Category Archives: Chef

Feasting, Faking, the FTC — and A Food Icon

This week’s local newspapers are a motherlode of food info — and it hasn’t just been fluffery.

The Feast
Denver Post restaurant critic Tucker Shaw is one lucky duck. In today’s food section, he wrote about a mega-multi-course feast prepared by Opus Restaurant chef Michael Long for him and a handful of selected epicures with each course featuring at least Colorado one. In “A 25-Course Colorado Blowout,” he described the meal that was a tribute not just to Colorado ingredients but also to “the now-legendary 31-course meal created three decades ago at Paris’ Chez Denis by revered Chef Claude Mornay for New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne and celeb-chef Pierre Franey — a decadent feast of foie gras, truffles, sweetbreads, and taboo orlotans that was so decadent (and so well-reported) that the Vatican called it ‘scandalous’ — Long said he wanted to create a similarly elaborate, extravagant circus of a repast, 30 courses in all, each constructed from Colorado ingredients.”

Perhaps with just 25 rather than 30 or 31 courses, the Vatican will not pass judgment on Long’s creation — or perhaps everyone is so accustomed to excess now (mega-mansions, enormous cars, ultra-luxury resorts, supersized people) that it most likely didn’t raise a papal eyebrow. Post photographer Glenn Asakawa documented each dish in gorgeous, artistic shots, and I wonder whether he was allowed a nibble now and again too. From the website, you can see his beautiful images and also a video showing the gorgeous plating of the feast.

Of the evening, Shaw wrote, “Regarded from a distance, or at least from the semi-reclining position I found myself in as I slumped my way through the last bites of corn pudding, I had no doubt that Chef Michael had succeeded in his dual missions. He’d cleared his own high bar, producing an astonishingly daring dinner, and he’d proven beyond question the possibilities that burst from the wealth of ingredients we Coloradans have under our own noses. When I stumbled out the door six or so hours after sitting down, spent and sated and semi-conscious, I knew I’d just participated in a never-before, never-again, crazy-wonderful piece of art.”

The Food Fakery
Boulder Daily Camera food editor Cindy Sutter wrote an eye-opening expose called “Meaty Concerns,” reporting on how big-time grocers tamper that process meat in central facilities and shrink-wrap it tamper with it to make it more tender and more appealing.

She wrote about “modified atmosphere packaging — a process in which gases that can include oxygen, carbon dioxide and/or carbon monoxide are pumped into the package. The gases cause the meat to ‘bloom’ and turn bright red, an oxidizing process that happens naturally when beef is exposed to air. The packages, however, keep the atmosphere constant, so beef stays red for its entire shelf-life, even if it has passed the recommended use-by date.” She wrote about brining, in which meats are injected with a flavor solution generally made of water, broth, salt, flavorings and sodium phosphate to keep the meat moist and juicy during cooking.”

She wrote about “carbon monoxide…The Food and Drug Administration allowed certain meat processors to use carbon monoxide in meat packaging through a practice called ‘generally recognized as safe’ or GRAS. The European Union banned the use of carbon monoxide with meat and tuna in 2003. The gas is frequently used with fresh tuna, as with meat, because it gives the fish a bright red color. Media reports in 2006 said that Wal-Mart has test-marketed low oxygen packaging, which uses a carbon monoxide-oxygen mix, on meat in some of its stores.” Heck, isn’t carbon monoxide poisonous? Thanks again, FDA and Wal-Mart.

“King Soopers,” Sutter reported, “processes and packages all its meat for the Front Range at a central Denver facility. Each package is individually wrapped in the traditional way with plastic wrap over a tray, meaning that any air in the package is what occurs naturally in the atmosphere. Those packages are placed in bulk in a ‘mother wrap’ that has an 80 percent oxygen-20 percent carbon dioxide mix and shipped to stores. The company does not use carbon monoxide in any of its packaging…King Soopers brines some of its pork, which is sold under the label Moist and Tender.”

The Consumer Federation of America has raised alarm bells about these practices, but they hit close to home when a local newspaper shines the spotlight on them. Sutter reported that Whole Foods, Wild Oats and such old-time butchers as Boulder’s Herb’s Meats “sell meats directly from the case” and wrap them in butcher paper to order for each customer.

Speaking of Whole Foods and Wild Oats, even as one government agency (the FDA) is permitting such Wal-Mart to do stuff to food that can’t possibly be good for us, another agency, the Federal Trade Commission, is “concerned” about the possible merger of these two natural/organic grocers as being anti-competitive. In fact, the feds have filed suit in Federal Court to determine “whether to block the $565 million acquisition of Boulder-based Wild Oats by Whole Foods Market,” as the Camera reported in a page-one story called “FTC, Grocers State Cases.”

I frankly don’t know whether the merger of would be good or bad for consumers, but I do know that this holdup is bad for one restaurant that is a local institution. According to yet another Camera story, “Laudisio Sues Twenty Ninth Street,” the owners of the restaurant “are suing the Twenty Ninth Street mall, saying they’ve lost more than $1 million because developers misrepresented how much business the new shopping center would see….With a planned Wild Oats headquarters sitting empty indefinitely, nearly a year’s worth of delays in the opening of a 16-screen movie theater and delays in the opening of several other restaurants at Twenty Ninth Street, the promised customers haven’t materialized, the lawsuit says. ‘Based on the negligent misrepresentations by the landlord [developer and owner Macerich Company], the restaurant has not been, nor will it be, exposed to the represented foot traffic, and therefore all the financial projections upon which the restaurant project have been based, as well as investment and commitments made, are now inaccurate,’ the suit says.”

This lawsuit filed in Boulder County District Court will not have the national impact of the decision of the merger between the two grocery chains, but locally, it is a big deal indeed.

The Food Icon
The Rocky Mountain News ran an interview that Natalie Haughton of the Los Angeles Daily News conducted with the legendary Jacques Pepin, one of the first celebrity chefs in this country. He was promoting his gorgeous book, Chez Jacques: Traditions and Rituals of a Cook (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $45) and when asked whether he expects people really to use it to cook from, he replied, “After writing the recipe down, I explain the recipe as I would if I were talking to a friend. So it leaves the cook with more freedom so he can interpret the recipe and make it his own. My goal is to excite the imagination rather than set limits in a structured recipe.” The 71-year-old who has done so much to enlighten American cooks and epicures noted, “As you grow older, you eat less of one thing, more of another. . . . You get less complicated in your cooking. You take away from the plate rather than adding to the plate.”

A Visitor Asks About Chef Sean Kelly

A visitor to this blog wrote me privately, “I love your blog, it’s great fun. I am trying to reach Sean Kelly. Do you have any idea where he ended up? You seem to have the last information about him in your blog that I can find on the Internet. Thanks!”

Last I knew (which was sometime during the winter), Kelly had traded in his chef’s whites and had gone corporate, designing menus for the Denver-based Little Pub/Little Cantina Company, which owns something like 10 pubs and taverns in the area. They don’t have a website — and there’s nothing in the Verizon Super Pages between Little Planet Learning and Little Red School House.

Good luck in tracking him down.

Quebec: A Very Cheese-y Province

When Jean Soulard, executive chef at Quebec City’s landmark Chateau Frontenac, came to Canada from France some 15 years ago, he rued that his new compatriots knew only three kinds of cheese: yellow cheddar, white cheddar, and yellow and white cheddar. It’s not that Canadians in general and Quebecois in particular didn’t like cheese. After all, poutine, a calorie and fat bomb made of French fries, cheese curds and gravy, is a local favorite, and Quebec cheesemakers’ cheddar was so good that it was exported by the boatload to England. But that was the only cheese around. Cheesemaking skills were there, but all that cheddar didn’t equate to gastronomy. Now, there are more than 400 — perhaps closer to 500 —cheesemakers in the province. The variety of artisanal cheeses is a dream come true for chefs and cheese-lovers alike.

One of the year-round vendors at the Marché du Vieux Port (Market at the Old Port) is Andre Tremblay’s La Fromagère, which carries dozens of local cheeses (right). The city’s epicures, chefs and visitors alike line up at the crammed-full glass case for such non-traditional cheeses now made in Quebec as Valbert (produced by Fromagerie Lehmann, run by a Swiss-born cheesemaker and winner of the Sélection Caséus competition, which I believe is held in Italy) and Riopelle (a distinctive creamy washed-rind cheese). If you need any further confirmation of the quality of these cheeses, know that they are favorites of executive chef François Blais of Restaurant Panache, located in the Auberge Saint-Antoine. Chef Blais and his restaurant are among the most acclaimed in Canada.

The variety and quality of the new local cheeses in what was once called New France is stunning, but for an enlightening look at cheese produced the old way, visit the Museum of Cheddar in St.-Prime in the Sagenay-Lac St.-Jean region. The museum, which is the original cheesery and also the family apartment upstairs, shows the process the early years of the 20th century, from the way that local farmers delivered the milk to the way the cheesemaker made and aged the cheddar until he shipped it off to a broker in Montreal who would eventually send it to England. Such implements as a cheese rakes, paddle for stirring milk as it is being heated, an old scale, milk canisters and more tools of the cheesemaker’s trade are displayed in the simple museum (left), which is visited with a guide.

There is now a modern cheese factory next door run by the fourth generation of the Perron family. It still produces curds for poutine and four kinds of cheddar (all white, but aged different lengths of time for different intensities), and the factory is also getting ready to roll out its first Gruyere. The museum is located at 148 rue Albert-Perron, St.-Prime. Formidable!

Denver Chefs to Food & Wine, Part Deux

A few days ago, when I posted the names of the Denver chefs who will be cooking at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, I wasn’t sure of the auspices under which they would there. Yesterday evening, found out. I attended a send-off champagne reception for them at Corridor 44 and got the lowdown. The Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau funded a Taste of Denver booth in the Grand Tasting tent. Rich Grant of the DMCVB said that the bureau is seeking to help Denver chefs get the recognition they deserve in the culinary community. Today’s Denver Post Food section ran a front-page feature on the chefs that included half-a-dozen recipes.

Small Plate Delights at Denver’s New Amuse

I recently wrote about the coming of Amuse by Michel at 5 Degrees in Denver. Now it’s here, and on Tuesday, I attended a preview for media and other guests. The 5 Degrees part is a big bar/lounge in front, geared for the LoDo evening social crowd, while the Amuse part is the eatery that occupies the back. The restaurant is small and very cool-looking. It reminded me of a house of mirrors, with mirrors set in white frames against black walls, antique-white chandeliers with robin’s egg blue shades (right) that could have come from Cinderella’s castle, birchwood table tops, black armchairs and wood floors. An expansive patio in back looks inviting for a summer evening but was not open for the preview for media and guests on Tuesday evening.
The wine list was imposing, but I selected a sparkling Micheltini to start, and it was so good that I had another during the progression of a dozen small plates, each one attractively presented. IMHO, the best were:
  • The mixed Mediterranean olives with fresh herbs, lemon, orange, spices and garlic. I doubt that Wahaltare cures his own olives, but they displayed variety and marinade was terrific.
  • Seasonal Pacific oysters (right) with Maui onions mignonette. The oysters were “gentle,” not assertive, thereby not competing with the onions — and vice versa.
  • The lemon buerre blanc that blanketed the potato gnocchi was delicious.
  • Even better was the saffron mustard cream sauce for the PEI mussels. Understandably, given so many dishes to try, there was no bread on the table, but if there had been, I would have been tempted to sop up every drop. As it was, I made sure that ever mussel was well coated.
  • The Mountain Meadow Colorado lamb loin was tender and sweetly lamb-y, and the cassoulet of beans and balsamic emulsion was a lovely counterpoint.

One of Michel’s marketing minions came around and asked what we thought of different dishes, so if I was not alone in my opinions, the following dishes might change in the future, but as of last Tuesday, the least successful were:

  • The Red Bird Farms chicken drumettes confit with home-made ginger and sun-dried apricot barbecue disappointed. The chicken was tender enough, beneath a coating of a tempura-like batter, but I couldn’t taste the ginger, just the apricot, and the “barbecue” component mystified me.
  • The lightly fried citrus almond-crusted calamari served with spiced tomato sauce featured tender enough calamari, but the crust bore no taste of citrus or of almond, and the tomato sauce packed no flavor punch other than the tomatoes.
Too full for dessert, I lumbered back to the Market Street station and rolled back to Boulder on the bus.

Amuse at 5 Degrees is at 1475 Lawrence Street, Denver. It is open from 4:00 to 10:00 p.m. except Sunday. For reservations, call 303-260-7505.

Cooking Class at Maggiano’s

I’m normally not a fan of chains, but Maggiano’s Little Italy (two locations in Denver, 20 other states) is one of the best of the lot. Maybe it’s nostalgia. The ambience mimics East Coast Italian neighborhood restaurants, though the ones I have been to ramble from room to room and seem as big as some entire East Coast Italian neighorhoods. Maybe it’s because relatively few locations thinly spread across not-too-many states (only four in excessively chainified California) makes it feel less corporate. Maybe it’s because the food is really quite good — heaping platters of filling southern Italian-style favorites, served family-style.

In any case, on Monday evening, I attended a small cooking class put on by George Poston, chef at the downtown Denver Maggiano’s. Normally when the restaurant invites some media friends, the classes are hands-on in one of their kitchens, but this time, every dining room was packed, the kitchens were all occupied and we were exiled to the very pleasant patio where the class ended up being a demonstration. (Poston is above right, with his “assistant,” 7News consumer reporter Bill Clarke)

I’ve never been to a cooking class — hands-on or demonstration — where I didn’t learn something. This time, I learned that there are better ways to make buschetta than my never-quite-totally-successful oven-toasting. Poston took very good Italian bread (from Whole Foods, he said, which makes better stuff than Maggiano’s generally puts on the tables) grilled it over very low heat (200 to 250 degrees) in a cast-iron skillet with a bit of olive oil and garlic until lightly toasted and then topped it with chopped tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and fresh basil, seasoned with salt and pepper.

Denver Chefs to Food & Wine

I’ve been deadline-crazed lately and haven’t had/found/made time to blog for several days. But I just found out which Denver chefs will be at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, June 15-17 and can resist sharing their names with you.

I don’t have a schedule so don’t know exactly what each one will be doing or when. Speaking generally, some chefs go to Food & Wine to cook for admiring crowds in the Consumer portion of the event, which is truly an honor, but others quietly attend seminars and panels in the Restaurant Trade portion of the event and network with their colleagues. The combo makes it a chef fest of the highest order. The Front Range chefs heading for this toniest of food events, which is billing itself as “the height of good taste,” are:

Matt Anderson, Bistro Vendôme
Jennifer Jasinski, Rioja
Carl Klein, Corridor 44
Ian Kleinman, O’s Steak & Seafood at the Westin Westminster
Curtis Lincoln, Ellyngton’s at the Brown Palace
Christian “Goose” Sorensen, Solera
Tyler Wiard, Elways