Monday, May 25, 2009

The Importance of Ambiance - Flowers

When you cruise through the Zagat guide looking for a restaurant, you will notice that they rank restaurants based on three criteria; food, service and decor. Decor is the topic we're going to tackle today.

I think of decor in the broader sense of ambiance. It's the building, the linens, the wallcoverings, the silver, the gardens, the music(very important)......basically everything that isn't service and food. In theater terms, it's the stage and set. In baseball terms, it's the stadium. Ambiance is IMPORTANT. How important? Well, my beloved Baltimore Orioles have have been riding the coattails of the ambiance of their stadium for YEARS!!!!

A big part of the luxury we try to provide is fresh cut flowers. They are a huge part of ambiance for me. It sets the tone for the evening. When you go to the powder room and there's a nice display of flowers....that's special. You get the feeling that you're being taken care of; the 'pleasure process' has begun.

We buy a great deal of our flowers from a few local flower farms, but we are also lucky enough to be able to cruise around the property and pick fresh cut flowers from our grounds. How cool is that? The video below is of Karen picking flowers for the tables one evening last week. As always, I encourage you to come early for your reservation, grab a glass of champagne and tool around our grounds. You might see someone out picking flowers for your dinner table!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Let's Talk about SEX, Baby.....

Oh, do I have your attention now? Cool.

While this particular post won't be about SEX, per se, I wouldn't suggest reading it out loud to your youngster unless you plan to answer questions that pertain to more than food.

I have a bit of a problem with considering food and cooking as art. I don't wake up every morning scribbling down every food epiphany that I had that night. I just don't and I make fun of people who say that they do. You see, there isn't a whole lot of ART in my world. I don't think of composed plates or food as art. That's not to say that a ton of thought doesn't go into what makes it to the menu and on the plate. A TON of thought goes into it. I just don't think of it in terms of art. 9 times out of 10 'art food' doesn't taste good at all. It's simply there to gratify the ego of the chef and look like it should hang on the wall of an art gallery. Awesome. Those folks should move to Paris, cut their ears off and paint away.(as an aside, when said folks get to Paris they should make sure to save their euros from painting tourists on the street and get a reso. at Le of my personal favorites)

I think of food in terms of sex. Again, as with other posts, stay with me. Ever held a sun-warmed peach in your hand and thought if you squeezed even a little bit, you'd smash the peach? Do you remember the feeling of biting into that peach?.....warm sun hitting your hair, soft flesh giving beneath pull of your teeth, sweet and flowery juices running down your cheeks. You don't even want a paper towel to wipe off your face. You're content to sit and revel in the beauty of this perfectly ripe, warm peach and all its glory running down your face. Your eyes might roll back in your head. You might black out for a second. This is sexy food.

Another example, please? You got it. How about a steaming bowl of fresh tagliatelle pasta dressed with a lamb shoulder ragu? The first bite of the pasta is a combination of toothsome, egg-laden pasta swirling around in your mouth, coating your tongue and throat. Next comes the earthy, funky lamb ragu, spiked with salty anchovy, sweet tomato, olives and fresh grated lemon peel. The smell rises up toward your nose and instantly transports you to another place. You're not sure where, but you're happy to be there. Each bite of pasta and ragu conspires to put you in the 'eyes rolling in the back of your head'/'pig in shit' place. There's a romance to the pasta and a bold, raw sexiness to the ragu that when put together create amazing music in your mouth.

Go on? Okey dokey. Pierre Herme macaroons. I could stop there, but I won't. Eating one of these macaroons was like, well............Did you ever know the chubby kid in middle school?(Remember, I never self-identify in my blogs.....never) You know the kid. He was the one with his shirt slightly pulled out of his pants because he doesn't like to tuck it in, sitting on the bleachers during the dances desperately trying to look at the girls, but never wanting to make eye contact. Biting into that first Pierre Herme macaroon was like the feeling that chubby kid got when the prettiest girl in school asked him to dance with her.(I honestly have no idea how that feels, I'm guessing here) Sheer, unadulterated bliss. However, biting into the white truffle macaroon was a lot like getting on to the dance floor and stepping all over her delicate size 5 feet. DOINK! Snap back to reality, chubby. The cool thing is there are many more macaroons, so you can have that blissful feeling over and over again. That is......until you get back to the States. They don't ship. Which, incidentally, is like dating an exchange student who goes home after a year and then the best you can do is be 'pen pals'. Whatever.

I could go on, but I won't. You see, I think food and the act of eating well is sexy. I just do. When I'm working on a concept for a dish, I always go back to the idea of 'what does the food want?' Not 'what do I want to do to the food'. That's for those artistic types who I hope move to Paris and paint for a living. It's pointless to take a piece of average at best protein and 'transform' it into something that looks like cold cuts. Where's the sexiness in that? Oscar Mayer already has the market cornered on that one and it's not 'inventive'.

There is a romance to being in a perfectly adorned dining room, gazing at your dining companion and being flat out pampered.(I'm not even going to touch how wine can enhance the evening and I'm not talking about getting drunk.(remove mind from gutter)) Much has been written about the 'death of fine dining'. After huge amounts of thought, beer and consternation, I've come to this conclusion. It's bullshit. Maybe the model needs to be tweaked, but I think people will always want the restorative nature of great restaurants. Maybe we have too many average restaurants now and some of them need to go away. I don't argue with that. However, I will continue to posit that people will always want to be pampered. They will always want the total package. Food, service and ambiance. Consistently done.

Step back and think about your food and what you eat. You might even think it's sexy. Any food can present a sensual experience; it's all in how you source, prepare and present it. What does the food want?????? Maybe nothing at all......

Monday, May 04, 2009


Below I've posted a couple of photos of the new spring menu.....the real treat is two videos I've posted. One is of Alan Taulbee cutting lettuces during dinner service. The second is of Alan cutting lettuces during an afternoon rainstorm. Yes, you read that correctly. DURING dinner. DURING a rainstorm. For a 'simple' green salad. No Activa RM, no synthetic foodstuffs. Just a 'simple' green salad. I put the word simple in quotes because it may seem like a simple idea. However, how many people have had a salad of greens that were cut minutes before they hit the plate? How many restaurants are this fanatical about sourcing(or growing for that matter) ingredients for a 'simple' salad. In the videos, you're going to see the greens we grow on the property. We also use fantastic greens grown and hand cut by Kathy Glahn of Farm to Chef Gettysburg....and, yes, she has specific cutting instructions just for us.

Dedicated to the best foodstuffs? Yes. Special? Yes. A typical day at The Sheppard Mansion? Yes. Enjoy the pics and vids.

Cooked and raw #1 bluefin tuna....minus 8 vinegar.

English Pea ravioli with crawfish, mint beurre blanc and pea tendrils

This final photo shows some of the fantastic ingredients we are currently working with....Tim Brown's Strawberries(these are greenhouse strawberries), morel mushrooms, purple asparagus, ramps, pea tendrils and rhubarb. Awesome stuff.