Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sunday Dinner

So as I wrote about in the previous post, I had little to do today so I decided to cook. On the menu today was filet mignon, shitake mushrooms, potato gratin, bordelaise sauce. I was inspired by the classic steak and potato combination that my parents enjoy a little too much. I went to my local farmer's market and got all the produce i needed, then to whole foods, because the meat vendor at the market was absent. I purchased two small tenderloin fillets and some Fage greek yogurt (Not for the dish, but I'm really into that stuff right now).

We then went to Genurdis (don't worry I don't get my stuff there) and while my mom shopped, I went to Borders and read Phoebe Damrosch's book Service Included, which is a great story about Phoebe's experience as a captain at Per Se.

When we got home I got right to work steeping some cream with sage and garlic, buttering a large baking pan, and peeling/slicing my potatoes, just like they taught me at Lacroix. I then gently overlapped each slice of potato to form a layer on the bottom of the pan. I then ladeled in a some cream, and sprinkled parmesan, mozerella, and gruyere cheese (heart attack waiting to happen). I did this with each layer until the potatoes were a bit above half the pan's height. I baked that at 315 for about an hour then put it under the broiler (under my close supervision) for about 10 minutes.

I made the Bordelaise sauce by reducing some red wine with shallots, garlic, carrots and some other fun stuff. I then poured in some veal stock and reduced it down to a sauce consistency. A topic that frequents the home cook's kitchen is the use of stock. I'm gonna be honest. I cheated today, and I feel quite guilty. I used store bought stock. Though Michael Ruhlman has done his best through his writing, to keep me away from this culinary atrocity, that container on the shelf, brand new and glistening, with no bones to blanch, no fat to skim, no time to wait, is quite tempting. Yes yes I know I should just use water instead, but I feel worse using water. I can't do it.

And that brings me back to my dish. After making the sauce, I seasoned my steaks, put them in a blazing hot pan, seared them on both sides, added and basted with a little butter, then put them in the oven for a few minutes while I sauteed the shitake mushrooms with a little butter.

I made a bed of shitakes, put the steaks on top, placed the gratin next to it, and put a little sauce on the side. Take a look!

I guess I was pretty proud of this dish. I liked that I had the steak and potatoes combination, and it tasted great, but I wasn't fully satisfied. I always have to be self critical of my dishes so that I can improve, but this one just wasn't that fulfilling. It lacked something. The ingredients didn't fully connect. Besides that, what really pissed me off was that I overcooked the steak. If my dish doesn't connect, no biggie. But when you overcook the steak, that's a problem. I knew it right when I took it out of the oven that I had left it in too long. It was more towards the medium well spectrum than the medium rare I had aimed for. Anyway, mistakes make u better, and my mom liked it anyway, but remember, she would like my food no matter what.


Today is Sunday, and it is a rare Sunday in the sense that I barely have any homework whatsoever. In times such as these, I take full advantage of the spare time and cook! What will I make? A lil rustic Italian? French Bistro? Scandanavian? Well it all depends on what I can get at the market, but I doubt it will be Scandanavian. I'll get back to you later today!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Food Network

Do I like the food network? That's a question I get a lot. The answer is not really.

My opinion however, has been sculpted by some of the people most notorious for "dissing" the food network. Having read his book, Anthony Bourdain is the most notable, however among most chefs, despising the food network seems like the cool thing to do (wow that's kinda like despising your parents in high school). These chefs are not without reason. For professionals who take much pride in their craft, seeing someone such as Sandra Lee dumb it down so much, is highly insulting.

I will say however, that I would watch the Food Network over Date My Mom, or My Super Sweet Sixteen on MTV anyday. Actually, now that I think about it, perhaps the Food Network isn't so bad, its just the message that some of the shows send. Maybe it's not even the message they send, maybe it's just that I'm looking at this through a chef's point of view, and my pleasure comes not from putting a meal on the table in 30 minutes, but from pushing myself to make the best food possible, regardless of time. A working mom, would likely prefer the Food Network point of view.

But no. I'm not siding with the Food Network that easily. Though my view is quite subjective, as a cook, I have a duty to constantly be in defense of food. I could go on and on, about how the only good that will come out of watching Sandra Lee is how to defrost pre cooked french fries, but I don't want to talk about what she, or any other "food network star" is making. Telling people that squrting cheese whiz on tater tots and calling it dinner is wrong, isn't news to anyone. I would much rather talk about their principles.

Everyone always talks about the grandmothers, and how it always tastes better when they make it, and so on. Then you ask her "Grandma, Grandma, what your secret ingredient?" She responds "But of course dear, it's love." You say "Grandma really, what the secret?" She says "Love. Dont believe me? Ask the dishes. They can sing they can dance after all this is France." Sorry. Back on topic. Maybe granny has a point. What's great about her cooking, and what grandma's are renowned for is making legit, authentic, 100% home made food. You never hear "Semi-Homemade."

When I see Sandra Lee using pre chopped celery, my heart drops. It takes a certain amount of care and devotion and love of food to do the little things. Caring about, and perfecting the little things affects your finished product not only in the sense that it will likely be better if you do it yourself, but also that you will care more about ensuring that it turns out good. What do I mean? If you take your time doing the little things, you will not let the precious time you used to complete these tasks go to waste, and you will ensure that your hard work becomes a satisfying finished product. How can you put Ms. Lee on TV when her appreciation for food clearly runs just skin deep.

That said, I will watch Emeril Live (though there are no new episodes being made), and Giada too, depending on her outfit. I used to watch Iron Chef America before I saw this,302520,302520,1.html . My favorite however is Good Eats with Alton Brown. Now that is a great show. One of my favorite on TV. There hasn't been an episode that hasn't taught me at least 10 new things.

In conclusion...

Forget it, I don't like conclusions. I'll save it for English class when I have to write one.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Home cookin'

My parents are neither cooks nor foodies whatsoever. I recently learned from my science teacher that the "foodie" gene is recessive and commonly skips a generation, which justifies me loving food. My Nana grew up making agnlotti and gnocchi, and my grandmom on the other side would go to Le-Bec Fin whenever the chance came around.

My parents not loving food doesn't mean they've discouraged me from loving food, its actually quite the opposite, however this absence of love for food really shows up at the dinner table. Tyson chicken fingers, already mashed potatoes, fish sticks, the list goes on. I will give them credit however. They are quite busy people, but I just want some real food.

There are 2 big obstacles standing in my path on my quest for real food; my two younger sisters.

By looking at them you would never guess the terror they can create at dinner time. However closer inspection reveals that they are not to be messed around with. Don't try serving them broccoli. You will lose much more than you gain.

Recently, the older of the two has joined the brigade and begun to object to such processed foods. After watching Ghandi in history, I began to pick up a few of his principles (nonviolent resistance, fasting) in an attempt to teach the opponent of their wrongdoing. Our campaign has steadily won over my mom, who is finding more time to cook dinner. My smallest sister, on the other hand, will not budge.

We recently bought Jessica Seinfeld's Deceptively Delicious which is all about sneaking healthy food in your kid's diet.

My mom and I tried one of the recipes which is sneaking some cauliflower puree in mashed potatoes. We were quite excited to try this one out and eagerly awaited my sister's reaction.

One bite, nothing. Two bites, nothing. My mom and I thought we were in the clear and we silently rejoiced to ourselves. We were too quick to do so. The next words that came out of her mouth were "Eww, mom why does this taste so weird." She was too good. As expected, our plan had failed, however I was not ready to give up on real food.

We have recently instituted a policy that's called "My way or the highway." This is good for everyone, besides my sister, but we are quite flexible and have made accomadations, as any good restaurant will do. Everybody's happy.

Tonight my mom made chicken tika masala with some rice and vegetables, samosas, and nan (pictured).

Most of it was from Trader Joe's but I'm content with such an improvement.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lacroix 2/16/08

I walked into the Rittenhouse at 11:30, put on my chef's coat and apron, and stepped in to the dish room carrying a green cutting board I had acquired from the dish room. I greeted the guys then got right to work on preparing the potato gratin for the sunday brunch (Lacroix's sunday brunch is the best meal in Philadelphia. I'm not receiving any compensation for that statement). I peeled about 8 potatoes then placed them in water to prevent browning. I then grated half a block of gruyere, and filled a pan with already grated mozzerella and parmesan.

I steeped some cream with sage and rosemary then sliced the potatoes thinly on the meat slicer and placed them directly on a buttered hotel pan. I overlapped each potato to cover the bottom then added each cheese, cream, salt, and lemon rind to each layer.

I continued this until it got to the right height. I needed more cream however, and I began to steep some more cream with herbs. I started on making croutons for the panzanella bread salad for brunch when I heard chef call "nick what's going on with this gratin?" While I had been waiting for the cream to steep my potatoes had taken on a pinkish color, and were beginning to turn brown!

I should've been prepared! I hate to make mistakes like this but I always learn from them. I would rather make them at this point in my career rather than later.

I added the remaining cream and was ready to put the gratin in the oven however both ovens were full. I asked Jason if I could take his stuff out while I baked the gratin. He told me I could, but stressed that I better put his stuff back in when I was done. I was scared to think of what he would do to me if I forgot.

The gratin came out looking amazing. Unlike last time, I had remembered to put it in a water bath and to cover it with foil for most of the cooking time.

Once service started I helped out the Garde Manger station by making salads, plating the bouche, and helping with the other dishes at the station.

Before leaving I picked duck confit by seperating the meat from the bones and the skin. It's the type of thing where you eat just as much as you pick, but hey, that's the fun in cooking.

Also, that picture at the top isn't mine. I don't take the camera to work.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Cooking for the guys

Last night all the guys came over and slept at my house, not because I have a great sleepover house, a plasma tv or an XBOX 360 (I have none of the three) but rather because they knew that they would be eating well the next morning. I was determined to make it the best experience possible.

The term "morning" was taken very literally, as I was asked for food at 1:15, and responded by whipping up this cheddar omelet.

For breakfast, me being the generous kid that I am, I woke up early and made crepes for my friends. I gave them an array of jams and jellies and fruit butters to choose from, however white chocolate was the popular choice. I melted it in a double boiler and filled the crepes with it, then sprinkled confectioners sugar on top. I meant to take pictures, but they disappeared too quickly :)

Next I made scrambled eggs with a lil sharp cheddar.

My friends ended up staying for lunch and I was persuaded into making tuna melts, turkey melts, and grilled cheese, (steak au poivre would not be too popular amongst my friends). They finished the meal with some chocolate chip cookies. I then made some fried egg sandwiches for them to take to their parents cause u know, you gotta score some brownie points with the parents (not sure how many made it all the way to the parents). Either way, my friends left with little sleep, yet happy stomachs.

When people ask me if I've catered, the usual response is no, catering to my friends however, is a common activity of mine.

The Fried Egg Sandwich; packaged while still warm and shipped to homes all across the country.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bleu Cheese

My mom picked me up 2 bleu cheeses from DiBruno Bros. on Saturday and now they’re gone. I guess my love for bleu cheese really stems out of the fact that it has such a strong and distinct flavor. Unlike cheddar or Swiss, bleu cheese has a great pungency that gives it character. It’s therefore much more interesting to eat than something such as cheddar. I can understand however, why people oppose it. When I go to Dibruno’s however, I want to try the stinkiest, most pungent cheese possible, something unique that I haven’t had before. I guess I can really relate this to food in general (not that I want the stinkiest food) in the sense that when I go to a restaurant, I don’t want chicken or salmon. I want foie gras, calf liver, cow tongue, or something interesting that you won’t get with your everyday swiss. Just a quick thought from my food obsessed mind.
Note: Pictured is one of my favorite bleus; Shropshire.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Branzino "en papillote"

Today is Tuesday, and you know what that means. It's time for some simple mediterranean cooking! I decided that I wanted to do a salt crusted branzino. I went to Philadelphia Fish and Lobster (as always), which is right across the street from whole foods (I wouldn't buy my fish from Whole Foods after seeing how good the people at PFL appreciate it). I grabbed a whole branzino, not scaled, not gutted, not filleted. I need the practice.

So I forgot to take a picture before I gutted it but seriously, I bought it completely untouched.

Just about then, I realized that I would need a hell of a lot of salt for this. I checked my supply and I was running low. Shit! yes I said that out loud, my mom's gonna spank me. I had to improvise and fast. I pretended I was in Ratatouille. Anton Ego had just entered the restaurant, and wanted something "off the menu." I had to think of something fast! I checked the walk in (I don't actually have a walk in) and found some mushrooms and lemon. There was also an abundance of provencal herbs. I had it! I was gonna make a branzino en papillote! Remy would be pround.

Yea so I did my work on that fish, and using the skills that Chris at Lacroix taught me, I managed two fillets that did not look half bad.

I made a bed of lemon slices on parchment paper for the fish, then added thyme and rosemary. I seasoned liberally with salt and white pepper and drizzled the fillet with white wine and olive oil.

I put it in the oven at a whopping 500 degrees for about 7 minutes.

I then seared the mushrooms with a small amount of oil before seasoning them then adding butter to finish them off.

I made a quick vinaigrette of just dijon, salt, white pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil, and a quick olive tapenade from some leftover deli olives.

I placed the mushrooms in the middle of the plate, the fish on top, a lil olive tapenade on top of that, and my best attempt at a ring of vinaigrette.

And voila.

My mom liked it! But she likes everything I make. Seriously though. I could piss on my food and she would force herself to like it. I do however think this was a pretty solid dish. Nothing spectacular considering I just grabbed a few scraps from my walk in, but I was pretty happy with the way turned out. Ok now that I'm in the mood, I think that I will forego my math homework until tomorrow morning, and watch Ratatouille.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Ripert in Philly

Having always lived in the Phili area, just like any good citizen I have supported all things Phili; the cheesesteaks, the sports teams, brotherly love, and most recently the Phili restaurant scene. I guess my interest in cooking has peaked at the right time, because the restaurant scene is better than ever, and we are getting more and more recognition as a restaurant town. I will be the first person to rant about the great food here in Philadelphia and I am therefore very happy, as I'm sure you are, that legendary chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin in New York will be opening a restaurant in the Ritz this May.

A few weeks ago, 1/22/08 to be exact, he had a press conference in the Ritz to discuss the restaurant, the chef etc. With the help of my loving mother I was able to maneuver my way into that press conference.


I turned from excited to nervous. What would I say? Would he be just another asshole chef? Would he welcome my appreciation for him, or would he tell me to go do my homework? Well I was in the car and there was no turning back now. My stomach was filled with butterflies.

My mom and I arrived at the Ritz in the space where the restaurant would be. Significant changes had already been made. Chandeliers had been removed, the space had been outlined, and perhaps most notably, Chef Ripert had bought an apartment in the Ritz so that he would be able to oversee the restaurant's development, assuring us uneasy Philadelphians that there would be no lack of devotion on his part.

The director of the event immediately interrupted a few people to introduce me to Ripert, and I immediately became wrapped up in conversation. I shelled out a few of my pre-written questions, but these sounded unnatural and so I calmed myself down and determined to have a regular conversation. We talked about my interest for cooking, my recent meal at Le Bernardin, a passion for fish, the new restaurant and everything else about food. One thought prevailed in my mind however and it was Dude! this guy is awesome.

Yes, this guy is a four star chef and owns the best seafood restaurant in the country, however for the while we talked, I did not detect a hint of arrogance! The absence of such is rare in cooks much lower than him. He is extremely easy to talk to and his French accent (I wish I had one of those) was very Americanized and easy to decipher.

I was able to meet the future chef de cuisine of the new restaurant, Jen Carrol as well. Until you meet her you would never guess that she is a chef. She is tall, skinny, blond and she cooks. What could be better? She was also very easy to talk to, however most chefs have different personalities outside of the kitchen. I told her how I was left in awe after my meal at Le Bernardin and she responded by giving me her number and telling me that any time I was in town I could call her and come in and work!!! That was the highlight of the night. I tried to stay cool, calm and collected, however I felt like I was going to burst. I took deep breaths. Wow, the night's only just begun and I'm already scoring numbers.

I talked to some of the other press that were there before Chef Ripert made some announcements and introduced Jennifer to everyone.

It turns out Jen was actually from Philadelphia, and she had worked in Manayunk before moving to New York and working her way up to Sous Chef at Le Bernardin, where she worked for five years. She was one of four female cooks in a forty-cook kitchen.

Facts About the Restaurant
140 Seats in the dining room
80 bar and lounge seats
Emphasis on local ingredients.
Ripert wants to make this a Philadelphia restaurant. He doesn't want to bring concepts from other places.
"Quality ingredients, simple preparations"
Restaurant will be more casual and affordable than Le Bernardin.
Such a casual restaurant will juxtapose the elegance of the Ritz.
Restaurant Will Open in May

Ok and that's all! What a night! I had midterms the next day.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


I'm in high school and I am therefore faced with the everyday question of what to do for lunch. Sometimes I wish I was a high power attorney in New York, and that I was able to go to Cafe Boulud for a nice power lunch, yet, I am not, and will never be, and for now I must either choose to make my own or buy from the school cafeteria. I have always brought my lunch, but with bringing your lunch, there comes a larger array of choices. For a long time I have resorted to the Deli Turkey Sandwich, occasionally featuring seasonal ingredients, but basically a sandwich of whole wheat bread, lettuce, dijon, and deli turkey. Each item packed seperately, in an attempt to spare myself from a horror i see all too often, the soggy sandwich.

I have recently become disgusted with this sandwich, and have begun to pack more interesting and creative lunches. Highlights have been a honey roasted ham salad with mixed greens, summer squash, and a honey mustard vinaigrette, and shredded turkey with mixed greens wilted in soy sauce.

That is why today I roasted a chicken (using Thomas Keller's bouchon method), with no plans of eating it for dinner but rather to provide some excitement for this week's lunches.

On the menu for tomorrow,
Roast Chicken, garlic wilted spinach and sauteed shitakes.
Maybe I will throw in a drum stick for an afternoon snack.

Rae: 5th best Restaurant in Philadelphia?

Just recently Phili Magazine did their ranking of the 50 Best Restaurants in Philadelphia. I was very pleased to see that I had worked at 3 of the top 4 places, but as I further scanned the list, I began to question the credability of the ranking. Rae, a restaurant I had barely heard of was ranked number 5. I was pleasantly surprised. I thought that I had been to all the top restaurants in Phili, but I was happy to try a new place.

My mom and I decided to go a few weeks ago. We got an 8:30 reservation and were seated immediately, however, not in the main dining room. We were seated in a section that was more the Cira Center Lobby. Now before I go and talk badly about this restaurant I just want to add a little disclaimer and say that criticizing restaurants is not my favorite thing to do, but I can dish it out when necessary. Ok so sitting in that section away from the dining room felt like sitting in a frikin airport, and my server was the anxious flight attendant who's tired of dishing out cokes.

Our server came over and gave us bread and two types of butter and a bean spread. I will say that the bean spread was absolutely delicious, and caused me to finish my roll rather quickly. I wanted to go out with my friends, and my mom wanted to watch a movie, so we told this lady that we were ready to order. She responded by telling us that our server would be out shortly. A minute later the same lady came back and took our orders. I thought this was quite funny and I tried, but was unable to surpress a giggle. Both the server and my mom looked at me. I felt like I was in school, when I would laugh at one of my teacher's corny jokes, and I would get stares from everyone in the classroom. So my mom and I ordered the truffle pizza to share, which was quite good, however I can't get over that synthetic taste of truffle oil. We then asked for more bread. I broke off a piece but only the outside came off. IT WAS FROZEN! Come on! I was hype for that white bean spread and then I get frozen bread!

We informed our waitress of this and she said she would bring some more right back out. In the meantime we were brought our second course which was short ribs with a pancetta dressing, BEFORE OUR OTHER PLATES WERE CLEARED! Come on I feel bad for you guys! Does the 5th best restaurant in Phili do that? The short ribs were delicious and the pancetta dressing had amazing body, yet that was all that was there. The 5th best restaurant in Philadelphia gives you a "composed" plate of Short Ribs and Pancetta Dressing for $32. Where are the glazed root veggies? The sauteed chantrelles? The braised onions? Hell, I would eat some KFC mashed potatoes with that, just give me something please.

So a while later our waitress finally came back and said, they are defrosting the bread now. It will be out in a minute. It's a saturday night service! How do you run out of bread! That's like when you're sleeping out, and it's only 12 and your friend runs out of the Tombstone Pizza. It can't happen! You have to prepare for these things in advance. Technical details like this seperate a good restaurant, from a better restaurant (not necessarily a great one). Finally we got our bread. This time it was not frozen, it was too hot to touch! I had to wait for a minute for it to cool down before spreading the remaining bean spread. We passed on dessert but asked for a menu to take home. We waited 8 minutes before asking anothing server who got one immediately. We left, not so happy with the dining experience.

5th best restaurant in Philadelphia? Doubt it but I can't answer definitively. My rating would be highly subjective. I came at 8:30 on a Saturday night, I only came once, and I only tried two things on the menu. Such mistakes however, seem unlikely at a restaurant ranked as highly as this one, and I therefore am a bit unsure of this "50 best restaurant" ranking. Though the words clearly say 50 Best Restaurants, maybe Phili Mag is referring more to the hottest or trendiest restaurants. Anyway, this experience taught me one thing. Just like you don't want to judge a car until you get a carfax history report, don't judge a restaurant until you've been there for yourself.

Countdown to Per Se: 40 days!

If you're reading this, there's a good chance you already know this, but Thomas Keller is THE MAN. I could tell you why in a 5 page essay, but I already have one of those due for English tomorrow, and saying he's THE MAN sums it up just as well. Thomas Keller is pretty much what most cooks aspire to be. He is without question the best chef in America, and owns the best restaurant in America; The French Laundry. Per Se, the Laundry's cousin is just a Chinatown bus (and half a year's allowance) away, from my home in the Phili suburbs. So, it being so close, and me being so eager to go, I've already been there.

Though you can read this on about every New York Dining blog, it's amazing. 20 perfect courses, served with such an astute attention to detail, and such friendly service, that the $275 price tag is easily justified. After going there, I decided my next meal in New York would be Le Bernardin. So I saved up, and finally got there Thanksgiving weekend. Le Bernardin is one of the reasons that I hope I never have to eat grocery store seafood again. The food was on par with Per Se, however the detail, and phenomenal service were not as apparent (after I ordered, my waitress huddled with a few others, then pointed at me and said "the kid's ordering the tasting menu). After that I decided that Per Se was the place to go. I could eat at other four star "kingdoms" such as Jean Georges, almost twice for what it would cost me to go to Per Se, but right now at least, Per Se is the place that I know I have to go.

And so after going on that tangent, about 3 weeks ago, I realized that enough money had accumulated in my piggy bank for me to go again. And of course you have to call two months in advance, so I looked exactly 2 months and 1 day in advance and I was in luck. It was Spring Break, I had my mom call the next day at 10 in the morning and make the reservation. We got it. I'm going. Hence began the endless scouring of the internet in search of pictures, reviews, anything I could dig up. And so while 40 days may not seem important for you, I am 20 days closer than I once was, and for a kid who's idol is Thomas Keller, that is pretty exciting.
Alright, I better go work on my english essay.


Hi, my name is Nick. As you may have guessed I'm 15, and a foodie, and an aspiring chef. I've always had a love for food but that passion really took off September 2006 when I was offered an apprenticeship at Lacroix at the Rittenhouse by the head chef Matthew Levin. I've been going in on Saturdays ever since. Since then, I've worked at Amada, Osteria, and Fork, I've dined all over Philly (usually paid for by my allowance), and I've learnt as much about food as possible. My career really took off when I was featured in a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and I've become so immersed with food in my everyday life, that I thought it necessary to share my experiences. I thought a blog through the eyes of a fifteen year old foodie would provide a unique insight for all people in the blogosphere. I plan to document my experiences at Lacroix, and to talk about everything else food related. Just remember, school comes first, and if I swear anywhere in this blog, don't tell my mom.