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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Dine with Me: Patrick O'Connell, Where is My Veal Tongue?

I apologize for this long post, a cardinal sin in blog-posting land, but I hope you will feel inclined to read about our experience at the Inn at Little Washington. It was a dream of ours for a very long time. How did it turn out? 

We were returning south to North Carolina from promoting Taste the Adventure, our Teen Trips to France and Barcelona up in Washington, DC and Maryland and Pennsylvania. Join us this summer! 

Taste the Adventure, Teens in Provence 2007

On the road and at schools and camp fairs we talk to potential students about how life is so much fuller and better around the table;  both the prep table and the dining room table. We mention how the rich old world charm of Southwest French cuisine complements the flamboyant and sizzling paella world of Barcelona. But as the rolling hills passed by the loud voice of exclamations drifted away. In the passenger seat, I stretched out my co-pilot legs and relaxed as the road meandered south from Pennsylvania on route 81 through rolling hills of northern Virginia. The wind blew, and all along route 81 were wind advisories.

Perhaps the wind blew in all the trouble?

It was a Monday night, the day before Valentine's Day, and we felt incredibly lucky to be going to the Inn at Little Washington. At all! How had we gotten in?

On the way north a few days prior, Rich and I talked about how the Inn at Little Washington had been on our list, and so I clicked on the website and the dining button took me to Open Table. My brain reviewed all the thoughts it used to think about the Inn; was it insanity or bravery to open an Inn of this caliber out in the middle of nowhere. It seemed sheer luxury and lunacy and fun!

But I had lost track of any current news on the Inn or on Patrick O’Connell’s break-up with Reinhardt Lynch or any trouble with the Washington Post and the Michelin star thing or the ratings thing or anything. I well, just thought, this will be fun! Perhaps they knew I hadn’t thought about the Inn at all in a number of years, in the same way that google knows of my interest in shitakes and miso and ads show up on my phone. 

On Open Table I was a bit surprised to see any availability at all. So if my google theory holds up, then had the Inn pegged us as a “not serious” level of diner when we walked in?

It turned out to be a very odd night at the Inn, one I am still mulling over a week later. And still confirmed as we received our menus, signed by Patrick O'Connell. Still no sign of why I received wagyu beef. Instead of veal tongue. 

I had, and still have the utmost respect for the show the Inn puts on, the magnitude of culinary skill, and the menu. As a graduate of the CIA in the early 80’s my education was steeped in veal bones and demi-glace and caramel walnut torte’s and Advanced Pastry Classes and Charcuterie with a capital C. 

With my husband, Rich, I own C’est si Bon! a Cooking School for the last twenty years. I've seen the back of the house, the front of the house, the side of the house, the chicken house, the bee house, and the garden, and what can go wrong is a heckuva lot. And I fully appreciate the dance done every single day in the food business. And I know how it has changed. At least for me. 

C'est si Bon! Cooking School seen from the garden

In Little Washington, we pulled up to the door, and thought it was unusually small. And a bit quiet for the Inn at Little Washington even on the day before Valentine’s day.  Ah, wrong door.

But once we turned around on the main street, and did arrive, the front door bellman led us out of and away from our car, and opened the right door to the Inn. We stepped into a magical, heavenly, beautiful, and quirky room, filled to the brim with the aroma of roses and lilies and gorgeous velvety petals. Truly seductive. 

Gorgeous and seductive entry to the Inn 

We were seated and I had full view of a historical chef’s portrait. I asked but never learned who he was. To begin we enjoyed the cocktail of the evening, a Manhattan made with blood orange and cucumber. Blood orange is one of our favorites OF ALL TIME. 

We were so excited and so the waiter said he’d be happy to include the recipe with our menus, which would be signed by Partrick O’Connell and mailed to us. 

So we settled in to some serious coddling. We had brought a bottle of Gevrey-Chambertin 2006 and met the Sommelier, spoke with her and asked her opinion of whether it should be decanted, and she thought no. 

We placed our orders. One of each menu please. 

Here and Now Menu 

Classic Menu 

We chose a bottle of Sauvenniere from their Wine List.

Our waiter continued to be superb, in that jovial “I am here but have vowed to not bother you, unless you have a witty remark, and then of course I will laugh.” His reactions always seemed perfect. I forget his name, which is too too bad.

The young bread basket dude also was excellent and it seemed he enjoyed pressing as many miniature perfect and poppily seeded baguettes and salty edged crispy thin-sliced hearty caraway scented nuttiness into our greedy fingers as we were to receive them. He told us he had been in the kitchen but now had been on the dining room floor for 5 days. We asked him about the bread starter, how old it was, etc, and he said they don't keep a starter, but they do replenish it every day. Wait, what?  I don't think he had a clue as to what a levain, a bread starter, is. I have tried to find out since returning home if the Inn does indeed keep a starter, but have not found out.

The amuse bouche were outstanding.

Amuse Bouche, Gougere and Potage

And maybe my favorite dish of the night was the 2nd amuse bouche we were served. A braised cube of pork belly swaddled by a kimchi pancake, and sitting in a puddle of chili lime dipping sauce. 

Pork Belly Amuse Bouche

I was totally happy to be led in the taste experience to come and not analyze, poke, or examine. I didn’t want to work at enjoying. I prefer to let the kitchen surprise, delight, and my job, to bliss out, I take very seriously!  

My menu listed veal tongue, which I love and partly chose the Here and Now menu because I love veal tongue, now and then, and also here and now.

So when the lovely young female server, gracefully positioned the wagyu beef in front of me and told me in the utmost detail how it had lived and frolicked and bathed and now ceased to wagyu but rested before me, I was still in. I was so IN, I didn’t realize I was OUT. The dish of lamb with the much heralded Caesar salad ice cream was positioned in front of my husband, and it looked, as Chef Patrick O’Connell might hope, astonishing. Totally. We looked up briefly at each other and smiled. Wow- this must be another  amuse bouche course – ascending in size as well as in number of servings, and our bouche were unbuttoned and excited! (Bouche is French for mouth in case you were getting the WRONG idea.)

As I ate I considered why;  why were we receiving this bounty of bouche’s? 

Was it because we were celebrating Valentine’s Day a day early, and the kitchen was relieved and excited too, happy to play and tease and surprise? Or simply, was this because I had mentioned on the phone, in a breathy rush of adrenaline because I was indeed talking to someone who was standing in the Inn at Little Washington at this very moment and surely there were other phone calls coming in, and I had precious little time to convey who and why we were coming to the Inn, at last. So I had said quickly that we were celebrating life, and love, and 40 years of being and tasting together. So they had been listening! It was as our hosts at Fairlea Farm Bed and Breakfast had prepped us, when they gave us their tips on how to have a very pleasant evening. They hinted that the Inn may do special things for us without ever being asked!
We mentioned being able to see the kitchen and our waiter said that yes of course and would we like to meet Patrick, well, of course, we would be delighted.

Our quaint bed and breakfast right down the street from the Inn. 

With so many stars in my eyes, and maybe some poppy seeds too, I wouldn’t have been good at keeping track of which course we were served and when, and also quite honestly at $218 per dinner, I didn’t ever worry they needed my help to figure this out. But it turns out that I was wrong.

After these dishes were enjoyed and consumed, and whisked away, we received our next courses. For Madame, sweetbreads. And for Monsieur, lobster. Now I looked up, her lipstick was smudged and how did I only just notice? The room quieted and I heard whispers from the old chef’s portrait looking over us from the next room. Was that lint on the carpet? I had not been paying attention.   

The ancient chef portrait

The sweetbreads were supposed to have been my third course, and now my heart began fluttering. It must be me who was wrong. 

Confusion overwhelmed me as I realized we had received our second course first. And had never received our first course at all.


My mouth began to quiver, and my eyes saw off in the distance, the dismay that would soon would arrive, and that I would have to admit. My brain was in the process of telling my eyes to look away. 

To their credit the Maitre’d hurried over before I could look away. I explained what I thought had happened, that we had received our second courses first, and no first courses first. Or ever. He seemed genuinely shocked. He said we would be served our first courses in due course.  

We ate our second courses, and then we were served our first courses.  Not perfect. But I thought all was returning to perfect. 

And that our next course would be perfect, too. I was served lamb and Rich was served. Sweetbreads. We were told he had asked for them. No. No we didn’t. I just had sweetbreads.

The same Maitre-d explained that we could enjoy an extra dish of sweetbreads on them, but alas we didn’t really want to. So, they whisked my lamb away explaining that they wanted us to eat together. We waited for Rich’s duck, and my lamb to return. While waiting they came again to the table, flustered a bit and apologized again, but made no mention of adjusting anything. They exclaimed that we would be served an extra course. That turned out to be cheese. It’s not really that difficult bring the cheese cart around, not that we had wanted them to do anything difficult. 

But the really sad thing is that once the conversation started about what to replace and how to fix, I was taken out of the dream, had a hard time going back in. 

Cheese did not make it ok, though I cannot emphasize how much I love cheese. 
The Cheese Cart and Big Cheese

The Epoisse was sublime and Blue Cheese were excellent. I felt sad that the cheese can't cut it when it is such a big deal, and a very expensive deal, to dine at the Inn at Little Washington. 

Like cheese, we did enjoy dessert, but our heart’s really weren’t in it anymore. We got taken back to see the kitchen, and the beautiful fireplace, and we passed by the wine cellar. Alas, Patrick was not available. But he would sign our menus and they would be sent to us along with the recipe for the Blood Orange and Cucumber Manhattan’s. 

In the kitchen at the Inn at Little Washington

The big fireplace at the Inn at Little Washington

The wine cellar at the Inn at Little Washington

We received our signed menus in the mail yesterday, and you would not know anything had gone wrong. There is no mention of Wagyu Beef. Just the illusive Veal Tongue that I never got to taste. Tongue in cheek, perhaps? They even included the beautiful cocktail recipe, hand-written, which I love that personal touch. The only quirk is an odd curlicue in the word, lovage. At least I think that’s the word. Lovage.

Perhaps it is I who owe the Inn an apology; an apology because I had put the plan to dine there on the back burner; probably for a good 10 years went by since I had thought (I admit this again if it will help) about Chef Patrick O’Connell. But in the time that I did think about him, it was with an almost daughter-like reverence for what he was doing. I know, a little ridiculous, but he was at one time, a mentor, in spirit. I haven't quite figured out what it all means. 

Unfortunately I left feeling like I had waited a long time for a not so great experience. I felt sad at the loss of not only the dream of dining there, but also the reality of it, and I wondered what had happened.

Patrick, what happened?  

Monday, February 20, 2017

Meet the Team of Taste: Cook with Erick!

It's time to step up your summer with C'est si Bon! 

Start Your Own Adventure in Taste Now! 

Chef Erick Snover teaching kid-chefs at C'est si Bon! Cooking School

Curious? Schedule a Skype Chat with us to learn more.

Here's a little behind the scenes story of the Taste the Adventure Team.

It’s spring and sweet sights abound. The red chickens, that my son, Erick helped bring back to C'est si Bon! last summer, run out of their coop and scratch beneath the sweet pink blooming Daphne Odora, eager for bugs and new green sprouts.

Erick Snover, Taste Promoter

And so are we, eager, to shout about changes, new sprouts, and delicious dishes, and of course that means fermented natto. 

Ok.  But natto? Must we?  

My son, Erick, is a professional chef, 2nd generation kitchen critter (a phrase he coined) with specialties like Kaiseki and high-end Japanese cuisine. 

Before service he breaks-down a hamachi (Japanese amberjack fish) in a time-lapse blur of scales and sharp thin blades, sliding his knife between glistening skin and bones, perfectly portioning the fish, while simultaneously twirling miragai, making mignonette out of shiso, and curing a little tofu, on the side. 

During the evening service, his knife dances and sings to the hungry sushi bar devotees delivering beautiful moments. 

In between orders Erick speaks another language, leading his crew. His watch words are wakame and arame. And natto. 

His hands speak too, hands that he always reminds me that God gave him to use, and create delicious tastes like bacon dashi miso soup, black cod with sikyo miso and charred green onion puree, rock shrimp and egg noodles in tomato and lemongrass broth.

I admire and love watching him artfully craft sushi, and teach his staff. I hope still, that maybe one day if I watch enough, my fingers won't stick to the rice, and fumble a hand-roll into a, well, a natto so beautiful thing. Erick makes it look easy, which is part of the art, and skilled technique.

Sato sushi timelapse test from Christian Schneider on Vimeo.

But back to natto

Now at first glance, natto, fermented soy beans, looks rather unappetizing. 

See Natto. Love Natto. Eat Natto.  

Erick showed me how amazing natto tastes.  And now I seek out natto. 

Erick teaches me Japanese knife techniques. He’s so fast that I always ask, please, one more time? He shares books about the sea, and fishing, and it thrills me, and scares me to hear his fish stories. 

One of our favorite haunts, Asian Grocery Stores like H-Mart, where once I led him and his brother Jaryd, to skip down the aisles, and delight at hysterical packaging, wild flavors and messages, steal looks into the backroom where families rolled dumplings together, and offered hot lunches to their staff, it was a truly magic Natto-land. Now I walk through Li-Ming Asian Mart and text Erick photos, and ask, do you know this fermented rice? 

At the CIA, I always loved the old world techniques – sauce-making among them, and weekend trips into NYC to Chinatown. In Colorado I was a private chef for the silly rich, and in NC I spoke on NPR about coffee and turkey, and got our first flock of chickens. Learned about growing rhubarb, before school we picked sugar snap peas from the new garden by the mailbox. I changed my whisks frequently from Mom to private chef to food stylist to cooking school teacher and back to Mom again.

As far back as I could remember Erick had been attracted to the kitchen. And a fast and eager learner. 

At five months old his eyes opened in surprise, his mouth full of rice in NYC Chinatown.

At two he ran into Mekong’s kitchen in Colorado Springs, where the owner, Dang, lifted him up to safely watch Vietnamese shrimp and pork eggrolls, cha gio, get lowered into bubbling oil.

At five he politely (!!) told me there were way too many onions in the clam chowder I had made. :) 

On his tenth birthday he ate civet de canard at Marie-Claude Gracia’s auberge, La Belle Gasconne in Gascony, where now we hold Taste the Adventure for Teens and Families.

At twelve he slurped ramen noodles and grilled moonfish while watching tuna being auctioned off at the Suisan fish market in Hilo, Hawaii.

At fifteen he was a curly haired teenager bringing home bags of carrots and potatoes to practice knife skills, Julie and Julia style, after his shift in the banquet kitchen at the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill.

Then just as quickly as Hurricane Fran blew through Chapel Hill, and birthed C’est si Bon Cooking School, so Erick grew up and out of our kitchen, and plunged headlong into the restaurant kitchen world and became an Executive Sushi Chef in Vail, Colorado. He has his own tale, and many tales, to tell about being a kitchen critter. 

In the 15 years since he stepped into the professional kitchen, we’ve returned many times as a family to the “home” kitchen, which isn’t always in our NC home. Whether crafting Thanksgiving, or simply reunion type extravaganzas in France or Colorado, cooking is our family’s medium to communicate. Sharing our worlds. Making delicious food joins our worlds, making them a little bigger, and closer. And a lot tastier.

He had returned from Japan and was considering a change. I just stood still and listened. The tables had turned over completely. He had traveled in many ways and paths, and was teaching me things. He had become a teacher. Even now this knowledge fills me with admiration. And a terrifying thrill. 

Erick asked me what I thought about expanding Taste the Adventure Programs for Teens and Families. And working together. Teaching together.

This spring we’ve taken Taste to Boston, Manhattan, Scarsdale, Pasadena, LA, Atlanta, Boca, Washington DC and Maryland and Philadelphia. and next week to San Francisco, where I hope to cook with Erick, and Jaryd, my youngest son, who loves chocolate and mochi and nacatamales. 

But that's another story. 

My son, Erick, is a professional chef, 2nd generation kitchen critter (a phrase he coined) with specialties like Kaiseki and high-end Japanese cuisine. 

And a teacher. 

Out of the window the light brown and dusty red cardinals gather twigs and build their nests in the azalea bushes. Soon, they’ll lay eggs and new little red birds will fly out into the world again.

Please Join us for Taste the Adventure for Teens in North Carolina, Gascony and Barcelona! And Taste the Adventure for Families in Gascony. 

From our Family to Yours. Enjoy making Goi Cuon, Summer Rolls

These are so wonderful in the heat of the summer. They require no further cooking beyond cooking the shrimp and the noodles, which can be done ahead of time if you prefer. The flavors are so light, with the flavors of fresh herbs and seasonal vegetables. Some of our most memorable rolls came from the ad lib combination of mangoes and a sweet palette of peppers with cucumbers.  The peanut sauce is our favorite. Serve with iced jasmine tea and a pale green honeydew melon accented with orange flower water, nuoc hoa, and lime juice.

It’s O.K. to prepare these a couple hours in advance, cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and kept at room temperature until needed.

Makes 16 rolls or 8 servings

For the rolls:
1 pack of large round rice paper
1/2 pound rice vermicelli
16 large shrimp, deveined, cooked and peeled, and sliced in half lengthwise
1 head green or red leaf lettuce
1 cucumber, peeled into ribbons
2 carrots, peeled into ribbons
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
one bunch each fresh mint, basil, and cilantro

For the peanut sauce:
2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 teaspoon garlic chili paste
2 tablespoons apricot preserves
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup hoisin sauce

Combine all the peanut sauce ingredients in a small bowl using a whisk. Serve in individual bowls garnished with chopped peanuts and sliced chiles if desired.

In a medium size saucepot cook the vermicelli according to package directions.  Drain and set aside on a plate to cool before rolling the spring rolls. 

Assemble all the ingredients above when ready to wrap the rolls. 

Have a wide bowl of warm water available to moisten the rice papers. 

Work with only 2 sheets of rice paper at a time, keeping the remaining sheets covered with a damp cloth to prevent curling.  Immerse each sheet individually into the warm water. Quickly remove and spread out on a clean counter top.  The rice paper will become pliable within seconds. 

Lay one piece of lettuce over the bottom third of the rice paper.  On the lettuce, place approximately 1 tablespoon of the cooked noodles, 1 shrimp sliced in half, 1 tablespoon each of the shredded carrot and cucumber, plus a few bean sprouts, several mint leaves and fresh basil.  

Roll up the paper halfway into a cylinder. Fold both sides of the paper over the filling. Keep rolling the paper into a cylinder to seal.  Place the rolls on a plate covered with a damp towel so they will stay moist until you fill the remaining wrappers. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Teen-Chef Alumni of C'est si Bon!: Meet Maya!

What a joy to work with Teen-Chefs, and follow their journeys; let's find out where are they now?

Read the first  post of the series, where we launched the Teen Tours in Provence back in 2004 and the second post where we meet Nora.  - she does work in leather-crafting and enjoys Viking Historical Re-enactments.

Thirdly we met Elijah, now a data analyst in Madison Wisconsin.

We'd love for you to join us! We have travel opportunities for teens this summer, in C'est si Bon!'s Culinary Travel Program for Teens: Taste the Adventure. 

And now meet Maya! From the get go, Maya was a bubbly ray of sunshine, delighted in the details and complexities of the culinary arts and has been quite the busy lady in the years since she joined C'est si Bon! in Paris, Provence, (a research respite to) a farm and chateau in  the Loire, and Tuscany.

"Hi Dorette! I think back to those summers a lot and how special and exciting they were."

Maya, it was such an honor to share the buttery layers of croissants, lavender ice cream, wild boar of Tuscany, honking geese of the Loire, crusty loaves of Pain Poilane, with you!

Maya, now! in San Fran!

Maya and her boyfriend, Andrew, who loves her Sunday suppers! 

"I currently work as an 'operations analyst' at a tech firm. I analyze data to try and help make more strategic and cost effective decisions. I've basically been a data analyst in one shape or another at few firms now. I really like it, but was recently thinking about how I could combine my data skills with love of cooking/ dining (still thinking that one through)"

Maya, then, in Paris. 

Maya and Emily at the Ritz Escoffier Ecole de la Cuisine in Paris, 2007

Emily working on the haricot! (The beans!) 

Maya Enjoying Our Parisian Cooking Class Results

Daryl, Maya, and Dorette in Paris 

Favorite dish, that's a hard one! But quite possibly the Lavender Ice Cream we made in Provence.

Weekdays I go for easy chicken or fish recipes, so I've committed every Sunday to a special dinner. My boyfriend is pleased with this decision haha.

I love love swordfish. My 'go to' (more of a summer thing) is seared (I only have a cast iron) or grilled swordfish with EVOO Salt and Pepper, a 'fun' salsa, and black rice (which i have come to really like). I don't have an exact recipe but roughly:

Maya's Fun Salsa

1 avocado diced
1/2 red onion chopped
2 mangos (not overly ripe) diced
1 bunch scallions
2 T cilantro
s/p to taste
2 ears grilled corn (if in season)
a splash of evoo

May I contribute a more serious swordfish recipe? I have only made it once but really loved it. My dad sent it to me, I think its Mario Batali.

Maya, Merci beaucoup for spending time catching us up on what's cooking with you!

Swordfish Involtini alla Siciliana from Mario Batali

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for garnish
1/2 cup whole Gaeta olives
1/4 cup salt-packed capers, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 cup currants
1 1/2 cups basic tomato sauce, recipe follows
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 to 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 oranges, zested
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, plus extra for garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 pound piece of swordfish, cut into 4 (1/3-inch-thick) slices by your fishmonger

String or toothpicks

Fresh oregano leaves, torn
Fennel fronds, for garnish

Basic tomato sauce:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Spanish onion, 1/4-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried
1/2 medium carrot, finely grated
2 (28-ounce) cans peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand and juices reserved

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a 12-inch ovenproof skillet, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the olives, capers, red pepper flakes, pine nuts and currants. Stir in the tomatoes and wine. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, orange zest, parsley, the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and salt and pepper, and mix well.
Season each piece of fish with salt and pepper and place flat on a work surface. Spread the breadcrumb mixture evenly across each of the fish pieces and carefully roll each like a jelly roll, securing each roll with string or with toothpicks. Place the rolls in the skillet with the sauce. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until cooked through, about 10 to 12 minutes.
Place 1 roll on each of 4 warmed dinner plates, spoon some of the sauce over each, and garnish with chopped parsley, torn oregano, fennel fronds and olive oil.

Basic tomato sauce:
In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is quite soft. Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as thick as hot cereal. Season with salt and serve. This sauce holds 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 6.
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