It has been over half a year since I last updated here on WordPress. As can be expected I have been busy with work, home life, and grumping about the very wet winter here in Oregon. Luckily the sun is shining today so I feel a desire to fill everyone in on what’s going on, as well as establish my (hopefully) return to regular blogging!
My wife and I are now happily married and moving to Eugene in the next month, which is a nice change of pace for us, both in regards to our outdoor life and careers. I’ve already startedgetting interviews set up at various bakeries in Eugene and will be very glad to get back into the world of yeast and flour!
Things at Marco Polo have gone very well and my baking skills have been honed there and also at home. My pan and hearth breads have improved dramatically over the last year as well as my pastries and cake decorating. I feel that it is a great time to go out of the restaurant and back into the bakery to follow the calling of the oven.
Soon I will be posting a few recipes just to let you all know what I’ve been working on at home. Usually whatever I make gets eaten so quickly that it goes out of my mind and I forget to share it so I’ll work on being better at that. Until then, stay sweet!
It’s been over a month since I moved back to Oregon. There has been a world of transitions both in and out of the kitchen within that time! Home life has been good so far. A lot has been adjusting to a mutual schedule between my partner and me which happens to include a lot of bread baking at home. In a way it has become my therapy on hard days and my joy when the going is easy.
Oregon is and always has been my home since I moved here in 2003. My family came from Idaho and I soon took better to it than I ever did in the high desert. Produce is fresh, local, and incredibly varied! Every city has a farmer’s market or two and I sorely missed blackberry season the last two years I’ve been gone. It’s good to be back!
I’ve recently started work as the baker at Marco Polo Global Restaurant in downtown Salem. When I say baker that means the entire bakery: desserts, cakes, breads, and the ocassional savory that I’ll make for crew lunches. There are two sides to the coin of being the only person who runs baked goods in a place; I am always held responsible for any mistakes made but I’m not responsible for anyone else. It really puts me in control! When I first got here I was only decorating cakes and making mousse and cheesecake. Now I make the cake bases, lunch desserts, and breads as well. I might as well mention that I am the first person to do any bread baking at the restaurant since opening in 2001 so that’s given me a lot of insight on how to start my own bakery someday. I had to test recipes, retardation methods, and a few loaf shapes before we could settle on a functional table bread. It’s been an amazing and irreplacable experience that reminds me of how fortunate I am to have moved here and to have been trained in New Orleans. Who knew such opportunity could be had in Salem, OR after working in one of the biggest service industry cities in the U.S.?
I do miss some of the life in New Orleans though, particularly the few people there that made me smile every day at the bakery and my close friends that are still there. Hopefully I’ll make a short return to the city in November to hit poboy fest and sling sandwiches for oldtime’s sake. Until then, I say welcome home!
As the month of April comes to a close, I’ve had some great experiences to reflect on as a chef. I spent some time with my friend Steven and his brother Eli whom are both climbers, backpackers, and adventurers, as well as admirers of good food. I made a point out of making dinner at some point and we had finally gotten together to make something of Steven’s requesting: filled pasta.
Of course, ravioli and tortellini are very dear to my heart by being about 25% Italian and growing up enjoying casseroles and pasta dishes since I could eat solid food. I had learned around my first years of college that I had a knack for working a pasta machine and a fire in my eyes as I tossed the sturdy dough around. Whether it was in my blood or just something I wanted in my belly I was sold on making pasta by hand whenever possible. This time with Steven was extra special though, since I’ve sent my pasta machine back to Oregon and had to make the entire batch manually. I also decided to attempt a dough made with pure “00” soft wheat flour and all eggs rather than durum and water. The dough was tough; really tough. It didn’t return like a heavy gluten dough but certainly didn’t roll by hand like durum. The work was magnified by the tiny hot kitchen and I felt like I might as well have been on one of the burners. After 30 minutes of slaving with my tiny novelty sized rolling pin, I had 4 satisfyingly thin sheets of beautiful yellow dough.
Steven and Eli had their own contributions to the meal via their fillings: spiced sweet potato and a remarkable vegan cheese sauce using cashews, nutritional yeast, and tahini. They’ve been developing it for some time and it is phenomenal how it turned out! The marriage of traditional and innovative cooking is something that truly represents the human spirit in food. We finished the pasta off with a classic tomato and garlic herb sauce for the cheese and I made a reduced balsamic for the sweet potato. Out on the patio we talked of people, work, and travel over our well earned meal. Conversation amongst great food and great friends is one I strive for and that night I got just what I wanted.
Working the burners. That red sauce smelled insanely good!
When food is made with love, plating doesn’t matter. Just needs to taste good!
Another great occurrence this month was coming into my own as a chef at home. I work full time at a mostly vegan bakery using animal free products in 90% of what I make. Every soup I make is one I’m proud to put out and I can honestly say, from the statements of others, that my vegan soups not only rival but often outshine my non-vegan ones. However, combining my imagination and a lack of ingredients can get frustrating so last week I decided to splurge and for good reason: my partner was coming into town and she was inviting guests.
Lately my home meals have been simple and cheap: oatmeal in the morning and lentils and rice at night. My most extravagant cooking has been happening at work and it’s far from the artistic cuisine I admire. This was it, though! A chance to spread my wings, buy the ingredients I so sorely missed, and hit the kitchen with all the tricks I had. When I shopped for the week I was like a hyper-crazed child laughing maniacally while I dove down each aisle. I was unbridled in the culinary world once again and I wasn’t going to miss any chances. I made catfish meunière, creme brûlée, and corn and bean summer chowder with aged cheddar and real chicken stock! I even got a chance to make my famous fat-laden scones with all the goodies stuffed in them.
But I never once thought the food was just for me. Maybe I got to show off some skills but my satisfaction was in the pleasing silence while everyone ate dessert and smiled between bites. When one of the guests had a gluten allergy I quickly modified the grilled cheese sandwiches to grilled cheese crepes (the balsamic glazed bacon wasn’t a bad move either). Everyone deserves happiness and everyone deserves to eat good food! Last week I got to share that ideal with many people, not to mention my partner who I believe was quite fond of the waffle s’mores with toasted coconut and pomegranate syrup. Food is still my finest way to share love with the people around me and I will always raise my glass to that!