Monday, April 28, 2008

UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE

During a recent visit to the University of New Hampshire, the students and the pastry chef went all out by presenting me with a stunning White House replica made from pastillage (a sugar based dough intended for decorative and showpiece pastry work). It was obvious that the project was carefully crafted and detailed by fine artists.

The White House gift coincided with an invitation that I received from the Hospitality Management Department for an event called Meet The Chef. I really enjoy these types of events because I get the opportunity to greet and encourage students in their various cooking endeavors.

While I was at the University, I gave a presentation and was also treated to three different meal periods in three different dining facilities. Executive Chef Ralph Coughenour and his staff did a phenomenal job recreating numerous White House style recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The last meal was a steak dinner. The dinner was attended by 24 students who won guest seating through a raffle.
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If you would like a good basic recipe for pastillage you can find it here. If you would just like to see what can be done with pastillage, check out these photos from the 2007 National Pastry Championships here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

THE NEW YORK TIMES

The New York Times called me last week and asked me to comment on the recent controversy regarding Cindy McCain and the Food Network "Family Recipes" in an Op-Ed piece. Quite frankly, I was pleasantly surprised that the NY Times contacted me. It's something I would have never expected. Needless to say, it was a pleasure to write the editorial and have it published.

In case you missed it, here is yesterday's April 20, 2008 column as it appeared in the NY Times:

Hail To The Chef

THE long association between first ladies — or those aspiring to the role — and recipes was thrust into the headlines recently when it was discovered that recipes attributed to Cindy McCain on her husband’s campaign Web site were lifted, verbatim, from the Food Network. (A campaign spokesman attributed this seeming act of plagiarism to an intern.)

I ought to be the last person to question this preoccupation with first families’ dining habits, since it helped propel me to a certain kind of prominence when Hillary Clinton hired me to be White House chef in 1994. But I confess that I have often wondered why we are fascinated not just with what our presidents and their families eat, but what they cook.

Let’s make one thing clear: first families don’t get to the White House because of their cooking. True, in one episode of the TV show “The West Wing,” there’s a federal government shutdown, the chefs are not at work and the first lady cooks dinner. But that’s, well, television.

With the exception of Chelsea Clinton, whom I taught to cook before she left for college, I rarely if ever saw the first families I served use the White House kitchen. And from what other White House chefs have told me, I’m not alone.

The truth of the matter is that while presidents’ families will occasionally provide the chef with a family recipe or one clipped from a magazine or borrowed from a Web site, for the most part, they have much more on their minds than what to put on the table every night.

And while we’re on the subject, isn’t the whole thing a tad sexist? I don’t believe that anyone has asked Bill Clinton what he’ll be looking for in a chef should his wife become president or what he’ll serve at his first state dinner. (As his family’s former chef, I can’t resist affectionately suggesting that this is probably for the best, given his predilection for comfort food.) And, as far as I know, no one has asked him for a cookie recipe.

As a chef, I understand how food can be a powerful political symbol. (Remember when George H. W. Bush used to make a point of saying he loved pork rinds?) But if there’s one thing I learned in the White House it’s that the dining habits of our first families aren’t all that revealing. After the Clintons left the White House, I stayed on for the first four years of the Bush administration and was surprised to see how similar were Mrs. Clinton’s and Laura Bush’s tastes: though very different women, they both liked Southwestern cuisine and spicy foods and ate relatively healthfully. Just about the only thing that’s changed in the menu is Mrs. Bush’s insistence on organic products — much to her husband’s surprise.

It’s been said over and over that this is a sea-change campaign — a black man or a woman could be our next president. So in the spirit of this change, let’s make another world-changing vow: let’s stop pretending our politicians and their families all own well-thumbed copies of “The Fannie Farmer Cookbook,” and let’s stop, once and for all, asking them for favorite family recipes.

When it comes to seeking clues about what lies in the hearts and minds of the candidates, there are better places to look than their palates — and their recipes.

Walter Scheib is the author of “White House Chef: Eleven Years, Two Presidents, One Kitchen.”

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PHOTOGRAPH by Kiyomi

Friday, April 18, 2008

DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA

Once a sleepy and slightly seedy town, Delray Beach, is all grown up. The city has undergone a large-scale renovation. For the last several years a master plan has been in the works. The plan has infused new life into the city while preserving its village-like character. Times have changed since I was the executive chef at the nearby Boca Raton Resort and Club (1986-1990).

Delray Beach is now a vibrant town filled with art galleries, upscale bars, restaurants, clubs, and tons of progressive urbanites. It is a stark contrast from the sedate stability of Palm Beach or Boca Raton. It is really quite funky and a lot of fun.

The open-air market is one of the most popular Saturday morning attractions of the city. It’s called the Delray GreenMarket in the Park. The producers describe it as offering “off-the-vine produce, just-picked citrus, fragrant baked goods, fresh cut flowers, blooming plants, and unique taste treats.” It is definitely a first rate market.

After having fun at the market during the day I enjoyed the nightlife by the beach. I stepped into Boston’s right across the street from the ocean and happened to catch Amber Leigh. She is an exceptional country singer who puts on a great show. Amber sings like a bird and plays a mean violin and mandolin. Her music was a great way to relax and enjoy the evening. Amberleigh.com

Delray Beach was a great place to visit. I'm glad the folks at the Cultural Arts Center invited me to take part in their 2008 Delray Beach Lecture Series. Speakers for the series included Arnaud de Borchgrave (president and CEO of United Press International) and Iris Apfel (fashion, textile, and interior design legend). You can check out more of Delray Beach’s future guest speakers at oldschool.org.

Photographs by Jaibem - flickr.com/photos/expresiones/

Friday, April 4, 2008

SPRING AT THE FARMER'S MARKET

Spring fever is not just the anecdotal musings of poets and lovers. It is a real condition intelligently designed to correspond with the lengthening of days. It is predicated by a dramatic seasonal change that affects our moods and behaviors, while giving us a source of renewed energy. The onset of spring provides a ripe atmosphere to rediscover new textures, tastes, and scents that will ultimately wake up our hibernating palates. I find that there is no better place for us to experience this feverish phenomenom than at the Farmer's Market.

As I have the opportunity, I explore local Farmer's Markets for continual renewal and inspiration. New crops are as abundant as nerve endings on a pair of fingers. One can savor asparagus, fava beans, fresh dandelions, baby greens mixes, English snowpeas, morels, broccolini, green garlic, rhubarb, baby carrots, and fiddlehead ferns. Although I have worked with these ingredients in the past, I take the time to converse with market folks and farmers to get educated about their specialties. Inquiries sometimes lead to amazing discoveries such as learning that milk and cheese tend to have a higher fat content when cattle and goats are birthing during spring. Immediately I think-wine pairings! My mind trails into thoughts of emerald green risotto and fresh crumbled goat cheese served with a perfectly balanced glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

The farmer’s market is the one place where indulgence is king and weight gain is never an issue. In fact, it’s a pleasure to see the back of the produce truck stacking a little higher and the market scales hanging a little lower. Each stall takes on a fat and blissful disposition –- a far cry from the lean tables of winter. Stop off at the flower lady’s booth and you’ll see how she replaces pomegranates, junipers, and roses for softer and much fuller arrangements of lavender, lilacs, sweet peas, and tulips. Continue to follow your nose and it won’t be long before you’re surrounded by the sweet fragrance of the quintessential strawberry. If you like details, do a little time capsule study with the regal artichoke. Watch closely over the course of a few weeks and you’ll see how its bronzed outer coat (protection from the frost) is exchanged for olive green. Finally, treat yourself to a generous portion of antibiotic-free pork or spring lamb from your local farmer; then pick up your favorite bottle of Bordeaux to go with it.

PHOTOGRAPHY by KIYOMI