Where the Olives End…

It is said, the Mediterranean Ends

Where the Greeks stopped planting Olive Trees…

From the gracious reception welcoming you to Figue through the last, lingering bite of a seductive dessert, ‘sharing’ is the thread that unites the Figue experience. The sofa we enjoy unique cocktails on, the shared quartinos of wine to complement the array of enticing aromas served with loving detail on colorful small plates, to the long sharing tables where we can make new friends and taste the cuisine of the azure waters of the Mediterranean.  Figue is the place for sharing.

The menu of Figue is the story of the Mediterranean. It is the shared history of conquest, immigration and exploration, each wave bringing far off ingredients, cooking techniques and a cultural melding of the peoples. Savor sensations inspired by the ancient Romans who shared the art of salting and curing meats and fish, to the Moors who spread the habit of sharing many small dishes to the modern cuisines of France, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Greece and the Middle East. Each culture shared their knowledge, wisdom and cultural preferences to create the world’s first fusion cuisine.

Figue: Where the Olive Trees end and the Tradition lives on!

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DJ REDFOO , DESERT SMASH and the OPENING OF FIGUE

WOW!

 

Just 11 days till our first HUGE party and I am beyond excited!  Cue up 24 hours to go by the Ramones, though maybe something from DJ Redfoo might be more appropriate since he’ll be there playing music.  Talk about an adrenaline rush. I am humbled and  honored that Figue will be the host of the After Party of Desert Smash, a star-studded affair where pro tennis and Hollywood collides with players such as Novak DjokovicMaria SharapovaAndre Agassi, and stars including Gavin RossdaleGwen StefaniChristian Slater and Joe Pesci to raise money for Children’s charities. What a way to kick off our Restaurant opening!!

I am absolutely honored and floored that Celebrity Chef Beau Macmillan may make an appearance and cook for the event as well!  Beau Mac has been a friend for a long time and it always is an honor to cook with him.

 

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Here is where the menu stands as of tonight….

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BE GREAT, BE ALI

BE GREAT, BE ALI

I hated every minute of training, but I said, “Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”

-Muhammad Ali 

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Today while power walking through the Desert I started contemplating my life and where I want it to go with it.  I always found the solitude of  walking with only the Desert winds answering me to be my way of connecting to (insert your favorite deity)… for lack of a better word, GOD.  I focus my thoughts on my positive goals and aspirations, goals like being a better husband to Lisa, being a better father to Beaumont, being a better Chef professionally, being a better friend, being a better citizen on Earth.  We must challenge and push ourselves to the extremes to be the greatest.  One year ago I had the great fortune of being one of five Chefs cooking for Muhammad Ali on his 70th Birthday.  I first met Ali when I was a small child.  I grew up in his neighborhood on the south side of Chicago.  The man was a force to be reckoned with.  I look at the picture above and it is filled with words and phrases like: inspire, break the mold, spirit, believe, hope, embrace, give time, unwavering, passion, take action, give.  Words we all should meditate on and incorporate into our lives.  Words I should live my life by.

Ali

A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.

-Muhammad Ali

The Importance of Sunday with Your Family

Que up Louis Armstrong’s version of La Vie en RoseIf I were a better storyteller I would seduce you solely with my words, but since that’s not the case, pour yourself a great flute of Champagne and feel the love.  I currently am drinking a bottle of Agrapart et Fils 2004 bubbly and life is just fine and dandy.  Spending time with your family and loved ones is vital to the health of your soul, PERIOD.  It is what gives the rest of your week meaning and clarity.  I love cooking professionally, but I also love to see my wife and son.  My son Beaumont is at that perfect age where he is trying his best to copy me cooking imaginary works of edible art.  He sits on the counter, next to my heavy butcher block with his wooden knife and vegetables mimicking my every move. Priceless.

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This Sunday was the best day ever.  It started bright and early with Beaumont giggling as he poked first maman than daddis, his current name for me.  6:30 came quick on my day off considering I went to sleep well past 1:15 am.  A single short shot of Espresso would have been my preferred wake up method but the giggle of a precious little boy did well in a pinch.  The sun shined into my morning and life.  Today was just going to be a special day.

We breakfasted on strawberry buttermilk pancakes, Millionaire’s bacon and farm fresh eggs.  While eating we had the brilliant idea to drive to Idyllwild, California to play in the snow.  Yes my East Coast friend’s probably would laugh at our paltry 10 inches of fresh snow considering they just just three feet.  I laughed that it is 70 degrees and sunny in my driveway and 32 degrees and snowy a mere hour’s drive away.

Millionaire’s Bacon

Buy the best applewood smoked bacon you can find, rub it with brown sugar and red chili flakes and cook on a silpat at 350 degrees till it is brown and crispy.  The bacon gets a crunchy texture by allowing the caramelized sugar to cool.  I suggest refraining from drinking cold ice water and eating the bacon simultaneously, coagulation of fat in your arteries could occur.

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We arrived to a winter wonder in Idyllwild an hour and a half later  Snowflakes decorated the bushes, trees and streets giving us the feeling that we were nearer to Christmas than Spring.  We took Beau for his first sled ride at the Nature Park.  I think he was a bit confused by the snow and perhaps Lisa and I enjoyed the sledding part a bit more.  For lunch we stopped into a rustic little restaurant and dined on roasted garlic soup (Beau absolutely adored this), Roasted Polenta Cake and a bodacious meatball sub.  Delightful.  Sometimes, especially given that I cook for others in my career, it is utterly fantastic to go out and eat.

We drove through Winter and back into Spring with Beaumont happily snoring in the backseat.  Little babies have the cutest snore.  I try to instill in our family the custom of having at least one day a week where we gather together around the table, drink and eat something special.  I bought a beautiful chicken from De La Ranch, an organic farm in this region, some asparagus from another small farm (I still cannot believe that asparagus season has started and that heirloom tomatoes are still in the market). I made a rotolo di patate e spinaci to accompany the chicken.

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Little Beau sat contentedly on the counter next to my butcher block playing with old baby milk bottles as I seasoned up the chicken.  I stuffed the cavity with a fresh Eureka lemon, thyme from the garden and Espelette sea salt I bought in Provence last year.  While the chicken roasted I cooked a tomato confite and olive focaccia with a new dough I had been experimenting with.  Lisa and I drank our first glass of Agrapart et Fils 2004 and let the bubbles work their magic.  While the chicken roasted I got the rotolo di patate ready.  Sunday Funday Snow in Idylwild 28

This is not my recipe and I cannot remember exactly where I poached it…

Rotolo di Patate

1 pound of Russet Potatoes – boil till soft, peel then run through your food mill, season with sea salt and reserve to further in the recipe.

1 sweet onion, chopped – saute in olive oil till golden brown.

2 pounds of spinach – add cleaned spinach to your onions and cook till the spinach releases it’s water and wilts, about five minutes.  Transfer to a bowl and cool slightly.

1/2 cup ricotta

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

pinch of nutmeg and black pepper

1 egg yolk – add the ricotta, Parmesan, nutmeg and black pepper and egg yolk to the spinach mixture and reserve.

1 egg

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup 00 flour – Mix the whole egg, baking powder and 00 flour into the reserved potato mixture, turn out onto a floured surface and roll to roughly a 14 by 10 inch rectangle.

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8 ounces of Speck (smoked Prosciutto) – lay thin slices of speck across the potato then spoon the spinach mixture evenly across the top.  Roll into a giant tube shape, wrap in cheesecloth, tie with string and poach in simmering water for 30 minutes.  This is almost like a giant deconstructed gnocchi.

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After poaching, remove string and cheesecloth and cut into eight thick slices.  Lay in a buttered ovenproof dish, dot with butter, cover with a copious quantity of grated Parmesan and bake with your chicken for 30 minutes.  Sit down, enjoy more Champagne.  Have a fantastic day with your family, this is why we work hard and it is well deserved!

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Seek and You Shall Find…

Fear?  I am not sure if fear is the right word.  I do have a certain nervousness with butterflies that usually accompanies anything exciting and worthwhile in life.  The nervousness of when you push off from familiar shores losing sight of land with the full expectation that what I am searching for is only a horizon away.  Fear implies being scared, and that just isn’t what I mean.  From the first moment I saw the ad I knew fate once again had landed me where I belonged.

The ad started with ” Authentic and Diverse Mediterranean Culinary Vision… Progressive with Authentic Traditional Roots… French, Spanish, Italian, Sicilian, Greek, Middle Eastern and Moroccan Culinary components.  Premium Ingredients.  Period.  Food — Fresh Authentic, Bright, Clean Simplicity, Flavors Typical of Food and Life in the Mediterranean.  ”  How could I not respond, the ad had almost seemed like a challenge written personally for me.  All that lacked was my name being mentioned.

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Zinc Bar Top just installed today

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View across the Bar and out to the Dining Area

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My Universo Tuscany 180 Wood Burning Rotisserie and Grill

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Reclaimed Wood and Onyx Wall in rear of restaurant

If you have ever lived through a restaurant opening you know it is fraught with  roller coaster ups and and fantastic free falls down.  One moment you are putting in 20 hour days expecting to open next week, than a moment later some unforeseen delay has delayed that for a month.  Every single time I have gone through this there is that aspect of hurry up and wait.  Pili Pili was scheduled to open in August of 2002 and it was April 1st, 2003 when the doors finally opened.  Figue is no different in that aspect.  The  huge difference is myself and my approach to the job at hand.

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A lot of why I am here is because of a scratch left unitched in Chicago back in 2004.  Pili Pili in a lot of ways was my dream job where that 15 minutes the world seemed to be listening to my heart existed.  A place where for a while it seemed all my dreams of authoring cook books, food histories, possible travel programs and most importantly cooking the food I was made to cook was possible.  The creation and concept flowed from my heart.  Pili Pili, as Pat Bruno so kindly wrote in his review for the Chicago Sun Times, “is also all about the Mediterranean, literally.  The menu roams up and down the coastline like a luxury yacht.  France, Italy and Spain are the main ports of call, but even that is not enough for this ship of cools.”  For whatever reason it just wasn’t meant to be.  I would say the main problem was a lack of the proper chemistry between the principles.  In retrospect,  I had some more living to do and life experiences to learn.  It is amazing what ten years, an incredibly happy life with my wife Lisa and a young son to care for can do for your thinking.

Let me be clear Figue is not Pili part deux.  I have a newer wider approach encompassing far more than I even knew existed back then.  I am super excited to pair up with Lee Morcus and our new director of operations, Phil Roberson.  There is a chemistry there that I haven’t experienced with other owners and managers I have worked with in the past.  Two weeks and we begin kitchen training.  The butterflies and nervousness is here, in a good way. I wake up at two am thinking about how menu items will play out or the missing drain under the pasta cooker and how we can work around it rather than fearing some demon lurking in the dark recesses of my mind.

Lee’s final words in his ad read “No Compromise of Excellence”… Words that inspire me to achieve what I am capable of and to push me to my destiny!

Express Gratitude

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy;

they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

― Marcel Proust

I want to express thanks to all the people in my life that helped get me to this point, even if kicking and screaming was involved on my part.  I would be remiss if I did not thank my beautiful wife and partner in life, Lisa, who has been the sun  nurturing my soul with her wisdom and encouragement.  With her I have shared some of the best moments of my life and hope to share in many, many more.  My little son Beaumont who’s inquisitiveness and true joy of life has retaught lessons  that I have long forgotten or buried beneath the dust and cobwebs of being an adult.  He has shown me that children are often more wise than their elders.  I thank my mother and father for not only the obvious of bringing me into this world, but for sharing their passion for culture and gastronomy.  It because of who they were that I am what I am.  The picture below sits on my desk and fills my heart with untold happiness to see my folks at a very happy moment of their lives.

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I want to thank my step father Karl Fritz, sister Anne, Joan and Gary Verne all for different reasons.  I thank all the sous chefs I have ever been blessed to work with; Jason and Doug for many crazy times in New York living the dream.  I thank Dave “the Animal” in PEI for an unbridled joy, fire and an intensity he brings to the kitchen elevating everyone and everything around him.  I seriously walk in the kitchen every single day trying just to be a bit like him.  I thank Beau Mac for looking long and hard and finding me in my witness relocation program far from the ranges, hiding among 10,000 gallon fermenting tanks at Bob and Claudia’s amazing winery in Northern California.  His passion has relight the fire that glows white hot in my heart today.  Pay it forward…  Pay it back… I should probably thank all my mentors who’s love for cooking and kicking my ass on a daily basis got me to stand before the stage on which I am faced.  There were many, but most notably, Michel Leborgne, Michel Martinez, Louis Szathmary and Franklin Biggs.  These guys were legends in my my formative years and still hold a special place in my heart.  In adding to them I must thank Joel Robuchon who let me do a short stage while on vacation in 1996.  It is amazing how much one’s life can be upended in such a short amount of time.  Going further down the culinary road I must be thankful to all the great Chefs who have lived before…  They carried the torch, le feu sacre, forward throughout history and defined our culture and what distinguishes us from other animals.  Without the greats like Careme, Garlin, Dubois, Nignon, Escoffier, Point… where would we be today?

So on this beautifully warm February day, I am thankful for so much.  A special thanks to Lee Morcus for putting together a wild collection of characters who will people Figue, the latest greatest Mediterranean restaurant.  It will be one hell of a ride!

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