These Old Shoes

 Chef shoes  Little umbrellas for feet Stronger than plastic wrap Tougher than burlap. Made for the kitchen, no good for sitting Run a mile round and round,  In the cooler, climb up, then down. Spray them with Armor All Protects like a coverall More lustrous than a Cadillac Or truffle duck fat fries For a Scooby snack. Skechers, clogs, Birkenstocks  find a shoe that fits your price  Rubber molds for your feet  Cushioned insoles to absorb the heat A pit bull’s grip – they never slip Like a feather in Hercules’ grip. We love these shoes, but cannot lie: A barefoot chef is happiest.    

Beer With Me

It was as natural as eating and, to me, as necessary. I would not have thought of eating a meal without drinking a beer.” Ernest Hemingway The world is divided into two categories of people: those who drink alcohol and those who won’t. Whatever your viewpoint on alcohol and its effects, people will continue to drink – even as others tread  the path of sobriety. I like to drink beer, you prefer apple juice – and that’s fine. It’s freedom of choice that makes us unique individuals. But to deny yourself the chance to enjoy the guilty pleasures of this great world is to spend a lifetime with a brown paper bag on your head. With luck and perhaps a small dose of fortitude, your gastronomic adventures will lead you to a slice of foie gras seared medium rare with caramelized bananas and brioche,  or the salty clean taste of the ocean from a fresh shucked oyster. Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.”  Dave Barry Personally, I like beer, it’s an unpretentious drink made from four simple ingredients – grain, hops, yeast and water. When combined and allowed to ferment, the result is a slightly effervescent alcoholic beverage which can be bought at any convenience store, supermarket, gas station, pub or restaurant. The bottle is easily opened. Twist the cork with your thumb and […]

On Working &
shrimp coctail

Some people like to paint pictures, or do gardening, or build a boat in the basement. Other people get a tremendous pleasure out of the kitchen, because cooking is just as creative and imaginative an activity as drawing, or wood carving, or music.  –  Julia Child I try to post at least once a week on PhotoChefs. Usually it takes at least five days of thought, writing, pictures and editing before I’m satisfied with the published content. In my initial research on food blogs, I bought two books on the subject: Blogging for Dummies, and another…. I can’t remember the name.  They recommended posting as often as twice weekly to build content and keep readers interested.  I also spent quite a bit of time studying the design, look  and content of the most popular food blogs:, chocolate and zucchini, Chez Pim, Orangette. A common thread among the authors of most food blogs: most of them DO NOT WORK IN PROFESSIONAL KITCHENS. Many have the time and money to travel the world, eating and blogging about famous chefs and  restaurants. I appreciate and sometimes envy their ability to dine in places you and I can only dream about. For most readers (including myself), these sites allow us to be voyeurs on a restricted budget. To know that they were there – at El Bulli in Spain, The French Laundry in the United States, Noma in Denmark–  and were thoughtful enough to let us share their experience through words and pictures is a privilege. Ninety percent of the time, I’m the person […]

Diverse Impressions of a Passionate Cook’s State of Mind Eating New Orleans Soul Food – Part II

The swamp gives life and it takes life. This primordial cycle is simple, brutal and unforgiving: the laws of nature rigidly enforced in a lonely landscape painted pastel colors of green, blue, and gray. The heat, humidity and mosquitoes rise from the swamp to assault human inhabitants with unbridled ferocity.  They state the obvious: “You Are Not Wanted, Stay Out”. This vast expanse of marshland is interspersed with bodies of brackish water, cypress trees, Spanish moss, marsh grasses, vines, palmettos and irises. It is wild, pristine, harsh and beautiful. The marsh is teeming with life – crayfish, frogs, snakes, turtles, catfish, snowy egrets, blue herons, pelicans and alligators.  The city of New Orleans stands as a solitary fortress in the middle of this alien landscape. Its citizens have erected barriers of concrete, roads and highways along with the trappings of human habitation to keep the swamp at bay. But Mother Nature is an implacable adversary. The swamp is hers, and all who choose to live in it must eventually bend to her will. “What is born of me, shall return to my bosom, and the earth will shelter and provide shade in this, our final resting place.” As the citizens of New Orleans are nudged closer to deaths’ embrace, The City of the Dead waits patiently to house them. Rows and rows of concrete tombs bleached white by the sun stand as testament to the futility of fighting the cosmos. In the years 1787 and 1788, New Orleanians suffered and died by the […]

No Cooks for Christmas

Imagine if all the cooks in every restaurant kitchen disappeared on Christmas Eve. What if Santa finally granted our truest wish? No alarms would ring. No flashing yellow lights. A puff of air.  A whispering wind. Walk a mile in our shoes on Christmas night and taste regret. A rough night for cooks and servers: two hundred confirmed reservations, all here to celebrate and share the holiday with family and friends. The dining room is filled with a mélange of well-dressed socialites with deep pockets and a thirst for fine champagne. The adrenaline level is high as the house band competes with the clatter of sauce pans and the rattle of plates rapidly filling the pass. The kitchen is humid and our jackets soak up the sweat. Try to keep up with the constant chirping of the ticket printer. It’s approaching midnight, and tempers flare as tired knees and elbows ready for the final push. Our chef, expediting all night, struggles to remain calm. Frantic servers try to squeeze by at the pass. “Ok, guys… fire the ten top, I want three amuse bouches for table 52, make that six all day.” “I need a mushroom risotto to sell this deuce on 60, gimme that risotto now!” What goes through the mind of a cook when the chef is screaming? Mangoes, apples, pears…. Are they pleasant thoughts?   The sauté cook seeks frantically for the pan with extra risotto from a previous ticket. He shoves another pan to the back, cranks the heat up, zaps […]

Diverse Impressions of a Passionate Cook’s State of Mind Eating New Orleans Soul Food – Part I

This has probably been the hardest post for me to write. I’ve sat with these beautiful  pictures for months, thinking on how best to put my experience in New Orleans into words. How do I describe the quiet majesty of the Mississippi River? It’s easy to imagine how commerce and trade and eventually towns and cities  sprouted along its banks. The streams I knew as a child were easy to ford and were only good for swimming with the help of a bamboo pole as a raft. I grew up with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer  by Mark Twain. I’ve traveled this river a thousand times in my imagination, but never had the opportunity to see it for myself. I can only show you some of the things I’ve seen and hope that each picture is worth a thousand words. Sitting on the pier taking these pictures brought images of Forrest Gump and river boats and shrimping.  Finally, I was able to appreciate the love great authors had for this river. Crayfish… by the pound, boiled with a blend of spices and sold in the local corner store. I quickly learned that some of the best food that the city had to offer was to be found in the little neighborhood stores. In New Orleans, corner stores sell everything from crayfish to cigarettes, and that’s just aisle C. These critters were delicious, but only if you were willing to spend the time extracting the meat from the body. In true New Orleans style, take the head and drain the juices […]

Stewed Okra Sunny Side Up and Other Recipes from Below the Mason –Dixon Line
Stewed Okra

Shame on the inattentive cook who cooks okra to death.  But not today: Grandma Davis’ okra stew is delicious. Grandma has a few okra plants along the siding of her house, enough for a steady supply of this vibrant green Southern staple. A relative of hibiscus, okra is a hardy flowering plant in Grandma Davis’ New Orleans garden. Okra grows easily from seeds planted in good earth bathed in sunlight and water daily. When the plant has matured, take time to sit and watch as yellow blossoms unfurl, as delicate as butterfly wings greeting the rising sun. Scrumptious pods follow the flowers with a regularity that ensures Grandma’s cheerful disposition. I repeat, okra is scrumptious. Today, we are having stewed okra, fried chicken, potato salad and steamed brown rice for dinner. Outside the screen door and down two steps  from the porch, Grandma is filling a small Tupperware container with okra pods. Each long and tapered lady’s finger seems perfectly ripe, fat with sunshine and juicy with the flavor of green growing things. Okra Sunny Side Up Try Grandma Davis’  recipe for stewed okra sunny side up with good cheer and hearty appetite.  Select 20 young okra pods that are tender but not soft and without bruise or blemish. The juiciest pods are those less than four inches in length. You’ll also need 2 large globe tomatoes, the riper the better. The acid from tomatoes keeps the okra from becoming slimy when cooked. Gather your other ingredients: A single green sweet pepper ½ a Spanish onion A large […]

Collard Greens and Other Recipes from Below the Mason–Dixon Line

Fresh collard greens can be found at your local farmers market year-round, but they are tastiest in the cooler, damper months. Usually quite cheap, this slightly bitter member of the cabbage family is classic  Southern comfort food. The dark green leaves have graced the dining tables of the South for many a generation. In my kitchen, “collards” are a side dish on our menu. I cooked them for months as a part of my station prep. At work, cooking collard greens started with sautéed applewood smoked bacon and Spanish onions. Pork – and the flavor of it – is an integral ingredient in this dish; in fact, the pig and its by-products feature prominently in Southern cooking. To this basic mirepoix of sorts, the greens are added and allowed to sweat until they eventually shrink about 1/3 in size.  Apple cider vinegar and chicken stock are added, and the greens are allowed to braise for an hour until tender. Season with salt and pepper; scoop them into a 4-inch hotel pan, label date and time with masking tape. Is it good? My chef says it’s an acquired taste, and I certainly agree with him. That’s  why I’m not posting the recipe from work.  I want you to cook collard greens and eat them and enjoy them as I did. This post is about Grandma Davis’ recipe from New Orleans. I’m sharing her home cooking with you, as she showed me how to prepare it. Buy three bundles of collard greens from the farmers market or supermarket. […]

S is for Sweet Potato – and Other Recipes from Below the Mason –Dixon Line

“S is for Sad… And for the mysterious appetite that often surges in us when our hearts seem about to break and our lives seem too bleakly empty. Like every other physical phenomenon, there is always good reason for this hunger if we are blunt enough to recognize it.” M.F.K Fisher, An Alphabet for Gourmets S is for sweet potato. And the alphabet is made richer for its inclusion. There is no sorrow in the letter S when it’s a tuber with parched, rust-tinged skin, uneven in shape and unassuming in appearance. But underneath that blotchy exterior lies flesh saturated with a nut-like sweetness and bright orange vibrancy. It was man’s inquisitiveness (and most certainly the pangs of hunger) that led to the discovery of what nature tried so hard to hide. The tubers of the sweet potato vine, buried secretively among roots and earthworms, were no match for man’s primal driving force… Hunger.  As a  cook, I am indebted to the eager gourmet who, armed with sticks for digging, pried this edible treasure from the clutches of the earth. This member of the morning glory family originated in South America and was spread through the New World by Christopher Columbus.  Sweet potato tastes even sweeter when heat and flame turn the tuber into candied yam deliciousness. I love to prepare this side dish as part of a big Sunday dinner spread; it brings back childhood memories. Sunday meant helping my mom make crispy roast chicken with homemade barbecue sauce… rice and […]

Ghost in the Kitchen – Part 2
mac & cheese

Click here to read Part 1 “I bought another book today.” “Where, on eBay?” “Yes.” Christian shifts in his seat to face her. “Could you please… slow down.” She sucks air between her teeth, “Relax.” Silence. “I’m not speeding. And why waste money on books? No one reads like that anymore.” “I do.” His hands betray his annoyance at her tone and he deliberately turns his head toward the oncoming lights. “Do you?” “It’s old-fashioned.” His jaw tightens. The tail lights of a tractor-trailer wink in and out of the darkness. “Ten years ago, kitchens used real recipes to make food. Back then I used to cook – with real vegetables that still had dirt on them. I used a real knife and a cutting board and made salads with real lettuce and dressing.” His voice grows quiet as he utters the last syllable. Unbidden, an image of him wearing a chef’s jacket surfaces. His next sentence comes out in a rush, “Now it’s just a matter of mixing one flavor strip with the next.” She grips the steering wheel more tightly and the car speeds up. Christian sighs and says, “Celia, let the GPS take us home.” “No.” “Why are you so stubborn? Let the computer do what it was programmed to do. He reaches out and strokes her cheek.  “I promise… promise to stop living in the past.” Celia allows the tension to leave her shoulders. “It’s just that sometimes, I feel as if you’re trying to make the […]