When Jeremy Fox announced that he was blowing the coop last month, you could literally hear the collective pain of foodies like me, kicking ourselves for not having made a trek out to Ubuntu while he was still behind the stove. Billed as a high-end restaurant that happened to utilize only vegetables, Ubuntu had received rave reviews for the past couple of years and many would say that the restaurant’s success was mainly due to his creative vision. So when Fox parted ways with the restaurant and with no mention of future plans, I figured it would be a long while before I would get a chance to taste his cooking. But as luck would have it…
Been having a lot of trouble sleeping lately (like right now) even though I’m thoroughly exhausted from consecutive nights of frustrating wakefulness and a lingering cold. I keep trying to analyze the causes of this nocturnal prison but they escape me for the moment. Or maybe there’s just too many to list and I’d have to start paying those who read this blog for cyber-therapy and frankly, I don’t have the cash flow. But I’m tired and desperate so I figured maybe I would blog myself to sleep.
This past month has been fast paced and full of change. Within a week’s time, I went from unemployed to self-employed, through luck, good friends, and of course, my sparkling personality. Though I’m happy to be off the proverbial government cheese, it’s been hard to adjust to lower pay, regular hours, and oddly enough, low stress work. I’ve never known anything other than a rat race.
There’s no use pretending anymore. It’s time to hang my ego up in the pantry and admit something. Something entirely contrary to the carefully cultivated image I’ve presented to my friends and family all my life. The ugly truth is…
I SUCK AT COOKING!
Normally, watching reality food shows doesn’t make me want to pick up the frying so much as it just makes me think about cooking. But when Hubert Keller waxed nostalgic about his favorite dish from his childhood in the Alsace region of France and prepared it for the finale of Top Chef Masters this summer, Les was compelled to action and I was drafted into service as her sous chef. Not only did Keller tempt us with the holy trinity of beef, pork, and lamb, he brought in the ultimate cool factor of sealing something with pastry dough, tugging at the heartstrings of everyone who had more than a passing attachment to Play-Doh in kindergarten.
With one flick of the TV remote, the Baeckeoffe was on.
I can’t quite pinpoint the exact moment when the gag reflex kicked in but I can trace my dislike of scallions as far back as fourth grade and the last time we had a dark brown carpet. And it was also the last time my parents forced me to eat scallions. Until the day they discovered lumps of desiccated scallions wedded to the twisted strands of carpet underneath the dining room table, I was always instructed to eat everything on my plate no matter how much it made me want to regurgitate the contents of my meal.
Scallions courtesy of nelag on flickr
Back then, the number one enemy was the soft, cloying, disgusting taste and texture of green onions that presented themselves in every dish at every meal. The unpleasantly squishy texture of the white bulb along with the off-putting taste induced an involuntary gag reflex that any bulimic would kill to have. When faced with a dish teeming with those things, I would either swallow the offenders whole to avoid acknowledging tasting or biting them, or I would surreptitiously dispose of them on the carpet below me.
I have lived most of my life in Orange County, the place made into a one-dimensional caricature by shows such as The OC and The Real Housewives. The real Orange County is a giant fondue of different peoples, languages, and cultures. It is also home to the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam. You can’t drive through the city of Westminster without seeing retail signs in Vietnamese on every corner and the ubiquitous Pho restaurant gracing every strip mall, all evidence of a thriving immigrant population in an area known as Little Saigon.
But the Vietnamese presence wasn’t always so visible. When I first became acquainted with Vietnamese food twenty years ago, Bolsa Avenue (a main thoroughfare in Westminster) only had a smattering of Vietnamese stores and the main grocery stores were the 99 Ranch Market and the now closed Mah Wah Supermarket, both of which catered to a mainly Chinese clientele, including my family. We used to shop there for our groceries because Bolsa Avenue was closer than Los Angeles, and Irvine was still dotted with orange trees. Back then, foods such as pho and banh mi were not yet part of the common vernacular.
I just finished feeding each of my eight employees (or my “minions” as I like to call them) a generic looking sandwich so they can get back to work slinging out plates of spaghetti carbonara and pumpkin soup to the customers streaming into my restaurant. I was loathe to fork over $200 dollars for each measly sandwich but that’s the price I have to pay to keep my restaurant humming. As I take a break from running the joint to read up on the latest MLB playoff news, I get an SMS from Les.
New Baby here!! Yay!! Trade water with me.
On a scale from oblivious to deranged groupie, I rank in the upper 50th percentile somewhere along the lines of shameless admiration when it comes to Dan Barber and Blue Hill. Besides the obvious fact that Barber can cook up some mouth-watering food, the man sous-vide a turkey in a dishwasher for Thanksgiving one year. How awesome is that?!
Stone Barns Education Center is one of my favorite places to visit when I am in New York and its Blue Hill Restaurant ranks high on the list of best dining experiences for my friends and me. The chefs and servers work in concert to get diners excited about food from the table side presentation of local ingredients to the parade of well thought out and executed dishes. It was no wonder that my friends and I looked to Blue Hill to provide a great meal to say farewell to summer and lay out the welcome mat for autumn.