing I prepared, and I couldn’t figure out why. I thought he was just being picky and annoying. Somehow, neither his wife, nor their personal assistant, nor the party coordinator ever thought it might be important to mention that there was an allergy issue.

  • Frustrating:
I catered a fundraiser luncheon for another woman who kept walking through her kitchen to gaze longingly into her fridge. Each time she’d walk away, saying, “There’s nothing I can eat” in the most forlorn voice. The poor thing was starving. She was wearing this long yellow sheath dress that hung so closely on every curve, if she ate a grape it might have showed. The rest of the staff and I were making food for her 50 guests all afternoon, so there was food everywhere! She kept complimenting that everything looked beautiful, but I couldn’t get her to eat a thing.

  • Demanding:
One of my clients stipulated on his contract that he wanted dinner served at 7:00pm. One of his guests, an even bigger celebrity, didn’t show up on time, so he asked me to push back the service time 30 minutes. I pulled the filet mignon and the Salmon en CroĆ»te out of the oven so it wouldn’t overcook, then put it back in to warm up for a few minutes before I was to serve it. Just as I was ready to bring them into the dining room, he sent one of my servers back into the kitchen to delay service another 30 minutes. When the guest finally showed up, it was 8:45, and this scenario had played out several times. Somehow, I managed to serve the filet medium-rare and kept the fish moist, but I was nervous everything would be overdone. Later, when the final bill was presented, he complained that the total didn’t match the estimate. Duh, the costs for labor were higher because the party ran so late!

...it's a filler post, yeah, but I'm taking this week off!

Last thing I ate or drank:

Technorati Tags: in

June 02, 2006

funny phonecall

me: pick up phone, look at caller ID, don't recognize the number. "Hello, this is Chef JoAnna"
caller: Hi, how are you?
me: Fine, thanks. (practicing the art of shutting up, resisting the urge to ask "Who are you?")
caller: great! well, I was just driving by and I saw your truck... it looks great, by the way!
me: Oh, thank you.
caller: Yeah, so, I just wanted to introduce myself, I'm soandso from suchandsuch, and we're a party staffing company.
me: yes?
caller: so maybe if you need to hire any servers or bartenders we can staff your events.
me: ok. would you like to send me a rate sheet or a portfolio....
caller: we charge what everyone else does, about $25 an hour. We're having our brochures printed up right now, but you can look at our website...
me: ok, what is it?
caller: www.way_overdone_website.com
me: (typing it in) oh, there's music (disgusted) ok, hang on, I have to turn it down
caller: ha ha, oh yeah, my son just asked me, "Mommy why did you turn the music down?"
me: (giving the phone a 'huh?' look, as if that does anything, but I can't help it) ok, here we go.
caller: blah blah blah, we do staffing, blah blah blah
me: do you have any culinary staff?
caller: yes, I think so, we do, yes.
me: and what is their rate
caller: oh, I don't know, probably still $25 an hour, I'd have to refer you to my business associate for that, he handles the billing.
me: ok (why are you making a call if you're unprepared to give me information?)
caller: blah blah blah, we do staffing, blah blah blah
me: yes, ok
caller: so do you hire people to staff your events?
me: usually I use my own staff, but I've used staffing companies in the past, like when a client doubled his headcount three days before the party...
caller: Yeah. Oh, wow! So, yeah! (or something equally erudite)
me: Do your kitchen staff bring their own tools?
caller: I think so, yeah. So now you could call us when you have that kind of thing happen.
me: sure
caller: and we can call you, when we have a party that needs a chef, right?
obviously, since my name is written in silver foil on my truck, I must certainly be a skilled chef, and a reputable person... but yet, so desperately in need of additional work that I'd agree to a relationship with a company who employs a less-than-knowlegeable staffing representative that is empowered to hire me, spontaneously, sight-unseen, as she's driving around town.
me: Uh... I don't usually work for other companies.
caller: Hello? it got really static-y all of the sudden. Hello?
me: Yes, I hear you...
caller: Hello? There must be something wrong with your phone, or maybe it's my phone, there's a lot of static. HELLO!?
me: I can hear you just fine.
caller: HELL-----OOOOOooooo?
me: click

Please don't ambush my servers at the kitchen door.

I am always trying to talk my clients out of having so many options on their buffet or cocktail party menus.

If there are 5 options, most people will try all 5.
If there are 7 options, most people will try all 7.
If there are 9 options, most people will try all 9.
I'd bet if there were 18 options, most people would try to eat all 18.

It's human nature, I suppose, to want to taste everything... and still, when people find what they like, they will keep eating it. (they even pace outside the kitchen doors to ambush my servers as they exit.) Then towards the end of the party, guests sometimes come back in the kitchen and say, "I really loved the ___ will you be sending more of that out?" and although I'm flattered, I have to think to myself, you've been eating for the last 2 hours, you can't still be hungry!

Has anyone eaten at Sizzler lately? How could anyone think that the 5 oz grilled chicken breast PLUS a 6 oz sirloin PLUS a half dozen shrimp, each accopmanied by their own specially coordinated carbohydrate and vegegable should be consumed in one meal? Would be a healthier choice than the 16 oz porterhouse? It might, because it would be more likely that you would only eat half of it.

I went to Violet last night, and shared five small plates with my husband. A glass of champagne each, and the total came to about $60. It was nice to have the variety, but it was really nice that everything was served in small portions...because it was delicious and I could have easily eaten more of any of the selections if it was already on the plate.

I wonder if Sizzler sold stuff as a small plates restaurant if they'd have any measure of success. Nah, forget it. Nobody goes for the lettuce, celery and cherry tomatoes at the salad bar, they load up on cheese, olives and bacon bits, covered in blue cheese dressing.

Which, by the way, are delicious.

Report: Restaurants should shrink portions - Yahoo! News: "'If companies don't tell them, people have no way of knowing how many calories they are being served at restaurants. And chances are, they are being served a lot more than they realize'"