Sunday, January 30, 2011

Baby, baby....

Where did my blog go?

And all those promises....not to mention the slurs.

Someone hacked my email.....and maybe deleted all that work.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Raices, otra vez.....

Our new fish supplier in the City found us some farm sturgeon. Farm sturgeon gets a big Green Light on the list, so…….why not?

We go way back with sturgeon.

Our logo is sturgeon related……

Our opening gift from artist Zevi Blum from a series of culinary engravings he had done in upstate New York while working for Steuben Glass.

The drawing depicts a scene from the life of Vatel, a legendary sixteenth century chef.

“Vatel” is also a must-see chef’s movie starring Gerard Depardieu and Uma Thurman.

Vatel’s world was the world of the Three Musketeers. He first worked for Fouquet, the finance minister of Cardinal Mazarin. Mazarin was the head of state for Anne of Austria (Geraldine Chaplin in the movie), the regent for her young son Louis XIV. Her affair with Lord Buckingham…who actually turns out to have been as queer as a four-dollar water pistol….. and the crooked financial dealings of Mazarin and Fouquet, caused a royal rebellion among the princes and generals who supported the young Louis.

Vatel was Fouquet’s chef. He presided over the grand feast in 1661 to which Fouquet invited Louis XIV and all the generals to the palace of Vaux-le-Vicomte. Fouquet had built the palace with all the stolen money, and did not survive his hubris.... or the banquet, at least politically. He was arrested by D’Artagnan of Three Musketeers fame, and likely went on to become The Man In The Iron Mask. Really.

The architects of Vaux-le-Vicomte did survive. Andre le Notre, Louis Le Vau, and Charles le Brun went on to build Versailles for Louis XIV.

Hey, when you have lemons….make lemonade.

The baddest of Louis’ generals was The Great Condé, Louis de Bourbon, aka Enghien.

Enghien controlled the vast quasi-country of Burgundy as well as Berry and Lorraine. He was married to the daughter of Richelieu, which would be enough for most folk, but on top of that he was the most capable general in France.

After the fall of Fouquet and Mazarin, Louis XIV got the architects of Vaux-le-Vicomte….and Enghien stole Fouquet’s chef!

The Condé lived at Chantilly, the still-gorgeous palace an hour from Paris.

Vatel was officially the maitre d’hotel, as well as chef. This meant he was in charge of everything: grounds, staff, kitchens, farms, vineyards, stables, livestock, fisheries, mines….you name it. The Condé ran his territory like an independent country, so Vatel had full powers, and full responsibility. The Culinary Karl Rove (his real name was, in fact, Karl Watel…..Swiss).

Ten years into Louis’ reign, the King decided he needed to kick the ass of the Dutch and the Flems. He needed a general, and the Condé was still the best….even though his most recent experience had been kicking Louis’ own ass and stealing the best chef in France.

Meanwhile, the Condé was dead broke after ten years of royal intrigue, and needed Louis’ money…… but he couldn’t let Louis know.

So…..Louis came for a royal visit to hash all this out, with his full, treasury-breaking entourage. Think P-Diddy and J Lo coming by for the weekend…..with Liz Taylor and the Kardashian’s.

Vatel was ready.

For opening night, they served sturgeon. Sturgeon was (and still is… in England) a royal prerogative. At Christmas, Prince Charles portions out filets to his Cool List. No one is supposed to serve it without royal permission, technically now…and definitely in 17th century France.

So, to let Louis know what was what, and who was who…..and who was really King Daddy at Chantilly…. and in Burgundy, even though they were broke…..Vatel and the Conde laid out the royal fish for their royal guest.

Sturgeon are enormous anadromous fish…They live in salt water, and return to fresh water to spawn, like salmon and trout and steelhead. They are hard to kill, live a long time, and can run fifteen to twenty feet, easy.

There was one famous sturgeon….I can’t remember where…that thrilled and appalled the public by eating ducks like popcorn in a public park.

To cook the sturgeon, Vatel had to have special pans made, and to serve them, special giant silver platters. Vatel controlled the mines, the metal market, the artisans…the whole deal.

Timing was, of course, crucial.

Failure was not an option. The galleys awaited anyone, Vatel included, who screwed up.

Row, row, row yer boat…..

Sturgeon are always presented proceeded by a piper…..Union rules.

In our logo, you see first Vatel with his mace of office, then the pipers, then here comes the sturgeon….An eighteen footer….

As Vatel made his entrance before the King, the crowd was puzzled by the pipers….then stunned to see the sturgeon…being served by a General to the King….The Sun King no less!

“Fuck you, Louis… are in MY house. I make the calls here……”
Holy shit! And, it was not lost on anyone present the last royal meal presided over by Vatel resulted in death and dismemberment for his boss….

As the procession came into the dining room, suddenly the first platter-bearer tripped. The others stumbled with him, and the entire fish came crashing down in a heap of steaming flesh, twisted silver, and screaming servants and guests.

When the chaos died down, all eyes turned to Vatel standing quietly by the door to the kitchen, surely doomed to the galleys.

Vatel looked at the mess, shrugged his shoulders and turned to his assistant, “Ooops. See if we have another one in the back…….”

On cue……out came more pipers…..and a 24 foot sturgeon!

The all-time catering “Fuck you!”
(I am still waiting for the right bride and/or mother-of-bride to pull this one on with a wedding cake…….One would assume 100% deposit….)

Post-script: The Condé got the job,and the money. Vatel did not do as well.

For the next night’s dinner, he had ordered 10 tumbrils of fish from Calais. Only one arrived, and the meal circled the Drain of Disaster.

Vatel took out his sword, held the point against his heart, and ran into the wall.
The ultimate chef’s tantrum….and the ultimate beleaguered chef’s guilt trip.

Vatel’s other legacy is Chantilly cream…..whipped cream with sugar (what a concept!) that was served to the 2,000 guests the night of his demise.

Honi soit qui mal y pense!

One there is who bad there thinks!

Hey, and in the movie he gets to sleep with Uma Thurman….

And the movie’s tag line:

“Some men are too noble to live among aristocracy….”

Hold that thought, Chef.
Voila….our logo.

Many thanks to Etienne Merle, Zevi and Jon Blum……

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The REAL Grill...

Some of us have been working on a REAL fundraiser (beyond Tritips In The Rain in Cachagua and Spaghetti By The River) for Rachel for a while now. It was all set for the Highlands Inn for March. Toby did a killer job with the Big Sur Food and Wine Fest there in November....the only bummer was the absence of Rachel, four days after the accident.

Then, suddenly, the Highlands brass told Auntie Erin that management doubted that we (Erin, Toby, Gina Weston, Molly O'Neal and I) "could pull off an event of this quality in the time frame."

Yeah well, fuck you sideways. Which of Rachel's friends hangs at the Highlands anyway? (Well, except to sneak into the hot tubs after hours....)

We were meeting at The Rio when we got the news, and were grumbling about those fucking corporate douche bags.

Tony Tollner overheard our bitching: "Why don't you do it here? I'll give you the Rio for a night, no problem."

One of the many reasons to love Tony and The Rio......

I always tell people that the word "restaurant" comes from the verb "to restore". We used to be a solace and shelter back in the day, and an important part of not just commerce, but society and communication.

Some places still are.

Hats off to Tony!

Sunday, April 10, 5:30-8pm. Rio Grill. Great wineries, tba but all our local favorities. Great foodies, tba....but think Mundaka, Cachagua, Tim Wood, Tree Bones, etc. All the Photo Mafia are coming together for the auction.....As much fun as you can have with your clothes on....

James Earl Ray Day

People actually call our recent holiday by this name. Really.

Missed MLK Day by an hour.

Just two thoughts....

Dr. King was involved in the Memphis garbage workers strike against the advice of every single friend and advisor he had: " is too dangerous. need to focus on the Poor People's March....Martin: it is a tempest in a teacup. Martin: it is garbage workers....."

Against all advice Dr. King made at least three appearances in Memphis...even with clear death threats against him.


The garbage strike was all about getting better wages and working conditions for the mostly black garbage workers. Duh. Well, turns out that there were lots of folk involved in the Memphis garbage detail: drivers, pick-up men, unloaders, etc, etc.

The drivers were all white. The pick-up guys were all black. In 1968 the pick-up guys made the Federal minimum wage: $1.68 an hour. Somewhere around $250 a month, less taxes.

I know this, because I also made this wage at the a white guy working in restaurants in Upstate New York. Of course, I had no wife, kids or rent.....

The other deal was I was not in Memphis. It rains a ton in Tennessee. When it rains and you are a garbage pick up have a visceral understanding that a pint is a pound....the world around. A fifty gallon garbage can left in a Memphis rainstorm quickly becomes a living, seething nightmare that takes two strong men to shift, much less lift.

And in rules had the white guys (two of them) snug, warm and dry in the cab of the truck. The "niggers" did all the hard labor....and had to hang on to the outside of the truck between stops. For about $13 for an eight hour day.

The way hard work works....the workers figure out ways to game the system. The only game available to the black pick-up guys in Memphis was to hid in the bed of the garbage truck between stops...out of the rain. A little peace during the thirteen bucks a day.....standing in filth and garbage was marginally more comfortable than getting rained on.

Well, one day...the knucklehead crackers driving the garbage truck in the dry and cozy cab...flipped on the crush switch between stops. Knowingly or un-knowingly....who is to tell? Two African-American workers were crushed to death in the back of a garbage truck. Families, children, etc....

They got nothing from the City of Memphis....from the trash company, from anyone.

Martin was both moved and offended. The story of the Samaritan rang true and clear for him, and he refused to turn away from it....even at the expense of his own life. Every single one of his friends and advisers told him to stay away from Memphis....but he refused to turn away from such obvious abuse and heartlessness.

If you listen to his last speech....I promise the hairs will rise on the back of your neck.

I really don't think they make people like this anymore.....

That was #1

Number 2 favorite quote from Martin Luther King....

"Life is just a series of shattered dreams......."

That doesn't get much play....

I have a dream.......