Monday, March 26, 2012

Luminary Series, Ryan Tate: Dine, Don't Just Eat

I had the pleasure recently of interviewing a friend who has been a chef on the restaurant scene for a number of years. Ryan Tate spent the last 4 years as chef-de-cuisine at the well-known Soho restaurant, Savoy, creating the menu, helping to source the ingredients with owner Peter Hoffman, and cooking the food so beautifully for customers on a nightly basis. Savoy has since been revamped, and now Ryan as a chef is looking to find his own niche in New York City. I hope you enjoy the interview, and that you see the adventure in his food.

What is one of the most important things to you right now in the world of food, whether an issue, an ingredient, a philosophy?

I guess I don't necessarily have a food philosophy that I feel is important, other than extracting purity of ingredients. As far as the locavore sensibility goes, I don't personally follow that at all times. I just want to get the best ingredients that I can, and make them taste as good as possible. So, locavorism, farm-to-table - they are great things and work really well, but for me, why wouldn't you just get the best stuff you can serve, no matter where it's from? The planes are going to fly from Scotland anyway. Put my langoustines on the plane! The plane is coming anyway. That's the world we live in. We can prevent doing more damage, but a it seems unrealistic in many ways.

Being yourself as a chef is my biggest sticking point. I want to be someplace where I can perform as the chef I want to be. I didn't get into this business to work at a concept restaurant "homestyle" or many of the other catchy terms out there now. That's my philosophy, what is most important to me at the moment.

Duck breast, chiogga beets, scallions, rhubarb, anise hyssop, olive bread

Do you want to talk about the chef you want to be? 

There are a couple people in the city that are getting it right: Wylie Dufresne, the guys at Roberta's, even the Do or Dine guys down the street. They're doing what they want to do. I want to cook the food the way I want to cook it, I want to make well thought-out dishes, well composed menus. I don't want to replace somebody's Tuesday night meal because they don't feel like cooking. I want dinner to be an experience for people. The landscape of the dining scene, especially in New York, is moving more towards replacing cooking in their own homes, rather than seeking a unique experience. Not that those places don't need to exist, but that's not what I see in the arc of my career.

Was your mother a good cook? Did you have adventurous meals or more meat & potatoes style meals as you grew up?

My mom is a very good cook, and we were never hungry. There were four of us in the house: two boys, my dad and my mom, and we ate so much! We were true mid-westerners, overeating at almost every meal. Thankfully we also had high metabolisms and we're still pretty thin people. I really enjoyed the way she cooked when I was younger. The excitement happened, but only on the weekends, really. My dad is a total meat & potatoes guy, and did not like when my mom would step outside the box and try new things. She was always interested to try new things - she wanted to cook what she wanted to cook too, but also knew she had to satisfy the alpha male in the house. There was a little flair here and there, but not a lot.

What was a standard meal that she would make that you loved? And what was a way that she stepped outside of that and was adventurous?

The one thing I would always do - I loved her spaghetti sauce, but when she was frying the beef and the onions and the garlic, I would pull a couple spoonfuls of that out and season it and eat the ground meat and the garlic before the tomato sauce got in there. I liked parts - like anything - but when the tomato sauce got incorporated, I didn't care for it much. We always had family taco night, steaks on Saturdays, we went to fish fries on and off. On Friday nights we'd go out - maybe an old Christian belief not to eat fish before the Sabbath - I'm not sure, but Friday night everywhere where I grew up was fish fry night. We'd do lake perch. Sunday we always ate at 3 or 4 o'clock at my grandparents house. That was usually pretty meat intensive, like roast beef or a pot roast or something. Pretty typical.

Her most adventurous (standard) dish was chop suey with water chestnuts. She'd make the white rice, we had soy sauce, it was like we were at a Chinese restaurant, minus the chopsticks.

When was it that you took a different direction in food? 

When I decided I was going to be a professional cook, I was living in Michigan and went to a place called the Food Dance Cafe - Julie Stanley was the chef and owner, and was like the Alice Waters of southwest Michigan. I always worked at restaurants growing up and this place was different. It was still homey and had meat and potatoes, but she always used the best ingredients that were nearby. She bought tomatoes and berries from the local producers and knew them by name. It taught me not to just reach for canned food. How do I get more of an experience this way, I asked myself? Julie said I needed to get out of the country[side]. "Pick a city and go work there", she said.

Being a small town boy, I stayed close to home and moved to Chicago. It wasn't a risk really, but I found a place that was renown - chef  Ted Cizma had just won a Food & Wine 10 best new chefs award. But in retrospect, the menu was meat and potatoes. It was wild game: antelope, buffalo, interesting fish I'd never seen before - in the Friday night fish fry, you don't even know what you're eating half the time. I was seeing whole, real ingredients, but at the end of the day it was roasted venison with potatoes and glazed carrots, and that was the make-up of most of the dishes.

Roasted rabbit, adzuki beans, moo radish, sweet potato molasses

I worked at a very busy place called Spring, only for two months while I waited for another job to open, but it was my first exposure working with asian ingredients on a regular basis. That became a way to make more interesting combinations without it being "meat and potatoes". I learned you can have an interesting menu that integrated world flavors. Then, I helped open a restaurant called Fortunato, which was my first dealings with northern Italian style food. No red sauce! I don't necessarily go-over for Italian food, but I admire the approach to the ingredients: don't weigh the food down, let the product sing - like raw artichokes with chestnut honey and fennel. Simple - that was a dish! I didn't stay there very long either (laughs), but it was a great way to see how you could buck traditional French techniques and still have quality food to bring to people. That was an influential restaurant for me, even though things didn't end well for me there. You can never go wrong as long as you're paying attention to what's going on and formulating opinions on what you see, whether good or bad. If it doesn't work, don't do it. If it does, then do it!

What are five ingredients that are indispensable to you?

Anchovies, bottarga, butter, olive oil, - or some sort of fat. I love animal fat, so some kind of fat would need to be represented. Cheese is another ingredient. Any type of cheese - I love lactic flavor. From Cato Corner, they have one that is so funky and so good, called Hooligan. It's available at the farmers market. Saxelby's carries that cheese as well. Basically, if it is coming from a good cow, it will make an amazing product. Fennel, licorice, anise, hyssop - any would be my last of the five ingredients. I love licorice flavor, and I think it's gotta be a genetic trait passed on from my father. He used to munch on black licorice candies all the time.

Flounder roe, brown butter pudding, carrot dashi

What are five things you would have at your last meal?

I would love to eat the quail egg raviolo I ate at Schwa again. It was one of the most perfect bites of food I've had, ever. And, a really well-aged duck. Duclaire duck, aged, roasted whole. The intensified meat flavor is great. A glass of sparkling water - I love sparkling water. Also, a really light red from northern Italy's Alto Adige region - like a blaufränkisch or such. I'm not wine smart enough to tell you, but something from around there is great. And then lastly, Alaskan crab... maybe with fennel and bottarga, like from above.

What's one of your favorite all-time recipes?

Vegetable custards. I love them, always include them, and it's an easy thing to do. The custards deliver a lot of flavor for comparatively small effort. I made a cauliflower custard last year with gruyere broth and trout roe, with burnt leeks. We did a green garlic custard, too, with fava beans, baby carrots, and peas. It is something I continue to return to.

Candy cap mushroom tofu, favas, baby carrots, peas, asparagus and black trumpet mushroom broth

Who in your experience has been a role model? Why?

Peter Hoffman, obviously. He spent a lot of time familiarizing me with the business aspects of the workings of a restaurant. He was always comfortable with my level of cooking and acumen, so we ended up spending a lot of time understanding managing people, and how we evolve in approaching what we can do in a space. That was valuable. Mike Gaspard, one of my closest friends, was the first chef who spoke to me in a way that didn't make me feel like a total idiot. He was chef at that meat & potatoes place in Chicago (which has since become modern American cuisine focused). He was a hard guy, but when it came to speaking about the food, he would speak in a language that you could understand. No punching in the neck....  "Here, you need to do it like this, let me show you". Simple, right? I have friends whom I admire so much too. You never get to say it to them because you see them - you're in the business working - but my friend Blake Joyal is the chef at Wong, and he's doing amazing work there. My really good friend Stephanie Isard in Chicago is doing great things at her restaurant The Girl and the Goat. She's just been nominated best chef for the 2012 James Beard Awards. We don't ever get too intimate and say "hey buddy, I'm proud of you"...

Rabbit liver, hedgehog mushrooms, brandy cream, dried figs, black walnuts, red wine

In the time you have been in New York, how has the culinary landscape changed? What observations do you have?

This is where I get all whipped up and foam at the mouth. (pause) I'm clearly frustrated with the landscape at the moment. I know I'm smart enough to realize the world changes. The economy changes. And therefore all the things that go along with it change as well. What people want to eat, how they want to eat it,  when they want to eat it, how much they want to pay for it. I think 2008 ruined anything high-caliber in this city and instantly changed how restaurants do business and how to make food. It's a fair realization for these business owners, I just don't have to like it as a culinary professional. I don't think everyone wants a cheeseburger all the time. Yet, we are feeding people cheeseburgers everyday all the time in this city. Enough already. It's a business, I know. Why can't we be what we want and do what we want? Not every chef is a restaurateur, chefs still want to be chefs. That becomes complicated in a financial environment. When you wear both hats, you have to make hard choices, and I don't agree with them all. I think there is some good stuff. Torrisi delivers, without a huge cost to the diner. You don't need all the pageantry of fine dining, but it's important to retain fine dining! You don't have have crystal to have a good meal, but you don't have to choose meatloaf either. I think we went too far to one side without pausing in the middle ground. Maybe as things improve financially, as the world stabilizes a little more, things will push back again. That's what I want.

Veal tongue, smoked apples, mustard seed caviar, rye crisps, baby mustard greens

Whiting, green chili purée, meyer lemon conserve, 60 degree egg yolk, capers

It's like the automatic de-cultivation of things - whether food, manufacturing/making of goods and objects, every single thing you can look at, expectations, refinement, and lack of education, are all intertwined.

It seems like there is too much easy satisfaction going on. We are all different, why should the restaurant scene be so homogenous, with $12 being the price point and ... I want to charge a fair price, pay my rent, pay my bills, and deliver an amazing experience (regardless of those things). Don't let your worries creep into the dining room. People should dine, not just eat. We're well trained people, let us do what we do and deliver an experience. I want people to relax and enjoy that.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sweet Paul Tarts

The Spring issue of Sweet Paul is out!!! It is always a real delight to spend a time on a new project with Paul. Our collaborations - the ease of how we figure out this detail or that, what kind of feeling we want a shoot to convey, and also just getting the work done - make each new shoot a lot of fun to tackle. I hope you'll enjoy the playfulness and whimsy in this story. And you know, it was every bit as delicious as it looks... :)

An outtake of Paul getting this tart ready... (that honey was divine, and we used it on a number of things.)

Sweet-salty, juicy, herbacious... these are some words I would use to describe the flavors of these tarts.

The custard-y quality of eggs mixed with young veggies or herbs in tart shells, the soft creaminess of cheese - whether goat's, ricotta, pecorino, or other - where each a heavenly addition to these creations.

This tart was my favorite. Simply fantastical in its many pointy peaks, and yet quite practical in that sturdy pan! The piney fragrance of the rosemary, along with the savory sweetness of that honey (there it is again), set into the backdrop of chevre and young roasted beets, all wrapped in puff pastry... It was a surprising delight.

You can probably see by now how immensely satisfying the whole thing was, start to finish. Perhaps you'll make one of these for friends as a special meal to celebrate together. Or, maybe an easy (but glamorous-looking) fix to hunger on any night, to treat yourself right. Here's the story, with all the recipes to make for yourselves. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Best Food Photography Finalist - Vote for Me!

Thanks to lots of determined people, I am one of 6 finalists  for best food photography in the Homies awards! I hope you'll agree that my images are gorgeous - real food that is lovingly prepared, with an elegant-rustic touch. Thank you all for bringing me this far!!! Now, the work is to get everyone together to vote me to the top!!!!! We have until Friday, March 9th, and I think we can do it. :) XO

Confused by the voting process? Here's how it's done:
If you haven't registered,
1. Click on the image above and then scroll to very bottom of page and click on "register".

2. Add your email and make a password.

3.Click here, sign-in, and VOTE!

 Here are some of my favorite pictures from various stories I've produced - enjoy!

This food makes me happy

A birthday story

desserts make everyone happy.....!

fresh, beautiful food is what living is all about

Thank you all sooooooo much!!! Have a great week and see you on Friday!