Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Omnivore's Hundred, or 100 foods you should eat

I first saw this list on the beloved food blog (and one of my favorites) Chocolate and Zucchini. Andrew Wheeler, co-author of the blog Very Good Taste, came up with what he calls The Omnivore's Hundred, or a list of foods that, in his own words, "every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life." With this list, he suggested the following rules:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results.

Below are my results, with my commentary in parentheses. I've added an asterisk (*) to the items I've made or cooked with myself. A lot of those items are thanks to culinary school and my work as well. I suggest visiting VGT's original post or Chocolate and Zucchini's posting of the list because they took the time to link a lot of the less well-known items to Wikipedia, something I would have done as well but am too lazy to do. Heh.

1. Venison*
2. Nettle tea (Like C&Z, I've had nettle soup, but not tea)
3. Huevos rancheros*
4. Steak tartare*
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding (AKA blood sausage)
7. Cheese fondue*
8. Carp*
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush*
11. Calamari*
12. Pho (Yes please!!)
13. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich*
14. Aloo gobi*
15. Hot dog from a street cart (Boy do I miss ghetto dogs in LA...)
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle*
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (berry wine)
19. Steamed pork buns (Surprised I haven't made these yet...)
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes* (One of my favorite foods of all time)
22. Fresh wild berries* (Ditto #21)
23. Foie gras*
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters* (I've gotten my shucking + cleaning time for oysters on the half-shell down to under 10 seconds per oyster from start to plate. On a good day. With cooperative oysters.)
29. Baklava*
30. Bagna cauda (Sounds intriguing)
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl* (Is there anything better on a freezing cold day? Also, anyone have a favorite bowl in Portland?)
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut*
35. Root beer float*
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (Yes cognac, but not with a cigar)
37. Clotted cream tea (This might be at the top of my list to try)
38. Vodka jelly* (AKA Jell-O shots to us 'Mericans)
39. Gumbo*
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects (Somehow surprised that I haven't tried this yet)
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu (Not itching to try it, but I wouldn't rule it out entirely)
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel*
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut (How can you not when you grow up next to the hometown of Krispy Kreme?)
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer* (Made this for the first time in school... much easier to produce than expected)
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (I crossed this out because the last time I had a Big Mac, I nearly got sick just staring at the gray meat and I was henceforth determined to never eat a Big Mac ever again)
56. Spaetzle*
57. Dirty gin martini*
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine (Fries with cheese curds? Why have I not tried these?!?)
60. Carob chips*
61. S’mores*
62. Sweetbreads*
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs*
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake (I'll eat and enjoy pretty much any form of fried dough)
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain*
70. Chitterlings or andouillette*
71. Gazpacho*
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill (Not dying to try this, but wouldn't say no)
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail* (White wine, lemon, parsley and garlic is the way to go)
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum (Would like to make this sometime)
82. Eggs Benedict* (My Hollandaise skills are getting pretty good)
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare*
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse (Hell to the no. There's something very wrong with this, and I love me some meat)
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam*
92. Soft shell crab*
93. Rose harissa (Sounds awesome)
94. Catfish*
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox*
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta* (This is my go-to starch for black box exams)
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

If I counted correctly, I'm missing 23 foods on this list. And of the 38 foods I've cooked myself, nearly half of them are foods I've cooked for the first time in the past five months (since I started culinary school and working at the restaurant). I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but I think it's pretty awesome that I've had so much exposure to such interesting ingredients and recipes because of school and work.

Now I gotta get on that clotted cream tea...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The awesomeness that is restaurant cooking

Being a kitchen cook is really hard work, probably the hardest I've ever worked in my life, and I've only been at it for a couple of months. With full time work on top of full time school, it's a struggle to stay on top of my game 100 percent of the time. I miss seeing my friends, I miss weekend trips, and having a normal social life is nearly impossible--I can hardly make time for laundry, much less a civilized date. I sleep erratically and I eat standing up at work or walking to/from school, usually scarfing down whatever I'm eating in less than three minutes. I'm lucky if I actually get to sit down for a meal more than once a week.

Even though it crosses my mind that I'm crazy for doing this, I truly love what I'm doing, and here are a few of the reasons why.

The Sounds: Sizzling of meat hitting a properly heated pan, clanging of metal pots and pans and bowls, whirring of mixers and blenders and grinders, the calling of orders and the echo of cooks, the blasting fan in the walk-in, even the whooshing of the mechanical dishwasher.

The Smells: Sauteed onions, creamed butter and sugar, fresh-out-of-the-oven bread pudding, pan-fried lardons, citrus rind zested on a microplane, simmering corn bisque, resting duck confit before it goes in the walk-in.

The Particulars: How a bunch of ingredients sitting in various sizes of hotel pans, Cambro containers, squeeze bottles and plastic pint cups become a 28-dollar plate that looks worth the money. I love that it's rather unromantic in the kitchen, and I love that the food makes a magical transformation once it's in the server's window and delivered to a patron's table.

The Organized Chaos: It looks like an abstract mess on the surface, but every step you take and every turn you make means something. A good cook makes no wasted moves. There's something kind of awesome about five cooks juggling searingly hot pots, pans and bowls in a 20 square foot galley kitchen with lowboy refrigerators, ovens and hot surfaces. It feels great when you're moving swiftly and efficiently.

The Textures: Getting my hands on crisp greens, slippery scallops, creamy dressings, rock-hard mollusk shells, soft strawberries. It's a good occupation for hands-on kind of people.

The Tastes:
This one should go without saying. Tasting 10 flavors in one dish, tasting 10 dishes in three minutes, tasting the difference between something unseasoned and the transformation it makes when properly seasoned, trying something I've never had before and being completely surprised and/or blown away.

The Camaraderie: This is one of my favorite things about cooking, really. The minute I set foot into the kitchen, it's like stepping into an exclusive club. An exclusive all-boys club, in my case, and for a lot of other kitchens out there. For the longest time when I was a server and a host, there was a sense of mystery about the kitchen to me; I was so curious, yet afraid to touch anything or get in anyone's way. I stuck to asking a lot of questions and pestering chefs to let me taste dishes instead. Now that being in a kitchen is my job, the mystique and romanticism is gone, and it's fun to finally know what it's like to be back there. I love behind-the-scenes kind of stuff, and this is the ultimate in being behind-the-scenes, for me at least.

It's been a busy few weeks with the start of Term 3, but I'm doing my best to power through as usual. Late nights and early mornings take a toll, but I know it's worth it.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Ups and downs

I guess every day can't be as spectacular and mellow as cooking under blue skies in vineyards.

I'll just get to it: I kind of sucked at work today.

We had a party with 20 guests, which I can usually handle alright on a typical Monday. Today, however, was not a typical Monday. The number of covers we did tonight was more typical of a Thursday or Friday, so on top of having my station and the pastry station to myself, we were slammed in the dining room. I was totally underprepped, and even though we were busier than usual, I simply wasn't on top of my game.

I have to admit that I'm totally disappointed in myself, especially because my personal standards are so high. But what's worse is I feel like I've let down my chef, with whom I just had a great conversation last weekend about how well I've been doing and my future at the restaurant.

I guess we all get knocked off our high horses every now and then. I just have to get back to kick-ass mode, starting tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, Term 3 for me at OCI officially starts tomorrow morning, bright and early at 7:30AM. We're moving into the phase where we'll be working in the OCI restaurant, as well as doing courses on restaurant management. I'm looking forward to this term, and I'm not scared to get into the restaurant since I'm already in a real working environment. But I have a feeling that it'll be strenuous, not to mention the early mornings... Power naps and I are going to be good friends for the next two months.

I'll feel better once I get some sleep, I know it... but I'm turning that kick ass dial back up to 11.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Plates and pitchforks

One of the things I'm realizing about Portland as a food town is that the world of chefs here is quite intermingled; some would say it can be slightly incestuous, as you run into a lot of people who know people you know, because they've worked with them elsewhere. Just last night I was at a bar where two people who worked there knew two of my current coworkers from previous restaurants at which they worked. It makes for an interesting, kind of familial feeling.

As a positive result of the weird intermingling, I've been lucky enough to run into some great opportunities, one of them being the Plate and Pitchfork dinner I just returned from tonight.

Plate and Pitchfork
The view from the "kitchen"

Plate and Pitchfork, for those not in the know, is a series of dinners catered by local chefs in partnership with local farms, and which usually take place at local wineries. Tonight's event was at the Jacob-Hart Vineyard in Newberg, about 45 minutes outside of Portland. I love that you can drive a mere 45 minutes out of town and be deep in Oregon wine country.

The chefs for tonight's event were Gabe Rucker of Le Pigeon, one of my favorite places in town, and Eric Moore from Victory Bar, an awesome spot in SE Portland. One of my coworkers knows Gabe quite well, and asked me to volunteer my time for this event. Help cater a dinner out in a sunny, gorgeous vineyard and playing with some incredible food? No arm-twisting necessary.

We literally drove through the grapevines to get to the spot where tables for 120 guests were set amongst the vines. I saw dogs running about, horses in a nearby barn, two grills set for roasting prime rib... I felt the sun on my back and the breeze blowing through my hair and I knew it would be a good day.

On the menu were beautiful Viridian Farms greens and veggies, in the form of some simple but beautiful salads, sides and desserts concocted by the chefs. Gabe makeshift-smoked and grilled six huge slabs of fat, juicy prime rib for the main course, and meanwhile I cut up a giant bunch of gorgeous heirloom tomatoes for a marinated tomato-cuke salad, fried up some lamb tongue "nuggets" for appetizers, plated many family-style bowls of beautiful greens and veg, fried buttermilk-soaked onions to top off a for classic green bean casserole with a horseradish aioli, and just did whatever work needed to be done.

I was surprised at how mellow the atmosphere was, maybe because I'm so used to having the tickets pour in and busting my ass to get things out on time. It also helped that the chefs were ultra-prepared, and as a lovely result, we were able to partake in some of the food and wine as well, albeit standing up. Now that I think about it, I haven't eaten sitting down in days. Last time I ate sitting down... take out from Kenny and Zuke's, sitting on my couch, four days ago? This is why I need dinner dates, people.

I had a lot of fun being out there in a field under the sun, especially because I feel like I haven't been outside enough this summer. It's August already, and the days are just flying by. It's nice to just take your time, do a fun event for the hell of it, and be surrounded by lush farmland while you're at it.

Highly recommended, folks.