15Jun2008

Spencer’s Post, non-hoophouse related

Mara said, “Nice photo, now give me my (Bleep) food.”
“Yes, Chef!”
We have been watching Hell’s Kitchen a lot recently, in many formats, on CD, live-streaming and on the TV. I enjoy the foul-mouthed Chef Ramsay, though I think the bleeped version is funnier, and I can’t help but feel that most of the contestants, past and present are incompetent and idiotic. So last Friday, while I was picking the few radishes that survived the heat, and our first round of baby beets, I imagined that I was on Hell’s Kitchen. Mara was off doing deliveries to restaurants, so I had an hour or so to run through a few highlights from my appearance on the show. By the time Mara got back, Chef Ramsay had developed a grudging respect for my work ethic and my intense desire to learn more. I was put forward for elimination once, (I can only assume my teammate was jealous and saw me as a threat) and when asked why I should remain on Hell’s Kitchen, I replied that I felt that I have a good fundamental connection with food and, while I lack some of the technical skills to excel in the kitchen, I am learning fast and am a good team player. He seemed to accept that, since I was not the one eliminated. In my mind, Chef Ramsay, did doubt my commitment to victory on the show, since the prize is a position as executive chef at a new restaurant, and I already enjoy my farming work. But I explained I would use this chance to deepen the seed to table connection, and stated truthfully that my entire life is spent thinking about food in many ways. Hence, the grudging respect. Mara returned and we enjoyed discussing this as we finished cutting out all of our big planting of spring lettuce heads. I told her my signiture dish for the show would by my recent favorite of Saltimbocca alla Romana (recipe) with veal cutlets from the Bouchers. I have been doing a lot of pounded meat dishes these days using a small 3 pound sledgehammer in place of a meat mallet, because that is the tool I have on hand. All of this leads me to our annivesary dinner last night. We made it one of our business goals this year to go on more camping trips and so last night was the first step toward meeting that goal. Last year we went on a great backpacking trip to Maroon Bells in Colorado for our 10th wedding anniversary. This year we stayed closer to home. After a good market day, we went to Underhill State Park at the foot of Mount Mansfield. We got there at about 6 pm, set up camp and I started a fire to get some good coals for grilling. This is where Hell’s Kitchen comes in. On the show, the aspiring chefs are continually overcooking or undercooking their meat dishes. It was Chef Ramsay’s angry, bleeped-out voice that I was hearing as I put the two veal strip steaks (again from the Bouchers) onto the pre-heated grill. I toasted some focaccia and topped them with an harissa spread and a couple of basil leaves for appetizers. It grew darker outside, thunder rumbled in the distance, and still the meat cooked over the sparse coals. I brought most of the things needed for a successful grilling, but left the meat thermometer at home (I have been making good use of this tool to avoid the common problems of under- or over-cooking). We ate a second course of escarole and frisee salad using our favorite recipe (our first autumn recipe on our website), made special by using Gore-Dawn-Zola cheese from, again, the Bouchers. (Thank you, Dan and Dawn!) As the first raindrops began to fall and mix with the nervous sweat on my brow, I pulled the steaks off the grill. Perfect! Well, maybe a little overcooked, but still very good and delicious on top of the salad. Now, if grilling over a wet wood fire in the growing dusk with an impending thunderstorm moving in, is one of the competitions on Hell’s Kitchen, I think I’ll have an advantage over the others. Mara thought first of buttered popcorn, which I attribute to the buttery texture and deep savory flavor of the grilling combined with the seasoning that was just right. Just as we finished dinner in the dark, the rain started falling in earnest and we had to forgo the s’mores for dessert and hunker down in the tent. Though it rained most of the night and we found significant erosion on our tent site in the morning, we actually slept great and were ready for a nice, short hike in the morning. That, plus very well-behaved dogs on the camping trip was a great reward for a successful, if imaginary, completion of my Hell’s Kitchen competition.

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