To be a successful chef, you need to be able to take criticism. This is definitely a field where everyone has an opinion and social media, being what it is, has made those opinions instant, anonymous and for the most part permanent. Thick skin is a must, as is knowing when to blow off an opinion and when to take it constructively.
At the start of my chef career, I took criticism very personally. The older I got and the more secure I got in my cooking style and profession, the easier it became. I realized there were more people who enjoyed what I did than those who did not. I’ll never make every single guest happy, taste as a thing is too subjective, but if the majority approves, then I’ve done well. Whenever I begin to doubt myself that is what I am forced to remember.
Then there are those instances that galvanize my belief in what I do but make me question the general intention of the average diner. The other evening I had two guests seated at the bar. They wanted a quick drink before making their way home, and after perusing the menu, decided to try one of the appetizers. As I frequently do when I’m in the dining room, I inquire about their satisfaction with the dish, I receive rave reviews and a conversation about the menu ensues. Mainly about the white asparagus dish, the guest loves white asparagus and doesn’t usually find it on many restaurant menus. I let her know that the season has ended and I had just received my last case. If she was interested, it wouldn’t be on the menu much longer. They decide they will try it.
I return a little while later to follow up on the dish… grilled white asparagus with shaved prosciutto, meyer lemon dressing, fried quail egg, grana padano and micro herbs. “It’s very good,” is the reply, “but nothing exciting.” I push for more knowing I’m in dangerous territory. “I just felt like I could have made that at home myself.” And there it is, a virtually indefensible comment. Never, as a chef, have I thought about designing dishes that were unable to be recreated at home. I do not explain to her that I spend nearly two hours a week sourcing the white asparagus ($6.60/pound) and even more time painstakingly peeling each stalk. I do not explain the prosciutto ($17.00/pound) is from Italy and that I need a $900 slicer to shave it paper thin. The Grana Padano from Piedmont is another expensive ($8.25/pound) ingredient that we shave with a potato peeler to order. Never mind the meyer lemons ($5.50/pound) we use for the dressing, the individual quail eggs ($.27/each) or the micro herbs ($18.00/4 oz), all of which is prepared and presented artfully for $9.00 on the menu. This I do not explain. I apologize, I thank her for her patronage and I move on knowing that while this will sit with me for the rest of the night, by morning I will have blown it off.
There is very little that cannot be replicated at home anymore. Most of the equipment used in professional kitchens is also available in consumer models such as stick blenders, fryers, sous vide machines and many of the online resources also make hard to find ingredients available to the home cook. There are definitely items and dishes that require a technical expertise and experience, but that shouldn’t deter you from trying to learn and experiment. Chefs do the same thing when using new ingredients or working on new dishes. This Bành Mi is a perfect example of something I had never done before but with a little trial and error, it ended up on my menu and on my website!
While Bánh mì is a Vietnamese term referring to a torpedo –like bread, it has become known in Western cultures as a sandwich filled with any of several cuts of pork, pates and cheeses. One of the most popular street foods across the globe, it is finding a home on many American restaurant menus, including mine. Here is the recipe we use at the restaurant.
Trim the pork of all the excess fat
We will wrap the pork in plastic to shape it and give it a partial freeze to aid in the slicing. We want very thin slices so that it cooks quickly and remains tender.
The freezing will help aid in the slicing by keeping the pork firm enough to easily get a sharp knife through with out having to struggle.
As you roll the loin, pull tightly on the wrap to shape the pork and avoid too many air pockets.
Grip the ends of the plastic wrap and roll the pork until the ends begin to tighten.
Place in the freezer for up to 2 hours.
Remove the pork from the freezer. If it has sat for longer than two hours, you may want to let it temper for thirty minutes so that it is not rock hard.
Slice the pork into 1/8 of an inch medallions. Toss the medallions generously with the pork marinade, allow to sit for an hour then grill over high heat.
2 cups sweet thai chile sauce
½ cup sambal olek
¼ cup soy sauce
Combine the ingredients and mix well.
Coconut Lime Dressing
1 Tbs. garlic, minced
1 oz vegetable oil
1 can coconut milk (I like the Chaokoh)
2 limes, 1 zested and both juiced
1 tsp. kosher salt
1. Heat the vegetable oil in a small sauce pot over medium low heat.
2. Add the garlic and lightly fry until it begins to stick to the pan and turn golden.
3. Add the coconut milk and zest of one lime.
4. Increase the heat to medium-high and simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
5. Remove from heat and add the juice of both limes and salt.
6. Cool to room temperature and reserve for service
For the sandwich
A 24” baguette ancienne cut into four 6” pieces (four 6” French rolls will also work well)
2 cups shredded green cabbage
1 bunch cilantro
Pickled jalapenos, for garnish (optional but it does provide a nice kick on the sandwich)
1. Slice the baguette open lengthwise and remove some of the breading from the top side of the roll taking care to leave the crust intact.
2. Place 5 oz. of the prepared pork on the roll, top with cabbage, 1-2 oz of the coconut lime dressing, the pickled jalapeños (optional) and several sprigs of cilantro.