6.13.2012

The Blather: Pavlov’s Blog

The headquarters for my sector of my company is located in Nashua, NH, which requires me to visit that part of the country a fair bit these days. On the occasion of my first visit there, in March, I reviewed one location of a notable chain in the NH dining scene. To prepare for the blog post I new I would write based on that dinner, I started following the chain on Twitter and tweeted that I was eating there that night. A NH-based food blogger picked up on that, read some of my stuff, and we struck up a little friendship via the interwebs. That blogger’s name is Micheal Therieau, author of Pavlov's Blog,  and we’ve been retweeting each other’s blog posts and ruminating on our varied tastes in food and culinary culture ever since. In my second edition of The Blather, I asked Pav five important questions, and he gave up the answers from the darkest recesses of his mind.




1. BHS: How did you become interested in a career in food?

Pav: I like to think of myself as a non-conformist… I’ve been called an A-hole by more than a few, but my mother, who thinks I’m confused, still loves me and The Cat has yet to kill me in my sleep, so all is good. What is the source of all this consternation? Recipes, or should I say lack of recipes…I have some, somewhere….if only I could remember where they are?

I worked in a professional kitchen my junior and senior years in high school, initially as a prep cook and part time on the salad station. There was a guy who worked grill station who had just gotten out of the Marines; he called himself Crash. Crash got out of the Corps and turned into a punk rocker of sorts… complete with a mohawk and dirty Sex Pistols t-shirts. He scared the hell out of me, and I was a squared away in shape guy…anyway I got to work the fry station a couple of times with the crew, and it was like being in concert… we were on center stage and for the first time, I found out a couple of the waitresses actually knew my name! The food and pay were crap, but I learned a lot (then learned later on it was mostly all wrong) and had a lot of fun doing it.

I’m not in food service anymore, but when I was it was thankless, filthy, smelly, repetitious, hot, sweaty, poor pay and at times….maddening. But when you have a good crew of cooks that you respect around you, and you pull off several hundred covers in a night flawlessly…it’s a hell of a rush.

2. BHS: What is your favorite ingredient?

Pav: Butter…lots and lots of butter. I always buy unsalted.

3. BHS: What was a foundational culinary memory from your childhood?

Pav: Incinerating two of my mom’s sauce pans attempting to make the old fashioned cook-and-stir chocolate pudding, and instead of getting upset at me… my mother got out another sauce pan and showed me how to make it. It makes me get all misty just thinking about it to this day! The other would be watching Julia Child on TV with my dad before he’d go into work each day. Without both, I’m sure I wouldn’t care nearly as much as I do now about food.

I have been cooking since I was maybe eight or nine years old and was hanging in the kitchen watching mom cook since I could remember. Mom wasn’t a great meat cook unless you like your meat black and tasting like chimney soot, but she was an absolute natural with nearly everything else. From soups to casseroles and everything else in between she was fairly adept at knowing what went with what.

So from the time I cooked my first dish, I knew food was a very powerful thing. I wanted to do more in the kitchen, but didn’t have the skill set; until one day, I came upon my mother’s unused cookbooks. She only had two, but they were amazing, and I read them from cover to cover several times. Every time I cooked, they gave me the ability to do bring something new to the table.

I must have cooked maybe fifteen or twenty things out of that book and each time, one or two things in that particular dish would not be quite right. I started to buy my own books, and the first one I bought was because of the show I would watch with my father when I was a kid, Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” I thought surely this was going to rocket me to stardom in the culinary world….um….yeah…more problems.

4. BHS: What is your favorite restaurant?

Pav: Per Se….insanely good. Best meal I’ve ever had aside from any holiday with my family would have to be The Cedar Tree in Dublin, Ireland. It was super good, super tasty and just a lot of fun.

5. BHS: Death row meal…go!

Pav: A well-made lobster roll, pate de foie gras, steamers and plenty of melted butter, pan-seared scallops and filet mignon cooked medium-rare with a side of fries cooked in duck fat, and for dessert a ton of super-premium French vanilla ice cream and my Aunt Dodie’s blueberry pie.

And then, of course, I asked him for a recipe to share with my Big Hungries. He not only supplied one, but also some narrative, which I will dutifully hand over for you greedy bastards:

I thought maybe cuisine was the issue by the time I moved away from home and spent my Saturdays watching any cooking show I could find. I watched everything from Jeff Smith to Jacques Pepin and everything in between. Still making odd errors, it dawned on me it was obviously not the cuisine’s fault, but rather the awful equipment I was using.


Let’s be honest, if you see an 18 year old boy with a full set of Wusthof knives, Le Creuset enameled cast iron and All-Clad pots and pans…call the police because he’s either taken up thievery, or is being seduced by a cougar with exceptional taste in cookware and little knowledge of college boys’ cooking predilections.


Well as it turns out, it wasn’t equipment either! Over the years my cooking got better, but I’d still cook something once in a while that would make me look sideways. Figuring out how something I had made many times before suddenly went bad one time drove me to fits. This would plague me over the course of my young adult life, until many years later, when I went to culinary school.

Turns out technique and a little knowledge trumps all else, and after culinary school, aside from restaurant work, I never used cookbooks or recipes for much other than inspiration. In school, you start with what a knife is and how to hold it, you buy Harold McGee’s book, “On Food and Cooking- the science and lore of the kitchen,” and read it through several times. At home you can get a copy of Jacques Pepin “La Technique,” and practice knife cuts on some potatoes (do yourself a favor and skip tourné and brunoise cuts unless you’re studying to also become a neurologist).

They don’t teach you how to cook like a cook, they teach you to think like a cook. If you make a hollandaise sauce and it breaks, what went wrong and how do you fix it? Or better yet, what is hollandaise sauce and what are emulsified sauces? What’s the difference between a mousse and a mousseline? You learn how to cook a green bean properly, pan fry a pork chop, and hard boil an egg without making a mess out of them, and then you cook things again and again, and again…until it becomes second nature.


This is what separates a good cook from a bad one in the restaurant industry: mind numbing repetition. Nobody wants a creative genius, but rather a fastidious obsessive compulsive with the I.Q. of a squirrel and creativity of a slug to turn out plate after plate of the chef’s vision of perfection….which is to say, his own, and most certainly not yours.


So culinary school liberated me from cookbooks, or it did for the most part anyway. I can make a goodly number of dishes from memory, and most things I’m trying to figure out are usually in the form of a ratio and easily Googled. I can still find “The Professional Chef 8th Edition,” for a little inspiration from time to time. But a bulk of my cooking is just what looks feels and tastes right when I hit the market daily.


Do what I do and don’t get hung up on recipes so much and it’ll make you a happier, less frustrated cook. As for you aspiring bakers and pâtissier (pastry chefs - which I believe Anthony Bourdain called the brain surgeons of the culinary world) out there, I can’t help you…you need recipes, or at the very least ratios and percentages and something about gut feelings if I remember correctly… whatever it was I forgot because I don’t have what it takes to be either.


Let me give you a recipe that you can make at home and after you make it, your friends, family, your cocker spaniel or whoever it is you’re cooking for… will think this is amazing and only you will know that you barely broke a sweat throwing a few simple things together.

This is Pavlov’s take on “Caldo Verde”

  • 1 onion (preferably sweet, but white or yellow will work as well) diced
  • 1.5 lb. (I use 3lb.) of linguica sausage (chorizo or Anduille can be subbed) and cut into coins or half-moons
  • 1 large bunch of kale taken off the stems, chopped and rinsed
  • 1 lb of Cannellini beans soaked overnight in salted water (or two cans of cooked cannellini or great northern beans, not drained)
  • 32-64 ozs chicken stock…yeah most of you aren’t making that, so two boxes of Kitchen Basics chicken stock
  • 4 Roma tomatoes seeded, peeled, and diced (also known as tomato concassé) then roasted. (or) 1 can of Muir glen diced fire roasted tomato
  • 1 good wedge of manchego cheese or comte or heck, even that evil green can of parmesan flavored foot powder will do fine, seriously any dry tasty well aged cheese will do
  • A crusty loaf of bread of any variety you like… I like sourdough… if you like wonder bread, it’s your picnic so enjoy

1. In a large soup pot or 7 qt. Le Creuset over medium heat, sauté the diced onion and sausage together until the sausage starts to take on a bit of color and releasing that beautiful red fat…yeah I said fat, don’t worry about it…..diet tomorrow

2. Add the kale and let it wilt down for three to four minutes

3. Add the tomato and beans, then add the chicken stock until it just covers the beans (if you long soaked the beans drain them and add them, then enough chicken stock to cover them by a good inch or so and then check later as you may need to add more)

4. When the whole thing comes to a lazy bubble, or barely simmering, turn it down to way low and let it cook a minimum of an hour if you used canned beans or a minimum of three hours if you used soaked beans

5. Grate fresh cheese over (or shake on your cheese green Kraft can guy….it’s ok….I been there!) just before serving and tear off a good hunk of bread for yourself…. Don’t worry, it’s a big loaf….there will be more!

Truth be told I almost always use canned tomato cause it’s more tomatoey, I’ve also used the canned beans and Kitchen Basics or Pacific stock and they were fine….don’t get caught up in the details…. Do what you can, and don’t be bullied into always doing everything from scratch… but give it a shot at least once in a while. It’s an easy recipe to do, and it’s good for warming the place that gives you the inspiration to cook….your soul.

Don’t you love Pav’s easy-peasy stance on cuisine? Skip on over to his blog for a soupcon of culinary counter-culture, some loud-mouth points of view on foie gras and its attendant animal cruelty issues, and lots of other commentary. As for me, I’m off to Staten Island this weekend for a large dose of pageantry and hopefully some tapas and seafood. I’ll be tweeting and Facebooking and all that other good junk, so follow along there. My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

12 comments:

  1. Love this post! I put Pavlov's Blog in my google reader.

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    1. Thanks so much SMD... you obviously have impeccable tastes, are probably a smart dancer, snappy dresser, and well regarded by your peers! But I suppose since you read Shelby's Blog... that all goes without saying! Hope you enjoy what you find...Cheers, Pav

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  2. Thanks Shelby...really enjoyed doing this! Je te dis merde in Staten Island this weekend!

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  3. Great post! It's not that often we literally get into the mind of a genius, who is willing to share his innermost thoughts and secrets!

    Like your blog BHS!

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    1. I keep telling my therapist that Tupper and all he does is increase my meds...

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  4. Thanks, Tupper! It was fun to do this with Pav - he's a character!

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  5. Great post.Love the idea of duck fat fries.

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    1. LOL...@TAC Somehow I figured you might!

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  6. I never thought I would see The Pioneer Woman and Pav on the same blogroll. So that's not my exact last meal - but I certainly wouldn't be disappointed with it.

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    1. Neither did I Roddy....neither did I...

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  7. Always enjoy Pav. His cat is a bit wild, but you can be certain that his culinary advice is spot on.

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    1. Thanks Timothy...My cat used to be a bit wild... then I discovered Duct tape!

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