Monday, May 16, 2016

Insomnia

Its just past midnight and I'm sitting here nursing a glass of bourbon

Instead of sleeping - or better yet, doing work that needs to be done - I am working on a Spotify playlist that will never be played at the restaurant. 

As per usual, my sleep cycle is out of whack - not being able to sleep when its most important. I have a 16 hour day ahead of me - starting 7.5 hours from now. 

The upside to this scenario is stretches of solitude where I can actually be productive. The problem is, I always seem to drift off, down the rabbit hole that is the internet. Making playlists. Falling deep into the reddit homepage. Instagram. Anything but what needs to be done 

And there is quite a mountain of things that need to be done. 

The best way I can describe opening a restaurant is being completely overwhelmed by everything at all times. It is an unsurmountable amount of work that never stops growing. Its like when you first dump all the puzzle pieces on the table. You don't even know where to begin. Then, you start sorting your colors. You build your border. And before you know it, the final image begins to appear before your eyes. 

J & I have decided to stay in the Capital District another year. Opportunities have presented themselves that are too good to pass up. Its too soon to move on from Peck's Arcade. We're only just getting started. And little pecks? Its shaping up to be something just as special.

I was rear ended a few days ago. Its been a whirlwind of paperwork since. Ive nursed this car more than any other I've owned, and its been hit twice in its short 4,500 mile life. The first was a hit and run while it was parked, and the second this week. It'll be 10 days until I'm back in it. 

We are moving to downtown Troy next month. Both of us will be able to walk to work. This is probably the best thing that could happen for both of us. 

I've switched to Sleepy Time Tea. Next move is melatonin. 

We toured the Celestial Seasonings factory in Colorado on our road trip. We did lots of stupid stuff on that trip because it was free. This was one tour that was actually fun. Thats mostly because we had a good, very sarcastic tour guide. 

Corey's place opened. I don't see him much any more. That bums me out.

Starting next month I will have health insurance for the first time since my early twenties.

I still miss the desert. 

My life has become a series of deadlines. 

John came in for dinner. Twice. The first time he brought one of my mentors, who I haven't seen since shortly after I moved back from Chicago. It was a lot of fun cooking for them. 

Its fun cooking food you like

Its fun working for and with people you like

Its a remarkable feeling having people back you up. Believe in you and what you do.

I don't write too much any more. Hard to find the time. 


Overhead:

'That rice and beans life'

'Just down here flicking flowers into Greg's mouth, nothing to see here'

'For a while, I didn't even know it, but my wiener was hanging out of my dress'

'I woke up in the morning and the dog was covered in my shit'

'Its so hard to think'

'Amtrak time machine'

'DUDE, I cant read sign language'

'Give that bulldog a taco GOD DAMMIT'

'What book?? Scumbags guide to dating?'

'Hey old Kurt Russel, fuck off. You were great in Waterworld, but get outta here'

'My ass was purple for like 3 weeks'

'She'll love being part of the downtown dog scene'

'The worlds weird today. PUDDLES OF MILK. Everything is so fucking weird'

'Thank GOD I only got like 20 years left on this planet'

'If I had your wiener, Id do LOTS of things with it'

'The penis definitely brightened my day yesterday'

'I wish I was jeff. The muscles'

'I like your little hole'

'Crouching Tiger Hidden Pizza'

'Is that a dog or a GUN?'

'I got into college on my dance skills'

'Remember that time I farted in your mouth?'

'This is a good test because you guys are at the highest level of bakery snob'


Sunday, January 24, 2016

100

Bowtie is showing Eraserhead this weekend. The first time I saw it in a theater was in the early 2000's at the Red Vic in San Francisco (famous for its love seats in the first couple rows). It never really dawned on me how funny the movie was until seeing it in this setting - with the entire theater laughing hysterically. 

I also saw Blue Velvet at the Red Vic on another trip - it was equally as funny.

The funniest movie going experience of my life was at the Madsion Theater in Albany - in a former version of itself. I knew a projectionist who worked there and somehow he convinced his bosses to let him hold what we wound up calling 'Punk Movie Nights'. The basic idea was: have private screenings of movies for friends after the theater closed for the night. The first one he did was for the Jackass movie which, at the time, was just being released. After a show got out at Valentines (I could be remembering this incorrectly) - basically everyone migrated over to the Madison to see the movie. I don't remember the details very clearly, as there was a lot of alcohol involved - but I do remember laughing so hard tears were running down my face and the sound of 40s rolling down the aisle, as well as seeing beer cans flying through the audience. It looked like a war zone after the movie was over.

There were maybe half a dozen more punk movie nights after this - and they were all a blast.

I dragged J to see the Revenant. I have been a fan of Alejandra Gonzalez Inarritu since I first saw Amores Perros in 2000. But even more importantly - Emmanuel Lubezki is one of my all time favorite photographers, and shooting an entire film in the Canadian wilderness with natural light...I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see it. The movie was good - albeit challenging - and it was breathtakingly beautiful. It was amazing how much the landscape felt like a character in the movie. 

The thing that surprised me the most about the Revenant was its references to Alejandro Jodorowsky's, 'The Holy Mountain' - an old favorite that is equally filled with symbolic imagery

A scene in The Holy Mountain that is directly referenced in The Revenant 

Hateful Eight, however, I did not enjoy. And considering how much of the movie takes place in a single room or the inside of stagecoach  - the super wide 70 mm seemed wasted.

Chipotle is offering paid sick leave to give its employees inventive not to come to work when they are sick - theoretically to prevent them from geting customers sick.  I have no clue what the kitchen culture is like at Chipotle or places like it - but what I can say is that every kitchen I have ever worked or spent time in : there is a HUGE stigma attached to taking a sick day. A personal day? I can only imagine its worse - but I've never actually seen anyone try to take one. 

I can't think of a single time I have called in sick to a restaurant. The closest I have ever come was the day someone very close to me died. To be clear - they died before my shift and I still went in and got things going before leaving early to take care of the affairs. 

Any time I have seen someone call in sick, the amount of shit talk that is a result is staggering. We have all heard stories about people losing a finger, going to the emergency room - and then returning to work to finish out their shift.  I remember Dominic writing about a dishwasher who 'died' and still came to work later that day.

The basic idea in this industry is that you are never actually sick enough to not come to work.

You can learn a lot about who is sourcing what where by hanging out in the Restaurant Depot parking lot.

We are offering ice cream and sorbet by the scoop at Peck's now. One flavor of each, changing weekly-ish. The most popular flavor so far: Grilled Citrus Sorbet. I thought it tasted like an Arnold Palmer - which nobody else agreed with. 

We are also offering a daily five course tasting menu at our Chefs Counter. So far it has been well received and fun.

It took 2259 days to reach 100 posts. That is one post every 22 and a half days. In some ways that doesn't seem so bad, considering how many times this thing has been on hiatus. In other ways it seems like not nearly enough.

The boost in readership I get on Wednesdays from AOA's, 'Whats Up In The Neighborhood' (as well as their weekly recaps on Fridays) is certainly a motivating factor in putting up new posts. I've noticed the same pattern with some other local blogs too - posts going up just under the gun late Tuesday nights.

I've noticed that any time I write about the road trip, I am not included in WUITN. Initially I thought it may be because it wasn't locally relevant or whatever...but since then I have noticed other peoples travel posts being linked. My Sous Chef Bryan said its probably because comparatively, the posts are kind of boring. Im not sure that is unique enough for exclusion. Clearly I have thought way too much about this.

Rumor Has It: A chef with local connections is scouting locations in Albany County for a Blue Hill at Stone Barns like restaurant. They certainly have the financial backing for it.

Best source for restaurant gossip: Delivery drivers.


Overheard:

'That wiener has a wiener.' RT

'Convict the Hudson!' VC

'Hes got hot dog poisoning.' RT

'Did you learn anything?' 'Uh, yeah - don't hold on the end of a vibrator' JHS

'Gregs brain to wiener -  we need you guys ' RT

'If there was a dime on the floor I could pick it up with my ass' JHS

'Nail that penis to the wall' RT

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Road Trip, Part 11: Boise, ID > Palouse Falls, WA > Spokane, WA > North Cascades National Park


*Just a quick note - as the formatting on this blog keeps some of the photographs pretty small. You can click on any of the pictures to enter a slide show, which will allow you to see larger format photographs*

Previous Entries: 


Day 48: Craters of the Moon, ID to Boise, ID. 203 Miles, 3 Hours 8 Minutes

We left Craters of the moon as the sun was starting to set. We knew we had a bit of a drive ahead of us so we pushed through as hard as we could. Not much to report here as once the sun is down - you cant really see much. We tried our best throughout the entire trip to not drive after dark unless totally necessary. When we got into the greater Boise area we stopped at a McDonalds for some food and tried to figure out where to camp for the night. It became clear rather quickly that camping in your vehicle was illegal in the Boise area and we were TSOL. We started calling Walmarts further and further away and eventually found one that was OK with us being there. This proved to be an issue for, essentially, the remainder of the trip. The best we can figure is in towns or areas where people want to go camping or RVing - the towns want to ensure that campgrounds stay in business - so they make parking lot camping illegal. Makes sense, but sucks for poor saps like us, trying to stretch a buck.

Day 49: Boise, ID

When we were in the early stages of planning the road trip, we wanted to check out Boise. It eventually got cut because it added too much time to our original route. After being held up in Grand Junction, CO waiting out bad weather - we took a big detour up to Glacier National Park and cut back down. This presented us the opportunity to goto Boise which we were happy about. Unfortunately we did not have any research done for the city and really didn't know what to do. We were at the mercy of our iPhones and their local newspapers. 

It was a gloomy, windy day so we thought we would start by driving around a bit and then finding some indoors stuff to do. We were happy to see lots of trees, green space, bike lanes (that seemed like they were just starting to be installed - they started and stopped abruptly) , people on bikes and even some nice architecture. The city was small - not unlike Albany - but walkable. There was a ton of construction - the best city I can compare it to would be Montreal. While its annoying to be stuck in traffic, we try to think of this as a good thing - showing continual improvement of infrastructure and growth as a city. 

Our first stop was at the Basque Museum and Cultural Center. Apparently Boise has a fairly large Basque population. The museum was pleasant enough. After the museum we walked over to the Basque Market where we had a few pintxos and some Spanish Wines. We liked it here and thought about how nice it would be to have a lunch place like this in the Capital District. After lunch we spent some time walking around downtown, peeking into shops here and there. The only place I really remember here was the Idaho Candy Company - who is apparently known throughout the Northwest for their 'Idaho Spud' candy, which is a marshmallow dipped in chocolate sprinkled with coconut. Its pretty regrettable. 

We decided to finish the afternoon walking around the trails along the Boise River in Barber Park. This is a pretty popular lazy river destination - and seemed comparable to the Battenkill. We were in the mood for some beer and bar food so we checked out Taphouse which had an intimidating tapline of beers from the northwest we had never heard of - many of which were very good. If I recall correctly we shared a plate of fries - which were good - and oogled all the food we saw coming out of the kitchen. We would have ordered more but we had grabbed a groupon for Blue Sky Cafe in Nampa, ID - closer to where we were staying for the night. We got there and it was a trivia night, which was fun to watch. Im stuggling to find a place to compare it to...its very simple american food - SOS, grilled cheese, tenders and fries, burger....stuff like that. The place was packed and the food was enjoyable and comforting. It has since closed. We set up shop in a Staples parking lot for a wifi connection and watched some TV on the iPad until it was time to turn in for the night.

Day 50:

Our first stop of the day was at Boise State University - where there was a couple art exhibits we wanted to check out. It took us a while to figure out where the building we were looking for was - and some of the exhibits were very tiny (a ceramics one was in a single display case outside a classroom) - but the one that drew us in - The Last Supper: 600 Plates Illustrating Final Meals of US Death Row Inmates - was worth the effort. If the title doesn't sum it up - it was a display of 600 plates with illustrations of (600) death row inmates final meal requests. It was fairly sobering.

After leaving the art exhibit, we drove over to Julia Davis Park -  a very nice and fairly big park in downtown Boise. It is home to several museums and a zoo, among other things. It also connects to the Boise Greenbelt - a 20 mile long bike path that cuts right through the city. We walked around a bit and admired little things that are often absent in places like this - plenty of trash cans, grocery bag/dog poop clean up stations, bicycle repair stations, water fountains.

Fall colors at Julia Davis Park

Inside the old prison
Next we took a drive over to the Old Idaho State Penitentiary - which is exactly what it sounds like. We spent a bit wondering around, exploring the crumbling buildings. Once we left we walked on the Ridge to River Trails (a trail system with over 180 miles of trails, maintained by the city) that are accessible here for a few minutes and then made some sandwiches and ate them on the hood of the car while watching some guys ride up the trails on mountain bikes.

A flight & dominoes at Woodland Empire
From here we decided to head downtown to  check out Woodland Empire, a local brewery. We ordered a couple flights and asked for the darts (steel tips!) and settled in for the rest of the afternoon. We really enjoyed the beer and lazy vibe here. We also played some dominoes and Pacman (a fast game, according to J - a Pacman expert). My favorite beer was a coffee beer that actually tasted of good coffee. When I was a kid we would watch the Drew Carey show - and in that show they brewed a beer called Buzz Beer - which was made with coffee. I always dreamed about how awesome it must taste (being a kid I was very familiar with the flavors of beer and coffee) - for whatever reason it always resonated with me. And every coffee beer Ive ever had was pretty gross. Never enough coffee. Often too heavy or syrupy. This was black coffee with some good beer. So thanks Woodland, for fulfilling my dream of trying a beer that tastes like how I imagined Buzz Beer to taste like.


Once we sobered up a bit we went over to Rick's Press Room for dinner. We found this place on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives where they pushed their Hashbrown Salmon. So, naturally we ordered this. J liked it more than I did. Still worth a shot! 

Ricks famous Salmon.
Our next destination was Spokane, WA via Palouse Falls State Park - which we found while browsing Pintrest (really). This drive takes you through North Eastern Oregon and then up into Washington. We decided to stop for the night at a Walmart in Pendleton, OR. 

Boise, ID to Pendleton, OR. 222 Miles, 3 Hours 28 Minutes. 

Day 51:
Pendleton, ID to Palouse Falls State Park, WA. 93.8 Miles, 2 Hours 12 Minutes.

Palouse Falls

The drive from Pendleton to Palouse Falls took us through Walla Walla, WA where we stopped at a Safeway to get some sandwich stuff to eat while we were at the park. It took what felt like forever to get there, and through some very desolate farm land. The park was a very quick stop - but worth the time. We essentially parked, walked along the ridge for a few minutes, snapped some pictures, then made lunch and left. We wondered if there was access at the bottom of the falls after noticing what looked like trails that lead down. Once we were finished there, we pushed through to Spokane. 

video

Palouse Falls State Park, WA to Spokane, WA. 103 Miles, 1 Hour 55 Minutes

We didn't have any plans in Spokane - it was just the most logical place to stop for the night. We knew this ahead of time and had picked up a Groupon for English Setter Brewery - which was our first stop. We enjoyed our beers and tried to come up with a game plan for the night while we were there. We found a Walmart to call home for the night, decided on a pizza place for dinner, and tried to find something to do downtown in the late evening. Needless to say, most things were closed. 

View of the Monroe Street Bridge

We settled on checking out the Monroe Street Bridge - the largest arch bridge in the US. Whatever that means. It was pleasant enough - but we were hungry. We went to the Flying Goat for pizza. It was instantly apparent this place was POPULAR by the hour wait we had, the line out the door, the seemingly infinite number of people doing pick up. The pizza was Neapolitan style and was, frankly, incredible. If we lived within an hour of here - it would be part of the regular rotation. We ate outside by the fire pit and split a Wellington - with asparagus, mushrooms, garlic, oregano, cheese, and heavy cream. This pizza still comes up in conversation from time to time, over a year later. After dinner we headed to Walmart and turned in for the night. We had a long drive ahead of us the next day - all the way to Seattle. Depending on the overnight weather (it was Mid-October at this point and mountain passes were starting to close because of snow pack) we were hoping to get there via the North Cascades National Park/Highway. 


Day 52: 
Spokane, WA to Tacoma, WA (hotel) via the North Cascades National Park. 405 Miles, 7 hours 37 minutes.

This was one of my favorite drives of the trip - even though it was painfully long. We were finally driving into the Pacific Northwest. At least the PNW we knew from books and movies and television. We drove over the Coulee Dam, with views that stretched across the Columbia River. We drove along the Colville Reservation, through several Apple Towns that were incredible to see - terraced orchards running up the steep banks of the Columbia River. Eventually we were through the foothills and starting to gain elevation into the Northern Cascades. 


Moss covered trees

There was a thick, dense forest - composed of many varieties of trees covered with thick, hairy moss from the trunk to the tips of the branches. Lots of Autumn colors still remaining. Heavy, low clouds loomed above us - and before we knew it, we were above them. Winding through the high peaks was dramatic and mesmerizing. Even though it was overcast - we thought it added to the experience.  We stopped at Diablo Lake which was impossibly turquoise - due to the silt from the glacial water that feeds it. Theres not much I can do to really accurately describe the beauty here, so I'll let the pictures do the talking.
The first vista after rising above the clouds

Another dramatic vista

J on the beach, looking out at the turquoise water (no color correction here - I realize its not turquoise in the photograph)

Reflections in the foggy water


From our Book:

Nothing, as this section was mostly unplanned! 






Saturday, January 2, 2016

Small World

We are closed for the first week of January. Everyone seems to be planning a trip except me. I  am going to binge on some television and then try and read all of the cookbooks I've acquired over the past 12 months. The goal is one idea from each book.

My happy place

New year, new menu. If you missed the Sticky Toffee Pudding...sorry. It may rear its ugly head again before the winter is up.

I want to use the ice cream machine more this year.

Ice cream and Sorbet options?

I seriously cannot wrap my head around this Gray Kunz in Saratoga thing. A fun connection - one of the chefs who I trained under, En Ming Hsu, worked for him at Lespinasse. She is one of the most intimidatingly knowledgable chefs I have ever met. She also studied Studio Art at Skidmore.

Another funny connection I made while living in Chicago. I was volunteering at a Pastry Competition - when I noticed that one of the Chef Judges named Jessica Vollkommer. My curiosity got the better of me and I asked if she was related to Frank Vollkommer - she said 'He is my ex husband.' I awkwardly mentioned where I was from and that I had been to the shop a few times and then disappeared into the shadows.

When I worked at Prime at Saratoga National, the Chef I was working for was Vivian Brammer. Before Vivian was the Pastry Chef at Saratoga National - she worked for Jessica Vollkommer when she was the Pastry Chef there.

Jessica Vollkommer also did the pastries at Dale Miller Restaurant. I worked for Dale Miller when he was the Executive Chef at Sperry's.

Probably my closest friend from Chicago - originally from Pittsburgh - was familiar with the Albany area because her grandfather went to Skidmore and her grandmother went to Union (I may be remembering this backwards) - and this is when they met each other.

One of the Chefs I staged with at Frontera/Topolobampo knew a kid I went to high school with, and had visited his family home in Latham.

I was at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on the first big road trip I went on. We we're waiting for a shuttle to take us down the rim (this is the primary way to view the park at this point - you cannot drive your vehicle on the road past the village). I was reading some sign or pamphlet that talked about the volume of visitors that visit here every year and it translated to something like 15k people a day (according to what I remember form a decade or so ago) - and literally as I read this a woman approached me and asked if the shirt I was wearing (Boght Hills) was the Boght Hills in Latham NY? - I told her yes. It turns out she and her husband were both from Menands. They also knew my (ex) girl friends parents pretty well.

On that same road trip, we stopped in Dublin TX to tour a Dr. Pepper bottling plant that still used sugar in their recipe. This was before soda companies realized people wanted this and began selling 'flashback' sodas. We were heading towards Austin from Dublin and when we were en route we passed through another town called Hico, TX (population 1,347). I noticed quite a few faded advertising murals, which I enjoyed photographing at the time. We pulled the car over and started to walk around a bit to take some photographs. As we were walking we noticed a man sitting on a bench with a couple dogs. Naturally we stopped to pet the dogs and we wound up talking. It turns out he was traveling the country with another couple in two airstreams. He asked where we were staying that night and offered to let us pitch out tents where they were camping for the night - which we did. We all had dinner together that night and stayed up listening to their travel stories. I remember this night vividly nearly ten years later and it remains one of my happiest travel memories - where everything in the universe lines up perfectly for you to experience something wonderful. Before we parted the next day they told us to check out Coopers BBQ in Llano on our way to Austin, TX - which we did. It was our first Texas BBQ experience - and was transformative. I have been back to Coopers several times since.

The first day at school in Chicago we were doing a group introduction - each person in the school got up, said their name, where they are from,  occupation, something about themselves. The school was relatively competitive and only accepted 74 students. As we made our way through the group - one woman got up and said she was from Hico, TX. A few days later we were broken up into four groups of 16 students each - who we would be grouped with for the remainder of our time there. We wound up being placed in the same group and became friends. When I told her that I had been to Hico before she was just as shocked as I was to find someone else who had even heard of it. After we graduated and left Chicago - I was in Texas for an ACF conference and afterwords I visited her in Hico. She showed me the chocolate company she worked for (Wiseman House Chocolates), which was very nice - and then we drove to Llano for some BBQ at Coopers.

When we were in Yellowstone on our most recent road trip, we met a couple at the campsite across the way from us. They owned a bakery/cafe/candy shop in a resort town in Northern Washington. We talked shop for a while and shared some beers they had picked up in Montana a few days earlier. They were on a very similar route as us (Glacier>Various MT Towns>Yellowstone>Teton) but just a few days behind us. When we started talking about chocolate - it came up that because of production restraints, they purchased their chocolates from another company. I asked from who? - to which they answered Wiseman House Chocolates.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Stream of Consciousness

I have some conflicting feelings about Small Business Saturday.

J & I have a rule - that any time we step into a small business we have to buy something - regardless of wether or not we find something we actually want.

Master of None is really fucking good. Way better than it should be. I've never considered myself a Aziz Ansari fan - but I cannot deny how mature, and well executed this show is. At times it rings of early Woody Allen. 

Now I found myself questioning the legitimacy of Indian accents on TV.

We got some Alba Truffles in at Peck's. J & I came in for a late dinner to have some. Its incredible how different it is to eat at your restaurant, sitting in the front of the house - rather than picking at things in the kitchen. I am incredibly proud to work with everyone there.

I find it very difficult to keep up with contemporary baking and pastry. It simply does not interest me the way regular food does. Sometimes I think this makes me a better pastry chef. Sometimes I think it makes me worse.

I have a dessert on the menu currently that is flavored by plunging hot sugar maple embers into milk, which effectively sears the milk.  Its a fascinating flavor, reminiscent of toasted marshmallow. I gently sweeten it with maple. Its used on a 's'mores' type dessert, and is selling better than I anticipated.

Sticky toffee pudding is back, at least for December.

Thanksgiving is over. I went dangerously far off my diet. Back on track...hopefully.

I baked less than thirty pies, which is a relief.

December is shaping up to be incredibly busy.

Fancy New Years is going to be pretty cool.

Italian Grandmother Menu looks amazing.

We went to see Seinfeld in Newark. We purchased our tickets before his show at the Palace was announced. It was pretty good. Not spectacular, though. As strange as it is to say, it just kind of felt like catching up with an old friend. More nostalgic than anything. I did, however, enjoy his bit on how even though he is in a place where he can do anything and go anywhere he wants, he still sits at home bored out of his skull - just like anyone else.

In 2013 I spent about $1400 on cook books. In 2014 all my money went to travel. In 2015 I decided to try only buying used books and I wound up spending about $700.

Its hard to choose a favorite that I picked up this year - so here are a few.. in no particular order:

Relæ by Christian Puglisi 
The Tex-Mex Cookbook by Robb Walsh
The Southern Pie Cookbook by Jan Moon
Bar Tartine by Courtney Burns 

My least favorite, hands down: 
World Class Swedish Cooking by Björn Frantzén

Currently there are 99 books on my amazon wishlist 

Apart from cookbooks, and a handful of audio books , I have not read a book my entire adult life. This is incredibly depressing for me.

J&I both ditched our Hondas and are now Subaru owners. 

Konigin turns 1 next month. We have been bringing her to Normanskill Farm dog park a lot. She LOVES it. 



Open enrollment for Obamacare ends tonight (Correction: It has been extended to 12/19). For 2015 I decided it was more economical for me to just pay the fine and not purchase insurance. It looks like I will do the same for 2016. The reality is that even after the discount offered, the premiums are still barely affordable, the coverage is mediocre, and the deductibles are so high that, frankly, its pointless to purchase. 

This has been a popular topic of conversation at work because of the looming deadline and the fact that health care is seldom offered in the hospitality industry. None of us in the kitchen have health insurance. We all made the same decision not to purchase it for 2015.

I have not had health insurance or seen a doctor since 2008

The fast food workers wage increase is also a popular topic of conversation. It seems like it will have impact on (non fast food) food service workers (and probably other industries too). For example, I have several years experience, have completed programs at two schools, generally speaking I am pretty successful and my food is well received,  and I have a fair amount of responsibilities to manage at work.  If you divided salary by hours worked, I doubt I've ever made $15 an hour. Currently I make about that if I work a 40 hour week (which I have never done). 

If I could could keep a constant wage and have 40 hour weeks, less responsibilities, and just have to grind it out at McDonalds? Why wouldn't that sound appealing?  

I took a 33% pay cut between where I am now and where I was before.  People on this side of the Mohawk call that 'Saratoga Money'. I easily spent the difference in gas and alcohol. I am much happier in Troy.

It's fascinating to think about the evolution of rolls, responsibilities, and pay structure that will come about because of these changes in wage laws.  

It came up in conversation with a server I know that once tips are eliminated, they would need to be making $25/hour to stay afloat. At 40 hours a week salary - that is significantly more than I have ever made any way you cut it. 

When the field is level, can you justify paying a server 60% more than a kitchen worker?

I actively look for ways out of this industry.



From the archives, circa 2013
Cheez-it Souffle, Black Currant, Blueberry.



Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Intrinsic Value of Art

There is one thing that Vic Christopher once said to me that has really resonated. If you know, or have had any interaction with Vic - you know that he is a goldmine for wisdom - intentional or not. He often says things that are deeply reflective as part of every day pleasantries, and while sometimes these things can seem a little silly..this is one of my favorite things about his personality. 
Over the winter, Vic dined at Peck's Arcade with a friend. We knew he was in the dining room - as we can see every seat from the kitchen, but in an effort to give a real experience..we did not offer him any special treatment (at least no more than anyone else). 

After his meal we talked to him about it.. to see what he felt about everything. How comfortable was he. The music. The energy. The service. The food, and every aspect of it. The timing. Literally everything. He had some minor criticisms that we took and adjusted accordingly, but overall he was very impressed.  This was his first time in the restaurant as a guest, and he was shocked about how different everything felt - just by changing his role, and not being stuck behind the DJ Booth. One thing he said was he was in a seat facing the exterior wall (Franklin Alley side) and he noted that there wasn't much to look at and that it sort of robbed guests sitting in that orientation of some of the experience. They missed out on seeing the rhythm of the dining room and all the things that happen in it. We talked about it a little - mentioned seeing mirrors on walls like this in other restaurants. I recalled seeing lots of art hanging on walls of restaurants in the past, to which he said, 

'The wall is the art'. 

My gut reaction was, as it so often is, 'Thats ridiculous'. But you know what? He was right. So much thought, so much work, and effort, and Im sure anguish and emotion went into designing this room - every detail was worked out and redone and then redone again for good measure. When you start to expand what you think of as a canvas you realize that creating that wall is really no different than creating, say, a painting. Here I caught myself putting arbitrary limitations on what art can and cannot be. I began to think about various paintings I had seen hanging in galleries and museums that, frankly, reminded me of the wall at Peck's. 

Some google image search examples:
Ethan Harper, Mountain Mist II
Helena Hildur, Blue Painting #01
Helena Hildur, Grey Painting #2
Maeve Harris, Creme 2

It bothered me that intuitively I rejected the idea of the wall being art. I love going to museums and galleries but without fail, my favorite to visit are Contemporary Art Museums. I don't care how 'good' or 'bad' the exhibits are - what I love is how fun they always are. How freely people will discuss the art - rather than the annoyingly silent galleries you find at more traditional museums. I think that.. more or less...Contemporary Art is the goto 'this is bullshit' art that regular people are most critical of. I often hear people say something like 'I could make that' or 'Anyone could make that' as a criticism. All I can say to that is its unfortunate that the only value youre placing in a piece of art is how difficult it is for you to recreate it.

Before we went to Montreal this fall, we were out to dinner with another couple. One of them asked if we were going to Musee d'art contemporain de Montreal. We weren't sure at that point - but they strongly suggested that we avoid it because when they went it was the absolute worst museum they have ever been to. They described an exhibit in great detail - which I cannot remember, unfortunately,  and how much they hated it. 

I asked them when they visited. It turned out to be a decade ago. I then asked if they could describe any other exhibit they have seen at a museum that they loved. They could not. The point I was making is that their initial reaction was that this particular exhibit was terrible. But here they are ten years later, remembering specific details - more clearly than any other exhibit they had ever seen - yet they still think it was terrible art. I suggested that not all art is supposed to be beautiful or make you sit in awe about how wonderful it is - and maybe the point of this exhibit was to create visceral reactions. Im not sure if this got through to them, but it helped lay out my thoughts on art for me. 

'Good artists borrow. Great artists Steal'

For me - the best exhibit I have ever seen - that is to say the one that I had the strongest emotional reaction to - was the Picasso Looks at Degas exhibit that the Clark put together in 2010. I visited mostly because they were two artists that I was familiar with - but not ones that I had much of any opinion of. If you are not familiar with this exhibit - it basically spanned the career of the two artists and showed Picasso's admiration for Degas' work and how he often borrowed or copied ideas. What I remember most clearly was Picasso's, 'Nude Wringing Her Hair'. Looking at the texture of the brush strokes, and the movement from beads of paint running down the canvas... for reasons I don't necessarily understand, I found these things to be deeply moving - and I'll remember these details for the rest of my life

Pablo Picasso, Nude Wringing Her Hair





Friday, November 6, 2015

Dinner: Blue Hill at Stone Barns

In early August, J&I had the opportunity to visit Stone Barns Center For Food and Agriculture and have a fairly transcendental meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Because of the extended length of this meal I am going to streamline this post into mostly photos.

The kitchen window

A couple take aways from the experience 

1 - Sone Barns is incredibly beautiful and inspiring in many ways. You can tour the Center separately from dining at Blue Hill. It is more than worth visiting and we plan on going back

2 - The meal was, essentially, everything I love about dining. Ill spare you the obvious details about their philosophy but what I loved was that it was so vegetable forward, everything was prepared in a very disciplined way - meaning there was no heavy handed ness. No over doing it. No bells and whistles. Just incredible produce and ingredients being presented in incredible ways. 

3 - While the number of courses we had here was close to or greater than what I had at Alinea, I did not leave hungry or ever feel uncomfortable. 

4 - Changing out of sweaty 'farm clothes' into formal wear in a Honda Fit while surrounded by Mercedes and BMWs and their owners was fun

5 - If you haven't seen the episode of Chefs Table about Dan Barber (and this restaurant) and you have Netflix (or other means), watch it. Really.

6 - The overwhelming theme of the day/night was education. About farming, about tradition, about the future, about food and food system, and many other things.

Ok - onto the goods.

The first thing you notice when arriving is how unbelievably beautiful everything is here. It is one of the most picturesque farms we have been to. 

The restaurant, as seen from one of the crop fields
The road leaving the restaurant
Some sort of cellar, built into the side of a hill behind the restaurant 
The bountiful terrace garden
The path through the woodlands

Blue Hill sheep grazing

There are many activities you can do throughout the day.
Making pesto in the garden
We took a wonderful, informative tour that explained quite a bit about what they do at Stone Barns Center

Once our tour was up we changed in the car and headed in to start our meal...
Crudites - simply prepared raw vegetables, picked just hours before. 
Incredible squash with poppyseed butter and poppy seed, harvested table side
Asparagus with cat tail pollen
Needles in a Haystack - Grissini in hay
Venison Liver
Peach, Speck, Charcoal
Weeds from the grounds + charcoal mayo
Corn Cobb Lemonade
Cucumber & Yogurt
Marionberry Bush with a little surprise underneath 
A perfectly petit tart
Tomato burgers
Ham Sandwiches & Pork liver with Chocolate
Green Gazpacho Julep - Reminded me so much of the gazpacho I had at Town House, which still haunts me today
The most incredible melon and farmers cheese. With sesame. This was the stand out dish of the night, so good we just sat there in awe.
Cucumber, Crab, Fennel
Copa, Melon
Peas, Corn, Lardo - Another stand out dish.
Fish taco, Kohlrabi Tortilla, Bloodline Tapenade - Tied for best dish of the night
Onion grown in soil amended with hazelnut, Hazelnut, Caviar 


Beans grilled with herbs, Peach Pit Yogurt & Blossoms

A detour to the patio, where we had Beet Hot Dogs with some beer as we watched the sun set.
An example of the restaurant educating its guests : three types of potatoes they are working on developing. Our server discussed many differences between them in taste, texture, starch and sugar content, etc..
Experimental Butter Potato, Baked in a compost crust
..Served with their cover crops. Another stand out course
Potato Pizza
Zucchini Bolognese, Peach 
Lets not forget the incredible bread
Blue Hill Pork, Spinach, Eggplant
Cabbage, Lardon, Lard
Oats, Blueberry ?
S'mores?
Plum Kouign Amann ?
Mignardises 


Its hard to summarize this meal. We chatted a lot with our server and it wound up spanning about four hours time. There were a few stand out dishes (I'll never forget that farmers cheese) and really no duds. Our least favorite, if I recall correctly, was the half sour asparagus with cat tail pollen. The whole experience was deeply involved - from touring the farm, chatting with the farmers and researchers, to discussing the evolution of the restaurant and the conceptualization of dishes with some of the chefs. Often times in restaurants of this caliber, its easy to feel like you're just there watching, yet at Blue Hill..we felt involved. Seeing everything from the ground to the plate - being educated at each step...it was quite an experience. Its easy to have buyers remorse when spending this kind of money on a meal but we were discussing our return before we were done with our meal.

My biggest regret with the whole meal was not doing the wine pairing. We are not extremely knowledgable about wine - just appreciate it on a kind of...basic level - and often times pairings are not worth the expense to us ...were better off ordering a glass or two of something we pick out carefully but a few days later, when I was attempting to get ahold of the restaurant to discuss a Taiwanese version of the corn lemonade that they were very interested in I noticed their sommelier is Charlie Berg - who I had some very memorable pairing form when he worked at Town House - which remains far and away the best restaurant meal of my life. If nothing else, I wanted to pick his brain about a sake pairing at the Town House meal that I have been trying to figure out/remember since 2011. So next time...wine pairing.

In the end - I cannot recommend BHASB highly enough. If you read my ancient posts when I was hopping around lots of high end restaurants in Chicago - you will know that most times I do not think its worth the time or money. This meal, however, we will cherish and remember for many years.