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.

Display0275

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.

asparagus 34

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!

Why Small Farms are Important: Support National Eat Local Food Day September 22nd.

“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.”

Antoine de Saint Exupery

Display0465

It has been said that food can be either the greatest form of medicine or the slowest form of poison depending on it’s pedigree.  Where our food comes from and how it gets there is important, but It’s deeper than that, family farms are good for the American psyche and our local economy.  Family farms are generally defined as small operations run and worked by family members.  Small organic farms tend to operate more sustainably, both economically and environmentally, than their corporate counterparts. Family farms support and enhance local economies while corporate farms remove wealth and destroy the earth with their overuse of harmful chemicals and disastrous farming practices.

pei farmer

“Good farmers, who take seriously their duties as stewards of Creation and of their land’s inheritors, contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges, or even knows. These farmers produce valuable goods, of course; but they also conserve soil, they conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery.”

– Wendell Berry

There are five million less farms in America now than there was after the Depression.  In 1900, 32% of Americans worked on farms now less than 2% do.  Industrial farming has taken over.  75% of agricultural product is produced by 6% of the farms.  Part of the blame lays on our Federal governments economic policies governing not only prices set for products but in it’s relentless support of corporations by instituting ridiculous conditions to which small farmers must adhere.

“The passive American consumer, sitting down to a meal of pre-prepared food, confronts inert, anonymous substances that have been processed, dyed, breaded, sauced, gravied, ground, pulped, strained, blended, prettified, and sanitized beyond resemblance to any part of any creature that ever lived. The products of nature and agriculture have been made, to all appearances, the products of industry. Both eater and eaten are thus in exile from biological reality.”

– Wendell Berry

Family farms shorten the food chain and bring us closer to healthful and diverse food supply.  We develop relationships with the farmers, foragers and fishermen that feed our family’s.  We become a community, together.  Organic whole foods are unprocessed, natural foods in their original form which are full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein, carbohydrates, fat and fiber as well as all of the hundreds of phytonutrients that work together in the proper amounts to give our body exactly what it needs to be healthy. Unlike processed food, they do not contain added flavors, colors or preservatives.

Vacation August 2013 Sacramento X Street Market and Jam273

My wife Lisa and two year old Beaumont have been eating whole foods for the last eight years almost exclusively.  90% of our diet comes from small farmer’s like De La Ranch, Bautista Creek Farm or Johnny’s Garden that we buy from at the Palm Springs Farmer’s Market.  Our weekly menu is decided on what we find that is in season rather than what a magazine tells me to eat.  As Michael Pollan once said “at home I serve the kind of food I know the story behind.”  Our Sundays are saved to enjoy the bounty of small organic farms as a family.  My son Beaumont sits on the corner and helps cook, or at least his toy pig ‘Baby’ does.

Sunday Family Meal 18

Some small farms have Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs.  Michael Pollan says “C.S.A. reconnects you as an eater with the source of your food, offering a vivid reminder that, whatever we eat, we eat by the grace of farms and farmers, of the land, the weather and the season — not supermarkets. The C.S.A. means I also eat in the knowledge that I’m doing my small bit to defend a gorgeous patch of bottomland along Cache Creek outside the tiny town of Guinda from the oncoming wave of sprawl that threatens to engulf California’s entire Central Valley into one big, wall-to-wall housing development.”

At Figue Mediterranean, located in La Quinta (California) where I am employed as Executive Chef I buy from several small producers.  Every week I get a listing of products from dozens of farmers at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market.  I actively support the Palm Springs Farmer’s market and have several people who bring me bags of oranges, lemons and figs from their gardens that they cannot use.  My pork comes from the absolutely best pig farmer’s in the country CookPig.  We even forage for wild dates and other items we can use on our menus.  Food provides a soul satisfying and healthy connection between the Earth and ourselves.  Like St. Exupery said, we hold communion with distant farms by simply drinking our fair trade coffees and teas.  It offers our guests a very seasonal and fun way to dine that is a bit more spontaneous.  Last week I came up with seven dishes based on walking through my farmer’s market.  Our guests are sophisticated and demand healthful food.  They realize the link between whole, unengineered foods.  Here are my specials:

“Find the Shortest, Simplest way between Earth, the Hands and the Mouth”

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

Maman’s Provencal Salad $12

Bautista Creek’s simply gorgeous French Yellow and Green Beans, Fingerling Potatoes

and Tomatoes lightly flavored with Basil and organic Vallée des Baux Olive Oil

Karniyarik $14

Johnny’s Farm Eggplant stuffed with Elysian Fields Lamb, Sweet Onions and Pinenuts

drizzled with Tahini Sauce, Harissa Sauce

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

Squid Ink Chitarra Pasta with Uni $18

chilled hand rolled Chitarra Pasta with fresh Dungeness Crab

Sea Urchins and Zucchini Blossom Pesto

Calamari and Octopus Salad $18

plancha fired Calamari and Spanish Octopus, baby wild Arugula,
Shiitake Mushrooms, aged Guisti 12 Year Balsamic, ‘Mother’s Milk’ Olive Oil

Jamón Ibérico de Bellota $32

shaved 2 year Iberico Ham served with Tomato Olive Focaccia, Fig Jam

14 month Mahon Sheep Cheese, house Pickled Okra

BIG PLATES

Pici with lamb Sugu $28

hand shaped rustic Pici noodles topped with slow cooked Lamb and Tomato Sugo

Roast Loup de Mer Rivieria Style – $38

Sea Bass, Swiss Chard, Reggiano Parmesan, Tomato and Garlic Confit, Saffron Jus

SWEETS

Sticky Toffee and Date Cake $9

uber moist locally foraged Date cake, Sticky Toffee Sauce

On September 22nd, Figue is proudly taking part of National Eat Local Day, a collaboration started by Chef Sarah Stegner and PR maven Cindy Kurman.  “Our hope is that leading chefs across the country can work together to raise awareness of the importance of supporting our local sustainable farms. We hope to increase the flow of local sustainable food to the restaurant tables across the country in order to protect our farm lands and to ensure their success so future generations have access, said Stegner.

Joining the two in their efforts are restaurateur Alice Waters and her chef Jérôme Waag at Chez Panesse (Berkeley, CA), Alison Price Becker (Alison Eighteen, New York City), Stephanie Pearl Kimmel (Marché, Eugene OR), Francois de Melogue (Figue Mediterranean, La Quinta CA), Mark Grosz (Oceanique, Evanston IL), Paul Fehribach (Big Jones, Chicago IL), Jamie Leeds (Hank’s Oyster Bar and Lounge, Washington DC), Nora Pouillon (Restaurant Nora, Washington DC), Norman Van Aken  (Miami, FL) and Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris (Prairie Grass Café, Northbrook, IL) and Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill and Topolobampo). The list is growing rapidly.

FOR MORE INFORMATION PLEASE VISIT THE WEB SITE: http://nationaleatlocalday.com/

PBS Filiming 10

Figue is preparing our Diver Scallop, Piquillo pepper granite and Lime Crudo.  Mexican Diver Scallops drizzled with Kaffir Lime Ginger vinaigrette, topped with Piquillo Pepper Granite, Bautista Creek Finger Limes and Organic Sicilian Hot Pepper Olive Oil.

Chef Francois de Melogue…  I support local farm to table so much I even had my VW Westfalia tattooed

The Magic Bus

“Odd as I am sure it will appear to some, I can think of no better form of personal involvement in the cure of the environment than that of gardening. A person who is growing a garden, if he is growing it organically, is improving a piece of the world. He is producing something to eat, which makes him somewhat independent of the grocery business, but he is also enlarging, for himself, the meaning of food and the pleasure of eating.”

– Wendell Berry

Here are some pictures from two of my favorite farmer’s markets, UC Davis’s and the X Street Market in Sacramento:

Vacation August 2013 Sacramento259 Vacation August 2013 Sacramento257 Vacation August 2013 Sacramento256 Vacation August 2013 Sacramento250 Vacation August 2013 Sacramento X Street Market and Jam295 Vacation August 2013 Sacramento X Street Market and Jam294 Vacation August 2013 Sacramento X Street Market and Jam290 Vacation August 2013 Sacramento X Street Market and Jam282 Vacation August 2013 Sacramento X Street Market and Jam278 Vacation August 2013 Sacramento X Street Market and Jam277

Viva La France at Figue Mediterranean

Lisa and I celebrated our tenth anniversary by dining at Figue.  All summer long Figue has been visiting various countries as part of a staycation program.  July is all about France.  Our bar is featuring various hors d’oeuvres typically found in Parisian wine bars that our bartenders have created French inspired cocktails to pair with; Celeste our Sommelier has picked a wide range of great French wines, we have a special Bastille Day celebration planned and all month long we are featuring a Brasserie styled menu loaded with all the classics of French cooking.  That’s what brought me in.  Good old fashioned French food.  Comfort food.

Figue 08

We started with two flutes of Champagne and a plate of Beausoleil Oysters from Eastern Canada.

Figue 05

Figue 06 Figue 07

We ordered a bottle of La Fleur Gazin and moved onto to Duck Galantine with Housemade Pickles followed by grilled Onglet (hangar steak) frites with Bearnaise and Short Rib Bourguignonne.

Figue 10 Figue 09

The steak frites were unbelievable.  I never have understood why people like filets so much.  They have a terrible consistency and almost no flavor in comparison to a rib eye or hangar.  The short rib Bourguinonne melted in my mouth and sang with the wine.

Figue 11

Next we had the Chocolate Pots de Creme.  Rich, deep chocolate yumminess!

Figue 13 Figue 12

 

Next was a trio of mignardises to nibble on with my cappuccino.  All together it was a great meal.  I hate saying that about my own food because I am really not egotistical.  I love French comfort food as it is what I grew up eating.  Please come and visit us this month at http://www.EatFigue.com

Figue 01

 

 

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!

lente 25

Figue: Opening Menu

 

“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.”

The menu of Figue is the story of the Mediterranean.  The history of food and culture is one of conquerors, immigrants and trade.  Each wave brought far off ingredients and cooking techniques and a melding of the peoples.  For example, Provence has a long history of being colonized by foreigners. Early Ligurian and Celt tribes intermarried with the local people.  Phoenician galleys brought Greek traders and eventually founded a trade post in Massalia, the future city of Marseille. The Greeks gave Provence olives and grapes.  The expansion of olive groves and civilization went hand and hand with the expansion of the Greeks and Phoenicians. It has been said that the Mediterranean ends where olives cease to grow.    The Romans came to help protect the besieged Greeks.  Eventually claiming the region as theirs and forming ‘Provincia’, the first Roman Provence outside of Italy.  The Romans built some of their greatest cities, Nîmes, Arles and Orange.  Anchoïade, the sauce made from Anchovies, Garlic and Olive Oil is a close cousin to the famed Roman sauce Garum.  Salt cod came from the Romans.  The Moors at one point controlled 3/4 of the Mediterranean.  Only the Roman Empire reached further.  The invading Moors brought the habit of serving many small vegetable appetizers as well as a preference of saffron flavored rice to potatoes. They introduced lamb, eggplant and almonds.  Many of Marseille’s residents are descendants of immigrants from Italy, Spain, and North Africa. Marseille was also a major resettlement point for former colonists who returned to Europe when Algeria became independent in 1962.

The cuisine and culture of the people continued to be influenced by galleys that sailed to distant outposts in the Far East and North Africa. Marseilles and other Mediterranean ports were major points on the trade route. Trade route brought exotic ingredients like saffron, olives, tomatoes, salt cod, eggplants, peppers and many other staples to Provence.  Immigrants and ship crews brought different techniques and recipes.   Salted codfish from the New World was being eaten in France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and other nations. Tomatoes from the Americas became an important part of the diet.  Arab traders brought various fruits and vegetables. Each culture left their own unique imprint on the people, culture and gastronomy of the Mediterranean.

The countries surrounding the Sea share the blue azure waters, temperate climates with hot summers and mild winters.  Each country grows and raises products loyal to the seasons, artichokes, squash, fennel and a bounty of wild mushrooms in the Fall; lemons, oranges and other citrus fruits in the Winter; asparagus, radishes, lettuces in Springs; and the bounty of tomatoes, eggplants, onions, garlic in the Summer.

The menu at Figue will capture the spirit and sensibilities in an American way.  Less locked into the cultural dogmas and more focused on the vibrancy of the experience…

 

Chef Francois de Melogue

 

 

Figue 011713_Page_1

Below is my charcuterie card that will be on each table and in the bar area…

Figue Dinner Menu December  2012 Charcuterie Card

 

Figue at Night 010913 04