Eat Drink Style Restaurant Confidential #1: First Day of School

Long posting. Please bear with me.

Friday night, I went over to Westwood Village to enjoy a night of lonerness. Equipped with my Professional Chef book, I grabbed a slice of pizza, two actually, at Enzo’s and sat in Starbucks. Tomorrow, I would be starting my first day at The Restaurant and wanted to be prepared for the unexpected. I figured that reading my book to familiarize myself with stocks, herbs and meats might save me some face and embarrassment. After all, I was Mr. I work 9-5 and am voluntarily working here out of passion without a culinary degree guy. There was a higher chance of error on my part, but I was ready to get hazed and reprimanded.

I walked into The Restaurant with my cheapie Calphalon Chef and Santoku knife I got for $25, after the Bed, Bath and Beyond 20% off coupon (those do come in handy), black vato-dickies pants and Payless, slip/oil-resistant shoes around 12:30 and met with the Chef. If you read the last posting, the chef forgot who the hell I was, so I re-introduced myself. I was then paired up with a girl who recently graduated from some school I’d never heard of. We’ll call her ‘Tiny’ for now, to protect her identity. An experienced line cook gave us our coats and aprons and showed us around the kitchen. As I put on the double-buttoned coat, I couldn’t help but smile, looking down so that no one would see my flash of excitement. If you guys remember Ben Stiller in Something About Mary, visualize the reaction he got when Mary asked him to go to the prom. Yes, I had a stupid look on.

As a pantry cook, I was responsible for garde mangre, pronounced ‘gar-mun-jay’. It’s French for the cold food station and includes soups, salads, appetizers and desserts. To me, it was French for bottom of the restaurant food chain – a culinary peon. What did I care? I was here to learn, not hope for a chance to stand side by-side-by with that arrogant Bobby Flay. The fact that they were paying me didn’t interest me at all. I initially thought they would just give me an internship. I guess that means more money for me to go out and get trashed and add more ninja-like knives to my collection. The pantry station took about 2 hours to prepare and as soon as I was done I proceeded with my Q&A with all of my experienced coworkers. Notebook in hand, I fired away with questions and jotted every juicy bit of information down. This was like gold to me. There’s a lot you don’t see behind the cookbooks and tv shows. All the shortcuts and secrets that go into making your restaurant experience enjoyable.

What goes into lobster stock??

What the hell is a remoulade??

Can you actually eat that??

The more and more I asked and annoyed them, the more they knew how interested I was in jumping onto their ship. Everyone was surprised that I was doing this on my own leisure in addition to my full time job. They probably thought I was crazy too. A few people told me that they’d rather work with me than with a recent culinary grad with an ego the size of an air balloon.

It was now 4 pm and dinner was to be served in an hour. All restaurants partake in a ritual dinner called “family meal”. In addition to the food prep, every cook is responsible for conjuring up some kind of dish for the whole staff to eat. Usually with older foods and scraps. I was in charge of salads, naturally. I looked over at Tiny and asked if she wanted to make something. Surprisingly, she said no. The whole day, Tiny was helping me out with the proper way to do things, which i appreciated. When she asked me where I studied culinary arts, I said “I’m studying here at The Restaurant Academy.” She gave me a slight look of concern and confusion, as if I had no place in here. Which is true. But it helps to know people that can get you in.

And back to the family meal. The meat cook came by and was like, “Hey man, please make some kind of new dressing. I’m fucking tired of the Caesar, House and Walnut Vinagrette dressing. Fucking tired of it.” I hate salad, but the only decent salad I can make is a Chinese chicken. So I grabbed soy sauce, orange juice, sugar, sesame oil, Sriracha hot sauce (I like mine spicy), water, shallots and chives. I had to do without the Hoisin sauce. As I whisked the dressing up, my hands trembled, for I was deeply worried. Now for the taste test. About four cooks came by to test out my monstrosity.

“Add some sugar.”

“More O.J.”

“I want it spicier.”

“Too much vinegar.”

It’s amazing how these people would come by and quickly dip a finger in for a taste. Everyone was so on the dot, and when it was finally done, the dressing tasted WAY better than what I had originally thought was satisfactory. Even over the wilted, brown romaine/endive salad. I liked my new coworkers instantly. For dinner we had a nice smorgasbord of goodies: butternut squash ravioli with cream sauce, garlic/mustard roasted chicken, sun-dried tomato frittata (an Italian omelette), roasted pumpkin soup and corn chowder. With a lineup like that, who the hell was gonna eat salad. I sure as hell didn’t.

5 pm. Showtime. I had forgotten to bring some kind of hat so I was stuck with wearing the 10” chef hat made out of paper. It was so lame. I felt so embarrassed since we were right in front of the window. I made sure that the next time I came in, I had my own hat with me. I’d rather wear one of those 10 gallon cowboy hats instead of that paper hat. Anyway, the first ticket came out and of course Mousy snagged it before I could even read it. I looked at it and completely blanked out. I had already forgotten how to make the dish. Good thing Tiny had a description of how each and every dish was made and plated, taped up to the wall. After about 2 hours, I got the hang of things, eventually making each and every single dish we had prepped for. I even did desserts, which I have no interest in because of my heavy smoking.

In addition to Tiny, I had a few coworkers around me, all from the Pasadena Culinary Institute. Next to the pantry, we had the dessert, grill, meat and fish station. The desserts were handled by a sweet, Korean girl who’d been working for almost a year. I’ll call her Sweetie. She made awesome chocolate cake, bread pudding and Crème Brule. She had worked pantry before and was very helpful. Over at the grill station, stood a small Mexican guy, no more than 4’14”, that everyone called Man-Boy, because of his boyish looks and deep voice. Man-boy took care of pastas, stocks and anything fried. Man-boy was constantly dodging this gay waiter that totally had a crush on him. For snacks, Man-boy made some awesome salsa nachos from scratch and was happily complimented by the gay waiter, who said they were, “So ammmmmmaaazzzzzzzzzzing.” I don’t know if he was referring to the nachos or to Man-boy. Maybe both. Over on the meat station (pan-fry, sauté, oven), we have this other Korean guy who’s been working for 6 years in San Francisco and the Caribbeans. I’ll call him Rivers because of his black, thick-framed glasses – similar to Rivers Cuomo of Weezer. This guy was so knowledgeable and had MOVES in the kitchen. His arms were full of cuts, scars and burn marks. True symbols of culinary war. I once saw him cooking 7 courses at a time, flames flying, kicking oven doors closed, etc. I want to do that. He gave me a piece of Kobe steak to try and boy was it delicious. I don’t think I can afford more than 3 ounces of that because it’s $12 an ounce. And over on the fish station, there’s an awesome chick who looks like she’s in her 20’s but already has two daughters, 20 and 14. I'll call her "Mami". She’s gotta be at least 36. She also had moves and was constantly calling me over to watch her cook fish and foie gras. She was my new-found smoking partner.

After work, we headed over to a bar in downtown and met up with cooks from our sister restaurant. As we all drank beer, stories about the day in the kitchen were told and were hilarious. A few people took themselves to another mental level and most of us, drank the night away.

As I drove home, I couldn’t stop wearing a smile because I had a great time this weekend. My hands were tired from obsessive chopping. My Achilles tendon was sore from trucking up and down the stairs, holding stock pots. My back hurting from constantly bending up and down to reach for things. So what? It was all worth it and I couldn't wait for next weekend when I can go in again and ‘play’. I’ve made some new friends and gained new knowledge. And all of a sudden, I felt alive again. Completely alive.

Eat Drink Style Happy Halloween, I mean, Happy Thanksgiving

Right after writing about the bacon narcotic, I got a lot of emails/links regarding bacon. Just too many to post. But this one just had to be posted. It is terrifying to look at, yet I know someone is drooling over his keyboard right now, searching for the recipe on Google.

What the HELL is this thing? We've all seen the turducken, but this is simply ridiculous. This looks like a freshly skinned zebra in the Safari. I'm going to have nightmares for as long as I live.

Anyway, drink lots of gravy and enjoy the gift of cholesterol! Thanks to Jwong for the pic.

Eat Drink Style Chabuya Ramen - The Newest Baby in the Sawtelle Family

Driving up Sawtelle, I always slow my car down at the La Grange corner. I’m always drawn in by the beautifully designed restaurants in that particular strip of West LA’s Little Tokyo. Most of the restaurants, such as Orris, serve up some delectable food for reasonable prices. Yesterday, as I was leaving from Nijiya Supermarket, I slowed my car down as usual and my eyes caught on to a metallic sign: Chabuya - Tokyo Noodle Bar sign caught my eye. Hell yeah. Another ramen shop.

Chabuya is the newest addition to Sawtelle’s restaurant row. In it’s second week, this place is already getting a nice influx of ramen enthusiasts. The dimly lit ceilings and tall windows really give you a nice welcoming feeling. As I walked in, five Japanese waitresses greeted me in an audible volume: “IRASHAIMASE”. No where as loud as Shin Sen Gumi in Gardena, Fountain Valley and now Rosemead. Since this place just opened up recently, they had a limited menu. The waitress pointed out that I can only have “Cha Shu Ramen”. Don’t twist my arm. I was going to order that regardless. I figure if a noodle shop claims to be a noodle shop, then they should be able to make immaculate Cha Shu Ramen. Same goes with a bowl of pho in a vietnamese restaurant.

And now a few words from Chabuya.

“Straight from Tokyo, Chabuya is the urban ramen bar that revolutionized a favorite Japanese pastime. Its menu was conceived under the meticulous eye of Master Chef Yasuji Morizumi, renowned for his peak season ingredients and an uncanny talent for arousing the senses. Taste Chabuya ramen and two things will strike you immediately. The first is an instant appreciation for the fresh, organic ingredients cooked to mouth-watering perfrection. The second is an overwhelming urge to take another bit.”

The Cha Shu Ramen, what Chabuya calls “The Classic with Cha Shu”, came after only 7 minutes -- $8.50. (The Classic is plain ramen with green onions and bamboo shoots sans Cha Shu -- $6.75.) It was served in a tall, red bowl and had a strong scent of fried shallots. I’m a sucker when it comes to fried shallots because they make anything taste good. And now for test #1: the broth. I dipped my spoon in before disrupting the beauty of the ramen bowl to taste the broth… and it was… AWESOME. I could taste a lot of pork broth, shoyu, miso and shallot oil. Since you can’t customize your ramen like Shin Sen Gumi, I’d suggest that you request for less oil, because there was a lot. I just like it. I then mixed up the bowl, preparing for test #2: the noodles. These weren’t the typical gummy kind you’d get from Ramenya or Kinchan’s. These were more like Chinese yellow mein – thin and cooked al dente – how I like it. Noodles weren’t bad at all. Something tells me that the chef takes pride in his soup more, thus selecting thin weight noodles for a lighter taste, so you don’t become overstuffed.

And for the final leg, test #3: the Cha Shu. I was given about four THINNNNNNLY sliced pieces of what I made out to be pork shoulder or butt. There was a thin layer of fat on each piece. Not bad, but there was a very strong taste of dark soy sauce. I believe the chef had first pan seared the meat in dark soy sauce to give it that dark colored edge before braising it into Cha Shu.

The gyozas came next and I was a little bit suspicious of it. It looked too similar to frozen gyozas at the market because after tasting it, the skin was very, very thin and broken. The filling tasted a little bit watery; a result of being THAWED before frying. Either the chef had overcooked the dumpling or he’s just a master at making paper thin gyoza skin. Still not a bad deal for $3.75.

Overall, I had a great meal. I think the ramen is a little pricey considering how small the portion is. But then again, they use organic ingredients and honestly, everything tasted really crisp and fresh. Especially the spinach and green onions. I didn’t want to waste the broth so I decided to Supersize my meal and ordered a bowl of rice and dumped it in to make Cha Shu Rice soup. Good as well. Another thing I look for is a place with a small menu. Chabuya serves nine courses plus gyoza and shu mai and I know the spend more time perfecting each and everyone. Believe it or not, Ramenya and Asahi will still be open for business the next day if you should decide not to eat there. Give Chabuya a shot, I think you’ll be satisfied. Thanks for reading.

Location: Look up Orris (Los Angeles). It's 2 doors down on Sawtelle/La Grange.

Eat Drink Style Sonoma: Off the Beaten Path

J and I headed up to San Francisco again to visit her brother. This was my third time up here this year and I love it more and more each time. We chose to fly instead of enduring the 4.5 hour drive. I've never flown to NorCal, so this was going to be a more relaxed trip. We arrived around 10 at night and grabbed a quick bite to eat. Tomorrow we would be going to Sonoma instead of Napa because we had heard that the region was perfect for making Pinots. I'm all for Pinot Noir because it is typically less tannic, fruity and smooth.

We started driving up the 101 into Sonoma's wine country around 9:30 am, accompanied with 4 other friends. The day started off extremely hazy and cold and we wondered if it was worth driving up there. Sonoma wineries are known for beautiful estates and Flickr-worthy scenery. After about an hour and a half, we arrived in Sonoma County.

We couldn't go wine tasting without a little padding and made reservations at a restaurant called El Dorado Kitchen. We settled on this place after three cancellations on reservations. We found out that the chefs of EDK worked under the tutelage of Thomas Keller. Okay, we are so there.

EDK is located in the Sonoma town square and neighbors the El Dorado hotel - a cozy, boutique hotel. We walked into the restaurant and were instantly transported to a West Elm catalog. (Page 82 of the Winter issue) Brown and white colors contrasted the dark colored wood furniture throughout the restaurant and made it a perfect place for Sunday brunch. Enough about ambiance, here's what we had:

Blueberry Muffin and Jam
I didn't have this but everyone loved it.

Biscuits & Gravy
Our friend had this said that it was too rich and salty. Minus all that, it was still a nice take on an American favorite.

French Toast
At last, we see a glimpse of Thomas Keller's influence. Beautiful, thick pieces of bread fried to a nice golden brown and topped with créme fraîche. Kind of wish I tasted some of this.

Eggs Benedict and Beef Bourguignonne Hash
Food envy kicked in once I took a bite of this. The eggs were beautifully poached and laced with a velvety hollandaise sauce. I thought the idea of using wine-braised beef in the hash was pure genius. This was awesome.

Fried Egg & Sopressata Salami Pizza
This was a case of misinterpretation. My eyes lit up when I saw this on the menu because (1) I love pizza and (2) I love eggs. I first saw this concept on a food special in Aspen. The chef of the ski resort made a pizza, and right before it was finished, cracked an egg on top of the pizza. It looked sick. When I got this, I was quite bummed. It was merely 2 things put together.. a pizza and 3 fried eggs. An interesting thing about this was the type of eggs used. I think they must have been from a special ranch or something because they were RICH and GOLDEN YELLOW like the eggs of Japan. I took a few bites of the fried eggs and had to set it aside. I just couldn't handle it.

Forest Mushroom, Goat Cheese and Truffle Oil Pizza
J ordered this and was turned off by how rich it was. The mushrooms and goat cheese served as nice toppings but the pizza was just drowned in truffle oil. It was sickening. I love truffle oil but only in moderation. Truffle oil is very high in demand and currently a hot trend. Chefs, for some reason think they can boost up the price of the dish if they add more truffle oil. It isn't THAT hard to find it in LA. Trader Joe's has a poor man's version for $10 and I think it works fine. Moderation! We tried to eat this a few hours later and still couldn't handle it haha.

Overall, the food is rich at EDK but still a great place to stop at before getting smashed bourgeois-style. If you eat here, I highly recommend sharing an entree with someone. Every one of us had doggy-bags by the end of the meal. I'm definitely coming back here again.

It was time to wine taste now. We ended up visiting four wineries in four hours. Last time we were in Napa, we stopped at seven wineries in 2.5 hours! It was fun winery-hopping, but this time, we wanted to take our time. Here's where we stopped at:

Sebastiani - very average wine. Although it's a Sonoma favorite, I didn't try anything that knocked my pants off.

Buena Vista - nice stuff. Smooth and enjoyable.

Gundlach Bundschu - wow, definitely my favorite. Unfortunately, at $36+ a bottle, we walked out of the winery with sad faces. = (

Cline - stellar wine at stellar prices. Wine ranged from $11-$30. This place was packed even an hour before closing and we really enjoyed it. The people were extremely friendly and didn't charge for tastings. Five for Free! I ended up buying 4 bottles of wine and parked it on the bench with our group. We drank 2 bottles and got really buzzed. At about 5 pm, we took off back into San Francisco. After all the rich wine and food, nothing sounded better than a fresh, cold cut of salmon, yellowtail and uni. We ended up at a very average sushi joint but didn't care because it was so refreshing to eat something light. If I were to choose between Napa and Sonoma, I'd pick Sonoma because the wineries are mainly family/privately owned. You don't see too many of the corporate big boys out there and there are definitely less tourists. Stay tuned for J's writeup on our San Francisco eats.

Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style San Francisco: Weekend Escape

Have a great weekend everyone. I'll be up in SF with J visiting her brother. We'll be back hopefully with good photos and food reviews. Hurray for FOOD.

Eat Drink Style Restaurant Confidential #0: The Epiphany

It seems that everywhere I go, no matter what time of the day, my mind is constantly battling inner aspirations. I’ve always been very fickle with everything. Hobbies. Food. Music. Girls. It’s not a wonder that I become bored with things really easy. I’d work hard toward something and once it’s complete or gets ‘old’, I move on to the next. It may be that I have a short attention span? Or it may be a natural instinct for me to want to try as many things my life would allow me – you know, before the batteries run out. This fickleness definitely applies to my career choices.

When I graduated from college, I panicked. Growing up in a Chinese family, or even as an Asian American for the most part, there were only three, ‘acceptable’ career paths.

Was I going to be a doctor?
No. I suck at the Milton Bradley Operation game.

Was I going to be a lawyer?
I don't think i can help someone win $2.1 million.

Was I going to be an engineer?
Well, i did make fully functional beer bongs that could hold up to 9 beers at a time.

Mom and dad, I’m breaking all cultural ideals and going into advertising. Advertising? Wus dat? (Just kidding, my parents speak perfect English.) I want to be a part of an industry that devises clever ways to make you buy things you don’t need. Why? It’s fun to be a part of pop culture. There’s a little bit of celebrity hood within it. How many people do you know that can actually be proud of an annoying billboard you see everyday on your way back home from work? Anyway, after three years, I managed to complete my portfolio and finally got a job as an Art Director. Boy did it feel good to finally get to the top of the mountain.

Guess what? I love advertising, but I’m already tired of it after only a year and a half. It seems that I’ve traversed back down that mountain, only to turn around and raise my head up, gazing upon the new challenge. I blame it all on the Food Network. During the first three years, I fell into a comfort zone. I’d do the 9-5 like everyone. Go home. Eat. Sit and watch TV. Three years. And one day, with nothing to watch, I flipped to the Food Network. Alton. Tyler. Rachel. Emeril. Bobby. Anthony. Ina. Giada. Paula. Marc. Mario. I watched EVERYTHING and absorbed every bit of information regarding food. Soon after, I started cooking more, researching knives and pans and buying cookbooks. What has happened to me? I had created a monster. My very, own monster. I was a full-fledged foodie.

I had befriended a co-worker whose boyfriend works as a grill cook at a restaurant in Los Angeles. He was telling me how he had gone to college and settled for a sales job. One day, he resigned and jumped straight into the kitchen. Seven months earlier, he had worked up from the pantry to the grill - a huge step in the kitchen world. Last time I talked to him, his last words were, “Hey man, if you love it, just do it. It’s hard but it doesn’t hurt to try. You’ll never know if this is or isn’t for you, unless you give it a shot. I can get you in, but you have to want it. I cried because I got rocked by the chef, but it only fueled my passion for it.” He is a chef and a coach – all in one.

Two weekends ago, I sat at home thinking about the restaurant. My only option is to work on the weekends because I’m not divorcing advertising just yet. We’re still doing okay. I guess you can say this is going to a be an affair. Short? Long? Who knows. But man, seven days of work is mind-boggling. Working in the kitchen is going to be hard enough, but add another 40-50 hours on that. Fuck it. I’m doing it. I don’t anything to lose if it’s not for me. At least I tried.

I went into The Restaurant last Tuesday to meet with the Executive Chef. I had talked to him on the phone briefly and could tell he was stern. I knew he was giving me an opportunity only because of my coworker’s boyfriend. I knew he was already giving me a month-tops. Whatever. So I had prepared for the interview by mentally rehearsing the right things to say. Here’s how the interview went…

Me: So I heard you need some help in the pantry?

Chef: Yeah. When can you start?

(That’s it?)

Me: Um. Next weekend.

(Chef then starts scribbling on a fresh piece of printer paper.)

Chef: Meet here for orientation at 10 am. I’ll see you next weekend. Bring your own knives. We got a coat for you. Buy your own shoes and pants. I recommend that you don’t wear khakis or white jeans. (Who the hell wears white jeans besides girls? Aren’t those illegal for men to wear?)

Me: Ok.

Chef: Any questions?

Me: No.

Chef: Wait, what was your name again?

I’m serious. Total time: 5 minutes. 4 of those minutes went towards paperwork. I shook hands with him and as I walked away, I felt a knot in my stomach. I don’t know what the hell I just got myself into. Nervous? Anxious? Excited? Yes, all of that. As soon as I walked out of the restaurant, I approached the steps quickly - a perfect ramp for that memorable, slow-motion Toyota leap from the 80s commercials. I felt like doing that but I thought I’d save it for another occasion.

So this past weekend, it was time to gear up. I felt like it was a back-to-school sale. Pencils. Pens. Trapper Keepers. Jansport backpack. Mead paper. I bought my first pair of black Dickies. I figured I’d be safe as long as I’m not walking around the streets with them. Brought the ubiquitous Bed Bath & Beyond coupon to the store and bought some cheapie Calphalon’s. Who cares. They’re going to get f*cked up.

This Saturday, my life is going to change as I start my first day. Will it be for me? Or will it not? I’ll fill you in after this weekend. I’m just glad to know that there’s a fellow blogger going down the same path with me. Yoony of Immaeatchu is interning at the AOC winebar pantry. Like me. Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style Bacon. The Culinary World's Most Lethal Narcotic.

If you think about it, if there's one ingredient/food that really widens your eyes upon hearing the word, it has to be bacon (unless you're a vegetarian). You're at a restaurant and the waiter is going through his specials for the evening.

"Macaroni & cheese. Creamed corn soup. Baked potato skins."

Zzzzz. Boring. But what if you added the B-word to these all.

"Macaroni & cheese with bacon. Creamed corn soup with bacon. Baked potato skins with bacon."

Now things are interesting. I've come to the conclusion that bacon is a drug, you just don't know it. It'll be raising the eyebrows of every DEA agent very soon. Look at how this narcotic has spread through the nation, onto our plates.

Google's Krispy Kreme Bacon Cheeseburger (photo from
We all know that Google spends a ton of money on fattening up their employees with starch, carbs and fat so they'll forget how much they are actually getting paid. They've taken the cheeseburger to another level by sandwiching in between Krispy Kreme donuts and adding the Special B in. It pains me to even look at this image – my cholesterol just jumped up 200 pts without even trying it. A minor league team in Sauget, Illinois has also made a pact to entertain their fans with action, entertainment and a free ambulance ride to the hospital with their 1,000+ calorie burger which is sold at $4.50. Is $4.50 worth a $45,000 bypass surgery?

Nickel Diner in Los Angeles's Maple-Bacon Doughnuts
*Clenching chest. This pastry is highly reviewed by the Yelp army and it actually sounds good – if you're stoned. Try it here.

Voodoo Doughnut's Version of the Bacon Doughnut
Maybe my fellow foodblogger in Portland, Guilty Carnivore, can shed some light on what this does to the arteries. Check out Voodoo Doughnut's site.

David Lebovitz's Bacon Ice Cream
Ok now, I would actually try this. This would taste so good on nicely toasted brioche. Send me a gallon David! Visit David's site for the recipe.

Respect the Bacon Suit
How do I look? J actually thinks I'm wearing the standard tuxedo and bowtie for our wedding whenever that happens. She will have the surprise of her lifetime.

Bacon Lip Balm
The good people over at J&D's (Justin & Dave's) know how to kill two birds with one stone: why not remind yourself of the aroma of bacon while moisturizing your lips. Geniusly gross???

Archie McPhee's Novelty Store
And finally, some wacky gag gifts and novelties can be found here.

Feel free to post some links to any other insane bacon-related food or product. Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style My Doppelgänger?

I received an email the other day with an interesting attachment. It's a photo of me in a snake shop in Taiwan and someone who looks like me. Crazy. Dress shirt, jeans, watch, camera strap. He even got the mosaic pixelation down in Photoshop too... level 8! Thanks to CL for this. BTW, it's not a miracle to be wearing the same thing as me. I only own one pair of jeans, shirt and uh, boxers.

Eat Drink Style The Coq Au Vin Recipe and Emeril – Chicken Cooked in Wine

I am an epicurean, which means, that day and night, my mind is somewhere in the vicinity of food and drinks. I use the three regular meals to get through my day. When I’m eating breakfast, I’m already planning what I want to eat for lunch. At lunch, I’m pondering my dinner course. And sometimes, after going out to see a band or to some other social function, I consider the possibility of eating a midnight snack. Usually something fried and savory. I don’t know about you, but if I don’t have a satisfying meal, I feel as if there’s a void and become irritable.

Most of us, I assume, have the Food Network on sometime of the day. Whether or not you’re actually paying attention to the show, it’s just so comforting hearing the language of food. Even if it’s the annoying “bam”, “EVOO” or “yummm” (Rachael Ray) sayings that have desensitized us. Yet, we force ourselves to endure such cheese, because we truly are pigs that live to eat. The second I get home, the Food Network is flipped on.

One night, I sat on the couch in a completely, vegetative trance, watching Emeril Live. The lame lines we’ve grown numb to, simply had no effect on me.

“I don’t know where you get your ______ from. But where I get mine, they don’t come seasoned.”

“Call your cable company and order Smell-a-vision right now!”

“Use your knob.”

“See, they’re getting happy.”

“Just needs about 80 cloves of gah-lic.”

Ugh. So repulsive. Nothing on his show ever appeals to me and I question his true ability to cook. Like most celebrity chefs, they’re just an act. A face. Does anyone really think Sandra Lee from Semi-Homemade can actually cook? Hear what Yoony of Immaeatchu and Slash Food bloggers have to say about Miss Lee. I think it’s awesome that Bourdain could give a rat’s ass about no longer working for the Food Network. If you’ve read his wonderful novel, Kitchen Confidential, you’ll feel the love he has for Flay and Legasse. In one part, Bourdain tells us how essential it is to have the squeeze bottles for final touches, stating that “Bobby Flay has been making Mexican food look like Haute cuisine for year with these bad boys.” Funny. It’s also interesting to note that Emeril has his show setup like a modern, monkey-lab experiment. He’s got everyone wired to a metal cap that sends out electric shocks every time he mentions the word ‘garlic’ and ‘pork fat’. And the crowd never fails to respond. Bourdain sums up Emeril’s crowd as basically “a group of barking seals at Sea World -- hoping for some of the crap that he cooks”. Hilarious. I’m pretty sure anyone fortunate enough to sit at his counter is told beforehand to pretend the food is remotely delicious.

But once in a while, he will cook something that does sound appealing. If it doesn’t involve 80 cloves of garlic, 2 whole blocks of butter and 1/2 a bottle of Rum, I’ll actually continue watching. For me, it was Coq Au Vin, a French stew consisting of chicken, vegetables and wine. Cooked and dredged in alcohol, this rustic farmers dish was a great way to combine ‘not-so-fresh’ ingredients for a Sunday brunch. The chicken meat falls off the bone beautifully and is lathered with gravy made from the wine and chicken broth. Yum. And the best part of cooking this dish is that you get to employ some pyrotechnic techniques known as flambéing with Brandy. Pure fun.

Ingredients for 4
12-14 drumsticks
1 bottle of cabernet sauvignon (my wine of choice. Use pinot noir for a sweeter overall taste. Say no to merlot. It’s way too dry and tannic.)
1 cup of brandy
2 carrots
1 large onion (or 20 pearl onions)
Crimini mushrooms
1 can of chicken broth
2-3 pieces of bacon
Bouquet garni (a sprig of thyme, parsley and bay leaf)
Parsley (garnish)
Salt & Pepper to taste

Here we go. This is damn easy, and adds a nice scent to the kitchen.

(1) Salt & pepper the chicken. Heat your pan and add olive oil and butter over medium heat. Next fry the bacon until all the fat has been rendered out. Once the bacon is crisp you’re good to go. Remove the bacon and add the chicken and make sure it’s been browned nicely over high heat. Don’t worry about the meat being undercooked because that’s what braising is for! Once it’s browned, reserve about 2 tablespoons of the rendered fat. You don’t want to overpower the dish.

(2) PAY ATTENTION. Remove the pan off the stove and add the brandy. Ignite the brandy and let the alcohol burn out for about a minute or two. Cool huh? Once the flames die out, set it back on the stove and lower the heat to LOW. Let it cook for a few minutes. (*Note. The reason professional chefs can add alcohol over direct heat is because they have high-ceilings, $10,000 overhead fans and FIRE EXTINGUISHERS.)

(3) Heat up a dutch oven or large stock pot and add butter/olive oil over medium heat. Get it nice and hot and add the carrots, onions and mushrooms with some flour for thickening/browning. (10 minutes).

(4) Now combine the chicken/brandy pan into the stock pot and add the whole bottle of wine, chicken broth and bouquet garni. Simmer for about 1 hour, or until desired tenderness of the chicken. The veggies should also be fork tender. Salt & pepper to taste and garnish with parsley.

Coq Au Vin can be served as is, or as I like it, with a plate of rice. I do have to maintain integrity for my people right? Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style Mmm... Death Pockets!

Once upon a time, I relied on canned corn, corned beef hash, Shake & Bake, Cup O' Noodles, soy sauce, Sriracha and Spam as a source for sustenance. Canned was the way to go back then when you were constantly broke. I made the most out of everything. Some days, I would have Nissin Ramen without the soup, topped w/ sliced spam and canned corn. Shake & Bake-coated Spam with rice and eggs. Chili dogs consisted of Albertson's franks in a bun with a nice glob of Sriracha chili. Gross I know. I died a little during my college years. But on the paydays from working the on-campus, non-taxed jobs, I'd be able to treat myself to... Hot Pockets!!!

Weighing in at 4-5 oz, these are monumental achievements in the world of trashy food. Each one contains 403 calories, 22 g fat, 52 g cholesterol and 906 mg sodium. Nice stats. Unwrap, slap on the sleeve, nuke and enjoy. Who couldn't resist this buttery pastry filled with MEAT and CHEESE. Thanks to the innovative technology of the cardboard sleeve... you can simulate that deep fried taste. You had to time these perfectly in the oven... 15-20 seconds over the suggested oven time, and you'd get molten lava coming out of there. Watchout! I've burned the roof of mouth many a drunken nights.

Which Hot Pockets did you guys eat? It seems that Ham & Cheese and Philly Cheesesteak are always the ones included in the 8 for $10 deal.

I recently watched this hilarious clip on "Hot Pockets" - performed by comedian Jim Gaffigan. The whole Jim Gaffigan CD is a fun look at food and things related to it. Check out the clip by clicking on the image.

Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style An Evening of Excessive Estrogen

As a birthday treat for my friend HL, I offered to cook her dinner at her own place in WeHo. The last time I had dinner with her was nearly a year ago and felt it was time to wine & dine as we used to. Last week we discussed what kind of food would make her belly full. She proudly stated that she is not a picky eater. I proposed a few dishes and heard this in return...

"No squashes."
"No peppers."
"No mushrooms."
"No scallops."

Great, those are only four of my favorite things to cook and eat haha. After democratic discussions, we settled on a menu. Saturday, J and I spent the afternoon foraging for our culinary ingredients. As soon as we got home, we quickly prepped as much as we could. Although I'm used to bringing my whole kitchen to a client's place for catering, I really wanted to travel with the least amount of things. Cooking is never the hard part, it's the loading, unloading and cleaning that make it a strenuous task. We loaded up my plates, knives and food and drove down to WeHo.

HL's place is seriously a great place to have a dinner party. It really looks like a showroom from one of those West Elm catalogs. The kitchen was wide open and made moving around easy... and the guests were within sniffing distance. It's always a good thing to cook food near guests and stimulate their senses.

And just when I thought her place couldn't be more feminine, HL started to light candles. Like, more than you really needed haha. I counted... 1, 2, 3, 4... and a few more in the living room. Whoa. I felt like any minute, a seance would commence. It was me versus three girls.

As soon as we unloaded the groceries, HL and her friend M started pouring the wine. With nearly 6 bottles set on the table, there was going to be some serious drinking tonight. J had never met HL & M before but as most girls do, immediately started chatting away. While I cooked to the sound of sizzling hot oil and overhead fan whirring, I was slowly tuned out of their conversations. I could hear bits of pieces....

"Where'd you get those earrings?"
"I like your hair!"
"Forever 21."
"Sample sales."
"Romantic comedies."
"Oh boys."
"Oh my god."
"I love white wine!"

No offense HL, but I was so outnumbered. I could feel my b*lls slowly shriveling haha. I should've cooked in a football jersey and taken beer bongs every 15 minutes. After about an hour of prepping/cooking and many glasses of wine... we were all buzzed and ready to eat.

Seared Ahi Tuna with Yuzu & Miso Vinaigrette Salad
The first dish was a lightly-seared Ahi Tuna salad with miso vinaigrette. I started by seasoning the fresh block of tuna with salt, freshly ground pepper and coated it with black roasted sesame seeds.

Seared Ahi Tuna with Yuzu & Miso Vinaigrette Salad
Before serving the Ahi Tuna salad, I added a few drops of yuzu juice to the tuna for the final kick to the groin. This was a simple, yet tasty dish that even salad-haters would enjoy. The tuna was nicely seared... warm on the outside, cold and soft in the middle. Also, the addition of thinly-sliced scallions brings out the greens.

Sauteed Shrimp with Thai Coconut Curry
I really enjoy indian food, but cannot eat much of it because I can't eat too much spicy food. I decided to use a Thai-style curry instead, which tastes milder and sweeter. The sauce was made with coconut milk, curry powder, ginger powder, finely chopped cilantro, fish sauce and sugar. The shrimp was marinated in olive oil, garlic, cilantro, lemon juice and S&P and quickly sauteed. The garnish is japanese red ginger and chopped cilantro. This was tasty. Next time, I'd like to grill the shrimp instead of sautéing it to get the nice charred taste.

New Zealand Lamb Ribs with Mango & Mint Relish and Saffron Cous Cous
I love lamb, but never get the opportunity to cook it often because my family and friends aren't big fans. Such a pity because lamb fat has such a refined, unique taste. Mmmm. Back at my apartment, I spent a good 30 minutes removing the lining on the lamb bones... a long and arduous task that my catering boss once told me, meant the difference between a good and bad cook. I thought hard about a sauce that would work well with the lamb in case it was 'too gamey' for the guests and read that lamb & mint go together like peanut butter & jelly. To make the dish sweet, I added mangos and jalapenos for another kick to the groin. I salted and peppered the lamb and added a spice rub I had made consisting of coriander seeds, ginger powder, cumin, paprika, cayenne and cinnamon. The aroma hit me as soon as I seared the lamb rack. Even the drunken chatterbugs stopped in their tracks to say so... and quickly resumed into more chattering. "Ok, so what were we talking about just now...?" I served the lamb medium over sauteed asparagus and saffron cous cous. Saffron rocks! The cous cous was light and fluffy and reminded me of cornbread. I liked this dish so much I helped myself to another 5 lamb ribs.

After 4-5 bottles of wine, we were still going. To top the night of estrogen with even more estrogen, HL served champage with blackberries. I had a sip and jumped back to my red wine. (I want to have children, someday.) Overall, I had a great time doing this dinner party and can't wait to do another one. Since then, I've regained my normal level of testosterone. Happy Birthday to HL and thanks for letting me do this! Thank you also to J for her knack for stellar food photography. I can always count on you to shoot.

Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style Sriracha FAIL

On Sunday, I was down in Little Saigon for a monthly trip with J and her mom. While J was experiencing food coma in the car, her mom and I went to the market to buy a few goods. And I saw this...

a Sriracha bottle with not only a blue cap, but the icon of a horse/unicorn. Wait a minute! There's NO SUCH THING as unicorns in Vietnam, come on now. Where'd the rooster go? I took a closer look at the company, and it wasn't the original Huy Fong Foods based in Rosemead. This company Vi Hao Food Company took a stab at fooling customers with their version of Sriracha. For some reason, that baby blue cap doesn't look appealing to me – really reminds me of a baby bottle. Anyone try this sauce out? Can you imagine asking the waiter at your favorite pho restaurant:

"Excuse me, do you guys have the unicorn sauce? I can't eat my pho without it."

It doesn't sound right. But you know what, you never really see products out there with unicorns on it. I'm buying one.

Here's a message taken directly off the Huy Fong website:

"September 14, 2004

To our valued customers,

We would like to make you aware that we have discovered that there has been counterfeit Huy Fong Foods Sriracha Chili Sauce being sold. These counterfeits come in both 17oz. and 28oz. sizes. Since these products not only infringes upon our trademark registration, but also is produced for the main purpose of deceiving others into believing they are our products, we therefore want to warn you against purchasing this or any other counterfeits due to potential legal liabilities.

The counterfeit products are identical to our products in all regards, including the logo and wording on the label, except for the following distinguishable characteristics.

1. That taste is not identical to our product.

2. Below the green cap of our bottles, there is a protruding plastic ring, which is the same diameter of the green cap. The counterfeit product's ring is much smaller.

3. Our product's batch code consists of two lines printed with a laser etcher, which produces a clear, colorless imprint. The first line states the product/batch code (must start with an H) and the second line states the expiration date. The counterfeit does not have a product/batch code but has an expiration date that may be either be printed in black ink or or hot-stamped resulting in a colorless, blurry imprint.

4. Finally, our bottle has 'Huy Fong USA' embossed on the bottom of our bottle. The counterfeit does not.

The counterfeit products may not have been produced following quality guidelines, therefore consumption of these products may pose a health risk. In order to protect our consumers, we are respectfully requesting any information you may have regarding this counterfeit company. We thank you for your past and continued loyalty and your kind cooperation in this matter.

Respectfully yours,

Huy Fong Foods, Inc."

Somethings you can't stray away from – real Maggi, real 3-crabs fish sauce and real 3-lady rice paper haha. Definitely not the original rooster gangster.

For more FAILures, check out one of my favorite sites, Failblog.