Tuesday, August 30, 2011

the creative process.

Every chef (artist, musician, etc.) has a process, a starting off point, where the roots of a dish begin to take hold.  For some it's a classic recipe or something as simple as a color or season.  For others it's more abstract, passing whimsies that land lightly on the mind.  I have never really been able to nail down how or why I cook what I cook because in the end, each plate I put together tells a little story of all of my experiences over the years.  It's very difficult to explain this process but I figured I'd try here, more for self-inspection than anything else.

An example:  Heirloom tomatoes, young cucumber, chicharron powder, lemon mayonnaise, arugula.

So, in planning the menu for our PushStart Birmingham, I really wanted to think about Summertime, an easy task.  To me, nothing says Southern Summer like tomatoes and even more so, a BLT.  I remember as a kid, we'd go to my aunt's country house in Virginia.  We'd race down to the garden and push our way through verdant smelling vines to find the ripest tomatoes that had been gently warmed by the sun.  Sliced in thick slabs, salted and slathered in mayo, they'd get topped with still sizzling bacon and cold, crisp iceberg lettuce, all of it sandwiched between toasted white bread.  I can still taste those sandwiches.

That quiet memory was the starting point for the salad.  Nothing really all that ground breaking.  Just a solid base.  Where I have the most fun, is here, trying to rearrange the elements of something familiar to make something a little different, maybe even exotic.  We got the best heirloom tomatoes from the market including Golden Peach, Mortgage Lifters, Brandywine and baby Sweet 100's and sliced them in to irregular shapes.  The bacon got swapped out for chicharrones (read "pork rinds") ground in to a fine powder with salt, coriander and pepper.  The usual lettuce and mayo on the sandwich was left out and we added in tender arugula leaves and tangy lemon mayonnaise to act as our salad dressing.  Young cucumber was added in for a cool little crunch and there you have it, our delicious take on a BLT sandwich.

At this point, I wanted a little added flair to set it apart so I began thinking of ways to garnish this plate that would scream "Summer."  The obvious choice was basil but instead of using the fragrant leaves, we rehydrated the mild seeds and mixed them with salt and molasses vinaigrette.  With their jelly-like texture, they made me think of frog eggs.  Fat bullfrogs, chirping and floating lazily on lily pads in the warm evenings came to mind.  Then I remembered lotus, a cousin of the water lily, that they use in a lot of Asian kitchens.  The hollow lotus root would be the perfect foil, peeled, sliced thinly and fried crisp in extra virgin olive oil.  Their crisp texture and salty, starchy flavor mimicked a crunchy potato chip that, if eating a BLT sandwich, would be the perfect side.

And there it is...a fancy-fied version of something tiny that means so much to me.  This is the perfect example of how I build each plate, rooted in memories and traditions with extra elements to make it fun while leaving behind the pretense of some "high art."  I hope that someday, I can have the opportunity to share my experiences with everyone, and possibly create a new memory or influence for someone else.  I hope to see you all very soon.

PushStart Kitchen Brimingham

Mr. Branden setting the table
"Remember your roots."  This past weekend, my sister and I took our little circus on the road to Birmingham, where my career in food began over ten years ago.  A homecoming of sorts this time to cook for what turned out to be an anniversary for three couples and 24 of their friends.  Despite the size of the group (our biggest party yet) it felt like family and we all had a great time, cooking, talking, laughing and best of all, eating.  Thanks to the efforts of Branden, Trevor, and Will our kitchen assistants for the evening, everything went as smooth as could and I saw, at the end of the table, how much we truly have to be thankful for.  Here are a few photos of the evening.

Proof that it's Summer

Fried lotus root

show time

First course

Heirloom tomato, young cucumber, pickled okra, chicharron powder,  lemon  mayo, arugula

Basil seed and fried lotus garnish

Party time

Sous vide beef petit tender, shrimp louie, romesco, grits, charred onion, yellow chive

Colombian brown sugar bread pudding, sweet corn ice cream, rum honey, dried fig,  Hawaiian black salt

The crew

Lemongrass moonshine and some jackass


Me working through my stage fright

We wanted to say a warm thank you and HAPPY ANNIVERSARY to Taylor, Jason, John and their lovely wives.  We hope that we can be there to celebrate your anniversary again, even if it's just in spirit!  We had a great time and look forward to feeding you all again soon!

Monday, August 15, 2011


We've had a crazy weekend of running around acting like TV stars and now that we're done playing dress up, we're ready to get back to work! We'll be serving dinner this Saturday the 20th at 7.00p. As always, if you're interested in being on the mailing list, sign up in the subscription box to the right. Here's the menu for the weekend. Looking forward to having you for dinner!

Menu (Saturday, Aug 20th)
includes beverage pairings

-Canapes and cocktails
-Cilantro-ricotta dumplings, candied lemon, arugula, tomatoes three ways
-Crispy grits, slow roasted pork belly, rum glazed fennel, hearts of palm succotash, sherry vinegar syrup
-Mexican chocolate bread pudding, spiced macadamia, orange scented cream
-House-made cordial and candies

suggested donation: $50 per diner
(cash only please)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Television Weekend

So as many of you all may know, we're filming for two different television programs this weekend (!!!) so we're not offering regular PushStart service.  I still figured I'd post our soon to be forever immortalized menu, just to be a temptation and keep people interested in the following weekend, when we resume the normal deal.  Be paying attention to your email in-boxes for next week's menus!

TV DINNER (see what I did there?  Got jokes.)
-Canape and cocktails
-Chilled corn soup, grilled manchego cheese sandwich, roasted red chile, pancetta, arugula pesto
-Sous vide petit tender de beouf, corn croquant, smoked tomato molasses, avocado, pea shoots
-Grilled spice cake, sweet corn ice cream, coconut milk, cilantro syrup, macadamia praline
-House-made lemongrass liqueur and cajeta de coco

Can't wait to see where this TV stuff goes.  I'm already trying to work out some great catchphrase I can have when ever I serve someone some food.  I'm considering screaming out "BOOyah!" but the jury is still out (also a joke, albeit a bad one).  Director, I'm ready for my close up.