Blue Hill at Stone Barn – Day 1

Day One was pretty good.

Walking into a new kitchen at the beginning of the week with a lot going on around you is always an experience. I just tried to help wherever I could.

Started helping the meat side by assisting with vegetable prep work (lots of knife work!) and then cleaning up some bone marrow which is served to the VIPs with a little caviar–yum.

Then, I helped with a little bit of prep for a small party scheduled for later that day. By the way, there are 17 cooks and chefs during service including me–there were even more floating around during the day.

During service, I just absorbed as much as I could and really honed in on the meat station. I bothered the hell out of the cooks Alex and Dan, also known as Texas. I asked a million questions, tasted everything, and have a general idea of what the station is all about.

Blue Hill is unique in that it doesn’t offer a menu per se; the diner chooses from a tasting menu or the farmer’s feast. The “menu” lists ingredients that might appear, and the server communicates to the kitchen on the ticket the preferences for that table. Then, the menu is dictated to the kitchen staff verbally–no tickets for the cooks. I’m not gonna lie– it was confusing at first, but I think I’ve got it now.

I could talk a lot about different food things, but I’ll save that for my mind and to talk with the staff when I return. However, I found it interesting that management Googles every reservation to find out who they will be serving. I found it to be a very thorough/interesting way of trying to know your customer before they arrive.

Another thing, I noticed a fish head being served to a few tables. That really made me perk up…perhaps tomorrow I will bother the fish guy.

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Taste Everything

Every cook on the SugarToad line has a set of Kunz spoons. Next to their knives, these are possibly their most important tool. Why provide the spoons? Now that’s opening up Pandora’s box.

I want them to taste every single thing that goes out. From some people, I just heard a collective gasp. But guess what? We take a bite of your food before you get it. Oh, you liked that risotto? Me, too – it was delicious. Enjoy!

If this bothers you, get over it. It truly is for your benefit, and believe me, I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten at some restaurants where the cooks don’t taste, and I haven’t been back. To put the “Howie Mandels” at ease, the spoons are kept in sanitized water that’s replenished multiple times during service.

Tasting your food is an essential part of our evening. Chefs want to know that the balance of the dish is right on. We are constantly teetering on the edge of under and over seasoned. Perhaps the dish needs a little acid to brighten it, but I don’t know until I taste it. We are pursuing that finite middle where all the world is right for that dish.

To that end, consider recipes . A big difference between the home cook and those of us who cook for a living is the approach to recipes. We could have the exact same recipe and come up with entirely different results.

Why is that? A big part of it is how we finish the dish. Many recipes call for “season to taste” as the final step. But this last instruction is so understated that its importance often becomes lost.

These are huge teaching moments in a restaurant kitchen. The cooks and I will literally gather around the stove and taste a soup. Here, the fine tuning begins. We add a pinch of salt and then taste. Maybe we add a capful of vinegar to brighten the flavors. Taste. Too bright, let’s splash in a touch of cream. Get it?

These are the types of things that make a good soup, memorable and perhaps even great. Perhaps recipes should finish with “Season, Taste, Ponder, Adjust, and Serve.”

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The Pursuit of Knowledge – why learning never ends

When I first began to cook seriously, I would look around me in amazement at all the action in the kitchen. I was enthralled – even at something as simple as blanching. I also realized that I basically knew nothing. While intimidating, it also presented a challenge.

In the world of food, there are countless ingredients, many different styles of cuisine, and a fair share of techniques. In this sense, cooking does represent the same thought process as a painter putting ink to canvas or a musician composing a song. The abundance of information challenges one to continue to learn and get better all the time. This pursuit almost always leads back to the origins of things.

Lately, the “origins of things” can be found all over restaurant menus, which I find exciting (go on say it – call me a dork). Southern folks (like me) by nature have a sense of home (re: place of origin) to them, and I sense it creeping its way into many facets of my life, especially food.

Charcuterie, on premise gardens, butchery, farmer relationships—these and many other restaurant trends all have derived from the pursuit of knowledge by chefs seeking to get back to the origins of things. It’s really a movement that permeates much of what society is shifting towards and how organizations like Slow Food are built upon.

The constant pursuit of knowledge and wanting to get better every day is a mentality shared by athletes, chefs, and I’m sure many other professions. As chefs, we have the ability to showcase what we do everyday—opportunities to shine as well as chances to disappoint. It is up to us to embrace those moments. At the end of the day, we need to learn from those moments so we can become better. It is an extremely challenging but awfully rewarding.

Day after day, we rally around the kitchen and do what we have chosen to do as our profession. Thus, we have the opportunity to learn more and get better at what we love to do—how cool is that?

And you as a diner, have the opportunity to taste this pursuit of knowledge. A lot of restaurants cringe at a less than positive ranking or review, but I welcome it because this provides opportunities to learn.

In all fairness, you need to tell us so we can get better still and if you’re disappointed, to let us make it up to you. I hope you’ll see this as a forum where we can share thoughts and exchange information – all in the pursuit of knowledge.

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A New Emphasis on Seafood

Growing up long the Carolina coast and working at seaside restaurants, I’ve always had a special passion for seafood. That’s why there’s a new emphasis on seafood at SugarToad

We buy directly from the fishermen because I believe that’s the way to get the freshest fish. Get to know the people where you get the product, the people who are just as passionate and particular as you are and you will always have the best.

On the new menu, the dishes are presented under the heading, “From the Sea,” and categorized as “pristine” for raw applications and “gently cooked” for sautéed, poached or grilled items. The words highlight the finesse, care, freshness and quality we pride ourselves on.

We define “fresh” by purchasing seafood directly from the docks. Over the years, I’ve established a strong rapport with small, family owned businesses along the shoreline that ensure the best quality, seasonal product.

The dishes featured under the “Pristine” category are:

Pickering Pasture oysters: Aprihop mignonette and finger lime
Opah belly: orange, rhubarb, red pepper flake, lemon basil
Big eye tuna: avocado, pickled cucumber, caperberry
Neah Bay salmon: apples, sunchoke, pearl onions

Dishes featured under the “Gently Cooked” category are:

Grilled opah belly: peaches, arugula
Big eye tuna: piperade, chick pea gravy
Smoked golden trout: black kale, watermelon and spring onion salad
Neah Bay salmon: fennel confit, pistachio sauce
Soft shell crab: spinach, capers, lemon brown butter
Mahi mahi: English peas, prosciutto, garlic scapes, SugarToad garden oregano

The four other entrees are from LouisJohn’s Pasture, owner of Slagel Farms:

Lamb sausage: summer vegetables, nicoise olives, ricotta salata, mint pistou
Chicken: papparedelle, SugarToad garden mustard greens, beech mushrooms
Pork cheek: black eye peas, red Russian kale, crispy egg, red-eye gravy
Filet: summer succotash, anchovy butter

The menu also offers 12 types domestic artisan cheeses, six “From the Fields” items a selection of cured meat from the “Farmer’s Board,” including my signature beef heart.

Come in soon and check out the new menu. And please let me know what you think.

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