Monday, October 16, 2006

More on Bread Baking

I have been thinking about bread - again. My home oven sucks. I can't have a wood oven in my business because of the age and construction of the building. The required vent system would equal the budget of a small country. With all you geniuses out there, is there no one who is a thermo-engineer who can make a LIGHT WEIGHT material oven lining that would be easily removeable when not needed? There is one out there that is NOT light weight that I have never used and do not want to spend all that money to try. It also looks small but I have never seen one up close.

Most bread needs about 450 degrees F. so there is stove power but the evenness, and just the quality of heat is lacking in almost all home ovens. If you could maintain the heat and keep it even some breads baked at home could be edible. I have tried tiles in my oven, some fire bricks and dark thick sheet pans. None are as good as the wood oven with the stone floor I used to have.

I am also working on a good proofing box. I thought of making a clean wood box with a light bulb in it and a good thermometer. Even a big box would be portable, and I even thought for apartment dwellers with no space for storage, maybe it could be collapsable or easily re-assembled when needed. It could be stored under the bed in the meantime. What do you think?

Le me know if there is a solution to the thermal lining thing. We can join forces and not only encourage more bread baking at home, but we might might make a little money. Gates and Buffet have too much of it and I'll bet anything I have that neither of them has a wood oven at home. If they would just give me some money I would gladly supply them with bread.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

More on Michelin

Well, now that I have finshed my class at Tante Marie's Cooking school in San Francisco where I did a Tuscan radish salad with pecorino fresco (what a hit that was), roasted mixed vegetables (even bigger hit and looking like a renaissance still-life painting) with diced potatoes, beets, whole cloves of garlic, carrots, whole shallots, chanterelle mushrooms, tiny button crimini mushrooms, fresh sage and rosemary all bathed in extra virgin olive oil, umbrian quail stuffed with herbs and pancetta and braised with white wine and John Whitman's red flame and Thompson grapes (John is my sister Dee's fiance and has a farm in Fresno), and let's not forget dessert! Florentine Apple cake - yum. I love teaching and wish I could have my old job back as an instructor and demo teacher at the California Culinary Academy. Actually, I'd like a teaching job at a small school with fewer students in the class. The ideal job I really wanted at a small school is not available to me (and probably never will be) was given away under my nose. So much for "tight" friends and collegues.

OK. Michelin Guide. I railed about it in my last blog, but bless them, they are trying to get into the vast American market and probably felt there was room for them, too, along with Gayot and Zagat among many others including Patty Unterman's excellent book San Francisco Food Lover's Guide. Even though I hate to admit it, many of us restaurateurs in S.F. have a goodly portion of business from travelers, and I don't mean just the ones from the city next to us. We like to think we are "local" and our clentele adore us and keep coming back. While this is partly true it is also true that with a popolation of roughly 750,000 people and well over 4.000 restaurants, making us the second (I challenge this) most restaurant-dense city after New York, that is far to few people and far too many restaurants to make a viable market. God bless the travelers and tourists - at Vivande we get lots of travelers and not so surprizingly we get a tremendous percentage of Europeans and Asians. I think they are looking for more of what they get at home than the "latest" word on food. Remember, Michelin is international, and once they have slipped into the Bay Area market, quite a number of foreign travelers will look to them for guidance on where to eat when they come to visit us. This should pump book sales for Michelin.

You food critics out there - heed this: I still think there needs to be more emphasis on the preparation of the food and less on its source and the architectural ambience of the space. Don't we have anough "shelter" magazines out there already? Do we need to know that the puce walls did not go over well with the critic while he was eating his brilliant green sauteed spinach and thought the puce would have been better with blood sausage? I once ate caviar and champagne and strawberries and choclate truffles served out of the trunk of a friend's car in Golden Gate Park. I never once complained about the "ambiance" of the trunk, or of the cypress and pine tree umbrella overhead - I thought it was damn good eats, and the air and natural canopy was terrific. Also, those lunches on summer Sundays at Stern Grove hearing fine music - free - that was damn good eats too.

Anyhow, in over 4,000 San Francisco restaurants (not the Bay Area itself) to find that Vivande is one of the 192 listed but with no banana (star - excuse me), it is nice to know Michelin did in fact do its homework. The big complaint about Michelin was there was a lot of typo erros and factual errors. Reading the local papers is not much better yet they do not criticize themselves (go figure). But when Michelin in France can come and find Carlo and Lisa Middione at Vivande and say something true that is also very nice means I can't fault them - only praise them. This is more than our local "press" is doing for us. They know we exist but will be damned rather than give us a nod. Go figure again. It is true, then, isn't it that you have to leave home to be appreciated in your own hometown. So Michelin did it for us among deserving others. Thank you Michelin.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Michelin Guide Ratings

Well. It is out. I have a lot to say about this "rating", as in who the hell is Michelin? And what have they done for understanding ingredients and taste. If you could resurrect the late, great Fernande Pointe of La Pyramid and took away the sterling silver service, the handblown glasses and the table linen woven by virgins in some remote island you would still have exquisite cooking, but no banana - at least not 3, 2 or even 1.

When cooking became a sport (competition - and remember, if there is a winner there is a loser), and show biz (good example: the Food Network which proves you CAN cook with clowns), there went the LAST hand craft in common use in the U.S. If you think cooking is not a valid craft, think about this: When did you have your last shirt sewed for YOU? When did you have your shoes cobbled for YOU? When did you last have your dining room chairs carved for YOU? Even if you go into a breakfast joint, a lot of things are made from scratch (unless you are eating on the cheap out of necessity or miserliness and go to places that use off-prem food service dishes such as frozen waffles, etc.) such as pancakes with batter made on-prem, eggs cooked to order using real butter or real olive oil, and coffee brewed with a good machine and real coffee as opposed to colored hot water.

Oh, yes. I have a lot to say - so stay tuned. I am off to teach yet another class at Tante Marie's in San Francisco, my 27th year of doing so. You will have to wait just a bit until I recover and catch my breath and then Michelin here we go.

Oh. Remember that Michelin Guide was started for people who were using the automobile in its infancy and needed to know where to stop to get vittles. This should give you a clue.