Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The 'Chef Pose' - is that all there is?




images courtesy of cookfearless.com and www.pinterest.com

You know exactly what I'm talking about. See the images above if you need reminding.

The pose. That pose. The arms folded, with or without tattoos showing. Smile, or maybe not. Maybe go for an angry or bored look, or both. Wear the full regalia of chef whites, or not, but definitely something that indicates that you are, indeed, a chef. Then do the pose. The same pose, over and over again.

So this is it. I am making a simple request, possibly heading into plea territory, to all the guilty parties and it's this. Please stop 'the pose'. Please.

Now before I go on, it must be said that both men and women in the industry are guilty of the aforementioned atrocities. There is nothing but full equality in this post. Also note, that I have nothing but the utmost respect for the men and women in our industry. It's tough and we know it, but those picture poses say cheese rather than tough, or is that just me?

Of course, I am well aware that this is a ridiculous issue to get upset about, but there you go. Humans can sometimes be ridiculous creatures. I also know that I'm heading into somewhat controversial territory, talking about how to look in pictures now that I've admitted to a modelling past, and can recognize (and scarily perfect) a contrived pose when I see it. But, it's getting ugly now.

So listen up my fellow upcoming chefs and cooks. It's ok to fight back and break the chef pose chain!

Yes, you can appear as natural to your personality as possible, unless of course you (admittedly) take terrible pictures. If that is the case, then, and only then, should help be welcomed with open arms. Note that I used the words 'open arms'.

Brandishing a cleaver does not convey trust or knowledge to the general public. I have no idea who started that trend, but it doesn't and you shouldn't. You don't convey authority leering at the camera. You do it by cooking your ass off. The rest is just posturing, and you know this.

So trust me when I say stop. Please. I'll even start the process of trying a new pose, just to see if it catches on. Look!



image courtesy of www.angelfire.com

Better?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Tips to handle cooking failures



images courtesy of kitchenvignettes.blogspot.com and thinkprimed.com

Julia Child reportedly said that she never apologizes for her cooking failures. I always wondered if that quote might have been taken out of context, because I know damn well as a cook - professional or just mucking about, you care if you fail. A lot.

It matters that the dish you make is a success. So, I made a list of ways you can cope for all those times a dish you created might have flopped like a caught fish on the bottom of a boat. Although there is no way to take back your mistakes, there are ways to handle it like the cooking pro I know you are.

Here's what you can do:

1. Laugh. The easiest and frankly, the best way to handle a cooking nightmare. Laugh. You know you will make it again, and succeed. So is it really the end of the world that your soufflé didn't rise? Well, yes, but laugh about it anyway.

2. Cry or Yell. A big one. Yes, you can admit defeat and yes, you can shed a few tears that something you took hours to make was a disaster. You may do this silently, or you can scream or swear. Another option is to go full out nuts. Do all the previously mentioned emotions, and add in punching a pillow or bag. Then, dry your face, bandage your hand, come back to earth, laugh (*Tip number one is first for a reason) and move on. You'll feel so much better.

3. Ignore. Well, this is a tough one. It's hard to ignore mistakes. It's hard not to think about something you took the time to create that did not go the way you intended. Ignoring it means not acknowledging your mistake. If you can honestly do that, I would personally love to meet you and read your tips and secrets to handling mess. Or, tell you to quit fooling yourself and learn to laugh about it.

4. Anthony Bourdain-it. Watch him and learn from him. He personifies someone who really looks like he couldn't give a shit what you think when he messes up, but looks are deceiving. That image probably took years of self-confidence to build, but lurking behind it you know he has the capacity to crumble, and then laugh about it. Maybe. When I mess up, I think of him and what he'd do to handle it. His reactions to things just make me think there are bigger things in the world to deal with than a stupid chicken dish that was way too dry to be edible. It works. Then I laugh.

Cooking is nutty for nutty people. There are a lot of rules and regulations in place designed to make sure a raw item turns out good, if not great, and won't make you sick. You'd have to be insane to want to dedicate the time to make sure what you make follows the rules to the letter, and most people in this business are happily certifiable. Me too.

But, being responsible to make something tasty, and ensure people don't get sick or worse on what you make is like being placed and left in a pressure-cooker. I've said it before and I'll say it again - cooking is not easy. Allowances for the occasional failure is fine, but when it does happen, try to keep tip number one in mind. Your failure will be memorable, whether you like it or not, so you gotta learn to laugh about it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Grab the powder for God's sake! A food tale of stock and self-forgiveness




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images courtesy of www.kudoskitchenbyrenee.com and wikihow.com

We've heard it many, many times. It's been preached endlessly by food "experts", chefs, nutritionists, all of them screaming from the TV, online or the newspaper not to buy store-bought stock. "A travesty to real cooking," they scream. "Not real," they yell. "A sodium time bomb," they warn. All true. All very, very true, but yet there's one problem with these warnings. Isn't it somewhat elitist to assume that everyone has the tools, or means to make homemade stock?

Back in my culinary school days, I learned to hone my chopping skills to make stock and all sorts of dishes. I chopped my way through gardens of onions, carrots, celery - the basic mirepoix for making stock. The cut could have been brunoise, if you want to be precise. Paysanne, if you want to be fancy. Or, an irregular, rough chop which is usually perfect for making stock. I quickly got used to perfecting these and other varying chopping methods every class. After a while, it just become part of the routine.

Last weekend, I was making a dish that called for stock. I didn't have any fresh stock on hand, so I reached into the very back of my pantry for something I hadn't seen or used in years. Ready-made stock, just add water. As I said, it hasn't seen the light of day in almost five years, but I knew it would be still be as viable today as it was when I first bought it. That's a little scary to realize, but it's amazing how you can sometimes train your mind to overlook just about anything.

Yes, I could have thawed a few frozen chicken bones from my freezer. I could have pulled out the onions, carrots and celery and started chopping away to make my own stock. God knows it's been drilled into me, but yet, this little thing called laziness, and "want-it-now" syndrome sort of crept in and prompted me to cheat.

I could still feel the sweat on my upper lip as I ripped the seal open, and poured the yellow contents into a bowl. Maybe it was the sweat, or maybe it was the steam from the kettle, either way, as I poured the water over the insta-stock, the professional culinary years were raging inside me, questioning what the hell was I doing, when I knew exactly what to do and how long it would take for me to make a 'real' stock. Yet, still I poured and stirred, pretending not to know what I knew I was doing.

I remember a chef telling me in school that he was actually a fan of bouillon cubes. Trust me, I was shocked too. I asked him if he was serious and he said he totally was. He added that it's not exactly a secret for some Chefs to cheat a little when it comes to making stocks or sauces. It's like knowing you can make boeufe bourguignon at home, but grabbing a Big Mac instead. You do it because you can.

Understand that I am absolutely an advocate for making your own stock. Beef, chicken, vegetable, definitely take the time to make it. It enhances your dishes with a serious, non-manufactured flavour. You know exactly what's in it because you made it yourself, and really, it doesn't take as long as you think it would to boil some bones and veg together.

But, if you don't have any on hand and you really need it, I say buy the insta-stock, you know - in case of 'emergency'. Just be sure sure to put in the far back corner of your pantry. Not to hide of course - good heavens no, but simply for safe-keeping.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What's in your fridge?




image courtesy of design-engine.com

Food writers, bloggers, usually anyone in the food industry, love to talk about food. It's our life and there is no escaping it. That's a great thing. But sometimes our excitement about what we eat and go on to tell others to eat may not exactly match what could be found, or hidden, in our home refrigerators.

We can certainly talk or write a good game when it comes to the deliciousness or perils of eating. We write, for example, about the absolute best places in the world for chicken. I found another answer to that question today after reading an article about the La Bresse region in France. This region raises some of the tastiest chicken in the world. The writer did his job because I found myself not only salivating about the chicken, but also looking online to find out the cost of flying to the Bresse region of France to sample it.

After realizing how crazy - and expensive, that would be, I talked myself off the ledge and decided to make life easier by popping out to The Healthy Butcher - a local Toronto Organic butcher shop, buy a locally raised chicken and roast it myself for dinner.

That was the plan.

Instead, I got somewhat sidetracked while purchasing some milk at the grocery and bought this.

photo by Stephen Wilson

Are you thinking that looks like a package of tea sandwiches? Well if you are, you'd be right. How the thought of eating chicken in France changed to buying sandwiches you'd normally find at a church bazarre is one of those things that make up the crazy world - well, my crazy world, of food.

Now I've stated ad nauseam on this blog my love for all things food. Yet, the tea sandwiches are a gentle reminder to me, that despite my worldly ambitions of talking exotic, amazing food, sometimes reality doesn't quite add up to the ambition.

It also got me thinking about the contents in my fridge and what I like to eat in the comfort of my home. I recall an issue of The New York Times magazine that featured a photo set of what can be found in some of the top American chefs home refrigerators. Read about it here. From practically nothing to some serious gourmet ingredients, it was a fascinating look into what the people who cook yours and my food in some of the most sought after restaurants in the world, eat at home.

The article inspired me to do the same thing, so I took a picture of what's inside my fridge.



photo by Stephen Wilson

Despite outing myself about my love of tea sandwiches which you can see on the upper shelf, this is what you might typically find in my fridge. A few containers with leftovers, some milk, eggs, maybe even a bit of rocket salad. Please note that there is bacon, it's just hidden in one of the compartments. I think the fridge is kind of sparse. Actually, now that I've really looked at the photograph, it could stand a good cleaning too.

Ever since I took the photo, that old saying 'you are what you eat' keeps popping into my brain. If that's true, then I guess I'm secretly an 80 year old grandmother who loves tiny tea sandwiches with the crust cut off. You really do learn something new about yourself every day.

Take a peek inside your fridge and ask yourself, is that who I am? You'll be surprised at the answer. Or not at all.

*Blog redesign update. I've been thinking a great deal about the blog and future content ever since I made the announcement about changing the blog. Turns out, it's not quite as smooth as I thought it would be. Still, it's coming along - albeit slowly. Patience grasshopper, he must constantly tell himself, patience.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ch-ch-changes




image courtesy of www.michellehodkin.com

Great Bowie tune . As I grow and change a little more each year with my writing, I think the blog should reflect that.

It's time for a change.

Since I started this blog back in 2010, there have been so many technological and aesthetic changes in the way blogs look and feel, it's hard not to notice and even harder to not want to spice up your own personal space.

And although A hungry man has been wearing the same face for years (and I love it), it's ok to want to try a new style. I'm giving myself permission. I know what they say, don't fix what ain't broke, but I'd really like to see this blog evolve. The words will stay the same, I promise.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A hungry man leaves Memphis: The food finale




I left the city with some reluctance. Clearly the Association of Food Journalist's (AFJ) conference in Memphis has left an indelible mark on me. I've been babbling about it for days now because it really was an amazing conference. But, like everything in life, it had to come to an end sometime, but not without a few final thoughts about my visit. This is the conclusion to "Put some South in your Mouth Part One", which can be reviewed here.

Although I became hyper-aware of the gulf and tension between the races in Memphis, I also found out that the city has made incredible gains when it comes to cultural influences on the local food scene. You can find just about any cuisine you can think of - Creole, Indian, Thai, Mexican, Vietnamese, and Ethiopian, just to name a few. And the residents of Memphis are very proud about that. Lucky for me and my fellow colleagues, we all had the chance to see and taste some of it for ourselves.



And speaking of my colleagues, as food writers and/or journalists, we know we're completely in the business of food. That means not only plenty of writing, but plenty of tastings. You're checking out local talent, places to eat, the latest in wine and liquor - all of it. This is a very good thing when you love food, and also not so great if you love food. We're eating. A lot. It's all we do, it's what we do. The food could be light, or it could be heavy, salty, and/or fried. Ether way, it sometimes results in health issues of our own let alone health issues for the general public.

As writers we are mostly mindful that we have to watch what we eat for the sake of our own professional lives, but it can also pose an interesting dilemma professionally. How do we recommend a local fried chicken place, when we also know that obesity is becoming a very serious problem? How can we write that a certain iced tea is delicious, all the while knowing that same drink had so much sugar it might as well have been straight sugar and water poured down your throat. We know that you cannot expect to eat all that fried chicken and thick gravies, or "vegetables" like macaroni and cheese (it is seriously called a vegetable in the South) without paying for it in some way. Yet, we still have a job to do.

Thankfully, it's been pointed out at the conference that some changes are at least beginning to be made to traditional Southern cuisine, that will hopefully achieve some dietary balance, and make it a little easier to have that fried chicken without guilt.

There are Southern Chefs who are very serious about addressing the obesity and diabetes epidemic in the South - and possibly the rest of North America, because lets face it, it's not just a Southern problem. Memphis Chefs Felicia Willett and Miles McMath are leading the charge for change by cooking food that retains it's Southern flavour without having to resort to only frying food or providing overly generous portions.

Chefs Willett and McMath are creating outstanding vegetarian dishes. They know there are plenty of great Southern recipes that can include healthy options. Ingredients like okra, collard greens and sweet potato are not only delicious, but nutritious, and they are working hard to make vegetarianism more than just a dirty word in the South's culinary language. They also understand that they face an uphill battle to change the local food culture.



The AFJ conference was an enormous opportunity for learning, and I was privileged to be invited to join and experience it for myself. The people that I've met - AFJ members, Memphis Chefs, cooks and even the residents who had nothing to do with food, conference panelists I had a chance to talk with after they presented - they have all inspired me to strive and improve my working knowledge of food culture, not to mention my own writing abilities. It was an honour and pleasure to be a part of such an incredible group of passionate writers, and I actively look forward to next years conference.

Southern cuisine - the fun, the fantastic and the not so great, has now become a part of my growing culinary language. Watch this space to see where the next adventure in food will take me.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Put some South in your Mouth! Talking Southern Cuisine




image courtesy of www.salvationsisters.com

Put some South in your mouth. What a great slogan by the fabulous Salvation Sisters and a pretty accurate description of my culinary adventures in Memphis. I was more than willing and very happy to put plenty of South in Mouth thank you very much.

On the flight home to Toronto, I was thinking, smiling and even frowning, about my time in Memphis. My experiences with the city, the cuisine, the people - all events had a healthy dose of yin and yang moments. Now that I really think about it, that may have been the only 'healthy' moment I had while at the conference.

Wait, that's not true. I did have a lightly seasoned baked salmon dish, with asparagus and wild rice as my goodbye, so long, auf Wiedersehen, see ya later dinner at McEwens with Boris, a fellow conference attendee and friend. I'd say that was pretty healthy. Very nice restaurant too. I was even asked for ID when I ordered a martini. The waitress thought I was under 21! Do you have any idea what that does to the mind and body of a 40 year old? You'd better believe that made the meal so much tastier.

Back to the point of this post. I can write this next paragraph with conviction. I do not believe I could, nor ever will, get tired of Southern cuisine now that I've been firmly introduced to it. I do, however, believe that there would definitely be moments where I'm sure I'd rather be inhaling a bag of raw spinach instead of eating another piece of fried chicken, just to keep my body from turning into a play dough.

Speaking of fried chicken, my mouth waters just thinking about it. Now I'm very aware, that just like BBQ and Football, fried chicken is a deeply serious issue in the South. What restaurant, chain, independent food hut, or person makes the best version of it? Who has the best recipe? Yes, this is a serious enough topic to actually start arguments and possibly fistfights.

I was told to check out Gus's in downtown Memphis for a taste of good, Southern fried chicken. What's interesting is that it's a chain, but apparently that's ok when it comes to Gus's. My order came with sides of dark molasses baked beans and zingy cole slow. God the chicken was so crispy good. There is absolutely no point eating that chicken with a knife and fork. You grab that crackling seasoned chicken skin and meat with your hands and shove it your mouth. This is not the time to be dainty.



images courtesy of Stephen Wilson

But the best thing I found about Gus's wasn't the chicken, but instead it was all about the most flavourful, delicious, buttery-warm, coconut pie I've ever had. My awesome dining partner Jen found the recipe, and I fully intend to see if I can recreate it Canadian-style. Or maybe I'll just leave it in the style it was meant to be made in.

The culinary tour continued with a visit to Stax Soul Music Musuem, where I also got a good glimpse of the neighbourhoods outside the downtown core of Memphis. There is such a defiant mixture of extremes in this city. From beautiful, to an absolute shambles, it was all there for the naked eye to see. But once we arrived at the museum, breathed in the soul music blaring from the sound system, and watched Isaac Hayes epic, tricked out cadillac spin around in its display booth (Check it out here!!), it was all about 'A Taste of Memphis'.

Local Memphis Chefs including Erling Jensen, Patrick and Deni Reilly, Felicia Willet, Jose Gutierrez, Ryan Trimm and Frank and Eric Vernon provided samples of braised quail; open shrimp sandwiches, BBQ pulled pork, ribs and spaghetti (with BBQ sauce instead of Tomato); sweet potato pie and pecan bread pudding, and; tasty Southern rum with watermelon juice to name just a few of the goodies we ate. Seriously, the sample list was just what I could remember, I lost count of how many vendors and food there was. I didn't sleep well that night, my stomach was not happy I overstuffed myself at the event.

I also had the most beautifully designed, incredibly tasty chocolate from self-taught Memphis chocolatier, Chef Philip Ashley Rix. Remember that name - he is going to blow up! I've received cookbooks and recipes (Big thanks and hugs to Miss Cheryl Malik and Miss Regina Charboneau - whose personal stories are as good as her recipes!) that I can't wait start now that I'm back in my own kitchen.

I swear I've never been to such an incredible conference in my life. Food, writing about food, talking about it with people who love food every bit as much as you do? Sampling a range of outstanding (and also a few cases of middling to not-so- great) cuisine? A dream come true and there's more to come. Think your stomach can handle it?

The conclusion will be posted tomorrow.