Announcing Toqueland’s First Fan Contest!

Keep Up with Toqueland and Earn Chances to Win a Personalized Set of the Alfred Portale Cookbook Collection

Toqueland wants you!

We want you to subscribe to our email updates, follow us on Twitter, and to like us (to really, really like us) on Facebook.

That’s why we’re excited to announce our first-ever Toqueland Fan Contest offering subscribers/followers a chance to win a set of all three of Alfred Portale’s cookbooks (coauthored by yours truly): Gotham Bar and Grill Cookbook, Alfred Portale’s 12 Seasons Cookbook, and Alfred Portale’s Simple Pleasures.

Win the contest and Alfred will personalize all three books as you like, as will I, and then we’ll ship the books off to you, wherever you may be.






The More Ways You Follow Us, The More Chances to Win

Here’s how it works: For every way you subscribe to/follow/like us, we’ll enter your name in the contest. Do all three, and get three chances to win…. 

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The Toqueland Ten: Sean Baker (Gather, Berkeley, California)

One of the West Coast’s Rising Stars Tells Us His Ten Favorite Ingredients and Why He Chose Them

Sean Baker, pondering the plate, at Gather. (photo courtesy Carmen Troesser)

Sean Baker, executive chef of Gather restaurant in Berkeley, California, has caught a lot of people’s attention in recent years, most notably when Esquire magazine named him Chef of the Year in 2010. At Gather, omnivore, vegan, and gluten-free items peacefully coexist on the menu, in dishes that Baker dreams up largely based on treasures presented to him by area farms.  Toqueland caught up with Baker in Northern California recently, and asked this thoughtful young talent to become the third chef to share a Toqueland Ten. (Our first two came from Harold Dieterle and Emily Luchetti.)

1. SEAWEED. “I cook vegan food and I can use a lot of different seaweeds. There’s so many different varietals and so many things I can do with them. It’s just a real versatile ingredient.” Some ways Baker deploys seaweed include a vegan tonnato sauce, and a smoked seaweed-fried oyster puree, which brings us to Item No. 2 . ..

2. OYSTERS. “Just because I enjoy eating them so much, with lemon or maybe some shallot. They have a lot of possibilities: They’re a great emulsifier, and I like to use them with meat dishes that need the briny acidity that some oysters possess.” By way of example, Baker offers up the (perhaps Portuguese inspired) pairings of oysters with sausage or pork belly…. 

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Rick Moonen: The Toqueland Interview

The rm seafood Toque Sounds Off About Disloyal Chefs, the Limits of Fine Dining, and Why He’d Like a Trojan Horse

Rick Moonen worked for a number of the best restaurants in New York City, including a star-making stint as executive chef of Oceana, before taking his rm seafood concept to the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, where he’s been thriving for seven years. Toqueland caught up with Moonen in Yosemite National Park, as he cooked a memorable guest dinner, tried to win over every guest in sight to his longtime cause of sustainability, and made a few minutes to share what was on his mind:

Rick Moonen in the dining room of rm seafood in Las Vegas (photo courtesy MGM Resorts International)

TOQUELAND: First of all, just catch me up, what are you excited about these days?

MOONEN: I think I’m at a crossroads in my career. I moved out to Last Vegas seven years ago, became part of the drive to make Las Vegas dining more legitimate, which I’m proud to have been a part of. Doing things in a manner in which I believe, holding true to my core values, my mission statement of being sustainable still stands strong. That continuously evolves as to what it really means, because the conditions of different species of fish always changes. So it’s kind of fun.

That being said: the economy, turning 55, getting a divorce, just kind of thinking: “What do I want to do?” Getting people to understand sustainability. We’re hitting a tipping point where that seems to be happening, which is great. I’m surprised. There was no guarantee I’d ever get to see anything happening and here it is, shifting before my eyes. It’s great. Pretty cool . ..

That being said, how do I get to the masses in [this] economy? I’m going to start pushing toward opening up restaurants that serve more really good, delicious, well-balanced, flavorful food. But not fine dining. Not the fancy-schmancy fanfare to the few who can afford it. I want to start hitting deeper and affecting more people.

TOQUELAND: Would this still be seafood focused?

MOONEN: Yeah. But I’m going to say “upscale casual,” if there’s such a thing. Because fine dining kind of took a dip. It had to be redefined . ..

TOQUELAND: What are you going to do? Where are you on it?

MOONEN: Simple stuff . .. I’m thinking of opening up in Waikiki, Hawaii. There’s a good chance I’m going to open there. [Toqueland Note: Moonen floated a concept for Waikiki last year.] I’ve got an LOI [letter of intent] out. There’s no dealbreakers that I can see in the further discussion to get to a contract. I’ve got the money, the funds, and the location. So, looks pretty good. This has been going on for eight months, this discussion with Hawaii. People who are in the know in my organization are tired of hearing about Hawaii. But it had to be the right deal, you know, and now it is. My risk is to a point where I’m comfortable to move. So, that’s it. Build a brand. Open up in other markets and diversify. I’ve got one space and it’s in Las Vegas in a casino. That’s too risky…. 

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Bocuse d’Or USA: The Rest of the Story

Possible Lyon Format Change, Mr. Potato Head’s Supporting Role, and Some Love for the Runners Up as Toqueland Wraps Up Its Bocuse d’Or USA Coverage

Richard Rosendale's gold-winning meat platter. (photo courtesy Bocuse d'Or USA)

January 30, 2012 — Toqueland dragged itself off the mat this morning after Sunday’s round-trip excursion to the CIA in Hyde Park, followed by a late night of optimistic summation, and trudged up to a press conference at the Sofitel in Midtown Manhattan.

A few urgent matters await us elsewhere, so with apologies for the bullets, here, in no particular order, are some leftovers from yesterday’s competition and news from this morning’s presser:

Toqueland Exclusives and Other Breaking Stuff:
  • You Heard it Here First: POSSIBLE SWITCH TO PARTIALLY SPONTANEOUS FORMAT IN LYON: Last week, Gavin Kaysen told us about a possible new format in Lyon, involving plates rather than platters for one “course.” Florent Suplisson, Executive Director of the international event in Lyon, hinted at the possible change in this morning’s press conference, opting not to reveal it there. But Toqueland can report the change that’s being pondered: The Bocuse d’Or is considering replacing one of the platters with plated dishes made from ingredients and techniques that are revealed over time: the proteins several months out, the ingredients to be used in the garnishes closer to the event, and the techniques that must be employed the day before the competition (these would possibly change from Day 1 to Day 2). None of this is decided yet; the organization will continue to discuss, and enlist some chefs to conduct some dry runs to see how it actually plays out, then will likely make its decision sometime over the next month. This would be a dramatic change for a competition in which knowing all the parameters in advance has always been a defining trait.
  • YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST: Don’t Make Fun of My Spud, Bud! Bocuse d’Or USA 2012 Champ Richard Rosendale really did use a Mr. Potato Head! As he was plating his meat platter yesterday, an observer (not sure if it was the emcee or not) joked that Rosendale’s chicken looked like it was being presented in the shape of a Mr. Potato Head.  Well, guess what:  IT WAS! Here it is right from Rosendale himself: “Somebody was joking around that we used a Mr. Potato Head mold; we actually did. That was inspired by my son, Lawrence. He’s three and a half years old… it was pretty quick, I didn’t have time to make a mold and I playing with my son one Sunday and I looked over and I was, like, ‘That Mr. Potato Head is almost exactly like a chicken if you turn it upside down.’ So that’s what I used. I cut it in half and I cleaned it out with a dremel, and I just used it, it didn’t come in contact with the food. It was just to shape it. And then I cooked it all sous vide and then I flash fried it.”

Bocuse d’Or USA: Reasons to Believe

Why This Time Might be Different (no, really) for the Stars and Stripes in Lyon

Dream Team? Coach Gavin Kaysen (left) and 2013 Bocuse d’Or USA candidate Richard Rosendale (right)

January 29–The Bocuse d’Or USA created something of a monster for itself in 2008, when Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud, in partnership with Jerome Bocuse, took over the leadership of the organization. With their culinary savvy, fundraising ability, and deep bench of human resources, most people figured the mere involvement of the two most respected fine-dining moguls in the United States would be all it took to field a winning team and reverse two decades of US disappointment in the world’s preeminent culinary competition.

But most people are casual observers. They don’t know the first thing about the Bocuse d’Or; don’t realize just how exacting the standards are over there, in Lyon, France, where the global competition is held; don’t appreciate how hard the other teams train or how most of the judges’ palates tilt toward Europe. Even Keller and Boulud didn’t fully understand the dragon they were attempting to slay their first time out, not having ever attended the event themselves; they learned the hard way that it’s a big dragon, as tall as the Eiffel Tower, and that it breathes fire hot enough to melt the hopes and dreams of 21 (out of 24) teams every year. All of which created a delicate scenario when the organization’s pr team whipped up a frenzy of great expectations heading into the 2009 competiton.

And so, when The French Laundry’s Timothy Hollingsworth placed 6th out of 24 teams in Lyon that year, journalists and foodies recoiled, spewing snark and sarcasm. Then, in 2011, when Eleven Madison Park’s James Kent finished 10th, the wheels really came off–all the old complaints came flooding back: “Why can’t we win this thing?” “Why do we bother trying?” “What’s wrong?!?” The moment seemed to have passed the new guard by, as evidenced by the relatively scant media coverage leading up to this weekend’s finals. When I emailed a recent Bocuse d’Or USA finalist late Saturday night to ask if I’d see him at Hyde Park Sunday, he wrote back that he didn’t even know the event was this weekend.

But life is full of surprises, and today, Sunday, January 29, might just go down as the day that the Bocuse d’Or USA, under its current leadership, finally showed signs of reaching its full potential and having a shot of really, truly, finally–yes, I’m going to say it out loud–landing a candidate on the podium in Lyon…. 

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Bocuse d’Or USA 2012: Portrait of a Candidate

Images of Bocuse d’Or USA finalist Richard Rosendale from my book Knives at Dawn

Knives at Dawn, about the 2009 Bocuse d'Or USA team

Apologies for sneaking this in during the dwindling minutes of the week, but I just had a fun idea: With the Bocuse d’Or USA on tap for this Sunday, I thought it might be cool to have a look at one of the finalists, Richard Rosendale, who appeared in my book, Knives at Dawn, about the 2009 US squad. Rosendale didn’t win the team selection event, held at Orlando’s Epcot Center in 2008, that time out, but he came in second and was, by far, the candidate with the most competition experience. (I was also able to profile another of this year’s finalists, Danny Cerqueda, when he competed in the Bocuse d’Or USA in 2010; the organizers’ profiles of all four 2012 finalists here.  My recent interview with 2013 team coach Gavin Kaysen here.)

OK, here you go, some quick-cut images of Rosendale, via excerpts from Knives:

Here he is discussing the value of culinary competition:

Richard Rosendale, then chef-owner of Rosendales (also in Columbus) and a member of two International Culinary Olympics teams, sees even more value in the competition experience. “In my opinion, one year on the Olympic team is the equivalent of five years in the industry,” he said. “In doing the team you have obligations to push yourself and research more and do more and learn more than what you normally would . . . I’ve competed in Germany three times, Luxembourg twice, Basel, Switzerland, twice, and all over the United States. Seeing these other countries and the food they’re putting up really makes you open up your mind and see food a little differently. There’s no boundaries.”

Some background on Rosendale, and his relationship with 2009 Team USA coach Roland Henin:

Henin also encouraged Richard Rosendale, chef-owner of Rosendales restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, to apply. Rosendale, who has a large, flat nose and dark black hair combed back into a near-pompadour, had more culinary competition experience, exponentially more, than the rest of the field combined: a member of two United States Culinary Olympic teams, Rosendale had participated in two three-year apprenticeship programs in his young career, including one at The Greenbrier, the fabled hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. [Toqueland note: Since the book's publication, Rosendale has returned to The Greenbrier as executive chef.] As part of his education there, he was expected to do competition-like exercises after work such as mystery baskets (cooking spontaneously from an unannounced selection of ingredients) or putting up buffet platters. These sessions lasted until about two in the morning, and included a critique by his supervisors, who offered no leniency. “The expectation was perfection all the time,” said Rosendale.

Though the next installment of the Olympics was set to start on October 19, just a few weeks after the event in Orlando, Rosendale was attracted to the opportunity presented by the new Bocuse d’Or USA. “I really want to see an American win,” he said. “We have way too many talented chefs not to have placed any higher than we have.”

Rosendale could have been channeling Kaysen when he said that the reason the United States hadn’t done better in the past wasn’t the candidates, but the resources. “People underestimate how much it takes, not just the commitment from the candidate but financial resources. When you’re trying to figure out what one of your garnishes is going to be and trying to figure out how you’re going to pay for that via a fundraiser, [it’s] a very difficult thing to do. Plus your day-to-day job.”

How Rosendale prepared for Orlando in 2008, as contrasted with the preparation of Top Chef champ Hung Hyunh, who was a fellow competitor that year:

Asked what he had done to prepare a week before the competition in Orlando, Hyunh—who was working in the kosher restaurant Solo in midtown Manhattan while its owners got a new project together for him—cackled gleefully. “I’m not!” he said. “This is a kosher kitchen . . . I’m competing against Thomas Keller’s guy, Charlie Trotter’s guy. They have all the resources in the world. Here I am, I have two vinegars—red wine and rice wine vinegar—and some vegetable stock.” He shrugged. “It’s very hard.”

“I know what I’m going to do,” he explained. “But I haven’t had time to perfect it. I’m just going to bring ingredients down there . . . and I’m gonna go . . . I’m gonna cook, with proper techniques, and I’m going to hope it tastes good. I don’t know if it’ll be the most perfected dish of my career— definitely not I would say—but given the circumstances I’m in now and given what I can do and get out of it, I think it’s going to be excellent.”

“I cook best under pressure,” he said, snapping his fingers. “And at the moment. Shit’s gonna go down. Things are gonna burn. Things are gonna break. I’m gonna go with the flow, and do what I do best. Cook!”… 

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Slice of Life: “For Auld Lang Syne”

Chinese New Year with Two American Chefs? A Burns Supper at … Marea? How It All Went Down…

It’s turning into one of those weeks: One late night after another, each morning bringing a painful reentry, a test of the restorative powers of a hot shower and pot of coffee, the eternal question of why I pony up for that monthly gym membership. But I’ve been powerless to stop it. Such is the lure of great food and drink, the reassuring presence of old friends, and the giddiness of meeting new ones.

Oddly, unpredictably, delightfully, the past two nights have both conjured thoughts of New Year’s Eve. Here’s why:

Remembering Chanterelle

What happens when chefs order: one “course” of dinner for three at Legend.

“Too much food!” cried our waitress at Legend, a Chinese restaurant on Seventh Avenue in Chelsea.

She didn’t know who she was dealing with: David Waltuck of the dear, departed Chanterelle and Harold Dieterle of Perilla and Kin Shop. And a culinary writer always happy to follow their lead.

Both toques are Chinese food enthusiasts, who first met last year, when the Waltucks (David and his wife Karen, former goddess of Chanterelle’s dining room) and I had dinner at Kin Shop.

The two chefs had long respected each other from afar. Both also love Asian food. So it was decided that the three of us would connect for a Chinese dinner. By the time we got around to scheduling it, the two had gotten to know each other a bit by participating in a few of the same charity events, and by David and Karen’s visits to Harold’s restaurants, both of which are in their West Village neighborhood.

We met Harold after service at Kin Shop, around 9:30pm Tuesday night. Given the hour, rather than a Chinatown spot, David picked Legend, which he first discovered by way of a New York Times review last year. We made the five-minute walk and settled into a banquette just past the bar. Despite the fact that this is Chinese New Year’s week, the hour was late and the restaurant was nearly empty, save for a few diners in the subterranean space below.

Sitting with these two guys, I didn’t even bother offering an opinion as to what we should order when our waitress arrived, pad in hand. Harold, in turn, deferred to David: “You go and I’ll fill in.”… 

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Third Time’s the Charm?: Current Bocuse d’Or USA Guard to Select Next Candidate

2013 Team Coach, and Former Bocuse d’Or USA Candidate, Gavin Kaysen, on What to Expect This Time Around

Gavin Kaysen has one more go at the gold, this time as coach (photo by Gary Payne, courtesy Cafe Boulud)

I haven’t focused very much on the ramp-up to the Bocuse d’Or USA, which takes place at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, this weekend. But having written a book about it two years back, and having just re-launched this website less than two weeks ago, it seemed the responsible thing to dust off that part of my brain that houses knowledge about platter presentations, scoring formulations, and Bocuse d’Or backstory, and pen a preview post. I’ll also be trekking up to the CIA on Sunday to watch the action and talk to a few key leaders and participants.

With all that in mind, I checked in with Café Boulud’s Gavin Kaysen Monday afternoon. Kaysen, who I should mention is a friend of mine, competed for the United States in 2005, was the catalyst for Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud getting involved (along with Jerome Bocuse) in the Bocuse d’Or USA in 2008, and played an unsung coaching role for the 2011 team. In a logical and to most observers’ minds, inevitable development, Kaysen will now be the official coach for the squad that competes for the Stars and Stripes in 2013.

It’s difficult to explain the logistics of the Bocuse d’Or USA without lapsing into an extended exhibition of inside baseball. Suffice it, then, to say that the format of this Sunday’s competition, in which the two-person 2013 American team who will compete in Lyon next January will be selected, will more closely resemble what goes on in France than did the 2010 team trials, in which the 5 1/2 hours of competitive cooking was divided over two days. That said, the notorious platter presentation that largely defines the Bocuse d’Or will only be mandated for one course; the other will be presented on plates. (According to Kaysen, the Bocuse d’Or committee in Lyon has signaled such a change will “probably” take place at the mothership competition in 2013, which would shock me. He says the committee will let the competing countries know in about a month.)… 

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The Toqueland Ten: Emily Luchetti (Farallon and Waterbar, San Francisco)

One of the nation’s most influential pastry chefs names her ten favorite ingredients, and why.

Emily Luchetti rose to prominence as the executive pastry chef of San Francisco’s late, great Stars restaurant and now oversees the dessert programs at Farallon and Waterbar. She’s also the author of six cookbooks, most recently The Fearless Baker.

Toqueland has a confession to make: We don’t know as much about the sweet science of pastry as we do about what goes on over on the hot line. With that in mind, we picked Luchetti’s brain at length recently. (She also laid a copy of The Fearless Baker on us and we highly recommend it for its supportive tone and powers of demystification.)  A longer interview will follow before too long, but for the time being, here’s a little snack to hold you over, our sophomore edition of Toqueland Ten:

Emily Luchetti (photo by Gene Kosoy; courtesy Waterbar)

1. Caramel. “Caramel. Caramel sauce. Caramel anything. (You have to make caramel, but once you make it, I consider it an ingredient.) It’s a flavor that goes with every other pastry ingredient, whether it’s chocolate, whether it’s nuts, whether it’s citrus. It can be a subtle flavor or can be really strong, dominant, driving flavor.” You don’t have to change the recipe for to achieve the different effects, says Luchetti: “It’s how you deploy it.”

2. Bittersweet chocolate. “If I had to pick one, I’d pick something around 64 percent [cocoa], because that’s really generic and you can use it in just about anything.”… 

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Hey, Hey, Paula: A Chef with Diabetes Reflects on Deen-Gate

Tom Valenti on Paula Deen, Diabetes, and the Economics of Healthful Eating

Tom Valenti (photo courtesy Ouest)

As readers of this website know, I’ve been far removed from everyday cares up in Yosemite National Park this week. So I barely got to focus on the Paula Deen announcement that she has Type 2 diabetes (lucky me). But before the weekend descends, I wanted to touch base with Tom Valenti, chef of Ouest restaurant in New York City, a man with Type 2 diabetes, and the coauthor (full disclosure: with me) of You Don’t Have to Be Diabetic to Love This Cookbook, a recipe tome for people with diabetes.

I asked Tom to share a few thoughts on this week’s news and on diabetes in general:

TOQUELAND: What was first thing you thought when you heard the news?

VALENTI: I wasn’t surprised because I think that the style of cooking speaks for itself. Diabetes is an epidemic. Heredity has a big role in it for sure, but if you look at how she cooks it’s not surprising.

TOQUELAND: How did you feel about the fact that she waited three years to share the news?

VALENTI: I think it’s a complicated question. On the one hand, health is a private matter. On the other, if moms are trying to emulate her in the kitchen, or if children are asking their moms (or dads) to cook for them based on her show, with no boundaries, then I think they were entitled to that information. Otherwise, it’s a bit of a fantasy.

TOQUELAND: To what extent do you think chefs or food personalities are responsible for what they cook, serve, or show to their public?

VALENTI: It’s all relative to your audience. I feel like my audience is very small and fine dining is the exception rather than the rule to eating and we should be paying attention to what we eat all the other times.

As for Paula Deen, I don’t think we should be judging her, notwithstanding the fact that she waited three years to tell the public. Should she have taken some responsibility over three years with what she was pushing? I don’t think so, actually.

If you’re going to go after Paula Deen, it’s a slippery slope. What about soft drink companies? What about the bottomless pasta bowl at a chain restaurant? What about anyplace or anybody who doesn’t serve utopian cuisine? I don’t want to go there…. 

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