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Monday, October 05, 2015

Notes from London

Back in August, I had an amazing experience compliments of my job at Neuman's Kitchen. I did a two-week residency in London at Ottolenghi where I had the opportunity to work in every branch of the restaurant group and do a variety of things. While there I kept a diary and took tons of photos, which I am going to share with you, my people. Enjoy!

Monday, August 17
Wake at 5:30, just like a regular work day. Gave myself 1 1/2 hours to get to the Islington location, got there 30 minutes early. There was a man outside, power-washing the front sidewalk, reminded me of Neuman's. Went in front door and headed downstairs. First impression: "Wow this place is tiny." Only the baking crew was there; 3 young women from England, Brazil and Oakland California. Got changed in closet/locker room with broken light, so, in the dark.

Then the rest of the crew arrived and I met Clare, who runs the Islington kitchen. I worked on the salad side all day. I started the day helping a young Israeli, Orie (who has already asked me for a job), roasting off peppers, aubergines (eggplant, for us Yanks), and butternut squash in high quality olive oil garlic salt and pepper. They put the veg on lightly oiled parchment to roast and then put a clean linen towel underneath the parchment to cool it so it does not get soggy. They have 2 small ovens which they share with the bakers. Clare told me she dreamed of a Rationale oven. I did not mention the parts situation.


We started assembling the arranged platters of roast vegetables, 3 of each, some of which were dressed in the most unusual way. We made sauce out of Greek yogurt, tahini, walnut oil, salt and pepper, with some milk in it to thin to the spattering consistency. The sauce is put in a serrated spoon which is tapped hard on your opposite hand thus creating a small but consistent splatter on top of the vegetables. Then we topped it with pomegranate seeds and candied walnuts. Recipes are pretty standardized, Clare knows them all and instructs the kitchen, nobody has anything on paper. There is one master prep list and Clare delegates. Some items are carried over to the next day but not much. Seasonings, spiced nuts, roast garlic confit and things like that are held for 3 days. There is a warning label which lists 15 major allergens including items like Lupins(?) and you check off whatever the item contains and stick it on the container. 3 of each item on the lunch menu is plated up by the kitchen and brought upstairs one at a time and by crew to set up the front display. There is no turn out line, the waitstaff fills the orders from the front. They keep an hourly log of when the food is set out and if there is anything left after 3 hours, they toss it. There is a refrigerated insert in the display where they keep the ambient roast chicken, sliced filet of English beef and roast salmon.


Each day they do a different sauce salsa or marinade, but the proteins don't vary that much. All the restaurants run the same menu which is decided on in a democratic chefs meeting every season. They run the same menu for about 7 weeks. Fortunately the menu changes next week so I will get to see the change over and learning process. Other tasks I did: ask tons of questions about every ingredient (they do not buy purely UK products because of price and availability); sample as much food as possible; slice radishes and cabbage; make a large batch of walnut tahini yogurt sauce; prep peppers; make more platters; and tell stories about New York. It was fascinating to hear all these young chefs talk about their ultimate dream to come to New York. It's epic to them. By the end of today, Clare asked me to make a green olive Tapenade and told me to make it however I want.

I discussed with Clare my interest in seeing all parts of the operation so she has arranged for me to do a number of different things. Tomorrow, I am working the dinner shift which has an entirely different feel. They do small plates, hot items, full bar as well as specific salads. It’s very interesting how they modify the restaurant for different meals. At breakfast, they have white curly electrical cords hanging over the center table which they lower and attach toasters so you can toast your own bread. The breakfast menu included such items as Welsh Rarebit, Potato, manouri, and Za'atar frittata, and cinnamon brioche french toast served with orange yogurt, mixed berries and Muscat compote.

At lunch, cords go up. At dinner, candles go down the center table and value-added products get removed from shelves and replaced with booze. Room white, staff (very pretty staff) in black. I am off on Wednesday. Thursday, I am with Sami the big man at the new restaurant. Friday, I am working in Spitalfields which is the restaurant with the big new kitchen. Saturday, I am off. And Sunday I go back to Islington because they are short-handed and thought I could be of service.

Due to space limitations, as well as time, some of the items are made in their central commissary. Things like tart and pastry shells, and large rustic loaves and started there. They do all the butchering at the commissary, and send out clean meat and poultry as well as fresh lemon zest and juice. Tomorrow I will find out more about this mythical place and try to arrange a visit. Today was great.The staff was friendly, professional and all very happy to be working there, reminds me of home.

Tuesday, August 18
Today, I went in late and worked the night shift at the Islington shop from 2:30 to 10:30 PM. Totally different restaurant at night. Soft light from the candles and the bar was set up with cool chairs in the area where the food was displayed earlier in the day. The place looked sexy.

I worked with head chef of dinner, Chris from South Africa and Dan a lovely bloke (!) from Glasgow. They also have 2 prep guys working with them. The dinner menu consists of 8 of the lunch salads and plattered proteins slightly modified, a cold appetizer (Burrata), and then 8 different small plates which were turned out from the hot side. The palate is a bit more complex at night because it includes some Asian influences as well as Latin notes and the Middle Eastern flavors. Once again, the menu is created by all the chefs at all the locations and then tasted and evaluated by everyone though I am starting to get the feeling Yotam is the man to impress and that might be difficult.

I have not met him yet. I was told by one of the cooks he was in NY picking up another baby. I do not really know what that means. After a warm reception from my co-workers I jumped in to help with dinner prep and I started with the cucumber avocado gazpacho which is served under the Burrata. They add ascorbic acid to it to keep the color. The cucumbers are puréed and strained and then added to the avocado, garlic, apple vinegar, basil oil, and lemon juice and blended till smooth, very tasty. I made some dried shitake mushroom crisps which we sprayed with sesame oil before putting in oven. They almost tasted like bacon. I grilled off some corn which we made into a nice fresh corn salsa.


I pickled some baby beets, put up some fennel and red cabbage sour kraut and helped set up the line. I love how incredibly cordial this kitchen is. Everyone is very happy to work there and everyone wants to visit NYC. We probably did about 130 covers which is pretty good on a Tuesday night in their slowest month of the year. One of my favorite items was a fresh corn polenta made by simmering fresh corn in water, straining out the water and putting it in the mixer with feta cheese and butter and whipping it till light and creamy. Some of the corn water is added back in to improve the texture. To plate this dish, the corn salsa was put on top of the polenta then topped with the grilled octopus which was sautéed in butter infused with annato seed and a little smoked paprika. Then a few sexy dots of Jalapeño cream and it's done. They use octopus caught in off Cornwall and portion and freeze it because they said it becomes more tender and improves the flavor. The pea and mint croquettes, the vegetarian option of the night was delish — coated with sesame seeds, Panko, and pumpkin seeds and served with a spunky yuzu mayo. Getting late time to stop writing. Tomorrow I am off and I am having an art day. Tate Modern: first on my agenda!

Sunday, August 23
Sunday in London, it's difficult to get anywhere early. First train out was at 7:30 so I spent a bit of time sitting in the station. I eventually arrive at the Islington shop at 8:00. That location already feels like home. I started the day helping with breakfast prep which included making the Welsh Rarebit spread, slicing and grilling the ciabatta and the sourdough and Italian loaves. Then I prepped some garnishes of herbs and vegetables. The unit of measure is a Johnny container. Small, med, or large, with snap-on lids. No one knows why they are called that. Then I moved back to the salad station to help finish and platter the salads. It was a busy day, but super fun.

The team is great — young and enthusiastic and they play the music of my youth. Thank you Aretha for that RESPECT! There is an item on the breakfast menu I think is amazing. It's a Muesli served cold, made with red quinoa, oats soaked in coconut milk, shredded Granny Smith Apple soaked in lime juice, topped with Date syrup, mixed nuts and diced mango. Delish!

The rest of the day was spent making parts like pickled lemon slices (which are the new topping for the eggplant, along with toasted crushed pistachio and micro basil), roasting vegetables, and then — because there is no dinner service — doing a deep clean. They take every item out of the walk-in and check and clean it. Very impressive. Got major complements on my NK bandana and will be sharing the ones I brought with some key people. Heading home now to get some instructions on how to use the video camera from Ruth. Interviewing Sami on Friday afternoon as well as Clare who runs the Isslington kitchen cold side. While at work I missed a huge rainstorm but now it's sunny and cool and delightful.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Portland is as good as the hype!

To get ready for my first trip to the Pacific Northwest, I binge watched Portlandia (the satirical, sketch-comedy television program with the cult following) all about the weird cast of self-obsessed, coffee-drinking, Birkenstock-wearing, facial hair-sporting, smelly hipsters who live there. This is not at all what I found! Yes, there were some crazy folks, but that’s my norm.

The reason for my trip — besides checking out the local restaurants and exploring one of the best, if not the best farmer’s market in America — was to visit my pal Lani Raider. She kept saying I would love it there, but anyone who follows this blog knows I pretty much hate most anything people tell me I will love! Well I admit it, I loved everything about Portland. The local sustainable movement is real, not just a trend. And the people who grow the food and make the local booze are proud, knowledgable, and incredibly generous with information and free samples (makes my Jewish heart happy).

Besides the food scene, the landscape is stunning, with redwood trees towering over Arts and Crafts-style homes, rich flora and fauna, and enough green space mixed into the residential areas to make you feel embraced by nature. I had the opportunity to visit two fantastic public gardens which were each quite different and unique. The Chinese garden within the city walls is full of traditional architecture, as well as plants, water, rocks, and poetry (which I found out was the fifth element). All the building materials were brought over from China, rock by rock, pebble by pebble. It was such an oasis of peace. The Japanese garden is in a park on the outskirts of town (Lani drove us) and it sort of felt like Shangri-La. Must have been the waterfall, the swans, and the legal weed.

Portland is also known for its food trucks, which are generally amazing and are often grouped together to create cool little parks with central seating. I loved the interaction of nature all through the city. We drove over to Sauvie Island, an agricultural island which is part of the city where we visited Lani’s family’s 16-acre organic farm. Portland is affordable, interesting, and fun. That’s my little overview. Please enjoy this random sampling of my photos and make a plan to visit Portland. Tell them Rula sent you!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Korean Home Cooking with Shin Kim

Korean Home Cooking with Shin Kim - Sponsored by the New York Women's Culinary Alliance
On Tuesday evening, I attended my first event as a new member of the New York Women's Culinary Alliance, which is a service-based organization I recently joined. NYWCA was started by Sara Moulton and a number of other female culinary professionals who felt that women needed a platform to share, mentor, and network with other woman in the field.

I was very excited when I saw this class on Korean home cooking taught by Shin Kim of Banchan Story on the agenda so I signed up and offered to volunteer my services and be part of the program. The hands-on class, which started with Korean pop music and some fun videos of food scenes in Korean cinema, included six items we prepared together.

Clockwise from top: Shin Kim; making dessert; Pajeon.

Shin shared wonderful stories about Korean food traditions like how the eating of Miyeok Guk (also known as birthday soup) is eaten by new mothers for 21 days after giving birth and subsequently eaten on each birthday. It is never however, given to students before an exam because it is believed the slippery nature of the seaweed might cause the student to "slip and fail" their exam. We also made scallion and seafood pancakes called Pajeon, which are eaten with a soy and garlic dipping sauce. We learned to how to add extra oomph to glass noodles by using the water from soaking dried Shiitake mushrooms, which gave them a strong umami flavor. Participants worked in teams of three, sharing the prep of all the dishes. Then we all sat down at the end to a wonderful feast, ending with a traditional dessert made with shaved ice, vanilla ice cream, diced fresh fruit, Mochi, red bean paste, and sweetened condensed milk. This begins my quest to become fluent in Korean cuisine.
Left to right: cucumbers with Ssamjang; glass noodles and Shiitake mushrooms.

Good thing I know Jen Yi, owner of Mi Young's Farm in Jaconita New Mexico, where I will be going for my next Korean cooking class. New Mexico folks, keep your eyes out for Jen's new food truck!

Here is a recipe for an amazing dip we made in class. It's called Ssamjang and Shin Kim suggests pairing it with veggies or grilled meats.


1/2 cup Doenjang (Korean fermented soy bean paste)
1/4 cup Gochujang (Korean fermented red pepper paste)
3 cloves garlic, grated
2 scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

Simply mix everything together. Will last in the fridge for about a week.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Blue Island Oyster Company

Blue Island Oyster Company, West Sayville, Long Island
Keeping it real in the South Bay Yesterday I was a guest at the Blue Island Oyster Company on Long Island along with 4 of my colleagues from Neuman's Kitchen. Prior to this visit, the only thing I knew about oysters was that I loved them and they were difficult to open, so I was very excited to see the operation and find out how they are grown and processed. Blue Island sells wild oysters from the South Bay which are harvested by freelance divers, as well as running a farming operation. They also source oysters from around the world and distribute all over the country. Blue Island is famous for their wild-caught "Naked Cowboy" oyster which they treated us to at lunch.

Docks at the oyster farm

I learned that oysters are amazingly resilient and easy to grow (once you figure out your systems). The process starts with creating a warm still bath for the oysters to spawn (the "Maternity Ward"). Warm water promotes the development of gametes which are necessary for fertilization. The other thing they need is nutrition in the form of phytoplankton which occur naturally during certain times of the year. Blue Island also grows their own supply in a super-cool, Back-to-the-Future-type lab complete with bubbling bags of colored liquids, extra added CO2, lots of PVC pipes, and homemade ingenuity. Fascinating fact: Oysters are sequential hermaphrodites, which means they can change sex repeatedly (usually once a year), but can only be one sex at any time.

The Maternity Ward

Left to right: phytoplankton tanks; our guide; the tanks outside.

Back to the story, after they release their eggs, they are gathered and transferred into protected tanks — which have a continual flow of bay water pumped through them — to grow and thrive. As they develop they are moved to different tanks, each new tank has a larger filter and screen system in them so they can be easily moved from place to place. Eventually they go into tanks outside their buildings in the bay. This worried me as they are in tanks basically in a marina with boats and fuel and who-knows-what in that water. But the oysters have an amazing filtration system so oyster beds are great for the environment! Keenan, one of the Blue Island guys — and a wonderful host, told us that they are completely clean 45 minutes after being put out in the farm which is miles offshore. There they live for about 3 years till they are large enough to harvest.
Left to right: the oyster tumbler; freshly purged steamers.

Sorting and bagging oysters

One part of the process — which I found fascinating — was when they are about 1/2 inch in diameter they are put into a tumbling machine which rolls then thus breaking off the thin new outer growth on the edge of their shells. This causes the shell to grow thick and more bowl shaped instead of long and flat thus creating a deeper bowl for the oyster to form. Besides the tumbling process, there's quite a bit of work done to make the oyster more attractive, including power washing, scrubbing, sorting, and bagging. They also sell clams (steamers) which they purge in a fresh water tank system, (something I had never seen before and which they described as something nobody else does) so you don't have to deal with they annoying sand crunching in your mouth. Blue Island Oyster Farm is an example of people working with nature in a sustainable way, employing local people, and strengthening the local economy. A delicious win-win-win for all involved. Thanks for a great day!