what if i told you...
by craig hutchinson 4/25/17
What if I told you the reality of restaurants? What if I told you what commodity was? What if I just ruined it right here, right now? Would you be upset? Would you think I'm the bad guy? Would you change?
We all know what fast food is made from... I say nuggets, you say bird parts. I say burger, you say cowspiracy. I say fish sandwich, you have no idea what it is or where it's from. SO, instead you decide for lunch you'll go to the sandwich shop down the street. It's owned by a couple who lives down the street from you. A family business. Something I love to support personally. You decide to get a grilled chicken sandwich with cheddar cheese, spinach, and some mayo. Fuck it, some grilled onions too, they're only $.99 extra! Total comes to $7.50, because you got the roll, not the sub - I'm trying to lose weight... shhhhhh....
What if I told you the difference between what you just ordered and what you could have at fast food is not too far off? Let's put out the obvious here so that you stop thinking of me as the asshole, ALWAYS SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESS OVER CORPORATE. Ok, now that you know where I stand on that, let's focus on food. You got the grilled chicken, which may have been delivered in three different forms: 1) frozen grilled chicken breast, 2) raw chicken breast, or 3) a whole bird. Considering the price of your sandwich that did not include a bag of chips or a drink, I'm going to go ahead and assume they are not butchering their chickens in house as the labor would cause the price of the sandwich to be closer to $10 (remember, the onions were $.99). So that leaves us with frozen grilled chicken breast or raw chicken breast. The frozen is essential fast food with the same large farms, same large slaughter houses, same purchasers, same sales guys, same preservatives, and same garbage product. "We'll my sandwich shop only gets fresh! You talk about how we should eat fresh all the time, so what's your problem?" Yes, fresh is better than frozen, BUT the question remains what was that bird? What did it eat? How little room did it have to walk around? How was it slaughtered? How was the meat treated after it was slaughtered? Did a machine cut it up? How long ago did this process start? Was the chicken selling well at the sandwich shop, or was it a special and grilled from a marinade? 7/10 times a restaurant is getting its chicken from the same chicken company called Mountaire, 2/10 are getting something like a Purdue, and 1/10 are getting Bell & Evans. I have butchered whole chickens from Mountaire (with all their broken rib cages, and snapped thighs, missing wings, etc.) as well as boning out thighs or cleaning breast or what have you... There is a distinct smell that comes off of them. It's not good. Purdue doesn't have that because, well... I'm sure they just dunk that shit in bleach before it gets to you. And I know your sandwich shop is not using Bell & Evans because boneless, skinless chicken breast of that quality is about $3 a breast wholesale, meaning that sandwich shop ran out of money a lonnnnggggg time ago! So, that's just the chicken breast, mmmmmm Mountaire.
What if I told you cheddar cheese at a sandwich shop is no better than American cheese? Screw it, lets just call it Velveeta with added flavor. "But it's Boar's Head!", OHHHHHH, ok. In that case you must buy all brand names with good advertising. Boar's Head and all other leading deli meat or cheese companies need to put additives into their product to give it shelf life. The cows that they are getting their milk from, you think they are living the dream? "But it's from Vermont..." Cool. Fun fact. Doesn't mean that all cow's that live in Vermont aren't chained to a pole, eating grains grown with tons of chemicals, and milked dry until they are of no use. The spinach you ordered, I highly doubt the trucks of food showing up to this establishment are going to be carrying product that is much different than was has been mentioned above. Meaning you're onions are shit too. Definitely tossed those in some canola oil that has a process to it that I'M still trying to wrap my head around.
Then the roll. It's just a roll. The process of creating the grains that go into that one roll, the simple kaiser roll or potato bun or whatever the fuck it is. Grains need tons of nutrition from the earth and large grain farms don't have the 7 years to rotate their crops in order to organically await nutrients to replenish. So instead of buying more land to grow in different stages and take a revenue hit, they take the shortcut. The cheap cut. The polluting our planet way around the top. They fertilize the soil with high levels of nitrogen (unique to the crop). What if I told you that nitrogen easily soaks its way down through the soil and can contaminate water? So not only is the earth taking in too much nitrogen in concentrated areas, but it is also affecting all the soil around the wheat farm. But at least the farm can grow the same crop over and over and over again year after year while still making the same amount of money. Oh, don't forget that that shitty wheat grown at that factory... gets milled at such a high speed and then sits around for so long that either bleach (or something like it) is added to it to make it shelf stable, or it is just rotten wheat that gets made into bread anyway. Trust me. Walk down the bread aisle at the grocery store, you'll smell it. It's horrifying.
I don't want to break down the mayonnaise, and I don't think you want me to either.
What if I told you this shit is true? That your fresh sandwich that you purchased over the fast food restaurant was a lesser of the two evils. It's devastating. It breaks my heart. And I'm talking about 9/10 restaurants are like this. The 10% that are better, not many are actually working with local farms. They just buy the Bell & Evans and charge more money with better branding. So now what? How do we get around this?
Aside from being totally committed and trying to live off the land, which is a full time job, just be aware. I know I'm dedicating a career to trying to get more markets to carry more organic and people to know why it's better not just for themselves and their own bodies, but for the health of all of us and generations to come. We have totally lost perspective on where our food comes from. What our food is fed. How it is marketed to us. We need to be educated. Just do your best, continue to support your local sandwich shop. Continue to shop out of the fresh produce section of the supermarket. Cook more for yourself and don't leave it up to restaurants to feed you some bullshit that you shouldn't be paying for. What if I told you that I'm ready for change?
a year in review
by craig hutchinson 12/13/16
Brush some cobwebs off of my keyboard. What a hectic year! I feel like I mention this quite a lot on the blog, but did you know that opening a restaurant would be difficult? I mean, think about the amount of restauranteurs that take money and basically piss it all away with poorly executed restaurant openings, bad service, and sub par food. I really thought that if they could do it, I'd have no problem. I have so many great people in my corner, so much knowledge about food, i love to drink and go out and enjoy restaurants/bars... and yet there was one thing I never thought about. I had no idea how to get people to want to go to a restaurant! Even the shitty restauranteurs with their bleh in house products know how to do that! I spent so much time with my head up my ass thinking that I was better and therefore invincible to failure. I totally forgot to take into account what makes a restaurant successful: asses in seats.
This past May I moved to Worcester, MA for a month after walking away from a really terrible lease that could've potentially put me in a financial choke-hold and caused my business to fail. I went into the opening of Deadhorse Hill with a big ego that I knew numbers behind the business and I could out cook the competition. My friends Sean and Jared (the owners of DHH) admittedly knew nothing about the numbers side and were figuring it out on the fly. I one time asked Jared what his break even was per night to cover all of his labor, utilities, and product costs. HIs response is one I'll never forget, "If we're busy, it doesn't matter." Alllllright, that's a very ignorant response as a business owner. I shook my head thinking he's an idiot. The irony of it all is that I was the ignorant one. He was right (kinda, I mean, you should know that number and always be on top of your numbers... but stay with me)! As long as you can figure out how to pack the place, the rest should fall into place. Sean spent so much time calling, emailing, and drinking with well known people in Worcester throughout the opening. His networking skills are amazing! Late one night in the unopened dining room, Sean turned to me and goes, "Hutch, I started a fucking rumor that I was opening a restaurant and now everyone knows... EVERYONE! I told people I was the owner of Worcester's new best restaurant and bar." Opening night was packed. First week was packed. They are packed!! It's been the better half of a year and that restaurant is filled with happy patrons who get to enjoy a new dining experience in a town that previously had little to no food scene. And they are successful. Making money in year one!
After my month commitment to DHH, I moved to Park Slope, Brooklyn to be a part of the very talented team, Gristmill. The talent wasn't just in the kitchen or bar, it was on the business side led by two very successful businessmen. I was exposed to a level of detail I didn't know existed. I thought my business plan was tight, sheeesh. This made me look like a kindergardener finger painting. I became lost in hitting numbers in food cost and labor. Skipping orders when I could, preserving anything for the wintertime so that we could drop costs later. Rewriting the schedule so I would work longer hours and produce all the food in house so that kitchen labor could drop. The menu was constantly being edited so that I could get the guests to order more expensive dishes with better food cost. I even got to the point that old wine was made into vermouth and re-sold at a better profit margin! And yet, through all of this there was one simple question that the owner and I had a hard time answering in a concise and articulate way to the media and our guests; What is Gristmill? In my mind, Gristmill was a restaurant you could sit down and enjoy a great fucking meal with some kick ass alcohols. Wait, that's not enough anymore? Ok, we are a wood fired American restaurant that focused on farm to table and features great grains through a pizza program. Ohhh, I get it. We are a confused restaurant with a bar that has no ties to the food menu and the food menu has no real direction to it. Just writing all of this, I'm confused. I can't imagine how you the reader feels at this point.
MY POINT IS... if you can't tell your target market what the fuck you do, then they are not interested in paying money to find out. Mystery is not a selling point. McDonald's is a fast food burger chain. Caseus will give you a cheese covered experience. Bear's Smokehouse gives you BBQ. Union League Cafe very clearly presents a French fine dining experience. A potential customer can wrap their head around this before they walk through the door. When they look at the menu. When they promote their experience to fellow friends. One sentence that defines you clearly. "Wood fired American restaurant...." doesn't do it. But, "Worcester's new best restaurant and bar" says a lot. That sounds like a place I want to try. It doesn't matter how well you prepare the numbers if you can't tell anyone what they will be buying.
Great food matters. Same with service, drinks, ambience, hospitality, the extra mile, yada yada. But being clear on what you are selling the public matters way more. That's how you get someone in a seat for the first time. If I can get them in a seat once, there's a good chance the quality of my staff and ingredients will get them back again.
I want to open New Haven's best pasta restaurant. Start spreading the rumor.
by craig hutchinson 4/7/16
Now, I know what you might be thinking with a title like "being smart". If you know me or read how many grammatical errors there are in this blog then you know it's not about my intelligence. However, I am coming to find out that there is a lot more to being smart than the ability to memorize an equation, have a large vocabulary, or quantifiable measurements such as IQ testing. Maybe this is called common sense? But how to you problem solve while being so passionate about something? Passion can cloud vision.
The vision is a restaurant. A restaurant made of raw materials. Simple to the eye yet complex in structure. Much like the food I'd like to be serving - rigatoni bolognese with zest and calabrian chili - simple, yet the flavors are complex. I want to be able to bridge the gap between fine dining and comfort and I know how important the venue is to making that happen. There is a possibility it's more important than the food and wine that is served. So becoming passionate about this space is something that I can't blame myself for. On top of that, my frustration builds and builds every day I'm not closer to seeing this dream come to life.
I feel as though the first step to being smart is surrounding yourself with people who are... smart. Well, duh! Surrounding myself with those who aren't driven by finding a space that is necessarily the picture I have in my mind is pivotal. "Never fall in love with a location". I've been told that too many times. I hate hearing it, but it's so true. Falling in love with a location is the kiss of death. The phrase, "Where do I sign" is usually said way too early in the process. Having someone in my ear reminding me gives me the delusion that I'm smart, which is good enough.
I know this is a business first, passion second kind of industry. Without the business, you can't let the passion flow out. It's important to stay focused on the numbers - start-up costs, operating costs, costs, costs, costs... - and at times hard to stay focused on the food. The real challenge in it all - not letting others push you around. I have a vision for how to help change the food scene in CT. I have some great ideas on how to make restaurants more dependent on local produce. Some people have tried to stand in my way or pull that in another direction - and that's not smart. I'll find a way to accomplish my goals. I'll surround myself with the appropriate people to do so. There is a location out there that can be home to the roots I'm trying to plant. I'm hoping to announce it soon, but there are some people who think they are smart that are making this harder than it needs to be.
The bigger picture
by craig hutchinson 3/2/16
It's hard to remember that when the ovens turn off and the bread starter is pulled out to ferment that there is a life outside of the kitchen. I find it so easy to become wrapped up in the long hours, the small tasks on the prep list, fixing a broken sauce, cooking pasta to the perfect chew, where one flower goes on the plate, and the thousands of other thoughts that run through my mind while cooking service. It's easy to forget to call your sister, respond to an email chain, book a hotel room for a friends wedding, buy your girlfriend flowers to make her smile, and all the other parts of this life that make it so much richer.
Do you have a chef that's close to you? Noooo, not a personal chef. Notttt a country club chef... zero offense to either of those two professions. I mean a CHEF. An OCD vampire that will spend too long arguing why Dan Barber's "The Third Plate" is a life changing read without anyone provoking an argument. The kind of person who at a party will stand in the kitchen when socializing because it makes them feel more comfortable. If you do have a chef that's close to you, I'm sure it's not easy having them in your life. Hanging out means THEIR day off, right? I know I'm painting a pretty harsh image of the restaurant chef - but I bet I'm not far off stereotyping the population. I've been around enough of my kind to know.
I also don't want people assuming I don't think personal and country club chefs aren't CHEFS. They have chosen a different path in their career. One that has room for a life. There's still tons of hard work involved, you can't get away with that, but in my travels private and country club chefs seem to have an awareness of what "balance" means in their life.
Thinking that I'll wake up tomorrow having a better "balance" of chef and life is unreasonable. My friends and I have spent years obsessing over ingredients and recipes. Years of yelling at ourselves for not being good or fast enough. Years and years of tasting and tasting and tasting and tasting to make our palate understand the "minimal" difference between a black, white, green, szechwan, or long peppercorn. Maybe waking up in 5 years from now and having a "balance" is a good goal.
My guess is that a normal human being looks at their day and says, "After work I get to go to happy hour and catch up with my friends about interesting things happening in their life, then go home and enjoy my favorite TV shows with some easy food." (First of all, I could be so far off... but let me finish my point). A chef looks at their day and says, "Today I'll finish my list and hopefully have enough time to work out those new dishes for the menu. I'm really hoping the dishwasher comes in today because he did not seem happy when he left last night. We have 80 on the books..." It's very hard and takes training to think about your girlfriend. Think about your family. Think about anything that's not right in front of you. It's doable, for sure, but you need to train yourself to think about the bigger picture.
I got thinking about this because one of my close friends recently got into trouble, he's going to be fine because he is smart and he has a great support system. But how quickly this obsession over food and hospitality can be ripped away from you is really eye opening. Tens of thousands of hours in a kitchen with no "normal" friends to have when its over. Missed memories because a line cook called out sick. The inability to have a dog because your schedule couldn't allow it... this doesn't seem like anyone would volunteer to subject themselves to this lifestyle.
So how do you fix it? I feel like its similar to getting better at a hobby - just work at getting better. I wake up everyday and automatically think about how to make better food. I don't need to work on fixing that part of my skill set. I need to work on having a life. Cooking is my life and life is my hobby. As long as I keep this hobby, I think I'll get pretty good at it.
ct chef takeover!
by craig hutchinson 1/19/16
The shower is a great place for thinking. Many dishes are conceived while getting ready for the day with the monotonous noise of water beating against your skull. Well, either way, I feel that one of the best ideas came to me in the shower about a week ago when I was recently told I could have my mentor and good friend's restaurant for 3 days...
Tim Maslow of Ribelle in Brookline, MA asked me if I wanted his restaurant to do [oink] there in late February. I've learned to not say no to business opportunities these days, so with no hesitation it was a resounding, "YES!". But what do I do with an award winning restaurant for 3 days.... I mean, easy... cook great food! But how does it help me to cook great food for a different market? Then I started thinking bigger than me, who in Boston knows how great the food scene in CT is? I'm going to guess a very small percentage. So let's show them!
OK, so now who do we introduce to Boston, a food scene that Nuevo and I came up in and one that means so much to us. Up first is Matt Wick of River Tavern in Chester. He's not been awarded with anything too big, YET. So he's the perfect chef to showcase and ease people of Boston into what the future of CT food is. Matt is a young chef who once said to me, "If I don't believe in the product and where it comes from, I don't cook it." Words of wisdom from someone who is in his first chef gig. An all around great guy and someone we love working with.
Next up, I want someone who is seasoned... but in my eyes under appreciated. I had an amazing meal one time at the coolest little restaurant out in Mystic right one the water. From food to service, I was so happy when I left... and I'll admit, that is a rare occurrence :) James Wayman of Oyster Club is simply put a pro. Foraging, sourcing great ingredients, melting classic technique while coloring outside the lines, and to top it off - Nuevo and I haven't worked with him yet. What a great opportunity to learn from someone who is humble and knowledgable.
Alright, now I'm at the shampoo phase of the shower... Lemon verbena if you were wondering the scent. And if you're wondering why I'm thinking about chefs while in the shower, I really don't have an answer... let's just say it wasn't that weird for me and for the sake of argument let's not make it weird for you either, thanks! I needed a heavy hitter. Someone who really ends the show with fireworks. There's one guy who is in every conversation about great food in CT, Tyler Anderson of Millwrights in Simsbury. Talk about a restaurant I'm jealous of. He serves 7 course tastings as you overlook a waterfall. That's like "Fuck You" to any chef who dreams of opening a restaurant. Oh, and of course the food is delicious considering he's been nominated for the "Best Chef Northeast" by the James Beard Foundation.
So get ready Boston, cause we're coming. And we have something to prove. February 23rd - Matt Wick. February 24th - James Wayman. February 25th - Tyler Anderson. All three of those nights, [oink]. The crazy part - we actually get to be mentioned side by side with these amazing chefs. Now the real challenge... don't fuck it up.
something about a cat and a bag...
by craig hutchinson 1/12/16
So as I learn more and more about dealing with the media... I have found out I'm terrible at keeping my mouth shut. It's just that I'M SO EXCITED! We have decided to go full steam ahead on opening an Italian restaurant tentatively called "il Arbitrario" - the Arbitrary. And let me explain because we think its an awesome name!
What is the name of your favorite Italian restaurant? My bet is the name of the place has either an Italian name in it or makes you think of Italy... therefore, good name! So essentially, we need an arbitrary Italian word to make people go, "Oh, thats an Italian restaurant..." Perfect, the word for arbitrary in Italian even sounds like arbitrary which makes it that much funnier to explain to people what it means! Duh! Other names have been put on the table and run through the ringer, theres just something about the comedy of how whimsical the name "il Arbitrario" is.
As we've been writing menus for upcoming pop-ups, I personally have been having so much fun. Dish construction usually starts with a traditional dish. As an exercise and to let you into the mind of how we view the world, lets go with a dish that is being served on January 31st at The Whelk - [mozzarella], bagna cauda, smoked polenta bread. We know that mozzarella and burrata are two ingredients that do very well in CT, if anything, they are completely over played which is such a shame but another reason to pick it as our bracket ingredient. So what could make that ingredient better than when other restaurants serve it? An easy answer is to source it better than others... most restaurants use commodity Polly-O mozzarella curd that is inexpensive and fairly flavorless. We will be using mozzarella curd from Narragansett Creamery in RI, a growing cheese company known for its quality ingredients and dairy sourcing. But why stop there, I mean, we want to be the best and not just better. So lets make the mozzarella to order... and store it in EVOO for 2-3 minutes as it cools so it can absorb that bitter/peppery flavor. But what's better than just olive oil? Arethusa Farm butter? Why not use both, just because we can get that clean flavor with the EVOO and that creamy flavor to go with the mozz by using both! Let those steep with anchovy, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and black peppercorns for 24 hours - this is called bagna cauda or "warm bath", a delicious Italian technique. So now our cliche dish only needs one more ingredient to make it seem like it could be served anywhere, bread! We met Todd from Farm to Hearth about a month ago and were blown away with how fresh his bread is. He mills the grains into flour on location and only on the days he starts to ferment his dough. Then bakes in a wood fired oven that cooks his bread 3 times a week. To top it off, his creativity is something we respect. He made us a batch of smoke polenta bread that blew us away, and he said it could be better! Ha! The best bread in CT gets better!!!??? Yes please. So lets paint that bread with bagna cauda and serve that on the side. A three ingredient dish, like you would see in Italy, with thought and care put into it.
Sometimes our dishes start with an American dish and are transformed into one from Italy. "dirty cacio e pepe". Like dirty rice (long grain rice cooked with pork scrapple, chicken livers, and herbs)?? Ya, we love it too. So lets bring it to Italy by pairing it with a classic pasta, cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper). They are meant to be together, and farfalle (bow tie pasta) can take it there!
American restaurants have it so nice. You can cook Italian food and get away with putting lots of American influence into the menu and people don't even look at it as fusion. We intend to stay as true as we can cooking real authentic Italian food, but you can't deny we grew up around everything that is fusion food, and it may show up in some dishes from time to time! Your welcome?
by craig hutchinson 12/30/15
Nuevo and I came up in the fine dining restaurant scene of Boston, or as we like to call "the trenches". Shoulder to shoulder on the line, 14-16 hour days, a perfectionist mentality, and a chef who didn't help. Silent air would be polluted with insults and negative reviews of other chefs and restaurants. "You're dice looks like shit, throw it out." "Can you believe No. 9 thinks they are better than us?" A dinner out on your day off inevitably resulted in a one star review recited to your chef. "They don't know how to cook a steak". "They're purees weren't passed through a chinois." "Our server couldn't keep our water glass full to save his life." And other dorky, who cares kind of comments that ultimately gave your chef enough ammunition to go out to the bar that night and tell other chefs how much Blah Blah restaurant sucks. We were trained like dogs in these kitchens. Wired to act as we were told to act via shouting and being fed delicious food. And we learned how to speak by listening to the language around us. The more shit talking that took place in the kitchen, the more you joined in.
I've been guilty of it. Badly. I'm pretty sure I made some decent chef enemies in Boston, but I wouldn't know because they don't talk to me. And I regret it. I'm changing, and it's not for me - I don't mind when another chef doesn't like me, shit happens. It's for the future of my restaurant and the next generation of chefs that I hope to train. The last noise I want to hear in my kitchen is a disgruntled cook who is channeling their energy into something they can't control... the food at another restaurant. Let them over cook burgers. Let other restaurants be shitty and serve bland dishes with less than lackluster originality. The only sound I want to hear in my kitchen is laughter over a funny story, giggling because something tastes so amazing, or teaching.
Teaching is the big one. Instead of teaching a cook how to become a bad restaurant critic, how about we learn how to braise meat like a peasant in France would. Or butcher a pig. Race me on glove cutting a duck... Only Nuevo has ever beaten me, but I'm still the Boston record holder.... #shittalking. You get the point, shit talking means nothing. It's not constructive. It's shallow and somewhat mimics the reason a bully beats up on a victim, you can smell the low self esteem wafting through the kitchen like leeks, thyme and butter melting in a pot.
I've read two articles this week alone that have involved chefs shit talking and I feel as though they can't be blamed 100%. The media has the public head cluttered with the mindset that the chef is supposed to be outspoken, over-opinonated, and quotable like a poorly written Star magazine article. What happened to the days of Paul Bocuse or Thomas Keller. Two chefs who changed the way food is viewed and presented in our culture without once appearing on Hell's Kitchen. Dominique Crenn is my new favorite and my idol right now. Her smooth approach to upscale dining and her outlook on the purpose of today's chef is so much more interesting than a chef who doesn't think another can cook.
Am I talking shit? Nah, I'm walking on a thin wire with a terrible sense of balance. I think there is something to be said about being cognizant of wanting to stop shit talking in this industry and have more focus on providing the customer or guest with a better meal each and every time they sit down in the dining room. Next time someone wants to get a reaction out of me about a terrible meal... I'll just smile and reply, "They can't all be 10s"...
Chef or artist?
by Alex Lishchynsky
Both....I think both. If you are a creative chef then you're an artist. You take quality ingredients, use different techniques, and what hopefully a great dish is created. Isn't that the same things as painting a master piece, or taking a photo and editing it to perfection? But you cant eat that photo or paintings....Well you can, technically, but I can guarantee it won't taste as good as [dry aged meatball], spaghetti, marinara, lamuse gouda. Im not saying other art isn't great, I do find inspiration from other works of art, maybe it's a new way to plate a dish, or a cool way to present a dish. Other art IS great, food is just better :)
Your restaurant is your studio, every artist needs a studio for people to see there work, or they will go crazy. I know I would, and I am going crazy. We don't have a restaurant and it sucks. We have all these ideas and we have no where to consistantly make these ideas. We do pop ups and they're amazing, but it only last one day, then we are planning another one. I want to create everyday, not once a week. But these are the struggles of being an artist, there are a million other artists trying to make a name for themselves, and some how we have to convince people we are the better than the rest. And I totally think we are, and when given the chance we will shake the Connecticut food scene like an earthquake. And what arises is two chefs, a restaurant, and an amazing staff that has a dream of one day being the best and people will be stuffing their faces with our art.
POPPING THE CHERRY
by Alex Lishchynsky
Alright...Writing a blog....Here we go
Writing isn't really my thing....Its not that I don't like writing, its just I'd rather be in the kitchen cooking delicious food and making people happy. I do like sharing my feelings, ideas, and thoughts, its just that I like to do it through our food. To be able to get people to know how you feel through your food is the best type of "blogging". If you eat at one of our pop ups you will learn a lot more about us than just reading it on here. -End Rant
posted by Craig Hutchinson - November 19, 2015
Let's just say its not for every chef. "F*ck brunch!". "I'm not closing Saturday and opening Sunday...". "Sous chef can do brunch". These are among the more polite phrases I've heard my past chefs rant about. I can see where they are coming from - the hours aren't preferable, the menu is comprised of very different ingredients, the cooks are always hungover, and so is the clientele which is not always the easiest of populations to deal with. But let's face it, brunch is great!
This very old tradition, dating back to the 1930s (some say even earlier), is a time for friends to relax and enjoy their last day off before a stressful work week. It's an acceptable time to have some cocktails before noon. And I too want to start my day with an unhealthy meal that forces me to sit on a bar stool or lay on a couch and effortlessly cheer on my fantasy football team. As much as I want to agree with my fellow chefs out there and tell brunch to bugger off, I really do love flipping eggs and slinging pancakes well after noon on my Sundays.
Nuevo and I have been in debate about [oink] having a brunch service. We are realistic that we will have to figure out how to run dinner service up to our standards to start, however once we have that, down there is no doubt we want to join the New Haven brunch scene. From the approachable take on eggs benedict, which no doubt we will make our hollandaise out of bacon fat at some point, to the adventurous take on waffles with foie gras mousse and jam in each of the squares. We think that brunch can be just as fun as dinner service, but with a compromise. We want to stay seasonal.
I'm not a fan of being offered a fruit bowl in the middle of the winter. A spinach omelet in the fall. Brussels sprouts hash in the spring. These are the kinds of dishes that we ask our guests to not suppose be on our menu. Brunch can be new and exciting. Creative and comforting. It can be a meal that isn't overlooked by the chef who googled "best brunch in america" and copied it to the website. If anything, because we only get one shot a week at this service, it should be that much more special!
We are teaming up with a New Haven restaurant icon this December and January to bring our first reoccurring pop up (just keep checking the events page), and we are so thrilled to show some different looks on brunch classics. Our omelet will be okonomiyaki - a Japanese street food dish that is an egg cake. Our breakfast sandwich will have autumn olive ketchup. The waffle, a delicate sweet dish plated with detail. Grits served without shrimp! And bring back what I always felt was the best dessert in the city, our take on The Yankee Doodle's fried donut - a sugary donut griddled in butter.
We want to give you, our guests, a special experience any time you dine with [oink]. Brunch is a great way to kick back, relax, and not be judged for your third mimosa. We are excited to extend our hospitality to a new time of day, we hope you join us!
posted by Craig Hutchinson - November 15, 2015
Slow nights in restaurants are always the worst for a kitchen. This is the time the most mistakes are made like ingredients left off of dishes, burn something in a pan, forget meat in the oven, or simply being disorganized on a line cooks station. The kitchen thrives off of chaos. Too many tickets coming through the printer at once. Needing tables back to squeeze another reservation in on a Saturday night. Pans slinging, plates clashing, meat searing, and an expediter screaming... these are the services that a chef lives for. A kitchen gains momentum like a freight train and is very hard to stop.
Stories from my cooking background (and Nuevo's alike) usually get the same reaction out of people. Why do you put up with chefs screaming at you? How do you cook so many things at once? Why do you enjoy something that seems like torture? The answer: because I feed off of the feeling of chaos. It's a drug. You learn how to cook faster with a chef in your ear all night. Your food gets better tasting the busier the restaurant gets. You lose all sense of self and pour all your emotions into the sauté pan. You become so focused on cooking and plating great food that you become the freight train and no one can get in your way.
I'm starting to get this feeling with pop ups. At the moment there is nothing in the calendar, however with recent dinners going extremely well, there is a buzz from restaurants and a brewery (which I can't wait to reveal!) that suggests we have some strong momentum. It's so exciting to know we are moving in the right direction.
I'm hoping the slow days are over. I hopeful that we can become a bigger part of the CT food scene. The key to momentum is to do anything you can to not let it stop. Can't stop. Won't Stop.
OCD - obsessive cooking dilemma
posted by Craig Hutchinson - November 2, 2015
When I wake up in the morning the first thing that pops into my mind is what I want to cook. Not just for that day, usually not for that day, but in general. What do I see going on a menu at [oink]? What is a different technique for serving the sweet potato in my pantry? What else can I do with hen of the woods infused olive oil? It's a dilemma. Not a disease. A bit compulsive, yes. But I don't like to think of my obsession with food to be a problem or something that I need to overcome. I know it won't go away. I mean, it has been by my side like a cute puppy that nags you to play with him. I embrace it, love it, live with it.
Oh, I was thinking about a dish that my good friend in Boston, Dan, did with tartare where he smoked the meat to order very lightly using a sieve. So smart, so tasty. It got me thinking about this book that I read, Faviken, where he cooks with juniper branches to impart flavor! Well, there is a collaboration dinner with Matt Wick of River Tavern in a week and he just foraged some juniper branches! I think you can make the connection as to where my brain is going with the tartare dish we will be serving...
Back to the puppy... I mean obsession. I have found it likes to get in the way often, which I work on. It's hard to have a conversation not about food. It's hard to fall asleep. But the part that I am working on the most is how hard it is for me to dine out. I used to sit at a table and compare every meal to books and techniques and flavors I had running through my mind. Luckily I came to a conclusion, shut up and appreciate the meal that has been prepared for you. Out of all people, line cooks and chefs know how many hours you slave away in a kitchen to make food appear on the table. Countless days away from your friends and family to express the creativity that is pent up inside. I've learned to turn my criticisms into a way of learning about how others like to cook, which will ultimately provide myself with more knowledge that I can use in my dishes with my style. You know what, I've really started liking my dinners too!
I was thinking with the tartare dish that gin would be a fun addition into action. But there are two problems with gin in this dish. First, it's such an easy out. Juniper and gin - duh! I demand more creativity than that. Secondly, I've learned over the years that when you are highlighting certain flavors in a dish, don't come over the top with a bigger flavor. Gin is strong. Gin would crush the light flavor of raw meat that has an essence of juniper smoke. I want to introduce juniper branch smoke to new palates. Why destroy that? It needs to be an opening dish, something delicate. Which when I thought of that word, it was easy. Delicata squash. The answer was in the name! Roasted it's sweet and familiar. Raw, the squash has texture and is light with flavor. Now we're getting somewhere.
The reason I think of it as a dilemma is I'm in constant search of a solution. The beauty of food is there are so many different outcomes through choice of inspiration, ingredient, technique, and a list too long for you to read to the end of. It's a battle to stay focused on one solution. So many times I'll change the direction of a dish midway through the construction of it. It can even happen just from hearing a word in the kitchen which will stop my thought process, reevaluate, and get back to work. I feel that it brings the diner closer to getting to know me.
So tomorrow when I wake up, maybe delicata won't be the right ingredient. But I do know I'll be thinking about something related to food. I don't know about you, but I'm excited to see what I can think up.
the perfect pasta
posted by Craig Hutchinson - October 29, 2015
I can't tell you how many times I have jokingly been told by chef owners, don't open a restaurant. I still have the same reaction, laughter. Who in their right mind would ever open a business that has low profit margins, long hours, no time to sit, to deal with adults who act like children (mostly talking about the restaurant staff... mostly), an office the size of a matchbox, deadlines that are every six minutes, five minute lunch breaks, and an alcohol inventory that even a Kardashian would be impressed with? Well, that last part helps on some days. The answer is no one. There is a level of insanity that is involved with opening a great restaurant. Those who chase the dragon of their first restaurant have all encountered a time where it just seems unfair. It breaks you. It humbles you. This process teaches you that there are so many variables you can't control, to the point that you start to become surprised by the amount of times you can't catch a break. I've found that this process is much like making the perfect pasta - [oink] is my hands, and the dough is the restaurant.
The first time you make pasta, you've been shown how to do it by someone who makes it look easy. You've been told over and over again what the pasta is supposed to look like, feel like, and even act like. You've been taught the ins and outs. How grandma made it. How Batali makes it. You've read about the perfect pasta, and how one bite can send a diner back through a lifetime of memories. So, for someone who cares to know this much detail about how to make great pasta, the key must be hard work and focus... IT MUST BE! I mean, how many things could go wrong with flour and egg yolks?!?! Well, the first time you go to make your dough, it will not like you. It won't be right. I'm talking about the PERFECT pasta, not something passable that can be thrown into boiling water and served with Classico creamy Alfredo. I mean, the dough hates you so much, that it sticks in your finger nails, mocking you as if to say... you think this is going to be easy? So the next day, you learned that any moisture on the table will throw off your consistency. Day 3, that not all egg yolks are created equal. Day 4, the air is colder and your dough seized up quickly. The flour at the bottom of the bin is clumpy. The walk-in got used more often and your dough hydrated at a different rate. An investor wants 20% when you're trying to offer them 5%! I think you get the point. You don't know how much goes into creating something great until you start to use your own hands.
The ones who want to own the great restaurant are the ones who will take the time to make perfect pasta dough. I'm not saying I have the recipe today. But I now understand this is going to take some time. I wish it could be today, I pray that [oink] exists tomorrow. I know it will be there someday... and if you're asking me? Order the pasta, it's pretty fucking good.