Thursday, August 26, 2010

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

There are two types of questions. The first type you ask because you are genuinely curious and want to know more about any given subject. The second type you ask to demonstrate that you already know something and is often used to show that you are smarter than the person you are asking the question to.

The first type of question I love. I get them all the time at the bistro. They usually begin with something polite like "sorry to bother you but I was wondering..." or "you must hate all the questions, but..." The truth is I don't feel bothered by questions, I welcome them. If I am super busy, you might have to wait for an answer, but I will always try to answer your questions. If I don't know the answer, or only have a partial answer, I will help you try to figure it out. Often the answer can be logicked out from what we already know. When I have time, I will run down to grab one of my many cookbooks or food reference book, or check on the internet for an answer. The reason I put the kitchen in the middle of the room at bistro, is that i wanted to be able to engage and interact with my guests around food and related issues. I didn't build the kitchen this way to put on a show, I did it to be part of the conversation. And genuine, curious questions are often where the conversation starts.

For myself, I am infititely curious. I am always trying to learn (and hopefully remember) new things. I have often said, that the day I stop learning about food is the day I quit cooking. I know lots about food, but I know that there is lots still to learn.

The second type of question is all about making yourself feel superior. Sometimes you get a guest who had watched too much food network tv, or read too many foodie books and
is just itching to let you know how smart they are. Sometimes they are trying to demonstrate their righteousness. Usually it is a matter of "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing". This customer knows a little bit about a subject, doesn't have a deep understanding of the issue, but doesn't care. They just want to sound good.

"Is the duck local?". There is no commercial duck industry in Manitoba. Almost all the ducks served in all the restaurants across the province serve duck from either quebec or the U.S. I know this, because I spent some time on the Manitoba Regional Cuisine tourism board and we were all looking for a local duck supplier. Since then, I have found a local duck processor and I do in fact have local duck. But I am definitely the exception. "Where do you get your lamb from?" is the other popular question. To this, I hang my head in shame and say Australia. The Manitoba lamb industry is so small that it is very difficult to get a consistent supply of the one cut that a restaurant needs. Canadian lamb from other sources is quite expensive and the last time I put Quebec lamb on the menu I got complaints about the price. But I don't know why I let customers make me feel bad about myself. Most of the food i buy is either locally raised or comes to me through small locally owner purveyors. I do good, and I keep trying to do better. But sometimes the way in which a question is asked can cut like a knife.

Guest: "what type of butter is that?"
Server: "A chili butter, ma'am"
Guest: "yes, but what type of butter is that?" Server runs to the kitchen, we explain we use unsalted butter and mix in jalepenos, roasted red peppers, chili flakes and chili powder.
Server: "we use unsalted butter"
Guest, starting to get annoyed:"But what type of butter is it?"
Server:"we mix in jalepenos, roasted red peppers, chili flakes and chili powder"
Guest: "oh, so it's a compound butter"
Server:"yes, its a compound butter" This whole interaction transpired so that the guest could demonstrate that they knew the culinary term "compound butter". This is a term used in cooking school and culianary textbooks. All it means, is butter mixed with stuff. The guest already new everything they needed to know about this butter but needed tho show they knew the right term. If the guest was genuinely curious about cooking, they could have asked something simple like "is this what they mean by compound butter?", but the entire interaction was designed to make the server feel small.

another one:
Guest: "what type of foie gras do you use?"
Server: "It's duck foie gras"
Guest:"no, i mean what type?"
Server:"It's quebec foie gras"
Guest:"what type is it?"
Server: (after consulting with the chef) "It's Lac Brome foie gras, grade A"
Guest: "no, thats not what I mean. what type of foie gras is it?"
Server: (further consult) "Do you mean is it a torchon? a terrine? A pate? It is just straight foie gras. We salt it, pan sear it..."
Guest: (visibly annoyed) "No, there are two types of foie, which one is this?"
Server comes talk to me, "she says there are two types, which one is this?"
Chef: "does she mean duck or goose?"
Server goes back to the guest to find out what she means.
Guest: "Is it lobe or escalope?"
Server: "Well, we buy the whole lobe, but when we slice it is an escalope..."

I could site a hundred other examples. But what I really wan tot get at here, is the intent behind the question. Are you asking the question because you are genuinely curious, or because you want to demonstrate how much you already know? Are you trying to expand your knowledge and elevate your life, or are you trying to make your self feel bigger by making your server feel small?

Alton Brown knows more about food than i do. I probably know more about food than you do.
You probably know more about food than john my 16yr old prep cook. But this is not the point. Food is about nourishment and enjoyment. It is fun and should not be taken too seriously. It is great fun to learn about food, and I invite you to experience and learn about food along side me. Ask me questions. Ask me many questions. I'll ask you questions in return. But don't feel the need to impress me. And don't ask questions just trip us up or make yourself feel smart. You probably are smart, now lets dumb you down a bit with a couple cocktails.

Compound Butter
according to the Food Lover's Companion a compound butter is:
butter creamed with other ingredients such as herbs, garlic, wine, shallots and so on. The French term for compound butter is beurre composé.

Maître d'Hotel Butter
From The Professional Chef (CIA) 8th edition

1 lb butter, room temperature
2 oz minced parsley
1 1/2 tsps lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

1. work butter by hand or with the paddle attachement of an electric mixer until it is soft. Add remaining ingredients and blend well. Taste, and adjust seasoning to taste.
2. The compound butter is ready to use, or it may be rolled into a log or piped into shapes and chilled for later use.

Compound butters are only limited by your imagination. You can add or substitute any of the ingredients to make your own version. Common butters are garlic butter, tarragon butter, dill butter. Think of flavours that will complement the food you are creating. I like making a blue cheese and walnut butter for steak. Another favourite rosemary and roasted garlic.

Chili Butter
we use this on our hammer chops at the bistro.

1 lb butter, room temperature
2 oz red pepper, roasted, peeled and seeded. finely chopped
1 tbsp, jalepeno, finely diced (leave seeds and innards in if you like it spicy)
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp (or more if you like heat) dried red chili flakes

1. work butter by hand or with the paddle attachement of an electric mixer until it is soft. Add remaining ingredients and blend well.
2. The compound butter is ready to use, or it may be rolled into a log or piped into shapes and chilled for later use.