3 Ways to Use Heat More Efficiently in the Kitchen

Awesome article in the New York Times today about the use — and misuse — of heat while cooking, including several excellent tips for being more efficient (and effective) when using the stove. Some are obvious, others less so. Here’s three top takeaways:

1) Cover your pot when heating water to the boil.

Turning water into steam takes a lot of energy, and every molecule that flies away from the water surface takes all that energy with it into the air. Prevent its escape, and the energy stays with the pot to heat the rest of the water.

2) Uncover your pot when trying to maintain a simmer. Ditto when slow-cooking meat in an oven.

Even in an oven set as low as 225 or 250 degrees, if the pot is covered, the contents will reach the boil, and the meat will overcook and dry out. Leave the lid ajar or off, and evaporation of the cooking liquid cools the pot and moderates the meat temperature, keeping it closer to 160 to 180 degrees. This is hot enough to soften the connective tissue in a few hours without also driving out most of the meat’s moisture.

3) Using two different levels of heat on meat is better than one constant one.

It takes time for heat to move inward from the surface to the center, so the default method is to fry or grill or broil and hope that the browning time equals the heat-through time. Even if that math works out, the area between the center and surface will then range in temperature between 130 and 400 degrees. The meat will be overcooked everywhere but right at the center.

The solution is to cook with more than one level of heat. Start with very cold meat and very high heat to get the surface browned as quickly as possible with minimal cooking inside; then switch to very low heat to cook the interior gently and evenly, leaving it moist and tender.


Cassoulet a la Lux

Here is my own variation on cassoulet, the classic French winter casserole. It’s strongly influenced by the Bourdain version in his Les Halles cookbook but I’ve made some changes to suit my own tastes. For example, the lingering ghosts of my kosher upbringing pushed me towards creating a version of cassoulet with as little pork as possible – if you used beef bacon, this dish could even be entirely pork-free. If you are a fan of the pig, then feel free to ignore my pork hang-ups and use pork sausage and/or pork shoulder instead of the lamb. The French have a number of variations on this dish, so don’t consider the choice of meats set in stone. They’re not.

Cassoulet is not a difficult dish to make. Its biggest challenges are sourcing the ingredients and the fact that it takes several days to put this dish together. If you have access to a good local specialty store (or plan far enough ahead to buy what you need online) and a little patience, your reward will be a hearty dish full of flavor, comforting and festive.

INGREDIENTS

1 lb white Tarbais beans
4 good-quality sausages (any meat you like)
4 duck legs confit
1/2 to 3/4 lb thick-cut bacon
1 lb boneless lamb (shoulder or leg), cut into cubes
2 tablespoons rendered duck fat
1 sprig of fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
3 bay leaves
1 carrot, peeled and roughly-chopped
1 roughly-chopped onion
6 whole cloves
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
8 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 thinly-sliced onion
1/4 cup dry white wine

PREPARATION

Day 1:
Bean Prep

Place the beans in a bowl, completely cover with cool water. These beans are thirsty so don’t be meager with the water. Fill the bowl until there’s about 2” of water above the beans. Soak overnight.

Day 2:
Pre-Cooking and Assembly

Drain and rinse the beans. Place the beans in a large pot and cover with cold water. Cut 3 strips of bacon into 2-inch pieces. Make a bouquet garni for the herbs (not required, but helpful). Add the thyme, bay leaves, carrot, onion, cloves, tomato paste, salt, pepper, and bacon to the pot. Bring to a boil on high heat. Once it’s boiling, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 45-60 minutes, until the beans are tender but not mushy. Turn off the heat and let the beans cool in the liquid for about 20 minutes. This helps keep the beans from losing their skins.

Here’s my pot, before the heat went on:

Bean Prep

Strain the beans into a colander with a bowl underneath to collect the cooking liquid. Remove and discard the bacon, bouquet garni and vegetables. Save this bean liquid. You’ll need it later on.

Next, pre-cook the meats.

Before:

Tasty Meats

In process:

Browning Stage

Put the duck confit in a sauté pan over low heat to melt the fat. Remove the duck pieces, drain on paper towels, add the rest of the duck fat, and turn up the heat to medium-high. Sear the lamb pieces on all sides until golden brown, and then put them on the plate with the duck. Next, the sausages go into the pan. I keep the sausage skins on for a little extra texture, but you may want to remove them. Brown them, then add to the pile of meats to drain.

Finally, lower the heat to medium, and put the sliced garlic and onions into the pan. Cook until golden brown and translucent. Deglaze the pan with the white wine. Strain the pan liquids and pour them into a blender with the garlic and onion. Puree until smooth.

Debone the duck legs and break the duck meat into smaller pieces for easier eating. Also, slice the sausages, ditto ditto. You don’t have to do this, but it definitely makes the dish easier to serve and eat if you do.

Now, it’s time to bring all these elements together into one glorious whole.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place bacon slices on the bottom of a deep, heavy, ovenproof casserole dish (8 quart, enameled cast iron is best), slightly overlapping them. Cover the bacon with a layer of beans, then a layer of sausages, more beans, then the lamb, then beans, then the duck, then more beans. Add a little of the garlic/onion/fat puree between each layer.

It will look something like this:

Assembling the cassoulet

Finally, pour on enough of the bean cooking liquid to cover the beans. Make sure to save about 3/4 cup of the bean juice for basting during the final cooking. Bake for 90 minutes. Remove from the oven, let it cool, cover and refrigerate overnight.

At the end of Day 2

Day 3:
From Oven to Table

Let the cassoulet and the basting liquid come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, uncover the cassoulet, and put it into the oven. Bake for one hour. Then break the crust with a spoon and baste with the remaining bean juice. Bake for approximately another 15 minutes, until the top has become crusty and golden brown.

Remove from oven and serve.

The Finished Product

Yum!

NOTES

  • It’s better to avoid the fancy flavor-smoked bacons for this dish. Definitely buy thick-cut, though.
  • If you can’t find Tarbais beans in your local specialty store and don’t want to buy them online, flageolets or similar white beans will work too.
  • Rendered duck fat adds an amazing flavor to food, which is why you use it. If you can find duck confit locally you should also be able to find duck fat as well. If not, it’s available online.
  • I use Aidells Artichoke and Garlic sausage, but as I said above, suit your own tastes. Just make sure you buy decent-quality stuff.

New Kitchen Toy

The day before Xmas, I was browsing in a local shop called Ichiban Kan. It’s basically a Japanese version of the Dollar Store. At any rate, I found this little baby there for just $1.75.

Mini-Mandoline

It’s absolutely fabulous for slicing garlic. I’ll probably find some other uses for it as well as time goes on, but even if I don’t, for the price, how could I resist?

The garlic was part of the prep for a three-day cassoulet I’m working on. I’ll do a full blog post on that when it’s finished.


Mom’s Oatmeal Lace Cookies

These are great, easy party cookies that I’ve been making since I was a kid. The hardest part was keeping them in one piece: they are fragile and break easily if not handled gently. Probably not the best cookie to make if you’re sending cookies or traveling with them.

If you do lose a few to breakage, that’s OK: these cookies also make a fantastic topping for ice cream.

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups oatmeal (preferably not the instant kind)
2 1/4 cups light brown sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) melted butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Put the oatmeal, sugar, flour, and salt into a medium-large mixing bowl. Add the melted butter and stir well, then mix in the egg and vanilla. Blend well.

Place teaspoon-sized balls of the dough onto cookie sheets. Leave at least 2 inches between each piece, these cookies spread a lot while baking.

Bake for 7 minutes or until the cookies are light brown.

Notes

  • These cookies tend to stick to the tray unless you either use a Silpat baking mat or grease the trays. Waiting for the cookies to cool a bit before pulling them off the cookie tray also helps get them off without breaking.
  • If you really want to go for sugar overload, add chocolate: drizzle a little melted chocolate on top of the cookies, or even go all-out and dip the cookies into melted chocolate.

Bourdain and Ripert Cook at Les Halles – Joyeux Noel!

Friends don’t let friends drive drunk, but even better friends don’t let friends go to Les Halles alone. So my good friend Susan, after a careful analysis of this New York magazine article, had really only one injunction: “FIND OUT WHEN!!”

When, indeed, might Monsieur Bourdain once more be taking up his mighty sauteuse and cooking at Les Halles – with Eric Ripert? For an episode of No Reservations? And a full dinner service, no less? Zut alors! What was he thinking? That, yes, despite – oh, about five years away from the stove – you CAN go home again? That you can survive a full, hard-on rush hour without collapsing into the cassoulet? That, even with your knees popping like rice cakes on a fandango dance floor, you CAN crank out a respectable 250 or slamming 350 covers a night, like you used to? Well . . . yeah. Why not? . But I guess we’ll just have to watch the show to be sure.

What I was sure about, however, was that Team Tony was in the house. Scoring a table right at the back with a partial view through the glass partition enclosing the kitchen, the first famous face the unsuspecting diners saw was none other than Eric Ripert, manfully working the grill station at the very front, with Todd Liebler and his camera hanging over his shoulder, and what appeared to be a black knit cap mashing Ripert’s hair . . . and towards the back, on sauté, was Tony. With a black knit cap mashing his hair. Mon Dieu!, I am thinking – what ees zees? Ze Creeps and ze Bloods are wearing zere coleurs? Apparently so.

ripert2

tonykitchen

kitchenaction

Ahhh, now this set-up required some Strategic Eating. Clearly, one of our party of three would be ordering steak, and the other two something off the saute station, in the hope of improving the odds of getting something actually cooked by either Ripert or Bourdain. Hmmmmmm. Au revoir to Les Assiettes. Adieu to La Rôtissoire. A bien tôt to Am – no, wait! Do I detect foie gras on the Amuse-Gueles menu? Foie gras that gets . . . sautéed?

http://www.leshalles.net/menus/LHP_Dinner.pdf

Obviously, the assault on the menu would demand the cunning of a Borgia pope so, savagely disregarding anything involving garde mange, we laid siege to saute with three orders of Foie Gras Poëlé aux Pommes:

foie2

with a stealth attack on the Boudin aux Pommes:

boudin

before – gasp! – a strategic error! The cassoulet Toulousain, not the Hamburger Rossini! (Mais non, non, non – not a two-day dish! Ầ la minute! From sauté!) Oh, well. There were sentimental reasons involved here. (NONE of them mine.)

cassoulet

Recovering quickly, our third Musketeer sized up the grill station carefully and scored a bull’s eye with a stunning Paleron (flat iron steak) with Béarnaise, prepared to order. Yes, by Chef Ripert:

steak

Up to this point, the dining room pretended to ignore the sight of Todd, this time out among us, pointing a very large camera lens into their dinners, while the wait staff pretended to ignore a very large teal box on the empty seat at our table – both with minimal success. Understanding that I was (despite my clear grasp of the situation and usually much better judgment), about to enter the world of dorkdom, I put the wait staff out of their misery and dispatched the Bûche de Noël in a Big Blue Box back to the kitchen, and hoped the diversion would last long enough for me to squeeze off some shots of Ripert through the glass without either the whole floor or Ripert noticing. Now, THAT part worked:

It began with a Bûche de Noël:

buchedenoel

that became a Bûche in a Box:

bucheinabox2

that became a Bûche in a Big Blue Box (well, teal, actually, but it ruins my alliteration):

bucheinabigbluebox

Okay, so it’s out there, now. The fact that I had stupefying stunads to present two professional chefs – one half-French, the other full French, yet – with a Bûche at the height of dinner service, and – incroyable!- I did so after schlepping the damn thing on the subway. During rush hour. In both directions. But this is New York. Only the strong survive. (On Valium.)

todd2

todd1

(Charmingly, Todd tried to use this darling little boy as a tripod, except his mom is one of the producers. And, by now, the camera phones were going off.)

Fortunately, before Todd could get busted for child abuse or violating child labor laws, the mâitre d’, Frederic Larrieu, came by with a waiter, Tim, in tow, and gladly started accepting bets as to how long the self-styled Mr. Softy Palms would last before he found himself in the weeds:

fredericandtim

And the answer was – he didn’t. Food arrived swiftly and steadily, all throughout, with Ripert so serene he took time to mug at the foodies shooting him with camera phones (and playfully sticking his tongue out at one slim blonde who forgot to turn off her flash), and Bourdain, while intense, never missing a beat; pivoting left and then right, in a controlled blur, fast enough to escape a shutter, but not so fast he wasted any movement, from station to lowboy to the tickets. Was he expediting? I cannot say. He was reading tickets. And, yes, he was cooking. Just for the camera? Again, I cannot say. But long after Todd shot the A roll (main shots) and a second cameraman (Zac?) shot B roll from the corridor leading into the kitchen, Bourdain was working the station.

Several Cosmos later, we were greeted by the sudden appearance of not only Larrieu coming to set my dessert on fire, but Todd – back with a vengeance! And back – for my crêpes Suzette! Ahhh, je comprends! My lovely crêpe has been selected as a stunt crêpe, and it is ready for it’s close-up, Mr. DeMille!

crepes

So, naturellement, M’sieur Larrieu is talking up the process and adding big gobs of butter to the crepe pan (because you can never have too much butter, mes enfants), and Mitchell’s silky bananes flambées also drew Todd’s wandering eye:

bananasfoster

and there was much soft snuffling of happy wee diners all around. But, of course, could we be smart enough, once, to leave well enough alone? To waft away, replete with the unctuous goodness of flaming desserts and smelling vaguely of gently cooked sugar, and just GO HOME? Of course not. Worried that the Ripert-through-the-glass shots were out of focus (well, so was I), we made a final foray to the glass partition, now mobbed by camera phone-carrying yuppies flash-bombing Ripert, only to come face-to-face with the ubiquitous Todd, gesticulating at us. Was he saying, “Get out of the shot”? No. “I am shooting”? No . . . not quite. “I am shooting you shooting Ripert. Is that OK?” Well . . . sure. You didn’t ask my dessert for a release, but I guess it gave you one:

toddaction

Great. Now we look like dorks, suckerfishing up like remoras on Ripert’s breath-fogged partition. Shit. Could it get any worse? Yes. Lydia Tenaglia, bounding out of the kitchen, politely asks, “Could we shoot you?” (Yes, I’m sure Ripert and Bourdain are ready to do just that, by now.) “Shoot, as in being a dork shooting you guys through the glass?” “Yes.” “Sure. I’ve already spiraled down to the eleventh circle of dorkdom.” Consider this a release, Lydia.

By now, about as comfortable as lepers in the club Med jacuzzi, the three of us flee and pray for some judicious snipping in the editing room at ZeroPointZero (except for the crêpe, of course. It deserves its air time), just to catch this, posted up on the glass:

thanks

Final stats for last night? With a seating capacity of 146 at Les Halles, Team Tony did 315 covers. Stupéfiant? Non. Formidable? Perhaps not. But a good, solid performance, with each bite – whether Ripert’s or Bourdain’s -or NOT – a true delight. It might have been shot for No Reservations, but thanks, Eric. Thanks, Tony. And Joyeux Noël.


More proof that SF is Foodie-ville

San Francisco is a great foodie town. According to an article in the SF Chronicle today, it’s got the highest per-capita spending on restaurant food in the nation:

According to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, the average San Francisco household spends $3,769 a year eating outside the home. That’s $545 more than households in New York, $598 more than in Chicago, $660 more than in Seattle, $986 more than in Atlanta and $1,725 more than in Miami.

So it’s no surprise that condo developers here are using the allure of big-name chefs to help market SF’s new high-end condominiums:

Homeowners in the under-construction Millennium Tower each will get a temperature-controlled wine locker, a 20,000-square-foot clubhouse and nationally known restaurateur Michael Mina. The almost-ready-for-occupancy Infinity is offering a state-of-the-art gym, a 75-foot-long pool and Nancy Oakes, Pamela Mazzola and Ravi Kapur, chefs of the venerable Boulevard restaurant. The Fairmont Heritage in Ghirardelli Square boasts fine retail stores, a personal wine shopper and the famed [Gary] Danko. The Soma Grand, a newly opened 246-unit condominium building in the trendy South of Market neighborhood, has a concierge and bed turn-down service and is negotiating to get the Slanted Door’s Charles Phan, one of the most coveted chefs in town.

All those restaurants will be open to the public, but residents will get priority reservations and, in some cases, perks such as room service, catering and private dining.

Now, if only I had a spare million dollars or so to afford one of those condos…..


Tagliatelle From Scratch

Chilly Saturdays are good days to settle in and do the longer cooking projects you can’t do on a weeknight. Today, I took some salmon out of the freezer, and got inspired to make my own pasta rather than go out and buy a box of tagliatelle like I usually do.

Making pasta is not at all difficult, especially if you have a basic pasta machine to help you along, it’s just time consuming. Allow at least two hours if you’re going to make a batch.

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup semolina flour
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
(if necessary) water

Preparation

mise en place

More authentic Italian cooks will use the ‘well’ method to start their pasta – the put their flour out on a flat wooden surface, make a hole in the top of the flour, crack the eggs into the hole, and then use a fork to start bringing the dough together. I’m not quite that authentic, so I put all the ingredients into a big metal bowl and used a wooden spoon to start the dough. You could even use a food processor if you wanted to, although it’s not really necessary. Whichever method you use, the dough will come together within a minute or two of mixing. Then, dump the dough out onto a large, flat surface (I use our wooden dining room table), dust with flour, and start kneading.

One thing about pasta dough is that it’s not a perfect science. The humidity in the air and the size of the eggs you use may mean that one day your dough will be a little wet and other days a little dry. If it’s dry, add water a tablespoon at a time until it’s damp enough to work. If it’s too wet, you can work extra flour in as you knead. You’ll have to judge it by feel.

Kneading the dough, early stages

You’ll need to knead the dough for about 15 minutes, generally, but again, the look and feel of the dough is a better guide than exact time. You want the dough to be smooth and a little shiny, not too sticky, and stretchy but not rubbery. (The photo above was taken fairly early in the kneading process.)

Once the dough is kneaded, divide it into smaller pieces to make it easier to work with. I rolled the dough into a cylinder and then cut in into 6 pieces. If you have a pasta making machine, here’s when you start to use it. You don’t absolutely need one, but it does make things a lot easier.

Rolling out the dough

Assuming you do have a pasta machine, start feeding it through at the widest setting and slowly work your way down to the next-to-thinnest setting. I aim to get each sheet of dough roughly 18″ long (the length from the tips of my fingers to my elbow), but this is not an exact science. Once you’ve gotten the sheet of pasta dough to about the right size and thickness, dust it with a bit more flour, loosely roll it, then slice the dough into 1/3″ noodles. It’s OK to cut them thinner or wider if you prefer. Place the batch on a baking sheet or other convenient flat storage area and start rolling the next sheet.

Rolling the pasta is by far the longest part of making pasta. Don’t rush it — try to find the Zen of the process. The result will be worth it.

A tray of tagliatelle

This batch went into a fantastic lemon cream sauce with asparagus — I would post the recipe, but it’s from the excellent “Cucina Viansa” cookbook, and I don’t want to get into copyright trouble. Oh, and the salmon? Pan-seared and topped with a dash of vinaigrette. No, I didn’t get a photo, sorry. I was too busy chowing down on my fantastic tagilatelle.

Notes

  • If you do not have a pasta machine, you can use a rolling pin and elbow grease instead. There’s nothing magical about a pasta machine, it just does the same job a little more evenly and precisely.

Bourdain and Ruhlman at B&N/Union Square (12/03/07)

Originally, I wasn’t going to take any notes because B&N said they’d be taping this for posterity. However, they then qualified it by saying they would stream it live and then archive it by today. Since some people never got to see it live, it still isn’t up on B&N yet and others are having problems opening it, this a rough version of what transpired last night at B&N Union Square, before people were beaten by B&N security and taken away in cuffs. Okay, so that didn’t happen. But it could’ve.

The first sign of impending trouble at Anthony Bourdain: A Conversation with Michael Ruhlman was . . . well, right there. The signage. A “conversation”? Oh, we think NOT. More like, as promised in the introduction, incendiary remarks, acerbic rebuttals and collateral damage involving Ruhlman’s hair (which, for the record, is Prell perfect and does not need a trim, all right? It was the only think on stage last night that was bouncing and behaving.) The hair held up better than Ruhlman as Bourdain was introduced (a sotto voce sneer from Ruhlman)

ruhlmanskeptic

as the author of No Reservations – “an impassioned and rare recollection” (eh – so-so)of Tony’s travels around the world while shooting the series of the same name. Ruhlman quickly seized the high ground by presenting Tony with a can of Skyline Chili (“Fresh from Cincinnati!”) and making sure it was displayed conspicuously, glinting viciously on the table between the throughout the rest of the talk.

tonyruhlman1

Tony, in the James Lipton role, began by saying he was always asked what was the worse thing he ever ate? Did he ever get sick? Has he ever seen Emeril in a Speedo? But what Tony himself really wanted to know was – The Symon/Ruhlman Next Iron Chef Issue:

Bourdain: Just how long HAVE you known Symon?!

Ruhlman: I’ve known Symon –

Bourdain: Your kids call him Unky Mike!

Ruhlman: The Food Network knew –

Bourdain: Do you think it really passes the smell test? I mean, it’s like Dick Cheney and Halliburton!

Ruhlman: I actually think I was putting on the Food Network. I’m not sure they even read my books.

Bourdain: And then I got an e-mail from Bruce Seidel (head of programming for FN), so now I’m really paranoid. I predicted a year ago that they’d get rid of Emeril and Batali . . . so now all the old Bolsheviks are taking these guys down to the cellar to be shot. They’re eliminating anyone on FN who can cook. And now they tell me they’ll be re-running A Cook’s Tour – in its entirety – beginning January 2008! How did Bruce get MY e-mail?

Ruhlman: I gave it to him.

Bourdain: [Betrayed!]

Ruhlman: They want you back!

Bourdain: They can’t buy me! F_____ them! And just what IS your relationship with FN?

Ruhlman: I have no relationship with the Food Network. I have no deal with them, no show –

Bourdain: No deal, no show – and no hair and make-up [in your contract] -speaking of which, how about that Gallery of Hair? And Knowlton! Didn’t you REALLY want to beat him up? Come on! [To audience:] And did the best chef really win? Hands?

[Audience mostly indicates Symon]

Ruhlman: It was clear after the second episode that those two were never anything but the top two.

Bourdain: And was the FN rooting for the Hero of New Orleans or the freaking bald guy from Cleveland?

Ruhlman: Truth and justice. You know that, right, Tony?

Bourdain: No! The Food Network needs to be taking chances, and to lead [when it comes to food programming.] About their TV chefs –

There ensues a very lively, rapid-fire discussion of who the audience thinks should be whacked from the FN roster of food celebs.]

Ruhlman: Guy Fieri – is incredibly popular –

Bourdain: So’s Chlamydia! And on Top Chef [to audience] – Hung or Casey?

[Audience is 50-50 on that.]

Bourdain: Hung, easily! So what if he knocked over the truffle oil and [wasn’t a team player]?!

Now, your book The Elements of Cooking – it’s doing really well, isn’t it?

Ruhlman: It’s outselling yours.

Bourdain: It took you – what? – Six weeks to write it?

Ruhlman: About a year. It’s everything I learned about cooking over the last ten years, everything I learned from our friend Eric [Ripert] . . . Thomas Keller . . . but what I want to know is – how do you live with yourself?

Bourdain: How do I live with MYSELF?

Ruhlman: Yeah. You push yourself out there as a cook, but you don’t cook anymore –

Bourdain: Wait a minute, dude -!

Ruhlman: But you still make the best damn cassoulet.

Bourdain: Not the Martha Stewart recipe. But, look, I still have 28 years behind a stove. 28 years of smelling like fryer oil –

Ruhlman: Which you don’t, NOW –

Bourdain: Which, by the way (squints at Ruhlman’s head), is good for the hair. OK, now we’ll take questions from the audience.

Q: Speaking of cassoulet, Michael, have your children recovered yet from the horror of Evil Uncle Tony’s cassoulet? Has your son James pulled his head out of his sweatshirt yet?

Ruhlman: No. They’re still traumatized. [Tony looks wounded.] We keep playing them little bits of the episode, little by little, to lessen the damage . . .

Q: Is there any one place fans bug you to visit?

Bourdain: Yes, The Philippines. “Why not the Philippines?!” And, “Hey, dude – why not MY city?” “Do you have any good food there?” “No.” “Well . . .? It’s TV!” The second most asked-after city is one here in the States, but I’ve completely forgot which one.

Q: Which show changed you the most?

Bourdain: Cleveland. [Audience cracks up.] No, really. For each episode, we try to plan ahead, what to rip off [from movies, books, etc.], what scenes to do . . . in Cleveland, everything went right.

Ruhlman: No. Tony called me. “Cuba’s a no-go. Here. We’re throwing you a bone.” [To Tony]: You’ve done few shows well, but Cleveland was one of them.

[The two discuss the shooting briefly – the brown Lake with the syringes on the beach, etc., and remark about Ruhlman’s “reputation”, which has been totally destroyed by appearing on two episodes of No Reservations.]

Ruhlman: You told people I was drinking lighter fluid! My wife was in tears!

Bourdain: [Really surprised]. Really?!

Ruhlman: Really! People in my neighborhood thought I had a drug problem! They were coming up to Donna [Ruhlman’s wife], and saying stuff like, “I didn’t know Michael had a drinking and drug problem!”

Bourdain: [To audience]: I don’t know whether to feel guilty – or proud!

Ruhlman: Oh, right, like when we went to Masa – who was THAT throwing up into the Hudson?!

Bourdain: The river, dude – not at the bar!

Q: Where’s the best bar for a college student budget?

Bourdain: I don’t know . . . ever since the Siberia bar closed . . . ?

Q: And you quit smoking?

Bourdain: Totally. Having a 7 ½ month old will do that to you.

Ruhlman: You have SOME redeeming qualities.

Q: Let’s talk about near-death –

Bourdain: For Ruhlman, it was Skyline Chili.

[Tony then went on to talk about a recent shoot in Jamaica, where he went spelunking in caves with some “guano nerds”]:

Bourdain: So then the guano nerds say to me, “Dude, do you feel it getting warmer in here?” “Yeah!” “Well, that’s the body heat of 2 million bats!”

Ruhlman: That’s a perfect metaphor for your life.

Bourdain: Hey, that’s why I’m not gonna play with the Food Network! Talk about dropping out of a poop-filled chute!

Q: Is chef celebrity good for food, or bad?

Bourdain: I’m going to say good. People like Batali have the juice and the power to change things [for the good.] He’s got people eating brains and hooves at Babbo. He’s got people to eat out of their comfort zone, because of loveable, orange-clogged Mario. Chefs can now do more, have more on their menus than a meat, a salad, a pasta. [Celebrity chefdom] may be annoying, [it may make stars out of] knucklehead chefs –

Ruhlman: As long as they get famous for what they’re GOOD at –

Bourdain: think it’s increased the prestige of the line cook. People expect more. What I don’t like about it is the celebrity cult thing, where everyone goes along with a lie. You read [in some article]. “Jean Georges [Vongrichten] has a sure hand with herbs and spices” – he’s NOT BACK THERE! He’s flying first class to Beijing right now!

Ruhlman: But great chefs do not need to be in their kitchen to lead it. Only at Masa, where, because HE is the food, and if he catches a cold, the kitchen closes –

Bourdain: The very structure of kitchens is designed so the chef can take a night off. And the very fact that you know the name of a restaurant’s chef means that they can leave their kitchen without the quality [of the food] going down.

[The questioning returned to TV food personalities, and who, again, should be made to walk the plank.]

Bourdain: Ina Gartner – she can cook. Look, she rices mashed potatoes in a ricer! She adds in heated cream! She mounts it with pats of butter! I may not want to spend a weekend in her home – that would be kinda creepy – but she can COOK.

Ruhlman: And Alton Brown. He’s just like his show, but more devious. More mischievous. And he keeps himself pretty separate from the Food Network, too.

Bourdain: Sandra Lee?

Ruhlman: She’s evil. And she needs to be stopped.

Bourdain: Giada?

Audience: She’s got a big head!

Bourdain: She’s got a big head, but she can cook. How about that Iron Chef Sugar Battle? Paula Deen, and that Dinner: Slightly Difficult Guy?

[Slight audience uproar.]

Bourdain: Ace of Cakes Guy? Does he suck?

Audience: No, there is some real craft there, Tony.

Bourdain: I think I like him. And Bobby Flay? He has a career like William Shatner. He’s pissed on the first half of his career, with all those web-footed, web-headed hicks getting to kick his ass – “Hey! Ah beat Bobby Flay at barbecue!” He deserves more respect.

At which point, Tony and Michael abandoned the stage to perform the time-honored tradition of Moving Some Units.


Grandma B’s Latkes

Just in time for Chanukah, here’s my maternal grandmother’s latke recipe. Grandma B was born in the Lodz ghetto, and came to America as a child, fortunately long before the horrors of WW2. She loved parties and gathering her family around her, and Chanukah was no exception.

Ingredients

2 lbs potatoes
1 large onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons matzo meal
2 eggs (yolks and whites separated)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
oil for frying

Preparation

Wash, peel, and grate the potatoes, drain over a large bowl. Discard the potato water but keep the starch left at the bottom of the bowl.

Grate the onions.

Beat the egg whites with a fork until well mixed.

Mix the onion, garlic, egg yolk, salt, and pepper all together with the potato starch. Add the matzo meal and beaten egg whites, continue mixing until all ingredients are nicely mixed together.

Heat about 1/4 inch of oil in a heavy skillet. Drop heaping tablespoons of batter into the oil and fry until golden brown on the bottom. Flip, continue frying until second side is also brown. Remove from heat, drain on paper towels.

Eat and enjoy!

Notes

  • Frying oil. Grandma’s recipe calls for corn or peanut oil for frying the latkes, but as The Jew and The Carrot reminds us, these are not the healthiest possible choices. Canola oil is a good alternative.

Kitchen Don’t of the Day

Deciding to put a bottle full of red pepper flakes into the blender, then trying to pour the now-pulverized flakes back into the bottle – especially while recovering from a cold – is a really, really bad idea.