I lived in California for over fifteen years. It’s a place I called home for almost a third of my life. I met my wife there, landed my first executive chef job there, and met some amazing people from all over the globe. It’s also where I was exposed to some of the greatest food I’ve ever eaten. When you think about San Francisco, the first thing that comes to mind is the food scene. During my time, there were over three thousand restaurants crammed into seven square miles. This is not an exaggeration. You had global cuisine at your every beck and call.

What many don’t realize, is that there is also a myriad of restaurants in San Francisco that are as equally as amazing as Michelin-starred restaurants which don’t carry names like Michael Mina, Alice Waters, or Nancy Oakes. These are little hole in the wall Taqueria’s that are all over the area but mostly located in The Mission District. I worked in the Mission for over three years. You can find any cuisine that starts from the top of Mexico down to the tip of South America.

Mexican, Peruvian, Honduran, and Salvadorian restaurants were my most favorite but you also had some Spanish Tapas restaurants that served cheap and amazing food. I’ve always have had an affinity for meats, spices, and vegetables from Mexico and South America. I worked in a restaurant that had cooks from six different countries working in my kitchen.

I was exposed to those amazing Salvadorian meat or cheese-filled griddle cakes called Papusas. My friend’s wife from Mexico introduced me to a meat and hominy soup that blew my mind called Posole. I learned how to make a proper hot salsa from my Mexican cooks. I had Beef Tongue for the first time. It was a life-altering experience that I never would have enjoyed unless I made the trek to California and I will be forever thankful for what I’ve learned while on my culinary journey in that incredible state. I do miss it.

The great thing about being back home is having friends who share the same enthusiasm for Latin/Hispanic food. Chris Mundy who in his own right, loves to dabble in this simple fare. But there is nothing simple about the flavors. Smokey, salty, acidity, spicy, and above all, fresh comes to mind when creating and eating this food. Chris is no slouch. If anyone has ever seen his “Jam Band” dinners, you realize he puts a lot of research and effort into what he prepares. Every meal seems carefully executed. I admire that.

This will be our second collaboration. Both have South American themes. In no way am I trying to replicate exact dishes of any specific country, but it’s more of an homage to the ingredients utilized to create dishes that I’ve learned from my friends in California and will always appreciate.

Chris made an Aji Verde sauce. Traditionally, the sauce comes from Andean countries like Columbia, Bolivia, and Peru. It is a mayonnaise-based sauce with cilantro, jalapeno chiles, red onion, and lime juice that is pureed and served as a condiment over fish, chicken, or beef. In Chile, they substitute lemon juice and is called Aji Chileno.

I made the ultimate trip to Jungle Jim’s, warned my knees about the size of the place and my brain about the hordes of people I’d encounter. I took and deep breath, and pushed the cart through the door! Yay! First step!

The place is huge but I had my list and made just a short pit stop by the wine department. I picked up various items for our dinner including Mojo seasoning which is a Cuban meat seasoning that I thought would go great with the chicken because of its citrus properties. I also picked up a cast-iron skillet. Yes, I always need this in my life.

The base of our meal was Peruvian beans, white onion, diced tomatoes, garlic, white wine, paprika, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Though Jungle Jim’s didn’t have Peruvian beans, white and red beans were a suitable substitute. I also topped the beans with sauteed arugula with fresh lemon juice, garlic, and sea salt.

I purchased a whole Amish chicken which I deboned into quarters. Dusted the chicken with the Mojo seasoning and pan-seared it in the cast iron skillet. I transferred the chicken to the oven at 350 degrees for a half-hour and then in a heavy pot, added olive oil, and brought the heat up to high. I sauteed the onions, added garlic to sweat then deglazed with white wine. I add the beans and tomato and then slowly incorporated the paprika and salt. Adding salt early and reducing the sauce of the beans can make the beans very salty. I finished with lemon just a put aside.

I did a quick saute of olive oil, garlic, arugula, lemon juice, and sea salt. Mounded the beans on the plate, topped with the sauteed arugula, arranged the cooked chicken over the beans and arugula, and topped it all off with Chris’s great Aji Verde sauce. He also brought a seared Halloumi cheese with mint and watermelon and the whole dinner was amazing. Cheers!

A Pandemic Threnody

June 24, 2021

As I sit here with pen in hand pondering what my next chapter in my life would entail, I was also ruminating about what I would use as a title for my next blog entry. I would not necessarily call it an ode to the dead, but rather a requiem of my life during the last fifteen months of this still ongoing Pandemic. The last year has not boded well with this old chef. I am sure this rings true with many of my friends and family.

Everything we knew about our lives and how we lived them was radically changed and we are all still reeling from the collateral damage this insidious disease has done to us as human beings. We’ve lost friends and family. I lost an Aunt to Covid-19. From my own personal confessional, I for one stopped living. I wasn’t working, I found a permanent home on the couch, arms reach from bad food and lots of booze and way too much time on my hands. The results were anxiety, health problems, and a complete lack of forwarding movement in productivity. Since getting the vaccine, I’m trying to change all of this.

I’ve been given a unique opportunity to spend some time in Cincinnati with friends and family for the Summer. This in itself has created some anxious moments. I haven’t been back to Ohio in almost four years and am taking this journey sans my amazing wife Judy. We’ve been together for almost twenty-five years. This isn’t the first time I’ve gone away to attempt to right my ship. It’s the third time but Judy has been nothing but supportive and it strengthens our relationship which I am forever grateful.

I’m not sure what I am hoping to accomplish being back home. Part of this journey is to reconnect with family and friends. The thought of being alone growing old terrifies me. I’ve seen what it does to people first hand. We are social beings. We need a connection. I have been in a converted garage for almost a year and a half and honestly, my cat is a lousy conversationalist. I intend on changing this.

Another goal is to start seeing the positive things out of life. The last four years have done nothing but encourage my cynical side which doesn’t need much fostering. Waking up every morning and reading the news did nothing but raise my cortisol levels as well as my blood pressure. I’m in a much better space now.

As a once busy chef in Pennsylvania, because of our schedules and home life situation with my mother-in-law, we ate out. Frequently. On a typical week, we’d have dinner at our local haunts consistently three to four nights a week. When the Pandemic hit, that all changed. As I mentioned in my previous post, my wife Judy became an excellent cook. Her imagination shined through with every dish she created. When we were finally able to dine out, the disappointment of our dinner including the cost versus what we enjoyed at home for the fraction of the cost was like a kick in the head. Hey, I still love to eat out and love being connected to my industry folks but I don’t think we will return to the same habits that were familiar to us pre-Covid-19.

Coming back to Cincinnati was an adjustment. Not only demographically have things changed, so has the dining scene. And for the better. I’ve been fortunate to experience some great eateries here in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. It was pretty difficult to find places I wanted to eat because there are so many choices but thanks to industry friends, we’ve been able to enjoy some great places.

The search for breakfast restaurants in Cincinnati is hit or miss. Either greasy spoons or corporate cookie cutters like First Watch. I’ve worked in really upscale breakfast/brunch establishments. I know how to recognize good ingredients in menu descriptions. We decided on a breakfast spot in Oakley called The Sleepy Bee. https://www.sleepybeecafe.com/#locations

The place was open-air with high ceilings. It was reminiscent of the Portland breakfast houses we enjoyed. Lots of young kids who seemed to sincerely enjoy their jobs. A well-rounded “scratch” menu. They made their own bread and even served house-made Goetta. For the non-Cincinnati folks, Goetta is a German breakfast meat that is made from Pork, spices, and Pin Oats. We have a similar concoction in Pennsylvania called Scrapple which is a Pennsylvania-Dutch breakfast meat that uses Corn Meal versus Pin Oats. Not everyone enjoys it but damn, this was good. My wife had the Avocado toast topped with Granola and herbed oil and I had a Chorizo scramble. Both dishes were excellent. The coffee was amazing too. The service was top-notch. There is nothing remotely this good where we live.

The next restaurant that was suggested was Bouquet in Mainstrasse in Covington Kentucky. https://www.bouquetrestaurant.com/

It is a farm-to-table establishment that has been in business for over fourteen years. It opened about a year after we moved back to San Francisco. The menu changes daily and they source most of the product from local vendors. I have to say this was one of the best meals we’ve had in years. We decided on the tasting menu which allows you to choose three courses. We started with the savory ramp pancake with sesame seeds, soy ramp & sorghum sauce, and a roasted radish and seared tofu appetizer. Both were cooked perfectly.

For the second course, I had Wagyu beef meatballs Scallion Gremolata, Lemon Caper purée, and Chili oil. The acid from the Lemon Caper puree was a perfect complement to the meatballs. The thought of actually sharing this with my wife almost made me go into a homicidal rage! Yeah, they were that good! But I acquiesced. She loved them damn it! My wife had the Salmon with German hot slaw, Bacon, Sunchokes, and Horseradish. It was cooked perfectly mid-rare. It is had to find places that know how to cook Salmon correctly. Most of the time it is cooked to death and dry. We had a similar dish at home in PA that was so overcooked, it made baby Jesus cry rivers of blood. It was that bad, but this was moist and flavorful.

For the third course, I had the Duck Breast with Fava Bean puree, Fiddlehead Ferns, and root vegetables. The only other chef that could ever cook Duck this well was David Cook of the former Daveed’s. Perfectly seasoned, moist and the skin was crackly and crisp. Stunning. My wife had seared Boga I believe, which is an Argentinian white fish with English Peas and root vegetables and a sauce that resembled Chimichurri. It was moist and flaky. Just like her husband.

We ended the meal with a Cardamom Blueberry pound cake paired with a Sauternes.

The service was professional and courteous. It is a special occasion restaurant but it’s worth the splurge.

The next destination on our short culinary tour before my wife headed back to Pennsylvania was Otto’s in Mainstrasse which again is in Convington Kentucky. https://ottosonmain.com/

This is a cool and funky joint that’s been around for years. They provide both inside and outside dining. Outside can be a bit hectic with seating right on the pedestrian sidewalk adjacent to the street and can be loud at times. We had a good light brunch. My wife had the Brie, Figs, shaved country Ham, Arugula, and Local Honey. Cooked perfectly and well-balanced. We shared the Brussels Sprouts which were prepared with Bacon and Brown Sugar. I enjoyed the dish but adding a little heat like Sriracha would have given the dish more depth. Our dining guests and I decided on the BLFGT which was Bacon, Lettuce, fried Egg, white Cheddar, Mayo & fried Green Tomato on a toasted Croissant. It was light and flaky and not heavy or greasy. A very solid sandwich. The service was prompt and friendly.

Though I didn’t eat at our final stop, we did enjoy a beautiful evening with family on the rooftop of The Gaslight Bar and Grill in Clifton where my friend Kevin Worthington is the Chef/GM. https://gaslightbarandgrillclifton.com/

My Uncle and his wife did have dinner which was a simple grilled burger. I liked the plate composition and both of them enjoyed their meals. He has a great staff and we felt taken care of.

When I need to clear my head, keep that feeling of isolation at arms reach, and being around others, I head to Sitwell’s Coffee House in Clifton. Though they don’t have a website, they do have a Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/sitwells.coffeehouse/

It’s a funky coffee shop that used to be a pizza restaurant many years ago. Quirky décor, fun and helpful staff, and the coffee is good. I haven’t had a chance to try their food menu yet but what I saw coming out of the kitchen looks very appetizing.

These last two weeks have been an adjustment. I haven’t been without my wife at my side for more than a day in almost ten years. I miss her dearly but she also knows this Pandemic has done a real number on me and wants me to heal. She wants her husband back home whole and not fractured and frustrated. I’m trying hard to do that work and reconnect with family and friends. This blog has been cathartic. I want to continue to write and enjoy what I’ve been doing for over thirty-five years. Welcome back.

It’s Been Too Long

July 17, 2019

It’s been a few years since I’ve contributed to my blog.  Life always seems to get in the way of doing things that you really enjoy. Keeping the blog current is one of them. I started to compare this site to a reoccurring dream I’ve had over the years where I have a rented an apartment that I stopped occupying. I felt guilty about not using the kitchen, the place started collecting dust and it started to feel abandoned. It bothered me. I literally forced myself to brush off my aging  laptop today and compile a few notes and stories about what’s been going on in my life since moving to Pennsylvania.

My life has not been boring to say the least. After almost two and a half years as chef at the Farmhouse Tavern, I’ve decided it is time to move on. I’ve met great folks along the way but it’s time to change direction and find a new path.

Where I live is a quirky place. The borough I live in has a population of only about eleven thousand residents. Doylestown has a small, quaint downtown but five minutes in any direction is all farmland with pockets of residential neighborhoods. Finding decent food outside of Philly is a challenge. We find ourselves frequenting the same places to the point that I am a target of ridicule from friends and family because we eat at the same sushi restaurant about every week. Hachi in Chalfont PA has some of the best sushi we’ve ever had outside of San Francisco. Their attention to detail and techniques are beyond what you’d expect from a strip mall sushi joint. We also go to the Heart of the Oaks pub which in a basement of a 1700’s building that houses an Italian restaurant called Baci. Again, for what you pay, the food is so damn good and only five minutes from our house. Oddly enough, besides breweries, that’s our culinary social life. It is a far cry from the foodie towns of San Francisco and Portland where we spent almost twenty years.

I’ve been in the restaurant industry for over thirty years. I don’t regret ever taking this direction as a career. I’ve met amazing people along the way.  I’ve enjoyed being creative, learning and teaching. I’m not sure how much longer I have left. Fifty five is just around the corner and this is ancient for a working chef. I still have the stamina to work eighteen days straight and a hundred and thirty hours without a day off but I want to be around a bit longer for my amazing wife Jude, so my next step needs to include a life balance. You only get one shot on this rock so you have to make it count. Just not for you, but the ones that love and care about you.
Read the rest of this entry »