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

PBS Filming ” Hello Paradise with Joni Ravenna” at Figue

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Host Joni Ravenna filming at Figue YesterdayPBS Filiming 04

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Diver Scallop, Piquillo pepper granite and Lime Crudo $16

Mexican Diver Scallops drizzled with Kaffir Lime Ginger vinaigrette

Piquillo Pepper Granite, Bautista Creek Finger Limes and Organic Sicilian Hot Pepper Olive Oil

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Squid Ink Chitarra pasta with uni $18

chilled hand rolled Chitarra Pasta with fresh Dungeness Crab

Sea Urchins and Zucchini Blossom Pesto

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Joni’s Daughter enjoying our Halibut Tajine, halibut tagine│ Moroccan spiced Halibut, roasted Summer Vegetable Couscous – 32PBS Filiming 14

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PBS Filiming 16Please visit Joni’s webpage at http://www.raventv.net/helloparadise.html

 

168: Our Amazingly Lucky Number!

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In the Chinese culture, the number “1 6 8” is filled with the promise of abundance, good fortune and prosperity, and means “may your journey be prosperous from beginning to end.”
May your journey be prosperous from beginning to end…  That is an epic understatement when it comes to the talents and cuisine of Chef Hisashi Yoshiara.  Lisa and I went to 168 in Pasadena because of my connection with their General Manager Phil Roberson.  I was sitting at my desk working and had some fond thoughts of Phil exactly at the same time he texted me.  After some idle chat he told me about this cool pan Asian restaurant he was working at.  Being an avid fan of Asian fusion I could hardly resist the temptation.  I google where he worked and read up on their Chef.  I have to admit I came with super high expectations and was absolutely blown away by the food, service and atmosphere.
168 25 168 27We were promptly seated by the gracious hostess at an outdoor table in a beautiful small courtyard.  We chose outside because 93 degrees in Pasadena just seemed cool compared to the 108 degree day at home when we left La Quinta.  We chatted with Phil for a few moments and asked him to have Chef Yoshiara honor us with whatever he felt like cooking that day.  I absolutely love when Chef’s pick what I eat.  The complete surprise of the moment not knowing what is coming next is amazing.  I often wonder why restaurants do not offer that and why guests do not ask for it.  Try it next time you eat out.  You may get a course or two you do not like but overall you will get food you probably would not have ordered and after trying wonder why you never ordered that.  The surprise of having a table laid with eating implements and trying to figure out based on that what you are about to eat is amazing.  Chef Yoshiara is exactly the guy you want surprising you.
168 06Round One: Three Coolers and Asian Bagna Cauda
Phil brought us three coolers to sip while our first course was being prepared.  All three were delicious but the Strawberry Basil one blew both our socks off.  The other two were an orange juice and star anise flavored one and a cucumber and mint one.  The orange one was good and perhaps could of used a bump more star anise flavor.  I like the cucumber and mint one a lot.  Lisa felt it was the plainest. Despite minute differences they were a fun way to start the meal.  Phil brought us two amazing cocktails, Red Dragon made with soju, watermelon and kaffir lime syrup and a wingspan, made with sake, house made ginger beer and honey mint.  Both were perfect and yummy.  Soju is kind of a distilled version of sake.
While we were sipping our drinks the bagna caudo came out.  Now you are probably thinking ‘hey, what is an Italian dish doing on a pan Asian menu?’  Yes, so was I.  It turns out that first of all Chef made an Asian version deliciously crafted with white soy and more traditional ingredients and secondly he did it as a tribute to his Italian wife.  That may have earned him brownie points but got me into a bit of trouble with the Mrs.  I know have to put something Asian on my menu and tell my wife it is because I adore her that it is there.  The Bagna Caudo was brilliant.  We dipped bok choy, carrots, peppers and bit of bread into the insanely delicious anchovy and white soy dip.  I would have drank the remaining dip had we not been sitting so close to the waiter station.  It was that good.
168 07A spicy Ahi Tuna taco with Asian Guacamole followed.  WOW.  It was everything the name implies… crispy, crunchy, tasty, spicy, yummy.  I am not sure what else I could say.  As the picture clearly shows, the shell was absolutely spot on perfect.
168 09 168 10What followed next is a prime example of something I probably would not have ordered but holy crap is it amazing.  It was simply, and Chef forgive me for botching the ingredients, simply an eggplant steamed in miso sauce.  Yes, that simple.  Simple food is something people take for granted.  A lot of Chefs believe more is always better.  To me, the true talent of a Chef lies not in how much he can stick onto your plate but how much can the Chef strip away and blow you away.  This dish had two components.  No hiding behind slabs of foie gras, truffle shavings ort a plethora of other things… this was a simple fat slice of Japanese eggplant and miso sauce.
168 13 168 12The next dish absolutely made me cry in it’s beauty and taste. A potato wrapped sea scallops cooked and served in an emerald green pool or green Thai curry rich with galangal.  The sauce had this beautiful warming glow to the lingering taste.  The potatoes and scallops were just cooked so perfectly.  I could have eaten five more orders they were that good.  Phil served us a beautiful sake served in a shot glass sitting inside a small wooden box.  It is a sign of prosperity when you pour an over the top a shot of sake.
168 11The cool sake offset the lingering spiciness of the curry.  BRAVO!
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About this time we started to get fuller and wondered if this was the last main dish.  Chef prepare a beautiful dish of Alaskan Black Cod lacquered with Ponzu sauce and served with micro croutons and a steamed baby turnip filled with even more ponzu sauce.  It was amazing.  Those familiar with the chain of high-end Hawaiian restaurants Roys will be familiar with that fish though they call it Butter Fish.  The fish just falls apart in creamy heavenness.  Yes that is now a real word.  We finished eating and wondered what dessert would look like.
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Just then, our waiter brought a tray of serving utensils that indicated dessert was not forthcoming.  Two smaller bowls appeared then the mother ship came out the kitchen area and towards us.  Having peeked at the menu early I knew we were getting a ramen noodle soup.  The slight awkwardness of our waiter lended a wonderful level to the dining experience.  He was a young fellow who seemed just as excited about the food and 168 as we felt being newbies there.  It added to the Christmas like feel of wondering what you were getting next.  The noodle soup was made with Kurabuta Pork, noodle and thin shaved Japanese peppers.  It was phenomenal.  Phil paired this course with a Syrah that danced with the spicy flavors quite well.
Lisa had hit saturation point.  I did too but could not stop eating the noodles and broth.  They were addictive.  By then the heat of the day coupled with too much food and alcohol got me sweating.  Phil noticed and dragged us inside for the dessert course.
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I normally am not prone to eating desserts.  It melted in my mouth and made me wish I had the balls to ask him for the recipe.  So feathery light and perfectly cooked.After dessert the Chef came out.  I complimented his abilities and vowed to return soon.
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It truly was an honor eating there.  Phil was an amazing host and we enjoyed catching up on his family and what was going on with his life.  I strongly recommend w=eating at 168 in Pasadena if you love Asian Fusion.  They are located at : 168 west Colorado boulevard, old Pasadena, ca 91105 and can be reached at 626-793-8008.  To see their web site please go to http://www.168pasadena.com/
Phil took us on a small tour of the vast complex.  Private dining, great bar, outdoor seating…
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cool, practical decor made with orange spray painted dead tree limbs168 28
Chef’s Play Ground168 26
Private Dining Area
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Cool fixtures from their Sushi Bar168 23 168 27

Asparagus Salad │ Chilled Asparagus, 63 degree Egg, Parmesan Fonduta, Crispy Speck, Baby Frisée

Sometimes copying is the sincerest form of flattery.  This dish originated in my repertoire after a cook book written by the folks of Boulevard.  Who doesn’t love a cook book with an obvious slant towards adding bacon to everything.  I never ate there but I love them!   Here is my version:

Asparagus with 63 degree egg

Asparagus Salad │ Chilled Asparagus, 63 degree Egg, Parmesan Fonduta, Crispy Speck, Baby Frisée

Chef François de Mélogue

Ingredients for four servings:

20                    Asparagus Spears, cooked, cooled

4                      63 degree Eggs, peeled

½ c                 Parmesan Fondutta

4                      sliced crispy Speck

4 oz                baby Frisee

 

 

Mise en Place:

 

1                       63 degree egg: cook eggs in circulator at 62.5 for one hour.

2                       Lay speck in a single layer on silsheet.  Cook in 200 degree oven for three hours.

 

To Order:

 

  1. 1.              Lay five asparagus spears on rectangle plate.
  2. 2.              Spoon fondutta over stalks.
  3. 3.              Top with speck then egg.
  4. 4.              Cover asparagus base with frisée tossed in olive oil.

 

Parmesan Fondutta

Ingredients for four servings:

 

1 c                  Cream

1/2  c             Parmesan

2                      Egg Yolks

pinch             Nutmeg

Mise en Place:

 

Boil cream, add cheese and nutmeg.  Whisk in egg yolks.

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!

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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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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Artichoke and Goat Cheese Tarte Tatin Recipe

Artichoke Tarte Tatin

Chef François de Mélogue, the still unnamed restaurant in La Quinta

Ingredients for four servings:

1 each                       Red Bell Pepper

1 each                       Onion

1 each                       Fennel

4 each                       globe Artichokes

¼ cup                        Olive Oil

1 each                       Lemon, washed

2 ounces                   fresh Goat Cheese

1 ounce                    grated Parmesan

4 each                      Puff Pastry Circles (cut same diameter as tart pan)

Directions:

Julienne red pepper, onion and fennel, then sauté till tender.  You will have more than you need for four tarts.  Peel artichokes using a sharp paring knife carefully cutting around the bottom.  Continue trimming artichoke bottom till all the outer leaves are removed and there are no more green spots.  Use a spoon to scoop out the choke.  Cook the four bottoms in salted water mixed with olive oil and sliced lemon.   The lemon helps keep the artichoke from oxidizing.  The artichokes are cooked when a paring knife easily pierces the bottoms.  Remove and chill.

Sprinkle a little olive oil into the bottoms of four small tart pans, about four inches in diameter.  Slice each artichoke thinly and lay in bottom of tart pan.  Top with a tablespoon of julienned vegetable and ½ ounce of goat cheese.  Sprinkle parmesan over.  Then lay puff pastry circle over, pressing the edges firmly around the tart.  Bake at 450 till golden brown, about 12 minutes.  Invert onto warm plate.  Spoon olive emulsion on top, drizzle some basil oil around and enjoy.

Olive Emulsion

1/4 cup                    chopped pitted Niçoise Olives

3 each                     Egg Yolks

1/2 teaspoon          Black Pepper

2 tablespoons         Lemon Juice

1 cup                       Olive Oil

Directions:

Mix chopped olives with egg yolks, black pepper and lemon juice.  Whisk over boiling water in a stainless steel bowl till light and creamy.  Slowly whisk in olive oil.  Adjust seasoning and spoon over cooked tarts.

Basil Oil

1 bunch                   Basil

2 cloves                   Garlic

3 Tablespoons         Olive Oil

Directions:

Puree everything in your food processor.  The basil oil should be thinner than pesto when finished.

Chef Notes:

The artichoke Tarte Tatin is a playful dish based on the classic French Apple Tart.  Artichokes are always a hard vegetable to pair with wine.  Claudia Springs Viognier seamlessly marries with the rich flavors of olive emulsion and basil oil and provided an interesting foil to the goat cheese.

The Story of ‘How We Came to BE’, The Menu Exploded: A Deeper Look at Our Approach

 

“It’s a simple business: Develop good food

and get it into people’s mouths. The rest sort of takes care of itself.”

~ Richard Melman, founder of Lettuce Entertain You

I once read an article detailing Richard Melman’s approach to designing a new restaurant concept.  The very first step was to create a storyboard that told the story of the new idea, perhaps written by a person who worked there, and was asked to describe life and service in the restaurant.  Everything, from the menu, wine list, art work to even the paint scheme emanated from it.   The idea struck a chord deep inside because I am a visual and small detail oriented person. Since then I have tried to incorporate it into my approach writing menus.

 

a charcuterie market and a spice merchant’s market in Avignon

 

Lately I have been looking for the perfect Sous Chef and Pastry Chef.  I described to a recent Pastry Chef candidate what I was wanting from her, “What I would love is your expression of what should be on the pastry menu of a Mediterranean Restaurant specializing in French, Spanish and Italian with forays into Morocco, Greece, Tunisia, Lebanon.  It is our goal to convey the story, the history of the people, through food.  If somehow you can distill this into pastries than you have gotten what I am attempting.”

I am not trying to be too esoteric; my goal is to take people somewhere, on a three hour adventure from their homes in the California Desert to the shores of the Mediterranean.  I want the experience to be so authentic and real that if you closed your eyes, the flavors, smells and sounds may just well make you believe you are really there.

“The Mediterranean cuisine is one of the most colorful and vibrant in the world, providing sensual dishes flavored with wild herbs gathered from the hillsides; lamb and chicken are often roasted whole over coals; vegetables are abundant and used in a wide variety of soups, bakes and salads.”

 

a whole local pig porchetta straight off the rotisserie

the pig comes from Cookpig in California

 

My inspirations have come from spending a portion of my informative years visiting relatives all over the South of France, to comparative dining to reading a lot online, in books and vicarious trips lived through letters and phone calls of close friends. One of my favorite authors is Colman Andrews.  I recently picked up his book “The Country Cooking of Italy” and came across his recipe for Sguazabarbuz, a variation of pasta e fagioli.  The name intrigued me so much I researched it further.  I came across a web site mentioning the history, “The story tells that on May 29, 1503 Lucrezia Borgia came to Ferrara to marry Alfonso I d’Este and a steward of the Palace, taking inspiration from her golden locks, created this special pasta and passed down the recipe from generation to generation. The pasta is cut into irregular strips, in fact they are called “maltagliati” (cut badly) and if it is cooked in a bean and pork fat broth they are called ‘sguazabarbuz’.”

Another dish making its debut will be a Pistachio, Polenta and Olive Oil Cake served with ‘Spice Road Caravan’ cherries and cherry sorbet.  Individual three ounce cakes made from Sicilian green pistachios, polenta and olive oil batter cooked and served at room temperature garnished with fresh spun cherry sorbet and with what I term Silk Road Caravan spiced cherries.  The Silk Road was a series of paths and trade routes connecting the Mediterranean to Eastern Asia.  The famous camel routes brought cinnamon, nutmeg and other fantastic flavors into the Mediterranean melting pot.

My cake’s origins lay not in a cultural tradition passed generation to generation by any one culture but rather in my head combining bits and pieces of various experiences and references.

Pistachios are native to Western Asia and the Levant between Turkey and Afghanistan.  The earliest traces of pistachios being eaten is 7,000 BC in Turkey, and cultivated and introduced into Europe by the Romans in 1st century AD.  Polenta’s name was originally derived from the Roman staple puls, or pulmentum. Pulmentum also was the Roman’s soldier primary food.  The soldiers were issued grain which they toasted on hot stones and either made into a porridge or baked into crude breads.

Polenta was originally made from millet, spelt or chickpeas, only when corn came from the New World in the 1600’s did polenta’s turn into a cornmeal porridge we know and love.  Cherries originated in Asia and became well loved by the ancient Greeks first appearing in print in 300 BC in the writings of Theophrastus.  By the first century AD, Pliny the Elder had listed eight different varieties under cultivation, some grown in the far off parts of the Roman Empire like Britain.

In America we have the freedom to combine, mix and mutate without the same restraints my French family would face.  They would never dream to mix as freely as I will.  Noted British Chef Marco Pierre White once said the kitchen was his freedom.  The new, still nameless restaurant is my freedom.

Chef François

ps. Vote on the new restaurant name at my FaceBook Chef Page!