Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Wild Boar Raised On Local Kelp?

Throughout the UK and France, there is a long-standing tradition of raising lamb on salt marshes.  These lamb are considered by many chefs to be some of the best lamb in the world.  Interestingly they are not any more salty or savory than a grass-fed lamb, but are alleged to be more sweet and tender with a pleasant complexity of flavor.  As far as I am aware, it has been generations since any American ranchers have focused on saltmarsh grazing for livestock, and saltmarsh lamb cannot be found anywhere locally.

After doing some research on saltmarsh lamb and reading the glowing descriptions of its culinary merits, I wondered whether it would be possible to replicate some of this flavor using seaweed, an abundant and sustainable resource along our coast.  A bit more searching revealed that on the Shetland Islands, herds of sheep are seasonally confined to the shoreline where the forage on freshly washed up algae.  This seemed like a very promising start for my idea, so I made a few calls.

Two weeks later I showed up at a Linda’s ranch in Carmel Valley with a huge bag of kelp from the Monterey Abalone Company.  Both the Abalone Company and Linda were nice enough to placate my desire to see if lambs would actually eat giant kelp.  Linda was familiar with adding a seaweed supplement to livestock food, but had never tried feeding them freshly harvested seaweed.  Our first stop was at the lamb barn.  Linda dumped the giant bag of slimy seaweed into a large feeder in the middle of the pen.  The lamb quickly gathered around, sniffing it, then licking it, their faces quickly revealing complete indifference toward this foreign food.  I wasn’t ready to give up yet, so we headed next door to the goats.  Goats have a reputation of being ravenous and undiscerning eaters, so I figured they would eat it right away.  Sadly, they were no more interested than the lamb.  Feeling defeated I threw a few fronds of kelp into the pig pen where they were quickly gobbled off the muddy floor, then spit back into a puddle.  Things were not looking good.

As I made my way back to the car I stopped to look at the wild boar.  The baby boar who had lured me into dropping my cell phone last time, were now all grown up now.  I tossed a few pieces of seaweed into the pen and immediately heard the popping stems and the sounds of satisfied chewing.  I threw in another piece and sure enough they were loving it!  This was not my goal, but the idea of Carmel Valley Wild Boar raised on local kelp was intriguing!   There must be instances where wild boar in Big Sur forage on the beach for food, so perhaps the seaweed seems natural.  It will take at least six months to determine whether feeding the boar kelp will  benefit to the meat’s flavor.  I also need to decide whether we will feed 100% wild boar, or try it with one of the litters of Berkshire-boar crosses.  Being that this is all taking place in Carmel Valley, surrounding my incredible vineyards, I also couldn’t help wondering whether there would be a benefit to feeding the pigs wine….After all, the practice of feeding wagyu cows beer and sake is well documented in Japan.  What would be the ultimate diet for a lamb or pig?  Would this kind of local feeding regiment really noticeably enhance the finished product?  These are all questions I must pursue…….. 

To be continued…………………………………….

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Dungeness Crab

The local Dungeness crab season has started!   Here is a video of Jerry pulling in some of the first local crab pots (Viewers Beware - there is some colorful footage in this video).

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Spice Challenge

Today we did a challenge to see who could identify the most spices out of 40.  Sterling won with a perfect score - but Michelle and Conrado were close behind!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pfeiffer Fire In Big Sur

It has been a tense week here in Big Sur!  Late Sunday night a fire started on the Buzzards Roost trail and quickly enveloped many homes along Pfeiffer ridge.  Luckily there have been no reported injuries, but seeing so many friends and neighbors displaced is heartbreaking.

We have been able to stay open throughout the emergency- sending box lunches to firefighters and Red Cross and preparing meals for friends and employees who have been evacuated.  This is an all too common occurrence in Big Sur, but we are fortunate to have an amazing group of volunteer fire fighters supported by hundreds of fire teams from around California.  With the fog rolling in yesterday morning, everyone is hopeful that the fire is on its way to being controlled. 

Here are some pictures and a video from the past few days. 

Snowing Ash in Big Sur

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


I don't think there is a bad time of year in Big Sur, but December may be one of my favorites.  The fog bank coupled with frequent rain clouds creates a dramatic background for spectacular sunsets. Here are two of my favorites so far this month....

Monday, December 9, 2013

Fresh Saffron Crocus

When Fiona mentioned that she was planting saffron bulbs a couple of months ago, I was pretty skeptical.  I have never seen a fresh saffron flower in person and have never heard of anyone trying to grow them in California.  Not surprisingly Fiona was right.  Today I saw the first few purple blossoms opening from between long chive-like stems, each cradling three vibrant orange stigmas.  Now comes the real challenge……picking them!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Local Skate

The other day I took a group of cooks on a tour of the Monterey Abalone farm and commercial wharf.  We went below the wharf where Trevor explained the whole process and philosophy behind the farm.  He even let us pull a fresh urchin straight out of the water and let our group try it!

As luck would have it, one of Jerry's boats was just pulling in when we arrived.  After our tour we wandered over to see what they had brought in.  The entire hold was filled with fresh black cod and several tanks on deck were filled with live spiny heads.  There was also a small amount of squid and a few skate.  I know that skate is a popular fish on the east coast, but I have never seen fresh skate available in California.  I couldn't pass up the opportunity to work with a new fish, and purchased two of the largest skate, so fresh they were still twitching.

Once we got the fish back to the kitchen I was able to look at it more closely.  It really is an alien creature, with beady turquoise eyes and long devil tail.  Simultaneously beautiful and frightening it was a strong reminder of how little we know about the ocean, and how we should conserve and protect all of its magnificent inhabitants.  We removed the guts and were surprised to find huge-pale livers similar to those from monkfish.  These livers were once quite a delicacy in France and England and were well documented in Larousse Gastronomique.  Classic recipes include "Beignets de Raie" and "Skate Liver on Toast".  I have used monkfish liver in the past, but have never had the chance to try skate liver.  No wanted to let any part of these incredible fish go to waste, I decided to slow poach the livers with local bay leaf, garlic, lemon and milk then quickly fry them in a champagne batter.  The milk poaching helps removed some of the blood and gives the liver a milder flavor.  The lite batter gives a textural contrast to the smooth liver.

The skate wing was beautiful, like a delicate fan with bright red blood-line and firm flesh.  Even though we started with two fish the yield on skate is poor, so we only ended up with enough meat to serve as a first course.  I served a small section of pan roasted skate wing with potato puree, dry chorizo, fifty year sherry and my own version of skate liver "beignets".

The fish is haunting.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Goose Liver

Goose Liver Slow Poached with Ginger and Beet - Winter Citrus, Popped Rice and Wild Land Cress

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Smoked Goose Ham & New Plate by Shelby!

We just got in some new plates by Shelby Hawthorne.  When we met a few months ago I told her I wanted plates that broke with traditional style and really captured the essence of Big Sur.  Her latest creation, a long-convex sheet of clear glass encapsulating beads of gray and white glass looks like tiny stones on the ocean floor or speckled Big Sur granite.  Tonight we are using it to showcase a smoked goose breast with quince, salt-cured rose petals and acorn bread.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Wild Hamachi Grilled Over Eucalyptus Coals

There is something therapeutic about walking under the large grove of eucalyptus by my house.  Long strips of bark peel away from the tree trunks, falling to the forest floor where they form a carpet of menthol scented debris.  The smell of the eucalyptus is invigorating, an icy sensation that opens your throat and nose and awakens your senses.  

The oil in eucalyptus, when consumed in large quantities, can be toxic.  Even though there is a long global history of eucalyptus being used for everything from medicinal tea, to marinating fish and fuel for grilling, America has not embraced its culinary merits.  The long green leaves, when steeped in hot water, release an aromatic steam reminiscent of mint and evergreen.  Smoldering pieces of wood and bark have a dried spice- cedar quality to them.

Tonight I brined wild Hamachi with citrus, guajillo chiles, fennel, fresh eucalyptus leaves and sea salt then flash grilled it over eucalyptus coals and smoking bark.  I paired the rare slices of Hamachi with pomegranate, spicy-pickled cucumbers and castelveltrano olives.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Big Sur Food & Wine

Pinot Walkabout - Photo courtesy of Big Sur Food & Wine Festival
We recently hosted events for the annual Big Sur Food & Wine Festival here at Post Ranch.  Our festivities started on Friday afternoon with the Pinot Walkabout in the Sierra Mar garden.  Chef Justin Everett from Cavallo Point and I made a selection of appetizers to pair with some of Central California’s finest Pinot Noir.  That night were honored to have chefs Suzette Gresham from Acquerello and Rocky Maselli from A-16 join Kent from the Carmel Cheese Shop and Luc from Saltwater Oyster Depot for an incredible opening night dinner.  Both chefs were an absolute pleasure to work with and created two exceptional pasta dishes in the Sierra Mar dining room.  Unfortunately, our third guest chef confused the event date and did not show up.  We realized this challenge at 4pm and scrambled to put together a substitute appetizer.  The menu stated grilled octopus, but we did not have any octopus in stock, in fact, the only seafood we had was wild king salmon that was already half cured for breakfast.  After removing the salmon from cure we quickly grilled it on one side over mesquite then served it with white bean puree, fresh herbs and a preserved lemon vinaigrette.  The final dish was a hit and the Sierra Mar team did a great job filling in for the missing chef.

Lexus Grand Tasting - Photo Courtesy of Big Sur Food & Wine Festival
 On Saturday we partnered with Lexus for a very special dinner at Sierra Mar.  I have no idea what I was thinking when I wrote the menu - but somehow I listed the winter apple lantern as the first course.  The logistics of lighting 100 edible lanterns and topping them with fragile apple rings were quite intensive, but the final result of a hundred glowing lanterns entering the dining room was well worth the effort.  For our entrée, Elizabeth prepared a beautiful roasted bison tenderloin with toasted walnut puree, pomegranate and roasted endive.

Lexus invited us to cook inside of their booth for the grand tasting on Sunday which was held here at Post Ranch.  The booths are always creative works of art, and this year’s was no exception.  The booth was modeled after an old west saloon, complete with a wall of spurs and cowhide bar stools.  Keeping with the theme, we made aji Amarillo glazed smoked chicken wings, braised mangalitsa pork belly on crispy chicharones, acorn bread with prickly pear preserves and smoked smores in mini jars.  Over the course of the event we served over 4,000 tastings.  Being in the booth and having the opportunity to talk with guests about the food made for a great afternoon.

Thanks to Lexus, our guest chefs and everyone who made the event such a success!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sea Cucumber Chawanmushi

We have been experimenting with Sea Cucumbers for the last few months.  These gelatinous bottom dwelling creatures are quite bizarre even by my standards!  When they encounter a predator they excrete their digestive track and internal organs, giving the attacker something to stay occupied with while the cucumber slowly undulates away.  They are then able to re-generate these organs and carry on their life as normal.
You will occasionally find Sea Cucumber, often in dried form, in some dishes across Asia.  Here in the United States they remain quite rare, especially in their live form.  Inside each cucumber is a series of white strips of muscle that run vertically inside the body cavity.  When removed they are incredibly tender and sweet, reminiscent of the delicate flavor of razor clams.  In my opinion, these are by far the most choice part of the sea cucumber, unfortunately, however, they only make up 5% of the total body weight.  Once you remove these muscles you are left with a tough, gelatinous, shoe shaped object dripping with slime and constricting into a tight cylinder.  After several disastrous attempts to make this outer part edible I threw in the towel and decided just to use the interior muscles.

In the back of my mind I had an idea that if I were to cook the outer portion of the sea cucumber enough it would become soft - but even after six hours of simmering it was still like eating a rubber band.  Finally I decided to cook them until they become soft, no matter how long it took.  I sliced them into thin strips and 14 hours later they transformed from rubber bands into more palatable soft gelatinous strips.  I transferred these strips to the dehydrator overnight and then dropped them in 500 degree canola oil where they puffed up like chicharones.  After a seasoning of sea salt and espelette, they tasted incredible with an airy crunch rivaling the best chicharones I have tasted!

We have featured the local sea cucumber on top of a chawanmushi-style custard with raw sea cucumber on top and the crispy sea cucumber chips to garnish.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Post Ranch Jasmine Leaf

The jasmine vines along the wall going into the kitchen are beginning to turn red.  I spotted this mutant heart-shaped leaf this morning and couldn't help but stop and snap a photo.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Local Rooster and Cockscomb

Last week a local rancher called to ask if I was interested in six adult roosters.  Apparently they had become a noisy nuisance and she was ready to get rid of them.  Rooster has never been high on my culinary priorities list, but the opportunity to work with fresh cockscomb was intriguing so I agreed to take them off her hands.

Cockscomb, the crimson flame-like crown on adult roosters, has long been a delicacy in Europe, but is essentially forbidden in North America due to certain butchering stipulations imposed by the FDA.  While the odd cartilage-like appendage does not offer much in the way of flavor, it provides an interesting texture and presentation to modern dishes.  Coq au Vin, a dish popularized by Julia Child in the 1970's is the most well-known of rooster recipes.  The dish maintains some popularity in the US, but given the scarcity of rooster is now largely prepared with chicken. Cockscomb was a traditional garnish for this braised rooster dish, and could also be found in traditional dishes from Piedmont to China.

Tonight we decided to pay homage to long-standing culinary tradition with our own version of Coq au Vin using roots from the garden and local rooster.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Miraval's Chef Series

This past weekend I had the pleasure of spending a weekend down in Tucson, Arizona at the Miraval Resort & Spa.  They're putting on a Chef Series and were kind enough to invite me down for a weekend of cooking demonstrations and a special five-course dinner alongside their own  Executive Chef Justin Macy.  Here's a link to Miraval's photo blog with pictures documenting the weekend. 


Thank you to Miraval for including me in this wonderful event! 

Thursday, October 17, 2013


One of our cooks brought in a large bag of freshly harvested acorns from the Southern Sierras today.  They are beautiful specimens, large and heavy with a meaty interior.  This week we are going to work on making pasta using toasted acorn flour.  Two fun facts about acorns:

- Often times you will see certain jays and squirrels burying food.  I have always thought they were rationing it for the winter, but it turns out there may be a more important motivation.   Burying acorns in the wet earth helps leach tannins from the nut, so an acorn that has been buried for several months will taste better than a freshly harvested one.  Tannins, besides tasting bitter, also inhibit humans and animals from metabolizing proteins.

- Oaks are finicky trees and some species only produce nuts sporadically every few years.  Native Americans would use controlled fires to clear the area below the oak trees, simultaneously fertilizing, eliminating pests and competing plants.  This practice helped boost the yearly acorn harvest.  From my own experience walking around Post Ranch, I have noticed that loan oak trees tend to have far more acorns than oak trees growing in close proximity to each other.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Midnight Malbec

This is truly a wonderful time to experience Big Sur and the Central Coast.  We get the best of fall with its crisp mornings and vibrant foliage without the dread of winter blizzards.  The local wine harvest is in full swing and by all accounts is shaping up to be an incredible year.   You can see towering stacks of grape bins outside of wineries waiting to be crushed and trucks loaded with newly harvested fruit.  Freshly squeezed juice coming off the presses is sweet and simplistic, but quickly transforms in bubbling cauldrons, swimming pools of purple pulp heavy with the smells of yeast and fermentation, a deluge of aroma only alluding to the complexity of the finished wine.

On a recent evening I was fortunate to dine at the Cachagua General Store, having dinner with a well-known local wine maker, Damien Georis (for those familiar with this blog, he also created the clever reclaimed Post Ranch water bottle light fixture which I've included again below).  After dinner he had to get back to work and was kind enough to let me have  a sneak peak at this year's wine production. Here you can see him breaking up a raft of fermenting malbec.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Tuna with Matsutake

White Soy Marinated Tuna with Matsutake Mushrooms, Finger Lime and Pine-Roasted Kabocha Squash

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Pacific Pampano

This morning I was surprised to see a basket of tiny fresh Pacific Pompano at the wharf.  These tiny silver iridescent fish were once quite a delicacy with the local Italian fishing community.  Unfortunately, along with many other small-bony fish, pompano have lost their local popularity and are now sold almost exclusively to Asian markets in the city. It is likely that this was such a small catch it didn't warrant the fisherman taking it to the city - so I jumped at the opportunity to bring a large bag of these tiny fish back to Sierra Mar for tonight's amuse course.  We fileted each fish and fried the backbone, head and filet serving them with licorice pickled mango and sea beans.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Caja China Pig Roast

Last week we got in a special Caja China Pig Roaster.  The concept is pretty simple, an insulated wooden box with a drain pan in the bottom and protective metal sides topped with a metal tray that charcoal is spread on.  Essentially it is like an above ground version of a Hawaiian Emu.  The benefit is having a far quicker cooking time (4-5 hours as opposed to 9-12), ability to collect the flavorful roasting liquids and greater control over the internal temperature.  We tried out a 60 pound Berkshire pig and were very happy with the results. There are numerous possibilities for this tool.... oysters cooked in seaweed, bay-roasted pheasant, roasted root vegetables....

Friday, September 27, 2013

Harvest Season

It is harvest season in Central California.  All up and down the coast, vineyards are beginning to harvest this year's crop.  This week we are experimenting with some different grape varietals and considering how we can pay tribute to this special time of year.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Lone Mountain Wagyu Update

The last batch of Lone Mountain Wagyu was simply incredible!  These steaks came from two grade nine ribeyes we got in last week.  Sadly unseasonably hot-dry weather means we won't see any more Lone Mountain beef for another month or two.  In the meantime I am going to be trying out some grass- finished wagyu from Australia that has been getting rave reviews.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Autumn Harvest

The Sierra Mar garden has reached its apex and Fiona and Anton are staying busy trying to keep up with the giant harvests.  Every day there are baskets of incredible produce being brought to the kitchen.