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The VUDE - Promoting Culinary Inspiration in Seattle


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Tuesday, February 4, 2014



The_VUDE_Dining_Room_800.gifWhat a cool concept Jon Staenberg has in The VUDE (The Velvet Underground Dining Experiment) in downtown Seattle. It is a unique venue where both established chefs, and up-and-coming chefs, can have the opportunity to showcase their talents to a small group of seasoned culinarians. It is designed in an intimate, warm setting which seats about 45 people at 3 long community tables. The kitchen is open to the guests, providing them with the opportunity to flow freely from the dining room into the kitchen just as they would if you were making dinner for friends at home. This allows guests to interact with the chef during the evening, making for a unique, fun experience for both the chef and the diners. The standard menu (created by each chef) is at least 6 courses, plus many chefs will also serve hors d'oeuvres as well.

Guests_in_the_kitchen_800.gifFor the chef, the intimacy of The VUDE makes for a warm, friendly, casual evening of cooking and provides a chance for the guests to interact with the man/woman responsible for the evening's culinary fare.

So, who would make a guest chef appearance at The VUDE? Well, the culinary bar has already been set pretty high! Seasoned Seattle favorites such as Jason Wilson of Crush and John Sundstrom of Lark have done a stint at the VUDE (see the full lineup of previous chefs below). The draw for established chefs to the venue is that it offers a place for them to "get out of the box" of their normal kitchen to play a little bit and to interact in a more intimate way with their guests. And for those up-and-coming "undiscovered" chefs it is a chance to show off what you have, a place where you can test your metal and make your mark.

In fact, in an effort to to feature and promote new chefs (as in chefs with limited or no previous media coverage, not new to cooking), Jon has started a new series called Up and Comer Sunday Suppers which highlights undiscovered chefs in the Seattle region. So, if you're an experienced chef and you know of a talented chef who has a good reputation amongst his guests and peers but who hasn't gotten his chance in the spotlight yet, or perhaps a sous chef who needs to take a step forward, talk with them and contact Jon Staenberg about the possibility of an appearance at The VUDE.

Potential candidates must have experience plating upscale multi-course menus for 50 or more people. A chef-mentor is allowed (perhaps expected) to assist in making sure the event runs smoothly (after all, guests are paying!)

If you are interested in being a guest chef and want to know how the kitchen is equipped jump to that section.


After gathering this basic info about The VUDE I had some interview questions for owner Jon Staenberg.

Plate-up_800.gifQ: As regards your long-term vision, what reputation do you hope to have among chefs? What do you hope chefs will think about cooking at the VUDE?
For chefs, we want to be a place equivalent to On The Boards or Townhall in Seattle; the kind of place to do things that are outside the box, that is reflective of where they are now, what they have been thinking about and brings together new ideas and a great, enthusiastic and appreciative (though critical) audience.  The VUDE wants to be a blank slate where new “art” can be tried and trialed.  And most importantly we want to respect and celebrate all that is part of this amazing food culture that is changing the world today.

Q: Same question but for your diners. What do you hope diners will think of the VUDE?
Years ago someone said “kill the restaurant.”  We do NOT want to do that but we do want the opportunity to help shape what people think of as a great dining experience.  We believe that deeper connections with the food, the wines, the chefs and even the other diners can create a more memorable experience.  Diners want and are starting to want more.  They want the stories behind the stories.  They want personal moments.  They want a total experience.  And we should not forget what they expect, and we want to deliver great food and wine.

Q: What is the ultimate goal of the VUDE?
It is an experiment and The VUDE is our laboratory.  Is there ever any ultimate goal?  It is a work in progress.  We have learned a lot and inspired many.  If we keep doing that, then we will be good.

Q: How can a guest chef appearance at the VUDE benefit the chef's business?
One of the main goals of The VUDE is to help people discover.  Like a TED talk perhaps.  Sure we have a large list of foodies who hear about every event and we are active on social media and we create great content of the event itself, but we now are starting to hear people say, “Yeah that chef has cooked at The VUDE” as if that is also a pretty good stamp of excellence.  We are curators and I think people get that we are only doing events and bringing in chefs that are new, fresh and original.

Q: Does the guest chef have to pay for all the food?
No!  We don’t expect any chef to be out of pocket ever and we hope depending on the chef, theme, event etc that we can provide a few shekels for their time and effort.  We really have three kinds of events (loosely categorized):

  • Celebrity Chefs
  • Up and Comers
  • Private event chef-ing opportunities

Each of these is a bit of a different model.  Generally, the more a chef helps us drive the marketing and sales the more we share in the net proceeds.

Let's Check It Out!

Cocktails_3_300.gifJon invited me down to actually attend one of the events. So on Tuesday February 4th I made the 2 hour trek to Seattle for an enjoyable evening of food and wine. Specialty cocktails this night were prepared by an up-and-coming chef, Jonathan Jason Proville, who is on the list to make a guest chef appearance at The VUDE. His cocktails included 2 creations: The Rye & Smoke had Old Overholt Rye whiskey, Lemon, Black Tea, and Smoked Olive Oil! A very cool, complex, satisfying drink. The Sherry Cider had a Washington Apple Cider, Amontillado Sherry, and Lillet Blanc...a refreshing cocktail.

Chef_Bill_Patterson_800.gifThis particular night's guest chef was Bill Patterson, chef/owner of Orcas Island's Sazio di Notte, a restaurant with strong Italian roots. Chef Patterson uses local products as much as is possible, and raises his own pigs for the restaurant. He is passionate about his food, and unafraid to tell you his opinion about food! When I asked if he was using Penn Cove Mussels, he exclaimed "Oh no no! Those are much too small. I prefer Taylor Shellfish oysters because they are larger, more mature, and therefore have more flavor. The same is true of baby vegetables… they are immature and lacking in flavor." And true to form, Chef Patterson's food was delicious and not lacking in good flavor!

It's difficult for us chefs when someone else critiques our food saying things like, "Oh it needed a little bit more of this" or "It could have used a little less of that" etc. And because we are chefs, we tend to be hyper critical of everyone's food...even our own (if we're honest!) So I'm not going to go through and critique each one of chef Bill's courses. Instead, I'll simply say that he is clearly passionate about his food and he has excellent technique and flavors. The mussels were served just as they opened, the salad had a perfect balance of flavor, his pasta (freshly made on premises) was exquisite! And the osso bucco was perfectly fork tender. If you find yourself on Orcas Island, you must plan to dine at Chef Patterson's place, you won't be disappointed.


Chef William Patterson
Sazio di Notte
February 4, 2014


Tartines Agrodolce
Ceci con Gamberi

App_1_800.gif App_2_800.gif App_3_800.gif App_4_800.gif



Rye and Smoke
Sherry Cider


Cozzi Siciliano
Inama, Soave Classico Foscarino



Vino Nobile di Montepulciano



Tagliatelle Pastore
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano



Polenta con Gorgonzola
2010 Hand of God, Fingerprint Series Red



2010 Hand of God, Old Vine Malbec



Caffe Ladro, Hand of God Unico Blend Coffee


The Kitchen Layout

The kitchen has one commercial Viking gas range with a full-size oven and six top burners. Commercial size pots, pans and brazier/rondos are available. There is a fair amount of counter space with an 8 foot prep table against the wall and a center prep/plating table about 12 feet long. There is a commercial dish machine and dish racks, and one over-sized refrigerator with a lower freezer compartment, so refrigeration is a little limited...plan accordingly.

For guest chefs, servers are provided by The VUDE so the chefs only have to focus on cooking and plating. A variety of nice plates, bowls, silver, glasses, Riedel wine glasses, cloth napkins, and other standard service essentials are provided, as well as someone who will do the dishes. However, if you want to use platters you should bring your own.

The_VUDE_Kitchen_1_800.gif The_VUDE_Kitchen2_800.gif The_VUDE_Kitchen3_800.gif


Past Guest Chefs at The VUDE

Plate-up_2_800.gifChef Thomas Black
Bill the Butcher
Michael Strate
Cormac Mahoney - Madison Park Conservatory
Jason Wilson - Crush
John Howie - John Howie Steak
Tibeiero Simone - "La Figa" cookbook
Maxime Bilet
John Payne - formerly of Herb Farm
David Barzelay - Lazy Bear
Tomer Shneor - Nomad Dinners
Renee Erickson - Boat St Café
Chris Keff  - Flying Fish
Zoi Antonitsas - Westward
Jason Vickers - FEZ Food Truck
Chris Blanco - Raikes Foundation
Jason Stratton - Aragona
John Sundstrom - Lark Restaurant
John and Caprial Pence
Tha Marc Restaurant
Chris Lobkovich - Brass Tacks
Mike Easton - Il Corvo Pasta
Chris Opsata - Brass Tacks
Meeru Dhalwala - Shanik
William Belikis – Mistra

Want to join the ranks of guest chefs who have appeared at The VUDE? Contact Jon Staenberg to discuss the possibiliies!
Have you been a guest chef, or have you attended one of the dinners? Leave a comment below!

Follow David Buchanan on Google +
David Buchanan is a professional chef and author of Chefs-Resources.com, a site geared towards providing chefs and culinarians useful info to help in their kitchens.


Challenges Faced in the Restaurant Management Industry

Monday, November 25, 2013

With the American food-serving industry facing a variety of challenges, restaurant management schools are addressing the issue in a proactive manner. More and more diners are demanding healthy meals and becoming aware of the role that diet plays in overall health and wellness. While many people have a penchant for foods that are filled with sugar and fat, others may have a hard time finding an establishment that caters to their dietary restrictions, and this is especially true for anyone who has allergies. Restaurant managers are responsible for the overall success of a particular facility, and it's important that they completely understand the issue of food allergies and diners who are interested in finding healthy meals that are prepared according to their dietary goals.

The Challenges in a Career as a Restaurant Manager

One of the chief challenges in the restaurant industry is the fact that more diners are beginning to understand how processed foods can lead to a host of health problems. The human body has been slow to adapt to processed food, and this leaves many dining establishments in a precarious position. In order to keep sales high, restaurants need to cater to clients who are demanding fresh food that is prepared with local ingredients. Today, diners have more choices than ever, from bakeries that produce fresh breads without gluten to cafes that rely on freshly harvested produce to make their dishes.

Addressing Allergies

One of the biggest challenges that a person who is interested in a career as a restaurant manager faces has to do with the issue of food allergies. Proper training and education are an essential aspect of making sure that people with allergies have their meals prepared in a proper manner. Knowledge helps to reduce mistakes and ensures that misinformation is addressed at a fundamental level. Restaurant management schools can help address the problem because they provide the training that is essential for staff members while ensuring that management is fully aware of how allergies can be dealt with in a restaurant that provides meals to a variety of different patrons.

Diet-Specific Restaurants

While enrolled in one of the accredited restaurant management schools, students can gain more information about the features of today's diet-specific restaurants. Because more consumers are becoming aware of the difficulty that is involved with preparing foods that are gluten or peanut free, it is essential for managers to cater to these patrons, and many bakeries have made the move to eliminate gluten from all of their products. The biggest challenge has to do with creating tasty entrees that are prepared in a manner that respects dietary restrictions.

Increasing Consumer Confidence

If you're considering a career as a restaurant manager, it is imperative to understand what customers are searching for when they are looking to dine out. While most restaurants can accommodate clients with special requests, there is a growing trend in the industry for facilities that cater to people who demand certain diets. The reason behind this has to do with the consumer confidence of customers. As more information becomes available to consumers, many people are searching for establishments that provide outstanding fare that is prepared in a safe, sanitary and healthy manner.

The major role and responsibility of a restaurant manager is to manage the restaurant. He/she needs to ensure efficient and effective operations of the restaurant while taking care of its ethos and reputation. Further, he/she need to maintain the high standards of food, safety, health and service. A restaurant manager needs to work as an intermediate between the diners and the chefs.

If you are already a restaurant manager in a renowned restaurant and want to establish your name to get success and fame, then you need to focus on two important aspects required in restaurant management industry i.e. work experience and practical experience. Both of them are valuable and play a vital role in boosting your professional career growth. It helps in developing subject specific and transferable skills. Further, you can participate in various contests to prove your capabilities and set an example for future employees. In case you have any specialist in mind, then be close to him and find out how he handles all his management tasks efficiently and hold expertise in his respective domain. This way, you can achieve specialization in your work and grow at a faster rate. By practicing harder with willingness to learn something new every day, you can perform your job well and gain huge appreciation.

So it will be not wrong to say or predict that in the coming years, the restaurant management career outlook will focus more on experienced professionals and bring lots of other amazing career opportunities for them.

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

Zac Parker is a very creative writer and an active contributor who focuses on culinary oriented writings and brings great cooking related information to his readers. He loves cooking, eating, and writing about foods as his field of expertise.



Huckleberry Sockeye Lox and Dungeness Crab Salad with Cucumber Wrap

Sunday, September 29, 2013


This lox recipe is one which I have developed over several years. It has a mild saltiness, a bit of sweetness, and is versatile in that it can be served as is, or added as an additional component to another dish. The lox can also be smoked if you wish, or served as is without smoking. In the picture, I served it as an appetizer in the restaurant. But I first served this dish as an individual amuse bouche for the 2013 Washington Wine & Food Show. We made about 2,500 of these little hummers! It took us 10 solid man hours just to slice the salmon! (My crew hated me.) But, we received HUGE accolades at the event, rave reviews, with people coming over saying, "I was told I had to come try your dish!", or, "Is it ok to have thirds?" Now my staff was all smiles, knowing that all our work had paid off.

For the Huckleberry Sockeye Lox


1 2 lb Side Thawed, previously frozen Sockeye Salmon, skin-off, pin bones removed

10 Tbl Light Brown Sugar
3 Tbl Kosher Salt
1 Tbl Orange Peel
2 Tbl Fresh Lemon Zest
4 Tbl Granulated Sugar
2 Tbl Fresh Tarragon Leaves
2 Tbl Fresh Dill, chopped
2 Cups Huckleberries, crushed (or Blackberries)


1) Trim the salmon of excess fat. Pat dry.
2) Cut 2 pieces of aluminum foil which are about 6” longer than the salmon fillet.
3) Combine the sugars, salt, and lemon zest. Mix well. Divide the mixture in half. Reserve.
4) Place the salmon in the center of one of the sheets of foil.
5) You will apply half of the ingredients to each side of the fillet:

  • Evenly sprinkle the top of the fillet with half of the tarragon and dill.Evenly sprinkle with half of the orange peel, lemon zest, sugar, and salt mixture.Place second piece of foil over all and carefully turn the salmon over. Remove the top piece of foil and repeat the above process of adding the ingredients on this side of the salmon. Replace foil and fold it multiple times on all sides so as to form a good seal.
  • For day one place on a flat pan (such as a cookie sheet) with at least a ½” raised edge and store in refrigerator overnight.
  • On day two place another flat pan on top of the salmon and add about 7 lbs of weight on top of it. Return to the refrigerator overnight.
  • On day three drain any liquid from the bottom pan, flip the salmon over, cover with the pan and weights, and return to the refrigerator overnight again.
  • On day four, remove the weights and the foil. Gently scrape the huckleberries and herbs from the fillet. Pat the salmon dry with paper towels.
  • Slice thinly and serve!

Store in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 5 days.

Notes: Because this is an uncooked product you should use a quality, frozen (and thawed) side of salmon so as to eliminate any possible danger from parasites.


For the Dungeness Crab Salad


½ Cup Fresh Corn, cut from cob, roasted, cooled
12 Oz Dungeness Crab meat, lightly pressed but not squeezed
12 Oz Red Crab meat, lightly pressed but not squeezed
4 Tbl Shallot, minced
2 Tbl Fresh Chives, minced
1 Tbl Parsley, chopped
1 ½ Tbl Fresh Tarragon, chopped
3 Tbl Red Bell Pepper, brunoise
3 Tbl Yellow Bell Pepper, brunoise
2 Tsp Dijon
3 Tbl Panko
6 Tbl Apple Bacon, cooked, cooled, 1/4" cut
¾ Cup Mayo
Pinch Sea Salt
Pinch Cayenne


Lightly press some of the excess liquid from the crab meats, but do not squeeze it all out. Combine all the ingredients and gently fold together. Adjust consistency with a little more mayo (to loosen) or panko (to tighten) as needed. Chill.


For the Cucumber Wrap


About 5 ea. English Cucumbers, ends trimmed


Using a mandolin, thinly shave the cucumber into long, thin ribbons. Do not use the first few ribbons or the seeded section of the cucumber. You should be able to cut each ribbon in half and make 2 separate crab salad rolls from each ribbon. Form the crab salad into a ball about 1 oz, then roll into a cylindrical shape. Place on a cucumber ribbon, roll, set aside until service. You should have enough cucumber ribbon to go about 1.5 times around the filling to ensure that it will hold.

At service, top each roll with a slice of Huckleberry Los. Add fried taro root for “crunch”. I used Hearts of Fire leaves as a garnish, which I believe are a type of sorrel because they have a nice lemony flavor which accents the dish nicely. And I laid down a line of lemon aioli under the rolls in order to add a visual "anchor" to the presentation and to give the dish a little extra "zip" of citrus.

And finally, Time to Munch!


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Sous Vide New York Steaks and Salmon

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sous-Vide-Supreme-Chef.jpgGot my new Sous Vide Supreme Chef and VacMaster VP-112 the other day and have been playing with it at work ever since! I'm hoping to be able to do Sockeye Salmon to order, cooked to 115° within 13 minutes and served within 15 minutes of getting the order. In the Pacific Northwest we love our Salmon cooked medium-rare, and doing it sous vide makes the flesh so delicate it melts like butter in your mouth! I'll give details of my experiments below.

I'm also toying with the idea of doing our fabulous 14 oz Double "R" Ranch New York steak using the sous vide process. It would guarantee that the steaks were perfectly cooked to whatever temperature we determine for rare, medium-rare, etc. Of course, this would not eliminate steaks being returned to the kitchen...what the guest thinks is a medium-rare and what we know to be a medium-rare are not always the same thing (makes me want to play Gorden Ramsey with the customers sometimes!). But it would greatly reduce errors by cooks either over-cooking or under-cooking the steaks. I'll share my lessons so far below.11


Salmon Sous Vide

OK, changing gears back to Salmon! We are a seafood restaurant so I tried Salmon first. The goal was to cook the Salmon to an internal temp of 115° within 14 minutes in order to meet our self-imposed 15 minute ticket time for entrees. I took our 7 oz portions of Sockeye and cut it on a severe bias into 3 medallions no more than 1/4" thick. Then I seasoned them as normal, placed them in the bags with some extra-virgin olive oil, fresh sprig of tarragon, and squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and vac-sealed them using the VacMaster VP-112. The vac-seal process takes about 35-45 seconds, but is very simple.

Next, I placed the fish into the sous vide machine set to my desired temp of 115° and hoped that after 14 minutes it would reach an internal temp of 115°. What happened?...Failure!! It was at 101° which meant I'd have to increase ticket times (not good), or go back to the drawing board. So, back to the drawing board I went! Next, I tried setting the machine to 125° and did the same process. This time...almost success!! The Salmon was actually at 120° after 14 minutes. So I learned that achieving a 15 minute ticket time with 1/4" medallions is possible...just need to fine-tune the timing to hit the 115° cooked mark.

Sous-Vide-Salmon-in-bag.jpgThe next challenge to overcome with the Salmon during dinner service is this: I'll have multiple orders rung in over the span of 15 minutes, meaning that all night long we will have multiple Salmon cooking in the machine, all with different time frames. As each new order comes into the kitchen, I could theoretically have 15 different orders all space one minute apart! How the hell do I keep track of this mess, especially when dinner service is for 6-7 hours long?! Solution (thanks Chef John Jadamec): add a second digital clock set 14 minutes fast. Explanation: we currently use a digital clock to keep tickets on a 15 minute ticket time. Each ticket is automatically time stamped when we receive it, and we pace tickets so they "hit the window" after 15 minutes. By adding a second clock which is set 14 fast (the time it takes to cook our sous vide Salmon to 114°), it makes it possible for the Wheelman (Expeditor...the guy/gal calling the Wheel/tickets) to simply look at the pull time for the Salmon, write it on the vacuum packed bag, fire it into the sous vide machine, and know which Salmon to pull at exactly what time. This way multiple orders can be working with no confusion about what gets pulled when.

New York Steak Sous Vide


Preparing the New York sous vide is definitely more challenging, especially from a restaurant perspective. It takes approximately one hour to cook a 1" thick steak to rare, medim-rare, and medium. Are you willing to wait an hour for your steak? That has epic failure written all over it. And since we can sell up to 45 NY's in a night, to make this process work using the sous vide method means we'll have to prep today for what we'll need tomorrow. And I'll have to get the re-therm process to work with-in about a 15 minute ticket time for dinner service.

So with this challenge to overcome, I tried two variations of NY. I wanted to know if a pre-seared steak or a raw steak worked better. The first steak I seasoned as normal, charred on the grill blue-rare, and chilled to 34°. The second, I seasoned as normal and left raw. Both were then vacuum-sealed and cooked sous vide to 125° (our medium). I then put them into an ice bath (still in their bags) to chill to 34°. The next day I re-thermed them as follows: the charred steak I placed in a 325° convection oven (low fan setting) until it reached 115° (about 10 minutes) and let the carry-over heat finish it out to 125°. The raw steak we seared in the Montegue broiler (top and bottom heat) for about 9 minutes. We let them rest then carved them up. We liked the raw-then-char preparation better because it had a more smoky, charred, grill flavor than the one we pre-seared then finished in the oven.

Knowing that the raw, un-seared version worked better, today we did our second test. I had two steaks, both raw, seasoned, vacuum sealed, and cooked sous vide then charred to finish. One was sous vide to rare 105°, the other to medium-rare 115°. Both were immediately chilled in their bags to 34° (a safety step for HAACP). I then used the Montegue broiler (top and bottom intense heat) and cooked the rare steak to 90° (about 5 minutes) and the medium-rare to 100° (about 7 minutes), let both rest for 3 minutes, and found that both rested out to their ideal temps of 105° and 115°...success!!

Sous-Vide NY-Steaks-sliced-105-115.jpg
Rare is on the left, medium-rare on the right

Additional restaurant service challenges to overcome: since it takes about an hour to cook these puppies, ideally I would have at least 3 machines, one for cooking each temperature of steak (R, MR, M). I still have to see how many I can cook at once in the Sous Vide Supreme Chef machine... I think 10-14, but the cooking time will probably increase. Another HUGE, MONSTROUS, obstacle...if I am going to cook steaks for about an hour in a vacuum sealed bag, then chill them, and then re-thermalize them to order, I will probably have to get an approved HAACP plan by the local health department to verify that I am using/applying appropriate health and safety procedures. ?@#&%*! A necessary trip through pergatory...but holy crap what a pain in the a__ to accomplish! I heard that it took Chef Jason Wilson of Seattle's Crush 90 hours to complete his! Not something I'm looking forward to, although I have already started the process.

As a note, here are our steak temps: rare 105° (60 minutes), medium-rare 115° (70 minutes), medium 125° (80 minutes), medium-well (not going to do MW sous vide), well-done (WTF?! Sorry if you like your steak this way, but I STRONGLY disagree. However, as a paying customer, if you want to put an automatic transmission in your Lamborghini I'll do it for you.)



Shigoku Oysters with Seafood Mary Shaved Ice

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Oysters_Seafood_Mary_Granita[1].jpgOyster purists will argue that raw oysters should be consumed as is, with no embellishment, with the possible exception of a squeeze fresh lemon! But for many of us the addition of some kind of sauce or condiment adds to the experience, making slurping oysters more fun and pleasurable. This recipe is a "twist" on the traditional cocktail sauce, with added fresh horseradish and lime juice to add a little “zip” to any oyster on the half shell. I've called this a Seafood Mary Sauce and it is actually a Granita, which is a preparation which is turned into shaved ice.

Shigoku Oysters are an elegant, deep cupped oyster with gorgeous black and gold shells. They are cultivated by using a unique method which tumbles the shells naturally with the rise & fall of the tides. They are placed in narrow, rectangular mesh cages which are attached to a horizontal line on one end, and have floats at the opposite end. Thus, as the tides ebb and flow the floats cause the cages to rise or fall, resulting in the gentle tumbling of the oysters in the cage. This tumbling chips the edges of the shell causing the oyster to grow a deeper cup rather than a broader or longer shell. It also creates very uniformly shaped, manicured shells. Shigokus have a briny bite, a clean, sweet flavor with a hint of cucumber and melon finish.

In the center of the dish I made an "ice sculpture" by freezing some pink peppercorns and tarragon in a rectangular mold. Its so easy to do and adds a cool presentation piece. Add about half the amount of water you need for the thickness you want (mine is about 1/2" thick). Freeze it. Add about 1 or 2 tsp of water, then add your garnishes (pink peppercorns, etc). Freeze. Add remaining water to the thickness you want the sculpture to be. This process puts the garnishes "inside" the ice.


2 cups V-8 juice
1 1/2 tablespoons Tabasco
3/4 cup fresh lime juice
9 tablespoons ketchup
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh horseradish, micro-planed
Pinch sea salt


Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Pour the mixture into a broad, shallow pan (such as a 2" half pan, or a cake pane) and place in the freezer. As it starts to freeze, use a fork to drag through the forming crystals to break them up into shaved ice. Repeat this process about every 5-10 minutes until all of the mixture has frozen and been shaved into tiny crystals. The purpose of the process is to keep it from freezing into a solid block of ice. The resulting small crystals should have the consistency of a snow cone.

At service, use a brush to scrub the oyster shells clean. Carefully shuck them, being sure to preserve the precious liquor (the liquid inside of the oyster shell). There are a variety of ways to present them. You can serve them on crushed ice, rock salt, over mixed greens (spring mix), or any other thing that will keep the oysters level. At the last moment, add about 1 teaspoon of the granita on top of each oyster and serve immediately because the granite will melt quickly.

Slurp away!


Tips for Hiring a Skilled Chef

Thursday, July 18, 2013

by Zac Parker

When it comes knowing how to hire a skilled chef, there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration. From a minimum amount of experience to a formal culinary degree, the exact top qualities of expert chefs that need to be looked for will be determined by the employer's size and the type of food it serves.

For most fast-food restaurants, a head chef will not need to be employed. Instead, a kitchen manager can usually fulfill the role of a chef. On the other hand, for higher-end dining establishments, one or more chefs need to be hired. Likewise, there are certain aspects that have to be taken into account when hiring a chef.

How to Hire a Skilled Chef

No matter the size or type of food being served, the following top qualities of expert chefs need to be looked for:

Leadership skills

A chef is like the captain of a ship. He or she must have superb leadership skills, guiding kitchen workers in a way that efficiency and effectiveness will be maintained at all times. Besides, a good leader can lead to success.

Customer Service

Even though a chef does not tend to work directly with customers, he or she must understand the importance of good customer service. Having a good customer sense let the chef connect with the people. In doing this, the chef will be able to consistently provide customers with a unique and enjoyable dining experience.

Cooking Ability

A chef who can't cook is useless. The professional must possess the ability to delight the taste buds of the people. The only way to make sure proper cooking skills have been obtained is to allow a chef to prove himself or herself.


An expert chef will most likely have formal training through an accredited culinary school. Although this is not always the case, it is important to look for formal credentials as this helps hiring personnel rest assured the person has gone through proper training. Credentials make a person reliable.


A chef worth hiring will have much experience working in the culinary industry. Experience determines the active years that enabled the chef to gain expertise. To make sure an applicant is being truthful about his or her prior culinary experience, it is helpful to contact references.

Delivers a Consistent Product

A great chef will be able to consistently deliver superb food items. Better yet, he or she will be able to manage a kitchen in an efficient manner, helping the employer to boost its profit levels to the furthest level possible. Hence, when hiring a chef, it is vital to determine the consistency of their work.

Knowing Where to look for a Skilled Chef

There are many outlets that restaurants can turn to when it comes to hiring a skilled chef. From online job boards to newspaper ads to the good ol' word-of-mouth advertising, the outlets are endless and each of them has their own advantages.

Recruiting Agency

Using a recruiting agency is especially advantageous when a restaurant is going about replacing its current chef. The agency can help fill the position without the current chef becoming aware that his or her position is going to be replaced. In doing this, the restaurant won't have to worry about the current chef becoming upset and quitting. Moreover, one would also have the benefit of selecting from a vast pool of chefs.

Promote Another Employee

Another great way to go about filling a head chef position is to promote a current employee who has the necessary skills. In doing this, the restaurant will be able to fill the position with a person who already understands the philosophy of the restaurant as well as its procedures.

Online Job Boards

Using the Internet is a great way to identify numerous people who are qualified to fill a chef position. Online Job Boards can help in acquainting several skilled professionals.

Talk with Friends and Family

The owner of a restaurant most likely has connection with friends and family who also work in the food service industry. When filling a chef position, it can be valuable to ask for their input as well as any references that they have regarding qualified candidates for the position.


Zac Parker is an active contributor who shares his valuable knowledge about bright futures in the culinary industry. To know more, you can do a close watch on trends in his field of expertise on culinary education and careers from top culinary schools.



The Willows Inn on Lummi Island - Off the Chain Good!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Chef Blaine Wetzel - The Willows InnI have lived in the Bellingham area for over 30 years and although Lummi Island is known to be a beautiful, peaceful place there has never really been any reason to go out there. The whole state is filled with beautiful, peaceful places so why go out there? Well, owner John Gibb and Chef Blaine Wetzel are offering some pretty compelling reasons to make the trip.

The Willows Inn across the bay from Bellingham, WA on Lummi Island has garnered a great culinary reputation, and although I have been wanting to try Chef Blaine Wetzel's food for several years now, I never got around to making the trip to the island...my loss. I have the great fortune of being able to go out three or four times a year with a few of my bosses to "wine and dine" as we R & D local (Seattle and north) restaurants. We have to pay for the wine (and other alcoholic indulgences!), but our employer picks up the food portion of the bill. I chose the Willows Inn for our most recent R & D exploration. It's days like this that I especially love my job!

I had seen a sample menu for Willows Inn online and was therefore under the assumption that this would be about a five or six course dinner. And when we were presented with the evening's menu (a Prix Fixe menu so there's no choices here, you get what the Chef serves) it also showed only five courses. However, when the first course arrived sous chef Nick said that they would be bringing out a number of "pre" courses before the actual menu courses started. Buy evenings end we had reveled our way through 16 courses! 17 if you count that awesome bread with the chicken drippings. Of course, with 16 dishes there were some courses which we didn't appreciate quite as well as others. But this was a matter of choosing a distinction between "off the f__king chain awesome!", or simply "really damn good". I found all of the courses to be simple and pure in flavor, yet executed in such a perfect way as to be truly a culinary delight.

This is the kind of gig which every chef would love to have. A small restaurant with about 40 seats, service staff of three, and a kitchen staff of 7 talented cooks, 1 intern and 1 estage' along with a dishwasher to serve those 40 guests. The guests hang out in a separate area having cocktails while they wait to be seated for the one and only 7 o'clock seating. The Chef controls the timing as to when different guests are sat, he knows exactly what the menu is, and he gets to set the pace. No multiple seatings, no getting slammed followed by lulls in service followed by getting slammed again, no scrambling to prep more of that one item which everyone and their brother wants tonight. Just one smooth flowing machine serving incredible bites to your guests.

But, that doesn't mean that this is an easy job. I heard that the cook's average shift is about 14 hours, including some time foraging the island for some of today's menu items. And level of execution on these dishes shows the highest degree of commitment to consistency, quality, presentation, and flavor. No second rate stuff here, nothing which is simply "good enough".

For a little history on Chef Wetzel and the Willow Inn follow this link.

Click on the images for a larger photo. The full menu is listed below.

Willows Inn photos Smoked Mussel Venison Tartar Steelhead Roe Dried Kale Crisp Halibut Skin Scallop Turnip Shiitake Mushroom plate-up Charred Kohlrabi Smoked Sockeye Wild Seaweeds Bone Marrow King Salmon Strawberries Blueberries Parting Gift Sunset at the Willows Default


Willows Inn Menu July 10, 2013

Smoked Mussel

A beautiful small wooden box was presented at the table by sous chef Nick with the comment that we would receive several "pre" courses before the actual dinner menu. When I opened the wooden lid, a puff of wood smoke and the fragrant aroma of roasted mussel greeted me. And, to my surprised delight, the mussel opened before my eyes as I removed the lid! This was sooooo cool! I was an instant fan of the Willows!

Venison Tartar

served on crisp rye with savory and fennel fronds
While the presentation on the mussel dish delighted me, the flavor of this dish made me smile ear to ear and was one of my favorites of the evening.

Crispy Crepe with Steelhead Roe

The roe was folded into whip cream and stuffed into golden brown brik dough rings. The ends were then touched into fines herbs and served. You got the crunch of the brik dough followed by the delightful "pop" of the roe... freakin awesome!

Kale with Black Truffle and Rye

Crispy leaf of kale spiked with truffle and rye

Crispy Halibut Skin

Talk about an innovative way to utilize every part of the fish, this concept had us talking. Filled I think with a clam farce, this had a wonderful crunch and flavorful center. It was also lightly dusted with...sorry, don't remember. Was it fishy? Not at all.

Singing Pink Scallops with Watercress

Light and refreshing, this reminded me of a ceviche.

Turnips steamed in Whey

A flavorful broth, tender turnips with just the right amount of "bite" or "chew".

Grilled Shiitake

The shiitakes were very tender and had a light smokiness to them. They were also very moist as if they had been marinated. I found a separate recipe by Chef Wetzel for confit shiitakes and think that is how these were prepared. Very nice.

Charred Kohlrabi with Red Currants and Coriander

served with a quenelle of mussel cream

Smoked Sockeye

This was warm as if right out of the smoker. The salmon was rich and lightly salty (which suggests they used a brining process) with a mild sweetness which I thought was maple.

Wild Seaweeds braised with Dungeness Crab & Brown Butter

Local seaweeds are harvested from the Lummi Island beaches and utilized. It's not "a looker" but it sure tasted good. The crab meat was fresh and moist.

Dried Beets glazed with Lingonberries served with Bone Marrow

I love the intense, earthy, mildly sweet flavor of beets, and with the lingonberry glaze these puppies were worth fighting for! They made a nice counter point to the richness of the marrow which added its own decadence to the dish. Loved it!

King Salmon with summer squash and Nasturtiums

Locally caught king salmon with a perfectly crispy skin yet juicy-tender flesh...this crew knows how to cook salmon for Pacific Northwesterners!

Strawberries and Pineapple Weed granita

The first of three dessert courses, fresh local strawberries with their pure taste of summer coupled with the refreshing pineapple weed (never used it before) shaved ice.

Blueberries with Woodruff and Malt

The malt was turned into a kind of "dirt" for this presentation with the blueberries scattered throughout. It offered a nice crunch to go along with the berries. And the woodruff was made into either a cream or panna cotta quenelle.

Flax Bites

The parting gift was caramel cube with flax seeds. It was "just sweet enough" and made for a great ending to a fantastic dining experience.



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