Leaving La Quinta

“Man cannot discover new oceans

unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

–          André Gide

 

We are in the final moments of an impending major life change.  The material acquisitions of a hard working life have been sold, given away, discarded or packed neatly into labeled boxes lined up in what used to be our dining room.  Looking at the stack makes me contemplate how one’s hours are easily measured by the amount of stuff accumulated.  It’s hard to break away from these thoughts but my post isn’t about materialism it’s about choosing to live life deliberately and enjoying every second of it.

The first time I literally walked away from a restaurant in my prime was at Pili Pili, a wonderful Mediterranean restaurant near the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. I can vividly remember my bosses face changing to a ghostly white as the color left it when I told him of my decision.   We were at the top of our game, recently named top ten in the world by Food and Wine magazine, and I was leaving for reasons that astounded him.  I had to go for a walk, a very long walk, a 2,167.2 mile walk on the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.

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Gastronomica magazine published my story chronicling the thought process of how I had lost the desire to trade my life for a handful of dimes and needed something more spiritually significant happening in my life.  At the time I was experiencing what Phil Cousineau described as soul loss.  “There is another call, the one that arrives the day when what once worked no longer does. Sometimes people need a shock; sometimes a tocsin call. It’s time for a wakeup call. A man fired from a job; a child runs away from home; ulcers overtake a body. The ancients called this “soul loss”. Today, the equivalent is the loss of meaning or purpose in our lives. There is a void where there should be what Gerard Manley Hopkins calls “juice and joy.” The heart grows cold, life loses its vitality. Our accomplishments seem meaningless.”  I craved more significance in my life.

Sometimes to find yourself you need to let go of your perceived safety net, float freely away and completely lose sight of the shore.  Only amidst the turmoil of a stormy sea can you rebuild your life and find your way to your island paradise.

“There are many things that seem impossible

only so long as one does not attempt them.” 

― André Gide

I am leaving the kitchens of Figue Mediterranean and hanging up my toque looking for new challenges and goals to strive for.  I could list one hundred valid reasons to go and perhaps another hundred reasons to stay, but none will repay time lost with my three year old son Beaumont and my wife Lisa.   I am thankful for all the cooks and dishwashers I had the privilege  of working with over the last two years.  I am thankful to Lee Morcus for bringing me on to help realize his dream.  I wish continued success to everyone there.  And my biggest thanks to all our customers… without you a restaurant can never be.

At age 50, following my lifelong passions of food and photography I am reinventing myself as a food photographer and blogger and am hopeful to one day write a book, maybe turn it into a TV series and continue to explore the world one plate at a time.

Join me on the journey at http://www.EatTillYouBleed.com  The journey beginsin July 2014.

 

Francois

 

Chef François grew up in a very French household in Chicago. His earliest attempts at cookery began with the filleting of his sister’s goldfish at age two and a braised rabbit dish made with his pet rabbits at age seven. He eventually stopped cooking his pets and went to the highly esteemed New England Culinary Institute where he graduated top of his class in 1985.

Chef François de Mélogue has over 20 years of cross-cultural culinary experience, Chef François brings an impressive culinary history and a unique Mediterranean cooking style. After graduating top in his class from the notable New England Culinary Institute, Chef François began his career in a number of highly acclaimed kitchens across the country, including Chef Louis Szathmary’s restaurant The Bakery in Chicago, Old Drovers Inn, a Relais and Chateaux property in New York and Joel Robuchon Gastronomie restaurant in Paris, before opening award-winning restaurant Pili Pili in his hometown of Chicago, rated in the Top Ten new restaurants in the World by Food and Wine magazine in 2003. While working with Robuchon, Chef François began to shape his personal culinary philosophy of “Cuisine Actuelle,” which showcases the natural flavor in the ingredients he uses to create his dishes. Chef Francois specializes in simply prepared Mediterranean-inspired cuisine that is enhanced by his appreciation and knowledge of fine wine, craft beer, charcuterie and cheese. In line with his belief that food should be prepared without unnecessary distractions or alterations, Chef François creates honest, healthy and delicious cuisine that is approachable and always delightful.

Specialties: incredibly focused cuisine actuelle mixed with a deep appreciation of fine wines, beers, charcuterie and cheeses

Alain Passard’s 90 Minute Asparagus

de6575217e6c288d0dec2276a018edfeAsparagus’s first shoots have been popping up all over fields and gardens in Southern California for the last few weeks. They are a food lover’s early Spring harbinger telling us Winter is almost done and soon our tables will be overflowing with morels, fava beans, ramps, Alaskan halibut and other culinary delights.  It’s especially good news for those who live in parts of the country still buried under mountains of snow not believing that Winter will actually end soon.

I pre-ordered Michelin three star Chef Alain Passard’s highly anticipated vegetable book “The Art of Cooking with Vegetables”  from Amazon as soon as it was offered.  When it arrived, I leafed through it, loved the simplicity, then put it on a shelf and promptly forgot about it.  That’s one of the problems facing a cookbook addict who owns more than 2,000 cookbooks.  There ought to be a 12 step program for book hogs like myself who cannot refuse new releases.  Just the other day I picked it up again and became enthralled with Passard’s recipe titled “Stand Up Asparagus”, a recipe genius in it’s simplicity though it sounds a tad like a dish DeNiro would have ordered in Goodfellas.

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The recipe called for “the freshest possible asparagus with tightly closed tips and firm stalks” so on Sunday we went to the La Quinta farmer’s market and picked up a few bunches of just picked asparagus.  I trimmed off the bottoms, wrapped them in buttered parchment and bundled them together with kitchen twine.  I clarified 5 ounces of fresh sweet cream butter and put it into a one quart pot along with the asparagus bundles and slowly cooked  it for 90 minutes on super low heat, basting every twenty minutes.

asparagus 41The result is asparagus nirvana.  The stalks are perfectly cooked and tender with the tips still bright green with a light crunch.  Alain suggests serving with a poached egg and all that delicious asparagus butter.  Certainly you cannot go wrong with the classic combination but if you are adventurous and your arteries are not in imminent danger of clogging, you could poach an egg AND make a Hollandaise with the resulting asparagus butter.  For those of us pushing the limit of rich dishes consumed over a lifetime of eating great food you may want to consider charging the defibrillator prior to tackling this dish!

Chef F… Eat till you bleed!

Diavola: Maybe the best restaurant in the World?

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Dino Bugica has something incredibly and edibly special going on in Geyserville, California.  Dino is the Chef owner of Diavola, one of my favorite places to eat in the world.  What I like most is that it is a regular spot featuring amazing farm to table cuisine with an Italian touch.  The food is mind blowingly simple yet so rich and textured in it’s flavors and combinations.  The menu offers everything from amazing pizzas baked in his wood fired oven, like our perennial favorite the Cha Cha Cha, a house smoked pork belly pizza to pan seared Iberico pork loin in a white miso and mustard sauce.  Even dishes I would rarely if ever order, like tripe or tuna heart, are brought to majestic new heights at the Chef’s talented  hand.  If it is on the menu, I am ordering it.

Next time you find yourself in Northern California and you are wondering where to eat go visit Dino at Diavola Pizzeria http://www.diavolapizzeria.com/

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braised Beef Tripe alla Fiorentina with a sauteed Farm Egg

Here is a gallery of photos I have taken over the last few years of eating there, enjoy!

Figue’s Figs

Our baked figs at Figue Mediterranean is undoubtedly the most requested appetizer on our menu.  It is the culmination of what Figue is in one bite, charcuterie, figs, labne, Provencal honey and Sicilian pistachios.  The melding of cultures and cuisines.  The inspiration originated when I bought Greg and Lucy Malouf’s excellent and inspiring book ‘Arabesque’ and saw a similar dish.  Ours is modified from their original recipe but still pays tribute to it’s origins.

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Please click the link below for a printable copy of the recipe:

Figs by Francois de Melogue at Figue

Panigacci: Ligurian layered Pasta with Pesto

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In my researching interesting dishes for the menu at Figue Mediterranean I came across this dish in Carol Field’s excellent book “In Nonna’s Kitchen”.  I was taken by the rustic simplicity that I had to try it right away.  I made it first for my sous chef Keith Schneider and former manager Frederic Watson.  All of us were consumed by the simple flavors of basil married with tomato married with the soft pasta layers.  I tried finding references in other Italian books and couldn’t really find much.  The only other reference to it was a form of ancient flat bread baked directly in the hot coals of a fire.

Making Panigacci is more like making crepes than rolling pasta.  The first step is making the batter.

9 ounces Flour ( I used all purpose)

pinch Sea Salt

2-1/3 c. filtered Water

Mix the ingredients and strain into a four cup glass measuring cup.  Heat a small amount of oil in a Teflon pan and pour just enough batter to make a “crepe’.  If you have never made crepes google it.  The technique is the same.  The recipe should yield enough crepes for one panigacci.

Next make a simple pesto with basil and pine nuts.  I never measure ingredients and go more on feel and flavor but I will offer these helpful tips.  Do not buy store bought pesto because it sucks.  I start with a small boiled fingerling potato, garlic, Parmesan and olive oil pureed in a food processor.  The addition of a small potato came from an Italian chef.  The potato keeps your basil from turning brown and adds a level of creaminess that is amazing.  If I had to guess quantities I would say one fingerling peeled, 1/4 cup of pine nuts, 1 cup Parmesan (I used Reggiano) and one cup of extra virgin olive oil.  With the motor running I add about one pound of basil leaves that were blanched and shocked and I puree till smooth.  To me pesto should taste creamy, basilly with a hint of garlic.

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Spoon one tablespoon of pesto over each panigacci till you are done.  Roast the whole panigacci in your oven, or wood burning oven as we do.  Cut into wedges and serve on a San Marzano tomato sauce.  Try this immediately.  You will absolutely fall in love with it.  Thank You Carol Field for publishing such a great recipe!  I strongly suggest finding her books and buying them all!

WHOOSH! and they are GONE!

“Get Up.  Beau needs food for school”

Those were the exact words that shook me from a deep, heavenly dream of walking through the Sunday market in l’Isle sur la Sorgue with a rustic baguette from the wood burning oven bakery and transported  back to my bed in La Quinta.  “Honey, get up, Beau needs lunch.”

Half awake, sipping my morning cafe au lait, holding communion with distant plantations and tranquil pastures as Antoine St. Exupery once wrote, The joy of living.  Those first swallows of steamed milk and espresso.

“The joy of living, I say, was summed up for me in the remembered sensation of that burning and aromatic swallow, that mixture of milk and coffee and bread by which men hold communion with tranquil pastures, exotic plantations, and golden harvests, communion with earth.”

The smell of garlic and red chili flakes sizzling in olive oil.  I have been up four minutes and the house is filled with the sensual aromas of magic happening on my stove.  The act of transforming raw ingredients into the poetical act of love.  Fresh basil splatters and sputters. adding to the amazing bouquet in our house.  Two little feet running circles around me, still only half awake, I stir the pot.

Chopped fresh onion from the La Quinta farmer’s market and some San Marzano tomatoes and just let it simmer.  AS I do, I look over and notice Beaumont is mimicking me, cooking on his little fire engine red toy kitchen range.  He notices me glancing over and brings a spoonful of imagination for my me to taste and compare to my tomato sauce.  Shit, his is better.

I finish preparing his lunch of Spaghetti AOP with freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan and a drizzle of Mere Goutte olive oil lovingly known in my kitchen as “Mother’s Milk”.  Within three seconds they are gone…  The house is empty except for the sweet memory of preparing something so simple, with so much love, for someone I love so deeply.

Whoosh, they are gone!

Tonight’s Specials: OK, sorry Kitchen Crew, I had too much coffee and want to CRUSH IT TONIGHT at FIGUE

Figue+Desert+Smash+hi+res-106-2399067727-Opictured is my opening Kitchen Crew, some have moved on and some are still with us!

SMALL PLATES

Soupe de Poissons $10

Marseilles’ famous puréed Fish soup, Rouille, Parmesan

Little Flamenco Dancers $12

Pork, Serrano Ham and Fontina Cheese involtini; Tomato, Olive and Caper sauce

Margherita Pizza $14

Tomato, Basil, Mozzarella

Amatriciana Pizza $16

house cured Guanciale, San Marzano Tomatoes, Pecorino

Pizza alla Diavolo $16

shaved Salumi, Garlic and Red Chili Flakes

Scallop Crudo with Piquillo Pepper Granite $16

Mint and Citrus cured diver Scallop, organic Sicilian Citrus Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper Moroccan Calamari and Octopus $18

deep fried Calamari and Octopus with Harissa powder, Green Charmoula

AMERICAN BERKSHIRE PROSCIUTTO AND BURRATA $18

Di Stefano Artisan Burrata, Brioche Crostini, Fig Jam

Carpaccio of Octopus $18

Truffle Aioli, Arugula, Asparagus & Truffle Salad, shaved Manchego, Brioche Crostini

New Caledonia Sweet Blue Prawn Crudo $18

Sashimi grade Spot Prawns, Tomato Confite, Artichokes, Basil

Papillon of New Caledonia Blue Prawns and Burgundy Truffles $30

crispy Butterflies of sweet Blue Prawns, Cabbage Salad, Truffle Beurre Blanc

Paleta Iberica de Bellota $42

Cinco Jotas pure bred Iberico shoulder Ham aged two years

Tomato Olive Focaccia, Green Tomato Jam, shaved Idiazabal Cheese

BIG PLATES

Squid Ink Chitarra Pasta in Guazetto $28

Greek Branzino, Mussels and Shrimp in a Saffron Tomato Brodo, hand cut Squid Ink Pasta

BUCKWHEAT PASTA WITH RABBIT RAGU $28

hand rolled Buckwheat Pasta, Rabbit Ragu, Sicilian organic Citrus Olive Oil, aged Pecorino

Crispy John Dory $32

New Zealand St. Pierre, Chorizo Croquette, Saffron Aioli

SPIT ROAST JIDORI CHICKEN $26

Chickpea Fries, Ratatouille, Preserved Lemon Jus

Daube of Slow Braised Wagyu Beef Cheek $36

baked Ricotta galette, Cherry Tomato confite, Pumpkin Seed Crumble, Micro Arugula

Filet of Beef with Artichokes and Truffles $48

Potato Puree, caramelized Onions and Bacon, Artichokes & Burgundy Truffles

SWEETS & TURKISH COFFEE

Moroccan Donuts and Harissa Hot Chocolate $9

house made Donuts, Cinnamon Sugar, spicy Hot Chocolate

Turkish Coffee $10

Honey and Cardamom flavored Coffee prepared and served in a copper Ibrik

When asked by a social-climbing Paris hostess how he liked his truffles, Curnonsky replied,
“In great quantity, Madame. In great quantity.”

 

~ Curnonsky (Maurice Edmond Sailland), French writer (1872-1956)

Food Porn: Truffles, Pizzas and Octopus Carpaccio… Pictures from Last Night!

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“The most learned men have been questioned as to the nature of this tuber, and after two thousand years of argument and discussion their answer is the same as it was on the first day: we do not know. The truffles themselves have been interrogated, and have answered simply: eat us and praise the Lord.”

– Alexandre Dumas 

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AMERICAN BERKSHIRE PROSCIUTTO AND BURRATA $18

Di Stefano Artisan Burrata, Brioche Crostini, Fig Jam

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Since we’ve opened I have always treated the charcuterie bat like a sushi bar.  My cooks Michael and Chris kibbitz with guests offering them dishes that aren’t on any menu. It is a beautiful focal point for our restaurant.figue 2013 15 figue 2013 14 figue 2013 13

 

Carpaccio of Octopus $18

Truffle Basil Aioli, Arugula and Asparagus Salad, shaved Manchego, Brioche Crostini

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The octopus carpaccio is something I wanted to do for ten years now.  Last night was the first experiments.  I kept it fairly classic in liberal sense.  I mean we all know carpaccio Is raw beef drizzled with an olive oil dressing and garnished with shaved cheese. Invented in 1950 by Mr. Cipriani at Harry’s Bar in Venice.  The dish was inspired by the Contessa Amalia Nani Mocenigo whose doctor had recommended she go on a diet of raw meat.  Mr. Cipriani had visited the art exhibit of the famed Renaissance painter Vittore Carpaccio, known for his brilliant reds and whites.  Like any legendary dish, it mutates and morphs into something new.  Change always comes whether we want it to or not.  Our character is decided on how we handle it.

Turban of Sea Scallop and Burgundy Truffles $30

Spaghetti, shaved Truffles, Cabbage Salad, Beurre Blanc

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This is one of my favorite Joel Robuchon inspired dishes.  A single strand of spaghetti is wrapped around the interior of a savarin mold, filled with scallop and truffle mousse and big hunks of scallop then steamed.

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Turned out onto a pasta bowl, paired with a cabbage salad, slivers of fresh Burgundy truffles and an old school beurre blanc made with French butter.

figue 2013 06While I had my camera out I took a few more food shots…

figue 2013 38Buckwheat Pasta and Squid Ink Chitarra waiting to be cooked…figue 2013 22

Squid Ink Chitarra Pasta in Guazetto $28

Greek Branzino, Mussels and Shrimp in a Saffron Tomato Brodo, Hand Cut Squid Ink Pasta

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Kibbe│ Lebanese Lamb and Bulgur Wheat meatballs, Cucumber salad, Hummus – 14 

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Daube of slow braised Wagyu Beef Cheek $36

baked Ricotta galette, Cherry Tomato confite, Pumpkin Seed Crumble, Micro Arugula

figue 2013 12Sticky Toffee Cake

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Moroccan Donuts and Harissa Hot Chocolate $9

house made Donuts, Cinnamon Sugar, spicy Hot Chocolate

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Burgundy Truffle Season Has Begun

 

 

 

Nothing gets me more excited as a Chef than the beginning of truffle season.  My first batch of truffles rolled in today from Burgundy.  While they are not as pungent or expensive as Perigord they still are beautiful and fragrant.  Here are my specials for tonight!  Please stop by Figue in the Palm Springs market for dinner and be sure to say HELLO!Display0317

SMALL PLATES

 

Di Stefano Artisan Burrata Caprese $16

slow cooked Cherry Tomatoes, Pesto, Sicilian Organic Citrus Oil

house pickled Currant Tomatoes, Fig Vincotto and Di Stefano Burrata

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Salmon Crudo with Citrus and warm Merguez Olives $16

Mint and Citrus cured Salmon, drizzled with 1,000 year Olive Oil

Grapefruit, Kaffir Lime and Mandarin Orange, fried Sausage stuffed Olives

 

Salt and Pepper Moroccan Calamari and Octopus $18

deep fried Calamari and Octopus with Harissa powder, Green Charmoula

 

American Berkshire Prosciutto $18

Di Stefano Artisan Burrata, Brioche Crostini, Fig Jam,

 

Carpaccio of Octopus $18

Truffle Basil Aioli, Arugula and Asparagus Salad, shaved Manchego, Brioche Crostini

 

Turban of Sea Scallop and Burgundy Truffles $30

Spaghetti, shaved Truffles, Cabbage Salad, Beurre Blanc

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Paleta Iberica de Bellota $42

Cinco Jotas pure bred Iberico shoulder Ham aged two years

Tomato Olive Focaccia, Green Tomato Jam, shaved Idiazabal Cheese

 

Warm Truffle Tart $95

Filo, Smoked Bacon and Candy Onion Jam, Burgundy Truffles

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BIG PLATES

 

 

Squid Ink Chitarra Pasta in Guazetto $28

Greek Branzino, Mussels and Shrimp in a Saffron Tomato Brodo, Hand Cut Squid Ink Pasta

Buckwheat Pasta with Rabbit Ragu $28

hand rolled Buckwheat Pasta, Rabbit Ragu, Sicilian organic Citrus Olive Oil, aged Pecorino

 

Spit Roast Jidori Chicken $26

Chickpea Fries, Ratatouille, Preserved Lemon Jus

 

Daube of slow braised Wagyu Beef Cheek $36

baked Ricotta galette, Cherry Tomato confite, Pumpkin Seed Crumble, Micro Arugula

 

Whole Roasted Daurade Royale $38

Mediterranean Gilt Headed Sea Bream, Artichoke & Fennel Barigoule, Olive Tapenado

 

SWEETS & TURKISH COFFEE

 

Moroccan Donuts and Harissa Hot Chocolate $9

house made Donuts, Cinnamon Sugar, spicy Hot Chocolate

 

Turkish Coffee $10

Honey and Cardamom flavored Coffee served in a Copper Ibrik

Figue Food Sept 2013 05

Morgans at La Quinta Resort

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Sunday night, Lisa and I got a reprieve from Warden Beau and were furloughed for three hours, just long enough to escape for dinner at nearby restaurant Morgan’s.  I have been wanting to eat here for a long time but it always seemed impossible.  I guess my mind wanders to LA hotspots rather than what is in my neighborhood.  Michael Vaughn, executive Sous Chef of the property, has been a regular customer at Figue and every time he comes in I always feel bad I haven’t visited one of his places always promising to get in.

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We arrived promptly at 5:30 for cocktails at their beautiful bar for a round of leisurely drinks.  Lisa started with a Tangerine and Ginger Margarita while I had the Rum Old Fashioned.  The drinks were perfect.  I loved the decor of the bar area as it kind of reminded me of an old steak house with a it’s luxurious wood and glass.  The bar had a beautiful glass case with cheeses.  Next to the bar was a gorgeous outdoor dining area.  While we were enjoying our drinks Brian Recor, Chef de Cuisine, came out to visit.  Jimmy Schmidt is the name brand behind the concept but Brian is the guy who actually cooks.  I don’t mean to slight Jimmy, it’s just for the immediate purposes of filling my stomach with delectable bites I was more interested in Brian’s well-being.

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The hostesses lead us to a beautiful table in the back corner of the dining room.  Our waiter arrived and offered the regular menu and a tasting menu featuring apples.  With too many good choices to decide from we picked one tasting menu and a few dishes of the regular menu.  We started with a plate of oysters topped with Riesling and Hard Cider Granita.  Normally I am a guy who wants brine and more brine but these oysters were delicious.  The brine complimented the sweetness of the granita.  Lisa started with a Gruet Brut and I had the ‘Le Cengle Rose’ from Provence.  The sparkler highlighted the Sea while my rose brought out the apples.  Two great choices for this dish.

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After the oysters came their Apple and Chanterelle Ravioli from the tasting menu and Ahi Tuna and Pomegranate Tartare.  I had asked the waiter to pick whatever he wanted.  The Chef kindly sent out his Baja Shrimp glazed with spices and a ragout of cauliflower and white beans.  We both found the ravioli a tad too sweet but the tartare and shrimp were stellar.  With the round of appetizers Lisa and I shared a glass of Talbott Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia highlands.

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Our main courses were Smoked Pistachio crusted Rack of Colorado Lamb served with White Beans and roasted Garlic dressed in a Pomegranate reduction and Lisa’s Apple Cider cured pan roasted Duck Breast.  Lisa paired it with the 2008 Vietti Castiglione Barolo and I had a zinfandel who’s name eludes me.  Both dishes were tasty and by now we started thinking about our curfew.

Lisa had forgotten about her dessert but thankfully the waiter remembered.  Her Apple Cinnamon Donut Poppers arrived drizzled in Cinnamon Brittle with Salted Caramel Ice Cream.  Sated we left, returning to warden Beau and his army of balloons.

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To make reservations or for more information on Morgan’s or any of the other restaurants at La Quinta resort please go to their website.  It is a gorgeous property with wonderful rooms, shops and best of all several restaurants to choose from.  http://www.laquintaresort.com/resort/

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