Tag Archives: chef

The Bourdain Diaries: Culinary Institute of America

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“CIA is located in the buildings and grounds of a former Jesuit monastery on a Hudson River clifftop, a short cab ride from Poughkeepsie. In my buttoned-up chef’s coat, check pants, neckerchief and standard-issue leatherette knife roll-up, I arrived determined but full of attitude.”

Over spring break I had the wonderful opportunity to get out of the city. My father came to visit me and we decided to rent a car and head to West Point for a spontaneous tour. After our tour, I looked at a map, and to my great surprise I saw the letters “CIA”. Knowing that the Intel headquarters probably not located in small town New York, I suddenly remembered Bourdain’s book “Kitchen Confidential”, and how he mentioned CIA multiple times. Low and behold, I had stumbled upon the culinary institute of America!
Bourdain trained at CIA in 1975, and as he mentions in “Kitchen Confidential” it was a bit different back then. Upon arriving on the campus it truly did seem like any other college campus. Students were running down the paths to their classes, probably late and hungover just as any other campus. Except these students all looked exactly the same – checked pants, white chef’s tops and large paper chef hats.

As I continued to explore the campus the fact that it was in fact a “culinary” college became more and more evident. Instead of pedestrian walkways they had “chef crossing” signs. The ornate stained glass work above the main entrance was a pineapple instead of the stereotypical university insignia. All in all, the place screamed “chefs in training” from every corner of the campus.

Unfortunately, because my dad and I had just miraculously stumbled upon the institute we were unable to procure reservations for any of the official restaurants on campus. However, we were able to eat at the informal Italian café, which served pizzas and paninis.

All of the restaurants on the campus are student led, and it’s really interesting to see how they are progressing and all of the roles of the restaurant industry they must take on at CIA.

Again, because this was the more informal dining selection, the menu choices were not the largest, but they were still interesting. We opted to order cappuccinos, “Procusstio Pizza” and Tiramisu for dessert. To be quite honest, the food was the least exciting part of this trip. Because the chefs were all in training, the food did seem somewhat experimental to me. The pizza had scalloped potatoes on it, and a significant lack of procusstio to my dismay. Also, the tiramisu did not have quite enough solidity or liquor for my taste. In no way, shape, or form would I ever criticize the chefs at CIA, as they are infinitely more talented in the kitchen than I will ever be, and I realize that they are in fact training. The experience overall was really fun, it was especially a unique experience to see what techniques the chefs were vocationally taught in their early years.

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All About the Culture: Tremendous Tapas at Toro

On April 12, 2009, I ate at Toro for the first time. It was Easter, and my family was in South Boston, and my mom had seen it as we drove by. Six years later, and I have met and interviewed Chef Jamie Bissonnette, cooked with a chef who used to work at Toro, and eaten at Toro many, many more times.

Now, a confession: I haven’t actually eaten at Toro NYC (though I have been to the space), Chefs Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer’s latest venture (an offshoot of the original Boston Toro). However, most of the dishes are similar, and I trust these two chefs enough to recommend the New York location. I trust Pete Wells, too, who reviewed Toro NYC for the New York Times and wrote “I can’t remember what we were eating at Toro, the new tapas restaurant in far western Chelsea, when one of the people at my table looked up in wonder….But I remember his smile and his question: ‘How can a place this big have food this good?’”

Wells is right. The food is damn good. When I talked to Bissonnette, he remarked that he thought “good art” (in terms of food) was if someone returned from Toro saying “Oh my god, the food at Toro was so good; I ate too much.”

What he didn’t know is that this has happened every time I’ve gone to Toro. Bissonnette and Oringer have a touch for these Spanish-inspired tapas that is just brilliant. The combinations of flavors showcased on Toro’s instagrams, both Boston and NY, are just brilliant: schnitzel with Serrano, idizabel, mustard, and pea greens. Whipped foie butter with tangerine and chestnut mostarda. The DTF.

Bissonnette also mentioned that a restaurant wasn’t just about the food; “It’s about the dining room, it’s about the culture.” Toro has drawn crowds from its opening night in New York, bringing a young, lively, hip group of eaters to the former Nabisco factory in Chelsea. And while it may be all about the culture, in his mind, it’s all about the food in mine.

I like to think I know a fair amount about food—and I do. But talking to Jamie Bissonnette, it became clear how much I have to learn. I left the Toro NYC space—which is gorgeous—feeling like I knew nothing about food. It wasn’t as if Chef Bissonnette had made me feel stupid; in fact, quite the opposite. However, the way he pulled extremely specific examples—at one point, he cited a “stew of chickpeas, chorizo, and blood sausage” as if that was everyone’s go-to example—from thin air showed a level of expertise with food I can only hope to achieve someday. And it is this expertise which allows him to create such incredible combinations of food, and hire chefs and cooks who will as well.

The food is also incredibly colorful and photogenic. Honestly, I don’t know how they do it. My mind is blown every time I eat there. Here are some of my favorites, all offered at Toro NYC:

Hamburguesas - Grass fed mini burgers with smoked tomato, aioli and pickled red onion
Hamburguesas – Grass fed mini burgers with smoked tomato, aioli and pickled red onion

Oh, these are so good. Small enough so that you don’t get tired. The aioli, tomato, and pickled onion are incredible complements.

Atun Crudo - Yellowfin tuna with white soy, spicy cucumbers, citrus and avocado
Atun Crudo – Yellowfin tuna with white soy, spicy cucumbers, citrus and avocado

Another classic. Sometimes the citrus is yuzu, sometimes it’s lemon, but it’s always good.

Tartar de Atun - Tuna tartare with stuff that we really like
Tartar de Atun – Tuna tartare with stuff that we really like

I can never tell exactly what the “stuff” is, but they’re right to like it.

Pato Con Albaricoque - Smoked duck drumettes with apricot mustard glaze
Pato Con Albaricoque – Smoked duck drumettes with apricot mustard glaze

Sweet, tender, duck-y (duck is my favorite poultry) these were just amazing.

Boquerones - Marinated‎ white anchovies in vinegar and olive oil
Boquerones – Marinated‎ white anchovies in vinegar and olive oil

I’m usually not even a fan of anchovies, so I’m not sure why we ordered these.

I am now a fan of anchovies. These were not fishy or bony, and the spices complemented the fish perfectly.

Patatas Bravas - Fried potatoes with aioli and spicy tomato sauce
Patatas Bravas – Fried potatoes with aioli and spicy tomato sauce

You can’t go wrong with fried potatoes, and even for fried potatoes these are really, really good.

Jamon de Pato - Aged duck ham
Jamon de Pato – Aged duck ham

I’ve never heard of duck ham. This is just plain great.

When I went over spring break, I had one of the most beautiful dishes I’ve eaten in a while: Asado de Huesos; roasted bone marrow, served with oxtail marmalade and toast, with citruses and radishes. At Toro NYC they make this with beef cheek instead of oxtail.

Asado De Huesos - Roasted bone marrow with radish citrus salad and oxtail marmalade
Asado De Huesos – Roasted bone marrow with radish citrus salad and oxtail marmalade

That is just art, both visually and gustatorily.

Chef Bissonnette, Chef Oringer: I don’t know how you do it. But what I do know is this: at your restaurants, you make good art.

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Toro:  

85 10th Ave; (212) 691-2360

Atmosphere: Open, casual, upbeat, young.

Sound Level: Loud.

Recommended Dishes: Hamburguesas, asado de huesos, patatas bravas

Price Range: $$

Hours: 5:30-11 Mon-Wed; 5:30-12 Thurs-Sat; closed Sunday

Reservations: OpenTable

Restaurant Week at Red Rooster Harlem

Marcus Samuelsson is not the first chef who inspired me. However, his story is unique— he is not another restaurant emperor who cooked his (yes, his; it’s a deeply sexist industry) way up through Lyon, Paris, and currently dominates New York with various eponymous eateries. Instead, born in Ethiopia, Samuelsson was adopted to a Swedish family after his birth mother died. After cooking his way through much of Europe, meeting friends and experiencing a surprising amount of death, he ended up in New York, where he became, I believe, Sous Chef and then Chef de Cuisine at Aquavit. He eventually re-opened Red Rooster (long a Harlem staple, but it had been closed for years when Samuelsson rejuvenated it), which I chose as a restaurant week destination.

Red Rooster is known for Southern-inspired food, but Samuelsson has inserted, among other cuisines, Swedish touches. I ordered gravlax, followed by “Helga’s Meatballs,” followed finally by sweet potato donuts with cream.

Lax, or laks, just means salmon in Norwegian. Gravlax is a Scandinavian curing preparation, which involves a cure of sugar, salt, peppercorns, dill, and some other herbs; these are rubbed onto raw salmon, wrapped, and placed under a weight in a cold space for several days. (How do I know? My father makes it every so often; there’s nothing quite like opening the fridge and finding all of the containers piled on top of a hunk of raw fish.) It ends up tasting quite like smoked salmon—but this is not a surprise, considering that smoked salmon, as well, is mostly raw.

I had read about the gravlax at Red Rooster in Samuelsson’s book, Yes, Chef, which I highly recommend. Maybe I’m a bit of an industry sap, but reading about Samuelsson receiving his first knife—this is a big deal for cooks—made me tear up. At any rate, I was excited to try the gravlax, and I wasn’t disappointed.

gravlax with house made green harissa crème fraîche and roasted carrot salad
gravlax with house made green harissa crème fraîche and roasted carrot salad

There could have been more salmon on the plate, but for the most part the dish was very good. The spices on the salmon were unusual and interesting; I believe Samuelsson originally tested many versions and ended up using espresso in the final one. The roasted carrots weren’t mushy, nor were they burnt; in fact, this might have been the most interesting part of the dish. It’s hard to roast carrots perfectly, and these were pretty close to perfection. I have also, recently, become a fan of pickled mustard seeds; the pectin in the seeds creates a very interesting gel, which sticks the seeds together.

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Samuelsson first learned to cook from his grandmother, Helga, for whom the meatballs are named. Of course, there is nothing at all southern about Swedish meatballs with cabbage and lingonberry jam. Anyone who has been to Ikea knows this. The dish was served with mashed potatoes, which added a southern feel, though potatoes are also a Scandinavian staple. The meatballs were lovely; tender in a way that I have never been able to accomplish, with a hint of a taste that was definitely not Italian or Greek (two of the Mediterranean cuisines which can tend toward meatballs).

helga's meatballs, with lingonberries and braised green cabbage
Helga’s meatballs, with lingonberries and braised green cabbage
buttermilk mashed potatoes
Buttermilk mashed potatoes

These were some of the best mashed potatoes I remember having in a long time. Buttery, soft, and smooth; the toppings added a bit of bite and crunch.

And then the doughnuts:

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Red rooster doughnuts – sweet potato filling, cinnamon sugar

Interestingly, I was more fascinated by the whipped cream – which was cold and thick. However, the doughnuts were a dream: soft and light, filled with a sweet potato filling which was not overpowering in the slightest. It was a rich dessert, but also a light one, and so the meal ended on a high note, rather than with all diners weighed down.

Now, the restaurant week experience can differ from the normal experience at a restaurant. The staff was not especially warm at Red Rooster; I suspect this is probably not the case for non-restaurant-week diners. I don’t know how Swedish-leaning the menu is in general. However, the meal was wonderful overall, and I will definitely be returning.

 

Red Rooster: 

310 Malcolm X Blvd; (212) 792-9001

Atmosphere: Open, casual.

Sound Level: Loud.

Recommended Dishes: Helga’s meatballs, Red Rooster doughnuts

Price Range: I went for restaurant week but google says $$$

Hours: Brunch: Sat-Sun 10-3; Dinner: Mon-Thurs 3:30-10:30, Fri-Sat 3:30-11:30, Sun 3:30-10; Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-3

Reservations: OpenTable; not crowded around 5 pm but full soon after.

Ten Years Later, Chang Still Shines

In 2004, David Chang opened his first restaurant: Momofuku Noodle Bar, in the East Village. For the past two years, ever since I saw the first episode of Mind of A Chef (aptly entitled “Noodle”) I have been craving his cuisine. And after two years of making knock-off Chang dishes (read: cooking rice noodles in chicken broth with soy sauce, topping it with scallions and a poached egg), I finally made it down to his restaurant on 1st Ave.

My friend and I arrived at around 9:40 pm on a Saturday night. This was our mistake. If you don’t want to wait at this place (or any of Chang’s restaurants, for that matter) go for lunch on a weekday. As it was, we were told it would be around an hour and a half, so we put our names down and headed over to Momofuku Ssäm bar on 2nd Ave. That wait would be an hour, but we decided to put our names down there too and walk around. Both restaurants texted (they’ve got a pretty snazzy system) about a half hour later and we chose to go to our original goal, Noodle Bar.

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We were seated at the chef’s table, with a perfect view of the kitchen.

Now for the food:

We started off with the famous pork buns. Pork belly, hoisin sauce, scallions, and marinated cucumbers. These guys are famous for a reason. They’re not actually listed on the menu, but they’re a staple of Noodle Bar so one can always order them. The pork is melt-in-your-mouth delicious, and paired with the sweet sauce and tart cucumbers, these buns are a must have at this restaurant.

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Perfection in a bite.

The buns were followed by pea shoots, with chicory, sesame, and a kimchi vinaigrette. I was pleased to see pea shoots on the menu, as they’re one of my favorite greens; the chicory cut into the spiciness of the kimchi with a hint of refreshing sweetness. It was a very clever dish, a take on kimchi that I haven’t seen before.

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I had read that they had brought a long time classic, chicken and rice, back on the menu for a limited time:

Smoked chicken, marinated cucumbers, scallions, and a poached egg over rice.
Smoked chicken, marinated cucumbers, scallions, and a poached egg over rice.

How to eat: like one might with bibimbap, mix everything together so you get a perfect bite in every bite.

This dish was fantastic. The chicken was smoky and moist and the egg was poached perfectly. It is hard to poach eggs in a restaurant setting, to make them consistently perfect. I could see the cook cooking all of the eggs and have to say, he did a marvelous job.

My friend did get noodles, ordering the spicy miso ramen.

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Smoked chicken, poached egg, and sesame.

I thought the dish was good, though the noodles were a bit strange. Sour, perhaps. Momofuku uses the same noodles as Ivan Ramen—Sun Noodle, but these aren’t rye noodles, as far as I know (Ivan’s are). The spinach and nori were both a little bit out of place, in my opinion, but the chicken and the broth were great.

We ordered two desserts: pretzel cake truffles and pb & strawberry sweet cracker soft serve.

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Pretzel cake truffles.
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Pb & strawberry sweet cracker soft serve.

The desserts were both good, not great. Noodle Bar’s forte is not its dessert; despite the fact that the desserts come from the well-known Milk Bar, the options don’t include Milk Bar’s classics, like their crack pie or cereal milk ice cream.

As we were getting ready to leave, Tony Kim, the chef de cuisine, walked by. I shook his hand and thanked him—it’s always a nice touch to thank a chef for his food. A chef’s job is to please you, so it’s always gratifying to know that you’re happy.

All in all: go. It’s fantastic, and a New York staple. Well worth the trip down to the village.

Momofuku Noodle Bar,

171 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003; (212) 777-7773.

Atmosphere: light wood, communal tables, and a loud, open kitchen give the restaurant a friendly, welcoming feel.

Sound Level: Loud.

Recommended Dishes: pork buns, pea shoots, chicken and rice.

Price Range: ~$30 per person for an appetizer, main, and dessert each.

Hours: Sun-Thurs: 12:00-4:30, 5:30-11pm. Fri-Sat: 12-4:30, 5:30-1 am.

Reservations: None, except for the fried chicken dinner. Go for lunch if you don’t want to wait.

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“To me there’s nothing sexier than egg drizzling out.”—Chef Chang