Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Cook's Life #4 - Oh My Michelin Stars and Garters!

so the 2009 Michelin Guide for Los Angeles came out yesterday. from their website they state the following:

What is a classic?

The Michelin Guide uses a system of symbols to identify the best hotels and restaurants within each comfort and price category. For restaurants, Michelin stars are based on five criteria:
  • The quality of the products
  • The mastery of flavor and cooking
  • The "personality" of the cuisine
  • The value for the money
  • The consistency between visits
Every restaurant listed in the Michelin Guide is recommended by our team of professional inspectors. The ones listed below have earned stars that reflect their exceptional culinary achievements, regardless of cuisine style. Stars, represent only what is on the plate. They do not take into consideration interior decoration, service quality or table settings.

One Star Restaurants

Asanebo - Ventura Boulevard
Bastide - Hollywood
CUT- Beverly Hills
Dining Room at the Langham - Pasadena
Gordon Ramsey at the London - Hollywood
Hatfield's - Hollywood
La Botte - Santa Monica
Mori Sushi - Westside
Ortolan - Hollywood
Osteria Mozza - Hollywood
Patina - Downtown
Sona - Hollywood
Sushi Zo - Los Angeles
Trattoria Tre Venezie - Pasadena
Valentino - Santa Monica
Water Grill - Downtown

Two Star Restaurants

Melisse - Santa Monica
Providence - Hollywood
Spago - Beverly Hills
Urasawa - Beverly Hills

i am happy to say that my restaurant has retained its one star rating. however, i am also vehemently impassioned to get that second star. in fact, i didn't really sleep last night because i was thinking, "Why didn't we get a second star? What does it take to get better? I WANT THAT SECOND STAR G*D !(*%#@&^#*@!&#@%*$@&#^@%$^^&$#*@!!!!!!!!!!!!

ugh. i honestly feel like some sort of kung fu character whose family was killed and now i've grown up dedicating my life to the martial arts and have found the people to exact revenge upon. and i want to taste that blood flowing from the corner of my mouth so i can tear off my shirt and deal my special killing move taught to me by my old blind master (who was also killed by the same people that killed my family), doing it all in slow motion with over dubbed sound effects and wind machine. and at the end of the movie, the credits roll, AND I GET THAT SECOND MICHELIN STAR!!!

as far as i know, they don't even tell you how to improve. i wish they would, because then it would show that they are truly concerned with the advancement of fine cuisine, but then again WE should know what fine cuisine is in the first place, and i will have no reprieve until things get better. I can't even enjoy my morning because i want to get to work right now and try to do something; oversee the stock making, work with the new cooks, tell certain cooks on the hot line to use less oil when they are frying fish because it's too oily, examine my own weaknesses, shave my head and train myself so i can hold hot coals with my bear hands and get those tiger and dragon brands on my forearms (shaolin-style, baby!).

i wonder if anyone else feels the way i do. i am a bit intense, especially when it comes to goals and rising to the occasion. i'll talk to the chefs today. i am ready and need to try and blow off this steam. i can do borderline genius/crazy for a year. it's going to be fun.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gastronomic Concepts #4 - A Field Guide to Cooks

back in 2003, i picked up a great book called The Hipster Handbook . it's a humorous, tongue-in-cheek reference guide to identifying common, everyday pop culture and sub-pop culture personas, namely hipsters. for example, hipsters are always wearing some combination of american apparel, aviator sunglasses, corduroy, cowboy boots, and some sort of ironic thrift store t-shirt (that is always skin tight). they also live off their parents as they don't have jobs and sit at sidewalk cafes all day smoking cigarettes.

i thought it would be a great idea to write a field guide to cooks. the following descriptions are EXAGGERATED stereotypes, but if you're a cook, you'll either find yourself or co-workers as a mixture or as dead-on depictions.

1. Culinary Student/Extern (aka Fresh Meat) - you'll know them by their smile, super-white school uniforms, new pens/thermometers stuffed in their coat pockets like 80's nerds with their packed pocket protectors. they have full sets of brand new shun knives (that they don't know how to sharpen) and you could publish their enthusiasm as it is a desperate re-hash of what they've learned in school and are trying to prove themselves. they are like lambs to the slaughter, deers caught in headlights; unknowing polly-annas ripe with inspiration and soft hands and fingers ready to be nicked, burned and cut off. they call themselves "chefs" yet despite their training, don't know how to cook, and quickly learn this after the first day at REAL school.

2. Veteranos (aka Grumpy Old Men with Knives) - these guys don't mess around. they aren't there for show, but to work and make money. a lot is riding on them for families back in the homeland (mexico, guatemala, southeast asia) and most have worked in their same jobs and restaurants for at least 15 years. their work is perfection, as they've been doing the same thing over and over to the point that doing it blindfolded wouldn't be a problem. they are full of machismo, are mad prep machines, gripe about the whipper-snappers that work at night and how they don't prep anything, and usually leave once the lunch rush is over.

3. Crack Pots - no station is safe from these cooks, as every service is complete meltdown with dirty towels littering the floors, product in half cater-wrapped nine pans spilled on cutting boards, while they literally swing pans and curse as they cook. they also have a habit of making a lot of noise by smashing their pans on the burners and grunting as a way to pump themselves up and help work off the coke (with red bull/rockstar chaser) they did in the bathroom or car before starting the shift. they run around like chickens with their heads cut off, and are sometimes capable of great work, but it is never consistent.

4. Food Monks - if Bruce Lee was a cook, he'd be a food monk. much like veteranos, they aren't in the kitchen to socialize, but to work. however, it's how they work, quietly, deftly, dynamic and efficient in their movements almost like a dance. and you don't need to tell them what to do. they are already gliding over "crouching tiger, hidden dragon" style to the station that's in the weeds to help out. they never complain, and usually take up bigger responsibilities as they can be counted on. you don't know when they've arrived or when they've left as the work is always done and the station is left immaculately clean. calm and serene, their work is always consistent.

5. Pastry Princessas - patisserie. even the name sounds prettier than hot line. and so are the pastry cooks. immaculate uniforms, perfect makeup, they even smell good from all the baking, vanilla and sugar they are covered in. mostly women, these goddesses grace us with their presence and make short work of the bumbling runners and busboys that try to engage in conversation. it's not that they're rude, they're pastry (cue angels singing in the background). they provide a stark contrast to the rest of the kitchen that is sweaty and oil-stained. they also provide some interesting gossip as they are constantly having girl talk.

6. Class Clowns - just like all class clowns, all they do is disrupt the environment with their concern for funny stories, making animal noises during prep time (i've heard monkeys, donkeys, whale song, you name it) and outright dancing and singing on the line. there's a time and place for such things and sometimes we all need a little breather, but for class clowns, it's ALL the time. less disruptive class clowns tell their whole life stories during service to everyone and they don't shut up. even though they may be disciplined, it never lasts long and the "shenaniganz" quickly ensue.

7. Kitchion Biotch - women who have been working in kitchens long enough that they have good cred and reputation. they also have an attitude that would make most mothers hide their sons at home to keep them safe. often intimidating, straightforward and crass, they have no problem cutting down Fresh Meat with a mere look. they are ball busters as they've had to work harder to prove themselves, yet they can also get away with more by using their feminine wiles, whether they be the "Don't make me come over there and beat you like yo' Mamma did" or the "wouldn't you like to see what i look like, out of uniform? NOW PEEL THOSE POTATOES!" approaches. never get into an argument with these women as, like all women, they are always right. these women would also do well as a dominatrix. the less civilized and sophisticated version resorts to screaming at any given moment to get whatever they need done and done fast. needless to say, all Chefs (regardless of gender) fall into this category.

8. Rock Stars/Poseurs - these cooks never wear hats, as they interfere with their hairstyles (usually mohawks or some elaborate dye job), always have the top buttons of their chef coats undone, have numerous tattoos (sometimes food or pirate related) wear sunglasses (for that added bit of mystique) and sport some sort of bling (one pierced ear, leather wrist cuffs with studs, pinky rings). it's not important that they know how to cook (but it's THE BEST when they do as then they are true rock stars and not poseurs); they're just so bloody gorgeous and charming that you'll want to either sleep with them or give them money to start their own restaurant. in fact, they do a lot more talking than actual cooking, kissing ass in the dining room while the rest of the kitchen is working. young sous chefs, especially when not in the presence of the exec chef (never steal the boss' thunder) fall into this category, as they have the bump in pay, title, and pussy notches to prove it.

9. Hacks/Shoemakers - for a complete description, see this previous post. it is important to note that hacks can fall into any of these categories (especially the culinary student/extern), making them the most insidious kind of cook. there are also two kinds of hacks: the ones that don't know what they're doing (aka Fresh Meat) and the ones that know what to do but cut corners anyway (Shoemakers). i find the latter far worse than the former. don't be mistaken. no matter how much veterano cred, crack pot intensity, food monk zen, pastry princessa perfection, class clown humor, kitchion biotch attitude or rockstar finesse, hacks are ALWAYS found out.

popular combinations are:

Fresh Meat + Hack
Veterano + Food Monk
Kitchion Biotch + Rock Star
Crack Pot + Class Clown

i happen to be a good combination of food monk/fresh meat (especially now with concentrating on learning the new station) + class clown (in moderation, although i do a mean roger rabbit) + hack (even though i have experience, i'm still learning) + kitchion biotch (when i've lost patience for the runner that comes and eats my mise, i let the whole kitchen know that i'm not happy with a nice loud "GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM MY STATION!"

i currently work with a rock star and kitchion biotch, both of whom can back it up, a new sous chef which makes him fresh meat (HAHAHAHA), two food monks that i used to see only on the weekends, a crack pot desperately trying to be a rock star, a food monk who can't stop talking on the line, a pure hack, and some good fresh meats that are learning really fast. i miss the veteranos, and morning food monk, but i still see them.

if i've left anything out, let me know and i'd be happy to add to the field guide.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Guilty Pleasures #2 - Cadbury's Chocolate Recall

back in late September of this year, my co-worker Sereyrith returned from a month vacation in Australia.  i was happy to see his return, as he is a great cook and person to work with.  he came bearing gifts of  boomerangs and luscious Cadbury's chocolate dairy milk bars.  if you've never had real Cadbury's that is made in england, seek it out.   you can buy them online or if you are lucky enough to live near a shop that sells everything for the anglophile, such as the London Food Co. or Ye Olde Kings Head Shoppe (which is also connected to a pub of the same affiliation) you can find them and eat them immediately.  i had read a great article about British chocolates from The New York Times not too long before, and was excited to get a real Cadbury's from Australia.  mine had hazenuts and when i got home from work that night i ate about half the bar.  

the next morning i woke up and decided to have cadbury's breakfast while reading my internet blogs and email.  i decided to read more about cadbury's and did a search which lead me to this article  on how the cadbury's chocolates in the U.S. were safe from being recalled for possible melamine additives in the milk (which can cause renal failure) and that they were only being recalled from Asia and Australia.  I finished reading the article, took another bite of my rich and creamy cadbury's, then realized that, yes...THIS BAR WAS FROM AUSTRALIA!  i looked at the packaging and, yes...THIS BAR WAS FROM AUSTRALIA AND MADE IN HONG KONG!

i ate another piece.  

i thought about the article and how renal failure would possibly manifest itself if i was affected. kidney damage, huh?  irreversible?  would i need a colostomy bag in the future?

i ate another piece.  

i re-read the article and was pleased that the recall was only a precaution and that the chocolate was probably fine (yeah right, they only write things like that to prevent mass hysteria).

i ate a chunk.

i realized that i was either really stupid or had no fear of food as i've had food poisoning many times (hmmm, for one to have had food poisoning so many times, is that not an indication of stupidity?).

i wrapped up the chocolate and put it back in the pantry.  that was about two weeks ago.  five small little squares are left.  i haven't thrown it away and i don't want to.  i want to eat it all. i'm even thinking about eating the last five little squares after writing this post.  the possibility of it being lethal, deadly, poisonous, has given it an irresistible taboo status.  all i need is to eat fugu and have this chocolate as dessert.

but hey, it's been TWO WEEKS and i'm FINE!  that chocolate is damn tasty and it was a gift.  a very sweet gift. yum.  i want to eat it, but now i'm relishing in denying myself the gratification. leave it to the british to make a food that could incite Victorian Repression; i am a depraved chocolate maniac with a fetish for melamine poisoning, but it's so wrong to eat it, to taste it, but i want it and that makes me bad, very very bad so now i must go and whip myself and lace my corset too tight as punishment....

ahem.  got carried away there.  i better go to sleep now, but there's one more thing i have to do....

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Manifesto #4 - Reference and Links, What I'm Eating Now and Pics


I am happy to have logged in a total of 25 (and now 26 counting this one) posts on the blog since starting in late September this year.  Just a few updates:

1.  If you've noticed any sort of references or definitions in the posts, i most likely will have found this info from wikipedia.  love it or hate it, it works for me.  any other writing not my own will be cited.

2.  As an example from the above, anything in light green will be a link to click on for more information.  It may seem redundant, but I was asked why the text was a different color by some less tech savvy readers, so just wanting to be clear.  

3.  I added a "What I'm Eating Now" section on the right side of the page as a kind of homage to the book Everything I Ate by Tucker Shaw.  I don't have the patience to photograph every meal I have, so most likely whatever is posted will be my breakfast or after work meals.  I find it to be a very intimate portrait, as I do believe that you are what you eat.  It will be interesting to see what I come up with.

4.  Most of the pictures I have to accompany my posts have been found on flickr or on the internet.  There have been some photos I wanted to use, but opted not to as they were copyrighted material.  I will never use any photograph that requires permission.

on a side note, i had my busiest night as lead cook so far and with the help of the crew, we had a successful night.  we have some great teamwork and it's getting to the point that everyone is able to jump onto every station to help where needed.  we also have an all female hot line, and i can't think of another restaurant that's the same.  there has already been talk of getting some cat ears to wear halloween night while working.  looks like we'll all be able to handle this coming busy season after all. hopefully the prep work won't be too bad coming in the afternoon, but we all know once it's busy, it's already gone.  c'est la vie!


Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Cook's Life #3 - Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

there is an old adage "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea." it originated as a nautical reference, and according to the International Maritime Dictionary by Kerchove, the devil is the seam in a wooden deck which bounds the waterway or a seam in the planking of a wooden ship on or below the waterline. if you imagine yourself standing at the top mast on a footrope under a yardarm, and are at the risk of falling, you'll most likely land on the deck within the devil's plank or in the water outside the devil's plank, and be killed.

this sense of being between a rock and a hard place has dogged my steps ever since i changed careers. a lot of people don't realize that once you become a cook, your life is completely different from most of your friends. unless you're a veterano, you will work at night and put in your dues. this means working from 2pm til closing and breaking down, which could mean 11:30 pm or if particularly busy past midnight. you'll also get paid around $8 or $9 an hour which means that you'll get a second job to make ends meet. if this surprises you, know that this is the standard. even working for a hotel may get you $12 an hour, but it doesn't get much better. most culinary students after graduating have a debt of at least $50K, and after working in a restaurant for a short time, change careers because they can't pay their loans. i did this for around seven months, working at two different kitchens a lunch and dinner shift, sometimes only getting one day or staggered half days off. i only ate the food provided by the restaurant (couldn't afford regular groceries and i was never home anyway) and had as many butter sandwiches to keep my energy going. i only saw Matt because we lived together, i never saw my friends, still barely made only enough money for gas and rent, and lost my mind.

thankfully, i have only the one job and with some careful lifestyle changes (getting rid of the car and walking to work, not eating...so much) i am...still barely able to make ends meet, but at least i am more rested and in a positive work environment. i had been working the lunch shift at my restaurant for a year, and once i quit the night job, took some time and enjoyed getting out of work at 3pm, and having weekends off (two full days in a row off? incredible), and seeing my sweetie. i made the conscious decision to start working double shifts, at a moment's notice, and 6 day weeks because after working two jobs, you start to feel kinda lazy, or at least i did. this eventually turned into a split work week where i had three nights and three days as the kitchen suffered a major cook shortage, mainly due to the cooks not being able to earn a living.

i've now been working solely nights for the past month (maybe longer) and am being trained as lead cook. this means i set the pace for the other cooks and need to be on top of everything as far as knowing what's going on, communicating with Chef, and i have the most intricate and highly technical dishes to deal with. as of this week, i've been lucky to have the lead station for four nights in a row, so i'm really starting to get it. it is a marked change working at night vs day, as the cooks are hungry with ambition, and menu is more extensive with a tasting menu and longer service. just last night we had a special tasting menu and it was amazing to see Chef in action.

this is where the devil and the deep blue sea come in again. i am lucky to have a support system with my wonderful boyfriend both financially and emotionally, but i do miss him terribly. the schedule change is being tolerated, and the recent mini-break has eased tensions, but it will get harder as the holidays come around since i will most likely be working. i'm lucky to even have a relationship because a serious cook's life forsakes everything to the point that you are selfless, and are working for an intangible, far off, and sometimes unrealistic goal. however, because i have started working nights, i have become that much better. cooking is a craft, and i believe a cook to be an artisan, one who is skilled in making food into art. it is the only form of expression that engages all of our senses, and no matter how breathtaking the sistine chapel is, you can't eat it so it doesn't interest me ;P.

the conflict is that if i could, i would work at night, but still be able to see my boyfriend and have a day schedule, and make hmmm, $20 an hour would be fine, i'm not greedy, and not get yelled at by Chef EVER because every service would be easy and nothing would go wrong, or better still would win the lottery (i'd be happy with $6 or 7 million) and that way i could still cook, but afford to eat at restaurants and travel and stage at other restaurants around the world and then buy some land up in portland or new zealand and run my own organic farm and attached restaurant with only 30 seats and make sheep's milk cheese.... i know, 'tis a fantasy. i've also been looking into becoming a culinary instructor, and while it would give me the financial freedom and schedule i desire, i would be away from all the amazing things i learn EVERYDAY at work. i also believe that if i'm going to teach, i need to be responsible to my future students and learn as much as i can, just i hope they would. i'm not ready to give that up just yet, but i also don't know realistically how much longer i can afford to NOT make ends meet.

so, the devil is every selfish desire for normalcy in my life like dinner with the family and weekends off, while the deep blue sea is every selfish desire for culinary greatness, and i don't mean getting my own show on the food network, but becoming the best possible cook i can, and in turn understanding Food so that i can write about it responsibly, and eventually teach new cooks that it's not just a job but a way of LIVING.

the devil whispers in my ear every afternoon when i walk three blocks to work, and i think of the time when i was able to put in a good day's work, come home, relax and read, cook dinner for Matt and i, perhaps meet up with friends that night or on the weekend. the deep blue sea whispers to me every night when Chef says to break down, and i realize i've done a good job, and i could keep going, and how i want to have such a noble sacrifice and purpose, and reach a true goal after many years of dedication and become a real chef, like the Chefs i work with who are so exceptional and so fully realized in their faculties that sometimes it makes me weep; they have become the EXTRA-ORDINARY, and chose to do what many others could not, and perhaps what i cannot because i refuse to give up those things that i need in life to be happy. thus, i am a knight of infinite resignation and not a knight of faith.

i have made compromises, but all this treading water wears on the body and soul. at least i've reached a sort of balance; as if the lesser of the two evils have cancelled each other out. i do have faith that ultimately things work out. no matter how horrible a service, things get fixed and are worked through, and no matter how terrible this busy season may be with at least 200 on the books every night, it will pass.

i can only do my best, and until i no longer feel that, i will keep on keeping on. today i woke up at 9 am, tidied up the loft, put in three loads of laundry, loaded the dishwasher, walked the dogs, written this post, and now will be off to start my day (night) at work. i'll get home around 11:30 pm, eat SOMETHING, then sleep (if i'm good) at 2 am. this is my life, every day, until it changes again, hopefully for the better.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Food Consciousness #2 - I'm Back!

i returned last night from a mini-break (four days) in San Francisco/Sonoma.  my boyfriend Matt and i and the two dogs embarked 11pm thursday night and arrived (ugh) about 10am friday morning in Sonoma.  yeah, it was a rough drive, and there were a lot of stops, especially for the dogs.  our first stop was D's Diner where i ate a delicious burger, and Matt had their famous breakfast burrito. consequently, that was not my first burger.  after watching the numerous in-n-outs that were flying past on the I-5, i demanded that we stop at the next and i had my fave #1 with onions and a dr. pepper.  no animal fries this time as it was 2 am and a road trip. afterwards, we finally made it to see Matt's brother, girlfriend and their new baby girl. after sleeping most of the day to recover, i awoke and we all had a delicious persian dinner of rice, braised chicken, ground spiced turkey, steak and yoghurt.  

the next day we woke early for some delicious scones (strawberry, ginger and white chocolate and plum, nectarine and honey) and tea at the Wildflour Bakery.  afterwards we headed to Doran Beach, where the dogs got to run in the waves, eat seaweed, and dig little holes to hide their heads in.  it had been cold up until this point when the sun started to burn off the clouds.  once the dogs were thoroughly salted, we headed for a quick burrito and then back home.  after sitting on the deck and getting some sun, we headed into town for lunch at East West Cafe where i dined on a delicious salmon benedict.

then we headed to San Francisco to meet up with another brother and his family.  they have two boys and one in particular went crazy for the dogs.  we all chatted and made a great dinner of burgers, grilled vegetables, and salad.  afterwards we walked to the nearby store and got some ice cream.  we opted to stay the night.  now here's where it turned bad.  the next morning, Matt wasn't feeling well, so much so that he was throwing up and stayed in bed the whole morning sweating and shaking.  the only strange thing was during dinner when he felt his lips tingle while eating the eggplant.  no one else felt strange.  he wanted me to have fun anyway, so i headed off to the castro street faire where i walked and walked and god that's a big street faire.

i came back and proceeded to read A Year In Provence by Mayle in its entirety while Matt recovered.  i love perusing people's bookshelves, and this happened to be on my, "i'm supposed to have read this already," list.  by this time it was afternoon and we walked to a nearby pet store for dog food.  once the dogs were fed, we walked back through the street faire and had crepes at the Squat & Gobble.  we people watched, ate, people admired the dogs, then we walked to Dubose Park and had the dogs run around.  at this point we made dinner plans with Matt's friend Eric, and we headed back.  

after a nice nap, we met up with Eric at Osha Thai in the Mission.  We dined on spring rolls, pumpkin curry, chili basil beef, and coconut rice.  we had one of those great catching up conversations, talked about where we lived now, how SF is changing, new projects we're working on, and just enjoyed the atmosphere, food and company most of all.  upon leaving we noticed the 826 Valencia store (of Dave Eggars fame) and Paxton Gate, a store which had a full size taxidermied African Lion on display in the window; we would be back the next day.  we said our goodbyes and went back.

we awoke to our last day in the bay area, and met upstairs with the family for a last breakfast.  the kids were off to school, parents off to work, and we decided to go to Tartine since those two stores wouldn't be open until noon, and we'd have to be on the road by then.  Tartine is probably the best bakery i've ever been in.   while Matt waited outside with the dogs, i stood in line and made my choices: shortbread, chocolate oatmeal cookie, coconut macaroons, pain au chocolat, croissant, soy chai latte all to go.  once we got into the car we started eating, and that croissant was so flaky and buttery, i will never have to eat one again until i go back.  the chocolate was the good kind of dense and bitter, and the shortbread melted away as i swallowed.  mmmmm.

the road trip back was quiet.  we stopped by Pea Soup Andersens for the traditional pit stop and a "pea" then made our way through the grapevine, and back to LA.  

it was a much needed trip; a return to normalcy and simplicity for me, and the realization that again i want something MORE.  i am quietly plotting to move to the bay area, SF in the next five years.  working here is too important to both of us to just pack up and leave at the moment, and so it will be time well spent career wise.  by then i hope to be teaching, and perhaps Matt will be running a satellite design house.  goals are good.  


p.s.  while we were in SF for those two days, we didn't have anything with us, as we left it up north.  it was only supposed to be a day trip, but with Matt getting sick and wanting to catch up with friends, well, we ended up wearing the same clothes, no dog food (which we later found in the car anyway) and no camera (iphone died) to take pics.  please note all the photos are from flickr, but are authentic to the subject.  

p.p.s. THANK YOU to Dan, Ziba and Sepideh and Mark, Emily, David and Benjamin for being great hosts!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Mood Food #2 - End of Summer Pig Out on Fried Chicken!

after writing my post on crew meal, i was happy to find a few pounds of chicken legs in the walk in and decided to make fried chicken.  i don't know how many times i've made fried chicken crew meal, but i remember the first time was at the beginning of this summer.  the main reason was that we had gotten our first real week of heat.  i remember telling my co-worker, Steven, that i made fried chicken because it's hot and summer, and i want fried chicken!  who doesn't think of fried chicken when it comes to summer picnics? everyone lays out a blanket, music is playing, the kids are throwing a ball around, kites are flying, the ice cream truck has just pulled up, blue skies and hot, green grass, the ice is melting but the drinks are cold, and out comes the potato salad, biscuits and fried chicken.  

everyone loves to eat fried chicken.  when i was growing up, fried chicken came to me in the form of Kentucky Fried Chicken, with biscuit and mashed potatoes and gravy (including spork). later on it was the stuff of late-night college eating binges, where we'd pool our meager funds and buy a few buckets nearing closing time; i think it was something like 15 pieces for $5.99.  i even had friends who would sometimes eat nothing but the deep fried batter.  since then i have moved up to chicken and waffles and eventually making my own fried chicken recipe.  

eating my fried chicken the other night, i realized i didn't really have a summer.  i didn't get to go out and enjoy the sunshine as much as i'd liked, didn't get to sleep out on some lazy hammock after trying catch up on summer reading, and i didn't go out to one picnic or the beach (sigh). what can i say? working can do that to you especially when you work nights, get to sleep at 2 or 3am, then wake up at 11am and only have enough time to throw in a load of laundry before heading off to work again.  sure i had days off, but that time was spent always doing "other things".  i haven't had a summer vacation of my youth in a long time, and don't think i ever will again.

but at least, there's fried chicken; one of those foods strong enough to evoke a sense of nostalgia and take you back and away to somewhere, someplace else.  so, in honor of the last days of summer, i give you my recipe for fried chicken.  eat it outside while you can because before you know it, it will be November and TURKEY TIME!



5 lbs chicken legs and thighs (preferably organic)
gallon of buttermilk
1 bunch fresh mint 

take these ingredients and let soak overnight.  when you are ready to cook, preheat oven to 350 F and then get a tall pot (at least 5 qt.) and fill with some soybean or peanut oil (these oils have a high smoke point and can be reused) at least halfway.  you'll need a kitchen thermometer to gauge the oil until it reaches  325 F.  while the oil is heating, assemble the coating:

12 cups all purpose flour
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup smoked paprika
1/2 cup curry powder
1/4 cup ground black pepper

mix all these together in a large baking tray.  taste it.  you should be able to smell the spices and taste the salt.  remove chicken from buttermilk mixture and reserve the liquid.  take the chicken and place it the flour mixture to coat, then re-dip it into the reserved buttermilk.  after this, re-dip it into the flour mixture for a final coat and place it on a sheet tray with wire rack. do this until all the chicken has been double-floured.

at this point your oil should be ready (remember 325 F).  take the chicken in batches and deep fry until golden.  depending on the size of pot and how much oil you have, just remember that the chicken pieces should be deep frying, hence floating in the oil, completely submerged, not crowding each other and bubbling.  if this means you can only fry three pieces at a time then do so, otherwise you'll end up with a soggy coating that won't turn golden.  take your time with this step, otherwise all your hard work up until this point will be for nothing. also, you aren't cooking the chicken at this point, but sealing in the juices and creating the foundation for a crispy crust.  just make sure it's golden, then place it on some paper towels to drain the excess oil.

once all the chicken is deep fried, place it in an oiled baking dish, cover it with foil and put it into your oven for 30 minutes. if you are anal like me, you can place the thighs and legs in their respective baking dishes, as they do have different cooking times.  legs can take a little longer, especially if they are much larger than the thighs, and if the thighs have the back bone/ball joint attached, these can take longer also.  after this, check for doneness (poking it with a knife to see if the juices run clear is a good test) and take off the foil to brown to desired color.  if you fried it to the kind of golden color you like in the beginning, then there is no need for this step and the chicken is ready to eat.  all you need is a picnic basket and a group of hungry friends.