Tuesday, September 29, 2009

ph: Hiring Again

With the somewhat, sort of, impending opening of project hampden (it's still like four weeks away - at least), the time has come to seek out new baristas. Surprisingly, posted notices of a barista opening to CoffeeGeek and Barista Exchange yielded zero results, so it's time to turn back to Craigslist.

Craiglist has become my economic barometer of sorts. A year ago, it wasn't uncommon to place a Craigslist ad and receive a few candidates. I even had one round of Craigslist postings where I might have received fifteen applicants, none of whom panned out.

Perhaps the world has changed and it's suddenly become chic to be a Barista but after three rounds of Craiglist ads since April, I've steadily been deluged with applicants in an ever-rising tide. The most recent posting has resulted in over 65 applicants.

How does one sort through this many applicants? It's tough.

Years ago, at Jay's Shave Ice, we had a system where the current staff reviewed the applicants and gave their recommendations. Back then, we used to field roughly the same amount of applicants for summer positions. Today, I no longer have the large staff of Jay's Shave Ice and am wading through the applicants by myself.

Which is how I found myself at Nautilus Diner tonight in Timonium with a pseudo Loco Moco to keep me company whilst I pour over the latest applicants. The goal: hire on a qualified staff of baristas to begin training this weekend.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ideas in... Disaster

Circulating for the Glory.

They say that the path to greatness is littered with failure.

And that hindsight is 20/20.

Whatever the case, my breakfast today was an utter disaster.

Inspired by Alex and Aki's recent victory with eggs and the ISI whipper, I decided to get my morning meal off to a different start by taking some eggs, butter, salt, hot sauce and skim milk and whisking it all together. As I was cracking the eggs, I started to realize that 500g is a lot of eggs for one guy. I decided to halve the recipe, which probably led to my downfall.

From there, it's into an ISI Whipper and the whole thing goes into an 82C water bath for one hour. Again, that decision to go for one hour after halving the recipe added to the disaster on the horizon.

Egg Disaster.

An hour and five minutes later, I pull the ISI from the water and hit it with two nitrous charges. Things sound like they're shaking in there. On a plate, I've got some applewood smoked bacon from Springfield Farm and a nicely toasted everything bagel. The stage is set and I've got the charged ISI in hand. Time to pull the trigger.

Molten butter blows furiously from the nozzle, but no eggs. I'm expecting the sabayon-esque egg to come oozing out but all I'm getting is hot butter. I shake the whipper some more. More butter. Shake again. Still butter. Crap. Shake, shake, shake. All that is, is butter. Dammit!

What the heck? I blow through the charge and screw open the whipper knowing full well what I'm going to see: poached egg inside the ISI Whipper. It's a crushing defeat. I'm in anguish. I'm in anguish because I'm hungry.

A close-up look at the egg detail. Interesting.

Regardless of the failure, I use a knife to dig out the eggs. They fall out and are quite fluffy and moist. The texture is nice and I'm finding the intertwining of the yolk, whites and scrambled mixture to be visually appealing.

It's a complete disaster but I eat half of it anyway. Turns out that 250g of eggs is still a lot for one person.

Next time I'll be victorious.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

It's Blog Birthday, It's Blog Birthday!

9/26/04 @ 10:32PM

That's the date all of this foolishness started. The day I decided to enter the fray with the very first post, which I ended with:

"I'll return later with more blog stuff."

Of course, it took another four months to pen the second post.

What started out as an occasional outlet changed into an ongoing dialogue about coffee, food, travel and life. It's been interesting chronicling my adventures and experimentations, triumphs and outright failures. Hope you've enjoyed reading.

Thank you for five years of readership and support.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Buy (Don't Steal) This Book!

Buy it. Now.

I'm not one to hawk things on this blog but dear friend Gesine just had her book "Confections of a Closet Master Baker" published and I thought I would offer a little encouragement to the Onocoffee World.

It's more memoirs than cookbook but it's a good read and you also get to support my photography efforts a little!

Guess who took the authors' photograph...?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Clarifying Coffee

Clarified Coffee.

While out last night at Les Halles, I mentioned to Philip that I've been interested in clarifying coffee. Truth is, I think coffee is a very unfortunate ingredient. It's so brown. So very dark brown that the color interferes or destroys anything and everything mixed with it. It's God-awfully ugly and a real challenge to utilize and create into a color that's actually appealing.

I've tried using a gelatin suspension to create a clear coffee but all it did was clarify the brown liquid. James Hoffmann has attempted to clarify coffee using a centrifuge with mixed results. Philip suggested we give it a go utilizing the rotary distiller.

The next day, an Americano goes into the chamber and starts spinning. The idea behind the device is to distill liquids by using a vacuum to lower the boiling point. Our first results were less than appealing but that was more due to not having the proper facilities to clean the apparatus at the conference than anything else.

The rotary evaporator distiller makes its' move.

The day before, they had been distilling Meyer Lemons and the lemon residue remained resulting in a clear coffee liquid with a strong and definitive lemon character.

More testing will ensue in the coming months but the initial test looks promising. I'll report more once the distiller is installed at The Spro.

Star Chefs 2009

Mike Love doing a demo at the VitaMix booth.

I've been in New York City attending the annual Star Chefs International Chefs Congress - a three day exposition of chefs and cuisine. Overall, it's an amazing experience that puts you in close proximity to some of the greatest modern-day chefs. This weekend, I've listened to people like Pierre Gagnaire, Juan Mari Arzak, Paco Torreblanca, Daniel Boulud and Grant Achatz discuss and demonstrate their philosophies and techniques. Just watching them in action has helped to prod and invigorate my own thoughts on processes.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a number of the presenting chefs were a bit unbalanced and even downright poor showmen, meaning that while they can cook, not many of them are great in front of an audience. Jose Andres and Masaharu Morimoto, however, were brilliant showmen. Both commanded the main stage in their own distinct style. Andres was clearly the more experienced entertainer of the two, not only engaging the audience with humor and philosophies on cooking, but also directing the cameraman towards what he wanted us to see, not whatever random imagery the cameraman and technical director were cooking up.

Yoshihiro Murata discussing aspects of umami.

Which brings me to the weirder aspects of Star Chefs. The camera work was absolutely horrible. In a main stage presentation where the audience is up to a hundred fifty feet away from the dish that's being prepared, good camera work is crucial. Following the narrative of the presenting chef and the action is critical. It's completely infuriating that the camera is off watching water boil (literally) while Morimoto is discussing and demonstrating the intricacies of cutting a tuna.

Then there were the seats. Bleacher style seating with these molded plastic "chairs" that were uncomfortable to sit on. Sitting on them for any amount of time was excruciatingly painful - and the hosts kept asking everyone to stay.

April Bloomfield caresses the pig before butchering it.

By now, I've been to a lot of shows and events and I was struck at Star Chefs how the event hosts saved the front and center seats for themselves, as if they were the stars of the show. Never mind the guest attendees, they can sit in the back. The hosts seemed more concerned about hob-nobbing with the famous chefs and placing themselves front and center for everyone to see and adore than actually taking care of guests.

This was most evident when one of the lighting fixtures blew up overhead and cascaded various bits of lighting and glass on a part of the audience. The hosts, sitting no more than twenty feet away couldn't be bothered to investigate or check on the attendees who had been showered with glass. Instead, they sat there pretending that nothing had transpired. Certainly these two were not hospitality people.

Gifts from April.

After the first day, it struck me that these were like some of the coffee geeks I had observed in the coffee world - outsiders obsessed with wanting to be considered "insiders" and therefore, "cool." I remarked to a friend that this is how a coffee event would be if a particular coffee geek had been the one staging it. My friend noted that it would be even worse.

Speaking of which, I'm disappointed that I didn't see baristas at the event. No one from our end of the world was in attendance. Here, we have an amazing gathering of chefs from around the world discussing their philosophies and techniques and no baristas. All that lip service we give about product and there's no one else here exploring techniques and ingredients? I just don't get it.

Pierre Gagnaire!

Of course, the only other coffee person there was notable rabble-rouser and Man Critical of Coffee Cronies in the SCAA, Mike Love - former chef and owner of Coffee Labs. In a sea of cooks and chefs, Mike and I were the only coffee people. Sad.

What might have been worse was the espresso from La Colombe. I tasted a shot of espresso from their booth and tossed it after a couple of sips. My adventure was rewarded with forty minutes of charcoal in my mouth - and this from one of the most touted restaurant coffee roasters. We still have a long way to go.

Jose Andres commanding the stage.

Otherwise, it was a great time. Most of the chefs gave great presentations and I it's always great to catch up with industry friends like Philip and Jason from PolyScience, Giuliana from Waring Commercial, Howard from Winston Industries, Greg from the NRA and Alex from Ideas in Food.

One chef that did not disappoint was Paco Torreblanca. Perhaps you've read his book (and you should) but he came out to demonstrate his technique for making oysters out of white chocolate, acetate and some powders and it was absolutely amazing. I was furiously punching notes into my iPhone the whole time. The man is a wizard.

In spite of the weirdness and oddities, I'll definitely be back next year 'cause where else can you go and be surrounded by such talent? Plus, the official book of the event is killer and worth the price of admission alone.

Masaharu Morimoto showing his yellowfin technique.

Josh Emett saw through a lamb - New Zealand, of course.

Daniel Boulud, Grant Achatz and Pierre Gagnaire waxing.

Paco Torreblanca ripping it up with chocolate oysters.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Encore Les Halles

The maestro prepares the tartare.

There's really only one place that I wanted to eat during this trip to New York City, and that's Les Halles. Once upon a time, their Washington DC outpost was our spot. We knew the staff, we knew the food, they knew us and it was a beautiful relationship. I'll grant that the food might not be the pinnacle of French cuisine but it was damn good, darn consistent and we loved it.

For me, there's not too much that I ask of a brasserie other than to give us consistently good food at good prices and take care of us. So many of today's "brasseries" and "bistros" charge and arm and a leg that you wonder if you aren't eating haute cuisine instead of just regular fare for regular people. In Baltimore, there simply is no place for simple French food prepared simply and affordably.

Shaping the tartare.

Les Halles DC closed last November and I've been without a French home for nearly a year. A lonely year. A long and lonely year. I just want a simple Steak Frites.

So when Philip mentioned that they were hungry but didn't want to go out to yet another fancy, fine dining place, I suggested Les Halles and off we went. Jason had his first experience with Steak Tartare and I had my standby: Onglet Aux L'Eschalote - butterflied hanger steak with fries and a small salad. Perfection. If I wasn't such a masculine sort of man I might have cried.

Philip went for the duck confit and Greg for a salad duo. French comfort food simply prepared. It was a nice respite from the fine dining that we're surrounded by normally.

Photographing the tartare.

Onglet, Frites and Salade.

Coconut and Chocolate Ice Cream.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Wine Number One.

Trips to New York City with Spike usually mean one thing: a full-on total attack on food.

Never in my life have I ventured so deep into the heart of the restaurant beast than when traveling with Spike. No restaurant is too intimidating and no menu is too vast for a thorough vetting. In fact, it's never just one restaurant, on a typical evening, it hasn't been uncommon for Spike to lead the charge in hitting up to three restaurants for three complete meals, which usually leaves me unable to sleep and in various stages of discomfort. A learning experience for sure, but I pay in the end.

With Star Chefs in full swing, it was time to head down to The Bowery and check out Daniel Boulud's new joint, DBGB - a riff on the famous Bowery music venue CBGB's (now defunct).

Oddly enough, I'm old enough to have actually seen shows at CBGB's so going to DBGB was an interesting experience. The restaurant is more French brasserie and doesn't share the same location as the old club but it's pretty darn good. The fries were done right and generally the food is quite tasty.

But the true star of the menu are their sausages. The flavor and texture of the currywurst was just spot on. Creamy, smooth and with a little texture - sausage perfection. The Basque Boudin was just as good with the perfect balance of texture, spice and blood. I wanted more but there was so much to explore.

Soon Josh and ladyfriend Mo joined us and it was Game On. We went to town on the menu, and we hit it hard.

Octopus a la Plancha - eggplant, tomato, crispy panisse


Boudin Basque - blood and pigs head sausage, espelette pepper, scallion mashed potatoes.

Berliner - german currywurst, turnip confit.

Beef Bone Marrow - katz pastrami, watercress, pickled mustard seed, rye bread toast.

French Fries

Veal Tongue Sauce Gribiche - egg dressing, fingerling potatoes.

Tablier de Sapeur - lyonnais-style crispy tripe, mustard sauce, spicy tomato-tripe salad.

Pied de Cochon Pane - crispy pigs feet, romaine heart salad, sauce dijonnaise.

Red Curry Mussels - spicy coconut milk, tomato & thai herbs.

Handmade Strozzapreti Pasta - spring peas, zucchini & tomato.

Paleron Carbonnade - flat iron steak braised in dark beer, root vegetables & gingerbread croutons.

Wine Number Two

Fig Tart with vanilla ice cream



and a Sundae

A bit of fanboy-ism: Thomas Keller's copper pot.

DBGB Kitchen & Bar
299 Bowery Street
New York, New York 10003

Sausage Sunday Brunch at Jojo

Yours truly with Crucial and Chef John.

Spike ponders wine and the menu at Jojo.

Tuna - tartare, chive oil and gaufrette potatoes.

French fries for the steak.

Hanger Steak - gingered mushrooms, white asparagus, soy caramel sauce and a fried egg.

The Original - the molten chocolate cake that started it all.

160 East 64th Street
New York, New York 10065

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Lighted signs guiding you to Japanese heaven.

Our friendly host offering samples of sake.

Sake Service: brilliant!

Ohitashi - Shimeji, shiitake, enoki mushrooms and mitsuba leaves in bonito broth.

Five Kinds of Seasonal Sashimi

More Sake.

Kamo Roast Negimaki - Chilled roasted duck wrapped around scallion with basil sauce.

Gindara Yuan Yaki - Grilled cod steeped in sweet soy sauce.

Sanma Miso Hobayashi - Chopped pike mackerel, miso paste on hoba leaf.

Buta Kakuni - Stewed diced pork.

We're back in New York City and hitting the restaurant scene once again. Tonight's venture takes us to Sakagura. Sake bar? Izakaya? Whatever the case, I'm never sure about classifications other than the fact that the descriptions stating that visiting Sakagura is like a visit to Tokyo are spot on.

Located in the basement of a nondescript office building on 43rd street, it's easy to miss Sakagura, especially if you're unfamiliar with the lit sidewalk signs that are ubiquitous in Japan. A couple of turns and a flight of stairs and you're transported into what must be authentic Japan - right down to the ethnically Japanese staff.

As we were seated at the bar, our friendly hostess guided us through the sake selections and we started ordering. Sake, sake and more sake. Much of it delicious. Much of it I didn't understand. There's a whole world and etiquette surrounding sake and I've still got a lot more to learn.

What can be said? The images above speak loudly. The sashimi was excellent. The toro beautifully fatty and silky on the mouth, the uni unbearably sweet. Freshly grated wasabi - a grown man should cry. The flavors were delicate and balanced. To my mind, Japanese food is about nuance and subtlety and Sakagura delivers.

The cod was wonderfully buttery and the mackerel grilling on the hoba leaf was a first. My only concern was the pork belly that was cooked perfectly but so large that it made negotiating with chopsticks a bit difficult.

Before long I was ejected back out onto the New York streets, in cool early autumn air with images of Tokyo dancing in my mind.

211 East 43 Street
New York, New York 10017