How Yelp is Destroying the House Rachel Ray Helped Build.

Okay, so the title is pure conjecture, but serves as a hotbed of reference points all will be familiar with.  Living in New York City and being constantly bombarded by food (honestly, not all the time by choice, even though it’s one of my passions and profession, but like i said, honestly) offers many peaks and valleys. The neighborhood I live in, Cobble Hill, which is in Brooklyn, alone hosts many restaurants that would be welcomed and revered in many cities. It’s breath taking that on a weekly basis I eat something from a restaurant in NYC that is considered “average” or “expected” here, but elsewhere, even by “big city” standards, would be viewed as exceptional. Simple things. The difference, sound technique and doing things correctly is an NYC restaurant staple. You have to make, at the least, good food to survive. The funny thing is that not everyone notices these techniques, or honestly knows what to expect when ordering items such as bone marrow, beef tongue, tripe, or even something like sea urchin. People have opinions. We all do, many strong. However, not all opinions are informed opinions. Or based on multiple experiences. People tend to listen to one another, especially when they consider the source, or collective sources, **gulp,** —trustworthy.

I’ll say this. I love Yelp. I think it is fantastic, a wonderful tool, and I use it all the time as a consultant, mainly to see what is in a neighborhood I’m not too familiar with.

I’ll say this too. Yelp is dangerous and there are a lot of people that use it that don’t know what they’re talking about (my opinion is in reference only to all things culinary).

The American culinary scene is exploding, still in the process of expanding after a jolt in the 90s that projected American cuisine into the realm of being internationally noticed. We have some of the world’s hottest chefs for the first time EVER.  TV personalities also exploded.  They’re kind of the dark matter, speaking in galactic analogy. Their influence is omnipresent, there are seemingly more of them than respected chefs, yet outside of TV we can’t really figure out what they, well, DO! Some people, and not all professional cooks or chefs, are more into restaurant based chefs, pursuit of reality based success. Now, TV personalities have certainly played their role, and I am not a “hater.” (I love being able to use the term “hater,” it makes me feel hip to the groove.) I believe people like Rachel Ray made Americans more adventurous.  Rachel Ray encouraged people to travel, try local specialties, hang out where the locals do, and gave confidence to countless numbers of people to cook more in their own homes.  There’s also the Travel Channel with their hosts Bourdain and Zimmern, both encouraging people to be super adventurous with food, and you know what, that it’s COOL to be so.

Cool. That’s ultimately what this boils down to in some way or another. “Foodies” are frowned upon some places, but here and most major cosmopolitan areas it is cool…. I actually don’t care for the word foodie, how about foodist? foodanista? enfoodiast?…eh, beside the point…So foodists are busy now being cool, trying to find the new hot spot and try many old world specialties (the aforementioned bone marrow, etc.) adapted in the form of this New American Cuisine unfolding before our very eyes.  I should point out that most offal and exotic foods are and were eaten out of necessity or truly refined in the hands of masters that did it for years.  Only recently are they coming en vogue in the USA. A land known by many other countries to be home of cheap meat. Not necessarily quality cheapness, but our vast open spaces allow for cheaper agriculture, thus allowing even lower social status members to enjoy a ribeye steak on occasion. Point being, eating high off the hog is an indulgence many aren’t even aware they have, comparatively speaking that is. So why do we even have veal kidneys, rabbit hearts in a pot pie, or confit duck gizzards on almost all contemporary menus? Yes because it’s cheap, but mainly because it’s COOL. They wouldn’t sell if they weren’t cool (especially in a country where you REALLY don’t have to), and yes it can save a little money, but these are the types of foods that truly show what a chef is made of, and chefs are excited to make them…and in many cases these prized dishes are delicious.

Coming full circle, I fear at some point creations, such as and those like yelp, might kill their masters.  I often visit the yelp pages of NYC restaurants that are well known, some nationally, some locally. People can be brutal. Sometimes they are spot on, especially with service misfires, or how a billing incident is handled. Some are industry professionals, and some are clearly not. (When ordering delivery you should never expect crispy french fries.) That being said, there are people that believe unfounded claims. There is one restaurant I went to with my sister and her boyfriend and we had one of the best rabbit pot pies I have ever had. It had rabbit gizzards in it, and one lady on yelp reviewed the same pot pie, within the same few days. She said the pot pie was gamey, too rich, and not what she expected. She continued to describe what she expected, and it sounded like to me she was expecting chicken breast meat, lots of vegetables, and a light cream sauce. Now, most people will see this and realize she got herself into something she just didn’t truly understand, but in her posting it is clear “she knows what she is talking about.” So what happens to all the people’s perceptions about rabbit pot pie when they believe her posting? What happens when a friend suggests the place and the person says, “Well you know what I read?”… I myself am also guilty of  “Yelp Trust.”

I think my favorite example is someone who tried beef bone marrow at a smokin’ hot popular restaurant and their post claimed the marrow was too rich and kind of greasy…now, bone marrow shouldn’t be “greasy,” but it is buttery and rich when done correctly.

Ultimately, these types of dishes are here to stay, forever, but in what capacity? Most chefs are too stubborn to remove dishes from their menus, even if only half the guests truly get it.  That being said, more cautious restaurateurs may be likely to see these very public, very negative viewpoints and remove the more challenging dishes all together over time. Going to a safer menu, with chicken pot pie.  The microscope is zooming in. And it’s being wielded by amateurs and professionals with iPhones and Android invasions. Over time, and I mean decades, will society construct our menus not in kitchens, but through consumer reports? There will always be chef driven restaurants and menus, but is it more of a trend destined to be monitored by the ever growing teenager that is constant communication and intertwining connectivity? Will people continue to be adventurous, or will the misinformation of others start squelching that drive? While the steamship (and I don’t mean a hind beef-quarter roast, food humor) of   American cuisine is still in its honeymoon phase, once the dust settles, what will remain? What will be the  “New American Classics,” and will cool old world favorites remain among them?

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2011, How I Learned to Let Go and Accept the Thermonuclear Mental Consequences

No one can ever go back
You can never go back
Your brain is elastic
It may revert to old ways, but it will never forget new expansions

The interesting thing about losing your damn mind is that you forget what everything is like before. Literally, in the span of a day, you forget what emotion, drive, passion, and the meaning of brushing your teeth is.  It’s mind blowing, and it just drives the insanity further down the spiral.  The reason why people are reclusive and defensive when they are depressed is because the idea of burdening someone else is saddening, but the thought of being alone is worse, so when that person keeps to themselves it has the unfortunate side effect of making friends feel unwanted or like they can’t help.  The perceived negativity pushes them away as well, thus creating a horrible feedback loop of resentment and ominous stalemates.  Fortunately, the good ones, and friendships, come out of these situations stronger than most people can ever hope to be.

Why do I push myself? Why do I not settle for just okay? Why do I always think I can be better?

Because I’ve had the opportunity of losing my damn mind in the past.

Not the garden variety month of depression, or a case of the blues, or a just an unexplainable series of unfortunate events, I certifiably lost my shit the second half of 2004.  There is about a month of space where I have absolutely no memories, and I was sober, it was not cool Zeus, not cool.  I spoke to a social worker, briefly, who tried to get me to let a psychiatrist give me anti-depressants (I didn’t).  You can quote me here and for forever the next few lines.  Psychiatrists are a bunch of bumbling egomaniacs who believe each others drivel and should not be trusted (even if they did go to medical school). Anti-depressants are the bane of the medical world.  Oh what the hell, and depression and anxiety are really only frightening the first time around, after round 1, and 2, you at least know things do get better.

I for one feel relieved to have had the opportunity to go on a mental circus, riding a tilt-a-whirl of mentally wavering clown shoes and magic tricks. The thing of it is, I came out the other side knowing exactly what it was I wanted from life.  It made me stand tall, be more confident, and gave me the strength to use the word “no” whenever I damn well please and not feel bad about it.  Ultimately I finished college, but knew what my true calling was, at 21 I knew I wanted to cook in the big leagues of NYC, and so the journey began.

Since the major incident in August 2004, it was a slow crawl out of that hole, I’ve been pushing to be who I want to be professionally, and it’s why I don’t quit, that is why I’m always my biggest critic, or a team effort’s biggest critic. It’s because I truly know what mental despair is, and what it is like to be so far gone you have to force yourself to eat and the only thing there is to think about is making it go away.  That is why it upsets me when I see people squander time, not focusing, and settling for mediocrity. It doesn’t matter what the situation is, full effort will reflect in the future, and do it while you’re healthy and have the ability to kick some ass!
It is why I upset myself when I settle for something that is “just okay.” I want to do things justly and not haphazardly.  It is that experience that made me able to see the bright side in just about everything, because believe me, almost anything is better than being in that place. I am not damaged. I am not special. I don’t want to make it seem like I’m a mental wasteland that just covers it well on the outside, I am genuine in my personal presentation, maybe too much. I am just a person who likes sharing stories, likes reading stories, and experiencing humanity as it is intended. Unfiltered, joyful, ecstatic, selfish, different, sad…but it should never be negative. You can say it wasn’t a good day, and not be negative. It can always be better, the glass half full way is to take what was good and expand upon that, but is more about fully acknowledging what went wrong and steps that can be made to improve, planned for, and not have happen again. Taking responsibility, standing the hell up and doing it yourself instead of hoping for someone else to take charge is the name of the game. Be the change you want to see in everyone else.

As a healthy and content individual I am now in the process of searching for my first job in the city of my professional dreams.  If all goes well and according to plan, withing 5 months I will be eating, living, breathing, and celebrating a professional life that will be 7 years in the making and just beginning.

I’ve spent these subsequent years running from the mental places that broke me down, only to finally realize and accept the fact that those feelings will never leave me 100%, probably not even 50%. I am still learning to live with certain fears and try to maintain a body that can avoid going so far deep into the rabbit hole again. The truth is, once you have a truly, truly life altering experience, you never go back, it sticks with you in some way or another. We are nothing more than the sum of our stories and experiences, the major ones have a way of making permanent impact.  It has only been this year that I have started accepting that experience as mine. I tried for the longest time to mentally bury it, as if it had happened to some one else, and it would come out and haunt me every now and then.  It always will, but I know now there are many facets to a person.  They can say one thing, and it mean 4 or 5 different things all at once, just as one individual’s thoughts can be felt and interpreted in many different ways, just by that one person.  I now accept the challenging part of my psyche as part of my everyday person, it is a passenger along for the ride with all the other parts of my brain. I think it’s why I love cooking so much, they are forced to get along and play nice.

So here I go, making the leap, the kind of leap born out of a crazy person.

Baking, a Prelude to Insanity

Once we return from our 18-week externship (of which I still need to post about) for CIA we have 6 weeks of “real classes,” as everyone says.  While they are  beneficial, Restaurant Law, Menu Design, MONEY, they have a way of taking the wind out of your sails.  As any culinary professional knows, it’s a high pace job, and slowing down is awkward, kind of like “middle school dance you just asked her to dance and she said no because you have cherry kool-aid lips awkward.” We don’t really know what to do with ourselves.

Fortunately those classes ended six weeks ago, and once we were finished with those we entered a class I had been looking forward to since the beginning of the program. Baking and Pastry for Culinary.


Almond Nougatine Tuille with Cream Royale and fresh fruit.

This class was not exactly the barn burner speed wise that we were looking for, but I honestly had a really awesome time in the class.  The pace actually allowed you to take in and retain all the information about breads, flours, yeasts, temperatures.  It’s magic people. Seriously, there is some kind of hoodoo going on with baking bread. People spent millennia working on crafting bread, to a point that it may as well be science fiction, in the way that the science is so exact its a miracle people figured it out so long ago without any modern techniques.

One bread I made that absolutely blew my mind on how it works is brioche.  Brioche is an enriched dough, in this case meaning it has added fats, and with brioche that means butter, and plenty of it. In the middle of it all being in the mixer, it just looked like a broken, greasy, gooey dough-like mess.  Something you’d expect to be haunting someone’s dreams in a horror flick.  I went up to Chef Spiess (our amazing Swiss chef) and I said, “Chef, I think I’ve messed up the brioche, everything in my gut tells me it is just destroyed.” He walks over, smirks a little, and says, “juss gives it a minute and a half more, mmm-k?” Sure as hell in a minute and a half, exactly, the mass came together. Just like that. It just transformed into what anyone would identify as bread dough. It was delicious too.

This class went on for three weeks and we learned about bread dough, classic pastries, laminated doughs (we made our own puff pastry, croissant dough), tempering chocolate, and some classic sauces.  It was a fantastic class and I would love to learn more. Making bread makes you feel like a magician.


Making braided challah


Making decorative “cigarettes” with tempered chocolate


Learning how to make marzipan roses


Making treats from Danish dough


Tempered Chocolate Creations!!!

In the end, all squirrels deserve nuts!


On the final day, we all did a pear dessert as our final project, here are a couple of my classmates, mine is the pear souffle with pistachio cream and dulce de leche, the last picture.



The end of this class marked a change of tide and course.  We went into the Cuisines of the Mediterranean.  The class is a whole different animal, and I do mean in the beastly sense. The intense pursuit of perfecting craft with a chef that took no guff and no excuses. It was amazing. She would look you straight in the eye, minutes before service, and tell you to do something over that you would think be impossible. That’s a good way to put that class, the chef taught us the impossible is possible and how to drive yourself, even a little insane. You have to remember too that this class isn’t exactly amateurs, most of us have several years experience already. She pushed us like they push in the big leagues, in NYC. It was awesome, hopefully I’ll get a chance to elaborate on the experience. Last night was our final service and we move into Banquets and Catering on Monday, SERVING TABLES no less. Should be fun!

Natural vs Naturally Processed vs Processed vs What???

Now that we all live in the future (80s sci-fi films deemed anything post-2010 the future, as do I) we’ve become aware of food processing on a much more public conscious level.  Thanks in large part to the internet (a nice surprise most 80s sci-fi films forgot) more and more people seem to be aware of food processing.

Is there an inherent evil in food processing? Hmmm, immediately answering would be to shoot oneself in the foot. Canning and jamming, this is processing no? To some degree, I think, absolutely. You have utilized a “process” of extending shelf life, naturally. Do you add ammonia hydroxide to it to destroy potential pathogens? Better question, does your grandmother? “Granny where’s your ammonia hyrdoxide for the tomatoes?” Probably never said that before.  Ammonia is naturally occurring, yes, but that does not mean that I, nor others, want more of it added to food to make it safer.

Yes, ammonia is naturally occurring, in all proteins.  Yes we will ingest ammonia no matter what happens.  However I just can not accept the fact that adding it is a MUST to make some things safer.  My personal motto is to avoid anything that is unnecessary, and using ammonia to do so is like getting a child drunk. Completely unnecessary and a cop-out way to solve a simple issue.

I had completely forgotten about a section in Anthony Bourdain’s “Medium Raw” until this morning when I was reading a blog that reminded me of a beef company’s use of ammonia to make their product safer.  Check out their FAQ page.
http://www.beefproducts.com/government_academic/faqs.cfm#three
This company thinks it’s hunky dory and all kinds of chocolate filled fun to use ammonia to kill potential pathogens.  Okay, yes, it probably won’t hurt you…probably, our government says it’s okay!  It’s simple in my mind, Don’t Use Anything You Don’t Have To.  It might be naturally occurring, but I personally don’t want added ammonia, thank you.

Back to ol’ Granny, probably never heard her say, “Sonny when you gut the chicken out back make sure to wash out with extra ammonia hydroxide! Kill all that shit (literally).” Yeah, E. Coli is to be taken seriously. Yes we all roll the dice when we eat. The additives and chemicals used to make our food “safe” are endless and everywhere.  Most of us probably ingest them on a daily basis. Eat as naturally as possible! Do you want ammonia cleaning your food? Or do you want meat producers held to a higher standard of cleanliness?  It’s just kind of freaky sometimes, in an 80s futuristic sci-fi kind of way.

The Great American Renaissance

Out of fire, ashes, and the smoldering embers rises a phoenix…

Driving in my car today listening to the new Glassjaw EP in Gilbert, AZ I had a little bit of a personal epiphany. (Whoever said post hardcore couldn’t inspire thought?) I had a realization today that globalization, ultimately, is not a good thing.

For years I would say in conversation that globalization is an undeniable part of the future of a cooperative humanity.  I would say it is coming, and to resist it, is futile. Embrace your neighbor with open arms, even if it means a little sacrifice, so we can all get along! Now, as of about 12:30 MT time, my opinion has changed.

Now, I am not suggesting intolerance or the promotion of a single ideology to end all ideologies.  What made me change my mind, is the fear of the destruction of culture.  The markers that make a group of people different, proud, and happy to be who they are, and where they are from.  Putting these cultures in books and museums to become relics is just not good enough.  Think about how boring and depressing it would be if we all were, say, Southerners.  I realize many of you loath the idea, and honestly, I’m thankful for that. We have more fun and are a much nicer lot.

But seriously, the BBQ, the fried chicken, the smoked ham products, the blues, soul music, humidity, sweet tea, big hats, boots, smoking indoors, I can keep going.  There is a type of life, and lifestyle, that most Southerners embrace. Honestly, sometimes we perpetuate certain stereotypes, knowingly, because we think it’s hilarious that everyone else thinks we’re dumb rednecks.

My southern pride aside, I love the fact that there is a west coast, and in particular, desert culture here in Arizona.  I can guarantee you most people in Japan, Ireland, and France would not trade cultures if you asked them to.

Point being, the leaders of the free world are pushing for international similarities that will over the coarse of time blend more and more people together.  With the internet and global media reach, marketing firms are plotting worldwide fads, as opposed to only fifty years ago, it was town to town!

I have realized that globalization, international leadership, and the policing of the world is potentially going to be our cultural downfall.  Once an international hegemony is established, what is going to stop it from claiming total elite control? I’m not talking about a person, or dictator if you will, but an international way of life that is no longer interfered with by oceans, long distances, or differing opinions.  We will all be influenced not by law, but social pressures to dress a certain way, eat a certain way, or talk a certain way to be accepted.  For example, just over the coarse of the 20th century, southern accents and social behaviors began to blend with the rest of America.

I have no solutions or further anecdotes on this matter, it is merely something to ponder. Can culture survive in a connected world?

So what does this all have to do with the title of the post and this post being categorized under food? A wish of sorts.

I think it is no secret that the culinary world has been experiencing a renaissance in the past decade in America.  It is finally beginning to define itself in the world categories of food.  I would love to see food lead the way, as it often has in history, to bigger and better things.  I hope the country decides to go back to a Teddy Roosevelt way of governing, “speak softly and carry a big stick.” We should focus on our own affairs. Yes, we want to help other countries, and be humanitarians, I understand that. I love helping people when I can. The truth is though, we are broken as a country. We need to focus on ourselves, reevaluate what is important to us. Worry about our own starvation, sick, and misappropriated government and military.  We need leaders who can bring roots back to America, so we can be strong, and not care about the rest of the world so much.  We should focus free time on art, music, culture, community, family and food…not mainstream media screaming politics about how bad everything is.  We need a positive culture again, focus locally, and embrace and love who we are first as a country, citizen, neighbor, and made in the USA. We need a Great American Renaissance.

reflectively ours,
John

Some recent photos for happy fun good times!!!

—As my friend Brian said, “Where the magic happens.”

—The fam!!!

Urban Hiking!?!?

Sounds like an oxymoron right?

Living in Phoenix, AZ offers many experiences.  World class food, recently ranked top 10 in the nation for shopping, delightful fall/winter weather, and urban hiking.  Yes, urban hiking.

A brief geological explanation reveals that Phoenix is perfect for this rare treat.   Phoenix is surrounded by mountain ranges, and thus there are actually a few mountains within the city itself.  Since Phoenix is located in the Sonoran Desert this hiking is much different than what I am used to.  The animals are different, the plant life, and the terrain. It’s absolutely beautiful.

The mountains I have climbed here include Camelback Mountain and Piewtewa Peak.

CAMELBACK MOUNTAIN
Location via Google Map

I’ve actually climbed this one a couple of times, yes climbed.  It’s only 1.2 miles from the park base to the summit, but some of it is an “all fours” event.  There are sections where you are literally pulling yourself up the mountain side.  I’ve done 10 mile round trip hikes that are less strenuous, but the uniqueness of this hike/climb/crawl is just awesome.  Not to mention, there are people that run up and down this thing, most for sports conditioning. (I asked one guy last time at the summit, who was extremely fit, who passed me going down while I was going up, only to pass me again and get to the top before me, how he did it, and he said he’d been doing it twice a day for years, only avoiding the summer months).  He was like a freakin’ gazelle, I’m not kidding, galloping from rock to rock, while most others were literally using arms, legs, and sweat to maneuver these rocks.  It was pretty incredible. He knew exactly where he was going. Oh, the pay off for hiking this mountain? A 360 degree view of Phoenix!



*Note, in the poem it mentions “birds twitter.” I however saw no indications of birds using modern social networking platforms.



People have made a Christmas Tree of sorts at the top

I suppose it’s true, there are literally chipmunks everywhere.

Going down…

Piestewa Peak
Location via Google Map

I must admit, this is a second to Camelback, but it is still awesome.  The views are great and this hike is more like going up a mile and a half stairmaster, all steps.










Above is a picture of Camelback Mountain from Piestewa Peak.

Look closely!

So there you have it, urban hiking, another new and awesome experience provided to me by the state of Arizona!

For a laugh and a horribly cheesy Christmas song, check out the song I recorded, Holiday Love 2010! Guaranteed to make you gush and cringe with holiday cheer!

Cracklin’ and jam

John


Holiday Love 2010!

Okay, so I probably had way too much fun recording this. I was planning on watching Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, but this happened instead.  I realize it is silly and most definitely cheeseball.  It’s supposed to be. Point is, I’ve always wanted to write and record a Christmas song.  Just think of it as fun, and some love, from me to you, or whoever.  I’m including the song as a .wav (first) and an i-tunes file (second).

Please do enjoy!
Holiday Love 2010 <—.wav (right click and “save as” or “save link as”)

01 Holiday Love 2010 <—.m4a (same as above for saving)