Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Waste not, want not......

Back in the day my first job in the restaurant biz was at L'Auberge du Cochon Rouge.....the Inn of the Red Pig....in Ithaca, New York.

My mentor chef there was Etienne Merle.....who himself was mentored by his father, Pierre. These guys were hard-core, old-school French pricks.

Nothing was ever wasted in our kitchen....nothing. Etienne would even monitor my tying of the ducks for roasting to make sure that I was only using so much string. Then, when the ducks were roasted, he would monitor my cutting through the knots in just the right way......so I could re-use the string for the next load of ducks.

String.

Inches of string.

It mattered.

I am always amused by people who make jokes about the Scots and the Jews being culturally cheap. These folks have never worked in a French kitchen. Don't even talk to me about cooking in the vineyards in Burgundy and slaughtering pigs for the grape-pickers. (Hint: "andouille" only means "sausage" in Corralitos and New Orleans....in France it means "small pig intestine as pasta).

The French kitchen dynamic has been rolling for 700 years. Right now, we follow the Northern Spanish model.....creative, market-driven, etc, etc. Andoni Aduriz taught Brendan to make a killer dish using apple cores......His chefs comb the hills in the mornings for wild saffron, mushrooms, tender herbs......

Unknown to almost everyone is the fact that Northern Spain, a "neutral" country in WWII, underwent a viscious famine after the war. Juan Mari Arzak, Pedro Subijana, and Sr. Elizondo in San Sebastian grew up with no food....and close relatives who died from hunger. It is no wonder that modern Spanish cuisine uses gleaners....and turns the kind of fungus, produce, fish and shellfish Carmel rich folk never notice or are repelled by into high art.

Kitchen work and profitability go back to the struggle between the two age-old dynamics: 1) "It is better to throw out than throw up....."; 2) "It is better to throw up than throw out......"

America is obsessed with weird OCD visions of its food. Americans cut the rind off Brie as something dangerous and disgusting.....and guzzle gallons of poorly filtered, acrylomide-laden fry fats....and don't even mention the GMO corn, sugar, cotton....and the RoundUp Ready rapeseed oil that went into the crappy fry fat to begin with.

In America, image is everything.....and proof positive of our place as Greatest Nation in the Universe (?) is our ability to have Lots of Food All the Time... or the image of an abundance food.....but food that meets our narrowly defined concept of wholesome, healthy and fun.....

Which definition has been defined by a diabolic conversion of marketing, agribusiness and political corruption on a grand scale....

Oh.....and:

There is no hunger in America!

We'll just ignore the whole NY Times article about food stamps. The whole thing about the fact that there are 239 counties in the US where more than 25% of the population is on food stamps......36 million people in all. Such a buzz-kill.

OK.....fold that nugget into this one: Americans now waste 40% of the food we produce and prepare. Check it.

And it is not just the food that is wasted.....the water (25% of our fresh water consumption goes to food production), the energy (production, preparation, transportation).....300,000,000 barrels of oil yearly. I have not heard anyone talk about the labor......I have had gifted engineers carefully slicing green onions ever so.......

And.....we are in the middle of an obesity and diabetes epidemic.

Is this Through-the-Looking-Glass stuff, or what? Water and energy shortages, 36 million on food stamps, 35% obesity rates, increasing diabetes, 40% food waste......

I have been busting my ass in the restaurant business for 40 years. I have still.....touch wood....not lost a nickel doing it, for me or any of my foolish investors. Restaurants, like grocery stores....run on an expectation of a 1-3% profit.

And we are pissing away 40% upfront?

And.....this is a great country?

How stupid are we?

Really fucking stupid....or amazingly lazy and passive, as it turns out.

Six or eight square-state senators control our farm and food policy....and create all this mess, with a huge assist from agribusiness, mass food outlets, etc.

The scientists who calculated that each American tosses 1400 calories a day (which is ironically the Oprah Weight Loss Calorie Goal) trace the loss to marketing and policy.

More is better. Push it, mow it, and toss it.

Anyway...back to waste, local version.

Even as a French-trained, waste-nothing kitchen prick....we still compost at The Store 9-10 five gallon buckets of trimmings and food waste every week....minimum. 400 pounds a week for a little caterer with a one-day-a-week restaurant. This does not include meat scraps, which go in the dumpster.....or the dogs.

Part of this waste is just normal: no one eats the core of the fennel bulb or the carrot peels....even after we make veggie stock from the skins, stalks and cores.

The lion's share of this is just pure waste....we grow too much and we buy too much, trying to anticipate our clients demands. We work our butts off trying to anticipate your needs and demands.....but we work an 18 hour day every Monday....and most weekends prepping food that no one will ever eat.

God forbid we should ever run out of anything. It would be Un-American. We are a good caterer....we never run out of anything.

For example.....today we have a half organic chicken, half a duck, 20# of organic tomatoes, a shit load of chard, kale, eggplant and sorrell...... 10# of organic purple potatoes that went to seed.....15# of tri tip, a whole wild salmon....5# of wild harvested wild rice, 5# of natural pork loin, three racks of organic, smoked baby back ribs, 3 # of wild halibut, 4# of wild scallops, three sheet pans of hand made pasta, six servings of handmade lasagnette, one awesome serving of rabbit, three natural filet steaks, two natural double pork chops......plus the peels, trims and cores. And this is winter, when we are slow. Oh, and two sides of wild smoked salmon nobody bought.

We eat as much as we can....and give away as much as we can...but my dogs are really happy dogs.

And.....we are often on the receiving end of unwanted food. In October we were trying to deal with a half ton of organic heirloom tomatoes a week, plus the plums, peppers, squashes, lettuces of a system geared to only consuming the best of the best when in the mood....and tossing everything else.

Part of the whole abused child/PTSD syndrome that French-trained chefs deal with after our training is Stockholm Syndrome.....a misplaced love for the captor/abuser, and a tendency to propagate the abuse into further generations.

We should be so lucky.

Based on my training.....I still scrape my bowls and blenders with the best quality silicone spatualas because the French taught me to be cheap....but also because they taught me to respect the food, the people who grew it, and the folks put love and intensity into bringing it to me.....and to get the maximum value out of all that time, attention and work.

Tonight my dinner was some leftover pasta I made three weeks ago.....green from the basil pulp that derives from making our basil oil that I blended into the mix for the linguine. It was brittle, and you have to be careful standing it up on end over the small pot of water so it all gets cooked in one piece (all our big pots are at The Store).

I had the basil linguine with some sauteed fresh local boletes.....I bought six pounds from a local gleaner yesterday.....and sold two pounds last night. Actually I sold one pound.....I gave away two orders as a mitzvah, another story. The other four pounds will go to waste, since it is almost impossible to store, freeze or dry king boletes.

I sauteed the boletes in good European-style Wisconsin butter from Wuthrich .....that I have tons of because I have to make a certain weight in my orders to be able to buy my panko and my Valrhona chocolate from my supplier. (Amuricans buy by weight, dammit!). The butter costs dramatically less than Costco butter, and insanely less than Safeway butter....but no one buys it in Cachagua, or elsewhere for that matter. I give it away as party favors with the unserved bread Micah bakes on Monday's, and people often back away from me, politely as I rant...We sell Wuthrich for $2.50 a pound, and make a profit. It is so good that I am torn between considering it an anti-depressive....or a depression enabler. In our household, butter is a beverage, and the fact that I pay less than $1.80 per pound for a wonderful, hand-made product makes me weep....both for joy at my access to inexpensive abundance, and in sadness for Mr. Wuthrich.....family owned since 1904.

Finally, I grate over my pasta the heel ends of my Beecher's cheddar that I bought on my tour with my friend Charyn in Seattle on October 7. It is a cow/sheep blend made in a shop across from Pikes Place Market. In Monterey this would be like buying a bread bowl of shitty clam chowder from a Shake descendant, saving it for two months, and dying of salmonella and botulism for nostalgia's sake....In Seattle the rules are different. In Seattle the tourists are a side effect, not the raison d'etre. Beecher's makes the cheese on the spot....you can watch them. You can also buy the world's best Grilled Cheese Sandwich, and arguably the world's best Mac and Cheese for four or five bucks.....and you can take home chunks of the cheese being made behind you. I bought sixty bucks worth.....Charyn bought the mac n cheese.

As the insanely kind, friendly and helpful clerk was wrapping up my chunks of cheddar......

(Seattle also is the center of American kindness and politesse. People stand easily in lines, and take the opportunity of line-standing to converse. No worries. The day I returned from Seattle I was in the am at the Carmel Valley Chevron trying to buy coffee, gas and Red's donuts.....the fuel of the local construction industry this side of heroin and methamphetamines.....and noticed a builder-type guy standing politely and waiting while uptight yuppies and whacked out sheet-rockers charged the register, banging elbows and throwing money at the poor checker. As we waited, I asked him: "So......How long have you been away from Seattle?"

"Six months.....how did you know?"

Never mind.......)

Back to Beecher's on 7 Oct......

I heard the clerk at the next register respond to a question:

"How long will the cheese be good for?"

"About a week...if you wrap it ever so, and pray to the cheddar gods, and abstain from oral sex....and if the refrigeration and humidity is right......"

WTF?

My chunk has been loosely wrapped in the original paper since 8 October. I consider it an anti-depressant. It helped my parvo puppy over the hump of being scared of food (he was a from Wisconsin in a previous life and is crazy for milk products)......It served us a dozen impromptu meals in October and November....

And tonight I grated the crusts and rinds over my leftover pasta ......with the unwanted butter that sauteed the unsellable mushrooms.

Heaven.

I admit that I did add salt....Murray River Pink.

Apparently.....I was dumpster-diving, according to the American Ideal.


And....

I am still just now getting over being pissed off about the couple last night at The Store who sent back two plates of oak roasted local natural lamb.....without even TASTING it!

It didn't LOOK right.....They refused it on sight.

It wound up as my dinner, as it turns out....and snacks for Zim, the Criminal Border Collie, who was really happy....as was Haji, Zim's puppy, another Canine Criminal-in-training.

It was delicious....and technically perfectly medium rare, as ordered......142 degrees F....digitally monitored.

It was a rich red in color because it was a natural product, raised on a fifth-generation ranch up by Lake Almanor somewhere by folks genetically imprinted to care about their work.....not some shite from Outback.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

You have to really be something to be 86'd from the Cachagua Store. I served wild diver scallops last night to a guy who sleeps in the creek behind The Store in dry weather......

These people are beyond 86'd.

I don't just want to 86 them....I want to hit them with something sharp, shiny and heavy.

Actually.....something dull, filthy and blunt......

Like their world view......

12 Comments:

Blogger kathy said...

You silly, silly, silly boy. If you didn't have such an incredible menu of choices the boletes would be snapped up in a heartbeat. Winnow that menu down to 4 items and everything will sell. Put cubes of butter on the dessert menu sprinkled with a little red salt. There. Problem solved.

8:40 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

gee Etienne always trusted me to tie up the ducks ... and this is surprising considering I once washed his cutting board with soap and water ... I used to be such a good Seattleite and dutifully waited for the light to change before crossing, now I just look both ways and pretend I'm in New York before charging across the street

10:24 AM  
Blogger sam said...

I'll need to check out Beechers...I hadn't heard of it. And no kidding about the street-crossing thing. Talk about a culture shock moving here from New York City...

10:55 AM  
Blogger Sequoiagrapeboy said...

Salted or unsalted? If it's salted -- I'm heading to the Store for a few bricks of that yummy butt-tah...

SN

9:21 PM  
Blogger Txacoli said...

It is unsalted. Come on down for some bricks....I have cases in the walk-in.

12:21 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

Love that butter! Especially on Micah's bread!

7:37 AM  
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11:04 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Enjoy your writing, special.

7:54 PM  
Blogger RawkClmbr said...

History: Simplified with Actual Material

History 101 (Crash course)

For those who don't know about history ... here is a condensed version:

Humans originally existed as members of small bands of nomadic hunters/gatherers. They lived on deer in the mountains during the summer and would go to the coast and live on fish and lobster in the winter.

The two most important events in all of history were the invention of beer and the invention of the wheel . The wheel was invented to get man to the beer.

These were the foundations of modern civilization and together were the catalyst for the splitting of humanity into two distinct subgroups:

1. Liberals

2. Conservatives.

Once beer was discovered, it required grain and that was the beginning of agriculture. Neither the glass bottle nor aluminum can were invented yet, so while our early humans were sitting around waiting for them to be invented, they just stayed close to the brewery. That's how villages were formed.

Some men spent their days tracking and killing animals to
B-B-Q at night while they were drinking beer .

This was the beginning of what is known as the Conservative movement.

Other men who were weaker and less skilled at hunting learned to live off the conservatives by showing up for the nightly B-B-Qs and doing the sewing, fetching, and hair dressing. This was the beginning of the Liberal movement.

Some of these liberal men eventually evolved into women. The rest became known as girlie-men.

Some noteworthy liberal achievements include the domestication of cats, the invention of group therapy, group hugs, and the concept of Democratic voting to decide how to divide the meat and beer that conservatives provided.

Over the years conservatives came to be symbolized by the largest, most powerful land animal on earth, the elephant. Liberals are symbolized by the jackass.

Modern liberals like imported beer (with lime added), but most prefer white wine or imported bottled water. They eat raw fish but like their beef well done. Sushi, tofu, and French food are standard liberal fare. Another interesting evolutionary side note: most of their women have higher testosterone levels than their men. Most social workers, personal injury attorneys, journalists, dreamers in Hollywood and group therapists are liberals.

Liberals invented the designated hitter rule because it wasn't fair to make the pitcher also bat.

Conservatives drink domestic beer, mostly Bud . They eat red meat and still provide for their women. Conservatives are big-game hunters, rodeo cowboys, lumberjacks, construction workers, firemen, medical doctors, police officers, corporate executives, athletes, members of the military, airline pilots and generally anyone who works productively. Conservatives who own companies hire other conservatives who want to work for a living.

Liberals produce little or nothing. They like to govern the producers and decide what to do with the production. Liberals believe Europeans are more enlightened than Americans. That is why most of the liberals remained in Europe when conservatives were coming to America . They crept in after the Wild West was tamed and created a business of trying to get more for nothing.

Here ends today's lesson in world history.

It should be noted that a Liberal will have a momentary urge to angrily respond to the above.

A Conservative will simply laugh and be so convinced of the absolute truth of this history that it will be forwarded immediately to other true believers and to more liberals just to tick them off.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Cirque Du Filet said...

Being a mentor to me...You never cease to amaze me..Ok king bolete and maple sugar cookies (made with that wonderful butter and raw sugar) serve with a slice of that wonderful cheese gratinéed to perfection garnish with pink salt and fresh wild lavender...As for unworthy patrons..I once heard a tale of a fresh monterey bay halibut carcass finding its way to the table of an unruly customer....Oh what style you have....

1:36 PM  
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