Monthly Archives: May, 2010

Where to go for Dinner Tonight

May 28th, 2010 Posted by Chefs, Culinary Connectors, Denver, restaurants No Comment yet

Last Friday evening I wondered into the Village Cork. Culinary Connectors was finishing up their Friday South Pearl Street Walking Tour. Guests were gathered around Chef Samir Mohammad as he poured the last bit of Infinite Monkey Theorem wine and explained one more time how he makes his fresh ricotta. The group ended up enjoying Happy Hour at the Cork basking in the glow of eating and drinking all afternoon.

I cozied up to the bar and ordered the tomato salad. Samir poured wine for me, a glass of Marietta Old Vines. I watched him work in his little but efficient kitchen, preparing my salad and the many orders of his most popular dish, lobster polenta fries. The fries are tasty, baked and served with Brie cream and a sweet balsamic reduction. Tonight however I was in the mood for some local produce. His salad is composed of cherry heirloom tomatoes with perfectly blanched asparagus, fresh made ricotta, basil and organic greens. It’s fresh and light as the dressing is made from juicing the tomatoes in a little salt and then adding a touch of olive oil. It’s the perfect dish for a sunny Friday afternoon or as a start to dinner. Next I tried the Moody Blue Soufflé and then finished with Samir’s special for the evening, a plate of mahi mahi tacos. Samir is utterly passionate about produce and letting it do the work. His dishes are clean and well composed. He felt like putting tacos on the menu that Friday and I am glad that he did. The flavors were perfect. At the end of my meal I glanced at my watch, amazingly two hours had passed; I was relaxed, well fed and happy. With Chef Samir’s fresh, organic menu along with a well-crafted wine list and a laid back and relaxed atmosphere the Village Cork is a great place for dinner tonight.

For more information about the Village Cork please click here.

My foodie hangover

May 24th, 2010 Posted by Boulder, Chefs, restaurants No Comment yet

I woke up Saturday morning with a foodie hangover. The night before I ate rich food and drank some fine wine. Friday night was one of those decadent foodie moments when surrounded by great friends and feeling utterly pampered by the servers I enjoyed salumi, frico caldo, asparagus soup, lobster gnocchi, rib eye and then a decadent chocolate torte. Even better these courses were paired with the most amazing wines, Livio Felluga Terre Alte, Barolo and Puligny Montrachet just to name a few. I’m not counting calories because if I did I may have a nervous breakdown.

During the week I try to eat nothing but lean protein and veggies for the only purpose of being able to indulge on the weekends. I am also a regular on the elliptical machine at the gym – we’re very close friends that elliptical machine and me. So after a night of enjoying well-composed dishes due to the liberal use of butter, chicken fat and cream no doubt, I woke up and was instantly sorry and at the same time giddy. The food buzz from the night before was still upon me and I wanted nothing more than to repeat the evening again. We foodies deal with the foodie hangover because in the moment when the lighting is beautiful, as music is made from the clink of silverware and wine stems, as we watch the graceful ballet of servers bringing dishes to the table, listen to the murmured conversations all around us, discover amazing dishes (hello risotto) and savor the taste of wine, we know that this makes us truly happy and that makes a foodie hangover/the calories/the extra workouts so worth it.

In the Kitchen with Olav Peterson from Bistro One

May 18th, 2010 Posted by Chefs, Culinary Connectors, Denver, restaurants No Comment yet

It starts with coffee, a workout and some time with Jackson, his bulldog. Then it’s off to Bistro One, a modernized version of a classic bistro on Broadway to start baking the bread for service that day. Olav is the first chef there in the mornings, sometimes at noon and sometimes as early as 7:30am depending on what service looks like for the day. He believes that everything he serves should be made in house including his bread, pastries, ice cream, cured meats and pasta. “You don’t go out and purchase your bread or your desserts. Being a good chef is making everything in house,” says Olav.

Pasta is usually next on the prep list, then comes sauces and finally getting “mise” ready in time for dinner. Mise en place, literally meaning put in place is an incredibly important job for a cook. No one wants to run out of diced onions, garnishes or anything else in the midst of a busy service.

In the middle of the day Olav checks on his garden. Bistro One has a greenhouse on the roof. When it gets warmer Olav will get out the kiddy swimming pools and plant more as space allows. Right now his tomatoes have broken the surface, he has frisee, radishes and squash coming up. “The roof is real estate,” says Olav. “Growing my own vegetables is another aspect of cooking. I think we tend to care more about something we made and grew ourselves.”

Olav changes the menu seasonally at Bistro One, usually every three months. Does Olav have a favorite season to cook in? “Not really. By the time we get to the end of February we’re tired of braising meats. It’s almost as though you get bored with the produce and techniques of each season. It’s like looking forward to wearing your favorite sweater in the fall and then as winter draws to an end looking forward to wearing shorts and sunglasses.”

Olav cooks on the line with his crew every day. He keeps track of what’s going on or expediting, as it is known in kitchens from the sauté station. The Bistro One kitchen is run like this. There are 3 cooks on the line and one dishwasher who helps with prep. There are three stations, grill, sauté and pantry. Olav believes in small crews; crews that are dedicated cooks. His kitchen is a brotherhood. It’s his practice when he hires a new cook that the crew has to agree on who gets the job. “They are a bunch of rowdy boys. Everyone needs to get along,” says Olav.

In the beginning of his career Olav says he had to learn to be a leader and how to hold people accountable. “Administration is harder than cooking. I have to motivate people everyday. “

Does Olav have any rules or standards in his kitchen? “Poisoning someone is off limits. If we make a mistake that’s ok, just don’t hide it. By having an honest approach to your work then we can believe and trust in one another. “

Bistro One opens its doors at 4:00 pm for happy hour. Tickets slowly start rolling in. The kitchen goes from the calm of pre-service to controlled chaos; although sometimes pre-service is anything but calm. “I’m in the shits,” says Olav on the day I came to take pictures of his line. Also known as “being in the weeds” this is kitchen talk for I’m really behind and if I don’t catch up it’s going to be a bad night.

In the middle of service is there time to taste each plate? “I try to taste every dish that leaves my kitchen. But if I can’t I can usually tell if a dish is where it needs to be just by using my sense of smell and hearing. “

Speaking more about seasoning Olav tells me that his cured meats are perfectly seasoned at the end of the curing process. Olav is currently making pancetta, pastrami, bacon, corned beef and dry cured pork confit. “Curing meats is about controlling flavor as the meats are marinated. It is a long technique but by the time they are finished the flavors are there.” The salmon pastrami the kitchen makes is proof that Olav is right. Served on caraway puff pastry with choucroute and tomato caper vinaigrette it is delicious and Olav doesn’t have to finish it with salt.

At the end of the night the cooks clean the kitchen. Everything is polished and wiped down. If the restaurant has achieved at least $5,000 in sales the line cooks are treated to a cold beer, otherwise known as a staff drink. Olav typically drinks whiskey at the end of the night and then heads for home to his lovely wife. “She’s very understanding about my hours,” he says.

“Earlier in my career I wanted to reinvent the wheel, but then I realized that there is more history in the classics of cuisine. People will experiment but they go back to the classics. The other day I was reading a dessert menu and there was lobster wasabi brandy ice cream, which is interesting, but it doesn’t evoke emotion. Part of making good food is the ability to evoke emotion in the diner, to make them remember something. “

At the end of the day or night as it were Olav says, “I’m just a cook. I believe in what we’re doing. There is a lot of emotion in this restaurant. “ Having just had dinner at Bistro One I have to agree with Olav. There is a lot of love that goes into his classic cuisine and it comes out on the plate. For more information about Bistro One please click here.

I have a new crush

May 12th, 2010 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

I have a new crush. Sure I’ve had flings and love affairs with other restaurants before….Adega, Table 6, Vesta Dipping Grill and the Kitchen. They are part of my romance with restaurants and fine dining and always will be; but there is something so exciting about a new crush. From the butterflies in your stomach, never knowing what is just around the corner, and the heart pounding, tingly feeling you get just before you have an encounter, it just feels good. My new crush is Bistro One. Last night in the cold rain I wondered into Bistro One for the purpose of getting a good photo for my chef interview with Olav Peterson. I had already decided that I would order an appetizer and a glass of wine. It was happy hour. With my  $4 sauvignon blanc from Australia in my hand, I ordered the pork belly and expected that to end my evening at Bistro One.  The pork belly was so beautifully composed, layers of crispy spring onion polenta, pork belly with a celery remoulade that I couldn’t help myself. I ordered another glass of wine and the housemade spaghettini. It was perfect, al dente pasta, crushed tomatoes, bacon, housemade ricotta and a hint of spiciness. I couldn’t help myself.  I ordered another glass of wine and the strawberry fritters. The strawberries came rolled in dough and fried. They tasted like bread and jam. Oh it was good – and so started my crush with Bistro One. It’s fabulous. I’ll try not to be a stalker but I expect to turn up at Bistro One very, very often.

Gastro Cart – hand crafted street food

May 9th, 2010 Posted by Food Cart No Comment yet

On Thursday I found myself with a few free minutes. I hurried downtown to 18th &         Curtis for my first “date” with Gastro Cart. Food trucks are all the rage right now and I have been dying to try Gastro Cart ever since I heard alums from Table 6 were behind this “hand crafted street food” concept. I wasn’t disappointed. The parking space Gods were kind and I was able to park directly across the street from the cart. Eight minutes and eight dollars later I had in my hand the most delicious carnitas taco,  spicy chicken taco and a side of quinoa. What a great lunchtime spot for anyone who works downtown. A quick walk, some fresh air and the ability to have a gourmet lunch prepared for you within minutes. For more information about Gastro Cart, click here.

Chevre Cheesecake at Salt Bistro – Oh My!

May 6th, 2010 Posted by Boulder, Chefs, Culinary Connectors No Comment yet

Being a pastry chef it takes an amazing dessert to impress me. While I         have my favorite pastry chefs in Denver – Yasmin from Duo, Deanna Scimio Parker, Nathan from the Kitchen Cafe and Eric from Rioja I rarely find a dessert in town that is worth more than a few bites. Until today. I had the chevre cheesecake at Salt Bistro and I swear my toes curled, the angels sang and pigs flew. Whatever Bradford Heap was thinking, I like it. The cheesecake was firm, encrusted with a pecan nut crumble and served with balsamic strawberries and a candied basil leaf. To all you dessert afficiandos – go and try this. It is worth the drive to Boulder, the calories and anything else that may stop you. For more information about Salt Bistro Click Here

More of a Chef than a Bartender!

May 4th, 2010 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

Working alone in the open kitchen at the Village Cork Samir Mohammad says he often feels like a bartender more than a chef. He says that because he is surrounded by patrons sipping wine and watching him work.  I first met Samir on a Culinary Connectors South Pearl Street walking tour. He showed the group how to make fresh ricotta and his passion about food was contagious. We were all entranced just listening to him speak  and watching him move effortlessly around his kitchen.

For being just 25 Samir has more life and kitchen experience than just about anyone I know. He started cooking when he was 12, dropped out of high school to work in his parent’s restaurant, enlisted in the Coast Guard because they had a “kick ass culinary school”, cooked aboard ships for several years before returning to his home town of Taos to cook at Joseph’s Table. From there he cooked in Arizona and more recently at Pesce Fresco. In fact, three days after he was hired at Pesce Fresco he was promoted to Executive Chef. Lucky for us he moved on to the Village Cork on South Pearl Street.

The Village Cork is a wine bar not recently known for having a full dinner menu. The open kitchen is tiny and has no stove or hood. I would think that service could get overwhelming but Samir says most of their customers once served a glass of wine are content to wait for their dishes. The front of the house does a great job of staggering orders so that it doesn’t get too crazy; but Samir also says that he will be looking for an apprentice soon.

How do you work in the open kitchen at the Village Cork? The space is limited and the lack of cooking tools is interesting. Obviously a gas burner is on the wish list, but at this point there are no plans to install a gas line or a hood. The kitchen works though, it doesn’t limit my menu. I just think creatively to solve problems. I took this position to make myself more humble and to take my temper down a notch.

Working at the Village Cork is the most satisfying job I have ever had. I can literally see the reaction and hear the reaction to the dishes I just made. I visit every table to be sure that everything is enjoyable and people like it. 60% of our patrons are repeat clientele. We even have some customers that come in two or three times a week now that we have a bigger menu and are serving entrees.

What’s new on your menu right now: I’m making housemade ricotta, duck prosciutto and lobster polenta fries. The fries are so popular I do at least 15 – 20 orders of those a night. Almost every table wants them.

I’m also doing a tomato salad. The tomatoes I get from a local farm. I cut them in half, season them with kosher salt, and let them sit for a couple of minutes until the juice bleeds out. I serve them with julienned asparagus, from Kiowa Organics, fresh basil and organic greens. The juice from the tomatoes makes the dressing. I like to keep things simple and let the food speak for itself.

As much as possible I like to use produce and other products from local farms – everything from quinoa, lamb, chicken and striped bass.

What inspires you? The food inspires me. I like to look at the food before I decide what I’m going to do with it and let it speak to me.

Favorite Local Restaurant/Chef: Frasca Food & Wine. Lachlan has done so much to get Colorado on the national food scene.

Favorite Kitchen Tool: Hands down tongs. You can do everything with tongs. I always have a pair in my hands.
Favorite Cookbook: Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. If you can make a really good vegetarian meal then you are a really good chef. Everyone can make a protein taste good – a little salt, garlic, herbs and you’re set – but vegetables are harder. I pick up this cookbook, thumb through it and let it inspire me. There is a vegetable trio on the menu that I enjoy making.
Samir grows his own peas, radishes and lettuce. He also grows his own pea shoots, thyme, basil and parsley. He orders everything else because as he says, “I don’t grow the best produce. There are others who are better.”
If you could eat anywhere in the World:  Barcelona, Spain

Tips for home cooks: Don’t be afraid if you make a mistake. I was teaching a class the other day and the cream I was boiling for ricotta went over. Learn temperature control. Not everything needs to be cooked on high.
Advice for chefs: Stay humble.
Favorite Ingredient: Pork. It is the most versatile animal.
Most overrated ingredient: Pork belly. It’s on everyone’s menu. I want to add it to my menu but I’m waiting until it’s not so popular.
Favorite Season for cooking: the fall. Produce is still good and you can start doing heartier dishes like stews.

Last words:I cook seasonally, I support local producers and I change the menu based on what is coming out of the ground. Those things are very important to me.

Stop by and visit Samir at the Village Cork.