Back when I was growing up, you could only catch cooking shows on PBS, but they were all pretty good shows- Julia Child’s The French Chef, Everyday Cooking with Jacques Pepin, and even The Frugal Gourmet was a great show despite whatever alleged improprieties Jeff Smith may or may not have done outside of the kitchen. Boy have times changed. There’s a ton of shows these days, especially with the Food Network and now WLIW public broadcasting even has a do-it-yourself channel called WLIW Create which has a nice lineup of shows. Too bad the majority of the general non-food-industry public only knows of Emeril Lagasse. Emeril is a terrific people person and that’s how he’s become so popular, but really, he’s not what I consider to be a very skilled chef. You can tell that just by watching one of his shows. All of the dishes that look well executed are the dishes that he pulls out that were prepared beforehand, most likely by the behind the scenes kitchen staff at TVFN. All the stuff that he actually prepares and garnishes for the camera comes out pretty sloppy and oftentimes just plain over the top. He can take a perfect dish and then ruin it by slamming additions onto it endlessly.
Oh well, thank goodness we have so many better shows to choose from. At the top of my list would be Jacques Pepin’s new show Fast Food My Way. Ever since I took classes with Jacques way back in the 90’s I’ve been convinced that Jacques is the absolute most knowledgeable guy in the world when it comes to all things cooking related. He’s had lots of cooking shows through the years, but FFMW really showcases his knowledge better than anything he’s done before. Seems that every episode he drops at least one gem of a tip or technique that is truly useful. For example, since the world has become more carb-conscious, one of his more recent innovations is that for most recipes that call for bread crumbs, he now uses fresh bread to make them instead of the traditionally recommended day-old stale bread. The difference is that fresh bread yields significantly more volume when run through a food processor than bread that is older and drier. The difference is substantial, something on the order of about six to one. Great tip. And I’m telling ya, he gives you something great like that during every show.
Another favorite show of mine is Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter. Having had the greatest dining experience of my life at Charlie Trotters in Chicago, I was compelled to tune into his show because I really wanted to learn what he does that elevates his food to that sublime level. He doesn’t trick up his food by using excess butter or bacon or what have you. His food tastes of their ingredients, but he manages to raise the flavor of those ingredients to glorious heights. He makes sauces out of vegetables which are as intensely flavorful as any veal demi glace based sauce you’ve ever had. And if you watch Kitchen Sessions, you’ll get a glimpse of why and how. Attention to detail is not just a catch phrase for him; he really lives it. Whether he’s sauteeing something or he’s just wiping down his cutting board, he is absolutely focused on the task at hand and trying to do it to the best of his ability. He says he even sweeps the floor that way. I’d say that is a bit over the top except that I’ve tasted the results of being that meticulous, and it probably cannot be reproduced by anything less. The service at Charlie Trotters is certainly equal to the exceptional food, and that is quite an accomplishment. Watch the show if you can, the man is a truly elite chef.
Well, after much deliberation, I finally picked out the specs for my hat and placed the order. I’m getting a black cattleman style hat, 20X felt, sides pressed and shaped to medium high, with a plain black leather string for a hat band. For an extra $50 I put a rush order on it, so hopefully I’ll get it in about 6 weeks instead of 5 months.
I spent a lot of my weekend watching CMT to check out different cowboy hat styles and caught a couple of interesting shows. One was the Ross Coleman rodeo documentary. It was ok I guess, but it didn’t do anything to show me what technical skills are involved in being a great rider. A much better show was the premier of the MusikMafia show where they follow Big & Rich, Gretchen Wilson and the rest of their buddies on their nationwide tour. I bought the Big & Rich CD and after watching the show, I’m definitely gonna get the Gretchen Wilson one too. That redneck woman has a strong set of pipes. Yes I do still buy CD’s of the artists I like instead of downloading stuff for free, just on principle. You gotta support the artists you love. So in one of the concerts that the show covered, Gretchen did a cover of Heart’s “Straight On” and man I tell ya, it kicked ass. Looking forward to the next episode where they covered what went on when Kanye West made some disparaging comments when Gretchen beat him out for Breakthrough New Artist at the American Music Awards. Apparently he said he was basically robbed and called her music “bullshit”. Fortunately he subsequently apologized to her at the Grammy nomination presentations. What the MusikMafia is trying to do is different than anything else that’s ever been done. “Country music without prejudice” is what they say. I hope Kanye West goes to a MusikMafia show (Gretchen invited him after he apologized) and maybe learns what they’re all about. Who knows, maybe he’ll collaborate with them somewhere down the line. That would rock. Cowboy Troy, the black member of the MusikMafia is doing music he calls hick-hop. Sounds good to me. Country music without prejudice indeed.
Ate at a restaurant in Pocantico Hills called Blue Hill at Stone Barns last night. I can honestly say that Westchester now has a seriously world-class dining destination. Their concept is that they have their own farm and try to serve dishes that feature their own produce as well as that of other local artisinal farmers, vineyards, cheesemakers etc. It’s not just a gimmick at this place, they really offer outstanding quality stuff and they treat the ingredients with the care they deserve. Truly creative and delicious stuff. There was a dish of fluke sashimi topped with a grapefruit granita drizzled ever so lightly with olive oil and some type of herb infusion. Incredible combination. Then there was a dish with slices of barely seared hamachi each topped with a sliver of seared foie gras. Succulent foie gras, but not too much of it so that it would overwhelm the fish. Man that was to die for. Then there was a real surprise- poached skinless duck breast. I usually think that crispy duck skin is the best part of any duck dish so when I saw skinless slices of duck appear before me, I was pretty skeptical. I don’t know if it was the quality of the Crescent Duck itself or if it was the poaching method, but whatever it was, all I can say is that was probably the absolute finest duck meat I’ve ever tasted. So luxurious. It was served atop a bed of perfectly cooked vegetables (all the veggies were impeccable in every dish) and with a side dish of cheese spaetzle. The side dish alone would have been the highlight of a meal at most other restaurants.
Little nuances made it obvious that they were doing real avante garde cooking there. When asking for hints about what the tasting menu might encompass, the waiter informed us that the chef could slant it any which way we preferred, more fish, more meat, etc. At the end of the meal, the waiter said the chef could continue to produce dishes if we were not yet full. This is something special, as most fine restaurants when offering a tasting menu will still only stick to a tight repetoire of pre-conceived dishes. I kid you not, there was some serious creativity coming out of that kitchen, all presented in a way that always allowed the individual ingredients to express themselves. No overly rich sauces to mask the purity of the flavors of the super-fresh veggies from the greenhouse. This is probably the purest delightful expression of ingredients I’ve experienced since my dinners at Charlie Trotters. That my friends, is world-class. And yes, it’s right here in Westchester!
I can’t resist blowing money on ridiculous things every once in a while. I pretty much have to plan a purchase like that every few months just so I have something to look forward to. Right now I can’t decide what the next thing will be, but I’ve got three things in mind. With golf season around the corner, I’m thinking of getting the new MacGregor NVG driver which retails for about $400. I love my Honma but it is a little beaten up and I know I could benefit from a slightly larger face.
Next up, I’m seriously considering the purchase of a cowboy hat. I’ve always wanted one despite the goofiness of the notion of a Chinaman in a cowboy hat. But since I’m into poker a bit these days, anything that gives me a strange look at the table isn’t a bad idea, so it’s the perfect excuse to finally get one. I just have to find the perfect style. There really are countless varieties. There’s crown height, brim width, color, felt quality, bend height, dimple styles, lacing, and hatbands to consider. I’ve been tuning into CMT a lot just to see some of the different hats that today’s country singers wear. Whatever style I decide on, I already have picked out the hatmaker that I’m going to order from- Ritch Rand. Probably the best known custom cowboy hat maker out there. I hope I can place a rush order and get it in time for Sterl’s bachelor party in March. Normally it takes 5 months for a hat to be produced from the Rand shop. Yeah, it’s quality stuff, but that’s how I roll!
Speaking of cowboys hats, I really really miss having a country music station in NY. And I really miss Amy Paige, the sweetest little DJ that used to be on Y107 (before it became a Spanish station). She moved down to Frederick, MD and is on the air on 107.3 down there. Lucky bastards in the DC area! Anyway, to quench my need for a little country, I managed to get a single ticket to the Brad Paisley/Sara Evans concert at Mohegan Sun next month. I only know one or two Brad Paisley songs, but Sara Evans is one of my faves. Totally sold out show, but I managed to find one ticket available thru Ticketmaster last week when they had zero available when I tried the previous weeks. Too bad I couldn’t have gotten a couple more tickets; there’s a couple friends here in Westchester that like country music too and it woulda made a nice gift. I’ve been neglecting my local friends for the last few months since I’ve been so busy with work, BJJ, poker, and mj. I feel a bit guilty about that. They’re some good peeps and I really should say hello every once in a while.
Last but not least, I’m seriously thinking about getting a Power Mac G5. The price is just a bit exhorbitant of course, but I blow so much money on other dumb things, I might as well invest in something useful too. We’ll see…
Last week a guy I knew died in a fire in his apartment up the street in Harrison. I didn’t know him that well, but we were friends with all the same people. He was a genuinely nice guy; a real decent human being. The kind of guy that even though I didn’t know him real well and half the time I couldn’t remember his name, he always came over to shake my hand and say hello whenever we happened to be at the same bar. Some people just talk to you in such an earnest way that you know that they really care about people in general. He was one of those people. I know people always seem to reflect glowingly about people only after they’re gone, but in this case, he was certainly well loved by all that knew him. So many of my friends are grieving so deeply. Rest in peace Billy.
Ok, so I figured it was about time I actually set up my own website. Decided to host with DreamHost.com because that’s what Ben uses and I defer to his judgement on all things technology related. He always knows the best shiznits. I’m lucky to have friends that I can still learn from. I think I’m feeling grateful for lots of things these days. I must say, life is pretty damn good right now. No problems to speak of. Job is going well. Also learning some new Tony Robbins stuff; really psyched to know he’s still pushing the envelope of human development. I can say I’m a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu now too. That’s probably my biggest accomplishment of 2004. Those that don’t train, can’t really understand the significance of that. Less than 20% of people that start BJJ ever make it to their first belt promotion. During training, you regularly push yourself to the point of exhaustion and wanting to throw in the towel. It’s best described as a feeling of drowning. No, you’re not under water, but you are struggling to find a way to breathe, on the verge of full blown panic, and all the while the lactic acid is building up in your muscles. You get lightheaded and dizzy, and you know there’s only 2 ways out. The right way is to think and execute the correct move to escape the situation. The *meow* way, well you can just give up and tap. Yes it’s physically grueling, but the mental aspects are just as rigorous. The discipline it takes to not just tap and call it a night, that’s what really makes me proud of my blue belt, even though as far as blue belts go, right now I still suck pretty bad. But knowing what I know now, I have the highest respect for anybody that trains, even the beginners, maybe especially the beginners; the white belts who get tapped every which way but keep coming back for more. Funny that I started BJJ just a couple of years ago, but now I definitely feel like it is part of what defines who I am. And for a Tony Robbins guy to being saying that, you know it means something.