Cooking for Those Racing to the Bottom

1 September 2010

I got the call way too early for my taste [ed. note – the way my insomnia manifests varies, but lately it has me finally finding sleep just after sunrise. So calls before 9am are highly unpleasant.] Her voice was way too perky for pre-caffeinated discussion. However, she quickly identified herself as a new client, so I rallied my attentions to have a good conversation. We coverec her planned date (last Saturday,) how she came to contact me (referral from this client,) the number of guests, style of food, and then I heard the two words that stir concern in the heart of any service industry professional:

Bachelorette Party

I have long considered the pre-marriage descent into bacchanalian excess to be to be in the same category as tequila shots, dates with ex’s, and Kevin Costner films*. That is to say: things that have the patina of a good idea but whose shine quickly fades leaving nothing but the dull hue of impending regrets.

Against better judgment, and all prior experience, I took the gig anyway. Mostly because it was a referral from a good client, but also because August is too slow of a month to turn down business. I did have a couple of conditions:

  • I will not be making anything in the shape of a penis.
  • I will not use any cheesy double-entendres in the names of any dish, cocktail, or wine.
  • Should there be any strippers involved in the evening, they may not appear until after the dessert course had been cleared.

…and I still knew that it was a bad idea.

The second indication that I should have rejected this gig, was the host preference that I not hire an assistant for service and prep (six guests are not too much for me to handle solo, but the evening goes so much more smoothly with another set of hands.) I certainly should have expressed more concern when the wine order included double the booze that I would have stocked for my hard-drinking friends.

The host, the bride-to-be, and two bridesmaids were already there when I arrived four hours before the cocktail hour. The first hour of prep proceeded without a hitch… then they all came into the kitchen. I don’t mind questions while I cook but after the second bottle of champagne was popped, their queries took a decidedly more lurid tone. It was the laziness and insincerity of the flirtations that bothered me most. None of them were truly directed at me as much as they were intended for an objectified me – I was simple a placeholder representing any man in their proximity. The pack dynamic was fully displayed with each of these woman trying to one-up the others. It was unseemly.

By the time I served the Prosecco Poached Berries with Hazelnut Whipped Cream I had endured a handful of inappropriate touches, too many flaccid innuendos to count, and overheard a baker’s dozen of suggestions about ways to use “any sauce [I] had left over.”

[ed. note: I am not suggesting – even for the split second it takes to over-poach an egg – that my experience is in any way comparable to what too many women endure in the presence of undignified men.]

As I was cleaning, the host and the maid of honor came into the kitchen to thank me for my efforts, and to “apologize if the girls got a little too rowdy.” The host, followed that by placing a handful of bills in the back pocket of my jeans as a tip.

I was almost done packing my things when she came into the kitchen once more.

Refugee, everything really was lovely, I’m never cooking for a dinner party again. Are you available the first Saturday of October for another dinner of about the same size?”

No, I’m not” I replied with a full stop that I hoped would prevent further inquiry.

Oh, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you’re booked that far in advance” the host said with a slight slur.

I should have left things there, but my lessor demons shouted down the better angles so I responded “I didn’t say I was booked, just that I’m not available.”

*exceptions made for The Untouchables & Bull Durham… and maybe Dances with Wolves too


Sunday Morning Mashup

23 May 2010

I ran into the worst clients and most awful couple ever the other day.

I was taking advantage of a lovely afternoon and spent a few hours on the patio of one of my favorite swanky hotels.  My only table companions were a cigar, an open bottle of champagne, and Todd Kliman’s new book The Wild Vine.  Sam and Toni breezed by me on the way to their own table on the opposite side of the courtyard.  My first thoughts of gratitude for having gone unnoticed were soon eclipsed by dread when I saw them waving at me and beckoning me to come join them.

I knew I should have just ignored them, but I try to be civil even with people this obnoxious when they used to be clients.  There was mindless chitchat that lasted about two excruciatingly long minutes.  There was a request for me to check my schedule for availability to do a dinner party for them.  There was general obfuscating on my part.  Just after we were said our perfunctory and worthless goodbyes but before I had actually turned my body to walk away, Sam said “Say Refugee, Toni has allergy problems, you mind putting out your cigar.”

It was all statement, there was no trace of request or favor, and it was said through that smug and entitled smile.

I had no pithy comeback, no well timed soliloquy on their pernicious sense of privilege, I just stood for a pregnant moment, returned the entitled smile and said “Absofuckinglutely I would mind, have a good day.”

******

Artie Shaw would be celebrating his 100th birthday today.  He was a brilliant player of several reed instruments, a prolific composer and big band leader, and by just about every historical account, a really stand-up guy.  He also happened to be the first musician to put a black singer, Billie Holiday, in front of a white band… and toured the South no less.

His most famous recording is Begin the Beguine and is considered by anyone worth their dancing shoes to be among the greatest big band songs ever.  Go ahead and listen… I dare ya not to bop your head.


Confidentially Forgotten

4 May 2010

I’ve done it dozens of times – spent 40+ hours planning a menu, writing specifications for said menu, sourcing and shopping, writing the tick-tock of event day, and then finally cooking for twelve hours.  For some strange reason, each time I do it I will forget more than a couple of things.  One recent weekend the “I Forgot/Didn’t Finish List” included the following:

  • I didn’t finish the tick-tock of the days events – a schedule of each activity that needs to be completed in each 15 minute segment for things to happen smoothly.  I blame the Happy Hour I happily attended because the lovely Paige was in town from Philly.
  • I forgot that even the best plans collapse under reality’s weight the first time something goes to hell.
  • I forgot that something always goes to hell inside of the first hour.
  • I forgot a couple of random kitchen tools and left one key ingredient on my kitchen floor because I didn’t get to print my final checklist.
  • And for the first hour after I picked up the woman who would be assisting me in the kitchen, I most certainly forgot to breathe.

Lexa and I have been friends for a while now but this was the first opportunity that we have had to work together.  I wasn’t presenting the calm, everything’s-under-control image that I would have liked.  I drove and shifted gears like a man in a hurry, mumbled about traffic, rainy weather, and general frustration, before Lexa dissolved my tension by saying “Refugee, you know I don’t like having to be the positive one!”

That comment was enough for me to get my swing back.  The rest of the trip to get the rented glassware involved some clown car like moments with all of the supplies and four racks of wine glasses crammed into a Jeep… and I might have been uncharacteristically directionally challenged too.

After finally arriving at the client’s home, there was another key moment that added copious amounts of levity to the afternoon.  After unloading two armfuls of supplies and sundries, I was returning to the Jeep and walked right into the glass screen door just like one of those birds in the Windex commercials.  Lexa may have laughed hysterically for a few moments.

We quickly settled into our rhythm and began cooking.  About an hour before service, The Pistol arrived to help with final prep and to be the primary server.

The menu was a Standing Degustation with 11 courses:

  1. Caprése Salad Skewers with 10 year Aged Balsamic Vinegar and Shallot infused Olive Oil
  2. Guacamole Mousse with Lardons of Black Forest Bacon
  3. King Salmon Tartar
  4. Blue Cheese and Jalapeño Beignets
  5. Mini Asiago Cheese and Mushroom Frittatas with Baby Spinach
  6. Gazpacho Soup Shots
  7. Chicken Confit Tacos with Hot Pepper Butter and Arugula
  8. Truffled French Fry Cones
  9. Petite Grilled Cheese with 4 Year Cave-Aged Cowgirl Creamery Cheddar, Prosciutto and Hot House Heirloom Tomatoes
  10. Pork Tenderloin Sliders with Roquefort Butter, and Fried Shallot Rings
  11. Mint Chocolate Mousse with Frozen Peppermint Patty Crumbles

Except that it was only ten courses because right at that moment in the night when several courses had gone out and with a few more to go, Lexa dropped the whole try of the mini grilled cheese onto the floor and open oven door.  This was my turn to repay the calming favor.  I moved over to Lexa, gave her a big hug, kissed her on the cheek and said “It’s not a big deal, seriously, not a big deal, we gotta move on.”

That was the only food-hiccup in a night that began with more than a couple of client induced hiccups.  None of them mattered, however, because the food was inspired, and great food erases a multitude of sins.

After we had fed all guests into submission and before we started cleaning, I grabbed a couple of beers and Lexa, The Pistol and I went outside for a quick break and that’s when I realized I’d forgotten a couple of other things too:

  • Cooking for twelve hours is physically exhausting… like, no other frame of reference exhausting
  • Cooking for twelve hours is exhausting but when the food is great, and you know the food is great, the client knows the food is great, and the guests are giving you insane compliments that they cannot possibly mean literally, it’s also kind of exhilarating too.
  • No beer I’ve ever had in my life could taste better than the one I have at the end of a night… unless I shared the experience with friends.

And the Winners Are? Valentine’s Day Contest

2 February 2010

When I announced the Valentines Day Chef Contest, my ambition was to donate a bit of time and provide a memorable experience for someone who deserves it.  Hopefully it would be one of the things that my friend Brad calls The 100 Ways.

Thank you to everyone who sent me an email or left a comment to nominate someone – there were more than 40 of them nominating more than 60 recipients.  Reading them touched me in ways that made me want to do even more.  So instead of using Random.org to select one name to receive one dinner for two, I used the site to draw two names to each receive dinner for four.

While the increase in the dinners and diners necessitates some changes in scheduling, I will work that out with the winners. Who are:

Winner #1 nominated by I’m Gonna Break Your Heart: I’d like to nominate my friends S&B. S is a special ed teacher at a DC Charter school. B works for a non-profit that connects homeless people to city services. In short, B spends his days walking the streets of DC, rain or cold or heat, seeking out homeless and making connections with them. They are the most compassionate couple I know.

Winner #2 nominated by Mese: Let me tell you a little bit about Nicole
She is a fighter- after years in foster care she decided to work in the child welfare field to make sure other children don’t have to struggle with no support from a loving, permanent family.

She is tried and true- when given the opportunity, Nicole has ditched vacation and forgone sleep to write, speak, teach, lead- anything to help spread the word on the reasons no child should go to bed in fear or without a home.

She is committed- friends and family have been welcomed into Nicole’s home as a refuge from hardship without anything expected in return, despite her no-profit salary.

I’ll be contacting the winners via the people who nominated them and I look forward to updating all of you with stories of the dinners and hopefully a recipe or two.

Thanks again to everyone who reads, comments, and generally make this place worth populating with my scribbles.


An Idea, A Notion, Some Inspiration, A Contest, and Dinner?

8 January 2010

If I can’t use this blog to do something for others, then what is the point of having it?  That was the question, the notion that was in my head when I was having a beer and a burger with the irrepressibly funny LiLu and her boyfriend B.

I told them of a rough idea I had about offering my private chef service to a couple who couldn’t ordinarily afford to hire me.  Valentine’s Day weekend is a very busy and profitable period for me and I explained that I was feeling this desire to reserve that Friday night, 12 February, for some teacher, or social worker, or Hill Staffer, or really anyone who has a heart of gold but not the bank account to match.  I just didn’t know the best way to find that person.

B gave me the perfect idea: have people nominate someone besides themselves and then do it as a raffle.

And with that, the RR Valentines Personal Chef Raffle begins.

The Rules:

  • You cannot nominate yourself.
  • You can nominate as many people as you want.
  • Nominations can be made via a comment in this post, or by sending me an email (restaurantrefugee at gmail dot com.)
  • All nominees must reside in the DC metropolitan area.
  • Nominations must include your email, a brief description of why your nominee should be included (i.e. My friend John is a really terrific teacher who would never do this for himself but really deserves it.)  You should also feel free to be as verbose as you deem necessary to fully elucidate your reasoning.
  • Nominees should not be fully identified to protect their privacy.
  • Nominees do not need to be a couple in the romantic sense (i.e. if you have two good friends who are meritorious and they don’t have plans for Valentines Day.)
  • Due to other commitments, the date is largely inflexible, but some reasonable accommodations can be made.
  • You may nominate vegetarians – you may not nominate vegans.
  • I may reject any nominee if the reason for nomination trips my bullshit sensor or seems otherwise insufficient.
  • Each nominee will be assigned a number.  All numbers will be placed in a bowl and one will be pulled at random by a third party – someone with a webcam and a penchant for making videos (LiLu, thanks for volunteering) and will be posted on the web.
  • Nominations will be accepted until 26 January.  The drawing will take place within 48 hours of the close of the nominating process.

p.s. in case you’re wondering what type of dinners I prepare for my clients (and don’t have the inclination to sift through the archives to find them,) the following menus are my favorites of the past year:

A Summer Anniversary Dinner for Six:

Canapés

  • Big Eye Tuna Tartar in corn tortilla cups
  • Caprese Salad Skewers drizzled with 10 year aged Balsamic
  • Mini Grilled Cheese: gorgonzola, prosciutto, and tomato on grilled baguette

Amuse Bouche: Sweet Corn Velute with olive oil poached lobster and Parmesan Beignet

First Course: Pork Cigars

Slow cooked pork and mascarpone cheese in a tissue paper potato shell with a spiced apple cream sauce and petite arugula and micro green salad

Soup Course: Shrimp Bisque

North Atlantic Prawns in a tomato based bisque with a six hour roux

Third Course: Beef and Potatoes

Braised Beef Short Ribs with a spinach and artichoke cassoulet, truffled French fries, and reduction of braising jus

Sweet Course: Apple Slapple Sweet

Cinnamon and sugar glazed apples in a deep fried spring roll with cognac & caramel sauce.

Cheese Course: Cheese and Accoutrements

Selection of Cowgirl Creamery Cheese with slivered almonds, wildberry compote, and truffled honey.

Cajun Themed Holiday Dinner for Ten:

Amuse Bouche: Shot of Guacamole Soup with essence of Black Forest Bacon

Canapés

  • Cajun Sushi Roll with Andouille Sausage, Pimento Cheese and Anaheim Peppers
  • Blue Cheese Gourgeres
  • Shrimp and Jalapeño Hush Puppies

First Course

Seafood Gumbo Or Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Entrée Course

Tagliatelle Pasta with Jambalaya style Sauce Or Red Snapper with Heirloom Tomato and Basil Sauce

Dessert Course

Mint Chocolate Mouse topped with frozen and crumbled Peppermint Patty Pieces

Fall Dinner for Four*

Salad of Asparagus “Linguini” with Wild Mushrooms, Pancetta and Poached Quail Egg

Pumpkin and Roasted Pine Nut Bisque with Garlic and Truffle Au Jus

Lamb Tenderloin Medallions with Lamb Shank Confit Spring Rolls and Spinach & Artichoke Cassoulet

Cheese Course: Cheese and Accoutrements

* they didn’t get an amuse bouche because it was this couple


And the R-Cubies Go To…

29 December 2009

Shameless Solipsism and a Couple of Wet Kisses have arrived in the form of the first annual (probably never do this again, but whatever) Restaurant Refugee Rewards or R-Cubes for short.  They are a collection of some of the posts of the last twelve months that had particular meaning to me, or got me in trouble, or simply had subjects that lent themselves to making another joke.  There are also a few other people’s work receiving awards today – though not nearly as many people as should get them so there maybe another installment of this tomorrow.

And the R-Cubies go to…

The Carrie Prejean Award for Pretty but Vapid Restaurants goes to Bar Dupont.

The What Would Happen If Dr. Ruth Looked Like Ginger Award for Sexpert Advice in the blogosphere goes to City Girl Blogs.

The Hallmark Award for Best Invention of a Holiday goes to National Crush Day

The Carl Lewis Sings the National Anthem Award for Shoulda Stuck to What you Know goes to All of my Attempts to Write Memes – Except this one which I thought was really good.

The James Lipton Award for Seemingly Simple but Terrifically Textured Questions goes to Megabrooke of Skrinkering Hearts who asked me “How Much is Too Much” in that interview meme that was going around at the beginning of the year.

The Infield Fly Rule Award for things you Should Know but Maybe Didn’t goes to Advice for Black Tie Galas and Capitol Hill Style’s Ball Tips and Tricks for Ladies that inspired it.

The Cowbell Award for Things I Need More of goes to Jimmy & Sophia.

The Urban Dictionary Award for Teaching me my Favorite New Phrase, Skin-Hungry, goes to I’m Gonna Break Your Heart.

The Oscar Wilde Award for Booze as Creative Lubricant goes to My Weekend as Three Rounds of Jeopardy.

The Max Roach Award for Consistently Leaving Comments Better than the Post that Inspired Them goes to my friend Brad.

The Joe Isuzu Award for Forcing Me to Be Creative with Truth goes to the Unnamed Woman Who Inspired This Post.

The Sarah Silverman Award for my Favorite New Funny and Irreverent Blogger goes to –The Fooler Initiative–.

The Don Imus Award for Unintentionally Causing Controversy goes to The Open Letter to a Few Women and the Subsequent Follow-Up.

The Snuggie Award for Ideas that Seemed Fun Conceptually but in Reality Not So Much… goes to Blog Reader Bingo.

The If Dr. Phil Wasn’t Such a Tool Award for Good Advice Given goes to A Guide to Fighting Fairly.

The Jennifer Tilly Award for Fiction Inspired by both Women and Poker goes to Playing Poker with an Old Foe.

The Donald & Ivanka Trump Award for Being Married to Each Other and Not Inflicting Themselves on Anyone Else goes to Sam & Toni.


Giving Help, Giving Thanks

27 November 2009

As I was doing kitchen prep on Wednesday evening, I realized that I didn’t have enough of a couple of things.  Not a big deal, I figured I would swing by the market on my way to my friends place on Thanksgiving.  That morning, like any day when I plan to cook for nine hours, I put on my chef coat.

Walking into a grocery store on thanksgiving morning in a chef coat was not my best idea ever.  It took me almost an hour to buy three bulbs of garlic and two shallots.  There was the question about if a turkey could be over brined (yes but it would take days,) and the one about how long a bird should rest (depends on weight,) a couple about stuffing, and one or two about things I can’t remember.

Yes, I was running late, but only a particular kind of asshole wouldn’t help someone on Thanksgiving morning.  I am not that kind of asshole.

Ten minutes after I finally left the store I went to a coffeeshop near my friend’s house.  The gentleman handed me my large coffee and said “You’re working today too, the coffee’s on the house.”

Sometime’s karma is instant.


Duck Confit

19 November 2009

There is a very short list of culinary things more satisfying than duck confit.  And when I say very short list, I mean I can’t think of anything but I am allowing for the possibility.  It is “low and slow” at its finest and the kind of dish that people believe to be far more difficult than it actually is. My take on this classic dish is posted over at my recipe blog today.

And, yes, one more day of NaBloPoMo is crossed off the calendar.


Can’t Buy Class, a Soul, or Good Manners

4 November 2009

As promised, and I’ll leave it to you to debate whether they were worse than the V-Day dinner

I knew Sam and Toni would be a problem when they cancelled and rescheduled.  Twice.  In 48 hours.   I would have blown them off, kept the deposit as my contract allows, but, like most of my clients, these two were referrals – specifically from Jimmy & Sophia.  Thus, I try to avoid unnecessarily salting relationships.

I was about to walk into Sam & Toni’s condo building when I got the phone call asking if they could “push the start time an hour.”  I agreed but only because I happened to know a bar around the corner where I knew the owner and knew he would let me stash my perishables in his walk-in refrigerator.

“Just call me when you’re ready, but understand that I still need three hours of prep before the first course.”

Two hours later, I finally got started with my prep.  The first hour was uneventful filled with Sinatra, slicing and simmering, though I was actively ignoring the clamor coming from the other room.

Round about the time that I was setting the Pumpkin and Pine Nut Bisque to simmer, Toni whirled into the kitchen and announced “Refugee, we’re only going to be two this evening, I don’t want to inflict us on any one else tonight.”

Glad to know that I am not really a person to you.

“That’s fine, Toni; changes are inevitable” I said cheerily, knowing that the evening will go a little faster now.

“Open this champagne for me, will you dear” Toni demanded, ignoring my completely full hands; before continuing “and don’t worry you’re still going to get paid for four people even though we’re only going to be two.”

I put down my immersion blender and opened a bottle of vintage Krug.  More than half a dozen bottles were stacked shoulder to shoulder – the collective value of which was greater than that of the SubZero unit in which they sat.

Toni downed the glass, handed me the bottle and said “Feel free to cook with the rest of this.”

That bit of obnoxiousness just lost them a lovely Amuse Bouche of Lobster Claw and Shallot Confit.

About an hour later Sam came into the kitchen.  I was moving at my usual twenty minutes to service pace – like my hair was on fire and I couldn’t find water – when he announced “So Refugee, have you had a chance to go through the wine cellar to pull bottles for the night? I’m excited to know what we’re gonna drink.”

My patience had just reached its Hubert Peak.  I took a deep breath but continued to stir the bisque in an effort to mask my frustration before turning to Sam and saying “I’m sorry for the misunderstanding but our contract was only for the chef services, Toni indicated that she didn’t want sommelier services as part of the package…”

“Yeah, I know that” Sam interrupted, “but I figured that since we’re paying for four but we’re only two you would just throw that in.” His words were soaked with both privilege and entitlement.

I took another deep breath and couldn’t help the smile curling my mouth as I tried to explain the issue.  “Sam, the cost differential of cooking for two versus four is related to food not time, and I arrived with all of the food.  I would be happy to take a spin through your cellar and pull a few bottles – it won’t be the same as the sommelier service and it will delay the first course by a few minutes – but I’m happy to do it.”

“Door’s over there and we’ll just make up the difference in your tip, ok champ.”

I fucking hate being called “champ” – that just cost you the Dark Chocolate & Truffle Petit Fours

Three hours later, I had completed the contractually promised courses:

Salad of Asparagus “Linguini” with Wild Mushrooms, Pancetta and Poached Quail Egg

Pumpkin and Roasted Pine Nut Bisque with Garlic and Truffle Au Jus

Lamb Tenderloin Medallions with Lamb Shank Confit Spring Rolls and Spinach & Artichoke Cassoulet

The Refugee Cheese Board with non-traditional & traditional Accoutrements

The big “get under my skin” moment of the dinner came when Toni inquired about the absent amuse bouche.  As I cleared the salad, she said “Refugee, that salad was divine, but isn’t it traditional to serve the Ah-Mu-Say before the first course?”

“Toni, the Amuse Bouche is gift from the kitchen but it’s kind of an optional thing and the first that gets cut when time is tight.  When I had to go through the cellar at the last minute I just had to cut it; but I certainly understand why you would expect that gift.”

Not only am I ok with not serving you an undeserved gift, I am totally fine with lying to you about the reason it got cut.

As I was cleaning and they were on the the cheese course, Sam came into the kitchen to give me final payment.  “That was just terrific, Refugee” he said while scribbling in his checkbook, “like I promised, there’s a little something extra in there for ya, champ.”

Fuck you, your obnoxious wife, your pretentious habits, sense of entitlement, the horse you two assholes rode in, and what I know is a less than ten percent tip.

“Thank you, Sam; I’m glad you enjoyed it,” I said rather than my usual “It was my pleasure” because I’m trying to avoid lying.

“Say, I know you came in through the front door, but you mind leaving through the service exit?  Thanks, champ.”

Whatever gets me away from you fastest, you more-money-than-good-sense fucktard.

With my knife roll over one shoulder and my cooking bag on the other, I walked out weary, and a little bent but far from broken.  Curiosity got the better of me and I removed the check from my pocket…

My estimate was too generous – 3% tip.

 


The Fall Meme – My Answers

16 September 2009

This is my third attempt at crafting my own meme – eventually, I’ll get one really right and it will go viral… right? No?  Whatever, I’m going to keep trying until one does or I get bored.  So this is the official Dirty Dozen Fall Meme, I won’t tag anyone; however, should you choose to participate, I’d appreciate the courtesy of a link back.  Feel free to tag people if you wish.

  1. It’s not fall in DC (or your city of origin) until _____________? It’s not fall until I can wear cashmere, the mosquitoes are gone, and I’ve switched to a Manhattan as my drink of choice.
  2. Kelly Preston’s character in the movie For Love of the Game expresses her need to escape NYC because “Summer’s almost over, and I feel like I missed it.”  What do you need to do in the waning days of summer for it to feel complete? I need to feel some sand between my toes, eat some crabs & drink beer, and have one more picnic.
  3. The person I know is wrong for me but about whom I frequently think after a break-up is _____________? For me it isn’t one particular woman who keeps coming into my head when I am in a romantic doldrums.  It is usually a revisiting of many failed relationships that I can’t quite understand why they failed.  This is particularly problematic for me if I encounter one of these women.
  4. The US Tennis Open, one of four Grand Slam events in that sport, is currently in the quarterfinal round.  If you could only attend one major sporting event what would it be? I needed to do some reductive thinking to answer this question.  After eliminating all contenders, the last event standing was March Madness – preferably the first two weekends.
  5. Assuming that you write an anonymous or partially anonymous blog, by what non-physically identifying characteristics might you be identified in a bar? If you notice a seemingly overdressed guy who is scribbling in a journal or pecking on a computer, that might be me.  If that guy is wearing antique cufflinks and smoking a cigar, then the odds get much better.
  6. Most blogs cover some sort of niche – personal, political, dating, culinary, etc.  What topic, if any, would you like to address on your blog but doesn’t fit into your niche? I am extremely passionate about politics and would love to write more about it.  I do know that I lack the discipline and patience to research and document all of the things necessary to write about that subject in a manner that would be satisfactory to me.
  7. If you could manipulate the time space continuum and give as many as three pieces of advice to a younger version of yourself, what advice would you give and to what age of you? To the eight year old Refugee, don’t try too hard to fit in with the kids at that school; they will never accept you and neither will their parents.  You will have more fun without them.  To the twenty year old Refugee, there really is no need to rush through undergrad.  To the twenty four year old Refugee, please take that job at AOL; you can deal with the commute and will retire in four years.
  8. Who among your friends do you really wish had a blog because their stories, or perspective on something ought to be shared? One of my favorite bartenders would be a terrific blogger.  She is insightful, funny as all hell, and works behind a bar on Georgetown Saturday Nights which I am know leaves her with plenty of stories.
  9. If you were to take an e-cation (vacation from the trappings of our electronic world,) and assuming that employment obligations would allow it, how long of a break could you take? What would you miss the most, the least? If the e-cation occurred at the same time as an actual vacation, I could last at least a month.  I would miss the late night emails from clients the least and I would probably miss my relationships to the blogs I read the most.
  10. On September 11th of this year, I will be attending a couple of parties and am somewhat conflicted by the fact that this ignoble anniversary shall pass with it being just another day in the eyes of many (and in some ways my own eyes as well.) Thoughts? I think I answered this question within the question, however, to expand a bit more… I did what I could to embrace the Day of Service concept by volunteering some time with one of my favorite charitable organizations.
  11. How high are your walls?  Who was the last person to scale them? What tools should would-be climbers have on their belt? My walls are tiered and have increasingly sharp barbed wire the higher one climbs.  They have gotten higher in the last year and that is not a source of pride for me.  The recommended tools for scaling them: patience, optimism, a well turned phrase, a love for rainy Sundays with Coltrane and Neruda, an appetite.
  12. The sexiest thing a wo/man can say to you (or has said to you) is _____________? This tastes amazing.

*****************

Other Lovely Bloggers Participated:

Just A Titch

Hannah Just Breath

Dorothy’s Not Dead

Life of Planet Dan-E

Skrinkering Hearts

Elle Dubya

Was It for This

The Kristen Chronicles

Are You Really Interested

Is There a Doctor in the House

Seeking John Galt

I There a Dr. in the House

Bikram Yoga Chick


A Brand New Baby Blog

16 August 2009

I am a sufficiently good cook that people pay me, happily and handsomely, to make food for them in their homes, but I suck at writing down recipes.  Often my clients will ask me for a recipe and I will give them some bullshit excuse explanation about giving away trade secrets and a wink.  The fact of the matter is that most of them exist only in my head and I am often too lazy busy to write them down.

To give me some direction in an effort to change my shiftless-ass habits a place to structure this effort, I started a new blog.  Recipes from the Restaurant Refugee is designed to force me to record dishes so I will have a compilation of things I have created when my booze addled brain can no longer recall them.  Having them handy for clients is a nice bonus too.

Currently there are very few pictures of my food as I neither posses a digital camera (have I ever hidden my happily Luddite nature?) nor the time when I am cooking to stop and take pictures*.  I will do my best to remedy that in the future.

I will be migrating recipes listed on this blog to the new place, and my goal is to post at least three original recipes per week.

Thanks for visiting.

Eat well, drink well, be well, my friends.

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* In early September, I plan on having a “Media Dinner” with the express purposes of having a great time with friends and taking pictures of some of my cuisine.  If you are a good photographer, interested in trading a good meal for photos, and most importantly interesting (I care more about the quality of the dinner party than the photographs but only a bit more,) or you know someone who is, send me an email – restaurantrefugee(@)gmail.com.


Placesettings & Holders for Dinner

4 August 2009

“We kinda suck as bachelors” my dear friend, the Only Slightly Sleazy Lobbyist, remarked this weekend as we sat on his patio an hour or so before dinner.  It was a “Guinea Pig Dinner” – me trying some new recipes on friends prior to cooking them for paying clients a week later.  The other two guests, one of OSSL’s high school mates and his girlfriend who is blisteringly bright, exceedingly attractive, retired army colonel and could kill you six different ways with a demitasse spoon*, had yet to arrive.

“OSSL, how easy is it to meet women if all you want is to meet a woman?”

“Very easy, I guess.”

“Do you not think that there were at least a half a dozen women who could have filled the other two chairs if either of us had really tried?”

“Let’s go with four instead of six.”

“Fine Four then, the larger point still stands.  Some might call us poor bachelors; but I just think that we make more careful choices. I don’t want to cook for just anyone in a skirt, and this is a dinner party at your place… would you really want some placeholder in the chair next to you?”

“Depends on how hot the placeholder is” OSSL says with a smile.

“Fine, you have a point, but really? I mean really?”

Over the next four hours we dined, imbibed, conversed, laughed, cleaned blood spewing from my middle finger after I got careless with my new mandoline, and laughed some more.

Sweet Corn Velute with Lamb Sausage & Mini “Loud Puppies” was a hit but the spiced hush puppies need some work.

12 Hour Pork Roast rolled in Potato Pancakes tasted amazing but isn’t pretty enough for primetime yet.

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Spinach and Potato Cassoulet was a monster hit and I somehow avoided getting blood in any of the dishes.

Mini Apple & Cinnamon Spring Rolls with Caramel Dipping Sauce would have been great but given my injury we passed on this course in favor of continued drinking.

Throughout a glorious evening on a lovely midsummer night I didn’t miss the placeholder not sitting next to me, I did miss the woman I have yet to meet and for whom I would love to cook.

* What is it about a woman who can really kick my ass that is such a turn-on?


Stream of (mostly) Restaurant Consciousness

1 July 2009

I have long maintained the following truths about the brunch scene in Washington, DC:

  • It is largely unimpressive with unimaginative cooking.
  • It is generally overpriced given the aforementioned mediocrity.
  • If I must go out for brunch, I would rather go to the exceptions to the prior two truths (Cashion’s, anywhere Gillian Clarke is cooking) or someplace with inexpensive mimosas because most place’s eggs are just eggs.

So it was that I found myself in a place with inexpensive mimosas and just average eggs on not too recent Sunday afternoon.  I was in the company of a food-loving woman with whom I used to be friends and to whose good graces I wanted to return.  Inevitably, our conversation centered on restaurants and food and I soon learned that she had never been to Restaurant Eve.  With a quick invitation, I returned to good graces…

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Restaurant Eve has for several years been considered, by anyone who knows anything about food, among the top five restaurants in the city and among the top fifty in the country.  Dining there is an exercise in elegant simplicity with a staff that defines superlatives for the region.  I have lauded  them before; the distinction in this mentioning is that I am stating without equivocation that it is the single best bar at which to dine in the area.

Comfortably elegant with reserved décor, Eve’s bar makes it clear that its focus is trained on libation and food.  You can have all of the “bar chef’s” in the world and I’d better serious cash that none of ‘em can make a Manhattan as good as Tammy.  As always, the food was rock-ya-socks good… which was rather important because the date decidedly sucked.…

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The date may have sucked but I did have the asparagus dish which inspired (minor inspiration, but inspiration nonetheless) the most awesomest salad ever

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That was a dish that formed in my head while I was walking through Whole Foods shopping for ingredients to be used later that evening.  It reminded me of a recent challenge on The Next Food Network Star, which got me thinking about my friend/ NFNS contestant, Teddy Folkman of Granville Moore’s.  I don’t know if it is simply the editing, a mutation induced by the presence of cameras, or an act of desperation to remain before the cameras, but I didn’t recognize the Teddy that I saw on this show.  The Teddy I know is generous, magnanimous, gregarious and a consummate gentleman.  The Teddy on the NFNS is… let’s just say, he’s not that.  This is explained in more (a lot more) detail by a blog post at the Degustation Blog written by one of Teddy’s colleagues at Granville Moore’s…

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Speaking of Granville Moore’s, despite the new crowds that Teddy’s television appearance hath wrought, this place remains one of my favorite restaurants in the city.  A recent date there found the Moules Fromage Blue (Mussels cooked in a white wine, blue cheese, and bacon broth) to still be the best in driving distance as were the Frites.  The horseradish crème fraîche sauce surely has crack as its secret ingredient, and I will never tire of the rustic charm of the diminutive décor.  My internet date on the other hand…

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Why do people insist on including some variation of “as comfortable in a dive bar as a formal occasion” in their online dating profiles?  Besides being a useless cliché, I find it false for most people.

The first sign of trouble for a date that began promisingly enough with drinks in Chinablocks* came when we left to head towards H Street.  As I was trying to hail a cab, I noticed that the bus which would deposit us at GM’s doorstep, and in only seven minutes, was a block away.  My date balked at the notion of riding the bus.

Bowing to her preference, as is a gentleman’s wont, we caught a cab.  As we moved east, her expression began to change as we moved further from her Northwest DC comfort-zone.  Passing Union Station, she inquired “We’re not going to NE are we?”  I should have turned the cab (and the date) in another direction right then.

GM’s is far from a dump but this woman used her cocktail napkin to “wipe-off” her seat before in a move that made me think I was out with a “Female Niles Crane” but without the searing wit.  Sure the décor is sparingly rustic, but it has character that usually takes years to form.  And in my judgmental nature (shocking to no one,) my date’s discomfort with this place showed me that she had no character of her own…

Have a great holiday weekend everybody.  Be well, eat well, drink well, and I’ll see you all on Monday.

*Chinatown in DC is too small to be described as such, therefore, Chinablocks is more appropriate.  Further, I refuse to call it Penn Quarter.


Because I Love All Six of You Who Read

15 June 2009

As a man who prefers food that has grazed rather than a plate of things on which they might have grazed, I have rarely invested much energy in making or consuming salads.  That changed this weekend.  I was making dinner for a dear friend and a couple of her friends and had been obsessing over my menu for days.  I am not sure that the picture for this dish was even completed until I arrived at Whole Foods to get provisions.  And then it hit me and I made what  I am humbling calling “The Bestest Salad Ever Made with Awesomesauce Dressing.”

Since I haven’t been writing enough about food lately, I am happy to share the recipe with you.

The Bestest Salad Ever Made with Awesomesauce Dressing aka Shaved Asparagus and Arugula Salad with Black Forest Bacon and Poached Quail Egg

One Bunch of Asparagus

One bunch of Arugula

Three Pieces of Thick-cut Black Forest Bacon

Four Quail Eggs

Two Cipollini Onions

Olive Oil

Butter

Kosher Salt

Freshly Cracked Pepper

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees

Bend one spear of asparagus to determine its breaking point and cut the rest of the bunch at that line.  Using a thin peeler, peel or shave the skin from the bottom inch or so of each spear.  Place all of the spears on a non-stick backing sheet and brush with a thin layer of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (by the by, I would rather have Rachel Ray give me a hand job while wearing a sandpaper glove than use the term Eee-Voo.)  On the same sheet, you should have room to put the three strips of bacon which is a good thing because a little of the grease from the bacon with help to season the asparagus.  Place the sheet in a 375 degree oven and roast for 8-10 minutes depending on thickness of the spears.

While the bacon and asparagus are cooking, tear the Arugula and place it into a large salad bowl; slice the Cipollini onions into thin ribbons and sauté in butter but do not caramelize them.  Your goal is for the ribbons to be tender to the tooth but still have some bite.  Start the water to poach the Quail eggs.

Once the spears are removed they need to be “Shocked” to stop the cooking process.  Place them in a bath of ice water for ten seconds, remove them and pat dry.  Cut the asparagus into 2-3 inch pieces and add to the bowl.

The bacon will need another 5-7 minutes to cook to the point of crispy.  Once the bacon is ready, remove it from the pan and cut into ¼ to ½ inch strips and add to the bowl.  Add a reasonable drizzle of salt (use less than you think you need because of the salt of the bacon and the basic principle of not being able to remove salt or any seasoning) and cracked pepper.  Add about a tablespoon of Olive Oil and toss until well coated.

Divide the salad onto four salad plates forming mounds that have slight indentations at the top to hold the poached eggs.

If you’ve never poached an egg before, read Lemmonex’s excellent tutorial on the subject first. Quail eggs, because of their diminutive size, will cook in about 90 seconds.  Place an egg atop each salad plate and serve immediately.

Disclaimers, Caveats, and Mea Cupla’s

While I consider this dish to be an RR original, I am sure that somewhere some chef has written a similar recipe.

While I consider this dish to be an RR original, it was inspired in small part by a terrific Asparagus dish I had recently at Restaurant Eve.

I do not think that this recipe is terribly difficult, but if you are unnerved by the lack of precise measurements, then it may not be the dish for you to try.

The recipe calls for four quail eggs, but you should get six as you are likely to ruin at least one.

I made dinner on Friday and Saturday nights this weekend.  This was the only new dish that I did on either night.  Amongst the nine courses over two nights, this was the star by country mile.  It was even better than my lobster bisque.

I know that I stole Awesomesauce from LiLu, but since it’s in Urban Dictionary, I am pretty certain that she lifted it from somewhere else and is just the one peron I know who uses it.

That last admission may make me considerably less hip but I am fine with that.

I know that I am pretty lame for not having taken pictures of this salad or any of the dishes from the weekend – sorry I suck.


Jimmy & Sophia

19 March 2009

It was obvious to me the moment I met Jimmy that he had some cash – the IWC chronograph on his right wrist told me that.  Through dinner, at which he was a guest, he never made obvious declarations of his wealth.  There were no mentions of extravagant vacations or profanely expensive cars.  Jimmy was simply a guest at his friends well appointed Arlington condo where I had been hired to make a five course Valentines Day dinner. 

Three days later Jimmy called me to ask if I would have an interest in cooking for him and his wife, daughter and her boyfriend and another couple at his Vermont ski house one weekend.  Vermont ski house = wealth clue #2.  After a generous fee (not inclusive of food cost) was offered “It would be my pleasure” was my only response.  We had the standard discussions about culinary preferences and dietary restrictions (none) and set the date.

When I inquired about travel arrangements Jimmy indicated that he would send a car to ferry me to the airport.  Wealth clue #3.  When I arrived at a completely unfamiliar airport (via a shiny black Lincoln Town Car with Gus, who would not allow me to touch a door handle, behind the wheel) I was a little unnerved.  That is until jimmy greeted me on the tarmac in front of a Gulfstreem jet.  I have been on a private jet before, once, but this was so much nicer.  It was adorned with mahogany like most places are adorned with Ikea.  Gigantic, slap you on the forehead with a sledgehammer wealth clue #4.

Jimmy and his cadre could not have been more gracious.  I prepared breakfast and dinner (they ate lunch on the mountain) and they oohed and ahhed with every bite.  They said please and than you at every turn; and there was a cleaning attendant to do the heavy wash lifting in the kitchen.  Every night after dinner Jimmy and I sat on the deck and under the heat lamps smoking cigars, drinking another bottle from his amazing wine cellar, and talking about any and everything. 

The third night of our long weekend Jimmy’s wife joined us on the deck after dinner.  Sophia is gorgeous, not a “Second wife, I traded my first for a younger and hotter model kind of gorgeous” but a “I married my college sweetheart and she still makes me smile when she enters a room” gorgeous.  She sat with us long enough for us to discuss her affinity for opera, his preference for the symphony, and her love of Shakespeare (she and I bonded over Sonnet 116.)  they were/are so obviously still in love that I asked them to share the story of their meeting and engagement. 

In the manner that great couple often do, they told the story in sequence with one finishing the others sentences. 

Jimmy: we met sophomore year of college but…

Sophia: I was dating someone else…

Jimmy: not just someone else, but one of my close friends…

Sophia: not so close that you were uncomfortable stealing his girl…

Jimmy: only because I thought you deserved better…

Sophia: and I did; I deserved you, baby…

Jimmy: but I have never been man enough to deserve you…

Sophia: anyways, I was yours the moment you asked…

Jimmy: right after graduation, I went to New York…

Sophia: and I went to DC

Jimmy: but she was always on my mind, in my closest of dreams every goddamn one included her.  One day I caught the train down to DC to take her to dinner…

Sophia: Dinner! Ha, if you want to call IHOP dinner, then sure…

Jimmy: that was all I could afford; I thought that IHOP was good eating back then; but after dinner, I took Sophia for a walk along the C&O.  we walked for…

Sophia: too goddamn long, actually.  I had no idea what the hell he had planned.

Jimmy: I was screwing up my nerve to finally drop down on one knee and ask this beautiful woman to marry me.  I didn’t have any money to speak of; so the only ring I could afford…

Sophia: was from a Cracker Jack box; and I didn’t care.  All I wanted to do was marry this unbelievable man.  He told me that the plastic ring was a promissory  note and that we would one day replace it; and he has.  But I still keep that plastic ring in my jewelry box because that is the ring from the man who proposed to me.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

I am sure that we talked more throughout that evening, but I do not recall what else might have been said.  As over the top as that story was, I still long to feel that way about a woman, and have her feel that way about me.  Just the thought of it gives me a chill.


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