Posted by Chef Todd Aarons
At 0800 hours meet with my contact. He said his product is the best and I will be getting a deal taking it out the back of his truck. Sounds almost sinister like a line ripped from a Mob guy, drug dealer or terrorist’s diary. When you’re a chef it pays to be the first to receive pristine produce and the great lengths you go to get that produce may teeter on the ethical tight wire. Have you ever gazed into a chef’s face while he is at a farmers market? All his senses are engaged, his astute attention is honed in to the finest and freshest as if he is a terminator and that beautiful Sicilian eggplant is Sarah Connors. “Remember you cannot elevate crap into excellence”, a fine mentor of mine once said. The potential of a great dish must lie in unlocking all the qualities of your ingredients and thus elevating them to shine. So we scour the earth and local farms to find these potential filled vegetables and fruits that allow our vision to come to life on the plate. It is an, healthy or not, obsession of every fine chef. This particular morning Farmer Alex Weiser has stopped by in his pickup truck. He has blessed me with Spanish yellow onions, Jerusalem artichokes, baby carrots, German butterball potatoes and Chioggia, gold and red beets all with their vibrant, succulent stems and leaves attached. Weiser Family Farms cultivates their produce in the Greater Bakersfield area, Tehachapi and the Lucerne Valley. Once our curbside transaction has transpired outside my house on a Sunday morning I quickly transfer the goods to the trunk of my car to throw off the authorities, just in case Alex was being followed. I did notice a plumbers van across the street, who hires a plumber on Sunday? The drive to the restaurant is occupied by the plethora of ideas bouncing around in my head. The clock is ticking the vegetables are at their peak and it’s my job now to allow their innate goodness to shine and the diner to be able to bask in all their glory. The greens and stem of the beets are the biggest treat and the most fragile of my farmers score. They will immediately be taken off the beet root stem and leaf separated and then cleaned. The stems are thicker and are thrown into the pan first for a little more cooking than the tops. Sautéed beet greens in a little Arbequina olive oil, garlic and finished with sea salt and a squeeze from a fresh lemon. Sublime chlorophyll green and earthy mineral flavors provide a palate cleansing effect when served with a fatty steak. Now for the beets themselves, all three slightly different from each other but all will benefit from roasting where these individual characteristic flavors will be concentrated. A winter salad is the idea that prevails. Aromatics? What aromatics to pair to play the supporting role to such a star. Garlic is a bit strong for these young beets and onions maybe caramelized could be good but if I go with green herbaceous flavors it will just be to sweet. Herbs are still flowing through the kitchen and truffle oil is heavy on my mind. Leeks with their subtle Allium qualities will be the best working party. Roasting the beets will concentrate their flavors and while they are still warm I rub them with a kitchen towel to reveal their brilliant gem like colors it’s like unearthing and polishing a precious ruby. The dish; grilled leeks, roasted beets some frilly mustard greens from McGrath farms which I picked up on my detour back to the restaurant and a chive truffle oil vinaigrette. After first tasting my kitchen team and I decide to add toasted pine nuts for a little richness and some Easter egg radishes to give the mustard greens a boost of horseradish like flavors that act as a counterpoint to the sweet beets. Mission accomplished. Check out my website for recipes. http://www.cheftoddaarons.com/index.html
Visit Weiser Family Farms at http://www.weiserfamilyfarms.com/
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December 14, 2010 | 7:28 pm
Posted by Chef Todd Aarons
I know its true I cook food that people who abide by the dietary laws of Judaism can eat, others though have been known to enjoy it as well. Kosher, I have tried to expunge it from my brain. On a daily basis, the thought does not even enter my mind. The what may be viewed as confines of my culinary world force me to persevere in my quest of blurring any lines of kosher and non-kosher, but the world wont let me. Everywhere I turn I am reminded that it cannot be all that! It’s, it’s koshhh!er. I honestly try to forget. I don’t mention a thing about kosher on my twitter account although tweeters have lumped me in to groups named “kosher foodies” and “kosher”. Ah man! the gig is up. I do not cook matzah balls or gefilte fish but the LA Times and other publications find me to write recipes around the Jewish holidays only. Every listing or article starts off with the same statement, “who thought kosher and fine dining could go together?” and if I hear another person tell me that the lobster on my menu is not kosher I will insert a larding needle into their ear. Lobster mushrooms refer to the color of the mushroom they are not shrooms made of the crustacean. On top of it all I am often asked to compete in only kosher cooking contests. Listen up people, what my kitchen and I produce is food worthy of any professional culinary contest and only offends me to subcategorize my food. I see the merits of letting people know we are closed Friday evening and Saturdays being the primi giorni in the restaurant biz but beyond that let them just think we are pious Seventh-day Adventists.
It definitely is a human thing, the need to label and compartmentalize everything we take in. I guess it makes us feel more in control of the world we live in. Makes it less scary like when we had a clear line between the evil Russians and the West, cowboy Ronny’s west that is. My wise sous chef reminded me recently that we as chefs see ourselves as artistes. When one goes to view an artist’s work, the viewer SUBMITS himself to the artist’s /chef’s vision. My vision does not lack any missing components. In cooking I do not feel I am missing any key ingredients in presenting my story on a plate. The inference or label of kosher usually sets culinarians on edge, that the meal will be limited in it’s capacity to wow them. I have a dream, its of a world where porkless menus and snout & trotter filled menus are meritoriously seen as only an extention of what the chef has skillfully prepared for you to enjoy.