Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pecha Kucha

They were sitting at the bar, talking with great excitement and passion. I asked them if they had just come from a concert. They answered, "Pecha Kucha". Then they explained.

Pecha Kucha is a gathering of creative people where creative people talk about some aspect of their craft or life that they feel might be interesting. The subject matter and format can be quite divers, but the event is governed by a strict structure. The participants show twenty slides and each slide is shown for only 20 seconds. Each presentation lasts only 400 seconds (6mins 40 secs). Pecha Kucha was invented in Japan as a way to get notoriously long winded architects to tighten up their presentations. It is now an international event, being hosted regularly in over 300 cities. Winnipeg does one four times each year. The statistic is that any night of the year, there is one happening somewhere.

So these guys sitting at the bar said, "Chef, you should do one!" I said sure, that sounds like fun. And thought nothing more of it. Until I received an email inviting me to present at the next Pecha Kucha. And so, last thursday night, I found myself standing on stage at the Park Theatre presenting 20 slides for 20 seconds each.

I talked about my creative process, how I cook, where I draw inspiration from. I was trying to get across the notion that cooking is partly about preserving an old tradition and partly about furthering that tradition with new ideas. I tried to focus on the sense that most of cooking is not about crazy creative explorations and fanciful presentations, but i is about the basics. It's chopping onions and peeling carrots. While I presented my slides, I cooked. I made a batch of Tequila mussels in my 6 minutes and 40 seconds. I felt it important that my slide show had a sense of smell component added to it. At the ends some of the guests enjoyed my mussels.

I was the last of twelve presenters. The presentations ran the gamut from a piece on architecture to solve humanitarian crises around the world, to a artist showing pictures from his sketch book. One guy presented a story about how he developed a popular iphone app. (Makes me want to develop my own, but I don't know what it would do.) Shawna Dempsey did a presentation on her art, it was almost a retrospective, with slides of her different work. Another gentleman presented about his relationship with a great aunt who he only got to know late in her life. One gentleman presented on a trip to new york and his visit to the world trade center the day before 9/11. He talked about how fate intervened and saved him from being in the towers the next day. One woman, presented photos that she wove into a short story. Some of the presentations had audience participation. One had you touch and hold onto a complete stranger, the other had you look deep into the eyes of your neighbour and say "you're fucked, and that's okay".

It was a great night. It was inspiring, informative and entertaining. I was honoured to be invited to present. I look forward to the next one, I will attend just to see the presentations. But I am already planning my next slide show. 20 recipes in 20 seconds each.

Thanks to the organizers of pecha kucha for inviting me and putting on the event. Thanks to Kiki May for taking photos and putting together the slides. Thanks to Eric at the Park for hosting the event. Thanks to Ruben for covering my shift on line so I could attend. And as always, thanks to Danielle, my lovely wife for her love and continuous support in all my crazy projects.

(I tried uploading the slide show, but it seemed to confuse blogger. I'll try again, later.
So I tried again, and then again. Does anyone know how to attach a video?)

but you can check out some pictures on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/adrianjkshum/5191816719/in/photostream/

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

yes, the pumpkin ravioli is back, but come try the choucroute garnis

Okay, so this is how it played out. I kept the pumpkin ravioli. I am making and serving it exactly the same way I have made and sold it for the last few years. People are loving it, and we are selling lots of it.

Also, I brought the cassoulet back, the rainbow trout with fennel, the duck confit with cherries, the warm fennel salad and the gnudi with butternut squash, sage and brown butter. We also brought back the big double cut berkshire pork chop with spaetzle, braised red cabbage and caramelized apples.

For new things, I am doing foie gras with apples and toasted almonds. We have a tasty baked polenta dish (see my blog about San Francisco) and a dessert with apples, bourbon ice cream and bacon brittle. (Ditto) I also added a whole new sections called bouchées (ripped that name of from Frances in San Fran). Here you can get a little bowl of olives, some pickled eggs or some crispy fried white beans. Or, my favourite, a spiced pickled egg. We take Herman's Natures farm eggs and pickle them in a brine with cumin, coriander, fennel and hot chilies. Yum. It's like the big jar of pickled eggs you see at the garrick hotel or the woodbine, but we have 'kicked it up a notch'.

My favourite new dish is the Choucroute Garnis, which translates to big pile of pork with saurkraut. This is a classic bistro dish which originates in Alsace. "Why do you see this Alsatian dish on the menus of Paris Bistros?" I hear you asking. Well, let me tell you. A large number of the cooks at Paris restaurants orignally come for Alsace. Many left Alsace during the franco-prussian war and subsequent conflicts along that border. While learning the traditional paris dishes, they brought in some of their favourites from home. Choucroute Garnis is one of these dishes. I have wanted to put choucroute on the menu for as long as the bistro has been open. But I thought maybe it was too weird. I have run it for specials, but it never really did well. Maybe it was just too rustic to be considered a "special". So, this time round, while writing the menu, I decided I would try it out and see how it went. So far, it has been well recieved and I am serving lots of it. The idea, is that it is saurkraut cooked with "garnishes" which tend to be sausages and other pork products. Some versions might even have seven different sausages is it. We use knackwurst, which is basically a smoked bratwurst, smoked pork chops, fresh pork belly and smoky bacon. We serve this dish with mustard, bread and cornichons.

Other dishes from last year didn't make it back on the list. The one we get the most requests for is the bouef bourguignon. It's a great dish, but to be honest, I really only put it on the menu to capitalize on all the free publicity it got for Julie and Julia. But it is a dish I will use for dinner specials this season. In fact, I had a customer ask about it just yesterday. They have a reservation for Nov. 20th and were wondering if it was back on the menu. I told them no, but that I would run it for my dinner feature that night. Did you know that you can put in requests for dinner features? I have one good customer who always request veal chops when they come.

So anyway, the fall menu is written. It is tasty. And now, we right the fall/winter wine list. Any requests? I'll definitely put an Alsatian white on to go with the choucroute.

Choucroute Garnis

Step 1.
1 jar/can saurkraut. (If you know any hutterites ask them for some, they make the best)
1 medium onion, julienned
1 clove garlic, smashed
1/2 lb bacon cut into lardons (you can substitute the bacon for a smoked pork hock, or diced ham)
4 bay leaves
4 juniper berries
6-8 peppercorns
1-2 whole cloves
1 tsp mustard seed.
2 cups dry white wine. (riesling is the classic)

combine all the ingredients in a heavy pot or dutch oven. Simmer on a low burner or in a 300F oven for an hour. You can use this right away, or refrigerate to use later. We also use this on a a sandwich and in our new mussels with saurkraut, knackwurst and mustard. It's great on hot dogs, a little more interesting and less acidic than your standard jarred saurkraut.

Step 2.

choucroute from step 1
4 smoked (or fresh) pork chops
4 cubes of slow roasted pork belly
4 sausages.
16 potatoes
2 cups chicken stock
this is just a guideline. use as many different sausages and as much smoked or fresh pork products as you like. avoid overly lean cuts, they go against the spirit of the dish, and will get stringy from long cooking.

1. combine all ingredients in a heavy dutch oven or casserole.
2. bake at 300F for an hour.
3. serve with mustards, pickles and good hearty bread.
Pair this with a good german or alsace riesling or a tasty lager style beer.