Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Cook's Life: Drawing the Line

MFAH illegal photo of James Turrell

Sometimes you have to draw the line between work and life.  In whatever job albeit in a kitchen or in an office, it is probably the hardest thing to separate and or even define.

Triniti & Soma tasting
To some people they are both one and the same, I however, have the most difficult time separating the two.  For years I've found myself up really late at night unable to keep my mind off work.  In fact this blog is a direct result of my inability. When I'm with friends, family, or even my lady, I often find myself getting lost in thought about subject matter pertaining to work.  Whether it's if I need to order something by a certain date, a menu has to be finished by Tuesday, or even as little as eating something I like and having some epiphany for my next dish. I can never shut my mind off work.
my niece maddy

This inability isn't fair for my personal life, or those that are a part of it. When I first started my career, the job was everything. I'm sure it has been like this for anyone else who has had a dream and was willing to do anything to attain it.  People in our industry don't get many Holidays off. We work weekends, either early mornings or late nights.  We're on our feet all day, working quickly with a sense of finesse, living from ticket to ticket.  This is the choice we as cooks make. It may be a sacrifice of one's personal life, but who out there doesn't believe in taking the risk and doing time to reach your goals or even your dreams.

my most favorite girls
In order to separate the two, I first defined for myself... what matters most? friends & family, health, travel, and Annie. I've been really lucky that my lady understands this and that she has been patient and supportive of my career. Patience however, as we all know has its limits; even everything that matters has its limits. By reminding myself this I set the rules.

When I have my day off from work,
1.) I tell everyone before hand that I don't want to be bothered, unless it's an emergency or that something I didn't finish the day before, either way I just don't want to be distracted.
The King and I + Canada

2.) I plan my days off.  Sometimes I either pick a place to go, somewhere close, somewhere I can travel, like Austin, or Galveston. Try to eat at restaurants I haven't been to yet, or revisit those I really enjoyed. The more spontaneous the more of an adventure it becomes.

3.) Look for adventure It sounds silly and juvenile, but it's exciting. If you can't travel there is so much to do in Houston! We're so blinded by all the glamour the whole world shows us, that we don't realize how wonderful our city is!  The MFAH has soo many great works. Discovery Green always has something going on. I like the Menil exhibit. If you can't figure out what to do or where to go check out the local media. Pick up a paper! The Chronicle, Houstonia Magazine, the Houston Press, even Eater... they're wonderful resources.
4.) Get lost This is one of the most important rules to me. When I travel I like to wander, by doing so, I in many cases discover something incredible. When I'm with friends, I'm not going to lie, I love getting hammered with them, either at a bar or even concerts. I am more enamored by my friends and peers more than the booze.

5.) Commit. If I'm at work, I am there to work. I focus on what needs to get done. This level of commitment must be equal to, never less than, to whenever I am not at work. If I set the rules I have to follow them.  When it's my day off, I'm with those that matter to me most.  If I plan on going somewhere doing something, I expect obstacles, distractions, events that may hinder my progress... but that doesn't matter. I'm doing it for the things that matter to me most.

Work hard, play hard. If you can't separate or do not balance this, you can lose perspective.  Know your limits, and the limits of those around you. Never falter, put your foot down about when to work and when to be with those you love. Just draw the line.

Discovery Green: Architects of Air... or a scene from Krull
Trust me on this and check these links out. If you've never know where to start. Start here. Pick a date. Say you are going to go. Just commit.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Business: It's a dirty Job.

I started working in a professional kitchen right before young aspiring cooks had the notion that the best chefs had their own TV shows or that being a chef was like being a rock star.  It's incredulous how much of that glamorous lifestyle is more in fact not so.

The truth is our job is about getting our hands dirty. We spend about a third of our time prepping, a third of our time cooking, and the last third of it cleaning.  More often then one would think but there are days where all we do is just clean. This career involves a lot of manual labor and a lot of refinement.

Before: Years of Neglect
After: Elbow Grease

A cook is responsible for ‘cleaning as they go’. An expression far too familiar for those within the industry since the day they first started. They work, then they clean, they continue to work and then they clean again. Sanitation is important in our industry.  With more and more food allergens discovered and the presence of bacteria and food-born illness’ it is imperative that we must treat every food item with the utmost respect and care.  A lot of cooks know this, but don’t fully understand the importance of this.

After: Twerk Power
Before: Fryer Grease
Cleanliness is a huge sign of professionalism in our industry. It is why I have such a high regard for those Chefs who really know how to keep their kitchens clean. Have you ever stuck your head in the Pass and Provisions? I bet you'll never find a wandering towel on any table or that every stainless steel surface is so well polished. I love stainless steel. Clean stainless steel is Zen!

Bar Keeper Friend does so many wonders.

The simple idea is this.  When the work place is clean and organized, you are able work in peace.  One is more focused and less distracted by all the clutter.  You must create the professional environment in order to succeed. This contributes to a “Professional Mentality”.  There is a new generation of cooks out there that do not understand this virtue.  They have it in their heads that washing dishes is below them or that scrubbing a pot is not their job.  That mentality disgusts me. That mentality does not belong in a kitchen or even in any business.  Many people are in this industry to survive. Remember that.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Exploring Food: Mangalitsa

Mangalista Neck, Nasturtium, Okra Medley, Kimchi Garlic Succotash

I love pork. In this particular instance we will be looking at my most favorite cut of pork from my most favorite species of Pig. The Mangalitza and its collar. As said by many a number of chefs it is important to know where your food comes from. With a little research and some piquing of curiosity, I ask rancher and co-owner of Revival Market, Morgan Weber about this particular species and why it's has become my most favorite pig.

The Story
Paraphrased as such. The Mangalitza is a highly fatty 'rare breed' of pig that once massively farmed in Hungary during the mid 1800's . It was used widely for its lard, when back then was used for a number of household products such as soap, lantern oil, and or equipment lubricants.  Eventually the popularity and the use of the pig started decreasing after the first world war and eventually was replaced by a faster growing pig and when vegetable oils were a cheaper substitute.  Somewhere in the 1990's the pure breed species was rescued from extinction and in 2009 we were blessed to have Morgan Weber, Ryan Pera, Justin Bayse, and Chris Shepherd take the first steps and bringing this magnanimous species to Houston.

The Privilege
-"rare breed" limited availabilty
-High Th level in the meat: The higher the acidity the better the flavor and redness is preserved. The integrity of the animal remains in tact.
-perfect marbling and fat development on interior of the animal.
-locally raised.
-no GMOs

The Preperation

When cleaning the collar it is important to leave some or all of the fat cap on in this cooking application. When ‘dry heat cooking’ meat products, the fat retains the meat products flavor and more importantly its moisture! Having more fat reduces the chances of the product drying out.  In some cases you have to wrap the meat with caul fat helps incredibly.

Brine the pork roughly 24-36 hours pending on the thickness of the meat. If it goes over 36 hours it will become unbearably salty. The act of brining does two things, seasons and infuses flavor inside the product and acts as a preservative of the natural flavor of the product. I never cook pork without brining or curing. Some meat products must be trusted before cooking. It helps retain the meats shape otherwise it'll warp itself.

2 Gallons of water 

1 Cup of kosher salt
2 Cup pineapple juice
thyme, black pepper corns, shallots, garlic, bay leaves

The Cooking: Smoking

Smoking is a delicate thing. It takes years to really understand how it all works.  There are many factors to consider when smoking your meats. To scratch the surface of the idea, things like the temperature of the fire and controlling its consistency for nearly half a day or sometime a whole day. How well seasoned a bbq pit is. How often a pit is used and smoked with the consistent use of one particular wood matters. If one were to add cedar to mesquite wood pit... you'd significant alter the final product and in some cases.. you'd ruin your pit.  So to simplify and save myself a head ache due to open flame restrictions outside my work place, I use an electric smoker one can get an Academy or any sports and outdoor authority.

For this application I smoked with mesquite wood chips the first 2 hours of the smoking. I refilled the chips a 2nd time approximately 45 minutes into smoking.  Why mesquite? Mesquite is a tree found indigenously here in the south. It has been used in making BBQ for years and is part of our southern traditions.  

smoke pork collar roughly about 6 - 7 hours at 215 F or 1.5 Hours / LB

Further Research
If you are interested more about this product and would like to see and learn a little bit more. Check out what else they're doing with Mangalitsa at the Revival Market 550 Height Blvd, Houston, TX. 77007 or visit