Little Donkey, Jamie Bissonnette, and musings on food writing…

Its always fascinating to me to watch the organized chaos of a restaurant kitchen, the constant flow of runners bringing out plate after plate to a sea of hungry diners, and the hustle of servers trying to ensure that each one of those diners leaves happy and full. In these moments, I always feel a draw to start writing about the restaurant industry again.

So, why now? Its been almost 2 years since the last time I published something on Behind the Pass. There have been plenty of night’s out in that span. What made August 25th, a Thursday night dinner with friends at Little Donkey in Cambridge, matter more than others? The answer is simple… memories.

On this particular night, some of the stronger memories that I have when it comes to writing about food were jarred loose. So, if you’ll indulge me a remembrance, I’ll take you back to the beginning of Behind the Pass, formerly known as The Foodie Journal.

“Starting a blog is easy, keeping it going is harder…”

Everyone and their uncle seemed to have a blog at the time, and even more so now. I believe it possible that, if her fluency with the written word in English were better, my 73 year-old Portuguese mother might just have a blog herself (She has 3,500+ followers on Pinterest. Seriously.) So, starting a blog wasn’t an issue. Figuring out how to keep it going was the hard part.

When I started The Foodie Journal, I knew I wanted to write about two things: food and restaurants. While my love of food is sincere, my know-how pales in comparison to the myriad other food bloggers that exist. In that aspect, I felt there was  minimal way to set myself apart. Similarly, with respect to restaurant reviews, I felt I didn’t have the authority (I must be missing the ‘Yelp’ gene that so many others have).

After a few fits and starts, my attention shifted to restaurant kitchens and those in the thick of it. The chef. Individuals who have made the conscious decision to stand on their feet hour after hour in blazing hot kitchens, working their hardest while everyone on the other side of the pass is feasting and wining (or whining, depending on the individual). But, where do you start? How do you get a foot in the door?

On April 12th, 2012 I read an article about a rising star Boston chef by the name of Jamie Bissonnette. It was the first time that Jamie had been nominated for a James Beard Award (he would go on to win Best Chef – Northeast in 2014). I thought, ‘It would be wicked cool to maybe interview him and talk a little about the whole ‘getting nominated for a Beard award‘ thing.’ So, given that I had absolutely ZERO connections in the food industry, I went the only route I could think of to reach out to him.

I sent him a tweet asking for an interview. About an hour later, I received a direct message response back on Twitter:


… I had zero writing cred. I wasn’t affiliated with any of the relevant food sites at the time – just a knucklehead wanna-be blogger. My expectation wasn’t for a negative response, but simply NO response. Instead, I got a ‘Love to. Email me’.

Jamie was the first chef I ever interviewed in any way. To this day, I still view that interview exclusively as a kindness on his part. Obviously, any type of interview leads to some level of exposure. Even if only 5 people read it, its good attention for the person being interviewed. But, that interview was a boon for my writing if for no other reason than having given me the courage to reach out to more and more chefs. Months later, Jamie went on to give me more of his time for a second interview, and the opportunity to spend a day kicking around the kitchen at Toro in Boston. I owe him quite a lot, even if he doesn’t realize it. Thanks, Jamie.

Little Donkey

The night of our dinner at Little Donkey, Jamie was working the pass. Shortly after being seated, we were greeted by the incomparable Katy Chirichiello, general manager extraordinaire (Katy was the assistant GM at Toro when I hung out there forever ago). Halfway through dinner, I ran in to food & lifestyle photographer Huge Galdones (if you frequent food sites or read Food & Wine, you’ve seen some of Huge’s photographs, I guarantee you). Dinner was rapidly becoming an unexpected game of ‘This is your (blogging) life’! As if all that wasn’t reason enough to get me in front of my computer to do more than my typical 9-to-5 shenannigans, the food (my God the food) clinched it.

Little Donkey has only been open a few months. In my experience, most restaurants don’t really hit stride until they’ve been open for several. I state this opinion for no reason other than to marvel at the meal we had. If my count is correct, I believe we had 13 dishes (or roughly half of the available menu that night). Thinking over each of those dishes, I have yet to pick out a single thing I disliked. The only complaint I could express is that by the final plate, a dessert of mango curd on Ritz crackers (obviously), I was too full to steal everyone else’s.

My favorites on the night included the BLT lettuce wraps, the burger, and the Texas smoked short rib. Even as I typed that, my brain was basically yelling, ‘OH, AND THE SILVER QUEEN CORN. THE CHOW FUN AND THE KIMCHI FRIED RICE TOO. THAT WAS AWESOME! OH, AND THE OCTOPUSOKLETSGOTHERERIGHTNOWI’MSTARVING!!!’

It was a good night.

On Food Writing

By most accounts, writing is a very lonely act. Granted, the act of sitting at a keyboard or with pen and paper in hand is singular. When writing about food, however, I personally have never felt that way. My version of food writing always involves memories. Remembering who I was with on a given night, what we ate, what we talked about. I’ve always been a proponent of the idea that food is never really ‘just food’. More often than not, its an experience. Experiences that stay with you long after you’ve paid the bill, or moved to the couch and unbuttoned your pants. Its in those experiences that I feel it. The draw to start writing about the restaurant industry again.

To Jamie Bissonnette and the whole team at Little Donkey: Thanks for the reminder.

Gadgets for the home kitchen: Immersion circulators

Last week I wrote about the awesomeness that is ChefSteps, an online cooking instruction site with a focus on “cooking smarter” utilizing modern techniques and kitchen gadgetry. A gadget they highly tout, and one that has garnered more and more attention over the past couple of years has been the immersion circulator.

Up until the recent past, circulators were only available to professional kitchens or the particularly adventurous home cook who had cash flow to burn. That, however, is no longer the case. Companies like Anova, Sansaire, Nomiku, and one of the original pioneers in immersion circulator technology, PolyScience, have made efforts to bring the device in to the home kitchen at a much more affordable price.

Continue reading “Gadgets for the home kitchen: Immersion circulators”

Learning to cook… with ChefSteps

I need to learn to cook.

Ok. Yes, I do know how to cook, but that isn’t what I meant. I need to learn to cook well. Like, restaurant well. Given my propensity for wanting to eat restaurant quality food on a regular basis, I need to learn to cook fast lest my bank account decide to find a more doting benefactor (“Always take, take, take. Why don’t you GIVE!!”).

Continue reading “Learning to cook… with ChefSteps”

What’s in a name: The battle of being a foodie

There is a word that is rarely uttered in the circles of chefs, service staff, and food writers. And, when it is, it typically is laced with sarcasm and used only to express derision. It’s considered profane enough that some food sites won’t allow their writers to include it in their pieces, and the ultimate truth is that most writers don’t want to use it in the first place. The dreaded “F-bomb”. Foodie.

There is a word that is rarely uttered in the circles of chefs, service staff, and food writers. And, when it is, it typically is laced with sarcasm and used only to express derision. It’s considered profane enough that some food sites won’t allow their writers to include it in their pieces, and the ultimate truth is that most writers don’t want to use it in the first place. The dreaded “F-bomb”. 

Foodie.

Foodie is defined, at least as far as the interweb is concerned, as “a person with a particular interest in food.” That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? But, for so many, the word foodie is an albatross slung around the neck of the arrogant – know-it-alls and snobs who consider themselves to be better than others because of their appreciation of fine food and dining.

I’m with you on this. These kind of “supreme beings”, in a word, suck. They annoy me just as much as they annoy you. But, why damn the whole bunch due to some bad apples? Every society, every faith, every race, profession, or trade has their share of individuals who act a fool.

Case in point – there were a couple of recent Instagram postings that garnered solid attention (here and here). The photos, screen captures of a couple of emails sent by a cook, were posted by Erik Desjarlais of Weft & Warp Seamster, maker of high quality knife bags, leather totes and aprons. In said emails, the cook expressed a desire for preferential treatment (expedited production of a knife roll and, wouldn’t you know it, a discount) due to the fact that they had worked for a short period in a couple of the world’s best restaurants. After all, he “deserve(d) something for (his) efforts.”

Most would agree that this guy is, quite clearly, a tool. But, by no means does he accurately represent the whole of cooks around the world. I’ve been able to get to know quite a few cooks and chefs, and most of them are pretty rad! I know a few lawyers, and they’re far from the picture painted of ambulance chasers. Some friends of mine are salesman, and excellent at what they do without being of the sleazy sort. I also happen to be acquainted with certain people who claim “foodie”, and I’ll tell you what. They aren’t so bad.

So, what about me, the guy who runs a site called The Foodie Journal? Am I a know-it-all? Not even kind of. In fact, I’m reminded pretty much daily about how little I really know about both food and the culinary world. I’m proud of that fact, and am glad for every opportunity to learn. Am I a snob? I’d like to think that I’m not, and I don’t think anyone that used to make themselves Dorito sandwiches as a kid* is allowed to be a snob.

I’m just a guy who simply has “a particular interest in food.” My name is Reuben, and I… am a foodie. Is that such a bad thing?

*Yes. This is exactly what it sounds like. Two slices of bread, and handful of Doritos. … This is a safe place. No judgement! :)

Arrows Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine: Celebrating 25 years of memories

So many of us measure our years by the memories we make. Love and loss. Successes and failures. Whether good or bad, our memories are the best mile markers along the road from where we were to where we are. 

“How do you measure a year?” – Jonathan Larson

Many of us measure our years by the memories we make. Love and loss. Successes and failures. Whether with a smile or a tear, our memories are the best mile markers along the road from where we were to where we are. 

A year alone can bring with it a gentle rain of memories. Now imagine the deluge that one might make over 25 years of running “a world class destination restaurant” the likes of Arrows in Ogunquit, Maine.

Opened in April of 1988 by chefs Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier, Arrows rapidly established itself in the culinary world in spite of its somewhat remote location. About those early days Frasier says,  “I remember being asked when we were first opening the restaurant in Maine, ‘What kind of fried clams are you going to serve?’ People didn’t expect a fine dining restaurant, but that’s what we wanted to do.” 

It’s not only what Frasier and Gaeir wanted to do, but in actuality it is what they accomplished. And, they did it well, garnering a plethora of accolades and awards. They would receive multiple glowing reviews from then Boston Globe food critic Robert Levey, something few restaurants at the time could boast. Gene Burns, who hosted ‘Dining Around’ on Boston talk radio station WRKO, declared when Arrows first open that it wasn’t only a great new restaurant, but that it would “change the New England dining scene.” Arrows would be included in a variety of “Best Restaurant” lists compiled by Gourmet Magazine and Bon Appetit Magazine, and Chefs Frasier and Gaier would go on to win the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chefs Northeast in 2010.

Industry recognition is always a source of pride. It creates buzz and interest for a restaurant and a chef, or in this case chefs. But, what has mattered above all things has been the memories that have been created here.

In July, as we walked through the Arrows garden, a garden established in 1992 by Frasier, Gaier and head gardener Robin Barnard, Chef Frasier reminisced, “We were just looking at photos the other day from those early years, and there is a shot of the back of the restaurant right from where we’re standing. There was no garden. Now look at it!” The garden at Arrows is now over an acre and provides the vast majority of produce used at Arrows and its sister restaurant MC Perkins Cove.

In speaking with Chef Frasier about the memories that have come from running Arrows, he mentioned how much he has enjoyed the opportunity to cook for many, both chefs and friends alike, over the years. One in particular warranted being recalled specifically: The first time Julia Child came to dinner.

It was 1991, and Arrows had just reopened for the season. Leading up to that night, the staff knew that Julia was on the books to dine there. Chef Frasier recalls how Lucia Velasco Evans, who had just started working for the restaurant as a pastry assistant, reacted to the news. Frasier said,  “Depite having heard the others chattering about Julia dining at Arrows, she wouldn’t believe it. ‘Why would Julia Child come out here?’”

Without fail, the night arrived. As did Julia Child. 

Her first stop upon arrival was the kitchen. Ever a proponent of women in restaurant kitchens, Julia was glad to see women hard at work in preparation for service. She made a bee line for Lucia and, in that singular voice, asked, “How long have you worked here?” Very little can make a memory stick quite like surprise. No doubt Lucia can atest to that fact!

Yes. Measuring a year, or 25 even, can be done most easily through the memories that were made along the way. Those found here are just a couple of the many for Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier, and the men and women who have both worked and dined at Arrows. Even this 25th anniversary will itself serve as a memory some time down the road, undoubtedly with many other mile markers along the way.

Photos: Then and now 

 On Sunday, September 22nd, Arrows will host a special 25th Anniversary Dinner. They will be joined by Jeremiah Tower, Barbara Fairchild, and fellow chefs who competed alongside Clark and Mark on season 4 of Top Chef: Masters. Reservations are still available by contacting Arrows directly at 207-361-1100. The cost of the dinner will be $149 ($195 w/ wine pairing).

 

Joining the kids’ cancer fight with Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation

Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation National Lemonade Days Initiative will be held on June 7 – 9, 2013. Register to host your own lemonade stand for National Lemonade Days. Or, if you can’t, keep an eye out for lemonade stands in your area, and join the fight against childhood cancer.

National Lemonade Days will be held on June 7 – 9

In 2004, a young woman by the name of Alexandra Scott decided she wanted to help kids fighting cancer by opening a lemonade stand to raise money. She was 8 years-old, and fighting her own battle with cancer. Unfortunately, Alex lost her battle later that year, but not before meeting her goal of raising $1 million for childhood cancer research. The resulting foundation, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, has gone on to raise over $60 million.

Each year, in honor of that first lemonade stand, National Lemonade Days is held across the country. This year it will be held from June 7th through the 9th, and is getting a special boost in the form of two Food Network personalities: Chef Alex Guarnaschelli and Melissa d’Arabian. (Full press release regarding their participation is below).

Remember, though… you can participate too! Register to host your own lemonade stand for National Lemonade Days. Or, if you can’t, keep an eye out for lemonade stands in your area, and join the fight against childhood cancer.


Chefs and Moms Melissa d’Arabian & Alex Guarnaschelli Join Kids’ Cancer Fight, Lend Support & Expertise to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation During National Lemonade Days, June 7-9, 2013 

Philadelphia, PA (April 2, 2013) – Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF), a nonprofit dedicated to finding cures for all kids with cancer, is proud to announce that chefs and moms Melissa d’Arabian and Alex Guarnaschelli will support the Foundation’s 2013 National Lemonade Days initiative (June 7-9). Lending their culinary expertise, d’Arabian and Guarnaschelli will each provide kid-friendly recipes and tips to volunteers who sign up to host a lemonade stand during the initiative aiming to raise $1 million for childhood cancer research.
 
ALSF’s National Lemonade Days began in 2004 when Foundation creator Alexandra “Alex” Scott (1996-2004) set a goal of raising $1 million for childhood cancer research. Alex, who was fighting childhood cancer herself, invited volunteers across the country to host lemonade stands to help her reach the ambitious goal. Through the help of these volunteers, Alex would reach her goal before losing her life to the disease in August of that year. Each June, the weekend before Father’s Day, Alex’s mission of raising $1 million continues through National Lemonade Days, once again inviting supporters everywhere to contribute to a cure.
 
Having been inspired by Alex’s story, Melissa d’Arabian and Alex Guarnaschelli wanted to support the continuing of her legacy, offering their different culinary perspectives to lemonade stand hosts. d’Arabian and Guarnaschelli have each crafted kid-friendly lemonade recipes to share and offer their own advice on what makes for a successful lemonade stand.
 
Food Network and Cooking Channel star Melissa d’Arabian grew up in hot and dry Tucson, and is a lemonade stand expert, having held numerous stands with her sister growing up. More recently, her family has felt the effects of childhood cancer personally, when a young first grader in their community lost his life to childhood cancer.
 
“Last year, our school lost a first-grade hero to cancer, bringing the whole community together,” said d’Arabian. “About the same time this child was lost, my four daughters squeezed their own lemons, giving away lemonade with a donation jar for charity. Their generosity inspired me to get involved in a bigger way with Alex’s Lemonade Stand – combining our celebration of our local hero’s life with my daughters’ mad lemonade-making skills.”
 
Alex Guarnaschelli, who recently won Food Network’s “Next Iron Chef: Redemption” and is a regular judge on the primetime show “Chopped,” will provide a recipe for lemon lime lemonade and a pairing of ginger cookies. With a 5-year-old daughter of her own, Guarnaschelli was inspired to join the movement after hearing of the journey of Alex’s parents with their daughter.
 
“I have a daughter who has taught me a lot along the way. She is only five, but she is a powerful little human,” says Guarnaschelli. “It stuns me how effective children can be in their messaging; and I believe that every child should enjoy that basic right to become an adult. Getting rid of childhood cancers is one effective way to reach that goal.”
 
During National Lemonade Days, ALSF offers support to all volunteers who sign up to host lemonade stands. In addition to having access to a member of the Foundation’s staff to help with any lemonade stand needs, Lemonade Days participants also receive a limited edition box while supplies last. The box consists of materials to assist in the fundraising process including a 2ft X 3ft ALSF banner, thank you notes, stickers, balloons, posters, adult and child speaking points and a pre-paid return envelope for proceeds.
 
For more information on National Lemonade Days, and to sign up to host a lemonade stand and receive the recipes and tips of Melissa d’Arabian and Alex Guarnaschelli, visit: AlexsLemonade.org/LemonadeDays.

About Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation
Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF) emerged from the front yard lemonade stand of cancer patient Alexandra “Alex” Scott (1996-2004). In 2000, 4-year-old Alex announced that she wanted to hold a lemonade stand to raise money to help find a cure for all children with cancer. Since Alex held that first stand, the Foundation bearing her name has evolved into a national fundraising movement, complete with thousands of supporters across the country carrying on her legacy of hope. To date, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, a registered 501(c)3 charity, has raised more than $60 million toward fulfilling Alex’s dream of finding a cure, funding over 275 pediatric cancer research projects nationally. For more information on Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, visit AlexsLemonade.org.
 
About Melissa d’Arabian
Embodying home cooking at its finest, television host and cookbook author Melissa d’Arabian naturally connects with today’s diverse families to offer unique yet relatable food and lifestyle solutions that are part of a bigger story about how to eat well, be a responsible consumer, and spend with purpose. She currently hosts Food Network’s cooking series “Ten Dollar Dinners” and Cooking Channel’s lifestyle show “Drop 5 lbs. with Good Housekeeping.” Utilizing her creative resource management techniques, Melissa’s approachable and satisfying recipes are as flavorful and elegant as they are affordable and nutritious. After earning an undergraduate degree from University of Vermont and an MBA from Georgetown University, Melissa enjoyed a successful career in finance and strategy in both the United States and abroad in France before eventually becoming a stay-at-home mom to her four daughters. Passionate about sharing her tried-and-true money-saving strategies with local women’s groups, Melissa submitted a video audition for season five of The Next Food Network Star – the popular reality competition show she then competed on and won. Her first cookbook “Ten Dollar Dinners: 140 Recipes and Tips to Elevate Simple, Fresh Meals Any Night of the Week” debuted in August 2012 and became an instant New York Times best seller. Melissa and her family live just outside San Diego.
 
About Alex Guarnaschelli
As the daughter of an esteemed cookbook editor, Chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli spent her childhood surrounded by food. After graduating from Barnard College in 1991, Guarnaschelli worked under acclaimed American chef, Larry Forgione. Encouraged by Forgione, Guarnaschelli moved to France to study at La Varenne Culinary School in Burgundy. After school she worked for four years at the Michelin three-star restaurant Guy Savoy and moved up to sous chef at La Butte Chaillot, another Savoy establishment. After seven successful years in France, Guarnaschelli returned stateside, joining the venerable Daniel Boulud at restaurant Daniel in Manhattan as sous chef. Guarnaschelli moved to Los Angeles for two years and worked at the acclaimed Patina restaurant in West Hollywood. Currently, Guarnaschelli is the executive chef at Butter Restaurant and The Darby in New York.  Guarnaschelli’s first cookbook, Old-School Comfort Food: The Way I Learned to Cook (Clarkson Potter), recently went on sale nationally.
 
Guarnaschelli’s many national television appearances include: “Food Network Challenge”, “TODAY Show”, “The Early Show” and the “Rachael Ray” show.  Guarnaschelli has completed the third season of “Alex’s Day Off” on Food Network, a show produced by Bobby Flay. She also is a regular judge on Food Network’s primetime show “Chopped” and a regular contributor to “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.”  She has appeared on “Iron Chef America” as both a competitor and judge and “Dear Food Network” and “Next Food Network Star”. She recently competed and won “Next Iron Chef: Redemption.”

###

The Foodie Journal is on the move…

Hey everyone!

After much internal debate and research, I’ve decided that I’ll be moving the Foodie Journal site to a new web platform. WordPress has served me very well, but I want to move the site to a system that will allow me a little bit more control than the offering I’m currently using. Along with that will come a vastly improved design and layout! I’ve shared the new design with a handful of folks, and the response has been very positive. I hope that will carry over to everyone that visits the new site when it goes live!

So, what does this change as far as you’re concerned? Hopefully very little! The web address will remain the same, and I’ll still be promoting new content via the Twitter and Facebook channels already established. For you email subscribers, I’ll be transferring your subscriptions to a new subscription system and will send out updates when new postings go live. For wordpress.com users, there will unfortunately be an extra step. Hopefully you’ve grown to enjoy the content provided on The Foodie Journal and won’t mind taking a few moments, once the new site is up, to go over and subscribe for email updates. If you want to just get on the new subscription list ASAP, I’d be glad to do the work for you! Just send a note to thefoodiejournal@gmail.com, and I’ll get you set up! Easy, peasy. :)

I just want to take a quick moment to thank everyone that has visited The Foodie Journal. The success of the site has been quite a great deal beyond my original expectations, and I have you to thank for it. Here’s to many more years to come!

If all goes well, the new site will launch on Friday, March 1st.

See you all soon, and thanks for reading The Foodie Journal!

– Reuben