Hello … is it cheese you’re looking for? (My new found love for all things cheese.)

It was nearly seven years ago that I was elbow deep in a three bay sink of suds, washing pots and pans for the esteemed and successful banquet department of the Radisson, Kalamazoo. Since my ‘days of detergent’ with Lionel Richie on repeat, I’ve worked hard and have learned from experiences and other people to shape the cook I’ve become. In January of 2014, I was offered a chance to attend the Italian Culinary Institute in Calabria, Italy, and had the opportunity to shape the chef I wanted to be. With many long-winded arrangements, months of espresso driven planning, fun with obtaining visas and several successful months at Webster’s, my wife and I were ready to fly out a short week after our wedding.

This blog could go in any direction at this point. I could talk about my amazing mother, whom none of this would happen without. I should acknowledge the support of our chef and team, who all had to work harder to make this experience even possible. I want to shine light on our closest friend and the ‘goddess’ of our lives, whom put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into our happiness. I might transition into the incredible tutelage of Chef John Nocita, and how the hardest thing to leave was all of the friends we made in school from around the world. I could write for hours on charcuterie, conserves and pasta making. Instead I am going to focus on my favorite technique I learned in Italy: cheese making.

Chef John Nocita - A true master of Italian Regional Cuisine, with an art for sharing his knowledge.

Chef John Nocita – A true master of Italian Regional Cuisine, with an art for sharing his knowledge.*

Every Friday morning we went to the market, and stands like these were everywhere.

Every Friday morning we went to the market, and stands like these were everywhere.

I was never a cheese addict. I’m not the guy at the party who jumps in excitement when somebody pulls out the Colby Jack cubes. I’m not sure why I latched onto cheese so much, maybe it was foreign, different and something I had never pursued to learn how to make before. It could have been arriving at the sheep farm far before dawn, and tasting the warm ricotta made from the whey of the pecorino only a couple hours after the sheep were milked. It could have been eating loads of grilled camoscio, a soft cheese like brie, with fresh honey, black truffles and valeriana greens. Whatever it was that turned on my formaggio ‘switch’, I am forever a lover of all things cheese.

Lunch at ICI: cheese was a way of life and we loved living it.

Lunch at the Italian Culinary Institute (ICI): Cheese was a way of life and we loved living it.

The sun rising at a local sheep farm in Calabria.

                                                 The sun rising at a local sheep farm in Calabria.

The farmer preparing fresh rennet to make pecorino and ricotta.

The farmer preparing fresh rennet to make pecorino and ricotta.

Breakfast of Champions - fresh, warm ricotta from that morning's milking.

Breakfast of Champions – fresh, warm ricotta from that morning’s milking.

Fresh sheep's milk pecorino

                                Fresh sheep’s milk pecorino

In school, we had the privilege of learning how to make several types of cheese. Our chef didn’t hold back when it came to beautiful ingredients, as we got to work with fresh milks, rennet, and cultures that were created by the chef himself from years of his own cheese making. Most of the cheese we made was not ready for consumption by the time the program was over, so we had the honor of tasting the cheese made from graduating classes before us. These weren’t your average blocks of cheese. We made curds that were pulled into mozzarella, pasteurized sheep milk that were cut into large curds to age pecorino with black truffles and saffron, and even extracted culture from gorgonzola to create our own. I ran to the closest internet connection we could find after class that day to email Stefan about finding sheep milk in Michigan. My wife and I started planning how we could turn our wine cooler at home into a cheese aging case. I was online ready to start filling up my cart on Amazon with cheese baskets and equipment we would need. This was an inspiring lesson and I was hungry for more.

Aged cheeses prepared by previous ICI classes.

Aged cheeses prepared by previous ICI classes. *

Freshly made pecorino al tartufo.

Freshly made pecorino al tartufo. *

Curds being removed from whey.

Curds being removed from whey. *

The class continued with several new types of artisanal cheese like caciotta, ricotta salata, taleggio, pecorino con peperoncino, provola, caciocavallo, camoscio, robiola: just to name a few. We even had a day of learning techniques and recipes that utilize leftover whey, milk and other ingredients from cheese making, our favorite being sheep milk gelato. I highly encourage looking up the Italian Culinary Institute and Chef Nocita’s work, a true master of his craft. They even hold small sessions throughout the year for a quick but full immersion into regional Italian cuisine.

Ricotta Salata

Ricotta Salata *

Toma marinated in black truffles and extra virgin olive oil.

Toma marinated in black truffles and extra virgin olive oil. *

I hope to not only be making cheese at home, but to feature some house made cheese on Webster’s menu one day. Until then, we are going to keep sourcing some of the best cheese we can find from not only Italy, but all around the world. The mozzarella di bufala from Campania we are featuring right now is delicious, and impossible to find at any store in Kalamazoo. Cheese making was just one small part of our amazing journey to Calabria, Italy. I look forward to sharing more of our experiences at the Italian Culinary Institute in future blogs. Check back soon for my newfound knowledge and appreciation of conserves, and what we are conserving at Webster’s right now.

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Want to see what we’re up to in the kitchen? Follow me on Instagram @nate_is_cooking and follow our restaurant @webstersprime

*Special thanks to ICI alumni and friend Michael Reale for sharing his ‘Cheese Week’ photos with us.

All other photos taken by my beautiful wife!

Nathan Shaw

Webster’s Prime – Sous Chef

This must be the Place (and I’m glad to be back)

“Feet on the ground, head in the sky.”

I wouldn’t call myself a diehard Talking Heads fan, in fact, this post has absolutely nothing to do with the Talking Heads.  Pretty opposite actually, my return to Event Coordinating at Webster’s Prime, sipping wines, craft beer, favorite restaurants, local food, cooking at home, floral arrangements, the crazy, strangely addictive restaurant world and everything in between will most likely be the mixed up direction I go when posting to our blog. These new wave gods come into play for two reasons; one, because let’s be honest, they are amazing and that has to be a reason and two, because “This Must be the Place” reminds me of the point in my life when I realized that I belong in restaurants. Some say it’s a love song, which it certainly is, and others say it’s about the moment when David Byrne found his small place in the world.  The moment he found his way, the moment he was home.

Event Coordinating is all in the details.  These mason jars are filled with arborvitae from my backyard.  Beautiful and inexpensive, more event planning tips to come!

Event Coordinating is all in the details. These mason jars are filled with arborvitae from my backyard. Beautiful and inexpensive, more event planning tips to come!

As long as I’ve been working, I’ve been in the restaurant world.  My first job only lasted one short shift.  I was hired as a waitress at a small family owned restaurant, in a small village (yes, village … that small) near the very small town that I grew up in.  The other servers were ladies that were easily 60+ and I was barely 16.  Training consisted of a brief crash course on ticket writing, throwing me on the floor and then handing my tips over to Betty. The day started to wind down, and I was actually feeling pretty good with how I handled everything, until I saw the linen bag.  We didn’t have linens on the table, this was a mom and pop diner, so why the linen bag?  Then it hit me … I had probably thrown away over 60 cloth napkins throughout the course of my shift!  Needless to say, maybe my stomach started to hurt at that very moment, and maybe I had to call my mom to come pick me up because I was “sick”, and maybe my first day was my last day.

Luckily, things could only go up from there and I was able to leave the faraway diner behind.  I’ve served in multiple different restaurants over the past 8 years from Bob Evans, to Texas Roadhouse to finally landing at Webster’s Prime inside the Radisson. By that time I was almost 23, and hanging on to college by a thread.  I was lost, and desperately searching for my small place in the world.  After 3 years of searching, I realized I was already home.  My passion lied in the restaurant.  I took on the role of Event Coordinator, which grew into so many things. I eventually grew into a management position at Old Burdick’s Bar and Grill, then moved on to Zazios Italian Restaurant, and now a new chapter begins as I step back into the Event Coordinating role at Webster’s Prime.

Webster's allows for so many great opportunities, some of my favorite are our local food & charity driven events.  This is shot with our volunteers from Eat Drink Give 2014.

Webster’s allows for so many great opportunities, some of my favorites are our local food & charity driven events. This is a shot with our volunteers from Eat Drink Give 2014.

Events for me is all about the details, those little  moments or surprises that make an evening or event memorable.  Whether it’s something as large as a cocktail event for 100 guests, or an intimate anniversary dinner for 2, I love to help create that special moment.  I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in so many of our guest’s special days, and look forward to those on the horizon.  On the docket this spring we have the Greenleaf Hospitality Group 2nd Annual Signature Chef’s Dinner, taking place on May 15 at 6:30 p.m. This is going to be an amazing night, with chefs from all of the Radisson restaurants, including our very own Chef Stefan, Chef John and Joe from Zazios, Chef Brandon from Burdick’s for Breakfast, Chef Alec from Old Burdick’s, Chef Howie from Radisson Catering and Sherrie our talented pastry chef!  Each chef is cooking up a delicious course, with a wine paired from our featured winery Duckhorn Vineyards.  We’ve paired with our friends from Great Lakes Wine and Spirits on this one, and they have really knocked it out of the park with the wine this year.  All of the wines will be available for retail, and Duckhorn plans to have most, if not all of their portfolio available for ordering.  I know I’m saving my pennies for some of those mouth watering reds!

Our GHG Chefs gearing up for the Signature Chef Dinner last year.  Join us for the 2nd Annual Signature Chefs Dinner on May 15th. Call me at 269.226.3144 for reservations!

Our GHG Chefs gearing up for the Signature Chef Dinner last year. Join us for the 2nd Annual Signature Chefs Dinner on May 15th. Call me at 269.226.3144 for reservations!

I love what I do, and it spills into every aspect of my life.  My fiancé is an amazing chef, we love good food, we love good wine, beer and cocktails, we love dining out together and we love cooking at home just as much.  Whatever my passion is at the moment, is what I plan to share, whether it’s the bold Barbaresco I recently discovered, my recent trip to the farmer’s market, wedding details for our December wedding (at Webster’s Prime of course), insider event planning tips or the latest excitement coming out of the restaurant.  Whatever it may be, I look forward to sharing it with you.

I’ve worked in multiple restaurants here at GHG, and I’ve enjoyed and learned from every experience, but Webster’s will always be my home.  I am very happy to be home.

 

I love my Webster's family, we are certainly a tight knit crew.

I love my Webster’s family, we are certainly a tight knit crew.

 

If you’re looking to plan any style of event, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.  We have a very versatile space at Webster’s Prime and can accommodate a variety of groups.  Love craft beer?  Let’s plan a beer tasting, or a menu paired with your favorite beers!  Not big on beer, let’s plan a menu paired with your favorite wines or cocktails.  Birthdays, Rehearsals, Corporate Events, Weddings, Anniversaries, Graduation, Cocktail Events, Girls Night Out, Bachelor/Bachelorette Parties, Reunions, Baby Showers, Bridal Showers … you name it and I’ll plan it.  Looking for a lunch event?  Webster’s isn’t open for lunch, but we’ve done plenty of lunch events and are happy to accommodate groups during the day.

E-mail me at atipton@ghgkz.com

Call me at 269.226.3144

I look forward to hearing from you!

– Alexa

 

 

Visit http://www.bit.ly/chefswinedinner for details on the GHG Signature Chef’s Dinner!

 

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