Saturday, October 16, 2010

Call me Neil.

I haven't posted on here in a long time, and I think that's for a lot of reasons. But first, I want to get back to the main question here; Am I a chef yet?

I have been called a chef on numerous occasions, (here's a good one!) but I don't feel like one. Whenever someone calls me 'chef' I will very quickly correct them, asking them to call me Neil. I didn't really realize it as it was happening, but over the past year and a half, I think that has become one of my legacies. I'm a cook, and I always will be.

No matter what anyone says, i'm still an archaeologist, i'm still a trombone player, i'm still a kid that grew up in Connecticut and spent his summers on a cattle ranch in Oregon. I'm still all these things, and I always will be. What will I be in the future? I don't know exactly, but I have a few things that I know I would like to be. One thing for sure that I would like to be is a person that supports the people around me, whether it be friends, family, coworkers, or strangers. Basically, if someone has a question or needs help, I want to do everything I can to help.

Ad Hoc has been incredible, and now I am in the process of moving on to the next adventure. A lot of people have been asking me what I'm doing next, and the answer is; I am going to cook.

I love to cook. Some people tell you that if you love to cook, don't do it professionally because you won't like it anymore. This didn't happen to me. All i've been doing for the last two years is cooking. When I wasn't at work (Ad Hoc) I was cooking four course dinners with beer pairings with a friend at Mission Gastroclub. All I've wanted to do is cook, and try new things, and just make really good food that hopefully people will enjoy, because I enjoy making it.

This all feels really weird, telling everyone what's on my mind, but a lot of people are asking, and I guess that's what a blog is for: telling. So right now I'm looking for a cooking job somewhere in the San Francisco Bay area. Of the ten places i've lived and numerous places i've visited in the 28 years of my life, this is definitely one of my favorite, and the environment is incredible. I am so happy here, and i'm making a living here.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Ad Hoc

This blog has taken a back seat in my life for the past few months beacuse I feel like I have finally achieved my goal.

I finished my three months at The French Laundry on the last day of February, and on the first day of March, I started working at Ad Hoc. In some ways, ad hoc is exactly the same as The French Laundry. Every day we do a different menu. At ad hoc we have a set menu, but ours is four courses, whereas at The French Laundry the menu is anywhere from 9-20 courses. Ad hoc is different because everyone eats the same thing, which is so incredible. It's like home; we serve all four courses family style, so everyone at the table can serve each other. But we still put every bit of detail into producing the best tasting food that every chef at The French Laundry will put into their food.

I am so happy to be a part of ad hoc. On my first day, I was pushed harder than I ever was at The French Laundry. This was partly because I had more responsibilites at ad hoc, but this was also because I felt like I was part of something, finally.

I will continue to talk about this place over and over again (ad hoc) because it means so much to me. I am so incredibly happy that I work at this restaurant. We do such incredible things every day. We push ourselves harder than we did the day before, making every day the best ever. My chef has a phrase, "Be better than history today". It's simple, but it means so much.

When I decided I wanted to cook, I wanted to cook the best food possible; I wanted to create something incredible every day; something completely new and awesome yet completely approachable. I dreamed that I would someday be able to create history, and now i'm doing it, and i'm so happy because of it.

For the first month, I was in charge of plating the cheese course and the dessert course. This was really hard for me, I was not used to serving people wish such urgency, and I was not very good in the beginning. I knew I had to push myself really hard every day, but only in the last few weeks have I really understood what that meant. I'm starting to understand, and it's still really hard work, but so incredibly rewarding. To be able to say that I create something people can sit back and look at in awe is so incredible. I'm using the word 'incredible' so much because that's what it feels like to me.

Before we open the doors to let customers in, everyone in the kitchen makes a tester plate so the whole restaurant can taste the menu of the night. The whole kitchen staff and the whole dining room staff stand around and talk about the menu. We in the kitchen talk about why we made things the way we made them, and the dining room staff can ask any questions they want about the menu. We embrace it so the customers can feel how important everything is to everyone in the restaurant.

Today, for the first time ever, I was involved with the main course. I was given the chance to cook the steaks. Tonight we did a steakhouse theme. For the first course we did a baby iceberg and watercress salad with easter egg radishes sliced very thing, baby red beets, brioche crutons and bacon with a herb cream dressing on the side. A very simple, bright, sweet, crunchy salad. The main course was an 18oz bone-in ribeye steak. It was a beautiful piece of meat. When I served it, I told the chef that if my grandpa saw that steak he would be proud. The steak was served with sauteed red potatoes, oyster, beech and maitake mushrooms, and asparagus with an tomato confit vinaigrette. The cheese course was a tasting of three different cheeses; local camembert, as well as cow and sheep's milk cheese with a side of endive sald with pickled haricots verts and toasted almonds. The dessert was strawberry shortcake with local macerated straweberries and chantilly cream.

No one should leave ad hoc hungry, and this is for a lot of reasons. If a customer came in tonight and told us they didn't eat red meat, that wouldn't be a problem. We are here to serve you! No one should ever come to ad hoc and accomodate themself for us. It is my purpose to accomodate you! We had fresh ivory salmon cooked to perfection to order. Say you are vegetarian, or even vegan; we will accomodate you! We can give you a special plate just for you. We will even give you a substitute for the cheese and dessert. Ad hoc is more than just the food; it's an experience. We will do everything in our power to give you the best experience you will not forget. I mean it.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Courses 8-11

1969 Sercial d'Olivera
A madiera, a sweet wine that has notes of vanilla, oak and caramel.

Course 8: Chestnut maple souffle with truffle sauce poured over the top. For this, it is a simple souffle, with a base of chestnuts, flour, sugar, maple syrup and egg yolks. Then, egg whites are whipped with sugar and folded into the the base. The truffle sauce is made with truffle stock and veal sauce.

This was so delicious. A light, slightly sweet fluffy souffle topped with a luxurious truffle sauce. Perfect pairing with the madiera.

Vina Godeval
The grape varietal is godello, a Spainish grape slightly like Chardonnay.

Veal heart with pistachios, romaine, sour cherries and cocoa pudding.
The veal heart brined for 24 hours and then vacuum packed and cooked in a 174.9 degree water bath for another 24 hours. This makes the heart extremely tender. It is sliced very thin and reheated in duck fat. The romaine is lightly dressed with olive oil, and the cocoa pudding is made with chocolate, cream and egg yolk.

Next, I was served a butter roll from the Bouchon Bakery down the street with two different butters. On the left is the Andante dairy butter, locally made. This was cut into 36 gram portions and then hand shaped in cheesecloth. On the right is Diane St. Clair butter, which is from Vermont. This butter is slightly tart, like a buttermilk flavor.

Salad: Sunchoke, compressed apple, toasted marcona almonds with a spicy mustard gastrique. The sunchoke is the root of the sunflower. These are turned (meaning carved by hand with a knife) and blanched. The apple is compressed in a vacuum bag. The gastrique is a blend of sugar, vinegar and mustard seed.

A very nice salad to cool down the palate.

Gargamelli, gidori duck egg, iberico ham, asparagus, and shaved black truffle from Provence.
Gargamelli is a type of pasta that is made in house. The ham is from Spain, where the pig's diet is primarily acorns. The asparagus is blanched in salted water.

When I received the plate, there was no truffle on it, but then a server came with a small black box with a lock on it, and pulled out a black truffle and shaved about 10 slices on top of my plate. Truffles have a very powerful aroma, earthy and funky; so incredible.