Category Archives: Writing

Busy weekend, easy dinner

This weekend was quite busy, so Sunday dinner became a bit of an afterthought. Saturday I was out all day helping my friend and former sous chef Jeff van Geest cater a wedding for some dear friends of ours, Gary and Naty King from Hazelmere Organic Farms, whose eldest daughter (one of a set of twins, I might add) was getting married, with the reception being held at the family farm. I had gone out the day before for some advance preparation, and most of the food was being prepared and brought in from the restaurant, but an early day was still in order to prepare for the 180 guests. Jeff and I were out early, getting things organized, doing some of the final details, and conversing on the logistics of the afternoon. There was over 50 lb of bison that had been marinated and sent down from Fort St. John, 4 large spring salmon, and 50 chickens, which had been quartered. deboned, and marinated in an apricot five spice barbecue sauce that Jeff had made. 180 pounds of charcoal, 2 large barbecues, plus 2 gas grills were at the ready, so all was looking fine.

Around noon, the mother of the bride came into the kitchen with some troubling news: the pastry chef who had made the wedding cake had run out of time and had not prepared a special cake for the bride, who has wheat and dairy allergies. “Maybe he’s joking?” I asked, but was reassured that it was no jest. “Ok, what do you have? Chocolate, nuts, dried fruit, eggs? Bring me some of everything and we’ll make it happen,” I assured. I figured to make a collapsed chocolate souffle of sorts, making a batter with chocolate, eggs, and sugar, and then adding a large quantity of ground nuts to keep it from rising too much and making a nice dense torte. Dried fruit would make a nice compote for a sauce, and all order would be restored. The ingredients arrived from the barn, 70% organic chocolate, a dozen eggs, a pound of organic hazelnuts, and a cup of dried cherries. A springform pan was rustled up, lightly oiled with some hazelnut oil, and set to rest. The nuts went into the oven for a light roasting to remove their skins, once done they were transferred to the freezer to cool quickly. I put hot water in a large pot,and brought it up to a boil, turned it off, and chopped the chocolate into a bowl to set on top. The eggs were separated, yolks in one bowl with some sugar, whites in another for the Kitchen Aid. Yolks whisked to ribbon stage, I added the melted chocolate, whipped the whites and folded them in. The hazelnuts, now cooled were quickly rubbed and skins removed, processed into a coarse meal in the food processor, and after I grabbed a half cup for an impromptu crust, the rest folded into the batter. Into the oven at 375, check it in 35 minutes, I thought, and then popped together the compote quickly with a simple syrup, some spices, and the cherries.

Balance restored to the Force, we returned our thoughts to dinner, and carried on with the afternoon. The fire was stoked, bison and chicken grilled and cared for lovingly, salmon was baked with a delicious hazelnut basil pesto, a few nice salads and vegetables from the farm, and the rest of the evening went off without a hitch. The bride was happy and none the wiser about the cake mishap, and we settled in to enjoy the festivities once it was all over, which bring us to Sunday.

Still feeling somewhat groggy from the previous night’s festivities, Sunday’s meal preparations became a quick and easy decision: A simple grilled steak and baked potato with some green beans for dinner, and a beef stew to prepare for Monday, so we could eat quickly after our son’s football game. A quick survey of the fridge: lots of carrots and sweet onions from the market still, needed some celery and other vegetables for the stew; steak, potatoes, and mushrooms needed for dinner. A quick trip to the produce store and butcher yielded the necessary provisions, and I set about for a quick and easy afternoon prep session. A couple of pounds of beef stew, seasoned nicely, floured and seared to a nice brown; the onion, celery, carrot, and turnip sauteed until just a touch of colour was present; and then a can of diced tomatoes, a bit of stock and herbs, and left to simmer for the afternoon. No recipes necessary for the steak: a serious rubdown with steak spice, coarse salt, and olive oil, a quick flash in the grill pan and into a hot oven to finish alongside the baked potatoes; a splash of olive oil into a couple of pans to saute a thinly sliced Walla Walla onion and some mushrooms to accompany (cooked separately to appease our resident mushroom hater) and the beans trimmed and plunged in boiling water. A satisfying repast, devoured quietly, and nothing left over. Success in its simplest form. The clan fed, stew turned off for tomorrow, to be joined by some bread or quick biscuits, and Dad was off to see legendary guitar god Steve Vai play at the Commodore.

Around midnight, I returned, both thoroughly inspired and amazed by the 3 hours of unrelenting instrumental heroics of the entire ensemble, I placed the cooled stew in the fridge to be enjoyed tomorrow, and toddled off to bed.

(special thanks to Simon Blackwell for not only his expert help, but with the fine pictures as well)

To market, to market…

Yesterday, my first Saturday in years that I didn’t have to go to work at night, I decided to get up early and meet a few friends and former co-workers at the East Van Farmer’s Market. Ashamedly, my first visit, as many of the farmers there had been supplying me for years, forgoing my need to go down myself on a Saturday. The sun was shining, a beautiful warm September morning, and as I stopped in and took a look around I spotted Gabriel and Katie from Sapo Bravo, said a quick hello and promised to return shortly. After meeting up with my pastry crew, we made the rounds. First stop: Milan; picked up some tomatoes large and small, Walla Walla onions, beans, grapes. Next: Susan from Glorious Organics and the Organic Farm Connection; a bag of assorted coloured carrots. Back to Gabriel; the last of the peaches for the year, some green and purple basil, some plums. Over to Stein Mountain: peppers, mixed colours. By this time, my bags were heavy and after a nice visit with the girls I made my way home, arms bursting with produce.

Once home, a full assessment of the lot: the carrots were delicious and sweet, a shame to cook them; the bag of Sungolds bursting with sugar as well. Sounding like a salad, I thought, with some of the peppers, fantastic! The basil was amazingly fragrant, the perfume filling the kitchen. Definitely for the dressing. Peaches were perfectly ripe, something for dessert, maybe a Tarte Tatin, I figured I’d ponder it for a while.

A trip to the butcher with my 13 year old provided some conversation and planning.
The requests:

Foccacia: (Great, I can put Walla Walla onion and basil on top, and I won’t have to make a starch)

Crumble: using the peaches. Tarte tatin maybe, I suggest, but am convinced the crumble will be less work.

Main Course: let’s see, pork perhaps, the suggestion being mustard and bread crumbs on top.

A look at the counter and a beautiful rack of pork was spied, about 5 pounds. Perfect for the barbecue. Meat in hand, back home we went to peruse the cupboards for some inspiration.

Deciding to barbecue put the bread crumbs out the window, so I looked on my shelf of condiments to see what was there to make a marinade. Raspberry vinegar and hazelnut oil sounded like a good start. I needed some sweetness and spied a bottle of agave syrup a friend had given me. Made from the cactus that is used to make tequila, it has an interesting flavour and is quite sweet. I needed a bit of spice, and saw the tin of Old Bay Seasoning I had brought back from Baltimore. (For those of you unfamiliar, it’s a combination of celery salt, mustard, red pepper, black pepper, bay leaves, clove, allspice, ginger, mace, cardamom, cinnamon, and paprika). Just a shot to give it a kick. a bit of Dijon was added to the mix, all was whisked together and rubbed into the pork rack, then off to exile in the fridge.

I set about to prepare the foccacia dough, assembled it in the Kitchen Aid and set it aside to proof. I turned to the carrots (who had been fooling around unsupervised) and peppers, peeled and cut them for the salad, and gave the sungolds a rinse. I popped outside and spotted some small ripe cherry tomatoes in the garden and picked them to add to the salad. A few more windfall apples under the tree were gathered and decided upon for a sauce to go with the pork, along with some very ripe Italian Prune plums.

Then for the barbecue: When it comes to cooking over flame, I am decidedly still in the stone age. There is really only one piece of equipment that does a joint of meat over 5 pounds justice, and that is a very well conditioned Weber kettle barbecue. Loaded with real lump charcoal, (about 6 pounds for a pork rack this size), the coals were lit in anticipation. Once white hot, I arranged the coals on either side, providing a trench in the middle for the pork to drip without flaring up and bursting into flame, as well as heating the sides of the kettle, creating an oven environment once the lid was down.

Back into the kitchen, where the pork was removed from the marinade, seasoned well with coarse salt and steak spice and carried out to its new home on the grill. I reserved the marinade, put it in a small bowl with a brush for basting, and returned to attend to the bread. I punched the dough down for the first time, after which I sliced thinly one of the onions, and sauteed it in olive oil until golden, and set it aside to top the foccacia later.

Bread well looked after, I turned my attention to dessert. A pot of water was put on the stove to blanch the peaches, and while it heated I prepared the topping. Butter, brown sugar, flour and almonds were quickly combined to make a crumbly mixture, and then peaches were blanched, pitted, diced, tossed with sugar, spices and a touch of cornstarch to absorb the liquid, and placed in a casserole dish. A scattering of the topping was administered and the oven turned on to preheat. A quick trip outside to baste the pork, by which time the oven was ready, the crumble safely inside, and my efforts turned to shaping the foccacia.

I lightly floured my large cutting board, punched down the dough, and rolled it out into a rectangle the same size as my baking sheet. A quick burst of nonstick spray and a scatter of cornmeal to provide a nice crust, the dough was laid out, tucked into the corners, and lightly covered for its final rise. I chopped some of the basil, set some aside for the bread, and turned the rest into a vinaigrette for the salad with some red wine vinegar, olive oil, honey, and garlic.

One more trip outside to check the pork, another baste, and at this point I checked the temperature. It was only registering 120 degrees, so I figured I had 20 minutes or so more before it should come off. Back inside, the crumble was ready, so out it came, and the foccacia was risen nicely. A top dressing of the caramelized onion, including the olive oil it was sauteed in, plus a scatter of basil and coarse salt, and into the oven she went. My final task completed, I grabbed a cold beer and headed outside to keep the pork company on its final lap. Once it reached its correct temperature (140 F before resting, it comes out nice and juicy and just a touch pink) I removed it form the Weber, set it on a rack to rest and relaxed for 15 minutes.

We both made our way back in to the house, took the foccacia out of the oven, and all that was left to do was a toss of the salad with the dressing and to slice the meat and bread. That accomplished, we tucked in for a terrific summer meal, full of flavour, texture, and satisfaction.

I wonder what I’ll do next weekend?

There and back again- from inquisitive cook to “green” chef – part 1

As long as I can remember, I’ve always been interested in food and cooking. We travelled quite a bit as kids, living in Africa when I was very young, back to northern BC, then off to Ontario, back to BC, off to England, then back to BC for good in 1977. I was 8, and settling in West Point Grey was a good place to be a kid. We spent a lot of time in the endowment lands and at Jericho Beach, exploring our surroundings as we always had. We lived in a big house on 13th, and between my older brother and I (who are only a year a part, so had the same circle of acquaintances) there was always a good sized group of boys around the house. One Sunday morning there was a fair group that had spent the night and we were poking around in the kitchen figuring out what to eat. Catholic school had taught us well, as Shrove Tuesday had just passed and the grade 6 class had learned in their discussions of the traditions of Mardi Gras how to make crepes. A crude batter was prepared in the blender, cooked in a couple of cast iron frying pans, and the group was satisfied, not just with the offerings, but the satisfaction of cooking for ourselves.

Every year, we had a family tradition of a pre-school year meeting in which the daily chores would be decided and assigned to my brothers and I. That September, (1979 I guess), I decided that I would like to relinquish my duties as garbageman, and would take on the responsibility of preparing breakfast for the family on a daily basis. Armed with my well worn copy of “the Joy Of Cooking,” I set out to liberate the Green boys of years of porridge for breakfast. Pancakes, omelettes, different egg preparations all became part of the repertoire, and I held my post for the rest of my time at home.

My parents had always been interested in social and environmental issues, so in 1980, following skyrocketing interest rates and house prices, my parents decided that my Dad had had enough of corporate life, and my Mom would work instead, taking a position with the Development agency of the Catholic Church. This meant a fairly substantial income drop, so we moved to South Vancouver, and spent the remainder of my youth living on the East Side.

The 80’s were pretty tumultuous times for those involved in social justice and global awareness, so we became very aware of socio-economic issues, the reality of the global food supply, and the like. In 1985, my parents packed the family up in a 1969 Volkswagen van and drove to Nicaragua, so that they could work with a group of priests who had been working with the Mayan people in Guatemala, and were now in exile in San Juan Del Sur, a beautiful beach town near the Costa Rican border. What a place to be 16! As the revolution was merely 6 years old, the youth were the future and as such were treated like adults. It was common for the high school classes to encompass a demographic of 15-30, and the atmosphere was of excitement and exhilaration. We were there for half the year, during which time we were able to discover exciting new flavours, and really learned an appreciation for ingredients. There was a trade embargo from the US because of the socialist regime, and we learned to cherish the fresh produce and seafood at the market, the fresh pork that was available, and most importantly, we learned like most of the world how to make beans and rice the backbone of the diet. Returning to Vancouver 8 months later, to say we had a new appreciation for the standard of living afforded the average Canadian would be an understatement to say the least.

A couple of years later, as I was finishing High School, I started looking at finding a part time job. A local restaurant near my high school had placed an ad in the morning announcements for part time kitchen help, and I figure since I loved to cook it might be a good thing to try out for a while. I stopped by the Avenue Grill on my way home from school one day, had a brief talk with the Sous Chef, and left my name and number. I got a call from the Chef a few days later and met with her, and started doing prep and making toast on Easter weekend, 1987.

I worked Friday nights and Sunday mornings for the rest of the school year, and learned the basics. The Grill was at that time doing a real California Cuisine thing, all the food was prepared in house, fresh baked muffins and scones, fresh creative salads and sandwiches, and a small dinner menu with pasta and casual but well prepared entrees. Sunday brunch was one of the busiest in town, where it wasn’t uncommon to do 120-150 covers in 4 hours, OUT OF 38 SEATS!! By the time the school year ended, I had been offered full time work for the summer, which I accepted gladly. (At that time I was certain that I was destined to be a rock star, so I just had to make a few bucks to get me through in the meantime).

A few months after I started full time, an apprenticeship became available and was offered, provided I could commit to sticking around for a couple of years to learn the trade. Again, I gladly accepted, and went from prep to sandwiches and salads, to working dinner service within the first year. By the end of my first full year, I was cooking Sunday brunch every week as well as 2 nights on the stove and 2 on the salad station. By the time the second year rolled around, the Sous Chef had left, and it became my responsibility to cook dinner four nights a week and Sunday Brunch. I was happy to accept the challenge, and excited to be able to write specials, learn new techniques, and grow into a larger role. In the fall of 1989, the Chef decided to leave, and at that time, the responsibility to take over the kitchen fell on my shoulders.

The fall of 1989 and spring of 1990 brought great change for me. I had just gotten married the summer before, I had taken on the responsibility of running a small restaurant kitchen, and we had decided to buy our first house. The housing market had gone through the roof, and the only place we could afford was to move to the Fraser Valley. We started looking in Delta and Surrey, and as we looked, prices kept getting higher and higher, pushing us farther and farther east, until we finally bought a small home in Aldergrove, a good hour’s drive from work, in February, 1990. Within a few weeks of the house purchase, Jim, the owner of the restaurant came to me and said he had an idea to do something no one else in town was doing. He really wanted to get into organic food and embracing the natural food movement that had been going on in California. I was sent out to buy a few books and do some research (pre-internet, it meant the library) and picked up a copy of Chez Panisse Cooking, written by then Chef Paul Bertolli. I was fascinated by the story and the concept, and inspired to accept that thought process as the only way to cook. Between my own personal social background and a new move to start a family in the middle of farm country, everything seemed to make sense to go in a real down to earth, “connected with the land” direction. I had a copy of the Canadian Organic Food directory that had been picked up at Kits Natural Foods, and thumbed through it to see who was active in British Columbia. I only knew one organic farmer, Herb Barbolet from Glorious Garnish, and decided to ask him how I could get in touch with other farms, and the BCARA, the local organic farmer’s association. His response was, “You’re in touch. I’m the president. You should come to our meetings in Cloverdale once a month and meet some great people.” I agreed, and in the meantime, he gave me the number of a family in Surrey who had been farming there for a half dozen years.

End part 1. Next: part 2, meeting the Kings

The Striped German

The first of my Sunday Dinner series…

Last night, Milan Djordjevich from Stoney Paradise brought me a gift. Not just any gift to mark my new direction in life, but the tomato to end all tomatoes. Twelve years we have known each other, and there have been many fine specimens to grace my kitchen, but none quite as impressive as this. I opened the paper bag to see what was inside, and there was THE tomato, a 2 1/2 lb Striped German. It sat on the counter for the remainder of service while I contemplated its fate, knowing we were having friends over for dinner tonight, and wanted to see how that one tomato could inspire a meal.

the tomato in question

I woke this morning to see it proudly perched on my kitchen counter at home, and decided that I would hollow it out and use it as a vessel to serve an appetizer, reserving the flesh for something, perhaps the filling. A trip to the market in the morning provided a few complimentary items; peppers, sweet onion, and basil. I had picked up a few chickens in the hope of barbecuing, and figured we had a good start. Once home again, I noticed quite a few windfallen apples on the ground from one of our two trees, and went out to gather them. Not quite perfect, but great for applesauce or something along those lines. The tomato plants provided a few cocktail sized red tomatoes suitable for roasting along with the peppers and onion to add to the filling, and by now, the menu was starting to take shape.

Roasted vegetable relish (served in the Striped German, with fresh baguette)

Roast chicken of some description ( I had given up on the barbecue as it looked pretty gloomy outside)

Something with apples, still under consideration

Half a dozen cocktail tomatoes, halved, one sliced sweet onion, and two peppers, seeded and quartered made their way onto a sheet pan and into the oven with a splash of olive oil and salt. An hour or so at 300 degrees, I figured, and started carving the tomato. The flesh was soft and sweet, so I chopped it lightly, salted it, and placed it in a bowl with a couple of tablespoons of chopped basil.

I let it sit while I split the chickens and removed the thigh bones, and put them into a large pyrex pan to marinate. A couple of tablespoons each of honey and grainy mustard whisked together with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and a quarter cup olive oil provided a good rub down, topped with a few sprigs from the garden: rosemary, oregano flowers, and thyme, followed by a healthy pinch of coarse salt and about teaspoon of chili powder. Birds comfortably in the fridge, I returned to the tomato flesh, decided to puree it and go from there. The resulting liquid was magic, and it seemed a shame to toss it in with the roasted veg, fresh out of the oven. Maybe just a shooter of cold tomato soup? By the time it was strained, there was only about 10 ounces, not quite enough for the eight of us, so I decided to make some gnocchi, and toss them in the golden elixir.

Back to the roasted vegetables, now cooled to room temperature: a brief chop, a splash of balsamic, a healthy dose of chopped basil, a pinch of salt, and into the shell of the German. Potatoes on, things really were shaping up. The windfallen apples were peeled, into a pot with some brown sugar and cinnamon they went, just a splash of water to keep them from sticking, and onto a low simmer. I figured a bit of fun would be nice for dessert, so settled on making some sweet cinnamon waffles, topping them with the applesauce, vanilla ice cream, and caramel. Popped the waffle batter together quickly and put it in the fridge, brought out the birds to be transferred to a sheet pan to go in the convection oven for an hour or so, and took the potatoes off the stove, strained them and allowed them to cool and dry out for a bit.

stuffed and ready to go

By this time, our guests were arriving, so I sliced the bread to go with the tomato relish, and sat down for a drink and a visit. Only the gnocchi to make yet, so we were in good shape. Once cooled to room temperature, I riced and weighed the potato, gather the prescribed amount of flour (1/3 the weight of the potato), a couple of eggs, and put the dough together while I waited for the water to boil. There was still a couple of tablespoons of chopped basil there, so I tossed it in, and rolled, cut, and shaped the gnocchi, laying them out on a sheet pan. By this time, the water was boiling, so in they went in batches (so as not to crowd the pot), and once they floated to the top they were cooled in cold water, strained, tossed in a touch of oil, and set aside.

The chicken was looking pretty good by this point, so I pulled it from the oven to rest, cleaned some yellow beans, and went back to our guests. the tomato shell was all that remained, and it looked quite juicy once all the roasted vegetable relish had been spooned out of it. As I carried the platter back to the kitchen, it seemed a shame not to make good use of the rest of the German, so I diced it up and threw it into the food processor, and strained the resulting liquid to add to the previous batch from the flesh of the fruit.

Beans went into the steamer, and two large saute pans were brought out for the gnocchi. Once heated to medium-high, I baptized them with a splash of olive oil, and divided the gnocchi among the two. Just a nice browning, then I tossed in the golden tomato puree and just cooked it enough to heat through. Dinner was served!

Following a respectful break for digestion, it was time to move forward on dessert. The waffle iron was heated, plates were laid out and the waffles cooked and quartered. A generous helping of the not too sweet applesauce on the hot waffle, a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, and a fair drizzle of caramel sauce over everything put the finishing touches on a great Sunday dinner, the last before school starts and the first in my new-found existence. The kids went back for seconds, thirds even, polishing off the rest of the waffles and applesauce.

What a way to end the summer with good food and good friends, and to think it all started with one tomato, but what a tomato it was! I can’t wait for next week, I’m starting to get hungry again. Actually, there may still be some gnocchi left in the fridge…..

Out of the frying pan and into the fire

Welcome, and thanks for joining me as I spend time building my web profile. Content will be added continually over the next short while

For the past 20 years, I have been dedicated to developing my skill and my craft as a Chef here in Vancouver. During this time period I have had the good fortune to work in small restaurant environments where customer service and quality of food have always been of the utmost significance, and this has instilled in me the importance of consistency and quality control in all aspects of the food service industry. From my apprenticeship at a small neighbourhood restaurant where I worked in high school, to my current position as the Executive Chef of one of the city’s foremost and highly regarded small restaurants, that passion and dedication has always been foremost in my approach to cooking, creating, and managing in the restaurant business.

After 10 years as the Executive Chef at Bishop’s, I have felt the need for greater challenges and the opportunity to extend my skill set to a different environment. Although I have thoroughly enjoyed every day behind the stove, I have reached the point in both my professional career and personal life that I know the experience and expertise that I have developed over the years will be best utilized in the next phase of my career in a more managerial role. I take great satisfaction in the organizational elements of being a Chef, as much as the actual physical cooking itself, and I am finding that the reality of being the Chef of a small restaurant means that most of my time is spent in the actual execution of dinner service, rather than the planning, recipe and menu writing, and other things that I feel would make better use of my time.

Over the years, in addition to the day to day operation of the restaurant, and all that that entails, I have had the opportunity to work on many outside projects that have piqued my interest in pursuing different opportunities in order to keep my creative energy flowing and ensuring my growth as a Chef, Manager, and as a person continues.
This page is the beginning of that journey, and the start of many interesting new projects.