Tag Archives: work

The Chef’s Little Black Book

Today I am starting a new series – an idea I have for a book that has been sitting in a stage of partial completion for a while. If it will ever make it to print, I don’t know, but at least writing it this way I can get it all in one place and share for now as it comes together.

It starts something like this……….

Every great cook I have worked with has had his or her “little black book”, a collection of recipes and menu ideas gleaned from years of working alongside others who share the passion for food and cooking. In most cases it’s a shorthand list of formulas, great menu items, and notes to self about one’s experience spending thousands of hours behind a stove. This collection goes to form the chefs we become, and the broader one’s repertoire, the more source for inspiration there exists. I have held firmly to my belief that everyone in the kitchen makes a contribution to the knowledge base of the profession, and that collective brainpower has led me to years of inspired cooking in small restaurant kitchens and at home.

This experience and knowledge once closely scrutinized, comes down to several basic principles and approaches to food, ingredients, and technique. It is that combination that gives us the variety, as every recipe I have ever seen, know, or developed has been an extrapolation of a simple idea based on one of the fundamentals.

It is my goal in this series to share my personal collection of the basics, as well as an insight into how to take a relatively small set of ideas and turn them into an endless array of recipes, menu ideas, and memorable meals. What I want to get away from is the concept that cooking is about just following recipes. Cooking food is like playing music, my other great love. You can follow the score, but at the end of it all there are only 12 notes. Every great piece, song, or melody is derived from the ability of the composer to combine those 12 notes with an understanding of common combinations and fundamentals that work, sprinkled with a good dose of imagination and experimentation.

To transcend from merely following recipes to experiencing food in such a way that you can imagine an outcome, select the ingredients and put them together with a fairly close interpretation of what you set out to is truly a magical experience that those of us who have cooked professionally for many years probably take for granted, but one I want to share with you over the next little while.

So here it begins, my “little black book”

January 2013

New look, New Year

Well, after being very remiss about maintaining my web presence, I have decided to start the year by totally reworking my site and upgrading it to the latest version of WordPress, along with the vast improvements in widgets and social media connectivity that have taken place over the last 5 years. Please have a poke around and the current stuff here, and I will be adding plenty of new content soon.

What’s been going on with me? Still working hard on the training initiatives with go2, which is very rewarding work. I have joined the board of the BC Chefs’ Association, to stay more connected to our industry provincially and nationally, and also have been very involved with the Potluck Cafe Society, where I am currently co-chair of their board. They are a wonderful organization providing employment and on the job training in the Downtown Eastside, through the operation of a successful catering business and small cafe on Hastings.

I’ve also been playing a lot of music with my jam band, which we share via our own web page, under the name The Mine Project. I haven’t been doing as much home recording since we record a full album’s worth of material every week at the studio, but have promised myself I’ll be doing more of that as well. In anticipation of dedicating a bit more time to writing music, I have spent some time rebuilding my music site as well as this one. It can be found at dennisgreenmusic.com.

And for food writing? Lots of ideas bottled up, and have decided that I’d rather focus on sharing my knowledge, ideas and some interesting stories from over the years rather than maintaining a continual ticker tape of what I’m eating, so will begin to capture those and post them here VERY soon.

Happy New Year


Melbourne Day 3 – William Angliss and Southbank

Day 3 in Melbourne

The day started with a morning visit to the William Angliss Institute, the largest hospitality school in Melbourne. Here they teach all of the culinary programs, baking, patisserie, confectionary, butchery, and a host of tourism and hospitality programs and degrees.

It was particularly interesting in talking with our hosts at the school to see how they have adapted from being a purely vocational institution in the past to now working very closely with Industry, and have developed a great capacity to deliver custom training packages for employers in any area of the hospitality fields, which are all linked to further options within the national qualifications framework. This is one of the main reasons we are visiting Australia, to see how we can develop those sorts of relationships in Canada in relation to formal training and credentials.

Lunch was served in one of the three restaurants on site, prepared by second term culinary students. I had a starter of duck confit and chorizo ravioli served in a flavourful broth with a garnish of fennel and orange salad. For a main course, I had ordered the crisp spatchcock, (a small guinea hen) and couscous, which was quite delicious as well. I indulged in the chocolate trio for dessert, also very well executed, especially when you consider it is being prepared by students who have been in a program for less than a year.

One program they have instigated that has been very successful had been their Great Chef program, where they have the top chefs from Melbourne come in to prepare 2 dinners with each class of finishing students. What a great opportunity to build relationships, and also for the chefs to recruit directly from the school.

Following the afternoon’s work in developing our Canadian program standards, we decided to take an evening stroll across the river to Southbank and find somewhere to dine there. Very much the way Vancouver’s waterfront has evolved, the Southbank and Docklands areas feature a broad promenade packed with restaurants, street performers, and a number of shops and services.

On a Friday night, the place was bustling, so we settled into a French inspired bistro for dinner. We started with two appetizers, a carpaccio of kangaroo, and a twice baked goat cheese soufflé. The carpaccio was very nice, the kangaroo meat sweet and tender, and garnished with horseradish cream, olive oil, and micro greens. The soufflé was equally nice, with a sweet corn and pickled ginger salsa, as well as a spoon of fresh chevre on top.

The main courses took a while to arrive, and when they finally did with an apolpgy from our server, they were less than perfect. My tuna was cooked fine, but it was a little bland, and my dining companions had similar stories about their choices, a rack of lamb that was somewhat tough, and the Morton Bay bugs (a type of crustacean similar to a spiny lobster) were a bit mushy. We ordered dessert, enjoying the company and the entertainment on the promenade, and were pleased with the “assiette”, a tasting of crème brulee, chocolate brownie, and summer pudding.

After dinner, we took a nice stroll back along Flinders street, and spied a tapas bar I had on my list to check out later, so noted its location for a dinner later in our stay.

After a cleansing ale in the hotel bar, we retired for the evening, as we had much planned for the weekend to come.


A Month of Sundays

It has certainly been an interesting year. This time last year, I had my resignation letter written but not submitted, my stomach full of butterflies, and no certainty what I would be doing in the fall. I would never have ventured to guess that my life would be focused on thinking of how to help our next generation of young chefs attain their goals and learn their craft well without that involving me picking up a frying pan on a daily basis, but am happy to be in a position where that is actually the reality. I have neglected my musings here as I have been absorbed in much technical writing updating our provincial cooking programs and all of the related support materials, travelling around the province and meeting firsthand all of the schools that teach culinary arts and their local industry folks. What a great group of people we have here! It’s no wonder the food is so good in BC.

I have managed to squeeze out a few barbecues in between the raindrops, and have posted the first in a series of summer recipes from those dinners. I was out in Langley last week for a meeting and took the opportunity to swing by JD farms and pick up a free range turkey to celebrate the summer solstice. The first of the local strawberries graced our table as well, so I made my Grandmother’s famous summer fruit pie, a staple of any barbecue at the Green family compound. A few cold beverages on the patio nibbling homemade tortilla chips with tapenade and a scallop salsa was the perfect setting to pass the time catching up with some friends as we were seduced by the gentle smoking of said turkey nearby.

Other dinners have included a couple of “cowboy steaks”, a slow roasted pork shoulder, and the usual suspects of ribs, chicken, potato salad, and biscuits. I’ll get the recipes for those done before we hit the road for 3 weeks of an extended road trip through California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah starting mid July. Until then, happy cooking!


Meeting the Kings-from inquisitive cook to “green” chef, part 2

(continued from part 1, September 8, 2007)

It was the spring of 1990, and as we prepared for a move to the country, a new direction in cooking and thinking about food for myself, and having just been married the summer previous had led me to a certain place and time. As I discussed with Herb the need to find farmers to supply me with “regular” produce, he gave me a number and said, “Call Gary King” I immediately picked up the phone, and made an introduction, told Gary of my direction and what I was looking for, and we had a conversation, one that would define how I would conduct business for the remainder of my career, as it would turn out.

Everything I had been taught about designing a menu for a restaurant and finding suppliers relied on a few main principles: Decide what you want to put on your menu, find the ingredients, and get the best price you can on everything. Pick the best products from each of your suppliers, and always shop around for a better deal.

As it would turn out, my conversation with Gary placed the relationship between supplier (farmer) and chef in a whole different context. It went something like this:

DG: I’m looking for a supplier of organic vegetables for my small restaurant and was given your name by Herb Barbolet as someone who might be able to supply me. What do you have?

GK: Let me tell you about our farm. My wife Naty and I have been farming here in the Hazelmere Valley since 1984. We have 10 acres which grow a large variety of crops: root vegetables, potatoes, herbs, shallots, tomatoes, greens, beans, corn, and the best strawberries in the Fraser Valley. We supply a number of restaurants, of which our biggest clients are the William Tell and the Raintree. Being our biggest supporters, they always have first dibs on things we have in limited supply, and when we supply someone new we have two rules: Our relationship and farming philosophy relies on you purchasing a variety of products, not picking and choosing a few select items here and there, and I won’t consider selling to you unless you come and visit the farm. Phone Lars Jorgensen and Rebecca Dawson if you like (chefs at William Tell and Raintree, respectively) and they will be happy to share information with you about us and other organic farms.

DG: I’ll be there this afternoon

Once I finished my brunch service, I hopped in my little Honda and drove the 45 minutes out to the farm to see what it was all about. Gary met me at the barn and for an hour we walked the fields, looking at plants, tasting, talking about farming and organics and companion planting. Seeing the strawberry patch, I expressed interest, and Gary continued on the morning’s train of thought: “If you buy my potatoes, onions, tomatoes, carrots, herbs, beans, corn and squash all year, I’ll consider selling you some of our strawberries. They are unbelievable, and therefore are reserved for those customers who support us fully year round. I’m not interested in dealing with chefs who only buy based on price, and aren’t willing to come to the farm and see what we do here first. Organic farming is about diversity, and in order for the farm to remain healthy, a large variety of crops must be grown and rotated in order to keep the nutrients in the soil in balance naturally.”

I took a few vegetables, picked fresh from the ground and the next day called the two chefs Gary had suggested and followed up on the conversations we had. Both of them said the same thing and really helped me understand the alternative train of thought. In order for small farmers to survive, chefs had to be open to buying everything they grew, and finding creative ways to incorporate those into the menu allowed both the farmer to maintain diversity and the chef to think about food from an ingredient first point of view. Yes, you could find products cheaper, but the freshness of “picked that morning” produce meant far better flavour, shelf life, and yield, and therefore the cost difference was much less than you would think. Also, the relationship with the farmer on a year round basis meant paying the same price all the time, rather than fluctuating seasonal prices in the market place. Once something was gone for the year, it came off the menu, and you would move to something else, again helping to develop seasonal creativity. They also both stressed the need of more chefs to subscribe to the philosophy and put their money where their mouth was, if we were ever going to have the kind of network of small farmers and regional suppliers that was present in Europe and California.

Having been newly indoctrinated into the organic, seasonal, local food movement, I embraced this new approach with open arms. My drive to work, once we moved to Aldergrove, started to mean regular side trips down country roads looking for farm stands and signs of product for sale. My attendance at the BCARA meetings became a regular monthly occurrence, and every farmer I met led me to meet another. By that summer, I had met a supplier for free range eggs, chicken, naturally raised pork, a custom sausage maker dedicated to old fashioned practices and natural ingredients, other farms which supplied ingredients that the Kings didn’t have, organic beef from the Chilcotin, fruit from the Similkameen, as well as sources for organic staples like grains, flour, and cheese. (at that point there were no locally made small cheese producers), but it was certainly apparent that this local movement would only continue to grow, it was only a matter of time before it went mainstream.

Hand in hand with that came the approach to seafood that I would adopt as the only sensible option: local species, in season, no farmed salmon, and FRESH FRESH FRESH. I was lucky to have a great supplier in Deluxe Seafood who understood the need to go out of their way to supply a small restaurant with certain products, like picking through 100 pounds of fresh sole to find me 10 lb of thick fillets, and it too was the start of a long relationship that would last me 20 years in small restaurants. In those days, openings for things like halibut and fresh spot prawns were sporadic, and knowing that I did the menu twice a week and ran a daily special, the 7 am phone call from Dave became a regular occurrence, saying the halibut boats were coming in or the prawn fisherman was about to land. Again, it became the fisherman who decided the menu, not the chef, and learning to wait and see what you would get to cook became a philosophy as well as develop skills that would serve me well for years to come.

My days became adventure before cooking, an exploration and a farm visit in the country to discover the menu, then off to the restaurant to cook it. Weekly excursions to Edenvale (then the largest organic farm in the valley) Hazelmere, Glorious Garnish, as well as the egg ladies (I had two, and would bring extra in for my Avalon milkman and his customers), P&G sausage, and more provided a year of inspiration and direction. A few praises in the press, as well as a few misses, chalked up to youth and inexperience, and I really thought we were on the verge of a real breakthrough in Vancouver. In those days there were few places to by natural foods and organic ingredients, Capers in West Van, a few co-ops, Kits Natural, and Sweet Cherubim were about it, but you could sense that there was a real market for wholesome ingredients, as the boomers began to turn 40.

Then came recession, and with it change.

We went through an ownership change, and although the status quo was left for a while, it was quite apparent that the vision my previous boss had shared with me was not shared, and by the spring of the following year, It was decided that a different direction would be taken. Since that direction involved getting rid of all of the “expensive” ingredients for a better bottom line, something I was not willing to do, I was sent on my way. Ideals still intact, I retreated home to contemplate.

(end part two. Next, from kings to bishops with a stop in between)