A dear friend, cookbook author, chef, and culinary instructor Hallie Harron, visited over this past weekend. Kranston, Hallie and I spent the weekend spewing rapid fire conversation and reminiscing about all things culinary. Although a decade had passed culinary professionals all possess a common bond, and although we only had one evening to catch up before Hallie made her way to Portland, the tales told into the early morning hours dusted off our memory mantles.
Hallie now divides her time between Arizona and Mollans, France nestled in the Rhone Valley. Her cooking school Maison Mollans is one of the premier culinary adventures in Provence. A great escape for the chef or restaurant owner who wants to refine skills while escaping the stress of the business for a week or a few days.
Hallie brought a wonderful jar of Lavender Pepper, made with Lavender distilled in her village. Flavored peppers are soon to be hotter than sea salts.The essence has top celery stick, peanut butter toast, and even faintly flavored a beautiful smoked duck’s leg from Jim Reichardt’s Liberty Ducks in Sonoma. Experimentation is the beginning of great recipes.
During one conversation I confessed my favorite restaurant ownership was Chez Foley. The small fifty seat Minnesota Faux French Bistro spurned culinary creativity that could not be achieved as safely in larger operations.
A true benefit of small restaurant ownership. Plus, in today’s world of high tech communication, it´s easy to obtain products from around the country making it worth an owner’s time to research various flavors from other regions.
Hallie has just turned a slight inconvenience, propelled by diesel fuel, rather than gasoline, into a soon-to-be released cookbook. She came up with the idea for her book, Tomatoes and Mozzarella, 101 Ways to enjoy the Tantalizing Twosome… after missing her reservation for dinner. However, enjoying oven roasted cherry tomatoes, on the vine, sprinkled with olive oil and paired with fresh Mozzarella, in the only cafe open in the French village turned out to be a book blessing in disguise.
A priority for a every restaurant owner is create dishes that people remember. It’s simple to do. It takes a bit of creativity, and hunting but the hunt is getting easier as the world gets smaller.
Once, only local suppliers could accomodate creative chef, unless you were a big guy with deep pockets, and a clientele that spanned the globe in first class or private jet.
Now, the Internet has opened up an entire world and essentially cataloged artisan purveyors that will not only add flavor to a dish, but romantic prestige to your kitchen. And, your location is no longer the barrier between supply and demand of great products.
Whether in Rice Lake, Wisconsin or Los Angeles, California, some of the finest products in the country are at your fingertips.
Dress up a salad, and your menu, by featuring a California olive oil. In Healdsburg, CA.DaVero produces the finest flavored oil, pressed with Meyer lemons in the world. A bit south, in Petaluma, McEvoy Ranch produces an especially peppery Tuscan=styled oil pressed at one of the most sophisticated olive mills in the country. And, if you don’t think olive oil matters, try these two high breds and taste the difference.
Or, drizzle a bit of Branches Black Button Sage Honey from Katz and Company in Napa Valley on fresh strawberries for a dessert that has sex appeal, incredible flavor, and will be stored in the memory bank for late night story telling.
One of the joys of the culinary adventure, is possessing the ability to develop new tastes and sharing them with customers.
I hired a sous chef, once, who had few skills. He ruined a pork loin, butchered a chicken, and cut his finger with a knife so dull it would have lost a war with a spoon. That was in the first hour of his employ. During hour two, I instructed him to get a number 10 can of Jalapenos peppers and a box of Malted Waffle Mix that I had inherited months earlier when I took over the restaurant. I told him to experiment. I wanted him to create a Jalapenos Waffle for the bread basklet that evening at Chez Foley. He looked at me as though a fool.
He was fired. The waffles had a ten year run.
Be adventurous. Think outside the big box on the back of the delivery truck.