Sunday Project Reflections: After Hours with the Cooks

Following the “Stormageddon of 2016” I am feeling very reflective. My favorite day at my last culinary gig was Sunday’s. Not because they were slower(in fact, most cooks hate that). No, I enjoyed Sunday’s because it meant Sunday projects. It was a chance to be creative and try out ideas that we thought might work for a future menu.

Have you ever wondered how cooks, and chefs come up with some of our ideas? Have you ever had a dish and just been baffled that a chef was bold enough to try the combination. Well trust me, there were many iterations of that dish first. You could almost liken it to agile development. One version doesn’t work, but it is almost there. Then, it is just a matter of tweaking. That is what our projects were for.

We had projects of all kind, fermentation, bread, desserts, cured meats and so on(We were no NOMA, but there were some cool things coming out of our kitchen). Each week we all tried to one up each other. Not in negative way, but as a way of learning. One week we would have one cook who decided to read some random book or obscure blog and he would show off some random new idea. Have you ever tried pig blood macaroons! I have. They actually taste good, and paired with hazelnut or lardo, or both…well they are pretty darn good. All because some cook read a blog about how egg whites and blood have similar protein compositions. My favorite idea was what we called coffocolate. I came up with the idea one fall. I made a product that acted like chocolate, but it was coffee based. It tempered, it could be reshaped, it was really seemed like chocolate(about 8 months later, I saw the same idea had been posted on ChefSteps, there is nothing new in the food world really).

I don’t have all my pictures, but I wanted to share some that I do have.So if you feel like joining me into the after hours at the herb farm keep reading. This is after hours on a Sunday night!

Sunday Night Projects with the Cooks

First a picture of me and the gang sitting around after a long week..it also so happens to be a panned out view of my first dish. If you can’t tell which one is me. I am the one without a beard and not facing the camera. It may have been a rough week… that might be why Chef Chris Weber is focused heavily on his dainty glass of champagne. With that same train of thought, it may have been a great week! Maybe we are celebrating. Kitchens are hard to read.

Oyster Soup and Nori Gelato

This was one of my later Sunday projects. I had a thing for making Ice Cream  and so I liked incorporating into my dishes, even the savory ones. Being that Nori has a nice salty and delicate flavor, it was a great candidate for a savory ice cream. It came out perfectly and matched with the warmed Oyster and Butter soup. I probably would have taken the crab out of this dish and just put in a piece of brioche or baguette instead. Nevertheless, it was a combination that challenged Abbott and Costello.The salty buttery oyster soup with the fresh flavor of Nori and and herb really sung. I regret not having a crispier element in the dish. Still not sure what it could have used. Personally, I was trying to avoid the cliche bread crisp or crouton. Maybe that is exactly what it needed. What do you think? What would you have added to this dish? Do you even like the idea?

Tuna, Bone Marrow, Pickled Hazelnuts, Mouse Melons…

This was an example of putting way too many things on one plate. Like in many other professions, The KISS rule is repeated a lot. Just keep it simple stupid. Somehow, that is easier said than done. I think it tends to be the signs of a young cook to put too many things on a plate. In many ways, I don’t even think it is a bad thing. I find that it is a great way to learn what not to put on a dish and what really doesn’t work.

I had garlic puree, smoked bone marrow emulsion, two different pickles and some garnish and this was the scaled back version. Another picture has toast and salmon roe as well. Yeah, I might have been a little nuts with this dish.

Look at this dish, I have a few sauces, and garnishes. I could have gone away with three or four things on the plate. Honestly, this dish probably would have been great like a faux poux on a Pork Tonnato. Instead of having two different sauces, I could have kept the dish to only the smoked bone marrow emulsion. Then placed the tuna on top with some mouse melons. Wait, that’s it? Yeah! I guarantee that dish would knock someones socks off before the picture above does.

As a quick sidenote: a I really liked the smoked Bone Marrow Emulsion. I just wanted to put it on everything. It was creamy, with just the right amount of acid. Almost like perfectly mixed drink, you couldn’t even tell all the fat you were eating. It was dangerous.

Strawberries and Goat Cheese

The best time at the Herbfarm was Summer. As you can imagine, having your own farm as a restaurant is awesome. It is most Chef’s dreams. They want to cook what they grow and slaughter.

Now we couldn’t grow everything, even on the space we had. Washington, thankfully, produces amazing produce. I barely have to add any simple syrup to most of my sorbet bases because the berries and fruit are already almost where they need to be.

Let’s take strawberries for example. My typical strategy was to take one or two main ingredients and try to have them on a plate as many ways as possible. That way I would know what to take off later.

There was macerated strawberries, strawberry sorbet, puree, sliced, compressed etc. Sometimes we used to make a joke on how much we would do to food before just serving a slice. Maybe, in the end, it would be better to just give the guest a bowl of berries. That isn’t very fun though. This is a great combination. We got in a great slightly sweet fresh goat cheese. I used it for dessert mousses and cheese plates. It was super soft, unlike the typical tube goat cheese I find at the supermarket. More importantly, it wasn’t grainy. This meant when I made it into mousses and whips like the one above, it didn’t create an unpleasant mouthfeel. Somatesensory is a huge part of flavor for me. So it is very important that the product be smooth.

Take that goat cheese whip, strawberries and a few pieces of olive oil cake and you are set. Actually, this dish could have just been strawberries and that goat cheese and I would have been very happy!

Chocolate Mousse, Nectarines, Blueberries, Raspberries and Mint Gelat

You might be able to tell I had a problem with over kill. I always had so many ideas, and I wanted to put them all on one plate. It takes a while to figure out that less is really more. I mean, how many fruits do you see with the chocolate mousse? And is that Gelato…again. I had a problem.

No but in reality, this dish was really good. The spear mint gelato really brought the entire dish together. It was meant to be eaten portion by portion. So that the diner could taste the varying fruits, chocolate and mint gelato together. That being stated, like an end-user and UI when do diners eat the way you think they will.  So this is one of those dishes that never left the drawing board. Sometimes the idea of so many things on one plate really kills everything.

Occasionally, we put out dishes that were just so complex. Like duck fat candles, that really requires explaining. Diners won’t get it right away and how pretentious are we as cooks that we make food that people have to explain how to eat it? That seems like over

Chocolate Sorbet and Cherries

This was actually not a Sunday project. However, it was common to get special requests from our guests for dietary restrictions. This was a dairy free, gluten free, blah, blah, blah dessert. Chocolate sorbet is pretty good though…It actually ended up very pretty so I wanted to share. It was a combination of cherries and chocolate. There is a cherry “gelee” made with a light agar instead of gelatin. The sorbet is just cocoa powder and simple syrup and the tuiles were made with margarine instead of butter.

Yeah, kind of bland for us meat eaters. For people who actually care for this world..haha..this is sometimes the best I could do. I did steal it from some cook book cover. Although, the dessert there was made of meringues and looked like grey slate. It was way prettier than this dessert.

Honestly, I think it takes a lot more skill to do dishes  under these limitations. I am not even saying I have that skill! In fact, I was much more impressed by Sweet Alchemy‘s Monkey Berry Bash ice cream. It was 100% vegan and I didn’t even know. They tricked me. I tried it, and I was like, wow…that is great. Then I looked at the fine print! In all fairness, I was never allowed to use coconut milk at The Herbfarm. We tried to stay as local as possible. The goal was to keep the food within the northwest. Just saying, you should go try Sweet Alchemy if you are a vegan!

This was a step into our world. As chefs we are constantly trying to learn how to make food taste better and how to make your overall experience as a dinner better. After all, food is only part of what cooks sell. Some of my best meals were tied with the entire experience. So if you ever go to a place and think the waiters and waitresses shouldn’t be serving the food with such nuance. They are just trying to wow the diners who may be a little bored of food. That is the only way I can describe it. We as chefs have to constantly entertain, not just cook food, for people who want something new. It can be a lot of fun!

Let me know your thoughts! What does your crew do after hours? Also, if you are just a home cook, I would love to see your “Sunday” or whatever day projects. Please feel free to send me your food photos! I love gushing over some dishes. Don’t even worry about your experience level, at the end of the day. Food is food.

If you can’t think of any ideas. There are lots of great blogs and books that will help expand your mind as a cook and a chef!. Don’t limit yourself! Check out this list of blogs that aren’t even mine o.O That I love to use and will really help you learn some new ideas.

My Favorite Food Blogs:

Chefsteps

The Quenelle

Ideas in Food

Modernist 

My Shameless plug: Top Ten Cook Books For any Chef or Cook!

I was in a rut this week, maybe you can introduce me to a place you like to eat to help me break out of it! Maybe send me a picture of your projects, I would love to see what your restaurant team does!

Please feel free to ask any  recipe questions, restaurant recommendation questions, etc. I have a list of best places to go for various occasions. So feel free!