TheThird Place, revisited

I wrote this for the Sommelier Journal a while ago and would like to share it with you/  

Service and The Third Place  

 

In the restaurant business there is service and then there is Service. Basic service is the polite greeting at the door and the party seated on time. The menu and the wine list are presented. The table is set appropriately and the silver wiped to a shine. The glasses are polished. The order is taken accurately. The food is served to the person who ordered it. The wine is at the perfect temperature. The label is presented and the wine poured correctly. The glasses are refilled as needed, and never over poured. Plates are cleared only when everyone is through dining. The check is presented in a timely fashion and the host says a warm think you and goodnight. That is service.

 

And then there is Service. 

The greeting at the door is warm. If the guest is a regular he or she is recognized by the host and seated at a preferred table with a long time waiter that the guest probably knows.  In fact, most of the staff is as regular as the guests. They don’t move around because they like the place where they work.

Then there are the small things that count. Are the menu and wine list free of misspelling? Are the wines in the cellar as listed, correct vintage and in stock? At the right temperature? That is Service.

Was the wine list presented to the right person at the table, even if it was a woman? That is Service.

Did the waiter or sommelier refrain from obviously correcting the guest’s mispronunciation of the wine’s name? Did the sommelier offer a taste to the person who ordered the wine? That is Service. 

If the guest did not like the wine did the sommelier refrain from arguing with the guest even if the wine is perfect, and quickly suggest another? That is Service. 

 

In other words service is more than being right or correct. Service is being in charge, but with a smile. It means serving with grace as well as confidence.  A restaurant with great service is one where guests are treated with dignity and warmth and where they want to come back to repeatedly. That last word is the key. Everyone can be a good first date. But do you want to establish a lasting relationship? 

 

In this day and age where the restaurant business is so competitive and the economy is tighter than we all would like, correct service will no longer suffice. It is important to deliver Service. You need to establish and maintain a real, not just technological, relationship with the guest. Computer programs keeping track of birthdays and anniversaries are a convenient way to show you remember them, but, really, any place can do that now. How do you go the extra mile in forging that bond with the guest? If you are the sommelier do you remember your guests’ preferences in wine? Do you stock a few special wines that are not on the regular list for preferred guests?  Do you call them to let them know of a rare bottle that has come into your cellar or some really cool close-outs  that you may have but are not on the list? Do you have carefully chosen bargain wines for those regulars who are not Titans of Industry? Or who are no longer Titans of Industry? 

 

In 1989, sociology Professor Ray Oldenburg wrote a book called The Great Good Place. It talked about the three places that are an integral part of our lives. The first place is home. The second place is work where we may spend most of our time. The third place, like the third leg of a stool, is equally important for our well-being and stability. It is in the Third Place where we connect with others of our community. (And if we telecommute, we are even more isolated and in need of contact with others on a three dimensional plane.) It is an informal social space that brings people of diverse backgrounds together. A place where old friends can gather and new friendships are formed. It is a welcoming, comfortable place we return to regularly because it completes this societal triad essential for our equanimity. The Third Place does not have to be expensive or exclusive. It can be a wine bar, a café, or casual dining spot. It provides comfort, familiarity, and delivers Service in its best sense. It takes care of guests, not just waits on them.

 

I met Professor Oldenburg when I had Square One Restaurant in San Francisco. While doing research for a follow up book on Third Places, he heard about us, visited the restaurant and we started a long correspondence. Square One is long gone but I constantly run into people who say “we really miss your restaurant.”  Why? Because we were their Third Place. Yes, we had great food and an award winning wine list. We actively supported community events and participated in local fund raisers. But most important, we had a loyal staff who delivered on Service. Most of them, kitchen and front of the house, were there for ten to twelve years and were an integral part of the Square One community. We didn’t need computer programs to jog our memories. We knew our guests and they knew us. And we enjoyed each other’s company. This is especially important in this day and age where people are increasingly isolated by the technological aspects of their work, the pressures on their family, and worries about the future. To succeed and survive in this business it will be necessary to learn how to make real contact with guests. We must embrace service and community and strive to create a Third Place.  

 

There Will Be Blood

I worte this for Food arts and hope you like it.

There Will Be Blood: Butchering as Performance Art

 

The scene was quite surreal. A 650 pound spit roasted steer was on display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  Members of the OPEN restaurant collective, among them some chefs from Chez Panisse, organized this happening. They paraded the giant beast through the city streets on a trailer truck, a long journey from Alemany Farm where the fennel stuffed steer had been roasting for 20 hours over an elaborate fire pit. Once they arrived at SFMOMA, they removed the specially woven tapestry that covered the animal, which was later hung in the room. Then they extricated the two giant spits that held the animal over the fire. One had to be tapped out with a sledgehammer! Talk about virility and power!  Next they un-wrapped the foil that had encased the animal. (Like Woody Allen in Sleeper but on a much larger scale.)  After dumping the beast on a giant butcher block, a group of white jacketed female chefs and butchers proceeded to carve up the animal, accompanied by a live overhead video projection in order to bring the action even closer to the audience of carnivores who had paid to attend. After the women had made the initial foray into the giant beast, the large slabs of meat were sent back to male chefs who cut them into smaller pieces and covered them with fanciful sauces and foams, and, as it was San Francisco, the beef was served with local artisan bread and wild arugula. Even a grappa was made from the roasted heart and tongue of the steer. All this was accompanied by video projections, cacaphonic music and sounds and dramatic lighting effects, sort of a flashback to the heady days of the Fillmore Auditorium.  When the event was over, only the picked-over carcass remained, smelling faintly of fennel and blood.  

 

But it wasn’t Surrealism the Museum was commemorating; it was the Italian Futurist movement. This dramatic carnal display was part of series of events at the museum entitled “ Metal+ Machine+ Manifesto = Futurism’s  First 100 Years “ The chefs  used Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s 1932 bizarre Futurist  Cookbook for inspiration for this orgy of meat cooking and butchery. Marinetti had advised the Italians to give up on its classical past and its iconic pasta which makes people “heavy, brutish…slow, pessimistic”,  and is “a debased  and suburban form of pleasure.” He invited them to plunge into the active future by eating meat. To eat meat is to ingest energy in its most immediate form and increases virility. Oh, those Italians! 

 

All of this was proudly reported in Meatpaper, a new publication in the Bay area that focuses on all meat centric events here in the City by the Bay. Meatpaper’s   role as they describe it, “is an investigation into the growing cultural trend of meat consciousness.…about meat as a provocative cultural symbol and phenomenon.”

 

Hey! What’s going on? It seems like only yesterday that foodies and the media were obsessed with celebrity chefs, aspiring top chefs, and famous restaurateurs. Now the focus has shifted to the more humble and earthy artisans, giving them their turn at 15 minutes of fame. This transition of attention has its roots in the Locavore and Slow Food movements with their veneration of the artisan and farm-to-table eating. The spotlight alternately moves from the farmer, the cheese maker, the baker, and now it shines on the butcher and salumi maker. And when you get a celebrity chef who can butcher and also make salumi, you have hit the trifecta!

 

 The cutting up of animals is now public performance art. Events are widely held, not just in San Francisco. In Atlanta, Brooklyn, the Hudson Valley, Virginia there are similar carnal knowledge opportunities. People can enroll in a hog butchering class, with wine. (Wear your raincoat and rain boots, it gets messy!) Or taste salumi and charcuterie made from responsibly raised animals. Or attend an event called Primal, held both in San Francisco and Atlanta, described as “a celebration of the culinary arts’ appreciation of wood fired cooking methods, and to honor the art of the butcher while promoting heritage breeds and whole animal utilization within the foodie community.” Enlightened carnivores, also known as paying guests, watch butchers and chefs cook a whole pig, a goat and a cow over open fires and then demonstrate cutting them up. Naturally, boutique wines and craft beers are served.

 

Surrealism and Futurism are giving way to enterprising Capitalism. It is no longer surprising to find a crowd of foodies who’ll gladly shell out $175 per person to watch a now famous Florentine butcher, Dario Cecchini, cut up half a pig and half a cow and get to taste a sliver of bistecca alla fiorentina cooked by the hosting restaurant. The butcher is now a celebrity by osmosis because he is mentioned in a book about a celebrity chef.  That’s real show business!

 

I am not an animal rights activist, and I do eat meat judiciously, but I do think butchering as performance art smacks of press fodder. Trendy photo ops of brawny chefs hefting giant carcasses and wielding sharp knives, surrounded by people who never cook but, like Peter Sellers in Being There, they just want to watch. Those macho tattooed dudes, cutting up meat really turn some folk on in a big way. 

 

Now I do understand that this comes from a place of well meaning and education: to demonstrate that meat does not originate in plastic wrap covered packages but comes from an animal. And that avoiding factory raised animals in favor of those from small farms, raised responsibly and locally is a good thing. But maybe we can carry this a bit too far, when to feel righteous about eating meat, you have to kill the animal yourself. (Thank you, Michael Pollan, for glamorizing our inner hunter.) Or you have to raise the animal yourself. Or failing that you have no room for livestock at home, you need to learn to butcher meat and connect primally with your food before you have the right to enjoy it. Even celebrity bloggers now turned authors have embraced ( temporarily ) their inner butcher.

 

Seriously, folks. What’s next?  Stomping grapes in the dining room?  Keeping chickens in the restaurant’s garden or on the green roof and wringing their necks to order? Who will be next on the road to culinary stardom? Watch out. It could be the guys who make the knives.  

 

 

Sorry for the long silence but I am in the middle of a new book

I know. I’ve been silent for way too long.   It’s not that I have forgotten to write on my blog, it is just that I have embarked on a huge new book project and it it taking most of my time and occupying my every waking and even sleeping thoughts.

I have been asked by University of California Press to write the history of what has come to be known as the California Cuisine movement.   Over the past 5 months  I have just completed 170 interviews with chefs, artisans, farmers, writers, winemakers, restaurant designers, food retailers, press, and front of the house managers, trying to leave no stone unturned in my quest to report the story.  The path is not linear or clear. The story varies between Northern and Southern California. And I am drowning in information that I must now sort and place into into the appropriate chapters. Yes, there is a chapter outline but sequence  is not yet clear.This is a book that will evolve in the writing.  I am a hermit at my desk most of the time.

I know that last time I posted I had just set out on a cruise on the Mediterranean for Lindblad and National Geographic. I was in Sicily,  Sardinia, Corsica, Menorca and Southern Spain. It seems like a dream today.The food was good. I did not have any major new culinary discoveries but being back in the Mediterranean is always satisfaction enough.

 Last month I received the Silver Spoon award in Food Arts and was thrilled to be recognized for my  many years of work.

And I have been working at Yale University to improve the salad stations at all twelve  colleges . It has been challenging and I will be writing about it in Food Arts. Yale University Food Service Director Rai Taherian and I gave a presentation  at NACUFS about our work.

I am still writing for the Sommelier Journal and participating on conferences at the Culinary Insitute of America at Greystone in St . Helena.  So I have not been loafing. Just too busy to post. I know this should be a habit but I often don’t have the time. Sorry, I will try to do better.

Rene Redzepi and food for thought

 

Recently I attended a public conversation between famed Noma chef Rene Redzepi and local chef Daniel Patterson. The well attended event was held in conjunction with a book tour for the magnificent Phaidon publication  about NOMA, Redzepi’s restaurant in Denmark, named top restaurant in the world.  The audience  was filled with young chefs waiting for revelations and revolutionary ideas.  

Redzepi is a charmer, articulate, upbeat and unpretentious. I was interested in his decisions and thought processes. Yes, it must be very difficult to cultivate ingredients in such a challenging climate and environment, especially if you want to serve great food all year long.  So you have to be resourceful and become a forager. This expands the repertoire of what you have to cook with and creates new and unusual harmonies on the plate.  

Those expecting radical ideas may have been surprised with how un-radical many of his practices were.  First he followed the old Mediterranean tenet that says “what grows together, goes together.”  So oysters are paired on the plate with greens that grow near the shore and sea water used in the cooking. If spruce trees hover above the ground where asparagus grow, they are cooked together. Not a new concept but with such a limited larder, now see4mingly revelatory. His terroir is not our terroir.  

Next Redzepi talked about how important it was to set up relationships with local farmers. Again, hardly a new concept here.  In California we have been doing that for over thirty years. But we have it relatively easy. Unlike Denmark, California has a Mediterranean climate. We have a long growing seasons and a vast selection of ingredients at our culinary disposal. In fact some might say it has become a bit too easy and that there is danger of similarity of menu concept and all of the food tasting the same. Our chefs can source pretty much everything they need to create delicious food.  To distinguish themselves from the pack some have started their own gardens so they can customize their produce. Even that may not be enough to get noticed.  Other to seek differentiate themselves by making a show of adding foraged nuts, berries, native  plants and roots on their menu, acting as if they too were stuck in the wilds of Denmark with not much to cook. Some might consider this sort of an affectation to get attentions.   

Redzepi talked about involving his chefs in farming and foraging. We have restaurants doing that now. He talked of the practice of having the cooks come up with ideas for new dishes. This seemingly revolutionary concept is not new, except maybe to the men who have trained in the traditional European style hierarchical kitchen. Women chefs started doing this over thirty years ago.  Now this idea of letting the cooks have a say in the food has trickled down to such formerly hierarchical chefs as Thomas Keller and Michael Chiarello. They learned it was lonely at the top and that collaboration promoted creativity.

After poking fun at excessive mechanical techniques like gelling, he got around to talking about the importance of a personal cuisine. Making traditional dishes as crème brulee with local wild berries did not make a new cuisine. It was still derivative of a Mediterranean culture.  But what about those chefs in California living in a Mediterranean terroir ?  Are they to throw it all away to be new?  What about all of the melting pot cultural influences of Asia and Latin America?   Are these to be disregarded as derivative, too?  Do chefs have to imagine or pretend that they are living in the tundra or desert to create an original cuisine? This was the most provocative part of the evening and one that we will have time to ponder as we cook our way into the Twenty first century.   

Off to the Mediterranean

I know, I know. I’ve been remiss but I have been so busy I could not keep up.  Mea culpa.

I am about to leave on a National Geographic Cruise of Islands in the Mediterranean. I will be doing cooking demos on the ship, market walks and cheese and salumi tastings with the guests. This is the first break from writing for my new book. I guess I forgot to mention that huge new project. A History of California Cuisine , for University of California Press.  I have been intervewing people like mad . Only 100 more to go.

 I need to take some time off to think and digest all the info.  And maybe eat a few arancini in  Palermo, Brin d’Amour in Corsica, lamb and carta di musica in Sardinia  and Tapas in Spain. See you soon.

/Deconstruction

Deconstruction – I wrote this for the January February 2010  Food Arts Magazine 

 

It all started rather innocently. A reporter from the Chicago Tribune, Christopher Borrelli, called me for a story he was writing, to identify the Ten Worst Dining Trends of the Last Decade. He interviewed chefs, food professionals and writers. There were many gripes, some not unexpected. People were tired of foam, molecular gastronomy, the 40 dollar entree, the menu as a book, fast food restaurants offering super high fat items or the bloomin onion, the communal table, knee-jerk on line reviews, the chef as media whore. I added deconstruction to the list. All of this caused a bit of a stir in the blogosphere.

 

What do I mean by deconstruction? When I order a dish and instead of getting the dish put together, the ingredients are artistically laid out for me on a plate. I am supposed to mix it together either on the plate or in my mind as I taste the components and drag bits of food through tiny bloops of sauce. Carried to yet another level, things that are soft are now crisp. Things that are liquid are now frozen, freeze dried or gelled. Lemon meringue pie is now a cookie, frozen meringue ice cream and gelled lemon sauce. Clam chowder has potato and onion foam, potato chips, gelled clams, and ham cream. Gaspacho is now freeze dried cucumbers, spherified tomatoes and extruded garlic breadcrumbs for croutons. Why do it? Because they can, and they want you to marvel at their clever take on a classic. 

 

For the interview I used as an example a dish I know well: Spaghetti alla carbonara. It is a seemingly simple and rustic dish of pancetta or guanciale, eggs, Pecorino and Parmesan cheeses, black pepper and pasta.  In fact, it is not an easy dish to execute perfectly. The pancetta cannot become too dry and crisp, the eggs cannot curdle and the dried semolina pasta must be perfectly cooked. It all comes together in a minute and can be a mess if not assembled correctly. As an insurance factor, out of fear or scrambling the eggs, many cooks cheat and add cream to the sauce.

 

I have cooked and eaten this dish hundreds of times. When I lived in Rome I actually went on a quest to see who had the best version of carbonara and over a year gained 25 pounds!  So when I go into a restaurant and order spaghetti alla carbonara  and am served a swirled nest of freshly cooked noodles, topped with  a soft poached egg and  a few sprinklings of crunchy bacon or pancetta, for me to mix together,  I do not consider this carbonara. Please call it something else, but do not call this do-it -yourself dish spaghetti alla carbonara ( And what about that soft or slow cooked egg? Is it not becoming the new menu cliché, spooned gently on pizza, pasta, cooked vegetables, salads and meat ?)   

 

With deconstruction, cooking has become an intellectual experience instead of a sensual one. I do not need the chef to lay out the ingredients for me. I want to see if he can put the damned dish together and make it delicious! I am tired of chef creations saying “look at me, see how clever I am, just look at my dazzling technique!” Restaurant dining has become so chef- centric that the experience and pleasure of the diner can get lost in the shuffle for fame, glory and originality.

 

We have more than enough mental stimulation in our lives. Constant email, twitter chatter, blackberries and cell phones at the ready, blogs, TV sound bites and quick cuts. Our attention span is getting shorter and shorter. We have become stimulus junkies.

However, when dining out I don’t want my meal to become a mind game. The role of the restaurant is to restore the guest, to provide sustenance, comfort, nourishment, relaxation and sensual pleasure. If I want intellectual stimulation, I can find many other avenues to pursue. I just don’t want to pay for someone’s mental masturbation on my plate when I came for the real deal. It makes me suspicious that they cannot really deliver. Cooking interruptus.    

 

In fact, there are valid ways to get culinary stimulation. One is called cooking school. Or food labs such as the kind created by Ferran Adria where chefs experiment with ingredients and techniques to see what they can do and how far they can take them. Or food conferences like Star Chefs or the CIA World of Flavors where we can see chefs play with food ideas. These are great venues to learn and expand ones cooking knowledge  But why inflict culinary mind games and cooking experiments on unsuspecting paying guests unless they are foodies who have knowingly signed up for an experimental dinner and are expecting gastronomic tour de force and pyrotechnics. .  

 

Which brings me to The Top Chef Deconstruction Challenge. The competing chefs were given classic dishes to deconstruct. No matter that many of them had never ever cooked the classic!!

“Eggs Florentine ? What is that? Spinach and eggs? “

“Shepherd’s Pie? I know it’s potatoes and lamb but I’ve never made it. “

“Mole?  Mine was criticized on a previous show and now I get it again, only to deconstruct it? “

It goes without saying that many of these deconstructed dishes were misfires.  

When asked what was the point of this assignment Tom Colicchio said it would make them better chefs. Really. What if they had to learn how to cook the classic dish perfectly? And then do variations after they had mastered the classic. Might that not have made them better chefs and us more satisfied diners?

 

 

Bravo Le Creuset

This is an amazing story. Amazing in these days where our expectations are lowered.

For many years I have had an assortment of Le Creuset enamel covered cast iron cookware.  I have gratin dishes, terrines, small covered stew pots and a few that are gigantic enough to prepare stew to feed a crowd.  One of my favorites did double duty.  Yes, I made many a daube and spezzatino in that pot, but even more important, every summer I used it for cooking preserves. I found the enamel cast iron a great conductor and retainer of even heat and  an ideal vehicle for simmering jams, chutneys, mostardas and the like. 

Now,  often when I am trying to do too much at one time, I have taken my eye off the pot and stopped stirring. Food has become stuck on the bottom of the pot. Burnt sugar and caramelized fruit are really hard to remove. Even with soaking, simmering on stove top, baking soda etc. sometimes demonic scrubbing (  a no-no)  is required and that eventually  damages the pot’s interior. So after at least  30 years of use and abuse  my 13 1/2 quart pot was a mess.

I called Le Creuset to see if it could be repaired and they said to send it to them.  I had hoped that the interior surface could be re- enameled.  But do you know what they did?  They sent me a NEW pot. A very expensive new pot. Even though I was responsible  for the eventual  wearing away of the interior, they stood by their magnificent product and sent me a new pot.  How amazing is that!  I am so impressed I want to say Bravo to Le Creuset, not only for making great cookware but for being an upstanding company that delivers astounding customer service.

Lobster and Latkes

This last Frday we had a most unusual  dinner. It was the tail end of Hanukkah and also my Granddaughter Elena’s birthday.Ever since she was very little and tasted  her first lobster dipped in melted butter, it was love at first bite. She begged my son to get lobster whenever he went to the market. He finally explained to her that lobster was expensive and therefore just for special occasions. So, every holiday or family birthday she’d ask him wistfully, is this a special occasion?

As I am her doting grandma, I make a lobster dinner every year on her birthday. That and her favorite birthday cake,  the Gateau Rolla. There are usually 8 or 10 of us at the annual Lobsterfest, so I do not want to have to cut up the lobsters at the last minute as it is rather messy. ( And no one wants to be in the room when I drop them in the boiling water! ) Plus I have side dishes to prepare. So, very early in the morning I put up a huge pot of water and drive down to Monterey Fish Market and pick up the lobsters. When I get home the water has just come to a boil. I then cook the lobsters half way for about 4 to 5 minutes, remove the meat from the shells and place it in individual ramekins, spread on a tarragon shallot butter and cover them well and place in the fridge.  Then all I have  to do is pop them in the oven for 10 minutes at dinner time.   The cake, layers of almond meringue and chocolate butter cream,  is made the day before as it needs to sit overnight so it can be cut without shattering.

Which leaaves me with the annual dilemma of what to serve with the lobster. One year I did braised fennel. Another year roasted asparagus. This year I decided to honor another family request. My daughter Rachel’s birthday was in two days and she wanted latkes. So we had lobster and latkes. Sort of sacrilegious… but really good. To honor yet another birthday request, (my son in law’s birthday was also that week,)  I made smoked trout pate for an appetizer while we sipped some bubbly. Then we started the meal with a lovely salad of papaya, avocado, endive and a lime and ginger dressing.   After dinner we sang the birthday song to all three celebrants and ate the cake. Everyone was happy. 

 The Lobsterfest tradition will continue. Tune in next year.

GATEAU ROLLA

 

This is the official family birthday cake for those who request cake.

It is an ideal party cake because it is best made the day before. And it uses up all the egg whites which seem to multiply in the refrigerator after an orgy of aioli and custard making. While Gateau Rolla resembles a French dacquoise, the absence of an egg yolk butter cream tells me that this could be Italian. .

 

This is very rich and will feed 12 people easily.

 

Cake layers:

5 egg whites

pinch of salt

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup grated almonds

 

Filling:

6 ounces semi sweet chocolate like Valrhona or Sharffenberger

2 tablespoons cocoa

3 egg whites

3/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups sweet butter, softened

 

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Oil or butter two large baking sheets. Trace 9 inch circles onto four 10 inch squares of baker’s parchment paper. Place the paper squares on the baking sheets, pencil side down. Oil the paper lightly.

 

Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff. Gradually beat in 3/4 cup of sugar. Beat the meringue until stiff and glossy. On low speed, beat in the vanilla and the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Fold in the almonds. Spread or pipe this mixture onto the parchment, staying within the guidelines of the circles. Do not make these meringues too thick or they will not dry out easily. About 1/4 inch is ideal. Bake the meringues for about 1 hour. Carefully remove to a rack to cool. Peel off the paper. If one should break or crack, it can be patched with frosting.

 

Melt the chocolate and cocoa in the top of a double boiler and set aside. With a hand held electric mixer beat the egg whites until they are foamy in a bowl or a double boiler over hot water. Gradually beat in 3/4 cup of sugar, then the softened butter, a bit at a time, then the melted chocolate. Beat the frosting until smooth. Chill until firm enough to spread.

 

Assemble the cake by spreading layers of chocolate frosting between the layers of meringue. Then cover the top and sides with the rest of the chocolate. Refrigerate overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving. Slice with a serrated knife.


The Quince Caper

 

I love having this blog because through it I get to meet new people, people who cook and are passionate about food.

A few months ago I received a comment and email from Kristie Vetterli. She referred me to her web site and the next thing you know, we were corresponding. We talked about how much we enjoyed putting up preserves. She told me that she had a huge quince tree. Would I like some of those quince?? I looked at her website and saw brick red quince membrillo that she had made. Most quince take forever to achieve that color. Some never do. So I jumped at the offer and we then arranged a rendezvous for a culinary exchange. I would get a dozen of her quince and in return she would get a jar of my plum mostarda, my Moroccan cherry tomato conserve and a nectarine chutney. Such a deal.   We met in the lobby of Oakland childrens Hospital where she works  and made the exchange.

The next day I set about making quince mostarda.  I peeled the quince,removed the seeds and cores and put all of the debris into a pot and covered it with water. I simmered this for an hour to make sort of a tea, as much of the pectin in quince is in the peel and seeds.

I then cut up the quince into one inch pieces and put them in my canning pot along with the quince peel tea and some sugar. I added some thinly sliced Buddha’s Hand citron, and some strips of  cinnamon bark and cardamom my son had brought me from his vacation in Kerala   To get that gorgeous red color I simmered the mixture on and off for two days, until the quince was tender and had turned a wonderful shade of terra cotta.  After sterilizing my jars and boiling the lids, I tasted the mixture and then, as the piece de resistance,  added 10 drops of spicy mustard oil from Italy.  ( A friend had brought it back from his last trip to Italy where the oil is used in making the traditional mostarda di frutta but as it is a liquid and somewhat volatile it is not suppsed to be brought into the US where the folks at customt do not know from mostarda di frutta, only imaginary mustard gas) 

I packed my twelve jars of quince mostarda and simmered them for 10 minutes in the required hot  water bath.  I added some labels I broughr from Il Papiro in Venice.  The job was done.

Naturally I brought a jar to my friend who gave me the oil. I also brought a jar to Mike and Lindsay Tusk at Quince restaurant. It seemed only right.

I imagine that next fall Kristie and I will do the quince exchange again.

Joyce Goldstein’s Moroccan Inspired Sweet and Hot Tomato Jam 

 

I have been making this cherry tomato jam since 1985. It is a variation of a cherry tomato conserve I have made every year since since 1968. The original recipe comes from Catherine Plagemann’s book Fine Preserving.  I added the Moroccan seasoning so we could serve this with Square One Restaurant’s  Moroccan mixed grills. This is great with grilled or roast chicken, roast turkey, lamb chops or kebabs, or drizzled on grilled eggplant. A dollop of this jam spooned on top of goat cheese spread on slices of toasted walnut bread is what we served at the CUESA event.  Serve warm or at room temperature.   yield -4-5 pints

 

1/2 pound fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced thin across the grain

1 cup cider vinegar

2 quarts cherry tomatoes, washed and stemmed ( 4 pint containers)

2 cups brown sugar

2 cups granulated white sugar

2 large juicy lemons, sliced paper thin on a mandoline, slices cut into eighths  

3/4 cup water 

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 tablespoon ground toasted cumin seed

1 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

 

In the container of a food processor or blender, grind the ginger and spices with the vinegar. Put into a deep heavy saucepan ( I use a large enamel covered cast iron pot like Le Creuset) along with the cherry tomatoes, the sugars, the sliced lemons and the water. Bring to a boil and cook over high heat for about 15 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and cook the mixture until it is thick. Stir often to prevent scorching. Season with more salt to taste. Pack in sterilized canning jars and process 15 minutes in hot water bath or put in containers and store  in the refrigerator. Can keep for up to a year in the refrigerator and up to 4 years in canning jars.  

 

 

Sunday Supper

Every year CUESA (Center for Urban Education for Sustainable Agriculture) at the San Francisco Ferry Building has a wonderful fund raiser called Sunday Supper. Many Bay Area chefs cook for this dinner. There are wines, beers and cocktails and finger foods at the opening  reception on the main floor of the Ferry Building. Then the guests go upstairs where they are seated at long family style tables and a group of chefs cooks for each section of 50 guests.

Over the years I have been a chef at the reception, and a guest at the event. This year I worked with Chef Staffan Terje of Perbacco and Chef Mourad Lahlou of Aziza to help plate their delicious food. Staffan and staff prepared a marinated duck breast, a sausage stuffed into the duck neck, sauerkraut mashed potatoes and cherry mostarda.  Yum! My job was to sprinkle on the duck cracklings( and not to eat too many of them myself)

 Mourad cooked his famous Moroccan spiced lamb shank, vegetables and fluffy couscous. The guests really had two great dishes to savor.  All of the other dishes prepared by the chefs looked great and we cooks managed to snag some primo tastes from the leftovers.

I have decided that I’d rather work the event than be a guest. It is so much more fun to be with the chefs. Now that I do not have my own restaurant, I miss the comraderie of working with my peers. I loved being with the chefs as they plated the food, chatted, gossiped, tasted, and  sipped beer from a donated keg.  

Later that evening they had the auction. I had donated a dinner for eight in my home and guess who bought the dinner?  Umberto Gibin who owns Perbacco. This time Staffan can help me out!  It will be such fun to cook with him again.