Tuesday, December 22, 2009

San Fran - Day 3

Another gorgeous day in the city.

I make my way down Market towards the Ferry Building.  It's Saturday and the farmer's market is going strong.  As I make my way through the stalls and tables it's very clear to me I'm not in Colorado anymore.  The food available in the end of autumn in amazing here.  The selection of vegetables and fruit is just spectacular for this time of year.  Back home, we're down to roots, a few hearty greens and some onions and potatoes.  It's a strong argument as a chef to want to live here.  California is certainly a fertile place with a virtual year-long growing season.

Not only am I amazed with the selection of produce - persimmons, Buddha's hand, lots of fresh greens, root vegetables, fruit - but also with all of the prepared foods available.  There are pizza stands, dessert carts, sandwiches galore, vegan meals, rotisserie chicken trucks, coffee stands, and everything in between.  I sample a few bites, took a lot of pictures, and then make my way inside the building.
Three of my favorite places in SF are in the Ferry Building:  Slanted Door, Hog Island Oyster Co., and Boulette's Larder.  Each one unique and each one spectacular.  I stop into the Larder just to see what they are cooking up, then walk through Hog Island, and finally take an outside table at the Slanted Door.  My first course is by far the best of the meal:  crispy hamachi collar.  It is a huge chunk of collar from one side of the fish, crispy on the outside and perfectly cooked, served with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce and a salad of green papaya.  I watch the boats sail past the docks as I enjoy every morsel.  A few more courses and it is time to go.

Tonight is the big event.  The reason for my trip:  Simply The Best Dinner Gala IV.  This annual event is organized by the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation (link).  Bonnie is a lung cancer survivor and she has made it her life's mission to help end the disease.  I have personal reasons for wanting to do whatever I can to help, as my father is currently battling the disease.  He is among the more than 25% of lung cancer patients who never smoked cigarettes.  The group is strong, big, and well funded.  They are doing so much for the cause and I hope to add my little bit of strength to an already strong movement.
The dinner is held at the Farimont Hotel, a regal monument at the top of Nob Hill.  Everything at the Faimont is luxurious, including the life-sized gingerbread house that you can walk through.
The dinner is held in the ballroom with over 500 people in attendance.  There are a number of presentations by doctors, survivors, an auctioneer, and an amazing opera performance by Zheng Cao, a stage IV survivor.  I was asked to design the menu for the evening, and with Chef James's help, put out a room full of beautiful food.  First course was Dungeness crab with citrus and fennel pollen.  Second was buffalo tenderloin with sunchoke and blackberry.  Third was a chocolate and espresso mousse.  The dinner was followed by an auction, where yours truly was sold off for a whopping $9000.

I am glad to be helping in any way I can.  As evidenced by Bonnie's actions, there is always more a person can do.  I am encouraged by her strength and by the hopeful words from so many of the doctors in attendance that there is hope for everyone with this terrible disease (and all cancer patients everywhere).  It's a long, heavy road, but one that many of us must take at some point in our lives.  Thanks to the help of so many generous strangers, there are some good endings to some of these stories.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

San Fran - Day 2

Today is a great day to walk around the city.  It's warm, the sun is out, and I've finally got some energy again.
I take Market south and zig-zag my way towards the center of the peninsula.  I slowly but deliberately make my way to Absinthe Brasserie and Bar.  The chef of Absinthe is a petite tatoo-covered little firecracker named Jamie Lauren.  I know Jamie well, as we lived together for six weeks a year ago filming Top Chef.  It's my first time to her place and I'm very excited.  It's a classic brasserie - huge wooden bar with mirrors, french poster art on the walls, a great cocktail list, and a fantastic menu featuring a huge list of cheeses, local meats and vegetables, and of course, onion soup.

I take a seat at the well-worn bar and ask if Jamie's around.  She happens to be speaking to a large table in the back dining room about Top Chef.  I make a surprise appearance and the table seems to really be enjoying themselves.  We snap a few pics and then I sit down to eat.
Jamie hooks me up with the best french onion soup I've ever eaten and then I move on to the sandwich that really caught my eye:  pork confit.  It's pork shoulder (I think) slow-cooked in it's own fat.  Nestled on crusty rustic bread with arugula and onions, it's just what I was looking for.
It's Friday and Jamie's got to get back into the kitchen and get ready for service.  I make my way back towards my hotel.

Tonight my dear friend Judy and her friends are doing a little dinner for me.  They are really having a good time with it and even print menus.  I certainly enjoy watching them take their time with the duck legs and fig tart.  When asked how they would do on a show, I tell them they're both fired for taking too long!

Dinner turns out great.  We start with some amazing fresh bread from Tartine (link), cheeses, and prosciutto.  First course is seared scallops with truffle cream.  Second is roast duck legs with fresh cherries and port, and dessert is a fig galette with homemade ice cream.  We also happen to polish about 16 bottles of great wine.  So needless to say, dinner is a success.

We all go out to dance off some of the calories and alcohol now dominating our systems.  Great fun, great food, and another great night to remember...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

San Fran - Day 1

It's a long flight from New York to San Francisco.  Especially when you're a little hung over and a lot full from too much eating the night before.  The only thing that makes it a little nicer is when you're in first class.  Yeah baby!

I land in the afternoon and get set up in my awesome room at the Ritz Carlton Residences.  I am a guest of the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation (link) and they were kind enough to set me up with the room and flight.

The room - or should I say apartment - is amazing.  Very comfortable, very large and very luxurious.  And the view is awesome.
I am in San Francisco to design the menu and help serve 500 guests for the forth annual "Simply The Best Dinner Gala" held at the Fairmont Hotel.  But tonight I'm not cooking, I'm eating again.
I meet a few friends at Osha for some good.  Frankly I'm so tired from the travel and the previous night, I barely remember what I eat.  There's a group of about 10 and we're sharing food.  I know I like everything, but that's about it :)
Time to sleep in my giant bed and get some rest for a more productive day...

Friday, December 18, 2009

NYC - Day 3.5

First and foremost.... for those of you following my blogs, I apologize about the delay since my last entry.  I was quite sick for the beginning of the month and have been dealing with some personal and family things since...

SO, after filming the Martha Stewart Show, I was taken on what can certainly be called my coolest food adventure in the city.  My friends Alexia and Danielle took me on a tour of everything from street truck food to molecular gastronomy out of a closet.  I think we all gained about 25 pounds in one day, but it was well worth it....

The list (in order):

Motorino Pizza (here) - killer brussels sprouts pizza with pancetta and a very nice soppresatta picante

Momofuku Ssam Bar (here) - "those" steamed pork belly buns, hamachi, pork & apples, crispy thingies...

Momofuku Milk Bar - cereal milk, candy bar pie, eyes wide open

Tacos El Idolo - cheesy, melty, yummy street tacos

The Cupcake Stop (here) - an assortment of mini cupcakes... my fave was the carrot cake

Sun Sai Kai - old school chinatown pork buns, coconut buns

Bahn Mi Saigon Bakery - spicy pork bahn mi

Pickle Guys (here) - so cool!  awesome pickles... you name it, they pickle it

Prune Restaruant (here) - great cocktails and a ton of offal dishes (monkfish liver, beef heart, sweetbreads...)

Katz Delicatessen (here) - nyc iconic deli, huge, pictures of celebrities everywhere... and the best damn pastrami anywhere...

Doughnut Plant (here) - yum! yum! yum! cause everybody needs creme brulee, tres leches, and blackout chocolate doughnuts - sorry no photo :(

Laboratorio Del Gelato (here) - cause everybody should try gelato made with liquid nitrogen in front of your eyes.... just make a smart flavor choice... some are better than others!

Astor Center (here) - watched top chef with padma, tom, daniel boulud, kevin, etc....

Pat La Frieda Meats (here) - got a tour at 2am of the coolest (and highest regarded) wholesale butcher in the city.... even toured the dry aging room... cool...

What a day!  I am satiated, full, tipsy, and a little overwhelmed.  Once again feeling like that small town boy who got in over his head... or his stomach...

Tomorrow morning it's off to San Francisco.
Good bye New York and thank you!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

NYC - Day 3

Rise and shine!
The big day arrives.  I'm up at 5:45am (3:45 Colorado time if you're counting) to shower, get dressed, and find a large cup of coffee before I make my way to the Martha Stewart Show.  Outside of the hotel I notice a fleet of idling shiny black cars.  I ask the door man if one of them is for me.  He states, with a wry smile, that the line of cars is for the thirty Victoria's Secret models who also happen to be staying at the Hudson Hotel.  They are doing a lingerie shoot and should be making their way outside soon.

Do I cancel on Martha so I can meet & greet the models (and make plans to cook for them at a later date) or do I get in my stupid car and head to west 26th street....

After the fantasy runs it's course, I clear my head and get into the car.
The studio isn't just a studio.  It's a fortress.  First I have to make my way through security, a metal detector,  and a maze of hallways and stairways.  I get to the "green room" and notice the adjacent room has her NINE emmy awards lined up.  Not too shabby.

I get the rundown and check out the stage.  Martha not only has the stage kitchen where we assemble the food, but also has a massive prep kitchen that puts most restaurant setups to shame.  I envy the crew that gets to work in there.  What a fun job.  They also happen to be some of the nicest people I've met in the city.  They have already prepped out my food - in multiple stages.  All I have to do is talk Martha through the two dishes and pretend to cook it all.  The audience piles in and it's SHOWTIME!

I'm introduced and walk down the stairs (that lead to nothing by the way) onto the stage.  Apparently I'm the first chef to make that entrance...so I've got that going for me...  We chit-chat and make two dishes:  Cauliflower Puree and Root Vegetable Gratin.  The theme is Holiday Side Dishes and it's just before Thanksgiving.  We talk about a few different things and make the food.  It all comes out fine and I think it's successful.  I still haven't actually watched the video yet, but my friends all said it went great.
Tried to get a photo with her, but it just wasn't in the cards.
I head out and back into Manhattan.  Now it's time for some food...