Gail Simmons on Finding Your Voice

From, an interview with Gail Simmons. This resonates with me because I am in the middle of the search for my own “culinary voice”. Let’s talk about the Quickfire challenge. It was really interesting to see Roy Choi going so hard on the chefs.

Gail Simmons: This whole episode came together in an incredible way. So many things about this episode were serendipity. We had Jon Favreau making a movie about being a chef — and that he went to Roy Choi to be his mentor for that, and that Roy Choi is a friend of ours (he was with us in Alaska for the finale last year and has such a huge connection to Emeril). Not only that, but in the movie that Jon’s making, a big part is going to take place in New Orleans, which was just another reason that Jon being on the episode made so much sense. It was so great to have him there because returning to New Orleans is such a pivotal part of the film. It all was just a perfect collaboration. I thought it was really special.

Hmmm, becoming a chef, New Orleans, food trucks…

This was a way to do that which connected them to the idea of the food truck and finding your voice. The food truck theme is an impetus for change and for starting fresh, which is what Jon’s movie is all about and also what Roy Choi’s journey is all about. But it’s also what we’re going to ask them to do in this Elimination Challenge.

I am not a big fan of Carlos, but he did make a great dish and what Gail had to say here really hits home: Let’s dive right in to the dishes that day. What did you think of Carlos’ Braised Pork Belly With Sweet Potato Puree and Chipotle Tamarind Glaze?

GS: Most of the dishes we ate that day were excellent. Carlos’ was a dish that he had in his back pocket from his restaurant that he’d clearly been waiting for an opportunity to pull out and this was the perfect time. It was delicious. It was balanced. It was cooked well, it was thoughtful, it was very concise. We’ve seen some good food from Carlos but it had been a while since he’d shown us something that tasted like we expected from him without having to fit his style into a challenge. It was just him being himself and that was really great to see. And we did really get a window into who he is as a chef, how he cooks, what flavors he likes. [emphasis mine, SPS.] It was bold and beautiful.

Read the whole interview here: Gail on Favreau, Choi, and Finding Yourself

My Life on a Plate?

My Life on a Plate“, what does it even mean?

life-on-a-plateThis past week we watched The Taste and an episode of Top Chef where the topic of the cooking challenge was “My Life on a Plate”. I got the feeling this concept was pointed directly at me, a message telling me I needed to get my act together and figure out just what it is I have to say with my own cooking.

The Lovely Bride mentioned I should have New Orleans influences on my plate, because it’s where I lived when I first “got into” food in a big way. While that is true, it is not necessarily what informs and influences my cooking.

I appreciate the flavors and dishes of New Orleans, but I can’t say “New Orleans” is my voice. In fact, I very rarely cook anything that is distinctly “New Orleans”. Do I use the flavors and ingredients? Yes, but I incorporate them in definitely non-New Orleans ways.

I was born in Illinois, grew up as a kid in Florida – where I learned to eat raw oysters, boiled shrimp, and fish all sorts of ways – then back to Illinois for high school and college. The midwestern way of beef and potatoes became the basis of my diet in those years, basic, simple and kind of boring.  Comfort food all the time, if you will.

I tried my hand at what I thought was “fancy” cooking from time-to-time, usually to impress a girl. In the early ’90’s however there was no Internet as we know it now, and I had no knowledge of the existing cookbooks (certainly not Julia Childs or Escoffier – French food is hard!) so I would just wing it. I almost never saw my mother use a recipe or a cookbook, so I suppose it never occurred to me as a resource.

When I moved to New Orleans in ’94 I discovered a whole new world of cookery. Here my friends and their mothers were putting together complex, flavorful dishes rivaling anything I had experienced in a restaurant. Shallots, garlic, real butter, balsamic vinegar, Creole mustard – a new vocabulary and palate of flavors appeared, as if by magic. I had been ignorant of so many of these things simply because they were not available in rural Illinois at the time, or if they were I’d never been exposed to them and didn’t know to look for them. My father didn’t really like the taste of garlic so my mother rarely cooked with it. The same with spicy flavors and ingredients, I was simply never exposed to it at home, sometimes at Taco Bell…

After New Orleans I spent eight years in Connecticut, two years in North Carolina, a year in Maine and now nearly five years in New Hampshire. Once again powerful regional influences appeared – lobster, mussels and clams, more fish, and Sushi! – these had a major impact on my cooking style and palate.

It was during my years in Connecticut I developed my skills and knowledge in the hospitality business, doing some actual cooking, developing menus, watching and helping with plate-ups. Real hands-on stuff in the back of the house.

Looking back now, giving it some real thought, I suppose it was during one of the periods of crisis (ha ha ha, there were plenty of these!) during my tenure at the Wolfeboro Inn that I began to feel I should be working on the other side of the pass. So of course I left an actual restaurant manager job to become a freelance marketing consultant (I know, it just seemed like the thing to do, and I was burned out, big time). This turned out to be not-such-a-success financially, but it was a huge success for me in the kitchen.

Suddenly I had TIME, a precious commodity for anyone creatively inclined, and the motivation to practice, study and learn. Now, almost two years later, I have decided to get serious about this cookery business. We have decided we want to pursue the idea of running our own food truck and owning a small farm to retire to.

This blog is part of our plan, a place for me to share what I am learning, an accountability practice, and a marketing tool. Am I ready to present “My Life on a Plate”? Not yet. But this is the path I must follow to find my culinary voice, the creative expression of myself which has people saying, “Stephen cooked that“.

NutriBullet Review – Whipping Your Food into a Froth

My sister-in-law gave me this thing for Christmas. She uses her own religiously, whipping all sorts of things into healthy, flavorful “shakes”.


I started making some of the veggie shakes recommended in the booklet that comes with the machine:

  • Lettuce
  • Carrot
  • Apple
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Avocado

Pour in some water and blend for about fifteen seconds. The result? A light, frothy-tasting salad-flavored drink. The problem is that it needed some acid, so I squeezed in some lemon juice and a little Italian salad dressing. Yum!

Now, I have a gluten intolerance (not full-on celiac) and I have to mention that I did not eat any bread during the three days that I was using the ‘bullet to blend my breakfast. In any case, the “nutrient extraction” going on caused some symptoms similar to those I get when I do eat bread. I am not sure if my system wasn’t prepared for the “richness” of what I was eating or what. Let’s just say that my lower GI prefers a protein-rich breakfast, like meat or eggs, so it can function in a more efficient manner.

Over the past two weeks we have been using the ‘bullet to make breakfast shakes with bananas, pears and milk (I add a 1/4-cup of unsalted peanuts to mine). These drinks have been very tasty and do not seem to have the same effect as the blended veggies.

Does it work to make you healthier and lose weight? The jury is out on that. The booklet does include some recipes and a journal for tracking your food/diet, but I’m not using it.

The Verdict

This NutriBullet is a very effective, powerful blender. If you need a blender it will work quite well for you. Personally, I’ll probably use it more for making juices and sauces.

Cookbook Review – Polpo

A Venetian cookbook (of sorts) by Russell Norman (and gorgeous photography by Jenny Zarins)

“What interested me were glimpses of tiny wine bars in alleys where locals would stand at the counter, a luminous orange drink in one hand and a small snack in the other. You could tell they were locals because they wore dark clothes or market traders’ overalls and shouted at each other in dialect…

Once I found the courage to enter one of these places, point at the bright orange drink, jab a finger at the pre-made snacks in a glass cabinet on the bar and attempt to work out what the hell was going on, I was hooked. There was no going back.”

Polpo a Venetian Cookbook

the book – Norman is a wonderful storyteller, and he has a story for every recipe that he has collected for this book. Nearly as much a travelogue as a cookbook, I am enthralled by the vignettes that accompany each menu creation.

In addition the full-color photography throughout will make your mouth water if the description of the food is not enough!

Scallops with Lemon and Peppermint

Olive Oil, Lemon Juice, Lemon Wheels, Minced Garlic and Mint Leaves
Olive Oil, Lemon Juice, Lemon Wheels, Minced Garlic and Mint Leaves

Mise for the Scallops

The common denominator of the recipes in this book is that they are simple.  As Norman says, “We have a rule that a dish is ready to put on the menu only when we have taken out as many ingredients as possible.”

This recipe is nearly the epitome of simple fare. Of course, I had to complicate things because, 1 – you can’t get Pilgrim Scallops in New Hampshire in January, and 2 – I wanted to make a little more substantial meal while keeping it light and fresh.

So I made a salad:

Salad of bitter greens
Salad of bitter greens

the salad – arugula, red oak lettuce and frisee – bitter greens that were quite wonderful with the scallops’ lemon and mint sauce as a dressing.

That is it, just a quick saute of the scallops on moderate heat until they are as done as you like them.

You can order this delightful cookbook from Amazon, via my affiliate link here ( I get a small percentage commission at no extra cost for you! ):