Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Unexpectedly Lucky - Chef Jose Andres Interview

Through the miracles of perseverance and making impressions on key people, I got an interview with Chef Jose Andres.  However, I was not made aware of this fact until I hit Harvard Square on my way to wait in line for his lecture.  All I had was a hard copy of compiled questions, an old school cell, a notebook, camera and my wits. Rookie!

I decide to head over to the Science Center, because he had to be close.  It's quite early and there are only a few people in line. I end up sitting next to the first person in line, a Harvard freshman named Bianca Okafor. We get to chatting and I find out that she's Harvard's Culinary Society Web Editor. I tell her about my mission and divulge that that I'm about to receive a call for an interview.  The phone rings and it's Chef' Andres' PR rep. and I start getting the low down on the location. On the fly, I commit Bianca to be my guide and transcriber for the interview.  All I remember is giving her a thumbs up and lots of nodding on her end.

We're off and running to the Charles Hotel.  She's leading the way and I'm struggling to keep up.  She mentions that it's just like being late for class.  It gave me flashbacks, but didn't change my lack of stamina. She eventually slows down when we get to the building, and we take a couple minutes to gather ourselves before we enter the lobby.   

We meet up with Cathy Huyghe of Feast NBC and call Russell, Chef Andres' PA.  Russell hits the lobby first and introduces himself.  He lets us know that the interview is going to happen right where we are.  Bianca and I get set up and pass as veterans, at least we think so.  Chef makes his way over and we are with him for over an hour.

Chef Jose Andres evaluating my brittle
At the end of the interview, I present him with a piece of Asian cold sesame noodle inspired brittle that I made.  He takes a bite and tells me that it's good.  Then he says, "You know what will make this better?"  See how the nuts make the candy thick. You can pulverize the nuts into a powder, take two non-stick baking mats and squeeze it very thin.  That would be great.  He asked if he could take some for later and I gave him the whole bag.  I'll have to try his suggestion and see how it works out.

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, I approach him with our quandary about getting into the event with everyone waiting in line. Russell suggests that we head over with them. We gladly tag along. As we're walking, I hang back and start chatting with Chef.  He starts giving me blogger advice.  He tells me that I need to be responsible, honest and magnanimous no matter how many followers I have. 

Chef Jose Andres emailing in Harvard Square

He's emailing and I'm trying to keep him away from the oncoming traffic.  I get the opportunity to tell him that I followed the advice he gave me after the Chef Adria event.  I reminded him that he said, "Keep asking questions." His reaction was, "I've created a monster".  I replied with, "Aren't you a monster with all that you do?"  After a little bantering, he puts up his hand and we do a high five.  Sounds corny, but it was pretty great. 

Here's the moment you all have been waiting for.  I did my best to fit in as many questions as possible while managing segues.  I am sorry that some contributors did not get their questions answered.

Interview as recorded by Bianca in addition to some content addition by yours truly.  I asked all the questions (except for Bianca's), but credit the originators below.

JD: Have you encountered a moment that any of your three daughters discovered food in a way you never thought of and integrated it into a dish?

Yes, once one of the girls began running a strawberry on a skewer through the cotton candy machine as we were making candy.  I believe that introducing food to children in new ways encourage culinary creativity.  Children are created equally in food making ability, but they need to be pushed to have a good relationship with food.

JD: What does the future hold for school meals now that you have been to the White House to exchange ideas?

I believe Michelle Obama acts as a great motherly figure to encourage better eating habits.  She is getting us all to commit to a better future.  It will happen anyway but maybe 10, 20, 30 years later.  However, Michelle can make things happen quickly.  Children aren't being fed the best right now.  The seeds are being planted and the future is looking good.  This diet change cannot happen by push from the upper class.  It has to happen within the people that are struggling with it themselves.  There needs to be a revolution.  High up preachers aren't very effective.  Every revolution needs to be endorsed by people that stand to benefit from the revolution themselves.  Mothers need to say one day "enough is enough." There must be change.

Heather Atwood: Do you consider the Avant Garde movement akin to Cubism in which select artists were doing something incredibly important, but ended because no one could follow the genius?

Food is more three dimensional than art or any other movement itself.  Artistic expression, culinary expression.  "Everything in life has moments of peaks." The movements (such as the gastronomy) have been moving much quicker.  Gastronomy should be limited to a few restaurants because "at end of day we don't go everyday to a museum." 

Jigme of Dorchester, MA: What fundamental techniques do you practice and maintain on a regular basis?

I've been into solar cooking lately, a few hours every week.  I've been using a pressure cooker and at home we also fry a lot (Spanish heritage) and we are still healthy.  Moderation. In the restaurant, we fry, steam, boil, bake...  We use every technique imaginable.

Nick of San Diego, CA: You once told Anderson Cooper on 60 minutes that "fresh food is sexy."  What is the sexiest fruit or vegetable right now in your opinion?

Men and women view sexiness differently.  I believe sexiness is experiencing a moment of outburst of energy by an image by a smell, image, look, texture.  Vegetables are sexy from a man's view. Nothing is more feminine than a mango or pineapple.  It grabs my attention, "Peel me, use me."  My wife attracted me in the same as a mango.  Sexiness is something that attracts you.  "It's highly difficult to express. It's not one thing but many at once."

JD: What Spanish ingredients other than olive oil, Iberico ham and Pimenton have peaked your interest lately?

Cheese is great.  La Serena cheese.  Cabrales cheese (blue cheese).  "I am more kind of a chef of the world." Wines and products from the world.  Every wine. Deep fried fruit. 

JD: I was wondering if you could talk about one of your daughter's first flavor experiences that paralleled your own?

Mother’s milk. It was in the refrigerator in bottles, so I had to try it.  “You would drink milk from a cow you never met, but you wouldn’t taste mother’s milk?”  It’s sweet and rich.  People from fast food chains must have tasted mother’s milk to develop products.

Bianca: What is the strangest food you've ever eaten?

Strange food is anything you've never experienced before.  It's a very complex concept.  When approaching a new food, I ask why I haven't tried this before I say, not necessarily "eww."  It's all about getting used to it.  Perceptual, strange food.  Nothing is really strange to me.

JD: Did anything in Boston inspire you to create a dish?

Harvard itself.  It's great being near all the professors.  Culinary purpose is key to creating a great dish.  Ingredients have been around for thousands of years, the only difference is that in the last few years we've been using them with finesse.  Using great ingredients is underrated. You need finesse to create something great. 


Thanks to everyone who contributed questions and spread the word to get them to OCQ.  I'd like to give a special thanks to Cathy Huyghe for being my advocate to get the interview.  Bianca for her enthusiasm and quick thinking.  Heather Atwood of the Gloucester Times for all her great advice.  Last, but not least Chef Jose Andres for empowering people to learn and share knowledge.  Let's not forget Russell and Laura of TFG for orchestrating the interview.

Not bad for a community that started a little over a month ago. I can't wait to see what the future holds for The Plan.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Coming Soon - Jose Andres Interview

I was able to get a one on one interview with Chef Jose Andres before the Harvard "Science & Cooking" lecture on gelation.  I used the list of compiled questions that I collected from people who contributed as well as my own.  The interview was the product of a lot of hard work and key people supporting the OCQ initiative.  Thanks to everyone who played a role.  I will post the interview soon and pay a proper thanks to those who made it happen.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Questions Anyone?

Chef Jose Andres challenged us on Twitter to ask thoughtful questions at Tuesday's Harvard lecture.  Looking forward to seeing them.  Submit them by Monday the 25th 9 PM EST.  Let's make him work!!!

Please email them to ourcookquest [at] gmail [dot] com

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Before and After

I finally got around to smoking the chiles I collected from my CSA and a friend. 

It all started with a pile of
habaneros, jalapenos and

Soaked the hickory for 2+ hours.  Got the chimney starter going with hardwood charcoal on the Weber.  Put slits in the chiles to accelerate drying and prevent explosions.  Also cut the tops off some to investigate quicker smoking.

Set up a wire basket to contain the smaller chiles.  Used foil to prevent chiles from falling through as well as protection from direct heat.

An hour into the process.

Resulting in some great product.  The flavor was there and will rack them up for final drying.

All in all it took about 1.5 hours for the habaneros, 2 for the jalapenos/chipotles and 3+ for the poblanos/anchos.  The stages of 'drying' were varied from burned beyond recognition, mostly dried, leathery, smoke roasted and combinations of the aforementioned.  This all stemmed from my issues with heat control in the Weber.  The fire was cooking some of the product instead of smoking.  I also should have used a thermometer to monitor the heat.  I knew all of this going in, but the chiles and I couldn't wait. 

Now I have an array of nicely smoked chiles that will hold me over until next season.  Maybe I'll get a proper temperature gauge, use a smaller fire and exercise some patience in the future.  I'll also investigate a real smoker, because I can't resist the idea of making bacon.

Here are a few links that I found to be helpful.

Still workin' The Plan.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Feeling Welcome

Symbol of Hospitality

I met up with Heather Atwood of the Gloucester Times and her friend to attend the Chef Grant Achatz lecture at Harvard.  While waiting in line, we chatted about our mutual interests in food and blogging.  We also got caught up on each other's culinary history.  After a short period, we were talking as if we'd known each other for some time.  I think the one thing that rung true to her was my passion for food and OCQ.  She is genuinely interested in what people have to say about the subject at hand, which makes her good at her craft.  I'm pleased to say that she's my friend and our supporter. 

Her friend intrigued me with her love of entertaining, culinary education and worldly experiences.  She talked about how she cooked for chefs and kept it focused on the ingredients that came straight out of her garden.  Her black raspberries were of farmer's market quality and her Asian pears had won ribbons at a well known county fair.  She even got the opportunity to compliment Chef Achatz with, "You are Harry Potter."  She elegantly used a point that the chef made and created kudos.  I'd equate her to a modern day Julia Child and it was a pleasure.

As an aside, we showed up to stand in line without having had anything to eat for some time.  The irony!  We were all hungry and Heather decided to talk about these oatmeal cookies made with steel cut oats.  Her description of the chewy texture was almost enough to make us get out of line and head to the closest pastry shop for a sweet fix.  However, we were true to the task and made it through the lecture with fresh cut grass aroma and 'dry' caramel as our consolation.  Satisfying is an entirely different way.

Once we were seated, we agreed on which questions were the most thoughtful.  Heather and I each got our chance at the end. 

I asked, "In all your experimentation, what was your most successful accident used for service?"

Chef Achatz was confused by my question.  He did not like the idea that a concept would be developed from an accident.  He responded with the basic outline of the R&D process:  an idea comes up, work is delegated out, it goes through a testing phase and it's edited countless times until the dish is ready for service.  "We don't like mistakes."  I guess fortunate accidents don't happen at Alinea.  A little skeptical, but who am I to say?  However, it gives us a lead in for The Plan.

Check out Heather's post at Food for Thought for her complimentary experience.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Tasty Tradition

How 'bout them apples?
We recently went apple picking with our extended family on a crisp afternoon.  It's a great excuse to get everyone together to enjoy each other's company.  We caught up on recent events and happily wasted away the afternoon.  It's amazing how a basic desire for sustenance gets us to learn more about our loved ones.  There's something about these gatherings that has an air of community and tradition.  For me, it comes from my family visiting the orchard every season and heading home to create an array of baked goods.  I could never wait for the apple turnovers to cool and burned the roof of my mouth countless times.  I continue to carry these fond memories with me to this day.  Now, our yearly excursion is for the next generation who will see that it's not just about picking fruit off a tree.

Coincidentally, I read an article in the Times that Michael Pollen posted about 'The 36-Hour Dinner Party' hosted by a Bay Area chef couple.  They built a communal oven in their backyard with the expressed purpose of bringing people together.  The chefs and bakers yielded amazing meals from the hearth. Family and friends stopped by over the day and a half to support the effort as well as enjoy the food and company.   

My favorite lesson that Pollen expressed was, "I’m ... impressed by the ease with which these cooks collaborate, how they can go back and forth from taking the lead on a dish to playing sous chef. These meals are a group endeavor, and everyone seems happy to share authorship."  I built this blog in hopes that people will come together in the same manner to work toward a mutual goal. 

I am pleased to announce that KCRW's Good Food has posted an article about our efforts.

Thanks to Chef Kleiman and Harriet Ells for spreading the word about The Plan.