Wednesday, April 30, 2008

You Asked For It, You Got It

Ok, folks. I've gotten a few e-mails and correspondence from people asking me if there is more detail that they can see regarding the butchering process. Well, the short answer is. YES, of course. So, you asked for it is. As I said in the earlier post, come of this stuff could be considered graphic to some. If that's you, it's time to click off of this page.

This pic is of me taking the chickens to be hung before they were to be killed. The video below is Beau explaining the 'bleeding out' process.

After the chickens are fully bled out, the get dropped in hot water to scald the feathers and make them easier to pluck. This process only takes a few minutes. From there it is on to the plucker.

The plucker quickly and efficiently takes the feathers off of the bird. As the plucker is in motion, water is showered over the birds to help the process along. From there, it is on to the table, where the final detail plucking is done and the birds are butchered and rapidly chilled down.

And that's the rest of the story....Please check back later in the week as we break down the chicken and cook the parts. Cheers!!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The chickens are coming, the chickens are coming!!!!!

As I said in the last post, I went to Beau's farm last tuesday and butchered some of our milk-fed chickens. The video above is just a beginning intro. to the process. HOWEVER, THERE ARE PHOTOS OF THE ACTUAL BUTCHERING PROCESS BELOW.....THERE IS NO GRACEFUL WAY TO PRESENT THIS, BUTCHERING INVOLVES DEATH. IF YOU DONATE MONEY TO PETA OR HAVE AN AVERSION TO SEEING WHERE YOUR FOOD COMES FROM, PLEASE STOP RIGHT NOW AND GO HERE.... Also, now that you've watched the opening video, you'll see that I don't have a crack video team following me around and doing all kinds of wicked editing. I left the cell phone ringing on the end of the video so that it appears that I'm a super busy, globe trotting chef. No really, I am. That call was the restaurant in Dubai telling me that the video conference link with the London restaurant was down....

On with the story!!! First, I have to thank Beau for trying out this idea from the beginning. These chickens were the result of a conversation I had with Beau in October when we were trying to 'build the perfect chicken'. We got the first 'test birds' for our New Year's Eve dinner and within 10 minutes of delivery, I was on the phone with Beau(he's on speed dial) telling him about 'the best chicken I've ever eaten'. I asked to start a process so that we could have 'spring chickens' and sure enough, we had them last week.

This first pic is of Scott taking a chicken from Beau's movable coop that allows the birds to feed on pasture.

This next shot is of the hanging and killing process. The chickens are tied and then the throats are slit and the chickens are bled as quickly as possible. As this is happening we held the sides of the bird to reduce their stress during the process. Once the chickens are fully bled, they are scalded and the feathers are picked. From there it's on to the butcher table.

On to the table...this shot is Beau showing me the butchering process. Like I've said in earlier posts, Beau can butcher in my kitchen any day. This part of the process involves removal of the feet, neck and head, and all internal organs. Once we are through with this the chickens are plunged into ice cold water to chill them as quickly as possible.

This final photo is proof that these chickens have eaten some grass in their diet. Enough said.

So, there's the process. Please check back frequently throughout the week. The plan was that we were going to post videos showing what to do with the whole bird once you get it home. I'm a huge champion of getting rid of boneless, skinless, chicken breasts. It's kind of like caffeine free, diet coke. What's the freakin' point? Go to your local farmer, buy a whole chicken and cook along with me as I present demonstrations on what to do with the whole bird....even the cockscombs. Seriously.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


This is just a teaser post for a much longer post that's coming later in the week. I processed the milk-fed chickens today with Beau. Like I said, I'll go into more detail(videos also) later in the week, but I just had to write some stuff down immediately after the experience. Every professional cook who cooks meat should have to go through that process. It teaches you respect for the animal. Magazines who glorify 'farm to table' cooking should spend equal time with the farmers and chefs. All we hear about is how 'connected' Super Chef X is to the land and the farms. Well, show it. Honestly, all I'm waiting for is the invite from Gourmet, Food and Wine or Saveur to come to NYC. I'll bring the farmers with me. You can talk to them while I cook my ass off in your test kitchens....Scared? You should be because it'll blow your socks off. Actually, I take that back. You HAVE TO COME OUT HERE AND SEE THIS STUFF FIRST HAND. That's the beauty, that's the terroir. It's something you can't even begin to understand on the corner of West 57th street. You just can't. Sorry. That's why I'm out here, not up there.

Anyhow, I learned so much today. I have to thank Beau for allowing me to take part in the experience and teaching me ALOT about the animals and the PROCESS.(He's also wicked good with a knife....Beau, you can butcher in my kitchen any day!) This is one of the most innovative things I've ever done.(No, I didn't get out my chemistry set and make 'blood orange caviar' or something ridiculous like that) Innovative in the sense that we changed the diet, raised the bird properly, processed it properly and cooked it properly. That's innovative. Believe me. You gotta look back to look forward.

As for my last post regarding naming the farms and farmers on my menu. Here's the thing folks. If you're one of those people who likes the menu to just say 'roast chicken' instead of giving proper respect to the farm and farmer you're going to be disappointed with my menus. I stood for an afternoon and worked with Beau. I saw how hard this job is and the great care he takes in doing it. I'm going to keep naming farmers on my menu and you can keep not liking it. It doesn't matter to me. I've earned the right. I had the blood on my hands, you didn't.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Writing and Reading Menus

I think just about every major food writer(especially critics) has weighed in on how they feel about chefs and restaurants(mostly chefs, but more on that later) getting very specific with regards to the source of their ingredients on their menus. I mention that this is mostly directed toward chefs because it is predominantly at 'chef-driven' restaurants where you will find these descriptive menus. Before I go any further, I need to provide a disclaimer that I'm one of those guys who wants everyone to know as much about what they are eating as humanly possible. Once you get to the end of this post, you won't need that disclaimer to know my position. Here is an example of a run of the mill menu item: roast chicken with potatoes and warmed greens and the alternative: Beau Ramsburg's Milk-Fed Chicken with german butterball potatoes and warmed arugula. Obviously, I think the second is more descriptive, but I guess it's depends what you want out of the experience of dining out. If you're going to TGIMcFunsters, throwing down cheeseburgers and drinking beer, I don't know if you care where your ground beef came from. However, if you are going to a restaurant for a dining experience then I believe it is very important that you can make a connection with where the food came from. It's not good enough to just be a potato anymore. It has to be a german butterball potato. Turnips aren't just turnips anymore they need to be tokyo. It's not just salad greens anymore, it's specific blends of specific lettuces. This is our evolution. I think this idea is something that American chefs can be credited with. When I was in culinary school I had a great chef who pondered what America's contribution would be to the world in terms of cuisine. I think this idea is a great candidate. Most folks are familiar with the old french adage ' two ounces of sauce covers a multitude of sins'. Within the 'grande cuisine' codified by Escoffier, blanquette de veau was the same everywhere. There were set guidelines for how certain dishes were meant to be cooked and that was that. The farmer or cheesemaker or fisherman was in the background working hard to supply the restaurant with great products, but never garnering much acclaim other than from the chef. Often, chefs guarded the information regarding their purveyors with a great deal of secrecy. I think we are moving toward a great new era for diners, chefs and food buyers. With our 'open source' way of writing menus, we are thrusting our farmers into the spotlight and allowing them to take credit for their hard work, in addition to spreading the names of their small farms thus creating a greater sustainable local food economy. This does, however, present a new set of challenges for the farmer. Because their name is being thrust on to menus(something I always ask permission for) they need to be very trusting of the chefs who are in no small way acting as salespeople for the products these folks have worked so hard to produce. One thing I like to do is to go visit the farm and the farmer. After I can see where the products are bring produced and the care with which they are being produced, I invite the purveyor to the restaurant to have dinner so that they can see the care we take with our products and also so they can see the care we take with everything we do, from the grounds to the Inn decor. It's very important to me that the people who supply us know that we are working very hard to do the best with their products once they leave their farm. So, for all of you food writers who would like to go to a restaurant and see menu items like roast chicken with potatoes and greens; you are entitled to your opinion, even if it's wrong. I'm going to keep promoting our 'rock star farmers' on the menus and through our waiters stories, thus helping to build a local sustainable food economy whether you like it or not.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Philosophy Part II - It's gotta taste like dirt

Yes, this is an interesting title and no I don't literally mean that everything you cook needs to taste like a big ol' handful of dirt. This is my way of expressing what the French call 'terroir'. It is a phrase most commonly associated with wine making, but one that I started using with foods not long after my first tastings of Trent Hendricks' cheeses. The concept behind the philosophy is that each product you are cooking with has a soul, a sense of place if you will. This is where it came from, what it is most closely associated with and keeping the flavor as close to the original as possible. It is a concept that I think about every time I introduce a new dish to the menu. Here's the one bizillion dollar question: If someone came into the restaurant and had no idea where the restaurant was located or what time of year it was would they be able to figure it out by reading the menu? The answer is that if they could, then the menu is well rooted in our larger sense of place and this only works out if, on a micro level, each dish 'makes sense'. It really ties into the idea of Philo. I where you need to go to the source and learn it from the bottom up. Each ingredient has an identity, find that identity, make it 'taste like dirt' and match that with other 'friends'.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Tradition in Spring gardening...where inspiration starts

A lot of times when I am working on new menu ideas, I look to flavors that I remember from my past experiences....they might be from childhood, traveling, people I've met or things I've read about but I always try and have a memory marker for the things that make it on the menu. Well, it's important to understand that not all 'memory markers' are bound by taste. We can be inspired by so many things at so many different times. A great deal of my spring/summer childhood memories center around my dad's garden. Actually, the most specific memory was how scarce I could make myself when it was time to weed the garden. I got pretty good at the disappearing act when there was hard garden work to be done! Well, this weekend brings me to one of those specific memories. The weekend of the Master's golf tournament was ALWAYS my dad's weekend to put in the broccoli and cauliflower. I thought since it is only a quick trip down the block that I'd drop in on him today and see if that tradition still held true. It should be no surprise that when I went out to the garden, sure enough there was the broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and under the damp ground a bounty of produce had been planted.(including 4 pounds of onion sets that I hope to get my hands on as soon as they are up) Just scanning the perfectly kept garden was such an inspiration(there really isn't that much stuff that is even above ground level, but it is possible to be inspired by dirt....believe me) and sent me home with so many ideas, but also with the notion that a ton of inspiration can come from the traditions of the past/present and become the refined ideas of the future.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Finally Outside!!!

WOW!!! We're finally able to move around outside. Mother Nature has responded with warm days and not so cold nights and we can finally walk around the herb garden and get it set for planting. While we are still a couple of weeks away from being able to bring the seedlings out, we can look at the great things that have come back from last year. Parsley, chervil, tarragon and thyme are all looking very strong and our johnny jump ups and lovage are poking through in other areas of the property. Every day brings a new flower or leaf to the surface.....What a wonderful time of year!!!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Here It Is......

OK, here's our first asparagus of the spring!!! Located right outside our breakfast room this first sprout was such a welcome sign of spring. Can't wait for more of this amazing vegetable.