Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Kohler Food and Wine Experience

I have to admit, until this year all I knew about Kohler was that they made some pretty nice toilets and faucets.  I was right.  What I didn't know was that Kohler is also a town in Wisconsin with some serious chefs, foodies and hospitality.  They also throw a party every year (link) and get some of the best chefs in the country to come cook, demo, speak, compete and just party.  This year's lineup included Jacques and Claudine Pepin, Marcus Samuelsson, Jon Ashton, Bruce Sacino, Andrew Zimmern, Marc Stroobandt, myself, and a host of local and regional badasses.  It was an honor to be among the lineup.  Oh, there were also two of the coolest pumpkin carvings I've seen.

My adventure in Kohler started with a sustainable seafood demo.  I spoke to a crowded room in the grand tent about finding, purchasing, sourcing and eating fish that is sustainable.  I made two dishes, "Hiramasa Sashimi with avocado, grapefruit and soy noodles" and "Wild King Salmon with maple-sweet potato hash and red wine syrup."  Both dishes went well and the crowd seemed to really enjoy the presentation.

After the demo, I acted as a judge for the local chef competition.  Myself, Ulrich Koberstein (executive chef of the resort) and Joh Ashton (site) were the three "celebrity" judges.  This competition happens every year among the chefs of the resort and they take it VERY seriously.  It basically means bragging rights among the guys for a year and they basically spend every day together.  I wasn't really sure I wanted this responsibility as I needed their help over the next couple of days to get my demos together.  Didn't want any angry chefs sabotaging my dishes :)

Let me take a minute to talk about Jon.  He is far and away the funniest, most energetic and craziest chef I've met in my life.  I don't know if I could spend every minute of the day with him, but I really appreciate him and think he is someone who will be blowing up in the next few years.  Keep your eyes and ears open...

I had some down time during the weekend, so I was able to check out some of the other chefs' demos.  One of my favorites was Tory Miller of L'Etoile Restaurant in Madison (site).  He did a demo explaining his food philosophy and he used a pig to demonstrate how everything can (and should) be used.  We had some really cool dishes:  house-made sausage, head cheese, pig ear salad, ham....   Everything was delicious and it made it better hearing his story.  Inspiring.  I will definitely be there next time I'm in the state.

Saturday was my luncheon.  I was paired with Marc Stroobandt, the beer master, and Stella Artois, Leffe, and Hoegaarden Beers.  We did three courses:  "Roast Butternut Squash Soup with dungeness crab, local apples, and pecans", "Colorado Baby Striped Bass with pork belly, fingerlings, brussels sprouts, and pomegranate brown butter", and "Star Anise Roast Pear with semolina cake and cardamom ice cream."  The beers worked wonderfully and I learned a few things about sipping them.  Marc was fantastic and everyone had a blast.

That evening we attended an event at the Kohler Design Center.  If for no other reason, the KDC made the entire trip worthwhile.  There were the most amazing tubs, sinks, bathroom/kitchen ideas, and of course the "wall of toilets".  You can't beat that!

The weekend culminated in the "Feast of Talent."  Jacques, Marcus, Andrew, Jon and Ulrich each presented courses.  A perfect ending to a perfect weekend.  I definitely had a blast!


Got on a Midwest Airlines flight (yes, they still serve warm chocolate chip cookies mid-flight) last week and flew to Milwaukee.  I was invited by the Bartolotta Restaurant Group to cook for a "Friends of James Beard" dinner event.  The James Beard (jamesbeard.org) dinner was held at Bacchus Restaurant on Wednesday, October 21st.  The chefs cooking were myself, Stephanie Izard (Top Chef season 4), Adam Seigel (bio), Sandy D'Amato (restaurant), Juan Urbieta (bio), Master Pastry Chef Sebastien Canonne M.O.F., and the world famous Paul Bartolotta (link) - who is my new hero by the way.  Allan Carter of Domaine Serene Winery in Oregon served as the representative for the winery and donated all the wines.  Representing the James Beard Foundation in New York was Vice President Mitchell Davis.  The money raised went tot the James Beard Foundation, and a special culinary scholarship - the T.J. Bartolotta Scholarship, for a Wisconsin resident.

Before hitting the kitchen and getting busy, Bartolotta director of operations, John Wise, took me and Sheila Lucero (Jax Denver head chef) to a little place called Solly's.  It was there that I experienced my first (and hopefully last for a while...) "butterburger".  This vertical heartstopper consisted of a bun, some mayonnaise-based dressing, butter-braised onions, a beef patty, bacon, cheddar, and a massive dollop of butter.  It was the most caloric bite of food i've had in ages.  After that was a stop at Copp's diner for some frozen custard - another Wisconsin favorite.  Then it was off to Sprecher Brewing Company for some of Wisconsin's finest handcrafted beers and (YES!!) root beer.  We followed up the two plus hours of drinking ("sampling") with a tour of the local spice shop and then the cheese market.  The cheese here is no joke.  I had a cheddar flight and it was AWESOME!  I am starting to gain new respect for the cheeseheads.  Done?  NOPE!  We finally checked into the iron horse hotel (where they feature a massive flag made entirely of blue jeans) and threw our bags down.  Prepped for a few hours and then went out to eat (yes, more food...)  John brought us to each of the Bartolotta outposts in the city and the chefs threw down for us big time.

The dinner on Thursday went really really well.  First course was my king salmon with porcini, pear and celery root.  Next, Paul and Juan served up crepes with Italian alpine cheeses and tons of fresh white truffles.  Steph followed up with scallops, smoked goat, greens, and huckleberry.  Then it was Sandy's squab borscht and pierogi.  Last course was Sebastien's amazing dessert which I can't spell or pronounce but amazing nonetheless.  The most incredible part about the dinner was how organized and serious the entire staff was.  They even had a closed circuit TV system in the restaurant showing the diners every move of the kitchen crew.  There was a little ceremony afterwards and they presented each of the chefs with a HARLEY DAVIDSON JACKET!  Now I need to get a bike to match the leather.  We all retired to the basement where Adam and the rest of the crew put together a fantastic family meal.  We ate, drank, and listened to Paul tell the funniest stories about anything and everything.  Then it was time to hit the casino....  I don't need to go into more detail, but suffice to say it was a wonderfully fantastic experience.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


So this is a tough subject for me but something that is dominating my life right now.  My father was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer about two weeks before I was picked for Top Chef.  He hasn't smoked a cigarette since he was 21.  He didn't know anything was wrong until his back started hurting.  When cancer metastasizes, it spreads to other organs in the body.  In his case it spread to a weak spot on his spine where he had previously had surgery.  It's in his lyph nodes as well.  In the past 16 months I've watched a strong, healthy, happy man with a full head of hair and a big bushy beard transform into someone else.  He still has his wit, humor, musical talent, voice, intelligence, and love.  What he has lost is his hair, beard, ability to walk, appetite, muscles, and freedom.  It's a terrible thing to watch and I wish I could explain how surreal it is to watch this happen to someone so quickly.
Thank god for Robin.  Robin and my father have been married for 21 years and she is a saint.  Her days are spent taking care of my dad and making sure he is eating, sleeping, and getting the best possible care.  I don't want to think about what it would be like for him right now if it wasn't for her.  She isn't the only one helping him though.  A lot of my father's friends have been to the house to help or just visit and share stories and songs.
There are also countless people involved with cancer research and awareness who have been invaluable.  One of the most helpful has been Neighbors Helping Neighbors.  This is a charitable non-profit organization who helps families in crisis.  They have been helping my dad's community since 1998.  When he was first diagnosed with cancer they knew what a financial challenge awaited.  NHN immediately organized a fund raiser to help support the family, pay for medicines and procedures that were not covered by insurance and help with traveling expenses and accommodations to cancer centers in Colorado Springs and Denver.  A year later, they are still there for us, helping in any way they can.  They have volunteers who have brought him meals and sat and cared for Ed so that Robin could get a break.  
My parents have never had much money.  They live simply in a modest house in the mountains.  It has always been enough for them.  But when something like this comes along, it can take everything.  So Neighbors Helping Neighbors and Brent's Place in Denver are among the many organizations making it possible for people like my dad to have a shot at beating this awful disease.
I'm not writing this for sympathy or to ask for anything.  It is simply a way for me to talk about what is happening in my life.  There have been so many people who have reached out to me and my family to offer assistance, a prayer, etc.  Thank you all for your heartfelt well wishes.
I never feel comfortable asking for money either.  But, in this situation, there is an exception.  If anyone out there is wanting to help out, NHN is currently excepting funds which will help pay for  my dad's accommodations at Brent's Place for the next year of chemo and trial drug treatments.  Please mark donation for the Rosenberg fund.

Neighbors Helping Neighbors
PO Box 822
Crestone, Co. 81131
Linda Kucin - President
501C3 Tax Exempt # 84-1471842

These pictures are from March 9th (his 70th birthday) and September 13th, respectively:

March of Dimes

The March of Dimes is one of my favorite charities to work with - click here to read about them.
Every year the March of Dimes puts on a really wonderful event in Boulder (and many locations in Colorado and elsewhere) called Signature Chefs.  This foodie friendly gathering is a giant fundraiser for MOD where the best chefs from the area come together with samples of food that are paired with wine and beer.  The chefs and restaurateurs donate all of their time and food so the foundation can sell tickets and use all of the money for their amazing work.  I've been doing this event for the past 12 years and I've represented 5 different restaurants during that span.  It's not only a great cause, but it's fun.  As chefs we never get to be working together, at the same time, in the same place.  It's a lot of fun because we all know each other but we rarely get to cook and show off to each other.
As the Jax chef, I ALWAYS bring oysters.  They are the one thing people demand of us.  If I showed up with shrimp wrapped in hundred dollar bills being served by supermodels but no oysters, there would be a riot.  So...the oysters were served with a cucumber-chile mignonette.  I also brought poached shrimp with creole remoulade and Alaskan wild king salmon with celery root-pear puree and porcini mushrooms.  Vince, Aaron and Nate helped me out and everything was as smooth as that tequila we kept sipping from the Centro table (sorry Devlin!)
Now for the funny part.
As a representative of MOD, they asked me to promote the event Thursday morning (day of event) on Fox 31 and KWGN 2 television stations.  I had just driven back into town the night before and was exhausted.  I got up at 5:30 am, drove to Jax, and started prepping some samples for the shows.  I got it all going, made some coffee, checked emails, and was generally moving slowly.  All of a sudden I realized I had 45 minutes to get to the studio (they needed me there at 7:45).  I started freaking out and packed up as quickly as possible.  Of course the traffic was the most clogged it had been in centuries.  I hopped on the HOV lane (yeah, just me) and did my best to beat the clock.  When I finally got to the block where the stations are - 20 minutes late at this point - I took the wrong turn.  All of a sudden I'm on a one-way street heading the wrong way.  After a few near wrecks and a lot of angry drivers saying things to me I can't repeat, I finally found the building.  As I raced in the front door, my friends at the station gently reminded me I had LESS THAN 5 MINUTES before I was on the air.  When I got to the studio, I put together three dishes faster than anything I did on Top Chef.  The sound guy was wiring me as the camera was turning towards me.  The interview/demo went great, despite being out of breath and sweat beads forming on my forehead.  If I had run into one more snag on my way, the spot never would have happened.  Talk about pushing time limits....
Anyway.  The event was a success.  The TV spots were a success.  The food was all eaten.  And now there are more happy healthy babies being born with the assistance they need.  All good stuff.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Montana Master Chefs

Don't be fooled by the title.  I am not officially a "master chef," but it sounds pretty cool.

MMC is a culinary weekend set in one of the most beautifully remote places in the country.  I was invited by the crew organizers at Paws Up Resort and the mirthful John Romfo.  I have been looking forward to this event for some time, as I was invited in March.  Stephanie Izard (Top Chef Season 4) had told me it was one of her favorite events of the year.  I was asked to put together a dinner with Stephanie where we paired our courses with some of Stag Leap's finest wines.  Not the worst mission I've ever been tasked.  The dinner was to be followed by an "Iron Chef" style cook-off the following day.  So all I had to plan was the dinner and figure out if I wanted to fly fish, shoot skeet, ride horses, atv, hunt mushrooms, just relax, or all of the above.  Again....not the worst thing I've gotten myself into this year.

I flew out last Thursday in a VERY small airplane.   This was one of those rides where we had to move seats until the plane was balanced.  It was a really cool ride, however, as we flew fairly low over the newly-snow-dusted Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.  When I arrived, I was picked up at gate 2 of 2 in Missoula Airport by Brandon (one of the MANY incredibly happy-to-please employees) and rode in with John of Frog's Leap Winery.

I met up with Stephanie and her sous chef Dave and we did some prep work for the dinner the following day.  That night we attended the Frog's Leap wine dinner cooked by Wes Coffel of Paws Up.  The meal and wine were both killer but the highlight was the stories told by John.  My favorite quote of the night was, "wine is like people:  if you're ugly when you're young, you'll be ugly when you mature!"  Quips like that kept the room in stitches all night.

Dinner was followed by even more wine consumption back at the massive cabin Steph, Dave and I were staying in for the weekend.  The snow started dumping and we dipped into the hot tub.  Let me tell you, if you've never soaked in a hot tub surrounded by wilderness with snowflakes falling, you haven't lived!

Friday was our big dinner with Stags Leap Winery.  We ended up prepping and serving 7 courses with 6 wines.  The condensed menu:  1) dungeness crab trio with avocado panna cotta, fennel pollen and citrus;  2) seared squab breast and braised leg with squash and shrimp hash;  3) braised pork belly with brussels sprouts, fingerlings, and pomegranate brown butter;  4) local elk with kohlrabi and smoked apple butter  5) local bison with porcini crust, sunchoke puree, local foraged mushrooms, and huckleberry demi glace;  6)  smokey blue cheese with caramelized honey and bacon breadcrumbs;  7) chocolate cake with frozen nougat, peach, and red wine caramel.

The dinner was very well received.  One of the invited chefs was Kent Rathbun.  When he had the pork belly he winked at me and gave me the thumbs up.  He was either asking me for a date or loved the dish.  I'm going with the latter.   I felt so good about the success of our dinner that I may have celebrated a little too much that night.  More wine...more hot tubbing...and not enough sleep....

Saturday morning I was supposed to go fly fishing on the Blackfoot River with the guides at Paws Up.  Between the 2 hours of sleep, the headache, and the fact that it was six below zero that morning, I didn't make it to the shove-off at 8am.  I felt terrible.  I not only made the reservation to fish with these guys, met them and talked fish the day before, but I knew my buddies back in Boulder were going to give me a very hard time for not going out.  Oops.

Later that afternoon, after a power nap, Stephanie and I made our way to the refurbished cattle auction that housed the chef competition.  We had to act as advisors to the two couples that competed in the first round.  I was happy to lend a hand and not be on stage that first round as it gave my shaking hands time to settle (and they weren't shaking from the nerves...it was the lack of sleep and the alcohol poisoning).  Our "Iron Chef" style battle included eggs as the secret ingredient and we had 20 minutes to make a dish.  I beat her with the trivia question and had the advantage of choosing which variety of eggs we would each use.  I tried to be nice by not making Steph use the black eggs (Chinese 100 year eggs as they're called) and just gave her the pickled eggs.  I used caviar on some oysters as a first course and followed up with "steak and eggs" - filet mignon with bacon-chile hash, poached quail eggs, and brown butter hollandaise.  Steph threw together some bowl of who-knows-what that she couldn't even describe.  I think the judges were so surprised that she pulled together something edible considering her mood and the presentation that they gave her the win.  Total score:  135 to 134.  So close.....

her messy station

We celebrated one more night and had a blast.  Overall the experience was fantastic and I feel like I definitely made some new friends.  I hope to be back soon and I think there is already something in the works for the spring.  I can't wait.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Today we took a field trip to Timeless Travel Trailers in Wheat Ridge, CO.  They are a one-of-a-kind trailer refurbishing and customizing company specializing in vintage units.  The owner, Brett Hall gave us a great tour of the facility and showed us what they can do.  I didn't want to leave the warehouse.  He had all kinds of old and new trailers (almost all Airstreams) in every state of build-out you can imagine.  I felt like a little kid surrounded by toy cars.  Only these toys cost up to $250,000.  We were there to find out what it would take to convert a 23 foot Airstream into a mobile kitchen.  Turns out Brett and his crew are experts at this and all it takes is a trailer and a little (OK, a lot) of cash.  He has built Airstreams into everything from tiny coffee shops to massive movie-set catering trailers.  It looks like there may be something with my name on it coming out of this warehouse one of these days....

my new bacon air freshner

nuff said

thanks ash!


Big thanks to my boys at Old Style Sausage for the killer seats at Sunday's game at Mile High!  The Broncos took it to the Cowboys and are now 4-0.  What a great game.  Came down to the last few seconds.  And we saw Brandon Marshall bring in the winning TD right in front of us.  Gotta plug Old Style (not just because their name is so cool).  They make everything in house and their product is amazing.  They make the best Andouille around, amazing chorizo, and any custom sausage you might need.  If you call them, ask for Mike or Scott and tell them that I sent you.  Great for restaurants or your back yard.  They are in Louisville, CO, so if you're in Colorado definitely check them out!  303-666-8240