April 21, 2008

With all due respect, I disagree:

L.A. times writer Monica Corcoran had an article out on "Party planners' quick-and-dirty tips" which featured Bryan Rabin and Jeffrey Best "two of LA’s top party planners" according to whoever hires people to plan events on the scale of an Oscar party thrown by Madonna. Click here to read the article.

Anyway, I'm reading this article, and one of the questions is Do you need to consult your guests about food allergies and finicky tendencies? Bryan Rabin gave his reply: It's so L.A. You should ask around and see if anyone is a vegetarian or has food allergies. But don't plan the menu around someone who has allergies. Just prepare a special dish for that person. That made me remember a dinner for 10 that I prepared recently.

I grilled the host's assistant (well, not literally) about whether anyone had any allergies or other dietary restrictions. I was told that a few of the guests were vegetarian. I confirmed, "Only vegetarian, or vegan? I can use milk, butter, cheese, eggs..." and she said yes, just vegetarian. "Maybe you can make the whole meal vegetarian."

No problem! So I come up with a menu: A bunch of nice appetizers, a salad, a very hearty risotto with butternut squash, and several vegetable side dishes. I also ask people do they like something with fruit or chocolate for dessert. She chose chocolate, so in staying with the Italian theme set by the risotto, I made a cassata. (pound cake with marscapone cheese filling, covered with whipped chocolate ganache).

One of the guests approached me about 45 minutes before service, and asked what was on the menu. As i told him, he nodded, and then said, "So, nothing is vegan, then?"  Um, no, nobody said anything was supposed to be vegan!

As you can imagine, by that point, most everything is nearly completed, just requiring a few finishing touches. I mentally scanned the menu, and there were still a couple of things that I could tweak, like not adding Parmesan cheese to one of the salads or to one portion of the risotto, not adding butter to the vegetables....but the cake was finished, there was no un-doing it.

I had intended to garnish the risotto with a slice of green apple lightly sautéed in butter, but instead, I made a little dessert with the apple, plus some brown sugar, cinnamon, orange juice & zest, and whatever else i could scrounge. After serving this poor guy a whole bunch of plain food, I wanted to do something special for him.

Come time for dessert, I sauced the plates, served up slices of the cake, and arranged this little apple creation for him. When i served everyone the cake, and gave him his special vegan dessert, he looked at me like I'd set an assortment of rocks on his plate.
Vegan Guy: What is this?

Me: A baked apple with cinnamon and an orange sauce. It's vegan!

Vegan guy: Oh....

Guy across the table: (loud enough for all the other 9 guests to hear) Duuuuuuuuude! What did you do to piss off the chef? WE all got chocolate cake!

Me: Oh, ha ha, (gulp) nothing's wrong. (nervous smile) This is vegan.

Vegan guy: (clearly not pleased at the attention) Oh. Uh ...thanks.
But then, while I was cleaning the kitchen, I watched as he ate the butter/cream/cheese/egg cake off the loud guy's plate.*

So, no, Bryan Rabin, don't just serve them something special, particularly if it's especially obvious that it's different. If you're the host, realize that nobody wants to be singled out as different from the rest of the guests. A good chef can work with you to make something that works for everyone.

* I seriously don't care if you are wearing a PETA shirt under your fur coat while you gnaw the heads off of live baby koalas. And I'll never forget that one guy at a brunch I catered who, when someone said, "Hey, I thought you were Jewish, too!" replied with "Yeah, but I LOVE bacon, I just don't eat it in front of my kids." Whatever floats your boat. You hire me to cook for you, I'll do whatever you ask. But you gotta ask!

Last thing I ate or drank: Cold Filet of Salmon with Aioli, over Mixed Greens and Belgian Endive

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April 18, 2008

Grilled Cheese Invitational: LOCATION ANNOUNCED!

I'm so bummed that i took work and i can't do this, because it sounds like SO MUCH FUN! If you go, please take lots of pictures and smuggle me out some samples.

Greetings Cheese Enthusiasts!
This is the moment you have all been waiting for! Everything is coming together. Grills are at the ready. Loaves are waiting to be sliced. The cheese is...well...cheese!
The 1st 6th Annual National Grilled Cheese Invitational is merely hours away!
But first, some quick updates....
As you are probably already aware, the exposure for this event has gotten completely out of control! Los Angeles demands cheese! The public response to this event that I started six years ago is quite humbling and I'm so psyched to see that everybody loves grilled cheese as much as I do.
The unfortunate part is that the event location can only hold so many people and the parking lot can only hold so many cars, and not everybody will be able to get in to enjoy the Invitational.
Once the capacity for the event site has been reached, no one else will be allowed in, so do make sure to get there early, as we cannot guarantee space or promise anything.
CARPOOL, everybody! Seriously. This can't be stressed enough.
The more people who carpool, the more people will be able to get in to enjoy the event.
If when you get to the event, you see signs announcing that the event is at capacity, we apologize, but we mean it.
If you get into the event, you are more than welcome to bring beverages with you, however they must be non-alcoholic and in an unbreakable containers.
This is an adult event and the tone runs somewhere between PG-13 and a soft R, so please use judgement with regard to bringing young children. I mean, look at the names of the sammich categories.
If you have some poems about cheese, we'd love to hear 'em while the competitors grill. Stop by the stage and see one of the MCs to get on the schedule.
The event opens at 5:00pm and grilling starts promptly at 5:30 and will run till 9:00pm, or until we run out of cheese.
There will be over 140 people grilling in competition at the event!
As an added bonus, Kraft Singles has signed on board as a sponsor and will be on hand providing thousands of samples of the sammich that started it all plus all sorts of awesome freebies!
Also, IZZE beverages will be there in force and providing free samples of their sparking fruit juices as well.
There will be also be T-shirts, aprons and hoodies available for sale! Show your support for the event and also pick up some of the most frighteningly awesome merch you'll ever have the pleasure of wearing on your own body.
Have fun and remember, with a little bread, butter and cheese, even you too could be a Grilled Cheese Champion!
The event takes place at:
Crystal Springs Picnic Grove
Griffith Park
4730 Crystal Springs Dr
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Saturday April 19th
Event opens at 5:00pm
Grilling commences promptly at 5:30pm
Trophies awarded by 9:30pm
That address will get you into the park by the pony rides, but you'll want to follow the signs to the Crystal Springs Picnic Grove.
Here's a fancy google maps link that better shows where we'll be:
If you don't end up getting into the event, once again, I apologize.
But I also promise to you that next year's national grilled cheese Invitational will be in a much larger venue that will accommodate all the cheesey masses yearning eat cheese!
Yours in bread, butter, cheese and victory,
Tim Walker
Chief Instigator & Founder
Grilled Cheese Invitational

April 16, 2008

Earth day column I wrote for ChefsLine

Earth Day will be celebrated next Tuesday, April 22. I thought it would be a good time to ask some of the other ChefsLine team to suggest some steps we could take in our home kitchens to have a positive impact on the environment... or at least to tread a little lighter. WOW, they came up with some really great ideas! The cool thing is that these adjustments are simple enough that you can put them into action immediately.
ChefsLine's Suggestions for Earth Day (...and every day!)
  • Chef Richard: Prepare a One-Pot meal. You'll conserve energy by using only one burner on the stove, and save water because you have to wash only one pot that night.
  • Chef Robyn: Treat yourself and support healthier cows with a milkshake or smoothie made with organic milk, or even better, yogurt and local fruit! Your body and taste buds will feel like a million bucks.
  • Chef Adrienne: Be certain that your used plastic bags from the grocery store are in a place where you can grab and go so you can reuse them. Even better, bring your own bag to the market.
  • Melissa: If you wash dishes by hand, do it right away and you'll use less water. If you use the dishwasher, make sure that it's completely filled up before running it, and use an environmentally friendly detergent.
And here are a few ideas that I'd like to contribute:
  • Buy fresh, local produce. Not only does it taste better, but you might not realize that frozen food requires a lot of energy to keep it frozen, and usually travels futher, which uses gasoline and creates carbon emissions.
  • Consider purchasing your staples in bulk. (rice, beans, flour, etc.) buying food in packages requires the use of paper, cardboard and plastic and other materials that need to be recycled. Recycling's great but it still takes energy!
  • If you eat meat, you don't have to go vegetarian to be environmentally friendly. Just eat less of it. It takes about 4 pounds of grain to raise 1 pound of beef, plus something like 2500 gallons of water! So if you're used to eating an 8 oz portion, eat 4 oz instead, and eat more vegetables. A good book you can read about this is The Omnivore's Dilemma.
Sometimes it just takes looking at an idea  from someone else's perspective to see how easy it is to make a few small changes to your day-to-day life, and it's empowering to see how subtle adjustments to how you get things done can make an impact on being "green".

April 11, 2008

Interviewed on the Kick Back Kook show.

Today i participated in an interview on Angela McKeller's podcast show, KickBackKook. Myself and two amateur chefs made the recipe that can be found on Angela's website http://www.kickbackkook.com

Listen to the podcast, and let me know what you think! I took more pictures of the dishes i made, which you can find here.

Last thing I ate or drank: dinner at Bistro Provence:
1st course, crispy gnocchi with sautéed vegetables and lardons
entrée, duck breast with mushroom croquette
dessert, lemon curd with strawberries and citrus meringue
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