“Home”ward Bound?

As of today, we are leaving Copenhagen.  We’re ready, but we’re not – ready – to go home.  I’d love to stage some more, but our 3 months of being in the Schengen area (EU minus UK, Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus) without a visa is up.  Basically we can’t get a work visa in Denmark unless no one else in the country of Denmark can do the job I can do; thus, not stealing anyone’s job.  We’ve been asked to stay; but if we do, then we can’t legally come back for a long time…..I’ve even been proposed to, well sort of…but it wouldn’t work out because I’m already married.

The first thing people ask us when we say we are coming home soon is what we are going to do when we get home.  First, we don’t know where “home” quite is.  Napa was our most recent home where our last jobs and lives were, but Houston is where all our material goods are stored – rent free.

The answer is officially and without a doubt – make some money – quick.  We’re giving ourselves until March 1st (2 weeks) to make some sort of decision on whether or not to stay in Texas.  We’re very open to jobs in Napa, Seattle, and Portland. (I would bake bread at BouchonBakery NY/per se in a heartbeat.)

We honestly have tried to enjoy our time here without worrying about the decisions we must make.  It’s never easy leaving a job to stage abroad, especially if the job didn’t send you abroad with the security of having paid work when you return.  We both turned down some really good offers to go abroad.  There’s always a job.  It’s the nature of the industry.  Sometimes life is more enjoyable when not everything’s planned.

But first, London and Paris for an eating marathon – anyone got a tapeworm I can borrow?

Posted in General restaurant thoughts | 2 Comments

Geranium Restaurant

I don’t think I could have picked a better progression of stages, if I do say so myself.

In de Wulf, now that I look back at it, had a very refined way of doing inherently rustic food, with an obvious connection with the land and area around it. AOC concerned itself a little more with the theatrics, aesthetics, and ideas that go along with pure flavor along with a fierce attention to detail and technique.

Geranium is both.

And after my first day in the kitchen, I could see why. It was early this month as I trudged, bleary-eyed up to the 8th floor of the football (and by football, I mean soccer) stadium for my first day of my stage (yes, the restaurant is in the stadium.) By the end of the day, I not only witnessed a whole host of farmers and fishmongers dropping off their products for Chef Kofoed and his staff to turn into delicious, yet imaginative food, but also saw the complete intensity of training that Chef was doing for the Bocuse D’or. It was literally like watching an athlete train for the Olympics. Everything was measured and composed, looking for a way not to waste any movement or spare second.

But in the main kitchen that serves the dining room, it was amazing to see the two styles of food blending together: the modern hominess and wholesomeness of the chefs that are very much connected to their surroundings but are in touch with the world of modern cooking, yet the strict, straight, rigid lines, circles, and corners that is very much attributed to competition-style food. The food at Geranium is a seamless blend of both. It’s vibrant and exciting, but not so far off in flavors that it would alienate most people. Above all what I’m most excited about is that even after working with these dishes going on now for three weeks, I still don’t find them dull. It’s fun to see food that really makes sense — and in an exciting way.

I wish I could photograph all of this for you guys to see, but I just don’t think it’s that type of kitchen. Heck, we’re even to wear toques during service. I haven’t worn a toque since culinary school. When we go to plate at the pass during service, it’s definitely one of those “go-go-go!” kitchens, there wouldn’t be a second to snap a shot.

This is Chef Kofoed’s Bocuse video though, where you can really see the illustration between the competition and “natural” food. Most of the food in here is from the restaurant, and served at the restaurant, like the monkfish dish with the broken green sauce, but all the footage of them cooking is of Chef and his commis, Frede, practicing for the Bocuse. Yes, everything is timed. Yes, everything is portioned to the exact gram. Yes, it does carry over into our everyday lives at Geranium.

I wish I could say the intensity was only because of the music, but yeah, Chef’s pretty serious about this Bocuse thing.

When I first came to Europe, I was very curious as to see how the food blended simplicity and the whole “natural” food movement and still made it exciting, interesting, and delicious. At Geranium, there isn’t very many things that make it on to the plate, but every little thing, from the size of a garnish, to the sauces, to the proteins, have a lot of steps, and processes, and layers upon layers of flavors that go into it. From what I’ve seen, that’s been a mainstay among these really serious kitchens. Yes, there is simplicity, but it’s the way you achieve the simplicity that matters. As an example: to use the roots and stems that are normally discarded from when you pick herbs is a great idea and a great ideal, but the way you clean it, the way you hold it, and the fact that you don’t cover up that root and stem flavor when you compose the plate? That matters. You don’t just stop at foraging, which has become the big whipping boy (or whooping call, depending on who you ask) of this style of cooking nowadays, but you make a dish that accents the greens that you forage and don’t just let it stand alone as a garnish. To do otherwise would be a waste of the diners’ time, but most of all, your time.

But it’s pretty hard to really describe the kitchen as a whole. Oddly enough, they do play music during the day, which is pretty fun to hear “like a G6” going on in the background while watching the cooks stencil out batter in the shape of a branch for one of the amuses and measuring straight lines with rulers. But they’re a very friendly, rambunctious bunch. Though they do get pretty serious during service. Most of all, I feel as if I’m having a great time while learning a lot. It really hits to the core of why I originally wanted to stage in the first place.

I really wish I’d come a different month though. The three sous chefs, Jesper, Lars, and Nanna do more than an adequate job of teaching, tasking, and encouraging, but it would have been really interesting to have been there while Chef was in the kitchen. Maybe one day I’ll come back.

Hopefully during summer when it’s a little less cold.

 

The one picture I do have
Posted in Copenhagen | 2 Comments

Karen’s European stages summarized

There comes a time in your life when what you’re seeing, experiencing and feeling are not all that comfortable at all.  As a reflection of these past three months of staging at In de Wulf, Kiin Kiin, Relæ and Meyers Bageri, I have learned a lot.

With only a month max at each location, there is a steep learning curve.

In de Wulf (Dranouter, Belguium)

In de Wulf may have been the hardest challenge physically.  The day after we arrived, possibly hung-over (that would be Justin.  I know how to say “no”), jet-lagged and unrested, we started a six day stretch of 14-16 hour workdays (more of the 16 and less of the 14).  I had not been used to standing in one place for long periods of time.  It is a much different feeling on the feet when you get to walk around often to alleviate pressure on the same points in your feet.  Some days I would go home on the verge of crying, cursing my Bragard shoes – yes it was that painful.  As you start to feel sorry for me, my feet did get used to the stress after the third week.

This was our first taste of a European kitchen.

Some of it was different: European baking sheets, combi oven (ok, that was easy to adjust to), everything was in Celcius (good thing I was taught by French pastry chefs), everyone eats together for staff meal (no “buts”), back-of-the-house runs and usually explains the food, drinking water were from glass bottles, a driver picks up most of the restaurants’ goods that are not hand-delivered by farmers, the seasoning preference.

Some of it was the same: cleaning before every service, attention to detail, modest use of tweezers, consolidating, use of tape for labeling, “deep clean” days.  On the website, their philosophy is “only being satisfied with the top products and then searching for the methods of preparation  which more subtly bring out their flavor.”

What was so special about In de Wulf?  The very obvious connection Chef Kobe Desramaults had with the farmers. Some of them are featured in his book.  Milk came in glass bottles and tasted fresher than anything I had ever had before.  Seafood was caught that morning. “Steak” knives were hand-made. We foraged a few times a week for herbs – sometimes in snow.  Chef would be right there picking herbs next to you.  On occasion, if we were ahead of schedule, we got a “break.” Chef would clean the floors and break down the station along with the rest of us.  Chef Kobe definitely made it known how thankful he was to have us every night.  We were treated as their guests and the only thing we could offer them in return was a Thanksgiving meal (and no they do not like sweet potato and marshmallow casserole). Oh, and Chef Kobe is kind of a big deal.  One of the three Flemish Foodies.

Gala van de Gouden Garde

We could not have timed our stage at In de Wulf any better.  Not only did the freeze come in on our last week, meaning we had herbs to pick all the prior weeks, but we saw much of the Flemish part of Belgium through the different events we helped out with (on our days “off”).  The first event was the Gala van de Gouden Garde.  We had to serve 500+ who were helping raise money for a nursery school in Cuzco, Peru (translated by Google).  Here we had the chance of meeting the other two Flemish foodies and Dominique Persoone, who is the best chocolatier in Belgium, and made it into a Belgium magazine. The second event was the release of Chef Kobe’s book at a local farm.  The last event was viewing a one hour special on In de Wulf’s kitchen in Flemish at a local pub in Poperinge (which I believe we have been to on three separate occasions).

One thing I learned is beer is cheap in Belgium and all of it’s good for drinking.  I could use another few rounds of trappist beers and some dried sausages.

Kiin Kiin (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Before we start each work day, we all sit down and have coffee or tea for about half and hour – even if we think we’ll be in the shits. Ok, I can get used to this.  Now the day begins.  This kitchen is starting to remind me of my Chicago restaurant experiences like at Blackbird and Tru (or Coi in SF) – lots of stair climbing.

The staff here has been informed that I didn’t really want to do pastry here.  Somehow, I think the email exchanges got lost in translation.  My exact wording in the email was, “Although my background is in pastry, I am also very interested in the savory side of Thai cuisine.”  This got me a lot more savory experience than I think I was ready for.  My first day I was taught how to break down squab, filet a fish and how not to puke at the sight of blood.  Fine.  Throw it at me.  With some determination, poise and a few demos later, I am ready for my next task.

There is the small understanding that if a savory chef is to borrow a knife, it is never from pastry.  It’s because pastry usually has dull knifes.  Lucky for me we bought replacement knives (the knives are still in Belgium).  In this case, it is not the knife, but the user that isn’t very versed in the art of fine slicing.  As I slice the lemongrass for the salad, I have this chopping motion that I am told is not correct. (Justin tells me it’s the Chinese chopping motion and that’s why their knives go dull faster.)  I am to leave the tip of the knife on the board as I rock the knife back and forth.  It took me 5 times longer to slice the lemongrass, and I wasn’t sure it was good enough – I pick out the thicker slices.  On the bright side, since I’m working savory, I can practice this every day.  And squab.  And fish.

Oh and I finally learned how much water to add to rice if the amount of rice isn’t given. (At home I have a cup specifically for measuring rice, and I follow the number on the side of the rice pot that goes inside the rice cooker.)  Something along the lines of water height reaches the knuckle of my pointer finger.  (Ok still in a rice cooker, but one step closer.)

I never really feel comfortable on the savory side but I have definitely learned what I came here for – how to build up flavors with ingredients typical to Thai cuisine.  I made quite a few friends here who definitely made me feel at home in Denmark.

Relæ

Relæ was not originally part of the staging itinerary, but with some extra stage help at Kiin Kiin, I was able to go over to Relæ on the weekends.  Sous at Noma opens a restaurant with the intent of focusing on the details that do matter and letting go of the others –  This is exactly what I want in a restaurant.

cabbage and Danish oysters

It felt so natural to me.  The point about it taking weeks to get used to a kitchen before I feel comfortable didn’t really exist here.  After one service, when I knew where most things called home, I felt like I had been here for months.  The cleanliness, the professionalism, the quality of the food, the energy, the organization – it was how I imagined. (I am not over-stretching this statement at all.)  Everywhere I looked, I just thought to myself – that’s genius!  So when I say (previous post) that you have to really experience In de Wulf to understand and fully appreciate it, the same goes for Relæ.

The details that do matter:

  • We don’t peel vegetables like carrots, parsnips or sunchokes.  We scrub them. Why? To retain the shape and nutrients that lie in the skin, and probably some other reasons.
  • We always have a clock/timer in front of us.  Why? To do it faster next time, or to give a better estimate of how long the project takes for future reference.
  • In making the best pot of coffee we can possibly make requires the exact amount of water and ground coffee, brewed at the right amount of time.  The crew at Coffee Collective helps pair the coffee with the dessert. The thought is that even though the coffee isn’t served with the dessert, it should still be balanced.
  • You’ve all heard by now that there is a drawer for the utensils, menu and napkin.  This eliminates one employee, and allows for money to be spent elsewhere.
  • “Jesus juice” is the water of choice for things like stock and bread so the flavor is never altered by the minerals and taste of tap water.
  • Portioning isn’t just for giving everyone the same amount.  There is the right amount of acid, crunch (and carrots) to a plate.

If you can’t make it out to Relæ, at least give Jægersborggade a visit.

Jægersborggade is the new “in” street in town.  There’s an organic bakery by the name of Meyers Bageri, an organic hair salon where I got a free haircut, Coffee Collective (well-known worldwide as one of the leaders in coffee), a ceramic maker who makes pieces for Relæ and a group of young men who are selling cannabis and eluding cops.  I have witnessed arrests;  I have heard of seeing bloody hands on windows asking for help; I have heard how they manage to set up post every day without being caught 99% of the time.  Make time to visit all the spots along the street.  Just don’t get caught.

Meyers Bageri

I came here with the intention of seeing how to make wienerbrød, Danish-style and to touch dough (as a Baker it doesn’t feel right when you haven’t been baking for a while), but have learned much more than I imagined.

Bread is something that every head baker approaches differently.  Bread has to be processed differently when flours, water, sourdoughs, temperatures are all different.   The way they bake bread here is less restricted and more of a feeling.

The flours here  are all organic, mostly from the Denmark region of Mørdrupgaard.  Some of the flours are ground on-site.  The sound might be loud to the inhabitants above, but they did agree to allowing a bakery to open just below their flat.  The different doughs here really express the flour and region they come from – each having their own distinct flavor.  The bygbrød (barley) and kamutbrød are baked in the same way as the traditional Danish rugbrød, in the efforts to bring more attention to the flours.

sourdough

There is only one shift for bread – 5am to 1pm.  All the mixing and bread baking goes on during this time.  We even laminate daily because we don’t have the luxury of a freezer.  In general, the lean doughs are mixed, placed in the walk-in overnight and baked the next morning. This allows the doughs to ferment at a low temperature for a longer period of time, which equals flavor.  I have found that the Danes prefer a very loose sourdough, like thickened water.  I have been used to a almost equal parts flour and water.  A looser sourdough (3-4 times as much water) is “less sour” and creates a more elastic dough (less strong) assuming all else is equal.  Doughs here are mixed slightly longer on second speed than I am used to, but I remember reading somewhere that the grains in the US are higher in gluten than the European counterparts.

I’m still trying to digest everything I have seen  (and eaten).

Notes to a successful European stage:

From what we were told, sharpies are not sold in Europe, so pack a few extras and make new friends. Learn the numbers so at least you can figure out which table, course and number of people you’re serving.  Get a cell phone (or SIM card).  Live and experience the city/place your stage is in.  Save up extra to allow for eating out in your budget.  Check to make sure you are allowed to either ship or carry your knives with you.  Pack lightly – most carriers only allow one bag to Europe; and, if you’re travelling with a low-cost carrier, the weight limits are less and the carry-on size is smaller.  Don’t get caught up on a cheaper ticket with added baggage expenses.  And don’t worry about the job you left back home.  Worry about it when you get back.  (At least that’s what we keep telling each other.  It helps.)

Posted in Copenhagen | 2 Comments

Aamanns Etablissementet

So Karen and I have been saving up pretty well so we can eat a few of the places around here. The past couple weeks, we’ve ventured out to nearby European towns to eat at places like Bastard (yes, that’s really what it’s called) in Malmo, Sweden, and Volt Restaurant in Berlin. To save money we’ve been eating a lot of leftover staff meal that we’ve stockpiled during the week, and going down to our Netto (our local grocer) for some cheap sources of subsentence: frozen frikadeller, bananas, yogurt, and müsli.

We’re doing this because before we came to Europe we both agreed that it was pretty important for us to really eat out around the places we are staying to understand the food that surrounds us. While researching Denmark we found that the smørrebrød, an open-faced sandwich, is synonymous with being a Dane, so of course we had to have our share. We had some very classical versions during Christmas, but Aamann’s Establissementet, a modest restaurant with modern ambitions pushes the classical smørrebrød a little further. So about a month ago (yes, I am that far behind on updates), we went to go check it out.

What makes a smørrebrød?

To make a smørrebrød requires a buttered, thinly sliced rugbrød (see Karen’s bread documentary below if you don’t know what that is), cold cuts, thinly sliced pieces of meat, patés, and their accompaniments.  Typical combinations include: curried pickled herring with red onions and 5-minute eggs, chicken salad with apples, corned beef with horseradish, pickled herring with dill and sour cream, red wine vinegar pickled herring with red onions and capers. (As you can see, pickled herring is not in shortage here)

Why Aamanns?

Aamanns Etablissementet refines the lunch which Denmark loves: pickled herring, some smørrebrød, a bit of snaps, and places it in a comfortable bistro setting. It’s just one of those places that you want to be at when you feel like treating yourself a bit without really breaking the bank or having to feel like you really have to *get* or *think* about the food.

Somedays, you just want good food you can understand.

We popped into Aamann’s for a late lunch and had their full lunch special which included starters and a whole tray of smørrebrød accoutrements. Of course, we had to start with a beer and snaps, but this wasn’t just any snaps (which burns with the fire of a thousand suns all the way to your belly), but rye bread infused snaps. If you’re gonna try to be Danish for lunch, might as well be *really* Danish for lunch and this stuff was like alcoholic liquid bread (which sounds great, if you ask me).  To start, we had herring two ways – pickled and fried – pickled with apples and dill or fried with potato chip and parsley. Herring, like it’s other… oceany flavored buddy, mackerel, to many people is a very acquired taste. I personally love the stuff, but Karen… she has grown to love the stuff. Interesting, for a gal who ate well done eggs and meat less than five years ago, and then was a vegetarian for a long period of time, right? But to the Danes, herring is about as regular of an ingestion as Lone Star is to a Texan, so we’ve definitely had our fill. Here, it was firm, strikingly vinegary, and just plain delicious.

Our smørrebrød platter was epic. It’s one of those things that just can make my eyes light up like a fat kid at Ryan’s Steakhouse (yes, I was also that kid in a time. long, long ago…) There was curried chicken salad with juicy chunks of light and dark meat, a un-apologetically gamey, smooth, liver pate, beef tartare with mustard and shallots, earthily sweet beet salad, and Danish cheeses. Oh, the Danish cheeses. You eat slow, you enjoy yourself, picking, and choosing what to eat next– and figuring out whether or not your arteries can take any more of the lard butter slathered on the homemade bread that they give you (the answer, by the way, is always yes.) The biggest pointer, however, is just to not get all worked up that this place isn’t a brand-spanking-new-foraged-and-tweezed-food type of place. It is what it is. They know what they are, and now you know what they are. So don’t go in expecting it to be something that it isn’t.

My only suggestion?

Eat. And be merry.

Just make sure you wash it all down with some more snaps.

roasted beets, chicken salad, beef tartar, cold cuts, pate, cheese and bread

smørrebrød

beer and rye bread snaps

Posted in Copenhagen | 1 Comment

Best Copenhagen bakeries

There are bakeries everywhere, which I am happily enjoying trying anything and everything they have to offer.  We try not to get the same thing every time, but you can’t help but fall back on your favorites.  A bakery is like a coffee shop.  Over time, you will have “your” place you go to every day – the place on the way home or around the corner from home.  For me, bakeries can be destinations – I do seek them out, even if that means walking in snow shin high.

rugbrød med kerner

Danish rye bread is quite amazing – dense, moist, slightly sour, long shelf life, and nutritious. When sliced thin, the possibility of toppings are endless.  Our homemade smørrebrød, though not typically traditional combinations, are eaten quite often with leftover staff food.  There are many types of danish rye. These are the ones I have discovered so far: med blød rugkerner (with soft rye kernels), med spelt, med Solsikke og Hørfrø (with sunflower and flaxseed), Grovgodt Gulerodsrugbrød (good coarse carrot rye bread), med kerner (with grains), Græskarkerne (pumpkin seed).  Typical ingredients in rugbrød include: vand (water), surdej (sourdough), rugmel (rye flour) hvedemel (flour), salt, malt, and gær (yeast).

tebirkes

The wienerbrød (aka “danish” in America) has a dough that is more enriched than the croissant and typically more layers. The types that most bakeries offer are pretty similar across the board: tebirkes (marzipan/butter filling topped with poppyseeds), kanel snegle (cinnamon roll with chocolate), frøsnapper (a twist topped with poppy and sesame seeds with a marzipan/butter filling), spandauer (looks like your traditional “danish”), wienerstang.

“Grovbirks” is worth mentioning because it is a multigrain croissant that is topped with sesame seeds or a mixture of grains or oats. It is especially tasty when split and topped with butter and chocolate plaques. (See the blog post on our Danish Christmas.)

I did quite a bit of research before settling on the must-see bakery of Copenhagen – Meyers Bageri at Jægersborggade 9, 2200 Copenhagen N.  Through the window, you can watch Head Baker Nikolaj baking, shaping and having a good time.  This bakery focuses on bread and viennoiserie, with a small selection of pastry items (ie. cookie, tart, linzer bars, madeline).  Bread is not baked overnight like in many bakeries (rye bread is an exception because it should be eaten 24 hours after it has been baked to have the maximum flavor).  The viennosierie (butter-only) comes out of the oven moments before the store opens, with the bread baking soon after.  The flours here are organic cold-climate grain from the Nordic region.  I am not familiar with most of these flours, but each loaf of bread tells their story.  They have their own flour mill and also sell some of the specialty flours you can’t get at the grocery store.  The Kamut (100% fuldkorn) and Bygbrød (barley bread) are nice substitutes for Danish rye bread if you’re willing to try something new.  If you’re too impatient to start your own sourdough, they will sell you some surdej for 25DKK.  Make sure you grab a kanelsnurrer or kanelsnegle– you won’t be disappointed.

Our around-the corner or on-the-way-home bakery is Brødkunsten, a member of the Copenhagen Baker’s Guild.  Here, breads are made from Italian flours, have a smaller amount of yeast and rely on a longer fermentation for flavor.  The bakers bake breads throughout the day, meaning not everything is offered at the open.  Their selection of breads, cakes and pastries may be almost all you need, but they don’t offer the flødeboller.  You’ll have to go to Lagkagehuset or Summerbird (a chocolate store) for that.

The best multiple location bakery, in my opinion, is Lagkagehuset.  Sometimes too many “chain” bakeries fail in a sense that nothing is really quite good, but Lagkagehuset is an exception.  They may not be the cheapest bakery around here, but in this case, price does match up to quality.  Go earlier rather than later – shelves are typically empty near the end of the day.  Make sure to grab a number at the door.

If you’re looking for the best wheat sourdough bread, Bo Bech Bageri is on Store Kongensgade 46.  Here that’s all they sell – one size, one loaf, no options unless you’re buying in quantity.  I do believe that if you take all your energy and try to perfect one thing, you will come pretty darn close.  While walking on Store Kongensgade, keep your eyes peeled because it’s easy to miss their modest signage.

This may not be a bakery, but the best Danish rye I’ve had so far in Copenhagen was at Manfreds (take-away) on Jægersborggade.  It isn’t too dense, has the perfect amount of seeds and isn’t gummy.  This bread takes four days to make and is made from a sourdough (that means no yeast).

Take your time to decide.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Copenhagen | 2 Comments

2010, our year in food

2010 for us, was a great year. We’ve worked our tails off, enjoyed a lot of relaxation, eaten a lot of food, and we definitely did a hell of a lot of travelling. We started it off in Napa and ended it a couple nights ago here in Copenhagen, toasting Champagne and eating oysters with the crew of AOC. In between, we’ve been to San Francisco, LA, Santa Fe, Denver, Boulder, Las Vegas, Austin, Houston, Chicago, New York, Dranouter, Antwerp, Ghent, London, and Copenhagen. Along the way, we’ve met friends and had experiences that we’ll never forget. It was definitely a flagship year for our little family.

I’ve always read many different blogs and seen their yearly “best of” lists and found them mostly interesting not because of the food and dishes that they describe, but because of the reasoning behind every recommendation. Its great insight into the writer’s preferences, who they are, and where they’ve been the past year. I personally think our list really speaks to our identity are as two individuals: we like both high and lower-end food, and put highly composed (and often more luxury and expensive) dishes on par with the ethnic and snack foods that some people just consider a part of every day life. This year, we obviously did a lot of travelling as you can see the our wayward stops of 2010, and I think our list proves a point that to us, at least, the company that you’re dining with is just as important as the restaurant you’re dining at.

So here it is:

Bruno kiwi, miner’s lettuce, parmesan, macadamia (Ubuntu, Napa, California)

This was one of the dishes Chef Fox prepared for us before he left Ubuntu in February. I think I loved it not only for its freshness, simplicity, and interesting blend of a specific sweet/sourness (kiwi) and umami (parmesan), but also because I was there to unload the truck and see Chef pretty excited (understatement) about the kiwis themselves. Miner’s lettuce grows like weeds in the ubuntu garden (and pretty much everywhere else in Northern California) and we always had huge boxes of them, so it was always good to put them to use in a way that really made that specific green work the the dish.

Breakfast Sandwich (Fremont Diner, Sonoma, California)

Fremont Diner is an absolute gem of a restaurant for Wine Country, especially if it’s a nice day outside (which it often is in Sonoma). There’s something about sitting outside on that back patio next to their garden, enjoying their simple, delicious food. It has become my West Coast version of Avec (in Chicago): my happy place where I take all the out-of-towners to impress. May be the best thing about this dish composed of a warm biscuit, griddled ham, and a thick smear of home-made jam, is that the ham (which they’re thankfully not shy in portion-size about) is cooked crispy, but cut thick enough to have a lovely chew to it. The whole sweet-salty-buttery-smokey interplay between everything is a pretty wonderous thing– it gives the dish a wholesomeness I’m sure is wholly intentional.

Barley and cauliflower, almonds and black trumpet (Relæ, Copenhagen, Denmark)

Relae was our meal of the year (with 7 days to spare too, way to finish strong, Justin and Karen.) The restaurant doesn’t complicate itself with the superfluous “high-end” items. No colorful garnishes that serve no purpose are used (I’m lookin’ at you, red-veined sorrel), and you replenish your own water and flatware. Instead, a lot of the energy is put into to food, which is truthfully proclaimed by this amazing dish; a porridge of barley, smoked almonds, cauliflower, and pickled black trumpet mushrooms. To me, what really made the dish sing is the underlying smokiness throughout every different complex bite, and that every component contributed a major part to both the flavor and texture of the dish.

Foie gras crème caramel (Manresa, Los Gatos, California)

Its hard to deny that David Kinch has become one of the most important, influential chefs in the US. I’ve never spent one day in his kitchen, but by working under and with chefs that he’s mentored, I can definitely say that he’s at the very least (but probably more), subtly influenced who I am as a cook because of what he does and stands for at Manresa. We visited Manresa in the spring, and this dish was a lesson in minimalism. Not one flavor, whether it be the gaminess from the foie, the cumin-spiked custard, or the sweet caramel were huge flavors. Rather, it was all the small, minimal flavors that came together to make one very large impact.

North Sea sepia, a sauce of the heads, ashes (in de wulf, Dranouter, Belgium)

Our foray in to the Flemish region of Belgium and the amazing family that is in de wulf is well documented in this blog (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, just scroll down all the way.) We were treated to a dish that we were most curious about, the dish made with the sepia that I struggled over to clean, day after day. What really stood out in this dish is the texture from the sepia that you can only can get from the very freshest, and best of squid, and the very light cooking time that it receives. The ashes brought a sweet smokiness to the squid that was already brimming with the brininess of the sea.

‘Oxheart’ carrots scented with our ras el hanout, raw ‘white satin’ carrots, roasted cherries, ‘delfino’ cilantro (ubuntu, Napa Valley, California)

Aaron London came back on at ubuntu as Chef pretty much half way into my tenure there, so it was pretty interesting and quite exciting to see the kitchen change under a new chef. This was one of my favorite dishes that he’s ever done, which is saying a lot because it came off of my own station (you really get tired of your own dishes pretty quickly.) The first time I ate the dish the whole way through was when I accidentally made one extra and hurriedly scarfed it down in the back. I ate the whole thing, and then I ordered it again when I came in the next week with a few out of town friends. The whole dish is aromatic because of the ras el hanout– a fantastic compliment between all the different varieties of carrots, but especially for the oxheart, my favorite carrot of all time, mostly because it has a sweet, gelatinous center (when cooked correctly) that’s different from any other carrot I’ve ever had. Aaron still hasn’t given me his ras el hanout recipe, which he always put off to make only when I was really in the weeds with prep. I suppose for good reason.

Soon Tofu (Beverly Soon Tofu Restaurant, Los Angeles, California)

It was early 2010, it was cold outside. Nothing else really matters when this appears in front of you. Ethereal, spicy, slightly garlicky broth, soft tofu, and good friends. It was a great way to kick off our 2010.

“shark fin soup,” dungeness crab, black truffle custard (Benu, San Francisco, California)

I can’t understand many people’s disappointment with Benu, Chef Corey Lee’s post-TFL restaurant. It may be a testament to the influence and rising popularity of this whole “new natural” cuisine that rapidly populated itself after noma was named the #1 restaurant in the world by pellengrino (and even moreso now that their cookbook has come out.) Chefs started becoming more interested in vegetables, foraging, and self-sustained farming moreso than ever, shunning proteins as the main components of dishes. What befuddles though, me is that because of this, a chef like Chef Lee gets nailed with phrases like “soul-less,” “too inside-the-box,” and “without a point of view” when his food is anything but. You cannot expect a chef to come off of a nearly decade stint in a kitchen without taking the influences with him. Heck, I heard Grant Achatz served pommes souffle in the early days of Trio. At benu, Karen and I had an amazing meal that not only had a distinct Asian-American point of view, but also showed the chef’s background: a technically fearless cook with much respect to tradition whose not afraid to use what some may consider luxury ingredients. This dish shows every part of that: technique to create the texture of shark’s fin without actually using shark’s fin, an intense broth made with Jinhua ham, the Chinese ham dried like a proscuitto, and a custard wrought with the umami funk of truffles. There was so much contrast here: the different textures between custard and “shark’s fin”, and the weight of the dish vs the weight of the flavor. Overall, it made not only for an interesting, but tasty, complex dish.

Chicken Hara Masala (Himalaya Restaurant, Houston, Texas)

I’m not shy in stating that my favorite restaurant in Houston is Himalaya Restaurant, a Pakistani-Indian place tucked away in a shopping center off of a huge concrete freeway. Many people would assume that if an ethnic place is among the best spots in the city, than the dining scene must not be very good, but this isn’t the case. In all the cities I’ve been in this year, Houston’s dining scene probably has been the most exciting and thriving. That being said, our ethnic food really is just that good, especially in regard to Indian, Pakistani, and Vietnamese cuisines. What makes this dish so special to me is that I’ve seen amazing growth with this specific dish. It has so much so, that now Chef/Owner Kaiser Lashkari calls it his signature. So many cooks (me included) are so concerned nowadays with being the first rather than being the best. Dishes never get fine tuned. But this chicken hara masala has twisted from “good” dish to a classic that now sings with an array of spices, aromatics, and cilantro that I often dream about in between meals there.

Black cod, chervil cream, bone marrow broth (Manresa, Los Gatos, California)

When we first took our first few bites of this dish, we looked at each other, didn’t say a word, and knew what was going on in each other’s head. A perfectly cooked, flaky fish, creamy licorice flavor, and bone marrow broth, which really needs no description.

Toasted Pecan and Flax Seed with Rye Levain (Karen’s CE Class at French Pastry School w/ Master Baker Didier Rosada, Chicago, IL)

Okay so there may be a slight conflict of interest here, but the breads that Karen bring home have now become some of the best I’ve ever tasted (whether she agrees or not.) This was one of the ones we had when we went to Chicago. Somehow, baking the bread this way gave the pecans a natural sweetness that no pecan pie could ever do. No butter needed. Karen wanted to include the bread from Tartine which she had at Delfina as the table bread on this list, but I haven’t tasted it, so we’ll just take her word for it.

4505 Meats Burger (4505 Meats Stand, Ferry Building Farmer’s Market, San Francisco, California)

It’s really hard for me to get really excited about a burger. After all, it’s just a burger, right? Not if it’s a 4505 burger, recommended to me my Misha of @tastybitz via Chuck of @chuckeats. I’ve had it just once, but it was juicy, meaty, slightly smoky, salty, and sandwiched with a toasted bun that had a great chew to it. I pondered getting a second one, except that they were out when I went back. I won’t make that mistake again.

Dry Aged Squab (Roberta’s, Brooklyn, New York)

Okay so this isn't the squab, but it's the only picture we got from Roberta's that night. And this was one hell of a pizza (maybe best of the year? shoot)

If I could include my entire meal at Roberta’s, I would, but the whole night is a bit of a blur to me thanks only in partially to the wine at the Le Fooding event and the tallboy Nerga Modelos I had while waiting for the table. Everything that night hit the spot, the raw glass shrimp, the pizzas, the pastas, the wood-fired bread, but especially their in-house aged meat. There’s a very specific and fine line between aging meat and letting meat rot, and Chef Carlos and the guys over at Roberta’s have nailed that aggressive funkiness that only well-aged meat can get. We did have a huge aged rib-eye, smothered with bone marrow that night, but I was especially impressed with the aged squab, heavily charred, cooked to a rosy red, and sprinkled with crunchy sea salt. It tasted of a long, round gaminess that lingered on for the rest of the meal.

secret breakfast ice cream (Humphry Slocombe, San Francisco, California)

My cousin, Vanessa, introduced us (and more specifically, Karen) to Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream late last year (2009). And every so often, Karen has to get her fix of their secret breakfast ice cream. There’s nothing wrong with cornflakes and bourbon, but there’s really nothing wrong with it when it comes in the form of ice cream. I personally like mine also with a scoop of Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee ice cream, but Karen loves it straight up.

Butterscotch “sundae” (Redd, Yountville, Napa Valley, California)

Chef Plue’s desserts are comforting, tasty, and thankfully not too sweet. While I think a lot of people are doing “interesting” dessert these days, for some reason we always gravitate to the the things that are the simplest, and that we know and love. It must be the Chinese in us, as Chinese “dessert” normally consist of a plate of fresh fruit. Chef Plue ties the two (interesting and comforting) together very well, but this dessert  with foamed butterscotch sabayon, vanilla rum ice cream, caramel corn, and crunchy chocolate crumbles hits all the right spots. It’s a very grown up way of eating flavors you probably enjoyed as a child.

Canale (Boulettes Larder, Ferry Building, San Francisco, California)

Okay so maybe the biggest reason I’m including this in the list is because it took us nearly five different times of going to Boulettes Larder to actually get this canale (they run out quickly.) So absence may have aided in how good this thing actually tasted, but it really was an amazing few bites. Crispy on the outside, light and custard-y on the inside. Caramelized, lightly sweet, and wholly luscious.

Bar sausage and Trappist beers (de Kauwakkers, Dranouter, Belgium)

Bar sausages are good. Trappist brewed beers are real good. But having both of them with good friends are goooo-ood.

2010 was a fantastic year, and we’re starting off 2011 with a bang. Bastard in Malmo, noma, volt in Berlin, and the hopes of The Sportsman, The Hind’s Head, Le Chateaubriand, l’Arpege, and a whole host of other places that I’m really hoping we get to before we run out of money.

But I guess I’d rather be full of good food and broke than filled with bad food and lots of money.

Happy New Year.

Posted in General restaurant thoughts | 3 Comments

The World’s Best Restaurant (Our Danish Christmas)

Lets all be truthful here. Of all the truffles gloriously showered over your food, green herbs plucked from the ground hours before your arrival, the most carefully raised, butchered, and cooked animals, the table-side sauces artfully presented by a hush-toned, white-gloved waiter, and the carts of champagne, bread, cheese, and lollipops, almost every single restaurant in the world would kill to give their customers an experience where, “… like my (grand)mother used to do it…” followed the description of their establishment.

So while late in January, we luckily have secured a reservation to noma, Pellengrino’s choice for World’s Best Restaurant, years from now when I think about this trip, I don’t know if I will remember live fjord shrimp, musk ox tartare, and bone marrow chocolates. However, I am sure I will remember a lively, quirky Danish man whose love for the Far East is unparalleled, his deeply caring wife, their fantastic, welcoming family, and Christmas traditions that I’ll probably carry deep into my own life.  An experience that no restaurant could ever recreate.

One day, whether I’m young or old, I want to go to many of these places where the locale is defined by their restaurants. Most of the time, these places are dual inn/restaurants that breakfast, lunch, dinner, and the sleep in between are carefully thought out by the chefs. Maisons de Bricourt, Michel Bras, Marc Veyrat, Dal Pescetore, da Vittorio, Manor aux Quat Saisons, and even In de Wulf are like this. But here in Denmark in the midst of an area called Jutland, we got our first taste this. For four short days this Christmas, we were treated to overflowing plates, cups, and generosity for breakfast, lunch, and dinners that would rival any place with stars, diamonds, plaques, and distinctions.

Christmas in Denmark

We spent Christmas in the town Hvolbæk, (near Skanderborg) in Jutland, the  Danish countryside, about 3 1/2 hours by train from Copenhagen by invitation of Iris Nordenkjær, one of Karen’s co-workers from her stage. It could have been just Christmas cheer, but from being at her parent’s house, I can tell she’s just a generous person. Maybe it’s just this area, or maybe it’s because there may be nothing else to do but celebrate (it is a farming community), but here there is a great importance placed on family during the Christmas holiday. In the restaurant industry where we are notorious for working odd-hours, holidays, “weekends” and days where “normal” people usually take time off; here in Denmark, everyone is given time off. As such, most everything is closed for three days – the 24th, 25th and 26th. (You have one less day to do your Christmas shopping than in America.)

We arrived at Le Maison de Nordenkjær with the intimidation like a three-star would have. Who knew what this place hand in store for us. As it turns out, it served us a lot of perspective. And a lot of food.  And some beer, snaps and mead.

Every meal, breakfast, lunch, and dinner is a must. Failure to partake would result in constant reminders of how skinny you are.

In the morning, there were croissants and various danishes served with coffee.  (Maybe a little yogurt and granola as well.) We learned of a Danish tradition that included spreading the surface of a plain danish with butter and placing chocolate plaquettes on top.

Lunches consisted of vol au vents, cold cuts, frikadeller (meatballs, which has become my staple meat intake during this trip), different spreads and patés, and of course the rye bread and pickled herring that we’ve come to associate this country with. The ideals of smørrebrød, this country’s patriotic open-faced sandwich rung true to every meal.  Beer and wine with the order to, “DRINK!” came as a side.

But it may be the night of Christmas Eve (which is celebrated more than Christmas Day) and the experience and dinner that took place that we’ll forever hold in our hearts. There may be bistro-nomy, molecular gastronomy, new naturalism, nouveau-ism, progressive food-ism, pan-asian, one pan, one pot, rustic, refined rustic, new refined cuisine, new american cuisine, farm to table cuisine, and cuisine that has no cuisine. But, there is only one way to have the feeling of a home-cooked meal. Cooking with love might be the world’s most overused term, but some days you just can’t deny it. The whole night is a blur to me, but I’m sure there was roast duck, roast pork with crackling skin, potatoes in three different forms (boiled, caramelized, and chips), braised red cabbage, stewed prune sauce, lots of gravy (we were reminded to put more on our plates), and lots of pours of wine, beer, snaps (an after dinner drink that reminded me of vodka… except with character) and scotch.  Dessert was ris a la mande, complete with a warm cherry sauce, and a fun game where whoever gets the hidden whole almond in their serving gets a gift. Along the way there was a holding of hands while singing and dancing around the candle-lit tree, gift-opening, and fantastic conversation.

It was one of those nights that could only end with you lazily sitting there, chatting, holding your full belly, and trying not to doze off.

Christmas Eve lunch: pickled herring, 5 minute eggs, remoulade

Christmas Eve lunch: meat assortment for DIY smorrebrod

Christmas Eve dinner

Ris a la Mande

Christmas day: stew in tartshells (plus all the above)

Day-after Christmas breakfast

chocolate plaques on top of multigrain croissant

chocolate and custard danishes

Maybe the other thing we’ll remember is Santa Claus. Have you ever seen Santa (aka Julemand) come hiking to your home in the snow? We did, and it was pretty awesome.  The children’s excitement was quite contagious.  We found ourselves calling, “Julemand, Julemand!” too.

a white christmas with juleman

julemand and his presents

So often I hear people collecting restaurants as their lifelong dream experiences. Myself included.

But I suppose there is only so much that restaurants can give you.

Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Nordenkjær, Iris, Mai-Britt and the two little ones, for the incredible experience (of a lifetime).

Posted in Copenhagen | 2 Comments

AOC update

So my time at AOC has flown by.

Yesterday was the last day of service before they broke for Christmas (why in the world do we in the US never have breaks in restaurants? It only makes sense to actually give the restaurant and its staff to breath. Damn capitalism.) (TKRG not included. again) break. I’ll be back there for New Years Eve prep and service before I start at Geranium on January 5th.

I’m sure I’ll get around to posting some thoughts on AOC again soon, but here’s just a few pictures of the food. Just to note, a lot of the dishes have final components that aren’t shown on the picture because some of the food is extremely temperature sensitive.

The front kitchen

shrimp, sea beans (not shown, aerated mayonnaise, crumble)

Razor clams, beet, dill, horseradish. (missing a frozen disc of beet juice on top of the emulsion)

Frozen Veal, pre-frozen veal

Frozen veal, now complete

What I mean by perfectly cut circles. Yes, those are pieces of parsley cut into circles. Missing are the rings of shallot that are the exact same size. Squid dish, kohlrabi, served with a black currant sauce.

Danish oysters, quail egg, cauliflower siphon

"Autumn" dish. Sweetbreads, sunchokes, apple, chestnut, hazelnut crumble, shiso. (Not shown: the "ambiance" which is a bowl of dried leaves and the sounds of blowing wind (really) and the brown butter sauce served tableside)

Pork, spring onions, garlic (not shown, sauce tableside with pork reduction, ash, elderberry capers.)

Pear, tea, lemon, and lemon thyme. Yes, these stones are for dessert.

We’re headed to Jutland, the Danish countryside for Christmas. I’m not sure if I’ll post anything before then, so if I don’t, whether you’ll be in Houston, Napa, Seattle, Canada, LA, Chicago, Iceland, Belgium, Denmark, or anywhere else in the world, everyone have a very Merry Christmas. I hope it’s filled with time with people you love.

And lots of good food.

And drink.

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Very Important Person(?)

 

Rye, herb emulsion, spinach

What exactly happens when VIPs are noted on the reservation sheet? or called to the line when calling out a ticket?

Normally, it’s a lot less than you think. And if the kitchen is really good, practically life goes on as if nothing happened.

Those handshakes, that name-dropping, that dreaded line, “well, we’re foodies, so…” may work a hand-full of times, but more often than not, it’ll just make you feel as if you’re special in your own head, whether the restaurant does anything about it or not. Its possible that if you’ve affected the kitchen enough, it’ll be the chef that cooks your dish and plates it up because he’s the one that wants to handle it.  More often than not, the chef will look and touch up your plate for 15 seconds instead of 10. Possibly, you’ll get that cool plate that we only have one of (because, well, it costs like $150 per piece). If we like you (semi-regulars), you’ll probably get a dish or two off the menu that you didn’t order, and if we really like you (regulars), you’ll get a dish that isn’t on the menu.

If you’re a cook, we’ll gauge it depending on how many beers you brought us.

This, however true and the majority of cases, is not true in all cases.

I was told something once at when I was working in Napa, that (unfortunately) will forever hold true. Sometimes you just have to impress the right people that will make business better. In the end, the restaurant business is a business, and whether it be a food critic, a blogger, or just someone with a big-ass camera that may or may not post pictures of the food on the internet, some days you have to play the game to make sure business is good. In high end restaurants, because profits are so thin and cost of labor and good raw product is so high, I’d be willing to guess that all the chefs know exactly what their local food critic looks like (and now everyone knows what S. Irene Virbila of the LA Times looks like. Ouch. ) and most of them regularly keep up with certain blogs. And whether we like to admit it or not, we are nervous about stars and ratings and numbers and that damned tire guide. With the internet running amok these days, it’s almost like a job criteria to do so. I remember back in the day we VIP’d a table because it sounded like this guy had a French accent and well, the tire guide was descending upon us.

It turns out he was just a college student from Italy who wanted some good wine, so he came up to Napa and just happened across our restaurant.

At least he had a good meal.

I’m writing this not because I have repressed frustration towards VIPs (only some of them (just kidding)), but because at AOC, and with Karen at both Kiin Kiin and Relae, handling VIPs just feels so different. If feels like a part of the system. The most we’ve done at AOC was to add a couple of amuses and to give someone a new dish that Chef happened to be working on that day. Of course inherently, we probably set aside a few garnishes and proteins that are the biggest and prettiest, but the kitchen be damned if it affected any other diner’s dinner. I’ve worked in kitchens before where having a VIP completely threw off a normal service and though it’s pretty hard to admit, but the restaurant at those times catered to one table, and the rest of them, whether it be a lot or a little, suffered.

Which is why it’s energizing here, how we treat these Important Persons. For the last week and a half, I’ve been working all the snacks and helping out the hot section. When an exceptionally important person came in, Chef told me that “these VIPs are extra important.” And who plated the snack? Me. The stage. The lowest on the totum pole. Just like every other snack that went out that night. At Relae the other night the wife of the chef of the “world’s best restaurant” came to eat with another pretty well known internet blogger… big Important Person table, and who plated their first and last plates? My wife. Again, a stage.  Of course the head chefs are checking our work, but they realize if you’re good enough to plate for one person, you’re good enough to plate for them all.

I know there are many restaurants that handle customers like this (like they’re all VIPs), but it’s great to know that the some of the best ones know that every person should be treated the same way.

On Being a VIP.

There are very few people in this world that I don’t care to serve in restaurants. Ones that try to scam the system (opening the bottle of wine before they get to the BYO restaurant so they won’t get the service charge? Come on.) is one. People who try to get VIP treatment without actually caring for the restaurant is the other.

If you really care *that* much about being important, there are two sure-fire ways to make sure your table gets VIP’ed:

1. Be a regular. Spend your money at the restaurant and be polite and get to know the staff. There is one guy that comes to AOC nearly once a week. He loves the bread, and as such, we serve him the bread pretty much every course. He also gets to try all the new dishes. And if he comes in close to closing time, even if we’re all cleaned up, we’ll serve him.

2. Work in the industry. There are few people we like to serve more than other cooks, waitstaff, and chefs. Why? We know how much (or little) money you make, how many hours your work, and also because we know that you notice the little things. Like if a sauce is sitting on the plate for too long, or if the dough was kneaded a minute short. Most of the time we don’t care what these bloggers or Yelpers say, but we like feedback from our peers. Plus people in the industry know the industry card: bringing beers for the cooks. Why? because we all know who’s cooking the food, and if you make the people cooking the food like you, then you’re bound to get something a little extra.

There have times that Karen and I know that when we walk into an establishment, they know who we are and that our table has probably been noted of some sort for some reason or another. The only thing I can say to that end is that the only rules I have for being a VIP is to: 1) not expect anything extra 2) enjoy yourself and stop trying to notice all those little restaurant things we are accustomed to noticing and 3) pay full price for what you ordered. If they for some reason discount your table, tip the remainder for what you would’ve paid. If for some reason one day I decide to ask for an extended menu, you can bet I’ll want to pay for it.

While we love good word of mouth, the best way you can support your favorite restaurant is by spending your money there for what they gave you.

On Treating VIPs.

This is not to say that VIPing a table is a bad thing. Again, some days you just have to play the cards that need to be played. Fortunately for some restaurants, their staffing and style of service (ie, taking only so many reservations + no walk-ins + only serving tasting menus = knowing what to prep = getting time to create dishes for VIPs) means managing VIPs is much easier. There are many restaurants in this world that have be funds and the manpower and the willpower to completely style out certain people. But there are questions:

Do you want to serve these people food that they might describe to other people who probably won’t ever be able to get the same dishes that they got?

If you’re not a restaurant that can normally handle doing new menus for VIPs, do you want other customers to suffer for the sake of the press?

What in the world do other guests think of the table that’s spacious and gets twice the quality of food that they get?

It’s a personal struggle of mine, as well I’m sure many other cooks, to figure out how to treat different people different ways. Again, there is a game to be played. But how should you play it? How exactly should I treat influential people, bloggers, family, regulars, and co-workers when they come to our tables?

I, for one, have no answer. I know what I want to do (I want to stop with the bullshit, for those who are wondering), but that’s not really what happens all the time. It’s one of those questions I’m sure has no answer. However, I hope that in some period of time, I will finally come to grips with who I am as a cook, what I want to be and do when I eventually become a chef. I will feel comfortable with what boundaries I want to leave alone or push, and I’ll know exactly what it is in the food that I put on the plate that sets it apart from what other people are doing. I think only then will every plate be “very important”, and hopefully then, there won’t be a line between Very Important Person and just Person.

 

rye, herb emulsion, spinach. VIP.

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Round Circles and Sharp Corners

(no pictures yet, still way too afraid.)

Cooks: have you ever prepped in absolute silence?

Yeah, neither had I until my first day at AOC.

At In de Wulf, we had the occasional radio, a small amount of kitchen banter, though most of the time there was just work to do.

But here, there’s pretty much nothing. Why? Well, most of the prep you do here requires your full, undivided attention otherwise you’re just wasting their time, and your time. The smallest, most inane tasks have a very specific way being done, from picking herbs to the specific size (and by specific, we mean something around three leaflets on the dill for garnish), to punching out little circles from each leaf of parsley, to cutting sharp as a razor, 90 degree edges on the squid. In previous kitchens that I’ve worked in, you had a small range of doneness when you fry things on their shade of color.

Not here.

Every piece has to be a certain color. A certain doneness. There’s not a range, there’s not a zone, they don’t care if you stand and stare at the product till it’s done. Multitasking is possible, but what they really want is the most consistent product humanly possible.

Chefs Emborg and Munk have very finite specifications (and the stencils and molds to prove it) to everything. Blanching, which is even the most basic of basic tasks now has a certain weight of water and salt ratio to specific vegetables. It has to be done one. single. way.

At times it feels like I’m working the pastry station.

Oh wait. I am. (or well I was, I moved to the hot line today)

But even so, the innate movements, feelings, touches, smells of cooking savory food that I’ve done time and time again have never felt so calculated and rigid. I’ve never been one to punch out circles or use stencils or little molds. Here, most of the time my brain second-guesses itself as I’m doing something that I’ve done thousands of times. My muscles pause at things that they’ve repetitively done for years. But the demand is high, and they aren’t afraid to let you know what they want.

It’s probably the hardest kitchen I’ve ever been in, with the level of food that goes out.

But the food is amazing. The mixture of pure flavor, extreme attention to texture, and an interesting (and very apparent attention to) aesthetic, from my viewpoint, probably makes for a worthwhile dining experience for the guests.

Cooking like this is a new feeling, and its one that not only makes me appreciate consistent food that’s reaching for a certain point of excellence in every plate, but also the food that AOC isn’t. The food that’s poked and gauged by an experienced (or I guess sometimes not so experienced) cook, plated with certain individual artistic expression, and almost always changes depending on who’s cooking, slicing, and tasting your food. But in the end, that may be what separates the good from the legends. The ability to ingrain it in your head the deepest specific details of every plate. I know that here, every piece of every plate has had multiple sets of eyes inspect it in every stage of its preparation. Its here that the chef is behind every single plate. It’s a mentally exhausting way to work, and a style that doesn’t really fit my own.

So why am I here?

AOC and probably Geranium are two types of kitchens I’ll probably never have the skill to move up and run. But their level of finiteness and my (hopefully) ability to keep up and thrive gives me a better idea of how far I want to take this little thing called cooking. What is it that makes their food so good, and how much should that line of OCD-ness do you want to push it to make your food shine with both technique and personality?

Who knows. Maybe I’ll end up being the cook that has to buy a whole bunch of ring cutters and rulers.

Posted in Copenhagen | 7 Comments