Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rising Stars: Rory Hermann

Can't forget the finishing touch!

Rory Hermann of Bouchon Bistro and I have bumped into each other a few times in the past - once in the kitchen of Bouchon during their grand opening with our good friend Larry King, who we often get together with for coffee and a round of canasta.

Rory won my heart with these little pork belly and pesto bites

For my first formal dinner at Bouchon, I ordered the luscious short ribs and my friend went for the breast.

We visited the kitchen after our gorgeous meal. Maybe it was the fact that I'd been allowed to run wild all over the place during the opening so I felt at home. Maybe it was the champagne or just my boisterous personality. but I didn't enter the kitchen with the usual humility. Rory was happy to hear our compliments and stopped all of the staff so he could announce, "These fine young ladies here have reported that they just had a meal that totally kicked ass!" to resounding applause.

They have a wide-screen TV with a 2-way live feed between this kitchen and the one in Yountville, which was a trip. After getting some sauce-making advice, we waved goodbye and waved thanks to everyone, then in a strange Cheap Trick moment I raised my hands over my head and hollered at the screen, "...and good-niiight Yountville!"

So maybe I shouldn't have been surprised when I introduced myself to the chef at Rising Stars and he said, "Oh, YOU I remember." Everyone at their station was laughing and having a good time. In addition to the Sweetbreads with Celery and Sauce Perigourdine they had those lovely, lovely chocolate bouchons. They even had little bags of brittle to take home. Such good hosts.



Rory Hermann receiving his award from Thomas Keller




Thomas Keller looks ready to start some mischief with those pesky balls of his


...and Rory gets the reach on John Rivera Sedlar.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Rising Stars: Michael Voltaggio

Michael Voltaggio pulled a last minute switcheroo on us at Rising Stars. The menu described "Langoustine and mushroom Lasagne with Porcini Cracker and Fennel Pollen". We're cooking with pollen now?

We couldn't complain about the replacement dish though, "Wagyu short rib, cream of dehydrated broccoli and cheddar tagliatelle"

The sous vide Wagyu was like heaven, so tender and flavorful. I told Michael that I hated broccoli, and he resplied, "Me too. That's why I invented this dish." The broccoli had an unusual texture with a bit of crunch, but absolutely no flavor. All that bitterness and ick were just gone ..poof. Like magic.

I first came across Michael Voltaggio in the open kitchens of Bazaar. His look was so striking I asked if I could take his picture, and to this day it is one of my favorite portraits.

Michael started out at Greenbriar Resort in West Virginia, and moved on to the Ritz Carlton in Naples, FLA. He worked closely with Chef Palmer while Dry Creek Kitchen was earning its Michelin Star. After his stint at the Bazaar, where I first met him, he went on to Top Chef fame. He is now the executive chef at The Dining Room at The Langham, which we will definitely be checking out soon.

Michael receiving his award

Monday, March 22, 2010

Star Chef's Rising Stars: Kuniko Yagi

Star Chefs is an industry magazine for chefs. They hold The Rising Stars events in major cities, like this event for LA/San Diego, though it was pretty LA-focused. The chefs are chosen by their peers, last year's winners and even the local press. First, each chef prepares small plates for the appreciative crowd, followed by the awards presentation.

Naturally I ran around like a maniac taking a million pictures, hence the multiple blog entries. I later realized that I had missed a few dishes. Providence's sweet Asian-inspired soup, Addison's canard roti, and salmon.

It was a pretty meat-heavy menu, which was perfect. I was feeling pretty carnivorous that evening. I was extremely excited to see that Kuniko Yagi of Sona was serving up foie gras. Swoon.

The foie gras was perfect - caramelized on the outside with a custardy interior. I had to walk around and compliment the man cooking the foie gras. I said, "It's pretty amazing that you are able to turn out perfect foie gras on a BBQ in near-darkness."

He replied, "Especially since I'm a pastry chef."

I always thought foie gras needed a heavy fruit sauce to balance out the occasional intense liver flavor, but this is the second time I've had foie with Japanese flavors, and I have to admit to being totally won over. Kuniko's sauce was made with black sugar. It was accompanied by teensy mochi that were adorable, but I didn't eat them as one bite with the foie gras, more like as a chaser.

They were garnished with adorable miniature strawberries.

I have to admit to shamelessly returning to Koniko's station three times. People kept asking me what dish I liked and I would lead them over to her table, then, well, as long as I was there...

According to the booklet, Kuniko Yagi grew tired of banking in her native Japan and moved to America where she discovered her love for cooking while working in a noodle house. A lucky conversation with one patron, David Meyers, landed her a position in the kitchen at Sona where she quickly worked her way up to chef de cuisine. Here, Meyers applauds her.

Kuniko's proud mom

A private joke with Bouchon's Rory Hermann

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Rising Stars Pre-Gala Event

While the chefs prepared a feast fit for kings, we were invited to enjoy a pre-event event. It was kind of like the fanciest holding pen ever, complete with champagne and caviar.

The J. Lassalle Cochet d"Or NV was clean and crisp.

We walked in with Julie and immediately saw Josh - it was an LAist fest. I noticed that the caviar with potatoes was being served on Petrossian lids. Someone asked, Isn't that Petrossian?


In the flannel shirt.

Of course not, that guy's like 16 years old.

The event was hosted by Jason Pendergast of Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows.

I ran into Brian, who I had met at the opening event for DineLA. He asked, "Would you like to meet Petrossian?"

"Weren't you the guy who introduced me to Marcel..."

"Marcel Vigneron. Yes."

"Wow, you are a really good introducer." And so I met Benjamin Bailly of Petrossian.

I said, "It must have taken a really long time to save up all of these lids."

Petrossian and another gentleman looked at me blankly.

"The lids they are serving on. You must have gone through a lot of caviar."

His friend Michele said, "They are our lids. We serve caviar in the jars."

I realized that they have the lids printed for them and I basically just did the equivalent of asking a dairy farmer how he saved up so many milk jugs. Luckily our mutual friend E*star showed up to break the awkward silence.

After photos all around, the server offered us caviar from the tray. Then I had another awkward moment. I was served caviar at my first fancy benefit at the age of 19. I spit it out. The chef came at me with a knife. My brother jumped between us and deftly lied, "She's allergic to fish!" I haven't touched caviar since.

Now here I was, face to face with the chef from Petrossian, being offered Petrossian caviar. I prepared to make the biggest fake smile ever. But I took a bite and waited. Nothing. No awfulness. No fishiness. It was wonderful. I was so amazed that I liked it, I told him the story I just related above. He said, "Well, then, you must come to the restaurant."

Bob sees that as a commitment level like, "Come see my band."

But I see it as, "Come, let me show you culinary wonders you have never dared imagine in your wildest dreams. Let me be your guide."

Friday, March 19, 2010

Boxes, Little Boxes

Meanwhile, back in LA...

Star Chefs hosted an amazing gala at the Fairmont Mirimar in Santa Monica Thursday night. It was a gathering of the best of the best of the local culinary scene. There were offerings by LA's cream of the crop, and guests were encouraged to vote for their favorite bite. It was nearly impossible to vote because each bite topped the last. The night's winner was Jordan Kahn, previously of XIV. He will be opening a new place soon, but stayed mum on the name of the restaurant.

Kahn stood out with his physics-defying, perfectly symmetrical boxes of mystery. They were filled with compressed strawberries, beet, cacao fruit, elderflower, and violets. A violet sauce was splattered across the boxes like paint (I asked for extra violet paint as I am a huge fan of florals).

Remember when chocolate "bags" were once all the rage? This is Mach X of that concept - the boxes were flawless in design. The presentation was worthy of any modern art museum in the country. Each box was placed on a white ceramic tile which was to be used as the plate.

The first time I tried it I was able to crack the box in one try, but once I tried videotaping, crouched down and one-handed, the box rocked and it took a good three stabs to finally unearth the strawberry I was seeking.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Search for Philly's Best Cheesesteak: South Street

It is apparently against the law to go to Philadelphia and not visit South Street. I went to meet a huge group from the conference, but some special cookies mysteriously caused the group to giggle uncontrollably and run off in a hundred different directions following the blinking lights and possibly running from sights like this building.

Left with my one close friend, Ellin, we decided to hit up Jim's, which had a good reputation. I liked the art deco style with tin ceilings and everything.

To follow a purely scientific method, I had decided to get all of my cheesesteaks with everything, choosing provolone cheese. Cheese Whiz is just too much for me. I don't get how anyone over 9 years old can go for that sweet, gloppy goo.

Unfortunately, Jim's "everything" included shockingly bad canned mushrooms. I was not impressed by the tough steak either. After watching me eat it stoically, Ellin finally said, "Just throw it away." We wandered along the hooting, drunken South fraternity row of South Street for only a few blocks before becoming discouraged and heading back to the hotel for a nice swim, the best part of the evening.

Later, back home I checked out Jim's website. Is this happy family posing in front of meathooks hung with slaughtered cattle?