Redirection and Settling Down

It has been a very long while since my last post--almost 6 months to be exact. Almost half a year has flown by since I have returned to the United States to pursue my next big adventure. This next one is not travel related, unfortunately, for those of you who found this travel blog a wonderful diversion from the mundane everyday. It is a pursuit of a successful career and lifestyle. But fear not, you'll still see my presence on the interweb!

I have just begun a small little business back home in Big Sky, Montana. Please check out my new website This blog will be linked to it, and if and when travel opportunity arises, will become active once again. 

In addition to the business, I have also started a new blog. It is about high altitude cooking and how it tends to effect your cooking experience. I will be recounting many of my up to date professional experience with cooking at altitude in an effort to make everyone feel more comfortable baking and cooking where the air is thin.

Expect an hiatus on this blog, but be sure to enjoy the new and its wonderful new blog!

Cheers and merci à tous!

Chestnut Bread, Focaccia and Nutella

Cooking Tip of the Day: If you are making a sauce, and it hasn't reduced to your desired thickness (and you're a bit pressed for time); make a quick roux with some butter and flour. Then aggressively whisk it into your sauce to thicken it up before serving. 

Upon my arrival in Lucca, I discovered that I had a week off my second week of work (tough life, I know). This sounded great, but I had no plans, and no idea where to go. So I started by heading back to Firenze (Florence) to enjoy the city in which I once lived. I was back there in August, but everything was shut for August Holiday (3 weeks where most stores shut, and most of the city flushes out to beach towns, leaving a ghost town behind). It was great last week to enjoy the time of year that I once loved in that city. Christmas lights were being put up (not yet lit), olive trees filled the Piazza Duomo, and the sun shone on beautiful 55-60 degree (F) days. 

I was lucky enough to stay with some travel friends whom I had met in Bhutan almost 2 years ago. A couple from Great Britain, Mark and Rosie, are teachers at the International School in Florence. When I met them 2 years ago they were living and teaching in the Philippines. We had a great time catching up, going to a great little local restaurant (outside of the center, which I was never familiar with), and cooking a fantastic meal of risotto, winter radicchio salad with clementines, and cannochie (mantis shrimp). I was so happy to spend time with people that became such close friends so quickly over New Years Eve in 2010/11. From Florence, I made the plan to travel to Trieste, the last city in the northeast before the Slovenian border and a place that I had never been. Before I went, I tooled around the city of Florence for a bit, eating at old standbys (Amon is still as amazing as ever for 3euro), and new loves like Vini e Vecchi Sapori. I was wowed by the simple casalinga in an alley just behind Piazza Signoria. In Italy, it turned out to be the simple, most traditional food that captured my heart.
Ragu on paccheri at Vini & Vecchi Sapori in Firenze
I booked accommodation for Trieste through AirBnB with a wonderful couple, he Italian she Brazilian, and had a great location with a bicycle to scoot around the city (you would have been proud, Nance). Trieste doesn't quite feel like Italy, more like an extension of Austria and a relic of the Hapsburg Empire. The city is architecturally stunning, clean and people endearing. I honestly think that using AirBnB lately has made my stays in these foreign cities really special, and that much more fun. I would highly recommend (if I haven't already) using this website to find great places to stay either with or without the presence of your host.
On the Train to Trieste

Coastal Walk in Trieste

Castello Miramare

View of the sea from Castello Miramare

Castello Miramare

Castello Miramare

My first ever Aperol Spritz as a sundowner in the garden

Piazza dell'Unita

Roman Amphitheater, Trieste

Great little resto with a crazy chef in Trieste (thank you, AirBnB hosts for bringing me here for dinner)

Autumn on its way in Italy
After Trieste I returned back to Lucca and back to work. Learning that this kitchen is undeniably one of the most fun I have ever worked in. Laughter can be heard every hour of the day, and it is rare that chef yells at us. He is pretty reasonable when he is upset, but almost always makes sure to ensure you that life will go on, because its just food. His creativity and desire to feed people well astonishes me. 
My place of work: Modern Cuisine in a Modern Museum
Due to this creativity, services can get a bit chaotic even when we are not fully booked. Mid-service, chef often wants to change-- or create from scratch-- a dish on a whim. He will make everything (and leave an amazing mess behind--I have discovered this is the cost of the creativity), plate the first plate, and tell us to, "Vai!" So we all hurry in to plate the others in the same way he has the first and tidy up after his tornado. It is disastrously fun and educational. How he comes up with some of these plates, I am not sure. But even when things sound bad, they taste amazing together. Another cool thing about chef, when we make these plates we always make 1 extra so everyone in the kitchen can take a bite. Here's a mid-service creation from my second week at Imubto:
Wild Boar,  Cardi Broth, Mustard, Parsnips, Persimmon
These photos reflect the goofy nature of the cucina:
Seriousness at work: Richard and Lorenzo

More seriousness at work: ciccini (the boys' nickname) with chef

Corkage failure and solutions to it
Another thing I have come to love about working in Italy are mid-afternoon breaks. When lunch service is finished, we get set loose for a bit (varies based on how much prep we have left to accomplish prior to dinner). I generally take a walk and enjoy the beauty of the city.

San Michele, Lucca
Sunset on the Mura during a breaktime stroll
One day, instead of being set loose for a break, we went foraging together in the hillside just outside of Lucca. It was a great afternoon. On our way out, we ran into two ladies with huge fully loaded baskets of mushrooms. They were adamant we wouldn't find any where we were headed and that it was getting too dark to forage. It really is funny how the stereotype of people being very protective of their mushroom stashes is true. We had a great afternoon and headed back to the restaurant to prep for dinner. 
Foraging during break one day: chef grabbing corbezzolo (cane apple)

The tools of the trade

Hunting cabin on the foraging trail

The fruits of our labor: funghi

Getting back to the car before dark on old WWII paths

The forest inspired plate that night: chicken emulsion, cast iron skillet chicken, mushroom, corbezzolo and herbs

Chef Cristiano Tomei in plating action
Another day at work we had a little extra time, so we decided to forgo break and make traditional lasagna. From scratch. The result was a simple goodness that can only be described as reminiscent of an Italian nonna slaving in the kitchen for an entire day.
Sheets of freshly made egg pasta ready to assemble in the pan

The finished product: the most authentic and best lasagna I have ever tasted
I have been eating like a true carb-loaded Italian here, in line with that my favorite snack at work has been chestnut bread that we make with a thin layer thick slab of nutella. The last few days at work I was lucky enough to make the bread with Valentina. And Agnese, another co-worker, makes the best focaccia I've ever tasted. Talk about adding to the carb load, but oh my goodness, bread making is a beautiful thing. I am excited (and curious) to get home and try to make these breads at altitude.

Speaking of getting home and cooking, its time to start the countdown. I have now allowed myself to think about coming home indefinitely. It is a bit overwhelming, but also very exciting. I have learned so much in Europe about cooking and about myself. It is becoming even clearer to me now that one of my truest passions is food, and I feel lucky to have chosen one of my passions as my career.

Until next time, cheers.

10 Things You Might Want to Know about This Past Month

Cooking Tip for the Day: Some people preach the importance of good pans in a kitchen: copper versus stainless versus aluminum has long been source of debate. How thick should the pan be? Currently reading Modernist Cuisine, I found that the diameter of the burner under the pan and a relatively thick pan are much more important than how well a metal is able to conduct heat. Moral of the story: don't spend your money on copper (or even steel pans, as they are proven to be the least effective), get yourself some thick (7mm) aluminum pans and a wide diameter burner and you'll be better off. (If you are looking at updating a kitchen in your home, or getting new kitchen paraphernalia, I highly recommend consulting this massive text prior to purchasing. They ran hundreds of very scientific tests on products and have a lot direction as to how you should equip your kitchen.)

San Sebastian, Basque Region, Spain
So I have been a complete delinquent on this blog the last month, which I am sorry for. But usually when someone is not blogging, it means they are too damn busy to bother with this business. I am not one to like excuses, but this is exactly what I am doing just here. :) There are so many stories that I want to recount from this last month, so forgive me if this is long winded, too much information, or scatterbrained (or, as it may be, all three). There are a few principle occurrences I would like to share. Since I tend to love lists, here's one for you. You can skip to any given number to read up on what happened specifically. Or read all, as they happen in chronological order. 

1. My stage at Spring in Paris finished. 2. Nance, Whit & AlPey came to visit. 3. Ferrandi "graduation." 4. Dinner at L'Astrance, my first Michelin three star. 5. Traveling to San Sebastian, Spain (Basque Region) for some absolutely mind blowing food with Gloria. 6. A job falling through in Italy. 7. A new job search for an appropriate workplace in Italy. 8. Booking a ticket to Italy sans job. 9. Finding a job at the 11th hour (confirmation of said job on a Monday, travel to Italy Wednesday, start job Thursday). 10. Beginning my new job. And LOVING it. 

1. Finishing my stage at Spring was somewhat anti-climactic. I got quite sick the last week of work, and therefore missed some of it (including Gloria's last day). And the final Saturday I was supposed to work, I was given the day off as my family was in town and we went to dinner there that night. Overall, I would say my time at Spring was an enriching experience that broadened my understanding of cuisine (especially modern French) and of a high-stress kitchen. I understand and appreciate quality products like I never could have fathomed beforehand. We honestly used some of the most beautiful produce I have ever seen. The respect that the team had for the product was one of the main things I will take away from the experience. Also, the attention to what seems like minute detail, but takes a plate from mundane to awe inspiring. 

Each person I worked with there, I learned something different from. It was difficult to see it at the time, but even the individuals I did not get along with as well taught me something. Organization and management from (Daniel) Eddy. Precision and getting in the zone from Oleg. Speed from Simon. Patience from Gloria. And recognition of perfect product from (Daniel) Rose. Sakho, the dishwasher, brought a light hearted warmth to the kitchen most days. The front of house was most often a blast to work with. And the multilingual nature of the workplace made everyday one of linguistic learning. Overall, I think it was a great placement for me in Paris. I'm pretty sure the pleasure I extract from challenging authority would have made me hell in most Parisian kitchens. French chefs really like to run their kitchen as a brigade: top down order and a very clear hierarchy. Rose put up with me quite well, to be fair. 

2. The weekend prior to the end of my stage, Nance and Whit came into town. I had just seen them a few weeks prior at Whitney and Pete's wedding back in Montana. It was so much fun to see them in Europe, though. We had a great lunch at Yam'Tcha, went to my favorite market (Aligre in the 12th), biked around the city, cooked dinner with our old Bello Drive neighbors--the Sabres, and explored the city together. They spent the week in Normandy, while I finished up work/got incredibly ill. By the next weekend Alex came, I had finished work, and we spent Saturday together as a family in the city. Saturday night we dined at Spring. It was the sommelier's, Sandra, last night as well, so the wine was flowing quite freely. It was a fun family meal. Although Paris isn't my happiest place I am so happy that my family got to experience the parts of it that were a significant part of my life while I was there. 
Biking Sunday w/ Nance & Whit

Louvre w/ Alex

3. Sunday saw WhitPey leave, while Nance, Al and I spent Monday at the Marché de Puces at St. Ouen. We meandered around the bric-a-brac vendors, the furniture fronts, and the millions of other stalls in the northern part of the city. For lunch we ate at Brasserie Paul Bert (not sure if it is related to the renowned steak frites place in the center of the city). There, we ran into Rocky, the institution of a waiter from a former workplace, Broder's Pasta Bar, in Minneapolis. How small the world can be.

Monday afternoon included my Ferrandi graduation. It was so much fun to see all my former classmates, catch up on how everyone was/not liking their stage (more the latter than the former), and see our school chefs one more time. The graduation was not full of pomp and circumstance. The French don't seem to be big on celebration (as can be noted from their small weddings etc). Our program organizer, Adrienne, made things even less celebratory by saying, "I am sure most of you are having doubts about your choice to come into this industry at this point." A perfect way to set a light-hearted mood.

Nance, Al and I went to Verjus Wine Bar after the graduation cocktail hour and enjoyed 4 or 5 great light plates together with a fantastic wine. It was so much fun to spend time with the 3 of us like we used to traveling to Europe. It felt really nostalgic, and even though it is 15 years (or something like that) from our original European adventure, it felt like time stood still if just for that night.

4. Gloria and I went to L'Astrance, arguably the best restaurant in Paris, the next night. It was my first Michelin 3 star restaurant (you can look this up here if you would like a minute explanation). Our good friend, Johanna, works in the kitchen there so we were lucky enough to go see the kitchen and meet the chef after the service. Very cool. We had a wonderful meal from start to finish. There are too many courses to recall, but our favorite was basically a Thai style green-papaya salad, made with a mango foam and grilled calamari. It was sublime! They also make a perfect crustacean broth (that I believe is also made at Yam'Tcha, whose chef is a protégé of L'Astrance's chef).

5. A couple days later it was off to San Sebastian, Spain with Gloria for a 5 day food adventure. We literally ate our way through that town. Each and every pintxo (tapas) bar that we deemed acceptable we set foot in, ate, drank, and moved on to the next. I ate pig's ears and duck tongue for the first time. And ate lots of joue de veau (veal cheek, one of my favorite cuts of meat). We also had a remarkable meal at Mugaritz. We began lunch at 1pm and after twenty courses finished at 5pm. I think the kitchen never gets a break. Not every course was mind-bogglingly excellent, but each had a distinct flavor and point of view (up until the desserts, which just have not been excellent anywhere we have been lately). The highlight for me was the ugliest dish visually. It was a piece of guinea fowl covered by a mustard yellow sauce that was actually a lobster duck reduction. Un. real.

Table Art, Mugaritz

Sake marinated shirmp, Mugaritz 
Garden herbs atop a mascarpone encased egg yolk, Mugaritz

The pass at Mugaritz

Dumpling with duck jus, Mugaritz

Duck tongue, Mugaritz (may sound disgusting, but it was amazing)

Basque Language--easy to read? Bar I got. The other part, not so much
Another special food experience in San Sebastian was our lunch at Ibai. This place only opens when the proprietor deems the quality of the product good enough. So he's closed a lot. In the five days that we were there, it was only open our last day. We know because it was 2 blocks from where we stayed, and at the recommendation of our sous chef tried to go from day 1. When it was not open on Thursday lunch, we looked at dinner, and at lunch the next day. You get the picture. We literally walked by this place every friggen day. It was never open and at some point became determined to eat there. On Monday, our last day in San Sebastian and the least likely day for it to be open, we walked by at 1230 and the lights were on! We made a reservation for a 130 lunch and stayed there until 4pm being served whatever the hell they wanted to serve us. The proprietor speaks Basque and Spanish. No English. Between Glo and I we just got in a drink order and I told the guy to serve us whatever he wanted. I heard something about fish, and that sounded good to me as we were close to the sea. The meal was special. It is in the back room, kind of speak-easy-ish, behind a tapas bar. The only other clientele was a group of 6 Basque men in the 40s-50s, and a duo of old (70s) Basque men who were something out of a caricature. Gloria dropped her napkin, didn't notice, and one of them came over to pick it up for her. The proprietor was proud of his product and cleaned our fish table side. It was a perfect way to end our time in the town of food.
The "Wind comb" at San Sebastian

On the flip side, San Sebastian's weather was miserable. It rained everyday we were there and we spent most our time saturated. I think we had one day of visibility. It was too bad, but didn't matter so much as we were just going from one bar to another and eating and drinking our way through the town. We also met this great Irish traveler, Gerard, who was staying at the same AirBnB place we were. He hung out with us most days and added a good sense of humor to our group. Our time in San Sebastian would not have been the same without him. He was a trooper about the rain, as he comes from a life full of it and always kept our spirits up about the state of the weather. 
SUN! On the church just across from our accommodation

Veal Cheek at Borda Berri, one of my favorites

Bacon wrapped scallops at La Cuchara de San Telmo

La Gilda: the quintessential Basque tapa of olive, anchovy and pickled pepper

San Sebastian is an amazing town that everyone should try to visit if remotely charged by food and drink. We were lucky enough to be there for restaurant week and ended up having a dinner for 25 euro/person. It included 3 courses, plus coffee, and wine. The amount of wine we would get was a source of debate leading up to the meal; and at 25 euro, we weren't expecting much. When we arrived at the meal (9pm) we were given the option of white or red, I chose white, Glo and Gerard each chose red. Two entire bottles were set at the table and left there. I am pretty sure if we would have asked for the other bottle of red, it would have come no questions asked or eyebrows raised. After Paris, this seemed like a steal. As we were finishing up a very good dinner there around 11:15pm, an elderly couple walked in to sit for dinner. You know you're in Spain when . . . 

6. My trip to Italy in August was dual-purposed: I wanted to return to the land I loved so much the first few times around, and wanted to search for a job for the end of the year when my contract in Paris had finished. I was successful in both and left the country with a couple job offers. Upon touching base with the restaurants I wanted to work with, I decided upon one that was the most suitable in every way--Villa Bordoni. I have been in contact with them since, and the day I left for San Sebastian the proprietor emailed to notify me that bookings were down for November, so they wouldn't be busy enough to need me there. I decided I wouldn't let it ruin my time in San Sebastian; I would deal with it when I returned to Paris. And I did. 

7. I put out all my feelers from the moment I got back and waited with bated breath for some reply. Sent my resume and cover letter seemingly everywhere in northern Italy. I spent a few days emailing, phoning and networking with everyone I could think of. Lots of people at the other end of the line hesitating.

8. While waiting for a response, I had a dilemma, do I go to Italy even if I don't get a job? My move out date from my apartment in Paris was quickly approaching, I only wanted to burden my friends with my presence on their couches for so long (I think I have saturated that avenue in Paris long ago--remember my Tahitian friend, Wehi, putting me up on his couch for my first month in the city?). Or do I stay in Paris and find another job for the two remaining months that I'm in Europe? That would have been the easy answer as I am familiar with the industry there. But I decided that job or not, I was going to Italy, because it is where I wanted to be. If nothing else I would go door to door upon arrival and find something in the food industry, whether it was making pasta at a factory, harvesting olives on a farm, or cooking in a restaurant (all of which I pursued in those few days of job searching), I wanted to be in Italy and out of France. So I booked a ticket. The cheapest one I could find to Italy was to Milan, so it was to Milan I headed . . . Jobless, homeless, but hopeful.

9. One of the people I contacted was someone from work at Spring, Sandy. She is Swedish, but has lived and worked in Italy in the past. Her boyfriend is from Lucca, and they just happened to plan a trip back to Lucca this past week because his parents are (finally) getting married after 25 years of being together. She came home with him for the celebration. I got an excited phone call from her on Monday saying that she found a place I could work (with staff housing); it was in Lucca, and since she was here she would pick me up at the train station to introduce me to my new chef when I arrived on Wednesday. Talk about things falling into place. I came to Lucca with no idea what restaurant I was working at, who the chef was, or where I was living. I just trusted her.

10. It couldn't have been a better decision. My new job and home are in Lucca, Italy. Restaurant L'Imbuto is located inside the Lucca Museum of Contemporary Arts. My chef is Cristiano Tomei, whom is a true lover of food, and--without a doubt--the most hands on chef I have ever had. He is actively cooking on the line for every service. We change the menu throughout service based on what he feels like (and what the guest will like). Despite the seeming haphazard nature of it all, everything seems to work really well together on the plate. Instead of calling for a dish, he directs all of us to prepare one element of his imagined plate. When we're all ready, he plates one, and we follow suit with the others. It is definitely open field running. 

The best descriptor for him is a free spirit. He is a huge goof and loves to make fun of himself--I think we spend 20% of the day just laughing til our stomachs hurt, of the other 80%, 60% is laughing while working. It is such a stark contrast from my last job. I don't really feel like I'm working at all. The first few days I was hesitant to open up because I couldn't imagine a kitchen would be that fun that was putting out that quality of food. But after a few days of work, I have warmed up to it and feel less out of place in the convivial atmosphere. I'm wondering why anyone does it any other way?

But the real question after all of this--the year as a whole, now that retrospect is coming into play-- is the following: What the hell was I doing in France? Seriously. Why didn't one person say, are you sure you want to go to Paris, the city of the some of the most jaded individuals in the world? Are  you sure you want to deal with the snobbishness? All the "romance," love, and lights? No thank you, not for me. I would rather be in a run down town in the Tuscan countryside, spending time getting to know locals who are excited about new people; not being sneered at in a romanticized sidewalk cafe sipping (the French's shitty excuse for) coffee, be ostracized by females my age to the point that making friends feels hopeless. To become a person I never imagined. Bitter. Sad. Miserable. Slightly self-loathing. And sneering at those who speak loudly, make friends easily (in the customs line at the MSP airport), and generally see the world through rose-colored lenses (a person I used to whole-heartedly be). 

Paris as a city of romance is a farce. If you have been there and think otherwise, its because you came there with those rose-colored lenses that all those Parisians insult for sport. Its no wonder Victor Hugo was able to write a massive novel based on the misery of those in and around this city. The misery has been present for centuries.

Think I'm bitter about my experience there? Think again. Without the last 10 months, I would not nearly appreciate my seemingly short 13-hour work days right now, the lovely people in cafe that I meet on my way to work, the laughter in my current home/work place. And what I can look forward to upon my return home with the friends and family, who all are not Parisian in the best way possible. Which is to say, they are lovely. The grey of the last 10 Parisian months is only darkened in comparison to the brightness, the light, the opportunity, the love that awaits at home. What I lacked in the last year makes me realize how lucky I am to have all that I do.

I also gained in knowledge in the art of cuisine--my chosen profession, had unique and special experiences that can't be repeated, and made lifelong friends that could never have crossed my path if I had stayed put. As an aside, post rant, I would like to say that the reference to les miserables does not at all apply to any of my non-French friends I met through school at Ferrandi or work at Spring. It is most definitely not meant to diminish them/the quality of the relations I had with them. They were (almost) all great people of the most magnanimous stature surviving in the same conditions as myself. My guess is that most would probably agree with many things I  have to say about Paris/ians.

I think this is enough for now. Until the next time, cheers.

Moves Like Jagger, Lips Like ScarJo and Booty Like J.Lo

Cooking Tip of the Day: If herbs or leaves look a bit wilted when you want to consume them, shock them in a quick ice bath (not too long, just a few minutes) and (if they're not too far gone) they will be as good as new!

Last week I took a quick trip back to the States to attend the fantastic wedding of Whitney & Pete in Montana. Going home makes me realize just how much I miss the mountains, but even more so, what  wonderful friends I am lucky enough to have there. It was good to spend time with friends and family, and share the amazing life event of two such awesome people. Congrats, Whit & Pete!

Golf with Finnegan... He loves the grass!

Sugar Shack

The Ilten Girls (and Mason)

The Peyton's (and soon to be-Toby)

The Barn of the Wedding

Scott dipping Grandma Ilten!
This past weekend back in France had some fun in store. On Sunday night Jo and I headed up to Montreuil-Sur-Mer to visit Andrew at La Grenouillere, a 1-Michelin starred restaurant. It is also the "One to Watch" on the World's 50 Best List. The food was great (minus the heavy use of white pepper), but the ambiance/decor is what really wow-ed me. I loved the use of negative space on the plates (see the following pictures). The restaurant/lodge has a kind of modern day carnal hunting lodge feel. The kitchen is massive compared to anything in Paris. This should come as no surprise as they are out in the middle of a (very beautiful) nowhere. 

The stroll from the train station to the restaurant/Andrew's house is approximately 10 minutes along a little brook. The smells reminded me strongly of autumn in Minnesota: decomposing leaves, freshly cut grass, greenery. It is a very idyllic/pastoral area. Lots of cows, geese, etc-- animals abound. As does fresh fruit: we found wild apple trees, wild blackberries, wild elderberries, and wild plums all on our walk from Andrew's house to the town center along the castle walls. (Yes, you walk through the fortress walls to get into the old town--so endearing.) It seems like a place that Andrew is doing well, which is great to see another one of our fellow students thriving.

Andrew's Street

The walk to town in Montreuil

Foie Gras, Clementine

Mille Feuille of Marked Clams and Yellow Squash

Grilled oyster, mustard greens, grilled zucchini

Boudin of haricots blancs roti w/ fried herbs

My favorite course: Calamari, pig's blood

Some of the desserts: back-clove ice cream with plums, front: treehouse of chocolate sorbet, chocolate mousse, and chervil

The (very large) kitchen.. they even have black cutting boards and the weights on the lights are fishing weights

Monday we returned to Paris: Jo to rest and me to work. I usually only work Tuesday-Saturday, but this week Daniel was hired to cater an off-site fundraiser. And at $10,000 a seat, this was not a cheap dinner. So naturally he enlisted me as one of the two to join him in cooking for this event. Disguised as a fashion week gathering hosted by Anna Wintour, Monday evening was, in truth, a campaign fundraiser for President Obama. The Devil Wears Prada's muse and infamous Vogue editor-in-chief wasn't the only celeb in the mix. We cooked for Scarlett Johansson, Stella McCartney, Kanye West, Jennifer Lopez, and (most importantly) Mick Jagger. It was a very fun night in an amazing space; Kenzo, the designer, has an Japanese-inspired feng shui mansion in the middle of Paris, just near Bastille. I caught a glimpse of the celebrities, but was unable to introduce myself as we were in the kitchen the entire time. I hope they enjoyed our food! (I was unable to take pictures because they weren't allowed! :( bummer)

So its back to anther week of work for me. The stage is going relatively well. And from what I hear from other classmates, things could be much worse. The end is very near in this stage as I have less than two weeks remaining to fulfill. This time will fly by as Nance and Whit visit starting this weekend, and Alex comes next. It seems like before I know it I'll be back stateside for good. It is already October, and that is a shocking realization. Okay, off to sleep because it is far past my bed time. 

Un Bon Dimanche à Paris

Cooking Tip of the Day: The correct equipment makes your life much easier. (This does not mean you need to go out and buy kitchen goods.) Using the proper tool for the proper job can create efficiency. Every chef has said that to work quickly and cleanly one must have a very sharp knife. Not only a sharp knife but the right knife for the job. If you are chopping, slicing or mincing, often you want to use a chef's knife. If you are peeling, seeding or pitting a paring knife would be ideal. And for slicing bread, almost every time reach for the serrated knife. This rule doesn't apply only to knives, but to pans, storage containers, cutting boards etc.

I guess I have come to realize that I can sleep when I die. There are too many great things in this world to pass up because one is tired. (I say this today, but may be singing a different tune by the end of another week of work--only time will tell.) After an arduous work week and a crazy Saturday night/Sunday morning out, I motivated to the Marché d'Aligre, my favorite market in Paris, Sunday morning. I went to acquire the necessary ingredients to make some yummy linguini con vongole (clams) yesterday evening. Cooking Italian food in France: its where I am finding sanity. It was my perfect, lovely Sunday in Paris.

Seasons have begun to change. Or at least the market told me so today when the first thing I saw was squash. It means fall is arriving as we speak. There are still tomatoes, but they are waning every week at the market, hence summer is coming to a close. And plenty of mushrooms are being foraged and coming to the forefront of many a Parisien menu. You know your life revolves around food when you realize the changing of the seasons via your plate.

One tenet of the market: if there is a queue for a specific stand, its worth the wait. Why are all the guys selling what look like the same produce, but the stall 3rd from the left has a constant line up? Because the product is just better. The masses do not lie (unless of course you're on wikipedia sometimes). One of my favorite vendors at the Marché d'Aligre is the Italian one. They have great pastas, cheese and meats. I utilized some of their goods in my Italian feast last night (including pancetta, burrata, and some fresh pasta).

Last weekend I visited the seaside town of Etretat with Jo. We had a great visit at the beautiful (albeit rocky) beaches/cliffs and enjoyed the Norman hospitality--read cider flowing and crêpes-a-cooking. One important thing we noted: Paris is not representative of the rest of France. In fact, Paris and France are two different concepts completely. The residents of the small city of La Havre were so happy and carefree. They seemed to live a healthy, happy, and very social life. Here in Paris it often seems that this type of lifestyle does not exist. Everyone is upset about something in this town, things are never good enough, and if someone walks down the street with a smile on their face, they are quite clearly a tourist (no joke). Maybe this is a similar juxtaposition you can find in any big city. But Paris can be especially drab. Getting on the metro and not seeing one remotely happy visage can be quite daunting. Good thing I don't have much time to do such things.

Mystery Mansion outside of Etretat. We were pretty certain someone actually lives there today. 
Cliffs at Etretat, Normandy

Cliffs at Etretat, Normandy

Jo enjoying the view of the village

Relaxing on the cliffs in the sun

Endearing Normandy

Paraglider over the cliffs

As far as work goes, it continues to be a daily grind, as is any job. Each day seems increasingly longer as the week progresses. By Friday I can barely convince myself to roll out of bed. Saturday is a welcome respite: as we do not serve lunch our day starts in the early afternoon. Days can be positive with lots of learning, or they can be negative, wracked with loads of tension. Many progress from one to another depending on how prep/service goes.

Chef had a pretty impressive blow up last week. Specifically it was directed toward Simon (the chef de partie of the garde manger), but that billowed into being upset with the kitchen in general. He was agitated about multiple things: the disorganization of the station, the sub-par quality of the white peaches, and the time it was taking to send out the dessert (almost 20 minutes, which is quite long). Mid dinner service Thursday night Chef threw Simon out of the kitchen, sent him home and told him quite harshly he didn't want to see him until the next morning. As Simon was running the dessert plating, that meant that Gloria and I were left to pick up the pieces. It was not a pretty scene, but the work got done as best as we could accomplish. It also included lots of Chef (not yelling at us but) acting very disappointed in us and hovering correcting the most minute of mistakes on a plate.

I understand that he has many moving parts to manage, and that his day can be difficult in more complex manners than mine. Most likely, this burst originated for a multitude of reasons and it just so happened that the firing squad turned on us. I am not certain one way or another and could hypothesize about this for hours. As it is pointless to do such things I'll stop there and just wrap up the story in saying that his outburst was a bit hyperbolic in nature and actually caused me to laugh at him. This wasn't the best idea, but it was an uncontrollable necessity for if I were truly affected by his words I would have been in the walk in crying for a bit.

Either way, I somehow still enjoy work. My cohorts are amazing (and we lost one of my favorites to sommelier school this week) and make the workplace a generally fun place to be. We had a great weekend out drinking, dancing and eating horrible kebab at 6am in the morning on our way home. Some nights are unforgettable.

Until next time, cheers.

Recette: Joues de Boeuf Braisée

My new favorite cut of meat: beef cheeks. Don't be grossed out by the sound of it. After braising these morsels of tougher meat they become delicious beyond all else. If you are able to find this cut at your local butcher, take advantage and make this great stew that is perfect for the autumn. Many restaurants in Paris serve this excellent cut, my favorite being Les Cartes Postales. It is an unassuming establishment with marginal decor and no ambiance. But the joues de boeuf is perfection on a (not so expensive) plate. They serve it with the most perfect jus on a bed of sauteed spinach (not creamed, thank goodness) with glazed carrots. If you can't find beef cheeks make it this recipe with chuck, but I am telling you the cheek has the perfect texture as an end result.

Braised Beef Cheeks

4 lbs. beef cheeks or beef chuck, trimmed 
4 cloves garlic, smashed 
4 sprigs fresh thyme  
1 bottle dry red wine 
1-2 bay leaves
2 onion, chopped 
1 rib celery, chopped 
1 whole clove 
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter 
2 cups beef or veal stock 
1 calf's foot  
6 small carrots, glazed with a little butter and brown sugar 
2 Tbsp. minced flat-leaf parsley, for garnish 

1. Marinate the beef cheeks in a bowl with the garlic, thyme, wine, bay leaves, onion, celery, and clove; cover and refrigerate 1–2 days. Transfer beef cheeks to a plate, reserving marinade. Pat cheeks dry; season with salt and pepper. Melt butter in a Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add beef cheeks and cook, turning, until browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer beef cheeks to a paper towel covered plate so the fat drains. 

2. Heat oven to 325˚F. Add reserved marinade to pot along with beef stock and calf's foot (this adds more gelatin and will lend a rich texture to your sauce); boil for 5 minutes. Nestle beef cheeks in liquid and cover them with a sheet of parchment paper cut to fit the inside of the pot. Cover pot, transfer to oven, and cook, turning beef cheeks occasionally, until tender, about 4 hours.  

3. Using a slotted spoon, remove cheeks and transfer to a plate and cover with aluminum foil. Skim fat from surface of cooking liquid. Set a fine chinois over a smaller saucepan and strain cooking liquid, discarding solids. Bring to a boil over high heat and reduce until liquid has thickened and coats the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes. 

4. Transfer beef cheeks to a clean dutch oven. Pour sauce over beef cheeks and add carrots. Cover pot and bake until vegetables and beef are warmed through, about 10 minutes. Serve hot and garnished with parsley. 

This is a very traditional recipe, to which you are able to add lardons, mushrooms, or any vegetable you please. It is a heart warming dish for a cooler day as the winter months seem to be approaching rapidly (at least in this neck of the woods). 

Perfecting Tart(lette)s and Reminiscing about School

Cooking Tip of the Day: When making dough for pies or tart shells, make sure everything is very cool (in temperature that is) from your butter to your work surface to the temperature of the room (and your hands). If your dough gets too warm while your working it, you will need to add more flour to avoid it becoming sticky. This will change the composition of your dough and produce a different end result: less flaky and less delectable.

Today I went out to lunch with a few friends from my class at Ferrandi. It was great to catch up, enjoy the beautiful weather (a rarity here in Paris) and reminisce about the breezy, fun times we had at school. Out of the four of us at lunch, I am the only one still in my stage. Of the other 3, one never committed, and the other two quit theirs after two weeks of work.

It was reassuring to exchange experiences with my fellow classmates on the pros and cons of their workplaces. It made me realize that I am very lucky to have the work environment that I do at Spring. My coworkers are generally quite nice, my boss is fair and (relatively) not so erratic in his behavior. And the kitchen is quite clean. In addition, I am learning everyday instead of just being yelled at. As ridiculous as this last comment is, it is quite normal for cooks in France to be yelled at by their chefs. This is due to the fact that most French chefs (in accordance to what the general public thinks) are crazy.

This last week at work basically centered around making tartlettes. Lots and lots of little tart shells everyday. The recipe I am working with is loaded with butter, which makes the crust very flaky and yummy, but also quite fragile. It takes great patience to foncer the dough with the tart ring so as to not puncture the dough. Something that is less of a science and more of an art as I found out over the course of the week. Frustrated as I was on Tuesday by the feat of making so many of these damn things, by Saturday I received the compliment that my tart was better than Pierre Hermé from a customer directly. I proceeded to give this kind soul a second tartlette--not sure if the boss was so happy about that ;). I'm learning! Yay! But honestly it was my most rewarding moment a work thus far. Despite the fact that it is not my recipe and I have no influence on it, I made that tart from start to finish. And its good to know that all my extensive effort is not futile.

Halfway through the week I went a bit crazy to find out how to make better dough, how to marry the dough to my ring, and how the hell to tell if I have cooked it long enough. Here are some amazingly beautiful blogs and websites I found in an effort to improve my miserable tart shells. I think anyone interested in food or cooking would enjoy them as they are well put together and quite informative. They also make my blog look like child's play. Some of these people are INSANELY good at blogging--from the layout to the photos, to the style and length of writing. Its all very well planned out. Did anyone know that so many talented bloggers existed? I sure didn't until this past week in my dire efforts to improve upon my tartlettes. Here's a sampling:

Kitchen Vignettes by Aubergine
Foodgawker (it is also an app on your phone and very fun for plating ideas)
Butter Me Up Brooklyn
America's Test Kitchen (not a blog but a treasure trove of information on how to cook/bake every basic)
Chasing Delicious

Also, Paris can be an amazing city. Just in case you didn't already know that.

Until next time, Cheers.

Recon Mission: Italia

Cooking Tip of the Day: Take a tip from the Italians, try to keep your food simple. If you want to make a great tomato sauce, or a perfectly grilled piece of meat or veg, don't overcomplicate your meal plan. Italians have this down, as they only use the freshest ingredients, very few of them for one dish, and put them together in a perfectly balanced way to show off each ingredient in a deliberate and intended manner. Why complicate nutrition? If something is in season and fresh, show it off. Let it sing on the plate. Don't fret about complicated techniques or multiple ingredients. Just cook. Simply.

Lobstah tails!

The last two weeks have been fun filled summer vacation. I headed off to Italy with Gloria for 1 week in the south with her, then 1 week in Tuscany solo. Before leaving we had Lobster Days at Spring, where the whole gastronomic restaurant turns into a 1 trick and quite unrefined (by French standards) pony--lobster sandwiches (oh and the duck fat french fries). This is what I spent my last week at work doing before break:
Breaking down lobsters. This one happened to have lots of eggs.
Fries and a Lobster Roll.  The roll (alone) would only set ya back 26 euros. The fries, another 7 or 8. 
 Gloria and I set off on our Italian adventure in Naples--eating fantastic pizza from world famous Da Michele. You may know it from such books/movies as Eat, Pray, Love. We beat the lines (which I have heard horror stories of) by going at 11am right when they open. We basically had the place to ourselves with some locals and got to chat with the pizziaolo a bit. Very cool.

Happiness on a plate: Naples only redeeming quality
Much of our trip was centered around eating. Here are some of the things we ate (I have turned to the dark side and have started taking pictures of food when I'm out to eat).
Cannoli with fresh ricotta in Erice, Sicily

The freshest fig of my life from Enza's (our hostess in Casteluzzo) farm. Just picked. Might be the best thing I have ever eaten in my life.

Best prepared grilled octopus I have ever had in my life, bar none. At Due Passi dal Mare, Marsala Sicily. A TOTAL WOW MEAL. 
Our primi at Due Passi dal Mare. Fresh made calamarata pasta with shellfish tomato sauce. Perfectly balanced.

Arancine de ragu from Antica Focaceria San Francesco, Palermo, Sicily

Breakfast ravioli at Villa Bordoni with porcini sauce. Wish I could go back to this moment

A perfect quenelle of homemade strawberry gelato on a bed of raspberries. Best gelato I had in all of Italy, Villa Bordoni, Greve in Chianti.

Burrata and pomodorini, 4 Leoni, Florence
I did not, unfortunately, take pictures of all of my food as I had some other truly inspiring dishes, including (but not limited to) a mind blowing bistecca fiorentina at Osteria dei Pazzi in Florence (those guys are awesome), some brilliant caponata at Agora in San Vito Lo Capo, an amazing starter of baked fresh pecorino and truffles at Ristorante Daniela, and too many others to mention. I drank some good wines and enjoyed fabulous meals both while traveling with Gloria and alone. A meal alone is never as fun though, unless you have a very attentive and fun loving waitstaff (as I did at Osteria dei Pazzi).

As for the reconnaissance mission of this trip: I have decided that when my time is up here in Paris, I will return to Tuscany for a bit more experiential learning. My heart truly belongs to the Italian cucina; I feel compelled to return to gain a broader skill set prior to my return to the States. While I was driving all over Tuscany solo last week, I was networking with some people and finding a job for myself. I have narrowed it down to 2 different restaurants and will pursue both. I have a good feeling one will work out and I will be on my way back to Tuscany for a little stint after my Parisian stay! Wish me luck!

Following are some pictures from the adventures Italian:

La grotta azzura, aka the blue grotto. A return visit for me, but this time I swam in it. A desire for the last 6 years fulfilled.
Last boatmen at the Blue Grotto getting towed back home by our boat. Only 4 of us on a tour for 30. Perfection.

He may look cute and all innocent, but he's a con artist this man. Don't fall for his grandpa looks, he's keen and can intelligently rip you off (for figs, in my case)

Sorrento at night.

Positano, Italia

Main Beach, San Vito Lo Capo, Sicilia

"Our" Beach, San Vito Lo Capo, Sicilia
"Our" Beach, SVLC, Sicilia

Glo on "Our" Beach, SVLC, Sicilia

Fishermen at sunset, "Our" Beach, SVLC, Sicilia

View from Erice, a ruined city on a hill in Sicilia

A return to my first European home: Florence. The Duomo

7 Piazza Duomo, our old home
Intentional over exposure at the Loggia in Piazza della Signoria, Florence

Loggia, Piazza della Signoria, Florence

Sunset of Ponte Vecchio, Florence (too bad for the construction crane)

The French could learn a whole lot from their Italian neighbors as to how to properly make espresso

This is a notable headline because WindJet was my budget airliner of choice. Its choice was to go belly up the day prior to my flight, cancel all their flights, and cause small scale pandaemonium. It led to a line-filled day at the Palermo airport, which in turn led us to meeting the cousin of one of our classmate's boyfriends. Crazy how small this world can be.
Also important to note on this trip was my mastery of a manual transmission in the Tuscan hills. Thank you Jaye Gibb, for first teaching my how to use a stick. And Johanna D'Arcangelo for putting up with my less than stellar driving skills in Bordeaux. Both of you ladies prepared me for driving in both Sicily and Tuscany. I still can't believe I made it through both experiences without a scratch on either car. Driving abroad is quite fun, but often confusing as signs aren't marked the same way as they are in the US. Italians rely on the next largest town to know which direction to drive in, while road numbers are quite inconsequential. So one must really know the map and towns' locations. It can get quite perplexing, especially when trying to drive and navigate at the same time. I think I am lucky to have made it out alive.

It was great to be back in Florence and visit all of my old stomping grounds. Nostalgia abounded and made me wish for a Florence Fall '06 reunion. It should be noted that these past two weeks are probably the worst time of the whole year to travel in Europe, as everything in the main cities is closed, and the resort towns are filled with Europeans. So even though Florence was fun, most of my favorite places were closed for holiday. It was still wonderful to be back, practicing the Italian language, and eating that wonderful cuisine. Can't wait to be back in Tuscany soon.

On that note, I'm off. Until next time, Cheers!

Another Week in the Grind

Baking Tip of the Day: When making caramel, make sure to use the heaviest pan you have in your repertoire. Have a candy thermometer handy to judge the desired heat you want (usually want to take it off the heat before reaching 118C, or 245F as the sugar will continue to produce heat for a short bit after taking it off the burner). Another very important thing to have on hand is a small bowl filled with water and a pastry brush. As the liquid begins to bubble, wipe the sides of the pan with a damp pastry brush to ensure that you don't burn the little bits of sugar sticking to the sides. Those pieces can ruin the entire batch. Refrain from stirring once the sugar is dissolved so as to avoid any crusty bits sticking to the sides of the pan.

As the third week of my stage came and went by quickly (once again), I feel more well rested and sense my body getting used to this 15 hour+ per day grind. It is possible to live this way--the ultimate question is how long until one's body gives way to the gradual buildup of exhaustion? Only time will tell, and hopefully I won't get to that point. 

What to say about this week? It was filled with shelling and cleaning langoustine, breaking down ducks, cleaning rouget (aka red mullet), making a fantastic gazpacho, pickling eggplant, making babaganoush, attempting to make some caramels (and failing multiple times), and other food type things. Ya know. We also tested out our lobster sandwiches for next week's special. The lobsters that came in had to be some of the freshest I've ever seen. The were super active and trying to climb everywhere. Beautifully blue, as well. Yum!
Blue Homard from the Atlantic Coast of France

This is how my hands look after 2 weeks of langoustine assault (approximately 150 per day), plus permanent cherry/olive stains set into the wounds. Lovely.  My hands have been scrubbed "clean" prior to these pictures.

This coming week is the last week before we go into summer vacation. We are closed from August 5-21, which is actually a very short break for most Parisian establishments. Almost everything in this city shuts down for the entire month of August, but since we often cater to out-of-towners, we only close for 1/2 the time of many other places. But before we take this break, we transform the restaurant for 3 days into lobster sandwich land. This is something Spring has done in the past on a weekly basis. This year, we're just doing it for 3 days on one weekend, August 2-4. This work week should be interesting as our hours change as does our menu (but that's always happening so no real surprise there). Its a good week to go into work with no expectations. 

I am learning everyday at work, although I think it may be impossible for my learning curve to be as efficient as I would like with these hours. This week should bring some entertainment along with it as everyone will be gearing up for holidays. Let's hope its fun! Sorry for the short post but I will be sure to give you a more legitimate update next time. Off to rest for another week in the grind.

Le Tour de France Rolls Through Town

Cooking Tip of the Day: When you have a big dinner or meal planned, start prepping right when you return home from the grocery store by washing all of your vegetables immediately and storing them clean. Break down any excess packaging and organize your fridge according to your dishes/courses. That way when you actually begin your cooking process everything is located together in logical order. It will make all the preparation and presentation go smoother.

This last week pretty much consisted of work and sleep. And that is it. As I go to work by 9am Tuesday thru Friday (and by noon Saturday), I pretty much wake up, clean up, have a quick breakfast, then head to work the remainder of the day. When I'm done with work (anywhere between 11pm and 2am), I gather my things, walk the 5 minutes across Pont Neuf, and attempt to fall asleep as quickly as possible in order to get up and do it all again the next day. 

 This weekend was filled with Chinatown and Bikes. We had a great Hongkese lacquered duck and some crispy pork on Sunday. Here is what the restaurant looked like:
Pig Head in the window

The butcher

The ensuing picnic in the park
 After the lunch in the park we headed to Tuileries to watch the final stage of the Tour de France. There were loads of British fans as the 1 & 2 places went to the Brits. Many people come with step ladders to ensure they can see over the crowds. We didn't realize just how busy it would be. When the cyclists go by it feels like a whoosh of wind from a bus as it passes a pedestrian on a sidewalk. It was quite impressive.
Crazy Brit on a step ladder. With a GoPro.

Here they come!

Paris Plages was built this past week. I saw the construction of it each morning and evening on my way to and from work. At first I thought they were constructing some sort of rail jam for skateboarding. Then they started filling the area in with sand and I realized that the man made beach in Paris is right in front of my apartment! People actually sunbathe right on the "beach." There are vendors selling ice cream and sodas. Its pretty funny, but a good way to boost the city's morale when nearly half of its citizens have vacated for holidays for the month of August.

Under construction

The finished product: a beach on the Seine

As I have spent lots of time alone doing tedious tasks at work this week, I have had time to think about the meaning of Michelin Stars, the importance of gastronomy, the beauty of a perfectly balanced plate, or the lack of importance there in. Somehow this weekend I stumbled upon this gem related to such things with an insight into the world I currently exist in. If you have an hour and are remotely interested in the world of Michelin starred restaurants and what it takes to be one/lose a star etc, watch it. It's kind of brilliant and the journalist's skepticism about the importance of all things Michelin is a bit of my current perspective (maybe its just the long hours shelling peas and cleaning langoustine).

And on that note, I'm off to bed to rest up for another week of work.

Never Ending Daylight, A Good Surprise, & First Week of Stage

Cooking Tip of the Day: If you would like to remove the paper from an entire head of garlic quickly, follow these few simple steps. Place the head of garlic on a hard surface and give it a good squash with the palm of your hand. Take 2 metal or plastic bowls/containers with the same size mouth, place the garlic in one, and cover with the other container. (Think of a Boston cocktail shaker.) Shake the bejesus out of the containers for 5-10 seconds. Open, and the cloves should be separated from the paper. Et, Voila!

Wild Poppy's on the Andersson Farm

My favorite place in the world: Jenny's cabin. At "dusk/dawn" around 2am

The last few weeks have been pretty crazy. I've been in four countries and many different time zones before landing back in Paris and beginning work as a stagiaire (aka intern) at Spring, here in Paris.

Just following my foray to Istanbul, I went directly to Sweden to visit Jenny. Jenny you may know from previous posts in South America (re: Chile & Peru). We originally met while volunteering in Tanzania in 2007, I visited her for spring break 2008, we traveled together in South America in summer of 2008, she spent Christmas of 2009 as a part of the Peyton clan in Montana, and we were lucky enough to connect on my first night here in Paris back in February as she was in town visiting friends. She is from a farming community in Sweden called Barstad, just outside of the small town called Vadstena. She lives just off a lake on the most beautiful property. As this was my first time visiting in the summer, it was my first experience of the lush greenery that is a result of almost constant sunlight at this time of year.

The long weekend I spent in Sweden was perfect. Her family took me in as their own, once again. Her brother, Gustav, threw a huge party to celebrate the summer with 80 of his closest friends. The party took place in an incredibly old distillery on the lake. Outfitted with a tennis tournament, cocktail hour, twinkle lights, a three course meal, and dancing to conclude, it felt like an outright summer Hampton'ts soiree. Unfortunately, I didn't take my camera to the soiree, but I did happen to get some photos during the glorious weekend in Sweden.

Pontus just prior to his loss

Jenny & Sara

Gustav, the coordinator

Seriously, my favorite place in the world. This picture was taken around 2am

Weeding on the farm

After that relaxing weekend on the farm in beautiful Barstad I headed back to the US for a surprise visit. WhitPey's 60th Birthday Bash was on July 6th, and I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I did not share this information with him prior to my arrival, though. Neither he nor Nance knew of my return until the evening before the party when Alex, Uncle Jay and I orchestrated a surprise at a family dinner.  It was a pretty great moment, and I am happy to have made it back for the party, which definitely lived up to its billing as a sinful event. I am pretty sure I drank more tequila than I have in months, danced my heart out, and watched the Whit drop the Nance dancing. Some things are definitely worth at 8 hour flight home for a few days. The only regret: that I had to hear my father's tone deaf voice singing a duet of "Calendar Girl" with Bill Winchel in front of a few hundred folks. That was enough to put me on the plane back to Paris. (Just joking, Whito!)
Quality party props+Quality tequila=Quality fun

Upon my return to Paris I began my stage (aka internship) at Chef Daniel Rose's Spring right away. I have had work for one week now. My work week starts on Tuesday and ends on Saturday--the opening days of the restaurant (that's right--most gastronomic restaurants in Paris are closed two days per week, quite often the open days are Monday through Friday. More wonderful French logic there). Wednesday through Friday we serve lunch and dinner. Tuesday and Saturday are dinner only. Each day I go into work between 8 and 9am. Each night I am finished with work somewhere around midnight (or later). I do not have a break during the day unless you count the approximate 10-15 minutes total I spend eating lunch and dinner (standing up). The hours are long and some of the work tedious as I just began work so I am stuck with the basic tasks. Hopefully, in the near future I will get to participate in service and not just be a prep cook. I spent many hours this past week meticulously caring for and paring down raw products as they came in. Everything from fava beans, to langoustine, to fresh almonds and peaches. My fingers will be very dexterous (or very tired) at the end of this experience. 

Luckily, due to the holiday Bastille Day, I had Saturday off of work and got to go see some fireworks in front of the Eiffel Tower. Here are some shots from the French Independence Day.
Quick succession #1

Quick succession #2

It did not suck.

On that note, I'm off to get some rest for another week at work. Bonne nuit!

Finding Inner Peace in Turkey: Shedding Tears in a Hammam

Cooking Tip of the Day: Not so much a cooking tip as a travel one. In line with the concept of "wherever you go, be all there," taste all that a place has to offer. Try the local. Whether it be brew, food preparation, liquor, fruit, veggies, or meat, give the stuff everyone else is eating a try. You might be surprised how wonderfully unique it tastes. Even if you regret it later, you'll (most likely) live to tell the tale. It will enhance your time spent in the area, and indubitably (if the food is a bit on the exotic side) win you some new, local friends.

Almost two weeks ago now I finished my courses at school and began a bit of travel before work. First, we took a class trip to Languedoc in the south of France. Then I headed to Istanbul, Turkey with Gloria for a few days of sun, a bit of Asia, and a bit of fun. Gloria is a great travel partner as she loves to take photos like I do and is up for just about anything. She should be considered for sainthood for putting up with me for the 5 days we were in Turkey. 
A little apple tea with our hookah (pictured below)

Turkey, in its own right, turned out to be one of the biggest and best surprises I've had in a long time as far as travel is concerned. I have had a one track mind since I've arrived in Paris--even prior to my departure--and Istanbul helped me slow down and reassess a little bit, as everyone should once in a while. Gloria and I experienced and saw so many uniquely wonderful things, from the Hagia Sophia to the whirling dervishes; Istanbul did anything but disappoint. 

The history of Istanbul is complex and fascinating, as it has been ruled by many men, influenced by many cultures (talk about East meets West as each half of the city is on a different continent), and been a haven for multiple religions. The Hagia Sophia is the quintessential representation of the latter. It began as a Christian church, became an Islamic mosque, and is now a secular building referenced as a living museum to its history. Truly a beautiful place:

Amalgamation of Christian and Muslim symbology inside Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia: Mary with baby Jesus in the central dome flanked by Muslim representation

Hagia Sophia

Blue Mosque

Topkapi Palace is another spectacular and extensive sight in Istanbul. It was the seat of many of the Ottoman Sultans for four centuries. The harem is the most ornately tiled space in the complex and is something not to miss.

Beautiful symbol of sultan Abdulmecid

Dizzying Tiles at Topkapi
View of the city through the banister at Topkapi Palace


We also got to experience a good deal of the culture in the few days we were in the city, as we stayed with a girl Gloria found through air b'n'b--basically a couchsurfing website where you pay a small fee to stay with a local. Biray directed us to many great experiences including: smoking nargile (hookah in other parts of the Mid-East), seeing Whirling Dervishes, getting a true fortune-telling coffee reading from our Turkish coffee grounds, and going to a hammam (Turskish Bath). To top it off she set us up with some of the best food in the city for a cheap price. Here are some of the moments captured on film (can you even say that any more?):

Best kebab I have ever tasted: horizontal meat, wood burning fire, and the guy never lets the meat drop into the fat drippings= brilliant. Sehzade Erzurum Cag Kebabi, Hocopasa
Local fishing scene is hopping

Spices and teas

Maiden's Island smack dab in the middle of two continents...I concede its a bit closer to Asia

Pickled concoction that goes on your fish sandwich by the Bosporus

All natural
Gloria getting duped by the ice cream man

Basilica Cisterns under the old city

Washing feet before prayers. Very humbling to see the call to prayer played out in the mosque.

Whirling Dervishes

In his meditative state. So peaceful

Blue Mosque at night time. This city is at its best during the night.

Kodak moment: couldn't resist the perfect shot here with the couple in it. 
Those are only a few of the thousand photos I took while in Istanbul. I absolutely am amazed how much I love that city. It is clean, historic, beautiful, and the people are lovely. I would highly recommend it to anyone planning a romantic getaway (just be prepared to sweat if you visit in the summer months). 

Not only is the city romantic, but it is intensely spiritual, as we witnessed the meditation of the Dervishes, the prostration of the Muslims during prayer in New Mosque, and had our coffee dregs read by a (seriously legit) fortune teller. I've never opened myself up to that kind of experience and am still blown away by the man's accuracy of my past and predictions of my future. The following day I got scrubbed and washed by a (slightly sadistic) Turkish nonna in the Hammam. After, I lay there on the marble and my body just released tears of acceptance for the control I have recently lost in my life. It is a humbling experience, but the spirituality that was palpable in almost every crevice of that city helped me realize that its okay to not be in complete control . . . sometimes. 

Here's to a new chapter in life . . .

Flip It, Switch It, & Reverse It

Cooking Tip of the Day: When shucking/peeling fresh almonds, make sure to either wear gloves or wash your hands immediately following. Your skin gets incredibly sticky and dry from whatever enzymes are on the external part of that fruit. Yuck!

So a bit of a change has occurred in my immediate future plans. Despite my blog post last week in which I announced my intent to work at Spring, things changed. After a lot of process--some ridiculous and some legitimate--I have ended up with a stage at Septime (not much of a website to speak of--thank you, France), the world's 87th best restaurant on San Pelligrino's list of Top 100 Restaurants in the World. It is the list that is looked to for rankings on an international restaurant scale. When you hear that Noma in Copenhagen is the world #1, this is the list everyone is talking about. Here are some photos of our meal there last week:

shrimp carpaccio, okra, baby zucchini blossoms, radish, cherries, fresh almonds, parsley puree etc etc.

white asparagus coated in guanciale, smoked egg yolk, cream, micro greens, bread crumbs

heart and liver of chicken, corn puree, buckwheat

the dining room with the open kitchen in the back

I had final exams this past week. We had 3 different evaluations: 1) panier--box of ingredients that you have free range with, 2) exactly reproduce a dish we had done in class and 3) pastry. All of them went well as I feel more inspired by food in general recently.

lamb 2 ways: carpaccio w/ arugula parm salad & zest-herb tapenade; rack of lamb, mint pea puree, white asparagus & lamb jus

Friday night we had a taco night at my place. Gloria has the Bon Appetit application so we based a lot of our cooking on the recipes provided. Our search for some products left us in the lurch, but we made it work with ingredients we could find. With the food, the beer Thomas, the Belgian, brought, and the tequila, we were set for the night. Here is what our table ended up looking like just before eating (thank you, Gloria, for your excellent food photos):
the dinner table loaded with goodies and my peonies from the market

Saturday I brought Wehi, Derek and Johanna to the outdoor opera (a performance of Aida) in the courtyard of Chateau de Vincennes. It was a beautiful setting as we got very lucky with the weather (it had just cleared up hours before following days and days of constant rain). Here are some photos from before and after, as you couldn't take pictures during.
derek, jo & wehi entering over the drawbridge

the set-up pre sunset/show

aida and her man at the end of the show. she rocked it.

derek, jo & wehi after the show.
Spectacular setting with great friends. I feel lucky to have gone. Tomorrow we are off to Languedoc for the "last 3 days of school." Its a class field trip that may more be like a huge party. Can't wait to see what mayhem results. Hopefully I return alive. 

Off to bed for an early departure. Until next time, cheers.

Where Did You Buy Ice? and the Letting Go of the Master

Cooking Tip of the Day: When steeping green tea, you should never use boiling water. The water temperature shouldn't exceed 185F, but in most cases should be lower than that. This way you avoid the bitter taste often associated with green teas and enjoy something much more floral and complex in flavor.

As it is the way with life, you have ups and you have downs. The few weeks prior to this one definitely fell a bit more into the crappy category, but this past one made up for it ten fold. 

The week started with a confusing interview (not so much?) at Spring Restaurant in the 1st arrondissement. I have not really kept up to date on what's happening as far as the internship front for multiple reasons. 1) I didn't want to jinx any good opportunities by saying them out loud (weird, I know). 2) If I had my heart set on something and got it broken its much easier to do that privately than publicly (this happened, hence the poor mood I have been in recently). 3) And honestly, I didn't even understand what was happening half the time throughout this process. Communication has been so sub-par on my part, the restaurants and often my chef that it was hard to get a grasp on what was really happening. 

So for those reasons I have been keeping you in the dark about the progression of my search for a job. Now that that (abnormally) long process is over, I am excited to share with you that I will be working at Spring following the end of my course. I am super excited that I will also get to work with Gloria, one of my favorite classmates, making the experience easier in that I have a partner in crime. Spring doesn't know what's coming with the two of us. Gloria and I are part of what Panos dubbed as "Team Loud" a few weeks back. Let's hope we can keep a bit quiet in the (incredibly) open kitchen.

On Friday, Thomas had a party with everyone from our immediate class plus our chefs, Sebastien and Antoine. As I have mentioned earlier, in an attempt to avoid "cook's block" I served up alcohol. I made pineapple infused vodka, bootlegs, and blood orange spicy margs. All were a huge hit, and I came home empty handed after bringing loads of alcohol to Thomas' place. Who knew that you could lure the wine drinkers out of their corner and into the realm of alcohol so easily? And as true to form, I started a late night dance party, danced on (and cracked) a coffee table, and rounded it out with a good dose of head-banging (hello neck ache on Saturday). At least we all went home with full bellies and marinating hangovers.

In addition to supplying the party with alcohol, I also had to overcome the ice issue. I know what you're thinking--issue? What is the issue with ice? Well its a two fold problem. Here's a short history: In America ice is so commonplace that we take it for granted. Any cocktail/soda/water ordered will come filled to the top with beautiful cubes to keep your drink nice and frosty in the hot summer months. And let's be serious, a cocktail w/o ice does not a cocktail make. Throughout the rest of the world, however, ice is quite a rarity; often times asking for ice will garner a look of disgust and disdain from waiters here (thank you, Parisian hospitality). Why waste energy on making ice? 

Also, in the States you can stop at your corner gas station and buy the stuff in 20 lb bags. Not so here. When I began my search for ice at the beginning of the week I was coming up empty handed at every turn. Thomas-- being Thomas and wonderfully resourceful-- found that the Monoprix (read: mini super market) 1 metro stop away from him carried ice. So on the way out to Neuilly, I stopped at the Monoprix, asked a stock manager, and was told that they did not, in fact, carry ice. As I was in the freezer section I thought it would be worth a look. Plus its France, and you never know who actually is certain that its a no, or if they are just not in the mood to help you look for those shimmery cubes of goodness. In the back corner of the freezer section I had a mini jackpot moment. The store sold 1kg bags and had 5 of them. I cleared them out. The stock manager was in awe that they had such a thing, the cashier asked where I had found ice, and when I got to the party, the question was asked by 1/2 of the attendees. Clearly, buying ice is not commonplace here. (I did however learn from a very nice man at the Picard--a grocery store dedicated to frozen goods--that you can get ice delivery to your house/place of work/party venue if you call at least three hours in advance and order at least 20kg (44lbs) of ice. Good to know for the next cocktail extravaganza.)

I had two excellent dining experiences this week, as well. Both places have good reputations, and both lived up to their billing. Tuesday night we went to Au Passage, a small dingy tapas style place in the 11th near some of my favorite bars. Not only is the food great and atmosphere comfortable and casual, but the chef is Aussie and incredibly hot. This place is going straight to the top with the dedicated followers being led by all the female anglophones in Paris. (Okay, the internet is a source of infinite wisdom. I did a quick search before publishing and found this article on Paris by Mouth about the hot Aussie exec. chef leaving Au Passage. Sad days--hopefully the food stays as good, but there is no way they can find another chef to fill the good-looking shoes of that man.)
A BRILLIANT DISH: White asparagus, hazelnuts, honey vinaigrette, parmesan. Sorry I couldn't get my camera there quicker, my fork was in the way. ;)

Thursday night I finally made it to Yam'Tcha (which was my first choice for an internship) after it being closed for 5 months. High anticipation generally leads to disappointment in my world as far as food experiences go, and this was probably some of the higher expectations I have had in a while. The food definitely lived up to and exceeded the expectations. The ambiance was quaint (a little bit quiet for our loud group) and tea and wine pairings quite brilliant. And, of course, the Chef and her husband, the tea master, were lovely as always. Here are some photos:

Amuse bouche: peas with some minced pork, sesame oil and sesame seeds

Langoustine and lobster served with peas, a (soy & XO sauce) poached egg yolk,  and a traditional seafood condiment from Hong Kong region

The tea pairing. Wow! (with some steamed buns in the background)

Steamed foie gras, scallop foam, white asparagus, reconstituted dried seaweed. Best foie gras I have had since being in France.

John Dory with a velouté and cabbage--was the only imperfect dish of the evening

Pintade (guineafowl) that was hanging in the window as we entered (very traditional). Served with oyster mushrooms and pickled (I think) cherries. Paired with an Italian Nebbiolo with cherry tones this was out of this world!

Ginger ice cream, pavlova, passion fruit, fresh strawberries and micro-mint. Perfection served with a very lightly steeped jasmine tea.
On Friday in class we had our Brittany regional menu. It was fish/lobster/shellfish filled and quite good. I honestly still haven't been putting out my best cooking this past week, which is frustrating but I guess needs to happen every once in a while. While I was frustrated with the lobster dish, this is what Laïssa and Gloria made. It was quite beautiful and bright.
Langoustine Carpaccio from our regional menu in class
And then to finish out this week I was lucky enough to attend the Men's Final of the French Open: Nadal vs. Djokovic. It started yesterday (Sunday) and due to rain delays became a two day event. This was beneficial because then we got two days of entertainment for the price of one. (Un)fortunately we had to miss school today to attend the finish of the finals. There goes my perfect attendance record for the year--whoops! The match was intense and fun filled. We sat next to some crazy Serbs who kept yelling something that we didn't understand. Finally, we figured out that they were saying two things: "No Ole!" (in reference to Rafa's fans singing Ole) and "Let's Go, Master!" (in Serbian, obviously). They were characters of the best kind and very enjoyable to sit next to (when they weren't standing and waving their flag in front of my face).

If I would have remembered to charge my camera battery, there would be more of these. Sorry for my deliquence.

That is all for now. Off to study for my final exam (at the end of this week) and get ready for another week in the kitchen (read: iron my whites). There is one certainty at the end of this experience--I am going to be brilliant with laundry. Until next time, cheers.

A Bad Case of Writer's/Chef's Block

Cooking Tip of the Day: When braising meats, prior to submerging in liquid, brown/sear your meat to the point just before the crust burns on high heat. The darker the the brown, the better the sear and the more juices (read: flavors) remain inside the meat throughout the braise.

Regularity with this blog is becoming sloppy, and that's just unjustifiable. I won't make excuses for why I haven't been writing. All I can really chalk it up to is a bad case of writer's block. This comes at a time when I am also feeling an overwhelming sense of the equivalent of writer's block in the kitchen. 

As this course comes to a close (only 2 more weeks of school left) I find myself wondering what, if anything, I have learned. I have just spent four months in the kitchen learning the foundations of French cuisine, and for what purpose? I don't ever even see myself cooking what one would call traditional French cuisine in the future. So what will I take away from this experience? 

My cooking block became apparent 2 weeks ago when Thomas organized a group pot luck at his home. We are all to bring something of a "signature dish." When asked to do so I just drew a blank. What the hell am I good at cooking any longer? My style and identity of cooking have shifted to something that no longer identifies me. What I mean is that all I have been cooking is someone else's food-- and that someone else is a nerdy French dude from the 70s (you should see the back cover of our school text). I have been making cream sauces and poached meat (yuck) and beurre blanc--all things that were not in my repertoire prior to coming to France, and much of which will remain out of my repertoire following the conclusion of this school experience (I can almost guarantee I won't be poaching meat in my stage).

What I have decided is that I could look at all of this in the negative light--which I just illuminated for you so nicely above-- or I could absorb the techniques and practice, and accept that I have further identified my style by process of elimination. One of the most important things I will take away from this experience is the appreciation for the origins of one's food. How was a certain animal raised? What area did this produce come from? Understanding the terroir and the know-how of the food producers makes me appreciate my food more and more everyday.

So this last weekend I got out of town and into Lyon, a beautiful city 2 hours train ride due south of Paris. It was a relaxing weekend in a beautiful city located on two rivers and filled with green space. Les Halles Paul Bocuse is the central gourmet market space in this totally gastro-centric town. It was reinvigorating to see the gorgeous products for sale. Everything from manchego, taleggio, and brie cheese to the local favorite quenelles, to oysters, to aged meat and everything in between. Che bellissima!

The turn around began with the weekend getaway to gastronomic and endearing Lyon, and was solidified a bit more today when Katie Moulton reminded me of the simplest concept behind all of this... " BUT YOU'RE LIVING IN PARIS. AND COOKING." How right she is. I am living life and doing exactly what I want. Someone just needed to help me pull my head out of my ass and see straight. Here's to a more positive outlook on the week to come and those beyond. Plus, I have Thomas' pot luck to look forward to on Friday. And I recognized what my signature is at this moment as summer commences: tending bar. I will be introducing the bootleg to Paris with a few other fun concoctions up my sleeve for an unsuspecting group of international students. If nothing else can cure this block, at least a bootleg always seems to brighten up my day. 

Until next time, Cheers.

Restaurant Whirlwind: Dining Out Every Night of the Week

Cooking Tip of the Day: I know that there is a major push for having less fat in your food in the United States, but it is undeniable (and even Modernist Cuisine now confirms scientifically) that fat helps in the transfer of heat. So when you are trying to obtain a beautifully golden seared duck breast, or get a flawless sear on your beef medallions, use fat liberally--even if you are on a non-stick pan. You can never manage to find that perfect color without the fat. And degrease the pan afterwards if you're utilizing it in continued cooking. 

And with that statement made, its official, France is rubbing off on me.

This last week was very fun and very busy. Since we again had a day off in the middle of the week, this time Thursday, Jo, Derek and I made the most of it by venturing out to Chateau Fontainebleau. Just an hour train ride from Paris, this gem has 2 different gardens, a French and an English, the latter of which was a pure delight because of its wild nature.

Fontainebleau's Entrance

Gorgonzola and home-made rose petal jam from Mama D'Arcangelo's wild roses that actually grow on the beach outside Johanna's home in Vancouver. Yum.

Wild flowers growing in the English Garden at Fontainebleau

Definitely not to French Garden Standards...

Jo & Derek on our way into the woods and over the bridge

Beautiful sculptures on the side of the castle

Pastry class creations with chestnut creme, chocolate and gold leaf.
Another component that added to the bustle of the week was the search for a place to work. The end of school is quickly approaching, and soon our stage (internship) will commence. I have been on a rampant search for the perfect restaurant if my first choice doesn't pan out. If I had the gaul to take pictures of food I ate while dining out last week, I may fill up an entire photo album. I have been on a mission to find the perfect restaurant to work at, and that means I must eat at excellent restaurants basically every night! 

Monday was Pinxo on Rue Mazarine (definitely would not recommend it). Since it was so miserable we actually decided as a team to venture out to Frenchie, a very, very cute bistro, whose name I think is a bit too cheeky, but Chef Gregory Marchand totally redeems himself with excellent products presented on simply and beautifully balanced plates. (The following day I found that they are not taking stagiaire.) Two dinners in one night: check. Tuesday night was Semilla: great food, but they are fully staffed and just recently opened, so still working out all the kinks. So I'm not working there. Wednesday night we went to Jadis, the bistro that Thomas will be working at. We had another exceptional meal there, the service left us a little wanting, though. Thursday, the McKenna's were in town so I took them to my favorite--Chez L'Ami Jean. Once again everything that was put on our table was sublime. I think I could eat his soup and rice pudding everyday and be happy (and extremely fat). Friday, we had the chance to eat at Spring, a highly touted restaurant run by Chef Daniel Rose. Chef is from Chicago and moved to France to learn how to cook, dropped out of his cuisine course, and just started working. Then he fell in love with a French girl and here he still remains. After our late seating Daniel invited us into the kitchen for a glass of wine. It was a great opportunity to sit down with a well-respected chef and hear his point of view. He was so humble and real. It was nice to see that his success hadn't gotten to his head. Then on Saturday I went to lunch at Sola, a Asian-Franco Fusion restaurant. For dinner I headed to Yoom to celebrate Johanna's birthday. Yoom was a fun experience because it was dim sum and not gastronomic. We had a convivial dinner and then spent Saturday night no the town only to see the sun rise on Sunday.

Overall a crazy week of dining out. This week will be full of staying home for dinner and trying to recouperate from the whirlwind that was last week. Until next time, Cheers.

Ohh La-La Versus Ou La-La: French-isms

Cooking Tip: If you want to present celery in a beautiful way, take your veggie peeler and make ribbons out of the celery lengthwise and place them in an ice bath for at least 30 minutes. When you remove the ribbons they will be curled just like a ribbon for gift wrap. Voila! (The same works for green onions cut into skinny, long rectangles.)
Wehi's Birthday Party Polaroids from Last Weekend

It seems that spring may have finally arrived for good here in Paris. (Don't quote me on this because it may begin to rain again and the temperature may drop or wind pick up, any second.) The weather here is finicky. No one ever talks about how much it rains in Paris. But now, I'm here to tell you, that it is a very regular occurrence. In fact, I would say it is more common to have a rainy/overcast day, than one with sun. That being said, when the sun comes out, so does the love in the city. As if this city needs any more amour... But what I mean by that is the Parisians tend to smile a little bit more, walk with a more relaxed gait, and not shoot as many judgmental glances at you (unless, of course, you happen to walk by a cafe where--let's face it-- people are sitting there drinking their coffee with the sole purpose of judging those who walk by).

We have had a couple days off of school this month. Tuesday, May 1st was May Day: no school. Tuesday, May 8th was yet another day off from school. This time it was for V-E Day from WWII. A very legitimate reason to have a day off of work/school. And this coming week we will have Thursday, May 17th off for the Ascension, a religious holiday where the country seems to close down. Obviously the French enjoy their days off. But why wouldn't the country just be logical and put these holidays on the Monday or the Friday of the week, so we could all enjoy a nice long weekend? C'est la vie en la France-- alas, I believe too much logic is overwhelming here sometimes. Here are some fun pictures from Wehi's Birthday Party, a party to which one had to wear a white t-shirt in order that we could write on everyone:
An apt prediction for the night

Jo and I in our almost matching shirts and peace signs!!

My favorite picture from the night. Almost everyone in the picture is from Tahiti originally
This past Tuesday, Johanna and I were hired hands for a catering gig in a northwest suburb of Paris, Asnieres. We worked with a former Ferrandi graduate, Cathleen, who just happened to be born and raised in Burnsville, MN. She has been living in Paris for the last 15 years. She was very fun to work with. And the home at which the event was held was amazing--a mansion from god knows what century with a per-fect-ly manicured backyard. I don't really have anyway to describe it, and could not take pictures because I was working. But it was really something spectacular. Luckily the family had 2 professional planchas--like flat tops-- in their back yard, so we grilled 5 different kinds of skewers, and made loads of other food for the partygoers on a fickle weathered Tuesday afternoon.

This week was also our last restaurant service at school. It kind of seems to signify the beginning of the end of our course, which is odd. It is unreal how quickly the time has flown. I was chef de partie for the entrée (which is starter in France, as it means entry--we kind of screwed that one up in North America), Alain Ducasse's Salade Niçoise. It was a fun service, and I am sad we won't have any more. I really do enjoy the crazy stress that seems to happen on those days.

Salad Niçoise

Thursday, Wehi made us tomato ramen, a Japanese-Italian fusion soup he had on his recent trip to Japan in Osaka. It was actually really good and we garnished it with parmesan. After the main course we all contributed a bit to the dessert. Here is what Wehi's plate ended up looking like:

Yesterday we spent most of the day in the north part of the city near Sacre Coeur. It was my first time there since moving here in February, and I forgot how charming that area can be. We relaxed on the hill in front of the church in the early part of the afternoon, and spent the latter half wandering the streets below. My favorite is Rue des Martyrs
Sacre Coeur--Illegal lawn sitting
This morning we went to Candelaria, a Mexican restaurant, for brunch. Then ended up taking a stroll through what we thought was going to be a very small 2nd hand market, but ended up being HUGE!. We found out later that we stumbled upon Les Marché des Enfants Rouges. I highly recommend this market to anyone coming to Paris. You can get the randomest, most wonderful bric-a-brac. And it is much closer than Clingancourt, which is the market in the northern part of the city near sketchy and undesirable neighborhoods. Les Enfants Rouges is in the 3rd arrondissement and full of fun things such as the following (pardon the explicit nature of one of the pictures, but it was just too good to pass up):

After the market we wanted to enjoy the (rare) sunshine a bit more. We had talked about where to find a rooftop bar/bistro. Jo had gone to the trouble and done some research a few days prior. So she realized that we can have a drink/eat on top of the Pompidou Centre. What a brilliant place! You have a spectacular view of the entire city.  It is also a ridiculous place for people watching, as most of the waitstaff are interested in one thing---being discovered by a talent agency. So they are dressed to the 9's and tend to be quite good looking. We weren't complaining. Maybe we were about the price of the drinks, though.

Derek and Johanna on the rooftop of the Pompidou Centre

Deep in conversation

So that was my week in a nutshell. We will soon have a new leader in France. Most people that voted for him probably don't know anything about him. They just really wanted to get rid of Sarkozy (see my post from last week). I will have to improve my French understanding so I can keep current on the population's likes/dislikes of it's new leader. Speaking of which, my French language skills are coming along. I function at a very basic level of conversation and can get myself through most situations. Once people start talking politics/emotions or anything relatively sophisticated I am lost. And there are many nuances with the language that are important to note. Here are a few:

- Wine and 20 have the same pronounciation: despite completely different spellings vin (wine) and vignt (twenty) have the same pronunciation. This can be confusing, or a cute play on words... It also happens quite often considering the last few letters of words tend not to be pronounced quite often. It makes for an interesting guessing game sometimes and really makes me pay attention to the context of a conversation.

- The French uphold the stereotype by using the phrase Oh la la. But there are two pronunciations, two spellings, and most importantly, two meanings. Ahh La-La can signify a number of things, both good and bad. While Ou La-La means more like Oh, dear look at what just happened--definitely bad and judgmental. There seems to be a method to the madness, but I am not sure how to better describe it.

Many other examples were in my mind before, but alas, it is getting late and I must get to bed. Happy Mother's Day to the Nance! I hope you enjoyed your day in Minneapolis. I love and miss you.

Until next time, Cheers!

Français Election 2012: Hollande vs. Sarkozy

Cooking Tip of the Day: When carving a chicken, make sure not to miss the two "oysters" on the back of the chicken. This dark meat is some of the most flavorful and moist on the entire body. If you can't carve them off cleanly, do like you do on Thanksgiving with the turkey and pick at the carcass for these morsels of goodness.

Its official. This Sunday evening the 6th of May 2012, François Hollande of the Socialist Party is the President elect of France. The streets of Paris flooded with his celebratory supporters just after 8pm this evening as the polls closed and news broke of victory. We just so happened to be at Wehi's, a few minutes walk from the Bastille where the main raucous festivities were taking place. So we decided to join in the fun and merriment. People, in general, seemed more excited that Sarkozy is out than the fact that Hollande is the new leader. I heard Sarkozy's name a million times tonight in conversation. Hollande was perhaps mentioned just once. Interesting... Here are some pictures Wehi/Gloria took out on the streets:

Bastille is swarmed. So many people were here it was difficult to move.

Socialist Party supporters waving flags on Rue Faubourg St. Antoine

Living history in front of our eyes. Spectating from high vantage points. Who knew the signs were so sturdy?
Pretty amazing night with pretty unpredictable consequences for France and the EuroZone. It will be interesting to see what way the euro goes tomorrow. This much is for sure: Angela Merkel is going to be one sour chicken.

Until next time, cheers! And Viva La France!

Croatian Spring Break: A UNESCO World Heritage Site Whirlwind

Cooking Tip of the Day: As grilling season is upon us, and it is illegal to grill in Paris, I pass a tip off to you about grilling meat so at least someone can utilize it this summer. When grilling meat make it look professional by creating crosshatches. Make sure you have thoroughly cleaned your grates. Place your piece of meat presentation side down. After 1/2 of the cook time for the first side, carefully pick up and rotate your piece of meat 90 degrees. Finish cooking that side; once flipped repeat the process, ensuring that if the first side didn't go perfectly, you have a second chance at success. And try your best not to cut into the piece of meat to measure doneness, as the second you do all those sealed juices seep out and moisture is lost. Instead check by pressing the meat with your finger. Firm meat is done meat, if its still really squishy, leave it on a bit longer.

It has once again been a whirlwind 2 weeks. This past week I went to Croatia with Nance and Al for a little Euro-Spring Break. It was a trip we had been talking about for a long time, so it was highly anticipated. Alex and Nance got into Paris last Friday night. We went to dinner at a phenomenal restaurant: Chez L'Ami Jean. The chef is renowned for his crazed rants, but that doesn't stop him from cooking some beautiful Basque cuisine. From the first to the last course, everything was beautifully done and surprising (beef with strawberries? it works brilliantly!). I really appreciated Chef Jego's cuisine and his staff, who were all fun and jovial in nature, very contrary to many of my Paris dining experiences. I will definitely be returning to this gem in the 7th.

A trip with the Peyton's would not be complete without a random, unexpected run in with friends. As we were standing at the bar, enlightening our senses with beautiful charcuterie and some bubbles, we hear a person say "Nancy?" We shrugged it off at first only to hear it a second time, prompting all  of us to turn and see Sue and Bob McDonald sitting with their son in the corner table of the small restaurant. What are the chances? I guess good restaurants can bring food lovers together all over the globe.

Our travel route began in Dubrovnik in the very south of Croatia. We worked our way north (after a stop in Montenegro) on the coast to Split, headed inland to Plitvice Lakes (a national park), and finished in Zagreb, the country's capital. Here are some pictures to take you through our little adventure.

Dubrovnik on our first day

Churches are everywhere in this beautiful 13th century town
 It was truly fascinating to go to Montenegro to learn a bit about the recent history between the two countries. The 1990s led the former Yugoslavia into a drawn out war. Once the area was free from Soviet communist influence, Slobodan Milosevic wanted to garner power of a very widespread area that includes an incredibly diverse population: Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania, and Macedonia. Montenegro buckled under Milosevic and therefore became part of Serbia-Montenegro, while Croatia wanted independence. Because the latter did such, Milosevic bombed and tried to occupy much of southern Croatia. In the process he destroyed a great deal of Dubrovnik and its surroundings. So there was great strife between neighbors, Croatia and Montenegro. Today there is definitely some tensions, but overall the area seems to be progressing towards a more stable peace everyday. It was truly impressive to hear how even keeled and practical our Croatian guide could speak in regards to Montenegro.

As far as the landscape of Montenegro, much of what we saw was absolutely breathtaking. We drove through what are called the "Mediterranean fjords" of crystal blue waters and dramatic cliffs, which were sprinkled with ancient fortresses. 

The fortified city of Kotor, Montenegro
 Upon our return to Dubrovnik in the evening, we walked the walls of the city, a must do for any tourist. We got great views of the city and of the coastline. Despite the clouds we were treated to a beautiful sunset, as well.
Al and Nance walking the wall in Dubrovnik
 Next, I drove us north to Split. Unfortunately they are just finishing construction on the A1 highway and which parts are done is quite unclear when you are driving up the coast. So although the drive was beautiful because we were on the coastal highway the entire way, it took an incredibly long time to get there. We drove through vineyards and on cliffs with beautiful views of the ocean. The Dalmatian coast is a very sparse land in which everything that grows has to fight for life. Some of the landscape is eerily beautiful. 

We made it up to Split a bit later than expected and went through the bowels of the old town, the construction of which is from the 3rd century and beautifully excavated. The next day we headed to Trogir to see the medieval city there. All of these cities are truly beautiful, but often can look a little similar. We started getting lost in the small alleyways thinking remembering the lanes from the last walled city we were in. We had an unreal lunch in Trogir with a whole seabass grilled on open charcoal flames after visiting the cathedral and the bell tower (which I ascended alone because Nance and Al were sick of stairs).
Chandelier in a church in Trogir, Croatia
 Then we headed inland to Plitvice Lakes National Park. The park itself consists of a travertine/karst laden system of lakes and falls, so the water is quite aquamarine, and the falls bountiful. The park was beautiful, the hotel situation (very limited in this neck of the woods) not so much. Our hotel was Soviet era chic. Everything was perfect rectangular and the furniture has probably been there since the mid 70's or 80's. Not to mention there was no air-conditioning in the rooms, the staff seemed like they were constantly inconvenienced by your presence, and the restaurant made a cruise ship dining room look like child's play in size. This building was a very unhappy machine. Despite the horrible hotel and the mediocre dinner provided by its dining room, I would recommend going to the national park because it is visually a treat.
Plitvice Lakes

Plitvice Lakes
Zagreb was our next and final stop in the country. None of us were too excited about the prospect of ending our trip in an inland city that seemed to have no redeeming value. But Zagreb was a pleasant surprise, charming us with its abundant green space and sidewalk cafe culture. The perfect weather we had there didn't hurt either. 
Zagreb, the country's capital

The thinnest, most beautiful asparagus ever was all over the country

This lady sells some major pasta at the Duloc market in Zagreb. Look at the quantity of sheets in front of her!

Traditional Croatian script in the Zagreb Cathedral

Zagreb Cathedral and Church

Last night cocktails in the hotel bar. Complete with lounge singer, pianist and bassist
In reference to the title of the blog entry, many of the places we visited in Croatia are classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the old towns of Dubrovnik, Kotor, Split and Trogir, as well as the natural beauty of Plitvice Lakes National Park. The trip felt like a UNESCO designed tour in retrospect. 

We returned to a rainy Paris on Friday and another wonderful Parisian dinner at Vivant in the 10th. It was so much fun to have Nance and Al visit. Our girls trips have a great history in themselves and its fun to see the tradition live on. Who knows where the next great adventure will be. 

Until next time, cheers!

Vin and Huitres: Easter with Oysters

Cooking Tip of the Day: For storage of herbs and spices, make sure to label the container the first time you open it. Herbs and spices deteriorate in flavor over time, and after about one year you will not derive the same flavor when using them. If you date with the month and the year, you'll always know just how strong the taste is going to be. 

As you may have noticed, last Sunday was the first Sunday I haven't posted in a while. The reason: I was spending Easter weekend in the Bordeaux area with some friends enjoying wine and eating fantastically fresh oysters.  We started by driving (a manual transmission--yikes!) from Paris to Bordeaux, spent one day sipping wines at some of the Grand Cru Classe Vineyards and the other two days near the fishing villages of the Arcachon Basin. Here is a melange of photos taken over the course of the weekend.
Chateau Giscours, our first wine tour of the day

The barrel label
We learned a lot about the importance of the barrel on this (and the second) tour we had last Saturday. Barrel makers are known as coopers and toast the oak for wine barrels from trees in the Troncais Forest, located in central France. The flavor notes one identifies in a wine bouquet actually are derived from different coopers' toasting. To get more complex wines, chateaus use barrels from different coopers. For instance, Giscours uses 7 different coopers' barrels to age their wine, while Lynch Bages uses up to 10. This also prevents any major disasters, as the chateaus don't put all their eggs in one basket. If a cooper is having an off year of barrel making, a chateau can throw out any wine aged in that barrel to avoid a disastrous vintage. Its very practical from a business standpoint, and definitely helps bring about unique blends of flavor (from the same varietal/cepage of grape) for each chateau.

Isabel and Johanna in front of a beautiful chateau we drove by

Tasting at Lynch Bages

Oyster dinner at Routioutiou on an oyster jetty at Gujan Mestras

Arcachon Basin Oyster Islands

Oyster beds near Cap Ferret--made out of terracotta roof tiles

Oyster shacks in the fishing villages

Easter Sunday Oyster Feast with lavender chevre and a champagne-soaked, washed rind cheese

Dune de Pyla, the largest dune in all of Europe
On Sunday night we went to the Patio in Arcachon, a Michelin One Star Restaurant. It was quite nice. The dessert was probably one of the best deserts I've ever tasted-- a chocolate sphere with passion fruit inside. The rest of the meal was quite good, but the price point was a bit high. All I could think was that its a curious thing when you pay loads for a "nice"/Michelin Star-worthy meal and the caliber doesn't even compare to the fresh, simple, uncomplicated, beautiful oysters you had earlier for 1/10th the price. That being said, the dinner was very enjoyable, just not as sublime as the oysters we had in Gujan-Mestras pictured above. 

Before heading back to Paris on Monday, we stopped at the Dune de Pyla, a dune that rises more than 100 meters out of the forest on the edge of the bay just at the mouth into the Atlantic. It was pretty fun to plunge step down the thing and would be a great place to come when the weather is beautiful for a day of fun in the sand. Unfortunately its still the spring and we were stuck in jeans and jackets and did not jump in for a swim. Maybe next time...

Until next time, Cheers!