Friday, March 29, 2013

Electro Shock Therapy

Last week, Chefs Jacob, Yulanda and Willy joined me on a tour of a local farm in Carmel Valley.  We wanted to get a firsthand look at where some of our meats come from.  The Central Coast has long been a source of grass-fed beef, lambs and pork.  Unfortunately, while they serve as agrarian beautification along our highways, they rarely make it into local restaurants.  This is due largely to the lack of USDA certified processors, which means a farmer must drive three hours to get their animals legally butchered.  Many farms have realized that it is more lucrative to get the animals processed at a USDA facility and them take them to market in a nearby city.  This is why a majority of the pigs from Carmel Valley end up at farmers markets in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The ranch we buy some of our pork and lamb from is an incredible piece of property that has been in the same family for generations.  It is composed of two thousand acres of rolling grass hills and scattered oak forests.  Visiting the ranch is like stepping back in time.  Cattle graze along the dirt road and two massive Great Pyrenees watch a flock of sheep inside a wooden corral.  Livestock, by nature, is a somewhat morbid business, but seeing the ranch in person reminds us of how our buying decisions ultimately determines the way animals are treated.  When you watch the animals feeding and interacting with each other, it is clear that this is a far better alternative to mass produced meats.  By not supporting factory farming, we help protect small local ranches, and in turn ensure that the rich agricultural heritage of the Central Coast is preserved. 

Toward the end of our tour the rancher offered to show us a litter of wild boar that had just been born.  The tiny piglets looked more like leopard cubs than pigs with their striking markings.  I walked around the coral to get a picture.  As I angled my iphone over the fence for the perfect shot I quickly recoiled as though bitten by a snake.  My phone was flung from my hand into the dirt pen where it was quickly engulfed in the maw of the angry mother boar.  I soon realized that an electrified wire ran behind the wooden rail and I had been electrocuted.  Luckily with a few yells and a flailing of my jacket the pig was convinced to drop the phone just long enough for me to remove it with a stick. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Sneak Peak At Our Plate Project

I am very excited to be working with Eefje Theeuws of Studio Materia on a series of new plates for Sierra Mar.  We have been carrying Eefje's plates at our Post Ranch Mercantile, but this will be the first time we have collaborated on a unique series inspired by Post Ranch and Sierra Mar.  Last week Eefje had an opportunity to have lunch at Sierra Mar and spent some time exploring the property.  Her first inspiration was drawn from the grove of giant sequoias below the North Ridge.  She hopes to capture the essence of these incredible trees in a design that will complement our Taste of Big Sur menu.

"Born in Antwerp, Belgium, Eefje Theeuws was trained in Architecture in San Francisco and Energy Medicine in Joshua Tree.  Infinitely inspired by Nature's elegance and the simplicity of elemental form, Eefje's work infuses design with healing energies and spiritual essence.  She worked with acclaimed architecture, interiors and landscape firms before starting her own practice "STUDIO MATERIA".

From the samples I have seen this is going to be an incredible collaboration!  We hope to have the first series of plates in use by early May.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Nature Doesn't Like Plans

Everything was set for my new spot prawn dish on the spring Taste of Big Sur menu.  The coffee siphons had arrived, the spot prawn availability had been confirmed and the recipe had been perfected.  When I showed up at the wharf today I was surprised to learn that the spot prawn boat had not gone out and was expected to be out of commission for two weeks.  The owner,Johnny, is in Italy and the boat had broken down.  So... no spot prawn dish on the menu this past weekend. On the bright side, I saw a seagull eating a starfish.

Friday, March 22, 2013

An Inspirational Trip

Recently I took Jacob, Willy and Yulanda up to the East Bay in search of culinary inspiration.  We explored underground fish markets, searched Chinese grocery stores, scoured a Vietnamese restaurant supply warehouse, sampled fermented foods at the Cultured Pickle and tasted a number of conserves and jams at June Taylor.  We managed to fill the trunk of the Lexus with everything from fish sauce to yuzu marmalade and everything in-between.  Our adventure concluded with a dinner at the Chef's counter at Commis in Oakland.  I have been hearing about Chef James Syhabout and Commis for a couple of years  and was excited to experience it firsthand.  We enjoyed an eight-course dinner and were impressed by the focus and execution of each dish.  Every plate was beautifully presented with clean-focused flavors and contrasting textures.

One dish really stuck in my mind - a pre-dessert of sassafras and mandarin orange.  Sassafras is often hidden behind a mixture of other ingredients and is most often associated with root beer.  On its own the sassafras was quite refreshing and unexpected.  When I got back into the Sierra Mar kitchen I decided to break out our supply of sassafras and play around.  My vision was to create an elk dish that would be reminiscent of a summer barbecue.  I made a roulade of elk rolled in charred licorice root with savory borage cake, tamarind and grated sassafras.  I'm going to continue working on the recipe this week and plan to feature it on the new Taste of Big Sur Menu.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Prawn Consommé

Here is a sneak peak at one of our new spring dishes for the Taste of Big Sur menu. We are making a consommé out of local spot prawns and infusing it with kaffir lime, basil and thai chile table-side with a vacuum siphon pot.  The aroma of fresh steamed prawns and herbs is amazing in the dining room! The consommé is so flavorful on its own that we simply pour it over a raw prawn tail and a spoonful of fresh prawn roe.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Acorn Bread with Iberico Lardo

Historically, acorns were a staple food source in Big Sur and many parts of North America.  Unfortunately they have faded out of fashion, likely due to the time consuming process involved in preparing them.  The first step in preparing acorns (after days of harvesting) is to leach them of their bitter tannins using a large amount of fresh water.  This is accomplished a number of different ways; burying them in a stream bank, submerging them in wicker basket and even a few accounts of people leaching them in the back of their toilets (clever but not something I recommend).  The idea is pretty rudimentary and any method of rinsing them under large amounts of fresh water will do the trick.  After a few weeks, when the tannins have been removed, the nuts are shelled, toasted and stone ground into a fine flour.  We are fortunate to have a reliable local source for fresh ground acorn flour.  The bread that we serve on the Taste of Big Sur menu is made with acorn flour and pinenuts.  Instead of pairing it with butter or olive oil we melt a translucent slice of acorn finished pork fat cured with sea salt and herbs. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Tuna with Iberico Refritos

This dish evolved around the idea of making "re-fried beans" using Iberico pork fatback.  The cured fatback we use comes from a special breed of pig that is finished on a diet of acorns, resulting in a complex nuttiness in the fat.  After rendering the Iberico Lardo, we sauté cooked white beans and garlic until aromatic, then puree them until they form a smooth paste.  We cook calypso lima beans in a stock with smoked ham hocks and onions until halfway cooked - then remove the shells and fill them with the Iberico refritos.

The tuna is crusted with blue corn, green coriander, cumin and guajillo chile.  Because the beans are so rich, I wanted a sauce that would brighten the dish and add contrast, in this case a puree of pickled red onion worked nicely.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Carrot Custard

The Sierra Mar garden is starting to blossom!  In addition to an array of flowers and budding trees, the root vegetables we planted last month are ready to harvest.  These tiny onions, carrots and turnips are barely the size of spring peas, but full of flavor.

Recently, I've been working on a carrot custard with caramelized honey and cumin.  I'm serving it with pea-tendril goat cheese, young nettles and tiny garden roots.

Monday, March 11, 2013

John Dory

Many years ago, while I was still attending New England Culinary Institute, I worked with Kent Rathbun when he was opening Abacus in Dallas.  Each day there would be an array of new and exciting ingredients from around the world.  I distinctly remember going into the fish walk-in and seeing a few dozen John Dory on ice.  The fish are unmistakable, but at the time they might as well have been aliens because I had never seen anything like them; Long spiny dorsal fins, smooth jaundiced- silver skin, protruding cheek bones and a large black patch in the middle of each side.   While the fish were impressive to look at they were a terror to clean, and as a young cook I would frequently stab myself with the sharp spines protruding from the fins, leaving my hand throbbing in pain.  Despite the painful learning experience- John Dory remains one of my favorite fish.  The flesh is firm, but still delicate, with a sweet-briny flavor.  Also known as St. Pierre, it is said to have gotten its distinct thumb-print pattern from the hands of St. Peter- an unlikely story given that the fish is found off the coast of Africa and Australia- but not the Sea of Galilee.

This week we got an unexpected surprise when we fileted the John Dory; perfect orange roe sacks.  We are in the process of curing and drying the roe to make a version of Bottarga, a dried fish roe from Sardinia.

Saturday, March 9, 2013


When Chef Laiskonis agreed to do the guest chef dinner and demo a few weeks ago, I expected to have some challenging ingredients on my shopping list.  Hydrocolloids - check; Six different types of chocolate - check; Buddha Hand Fruit - check; Geoduck Clams! - Couldn't find them anywhere.  I started with my three main fish purveyors and none of them had any luck sourcing them.  I tried a
couple of fed-ex companies and only came up with farm raised Geoducks from Baja which wouldn't do.  In a last effort I asked one of my friends to stop by an Asian live seafood market in the South Bay.  Sure enough they had a few giant geoducks sitting in an aerated tank.  For the precious price of
$30 per pound he bought me four.

Geoducks are prized in many parts of Asia, fetching upwards of a hundred dollars per pound for prime specimens.  Their appeal is a crisp texture, clean-sweet flavor and an appearance that can only be described as surreally phallic.  We have a similar species of Clam that lives in the brackish waters of the Elkhorn Slough called Horseneck Clams.  At low tide you can see the clams squirting water along the slough banks, then rapidly digging themselves into the sand with any hit of danger. Unfortunately I don't believe these are commercially available, but would love to get a fishing license and try to catch a few.

I wish I could have gone to the live market in person last week, but unfortunately we were all too busy to take a morning off.  It is always inspiring to think about the number of ingredients that are available when you take the time to find them.  In the next couple of weeks I want to take my sous chefs, Willy and Jacob, on a culinary tour of the ethnic markets in the Bay Area, in search of new and exciting ingredients.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Pacific Coast Truffles

The Oregon Black Truffle Season is underway.  As much as I hate to say it, I’m not the kind of chef that gets excited over truffles.  Sure they are incredibly aromatic and offer an earthiness that is unique and mysterious, but I no longer find them special.  You can now find “truffles” everywhere from your corner hamburger restaurant to fine-dining restaurants around the world.  Whether it is in the form of butter, oil or fresh shavings, truffles take on a variety of shapes and aromas.  The quality and value of a truffle is based on the species, origin, size and ripeness.  With some Italian truffles selling for thousands of dollars per pound, counterfeits are as common as fake Louis Vuittons and similarly priced.  Many of these lesser quality imposters are collected in China where they are harvested prematurely using large rakes.  The species is less aromatic to begin with and when harvested early, smell like little more than damp cardboard.  In the Pacific Northwest, ranging from just North of San Francisco to Vancouver, there has been a growing interest in native truffles, which can be found primarily below Douglas Fir trees.  A few hobbyists and entrepreneurs have trained dogs to find truffles at their peak ripeness, resulting in a truffle with an intense aroma reminiscent of its European cousins with a distinctly Pacific Coast quality.  Unfortunately these truffles are difficult to find outside of the areas where they are found.  This week the forager we work with had a few golf ball-sized tubers that we quickly snatched up.  I hope to get a few more deliveries before the season ends in April.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Robbins Island Wagyu

This week we tried a new Wagyu Beef from Robbins Island in Tasmania.  Similar to the Wagyu that we use from Lone Mountain Ranch, the herd on Robbins Island is 100% Wagyu from Japanese genetics.  The difference is that the Robbins Island Wagyu is completely Grass Fed and is influenced by the coastal environment.  Despite not being grain-finished, the ribeye we received had incredible marbling (BMS 7-9) and the flavor was quite mild with only a hint of the pastoral-gaminess often found in grass-fed animals.  During the grazing season the cows are herded to new pastures across a shallow tidal channel.

Tonight are serving the Robbins Island Ribeye crusted in exotic peppercorns (tellicherry, Balinese and cubeb pepper that have been ground in the mortar with black onion seeds, trumpet mushrooms, smoked salt and freeze-dried raisins.  I serve the beef with a hedgehog mushroom puree and spring onion confit.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Chef Jacob put together a beautiful braised pork belly dish using apple blossoms from the garden, green apple puree, charred spring onion and apple-lees from our freshly bottled cider. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Michael Laiskonis Pastry Chef Dinner

We just finished a wonderful weekend at Post Ranch with visiting Chef, Michael Laiskonis.  Chef Laiskonis was the pastry chef at Le Bernadin in New York for eight years and is now the creative director for the Institute for Culinary Education in NYC.  He is an immensely talented chef with an impressive knowledge of modern techniques and an aptitude for teaching. 

On Saturday evening our Pastry Chef, Yulanda Santos and Chef Laiskonis, collaborated on an intimate eight course dinner featuring Chocolate, Citrus and Spice.  The event, held at the Hawthorne Gallery quickly sold out.  Dominique did an incredible job with wine pairings for the evening.  The chefs prepared several savory courses including: a ceviche of geoduck clam, oxtail consommé, roasted duck, sea scallops with caramelized white chocolate and a wild radish salad.  These were followed by a progression of intricately crafted pastries, displaying each chef’s artistic talents and personal style.  The dinner attracted people from all over Northern California, including Ron Mendoza (Pastry Chef at Aubergine) and Levi Mezick (Chef at 1833).

Sunday afternoon we presented a cooking demo with Chef Laiskonis at the MEarth Habitat at Carmel Middleschool.  The habitat is a non-profit classroom and garden that teaches children about food, ecology and sustainable living.  The new LED certified classroom was the perfect space for the demonstration, with large windows overlooking the Carmel foothills and school gardens.  Some of the proceeds from the event went to help fund the program.  The demo was open to the public, but Chef Laiskonis’ presentation was certainly geared for food professionals, with a good amount of time being spent of blending hydrocolloids and using contemporary pastry techniques.  Fortunately a majority of the attendees for the sold out event were trained pastry chefs.  We were honored to have several local chefs including: Ben Spungin of Bernardus, Ron Mendoza and Justin Cogley both of Aubergine, Quinn Thompson from La Bicyclette and a number of chefs from the Bay Area.  Chef’s Warehouse generously donated the chocolates used in the event.  It was great to see so much community support for the MEarth Habitat and our visiting chef series.

It was a fun and rewarding weekend, one we hope will be the first of many such events.  We are busy putting together our list of chef invitations – so if there is someone you would like to see invited, please leave us a comment below.