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

Wedding Bells, Restaurant News and Italian Adventures … What’s up with Webster’s?

The past eight and a half months have been quite the ride here at Webster’s. The madness began last December when I married the love of my life, and coincidentally our Sous Chef, Nate. We had our dream winter wedding at the restaurant, and took off for Calabria, Italy a few short days later to attend the Italian Culinary Institute for the next four months. We made it back to K-Zoo, reunited with our Webster’s family in May and we couldn’t be happier to be home.

There is nothing like a beautiful sunset in Southern Italy, I miss these a lot.

There is nothing like a beautiful sunset in Southern Italy. We saw this nearly every night outside of the Italian Culinary Institute.

My favorite part of Italy?  THE WINE!

My favorite part of Italy? THE WINE!

Attending culinary school was a dream, and I was so lucky to experience this with my husband.

Attending culinary school was a dream, and I was so lucky to experience this with my husband.

Things have been busy, busy in the world of Webster’s Prime and everyone on the crew is excited and ready for the direction were heading. Nate has recently accepted the Sous Chef position and we all look forward to his continued leadership of our team … and his delicious snacks, WE WANT MORE RAMEN! Our bar team was thrilled to be given an Award of Excellence this year from Wine Spectator, recognizing outstanding wine lists from across the globe. Speaking of wine, I recently passed my Level 1 Sommelier Exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers, and have plans to pursue the Level 2 certification in the coming year. Our prep cook/steward Kenny was married to his beautiful bride earlier this month, and they had a gorgeous reception in the restaurant. Keep your eyes on Facebook or follow us on Instagram to check out some of the awesome shots from that day, it was unreal! So much more is happening in our world, from developing a brand new website, to our own cook Amy winning Salsa Cook-Off, to creating and executing fun and creative

Tasting Menus for you (seriously, follow us on Instagram!) and the list goes on.

Follow us on Instagram @websterprime to see what we're up to in the kitchen.

Follow us on Instagram @websterprime to see what we’re up to in the kitchen.

We love putting together Tasting Menus for our guests, and would love to put one together for you!

We love putting together Tasting Menus for our guests, and would love to put one together for you!

I was going to give you all of the details of our Italy trip this time around, but I think I will save that story for Nate to tell in his next post. Check back soon for Nate’s Culinary Adventure – Italian Style, but not until you check out the story and sneak peak of our fairytale winter wedding at Webster’s Prime.

The Wedding – Mr. and Mrs Shaw – 12.27.14

The Tasting Room was the perfect setting for our intimate ceremony.

The Tasting Room was the perfect setting for our intimate ceremony.

These days everyone is on the hunt for the most unique wedding venue and location. Rustic barns and farmhouses, shoreline ceremonies and receptions or a chic downtown loft are usually at the top of every bride’s wish-list. My mind wandered in those directions as we started the long, crazy, exhausting but still somewhat enjoyable process of planning a wedding, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that our location was right under our nose.

The festivities took place on December 27th, just two days after Christmas, which meant downtown Kalamazoo was still dripping with lights and the spirit of the season. We decided to go with a small, more intimate celebration and invited 36 of our closest family and friends to join us at Webster’s for our ceremony, dinner and reception.

I designed and printed all of our paper materials for the wedding, and our guests used a vintage typewriter to sign in!

I designed and printed all of our paper materials for the wedding, and our guests used a vintage typewriter to sign in!

Customized beverage menus and appetizers to keep the party going.

Customized beverage menus and appetizers to keep the party going.

The ceremony was beautiful and held in the Tasting Room, also known as are our bar area of the restaurant. We we’re married in front of the fireplace by a close friend and Webster’s alumni, and a favorite previous house piano player performed throughout the ceremony. Once we were hitched, everyone stepped over to the other side of the room, scarfed down some delicious apps and jammed with Webster’s favorite and Wine Down Wednesday regular, Steve Kamerling. He covered everything from Vanilla Ice’s, Ice Ice Baby to one of our favorite jams, This Must be the Place by the Talking Heads.

Dinner was in the main dining room, and I may have went a little nuts with the amount of evergreen and candles in the room, but it was so worth it! Pat Kirklin from Kirklin Farms in Kalamazoo is an absolutely wonderful woman, and provides our restaurant with farm fresh flowers throughout the year. She spent hours cutting me evergreen for the big day, and I couldn’t wait to show her what I’d done with her hard work, it was beautiful. Since Nate and I are total restaurant junkies, we of course fed everyone way too much food. Dinner was 3 courses, with each course named after something fun or quirky about us … and Nate even hand stamped the menu headings for me! (I had A LOT of late nights on Pinterest, which resulted in A LOT of DIY projects.)

We didn't hold anything back when it came to decorating the space!

We didn’t hold anything back when it came to decorating the space!

Handmade coloring books for the little ones.

Handmade coloring books for the little ones.

We customized our menu to reflect who we are as a couple, and featured some quirky details about ourselves.

We customized our menu to reflect who we are as a couple, and featured some quirky details about ourselves.

I'm the resident Cat Lady around here, so it made sense to have Cupcake Zoo make Cat Cupcakes for the occasion.

I’m the resident Cat Lady around here, so it made sense to have Cupcake Zoo make Cat Cupcakes for the occasion.

After dinner we were back in the Tasting Room and welcomed more friends for cocktails and dancing … and yes, more food. Our small private room in the middle of the restaurant (Diamond Room) was used as a dessert buffet and late night snack service of pulled pork sandwiches. Our DJ spun our favorite vinyls all night, Nate surprised me with a live rendition of our wedding song performed by Steve Kamerling and everyone danced … and ate the night away.

The dancing portion of the reception was held in the Tasting Room, and having our first dance in front of the fireplace was perfect.

The dancing portion of the reception was held in the Tasting Room, and having our first dance in front of the fireplace was perfect.

Steve plays live at Webster's every Wednesday in the Tasting Room and he is fantastic!

Steve plays live at Webster’s every Wednesday in the Tasting Room and he is fantastic!

Everything was absolutely perfect that day, and we owe all of that to our amazing staff. I planned every detail of this day down to a tee, and not only did they execute everything perfectly, they made me feel at ease and made both Nate and I feel special and loved.

Couldn't have pulled this day off without our #webcrew

Couldn’t have pulled this day off without our #webcrew

Some might think that being the Event Planner for your own wedding could be exhausting, but you want to know what? THEY ARE TOTALLY RIGHT! Our wedding day was perfect, amazing, over the top and exactly what I wanted, but I was so tired! With that being said, have your wedding, rehearsal dinner, engagement party, bridal shower or any special event for that matter at Webster’s and let me be the exhausted one. It’s your special day, you deserve to feel relaxed and let someone else take care of the details, and we are more than happy to take that burden from you.

Feel free to call or e-mail me anytime with questions, or set up a time to stop in so I can give you a tour of the space. The restaurant is available in many different capacities for special events. You can rent our Tasting Room, choose a private room or our main dining room, or rent the restaurant in it’s entirety and utilize all of the space for your special day. We are a unique, upscale yet still cozy and rustic venue and conveniently located in the Radisson Plaza Hotel in Downtown Kalamazoo. Your guests can stay in the hotel, explore downtown at their leisure, enjoy our other hotel restaurants, visit local breweries and attend your event at Webster’s without every having to get back into their car.

Every event that is special to you, is special to us and we look forward to helping your create that perfect moment.

Now hurry up and call me!

Alexa Shaw-Tipton

Event Coordinator

269.226.3144

atipton@webstersprime.com

  • Wedding Photography by Stephanie Karen

An Open Door

It was a bright morning as my fiancée Alexa and I packed our sedan with a completely full suitcase, a new camera and our fanatically prepared selves.  We were visiting my oldest sister, her husband and their dog Lily in California.  Food obsessed as all four of us are, my sister had carefully planned lunch and dinner for all of our days together. It was common knowledge that we would be spoiled by an expertise in good restaurants, food secrets and an unmatched generosity from my family.  California is a culinary kingdom, spanning styles and ingredients all along its vast coast.  We were in for the trip of our lives, and a food coma.  I should state that this isn’t the first “food-enhanced” trip I’ve been on.  I have greedily shared sukiyaki in Nara, Japan. I have dirtied more than one bib devouring blue crab in Baltimore.  I became a master of dissecting good and bad pollo pibil in the Yucatan.  I’ve eaten my way up and down California more than once.  None of these meals though, were going to be as memorable as the delights we had coming our way.

Stag's Leap Winery

Stag’s Leap Winery

We started in Los Angeles, a gigantic and immensely spread out place, with more identities and characters than can be explained in one work of writing.  The restaurants feel different there.  The first place we walked into surprised us culturally and gastronomically; serving Kampachi tostadas in a dim and square shaped dining room by a middle-aged hipster in a tightly fixed bistro apron, who could probably hold his own in any food-related discussion with the likes of Harold Mcgee or Escoffier.  Or who wouldn’t want to go to a lunch spot called “Oinkster” the next day?  With a cozy diner themed patio of red and white, home to the best chili cheese fries I’ve ever had, and a draft beer selection that any Michigan craft beer advocate would respect.  The sushi is made correctly.  Not just the process, but the fact that they are actually close the ocean, so that seafood only has to travel minimally.  Even the Thai delivery was exceptional and cured our jetlag.  We were heading to northern California next, stopping in Los Olivos and Solvang; two towns that serve as a beautiful wine country destination, as well as home to friendly and humble people, Ostrich Land and the setting of the infamous movie, “Sideways.”  Wine was great, but the stories were better. The award-winning bacon at Sides Hardware was truly worth it, as well as being from the most interesting restaurant we had been to yet.  All in all, good preparation for what was to come next, Napa Valley, where even cooks are bewildered and intimidated by the food.

Gott's

Gott’s

The air is amazing in Napa.  It’s a surreal feeling to be surrounded by so many artisans and kings of the world you know and hold so dear.  It was a shame we stuffed dozens of oysters and rich clam chowder down our throats on the day of our French Laundry reservation, but I don’t regret a bite.  Our dinner reservation was at 9:15, which was much more than a “bucket list item” or a “last meal” for me.  It was a dream coming true.  The kind of dream you take for granted, because you can’t fathom it actually being real.  Keller’s French Laundry, is arguably one of the best restaurants in the world, and could be the best meal of my life.  I will keep it short and sweet, as it would take pages to explain my experience there, and I can’t bear leaving any piece out.  The next day we enjoyed rock shrimp tempura at Morimoto’s that bent my brain on Japanese fusion like never before, and I live Japanese fusion.  If you don’t get a burger from Gott’s while in northern California, then you’ve missed a landmark.  Our last meal with our gracious hosts was at Yank Sing Dim Sum, in San Francisco.  A meal of mixed emotions; incredibly sad of parting ways with two people that mean so much to us, yet drooling over soup dumplings that I have fantasized about since I last ate them, three years prior.  Later that day, Alexa and I shared cold Anchor Steams and a buttery Dungeness crab on a wharf sidewalk, staring out into the ocean alongside fat and domesticated seagulls.  I proposed to my fiancée that night, as we watched the sunset from a sailboat.

So why glorify California and its institutions so much?  I believe the food culture has been established there, at or past its prime if you will.  They have a strong stance and have set a standard, holding up to any trends in a culinary enlightened society.

Sunset in San Francisco

Sunset in San Francisco

Their door has been closed though, and ours is wide open.

We are at the brink of an extremely exciting time for food and drink in southwest Michigan, as my peers and I are at the forefront of an economic up-turn.  We are creating the trend, painting the canvas and landscaping the map for a food culture.  A gentleman who used to work at Webster’s, has since become sous chef for a very well renowned restaurant in California, still claims to this day, “nobody does beef like you guys.”  Webster’s is proud to be a part of this movement, and will keep pushing our theory and beliefs in sourcing the best ingredients locally and regionally, supporting Michigan wine and beer, helping the community in any way we can, treating our product with respect, and maintaining restraint and originality in this exciting time for food.  So come enjoy a pastrami sandwich or high quality steak here at Webster’s Prime, and be a part of putting Michigan in a well deserved spot in the growing gastronomic world.

Nate Shaw
Kitchen Supervisor
blogfinal

FAT, Where Have You Gone?

The word fat brings up ideas and images of being unhealthy and being ignored as a staple in the kitchen.  Fat has had a bad rap since it is connected to high cholesterol and heart disease.  I am writing this blog to clear up some of the recent misconceptions on this important subject of our diet.

Wagyu Beef

Wagyu Beef

Fat is a lipid which is a substance that is not soluble in water and “provides a rich source of energy and structure to cells” (Drummond and Brefere 2010:12).  This is evident when we cook stocks or clarify butter and the fat floats to the surface to be skimmed.  Fat is an important part of cells and their growth especially during the development stage.  With being a non-soluble substance, fat carries vitamins (A, D, E, and K) within the body.  As we may know some foods contain essential fatty acids (EFAs) which the body cannot produce for normal growth and development.

In our food, fat adds many different levels of taste and mouth feel.  Fat creates aroma, crispness, juiciness, and tenderness (in baked goods).  Fat is a key component in the cooking and baking process from oils such as olive, corn, and vegetable to butter and pan drippings.  Drippings are the fat that is released when meat cooks which turns into a wonderful pan gravy.  These rendered fat drippings can be clarified and stored in the refrigerator for later use to add another layer of mouth feel to the dish.  We all have bacon drippings in our refrigerator but beef renders can be stored the same way.

Where is the good fat in our diet?  Since the 1960’s, our diet has gone away from animal fats but increased our intake of refined sugars and other carbohydrates.  According to Jennifer McLagan (2008), ”diets low in fat, it turns out, leave people hungry, depressed, and prone to weight gain and illness”(8).  A good animal fat when used in cooking and in recipes will leave the eater feeling satiated and less prone to over-eating.

Storage of Rendered Beef Fat

Storage of Rendered Beef Fat

Of course, all fats are not equal.  Over these ‘healthy’ years, we lowered the intake of animal fats but the total amount of fat has increased.  Food scientists have introduced hydrogenated oils that contain trans fats which our bodies have a difficult time processing.  This increases our LDL and lowers our HDL levels.  All these oils have also changed our omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio by increasing omega-6 and lowering the important omega-3 EFAs.  Meat and butter from grass-fed animals contain omega-3.

Since I work at Webster’s PRIME Steakhouse, I will talk about the many different parts in beef’s fat.  Beef contains more fat areas than we see on our perfectly grilled rib eye.  There is suet which is the fat that surrounds that kidneys which has been erased from our cookbooks and left just for the birds.  Bone marrow is very tasty and healthy and has been used for many of millennia to help our ancestors survive.  Another fat part of beef is tallow which is render old fat that used to be made into candles.  Tallow is a perfect fat for frying because it is stable when heated and slow to turn rancid.  (Remember french fries fried in beef fat?).  Potatoes absorb less fat fried in beef fat than fried in vegetable oil (McLagan:170).  The last fat from beef is the drippings from cooked meat as discussed above.

We at Webster’s use fats to cook in such as butter, corn, olive, and grape seed oils.  Our prime beef has the perfect amount of fat to enhance the meaty flavor.  In addition, our Waygu cuts have a lovely marbling pattern that melts in your mouth.  Our beef tasting plate is the ideal choice for tasting the difference of our grain, grass, and waygu cuts of beef. 

Richard J. Steward
Line Cook

Richard

Maple Syrup: Michigan’s Sweet Amber

RichardThis is not the sugary substance on your breakfast table shaped like a woman or a cabin. Maple syrup has been utilized for many centuries, dating back to Pre-Columbian contact. Harvesting maple sap is considered the first agricultural enterprise in the United States. Michigan is ranked 7th in maple syrup production in the U.S. We produce about 100,000 gallons of the sweet liquid each year from 500 commercial producers which contributes $2.5 million to Michigan’s economy. In addition to the commercial harvesters, roughly 2000 ‘amateur’ tappers collect the sap for their home-use.

Buche de Noel

Buche de Noel

Harvesting maple syrup is not a difficult process but timing is the key to collecting the sap. Maple syrup collecting season occurs in the springtime when the daytime temperatures are warm and the night is cold and below the freezing temperature. The season may be 6-10 weeks, but the sap really only runs about 10-20 days. This freezing and thawing aids in the sap to flow which is then collected into buckets attached to the tree. Sugar maples are the number one tree for the production of syrup but most maples will work. Recently, autumn collection has been happening just to see if the suppliers can keep up with the demand. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup so trying to find additional ways for more sap will hopefully stay in line with the need.

One of the main reasons I looked into this subject for this blog is the health benefits of nature’s wonderful elixir. Yes, maple syrup does have some advantages for our health, but, as with everything, it must be consumed in moderation. One of the main benefits of maple syrup is that it is very high in anti-oxidants which may help in the prevention of many diseases from cancer to arthritis. The darker the color is of real maple syrup; the higher the prevention benefits it contains. Not only do anti-oxidants work from the inside of our bodies, maple syrup can be used as a topical product to reduce the looks of aging. According to livestrong.com, pure maple syrup contains a large concentration of abscisic acid. This acid promotes insulin secretion of the pancreas and increases the insulin sensitivity of fat cells. This could be an effective way to combat diabetes. Another key plus to consuming maple syrup is it is high in zinc which can regulate serum zinc levels and lower cardiovascular disease.maple1 (1)

Webster’s Prime uses Michigan Grade B maple syrup in our tasty chicken dish with Parisienne gnocchi with maple crème. We use Grade B because of its intense maple flavor and dark, rich color. The grading process relies on light transmission as a guideline with Grade A light amber allowing not less than 75% light transmission proceeding all the way to commercial grade (less than 27%). The Grade B that we use transmits about 27%-43.9%.

We invite you to come in and try our maple syrup dish or select from one of our wonderful menu items.

Richard J. Steward
Line Cook

Kristin and me

 

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

Grandma’s Recipes

Growing up with my Bacha

The Chef's Table - Zazios Birmingham

The Chef’s Table – Zazios Birmingham

It is easy to get caught up in everyday life. We don’t get or take enough chances to do something different or “stray away from the pack”.  About a month ago, I was given the chance to do exactly that. Trust me, I will always love flipping steaks and grilling asparagus, but now it’s time to get out the wok. I have the privilege of cooking at the Chef’s Table in Zazios on January 24th. My chef Jud McMichael and I will be serving a five course Asian inspired dinner.

Aside from Jud’s strong love for Asian fare, Japanese food was part of my childhood. I was the kid who taught my kindergarten class how to use chop sticks for show and tell. The same one who had a rice cooker in his dorm room. My grandmother, Shuko Kuwahara, was born in the beautiful city of Nara, the capital to the Kensai region of Japan. She met my grandfather, Richard Philips, during the Korean War while working as a translator at the military base where he was stationed. An American M.P. was hassling Shuko one day, and my grandfather, a robust and kind man, came to the rescue. They were married shortly after and she moved to the states in 1951. They raised two laudable children and influenced all four of their grandchildren heavily.

My Bacha and Mother

My Bacha and Mother

I will never forget the meals she cooked for us. The captivating smell as you approached their house. The sound of her washing her hands in the kitchen sink as we walked in the front door. The feeling of her small and welcoming arms in the greeting that followed. She was an artist for occupation and that didn’t change in the kitchen. She cooked with such finesse; washing her rice meticulously and chilling the spinach in such a specific way, her delicate hands flipping teppanyaki with chop sticks or drying tempura over paper towel. Delicious inari sushi was a staple along with small Japanese donuts, regardless of the fastidious process to make them. She advanced her grandchildren’s palettes at a young age. More so, she taught us to appreciate dining together around a table of beautiful food as a family, and for that I will be forever grateful.

Inari Sushi

Inari Sushi

As a cook now, I look back and regret the things I didn’t learn from her. It couldn’t be more true that “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”. She was a culinary mecca, filled with advanced knowledge of process and an understanding of food that I may never reach.  All I physically have are some simple recipes, most of which are in Japanese, but more importantly, I have vivid memories. I’m going to recreate some of her classic dishes as well as debut a few of my own, but all deriving from the flavors entrenched in those memories. Come dine with us later this month, and taste a piece of inspiration that Shuko left behind.

 Nathan Shaw
Lead Line Cook

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