Monday, January 31, 2011

The Food

How do I describe my food? My style? How do I describe the meaning behind my menu?

I'm trying to put down all of my ideas, experience, and passion into a quick talking point. It's not easy. We hash out the concept over and over. Each facet should be easily regurgitated and should captivate in one breath. "Like an essay", "Bullet points", Loretta says. I don't really think that way. I'm wordy in a way. I'd rather paint a picture and cuddle up with it for a while then share it through conversation, over a couple glasses of wine. Loretta calls me a nerd chef because every time I talk about food I sound like one of those computer techie guys that no one understands.

Ok, I'm going to give this a shot...but first a back story about my food.

I came from a family of 6 kids, all pretty close in age, Irish twins if we were Irish. Growing up my mom worked a 9 to 5 job as a teacher then went to school at night and for a few years even worked a second part time job on campus. The years I remember before she started school (and the nights she was home) she cooked a nice big dinner. We were poor as all hell so we would eat things like "hamburger surprise" which composed of ground beef and pan roasted potatoes mixed together. This dish was especially delicious with lots of ketchup though I'm not sure if the beef or the potatoes were the surprise. My mom did her best. She was incredibly creative with what she had to work with. She would make elaborate compositions based around the 29 cent packages of ramen noodles or a big can of Campbell's soup. My mom was the master of taking whatever was in the fridge and making magic. She would totally win any "mystery basket" cook off. When she went to school we didn't have our warm, mama prepared food every night. She started buying those big microwavable, family style meals for us...I wasn't into it. We had all spent a lot of time with her and my grandma in the kitchen all of our lives so we had a good idea of how to whip something together...for some of my siblings this consisted of putting any protein in a tortilla and covering it with cheese and green chile...voila!...meal. I was into eating really healthy in middle school and high school so I was all about making chicken soup from scratch and things like that. Somewhere down the line I picked up my mom's incredible "mystery basket" ability in the kitchen and was able to come up with some pretty good stuff from whatever was in the fridge.

Years of professional experience later and I still cook like my mom. One of my favorite dishes at Colors came out of a "lets see what's in the fridge" experiment. Loretta and I had some left over prime rib in the freezer from Thanksgiving, a head of cauliflower, tomato product of some kind, a half full bottle of wine, and some big shell pasta. I thought, "ah, prime rib ragu, caramelized cauliflower, and big shell pasta"...voila!...meal. I got rave reviews that night for my ragu and a few months later in New York, Loretta was like, "remember that ragu you made, that has to go on the menu". The dish that came to be is a short rib ragu with caramelized cauliflower and fresh pappardelle. Beef. Tomato. Wine. It doesn't have to be perfectly spelled out for you, if you have the basic elements of a dish in your fridge, go for it...see what happens...well that's what I think.

So bringing it back around, the "cook what's in the fridge" mentality is one of the cornerstones to our food concept. I don't want to design a menu that I have to keep the fridge stocked might not sell, it might not be seasonal, ingredients might not always be available or affordable for that matter. So I'm thinking, why not let the seasons, the market, the quality, the price, and the freshness of ingredients decide what goes in the fridge and on the menu? Let the inventory drive and creativity stay awake to navigate and play DJ. This way we limit waste, use what's in season which is a pretty good way to keep our food costs in line.

The other facet to our food concept is sustainability. I have always felt so strongly about sustainability it's a definite must in my restaurant. Reducing waste, using only what you need and doing business with those who hold the same values and standards to prolong the life of the industry is my definition of sustainability. Use only what you need and use it right. We will support special farms and ranches who are doing the right thing and producing a superior product to produce our food.

The third element is in the same vein as the first's the beef to the wine and tomato. We will use whole animals instead of selected or prime cuts of the animal. Nose to tail cooking as it's called, is the concept of embracing the entire animal and finding creative uses for every delicious part. Spanish cuisine lends it's self to this type of cuisine very well with the curing of meats and stews. We will select a certain number of proteins based on price and availability and use all of the animal across the entire menu.

So now for that quick, sexy talking point...

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