Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Laying In, and Taking Stock

December 17, 2022 Comments off

Xmas Eve 2010

I think our Salazar Family does not have an excess of traditions, but the ones we do have are, well, pretty traditional. Foremost on our short list is Christmas Eve, which we celebrate in the French style of Réveillon. The essence of this is simply: On this special night, the best of everything. And the best, as I’m sure everyone knows, takes work. Kim and and I are already into the researching, recording, shopping, and planning. The day-of, every half-hour from 8am up to serving time will be scheduled. Here’s the menu:

Entrée: “Daniel Boulud” Cold Smoked Atlantic Salmon, French Canadian Cretons pâté, Rye toast points, capers, cornichon, mustard. Muscadet.
Soup: Double-Beef Consommé with Wild Mushroom, a la Jacques Pepin.
Fish: Sole Paupiettes with Lobster Mousse, again a la Jacques Pepin. Chablis.
Plat principal: Whole Roast Sucking Pig, Creamed Leeks, Gojujang Glazed Carrot. Sablet, 2018.
Fine Cheeses
Galaxie des Biscuits Bonne Femme (our fancy way of saying Kim’s Cookies)

We have had such a pig on Christmas Eve one time before, in 2010, as the above more-youthful Alex and Morgan can attest. While (forgive me) you never forget your first pig, I’m hoping this year’s edition will excel its predecessor. The plan this year is a slower, longer roast, with a lot of garlic and ginger inside.

There’s a lot of ingredients there, thus the laying-in. As pigs are not had on-demand at Stop and Shop, I have bespoke one from Savenor’s, to be available on the 23rd. I expect to get my seafood that day, though past few years sole has been hard to find. I know I can get it at some of the Boston pier outlets, but I’m hoping the better fish mongers in Cambridge will suffice.

In the back of my mind during all this activity is the Taking Stock. No, I don’t mean an end of year Augustinian reflection on my shortcomings – rather, it’s a work thing. For some years now in my jobI have been a manager and I now have a total of 22 teammates in my responsibility. As is the case with so many tech companies, now is the time we do a performance review – an assessment and comparison of each employee’s achievements and potential. Managers have to write a fact-based, thoughtful, encouraging yet realistic chunk of text that distills into a few paragraphs an employee’s professional worth and prospects. So, no pressure.

It’s really not that bad. I find that most people want to do a good job, and to get better at what they do. For me this process is more about bringing each person’s activities into perspective compared to what the company needs, and about helping them find their particular path to improvement.

The unfortunate thing is, in my company I have to do this for 9 people by Dec 30 the latest. I’ll likely be laptop-bound a good bit of the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Will the good cheer of the season permeate what I write? No way to tell but frankly – I hope so.

Last comment: Been re-watching a lot of ST:TNG of late. Last night was Lower Decks (S7E15), in my view a great episode and one in which the performance-review process aboard the Enterprise-D plays a part.

Categories: Food, Work

Visiting Greener Pastures

September 13, 2014 Comments off


No, not so far as Peru where alpacas are native, but just to Shelburne, Mass., there to visit Wheel-View Farm.  At Wheel-View,  John & Carolyn Wheeler raise Belted Galloway cattle fed only on grass.  This is better for the pasture, better for the surrounding environment and (to my taste) makes for better tasting beef.  Back in 2011 before I departed for India we had been buying beef from Wheel-View.  This was our first chance to get back and re-stock.  Tomorrow it is grass-fed beefsteak on the grill.

On our way back we encountered alpacas – not ranging about wild but on a small farm.  There were 5 or 6, all recently shorn.  These animals are a source of amazing natural fiber; some years back Kim has made me an knitted alpaca hat:


The warming power of this hat is beyond description – suffice to say should I be called upon to visit the South Pole I am more than provided for, hat-wise.  Anyway searching about I find at least 16 alpaca ranchers in Massachusetts.  Alpacas have been farmed in the US since 1984, and today give access to a beneficial but complicated set of tax incentives.

Nonetheless, don’t expect to be seeing any alpacas here in Arlington anytime soon.  For now I’m happy to be an end-user, not a producer, where animal products are concerned.

Categories: Food, Pictures

Kapila Kathi Kebab

December 22, 2013 1 comment

 Kapila Kathi Kebab menuCooking baida roti on the tawaAssembling some baida roti

Yesterday we were not in the mood to cook, but neither were we in the mood for the production of going to a restaurant.  I had the idea of trying baida roti – a kind of fast-food where a roti is lightly fried, coated with egg, then used to roll a variety of fillings.  Probably the top place to get baida roti here in Pune is Kapila Kathi Kebab, so off we went.

Set on barely 100 sq feet at a busy corner on Dhole Patil Rd., KK Kebab has no tables; you eat while standing, or in your car, or you get “parcel” – the way you say “take out” here.  In a way it is the ultimate food experience: Just food, prepared while you watch and put into your hand by the cook.  Also, as you get there you see this is exactly the sort of place Tony Bourdain would go to, so it’s worth a try on that basis alone.

The verdict: Great.  The rotis themselves had excellent flavor, kind of like a fresh white-flour tortilla but made rich with the egg and the ghee for frying.  The filling – chicken, fresh onion, and the ubiquitous green coriander-and-chili chutney – was spiced just right, with just enough heat and a bit of cardamom, cinnamon, or both, underneath.

I went by KK Kebab around 6:30 pm and, frankly I expected more of a crowd, but aside from 1-2 others, it was just me and Morgan ordering.  I think these guys need a business plan.  When you think how shawarma-like these rolls are I think the plan is pretty obvious:

If it worked with the Avengers is can work with Krrish, India’s super-hero:


So, KK Kebab is you’re listening, get on the phone and start dealing – next year I want to see Krrish Kapila Kathi Kebab.

Categories: Expat life, Food

Beijing: Where Food is Heaven*

November 24, 2013 1 comment

Dinner at Middle 8th in Beijing

Grilled Spicy Fish with Pineapple; Grilled/Roast Pork with Chili; Sticky Rice Steamed in Pineapple; my own personal pot of rice noodles in tomato/vinegar/chili sauce.  Heaven indeed.

But I get ahead of myself.  Almost since I began my assignment here in India, I have been looking for opportunity to travel to China.  It’s only 2 1/2 time zones away; my IBM division has a sizeable presence in IBM’s China Development Lab (CDL) in Beijing; and, my IBM Sametime product line has many customers in China – so a visit would be a great chance to connect with the team I have worked with remotely for so long, and also to learn about the China market.

Work-wise, I think the trip was a great success, both with customers and with the team.  In this post, though, I want to share some experiences of the trip itself.

First order of business is I need to extend my deepest thanks to my friend and colleague, Yu Y Wang, aka Charlie (many Chinese people who work with Westerners adopt a Western name to simplify communication).  Here’s a pic of Charlie and myself at Beijing’s Olympic Park, in front of the famous Water Cube and one of IBM’s buildings in Beijing:

Fernando and Charlie at Beijing Olympic Park

Not only did Charlie create an excellent and detailed agenda for my trip, all the time I was there he extended the greatest, most famous hospitality of China.

He fed me.

Back in USA you may get a sense of how food is viewed by Chinese people, by going to better Chinese restaurants and seeing the round tables with the carousel, packed with numerous plates of food and many people deftly wielding chopsticks to pick off morsels as the food travels by.  One of our team lunches during my stay was exactly that:

Beijing lunch

Here we had: Duck Braised with Fish (anchovy size fishes you ate head, bones and all – I probably ate more than my share), Soup, Green Vegetable with Chili and garlic, Noodles, more Braised Duck, and Chicken with Peanut.  And a few more dishes were added as the lunch progressed.  There were about 10 of us but still, it was a hearty meal.

Talking to my teammates I find that lunch like this is pretty common, maybe not every day, but many days.  What a fantastic change from our typical American work lunch of hastily grabbed pre-prepared sandwich, eaten at your desk, while you attempt to catch up on email.  This lunch connects you with your teammates, clears your mind for the afternoon’s work, and just tastes really great.

My first night in Beijing Charlie took me out for one of the culinary must-dos of a Beijing visit: Eating Beijing Roast duck.  This we did at Jiuhuashan Roast Duck, one of the top duck restaurants in all of the city:

Jiu Huan Shan Roast Dusk RestaurantBeijing duck





The duck here is fantastic: The skin has a flavorful crunch, but with just the perfect amount of oil so that is seems each mouthful melts as you taste it.  And we had not only roast duck but duck intestine – sautéed with vegetables and chili, amazingly tender – duck gizzard – roasted and sliced paper-thin, chewy and full of duck flavor – duck tongue – small, chewy bits in agar jelly – and duck soup – very rich duck flavor and also with the right hint of ginger and scallion.

Charlie is from Sichuan Province and after a few tentative inquiries – “Do you really like spicy food?” – on Tuesday night he shared with me the signature dish of Sichan: hot-pot at one of the branches of Haidilao Hot Pot restaurant.  Haidilao is an award-winning place, and deservedly so – the service, quality and ambiance was outstanding.  We arrived a bit early so there was no wait for us, but when we left we saw the large waiting area was filled with 100s of people, playing cards and other games, and having free snacks while they waited for tables.

The whole point of hot-pot is, well, the pot:

Beijing hot-pot

We got a pot with 2 separate soups, a peppery, vinegary soup on the left and a rich, mushroom-flavored soup on the right.  I saw other diners using a single type of soup.

While your soup is heating up, the servers bring the ingredients:

Hot-pot ingredients

From left to right they are:  Duck throat, Catfish, Pork intestine, Duck intestine, Pork Sausage.  And these are only some of the ingredients; we also had beef, vegetables, shrimp dumplings, and tree-ear mushrooms.

You probably can guess how this works, but if you can’t: The soup comes to a boil, then you grab a fresh ingredients with chopsticks and plunge it into the hot soup.  After 1 –2 mins, it’s cooked, and you can dip it into a bowl of other sauces, or just eat it hot from the pot.  The various ladles can be used to rescue lost morsels – of which I created several, as my chopstick skills are not as great as Charlie’s.

Another great treat at Haidilao: hand-stretched noodles.  I should have captured a pic, but here’s one from the web:

Noodles at Haidilao

In this “noodle dance”, the noodle-guy will stretch one noodle using moves half rhythmic gymnastics, half wu-shu – the noodles fly around like lassos till, when finally stretched enough, they gather up the long strand and drop it in the soup.

My last night Charlie took me to the Middle 8th Restaurant (a name I still don’t understand) which specializes in Yunnan food; Yunnan is just to the south of Sichuan and Charlie explained the food was similar to that is his home province, though not quite as spicy.

The picture that introduces this post was taken at Middle 8th … I should have taken more, but even though I was at end of my trip and had tried more dishes than I can remember, I was still more eager to eat than to photograph.  In addition to the grilled fish, roast pork, and pineapple rice, we had cold noodles, a kind of cold spicy grain dish (not sure if it wheat or some other grain) and “steam pot chicken”, the famous soup of Yunnan, which looks like this:

Steam pot chicken


That was my trip: 5 days and 50 dishes, and each dish delicious.  I hope to be back in the spring.  Till then … thanks, Charlie, and thanks everyone at CDL – you can be sure I’ll bring my appetite with me when I return.



* In China there is a proverb, “To the ruler, the people are heaven; to the people, food is heaven.”  There is a book of this very title, which I have, written by AP reporter Audra Ang about her experiences as an expat journalist in China.

Categories: Food, Pictures, Travel

Nandu’s Parathas

October 27, 2013 1 comment

Nandu's Parathas

Where Indian food is concerned, the one thing that seems a universal constant here is comfort.  I don’t find a lot of fine dining hereabouts, but all around is food that is filling, satisfying, simple and, well, yummy.  A top example is Nandu’s, where they serve pretty much just parathas, a griddle-fried pancake made from wheat flour  and stuffed with different things.  Just like the swedish meatball, every culture has its own version of the pancake.  India, abundantly blessed in so many ways, has many versions, from dosa to roti to paratha to uppam to madak saan to cheelas and more.

But Nandu’s is pure paratha.  Here’s what you get:

A paratha

This one was stuffed with potato and chopped fresh green chili.  It comes with coriander chutney, some raita, and some pickle – mango, lime or other vegetable in salt, vinegar and more chili.  On the spoon is a dollop of ghee – clarified butter.  It all comes to you hot off the griddle.  You drizzle the ghee all over, tear off bite-size chunks of pancake, dunk in raita or chutney, and then eat.  Then you eat more, and along with thinking how just plain good it is – the butter, the pancake, the filling, all fresh and hot – you’re also cursing every hour you ever wasted eating American fast-food.

The price … wait for it … a big, big Rs. 90, or about $1.50.

I’ve been in India over a year, with less than a year remaining and people are already asking, “What will you miss when you go?”  I have a lot of work to do on that list, but the #1 entry is easy: Nandu’s.

Categories: Expat life, Food, Pictures Tags:


August 31, 2013 Comments off


Driver Rupesh presented us with a hefty sack of fresh peas a few days ago.  Kim shucked them, blanched them, then warmed them in some ghee with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar.  Verdict: Delicious, with good flavor, a little crunch and a not unpleasant starchiness you don’t often get in peas back home.

Where did these peas come from?  Rupesh uses the phrase I have heard many Indians use, “my native place” – the home village or small town.  His family has a farm of a 11 or so acres and there they grow sugar cane, onions, “ground nuts” (ie, peanuts), and peas.

Despite decades of modernization, India is still an overwhelmingly farming country – 69% of the population is classed as rural.  The vast majority of people you meet here in the cities are one, or possibly two, generations removed from a farming life.  You may be a security guard, bank clerk, or an accountant, or an engineer, but your father is/was a farmer, or your grandfather was.

The top 3 Indian states in terms of urban population are Maharashtra (which has Mumbai and Pune), Tamil Nadu (which has Chennai) and Uttar Pradesh (which has 7 cities of greater than 1M population, including Lucknow and Agra).  Uttar Pradesh – U.P. as typically called – also is the state with the greatest rural population, over 150M.

The story of country people coming to the city to find opportunity is in many ways the central story of India today.  A famous 1967 film, Upkar, presents a story about an upstanding farmer and his educated, urbanized, and greedy, brother:

You don’t need to know Hindi to get what’s going on here.  A big part of this story is the division of land: The evil brother wants to divide the land and keep his share to himself, the good brother wants to keep the land together and work it in partnership.

This very much still happens today and is the main reason the average size of a farm here in India is only 1.3 hectares – a bit bigger than a US football field.

BTW, the guy on crutches is Bollywood superstar Pran; his character is “Malang Chacha”, a wise old farmer who is the spiritual advisor to the film’s hero, named “Bharat”, which is the Hindi word for India.  Pran passed away only a short time ago at age 93.

Categories: Expat life, Food

Time of The Season For …

May 27, 2013 1 comment

Alphonso Mangoes

As quoters of scripture go, it’s tough to beat The Byrds, who told us “Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season)”.  Actually, they were quoting Pete Seeger, who was quoting Ecclesiastes, but I’m willing to call Seeger as much a prophet as any of the original old-timers.

If you can’t recognize it from the pic above, the season here in Pune – to which I’ve just returned – has turned to mangos.  The two above are Alphonsos – after Duke
Afonso de Albuquerque
, the founder of Portugeuse Goa – just bought by myself today from Hypermarket.  I purchased three of these and after peeling and wolfing down the first, the two remaining siblings were a knife’s edge away from a similar fate when it occurred to me to document … well, their fruity goodness.

And boy, are they good.  Sweet, creamy, rich, they are like ice cream – in fact I can’t imagine why anyone would ever have mango ice cream if they could have one of these instead.  At the market I saw gift boxes of a dozen such mangos – this weekend it’s a mango-fest for me.

Behind this simple indulgence there is considerable drama.  While some mangos are sold direct by farmers, who are trying to maximize their prices, the vast majority go through APMC (Agriculture Produce Market Committee) facilities.  APMCs are state-established marketing boards that establish actual markets where produce may be sold.  I’m not sure exactly how these work – there definitely seem to be some protections afforded growers when they bring produce to the APMC markets – but like so much here there is considerable corruption, and generally the wholesalers band together to keep commodity prices low.  There are many middlemen and ancillary trades involved, and each one needs their cut, as Wal-Mart is finding out.  Farmers further get the sharp end of the stick, for example because of a freak hailstorm – the storm caused a premature drop of the mangos and a flood on the market.  My mangos were priced at Rs. 120 the kg.; my 3 mangos cost Rs. 98.  The price a farmer actually gets is about Rs. 1-2 per mango.

Farmers also have to contend with bad weather and a pest called ‘Thrips’ which attacks mango trees.  For all this, the profit in mangos is still considerable, relatively speaking.  Among the things farmers try to increase their return is artificial ripening, which is performed by adding calcium carbide to the mango crates.  Despite fines of up to Rs. 10 lakh (about $18,800) the practice still persists.  Finally, one cooperative of mango farmers here is going online to sell mangos direct.

I’ll leave it to my readers with bents towards economics and/or social justice to ponder on solutions.  For my part it is time to dispatch my two remaining examples of Duke Alphonso’s legacy.  If you didn’t catch it, the title of this post is also a 60’s rock quote –  I’ll leave you all to watch that while I dine on pure, Maharashtran tastiness.

Categories: Expat life, Food

Holiday Feasting

December 26, 2012 2 comments

Oysters Rockefeller

Christmas Eve dinner at Chez Salazar was – if I may say so – a satisfying success.  The Oysters Rockefeller were from a recipe by Tyler Florence.  A little too much Pernod, but still they were great.

Beef Consomme

Consommé came out well: clear, beefy and with that smooth feel that comes from the bones in the stock.  Jacques Pepin’s recipe was our guide here, though this is a dish where the technique – not that difficult, really – is the important part: Do not over-boil, but just let the soup simmer so it gently bubbles up through the “raft”.  Finishing with a splash of madeira worked out nicely.

Sole meunière

Next came the Sole meunière, made with grey sole filet (actual whole Dover soles being hard to come by nowadays).  This is totally simple – season the fish, dredge in flour, fry in butter and a little olive oil; when brown move to the serving plates, then in the same frying pan make a beurre blanc with lemon juice and capers; finally, pour the hot sauce over the warm fish so it sizzles.  Total time, from filets to plate: about 7 minutes.  This was good fish.

Beef Prime Rib

Finally, the entrée: Prime Rib of Beef with Sauce Béarnaise, Red Rice from the Camargue, and ginger-cashew green beans.  It has been some years since I last made an egg-based sauce, and I have had my share of scrambled-egg sauce disasters.  But I prepped by intensive Julia-watching, and the sauce was a success.  Make sure you use enough vinegar!

The red-rice is a traditional Christmas dish in France, usually made with peas, scallion, leeks or other green vegetable to create a red-green holiday motif.  If you’ve never tried this rice, well, try some; the flavor is nutty, a bit sweeter than brown rice, and has a nice “crunch” that makes it good for both warm dishes and cold rice salads.  We made ours with braised leeks and red-pepper.

Kim's Pumpkin Pie

The ending was Kim’s pumpkin mousse pie.  This is a much lighter pumpkin pie, with beaten eggs and cream, and pumpkin folded in.  Since I missed Thanksgiving this year, I prevailed upon Kim to make this for Christmas Eve.  The butter-crust came out perfectly.  I have to say, much as I like apple pies, this pumpkin pie is my favorite of pies.

Maybe this seems like a lot, but half the fun here is in the cooking.  We begin noontime or so, starting the early parts of each dish, having some snacks, some wine, a little more cooking, a little more snacks … you get the picture.

When all is done and we are ready to start, one thing remains, three tones from my rin gong:

Singing bowl

The tones are clear, and as they fade they take away the rushing of the day, the week, the year.  This is not a time of year to rush – I want to savor the lessons of the season and truly taste the things before me.


I hope you all had a Merry Christmas, a Happy Holiday, a Peaceful Solstice.  I and the family will be ringing in the New Year from Pune – talk to you all in 2013.

Categories: Food

Book Reviews: It Will be Exhilarating; A Dash Of Genius

November 11, 2012 4 comments

The late 70’s and early 80’s was an era of small-scale capitalism.  The microcomputer made it possible for a small team – even a single person – to create a product that had real impact.  VisiCalc was written by 2 guys, Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston.  The classic game Wizardry was also a 2-guy effort, written by Andrew (aka ‘Werdna’) Greenberg and Robert Woodhead.  Ever look at the credits for a game today, like Angry Birds?  It’s like reading the phonebook.

It Will Be Exhilarating ($4.99 on Kindle), by Dan Provost and Tom Gerhardt (with an intro by Clay Shirky), is about how small-scale is coming back.  Dan and Tom are the principals – in fact the only employees of – Studio Neat. Studio Neat’s first product was the Glif, a kind of clip for an iPhone 4/4s that let’s you mount your phone on a tripod.  In telling the story of the Glif, and of their other product, the Cosmonaut, Dan and Tom provide a how-to guide to indie capitalism.  And what is that, you ask?  First some background:

For a long time if you wanted to make a product, you had to be a big company.  Sure, you can be a craft-person and make one of a kind artisanal things, but those are more art works than they are products.  To do a product you need to have a market, which means advertising, and you need to have production, which means having a factory, and having both of those meant you had to be big.

No more, because of two things.  First is the internet and in particular social and sharing services that make it easy for interest groups to form – there’s your market.  The second thing is a range of manufacturing advances like 3-D printing – where anyone can create a physical prototype of a designed object – and small-run production – like this, this and this – which make it cost-effective for small, virtual companies to make things.  What kind of things, you ask?  There’s Yield Picnic, a beach-bag that converts into a blanket; Magnetic bike lights; and the Captain Crepe Pan, “the best CAST IRON PAN for making the world’s BIGGEST AND BEST CREPES.”  These are just a few examples of 1,000s of projects on Kickstarter, the leading “crowd funding” site.  Most of these are small efforts, in the $10 – 30,000 funding range.  Some are much bigger, in the millions.

Kickstarter is the best single example of what indie capitalism means, namely: It’s traditional capitalism where buyers and sellers meet in a market and do business, but its also “independent” in that you’re not dealing with a giant corporation that is constrained to deliver only products that align with some global mega-strategy, but with a small entity whose only business is the thing you want to buy.  You think Apple really cares about your individual comments on its products?  If you didn’t get the memo, they don’t.  Yes, when the whole world calls Apple Maps an epic fail, they care.  That’s the extent of their engagement with you.  That’s not how it is on a Kickstarter project.  The whole idea on Kickstarter is the project owners interact with their backers and that you as a backer have a say in how things will turn out.

Last two background things I’ll mention are Maker Faire and Lifehacker – if these are news to you, they are two of the strongest originating impulses for indie capitalism.  Lifehacker is for do-it-yourselfers – like, who want to fix their own smartphone.  Maker Faire is more creativity and product oriented, but it shares with LifeHacker the core idea that you, not the “big guys”, can make something useful.

Getting back to the book, the great thing about IWBE is to see a complete end-to-end story.  I think lots of folks have heard about the creative part of this kind of work.  What about the nuts and bolts of retaining a small-run manufacturer?  Should you manufacture offshore?  What about packaging?  Fulfillment?  Dan and Tom have something to say about all that.  The numbers they share on their operation are also interesting.  Studio Neat’s Frameographer product has sold about 20,000 copies.  At $2.99 per user, and with 30% going to Apple, they are not on the billionaire track with this stuff.  But that’s not the goal.  In their own words:

In “start-up” culture, there are basically two trajectories: become super successful so you can become the next Twitter or Facebook, or aim to get acquired by a larger company.  There are very few new start-ups that have the goal of staying intentionally small, building great products that can be sold for a profit, and growing organically.

One of the more fascinating aspects of Indie Capitalism is that there is now a middle ground.  Instead of the “go big or go home” approach of most start-ups, it is now feasible to “go small and have complete autonomy over your products and not work crazy, unreasonable hours.”  That’s probably a little too long to catch on, but you get the idea.

If this is new to you and you’re interested, It Will Be Exhilarating is a pretty good read – a window into a cool world that all of us as consumers can benefit from.  And if you are thinking of trying the indie capitalism thing, I heartily recommend IWBE – for $4.99 you can read about what worked, what didn’t, and get tons of references to help you plan your own personal conquest of the long tail.


Ok, let’s go back in time again.  Our destination is not the 1970’s and the dawn of microcomputers, but the 1870’s and the Franco-Prussian War.  Napoleon III and his chiefs of staff arrive just as a Prussian artillery barrage commences.  Despite the confusion of breaking camp to evade the falling shells, a 24-year old chef decides the assembled leaders will want a meal the following morning.  Taking some blown-up railroad ties to create a makeshift frame, the chef impales a large joint of beef on a sword and starts roasting it; taking another sword in hand he guards the beef all night from hungry stragglers attracted by the enticing aroma.  At 9 am the following morning, with some supplies obtained from a local farm, he serves the following menu to Napoleon and his officers:

Canned Sardines in Oil; Sausage; Soft-boiled Eggs; Roast Beef, Cooked to Perfection; Potato Salad

    To drink was water from a horse-trough the chef filtered himself, though to finish the diners had coffee and cognac from the Emperor’s personal store.  Thus fortified, the Emperor and officers and all the French troops fled the morning barrage from the Prussians.
    The chef was Auguste Escoffier, and this was not the least of his innovations or creative solutions.  A Dash Of Genius ($2.99 for Kindle) by Jeremiah Tower is mostly an overview of this great chef’s life and accomplishments, augmented by Tower’s own experiences with Escoffier’s legacy and recipes.  Tower is himself a tremendously accomplished chef, one who helped build the world-famous Chez Panisse.
    But this short book is all about Escoffier.  As a member of the dining public, owner of all of Julia Child’s books, most of Jacques Pepin’s, and frequent viewer of pretty much any cooking show – unless it features the ever-irritating Gordon Ramsay – I like to think I know a lot about cooking, for an amateur.  I of course knew the name Escoffier, but I thought of him as just an example of the broader French tradition and, coming from La Belle Époque, as a representative of an outdated cuisine, marked by heavy sauces and pointlessly complex preparations.
    How wrong I was.  Everything we take for granted about fine dining, and restaurant cooking in general, comes from this man.  Before Escoffier, dishes were not cooked to order.  Restaurants had timed seatings, and then the same dishes – in great variety of course – were served to all diners.  Escoffier perfected ordering à la carte, and the kitchen system necessary to quickly fill incoming orders.  Before Escoffier, kitchens were organized into separate sections; the conduct and quality of the salads was often different from that of the grill, from that of the pastry, etc.  After Escoffier the kitchen was run by a single commander, and all the sections worked together to a single set of standards and on a single menu.
    Before Escoffier, a woman – especially in England – did not dine out, unless she was a demi-mondaine.  Escoffier invited the Prince of Wales to bring his wife, Mary of Teck, to dine at the Ritz; after that ladies of better society decided they could all dine with their husbands. 
    Finally, perhaps his greatest contribution was a modern vision of professionalism in the food and hospitality trade.  Before Escoffier the traditional French kitchen was a brutal place, emphasizing unquestioning obedience to the chef that was often reinforced with blows from spoons, rolling pins or worse.   Escoffier’s standards and expectations were high, but he did not use violence to promote them; instead he used training and a refined, insightful and sometime humorous attitude that allowed him to communicate easily both with the lowliest apprentice, as well as with Princes and Dukes – of which Tower cites many examples.
    I think the great virtue of A Dash Of Genius  is how much it provides in a small space.  I’ve tried to give a flavor of what Tower covers, but the 120-so pages gives much, much more.  Rather than listing all that, I’ll just give a recipe:

    Cut up a rabbit.

    Sauté in hot lard.

    Add 6 finely chopped onions. Season with salt and pepper.
    Add 1 glass cognac and 1 glass white wine.
    Simmer for 20 minutes.
      This recipe became Lapin de Gravellote, as Escoffier first served it on the battlefield of Gravelotte.  What could have been simpler?  Some time back in the US, I need to make this.
      The wrap-up: A great, short book.  I like it.  Tony Bourdain likes it.  If you care about food, you will too.


    A bit of a postscript … Why did I do these two reviews together?  What’s the link? Of course, A Dash Of Genius is a type of indie capitalism, the kind of writing we’d never see if it was up to the big publishers.  So, there’s that.

    But when I read It Will Be Exhilarating, frankly I wasn’t exhilarated.  I think indie capitalism is neat and all that, but there’s a flip side to it – one of self-indulgence, a boutique viewpoint that is pointlessly unique, and products that aren’t that great, which only exist because nowadays you can find the 1000 people in all the world who care about your dorky little clip.  In a cynical mode, one might re-title IWBE to “It will be mildly useful to a few people, somewhere”.

    But reading A Dash Of Genius, I was taken by Escoffier’s passion.  His accomplishments were great, but more important was what he surmounted, and what he stood for.  Had he been around today I think he might have been an indie capitalist.  When opening the Hotel Ritz in Paris and discovering all the dining room chairs and tables were 1 inch too high, Escoffier sent them back to the cabinet maker to have the inch removed, all 3 hours before opening time.  I can’t picture this man working for a mega-corp.  And that made me think Dan and Tom of Studio Neat must be taken by the same thing – they have their standard, and that’s what they want to build to.

    Here’s the link: Personal vision and passion in what you do – things so hard to get, but with unmatched rewards, whether you’re cooking for royalty or making something for a 1,000 true fans.

    Thanks for reading.

    Categories: Books, Food, Technology

    I Feast

    September 9, 2012 3 comments


    Today we talk about Salazar’s Second law of Expat Life (the First Law is, “Do not contradict the Indian Official”, but that’s another story).  The Second Law: You can only eat so much microwave biryani.

    After a wait of some weeks I received my shipment of stuff from the US – this is a shipment my company allows me, so that you can bring household goods, etc.  Included was an array of kitchen things: dishware, cooking knives, pots, pans, all of that.  Once I got everything unpacked I was off to my local Spar Hypermarket to get ingredients.

    The veg for my meal you see above: Carrots are generally less uniform in size and shape than the US version, but are less watery and have good flavor.  Indian onions are smaller and slightly red; they are served everywhere fresh as part of the salad that accompanies a typical Indian meal.  Lastly, I bought some striped eggplant, a variety of Solanum melongena; these are palm-sized eggplants with a mild, slightly sweet flavor.  (Googling around a bit I find that eggplant was first cultivated in the region of India and Pakistan some 4,000 years ago … who knew?)

    I sautéed all these with butter, salt and pepper, then added a bit of white wine and some ginger-garlic paste. This stuff is good – if they had it in the US I would use it by the kilo.


    My main dish was boneless lamb.  The cost was 209 Rs., about $4, for 445 grams, or just under 1 lb. – this I think is an expensive ingredient from Indian standpoint but pretty cheap compared to US.  I used this in making Marzwangan korma, a recipe which came from here:

    One of the things I like about this book, it classifies dishes by region.  Marzwangan korma is a Kashmiri dish; Kashmir is about as far North as you can get in India.  The seasonings in this dish include: Turmeric, Cardamom, Chili, Cinnamon and Tamarind.  Making it is easy, first you kind of poach the lamb to cook it and give its first layer of flavor; then you fry the main spices, glaze the cooked lamb in the hot spice mix, then add a little of the poaching liquid and reduce it down again to let the glaze penetrate the meat.

    Sorry no pics of the end result … Once all this was on the plate, journalistic record keeping was the last thing on my mind.  Suffice to say I am slave to the microwave no longer.

    Categories: Expat life, Food