Saturday, May 30, 2009

Good Omens

Yesterday I attended a a free knife skills demonstration at Omnivore Books on Food. Peter Hertzmann, the author of the excellent Knife Skills Illustrated as well as the à la carte website, was the guest of honor. He demonstrated the basic techniques and offered a lot of insight about to get the most out of your knives. I picked up a copy of the book, and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in improving their knife skills.

Peter was a lot of fun and was a great teacher. He teaches Knife Skills at the Palo Alto and Los Gatos locations of Sur La Table, if you get a chance, take one of his classes. In addition to having a background in Chinese and French cooking, Peter has been learning the art of Butchery in recent years, so I really enjoyed talking to him about his experiences and getting his feedback.

For those of you in the Bay Area, if you haven't been to Omnivore Books yet, you really need to go. It is a fantastic bookstore with an amazing variety of cook books and books on food. They have a great selection of current books, but even more impressive is their collection of antique and out of print books on food.

I was surprised to find out that Omnivore Books is in an old butcher shop, and they have the rails and walk in cooler to prove it. The USDA and local health agencies have done their best to get rid of rails in butcher shops, and old wood walk ins like this one are almost non-existent. As much as I love Omnivore Books, I couldn't help but think how great it would be to put the old butcher shop set-up back to work!

I consider it a good omen that even when I go to an event about cutting vegetables at a book store it turns out to be taught by a butcher at a butcher shop!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Touring Chez Panisse

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

My good friend and fellow culinary traveller, Kevin, has been doing an internship at the one and only Chez Panisse for the last couple of weeks. Today, I was lucky enough to get a tour of the kitchen. Unfortunately, my camera battery died early in the tour (amateur!), so I'll have to try to express how impressive it was with mere words.

First off I have to admit that I've never eaten at Chez Panisse. This is slightly embarrassing, given its well deserved reputation and the role it plays as an incubator for so many talented chefs. Many of my favorite restaurants and other food businesses boast Chez Panisse alums as Chefs and owners. If I needed a reminder of the importance of Chez Panisse and what it represents, I got it while waiting outside for Kevin. Two different groups of people came and posed for pictures on the front stairs. When such a low key building can create such a starstruck reaction, you know there is something going on there.

A lot of things stuck out for me on the tour, but none more so than the smell behind the restaurant. The smell I generally associate with being behind a restaurant on a hot day is not pleasant. But at Chez Panisse it smelled like fresh herbs. I was literally standing next to the garbage can thinking how good it smelled.

The kitchen itself is beautiful. It opens to the dining room so diners can get a good look at whats going on, but it is set back enough so the hustle and bustle doesn't screw with the mood. (Those of you who have been there already know this, but like I said, it was my first time!) It is a nice open kitchen with natural light and despite being full of people is surprisingly spacious. I was really impressed with how they used out door storage (screened in to protect from bugs of course) to store ingredients, such as avocados, that don't like the chilly confines of a cooler.

I had a chance to talk to one of the Sous Chefs about the butchering they do, and the relative merits of Chicken, Quail and Squab while he was preparing some beautiful looking Soul Food Farm chickens for their evening presentation. Chez Panise buys whole lamb, goat, pork and poultry and butchers it in house, which is no surprise given the guiding philosophy behind the restaurant.

Lamb quarters hanging in the cooler

They also make their own prosciutto, pancetta and other cured meats. Here are some prosciuttos ready to serve:

And here are the pancettas and salumis hanging in the drying room:

Chez Panisse is an inspiring place. I will definitely come back to eat, and hopefully to learn as well.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

South Bay Sausage Tour, pt 1

I've been hearing about a couple of top notch sausage shops in the South Bay for a while now, so earlier this week my Dad and I decided to head south and check them out.

First up was Neto Sausage Co. in Santa Clara. This family run operation has been in business since 1948, bringing the family's secret recipes over from Portugal. Their current location is a no frills operation, with an outdoor grill and a small deli and market inside.

You order your sausage, which are patties not links, outside and then take them in to get your bread and toppings. You can also buy fresh sausages (in links) and a wide variety of cheeses, some Portuguese wines and an interesting variety of other foods, primarily Portuguese in origin.

The sausage patties are quite large and really tasty. My dad got Cajun and I went for the Italian. Looking back on it, I probably should have gone for a Portuguese variety to get the full experience, but I was enjoyed my Italian quite a bit. I'm not totally sure why they do patties instead of links, though I imagine it has something to do with getting the meat cooked evenly throughout. While I appreciate the fact that they're doing it their way, I prefer my sausage in links, especially for grilling.

Their are big things in the works for Neto, they're in the process of opening a full service restaurant and bar. I hope their awesome delivery truck makes it to the new location along with their sausage.

Happy Hour at Adesso.

I finally made it to Adesso for happy hour today and I will definitely be back. Free food at happy hour isn't usually this good. They put out a nice selection from the menu, but if you want to try one of the 30 different house cured meats you'll have to pay for it, as they don't seem to be included in the free fare. I'm not complaining though, the salumi is well worth it and the drinks are great. I know where I'll be watching the rest of the NBA playoffs.

Monday, May 25, 2009

I'm not so original...

A few months back my wife Natalie gave me a look of shock and horror and said "You want to become a butcher?!" To be fair, it's not unusual for her to shoot me looks of shock and horror, and they don't necessarily mean that she is actually shocked or horrified. Still, we had only been eating meat for a couple months after years of vegetarianism and veganism, and this was quite a bomb I was dropping. I though that being a former vegan turned wannabe butcher would make me a bit of an oddity; it might even give me a foot in the door with the butchers I hoped to learn from. It turns out, though, that far from being an oddity, I'm actually a bit late to the party. This article in Gourmet Magazine profiles a number of former vegetarians turned butchers. I have some ideas about what is behind this mini trend, but I'm going to wait a while before making any bold pronouncements on my nascent blog.

Nonetheless, I am undeterred by my lack of originality, and I'm setting out on a journey to visit, and hopefully learn from, some of the best butchers in the country. I'll be chronicling my travels as well as my experiments at home with meat, and occasionally other food groups as well. Oh yeah, the name refers to the two ingredients that can transform any number of foods, most notably cabbage and pork, into some of the tastiest morsels on the planet.

Photo of Fleisher's Meats courtesy of The Green Fork.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Inside the curing chamber

Thursday, May 21, 2009

On the Farm