Keep On Truckin’- Portland’s Portable Food Scene

Good morning, friends and neighbors.

Some time back, I asked a group of professionals what movies about kitchen life got it “right,” and which ones really REALLY got it wrong.

“Waiting” and “No Reservations” were among the “don’t mention that movie in my presence” list, but there was one movie that everyone- and I mean everyone- claimed hit the nail on the head: Jon Favreau’s 2014 father/son megahit, Chef.

Movie poster for

Whether it was the sweet story of a busy chef trying to keep a relationship with his son, that same chef bucking a demanding owner and going into business for himself, or just the gobs and GOBS of on-location foodporn, Chef struck a chord with every pro I met who’d seen it.

When my mother saw the movie for the first time, she said, “See Matt? That looks fun, and not that hard! You could do that!”

Thanks for the vote of confidence Mom, but as cool as it looks- running a food truck is NOT exactly the “easy mode” of the food world.

Continue reading

It’s “Pie” Time I Wrote Something About This

Good morning, friends and neighbors!After last weeks “crash course” in chocolate, another discussion popped up that I couldn’t help but stick my beak in as the topic was very close to my heart:Hey everyone, of all things in the kitchen, I know next to NOTHING about fruit pies. Help?”

Bakers and chefs chimed in, and I scrolled through their responses before finally saying,

“Yeah, everything here is about right to my experience. Here’s a couple other things I do that you might find helpful..”

My friend from last time popped up. “Oh thank God, I was wondering this too. Have you written about this?”

I went back and found my previous pie-related entries, only to realize I NEVER COVERED FILLINGS.

“Dude, GET ON IT, and then send me the link! Maybe a video how-to?”

Well, I like to correct my mistakes, and I’m here to please, so strap in all. I’m going to take you through baking pies and my personal Top 5 Fruit Pie recipes! Video how-to will come soon!

So What’s My Deal with Pie?
Pie, to me, is the ultimate homecooking icon. It’s the real symbol of hospitality and comfort food (get out of here with your pineapple symbolism,) and it’s ingrained in our culture going back centuries:
“Little Jack Horner, sat in a corner, eating his Christmas pie…”
“American as apple pie.”
“Easy as pie.”
Beyond that, it’s also the most direct (and beautiful) example of my personal culinary philosophy:    Simplicity, with ElegancePie is, by its nature, not a fussy affair. It’s a crust with a filling. Simple in appearance, seemingly simple in execution. To make a truly excellent pie is a work of art and a demonstration of real craftsmanship. If something goes wrong with the crust, there’s NO HIDING IT. If the filling is off, there’s NO HIDING it. No icing. No sauce. No sprinkles. No piling a little mound of microgreens on top of a burned bit.Pie is honest. It is honest about itself, and about your skill as a baker. That is a beautiful thing. Pumpkin PiePumpkin Pie
Back when I was a kid, I loved pie- it just felt more… fun. I don’t think I ever had a birthday cake after the age of 10- simply because I always just wanted pie instead.
That’s something that persists to today, by the way. You know, in case anyone is in the Portland area in July. *hint hint* Cheddar Apple Pie
Cheddar Apple Pie

Crust And Assembly Recap!

As I mentioned above, I’ve done a couple of posts about pie before- one on making and handling a perfect crust, including my favorite recipe, and another on assembly once you have everything ready. You should really go read those first:
In Hoc Crustulo Vinces: The Season Is Upon Us!
In Hoc Crustulo Vinces: Pie of the Tiger
For those of you in a hurry, though, I’ll touch on the most important bits here. Since writing those, I’ve changed up my method a bit so I’ll include that here:
Pie Dough

My Favorite Recipe
(from The Joy of Baking. Good for 2 single-crust pies or one double-crust pie)

2 1/2 cups (350 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon (30 grams) granulated white sugar (leave out if you want it savory)
1 cup (226 grams) unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup (60 – 120 ml) ice water or other chilled liquid (experiment with different liquids to get interesting flavors!)
Herbs or Spices as you see fit

If you are using an electric mixer, freeze the butter. If not, chilled is fine.
Mix all the dry together, and then the butter until the mix resembles coarse meal (if making by hand, use your fingers or a pastry blender to cut in the butter. You DON’T want any large lumps. By keeping the butter chilled/frozen, you break up the butter before it can melt.
Add the liquid all at once. If it’s too dry, add a bit more. Your dough should be cold, but not wet or very sticky. Pulling apart a lump, you should be able to see layers inside. Split into two equal size discs, wrap in plastic and chill.

Basic pie dough is 3 parts flour, 2 parts fat, 1 part liquid- hence, 3-2-1 Dough
Keep everything as cold as possible, and use as little flour as possible when rolling. Otherwise the dough will absorb it and dry out.
If your dough is shrinking back after you roll it, it means it’s been overworked. Let it sit for a few minutes before rolling again.
Pie Assembly

  • Mise en place, mise en place,
    After lining your pie tin, let it rest in the fridge.
    Cook your fillings ahead of time and store them. Hot filling + cold pie dough = melty, greasy dough.
    When sealing your pie, be sure to moisten BOTH pieces of dough with whatever wash you are using, and then crimp/fold to ensure a good seal.
    Egg yolk wash will make your pie look shiny and golden when baked, milk will make it look crusty and rustic.
    Got all that? Go look at those blog post for a bit more detail, as well as demo pictures!
    An assortment of berries

Basic Stuff

When it comes to fruit pie fillings, you can absolutely follow a (tested and proven) recipe, but between you and me, I rarely have one.
Want it a little sweeter? Add some more sugar! A little thicker? Add some more thickener. Remember- Baking is chemistry. With practice, you’ll understand which rules you can bend or break- and which ones you can use to have fun!

My Fruit Filling Ratio

4 parts fruit to 1 part sugar
8 parts sugar to 1 part cornstarch.Let me say it again here- this is not set in stone. This ratio will just give you a good idea for how to assemble a fruit filling. You should ALWAYS feel free to experiment and figure your own best recipe out!
Be a mad scientist!Is the Cornstarch Necessary?
Well, yes and no.
Cornstarch is a thickener, or a “gelling agent” in fancy industry lingo. It works better than flour, and is less expensive than other thickeners like arrowroot.
It’s a popular addition for people who make their own jellies or jams, and it’s often used as a vegan substitute for gelatin in cooking and baking.
Thicker filling- your slice of pie remains a SLICE. The filling stays in place, under the crust, picture perfect.
Thinner filling- you want a juicy, runny pie. You want the filling to go all over the plate, and you wanna lick it clean when you’re done.
In the end, it’s your pie! Experiment and do your own thing! PictureNo judgments- You do you!

To Pre-cook, or not to Pre-cook?

This is another one of those divisive questions in the pie world- do you pre-cook your filling, cool it, and THEN put it in the pie? Or do you let the filling cook and thicken in the shell?

Again, it’s up to you! For me, I personally like to pre-cook. It means I can spread out the time necessary to make a pie (having dough and filling made a day before means that I can just assemble and bake when I’m ready!)

It also leads to a thicker filling, since you are really just heating the pre-cooked filling and baking the crust.

How Do I Know When It’s Cooked?

Regardless of whether you pre-cook or not, the tell-tale sign that your filling is properly cooked is watching for bubbling in the vents of your top crust.As your pie bakes, the filling will bubble up. It’ll start out with small, fast bubbles- like a boiling pot of water. What you are looking for is the bubbles to come up slow and thick, like bubbling tar. That means that your filling has been thickened to the point that the cornstarch is well-cooked, and you’ll have thick, shiny goop!Alright, got the basics down? Here’s some of my favorite filling ideas! Depending on how big a pie you are making, some of these may make a bit too much. Hold on to it and make another pie, or just scale it down! 

Got all that? Good!

Here’s some of my favorite pie fillings!

The Über Apple Pie!

This is the pie I made for my recent blogs. It’s a fall favorite of mine, and a wonderful demonstration of “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth OVERdoing!” The pie crust is seasoned with apple pie spice and made with apple cider. The filling gets dosed with Applejack Brandy, and the selection of apples just screams fall!
3 lbs Apples (my favorites are Granny Smith, Fuji, Gala, and Honeycrisp)
½ cup of brown sugar
1.5 tablespoons cornstarch
Allspice
Nutmeg
Cinnamon
1 tbsp Brandy
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
Cook over medium heat until the apples release a noticeable amount of liquid in the bottom of the pot.
Add the sugar, and whisk the cornstarch, spices, brandy, and extract together into a slurry. Pour in and stir regularly.
Cook until thick, with a shiny layer of goop forming on your spoon!

Blueberry Lemon Mint

Coming from New Jersey, summer meant BLUEBERRIES. Adding citrus to berry pies brightens them up and highlights their tartness, and the addition of mint lends an herbaceous, cooling feeling that makes this pie legitimately refreshing.
(adapted from The Joy Of Baking)4 cups blueberries
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
¼ cup chopped fresh mint

Peach Jalapeño

Gotta love that sweet heat!

4 lbs chopped fresh peaches
1 lb. sugar
About 1 oz. cornstarch
Any spices you like (for a smoky hit, add a little ground chipotle pepper!)
A few jalapeno peppers, diced and seeded.

Cook as for the blueberry pie, whisking the dry ingredients into the cooking fruit, and adding the jalapenos at the end. Just like with the herbs, adding the peppers toward the end preserves their heat! If you cook them with the filling, they wind up just tasting like green pepper.Cherry Almond Cardamom

This is another go-to fall/winter pie! Despite cherries being very much a summer fruit, their combination with cardamom and toasty almonds makes this pie unnaturally filling and warming- like a hug in your belly, perfect for a cooler night in fall!Filling
4 lbs cherries (a mix of sour pie cherries and dark sweet cherries)
1 lbs sugar
1 oz. cornstarch
About ½ c toasted, chopped almonds
½ tsp cardamom
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanillaFollow the same directions as above, but this time mixing in the almonds.Tips and TricksFrozen fruit is fine to use, as is canned! Seasonal is obviously best, but don’t be afraid of getting the best frozen/canned stuff you can. If it’s canned, though, you don’t want to use the syrup or juice it’s in. Save that stuff for sweetening things later!Cardamom is awesome but a SUPER STRONG spice! Don’t overdo it on this one!

  • This pie demonstrates one of my favorite principles in flavor-matching- combining related produce! Cherries and almonds taste great together because they are actually closely related- as are almond and rose, and rose and peach! When putting flavors together, try keeping it in the family!

Strawberry Rhubarb with Goat Cheese and Black Pepper

Now this one is the master course, and a demo of everything we’ve gone over in this blog.
It’s creamy. It’s fresh. It’s spicy. It’s sweet. It’s YUM.Filling
3 lbs. Strawberries
1 lbs. Chopped rhubarb
1 lbs. Sugar
1 oz. cornstarch
4 oz. soft goat cheese
Black pepper, to tasteCook fruit and rhubarb as above, whisking the sugar, cornstarch, and black pepper together and adding together.
Before baking, spread or otherwise evenly distribute the goat cheese over the bottom of the pie shell. Pour fruit filling on top.There You Go!
Now you know how to make your own fruit pies, just in time for the holidays!
Think you’re family will be pleased? Which pie is your favorite?
Let me know in the comments!Stay Classy,

A Crash Course in Chocolate Work

 Good afternoon, friends and neighbors.

I am annoyingly active on Facebook. “Annoying” certainly for myself, since I’d like to believe I have better things to do than scroll through an increasingly bleak news feed and let fear/ anxiety/ envy consume what remains of my energy. (Fun fact: I do, I just kinda suck at reminding myself to do them.)

One thing that Facebook HAS done for me, however, is connected me with a community of fellow professional cooks and chefs from around the world. I tend to haunt these conversations more than I talk- you wouldn’t believe just how much of being a good storyteller is listening, rather than talking.
The other day, though, I felt the need to pipe up.

One chef in the community was working in the kitchen of a hospital and had recently been put in charge of their pastry department as well as their hot kitchen. He was okay enough with the baking aspects- he knew how to follow a recipe, do the math, and so on. There was only one thing he was concerned about with his new duties- chocolate work.

The hospital had an EXCELLENT food program. They make chocolates and truffles in-house for their OB-Gyn unit- new mothers get a little box of specialty chocolates. The chef had chocolate on hand, tools, materials, equipment… but he knew NOTHING about working with chocolate.

Myself and another chef leapt in with a host of advice- tempering, flavoring, handling, sourcing, the works. The majority of my knowledge came from culinary school, and occasional experimenting in the casino under my friend Karen, but apparently it was more than my friend had ever gotten to hear.

Afterward, I got to thinking “You know, this is probably something a lot of folks would like to know. I should write something about it.”

Here we go, then. Strap in.

 

What is Chocolate?

Cacao Bean Podsfrom Wikipedia

Wikipedia defines chocolate as a typically sweet, usually brown, food preparation of roasted and ground cacao seeds. It is made in the form of a liquid, paste, or in a block, or used as a flavoring ingredient in other foods.”

That’s a good start. Chocolate begins its life as the seeds of the cacao plant, which are then fermented, washed, dried, and ground, and then combined with any number of additional ingredients to make the chocolate you find at your favorite candy store. Commonly, this is chocolate liquor (not alcoholic- this is the name given to the raw results of processing cacao), cocoa butter, sugar, and occasionally dairy product in order to make milk chocolate.

Often, people will describe a chocolate bar or a kind of chocolate with a percentage- 35%, 65%, 70%, and so on. This percentage indicates how much of that chocolate is the liquor in relation to everything else. While it absolutely has flavor and chemical ramifications for the professional to think about, for the average chocolate lover, you can think of this as “how chocolatey/bitter this will be.” 35% is where milk chocolate usually lands. 55% is semi-sweet, 65%-80% is “dark” or “bittersweet” chocolate, and 100% is baking chocolate- USUALLY inedibly bitter on its own. My former roommate Andrew can attest to this, as the previous gerbil for my culinary experiments.

Sorry, Andrew- I’m sure you’ll be able to taste things again one day.

Chocolate has a long and varied history as well, dating back to it’s first recorded usage as a drink by the pre-Olmec civilizations of Mexico as far as 1900 BC. Of course, its history is tragically colored by the impacts of colonialism, European exploitation, and slavery- even to today.

Buy small and local, folks… it doesn’t just stimulate your local economy, but also MUCH more likely to be ethically sourced.

While there are only three varietals of cacao harvested right now, the permutations of their growth, location, season, and harvesting process invite limitless flavor profiles and terroir not unlike fine wines or other crops.

No, not ALL chocolate tastes alike.


Keeping You In Suspense: Tempering, Blooming, And Using Chocolate

When you hold a chocolate bar in your hand, it seems like a single, unified substance. It is… well, “chocolate.”
Now you KNOW, however, that it’s a mixture of chocolate solids, cocoa butter, and probably a mess of other ingredients- sugar, dairy, emulsifiers, flavorings, childhood dreams, etc. All the same, it seems like one, unified solid. You’ve probably seen a case where that wasn’t quite true though- and I don’t mean melting.

If you eat chocolate (especially as a little kid,) you’ve probably poked around your house and found old Halloween candy, or a forgotten chocolate bar in the bottom of your bag that you got as a snack. You’ve picked it up, it felt solid, and went “Woo! Bonus chocolate!” You go to unwrap it and… wait, that doesn’t look right.

It’s all weird and mottled-looking. There’s white stuff on on outside, and it feels spongy. You break off a little bit, and it… just kinda bends and pulls? No satisfying snap. It’s dull-looking, not the shiny chocolate you remember.

Dang it… it’s gone bad” you think, and go to chuck it out.
Well, I’ve got good and bad news for you- the bad news is that, no, you wouldn’t want to eat that chocolate. It probably wouldn’t hurt you or make you sick, but it just won’t be enjoyable.
The good news is that, if you want, you can probably bring it back.

The chocolate you buy, in order to make sure it can sit on a shelf at room temperature for a good long while, goes through a process called “tempering-” where the chocolate is melted down, then cooled and reheated very carefully to make sure it can tolerate reasonable temperatures and stay one uniform mass. When chocolate is warmed up and DOESN’T cool down properly (such as being stuck in a wrapper at the bottom of your bag for 8 months), it loses its temper and “blooms.” The cocoa butter and sugar separate and rise to the surface on their own, creating that mottled look and gross taste

As melted chocolate cools, the cocoa butter in it starts to reform and crystallize. It may sound weird to think of fat “crystallizing”, but if you’ve ever fried bacon, poured off the fat into a container, and noticed that the surface of the fat looks sparkley, it makes more sense.

Cocoa butter crystals can take up to seven different forms, each more temperature-stable than the last, with the 6th and 7th ones being the hardiest and most resistant to temperature abuse. Tempering chocolate is a process where you do two things at once:

  1.  Raise and lower the temperature of the chocolate so that only those toughest, firmest crystals survive.
  2. Through physical manipulation (i.e. stirring and moving the chocolate), those crystals are constantly broken down to be as small as possible- so small that your tongue can’t detect their texture, and you wind up with smooth, tasty chocolate!

Bakeries and confectioners have large tempering machines- essentially a big spinning bowl with a thermometer and scraper that they can control the temperature of very slowly and keep it moving throughout. These machines can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars- but the process itself can be done very easily on a small scale with equipment you have at home!

You need:

1. Chocolate (duh.)

2. A double boiler– two pots of similar size, one of which rests securely inside the other.
Direct heat from a stove (even on low) is WAY too hot for handling chocolate and will burn it quickly. Using a double boiler, the lower pot is filled with water, which steams up and makes sure the upper pot (holding the chocolate) doesn’t get above 212*F (100*C.) If you don’t have two pots, you can use a heatproof bowl that fits instead. Just be careful grabbing it!

3. A heatproof spatula or wooden spoon (my personal favorite)

4. A good thermometer.
They make special glass “chocolate” thermometers, but you can absolutely use any instant-read probe thermometer- the kind you use to make sure your roast chicken is done.
Some folks, including me, have used infrared laser thermometers. They are cool and all, but they only tell you the SURFACE temperature of the chocolate, rather than of whole thing, so use your own discretion. Those can be bought at home improvement stores (they’re USUALLY used to detect drafts near windows.)

It’s kinda crazy how many great kitchen tools you can get at a hardware store.

Bending the Arc

Like I said above, tempering chocolate is just a matter of warming and cooling the chocolate and stirring it constantly to make sure only the strongest crystals of cocoa butter survive. There are multiple techniques for exactly HOW you do this:
  • Tabling– The melted chocolate is poured onto a heat-absorbing surface (like a slab of marble) and pushed back and forth across the surface. Quality of the temper is determined by the appearance and thickness of the chocolate as it cools. This is very much an “old world” method, and while it’s still used today, you need to have a LOT of experience with chocolate to do it reliably.
  • Inoculation/Vaccination/ Seeding Method- This is the method I use and the one I was taught in school. After being melted, chunks of already-tempered chocolate are pitched in as the batch cools. Their presence A. helps the chocolate cool (like dropping ice cubes in a hot drink), and B. inspires Stage 6 crystals to form by introducing some into the batch. This is the best way for a beginner, though it will require a little math and calculation if you are trying to only melt a certain amount of chocolate. It also, of course, requires having already-tempered chocolate on hand.

  • Resting– This “method” isn’t really a method, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard of it being used outside of my old textbooks. The melted chocolate is put in a bowl, at room temperature, gets stirred occasionally, and otherwise just sits there. Results are variable to say the least- I’ve never worked anywhere where this method was used- or even taken seriously. If you’ve had success with it, let me know.
      For tempering chocolate, different types (and indeed, different BRANDS) have certain temperature ranges they need to pass through in order for those good crystals to form, and all others get wiped out. This is called a “crystallization arc” or “tempering arc”- some brands like Callebaut and Valrhona will print a specific one for that chocolate on the back of their commercial packaging.

        For most purposes, however, temperature ranges are pretty consistent across brands for different types of chocolate- dark, milk, and white. This chart from the good folks at ChocolateAlchemy.com is the best I’ve found on the net:

A QUICK NOTE ABOUT DIFFERENT TYPES OF CHOCOLATE
Not all “chocolate” is CHOCOLATE. There are bunch of different types- from real chocolates formulated for specific purposes, to “chocolate-flavoured” candy melts. This is the kind that you find at craft stores more often than not. They’re not actually chocolate- just artificially flavored candy with a high amount of fat to make them easier to handle for the hobbyist or for simple decorative work. They do not need to be tempered, but if you decide to use them, follow THEIR heating instructions. Believe me, you don’t want to waste your time tempering crap, OR have a foul-smelling gritty mess on your hands.

Using whichever method you choose, once you’ve taken your chocolate (slowly) through those temperature ranges, you will notice the characteristics of properly-tempered chocolate!

  • It’ll be shiny.
  • It will harden up quickly at room temperature. You can drop a little bit on a sheet of paper and, within 5 minutes, see it harden, darken, and shine.
  • When cooled, at room temperature, it’ll break with a satisfying “SNAP!”

How To Use Chocolate (and generally not f*** it up)

Awesome! So now you know what chocolate is, what it’s made of, and how to temper it so it’ll stay firm and shiny!

Now… what do you do with it?

WHATEVER YOU WANT!

What follows is just a couple tips and ideas for what to do with chocolate:

Tips For Chocolate Working!

1. WATER IS THE DEVIL.
Water will cause your melted chocolate to cool way too quickly and “seize.” It’ll become gritty and gross, and there will be NO rescuing it. When tempering or using chocolate, keep water away as much as humanly possible. That includes the humidity of a refrigerator!

2. Oil-based Colors and Flavors
If you want to flavor your chocolate somehow, or color white chocolate, your colors and flavors will need to be oil-based, because WATER IS THE DEVIL. The most readily-available brand of oil colors I know is “Chef Rubber,” and you can use whatever flavored oil you’d like. Just be aware that flavored oils are expensive, and you will NEVER be able to make chocolate taste like anything BUT chocolate, with the addition of whatever flavor you are going for. Colors might need to be mixed with melted cocoa butter first, THEN added to white chocolate in order to make an even tone. You can buy cocoa butter bars separately from most suppliers (they look a lot like white chocolate, but lack sugar or dairy.)

3. Mise En Place!!
Once ready, chocolate needs to be held at it’s appropriate, “working” temperature. Unless you are REALLY sure of your ability to maintain that temperature, chocolate isn’t going to wait for you to get your tools, molds, bags, etc in order. Have all of your tools and materials ready and nearby! Once that chocolate is ready, it is GO TIME, and you don’t wanna be running around with chocolate on your hands trying to find the right tip for your piping bag.

4. Ganaches
Ganache is a beautiful thing. A mixture of hot dairy and chocolate that, depending on the ratios you make it with, can be a filling, a decoration, an icing, or whatever you need! It is pretty forgiving of flavoring (especially with liquor! A whiskey or rum ganache can be amazing), and can be piped, spread, or warmed up and used to enrobe!

Generally, ratios for a soft-solid at room temperature ganache are as follows:
Dark: 1:1 chocolate to dairy by weight.
Milk: 2:1
White: 4:1

You can tweak these ratios for the consistency you need. If you need the final product to be a bit more firm, use a little more chocolate, etc.
As for your dairy, you’ll likely find it easiest to start with heavy cream. Heat up your cream till it scalds, and pour it over the chopped chocolate in a heat-proof bowl. Cover in plastic and let it sit for a bit, then whisk till uniform.

Ganache is NOT shelf-stable, and DOES need to be refrigerated! It’s also VERY sensitive to temperature.

That’s about all I’ve got for you for right now! I’ll probably come back at a later date with some more pictures of this stuff when I have a chance.

In the meantime, there are TONS of blogs and chocolatiers out there who you can get more information from, and chocolate companies almost ALWAYS have information on their products available on their websites and in catalogs!

Best of luck, and

Stay Classy,

Non-Culinary Books That Belong In a Professional Kitchen

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!

Since my previous book-related blog was about cookbooks that are just fun to read, I figured I’d keep wading in the literary sea and pull out another- albeit smaller- list for you!

A professional cook and chef has to do more than just cook. They need to manage people, time, and materials. They need to lead, teach, and learn from themselves and others, and know how to use EVERYTHING at their disposal.

Here are a few books that maybe weren’t intended for the kitchen, but can help with exactly that.

Animated GIF from Mary + Max

I don’t know if this book exists, but it might be useful for some cooks I know too.

1. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (trans. by Stephen Mitchell)

The cover of Tao Te Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell

Ironically, sometimes the best way to get everything done, is to stop TRYING to get everything done and just let yourself do it.
In the Tao Te Ching, a fundamental text of Taoism, Lao Tzu teaches that things go wrong when we force them (or ourselves) to be something they are not. When you stop forcing things, or letting your ego, anxieties, and preconceptions get in the way, you achieve wei wu wei, “doing not-doing”, or “effortless action.” In the kitchen, we might call it soigne– but it’s the point where there is no difference between the cook and the act of cooking.

“When the Master governs, the people are hardly aware that he exists. Next best is a leader who is loved. Next, one who is feared. The worst is one who is despised. If you don’t trust the people, you make them untrustworthy.
The Master doesn’t talk, he acts. When his work is done, the people say, “Amazing: we did it, all by ourselves!”


2. Tenzo Kyokun (Instructions to the Cook) by Eihei Dogen zenji

Eihei Dogen

Painting of Eihei Dogen, from Wikipedia

If you are reading this post, it is likely that you have chosen/ are considering choosing cooking to be your career. It’s definitely not a glamorous life. We’ve chosen to work and to serve- very hard, and often in obscurity. It’s easy to get down on yourself about that fact.

In the 13th Century, however, Dogen- a Japanese Zen master- wrote “Tenzo Kyokun”, instructions for those who would be the head cook at a Zen monastery. Far from being work for menial servants, Dogen extols the position as requiring a capable and accomplished monk. He elucidates the virtues of cooking. How the responsibility, attention, and mindset necessary to cook can lead one to enlightenment and incredible karmic merit through service. He reminds the cook to take responsibility- oversee everything personally, and treat everything in his care- tools, ingredients, people- with care and devotion.
Some people sit on a cushion or a sun-lit porch to meditate. You can certainly do so while cooking risotto and chopping onions.

“If you only have wild grasses, from which to make a broth, do not disdain them. If you have ingredients for a creamy soup, do not be delighted. Where there is no attachment, there can be no aversion. Do not be careless with poor ingredients, and do not depend upon fine ingredients to do your work for you, but work with everything with the same sincerity. If you do not do so, then it is like changing your behavior according to the status of the person you meet: this is not how a Student of the Way is.”


3. The Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo (trans. by William Scott Wilson)

Cover of Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo

Speaking of service, that was the calling of the samurai, and of bushido- the Way of the Warrior. in The Hagakure (“The Book of Hidden Leaves”), former samurai retainer-turned-Zen monk Yamamoto Tsunetomo reflects upon the life, conduct, philosophy, and death of a samurai. To do one’s work, to live with absolute sincerity (another name for the book) and to act always with decisiveness, bravery, and compassion- it’s hard to think of anyone that couldn’t stand to learn how to live ones life, or manage the fast-paced labor of a professional kitchen, with intention and devotion.

It is spiritless to think that you cannot attain to that which you have seen and heard the masters attain. The masters are men. You are also a man. If you think that you  will be inferior in doing something, you will be on that road very soon.”

4. The Boy Scout Handbook originally by Lord Baden-Powell

Norman Rockwell painting of a Scout and the Scout Oath

No, I’m not kidding, and anyone who has ever been or worked with a Scout knows exactly why.
This isn’t just about philosophy or inspiration- though it absolutely can and should be. The BSA Handbook is about PRACTICALITY.
In “Down and Out in Paris and London” by George Orwell, we learn the word debroulliard- what everyone in a kitchen worth their salt wants to be. The guy who can pull an answer out his back pocket and make it work. The resourceful one that makes it happen.
Between minor medical emergencies, fixing a broken sauce-dropper with fishing line, weaving a net over a shelf to keep bowls from falling off, and more, my time as a Scout has helped me out more in the kitchen than I can begin to describe. Beyond skills, the resourcefulness, work ethic, discipline, and code of conduct I received from the Scouts counts for plenty on it’s own.
A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.”

This is just a few of the books I could think of right now, but I’m certain there are more. What about you all? Any you think I should mention?

Stay Classy,

The BHB’s Top 10 Cookbooks That Are Just Plain Good Reads

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!

Did you know that a cookbook can be more than a collection of recipes? It can actually be… A BOOK.

Yes, yes, how shocking.

 

If you think about it for longer than a second, cookbooks don’t need to as dry and dull as your college textbooks. Food is an extremely personal and social thing, and so people who choose to write a book of recipes have the opportunity to fill in the gap, so to speak.

A cookbook can absolutely instruct- “This is how you make my favorite jambalaya.” Much more interesting and enjoyable, however, is “I make this jambalaya especially for rainy, crappy days, because it reminds me of when I worked in this great restaurant in New Orleans. Let me tell you, the chef there was so particular….”

See that? The recipe became a story. It had a background, and a special meaning for the writer, which they just offered to you. Maybe you’ll never make that jambalaya except once or twice? Maybe it’ll become your favorite, and you’ll want to go to NOLA yourself one day, find the authors old restaurant, and taste the real deal.

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Special Post: Excerpts from the coming BHB Book!

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

This week has been more than a little crazymaking and exhausting, and as such, I don’t have a really solid blog post ready for today.

Animated GIF of a baby asleep on a toy train

Footage of me biking home today…
I’m sure I’ll have something a bit better next week.
In the meantime though, as a way of recompense, here are a couple excerpts from my upcoming book!

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