I’ve got to be honest. I don’t read many books. I’m the type of guy who spends hours on end reading articles on NYTimes.com or cozying up with an extended essay in The Atlantic or New Yorker. Long-form books are not really my type. I think I may have ADD because books can never hold my attention. Despite all that, I devoured Danny Meyer’s semi-autobiographical Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business during the past three weeks.
In Setting the Table, Meyer articulates not what makes him such a great restauranteur but a successful CEO of a food service company. Meyer, who brought us restaurants like Union Square Café, Shake Shack, and Eleven Madison Park, emphasizes the importance of hospitality when providing others a service or product. He divulges a handful of tenets, which, if followed correctly, can lead to a loyal following behind a brand and stable, long-term growth of business.
Meyer begins by describing his childhood and the early roots that formed his interest in food and goes all the way up to the opening of his restaurants in MoMA. Continue Reading →
I get asked a lot what molecular gastronomy, or modernist cuisine, is all about, but I think molecular gastronomy is one of those things you have to see, feel, and taste to truly understand. I can say that molecular gastronomy is the cross-section of science and cooking, where chefs apply techniques straight out of a chemist’s playbook to food, but when you really get down to it, nothing beats tasting and feeling the results of culinary experimentation.
I can still recall the anticipation I had leading up to my first watermelon caviar experiment. It was like experiencing college for the first time. I had no idea what to expect even though I read so much about it. The transformation of watermelon juice to watermelon caviar is magical. Little, if any, practical reason exists in creating caviar that has the taste of watermelon, but the fact that one can pull off such feat and create unique dishes that surprise people presents a form of art and entertainment itself. Techniques like spherification, though they have some scientific value, serve mainly a cultural landmark and fascination. As a society, we are infatuated with trying new things, and while the field of technology produces new products and innovations unfailingly, culinary innovations trickle in more slowly. When Ferran Àdria first presented the spherification technique, it was a revolution that thousands of others began copying—including myself.
A similar experience can be had for watermelon “tuna,” which, again, takes watermelon and presents it in new light. The texture changes, and no food serves as a precedent.
Making watermelon tuna does not present as much materialistic obstacles as watermelon caviar. One simply needs a vacuum sealer—which can be bought cheap at the local grocery store or Amazon.com—and watermelon. (Note: The prices of vacuum sealers vary a lot, from as low as $6.99 for a hand-pump sealer, to a mid-range FoodSaver for about $70. You can go even higher with industrial-grade chamber vacuum sealers, but those are generally out of the price range for most curious cooks).
Watermelon tuna, tastes undoubtedly like watermelon but takes on a curious texture. It maintain a little bit of the crunch originally in watermelon but becomes flexible and slimy—like tuna. A bite into watermelon tuna gives off the familiar crunch of an apple but yields with no resistance to the force of the bite. The experience of hearing a food crunch underneath your mouth yet feeling your teeth sink smoothly into watermelon tuna exceeds imagination. One must try the watermelon tuna for themselves to truly experience the excitement.
The first time I went to Yoyogi Sushi, I came in with great expectations. My friends raved about it. Local publications raved about it, and even Yelp garnered favorable reviews. However, a glance inside the cramped restaurant shot bouts of doubt throughout my body. There was minimal décor. The menu looked greasy and worn out, and the wooden tables offered just enough room to shuffle around.
An adventurous foodie knows that a restaurant’s atmosphere does not tell all about its fare, so I decided to give the place a chance. I waited in line, watching a line of chefs busily compiling orders, and by the time I got to the front of the line, I decided on a combination of tuna and yellowfin rolls. An energetic old lady shouted my order in the direction of the sushi bar, and I saw one of the sushi chefs beginning on my order. His hands moved quickly and methodically, and I could tell from the mechanical precision of his actions that the sushi chef carried years of experience under his uniform. Comforted by what seemed to be quality craftsmanship, I handed over my debit card to the old lady. Continue Reading →
Gabrielle Hamilton, author of the New York Times best-seller “Blood, Bones & Butter” visited Yale today. She visited the food writing class that I am in and also lead an open dialogue about her career and her memoir. Although I did not attend the public discussion, I had the chance to ask her questions and talk with her in a more intimate classroom setting.
Hamilton came off as a strong personality, someone who is not afraid to voice her opinion and comfortable in her mannerisms. She laughed, she cursed, and she genuinely engaged in conversation. Despite her strong personality, Hamilton seems amicable, and I would not mind hanging out with and certainly not mind learning how to cook from her.
During the seventy-five minutes our class had with her, she answered questions directly and honestly. For example, when asked about food blogs, she told us that while she sometimes spends time reading them, she feels bad afterwards because that was time spent she could have used to do something more productive.
Here are the cliff notes of what I learned:
- Hamilton keeps items on the Prune menu even if it’s not their most successful item.
- School was like a vacation to Hamilton. Break from manual labor.
- Hamilton was completely compliant with requests from friends and family who received pre-publish text of the book.
- Seeing as Hamilton portrays her own flaws, she allows other people in her memoir to be flawed.
- Hamilton doesn’t think time spent reading food blogs or watching food shows is time well spent.
- Hamilton enjoys breakfast at Balthazar at 8 a.m.—before all the tourists get in—Peter Luger for steak, Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station, and Angel’s Share for a drink.
I talked to Hamilton one-on-one after the class discussion to get my book signed, and after I mentioned that I ran a food blog, a look of surprise ran across her face. “Were you offended by what I said about food blogs earlier,” she asked. “Not really,” I said sheepishly. “I understand what you mean. I used to read a lot of food blogs all the time, but it takes up a lot of time, and I definitely can’t do that during the school year.”
Hamilton asked me about Toastable, so I told her the link. I’m doubtful she’ll have the time to visit—or the desire—but it’s cool having been able to talk to such an accomplished person.
My friend Brian and I visited WD~50 this past Friday. It was my second visit to the place, and like I promised myself after my first visit, I ordered a la carte. As much as I enjoyed the tasting menu, the dishes were a tad bit too small for my comfort, and there was no way I was shelling out $140 on a meal. Continue Reading →
Some years ago, Yale College began hosting a cooking competition known as Final Cut. The premise is simple, a team from each residential college—there are twelve—compete to create an appetizer and entree in the span of one hour. The primary ingredients are known beforehand, and additional ingredients or equipment can be requested, with the limitation of having two butane burners. The winning takes home a cash prize and a handful of culinary goodies.
The Final Cut competition had been one of the events I had been looking forward to coming into college, so when the time came, I teamed up with two friends Jonathan and Angela. We managed to win the preliminary competition, allowing us to compete in the final competition against eleven other teams.
In the preliminary round, we managed to win by cooking a vichyssoise containing chicken, candied carrot, blueberry-infused celery, and croutons. Vichyssoise is a French potato and leek soup normally served cold, but due to limited time and resources, we served our vichyssoise hot. When I tasted the dish, an assortment of contrasting flavors and textures greeted me. Croutons added a much needed bite to the dish. Chicken played a savory overtone, and the candied carrots balanced the primarily salty dish with strong, caramel flavors
At the final competition, we conjured up an appetizer soup based on spicy Korean flavors with enoki mushrooms, stuffed mushrooms, and daikon radish. Our main dish consisted of a Korean BBQ foam-filled mozzarella balloon, baked cod, candied beet, candied carrots, and quinoa. In retrospect, I think the execution of our entree during the final competition lacked finesse. The mozzarella balloons were made ahead of time, so not only was the filling cold, the balloons themselves cooled. The quinoa sat unattended for a while, losing heat, and were a tad overcooked. We didn’t have time to blowtorch them either for an added layer of complexity. The beets, which we struggled with during practice sessions, never reached the softness I desired, but on the other hand, I think we did a great job with presentation, especially considering our limited practice runs. The cod turned out silky soft, and the flavor of the soup was spot on.
The whole competition was a great experience overall, and I’m hoping to go at it again next year. If you’re interested in making something similar to what we made at the competition, here are some recipes.
Photos by Brittany Stager of GroupTalk.
Like most people, I grew up fearful of sushi. The concept of eating uncooked meat seemed unnatural to me. The only explanation I could come up with is that eating raw fish was a sort of rite of passage to adulthood, like drinking alcohol is. After all, I rarely see anyone but adults and college students eat copious quantities of sushi, and we all know what else adults and college students do in copious amounts… Those times I saw a child bite into sushi, I would always ask my parents how that could be so.
Of course, as I grew older, I realized that raw fish was, in fact, not poisonous or inedible. I quickly learned that raw meat may be eaten too, if handled carefully. The first time I tried sushi was at a dinner party, and by the time I had my first bite, my curiosity as a foodie influenced many of my decisions. The first few pieces were refreshingly unfamiliar. The fresh, squishy feel of raw fish though not immediately enticing, won over my palate. I remember leaving with a strong desire to try more sushi.
My subsequent encounters with raw fish were what really cultivated my appreciation for sushi. There is a psychological phenomenon known as the exposure effect—the more one experiences something, the more that person likes that thing—so soon enough, I had visited numerous sushi restaurants and binged on sashimi until the point of vomit. Still, every time I sit down for sushi, my mouth waters and I try to eat as efficiently and gluttonously as possible.
I need not go over how healthy sushi and raw fish is for the human body because I have already, here.
Last year, in January, I visited a sushi restaurant in Boston, MA with a friend named Handson. This was also about the same time I began to get hooked on sushi, so having the excuse of eating out, I searched for a sushi restaurant. Fin’s, a Japanese sushi bar and grill, was conveniently located along the Charles, on the outskirts of Boston University’s campus and across the river from MIT, which is the reason I was in Boston in the first place. Sushi at Fin’s smells and tastes impeccably fresh—like the ocean. The rice to fish ratio balances precariously on the sweet-spot, and the portion sizes make it seem worth the money. Price-wise, Fin’s offers a great lunch deal, and were I a stably employed adult living in Boston, I would eat here every day.
Fin’s Sushi and Grill
636 Beacon St. (between Brookline Ave & Raleigh St)
Boston, MA 02215
After watching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a few friends and I checked out the recently opened restaurant Cava Mezze Grill. This fast-casual joint spins of the success of Cava Mezze, a Greek tapas restaurant in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area which opened in 2006. Five years and an additional restaurant opening later, the three friends behind Cava Mezze decided to bring the taste of their upscale Greek cuisine to a more widely accessible platform.
The efficient, modern atmosphere of the Grill mirrors that of Chipotle. This is where you would grab lunch with virtually anyone, from the casual acquaintance to intimate friend. There’s a lot of brown inside—laminated wood chairs, wooden tables, unbleached napkins, and dark wall décor—just like Chipotle.
Most notably, you order food at the Grill like you would at Chipotle: you walk through an assembly line of ingredients, choosing a meat, dips, and various toppings; watch as your pita, or bowl, gets filled with delicious Greek ingredients; devour.
The Grill offers chicken, meatballs, lamb, or village sausage for choices of meat, but vegetarians can take comfort in the presence of falafel in the menu. The list of dips and spreads comprise of harissa, a feta mousse (Crazy Feta), hummus, tzatziki, and egg plant with red pepper. Toppings range from salad, cabbage, and tomatoes to feta, Kalamata olives, and basmati rice. For a bit more money, you can order some pita chips, seasonal soup, and Greek yogurt topped with an assortment of strawberries, blueberries, honey, granola, and walnuts.
I ordered a pita with Crazy Feta, chicken, tomato & onion salad, cabbage salad, lettuce, and Kalamata olives. The combination offered a range of textures, from the soothing, creamy Crazy Feta to the soft crunch of cabbage salad. I enjoyed the savory taste of chicken, which was marinated with a blend of Mediterranean ingredients, and the robust taste of Crazy Feta. My only complaint is that the Kalamata olives overpowers the taste of accompanying ingredients due to their saltiness.
Though the price of food at the Grill is only slightly cheaper than the price of food at Chipotle, portion sizes at the Grill are about 40% smaller. Still, for those keeping an eye on their waistlines, the smilers portion sizes are a blessing. For me, the pita packed a ton of taste but didn’t quite satisfy my hunger.
Having just finished my first semester of college and my first wave of finals, I have good reason for my month-long absence. After returning to school from Thanksgiving break, I trudged through one last week of classes, then studied for finals during the following week, and took my finals during the week after that. Needless to say, I had not found time to write until now. After finals, however, I booked the first train I could find to New York. After a much-needed day of respite at my mom’s, I went out to the city to meet some friends, Ashleigh, Dom, and Anh. We ate at Danji for lunch and Cafe Habana for dinner. Though, I feel like we should have done the reverse.
I’m lucky to have a mother who cooks well because the quality of her Korean cooking surpasses most Korean restaurants. In fact, the only reason I would eat Korean food out is to eat at Hangawi, which does not necessarily trump my mother’s cooking in quality but offers unique Korean dishes my mother has never attempted before—avocado bibimbap and portobello mushroom “bulgogi.” Continue Reading →
College has changed my view on money. By that, I mean I’ve become a lot less stringent about the little things, $8 sandwich, $2 coffee, and other similar purchases. I bought my cousin a buffalo chicken sandwich called ‘Wenzel’ a few weeks ago when he came to visit, and after handing him the sandwich, he offered to pay me. During high school, I would have asked out of formalities, “You sure?”, and proceeded to let him pay. Instead, I told him that he had already spent an exorbitant amount of money on cab rides that weekend and the sandwich was on me. I brushed it off and didn’t give a second thought to my actions. I would not say that I am less frugal, though. I still am. I search for the cheapest deals on Amazon, forgo buying items unless I really need them, and take advantage of free meal swipes every weekend, but around friends, I’m a bit more loose with my change. I don’t mind spending money on overpriced breakfast sandwiches if it means I get to go eat with a friend while sharing a mutual frustration over the price of such sandwich. It’s liberating not having to feel a pang of regret after buying some food that I could have otherwise obtained for free at home.
Speaking of overpriced food, I ate at a New York City restaurant called Trattoria Trecolori while visiting my friend Brian at Columbia. I realize though, that practically everything in New York City is overpriced. The Chipotle burritos in Manhattan cost nearly a dollar more than those in suburban Maryland, and they taste the same. I’m biased because I’m not a fan of seafood besides salmon, mackerel, scallops, and anchovies, but Trattoria Trecolori’s menu could use some smaller numbers. Continue Reading →