It hasn’t been long since we closed the doors of the REPUBLIC OF CAMPO and I am doing mental battle with muscle memory and my internal restaurant clock. I am writing this on a Tuesday. Tuesday was the day for menu planning, product and recipe research, vendor communication and volume projections for the week. It was a mentally aerobic exercise. Today, however, I awoke 30 minutes past my usual time, made coffee at home instead of at the espresso machine and watched my cats give me the eyeball from behind doors and chairs, not used to me being in the house in the morning.
For over three decades when introduced to someone the phrase “I am” was part of the response. Now the phrase seems to be “I was.”
That rearranging of my place in the world was unsettling at first then the term “mis en place” came to mind. It is a culinary term for “all things in order.” It is the first thing you learn when beginning a career in the kitchen. A recipe is read, the ingredients are identified then set out to prep. Once all are gathered they are prepared according to the measurements in the recipe before the cooking process is started.
I decided to do an inventory of myself as if I was a recipe. I mentally laid out the “I ams.” I am an accomplished entrepreneur, a husband, a brother, a friend, a mature athlete, a reader, a traveler, a writer and a cook. I did not lose these aspects of my life when the doors closed on the restaurant. I believe that if more people took the culinary phrase that titles this missive and applied it to their lives they would be as satisfied as I am becoming.
Many self-help gurus tout taking a mental inventory and suggest a mantra-like chant to help boost self-confidence. An old SNL skit comes to mind where Al Franken chants “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and people like me.” That is all well and good but I am describing a change in a person’s life experience from one stage to another. I was a successful chef and business owner and I still am. I no longer need the brick-and-mortar shell as all is now internalized. As I move on to other challenges I take them with me to use as a platform to grow and explore.
In this and future columns I hope to share with you some of my experience and experiences. I will use this as a forum to offer recipes, culinary tips, answer kitchen conundrums and offer my world outlook. So let’s get busy.
FOOD: Over time I realized that guests would choose one of the blackboard fish specials not necessarily for the featured item, but for the sides that I chose for the plate. Since we used only the freshest fish I did not do much to it so the sides were key to the plate. Here is one of my favorites and most versatile.
- 3 leeks (pick ones that have a long white bulb)
- 1 medium head of fennel
- 1 red pepper
- 1 yellow pepper
- 1 heaping tablespoon of chopped fresh tarragon
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup dried lentils (black beluga lentils are my favorite)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- S&P (use Kosher salt and fresh ground back pepper))
- 4 cups water or vegetable broth
- 3 tablespoons cream optional
Trim the leek bulb from the stalks. Slice the stalk the long way then slice half moons. Soak in water.
Trim the fennel bulb ( save the fennel tops as they are a colorful garnish) Slice in half and trim out the triangle at the bottom. Turn the bulb on its side and slice as if it was an onion.
Cut the peppers in half. Remove the center and dice to the size of the cut fennel.
Chop the tarragon.
In a pre-heated saucepan add the oil. When the oil is hot add the vegetables to the pot. Coat with the hot oil and lower the heat. The leeks will sweat out a fair amount of liquid and you will want to let that evaporate. (10-12 minutes at a simmer )
While the vegetables are cooking and in a separate pot boil the water or stock then add the lentils. When the lentils are soft but not mushy drain and add to the leek and fennel mixture. Turn up the heat, add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pot. When the wine has evaporated add the tarragon and remove from the heat.
This is a wonderful accompaniment to either fish or chicken. When reheating the mixture add the cream to thicken.
This is also great in a small tart shell (available frozen) as an appetizer or vegetarian entree with a side salad. Use the fennel tops as plate garnish
Let me know how you did and I am also here to answer any other kitchen or food-related issues. Talk to you soon.
Let me know how you did and I am also here to answer any other kitchen or food-related issues. Email me at email@example.com.Talk to you soon.