All posts by Kim Newman

Ethics and Fine Dining – Chef Christine Keff talks Organic Part 2

Organic is a sustainable practice. There’s no separation between sustainable and organic.

I think a lot of chefs have some sort of “heebee jeebee” about organic – “It’s always expensive”, “I can’t afford it”, “It’s granola and Birkenstock’s”, “It means we can’t have the great ingredients that we want”, when it doesn’t mean any of that at all. You can get fresh organic turmeric from Hawaii for example, and most people don’t even look for organic turmeric.

I think a lot of chefs put organic way at the other end of the spectrum because they don’t know what’s possible. They think that if they have an “organic” restaurant, it will mean having a “granola” restaurant.

What have been the more difficult items to get organic? Lemon grass was hard. Bean sprouts were hard, oddly enough. Evidentially it was the mung beans themselves that are sprayed with something to keep them from rotting.

There have been times when items simply weren’t available. This was the case with turmeric where all the fresh turmeric was gone, and all that was left was stuff that was rotting. So we’ve learned to keep certain items frozen.

What’s been the best part of the last year? Well, our lives are not a lot different than they were before. We just know that we’re doing this and it feels good. It feels good to make some products readily available to those who want to make those choices.

How have been the customers’ reactions? All good. They’ve appreciated it. We’ve given them added value and we haven’t put them through the ringer. What’s not to like?

I spent quite and lot of time to finish this article and I really hope you like it! What are your thoughts? Share them in the comments section below! Love ya’ll! Hugs and kisses!

Ethics and Fine Dining – Chef Christine Keff talks Organic

To get the costs back down, we found it was simply a matter of manipulating the menu. Instead of saying “This case of broccoli costs half as much this other case”, we instead looked at paring higher cost items with lower ones. We can put higher cost broccoli with lower cost fish, and the costs even out over the course of the entire menu.

You’ve been organic for almost a year now. Where their any problems over the course of this time that caught you entirely off guard? What I didn’t anticipate was the staff resistance. I actually lost a chef over this. I was really surprised by that.

He was one of the people who thought that going organic means going “granola”, for lack of a better word. I had not anticipated that at all, because, for me, I wasn’t thinking about organic meaning “hippies” and “communes” and all that kind of stuff. For me it was something very specific. I was really floored by that. Eventually he just didn’t want to do it, and he left.

When I sat down with Tom Douglas, he said that he makes his food choices based on locality, sustainability and the organic. How much thought did you put into both locality and sustainability? I’ve heard other chefs say “It’s all about local. Organic doesn’t matter.” I think that’s kind of the other end of the spectrum and you don’t want to be there either. They both matter.

I’ve decided to draw the line in the sand with organic and not use fresh ingredients that aren’t organic, and I don’t specify if they’re local or not. It’s a first step and it takes the chemicals out of the equation.

We try to buy local as much as we can. But local here means a very short produce season. What do we do the rest of the year? Do we just go back to buying industrial non-organic stuff? I won’t let people diminish the importance of organic just because they’re focused on local.

Doughnuts

I can’t remember the first time I ever had a doughnut, but I can certainly remember the best time. I was young—young enough that I still wore overalls and an ID bracelet—but old enough to know that doughnuts were a treat.

My dad was a baked goods connoisseur: Burgermaster had the best bear claws, Leonard’s had the best malasadas, and the Washington State Ferries had the best old-fashioned doughnuts. It was on a ferry ride to Orcas Island that I discovered the beauty of the day-old doughnut.

“Saran Wrap is the trick,” my dad said triumphantly, picking up a mummified doughnut in the galley and shaking it gently. “It keeps the doughnut moist.”

When we got to the cash register, the woman ringing us up said, “That’ll be a quarter.” My dad glanced gleefully down at me with a look on his face that implied we had basically robbed them blind.

On top of being a baked goods connoisseur, my dad was also incredibly thrifty. A doughnut that was cheaper but a day old was undoubtedly tastier than a fresh baked doughnut that cost double.

Sitting down with our doughnut, my dad allowed me the pleasure of slowly unwrapping the plastic until a perfectly moist old-fashioned doughnut was revealed to both of us. He pushed it toward me.

“You do the honors,” he said, and I did, carefully breaking it in half. One side came out bigger than the other, so I handed that half to him. Naturally, he wound up giving me the bigger side that’s just the type of dad he was.

Many years and many doughnuts later, old-fashioneds are still my favorite. I even prefer them wrapped in plastic, then broken in half. (But I will take them fresh, too!) When we decided to publish Lara Ferroni’s cookbook, Doughnuts: Simple and Delicious Recipes to Make at Home, I wondered if I’d ever leave my house again.

Sure enough, Lara’s recipes are easy and delicious, and the doughnuts are fresh and moist even without Saran Wrap. They aren’t cutesy like a cupcake, and they go better with coffee. What’s not to like?

I do wonder what my dad would think about this cookbook; I wonder if perhaps it would provide the inspiration he needed to actually make something in the kitchen other than a PBJ. I can only wonder as he passed away in 2007. But I do know that he will be smiling down at me next spring as I cut my wedding cake. A wedding cake made entirely of doughnuts.

Old-Fashioned Sour Cream

Makes 6 to 10 doughnuts

Active time: 15 minutes | Ready in: 40 minutes

1 1/4 cups (160 grams) all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of salt

1/3 cup (75 grams) superfine sugar

1/4 cup sour cream

1 large egg

1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) unsalted butter or vegetable shortening

Vegetable oil for frying

  1. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon. Stir in the salt. Set aside.
  2. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, sour cream, egg, and butter until smooth. Add the flour mixture a little at a time until a smooth dough forms. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the batter for 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/2 inch thick, then cut out the doughnuts using a 2 1/2-inch-diameter cutter. You can reroll any scrap dough.
  4. Heat at least 2 inches of oil in a heavy-bottomed pot until a deep-fat thermometer registers 360 degrees F.
  5. With a metal spatula, carefully place the doughnuts in the oil. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes per side, or until light golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Let cool just slightly before glazing.

Wine Follow Up

I know I know, everyone is tired of reading repetitive articles on wine. But since I’m not trying to promote myself or sell cars, I figure who cares if this is redundant? After all I am trying to systematically synthesize winemaking and viticulture information and find true enological knowledge. I’m looking for winemaking and winegrowing truth if it exists. However since this is old news I’ll try to be brief. There are two topics I would like to comment on.

1) The well-known Sacramento importer Corti Brothers took a misguided stance on alcohol in wine. From the article in the San Francisco Chronicle: High-alcohol wines above 14.5 percent would no longer grace the shelves of Corti Brothers

Way to really take a stand. Wow, what a declaration! Except one thing. Legally wineries that make wine above 14.05% are only obligated to print the labeled alcohol within 1% of the actual alcohol. Since above or below 14.05% requires different taxation, a wine at 14.6% cannot be labeled 13.6%, but it could be labeled 15.5%. More likely, a wine labeled 14.2% may actually be 15.2% and the consumer would not know. So if you really wanted to make a statement regarding wines sales at a certain alcohol level, then it seems you would choose wine in the < 14.05% tax category because these legally must be labeled below 14.05% (as opposed to a wine at 14.4% – within the Corti acceptable range – actually being above 14.5% – supposedly outside their acceptable range). I assume the reason they choose 14.5% is because this way many of the Italian wines they import would not be eliminated. Buyer beware: many stated alcohols on labels above 14% are nefarious. I know of many highly sought after and delicious wines labeled at 14.6% that are 15.5% and no one knows or cares because of the wine’s delectability.

2) Tom Wark (whose work I usually appreciate) jumped on the now infamous comments of Randy Dunn regarding alcohol and added his own two cents: “Those who disagree with Dunn and who defend the high alcohol wines, particularly those in the 15%+ range are simply wrong. Unless it’s Zinfandel or Port, a 15.5% alcohol wine is not good. It may not be bad. But it’s not good.” Wow, that’s quite a statement. Especially in light of my comments above. I wonder how many wines Tom has had that have been labeled 14.5, 14.6, or 14.7% that we’re actually above 15% alcohol? I bet more than one that he considered great. Of course I can never prove it, but neither can he. Such statements are – in my opinion – borderline hubris and dismissive of the facts regarding our perception of alcohol in wine; as I noted in a recent post summarizing such perception. I don’t defend these wines per se, but much of the evidence speaks for itself.

Smells like Blither, Tastes like Drivel (inauguration)

Blither: talk long-windedly without making very much sense

Drivel: talk nonsense

One of the benefits of having good friends who are also your tasting group is that they keep you consistent and accountable with how you describe a wine. Let me provide an example. One of our most descriptively demanding imbibers vehemently – at times – insists in being as specific, clear-cut, and unequivocal as possible when describing a beverage. This particular gentleman has perhaps most earnestly pursued more specific use of the term floral, specifically white flower. He contended correctly that there are countless white flowers exhibiting a myriad of aromas. To prove his point one party eve he proceeded to bring 6 different white flowers placed in 6 tasting glasses. (Yes we are real enological geeks). I know he had Freesia, Rose, and I believe Lemon Blossom. The lemon blossom smelled not quite of lemon, perhaps more like the rind. The Freesia a little like white pepper dashed on a Lily, and the roselike well I don’t remember (and am afraid to say like a rose). Through his many efforts we have been inculcated with a respect for more than specifying the floral term, but also for encouraging exactness as much as possible so that a description may be most easily understood.

OK, that was long winded but in the spirit of Blither. This new category is thus designed to share any fun bushwa we may see from time to time in wine descriptors. I hope you enjoy.

First up: soil-inflected white fruit. Now I may at one time used white fruit before being berated because of its vagueness (after all it includes bananas, apples, dates, and peaches). But soil-inflected? What does that mean? Remarkably, a google search of soil inflected revealed pages that all relate to wine. Huh?

2007 Vintage Musings II: the numbers game

So on the one hand there seemed to be a general consensus of flavors appearing earlier, but on the other hand there seemed no change in the picking habits/timing of certain winemakers who pick by flavors. How to reconcile?

1) I am wrong, flavors were not any earlier thus destroying the whole premise of the post.

– I find this one difficult since we were able to pick earlier and it looks to be one of the best vintages to date since I have been here. Certainly the wines are not under ripe. But in the event that #1 is true, my apologies. At least I was able to work this through in my head. I am after all just a young lackey winemaker.

2) Flavors did arrive earlier, as many suspected; but as with all of us and with many things (especially things involving risks) it is difficult to depart from what we are used to (e.g. I always get the Mini Super Pollo Verde burrito at Villa Corona, its so good I’m afraid of being disappointed by something else). If you are accustomed to picking your Pinot noir at 29 Brix devoid of any acid, when flavors arrive at 24.5 with traces of acid you might feel uncomfortable picking. With our ability to add acid in this country, and with the conventionally accepted practice of adding water, erring with over ripeness is certainly safer not to mention generally more popular with critics. Fair enough.

If #2 is true I have begun to wonder if some people do not mistake a little tartness for greenness (and let’s not get started on this term). I’ve walked similar blocks with people where I could have sworn the block was delicious and ready but the winemaker still thought it was green. Huh? We need acid for the wine, no? And maybe this year producers can get it without calling American Tartaric? The longer I work at HdV, the more I am convinced of this. We are always the first to pick after the sparkling producers and I don’t believe (nor have I heard the criticism) that our wines are green or under ripe.

Many colleagues would argue it’s simply a matter of style. Fair enough. I’m not disparaging picking later rather than earlier, I’m simply asking the question that if #2 is correct then are we really picking by flavor, or simply by what we are comfortable with? And if we are picking by the numbers, great! But can’t we just say that? I like to pick my Pinot noir at 28.5 Brix, 4.1 pH, and no acid. How bout you?

But T-licious, you might say, it’s not delicious until 28.5. Please don’t tell me this is all semantics? Maybe not semantics, but marketing. It certainly is a better story to say you pick only by flavor, when in fact a number of factors – including the numbers – go into the decision.