An epidemic in 1617 virtually annihalated the local Native American population at Plymouth Colony, meaning that the Pilgrims had their first Thanksgiving in 1621 pretty much to themselves. Their first holiday meal was probably just as heavy but less interesting than our Thanksgivings are today. Cornbread or “Johnny Cake” was the main staple of their diet for the first few years. And we are fighting off any Soprano’s refrences in the interest of food seriousness.
The first Thanksgiving undoubetly included wild game turkey
0 Proof Wild Turkey for All Ages
Mashed potatoes could also have been on the menu, without any of the current day staples like stuffing or cranberry sauce.
Sarah Josepha Hale
Sara Josepha Hale, one of the first female American novelists and the author of Mary Had a Little Lamb is credited as the individual most responsible for making Thanksgiving a national holiday in all of the United States. Prior to the Civil War, Thanksgiving was only celebrated in the New England states and then on various dates ranging from October to January. In a time when only 2 national holidays existed (Independence Day & Washington’s Birthday), Hale lobbbied 5 U.S. Presidents until in 1863, Abraham Lincoln, seeking to heal a war torn country proclaimed Thanksgiving a holiday.
We hope you have a good Thanksgiving Holiday, cooking and laughing with family and friends.
I have a Know-It-All-Friend, the kind who actually knows a lot and isn’t afraid to let you know he knows it. We shoot the breeze and share recommendations on wines, beers, foods and swap samples of our latest creations. His Peanut Butter Pumpkin Pie was pretty good. My Orange Chiffon Thanksgiving Pie, would have been shared in return, except none of it survived the holiday.
The "Exclusive" Dining Room
Dak, (who I’ve learned to credit for his accurate opinions in all things but politics) opines and had been pushing me to try a smaller place (see dining room photo above) in town, one I had not even heard of before he mentioned it, one that was a bit of a drive and in a neighborhood not known for fine dining. In fact, the neighborhood is better known for fast food and “those kind” of dance clubs and book stores. I could tell from Dak’s discourse that the place would be good, but would there be enough “WOW” to ever here the end of it on the long drive back from “that kind” of neighborhood with Mrs. P Chef?
“WOW” (& “WOW from Mrs. P Chef too)! Dak was right (again) and we have double “WOW’s” to confirm it. To fully disclose, our “WOW’s” could have been over the bill (which was significant, $$$$$ territory) but the “WOW’s” were first and foremost over the food (local, fresh & in season), and secondarily over the total dining experience. We did not feel overcharged by an iota for the value recieved.
My Mouth & Eyes were Amused
Atlas Bistro is a food museum of modern culinary art featuring edible masterpieces. Does that sound too strong? Does it sound like I’m being paid $10 per superlative? Well I’m not being paid for my opinion at all, not a cent. In fact, I shelled out $$$$$ for the privilege of dining at Atlas Bistro. From the plate design, (colors, pairings & presentation) to the knowledge and involvement of the team (staff grown endive, home-made mustard by one member’s mother), to the taste and pure joy of dining, Atlas Bistro, lead by Chefs Joshua Reisner and Keenan Bosworth, delivers.
Chef Joshua Reisner, Confident for a Reason
And there is a bonus. Atlas Bistro is actually called Atlas Bistro B.Y.O.B. but unlike most BYOB corkage places, Atlas Bistro is adjacent to AZ Wines where Bob can advise you about his 5,000 different types of bottles and more than 20,000 bottle total inventory. Within minutes of asking we were standing in front of a perfect, moderately priced, low sulfite, low histamine, organic white from Mendoza which meant Mrs. P Chef could hand over the car keys and imbibe some herself.
Bob from AZ Wines Knows His Way Around the Grapes!
So what did we eat? The menu is seasonal and varies with what looks good at local farms, including McClendon’s Farms and what is flown in fresh from around the country. The ingredients alone give Atlas Bistro a leg up but then the chefs dazzle with skilled preparation and novel pairings of ingredients, all pulled off with aplomb & panache. Chef Joshua Reisner won’t call it showing boating, though that’s what it is. In the interview below, conducted with some detachment since I had not eaten at Atlas Bistro yet, Joshua calls it 20 years of technique and experience.
When we visited there were some fine distinctive touches like heirloom Watermelon Radishes (in photo just below), Washington Matsutake mushrooms, and veal cheek woven into the menu that demonstrated culinary bona fides, attention to detail and a fully developed palette. Mrs. P Chef & I, chose the Prix – Fixe Menu @ $60 a head which included a Starter, Soup or Salad, an Entrée, and finished with a Cheese Plate or Dessert. Experienced, married team diners, Mrs P Chef & I divided and conquered the menu, knowing we’d share. And we threw in a special or two because Joshua had mentioned them and they sounded too good to pass up.
Even if you don't Like Radish, Watermelon Radish on Block Island Swordfish Impresses
We opened with the Agnolitti (semi-circular pasta pockets) stuffed with veal cheek, enhanced with Beemster X-O cheese and served on grilled endive with Washington Matsutake mushrooms and sage from Joshua’s own home garden.
Agnolitti Special Stuffed With Veal Cheek
Then on to the Prix-Fixe starters: Block Island Swordfish, (flown in refrigerated daily from Rhode Island) with heirloom Watermelon radishes, Wakame sea weed, baby carrots and Ponzu (shown two pictures above) & the Gnocci Terrine with lardons, home-made sauerkraut (put up 50 LBS at a time and out of this world), Amy’s Mustard (made by our talented server, Nolan’s mother: Amy), and Montagnolo (a triple crème that is surface ripened with Roquefort). The taste and experience was akin to a Reuben Sandwich but so much different and another example where the sides make the dish. The home-made sauerkraut is the best I’ve ever had, here or in Germany.
A De-Constructed & Fine-Tuned Reuben Sandwich
Duck Egg, slightly Richer, Caps this Salad
Salads followed: The McClendon’s Romaine salad with a Rainbow Valley Farms Duck Egg, Spanish Anchovies and Parmigiano-Reggiano & A Bob’s Baby Greens salad with Gorgonzola Crumbles, Dried Fruit, Mixed Nuts, Sherry Vinaigrette for Mrs. P Chef.
Nolan was Tops
Our service was tops, handled by Nolan (shown doing corkage for the BYOB thing) assisted by Natasha Sawyer, the owner, who had her own tables. With a brief interlude to digest a bit, it was on to the entrées.
Osso Buco to Come Back For
Veal Osso Buco with Roasted Butternut Squash, Gremolata and Capricho Cabra con Pimentón was oh so worthy an order and worth the treck all by itself. Osso Buco is the kind of thing I’d have shied away from as a younger man, but as I continue to grow (no waistline jokes please) I am really coming to appreciate gestalt of a great Osso Buco. I remember my Dad, P Chef Sr., digging his over the years for the marrow and finally understand why. Atlas serves their Osso Buco with a small spoon for easy access and enjoyment.
The Marrow is a Delicacy for a Reason
Mrs. P Chef went for the Prime N.Y. Strip Steak, with Lump Crab, Purple Fingerlings, Asparagus, and Ii’tois Tarragon Aioli.
A Good Portion of Great Prime N.Y. Steak
I was so wrapped up in my Osso Buco I can’t remember her take on the steak. I know she enjoyed it and felt it was high quality and a more than decent portion, especially compared to what you usually encounter at fine dining establishments these days. And then it was time to try and shoehorn in dessert or cheese.
A Soup Like Pumpkin Pie with Ice Cream to Finish
Luckily, the wife showed wisdom and brought home some of her steak, saving room for a novel dessert: Sweet Pumpkin Pie Soup. Watch the video to get the full idea of how the Rainbow Valley Farmers’ Cheese, Marscapone Salted Ice Cream, Pepitas, Whiskey Caramel are flooded by the sweet, seasonal pumpkin.
As for me, too full to complete the Prix-fixe half-marathon, I took my Artisan Cheese Flight home in a doggy, or if you prefer for cheese, a mousey bag and extended the fun for one more day.
The Artisanal Cheese Selection the Next Day with Some Color and Light
I feel like our visit to that litttle room next to AZ Wine was a present, and I know its weird, especially from some one who works for an online culinary school and someone who paid those $$$$$ prices. But Joshua, Keenan, their friend former Sassi (N. Scottsdale)chef Peter Deruvo who just stopped by to cook and the crew shared more than a meal with us. They shared some of themselves, their philosophy, their humor (sometimes at our expense as when a question about the spelling of the guest chef’s last name produced an autograph) and their improvisational culinary art work. It wasn’t just dinner it was an experience. I can’t wait to do 30,000 calories on the treadmill so I can go back.
Good One! An Autograph for an Answer
As for Dak, I have to thank him for the suggestion and be prepared to wolf down a heaping helping of Humble Pie, the next time he hits the kitchen.
If you are into hunger inducing articles (with slide shows) on some of the celebrity crafted burgers being plated by venerable fine dining chefs, follow the link and read the WSJ story on the current chapter in the evolution of the once mundane burger.
The major tip was one we already know at Smart Kitchen–the dirty little secret to flavor is that fat tastes good. Some of the tasty creations profiled derived up to 30% of their calories from exotic fats, like custom blended ground rib & brisket meat, or from more common fats like oils and butters. Compared to super market ground beef, which can be as low as 8% fat, these cadillacs are ringers for good taste. But they can have Cadillac prices too, like $30 or more for a burger at Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar in Las Vegas.
At Smart Kitchen, we teach how to cook online and think you can make a lot of fancy burgers at home for the same $30. Some tips from our reading of the article include, grind your own cuts of meat by cubing them and then pulsing them in a food processor, add in your own preferred fats & flavors, cook with fats & Aromatics together in a very hot skillet, and skip the Kobe (or American Wagyu) beef for your burgers. Ground and chopped, the pricey marbled beef’s distinct and subtle taste can be lost, or over powered by the rest of the cast. Save the good stuff to be enjoyed straight as a steak. Oh and last, as Hubert Keller puts it, “there is a lot of hype,” no sorry that is my quote. Hubert is quoted as saying “You’re creating a story. And people love to hear stories.”
This morning as I was getting ready for work NBC’s Today Show ran a “scare piece” on restaurant safety at mall food courts, disguised as an interview with food safety expert Cindy Rice.
Smart Kitchen is very focused on Food Safety and our Lesson 1: Introduction to the Culinary Arts, Topic 5 Food Handling & Safety does a very thorough job of illustrating the risks and offers solutions following industry standard Hazards Analysis (HA) and Critical Control Points (CCP).
I’d love to use the story as another reason we should all be cooking at home with Smart Kitchen (and we should) but the story was misleading. For the sake of scandal, I guess, it tried to gin up a non-existent epidemic of bad hygiene and poor pest control at mall food courts, which when taken with the alleged lax oversight from underfunded health departments could mean we were all at higher risk of contracting a food borne illness. NBC culled through almost 2 years of inspections (usually performed quarterly) at food court operators and found that:
84% of New York City’s South Street Seaport’s food court vendors had an infraction.
68% of Minnesota’s Mall of America’s food court vendors had an infraction.
43% of Boston’s Faneuil Hall’s food court vendors had an infraction. And NBC got video of a cockroach walking a wall, in broad daylight, near a, likely culpable, food court operator.
A cockroach walking the wall makes for scary food TV but it is not necessarily an indictment of every food court operator and every Health Department. Pests should be eliminated around food, but the job is extremely tough if the landlord, who controls the common areas, is not doing their part. The show did not mention any landlord responsibility for pest infestations. In cities like Boston or New York, with well known cockroach, bed bug, mice & rat pest problems, eradication appears beyond all human ability, not just the ability of a food court restaurant, which likely already subscribes to a monthly or weekly pest control service.
In their drive to shock, NBC also failed to clarify what an infraction means. Most health departments’ codes are written with an eye towards real world safety. They monitor restaurants quarterly and issue citations/bad grades for 3 or more critical infractions in a visit. If any food operator were jeopardizing the public, the Health Department has the ability, if warranted, to shut down a restaurant on the spot. I will assume, since NBC did not report any of the restaurants covered as having been shut down, that the infractions while “critical” were also routine and that the restaurants remained in compliance with local health ordinances meaning they were ultimately considered “safe.”
While we feel sorry for the boy trotted out with the case of E-coli, there are 325 million people, give or take, in the United States, and most of them eat out at least once each week. If there were an epidemic, we’d know about it, quickly. The boring and real story is actually how many meals are served and how few people get sick. That being said, we don’t eat at food court restaurants often because of their offerings, the high turnover of young staff, and the food safety issue caused by tighter spaces, speedy service and poorly trained staff.
We know we can’t do much about the first two factors (offering and staff) but we can share how to improve your food safety experience at the food court, where, as opposed to a traditional restaurant, much of the operation is visible for scrutiny.
Statistically the biggest risks to your health when eating out are:
Cross Contamination: – Germs or hazards entering product from a foreign source and
Improper Temperature: - Cooking or holding food at bad temperatures can foster pathogens
Think of the Food Danger Zone as between 40°F & 140°F (4°C & 60°C), because 40 & 140 is easier for most of us to remember than the current FDA standard (pegged officially at 135°F to 41°F). Foods should not spend time in the Food Danger Zone because at those temperatures pathogens thrive and can multiply quickly.
At the food court use your eyes and hands to check holding temperatures. For hot foods, mindful of the heat, touch the glass of the display case. Does it feel hotter than 140°F (60°C)? Is there a visible integral thermometer? Though it can be off, what does it read? For cold foods, do the items feel cooler than 40°F (4°C)? What does the thermometer if any, read? Even if the temperatures seem good, make sure the foods you are purchasing come from well within the heat or cool zone. Foods stacked far from the heating or cooling element can be in The Food Danger Zone, while other closer items are not. If temps are too cool or too warm for safety, move on.
As to cross contamination, observe the staff and the overall cleanliness of the operation. Be especially concerned about any raw meat or poultry. Are foods left sitting out? Are foods intermixed? Contacting raw food is one of the major ways prepared foods become dangerous to our health. The other way is from improper human contact. Watch the staff. Are they washing their hands after touching inherently dirty, germy places like themselves (faces, eyes, noses etc.), money, or things from the floor? If not, avoid the risks and move on.
If buying pre-packaged portions, check for a “Day-Dot” sticker signifying either the day the item was packed or the day it should be discarded. If the restaurant’s system is not clear, ask for clarification, then only purchase foods well within date.
A last thought, be patient. A lot of times servers feel pressure to help the next customer before they lose the sale. We all are pressed for time, but encourage the servers you come in contact with when they take a few moments (typically 15-20 seconds) to wash up between tasks. We all will likely be better off for it.
We write about Molecular Gastronomy, the reunion of science and cuisine, in Lesson 1: Introduction to The Culinary Arts. The Wall Street Journal had an indepth interview with Alex Stupak a molecular gastronomy pastry practitioner at New York’s WD-50.
The article is fascinating because it explores Stupak’s thought process and methodology.
The Attractive Entrance to Roaring Fork, Scottsdale, AZ
Now here is the thing, I’m a curious person, I like juxtaposition and competition but I am an optimist by nature. So I was intrigued to visit Roaring Fork in town, (I’ve been to the Austin location) a week after our outstanding visit to Renegade Canteen. Both are arguably the creations of Robert McGrath but one has him and one does not. Would the latter beat out the former, or would Robert’s latter beat out his former?
The Flash Did not Do the Interior Justice
My amateur photography sure doesn’t help but even in person the first clue was the chicken roasting on spits in the entryway’s river-rock fire place. That roasting chicken was not performing any pavlovian tricks, olfactory or otherwise. It just did not jump out at you and say eat me, the way a good food marketing gimic should. Feeling sorry for the chickens, especially from a devoted carnivore is not a good start.
Ok The Chicken is Cooking
The second clue is that we arrived at 7:00 on a Friday night and though the restaurant was doing business, we secured a nice table for four without a reservation. A happy event for us, but maybe not such a good indicator for the house. Most of the business was at the bar, where they were having a great time. We sat and fate handed us a terrific and patient server, Melissa, who handled the myriad questions about the product from Mrs. P Chef and her good friend J. I call them the Yenta Mafia and they can go on (and on, and on; in a good way dear) asking about gluten, organics, farm vs. wild, foreign vs. domestic, etc. We learn alot about the ingredients and a lot about our servers professionalism and patience. Melissa was aces. Finally, an order was placed, with a few extra sides for the table.
The Butter "Spread" was Attractive
Not a Colorful, Flamboyant or Remarkable Dish
The Noted Green Chili
Green Chili Mac & Cheese
Under the Crust Something to Write Home About
The Green Beans were not a hit with our group, despite the vegetarian vote. The Green Chili, that people who know rave about at Renegade Canteen (but that I missed at my last visit), was at best decent. The Green Chili Mac & Cheese (which I did not have at Renegade Canteen) was great, just the right spice level (from jalapenos with spinach for extra color) to cut the cheesy smoothness. Everyone tucked in, despite the health hazards of cheese, spice and gluten.
After a brief pause, where Melissa was funny and attentive, our entrées arrived.
Big Ass Burger
The Big A$$ ($$ because the kids might be reading) Burger was a heavy weight and a contender. I really enjoyed it, and did a lot of damage, but I did not dig way down and finish it off, the way I might have at Ray’s Hell Burger, Shake Shack, Indulge Burger, Five Guys or The Grind. All I can say is that it is Big A$$ and I was full, but that usually won’t hold me back.
Big Ass, and Good It Is
Next came the let down of the other entrées.
I'm Not Sure if Any of the 3 Meats Were Well Cooked
Shrimp Entrée @ Roaring Fork
Competent Fish Tacos
Maybe its me, but none of those dishes above got any sort of a “WOW” they way they might have 10 years ago. I titled this post “Roaring for some Zing” because that is, to me, what was missing from the not inexpensive meal. Granted my camera skills can improve, and nothing was staged but I shoot everything with the same digital camera and same hurried staging. In my mind the underperformering dishes were either missing skill/talent or caring. They were long on campfire looks, but had none of the flair. If I didn’t know Robert was still well and truly alive and working across town, I’d say it was his ghost cooking the ghosts of his dishes. If we are headed back anytime soon, I’m sticking with the Big A$$ Burger and the Green Chili Mac & Cheese.
We saw a very interesting article on what happens behind the scenes at a high end destination dining spot like Tao Las Vegas. Open 24 hours a day prepping and cooking Chinese, Japanese and Thai food for its crowded dining room, at its busiest (Saturday nights) Tao employs 57 cooks, 8 chefs, 26 servers and 10 hostesses, 17 busboys, 8 runners, 8 bartenders, 6 managers, 4 set-up staff, 3 bar assistants, 4 security guards and 1 sweeper to serve 1400 guests.
If you are interested in the fast paced ballet that happens behind the scenes at a big, high profile operation like Tao, you should enjoy the article.
New Zealand’s $959 million Kiwi crop is at risk from a tiny disease causing bacteria (pseudomonas syringae) according to New Zealand’s Bio-Security Agency.
The fruiting kiwi vine (Actinidia deliciosa), large, woody, and deciduous, native to the Yangtze Valley of China was first brought to New Zealand in 1906 but significant commercial planting did not begin until around 1940. The fruit, named Chinese Gooseberry at the time, was slow to catch on and by 1970 only 900 acres of Chinese Gooseberries were under cultivation in New Zealand.
The real spur to growth came from Ziel & Co of San Francisco which developed commercial planting in California in the late 1960s. They began with 50 acres in 1970, and sparked significant cultivation growth in California, to more than 8,000 acres by 1988 according to the University of California Cooperative Extension Program’s estimate by changing the name to the more appetizing Kiwi Fruit in 1974. With the domestic push, and the name change our domestic crop & New Zealand’s crop expanded to its current almost $1 Billion size.
US kiwi fruit production has been in decline since the 1990s for a number of reasons but the threatened New Zealand crop (2.5% of the countries whole exports) should not eliminate the tart, Vitamin C laden fruit from our presentations. According to the California Kiwi Fruit Commission we still have over 4,000 acres in kiwi production.
The Upscale but Comfortable Entry at Renegade Cafe
A few months ago we blogged about James Beard Award winning Chef Robert MgGrath’s upcoming new project and wished him well.
Last night Mrs. P Chef and I went Renegade and had a great time. Before we proceed, full disclosure is in order. Robert McGrath is friends with Teaching Chef, our chief culinary instructor at SmartKitchen.com, and Robert has given us some advice about Smart Kitchen, our Online Culinary School based in Scottsdale, Az.
The Classy and Understated Wine "Seller"
So don’t wine (bad pun intended), if I am a bit biased in favor of Robert. Mrs P Chef won’t be. And we did not warn the staff in advance of our visit, seek or get any special treatment, or receive any complimentary food/drinks. And we still had a great time.
The place is vibrant. From the moment you enter, you hear a jubilant crowd and the festive feel carries over into the menu, especially at happy hour where even the good food and drinks are discounted.
A Signature Prickly Pear Cactus Mojito
We sat down and perused the menu. There was a lot to take in and decide upon. As opposed to places that try too hard, where every entree looks great at first glance, until you re-read the description and find a few off putting ingredients in every dish; Renegade Cafe’s menu had the opposite problem (benefit really) of everything sounding spot on. The burden of choosing from among a plethora of inspired dishes, is a burden I can handle. The Lesser of Two Evils game is not for me. Choosing between, the pan seared hanger steak with a cauliflower saffron demi-glaze or the dill baked salmon in a curried puff pastry is a “lose, lose” decision; the kind I dread. We were cutting it close for happy hour pricing and made two snap decisions:
Lobster Tail Tacos and Phil’s Ribs @ the Happy hour price of $10.
Phil Can't have these Ribs Back. They are Long Gone!
Remember the disclosure, and who was likely to be most biased? My bride, Mrs. P Chef, who has been dragged along to far more obscure BBQ places than the average blushing beauty, exclaimed around a mouthful of rib meat, “OMG, they’re the best I’ve ever had.” And then within 30 seconds, she said it again, as if I hadn’t been paying attention or something. “They’re the best I’ve ever had.”
Hearing it twice, and with such enthusiasm, was both good and bad news. Good news because the bite I was about to take would likely be pretty fabulous. Bad because, generous prince of a husband that I am, I could see my portion of the noteworthy rib appetizer slipping away. From my few bites, and our detailed conversation about the ribs, I know they are baby back ribs and they present almost like a more mature, more American, slightly drier (in a good way) version of Chinese spare ribs. It was a thoroughly delectable and “grown up” rib, not slathered in KC Masterpiece sauce, or sweet like a kids’ meal. Mrs. P Chef downed them like they’d disappear with Happy Hour at 07:00.
The Closest We're Getting to Maine this Month
I consoled myself with the fact that I could come back and perhaps get some ribs next time, and there was the bulk of the lobster tacos, which were very good, but a bit over charred for my taste. It is likely one of those flukes of the busy kitchen. I am confident, I could order them again and get less charring and enjoy them immensely.
The Coddled Egg Sold it for Me
Then came a palate cleanser, in the form of a sylvan spinach salad with bacon and honey dressing, scallions, candied pecans and the visually appealing coddled egg. It is another item to return for. Then came the entrees.
Mrs. P Chef had ordered the duck Fajitas with caramelized onions mustard demi glaze, arugula and pomegranate, but she’d gone out too fast on the ribs, and didn’t do much damage to the quesadilla.
Ordering Like my Dad, and Happy about it.
I had made the improbable choice of ordering the Oxtail Soup. Right? Soup? Ox Tails? Who was I, my father? Well as he can tell you, my Dad knows a thing or two. That oxtail got gnawed down to the barest umami tasting bits, and every drop of scintillating sauce, jus, etc. was put to good nutritional use. Nothing went back. Mrs. P Chef, who is not an ox tail gal, even gave it the home makers’ seal of approval.
It was Sweet....& Potatoey,
And marvel of marvels, we both had room for dessert. Mrs. P Chef made what must have been a health and nutrition inspired choice, (I know it wasn’t a palette building curiosity order) and selected a sweet potato cake with sweet potato frosting. Needless to say, it was a tour de force of cooking; making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. But for me it did not hit the spot, that certain high end dessert spot. Even so, it’s magic what they did, approximating cake with sweet potatoes. It was a very good cake as far as sweet potato cakes go, but how far do they really go? Especially, when facing off with a taste bud comparable of a candy cap mushroom bread pudding. It was a little like pitting Woody (Allen or Harrelson or both) against Arnold in a “dessert-athon” grudge match. Sweet Woody never stood a chance.
The picture doesn't do it Justice
Pallete building curiosity is what first sold me on it but the dessert will bring me back. “Candy Cap Mushroom Bread Pudding” is a forager’s dream pastry, and could have been literally to die for if the foragers had picked the wrong fungi. But as of this writing, they didn’t and the only thing to die for was the bread pudding, with a vanilla melted ice cream sauce. All in all a very successful visit to what looks to be a very successful star on the Scottsdale dining stage.