Monday, July 28, 2008

What do you eat on your days off????

Well, here's a popular question....'what do you eat on your day's off?'. I'm not sure what people expect the answer of this question to be....Pop Tarts? Yes. Butterscotch Krimpets? Um, I grew up in Hanover. You answer that one. Will they see me at Applebee's sucking back Tyler Florence's latest amazing(?) 'recipe'? Not likely. Eating at the 'sneeze bar' at Ryan's Steakhouse? You're out of your freakin' mind. At the Tropical Treat eating Fat Boys? Check. Hot Dogs with Everything? You got it. Sometimes, the best summer meal and one that I really remember from my childhood is throwing some steaks on the grill, slicing tomatoes and eating fresh corn. So, that was dinner tonight, a night off. Dessert was some amazing ice cream(thanks, Carol) I think it's important to remember that sometimes it's the simple things that allow us to be rejuvenated. After a packed full week of cooking 'restaurant food' with multiple steps and fancy plating, it is so very satisfying to be able to grill some meat, drink some beer, eat some simply dressed fresh produce, and lean back and let the breeze take over. By the way, the soundtrack for all these outdoor dining events has to be the Orioles game on AM radio. For whatever reason, they were actually winning tonight, so that's a huge bonus. It really doesn't matter if they win or's just part of 'summer sounds'. Enjoy the pics. Oh yeah, something I added to the childhood memories is the Natty Boh....the undisputed king of beers.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sweet Corn Love

Well, it's finally that time of year. We're getting in cases upon cases of the finest sweet corn central PA can provide us with. On the restaurant side this means, that corn is making it into our corn and lobster fritters, provides a base for our Sockeye Salmon and makes up a really great black bean salad with cilantro, heirloom tomato and lime. This salad is the base for our crispy skinned rockfish which gets a final drizzle of light chimichurri sauce. On the dessert side,(yes, corn for dessert) our pre-dessert is a smooth corn custard topped with blackberries and garden mint.

I had a revelation about corn at home tuesday night.(yes, I eat things other than Pop Tarts and Tastycakes at home) Ever since I was a kid, I always slathered my corn with butter. I can even remember watching a scene from the movie 'War Games' where the family is eating corn on the cob and they're buttering it with butter that was spread on a piece of bread. I remember thinking that was the coolest idea in the world because not only did you get 'full frontal' butter coverage for your corn, but you had a sopping, butter soaked, slightly corn flavored piece of bread to stuff in your mouth. Genius. So the eating evolution continued with trying out fleur de sel or smoked sea salt, but butter was always a constant. Before I go any further you need to know this....I LOVE BUTTER....... First off, PLEASE TRY THIS AT HOME. Cook some corn on the cob. Once you drain the hot water off the corn, allow it to steam for a minute or two and cool down a bit. Now, take a bottle of nice extra virgin olive oil. Nothing too sexy, just a good olive oil. Drizzle it over the corn, making sure to make contact with the whole ear, but not drowning the corn in oil. Next season with kosher salt(I prefer Diamond Crystal). Next, eat the damn thing. Here's what you're going to find. Your corn will taste 'cornier'. I bit into the first ear I seasoned this way and was absolutely put on my ass(well, that could have been the bottle of white burgundy, thanks Rich) Anyhow, this was an amazing piece of corn and the next one after it was just as good. Here's much as I like butter and believe me, I do, fats tend to mute natural flavors, especially vibrant vegetable flavors. So, while olive oil is certainly still a fat, it's doesn't coat the natural flavor of corn like butter does. Don't get me wrong....when you have average corn or some frozen corn you've put up for the winter a knob of butter in your corn saute is a righteous thing. BUT, when you have the luxury of eating crazy fresh corn then I think you should let the corn flavor be Bret Michaels, the salt be C.C.DeVille and the olive oil be Rikki Rocket. An interesting aside here....did you know that Poison passed on Slash to be their guitarist in favor of C.C. DeVille? Do you think Thomas Keller and Marco Pierre White dig Poison? Anyhow, get your ass to the farm market, buy some corn and try this out. I think you'll really enjoy the results.

Friday, July 18, 2008


I've been described as a bit of a Type A++++ kind of guy. I want everything and I want it yesterday. It has to be perfect NOW and there is no time to wait. Nature doesn't work that way. Here's how I know.

The pic to the left is of our herb and cutting gardens early this spring. You can see where my dad added brick and mulch and copper caps were soon to come. A great improvement over what we had last year and part of the evolution of the garden. As soon as green stuff started poking through the still cold earth this year, I wanted to have a fully grown, 'middle of summer' garden. Well, guess what....nature doesn't work that way. Nature says 'Wait a minute you impatient bastard, I've got some work to do warming up the soil and you're just going to have to wait until I'm ready. Suck it up and deal, big boy'.

The pic above is a shot we took today as Scott and Alan were picking herbs and garnish for service. As you can see, we've got a full grown 'middle of the summer' garden and what do you know....It's the middle of the summer. Finally, nature is cooperating with me......

What I've learned from this process is that cooking by the seasons and cooking in general is an evolutionary process. We move with the seasons and instead of looking ahead to 'what's next' we should step back and celebrate 'what's now'. I encourage all of you that might visit the restaurant in the next coming weeks and months to come early, go to the bar, grab a glass of champagne and stroll our grounds. Soak in 'what's now' and take a moment to really check out what's growing before your eyes. As for cooking in general being an evolutionary process, well, that one's easy. Every time we put our hand on a knife or a pot on the burner, we are trying to do it better than the last time we used the knife or stove. Same with writing menus, everytime a dish is brought on to the menu, I'm trying to respect the ingredient for what it is, understand what it wants and continue to refine my style. Every year there are some dishes or components of dishes that make it back on the menu, but every year we always look back to see what we have learned in the past year that can help us refine those same dishes, and the dish evolves. One thing that will always stay the same is that you have to start with the finest quality produce and even that is an evolution process. Once you taste one of Beau's chickens, you'll understand the evolution process....

Hope everyone is enjoying 'what's now''s a little video of what we've got NOW...Also, you'll hear at the end of the video that the sexiest smell in the world is that just picked tomato smell. Well, the smell of bacon in the pan is pretty sexy, too. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm a big fan of a BLT with a fried egg and melted cheese on grilled country bread. Don't forget the Natty Boh. Now we're talking evolution.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Importance of Home Grown

If you think this post is going to be about food, you're wrong. Please read on....

We usually associate the term 'home grown' with produce....or perhaps you're a baseball fan from a time when home grown could have been associated with talent that was groomed for years in the minor leagues and then went on to play for the big league team (where have you gone 'Oriole Way'????). I've got a little different perspective (I know that doesn't surprise anyone).

We had the great fortune to cook for some 'industry-types' on saturday night. Without naming names, he is a former sommelier at a huge place in DC, has worked for a James Beard Award Winning chef and is opening a new place in two weeks. We had no idea he was 'in the biz' until after his dinner was over and I was asked to meet his table in the dining room. However, for reasons that I can't divulge, Karen and I had 'flagged' his reservation as a person of interest (yes, we work in much the same way the NSA and CIA work) Anyhow, I told you all of that so that I could get to the point of my story. As we were talking, he mentioned how great the service which I in turn related to him that our restaurant team as a whole is home grown. Meaning, we are, as a whole from Hanover. For anyone who knows Karen's story, you'll immediately jump up and say 'wait a minute, Karen is from Tennessee.' She's actually from Morristown, Tennessee...for those of you who haven't been there, Morristown is basically Hanover with a drawl and Krystal Hamburgers. Enough said. Anyhow, on with the story. This guy was VERY impressed with the whole, service, ambiance, the whole 9 and said so more than once. I mention that he was 'in the biz' for a reason. Folks who work in restaurants are a bunch of picky bitches. Myself included. We rarely kick back and relax when dining out because we're always 'working', looking for ideas, looking for chinks in the armor. So, a guy from DC was really excited about our product. Cool. The part that made his eyebrows raise up the most was the fact that we were 'homegrown'. My sous chef Scott went to the neighboring high school and most likely threw candy corn in my tuba during the Halloween parade when we were kids. My cold-side guy just graduated from Hanover High School after spending this past school year washing dishes for free because he wanted the experience. He's amazing. Waitstaff, we've got a set of twins who graduated one year behind me in high school, a kid from Littlestown who hadn't waited a table in his life before he came to us and now can work the dining room by himself on slower nights. We've got a guy who came to us from Bakersfield, CA, by way of Las Vegas and has been working in restaurants in the Hanover area so long that he's an honorary citizen....Home Grown. That's what we present every night. A true expression of the area. The personality of the area. Not just with food, but with service and ambiance. Each one of us presents the best expression of the area and together we are greater than the sum of our parts. For those folks who eat at TGIMcFunsters and think it's a great expression of the area, remember this. Those places actually have their staff wear buttons to provide some flair and personality. 'Pieces of flair' belong on Facebook, not on waitstaff. I'm not saying eating at those places is bad, it's just below average. It's cheap, sort of consistent and soulless, but mostly it's cheap.

Where the hell am I going with this?!?!?!?!? Here's what I'm trying to say. We're putting a really good product out every night and the right people are starting to notice( by right people, I mean the folks who don't ask 'why's that place so expensive? I can go to Ryan's steakhouse and eat till I vomit all over my wife for $9.99') We've all been through a lot of shit to get where we are, but, how about this? The same core staff is still here. Two years later and the same faces still cook your food, greet you at the door and take care of the 'details'. That is almost unheard of in the restaurant business and it's not because working at The Mansion is all hugs and puppies. It's not, believe me. It's because as a group we believe in each other and are proud to present a part of ourselves and in turn a part of the area every day. Homegrown.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

R.I.P. White Lily Flour

I love Southern foods.I don't know where that influence comes from. Either it was summer weeks spent in South Carolina as a kid, family trips to Williamsburg slurping peanut soup, my dad's forever fascination with country ham(I used to eat the marrow out of the bone of a fried country ham steak at dinner. Beat that for a childhood food memory) six years spent in Harrisonburg, VA (yes, six years. Let's just say I was studying southern culture for further use later in my life), my time spent at The Inn at Little Washington or perhaps just growing up in Hanover which certainly has a bit of a southern feel for a 'Yankee' town. I don't know where it comes from, but I do know that from the very beginning, I was always interested in the foods of the American south. I think perhaps it's the honesty with which the foods were cooked or the fact that they literally pulled from the farm.(I still can remember taking back roads from Dillon, SC to Myrtle Beach and seeing Bubba sitting on the back of his truck chomping on pork rinds selling freestone peaches) Maybe it was the fact that food was such a big part of life and I liked that it played such an important part in 'day to day'.(yes, I know this could be said of the PA Dutch, but sometimes it's tough to see the forest when you're literally sitting under the trees.) Alright enough of that....when I go see the therapist I'll blog about the professional opinion as to why I'm fixated on southern foodstuffs. (Hmmmm, tell me about your mother.....did she like biscuits as a child????)

On to our regular scheduled programming.....I like making biscuits. Sweet biscuits, savory biscuits, whatever. It's one of those things that southern folk take a lot of pride in. Here's a typical playground scene in Virginia.... 'Your mama's so fat that when they run out of lard to cover the hams they just ask her for a heaping helping from off of her ass'....oh yeah? Well, your mama makes TOUGH BISCUITS.' Enough said, biscuit boy wins that session every time. So, in my quest for biscuit nirvana, I discovered White Lily flour. If you read enough about biscuits you'll soon figure out that everyone has their own 'tricks'. However, one thing everyone agrees on is the use of White Lily flour. On our first trip to Tennessee to 'meet the parents' Karen took me to the White Lily plant in Knoxville, TN. Amazing. It was like a lifelong Red Sox fan at his first game at Fenway. Yeah, I know. Andy, it's just a factory. Well, it's obviously not. Smuckers bought White Lily and has since shuttered the doors of the Knoxville plant. Please read this article NOW For someone like me who is an ingredient fanatic, this is a huge freakin' deal. When souther bakers are concerned, I'm concerned. Not too much, though. My parents were recently in North Carolina.....before the plant closed.....buying out grocery stores....coming home in a minivan that was loaded down with kilos and kilos of mysterious white powder.....this powder is now stored in the secure confines of the Sheppard Mansion.(before you ask....yes, I actually took samples of the bags to make sure that each one was the pure white original, not the grayer version from a 'newer plant'. yes, I'm neurotic. Lock me up) I'm not talking a bag or two folks. I was gonna take a picture of me with 'my stash', but was afraid that I might look like the fat local sheriff after a drug bust. If you want the old school real deal biscuit. I've got the flour if you've got the time.....

THE MORAL OF THIS RANT....ingredients matter folks. Flour isnt' just flour. Is it a turnip or a tokyo turnip? Grass fed humanely raised beef or feed lot garbage beef? Just picked heirloom tomato or some shit that looks like a tomato but tastes like nothing and was trucked in from California? Think about it before you buy it. If you make the decision to not work hard and find great ingredients, establish relationships with people at your local farmers market; that's cool. Your food just won't be very good. I don't care who you are, you can't make chicken salad out of chicken shit. You just can't. In the end, it's still heavily seasoned, heavily mayonnaised poultry excrement. However, you can make a bitchin' chicken salad with Beau's milk-fed chicken. Top that off with a thick slice of Kathy Glahn's heirloom tomato and some sweet lettuces and now you have a sandwich that doesn't
deserve to be called a chicken salad sandwich. We should come up with another name. How about....delicious. Let's start to taste our food again, America.