Remembering the fun times at last years Chelsea Musica Festival thinking of all the lessons learned and the faces that graced mine. I couldn’t avoid the smile that raised my cheeks. I haven’t had the chance to detail my excitement here on the Tip of the…
Yes, Mothers Day was Sunday and it’s now Tuesday evening. But this post, nevertheless, remains appropriate. No excuse- I guess. But if you want one, I’m blaming it on computer mishaps. It is not uncommon to find at the top of most of our “hero lists” the…
Chef Paul Dellerose said one day, as we were building a sauce in his Modern Banquet Cookery kitchen, “A stockpot is not a garbage bin.” I don’t know; maybe not. But, perhaps a salad bowl is. Maybe the salad bowl is the repository for premium garbage.
A few weeks ago, I headed out to Chow Baby on Ponce de Leon in Atlanta with some friends and family to celebrate my birthday. I was hoping to do something less conventional than an evening at Olive Garden or Chili’s without emptying my pockets. Chow Baby’s is no avant-garde restaurant, but maybe a treasure hunt, certainly different than the usual.
Chow Baby’s for those in the “don’t know” is an all-you-can-eat stir-fry buffet. The walls are lined with a raw food bar beginning with your starches- your rice and noodles- followed by an array of vegetables, from snow peas to bok choy, mandarins and pineapples, black beans and green peas, potatoes and tomatoes. And then is the sauce bar. It’s very easy to get carried away at this point as there are many choices to choose from: plum sauce, Thai curry, Kung Pao, Garlic and Basil… And for some reason they also keep whole eggs in this section. Maybe because next is the proteins. After you’ve loaded your black bowl you grab a smaller red bowl and choose from chicken, ground beef, steak, sausage, and seafood. The evening we went, tilapia and calamari were available. Now facing the stir-fry grill top, there are seasonings for your meats, basically salt, different peppers, garlic and onion powder, and Chinese five spice powder. Finally, you take your two bowls, the one with meat and the other with— everything else and you set them on the counter for the cook to transform. Should you further wish to customize your dish, some customizations costing an up charge, you can indicate for the chef to serve your dish with a tortilla or roti or in a bowl of broth and some others, simply by sticking a color coded stick into one of your bowls. You then head to your table and await your creation, which your server will bring to your table.
(Other than delivering your dish to the table, the servers are pretty absent. Our server did explain how things work, took drink orders and took off. I don’t know if it was just because gratuity was promised by the size of our party. I don’t believe she was the most accommodating and besides her, the music appeared at times to be naked, not clothed by any censor. But enough of the rant; back to the food.)
There are also appetizers and desserts on the menu, but at an all you can eat buffet, if I can’t have all I can eat, I’d rather not bother. My sister and her husband, however, ordered some vegetable spring rolls. I didn’t like them very much. They were rather small and the bit that was there to bite didn’t feature crisp vegetables, but tasted somewhat defrosted if ya get me.
As for the meal, not much can be said when you are the one ultimately determining the fate of your dish, selecting the ingredients and flavors. The ingredients Chow Baby had to offer did seem to be in acceptable condition, granted some were coming out of cans and others, freezer bags. Stir fry is perchance one of the simplest dishes to prepare, with minimal technique required. I guess I’m glad my food didn’t arrive dangerously undercooked.
My tone may, perhaps, be airing a disparaging voice but I’m not knocking the establishment, especially not the concept. From an industry perspective, it’s rather clever: just keep your bars stocked and your staff ready to scramble and scatter the guest creations on the cooktop. If the customer is unsatisfied with the portions, the seasonings, or flavors of the dish, who do they really have to blame? They created it! And as a customer, it’s really fun to think up what you believe to be a flavorful harmony, selecting from a bar of raw foods to be freshly cooked and served hot to your table at the moment of truth. This flow is unlike any other buffet I’ve seen, in that the food is guaranteed to be cooked fresh, not floating over a steam table for hours.
Where else can you chow like this, baby? I don’t know of any other made-to-order all-you-can-eat concepts. I was glad for the change. Chow Baby is, again, not some gourmet experience but can certainly be fun. I am still discovering the treasures buried in Georgia, and Chow Baby is just a stir.
Written for a Smuckers scholarship application…
Flaky, toasty, delicate- these are just the adjectives that protect the ooey, gooey, fruity jam that lies within. My aunt’s jam roll has a crust that just hoards a (balanced) abundance of jam. This is no jelly roll cake. It might be compared to a PopTart except for its heavenly crust and deeply flavored jam. But without jam, there can be no jam roll. Any child- and anyone who was once a child- will tell you the best part of a PB&J is the J as is true in jam filled cookies, jam tarts, or a morning biscuit.
It was long day, spent wandering through the streets of NYC- tip-toeing through parks, weaving through subways, mapping the city of New York. As much as I like to believe myself a New Yorker, the truth is my parents snatched me out of the state in my youth, before I could learn the ins and outs; and upon my return, I was lost, fighting and scrambling to learn my way.
One part of New York I will always find my way to is Aunt Donaldine’s in-home bakery. She is a formally trained chef who can cook a meal from beginning to end. I most enjoy her Belizean desserts and pastries- from coconut tarts to potato pone, carrot cake, powder bun….My goodness! The list rolls on. But it doesn’t come to a halt without her jam rolls! Lost in the city I could always find my way “home”- my aunt’s kitchen. Even from the depths of the oftentimes reeking subway, I can detect the comforting aroma of the bubbling fruit bathing in its sweetened juices, nestled in the comfort of the crumbly dough, as the nutty aroma rushed out with every cracking open of the oven.
The tale of Hansel and Gretel comes to mind, as they come to the edge of the woods with hopes of the breadcrumb trail to lead them home. Lost in the Big Apple, the swaying steam, sprinkled with the scent of a freshly baked crust and the bursting fragrance of strawberries, waves me in. Climbing my way up the stairs to her apartment door, just steps away from the legendary jam roll, I anxiously ring the doorbell, glad to be “home” after such a day.
Once in the apartment, I sniff my way to the kitchen. I could have walked blind folded guided by the allure of the jam-packed pastry. The voice of a choir of angels rises as I near the stove adorned with the glory we speak of. It sat there, uncut, glistening with the sticky fruit filling that has oozed forth. My almost mischievous grin gave way to the jam roll. I sat, thoughtfully chewing to disperse the moist fruit jam through the pastry, and among each of my taste buds. I may not know Manhattan and the outer lying boroughs well as I wish I did, but I am gratified to be comfortably familiar with Auntie D’s Jam Roll.
There goes Valentine’s Day, a day plagued by helpless romantics or cynical singles and those of us who are just glad to receive a box of chocolates on whatever other goodies and perks this said holiday offers. I find myself in the latter category. Being a single youth, the most I hope for is a little treat, not minding the attached hearts, bears, vibrant colors and associated decorations.
But I guess at the root of it, Valentine’s Day is supposed to be about love, particularly in the romantic sense. But (yeah, you saw it coming), on the Tip of the Tongue, what else will we talk about but the love of food? It is a love like no other. My love for food, I’m convinced, is natural. Yes the love of money is the root of all of evil, but God never said anything about the love of food. (Yes, you can love food without being a glutton.)
My love for food is my life’s story. I am told tales from childhood of clinging to my sustenance. I have been told of imbibing bottle after bottle, as a beau dining with his bride. i have counted a day of two meals as incomplete, just as a man without his soul mate. I struggled to understand why the steaming beauty on the television or even within the round glass frame positioned on the restaurant table wasn’t what i saw on the dinner table at home.
I entered the kitchen, intrigued by the smoke and mirrors; the magical transformation, from raw to decadent; the sizzling sounds of life coming in contact with heat; but mostly the answer to why Mom’s cooking wasn’t quite gourmet.
in my search, i had fallen in love. i just didn’t know it. i was engrossed in the lessons to be learned in books, on the internet, on the television screen, my dear cuisine sometimes made jealous as was occasionally distracted by the TV hosts. i even pursued visual arts for sometime but now believe I had gotten away from my true love.
It’s been said, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” But it starts with the eyes, perhaps the nose, and occasionally the ears. And before we ever get to the guts of the process, flattery has a party on the tongue, taste buds invited. Entertainment followed by mastication. I still remain at a loss for words, trying to articulate my love for food- sometimes wondering exactly what I’m in love with. Am I at a loss for words? Or is it merely onthe tip of my tongue?
Happy Valentines Day! Once again, I’ve been distanced from the Tip of the Tongue. Valentines day expressions haven’t quite pumped out of the heart. But for now, while, snowed-in in New York city. I could only think back to my last trip, spent catching up with friends after externship. We had gone our separate ways for what we know as externship (in-field work experience) and were now rounding up for the rendezvous. I managed to connect with two during my stay in the city.
What better way to catch up than over a meal.
I arranged with one to meet for breakfast. He would be arriving at Grand Central, so we searched for some diners in the area offering simply good food. We didn’t search very hard I sought suggestion from a chef in the city. He recommended Scotty’s diner on Lexington and 39th.
In New York, one of the wonderful things is the great diversity of cuisine and kitchens to choose from. But at the same time this can cause a problem only protectable by good discernment. (If the United States is a melting pot, New York is the fondue that oozes out.) There are numerous shops, however, proclaiming to provide the greatest or the most authentic and some aiming to offer everything diners head to the city for: from pizza to chicken and bagels to cheesecakes. For this reason, stepping into any shop at one time or another is a risk.
We stepped into the diner, stepping into a crowd that Saturday morning. The entrance was congested as it was narrow. The wall to our left was lined with two tops and to our right was a display case showing off pastries and cookies adjoined to a seven seat bar facing the crowded grill.
Further back was a larger dining area. We took our seats and were handed a menu, which we used for little more than confirming our order, having examined the menu while we stood in the doorway. I ordered a corned beef hash with eggs over easy to be served with potatoes and toast- a diner classic I had never studied. My friend ordered a French toast plate with a side of scrambled eggs and fried ham, bacon and sausage.
The wait was not too long, our food arriving to the table still smoking (though I did wait almost the entire meal to realize my toast never showed up). There was no fancy presentation, making it clear the cook’s job in this establishment is to just get the food to the plate. As our appetites roared, the steam rising from the food condensed on our salivating tongues. The French toast arrived in a conventional cascade fanned outward, a rich yellow with scrumptious brown spots. The meats, scooted onto the plate with the scrambled egg, appeared crispy yet moist. I tasted the sausage; it had flavor but not enough. You could hear the spices talking, but they were by no means screaming.
My eyes on my own plate now, the potatoes were most obvious. They were plainly cooked. Hanging from their shoulders was a fried egg, having fallen wherever it would, bleeding yellow? I could feel the piercing stress rush upon the cooks as did my egg yolk. It burst under the pressure, smothering the corn beef hash hidden beneath it. As for taste, it was alright- nothing exciting- but it was breakfast. My friend seemed satisfied though. I continue to be wary of consumer reviews; sometimes, you’ve gotta know it yourself.
Earlier in the week, a group mate stood waiting for me on the A, C, E platform in the train station. We met up to have lunch in the city. Dipping and dodging through the inner workings of the New York subway, we winded and weaved through our time at the CIA and the evolution of our perceptions and intentions, from our arrival on campus through the momentous happenings of the extern experience. As we climbed the stairs to the sidewalks of 14thStreet, a new light was shed on us.
But our enlightening discussion had to be put on hold as we move to more serious matters: what would we eat for lunch? The only foods left on my NY to-eat list of my childhood, was a roti and a slice of pizza- thin but pliable crust, steaming hot and arching under the weight of the melty cheese, the pizza that used to be served slightly folded on a white plate, shoved in an oil spotted brown bag. However, these were foods I had tasted before and with my new and refined culinary appreciation of the 5 boroughs, I didn’t want my to-eat list to overshadow the hidden treasures of downtown.
With this, we headed through the doors of a quint shop on 9thAve called Ramen. Hanging our coats on the wall, we took our seats at the bar lining the wall across from the large communal table occupying the center of the floor. We were handed menus; in a place named Ramen, I didn’t spend much time studying the menu, assuming the best decision was to order ramen, of course.
It was deliciously warming. In a large bowl of broth, an island of ramen was surrounded by a pair of thin medallions of barbecued pork, half a semi-hard boiled egg (the creamy yolk pooled in the boat of the egg’s white), and a raft of nori. With my chopsticks penetrating the ramen mound, I broke away long strands from the noodle network, aiming to eat at least the first few bites as a purist, eating it as it was served. It was tasteful, with depth of flavor, greater than any powdered broth packet or 3 minute cooking noodles I have ever eaten. The noodles had a pleasant bite. They weren’t the overcooked morsels floating in a can of soup. The pork was tender and the egg, in its simplicity, scrumptious. The nori was nori; I don’t believe it added much to the dish and with uncertainty, I lifted the entire square, now rehydrated, to my mouth. As the broth in my bowl reduced to less then half, I wondered why certain condiments were available, convinced that if they weren’t intended for our use, they wouldn’t have been made available. Curious to know of its flavorful contribution, I picked up a shaker, filled with a ground red powder, reminiscent of pimenton, I shook a dash into my spoon and sipped, expecting a small heat wave. It tasted like some blend of chiles, not too hot. From another bulbous jug, I poured what looked like vinegar, in viscosity and color. I brought a pour to my mouth and was gladly surprised to find the taste of sesame oil flushed over my tongue. More please!
While we chewed and slurped, we continued to ruminate on our externships and all the adventure that came with it. We discussed our discussions and interactions previously had with other members of our group. But now our bowls were empty, and so was our conversation. With time to spare, we found ourselves chomping on a slice of pizza, not quite cut from the memories I hoped to revisit, but it was close. To the last crumb, we chatted over the dreaded projects that would follow externship.
Pizza down, we were up and out the door I left anew. Aside from my nearly bulging stomach, I was on the verge of bursting with excitement, reminded of the possibilities within the industry and the opportunities that my experiences, at the CIA and beyond, have made me aware of. I acknowledged that I am still a youth and must afford to just go- to explore the world dining, cooking, and learning- not bogged down by a hindering caution or self-imposed restriction. It’s time to move beyond just dreaming and reaching for the stars, those ostentatious, gaseous masses that cannot be grasped (unless we’re talking about Michelin stars perhaps). Rather than dreaming adrift or reaching amiss, I am awake, digging in to what lies be for me, whether outside my door or on my table, fueling me to accomplish what others only dream of. I implore you: don’t find yourself among the others.