Tag Archives: Howard Hanna

The Ribald Sophisticate’s Guide to Food Fighting…

On the evening of February 11, 2013, while participating in CCVI Food Fight 4 at The Guild in Kansas City, I finally became a Foodie.  If you know me, I have never viewed that as good thing.  In fact, my mockery of foodies has fueled many a chortle on this very blog.  I’ve met many self-proclaimed foodies whom I don’t think actually like food, they just like to collect food moments….so they use this ambiguous label that has no actual definition as a way to carve out a self-promoting niche based on what makes their particular brand of chewing and swallowing unique and a potential object of great envy.  For the most part, “foodies” aren’t the people I want to eat with. I want to eat with some crazy motherfuckers who talk some crazy shit about some very unhealthy obsessions and always order way too much fucking food and tip well.  A “foodie” would waste time trying to think of a more palatable way of saying crazy motherfuckers before they wrote something like this and guilted everyone they knew into reading it.  I don’t have time for such things.  I’d rather entertain five crazy motherfuckers than five thousand boring motherfuckers.  

BUT ENOUGH OF THAT SHIT….I’m working on a classy piece here because dammit if it wasn’t the best time ever.  And I say that as someone who has attended some extremely hoity toity and professionally run galas and fundraisers, as well as helped organize far less hoity toity affairs. Food Fight was a hell of an event, top notch across the board.  A lightbulb had gone off in my head a few days prior, and as we were prepping onstage I told Howard Hanna “so tonight I’m officially a foodie”, to which he gave me his heartfelt congratulations.   I was like “Yeah, I have somehow managed to reap the benefits owed to people who break their backs in this industry on a daily basis by weaseling in at the last second and getting some of the limelight without doing any real work.  So that’s it. I’m a foodie now.”  So I can’t make fun anymore.  The foodies have won.

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I’m flippant about foodie culture, but in all sincerity it was a huge deal to be asked to participate in such an amazing event.  I’ve got some pretty crazy life experiences that just kind of appeared, so while I can chalk this one up to my usual dumb luck, other than Dave Crum’s massive crush on me and Dolly Wood being cool as hell I have no idea how this materialized.  I have a weirdly high level of insecurity when it comes to my place in the world, so I figured this was a matter of “let’s throw the poor Make-A-Wish kid a bone”.   That’s just how my mind works. And the awesome byproduct of that gaping hole in my psyche is always being “ON”….completely balls-out or zero….no game but my A-Game.  When I commit, I fucking commit.  When Dave asked if I’d be Alex Pope’s sous chef, there was almost zero hesitation.  A friend whom I respect asked me if I’d do something super cool that could have a positive impact, so not much thought needed.  The only hesitation I had was that, as a FOODIE, my livelihood is in no way tied to the food community…I’m just along for the tasty ride.  Even though they were looking for “civilian” sous chefs, several friends came to mind that may have been able to benefit from having CCVI Food Fight on their list of accomplishments.  To be honest, I didn’t go beg their case, I was too floored to have been asked in the first place and immediately flew into balls-out mode to prepare.  But in general, that’s how I try to approach this whole thing and why “foodie” has creeped me out….as someone skilled in the arts of bullshit and yapping away, it’s important to me to be authentic in my relationships.  I’m not saying that anyone who simply beams under that moniker is immediately inauthentic, but self-proclaimed titles have a way of allowing someone to bypass the consistent behavior that would normally be the path to high regard and respect. I live my life according to a program that breaks it all down for me.  I am lucky to count so many great people as friends.  That point was driven home to me when I read the list of all of the chefs and restaurants involved in Food Fight…no matter how stupid I ended up looking, I would get to look stupid in front of my friends.


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Looking stupid was actually task #2. Task #1 was to drive my chef crazy with my shocking lack of skill.  Oh, I’m a great home cook.  Give me enough time to prepare and a cookbook and I can make almost anything. And if it’s something I end up sucking at, I’ll just keep doing it until I get it right.  No such luck with Food Fight. I emailed Alex and basically said “I have nice knives and no knife skills, but I take direction well”.  But he’s a pro, a crazy busy chef who took the time to put my mind at ease.  The plan was…think of things we can cook quickly.  In an hour there’s only so much you can do, and my initial thought was that if I could stay out of the way, expedite simple tasks and handle some dessert prep, I could add value. In addition to getting my knives sharpened and practicing basic cuts on mirepoix and potatoes, I thought that a couple of doughs that don’t require yeast could be handy for sweet or savory preparations.  Alex mentioned he was bringing a deep fryer, so I tried finding a recipe for funnel cake/fritter batter.  I tried one that was a huge failure, but I also practiced on some pate a choux to make gougeres or profiteroles without realizing the shit fries up like a champ.  So going into Food Fight my entire plan was to bring sharp knives, parchment paper, a Japanese mandoline, my own apron and cutting board, piping bags with tips already attached, rubber gloves, various tools like peelers and thermometers, and to practice choux dough enough times for it to basically become a reflex action.  Oh, and to be an ambassador for Pointer Brand jeans and clothing….100% American made products that are a fitting rebuttal to Baldwin Denim for the poor and/or fat crowd.  Pointer Brand. Quality and Affordability, Made in the U.S.A.

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS   http://www.reamesphotography.com/

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS http://www.reamesphotography.com/

A bit of knowledge for future CCVI Food Fighters…cooking in a space that isn’t normally a kitchen is different from cooking at home.  Biggest differences?  No running water, a lack of large gas burners and ovens, and you don’t have all of the same kitchenware and serveware that you do at home.  If you have giant, blinding spotlights pointing at you at home already, then boom….you’re one up on the competition immediately.  I am missing those at home, so it took some getting used to.  Another advantage is if you already have four or five top local chefs milling about your kitchen.  A constant reminder that you do not know what you are doing provides a backdrop of nagging doubt that builds character.  I am a master at smiling and nodding when food talk goes over my head, but there’s no such thing as being TOO good at that.  Even if I know what something is, when I have a lot of terminology coming at me from different sources, it takes a few seconds for me to gauge how deeply I should commit to a conversation about saucisson or vadouvan.  Usually, if you just shut up you can piece it together from what’s being said.  But if you seriously have no clue whatsoever, the earlier you can admit that and ask a clarifying question the better off you will be in the long run.

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS   http://www.reamesphotography.com/

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS http://www.reamesphotography.com/

Another thing I learned was to be honest and to the point when Alex would ask me “you got that?” or “you get what I’m saying?”  There isn’t a lot of time to discuss technique or basic philosophy when you forget basic things like…adding water.  Chopped sweet potatoes and piloncillo cooking down too thick too quickly?  Add a little water.  Those same sweet potatoes bunching up at the top in the blender and not mixing?  You may want to consider adding a little bit of water.  I could theorize that a liquid may facilitate the process, but what kind?  Some sort of broth?  A simple infused syrup?  What would they use at Joe Beef? When I’m forced to think on my feet and act quickly, I forget things like water exist to help you, and which side of a peeler is the sharp side. But my pre-tipped piping bag, and identical backup piping bag (redundant systems), looked fabulous over by the blender that was top-heavy with large sweet potato chunks.  Chef Pope is a real pro, these guys could do something like this in their sleep, so when I did not wreck anything beyond the power found in adding more water, I felt very successful.  My main concern was whether or not I’d be any help to my chef, because being in front of a crowd, speaking in public or being onstage have zero effect on me.  And speaking of crowds, the place was packed, so it was actually a relief to have a comparatively vast expanse of space to work with on the stage.

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The format is part Iron Chef part Chopped.  Upon arrival you’re welcome to investigate the pantry as well as a cooler full of mandatory ingredients like cod, skirt steak, walnuts, piquillo peppers, salami and cheese.  Then right before the cooking begins they let the cutest child alive unveil the secret ingredient…sweet potato.   So there was a decent amount of time to get some sort of game plan together and hope that the secret ingredient didn’t destroy it completely.  As Alex was going over what he thought would work, the aforementioned smiling and nodding came in handy.  When a scaleable multi-course plan is required on demand, you leave it to the professionals.  A tartare first, followed by sautéed cod, and then funnel cakes.  I was on the hook for dough and working the secret ingredient into some whipped cream cheese.  Normally that wouldn’t be a scary plan to me, but everything leading up to this sentence should let you know how that became a scary plan to me. With the addition of sweet potatoes, chips were added to the tartare, sautéed potatoes and onion to the main, and a puree to the dessert.  Normally I’d have an annoying breakdown of each preparation along with exhaustive tasting notes, but shit went fast and in the end I think I had one bite of a funnel cake and I shared a Jacobson meatball with Howard. In the end, Doug Frost broke out of his Moscow on the Hudson impersonation long enough to praise the cod dish, and Debbie Gold was all about some funnel cakes.  Everything up to that point was a blast, so to have Alex win was an insane bonus to the evening.  A special thanks to Reames Photography for capturing proof that my emotional range is larger than pissed off and/or sarcastic….

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS   http://www.reamesphotography.com/

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS http://www.reamesphotography.com/

If I had to offer praise to foodies, I would say that they generally take more chances than I do.  They’ll take a chance and investigate whether or not a place like Mestizo is about as shitty as one would imagine with that concept in that location. I will not take that chance. At least not until I hear first hand from someone I trust that it’s worth investigation.  Because I keep my circle very tight and build outward very, very slowly.  Not because I’m special, or because I’m cool, but because I value things like loyalty, trust and friendship in a way that makes me someone with lifelong relationships that are very rarely disturbed by needless drama.  I take that with me into the world of dining and procuring goods, and again, have managed to build what I hope are lifelong friendships that also remain undisturbed by dramas or agendas.  If I’m cool, or fun, or funny, it’s because I’m able to be comfortable as myself and not a caricature that shifts with the trends and current places to-be-seen.  The amicable bullshitter persona is part of the package, for better or worse.  I don’t practice that or consciously think about it, it just exists.  But with all of the solemn omerta-ish duty to authenticity comes the tendency to be a total fucking control freak who simply expands his comfort zone rather than ever just get out of it.  An event like Food Fight helps me to remember a saying I have lived by less often than I should in the past four or five years….always have something in your life that makes you wonder what in the hell you are doing.  Foodies are probably better at that than me because they lack the insane vetting process I have and just go with the flow, taking the hits and the misses.  I still rule though, I mean, come on.

The bottom line is, the list of things that I love has to become larger.  The place in my life meant for others has to become larger.  The asshole with a heart of gold schtick, and years of ministry, allow me to skate by without putting in real work.  I’ve had a few years to get my shit together, and things are going better than I ever dreamed.  Marriage and fatherhood are the life for me.  I’m always going to help drunks, and I’m always going to be helped by drunks.  That is as natural as breathing at this point.  But it’s not the end game, it’s just part of the expanded comfort zone.  A friend contacted me out of the blue just a few days after I was asked to take part in Food Fight, and they asked me “as the restaurant guy, if I knew people who would want to get involved with a charity”.  I’ve been asked that question before, and should have done more before now, but this time it struck me differently.  The path that my life has taken, and the resulting laundry list of miraculous moments and fantastic people, is equal to the debt that I owe.  Now, I don’t have a bug up my ass to go and die from not being able to shit like Emile Hirsch in “Into the Wild”…..I’m not about to launch into reckless self discovery here…I’m just a lucky guy who should do more.  I’m good with people and I know a lot of people.  Something like helping with CCVI Food Fight in whatever capacity they need me (I won’t be a valet, not because it’s beneath me, I’m just not running back and forth) from now on is a no-brainer.  The organization my friend works for is another path to investigate.  Unexpected moments that are out of your control can be great practice at working towards a meaningful impact.  Broth is great, but sometimes water will do just fine.

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Filed under CCVI Food Fight, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City Food Scene

An Anniversary, A Birthday, Some of the Meals…

Okay, this experimental post is what we’ll call “how much shit can I cover in one hour because I don’t want it hanging over my head all weekend, plus I just got a new Sous Vide Supreme so you know I’ll be wanting to write about THAT soon….”  Lots of photos….very shitty quality as is my custom.

Since we last spoke I’ve had lots of good meals, a wedding anniversary, a birthday, and next week is the big 2 year “other” birthday.  Busy summer so far…the markets are in full swing, my golf game continues to improve, and I’m in that “chill out on the eating so you don’t embarrass yourself when you go in for your yearly checkup” phase. Once some target-dining is done in a couple of weeks we’re going to try a lean meat and vegetable cleanse my wife read about somewhere.

Sooooo, where to begin…..I GUESS I should start with The Rancho Gordo Dinner at The Rieger Hotel Grill and Exchange a few weeks ago.  You know my dining is very Rieger-centric as of late, but I didn’t even know about this dinner until a friend called to tell me that a 12-top cancelled and they were needing diners. No brainer. I was in.

The dinner was to honor the products of Rancho Gordo….beans and various heirloom products out of California. Excellent food, incredibly nice people. 

Red wine braised octopus with Alubia Criollo, Bone Marrow Puree and Cucumber

Good stuff…the octopus was actually saran wrapped tightly and cooked, then sliced across in order to create short little bits and bites in the beautiful display you see here.

Scallops, Shrimp, Oysters,Canchas and Citrus

Ceviche dish with the equivalent of corn nuts…..totally excellent.

PORCHETTA!

That’s Howard Hanna holding the entire thing prior to slicing….it’s essentially a huge section of the pig going from the skin inward to the loin/tenderloin. It is wrapped around a paste of various herbs and spices and then roasted to perfection.  He’s been serving this since they opened late last year, only on Saturday nights, and I have to say this was the best version he’s done so far. 

Heirloom Bean Salad, Yellow Indian Woman Beans with Pecorino and Sage, Braised Tuscan Kale with Garbanzo Beans

I guess I didn’t remember to take a picture of this dish…..but it sure was good. So was the chickpea and kale dish I didn’t capture a photo of either.

Susan’s Meyer Lemon Chiboust,Piloncillo Cake and Canela Whipped Cream

 

I’m all about puddings, trifles and things of that nature. This was very tasty…and as anyone knows who has had the misfortune of dealing with piloncillo in your kitchen….someone was doing God’s work here. Great end to the meal.

AND ONWARD…….

We just celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary, and I think the tradition we’re going to try and keep is to take a roadtrip every year.  Last year we took the train to St. Louis, but THIS year was the real deal…..we decided months ago that Deadwood, South Dakota was the perfect destination.  Why?  Because the HBO series fucking ruled.  Sound logic.  Well, due to the huge flood of 2011, our route had to be modified, but we still managed to see some great touristy sites.  On the way up, we spent a night in Sioux Falls, where every single business doubles as a casino.  Our first vacation meal was at “Poppadox Pub”, because it was rumored that they had the best chislic in all the land.  What in the fuck is chislic, you may ask?  I hadn’t heard of it either, but it’s basically just deep fried chunks of sirloin, so how bad can that be?  The chislic was good, the wings were fantastic, and apparently Poppadox is an alcoholic’s paradise because they have drink specials like $9 pitchers of well drinks.

Poppadox, and….CHISLIC!

The Corn Palace!

A little farther down the road we stopped in Mitchell, SD to visit the Corn Palace. Actually, WAY cooler than we expected and everyone was incredibly friendly with the ironic exception of Cornelius….the Corn Palace’s mascot who shows up to mug for the camera twice per hour.

THE Wall Drug!

I don’t even know what to say about this place. It’s fucking crazier than any Travel Channel program can possibly describe. The number of people pouring into that place….and the sheer size……great homemade donuts, free ice water, I’m done talking about it.

DEADWOOD!

There are two things to do in Deadwood- drink and gamble.  So I guess not much has changed in the past hundred and fifty years.  Not as many whores as back in the days with Al Swearengen, but my guess is that is only because it wasn’t bike week.  We did see some of the roughest trade imaginable though…..woof.  We stayed in the ultra-luxurious Bullock Suite in the Bullock Hotel.  Great room, and we managed to find plenty to do during our stay without feeling rushed.  I played some golf, we went to Mt. Rushmore, visited Mt. Moriah Cemetery, toured a creepy mining museum, ate dinner in a train car…..but one of the most memorable things about the trip was our dinner at The Corn Exchange, about an hour away in Rapid City.

This place would be a rare find for most towns, and as far as I can tell this is about IT for the entire state of South Dakota when it comes to “real” dining with “real” service.  Great experience, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Young and enthusiastic waitstaff, an owner who isn’t shy about waiting tables on a Saturday night, and truly top notch food. A picture of Chez Panisse greets you at the front….rightfully so.

This course is a corn pancake topped with smoked salmon and a cucumber sauce. Dynamite dish, my wife has been craving it ever since.

Here are some perfectly cooked tiger shrimp in a lobster saffron sauce with fresh English peas….other stuff too…can’t recall. 

Homemade pheasant ravioli with more of those same tasty peas.  The filling for these was very well executed by someone who was well trained…close to a mousseline but with more texture, and you knew you weren’t just eating chicken.

This is my bone-in pork chop with an addictive tomato and pepper jam.  Maybe one of the best cooked pieces of pork I’ve ever eaten. 

Unfortunately, we did not capture a photo of the butterscotch pot de creme before devouring it.  Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about the Corn Exchange in the time I’m allowing myself. This is a must-visit if you are ever even close to the area.

“EL COMEDOR” in the Port Fonda Airstream!

The food truck craze has hit critical mass.  But that is all bullshit you can forget about.  The only place you need to put on your hipster to-do list is Port Fonda.  And if you’re like me, and have a knack for booking the most awesome seats on the planet, you and five of your friends can snag one of the four seatings they do each weekend inside the redesigned and well appointed Airstream trailer.

I like Chef Patrick Ryan.  He’s Bayless-trained, he cusses as much as I do, and has that same whore with a heart of gold persona that I attempt to exude.  He’s the shit. And he can cook.

Our four course dinner started off with us roasting at approximately 175 degrees….First Friday on the hottest day of the year thus far. That was quickly forgotten when the food started hitting the table. Oh, and Howard Hanna sent over a bottle of wine with his compliments because he also rules the fucking earth, and I love him enough not to bust his balls about the fact that I can’t drink.  Just great people…and we had a SUPER stellar group of diners to feed off of as we were feeding. 

First course was a roasted corn app with crema, shown above. Good start, a teaser.

Second course were the chilaquiles….hard to see in this photo but it’s kind of like if Jesus Christ turned the water into Frito pies at the marriage feast and then topped the fuckers with a perfectly done Campo Lindo egg and a tomatillo and pepper sauce.  Honestly, so far beyond the best version I’ve ever had it makes me sad for all the rest. And the bonus…it’s on the regular menu pretty often so you don’t have to get a seat inside to enjoy it.

The main course is basically one whole cured, roasted, and glazed pork butt that you tear apart like animals with tools and weapons, fighting for chunks of the brulee-candylike pig skin in order to create a perfect bite as shown above. All sorts of fixin’s and homemade tortillas come with this pork orgy.  Goddamn what a good meal. Made me sad I’ve only got about 1/6 of a stomach.

And after all that you don’t expect a “real” dessert, but Patrick is a trained pastry chef so the final mind-raping of the evening was his deep fried “tres leches/horchata” ricotta fritters with a tres leches sauce and chunks of local fresh peaches.  I’ve had a hundred versions of the ricotta fritter, and THESE sent all of THOSE to timeout. 

The best. Cool staff, some of my very best friends, and a total bargain…..$250 bucks for the table minus tip….I’ve spent more than that on one meal by myself in NYC or DC, and while the food was great it wasn’t even close to as much FUN. Sweating like animals, eating like pigs, joking around all night, going over to fuck with the staff at The Rieger (Port Fonda parks in their parking lot)…..man, this was the real deal.  I SHALL return….as soon as possible.

And that’s about it for me, pricks. My hour is up and I am OUT.  I MIGHT come edit later….or not!

48 Hour Shortribs in the Sous Vide Supreme AWAIT!  Golf is CANCELLED!

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