Epigrams, What do those taste like?

Carlton Kitchens

Definition of EPIGRAM

1: A concise poem dealing pointedly and often satirically with a single thought or event and often ending with an ingenious turn of thought

Benjamin Franklin’s famous epigram, “Remember that time is money”

– Merriam Webster Dictionary

Definition of EPIGRAM, in food terms

1A French dish consisting of two slices of lamb, usually a slice from the breast and a chop, cook then breaded and fried.

Phileas Gilbert (1857 – 1942), famous Chef who collaborated with Escoffier on le Guide Culinaire relates the origins of the culinary dish ‘Epigrammes’:

“It was towards the middle of the 18th century.  One day a young marquise overheard one of her guests at the table remark that when he was dining the previous evening with the Comte de Vaudreuil, he was charmingly received and, furthermore, had had a feast of excellent epigrams.  The marquise, though pretty and elegant, was somewhat ignorant of the meaning of the words.  She later summoned Michelet, her Chef.  ‘Michelet,’ she said to him, ‘tomorrow, I shall require a dish of Epigrammes.’

The Chef withdrew, pondering the problem.  He looked up old recipes, but found no reference to anything of the kind.  None of his colleagues had ever heard of the dish.  But no French master Chef is ever at a loss.  Since he could discover nothing about the dish he set about inventing one.  Next day, inspiration came and he created a most delicate dish.

At dinner, the guests fell into ecstasies over the dish before them and, after complimenting the lady of the house, desired to know its name.  The Chef was called.  With perfect composure he replied, “Epigrammes of Lamb a la Michelet.

Everyone laughed.  The marquise was triumphant, though she could not understand the amusement of her guests.  From that moment, the culinary repertoire of France was enriched by a name still used to this day.”

Epigramme of Fillet of Trout, from Charles Elme Francatelli’s book entitled “Francatelli’s Modern Cook” (1886 edition):

“Trim the fillets as above (cut to resemble pear shaped fowl breasts), bread crumb one half, in the ordinary manner, and place these into a saute pan, with clarified butter; put the remainder into another saute pan, with clarified butter, without being bread crumbed, and season with pepper and salt.  Fry the fillets, drain and dish them up in a close circle, placing one of each kind alternately; fill the center with some scollops of fillet of soles, tossed in a spoonful of Bechamel sauce, and some chopped and par boiled parsley; pour some Aurora sauce over the plain fillets (taking care not to smear those that are bread crumbed), pour some of it round the base, and serve.”

Charles Elme Francatelli was a pupil of Careme and maitre d’hotel and chief cook to the Queen.

1893 Savoy Kitchen

 

A French Family Reunion

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A fantastique day!  The sky was blue as the azure hues of the Mediterranean dotted with big puffy meringue clouds and temperatures holding in the 70’s.  The promised rain had not come and the Mistral took a day off.

Walter, Lisa and I ran off to the Cavaillon intermarche for party supplies only to once again fill our cart with way too much cheese, saucisson, wine, fish and dairy products.  I simply cannot help myself.  There must be some 12 step program for gluttons.  Hello, my name is Francois and I have a foie gras addiction.  The menu for today’s madness is grilled fat white asparagus, tomato salad, roasted potatoes, various cured meats, my cousin Andre’s favorite Cioppino, Emincer de Boeuf Smitane and an assortment of grillable sausages.

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We had Francois, Marc and Muriel from the Alps (Lolo’s family); Anne, Luciano et Annie (cousin, cousin’s son and aunt) from Marseilles and Aix en Provence; Andre, Lolo, Genevieve and Arlette (cousin, cousin’s wife, cousin and aunt) from Marseille; Catherine, Roland and Auguste (cousin, cousin’s husband and son) from Toulouse; Dan, Stephanie and Simone from California; Walter and Kathy from Sacramento and Lisa, Beaumont and Myself.

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Today made me feel as though I wish I had spent more time with my family in life.  I really do not regret much in life.  It’s just I love my family a lot and want to be closer to them.  A large ocean should not separate us.  Another thing I realized is my mother’s paw print, if you will, on me.  Every child has a more dominate parent who they are most like.  I am definitely my mother’s child.  And by virtue of that fact, the France I know existed 50 years ago.  SACRE BLEU!  The music I adore, Georges Brassens, Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, etc.  The non-compromising attitude towards food and wine, I love my maman.  I wish she had come with us to France…

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It was wonderful spending time with everyone in my family.  Lisa and I both wished the day would last forever.  So many times in my youth I sat at tables like the small children seated today.  This meal has been played out 100’s of times throughout life.  It is the family gathering anywhere.  I look back in pictures and see my uncles and aunts in the vitality of their youth.  Now it is time for us to stand in the pictures that form the child’s imagination and memories.  It is our part in the wheel of life.  The moments of Beaumont’s life he will cherish and remember to his dying days.

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When you press me to your heart
I’m in a world apart
A world where roses bloom
And when you speak, angels sing from above
Everyday words seem to turn into love songs
Give your heart and soul to me
And life will always be la vie en rose.

Good Night!  La Vie en Rose…

Bouillabaisse: Dem’s Fighting Words!

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Have a glass of Pastis, watch a Marcel Pagnol movie or look at Paul Cezanne’s paintings and get yourself into the mood.  Today is all about Marseilles and real Bouillabaisse.  We had a passionate discussion over dinner, and I am still convinced there is no other city in the world that argues more about its specialty than Marseilles.  Sure, New Yorkers think those crappy pizzas that are synonymous with their city are good (what else would a Chicago boy say?) and are vocal about it.  Chicagoans are fervent of their beautiful deep dish pizzas.  But the level of enthusiasm pales in comparison to that of Bouillabaisse.  In Marseilles, family members cease to be family members, neighbors’ houses razed while they are on vacation and gardens gnomes gone swimming with the fish Godfather style over the correct Bouillabaisse fish.  Marseilles even has a charter that TELLS you, rather than guide you as to which fish may swim into the Bouillabaisse and which cannot.

We started the day early with croissant and pain au chocolat from a Boulangerie in Cheval Blanc then braced ourselves for an exhilarating ride through Marseilles morning traffic.  A few times I was obligated to play chicken with a Gauloise smoking truck driver as we fought for lane domination.  If you ever find yourself lacking colorful adjectives for that play you are writing just take a ride through Marseilles rush hour.  We finally docked the Renault near the Vieux Port and took to the streets by foot.

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The first stop was a store that specializes in all things Provence. I am always nervous when Lisa goes in here.  It is much like when I slip into a bookstore and come out 16 cookbooks fatter trying to pretend like nothing happened.  Lisa bought several gifts for family and friends back home.

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For the next few hours we wondered thru the streets of Old Marseilles dodging dog turds, photographing cool looking doorways and drinking Pastis.  One has to work up an appetite for Bouillabaisse. Marseilles is the second largest city in France and the largest port in Europe.  The earliest human evidence, dating back 30,000 years, have been found in the underwater caves near Cosquer and depict two Frenchmen fighting over what are the correct bouillabaisse fish.  Marseilles was founded in 600 BC by Greeks from Phocaea as a trading port under the name Massalia.  It transferred to Roman control, was conquered by the Moors and now us.  The streets are so narrow and small that you are amazed your car fits let alone the one racing towards you at a cool 137 kilometers per hour.

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Simone looking at Beau like he is nuts

for suggesting that shellfish are part of a true bouillabaisse

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After a delicious pastis in old Marseilles we returned to our cars and drove to l’Epuisette for an epic lunch.  L’Epuisette is somewhere you should go to at least ten times before you die. The bouillabaisse needs to be ordered 24 hours earlier.

I present our epic meal at l’Epuisette in pictures as words will fail to adequately describe it.

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Auguste, my cousin Catherine and Roland’s amazing child, gave Beaumont Sophie le Giraffe

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Amuse Bouche number one: three mousses Bouillabaisse, Asparagus and Mushroom

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Amuse Bouche number Two Scallop larded with Bacon in a Cream Sauce

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Aioli, Gruyere and Rouille With Garlic Crouton for the first course

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Bouillabaise: an Act in two courses Bouillabaisse is ALWAYS served in two courses. First the broth the whole fish were cooked in is served with croutons smeared with rouille and covered in gruyere.

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The broth is wonderful and perfumed with pastis, saffron and garlic.

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After first and possibly second helpings of broth are served the whole fish are presented as to show ‘Mais Oui, we know the correct fish’

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The congel eels, chapon, grendin, rascasse and st. pierre are lined up fileted on your plate waiting a few ladle fulls of broth to be spooned over

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Note the correct silver utensils for eating fish. Every piece of silverware is correctly sized and fitted for proper surgery on the course in front of you. I would have licked my plate but people were watching.

Bouillabaisse is a religion. After decades of street battles and disappeared garden gnomes the Chefs of Marseilles created the Bouillabaisse Charter of 1980 to codify the ingredients and still the guns of war. 11 restaurants signed on and the war rages.

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The Best Cheese I have ever Eaten, bar none The cheeses were served with an unbelievable fig bread

Marseilles 23 Marseilles 22 Marseilles 21 Marseilles 20Followed by desserts Valrhona Chocolate Tart; Mango served like a poached egg; a futuristic tarte tatin and Mango and Yuzu Cannelonis

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Following desserts was trio of mignardises Lemon Tart, Raspberry Macaroons & Chocolate Bombes

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”

― Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

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The French have the good sense NOT to serve coffee till you are finished with your sweets. I never understood why someone would want to hide the flavors of an apple tart with the overpowering flavors of coffee. If you think about it, it simply makes no sense. A good meal is to be lingered over and enjoyed. No rushed and hurried experience that promotes indigestion.

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Servers won’t even bring your bill till you ask for it. I have gotten into so many arguments over the years about the French relationship to eating versus the American. Maybe like an infant, we are just a young nation and haven’t learned proper conduct at the table.

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Outsanding View from the Dining Room

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Beaumont and Auguste play on the glass floor in the dining room Ocean waves crashed below creating an unparalleled experience

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The three cousins! Catherine, Francois et Andre avec Auguste

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Day Six: Endurance of the Stomach

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There comes a time on a gastronomical whirlwind where stomach fatigue sets in.  Champion eaters and drinkers out there will understand.  I call it Bacchusitis.  Maybe it was the second bout of Epoisses or the Steak Tartar with Frites or maybe too much great wine most likely all the above.  It is funny that my slender wife Lisa woke up raring to eat and I needed coaxing to face food today.

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For the first time this trip we ate petites dejeuner at the hotel we were staying at.  I love French breakfasts in their simplicity.  Café au lait, croissant, a perfect baguette, really yummy sweet French butter, preserves, more café and here in Burgundy a plethora of salumi, hams and cheeses.  Given my over-saturation of cheese you’d think that three cheeses on the breakfast buffet would be like kryptonite to superman.  But no, somehow I mustered the strength to persevere and march onward.  Forget the fruit and yogurt, fill my plate with charcuterie, bread and butter!

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The first stop of the day was wine tasting at Cave du Covent des Cordeliers.  Alexandre Dumas once wrote ‘A Montrachet should be drunk kneeling with one’s hat off’.  I think that should be expanded to include all of Burgundy.  Today’s tasting was unbelievable.

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The tasting started on shaky ground as Beau decided a convent was a good place to test his screaming abilities.  At first I thought the gentleman conducting our tasting was going to banish us from Beaune.  Beau kept grabbing the wire shopping baskets and moving them all over the cave.  Somewhere between dropping 288 euros on three magnums on vintage liquid gold and us mentioning that both Lisa and I worked for wineries in our checkered past the guy warmed up, even offering that he came from a family of 12 and had a million grand kids.  He poured us an amazing Volnay Premier Cru and asked us to bring it for a private tour of the lower caves where the ancient 100 year old Burgundies lived.  By now we had crossed from annoying customers to family.  The Volnay was outstanding and had me dreaming of food.  We wandered through the caves and surprisingly Beau never grabbed one of the ancient bottles though I thought about it several times.

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Descending into le Cave

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Look at the dust accumulated on the magnum.

This bottle hasn’t moved since it was born!

Feeling much like we just robbed someone we stole out into the afternoon and walked through an outdoor market on our way to Boeuf Bourguignonne, quite possibly the most known Burgundian cliché dish. We spent the afternoon walking between moments of beautiful sunshine and thunder crashing hail through the streets of Beaune.  It truly is an amazing city!

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As if to apologize for his outbursts petit Beau, ever the ladies’ man, would periodically grab Lisa all day, say mama, and give her a huge on the mouth kiss

After a short rest at our hotel we returned to the city center for dinner at La Ciboulette.  La Ciboulette rivals Ma Cuisine for King of the Regional restaurants and in many ways surpassed it.  The menu was more interesting, the owners more engaging and the food at least as good.  Ma Cuisine has history and magic.  But why say one is better than the other, both are great and both should be visited. We stopped at a non-descript brasserie for a kir royale, champagne mixed with local cassis where Beaumont gave his best shot at being annoying before falling asleep, DEEP SLEEP.

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The entire walk through Beaune’s bustling streets involved us running a pattern of stopping any threat. by all means necessary, that might provoke petit Satan.  This involved muffling dogs, knocking loud children over and pantomiming BE QUIET to several Frenchmen along the rue.  If France launches an overnight attack on the USA, it is my fault – sorry. We were the first customers at La Ciboulette and did my best Marcel Marceau imitation to convey to the wait staff that if he wakes it is their fault, not mine. The wait staff quickly got the point and set about making the dining almost too quiet.  Other guests entering, maybe some that had witnessed or at least read about in La Monde the infamous America family who’s child melted down in a Champagne restaurant quicker than the nuclear plants in Japan did after the tsunami, quieted themselves and ate in almost Monastery tranquility.  Marcel Marceau pantomimes broke out in the dining room.  I almost felt like I switched on an old episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, well, without the spam.

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My beautiful perfect little boy sleeping like an angel

After every course Lisa and I looked at each other with a ‘I know exactly what you are thinking please god do not say it out loud and jinx us’ look.  Every time someone would make a peep everyone’s attention focused on sleeping cutie to see whether or not he had awoken.  I honestly believe the guillotine would have made a comeback this night if someone disturbed his sleep. We ate like gods on regional cuisine.  Not Parisian cream and butter over indulgences but good old fashioned solid Burgundian fare, Oeufs a la Meurette (eggs poached in red wine with bacon and mushrooms), Pied de Veau sauce Vinaigrette tiede (veal feet served in a room temperature vinaigrette), Foie Gras, Joue de Porc sauce Bourguignonne (Pork cheeks simmered in red wine), Parmentier de Confit de Canard (Shepherd’s pie made with duck confit, and sweetbreads with morels.

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We drank the best wine of the trip so far – a 2007 Volnay 1er cru from Boillot’s ‘Les Caillerets’ vineyard.  The wine sang, well quietly sang, the virtues of Heaven and Earth and God’s love for mankind.  Truly a liquid orgasm I never wanted to end. The cheeses arrived and were at the perfect temperature.  It is not enough to have great cheese.  You also need to understand how to present and at what temperature.  The basket was a great way to bring a large selection of cheeses thru a tight dining space.

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After cheese came dessert and then café… truly a pleasant night. Beaumont did wake up after everything to applause, pantomimed applause and at least one drunken patrons’ poor adaption of of Marceau’s wall, and a nomination for the French Medal of Honor for his performance tonight.  If I understood the hostess correctly, he has been invited to the Presidential Palace in Paris for a full pardon.  No longer, well at least not till the next meal, will wait staff’s shutter windows and lock doors as we near the entrance of their restaurants.

ciboulette 01Viva la Beaumont!  My adorable petit gourmand! Bon Soir from Beaune… demain Chateauneuf du Pape. Stomach update: My liver has gone on strike and is refusing any more rich food.  I cried when Lisa enthusiastically said yes to breakfast, again.  Where is my zantac?  God help me!

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Day Four: More Champagne… Will my Liver Survive this Onslaught?

We arrived back in Epernay with the same foreboding feeling my friend and Vietnam vet buddy Jim Groeger must have felt when returning to the scene of a horrendous battle a few days later only to retake the same hill again.  I imagined the streets littered with empty bottles from yesterday’s excesses.  Thank god the ghosts of bottles drank were gone and the streets clear. Whew!

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Looking at road signs in a wine region is a bit like reading a great wine list. Every direction offers great possibilities.  Which way to turn, towards Bollinger or Rene Geoffrey?  Today we headed to one of the best small producers in the region at the behest of my friend Peter Zitz who works for America’s foremost distributor, Michael Skurnik.

Rene Geoffrey is one of the superstars in this neck of the woods, and one of the few who does no malo fermentation and actually makes rose champagne the way rose champagne ought to be made.  Trivia tidbit, only two percent of rose Champagne is made saignée.  In short, saignée is one of the methods of making rosé wines, along with blending white and red wine.  It is simply macerating (allowing contact with skins to leech out color and flavor) the wine with the skins for a short period of time.  98% of rose Champagne is made by adding red wine.

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Jean Baptiste Geoffroy started making Champagne closer to his vineyards with part of the production occurring at his, his father’s and his grandmother’s houses.  Life was chaotic and confusing and spread out.  Luckily he found a building an old cooperative had operated that he modified with an ingenious gravity fed wine making system and moved his production there.  The size of the building allowed grapes to be trucked to a higher street where his two huge wine presses are located.

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The grapes are pressed and the juice passes through a series of pipes that go down one level, deeper into the caves.  Using gravity rather than pumps is gentler on the wine and therefore preferred.  Everyday each and every bottle is given either an 1/8 or 1/4 turn.  Every one of his 10,000 bottles he makes each year.  Some of this is mechanically done and some by hand.

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After the tour we tasted three different Champagnes and a rustic still wine he makes using solely Pinot Meunier grapes.  We were excited because we had never tried one.  Look at the crazy stairs between levels of his cave.

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After the tasting and a prix fixe lunch at a non-descript brasserie we headed back to the Chateau with high hopes of napping.  Eating and drinking takes its toll on your body.  Please, no tears for our excesses.  Upon arrival, Beaumont decided he would torture us by carting him around the property for a survey of the fountains and moat.  That boy is single minded…

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The Chateau was originally built in the 12th and 13th century and received many notable members of the French royalty including both Louis the XIII and Louis the XVI (obviously before he and his head became separated during the revolution).  Parts of the castle crumbled with time and some, such as the original bridge, crumbled under the weight of royal carriages.  Parts were added throughout the centuries and parts faded into memories.  Beaumont is related to the Louis line through my father’s side of the family.

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Dinner brought us back to the city of Epernay and onto what seems to be the only street we drink and eat on.  We arrived promptly on time for our 7:30 reservation at Caves du Champagne for a bit of local cuisine and more Champagne.  The tiny storefront restaurant was packed and the guests looked decidedly unhappy to see a 15 month old boy enter.  Thank god Beau did not let the crowd down with a rare performance that hurls this tiny gourmand into the annals of terror with his ear splitting screaming and chucking of water glasses.  Times like this make me want to crawl under the table and curl up in fetal position sobbing incoherently.  As a parent you quickly realize who has had children and who hasn’t.  Other parents look at you with sympathy, kindness and understanding.  Non parents shoot visual death daggers at you.  We ate three delicious courses and drank Champagne quicker than you can say “ah”.  Lisa started with a terrine of foie gras with Ratafina Gelee, a local sweet aperitif while I inhaled six oysters gratinee.  I ate them so quickly I didn’t notice they  scorched my throat till later.  For our main courses, Lisa had a wonderful Magret of Duckling with Green Grapes and I sautéed Sweetbreads with Girolle Mushrooms.  Beaumont paused his tantrum long enough to eat most of my sweetbreads.  As a parent, you learn to give whatever petit Satan wants just to quiet him long enough to recoup.  Both courses were very very good and complimented the champagne well.  I must admit the small amount of sweetbreads Beaumont let me eat really brought out the apple flavors of our R. Pouillon Cuvee de Reserve.  Slight reprieve before Beaumont’s act two began.  Somewhere during dessert Lisa fled under the table and tossed Beau at me.  Everything was hunky dory till he grabbed a small water glass and doused me with holy water as if to exorcise the demons from within.  This actually brought the Chef owner out who clearly was not a parent.  With Lisa now trying to speak French and pretend neither Beau nor me was related I fled the dining and escaped to the technological world of our über modern Peugeot.  In retrospect I think the dining room was too small and crowded and offered too much stimulation for Beau.  One day we will return, though I probably will wear a fake set of glasses with a plastic nose…  For those keeping score I believe it is Christians 0, Lions 1…

bon soir and bon nuits and tomorrow brings Burgundy in all her splendor!

49 Years Old… Damn, how did I get here?

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Another one of these short posts…  49?  How the hell did I get here?  I still feel 18 years old till (a) I try to get out of bed and (b) I look in the mirror.  Tonight could not have been better than it was.  Our opening party and we (that is my kitchen staff), totally fucking crushed it.  We had so many obstacles, first a kitchen that was supposed to be done and ready to roll, then a one day approval that failed on the day of the event…  three menu rewrites…  Through that my entire kitchen staff held the faith and towed the line.  To each and every one of them I am beyond thankful.  To my sous chef Alex Hernandez and to guest chef John Villalba, undying love and affection and big thanks.  A chef can never claim to stand on his own two feet without the support of their sous chefs.  They truly are the unsung heroes of the kitchen world.  Tonight we did an amazing opening party for a children’s benefit with tennis superstars, Hollywood stars and the good natured customers who support these events.  I came home to a beautiful wifey with an amazing cocktail in hand…  I should mention Debbie Wolvos, photographer goddess supreme gave me an amazing Chateau Margaux 1989 as a birthday gift… Wow, age 49, has my life finally peaked?

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Asparagus Puree, Crunchy Brioche, 1,000 Year Old Olive Oil