Marie-Antoine Carême “The First Celebrity Chef”

Marie-Antoine Carême has been considered the first ‘celebrity’ chef.  He was also known as the “king of cooks and cook of kings” (Kelly 2003: 225).  Along his maturation into the culinary world, his cooking and creativity helped to develop haute cuisineHaute cuisine or Grande cuisine is the “rich, intricate and elaborate cuisine of the 18th and 19th century French aristocracy and upper classes.  It is based on the rational identification, development and adoption of strict culinary principles.  By emphasizing the how and why of cooking, Grande cuisine was the first to distinguish itself from regional cuisines” (Labensky et al 2007:  5).  Carême followed strict principles in creating a genealogy of sauces which he categorized into béchamel, velouté, espagnole, and allemande.  In the simplest form they are thickened milk, thickened stock, thickened dark stock with tomato, and egg/acid emulsion like Hollandaise (Kelly 2003:  201).  These rules are evident and discussed in his five volume encyclopedia on cookery called L’Art de la cuisine which is basically a ‘how-to’ book on haute cuisine.  How did Marie-Antoine Carême become this great chef and create a new cuisine for the world?

Marie Antoine-Carême

Marie Antoine-Carême

Marie-Antoine Carême was born in Paris, France on June 8, 1784 to the poorest of parents.  He was named after the infamous Queen of France which he would become known as Antonin for the rest of his life.  Carême was part of a large family that might have ranged from eighteen to twenty-five children of Marie Jeanne Pascal and Jean Gilbert Carême.  Many of his early records were destroyed in 1871 from the Franco-Prussian war so that is why there is such a large range of siblings.  There are many stories of Antonin’s departure from his family.  The basis of his story is that Carême was abandoned on the streets of Paris and so to be fortunately picked up by a local cook.  Was this fate or a lucky circumstance that placed one of the future great chefs of the world in the hands of cook?  Whether it was fate or a lucky happenstance that landed Carême into the household of a chef, this new life facilitated his future into the exciting culinary world.  Antonin lived and worked with his ‘new’ family for six years until he was the age of fifteen.  He worked to earn his keep in the new household as lowly kitchen-boy in a chophouse that was where the cook who took him in was employed.  The work in the chophouse was basically the bottom of the Paris food chain while the top or most prestigious was the confectioners or pâtissiers.  This would add another chapter in Carême’s story of becoming a great chef to the world.

At the age of fifteen, Marie-Antonin Carême started his journey into the world of pastry.  Carême began his apprenticeship with Sylvain Bailly who was a pâtissier in Paris on the rue Vivienne (Kelly 2003:  35).  This was a very fashionable section of Paris and in view for many locals that would pass the windows of this patisserie.  All this work in this shop may have started Antonin’s health demise.  He worked in conditions that were very unhealthy because that was the design of the day.  The kitchens existed below the house in the late 18th century and some even lived below the street level.  Though his work days were long, hot and foul smelling, Carême would spend his afternoons studying and reading at the Bibliothèque Nationale where he would research ancient and foreign foods.  Along with studying foods from around the world, his other passion was architecture which would influence his pastry centerpieces or as they were named extraordinaires.

Updated Kitchen Uniform

Updated Kitchen Uniform

While working at Bailly’s patisserie, one of its patrons of Carême’s windows was another gourmand named Charles Maurice de Talleyrand.  These public displays of his works would have a big influence on chef Carême’s culinary life.  Talleyrand was a significant French diplomat which he served from Louis XVI to Napoleon I and other leaders of France.  Carême partnered and cooked for Talleyrand for twelve years.  Talleyrand did not visit Bailly’s patisserie, but Carême’s talent was noticed by Talleyrand’s maitre d’ named Boucher.  Boucher persuaded Carême to leave his position at Bailly’s to take a post with Gendron.  Antonin was not of legal age when he joined Gendron, but he worked out a deal that he could do some free-lance work.  Most of these special jobs came from Talleyrand.  These two men had much in common such as both were abandoned by their parents.  Their friendship would last for more than thirty years (Kelly 2003:  49).  In Talleyrand’s employ, Carême mainly made his extraordinaires, but he gained experience in both banquet cooking along with his confectionery skills.  As time went on, Talleyrand introduced Carême to many of his influential friends.  Through these meetings, Carême cooked for Napoleon’s sisters, and by 1803 and with the money he earned from his sugared centerpieces, Carême opened his own patisserie.  At his own place, Carême could create new desserts.  This was where Antonin started to pipe meringue through an icing bag which nobody did before.  Meringue was formed by using two spoons to get the shape that you want.  He ran that business until 1815 or 1816, but it remained an establishment, in name, until 1863.

Antonin Carême’s career was gaining notoriety among the powerful and with the nouveau riche.  And with Talleyrand’s connection to Napoleon, Carême got to make the food preparations for his wedding banquet along with designing and making the cake.  After his time creating for Napoleon, Carême began his connection to the Tsar of Russia, Alexander I who was the grandson of Catherine the Great.  A few years later Carême worked for the crowned Prince of Great Britain who later became George IV.  With all these influential people that Carême worked for, he got to travel to many different countries.  He worked and visited countries and cities such as Great Britain, Russia, and Vienna, Austria.

Marie-Antonin Carême contributed many ideas, dishes, and techniques to the culinary world.  One of his main contributions was to the chef’s uniform.  Carême updated the uniform and introduced a new style of hat worn by chefs.  This hat is called the toque.  This form of hat is still worn by chefs today.  Carême was the first chef or person to create categories for the sauces in the culinary milieu.  These became the four mother or leading sauces which are mentioned above in this paper.  He also helped to create a new cuisine that branched away from local or regional cuisine, and it was name haute cuisine.  Influenced by what Carême witnessed in Russia, he changed his service of meals from service à la française with service à la russe.  This modernized the way people served food from all at once on the table to bring out each dish according to the menu.  Carême was also credited with “introducing cream as alternative to vinegar in Russian sauces” (Kelly 2003:  167).  Carême not only had influence on techniques and dishes, he had some influence on future chefs such as Auguste Escoffier.  Escoffier took Carême’s haute cuisine and modernized and simplified it along with adding another leading sauce to the list.

Elaborate Dessert Designs by Carême

Elaborate Dessert Designs by Carême

During his last days, Carême wrote in total five books on cookery and desserts.  Most doctors said that he had intestinal tuberculosis, but the main reason Carême was dying was because of his life in the kitchen.  Antonin endured with a low-level carbon-monoxide poisoning from his days in a charcoal smoked filled kitchens that had no ventilation system.  On January 12, 1833 Marie-Antonin Carême suffered a stroke and passed away just a few months from fifty years of age.

By working at Webster’s Prime in Kalamazoo and in the culinary world, I believe that it is very important to learn the history of the kitchen.  We as chefs can learn from the past to move our career and field to new levels of the art of cookery.  Today’s kitchen is still influenced by Carême by the uniform we wear and the sauces we make, plus the way we serve our menu in course instead of all at once.  I will leave this blog with a quote from Carême to all chefs, future chefs, and to everyone:

“Advice to young chefs:  young people who love your art; have courage, perseverance…always hope…don’t count on anyone, be sure of yourself, of your talent and your probity and all will be well.”

Richard J. Steward
Line Cook

Richard

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited and Reviewed

Chefs Toque Culinaire. 22 March 2006. 26 May 2010 <http://www.chefstoqueculinaire.net/modules/AMS/index.php?storytopic=11&gt;.

  1. 27 May 2010 <http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=4436&gt;.

Kelly, Ian. Cooking for Kings: The Life of Antonin Careme, The First Celebrity Chef. New York: Walker & Company, 2003.

Labensky, Sarah, Alan M. Hause, Steven Labensky and Pricilla Martel. On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals. Upper Saddle River: New Jersey, 2007.

Stradley, Linda. History of Sauces. 2004. 26 May 2010 <http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/SauceHistory.htm&gt;.

 

 

Parting Words

Radisson Plaza Hotel & Suites Kalamazoo, MI

Radisson Plaza Hotel & Suites
Kalamazoo, MI

I remGreenleafember my first day with Greenleaf Hospitality Group, outlet – Zazios Kalamazoo; I was 19 years old and had not a care in the world besides completing my college degree.  If you would have stopped that 19 year old girl in the lobby of the Radisson hotel and asked her where she saw herself in seven years, I assure you the answer would have been quite different from where she is today.

I started working as a hostess for Zazios Kalamazoo in the fall of 2006.  I was thrilled to be a part of something so special and unique.  I was excited about the way Greenleaf Hospitality adapted the ‘Yes I Can’ attitude towards their guests and how eager they were to accommodate both their internal and external guests.  I learned so much from Zazios Kalamazoo.  I learned how to appreciate the fine cuisine that my father always encouraged me to try, but I never would.  Scallops, mussels, rapini (it’s terrible don’t try it,) brussel sprouts, radish, beets, veal, prosciutto, pork belly, lamb, duck, the list goes on…  Zazios opened my eyes to the wonders of many exotic foods that I used to snub my young, undeveloped palate to before joining their team.

For Today (Wood)

Zazios Salami Tasting

It was here at Zazios that I met many of my best friends, including Shawdy Moaiery whose start date was just a day before mine – November 28th, 2006.  We attended all of our human resources training classes together and have been friends ever since.  I also met many others through the years, Kristin Mantila Brown and Jess Southerland (Armstrong) both of whom I still meet almost once a week for a girl’s date.  It was also here that I met my incredible boyfriend, Alec Durocher, whom I’ve been dating for over three years and we are planning our futures together.  It would be hard for me to say that I could imagine my life without these amazing people who have helped shaped the person that I am today.  So it is safe to say that Zazios Kalamazoo will forever hold a special place in my heart.

Zazios

Zazios Italian Restaurant + Bar

 

Upon completion of my degree from Western Michigan University, I wore a duel cap; working days at a local school as a Paraprofessional and nights as a server at Zazios.  When the elementary school year ended, we were in the process of opening Zazios Birmingham in 2010.  I decided (because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life…to apply to graduate school or not to apply to graduate school,) that it would be worth life experience to move to Detroit, MI.  It was here as a bartender/server that I learned so much about life, love, and what I wanted for my future.  I also met another acquaintance, Allie Tucker, who will forever be a life long friend.

Zazios Birmingham, MI (This location is now closed.)

Zazios Birmingham, MI (This location is now closed.)

It was in the fall of 2012 that Alec and I moved back to Kalamazoo and I was extended the hand of Stefan Johnson as my future mentor – an experienced and trusted adviser, who was much more than a boss.  Stefan had faith in who I was as an individual; he saw the promise in me and gave me a chance at a career with Greenleaf Hospitality.  Sure he “made me” host, serve, and bartend before I took on the role as Event Coordinator, turned Restaurant Supervisor of Webster’s Prime, but he also invested in me.  He helped mature my many talents and strengths and learn how to develop them for a future career path.

Webster’s Prime is where I really got my feet wet in hopes for a future career path in food and beverage.  I met so many wonderful people from all different walks of life.  Some guests I met through corporate or private events, some through sharing in their special days – wedding ceremonies, rehearsal dinners, and receptions, some were entertainers that I booked to play in our Tasting Room, and some were frequent dinners in our restaurant who were just looking for a great dining experience.  It is these people who make working in food and beverage such a reward.  I will miss many of them deeply and will hope that our paths cross once again in life.PicMonkey Collage

Aside from all of our sensational guests here at Webster’s Prime, it is the brilliant people that I had the privilege of working with every day who will be greatly missed as well.  You don’t always get to see all that goes into running a successful and unique restaurant.  For example we meet with our marketing department every Tuesday, our food and beverage department every third Wednesday of the month, and our all staff meeting is held every month as well.  All staff includes leaders from the sales and catering department, the banquets department, Wings Stadium, Wings West, Rio, Sydney, Blush, front desk, The Wedding Studio, and the list goes on…with a team of 800 people employed here at Greenleaf it’s hard not to miss such a group of wonderful, talented people!

Stefan and Alana

It is for all of these reasons that Webster’s Prime, Zazios, and Greenleaf Hospitality will forever be a part of who I am.  When I decided to put in my two weeks and accept my new position with The Hinman Company I had a hard time.  It was a challenge to leave the comfort of what this company has provided – friends, support, and potential.  However, I know that The Hinman Company will be a new and exciting challenge for me and I am so thrilled to start on April 16th!

So for some parting words –

THANK YOU!

Thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout the last seven years with Greenleaf.

Thank you to our patrons for choosing to dine in such wonderful downtown Kalamazoo restaurants, Webster’s, Zazios, and Old Burdick’s.

Thank you for staying in our distinctive downtown hotel, The Radisson Plaza Hotel and Suites.

 

I look forward to seeing you in the future, at The Hinman Company.

All the best,

Alana Fisher
Event Coordinator
Restaurant Supervisor

The Angler’s Assumption: taking our seafood for granted

Prawn - Florida, wild caught, roasted tomato 'salsa'

Prawn – Florida, wild caught, roasted tomato ‘salsa’

I will never forget the first time I caught a fish. A bluegill whose fair size was relative to the ‘Twin Lakes’ outside my childhood home in mid- Michigan. I remember the wonderment I felt as a young boy peering at this fish, so alive with its sheen and squirm, dangling from my arched fishing pole. Time held still as my father’s strong hand slid down the top of the fish and held its sharp dorsal fin in place. I listened closely as he carefully removed the hook from the mouth and instructed, “this is a gift, and gifts come with responsibility.”

Skuna Bay Salmon from Vancouver

For about twenty years, those words have stuck with me.  They are subconscious aspects of the food I cook in my personal and professional life, especially when it comes to seafood. I certainly didn’t learn about sustainability, locational sourcing or birth-to-catchratios in my five-second “life lesson” on the Twin Lakes that day, but I’ve always known I hadto respect the food I eat. As I’ve progressed through my life and have had the privilege of experiencing and experimenting with rare ingredients, the humane responsibilities of making that selection are imperative.

I know that seared blue gill with acidity and contrasting texture is phenomenal, or that Michigan is known for its Friday Fish Fry. What about having Coldwater Maine Lobster, Alaskan Halibut, Scallops from Massachusetts, or Japanese Oysters? Eating these delicacies are a rarity, and should be treated as one. We should all be educated on the horrors of over-fishing and net-rigged catch of beautiful fish such as the Chilean Sea Bass or the Pacific’s massive Bluefin Tuna, the toxicity caused by certain mass fish farming and the proper harvesting season of crustaceans.

Ocean Tasting

We should all also know that being responsible for what seafood we eat is much simpler than understanding every aspect of our aquatic kingdom on Earth.

In coastal California, not far from San Francisco, is the beautiful Monterey Bay, where my sister was wed and home toone of the most important and relevant aquarium/research institutes in the United States: Monterey Bay Aquarium Research institute (MBARI). Located in Moss Landing, the bay is vastly blue and filled with lush sea life, colorful coral and the occasional humpback whale. They are globally recognized for their research and standards concerning oceanic habitat.

Their website also has a convenient app for mobile devices, MBA Seafood Watch, which I use regularly when ordering seafood for the restaurant, buying fish at the store and researching into menu design. MBARI clearly decides and explains what seafood by location is categorized as a ‘best choice’, ‘good alternative’, ‘bad alternative’ or ‘avoid’.  There is also great detail into fishing practices and specific weather effects in all areas of the world.  They even have now added a social media aspect, connecting people to share where they source sustainable seafood.

33lb Striped Bass, hand-line caught, Maryland

33lb Striped Bass, hand-line caught, Maryland

If you’re having a hard time sourcing high quality and sustainable seafood, come into Webster’s and we would love to meet you and aid in supplying you with responsible seafood.

It is a big world out there, and we cannot allow its size to make us oblivious to what we eat. As all of you know, the future is inevitable. We need to share information and help each other to better this planet, and ourselves. I see myself sitting on an old wooden dock one day, early in the dawn of the beautiful Michigan fall, casting a fishing lesson with my child.

 

http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/

http://www.seafoodwatch.org/cr/seafoodwatch.aspx

http://www.webstersrestaurant.com/

Nate Shaw
Kitchen Superior

Maintaining – Thoughts on a Restaurant Renovation

So you want to own a restaurant?

I’ve heard many times during my career about the desire of many individuals to own a bar and/or restaurant.  “I’d love to have a restaurant when I retire!  My family could help run it, it would be so much fun!”  Wish I had a nickel for every time I heard something similar, I could retire.

Perhaps it’s the glamorous profession that is put forth on Cable TV these days, often painting the food and beverage industry as somewhat easy and ‘oversimplifying’ the endeavor.  The reality is one of very long hours, often frequent turnover, and a steely eye scrutiny from everyone, your owner, superiors, guests, and the state.

The most overlooked aspect of our business is maintenance; upkeep of equipment and facility.  The budget for upkeep is commonly overlooked.  You only have to look at several shows on the television that speak to redoing or warming over a restaurant’s interior.  That’s the superficial stuff, what about the equipment?  What about the stuff we take for granted like plumbing and electrical?  The stuff you don’t see is where the budget should be spent, the bones of the place.

At Webster’s Prime, we are going through such a maintenance concern.  We’ve replaced our antiquated walk in cooler with a brand new walk in cooler/freezer combo that runs more efficiently, uses less electricity, and is proving to make our job much easier.  We have been approved to install a new dishwasher, the unit has been ordered and is being shipped.  While doing these two projects, another concern came up.  All of you who have tackled personal home improvements can insert your own comments here, the expenses always go up when you start peeling back the layers!

We found we needed to upgrade our hood venting system.  No big deal I thought, pull out the old and insert the new.  I was most worried about the capital budget process, how was I going to pay for it and who would give me bids on such a thing?  Turns out these were the least of my worries.  I should explain.

Unlike your basic hood range at home which can be vented or unvented, the hood system at Webster’s involves a roof mounted system and tons of duct work.  Of course, the duct work runs right across our dining room above the ceiling.  With our ceiling being drywall, I now know the reason most restaurants have suspended drop tile ceilings or have no ceiling at all, leaving everything visible.  The contractors will have to rip down the ceiling, do the vent work, apply new dry wall, tape, mud, paint….you’ve all seen those shows on the home networks I’m sure.  Only problem is, they’re not ‘crashing’ our restaurant and it won’t all be done in 3 days no matter how many friends we bring!

Nate, Alana, and I had to break the news to staff as well, a two week window from April 2nd to April 16th where our restaurant will be limited to working out of the kitchen at Burdick’s for Breakfast (our very gracious neighbor in the Radisson).  We’ll have to close the dining room and kitchen in Webster’s for the construction.  We’ll keep our Tasting Room open, but that leaves very few shifts for our staff.  It was hard to tell them, they work very hard, are exceptional at their craft of servicing guests, and have bills to pay.  Many are college students who count on Webster’s as their sole income.  Being in the Radisson, we’ve reached out to other outlets and will have some available cross training, but not enough I’m afraid.

We hope our guests will enjoy our finished project, problem is our restaurant isn’t being remodeled, we’re not being ‘made over’, we’re just maintaining.  Sure the ceiling will have a shiny coat of paint and guests will see that, being more efficient with electricity and the use of water, guests won’t notice.  Nor will our guests see the countless hour’s staff will put in moving things and cleaning things and taking loads to the dumpster, etc. all the normal things you do with any home improvement project.

So the next time someone comments about wanting to own a restaurant, I’ll put on my smug face and wish them well in the endeavor.  Maybe pass along my card if they might have any questions or need a consultant.  The easiest part might be the cooking and food, the hardest…right now I’d have to say maintenance!

Stefan Johnson
Food and Beverage Operations Manager

Stefan Johson Pic

To brew or not to brew?

If you have read some of my previous blogs you will know that I am an avid beer drinker.  What you may not know is that I have toyed with the idea of brewing my own beer for about two years now and have always found myself dreaming, thinking, and wondering if I could even do it.  Words like fermenters, airlocks, and carboys danced in my head, and intimidation set in like the hair of the dog on a Sunday morning.  Well on my recent birthday my loving boyfriend had purchased me my first home brewing kit as a present.  I was so surprised and I am obviously thrilled, but now I have no more excuses.  It’s time to brew.Carboy

So the question now becomes what do I do with all of this equipment?  I opened this box of jugs, plastic buckets, tubes, nozzles and valves of all sizes, and I was once again intimidated.  Much to my desire in this moment of desperation and self-doubt, there was this little book to be found in this large box of mystery items titled:  Handcraft Brewing Guide – A Beginners Guide to Home Brewing, and it has put my mind at ease.  I can really do this!  (And I’m sure you can too!)1-IMG_5719__64575_zoom

Equipment, it’s not so scary, like anything else everything has its name.  A fermenter is nothing more than a pail or a bucket.  Plastic, with a wide top.  Most beer making shops sell buckets in 6 – 7 ½ gallons in size and their lids will have drilled holes in them for airlocks.  An airlock is a one-way valve that lets the carbon dioxide out that will be produced during fermentation, and it also keeps the air out as to not affect your wort.  Wort is the solid grains (malt/hops) that are separated from the sugary broth that the grains have been boiling in during the brew.  A carboy is simply a five gallon glass water bottle that can be fitted with a stopper and an airlock.  Carboys are used as a secondary fermenter when brewing beers that have an extended fermentation time or aging periods, such as a lager.

So we will need the following for our first brew:

A large stainless steel pot, 16 – 20 quart capacity, this will be your brew pot.
A large vessel for fermenting, like a plastic bucket in 6.5 – 7 gallon capacity.  You’ll want a bucket with a lid that comes drilled and grommeted to accept an airlock.
An airlock, which is a small plastic water valve which gets placed at the top of your fermenter (the plastic bucket,) that lets CO2 escape without letting outside air in.
A siphon set-up, this is all of that plastic tubing, with various rigid tips for transferring beer between your buckets and bottles, five foot in length of 3/8 or 5/16 inch inside diameter.
A strainer, cheesecloth or fine nylon on top of a kitchen colander would be great.
A large funnel
A bottling bucket, which is a second plastic bucket with a spigot at the bottom.
Bottles, long necked and brown in color with non-screw top bottles.  You’ll need two cases of 12-ounce bottles for each 5 gallon batch of beer.
Bottle caps
Bottle capping device
Cleanser and sanitizer
Cleaning brushes, a bottle brush and a carboy brush.
A Hydrometer, thermometer, pH papers, or a pH meter will also prove to be helpful.Bells

Once we have all of our equipment, then we’ll be on our way to home brewing.  Check back in a few days and we’ll explore the next step, purchasing ingredients for the first brew.  We will use only four ingredients – barley malt, hops, yeast, and water.  Brewing in its purist and simplest form.  I am going to visit the Bell’s General Store where they have lots of home brewing supplies.  I’ll probably start with a Pale Ale or an IPA for my first brew, and I look forward to exploring the world of home brewing with you soon.

Cheers!

Alana Fisher
Event Coordinator
Restaurant Supervisor
NYE 2013 024

Chef’s Holiday Fun

There was a point in my culinary career where I feared the Holiday Season, having all the family gather and consume enormous amounts of food that I prepared, hoping everyone enjoyed every bite and they all had their favorites represented with panache and taste.  There were standards, green bean casserole with fried onions and sweet potatoes with mini marshmallows; there were also the unique, torta di ricotta & polenta ribollita.  Lots of worrying, stress, and effort went into those meals, much like having a busy dinner service in the restaurant.

future chefs

Erin not licking knife & Destiny licking knife making reindeer treats.

I’m happy to say that those days are over.  My lovely wife Amy and I have adopted a new strategy for the Holidays; we’re inviting our three grand-daughters to assist with the Turkey and Spiral sliced ham this year!

Destiny is 9 and newly rooted in Kalamazoo from Kansas City, she is the task master and preparation expert of the three, loving the planning and making lists and often telling everyone what they need to get done.  We knew she would be a natural fit for our Holiday food extravaganza when she came over one day with her folks and asked what was for dinner.  I had some great Angus filets I was going to grill and showed her the platter of beautiful beef.  Her next question made us smile; she asked ‘What are the sides?’  Seriously?  Sides?  I proceeded to ask her what she would like to prepare.  Thus we ventured on the everything is hot and everything is sharp and be safe in the kitchen speech.  She of course prepared nothing, she made requests and then ventured back to the Taylor Swift YouTube videos she was watching and dancing to leaving me with a list of things that would work with steak.  If I remember right mushrooms were at the top of the list.

makin eggs

Erin making eggs.

Erin is 6, she’s the baker and the doer and the ‘I’ll get the stool and help Papa’ girl.  She isn’t afraid of the mess, knows how to clean up (but doesn’t do it very often), actually enjoyed loading the dishwasher at an earlier age, and used to try anything.  Her palate has ‘matured’ over her young life to include not eating mashed potatoes (she prefers mac & cheese as her starch), loving yogurt and fruit (but not peanut butter, except for when she has the hiccups), and her late night snack of choice is cheese.  Cheese?  I used to beg for Archway sugar cookies as a kid, she wants cheese.  I distinctly remember carrying her at age 2 up and down the line at the restaurant, she’d point at things and say ‘What’s that Papa?’  The only thing she wanted to try that day was freshly pulled Mozzarella, pure and beautifully pristine white, I remember her saying as only a 2 year old can sound out ‘monsterella’ with a smile.  Happy times.  Erin has ‘matured’ into the girl who wants to bake a cake at 9 in the  morning so we can have a ‘lovely’ dessert with lunch.  Not happening, but a nice thought.

Bailey is 2, she puts stuff in the trash.  She’s our culinary police person.  She tells everyone that everything is hot.  She tastes everything, being most fond of chocolate, but also a huge fan of beets.  Right now her palate leans toward Princess Gummies and fresh apples, though I’ve never seen her consume an entire apple.  She has the most polite way of saying ‘No thank you’, very matter of fact.  She passed on something we offered for her to try once and went into the kitchen.  We found her sitting on the floor in front of the pantry, items strewn on the floor, diligently looking for something.  She came across a bag of chocolate chips, spun on her rear end and quietly said ‘Oh…..chocolate.’  The chips then took position at the front of the pantry with the canned soups and tomatoes, peanut butter and powdered sugar being thrown in the back.  It was adorable.  Bailey is still mastering the art of fork and/or spoon, only a short time ago growing out of the stage that food went on the floor when she was finished.  If I was quicker with the camera feature on my cell, I would have included the truffled pasta hanging from our dining room light fixture, Bailey’s simple way of saying she’d had enough.

This year we’ve decided to do both turkey (thanks Gary Otto) and spiral sliced ham (thanks Honeybaked).  For the second Holiday meal in December, we’ll do beef.  We always make cauliflower potato puree and jus, either green bean casserole or a seven layer thing that my wife makes that is amazing.  I asked once what was in it, while being polite and listening to her answer I noticed it disappearing on other plates so I tuned out (sorry Honey) to grab my portion before it was gone.  Amy will make a pie or a cake or something sweet.  Sweet potatoes will be brought this year by our eldest and her family (thanks Lindsey) having been advised not to bring canned yams.  Stuffing will be on our youngest, he’s a huge Stove Top fan so he will learn to make his own.

Papa & Bailey

Bailey the youngest in the kitchen.

The rest of the meal will consist of all the great things the grand-daughters will make for us.  On the docket are chocolate covered pretzels, chocolate chip cookies, and these wonderfully easy chocolate chip cookie things with a mini peanut butter cup stuck inside (great with Chai tea).  All three will help prepare the main dishes, but they’ll be responsible for serving the sweet snacks.  I think they are excited but I’m also a realist and know that YouTube will be on a computer and Matty B. will be rapping and something else will have some game called Temple Run, and we can’t forget the Barney video for Bailey.  Maybe there’ll be a media device for some football (or HGTV if Amy has a say) so we can relax and digest.

So my perspective has changed.  No more stress at Holiday meal time, only giggles and crazy requests and way too much food and not enough family time.  They have grown up so fast, we’ll choose to cherish the flour on the floor and the massive amounts of dirty dishes and the loud music videos to know that the kids and grandkids ate very well, had too much fun, and are healthy and happy.  Here’s to a successful Holiday meal for you and yours.  I’ll let you each define successful on your own terms.

Happy November/December from your friends and family at Webster’s Prime.

Gardening

Tending garden with Erin.

Stefan Johnson
Food and Beverage Operations Manager

The Tasting Room

Mixologist Angie Jackson Leading a Cocktail Class

Mixologist Angie Jackson Leading a Cocktail Class

I used to think a good first impression was everything, and I will never forget the first time I walked into Webster’s Tasting Room. It was dubbed the “Lounge” at the time, filled with beautiful dark wood, statuesque paintings and chairs that were more like sofas. There was an instant feeling of ease and comfort as you peered towards the fireplace or the windows overlooking part of Kalamazoo’s downtown district. A very impressive room, but as a 20 year old at the time, my wallet suddenly felt light. I didn’t feel unwelcome, but I was nervous to see prices and the looks from Kalamazoo’s elite. Well, I’ve definitely learned to not trust my first impression.

Live Music Wednesday and Friday Nights

Live Music Wednesday and Friday Nights

Webster’s Tasting Room is the place where anyone can enjoy great food and drink, live music, local artwork and several special events. We have Hoppy Hour from 5p.m. to 7p.m.  Monday through Friday, allowing you to order any of the beers on our list for half off. Wine Down Wednesdays features half price on select bottles of wine, all night long. We have a great selection of Michigan craft beer and an impressive wine list, as well as some locally made and specialty spirits. Aside from our dining room menu, we are offering a “shareables” and “sandwich” menu, with very affordable pricing to fit every occasion.

Webster’s Prime is proud to now be a curated Art Hop site. We showcase local artists’ work all month long as well as on Art Hop, which is the first Friday of every month.  The beautiful wood floors and relaxed tone of the tasting room is perfect for doubling as an art gallery. We usually like to do something special for our Art Hop guests also. For instance this past week the Tasting Room hosted a gin sampling from Two Birds Artisan Spirits alongside Denis Billen’s beautiful photography. Check out Art Hop, and if you miss it, we’ll have art hung all month.

New Holland Brewing Tapping Dragons Milk

New Holland Brewing Tapping Dragons Milk

Being a cook, it is natural for me to be most excited about the food. Webster’s Prime has rejuvenated its kitchen over the last two years. Take it from me, I have been working in Webster’s kitchen longer than both my chefs and my fellow cooks. Not to say that gives me wisdom, I just have seen all of the changes. The eagerness, creativity, knowledge and refinement from our kitchen is absorbing. The food is better than ever before, with an emphasis on high quality proteins, local product and skillful execution. The kitchen is breeding ground for education and elevation. The team and I have become a much stronger culinary force, and we will keep growing and perfecting our craft.

Ocean Tasting

Ocean Tasting

These aren’t your grandmother’s sandwiches (although I’m sure your grandmother made amazing sandwiches.) A staff favorite, Jud McMichael’s house cured pastrami is to die for. The smoked and feathered beef with melted Jarlsberg cheese, spicy mustard and grilled rye is a mouthful of flavor you will not forget. We also love to make our steak sandwich, especially being a kitchen that prides itself on serving high quality cuts of beef. Sliced medium rare steak, caramelized onions and horseradish cream has always been a guest favorite. All sandwiches come with warm German potato salad and pickles.

Pastrami Sandwich

Pastrami Sandwich

With spring will come a couple of new sandwiches in our Tasting Room. A BLT will feature our new house made bacon, the pork bellies come from Young Earth Farms in Decatur. We then cure them for six days with salts and other flavorings like lemon zest, fresh thyme and black pepper.  A quick two hour smoke and you have beautiful bacon. The other sandwich will be a warm ham and cheese. Delicious rosemary ham, melted gruyere and mustard on house made foccacia will redefine the ham and cheese sandwich for you. If you’re not in the sandwich mood, any of our sharing plates will definitely satisfy, from samplings of grass-fed, grain-fed, wagyu and dry aged beef, to some of our favorite cheeses or even shrimp cocktail. Soon we will also feature daily canapes, a true inside look to the everyday creativity of our kitchen.

Curing Pork Bellies

Curing Pork Bellies

Whether your college students or professors, staff or management, hotel guest or local, Webster’s Tasting Room is an exceptional choice for everyday food, drink and leisure.

Nate Shaw
Lead Line Cook
LobTail

Beef…That’s What’s for Dinner!

bizarrefoods-wisconsin031213a

I was cozy on the couch a few weeks ago when I was taken aback by an episode of Bizarre Foods America with Andrew Zimmern.  I’m watching Andrew gallivant around the University of Wisconsin’s dairy farm talking about cheese, and all was well in the world…until all of a sudden I see him reach into the stomach of a large female cow!  Immediately my interest was sparked as I am fascinated by the things the medical world (both for human and animal) can do.  Here this beautiful female cow is just standing there minding her own business chewing on some grass, as Andrew is elbow deep in her tummy!  Andrew then pulls out large handfuls of the grass (or cud) that she is consuming and the big girl just turns and looks at him, I’m presuming with the thought of, “Hey, Dude, I’m hungry.”Stomach

The University of Wisconsin’s Department of Dairy Science is committed to researching, developing, and spreading the word of quality production of milk.  As are several other universities, such as Ohio State who has cannulated cows in their Ruminant Nutrition Department as well.  A cannulated cow is the technical term for a cow that has been fitted with a cannula (or what looks like a window.)  A surgery is performed to provide ingress to the cow’s Rumen, so that the researchers may collect data and study the best feed combinations for future cows.  The Rumen is the cow’s largest part of their four compartmental stomach and the Rumen can hold up to 50 gallons of partially digested food.  Interesting, huh?

cowwindow

I had no idea these mysterious “cow windows” existed in the dairy science world.  Andrew Zimmern, and a professor at the University of Wisconsin, go on to discuss the difference of milk and butter from a grain feed cow versus a grass fed cow, and pasteurized milk and butter versus non pasteurized.

Andrew focuses on the taste, and while I have never tried grass-fed cow milk I can imagine that it is better for you, with a higher content of vitamins.

All this cow talk started me to thinking about our grass versus grain fed beef in our restaurant.  Currently we are featuring grass-fed, New Zealand Wagyu breed beef, from First Light and Darling Downs farms.  These grass-fed cows feed on their pastures and are never finished on grain, and no additional supplements or hormones are given.  A lot of people think that all cows eat grass, which is true, but a lot of cows feed on grass for about six months and then they are finished on a mix of corn, grains, and other supplements, and hormones, and antibiotics.  Our lead line cook, Nathan Shaw, likes to joke, “Have you ever seen cows grazing on corn fields before?”

Our restaurant offers a beef tasting in addition to our Wagyu beef selection, which allows you to taste the difference between grass-fed hanging tender, New Zealand American Style Wagyu, and grain-fed beef.  Pretty neat if you have never tasted grain and grass side by side before.  Grass tastes a little earthier than grain, it is a bit more aromatic, and it is clean, lighter, and somewhat healthier than grain-fed.  Come check it out sometime!Beef Tasting

The world of beef, like anything else in life, is always changing.  Another new exciting trend in the state of Michigan is dry-aged beef versus wet-aged beef.  Wet-aged is what we are most commonly used to, where as dry-aged beef is hung in extreme climate and humidity controlled locations, to further enhance its tenderness and flavor.  Webster’s has, and will continue, to offer dry-aged beef.  On our new spring menu we are very pleased to offer 14 oz dry-aged ribeye, cut from 15 LB and up loin,* dry-aged 28 days, and cut in house.  Very unique and very tasty!  Again, if you have never tried dry and wet beef side by side, stop in and ask for a sampling of both.

Beef 2

The big thing that I took from writing this blog is that we are what we eat.  And if we are what we eat, than the animals that we eat are what they eat.  Recently a Chef said something to me during a discussion on where to dine out next that really resonated with me.   He said that it worries him when he looks at a dinner menu and the restaurant does not tell you where their beef is coming from.  I started thinking about that, and started thinking that it may be even more unsettling to ask the servers, who I bet will hesitate and look at you with a quizzical face as if you were trying to pull one over on them.  That thought makes my stomach churn even more, and it makes me appreciate our restaurant and all that we stand for.  It also makes me appreciate our servers who are eager to learn and for a culinary staff who is eager to teach them.

Please tell me to get off my high horse at anytime by the way, as I am a recovering Taco Bell addict by night.  I realize that it is not realistic to eat out all the time, or to eat premium quality food at all times, but every once in awhile while I’m painting the town red (those few times that they let me out of the four walls of what is Webster’s Prime…)   🙂  I choose to dine in those very rare finds, that treat you like deserve to be treated, and feed you like you deserve to be fed.

Alana Fisher
Event Coordinator
Alana's Photos 132

* Which means that every primal (the whole boneless rib loin of the domestic cow) that Webster’s gets in house will be at least 15 pounds and no less.

You had me at service

What is it that makes us return to a restaurant?  Is it the comfortable chairs, as our Executive Chef recently wrote about?  Is it the astonishing mouth watering dish that you find yourself dreaming about when pondering where to stop for dinner?  Or is it the amazing service?

VellumAnn Arbor, MI

Vellum
Ann Arbor, MI

For me, it has always been about the service.  Anywhere from the greasy spoon where the ma and pa behind the counter engage you in friendly conversation, to the six course fine dining back server and front server experience, it has to have great service for me to return.  Not perfect service, no no, I never strive for the perfect dining experience, just something that takes the dining experience from average to extraordinary.  I understand that mistakes happen, and servers get busy, but it is how they conduct themselves in a professional and welcoming manner that keeps me interested.

We’ve all been there, the situations where you try a new place for the first time and you swear you will never be back.  Once a place has a black mark for me, I swear I won’t go back for years!  I don’t even realize how much time goes by…I almost forget the reason why I didn’t like it in the first place…but I won’t choose to give them a second chance unless someone else suggests that we go.

I have to say that my friends and I are a tough crowd, not because we aren’t easily pleased but because we expect great service.  It’s the expectation where we come from.  Most of us are chefs, restaurant managers, servers, bartenders, event coordinators, hostesses, dining room assistants, and just plain foodies!

My foodie friends and I recently met in Ann Arbor for dinner, a mecca of great places to dine!  How can one from out of town even chose where to go?  Well for us, Vellum had us from the get go.  Their website was top notch, and their Chef de Cuisine was from Kalamazoo and a WMU graduate!  We had to check it out once we had read that, and we were not disappointed.

Beer Vellum

For me the experience started with (if you’ve read my past blogs…you could probably guess) that’s right, an ice cold beer.  I was pleased that they had Final Absolution from Dragonmead (one of my favorites) and Dragon’s Milk from New Holland on draft.  They also had my favorite bourbon, Basil Hayden’s in which I enjoyed after my dinner.

But it wasn’t the great beer, bourbon, or even the modern American chow that blew my socks off, it was their attention to providing wonderful service.  We were first greeted by a nice amuse bouche from the chef, they removed all dirt y silverware throughout the meal, and when our entrees arrived they presented us each with a complimentary sample of wine that paired nicely with our entrée selection.  After dinner they surprised my boyfriend with a complimentary upgrade from his VSOP cognac to an XO cognac.  We never wanted for anything, the food was great, and the Director of Operations, Ric Jewell was a real pleasure to meet.  Ric Jewell and our server created the ultimate dining experience for us.  We felt like royalty, and will return because of the service in the near future for sure.

The food at Vellum was a bit too modern for my taste; I like a more classical approach.  Not moth balls classical, but just you know, somewhere in the middle.  While their food was tasty, when I ordered the bone marrow, I expected a bone on a plate with a little demitasse spoon.  Instead we received bone marrow custard, with braised short ribs and cute little root vegetables.  Tasty, but not what I expected.  So while it may not be the food that pulls me back to this modern year old establishment it will be their attention to providing excellent service.Bone Marrow Vellum

So what is it that you look for in a restaurant?  Comfortable chairs?  Great food, modern food?  Or outstanding service?  We want to know!

Alana Fisher
Event Coordinator
Allie and I

What’s your favorite restaurant?

As a chef I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked that question.  My usual response is ‘I have several, depends on what we’re hungry for’ and that usually satisfies most inquirers.  People rarely ask ‘What’s the most comfortable dining experience you’ve enjoyed?’  That might be a better question.

Edison Food + Drink Lab

Edison Food + Drink Lab

Recently Jud and I had the honor of being in Tampa to receive an award for the restaurant and we were able to eat some really good food in some really nice restaurants.  I’m talking food that we want to do and some we don’t, doesn’t mean it wasn’t tasty, just not our style.  Check out Bern’s Steak House and Edison Food Lab, both in Tampa, Florida.  They had some winners on their menus that we enjoyed.  Great food, really top notch and friendly service, however, they also had one thing in common that we talked about at great length, their chairs.

Bern's Steak House

Bern’s Steak House

At Bern’s we were in a group of fourteen so we were crammed at a table and might have had different chairs than normal diners to save space.  I’d bet the normal dining room chairs are very comfortable based on the atmosphere, the level of service, and the comfort we felt in their atrium waiting area.  At Edison, we were two guys at a table for four, so the chairs were the everyday put your fanny on a space kind of chair.  Both, in my opinion, might have been two of the most uncomfortable seats I’ve experienced outside of a full airplane.  It was sad too, the food was great.  Bern’s has some wonderful dry aged prime beef that was fabulous.  Edison had the best bone marrow I’d tasted in a while and absolutely delicious potato crusted oysters.  The chairs were just uncomfortable.  I mentioned it to Jud and he was quick with his ‘I know!  I couldn’t get comfortable.’ DeluxeBistroChair

I understand back some time some genius restaurateur came up with the North American version of Bistro, tons of tables and chairs, really uncomfortable, with the idea to turn tables quickly and make more money, I get it.  Those of us that have fortunate enough to experience Milan or Paris understand the concept.  The chairs aren’t quite as uncomfortable with the Mount Blanc views or fresh croissants on the Siene.

My wife and I love a restaurant in Kansas City called the Classic Cup.  Pretty good food, really uncomfortable seating, but it’s right on the Country Club Plaza with outdoor seating if you’re lucky enough to get there early.  The person watching is top notch, the buzz is great, and you almost forget your rear end is numb.  There are a couple other spots like that but Webster’s will never be one of them.

Our chairs are comfortable.  We’ve had a guest describe our booth seating as his ‘food cockpit’.  He requests it every time he’s in for a giant steak and twice baked.  Its home to him and his guest, they’re comfortable.  Zazios downstairs in the Radisson is the same way, great chairs, super comfortable.  You don’t want to leave.  We let guests linger, that’s just our style.  We want you to be comfortable and enjoy the experience.Webster's Chairs

Call me crazy but part of the experience of dining out is the ambiance and comfort.  You don’t expect a great seat at the food truck or the luncheonette, but you should at a sit down dinner.  We’ve all experienced the table by the kitchen or the server side station and commented on what a bad table we had, but do we consider our actual seat?

So, here’s the question; is your favorite restaurant due to food or ambiance?  Perhaps both.  I’d argue that comfort has something to do with your answer, be it comfortable with the level of service or relationship (think Norm from ‘Cheers’) or the ability of a kitchen to prepare something you love and can’t recreate at home (that’s me with some Asian places).  Regardless, we think less about how comfortable our seat is than we deserve. Think of your favorite ‘chair’ at your home.  Do we deserve anything less when we spend a buck on a meal????

Stefan Johnson
Executive Chef
General Manager
Stefan Johson Pic

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