Monthly Archives: February 2010

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Valentine’s Day

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On Saturday, February 13th, the day before Valentine’s Day, I agreed to make my sister, Riva, her family, her kids, and my sweet Valentine a nice dinner at her house.  She wanted something special for dinner… For a while, she’s been wanting to try out Lucques’ short ribs.  Since I thought making Lucques’ short ribs would take all day, I told her I’d make anything she wanted besides those.  She seemed bummed, then after some thought told me she wanted chicken wellington.  Keeping it simple, I agreed…even though I knew she wanted something memorable and sophisticated.  I wasn’t excited about making a chicken wellington, whatever that is.  I cringed thinking about it….a creamy chicken in pastry that’s usually served at hotels (weddings)… yuck.

So after my conversation with Riva, I thought about how I could pull off a short rib dinner.  I grew distracted by a catering event that night.  We (Lucques Catering) catered a really sweet, snazzy yet down to earth wedding in Downtown LA, where we served about 4 types of hors d’oeuvres, short ribs, a kubota squash gratin, potato puree (mashed potatoes), and delicious warm greens…and, oh yeah, there was an open bar.  Since the venue had an open kitchen, guests watched us prepare the food.  We, in turn, were able to watch the guests partake.  The joy on the guests’ faces as they took a bite made me feel really good.  After taking a bite, I could see sheer joy and love on their faces.  They appreciated the food and the genius behind it.  I even had some guests come up to me and ask how we got the meat to be so tender…

Sure, the ambiance..the gorgeous decor, the cool music, and the neat people made the guests’ time fun, but I’m sure the food made the wedding an even more emotional experience… After throwing many dinner parties in my adulthood, I always wanted to touch people in such a way.  The open-kitchen experience inspired me to make similar food for our special Valentine dinner.  I didn’t want to wrap a chicken salad of sorts in a puff pastry.  Instead, I called Riva the next morning and told her I’d bring Lucques to her home… and so I did.

We invited Riva’s in-law, Mrs. Takahashi and her friend Bobby, since I had been promising to cook for her.  After Mrs. T agreed to come over, I went to a Korean market and purchased the same cut of short ribs we use at Lucques (Koreans have great taste in meats and I knew they’d have the same cut at their markets as we did at the restaurants.  Luckily, they did and we scored on price and freshness!).   I then spent another hour purchasing other ingredients at a nearby grocery store.  Peyman did his best to help me find everything on my list and we got out of the market .    So there I was at 2pm with all these special ingredients… and I applied whatever cooking techniques I learned at Lucques… As Peyman patiently waited and played with my nephews and chatted with mi familia, I cooked away…. I cooked the way I learned and observed at Lucques… At 7pm, dinner was served.  Here was my menu for the evening…

Hors d’oeuvres: Pita chips topped with chickpea puree, cumin/citrius seasoned beets, and salsa verde with feta cheese.

Main Course: Lucques short ribs

Sides: Very nice rich and creamy potato puree, Sauteed Beets Greens and Broccolini tossed with shallots, garlic, and arbol chili, a very delicious squash gratin with poblano peppers and queso fresco.

Dessert: Chocolate Pot de Creme topped with Whipped Cream

Drinks: a variety of a nice rich Darioush Shiraz, Crown Royale and water…

Riva, Peyman, Scott, Mrs. T, Bobby, and the twins have very discriminating taste, so I listened carefully to them as they dove into the first course to the very last course.  I was a little surprised to hear that Mrs. T liked the starter (usually I’m complimenting her on her food and wasn’t sure how she’d react to the menu).  When everyone else started the main course, I was really happy to hear everyone’s feedback.  It was very positive.  Mrs. T, Bobby, Scott, Riva, and Peyman ate everything but the 3 bones of the short ribs and even ate more, went back for more potato puree and squash gratin.  Peyman said it was good… very rich and also mentioned that my cooking is improving… that meant a lot.  Riva said it was very comforting and good…that it felt like they were at a restaurant.  Mrs. T said “I didn’t care how you plated the food… it could have looked ugly on the plate..what matters most is the taste and it was Really good”… The twins even ate a lot, pulling the meat off the short ribs as if they were pulling off a strand of tender string cheese.   I was really happy.  That really warmed my heart.  My colleagues at Lucques taught me well.

The only thing I’d do different is to prepare my dinner a day or two ahead.  I could have spent more time with my loved ones if I had purchased the ingredients days in advance.  I could have even braised the short ribs 2 days prior… that’s what took up most of the time, of course.  There’s always a next time…

My hands were full the whole night, so I didn’t take pictures.  Riva took some so once I get a hold of some Valentine’s Day pictures, but in not the best light, posted below.

If you’re not in the LA area and can’t make it out to Lucques, AOC, or the Tavern, check out Suzanne Goin’s book, “Sunday night suppers at Lucques” where she shares a lot of her recipes.  If you can find the ingredients and follow directions, you can enjoy a very special supper.  I recommend her restaurants or her cookbook, or Alice Waters’ cookbooks.  Enjoy! Till next time, Bon Appetite!

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I seasoned the shortribs, seared them... then in the same pan, cooked down the mirepoix before adding vino and veal stock. Added the liquid mixture to the shortribs, covered them tightly and cooked them for 4 hours.

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From L to R: Jeffrey, Peyman, Grandpa Bobby, Bachan ((sp?) Grandma in Japanese) and Brandon ate all their shortribs and sides!..left only the bone on the plate :P

Gift to me, from Mrs. T.  They sit in our sunroom.

Gift to me, from Mrs. T. They sit in our sunroom.

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Chocolate

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OMG! I finished vacuuming the condo, was sipppin’ on a Kirin Ichiban on the couch (which is a rare thing… I drink wine and have had this beer sitting in the fridge for maybe 6 months), when I decided to flip the channel to Foodnetwork’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate”… “Chocolate” version…. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone… many a coincidence happened.

Since I made 2 cakes this week I had lots of yolks left over…yesterday and today I was thinking,  ‘Since I’m making dinner and dessert for Riva, Scott, Me, and Peyman and the boys on Valentine’s Day, I’d might as well make THE best pudding in the world, Chocolate Pot de Creme!’

As soon as I flipped on “Best Thing I Ever Ate…Chocolate”, Alton Brown was talking about his ultimate favorite chocolate dessert…EVER.  It happened to be chocolate pudding. I watched how the chef put it together and thought to myself, ‘hey, that’s Choc Pot de Creme…it’s what I’m makin’ on Sunday…man, Alton’s got good taste.’  Then Tyler talked about his favorite smore pie…it was his favorite because he loved smores as as a kid.  Growing up, we had bonfires at the beach and the fires we built were pretty gargantuan that my parents would pull me away from the flame.  As a result, smores never really came together for us… too hazardous.  If we had instead went camping and built small fires, maybe I would have been able to enjoy a traditional smore experience.  Moving on, next on the show, Duff from Ace of Cakes shared his favorite chocolate experience.  As soon as I saw a plate of his favorite chocolate, I knew… it was from Loteria Grill.. one of my favorite places to eat in LA, as discussed in my previous posts…and yes, he loves the mole there too.  Yes, mole has chocolate and yes, Loteria Grill makes the best enchiladas de mole ever.  The flavors in the plate, to me, is love.  It’s very interesting… Duff is from Baltimore and yet the restaurant that serves his ultimate favorite chocolate dish is in LA, and it’s one of my most beloved places too.  Mmmm.. I’m craving a plate right now… the sauce is so rich and mysterious, the rice is so yummMEE with black beans atop, and oh with salsa, it’s even better because I always love a little heat.  Since I watched this episode of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate…Chocolate.”, I like Alton Brown and Duff much better… I feel like we connect on a very significant level… on a chocolate level.

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Externship. Love. Food. Pastries.

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My apologies for not posting for a while.  I feel as though time flew by so fast, I had so much to do in so little time.  Every morning I’d wake up, complete work for my primary job (what pays the bills), take care of life stuff, then I’d be on my way to Lucques.

My externship at Lucques was a whirlwind… it happened so quickly… so much happened every day, and wow – what an experience I’ll never forget.  Suzanne hires some really terrific people, with such strong work ethic, passion, fervor, speed, and talent.  Everyone I worked with, including the guy in the dish pit, taught me lessons in the kitchen every single day.  They helped sharpen not on my knife, but my knife skills, cooking and prepping techniques, speed, and so much more.  The first week as an extern, I came into the restaurant on a Monday.  As every day progressed, the more intensity ensued.  When I’d walk into the restaurant on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, I felt we were preparing for battle: for war.  More and more, every day, I loved assisting the cooks/chefs when they needed my help… I felt a sense of reward… I felt that what I was doing was helping the whole team succeed.

Lessons learned: Local, freshly picked, organic produce is absolutely delicious.  Braising meats in a flavorful liquid for long periods of time makes meat really tender and heavenly.  Always taste and adjust seasoning when cooking, multi-task..kill a bunch of birds with one stone, clean/clean/clean, listen carefully, always take notes, stay organized and focused, speak with playground voice in the kitchen- be loud and use proper communication, even en espanol… or you will literally get burned or bonked in the head.  You gotta love what you do, or it shows.  Work with people that are the best or as great as you want to be…they’ll rub off on you.

I hope my non-cook/chef friends are listening when I say this… I will never order something at a restaurant that is not on the menu…and I hope you practice this too.  I can’t believe people would ask for pasta when it was not on the menu and we’d cook it!.. let me repeat that… even if it was off the menu… and chicken for an 8 year old!  I remember someone fabricating a chicken (breaking it down) when we didn’t have chicken on the menu.  Why did we have chicken?  It was for group meal.  When something like that would go down, they’d call me and have me boil the water, salt it, and cook the pasta, get the parm, the butter… it had to be perfect and in top light speed… no excuses… perfect. it was so stressful..and intense… but at the end of the day, I felt good.

Group meal. Before lunch and dinner service, we’d have a group meal.  Someone had to cook for all 30 employees.  I cooked a few meals…and yes, Suzanne ate my food.  What pressure!

Catering.  It was such a privilege to have been able to help prepare the food for the SAG awards (the food that sat in front of the actors during the awards).  Lucques caters…yes they do..and all the preparation happens at Lucques…all while lunch and dinner service goes on.  In the days leading up to the SAG event, I worked 16-hour days… pulling 35 quarts of tightly packed parsley leaves, beautiful slicing 45 pounds of beets, deseeding a huge lexan of pomegranates, and just doing a lot of prepping and weighing, assisting Suzanne and the Chef de Cuisine, Rodolfo…making sure we’d have equal portions and enough portions of food for 1,250-some people.  On the day of the event, I met a few other cooks and interns from Suzanne’s other restaurants.  What nice spirits they had… I thought we worked well together in order to get the plates out.  What a production.  The plates were amazing and beautiful… and it was awesome to see the plates in front of all the stars when I watched the SAG awards on the tele at home.  I saw that George Clooney ate his lamb and his salmon… some of his salad too… how awesome was that?! I’ve done a few other catering gigs so far with Lucques Catering… I’ve been to some nice homes and prepared appetizers, salads, and dinners.  It’s pretty neat.  This weekend I’m catering a wedding in downtown.  I always wondered how caterers catered weddings… after Saturday I’ll know.  There’s so much that goes into catering.  Suzanne’s sister Jessica is the Catering Event Planner… she does a terrific job coordinating everything from working with the people in the kitchen, to the servers, party rental people… so much more…I didn’t know so much goes on in catering until I worked for this professional catering division.  It’s neat.

It’s been a privilege working with Suzanne.  She’s been trying to find a spot for me in one of her restaurants… my top choices were filled by the extern that came before me…yes..I said spots..there were 2 spots open and he’s taking them both… he had more experience and was available first.  For now, I’m going to continue to work with Lucques Catering and also will be in Tavern’s pastry kitchen, helping out… I’m really excited.  I like pastry a lot too and can’t wait to learn and to help produce their gorgeous creations! Yay!

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to do my laundry at Riva’s house…but we’ve been sidetracked… I’ve been experimenting with recipes… yesterday I made a white cake with mocha buttercream frosting (weird combo I know)..we added sliced almonds.  I decided to never use the white cake recipe… I just didn’t like it.  I also made a tomato bisque soup.  I make enough for Riva, her family, me, and Peyman.  Today we donated the rest of the cake to Riva’s friends.  I then made a lot of delicious Tortilla Soup and a beautiful almond cake.  Why are we testing recipes?  One day we want to open a bakery/cafe… where we have baked goodness and some savory treats. Keep the savory stuff to a minimum…simple soup and sandwich…maybe salads where families in the Southbay can hang and eat comfortably with their kids.  Riva used to belong to a mother’s group that would hang out at a cafe, but it closed (I think it was the slow service and bad location).  Family and the love of food, savory and sweet, are our inspiration.  Marie is the creative, perfectionist partner in this.  There is much planning to be done… This is still a work in progress, of course…it can take years and the whole business model can even change.  First, I need a lot of experience in the industry…and I think I’m off to a good start.

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