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Behind the Swinging Doors: Inside the Kitchen at Huertas

Behind the Swinging Doors: Inside the Kitchen at Huertas


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Check out our photos of the kitchen at this Manhattan restaurant

Jane Bruce

Executive chef and owner Jonah Miller in the kitchen at Huertas.

Owner and executive chef Jonah Miller opened Huertas in earlier in 2014, bringing northern Spain-style food to Manhattan’s East Village. In the front of the restaurant, they served a rotating sample of passed pinxtos, or finger foods, in addition to a menu of raciones, Spanish for portions. In the back, there is a fixed menu with the option for drink pairings. The dinner is four courses, with the menu written by the kitchen that day.

Behind the Swinging Doors: Inside the Kitchen at Huertas (Slideshow)

We stopped by the kitchen at Huertas on a Thursday at 6 p.m. Service was slow as the first dinner reservation was just getting seated. Cooks prepared some pinxtos to pass around the bar area. The sound of The Cranberries’ “Dreams” plays in the bar area, and throughout the open kitchen. Chef Miller is prepping some gooseneck barnacles while his kitchen staff gets prepped for the night behind him.

“I thought you were outta here by now?” one server asks another as they go through a shift change. The bar area starts to fill up and the kitchen and the wait staff work together to get the pinxtos out to the hungry guests. Trays of anchovies and English pea crostinis start to hit the floor. It’s early in the night so the action is minimal.

Ticket

A ticket with a few items a bar order waiting to be filled.

Prep

Executive chef Jonah Miller and his line cooks get ready for the night of service. The first reservation just sat down, so this is the calm before the storm.

Click here for more scenes from the kitchen of Huertas.

Jane Bruce is the Photo Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @janeebruce.


Is Restaurant Noise a Crime? Our Critic Mounts a Ringing Defense

Whatever else readers say in article comments, on social media or in their emails to me, two responses are far and away the most common when I write about restaurants. The first is a rejection of the whole idea of eating out, because after all one can eat much more cheaply at home. To that, there’s not much to say except “bon appétit.”

The other takes several forms, all of them essentially complaints about the noise. I went to that restaurant you reviewed this week and it was too loud, they say. Or they take the broader view that most restaurants are too loud. Or the longer, historical view that restaurants generally are getting louder and louder.

Often, these readers go on to implore me to do something about it. My reviews already give my impressions of each restaurant’s acoustics, but it’s frequently been suggested that I make like the restaurant critic Tom Sietsema, who includes a decibel-level reading and a brief explanation (“Must speak with raised voice”) with each of his reviews in The Washington Post.

Others want me to take a strong anti-noise stand. Recently, I received an email from a physician who calls himself a noise activist, comparing restaurant noise to secondhand smoke. It took legislation to get cigarettes out of restaurants, he wrote, and if enough people are made aware of the risks of hearing loss posed by high volumes, similar laws could be passed “mandating quieter restaurants.”

My answers to these remarks tend to be politely noncommittal. To those who ask about decibel readings, I say they strike me as false precision, because variables like the night of the week or the number of tables for six or more can have a major effect on the volume. To others, I’d say I wanted more time and information before taking on a complicated topic.

The longer I put off writing, though, the harder it was not to notice that I was avoiding the subject. And when I asked myself why, I had to admit that I don’t really believe loud restaurants are a problem.

The truth is, I love them. Not all of them, not all the time. I enjoy more than a few quiet restaurants, too, where you can concentrate on the food and the conversation without auditory distractions. But so many of the places I enjoy most tend to be at least somewhat noisy that eventually it dawned on me that one of the things I enjoy must be the noise itself.

Having most of my hearing ability intact certainly helps my enjoyment if I had more trouble conversing over the shrimp cocktail each night, I would probably have a different attitude. What I can bring to this topic, though, is a near-nightly experience of restaurants as registered by all five senses.

Most of the noises in our lives are the accidental byproducts of some activity we need or at least tolerate for reasons having nothing to do with the sounds they make. We don’t love the wail of ambulance sirens, the brontosaurus stomp of garbage trucks or the steel-on-steel whine of the No. 4, 5 and 6 trains rounding into the Union Square station, but we’ll put up with them until somebody finds a quieter way to move sick people, trash and rush-hour commuters.

Which activity is restaurant noise a byproduct of, though? The servers moving between tables (in rubber-soled shoes)? Money changing hands (by credit card)? Pots and pans hurled by angry cooks (behind swinging doors or in an open kitchen where almost nobody speaks)?

What you hear in a packed downtown brasserie on a Friday night isn’t any of those things. It’s mainly the unamplified voices of customers fleshed out with amplified, typically recorded music. A few chefs and owners love to play their favorite music at teenage-Metallica-fan volumes but in most restaurants, the music is mere accompaniment to the crowd. Restaurants are loud because we’re loud. With a few exceptions, when we complain about the noise, we’re complaining about ourselves.

If you believe a restaurant’s primary function is to serve food, then it doesn’t make sense for us to respond by raising our voices. But we go out for other reasons. We go to look around, maybe to be noticed, usually to talk to the people we came with. Some of us want a drink or two, and almost all of us want to loosen the knots of tension that daily life ties.

Everything about the restaurant experience is designed to speed those things along, and when it all works, we respond by raising our voices. Far from being an accidental side effect, a noisy restaurant is the end product of a business that helps us have a good time, just as purring is the end product of scratching a cat’s chin the right way.

What makes a sound into noise is subjective. Just as a weed is a plant you don’t want in your yard, noise is a sound you don’t want in your head. Audio professionals call the sound we do want the signal. In a restaurant setting, we typically think of the signal as the voices of the people we are sitting with, plus the voice of any server who happens to be addressing us at that moment, but only at that moment. The minute the next table over wants help choosing the wine, the sommelier’s voice becomes noise.

Five Weeknight Dishes

Emily Weinstein has menu suggestions for the week. There are thousands of ideas for what to cook waiting for you on New York Times Cooking.

    • This coconut fish and tomato bake from Yewande Komolafe yields a gorgeous, silky ginger-coconut sauce.
    • A tasty recipe for sheet-pan chicken and potatoes by Lidey Heuck is really nice without being fussy.
    • This vegetarian baked Alfredo pasta with broccoli rabe is inspired by pasta Alfredo, but with green vegetables added.
    • Kay Chun adds asparagus and snap peas to spring vegetable japchae in this vegan take on the classic dish.
    • You could substitute chicken or another type of fish in this summery grilled salmon salad from Melissa Clark.

    Zeroing in on one voice in a room full of people talking is a complex job. When we’re young our ears are good at it, up to a certain volume, but we have more and more trouble with it as we age. Microphones are pretty bad at it, as every journalist who has recorded an interview in a crowded room knows. So are hearing aids, which amplify noise and signal equally, and can make a reasonably loud room seem unbearable.

    This may be more a technology problem than a restaurant problem. There are ways to hold down the racket, though, such as ceiling tiles, foam pads, even ropes snaked around pipes and table legs. Equalizers can be tuned so that music plays more softly in the frequencies that compete most fiercely with conversation.

    From time to time, all of us want a dining room where we can speak and be heard without resorting to pantomimes. These places exist, but they’re always changing. The month-old cantina with a line out the door may be thunderous tonight and an oasis of calm a year from now when the mobs have moved on. Finding these oases when you need them isn’t a restaurant problem, either it’s an information problem. This would seem to be a perfect job for crowdsourcing at least one decibel-monitoring app claims to collate users’ readings into a real-time guide to where the quiet things are.

    Placid restaurants seem to be a minority taste, though. There seems to be something about the sonic cocktail of loud conversation and background music that many people like, because it is the sound of almost all successful modern restaurants.

    The precise mix is important. If you ever walk into a restaurant where it is reversed — if the music is pumping and nobody is saying a word — chances are you’ll walk right back out again, as I did a few weeks ago at a bar and grill near the Jackie Robinson Parkway in Queens that was blaring Latin dance music to a nearly empty dining room.

    At other times, silence can make us feel more uncomfortable than noise. When everybody at a party goes quiet at once — maybe the Christmas tree catches fire or an angry neighbor shows up at the door — the guests will usually freeze in place, looking around awkwardly until they get a sign that it’s O.K. to talk again.

    Something similar but less dramatic happens to a party when the music stops suddenly. This is jarring at first, and remains slightly unpleasant even once you’ve adjusted to it. If the music never comes back, people eventually leave, which is what I suspect would happen to any large restaurant that tried to go without music entirely.

    Despite the evidence that for many of us restaurant noise is a feature and not a bug (or, at a minimum, both a feature and a bug), I expect the advocates for lower volumes to get more vocal. The notion of a noise we can’t control is becoming inconceivable.

    Throughout our daily lives, sounds we used to share have been filtered out or have simply stopped. When I started my career, offices were alive. Phones rang. Typewriters clacked. Somewhere, maybe only in the mailroom, a radio would play. And all around, people talked, on the phone and to each other.

    And today? We sit lined up in cubicles, eyes forward, mouths shut. Our colleagues communicate with us on Gchat or Slack, even if they sit next to us. Professional acquaintances email. Friends text. Nobody calls, and music is piped directly into our heads.

    For the first time in history, we can tune most of our sonic environments to our liking, whether we’re at home or not. On our way to and from work or anywhere else, we decide what we want to listen to, choosing from an unseen jukebox that holds, as the former New York Times music critic Ben Ratliff put it in the title of a recent book, “Every Song Ever,” not to mention thousands of podcasts that will begin and end precisely when we tell them to.

    If we stuff strange white sticks in our ears, or wear “noise-canceling” headphones, or roll up the car windows and turn on the air-conditioning, we don’t have to listen to any sounds that we haven’t chosen, or that weren’t chosen for us by the helpful algorithms of a music-streaming service. Life in the 21st century means never having to hear the person who stepped on your foot say, “I’m sorry.”

    Unless you’re in a restaurant. When your feet are stepped on in a crowded dining room, you hear an apology (most of the time). Right behind you, they’re talking about “BoJack Horseman,” which is funny, because you and your friends were having the same conversation five minutes ago. Did the idea jump from your table to theirs, like a virus? Beyond their table, who knows what anybody is talking about? All you can hear is one long roar.

    But there are different kinds of roars for different kinds of crowds. There used to be information in the sound of a busy office. In the age before earbuds, an overheard phone call between your boss and her mother could tell you more about their relationship than she ever would. Without earbuds, even the silences have something to say the quiet of concentration is different from the quiet of procrastination.

    And there is information in restaurant noise, depending on who is in the room and why they are there. There is the skipping, questioning rhythm of flirtation the confident bleat of people showing off money the squawk of debate. People getting to know each other are loud in one way, and old friends are loud in a completely different way. A table of six men on the Lower East Side vibrates at one frequency, and a table of six women on the Upper West Side at another.

    Even if our ears aren’t acute enough to perform a detailed sociological analysis of the room, they can make out one message in the throb. It is a very old sound, the sound of people who decided to sit in the same sheltered space for a few hours, with food and drink in front of them, their family or friends at their side, and forget about the snarling beasts they battled all day.

    Restaurants are among the last remaining places where groups of humans still sound the same way they did before the age of Auto-Tune and deep fakes. As of yet, nobody has figured out how to slice and splice and manipulate the way we respond to one another when we’re having fun together. That’s the signal in the noise.


    Can you top this?

    BAYOU GAUCHE – DeeAnn Edwards’ cypress cabin is just the latest incarnation of a 100-year-old grocery that she found sitting in a field in Grand Point, Louisiana, and then, after negotiating a price with the owner, trailered over to her waterfront lot.Before she found it and turned it into a house – and long after the original store had served its last customer and closed for good – the handsome old structure had been, of all things, a beauty shop.

    Today it’s outfitted with the same comforts and conveniences you’d find in any modern home.

    But you’d never know it because Deeann has cleverly hidden everything from the air conditioner and refrigerator to the microwave oven and TV in cabinets or behind swinging doors.

    Stepping inside, it’s easy to get the impression you’ve traveled back in time because the restored grocery is authentic very nearly to the board and nail.

    The floors are original hardwoods. And the “horizonatally beaded,” wood-stripped walls are the same ones that construction workers meticulously tacked up in 1910.


    The New Paris, Where Chefs Come Out to Play

    AS I opened the worn-shiny leatherette menu at Aux Fins Gourmets here, it felt as if A. J. Liebling should be sitting right down the banquette.

    The room had the dusky patina of decades of exhaled smoke, the waiters in their black dinner jackets had that seen-it-all professionalism and the smells were the kind that both take you back and propel you into immediate pleasure: steak frites, roast chicken, duck with green olives. The time-travel aura was only reinforced by the sight and sound of the oversized pages, yellowed and crackling at the edges under their plastic protection.

    ''How old do you think this menu is?'' my consort, Bob, asked, fingering the crumbling paper in fascination.

    And after only a quick glance, I had to say: 'ɺ month.'' All the prices were in euros.

    Apparently money really does change everything. Even the most hidebound outposts of duck rillettes have been forced to modernize since the franc was made extinct last month in favor of a Continental currency, with one euro roughly equal to a dollar. But that development could also inadvertently wind up giving chefs an impetus to cook with a new spring in their whisks, to strut a more worldly style in their menus.

    In eight days of dedicated dining in the first month of the euro, I had one meal created by a Japanese chef seemingly determined to out-French the French another by a 29-year-old chef confidently mixing and matching salmon and pumpkin, cocoa and juniper berries and a third by a protégé of Guy Savoy who speaks fairly fluent fusion.

    Playful is a word I have never associated with French cuisine, but there was no other description for the teaming of Sichuan peppercorn ice cream with a grapefruit tart, or for the swirl of chestnut ice cream served in a circus-worthy cone on the finest china. Waiters seemed almost frisky as they encouraged us to guess the secret ingredient in the soup (toasted bread) and dig deep into the shot glass of an amuse-bouche to get all the layers in one spoonful of cascading flavors. Chefs looked relaxed in the open kitchens that are replacing the hidden sanctums behind swinging doors. It could be the concept of being part of Europe, no longer just insular France, that appears to be affecting chefs' judgment. Compared with my last visit, last summer, it felt as if a fresh wind was blowing into the city with all those strange new bills, bringing ideas from around the world. It's not quite globalization, but for Paris, it's huge.

    From our first lunch, I detected a new liveliness. The restaurant, like Jean-Georges Vongerichten's brand-new Market (and Alain Ducasse's Spoon), had an Americanesque name, Ze Kitchen Galerie. The room was hung with art and was meant for posing even the flatware was hyperdesigned, with sharp angled handles. But the real exhibition was behind the glass wall of the kitchen, where young cooks were scurrying from stove to counters with heavy pots and bottles of colored oils.

    The food, designed by the chef from Mr. Savoy's reliable Bookinistes down the block, was just as energetic, starting with the little bowl of tiny black olives marinated with lemon and garlic set down with the bread. Endive stuffed with a gloppy mixture of crab, shrimp and squid was like a self-consciously stylish tuna salad, but my first course of macaroni with pesto, pine nuts and grilled chorizo was one for the memory books. The Genoese who invented pesto might not approve, but the Spanish sausage was the right note in pitch-perfect pasta.

    The main courses, all described as 'ɺ la plancha'' (from the griddle), were more like what you might encounter in an overly ambitious restaurant in the East Village (fish with either lemon leaf and wasabi emulsion or just basil oil). But the little ramekin of vegetables accompanying each entree had been clearly conceived by a culinary Kofi Annan and cooked with just as sure a hand: grilled Mediterranean fennel, endive and red peppers along with Asian shiitakes and bean sprouts plus a tiny square of polenta with basil.

    Sunday lunch at Lɺstrance was an even better demonstration of the new irreverence in high-end Paris kitchens. The chef, Pascal Barbot, is all of 29 years old, but his cooking has the confidence of his mentor, Alain Passard of Arpège. His idea of ravioli is super-thin slices of avocado enfolding perfectly seasoned crab meat, with a basting of sweet almond oil. His scallops in a froth of coconut-curry mousseline were cooled by green apple ice cubes, chunks of the crunchy fruit frozen to give textural and temperature contrast. And he actually pulled off a pairing of slow-cooked salmon with pumpkin and capers, accompanied by a brioche baked with more capers and topped with Iranian caviar.

    We had wisely decided to leave the ordering to the chef by choosing ''le menu surprise'' for about 80 euros, which also included ''le vin surprise,'' a bottle of white presented label facing away from us. But even we were startled by some of the 10 courses, particularly the sea urchin served in the shell with something mysteriously crunchy in the foamy sauce. The waiter said it was ''sarrasin, cereal from Brittany.'' After some puzzling, we determined that it was buckwheat (the oddest surf-and-turf ever).

    At the soup course, the waiter announced ''Now you have to work'' as he set down two little bowls of a mysterious tan liquid. Bob and I tasted and debated the main ingredient: Horseradish? Buckwheat? But he got the prize: toasted bread.

    Dessert was the kind of sweet frenzy the French love so much: pimento and lemon grass sorbet, warm madeleines pungent with chestnut honey and a pineapple tarte Tatin on an almond crust with piña colada sorbet. As mignardises, the chef sent out not chocolate overkill but a little plate of perfect miniature fruit, including pineapple and litchis. And then came the capper: eggnog in a brown eggshell, still in its little nest in the carton.

    Everything about the sleek modern restaurant, on a side street in a wealthy residential neighborhood across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower, is as informal but polished as the food. The walls are a deep slate color, the banquettes are explosions of color and the one-man, one-woman service staff was one of the most choreographed teams I have ever encountered. The two of them, serving about two dozen tables, played silver-dome tag through the meal, delivering and explaining one plate of perfection after another. It was easy to see how the 16-month-old Astrance earned a Michelin star in its first year.

    And it was just as easy to predict that the brand-new Hiramatsu, on the Île St.-Louis, would catapult into the top ranks as well, as it reportedly will in the forthcoming Michelin Red Guide. With only 10 tables and a small army of waiters and cooks, it had all the accouterments that Michelin looks for, from the Christofle silver cheese cart to the Bernardaud china to the restroom that felt more like a throne room, with a profusion of flowers and a little staircase leading to the toilet. But it also served food that was impossible to fault. I usually avoid venison like a vegan but could not help finishing every bit of the well-peppered fillet that came with an onion velouté in an onion cooked in confit.

    Five Weeknight Dishes

    Emily Weinstein has menu suggestions for the week. There are thousands of ideas for what to cook waiting for you on New York Times Cooking.

      • This coconut fish and tomato bake from Yewande Komolafe yields a gorgeous, silky ginger-coconut sauce.
      • A tasty recipe for sheet-pan chicken and potatoes by Lidey Heuck is really nice without being fussy.
      • This vegetarian baked Alfredo pasta with broccoli rabe is inspired by pasta Alfredo, but with green vegetables added.
      • Kay Chun adds asparagus and snap peas to spring vegetable japchae in this vegan take on the classic dish.
      • You could substitute chicken or another type of fish in this summery grilled salmon salad from Melissa Clark.

      The visionary behind it, Hiroyuki Hiramatsu, honed his act in Japan, where he has 10 French restaurants, before invading Alain Ducasse's turf. (One of the waiters confided that Mr. Hiramatsu has his sights set on New York next.) Because of the name, we went in expecting silver chopsticks but came out dazzled by haute French dishes like seared foie gras topped with hollandaise, the richness offset by green peppercorns, and paired with poached oysters and leeks in a Champagne sauce under a shower of black truffles. Foie gras with hollandaise sounded like wretched excess but actually made as much sense as chocolate sauce on ice cream.

      Mr. Hiramatsu has the obligatory nod to pasta on his menu, free-form ravioli filled with John Dory and Provençal vegetables. He sends out the obligatory amuse-bouche in a shot glass (black truffle purée on airy custard). And he becomes especially playful by dessert, with chestnut ice cream in yellow and brown piped in a swirl into a cone and plated with candied chestnuts and an apricot and lavender sauce.

      Hiramatsu's waiters seemed as excited about our food as we were. They insisted I take five cheeses, not just three, even though we had ordered the special menu of four half-portions with dessert, for 92 euros. The sommelier, who looked barely old enough to drink in Texas and blushed constantly like neon, responded to our request for a reasonably priced wine by producing a Château de la Salle Bordeaux for 24 euros. Four women at the next table who ordered the 46-euro business lunch and then haggled over the check got just as much attention. It was all enough to shatter the image of starred French restaurants.

      But it was not a unique experience. At virtually every restaurant we tried there was a light-hearted air. Even at the cramped, crowded, cheap Chez Paul near the Bastille, the hostess made a joke of our arriving 45 minutes late for an 8:30 reservation. ''You made us wait, now we make you wait,'' she said. Five minutes later we were at an excellent table in the corner and our friends were insisting we try the most unusual dish, lamb with goat cheese and mint.

      Only at Market, Mr. Vongerichten's partnership with Christie's in an ostentatiously rich neighborhood, did we feel as if we were in pre-euro Paris. The hostess was haughty, the table was in what felt like an on-ramp to an expressway, the service was unapologetically clumsy and the food was what foreigners always imagine is being foisted off on them while the locals get the good stuff. The beurre d'Isigny was frozen solid, the sole with pumpkin risotto was like a marriage on the rocks and even the crab spring rolls were sodden with grease. In contrast with all the creativity in other restaurants, the menu felt simply recycled, with greatest hits from Vong and Mercer Kitchen.

      Worse, to atone for mixing up our appetizer orders, the arrogant waitress insisted on bringing us a little plate of chocolate chip, ginger and sugar cookies, then charged us 7 euros for it. We left with Bob muttering about the crime against culinarity.

      By contrast, when we wandered into the Bistrot des Capucins, a small neighborhood place far from the trend-setters at Market, we were in every Francophile's fantasy. The waiter appeared to know every face in the house but took the time to joke with us and keep our glasses filled with 4-euro white from the Loire. And on that damp January day, the chef, Gérard Fouché, was doing classic hearty dishes like fresh cod with chestnuts, and potatoes and bass with carrots and chervil butter. But he was also taking a new wave tack with his excellent duck rillettes, adding dried figs and sesame seeds, and serving a mix of fish not in a gelatinous terrine but as well-spiced tartare.

      As surprising as it was to come across such enlightenment in a casual place, the gap between tradition and the new creativity was widest at the very formal Pré Catelan in the Bois de Boulogne, where I wanted to indulge on my birthday. It was one of the stuffiest rooms I have ever eaten in, with the gleaming carts rolling incessantly to dispense not just cheese but also chocolates and candies. Tables were four feet apart, the walls and windows were ornately decorated and there were so many deadly serious waiters that they had to play bumper cars with their silver domes.

      Yet the food seemed as fresh as the euro pricing. Cauliflower purée arrived in a shot glass. Foie gras was lavishly peppered. John Dory was sauced with maple syrup. There was even an international accent: the pigeon was in Moroccan couscous with chickpeas, complete with a little spicy merguez sausage made from the leg.

      The wine list, though, was the surest sign that money had changed everything. The cheapest bottle the sommelier recommended, a decent enough Puligny-Montrachet, was 86 euros. And it was with great sadness that we accepted it. Last summer, we would have had a mental grace period on seeing a bottle priced at 600-some francs we could have enjoyed those 30 seconds of self-delusion before we did the math. Now, Paris restaurants are talking real money.

      Adapted from Lɺstrance, Paris

      1/2 pound top-quality fresh crab meat

      2 to 3 tablespoons chopped chives

      Fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper to taste

      1. Combine crab and chives in a bowl. Squeeze a little lime juice on top, and season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Taste, and adjust seasoning.

      2. Just before serving, carefully peel avocados, taking care not to nick flesh. Using a mandoline, cut 4 wide, very thin slices from each avocado reserve remainder for another use. Arrange 1 slice on each of 4 small serving plates. Divide crab mixture in mounds among slices. Lay a second slice over each mound. Squeeze a little lime juice over each of the ''ravioli,'' and season lightly with salt and pepper. Drizzle with almond oil to taste. Serve at once.

      Yield: 4 first-course servings.

      THESE are a few of the new restaurants in Paris where the food and mood are particularly lively. A euro is roughly equivalent to a dollar.

      LɺSTRANCE -- 4, rue Beethoven, 16th Arrondissement (011) 33-1-40-50-84-40. (Closed for vacation until Feb. 26.) Surprise lunch menu, about 80 euros.

      HIRAMATSU -- 7, quai de Bourbon, on the Île St.-Louis (011) 33-1-56-81-08-80. Lunch tasting menu, 92 euros.

      ZE KITCHEN GALERIE -- 4, rue des Grands Augustins, Sixth Arrondissement (011) 33-1-44-32-00-32. Two-course lunch, 26 euros.

      BISTROT DES CAPUCINS -- 27, avenue Gambetta, 20th Arrondissement (011) 33-1-46-36-74-75. Two-course lunch, 17 euros.


      America’s Unknown Celebrity Chef Sidedoor

      When Lena Richard cooked her first chicken on television, she beat Julia Child to the screen by over a decade. At a time when most African American women cooks worked behind swinging kitchen doors, Richard claimed her place as a culinary authority, broadcasting in the living rooms of New Orleans’s elite white families. She was an entrepreneur, educator, author, and an icon – and her legacy lives on in her recipes. Today: her improbable rise to prominence, and her famous gumbo.

      When Lena Richard cooked her first chicken on television, she beat Julia Child to the screen by over a decade. At a time when most African American women cooks worked behind swinging kitchen doors, Richard claimed her place as a culinary authority, broadcasting in the living rooms of New Orleans’s elite white families. She was an entrepreneur, educator, author, and an icon – and her legacy lives on in her recipes. Today: her improbable rise to prominence, and her famous gumbo.


      Bill Georgakopoulos – Rae & Jerry’s

      As the holiday season approaches, Rae & Jerry’s becomes, even more than usual, a flurry of activity. The massive 330-seat space is a hive of excitement, with an adrenaline buzz leaking from the back of the building, where behind swinging double doors the kitchen is alive with the sounds of chopping, chatter, and searing meat.

      Head chef Bill Georgakopoulos is at the centre of this seeming chaos, a quietly efficient chief of organization presiding over the restaurant’s staff. Managing both the kitchen and catering team, it is his stalwart task to keep an eye on the ball at all times.
      While the steakhouse sees an uptick in orders around the holidays, it is the flood of catering jobs that sets this kitchen abuzz. Bill estimates that over the holiday season, between 1500 and 2400 mini yorkshire puddings alone are baked, filled, arranged, and sent out to events across the city.

      The extensive operation works out of a small area tucked into the back of the kitchen, surrounded by loaves of crustless sliced bread. Here, a small army of ladies tightly rolls and chills fancy pinwheel sandwiches, while chef Bill whisks to and fro, trusty mini muffin tin in hand to form lacy cups of melted asiago cheese or tart shells moulded from flattened bread.

      While Rae & Jerry’s has been the city’s perennial pick for stately steakhouse dinners since 1957, the restaurant’s move into catering is relatively recent. Steve Hrousalas, longtime owner (since 1975) began testing the waters of the catering business in 1996. Worried about a potential downturn in business with the departure of the Jets, Hrousalas drew on his experience working at The Bay to create fancy sandwich platters for friends and customers.

      It was a savvy move. More and more restaurant regulars were eager to entrust their favourite steakhouse with their events, and the operation grew. Today, the catering menu ranges from the famous sandwich platters to an expansive selection of hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, swanky canapés, and other charming morsels.

      For Bill, the challenges of catering are enjoyable. Off-site events allow the chef a chance to step out of the kitchen, interact with diners, and work on the fly with the added dose of creativity needed to cater to customer needs. With an avid base of returning customers, some jobs feel like social calls. One annual event sees the restaurant’s staff trucking hors d’oeuvres to a log cabin in the Whiteshell, to serve a party of 150-200 guests. “I end up working from about 7 am to 3 am,” says Bill. The event has been catered by Rae & Jerry’s for more than a decade.

      The scale of the catering operation is no problem for the steakhouse, which, as its size shows, has always adopted a “more is more” philosophy. Regulars come in for generous sandwiches piled high with meat, and savoury indulgences like slabs of succulent prime rib and juicy tenderloin. The original fine dining option, a really good steakhouse still carries the white-glove nostalgia of luxury and service, and though Rae & Jerry’s servers traded their traditional red smocks for contemporary black and white ensembles four years ago, the experience is still about pampering.

      While Bill has made his marks on the menu (pushing for the inclusion of tzatziki sauce, for instance), the wistful offerings are still a celebration of classic tastes. Here, it’s all about the cow. Daily, chef Bill butchers 200-300 lbs of beef, deftly making each cut to ensure as little meat is scrapped as possible.

      “It’s a well-oiled machine,” says Bill. Even beyond the systems of the kitchen, the restaurant relies on elaborate organization. A laundry room where chefs’ whites are washed on site, a potato peeling and slicing station where pallets of spuds are transformed into shoestring fries, and a storage room just for lightbulbs are all contained in the building’s labyrinthine basement.

      Nary a day goes by without a bulb needing changing in the large, softly lit dining room and lounge Hrousalas won’t let a single one go dark. “Steve takes care of this place,” says chef Bill.

      Hrousalas is careful with every element of upkeep in the restaurant, sending out the iconic red chairs for reupholstering at any sign of wear, so that while the decor may appear vintage, it always looks brand new. Because of this, stepping into Rae & Jerry’s feels like entering a time machine, the interior a visual representation of the warmth and tradition the space carries.

      Bill himself has been a fixture at the restaurant for nine years, ascending to head chef status four years ago. Enamoured with cooking since the age of 5, when he began helping out in his father’s restaurant near Winnipeg beach, Bill’s career path wound through several years of working in hotels, preparing banquets and special events. Eventually, he rejoined his father, taking over for him in the kitchen at Rae & Jerry’s when he retired.

      The staff, like the customers, feel like family at this bastion of old school eating many have worked in the restaurant for more than 20 years. Rae & Jerry’s has proved the value of finding what works and sticking to it, staking its claim in the city with a commitment to consistency and keeping tradition.


      Cookology: NU’s Newest Culinary Club

      It’s a typical cold day in Evanston. Huddled outside the entrance of Whole Food’s Market, a small group of Northwestern students exchange brief hellos and quickly shuffle inside the store. They skip past the produce and meats, making a beeline towards a stairway tucked behind swinging double doors labeled ‘Employees Only’. Unlike most students in Whole Foods, they are not here to shop they are here for Cookology.

      After making their way upstairs to a hidden test kitchen, they are greeted by Chef Brian Huston of Boltwood and an array of ingredients from Whole Foods. He reminisces about how he got started in the restaurant business and tells stories of his various culinary escapades while prepping a hearty ribollita soup and filling the room with the sweet aroma of soffritto.

      Chef Brian Huston entertaining. Photo by Kai Huang

      After some more stories from the restaurant business, a couple general cooking tips and questions from the crowd, Chef Brian serves everyone in attendance a bowl of hearty soup and describes how versatile the recipe can be. This is typical Cookology: an intimate, food-centric experience that brings members close to great chefs to learn from the best.

      Cookology started out as a simple vision among three friends: Jenny Phan, Sean Quan and Yang Xu. They all shared a strong passion for food and cooking cultivated by years of personal experience.

      As Jenny puts it, “Food is the universal language … a medium for self-expression, culture and relationships.”

      Sean and Yang both worked as cooks in the Michelin star-studded restaurants Everest and Blackbird while Jenny gained skills and industry know-how from her parents. Together, they hoped to create a way to learn more about the craft of cooking and help ignite the passion for it in other Northwestern students as well.

      After nearly a year of developing their concept, using their formal restaurant connections to get in touch with chefs and running trials of cooking demos and events, Cookology officially kicked off in full this fall quarter.

      Each quarter, Cookology builds their demos and activities based on a central theme. This quarter’s theme is “Basics,” with an emphasis on essential kitchen skills such as knife handling and seasoning the club will transition to an emphasis on modern and molecular gastronomy next quarter. Award-winning local chefs bring their expertise and techniques to the table at each biweekly cooking demo and showcase some of their favorite recipes. During the week following each demo, members get together and practice the recipes they learned as well as other techniques relevant to the theme to make themselves a delicious meal.

      At the end of each quarter, Cookology will transform into a one night only pop-up restaurant run by its members and showcasing the recipes they learned to students and faculty alike. Members will get a chance to unleash their inner chef and experience the rush of cooking in a restaurant as well as running a dinner service for their fellow students and community. Cookology plans on expanding its activities as it grows, adding more dorm catering events as well as gourmet fundraising events. As a young club with a great vision, they have come a long way and are on track to become a Northwestern icon for aspiring cooks and food lovers.


      Synopsis: Abbie and Jonathan’s Seattle home had a kitchen characteristic of the 1920s: isolated from the first-floor living spaces. Architect Howard Miller designed a remodel centered on two key elements. The first was the addition of a lounge—a small living area close to the kitchen. The second was an 8-ft. by 20-ft. addition that allowed for an uninsulated pantry to be brought inside the thermal envelope expanded the space available for the kitchen, lounge, and dining area and improved the connection between the kitchen and the living room.

      It was fun to discover that Abbie and I had gone to the same high school — Phillips Academy Andover in Massachusetts — even though I graduated 10 years earlier than she did and we only met recently, here in Seattle.

      Abbie and her husband found me on the website of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects when Jonathan’s work brought them from the Northeast to the Northwest. After living in a small apartment in New York for many years, they bought a 1920s Tudor-style home in Seattle. Though the kitchen had been remodeled in the 1970s, it was still isolated from the adjacent living spaces, a common characteristic of these homes.

      There was a time when people wanted their kitchens to be separated from the rest of the house. The work of making meals — and the potential mess — was kept private from the area where friends and family ate and socialized. This is exactly how Abbie and Jonathan’s house had been designed. The kitchen was hidden from the dining and living rooms behind swinging doors. Though it was not small, it was poorly organized and felt cramped. The location of the peninsula made for a tiny workspace, the refrigerator restricted traffic flow, and the range and ovens were breaking down. Worse, the pantry was a shed attached to the back of the house and was not winterized.

      Abbie and Jonathan hoped that opening the kitchen up to the rest of the house would allow them to supervise their kids and to socialize with guests while preparing a meal. Because the living and dining rooms have western views of the Olympic Mountains, the couple hoped to bring those views and lots of natural light to the new kitchen, too.

      Small addition makes big difference

      This was all possible, yet the solution wasn’t as simple as taking down the walls that confined the kitchen. Even without the walls, the living room was too far from the kitchen for the cooks to socialize with guests. For this reason, we all agreed to incorporate a lounge into the plan — a small living area closer to the kitchen. And this likely was going to require additional space.

      Since we had to address the uninsulated pantry, we decided to take the opportunity to bump the kitchen out with an 8-ft. by 20-ft. addition, creating an open area for the dining table and space near the fireplace for the lounge. This allowed us to turn the kitchen to look through the dining area to the living room as well as to see the lounge and the western view. It also offered the opportunity for corner windows on both ends of the kitchen that, along with a central skylight, provide the kitchen with lots of natural light and cross ventilation. The pantry was relocated inside the house, and a new kitchen office sits just outside the pantry door.

      For more photos, drawings, and details, click the View PDF button below:

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      SWAT 3: Close Quarter Battle part 9

      This mission involves protecting foreign dignitaries from terrorists at the L.A. Convention Center. During this mission you must clear the rear parking entrance as well as the first and second floors of the Convention Center. The only vehicles in the rear are the SWAT Humvee and a charter bus. The first floor of the Convention Center has a cafeteria, a printing store, and restrooms. The second floor has meeting rooms. Both floors have access to elevators and escalators however, the former cannot be used by the element.

      As with any assignment, you only have general information on what to expect the positions and aggression levels of suspects change unpredictably. On this mission, suspects and hostages are intermixed, which makes your job more difficult. Luckily, the environment is very open, which makes it easy to avoid striking a hostage with inadvertent gunfire.

      Your escort job turns tough right from the start&#151entering the Convention Center sparks the toughest firefight of the mission. The sound of gunfire carries very well throughout the futuristic halls of the Convention Center, drawing terrorist scum out of the woodwork.

      Unlike previous missions, you begin this mission already divided into two teams. One team is positioned outside of the SWAT Humvee, while the other is inside a charter bus about fifty feet away. The choice you make at the beginning between "Charter Bus Escort" and "Humvee Escort" determines where you will be.

      From the "Humvee Escort" start, you make contact with suspects and hostages around the bus and the steps leading to the Convention Center's rear entrance. The element springs into action before you even have a chance to judge the situation, but this is actually beneficial. From a distance, some of the dignitaries resemble the suspects because they are dressed similarly the last thing you want to do is shoot a hostage and rack up a failed mission two seconds after it starts. When the dust settles from the first firefight, file Reports for the suspects detained (or downed) both outside and inside of the charter bus also file hostage Reports.

      If you choose "Charter Bus Escort," your starting position is near the back of the charter bus. You face the front of the bus as you start and, once again, you have to deal with suspects immediately. Be careful not to shoot the officers with you. This is a tight space and it is not uncommon for them to accidentally jump into your line of fire.

      Watch the restroom in the middle right of the bus. There can be a suspect hiding inside that pops out firing if you let your guard down. Give the Breach and Clear command to the team that is with you on the bus and tactically clear the restroom. The fighting outside should be over when you are through searching.

      Seize all of the weapons you find on your way off the bus. Once outside, make Reports on the suspects and on the hostages&#151once you get them to comply, that is. For some reason, the hostages in this mission are quite stubborn and only submit after you use gas on them. To top it off, they complain after you secure them.

      Command the element to Fall In and lead them to the back doors of the Convention Center. Give the Breach and Clear command at either set of double doors and prepare yourself for what lies behind them. The element takes care of the suspects that are in view and enters the structure. While this is going on, watch closely for suspects that may get a jump on the element.

      The stairs on the left wall and the escalators are major concerns once the gunfire starts because suspects will use both of them to charge down from the second floor. Suspects at the top of the escalators are the most deadly because the escalator itself shields most of their bodies.

      In no time, there is gunfire from all directions. It's hard to keep track of the action (and the suspects) at times. Try to find some partial cover from your surroundings as soon as you can, then watch for dangers such as suspects atop the escalators, hostages in the line of fire, and officers separating themselves from the group. You may want to handcuff all of the hostages yourself as quickly as possible. This makes them less of an obstacle and less of a distraction to the element.

      When the first floor seems relatively safe and all visible suspects and hostages are taken care of, proceed to the second floor. You should also do this if there are suspects on the second floor who are too dangerous to ignore while making Reports. When this is done, the only suspects and hostages left are the stationary sort that lurk inside rooms.

      On your left as you come up the first escalators, you see two meeting rooms. The meeting room on the left is empty, with the possible exception of one suspect. The meeting room at the end of the hall is a presentation room that has a film screen, theater-like seating, and a projection room in the back. For whatever reason, this room seems to be popular with the terrorists. Give a Breach and Clear command to the entire element when clearing this room.

      Now cross over to the other side of the Convention Center's second floor and clear the several meeting rooms there. These rooms are set up for dining, complete with tables and catered food that is ready to be served. There may be a suspect in any of these rooms, but there is little chance of finding more than that.

      When the second floor is completely free of wild, untamed suspects, lead the element down to the first floor. There you have only a few rooms to search to complete the mission.

      The cafeteria is an open area that is two sections deep it can be a dangerous room if you need to take cover from a terrorist's gunfire. The kitchen, which is behind swinging doors, is in the back and must be cleared as well.

      Back down on the first floor, there is a printing store that contains computers and copying machines. There tends to be hostages in this room. The female who apparently works here is particularly stubborn and may need to be gassed into submission. Directly across the hallway from the store is a pair of restrooms. Use caution when Searching the restrooms. There are closed off compartments inside that may conceal a hostage or a suspect. This is the last area in the mission. You have halted the terrorist menace!


      Einstein Bros. Bagels mashes up breakfast for the new Bagelrito

      This week, I reached out for a Bagelrito — a mashup or hybrid of a bagel and a breakfast burrito — at everybody's nearby bagel shop chain, Einstein Bros. Bagels, with 815 restaurants nationally and 10 here in the Houston area. This has a lot going for it, and a couple of shortcomings, so let's get cracking.

      Here's the Bagelrito breakdown: start with two cage-free eggs (good for you, Einstein Bros.), turkey sausage, thick-cut bacon, three types of cheese, hash browns, salsa and green chilis stuffed in a flour tortilla, then jammed into a burrito-shaped Asiago bagel dough.

      History buffs remember Winston Churchill's famous quote from 1939: "It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." That's the Bagelrito, all right, served warm and toasty. For a billion bonus points: who or what was Churchill calling a riddle, mystery, enigma?

      Total calories: 930 (whoa!). Fat grams: 40. Sodium: 2,160 mg. Carbs: 104 g (woe!) Dietary fiber: 0 g. Protein: 41 g. Manufacturer's suggested retail price: $6.99 … for a fast food breakfast sandwich, just one of them.

      Straight shootin', this is a gimmick. It's one of those strange mashup designed to make noise on the PR wires and get some press coverage. I'm not falling for that.

      If you want a decent bagel, yeah, Einstein Bros. is your play. It's even got a wide menu of breakfast sandwiches. But if you're in the mood for a breakfast burrito, there's no shortage of better choices, like Taco Cabana. Even Chick-fil-A makes a surprisingly satisfying breakfast burrito. Why, two doors down from my local Einstein Bros. Bagels is Torchy's Tacos. You can't go wrong with Torchy's Tacos, they're killing it in Houston.

      I know, this is a first world problem, but there's too many different foods battling for camera time in the Bagelrito. Not all of the flavors and textures go together. The tortilla gets lost in the bagel dough, and the turkey sausage and bacon fade into the cheese and chilis. Plus, $6.99 and 930 calories in the morning is a heavy price to pay.

      A bigger issue: This concoction is concocted off campus, you won't find a fry cook whomping up fresh eggs in a skillet and frying bacon and sausage in your local Einstein Bros. Bagels. Food is assembled and toasted up at Einstein Bros, but there's no kitchen back behind swinging doors for waitresses bustling back and forth.

      If you want a fresh bagel, made from scratch, boiled and baked on premises, you'll have to find a bagel shop like … might I suggest the New York Deli & Coffee Shop on Hillcroft or the Hot Bagel Shop on S. Shepherd? Those are the real deal. And the New York Deli & Coffee Shop even has bialys, the unsung hero of the entire bagel industry.

      A better play at Einstein Bros.: an Everything Bagel with a shmear of onion and chive cream cheese. You'll be smart like Einstein.

      And now for your trivia answer: When Churchill called someone or something "a riddle, wrapped inside a mystery, inside an enigma," he was talking about … Russia.

      Ken Hoffman reviews a new fast food restaurant item every Wednesday. Have a suggestion or a drive-thru favorite? Let Ken know on Twitter.


      Watch the video: TERRY CLARK. SWINGING DOORS (May 2022).