Study Abroad: Chefs on the Cooking Stage That Changed Their Lives

Trust the French to make interning sound fancy. In the restaurant world, a stagiaire, or stage (pronounced staahj), is when a chef temporarily works in another kitchen, usually without any compensation. Oftentimes, chefs will embark on these internships to learn how to cook a different cuisine, expand their repertoire of techniques, or get a peek behind the curtain at a revered dining institution. It’s not a glamorous chill session full of swapping anecdotes with their culinary heroes, though; it’s a lot of dull, difficult work. However, if a chef is very dedicated and a little lucky, they just might walk away with a new perspective on cooking or a skillset that could alter the course of her or his career forever. These three chefs share the story of the cooking stage that changed their lives.

Daniel Gursha of Bambara, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Cooking Stage

“When I began thinking about staging somewhere, I started writing to a lot of different restaurants, but noma was always my number one. I had the cookbook, took it everywhere with me, and studied it religiously. Then head chef Matthew Orlando finally wrote me back, but I was almost too scared to open the letter. Luckily, he said, ‘We’ll take you in September 2011 until the end of the year.’ It was the best restaurant in the world at that point, so it was a dream come true.

The first day at the restaurant was amazing and overwhelming. You begin by doing grunt work and then you work your way up. Most people spend the first two weeks picking herbs and walnuts. There were some people who never left that station. I had to push to get out of there. I spent three weeks at every other station and then a month in the test kitchen alongside chef-owner Rene Redzepi. I got to sit there and taste the same things he tasted, talk to him about it, see what was going on in his mind and how he was developing dishes.

I’ve always been about trying to showcase ingredients for what they are. I want a carrot to taste like a carrot and I’m going to make that be the best carrot it can be. Going to Noma pushed this philosophy to new heights.”

Rob Weland of Garrison, Washington, D.C.

Cooking Stage

“In the early nineties, I did a yearlong stage at Pierre Orsi in Lyon, France, which was the gastronomical capital of the world back then thanks to Paul Bocuse. It was supposed to be unpaid, but, ultimately, they felt sorry for me, so they gave me a very meager wage. I was very young, so it was all very intimidating.Continue Reading

You Say It’s Your Birthday? 5 Top Restaurants for Birthday Desserts

Any way you slice it, everyone needs cake (and all varieties of decadent desserts). Those ready for a break from all the clean eating. Anyone following the U.S. political campaigns. And, naturally, people celebrating birthdays. And birthday dinner-ending sweets are at their absolute best when they’re prepared with top-quality ingredients by professionals trained to make sure the last thing you eat at their restaurant is the best thing. So if you’re ready to indulge on your special day (or any day, really), check out one of these five top restaurants for birthday desserts.

Vespa, Westport, Connecticut
Know what makes a killer cake even better? Twelve (!) layers of buttermilk sponge cake baked thin, sliced even thinner, and then covered with a traditional bittersweet chocolate mousse made with 63% Valrhona cocoa powder. The chocolate semi- sweet chocolate ganache frosting doesn’t hurt either. Craving a different flavor? Then there’s carrot cake, made lighter by technique (the eggs and sugar are whipped) and better by using Mascarpone mousse and Italian buttercream vanilla frosting on top. And because pastry chef Susanne Berne believes it’s the best combination out there, she does a banana sponge cake layered with chocolate and peanut butter and covered with a dark chocolate glaze. On the side: “milk jam” (think caramel or dulce de leche) truffles. Because why not? Make a reservation at Vespa.

Top Restaurants for Birthday Desserts

Rye, Leawood, Kansas
If you’re craving an upscale-but-hearty meal to precede your cake, then this is the place. But don’t fill up entirely on the pan roasted salmon, the seared hanger steak, or chicken and dumplings because then you won’t have room for the peanut butter chocolate pie with French silk-style chocolate mousse on top. Or the new coconut cream cake, in which the cake is infused with buttermilk and coconut cream and then layered with pastry cream and topped with caramel sauce. Another word of caution: If you fill up on a side of mac ‘n cheese with crispy bacon or roasted cauliflower with lemon garlic butter, then you might be too full for the classic banana cream pie that has chocolate-covered crust and toffee crumble on top. And we haven’t even mentioned the lemon meringue pie with its creamy Swiss meringue that never rotates off the menu due to constant customer demand. Make a reservation at Rye.

Top Restaurants for Birthday Desserts

Tango, Seattle, Washington
The fact that the recipe for Tango’s El Diablo dessert is carefully guarded by the restaurant’s owners — and that the chefs are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement regarding the ingredients and cooking technique — are some pretty reliable clues that this dish is off-the-dial delicious. Owner Travis Rosenthal describes it as thicker than a mousse, but not quite a cake. It’s also gluten-free, has a hint of cayenne pepper, and comes with tequila caramel sauce. Do you really need more convincing? Make a reservation at Tango.

Top Restaurants for Birthday DessertsContinue Reading

Shopping for Chefs: Trends + Numbers from the Pebble Beach Food and Wine 2016 #PBFW

Pebble Beach Food and Wine 2016 kicks off on March 31 and runs through April 3, and offers guests the chance to take part in enjoy once-in-a-lifetime tasting opportunities, cooking demonstrations, wine-paired luncheons and intimate dinners, elite wine seminars, and more. Continuing its reign as the premier food and wine event in the world, the festival will play host to 8,500 guests and feature 124 chefs, including Daniel Boulud (Daniel), Matthew Peters (Per Se), Joshua Skenes (Saison), Bryce Shuman (Betony), Stuart Brioza and Nicola Krasinkey (State Bird Provisions), Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood), and 250 distinguished winemakers. The Ment’Or Cooking Demo and Dinner alone will count 13 Michelin stars among participating chefs.

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As we look forward to this delicious event, we wondered about all the ingredients it takes to create these experiences. Enter Dorothy Maras, senior culinary event manager for both Pebble Beach Food and Wine and Los Angeles Food and Wine. Her job, in a nutshell, is to get the chefs there — and then get them whatever they want to ensure they can put out wow-worthy dishes and drink. From chef coats and credentials to itineraries and food equipment and disposables, Maras helps make it all happen. She and her team also source every ingredient, which is no small task when you’re talking about feeding almost 10,000 people. “It can be scary,” notes Maras. “Whatever you provide from growers has to be impeccable.”

This year alone, her team will stock up on a whopping seven to eight tons of food. That includes:

  • Two pallets, or 1,200 pounds, of octopus
  • 1,100 pounds of butter (900 salted, 200 unsalted, if you were wondering)
  • 480 pounds of cheese, 20% of which is of the blue or Roquefort variety
  • 300 pounds of berries
  • 300 pounds of carrots
  • 60 cases of Little Gem lettuce
  • 40 gallons of fish sauce
  • 22 cases of cauliflower

Before worrying about the quality and quantity of ingredients, however, she and her staff must be sure they understand what the ingredients are. With 35 years in the culinary industry, she’s no stranger to virtually anything, but with a roster of chefs from around the globe, there can often be language barriers. “What people call certain ingredients varies around the world. — as do measurements. Thank god for Google!,” she laughs. There are also at first-sight-misunderstandings, like the time a chef from the Caribbean put “1 kid” on a shopping list. “We all knew he meant a goat, but it was definitely funny upon first read.”

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Or when another asked for(ahemmerken, which turns out to be a spice, ICMYI. After a chuckle and striking at through their usual network of local growers and purveyors, they turned to Amazon. We typically source from within a 100-mile radius, but when a random request comes in, Maras admits, “Amazon is our friend.” Extreme requests can inspire growers to go to somewhat extreme measures. “We had a chef request cherry blossoms — only there weren’t any to be found on this coast.” She called a grower down south to make an inquiry and while he didn’t have any, he was able to clip them from a neighbor’s trees and overnight them, saving the day (or at least that chef’s dish).

As she’s been a part of the festival’s evolution over nearly a decade, Maras has had a front seat to the evolution of cooking. “It’s been fun to watch,” she says. “Everything old is new again.” Some hot trends Maras is seeing for 2016 include:

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Chefs are 86ing molecular gastronomy and too much fuss. “We’re seeing chefs utilizing a lot more heritage techniques, such as pickling and preserving.” Tweezers, too, are scarce. “Chefs are recognizing that people want food that is satisfying and substantial that doesn’t look like it was assembled with surgical tools.”Continue Reading

Chef Maria Hines Shines in Seattle Restaurant Scene

The name Maria Hines has been synonymous with inventive food and high-quality service since she first appeared on the Seattle restaurant scene in 2003. After a brief stint at Earth & Ocean, she went on to open three critically acclaimed, all-organic restaurants and win numerous honors. We chatted with her recently to find out more about her passion for organic food, what she looks for on the rare occasion she eats at someone else’s restaurant, and what it’s like being a woman in a field that’s still dominated by men.

Chef Maria Hines

Chef Maria Hines grew up in San Diego and attended culinary school at San Diego Mesa College. After building her skills in France, she cooked in major cities such as Washington and New York. But she’s always loved he Northwest, she says, and she jumped at the chance to move to Seattle in 2003.

Hines owns three very different restaurants: Tilth, which focuses on New American cuisine, Golden Beetle, which offers craft cocktails and eastern Mediterranean food inspired by her travels in Turkey, Egypt, and Lebanon, and Agrodolce, where lovers of southern Italian and Sicilian food can enjoy a memorable meal. When asked why she doesn’t just stick with one type of cuisine, she says, “I’d get too bored. Cooking is a great creative outlet.”

There are common threads that run through all of these restaurants, however, namely a high-quality experience and a commitment to organic food. Tilth, Golden Beetle, and Agrodolce are all certified organic by Oregon Tilth, meaning at least 95 percent of the food has to be organic.

“Organic food is all we eat at home, so that’s what I wanted to do at the restaurant,” she says. To ensure she can meet these strict guidelines, Hines makes many condiments and sides from scratch, including ketchup, mustard, jam, harissa, butter, charcuterie, pasta, and cheese.

Chef Maria Hines

Organic foods taste better and are more sustainably grown, she says, both of which are very important to her. In fact, the commitment to sustainability goes beyond the kitchen and to all other parts of the business. All of her restaurants recycle and compost, purchase green cleaning and paper products, and utilize low-VOC paints on the interior.

When Hines dines out, she says she looks for “well-executed, consistent food and knowledgeable service. A nice room with great ambiance.” She tends to favor Korean or Asian restaurants but will try whatever strikes her fancy that day.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (as reported by Bloomberg Business) shows that only 39 percent of restaurant cooks are women, and less than 19 percent of head chefs are women. Since March is Women’s History Month, I asked Hines what opportunities and challenges exist for women in the restaurant industry. She immediately became animated.Continue Reading