Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thanksgiving week begins

As we enter the holiday week my thoughts turn (even more) to delicious things.
I thought this photo I took a few weeks ago of Apple Pie with Whipped Cream & Caramel Sauce taken in front of the fire would be a nice way to start the week.

I can see a few things about this photo I'd like to improve but I still like if overall.

A Chef's approach to eating lighter, losing weight, and getting in shape .... Part 2

This is the continuation of an earlier post.
You'll want to read Part 1 before continuing here.


Anyway, I embarked on my own mission to find a way to not only lose weight but also put on some muscle and get healthy. You do know that losing weight and improving your health do not necessarily go hand in hand, right?
I decided I would find a way to achieve my fitness & health goals without ripping all the decadent pleasures from my life.
The really weird thing is that I actually did it. I lost the all the excess weight I had put on and then some. I toned up and put on more muscle mass by far than I had ever had in my life before and I entered into my 40's in the best shape of my life.

Of course, it wasn't simple. It could have been much easier had I known then what I know now. However I took a much less direct path, filled with plenty of trial and error on my way to a healthier, trimmer body. There was the aforementioned bad advice fom those trying to sell products and gimmicks. There were the diet plans that work for a short period of time if they work at all and usually left me feeling hungry and deprived.
Then there were the various processed diet foods and weight loss supplements. Now those actually worked. My wallet lost a bunch of weight from buying them. My belly may have been hanging over my belt but my wallet had six pack abs.

It took a little while for me to realize that what I thought was my greatest obstacle in losing weight, my career and passion for fine food, was actually my greatest stength. I understood food and how to work with and create flavor. I also knew which products and cooking techniques were fattening and which were healthy. I could make healthy, lighter food taste good.
Correction, I could make it taste GREAT.

I also realized that when you have been working in my profession long enough you develop and understanding of how people eat and relate to food. Simply stated, people often don't realize what they are hungry for. I know that sounds a little odd but I'm going to ask you to trust me about this for now.

What we do as restaurant and catering chefs is not as simple as make delicious food and the people will come. There are techniques we use to gently nudge the way you eat this way and that.
Sometimes we use such methods so that you feel full and satisfied at the end of your meal while not having to give you too much of the “center of the plate” item which is generally the most costly item for us to serve.
We also do little things to encourage you to order more food from us than you may have done without our nudging.
If we are serving a buffet or catering event where we are paid a set price no matter how much the guests eat, it's in our best interests to guide you to eat less or eat the items that don't cost us as much to serve while still making everyone feel like they have gotten their money's worth. Let's face it though; if you were really getting your money's worth then we wouldn't have a very profitable business model, would we?

The unfortunate part of this is that whether we are trying to get you to eat less or eat more, we are pretty much never trying to get you to eat healthy. When it comes to making you feel sated while keeping costs low, salt, fats, sugar and simple carbohydrates are an easy out for many professional kitchens.

However I realized that these very same techniques that are all to often used to get us to make poor dietary choices can also be used to guide us toward eating better. In essence I found that I could use my powers for good as well as evil.
So that is what I did, even if just on myself at first. I was able to eat well, that is, really enjoy the food I had and in portions that didn't leave me hungry all the time. I was able to do it conveniently because even I, a cooking professional, don't have time to spend making involved meals for myself all the time.
I was still able to go out and treat myself to fine food and drinks without having to ask the waiter for steamed vegetables and sauce on the side. Not that either of those is a bad thing, but when I go out for dinner, I like to experience the food the way the Chef intended. In fact for me, that's often the point of going to a restaurant. Besides, as much as I believe in delicious yet healthy food, I can assure you that there is no such thing as a decent, low-calorie crème brulee. And to me, a world without crème brulee just isn't a world in which I want to live.

------------ To be concluded -------------------

Friday, November 20, 2009

Citrus Caviar?

It's always fun when my produce gal brings me something I've never seen before. Yesterday she had a mixed box of exotic citrus including the Australian Finger Limes. Very cool little things. You break them in half and squeeze the bottom and these little caviar-like nodules of citrus deliciousness come oozing out.
Just a few of these will add a nice like pop of tartness on top of an hors d'oeurve or any style of dish really.

And yes, that's a dime behind it to give perspective.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

You belong on your journey

I've been making a conscious effort to be more outgoing in the gym.
I don't ever intend to become one of those guys who uses the gym as a pickup place or even someone who spends half their time leaning on equipment chatting away. However perhaps keeping the iPod turned up and staying lost in a workout fugue state isn't exactly model gym behavior either.

That point struck me when I ran into a fellow gym rat on the street some time ago and realized that I've been around this person a few times a week for literally years and I don't know their name, I've never spoken with them or even exchanged a courtesy "hello".
There's being focused on my workouts and then there is just being weirdly antisocial. Don't misunderstand me. I do on occasion have conversations with fellow gym members. I'm just concerned that being too focused on myself might make me come across as unfriendly. And as those of you who know me are aware, I'm delightfully charming. ;)

So now, while I still mostly keep to myself and stay "in the zone", if I happen to catch someone's eye I make a point of offering a friendly greeting or at least a smile and a nod.

Today I came upon a woman by the water fountain who I have seen a number of times recently and have said hello to at least once before. She's a rather heavyset woman but I've noticed that she is certainly trying.
I asked her "How's it going?" and she gave me a small smile and replied "OK, I guess". Then she shook her a little and added "I sometimes wonder what I'm doing here. Everyone else is so fit and I feel like the big girl that everyone comments about."

I've heard this kind of remark before but never actually in the gym and never directly to me. It's a topic I've given some thought so I laid out my thoughts to her.
Rather than try to remember my exact phrasing, I'll just write them like any other blog post. I hope my words were of help to her.

I've been a regular member of a number of gyms over the years and while, as I mentioned above, I've never been Mr. Fitness Club Social Networker; I have been around enough to know the attitudes of regular gym goers.
I have never heard anyone make negative comments about any other gym member's size or fitness level. While I'm not going to say it never happens I do know that for the vast majority of gym goers, a remark like that would be reprehensible.

There is an understanding and respect for anyone who walks through those doors, anyone who is making the effort. Every one of us in there is on a journey. We all started at different places, we all are at different points along the way and we all are headed someplace different. However we all know what it is like to start, to feel out of place and to wonder how long and how much work it will take to make any progress.

And as far comparing ourselves to other people in the gym; just like the newbies, everyone is looking at those who appear to be in better shape than they are. Because no matter how fit you are, there is someone else in the gym who is thinner, fitter, more muscular, better toned and/or has more endurance than you do. And every one of us is thinking "I wish I had their .

If you are on the journey, if you are willing to walk through that door and try, then you belong there .... and you are one of us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Chef's approach to eating lighter, losing weight, and getting in shape .... Part 1

Right from the start, I'll acknowledge that when one starts thinking about whose advice to seek out in order to help them lose weight, shape up, and live a healthier lifestyle, a chef probably isn't the first person most people think of. After all, the classic image of a chef in most people's minds isn't exactly the lean, fit, athletic type. Usually when we think of a chef, the image that comes to mind is a portly, somewhat effete gentleman, often with an accent, an over sized mustache and, of course, holding a large plate of tempting, but hardly healthy, food. The kind of guy you'd love to have cook you dinner but not exactly your first pick to be on your team in a game of softball.
Granted, with the rise in popularity of food TV and celebrity chefs, the image in many people's minds of what a chef looks like has expanded in recent years. Yet, still to this day, when I meet someone and tell them what I do for a living, it's not uncommon for them to respond “Really? You don't look like a Chef!” Understanding what they mean by this I usually respond “Thank you.”

Some years ago there was a slogan that you could find printed on novelty cook's aprons, hats, t-shirts and even bumper stickers, “Never Trust a Skinny Cook.” Since in my younger days I was rather thin, that saying got tossed in my direction fairly often. Always with a sense of good natured teasing of course, but still something about that saying always bugged me. I think it was because that what it said to me at the time was that if I didn't clearly over indulge in my own craft, that I obviously wasn't very good at it.

I learned a response to that phrase from a co-worker of mine. “Yeah, well a fat cook is like a drunk bartender.”
OK, it's probably not a very good analogy but it was a gentle way to snap back without going into a soliloquy about long hours, hot kitchens, no time to actually eat what I was cooking, etc.
However, I didn't have to worry about responding to that remark for very long because the time soon came that the term “skinny cook” no longer applied to me. And it was then that I realized what was probably the real underlying meaning of that slogan. Yeah, I'm overweight, but I have a passion for fine food and cooking and an unhealthy, overweight body is that price of that passion. And that meaning bothered me even more.

So that was it? Since I lived in the world of cooking and dining, I was doomed to be out of shape, overweight and probably in poor health? Talking to my colleagues at the time about it seemed to reinforce that idea. It seemed like everyone I spoke with about how I was getting heavier, came back with a response like “Yeah, what are you gonna do? That's just the way it is with us.” Or “Sure you can lose weight if you want to give up eating anything good.”
Then, when I decided to look outside the culinary world to find out what I needed to do in order to reverse the direction in which my body and health were headed, it seemed like all the standard advice from the diet experts wouldn't work for me.

How was I to remove temptation from around me when I worked with and around non-diet food, some of it extremely non-diet, on a daily basis?
How was I to avoid snacking between meals when it was part of my job to taste test the food my crew was creating?
And keeping count of calories in that situation? Are you kidding me?
As far as finding a diet/accountability partner with whom to share the effort; I don't know how much you know about the culture of the restaurant world. Suffice to say that my colleagues and peer group wasn't exactly full of people interested in living a healthy lifestyle.
Speaking of lifestyle, I didn't exactly live the life of Jack la Lane myself. I worked long, erratic hours. My social life consisted of late night drinks with friends and dining at the most decadent restaurants I could afford. And when I wasn't going out I was, and quite frankly still am, a bit of a couch potato. What can I say? I'm a child of the TV generation.
Was I going to have to give up my social life and my beloved TV?

However, my biggest concern was having to give up eating the foods that I so dearly loved. I lived in a world where sauces were started and finished with butter, cream was its own food group, and we lived by the words “fat is flavor.”

So I finally concluded that if I really wanted to do this, I was going to have to find my own way. I could do that couldn't I? After all, we all pretty much know what we need to do in order in order to eat a more healthy diet and lose those extra pounds, don't we? It's not like there are scores of “experts” out there bombarding us with false claims and conflicting reports after all.
Oh wait....

Don't worry, if you care to follow along I'm going show you my method for navigating through all that mess.

---- To be continued ---------

ART @ the Four Seasons Hotel

Dinner tonight at ART.
I like the menu style. It had comfort food inspired dishes that are done with upscale style. Delicious dinner with excellent service to boot.

The only halfway decent photo I was able to get of anything with my iPhone was of one of my cocktails; a Pisco Sour.

Sometimes I'm just itching to bring my SLR with me when I eat at a place like that. So many of the dishes were photo worthy but I just can't bring myself to be that tacky.
Is there some trick/technique/move that I'm missing that other food photography enthusiasts use to get pictures at fine dining restaurants?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Culinary win, photography fail, good friends make it all worthwhile

Last night I hosted a birthday cocktail party in my home for my dear friend Jennifer. It's been a little while since I've entertained a large group here and I can't think of a more appropriate occasion to kick off what is for me, the entertaining at home season.

I love cooking professionally but there is something, dare I say magical?, about cooking for friends. Of course cooking for those you love is extra special and then there is the added dimension of sharing the meal and the event with those for whom you've cooked.

Jennifer had, after much prompting and badgering from me for her preferences, asked for small bites and finger food. She said she loves things in pastry, and mentioned baked brie en croute specifically. She also expressed a liking for traditional shrimp cocktail.

It had been a while since I made and enjoyed just a regular shrimp cocktail. Sometimes I think I might get too wrapped up in trying new things and experimenting with ideas. It's good to keep in mind that many classics are classics for a reason. I was really enjoying those shrimp and judging by the way the bowl got emptied, our guests were too.
They are also rather healthy and protein rich app. Just try to avoid the sugary, high calorie cocktail Go with a spicier recipe and keep it thin. You don't want to get a tablespoon of sauce on each shrimp anyway. The goal is to taste the shrimp, not just the sauce.

I made a baked brie in puff pastry. I topped the brie with spiced, roasted quince to add some sweetness & depth of flavor. It worked. :)
This is one of those hors d'oeurves you want to reserve for special occasions because it will catch up with you.

The menu also included ahi tuna bruschetta, phyllo bundles of duck & crisp vegetables, a peanut noodle salad with scallops and my friend Julian brought chorizo stuffed calamari. He cooked them on the grill and the result were these two bite explosions of smokey, spicy flavor.

The item I was most personally pleased with, because it was and experiment, was my lamb wellington. I pastry wrapped lamb loin and instead of mushroom I made a chestnut duxelle for it. I was really pleased with the flavor and how well the silver dollar sized held together when sliced and plattered. Along with a dish of red wine demi to drizzle over it I thought it made a really nice hors d'oeurve. And again, it's a nice lean protein with a little bit of pastry and the chestnut duxelle was very light.

Of course, I would have had photos of all this to share with you but I somehow managed to accidentally change a setting on my flash and it suddenly wasn't working. Since I was busy hosting and to be fair, drinking, I wasn't going to fool with the thing mid-party and try to figure out what I did wrong. So, no photos of all the wonderful food I mentioned. :(

The one thing I did make a point to get some photos of was the cake.
Jennifer and I enjoy watching the Food Network cake sculpting competitions together. Hey, we're food geeks after all. ;)
And if you are familiar with those shows at all you probably know that Redmond's own Mike's Amazing Cakes is one of the best cake sculptors in the country. So it seemed only appropriate to get her cake from there.

Important things to know about Jennifer is that among her many interests, she loves her shoes and has an amazing shoe collection. She is an avid reader and has an impressive book collection. She also collects Disney snow globes.

So here is the cake as delivered.

Here is a closeup of the work. Hard to believe it's a cake, huh?

And finally here is the complete cake including the snow globe topper.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tooting my own horn.

The good folks at, a wonderful company for whom I prepare food, were kind enough to put put a profile of me in this month's Seattle Magazine.
So tonight, rather than actually write a post or put up a photo I took, I'm just going to cop out and show that article.
Calling me their Executive Chef is appropriate since I proudly make all of their food. Although I'm actually my own catering company and sell to them. Just thought I'd mention that to clarify for any who might be confused by what I have said else where and what is in the article.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It happens every year.

Something about the "fall back" change of clocks always seems derail my workout routine. It probably has something to do with transitioning from leaving work in daylight to facing darkness as I exit the kitchen door. It adds to that feeling of "it's late and I need to get home".
Of course it probably doesn't help that it happens around now when summer has truly departed and autumn events are ramping into full swing.

This week for example was the Whole Beast dinner on Monday, I had a massage appointment last evening and coming up I have to prepare for hosting the lovely Ms. J's birthday party this weekend.

Add to that I just had to let one of my employees go. So that requires me working later than I had been.

Of course all these things are excuses. I have my workout routine and I'm pretty dedicated to it. Still, it's amazing how easily little things can derail that routine.
That's ok though. It's not bad to get derailed every once in a while. Just so long as you recognize it for what it is and you get yourself back on the rails quickly.

I haven't taken any photos since the start of the week. Bad Patrick.
I want to keep images flowing on here, so here is a pic of a Dragon Roll I had a Mashiko last Saturday. If you live in Seattle and haven't been to Mashiko yet, you should make a point of going. Absolutely delicious sushi an they serve 100% sustainable seafood.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Whole Beast

Last night was the Whole Beast dinner at Lark. The (mostly) annual dinner is focused on often lesser used parts of the animal. This one was also a game dinner and that is what really drew me in.

We dined on elk liver, bison heart, duck feet and trotter fritters to mention just a few items on the 18 course menu. There were a couple items that didn't wow me but most of the dishes were wonderful.
They served a pheasant pie that was very much in the style of the game pie I wanted to make when I made my ill fated trip in search of exotic meats some weeks ago. I'm not giving up on that yet though. I still have a couple weeks until Thanksgiving.
But I digress ....

I had a bottle of the Terra d'Oro Zinfandel with dinner. It's a reasonably priced wine but is a delicious accompaniment to a rich, autumn diner. Oh and I mean I had The Bottle. My lovely date doesn't drink. It's ok though. I behave myself most of the time so I can afford to indulge in extra calories like that without doing undo damage to my waistline. Or more simply put, I work out so I can go out.

It was nice to make it out to a food event like that. I miss far too many of them because I only hear about them at the last minute if not after the fact. I have my head too buried in my own cooking and running the business. I'm making an effort to be more "out there" and enjoy some of the more social aspects of the Seattle food scene. Not that there is anything wrong with enjoying a quiet, elegant dinner out with a beautiful companion. I intend to keep up that past time for sure. :) In fact I have a date to go out to ART in the Four Seasons next Monday evening. I haven't been there yet and I'm really looking forward to it.
I just also what to start expanding my dining out to include events and group oriented dining. Let's see how I do at that.

One thing I've been noticing lately is that the more I've been exploring food photography the more tempted I am to bring my camera into the dining room and grab images of the food. Of course one generally doesn't want to do that in a nice restaurant. It's usually a tacky move. Still I would have loved to have gotten a shot of that pheasant pie.
I love my iPhone but the camera on there doesn't quite compare to my SLR with a macro lens on it. *sigh*

I did get an image of the menu from Whole Beast to share with you. Check it out.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I've got a theory

"Have your ever heard of cooking theory?

Way back when I was a young, apprentice in the kitchen, the sous chef of the Florida Keys resort to which I was indentured asked me that question on one of my first days there.
"If you understand cooking theory", he explained in response to the shake of my head, "you can cook anything without a recipe because it means you understand food and flavor and how to make them work."

It's a simple enough statement but it's always stuck with me. Especially when I write online about food I've been preparing or when I post food photos. I always get requests for the recipe and I can't begin to count the number of times I've had to respond with "I'm sorry, I don't work with recipes, I just cook".
Don't get me wrong, I do on occasion use recipes and of I course I write them as well. I do this for a living after all. But in general when I'm cooking, especially when at home, I'm making it up as I go. I guess I understand cooking theory. ;)
This is what I hope to pass on to others because when it comes to taking control of your diet and creating healthy, delicious whole foods for yourself; the ability to create meals out of what you have on hand or what is otherwise easily available, is key. That involves stepping away from recipes and embracing techniques and some basic cooking concepts.

Don't get me wrong, I love cook books. I own many and will continue to purchase more in the future. Trying out a new recipe can be a lot of fun. Although to be honest I rarely measure or follow amounts listed in a recipe unless I'm baking and that is a topic for a later time. I usually get the concept of what the dish is from the recipe and go with that. In fact I often make changes and adjustments along the way. True, I should probably try the recipe as written first and then alter again on a later attempt but what can I say? I love to play with my food. :)
There are a ton of cook books out there and many of them are great, even many of the healthy or "diet" cook books. Although, I do have some opinions about the approach many of them take. However, that is another topic for later.

I want to do something different than just collection of recipes. I want convey an understanding of how to cook what the reader likes. I want to share an appreciation for whole, healthy foods.
I want to teach cooking theory.

Tonight's dinner:
I had a few duck legs I brought home from work. I'm braising them with some yukon gold potatoes, onions and bolete mushrooms. I had a little red wine left over from last night and some black garlic so I used those as well. I keep chicken broth in the fridge and poured about a cup of that in too.
Why this combination? Because it's what I had on hand. And it's going to be delicious.