Tribute to the Queen of all Daring Bakers, Lis

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The world has lost a great person, I have lost a great friend. I have never met Lis in person, but we have exchanged countless of long, funny emails over the years. I first “met” Lis when the Daring Bakers was formed. And through the months and years we both laughed and exchanged emails about our baking triumphs and disasters. Lis was such a great writer, I told her she had some Bridget Jones feel going on in her writing.

Pictured above was the epic croissant challenge

She was such a staunch supporter when I decided to go full-time baking macarons and other little desserts. She was one of my test subjects when I tried shipping the macarons. She even had them for her wedding way back in 2008.

After both of us sort of fell off the blogging bandwagon, we found another common interest: True Blood! So we spent endless emails drooling over Eric and Alexander Skarsgaard and then bashing Bill Compton. And when Alcide showed up, well, we drooled all over him too.

Oh, Lis, I don’t think I ever told you, but I’ve finally watched Sons of Anarchy and you’re right, Charlie Hunnam is yummy.

And Lis was my biggest supporter when I told her I was writing a book. It was kind of funny how that went actually. Late last year, we were both exchanging emails about what books to read and I told her I’m writing my own book. So I sent her five chapters of a shitty first draft telling her I had no expectations of her reading it since it’s not her usual genre. She emailed me back and said she really liked what I had so far. So I think nothing of it and then a month later she emailed me again and asked: “Where’s the rest of the story?”

So I sat down and finished the manuscript and sent it to her. She said she loved it! Mind you this was an unedited final draft with all the horrendous grammatical errors and all. She became my beta-reader before I even knew what a beta reader was.

Lis,

I’m so sad you won’t get to read Viktor and Marissa’s story (although I have a feeling you’ll be reading over my shoulder as I write). But know that I’m thinking of you when I write them. You were my cheerleader—always. And somehow I know that wherever you are you’ll continue to give me that little nudge when I’m stuck.

You sent me an email the day before you passed, and I was wishing I had responded immediately, but if you’re reading this right now, I agree with what was in that email too.

I‘ll always remember you as the sister of my heart.

xoxo,

Your Sis

One night in Bangkok…

or maybe several days…

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Real tom yung goong

 Well, I wish I was the one who did the traveling, but my nephew who has travelled so much this year, sent me these pictures of his latest food adventure. I commend him for wanting to explore the world in the quest of finding what he really wants in life. Food and travel seem to put a lot of things into perspective for a lot of people.

No fancy restaurants here, just good hearty street food.

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Street vendor featured in National Geographic

My nephew hunted down this street vendor that was featured in the National Geographic’s food guide to the planet. You choose your ingredients and they’ll prepare it for you. *update – the name of the place or vendor is Tom Yung Banglampu*

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Tom yung goong

I asked him what the white clumps in the soup were and he said it might be the fat from the shrimp heads – read cholesterol! 🙂

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Thai omelet

A thai omelet is made of crispy egg layers.

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Their chili dipping sauce is er, a bit too spicy according to my nephew.

Their trip to the night market in pictures.

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Not sure what that grilled stuff above is. anybody? *update: thai sausage with chili inside…so beware*

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Bet those fish were caught only hours before, before being stuffed and thrown on the grill.

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Amazing sea of cooked prawns! In case you all didn’t notice, we keep the shrimp heads on outside the United States. They taste good! High in cholesterol though.

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pad thai
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Simple banana crepe with condensed milk
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Mangosteen – one of my favorite fruits

Sorry I cannot add more commentary as it’s not my travel experience but these pictures make me want to go to Bangkok. Looks like when I get the chance (and the money), I’d love to make it an HK-Bangkok-Singapore-Japan trip.

I really wish our Asian (or other ethnic) restaurants in RVA will cook food more authentic to their culture instead of sweetening it up for the American palate. However, I don’t blame them. What’s the use of cooking real Thai or Vietnamese or Chinese if you’re going to be out of business in a year…or less…

But if a few established restaurant groups back up this concept and afford to take a risk, then maybe…just maybe this may spark a revolution and shake up the Richmond dining scene.

🙂

Do Americans settle for mediocre food?

In the 1st issue of David Chang’s quarterly journal, Lucky Peach, one topic that resonated with me was his animated discussion with Anthony Bourdain and Wylie Dufresne about mediocrity in American tastes…their palates. Chang concluded that “people are comfortable just staying in the middle.” Dufresne says, “ America doesn’t have a long history of rewarding those who have taken risks, culinarily…” and Bourdain says that restaurants that aspire higher “get slapped down from the get go.” To paraphrase Bourdain a little, it’s all about compromising and keeping your food and labor costs according to template. It’s insanity to try it any other way.

So here is an immigrant’s point of view…

When I first moved to the U.S. 14 years ago I was smacked right in Charleston, West Virginia. My hometown in the Philippines had more restaurants per capita. When the recruiter asked me where I wanted to go for dinner I said, “Mc Donald’s!”

There is that colonial mentality (the Philippines was under U.S. governance for a couple of years) rearing its head and everything that is American is popular in the Philippines courtesy of Hollywood movies and TV shows.

My first U.S. meal in McDonald’s was a disappoint because there was no fried chicken with rice. Apparently fast food franchises adapt their menu to a country’s taste.
The next fast food to disillusion me was KFC, chicken was bland and the gravy tasted of pepper and nothing else.

Got me wondering, why do fast foods in the Philippines taste better than their U.S. counterpart. You would think it would be the same formula. Up to this day when I go home for a visit, I can’t wait to have a midnight meal at KFC before heading up to my hometown of Baguio. The food is definitely tastier, the chicken is served with rice and you’ve got the tastiest gravy courtesy of a gravy pump by the condiments section – a gravy pump! Warm gravy that tastes like well-seasoned drippings from a roast chicken.

To eat at an American fast food chain in the Philippines isn’t cheap. It’s almost a treat to do so, one you would reserve during payday or the family weekend out. Most families still cook their meals from scratch and frozen dinners are not very popular because not everyone has a freezer so when they spend money to eat out, it better taste good and that includes fast food restaurants.

Twelve years ago I moved to Richmond and I was excited thinking the fast food was better – bigger city, right? I still didn’t cook remember? My recruiter this time asked me if I liked seafood because there’s this place known for their crabs. I was thrilled remembering the whole dungeness crab I had at Fisherman’s wharf in San Francisco. This was the “The Hard Shell” and no there were no piles of steamed whole dungeness crabs…just crab legs. Best pizza in town that time apparently was Bottoms up pizza.

I had an eerie feeling that all food tasted the same.

I was new in town, I didn’t know of Carytown or the Fan area yet. I was too timid to explore the Metro on my own because a friend told me there were some places I didn’t want to get lost in and I hate parallel parking.

When my brother and his family came for a visit, I took them to Olive Garden. I was almost apologetic about that meal because it was the most expensive I could afford and it tasted like nothing. We were eating crappy fast food most of the time. I figured when we head up to New York, we’d eat better.

A few months later, things started to happen, a new co-worker who was originally from Berkley, California befriended me and asked me if I tried this incredible noodle bowl from this Chinese restaurant. That’s how I got my introduction to Full Kee.

Then I had another friend come in for a visit and I was desperate as to where to take her – this person loved good food.That’s when “Hungry” Hubby (HH) who was then just a co-worker and sitting a cubicle away, told me about Franco’s (Paolo Randazzo of Sensi ‘s old place). He said I’ve got to try this place and was I glad I did. Both my friend and I were transported to heaven by our meal there.

From then I followed the trail down the rabbit hole and uncovered a whole new world of food.

I could see some reasons why the American tastebuds are so middling.

If they do not know what they’ve been missing in the first place, they are less likely to look for it.

This is more apparent when raising a family in the suburbs. In between a day job, picking a child from day care and running the other kid to soccer practice, one would likely dine closer to home, and what do we have in suburbia? Chain restaurants and mediocre Italian joints in strip malls. But then do fast foods purposely keep the flavor that way because that’s what people want? Vicious cycle.

So one starts to feed their kids that stuff and likely shaping their palates into mediocrity all the way to adulthood.

I know a couple who used to frequent the Fan and Carytown restaurants but when they had kids they didn’t really want to travel too far from their suburban home because the babysitter costs money.

Another is sports bars and America’s love for sports. If there’s a sports bar that serves decent food, please let me know. I could be wrong.

The franchises are the ones with money to advertise so it’s a losing battle at that end for locally-owned restaurants.

But locally-owned, neighborhood restaurants are not any better. Yes, there’s more than a few that open with such promise only to fall back into the formulaic mediocrity of their chain restaurant counterparts. Are crabcakes on every restaurant menu really necessary?

I’m ready for more exciting food, aren’t you RVA? Let’s let our chefs take risks in their creativity and lets go support them.

I do see a glimmer of hope, at least in Short Pump. We now have Lehja. Also Pescado’s had their start in the Southside, opened Pescado’s China street in Oregon Hill and now have The White Anchovie in the West End. We need more folks like them who have enough clout to pave the way for good dining and to raise the bar past mediocrity in Richmond.

Sorry for rambling….

* I do eat fast food sometimes. I think Chipotle rocks as a fast food chain. I like Chick-fil-a and you’ll most likely find me at Mc Donald’s on a hot day ordering a quarter-pounder with cheese with one of their perfectly-carbonated sodas.

The greatest foodie I’ve ever known

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Papa and his first car, the Torana

Before the word foodie was ever coined, before the Food Network made cooking cool and before there were celebrity chefs, there was my dad.
I’m not sure how he got into cookery. I know my grandmother made authentic Chinese food, raised her own chickens and dried her own duck, so I’m sure my dad learned a lot from her. His favorite how-he-got-started story though, was when he was a dishwasher in this restaurant and the cook quit; the owner asked him if he, my dad, wanted to become the cook – I guess that’s how he got started being in charge of a kitchen.
Like all Chinese wishing to have a better life, he knew he had to get an education. So while getting his degree in accounting he opted instead to work for a fine goods grocery store during the day so he can go to night school. But he did not let this deter him from his love of cooking. Apparently he loved exchanging recipes with his customers. When I asked him where he got the tuna salad sandwich spread I loved so much, he said it was from an American missionary.

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Uncle Johnny {left}, Dad {right}

From a very early age my dad had instilled in me that when it comes to food, money is no object. My dad had never flinched in plunking down hefty dough to get first choice on the freshest fish, the biggest prawns or the plumpest duck. Even when the restaurant was having slow times he would find a way to provide quality meals for his family.
He doesn’t approve though of eating out at restaurants around town. He would say, “Why would you want to eat outside when you have the best food at home?” If there was a dish I liked at another eatery he would ask me to take it home so he can recreate it for me. However, teen-agers also liked pizza and I think that was one item my dad couldn’t replicate so my brother and I would sometimes sneak some pizza into the house late at night. 🙂

That said, the objective of most of our out-of-town day trips involved eating at places known for their fish, crab or grilled specialties. I recalled a trip where my dad, the driver and I went to this place famous for pit-roasted pig called lechon that was served with an incredible liver sauce. Though I recall consuming a lot and waddling out of that restaurant, I think my dad exaggerates when he repeatedly tells the tale of me eating most of the 2 kilos of that heavenly porcine fare. I think I was just twelve, how could I eat so much then?
Anyway, a common conversation at dinner is what we should eat for tomorrow’s dinner.
I know right? How could we keep on talking about food? You grow up with it, I guess and it becomes second nature. (My husband couldn’t understand it at first and thought I needed some therapy…that is until he met my family, now I kinda rubbed off on him.)

Even when I left my hometown to work in Manila, my dad worried if I had enough to eat and would constantly send me boxes of goodies. One time it was my birthday and he sent an entire feast via the bus or rather care-of the bus driver: roast chicken, the fixings including a perfect birthday cake from him and mom.
No doubt, my dad loved all food: duck, pork, crab, steaks…but all these were not without consequences.
Before I left for the U.S. in October 1996, I spent the weekend in Baguio and spent a day talking to my dad about the future and the past. Finally he said, “Send me a plane ticket so I can come visit and we can go eat steaks or I can come cook for you.” Ahh, my dad, always worrying that his daughter is gonna go hungry.

After that night’s going-away party we gave each other a hug good-bye.
That was the last time I hugged him.
He suffered a heart attack a month later. It was not that bad, he assured me and he had quit smoking, started exercising lightly and …watching what he ate. I felt so bad for him knowing how much he loved to eat. Not long after he had another setback and surgery was imminent.
On New Year’s Day, 1997, we had a chat on the phone and he told me he wasn’t afraid of surgery anymore and he couldn’t wait to start eating duck again. I laughed and said, “In moderation, Pa.
That was our last conversation.
He never woke up from surgery.
To this day, my heart breaks when I think of the hope in his voice when I last spoke to him. I find comfort in that I don’t have any regrets in my relationship with my Dad, we were very close as father and daughter, food was such a central part of our lives that it’s not surprising that most of my fondest memories of him involved our hearty meals and chatter around the dinner table or me waiting impatiently beside him as he whipped up Sunday’s special dinner of strip steak and noodles. I don’t think that there’s ever a single day that goes by when I don’t think of him, specially when my thoughts yearn for the dishes from my childhood.
One of these fares is lamb stew, I probably have not had it in 30 years. To recreate it from memory I had to think like my dad….and this is where being my father’s daughter comes in handy. 🙂

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Lamb Stew

The fat of the lamb is what gives the stew its special flavor so do NOT cut it out from the meat.

Happy Father’s day! Now go give your dad a hug…

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Quick recap of Blogherfood 11

What? No pictures?

It was a crazy busy time for Petites Bouchees last week, I was considering becoming a no-show at the conference except I already paid for the non-refundable fees for both the conference and my airplane ticket.

I’m gonna write this post now or I’m never gonna have another opportunity.These next few weeks are going to be – to put it not so mildly – hell. So please excuse the overrun sentences, poor grammar and misspellings.

So off I went to Blogherfood sans a camera except the one from the Iphone.

I first ran into Kamran of Sophisticated Gourmet in the elevator. We instantly recognized each other even if we haven’t met in real life yet. He was with 2 other young bloggers,Lauren of Celiac Teen and Elissa of 17 and baking – sigh to be young and full of energy.

I was pleasantly thrilled to see my long time blogger buddies, T.W. of Culinary Types & Lydia of Perfect Pantry. Though at times we fell out of touch through the years, I’ll never forget that we were the “old-timers” back when blogging was so different. I also met Andrea Meyers of Andrea’s Recipes and Kalyn of Kalyn’s kitchen. Five of us kinda hang out throughout the whole conference and I had so much fun in their company, hope they did too. 🙂

Joining our group at times were Kelly of Sass and Veracity, Susan of Sticky, Gooey, Creamy Chewy.

And after being blog friends for five long years, I finally met Jaden of Steamy Kitchen.

Also after being online friends for so long, also had the pleasure of meeting Aran Goyoaga of Canelle et Vanille who had her adorable baby girl Miren with her.(I remember Aran was one of my first customers at Petites Bouchees – such support!)

So what about the conference tracks? I must admit I did not complete any of the first day tracks I attended because either I was too sleepy and can’t stay awake (read grumpy to just sit still) or I just couldn’t find value in those sessions for an experienced blogger.

Apparently some other bloggers felt the same and we spent “conference” hours catching up on blog gossip in a cafe in the lobby.

I was more hopeful for the second day because Aran was presenting a food photography seminar and Dianne Jacobs (who had coached me on finding my voice) was presenting another one about recipe copyright. Problem was they were both on at the same time. What a dilemma!

Good thing was, Aran was presenting first, so when she finished I left the food photography track and stepped into a very animated discussion going on at the recipe copyright one.

To put it mildly David Leite of Leite’s Culinaria doesn’t think much of bloggers who post recipes from cookbooks on their blogs even if it seems that you are promoting that book. You should always ask permission from the publisher to post a recipe. I’m still on the fence on this one and this has given me a lot of food for thought. {Ha! couldn’t resist that cliche! update. 5/23 *the right word is pun* thanks David! ;)}

Anyway, great solid sessions in the morning but the afternoon one proved to be the most fun. We got to watch Mrs. Wheelbarrow make sausage. Oh if I could only go back and document all the tweets, you would think we were watching porn. “Lubricate a stuffer, anyone?”

I was wondering why, if the conference was about food blogs, shouldn’t there be at least one session a day that is food-related? Or would that be too specific?

I guess it bothers me that a lot of the sessions were focused on monetizing your blog and there’s nothing about the passion for food. I mean, that should be the first reason you start a food blog, right? There was even a session about branding…. branding…! I was baffled and asked Lydia “What will you brand? Your blog?”

Are we taking ourselves too seriously? Are the blog-haters right in saying that we are such a self-absorbed lot?

I must be the most disconnected blogger right now because I  went into the conference with no business cards for my blog. So when I got asked on numerous occassions to exchange cards, I had none to offer. And the “Hungry” hubby will probably laugh because when he asked me what’s the benefit of going, I said “To network!” Well, it’s kinda hard to network if you don’t have a business card to hand your information over.

I think I need to take my blog more seriously.

But you know what, the most valuable takeaway from the conference was connecting with old and current blog friends. Will I attend another Blogher? Probably not. But other conferences that are not too intertwined with food sponsors, maybe yes.

But I am not complaining about the Scharffen Berger bars I took home with me. I was prepared to pay for them anyway, I was just lucky they were free. 🙂

Musings on the zen of ramen-making

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A tasty bowl of ramen

It took me some planning to set project ramen into play. For my sanity, I figured I needed at least 3 days to make this happen. I’m not talking about the instant noodle variety here. If you “google” how to make ramen, you will sadly get some hits on Youtube of how to make ramen in a microwave oven.

Nope, we’re past college days here, folks. We’re talking about the revered art of ramen-making where the broth is a significant if not the ultimate component. It is the broth that animates your noodles and everything else you put into your bowl.

I was serious in my quest for the perfect ramen. I even watched “Tampopo” in preparation and the movie reiterated how the Japanese culture takes this noodle soup seriously. I was immediately taken with how a ramen grand master guides his apprentice on how to appreciate a humble bowl of ramen before tucking into it. For hard-core ramen makers, the position of your toppings also matter, but there is very little else written about that.

Hubby reminded me to be careful about what I was feeling when I made the broth. From another movie, “Ramen Girl”, one should pour your emotions into its creation, it doesn’t matter if you are happy or sad, otherwise your broth, despite following careful instructions to simmer 6-7 hours, is going to end up bland and lacking the nuance of spirit.

I remember a giant cauldron of stock beside the main cooking stations in our restaurant. Whole chickens and pork bones would go into the pot in the morning and simmer for an entire day and dishes from stir fries and soups would draw their liquid from it. There are times when the noodle soup (chicken mami) would taste fantastic and there are times when the soup would taste anemic like dish water (not that I know what dish water tastes like). I think it depends how inspired the cook was that day, huh?

That is why I broke up my ramen-making schedule into 3 days because I didn’t want to feel rushed, impatient or annoyed at my broth. So I don’t want to feel rushed, impatient or annoyed after eating my ramen.
 

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Three days to ramen

Because the recipe is almost 4 pages long, I’ll preface the recipe with my cooking notes. Most of the recipes I used, except the noodles ,are from David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook. I experimented with ramen noodles earlier this year and the recipe could be found here.

I’m also sold on Benton bacon, the smokiness it imparts to the broth is unparalleled. I think Alan Benton’s bacon is in high demand right now because his website states a waiting period of 4 weeks so if you are planning to use his product, you better take note of its availability. I ordered mine in January and had to wait 3 weeks before it arrived.

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Components of the broth

Other sources for Richmond folks:

Neck Bones – can be obtained from Whole Foods, they arrive every Tuesday.
Chicken Backs – also at Whole foods, I believe they’re frequently available.
Pork Belly – I like to get mine from Tan-A or Far East Grocery located on Horsepen and Broad. I find that Asian pork belly are meatier and more suitable for Asian cooking. Don’t forget to have them take the skin off.
* You can skip the pork belly and use Char Siu also known as Chinese roast pork. Full Kee sells this on the weekend and they make them well.
Usukuchi, Sake and Mirin – are available at most Asian markets. But I buy most of my Japanese ingredients from Tokyo Market in Carytown.

I don’t think I’m going to poach my eggs this way again, too much work for home cooking. But if you want to, the more water in the pot, the easier it is to keep a steady temperature.

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Poaching eggs in 140F temperature

However, it was amazing to see a seemingly uncooked egg fall out of its shell – quivering whites and an intact yolk.

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poached egg

The process of preparing a ramen bowl isn’t complicated as it’s a list of easy tasks, some as simple as simmering ingredients together. However, it can be confusing. So after trying to arrange the steps chronologically in my head, I finally put things on a little worksheet so I don’t forget anything.

The most time-consuming part of course is the broth. I cooked mine for six hours. In case you are wondering why you can’t just throw everything in the pot together and simmer, some ingredients like the konbu has a temperature where it releases maximum flavor and any extended steeping might introduce a bitter taste. The bacon, for example, is taken out after 45 minutes, maybe so it doesn’t become the dominant flavor or aroma. Spent shiitake mushrooms can be pickled afterwards.

I decided to give my chicken a salt rub so there will be less scum in the broth.

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roasted neck bones

The pork neckbones spent the longest time in the broth. I always thought 6 hours was excessive, but I could tell subtle differences in the depth of flavor as it cooked longer and it was not from concentrating the liquid either because I was constantly replenishing with water. Like any stock, do not allow the liquid to boil and be diligent in removing impurities.

So, was making my own broth worth it? Definitely. I even dare say that mine tasted better than what I’ve had a Momofuku’s. There was so much joy and satisfaction getting in that first bite and slurping in that last drop from a noodle bowl made carefully from one’s own hand . I think I did pour the right emotion and spirit into the making of my ramen. 🙂

related posts:

Ramen noodle recipe

Pork Belly Buns

ramentoppings
Toppings: enoki mushrooms (which I skipped), chopped scallions, pickled shiitake, egg, naruto (steamed fish) and braised bamboo shoots
ramenbowl02
 

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A lesson in seam butchering

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Meet Kate Hill (left) and the butcher, Dominique Chapolard (right)

I have made no secret for my love of pork. For me, it doesn’t deserve second billing to chicken as the other white meat, it is so much more than that(not that I have anything against chicken). But can I really blame people for that comparison, when supermarket meat cases carry these lean segments of pork loin stripped of all the fat? I guess I should be thankful for America’s love of pork ribs – I love them too and am thankful for the fat left in those – but not as much as I love the flavorful belly of the pig.

Though I’m mostly immune to some groups who are openly vocal about omnivores being some kind of animal killers, I am grateful to them for making me aware of food industry practices around the world.

The thing is, I grew up pretty much where food was farm-to-table.

My hometown province in the Philippines, Benguet, is known as the nation’s “salad bowl” because of its huge production of vegetables. The South China sea and its bounty of fresh fish is but an hour drive and we have a slaughter house right in the heart of the city rumored also to be serving up the fabled aphrodisiac soup #5. The native peasants, who raise ducks and chicken, regularly stop by our restaurant to sell their animals and my dad or grandma would expertly convert these fowls into delicious white-cut chicken, stewed, roast or dried duck.

Yup, I’ve seen my dad or grandma deftly slaughter poultry – slit, scald, de-feather & gut them before my very eyes. You can say I was de-sensitized at a very young age.

This had carried over several years into my living in the United States. I sort of accepted the meat in supermarkets without questioning its sources (I assumed the processing plant wasn’t too far) but I have also wondered about chicken being so tasteless. It’s only in the past six years after starting a food blog that I’ve seen through the food industries’ dirty little secrets and now store shelves are becoming less and less appealing to me.

It’s enough to turn me into a vegetarian…okay…maybe I exaggerate a bit (and I can hear my brothers laughing their heads off). After all, I’m the kid who picked the potato and carrots out of the lamb stew and threw them under the table so I can eat more lamb. Besides, didn’t vegetables get their fair share of bad press with e-coli and salmonella?

Nothing is safe, the price of industrialization is steep.

Big food plants need to be regulated, food handling has become so mechanized, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ve bleached the flavor out of our food.

Which is why I want to rediscover my roots and, as cliche at that sounds, how things were done in the good old days.

One thing I have not admitted to in this blog was when I went home to the Philippines last year, I took part in the slaughtering of a duck – uhm….it didn’t turn out very well for me and the duck. Even there the old guard is gone. My mom is 82, walking on a cane (she broke her hip 6-months back) impatiently berating the cooks who didn’t know how to handle the poor fowl and I watched in horror as the poor thing struggled as I was traumatized by the scene. And yes, I could not eat the dish that was made from it.

The experience did not deter me from wanting to learn more about how meat was processed, it spurred me more into finding a place that would teach me about this art.

I’ve always wanted to save up enough money to take one of Kate Hill’s culinary programs like the Marché au gras which is a whole week of duck cookery heaven from confit de canard to foie gras.

I’ve also found Duckfest, a culinary program in Claddagh farms. The past workshop was in December which was not a good time for me to take off.

I was also curious about The French Pig. Kate has teamed up with the Chapolard family – a farmer/butcher family that makes sausage, ham and pâtés to introduce French butchery workshops in the United States.

This certainly saves me a plane ticket, though I wouldn’t mind traveling to Gascony.
The workshop was held in Little Washington at the Stonyman Gourmet Farmer this past Sunday. Oooh, if I had not just come back from my Philippine vacation I would have suggested to the hubby to make a weekend of it and dine at the Inn at Little Washington.

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Stonyman Gourmet Farmer

We arrived at the Stonyman Gourmet Farmer a little before 9:00 am on a fine sunny morning. The shop was adorable and people were milling around morning coffee and pastries which were made fresh everyday. I had a delicious pear muffin for breakfast and I immediately could tell that these baked goods were in a class of their own.

I was thrilled to finally meet Kate Hill and Dominique Chapolard. Dom asked me if I was a butcher (or I was in the pig trade) and I said, “No, but I love pork so much.” I suddenly had an image of myself with a cleaver hacking through a big side of meat.

I also got to meet Cathy Barrow, also known as Mrs. Wheelbarrow, one of the founders of Charcutepaloozaa year of meat – a group dedicated to the art of charcuterie.

Dom Chapolard started talking about his love for the pig. He runs a full circle farm together with his wife and three brothers. They grow the grains they feed their pigs, slaughter in a cooperative abattoir ( a group of farmers share the cost), butcher the meat on their farm and produce fresh French pork cuts and delectable charcuterie for their town…and apparently they sell out every week.

I never knew that the French were this passionate about pork.

He also said that the farmer loves his pig and the butcher loves his meat. To show respect for this porcine creature, it is important not to waste anything. This starts from the slaughter. Blood is drained and kept for blood sausage. Whatever scraps are gleaned from cleaning the pig is accumulated in a pile to be made into saucisse later. I think when he said that when you terminate the life of a pig, it is not a “Disney feeling” I think he meant that our sadness when the hunter made Bambi motherless – we felt sad for a while and then we forgot about it after the movie ended. For the butcher, it is a weekly ritual of slaughtering the pig, it is a real feeling that has become part of their affinity with the animal which they have raised from birth and nurtured for a year.

Pigs grow very fast from months 1-6, so whatever you feed it becomes apparent in the weight they put on. In the United States, they are slaughtered at 6 months because feeding it longer than that will be very costly. However, the muscle of a pig at that age is mostly water. That’s why when you cook pork chops bought from American supermarkets, it releases a lot of water.

In France, they let the pig mature to a year because the muscle becomes more dense which translates to more flavor.

So after that intro, it’s best to let the pictures tell the story, no?

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Dominique Chapolard

The butcher Chapolard has massive forearms. With the exception of sawing through the joints, he used a non-flexible short boning knife for all his seam butchering.The knife he has above is the Victorinox- 5.5603.14.

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leaf lard vs. regular pork fat

He let us feel the difference of the leaf lard which is near the internal organs and the regular fat that is the layer under the skin. The leaf lard is more dense and white and this is perfect for, what else, pie dough!

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He first took the front hoofs off at the joint.

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Then worked on the hind legs. If you were making ham, you would leave the hoofs on because you hang the ham by this.

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Tenderloin

Then Dom worked on the back seam to coax out the tenderloin.

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The rib seam

In the U.S., the ribs are a prized cut of the pig, in France these are used as soup bones so when seaming, they take the knife closer to the bone to leave more meat on the pork belly. So the ribcage is pulled away from the ventreche (pork belly) very carefully.

Kate tells us that you never hear the butcher say cutting or chopping, it is always “pull away” or to “free”.

Dom adds ” In France, we like to take things apart gently.”

🙂

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