Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving- Family Food Football...and Shopping?

Another Thanksgiving in the books as I finish putting away the last of the just cleaned dishes, and reach for a bottle of red nearly gone after having given much enjoyment to family and friends. I look back on Thanksgivings past and think of all the time spent in the kitchen preparing the family meal in the company of all those that came before me, and now I prepare it with those to follow. I think of all the family and time spent with them because it was Thanksgiving and that’s what it was about. To me that’s what it will always be about and I’m sure my cousin Bob would agree, right Bob? Bob?! Oh, looks like Bob went shopping.

I’ve always heard that Thanksgiving was the one holiday that corporations couldn’t figure out how to commercialize and until this year it was pretty much true, unless you consider 80 odd million in turkey sales a triumph for corporate America. To put that in perspective last year the US spent over two billion on Christmas cards. That’s a lot of money for awful writing or even more awful electronic cards with dogs barking carols. Good news looks like this year there’s an opportunity to sell even more of these thanks to some stores that decided families suck and profits rule. Good call corporate America!

So who were these fine folks who decided that none of their employees deserved to be with their families and should instead be in the salt mines of Greed Central Inc.? I’m sure they are so very proud of what they’ve done so I thought they deserved to not only have their company name out there… but their personal names as well…  Aeropostale CEO Thomas P Johnson, Banana Republic President Jack Calhoun, Big Lots CEO Steven F Fishman, Family Dollar CEO Howard R Levine, Gap Inc CEO Glenn K Murphy, Kenneth Cole CEO Paul Blum (soon to be gone), Kmart CEO  Louis D'Ambrosio , Old Navy  President Stefan Larsson, Sears CEO Louis D'Ambrosio, Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz , Target CEO Gregg W. Steinhafel, Toys'R'Us CEO Gerald L. Storch , and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey…Let me be the first to tell you all from the very bottom of my heart I truly believe you are a blithering bunch of incompetent asshats, and if Caesar were alive today he would have you all chained to an oar.

There were others but these were the biggies. Walgreens and CVS I’m gonna cut them a break only because they have pharmacies and I consider people needing meds pretty important. What I don’t consider important are shelves full of dollar goods, a store devoted to toys or Sears selling snow blowers whose tires won’t hold air and won’t start after only three hours of use… more about that on Twitter Mr D’Ambrosio. Whole Foods really?! What made you honestly believe you needed to be open? Did you think people couldn’t live a day without organic short grain brown rice or the macrobiotic salad bar or were you just in for the money grab as well? 

The fact that these people not only made personal decisions to stay open, but they made decisions that affected the Thanksgiving holiday for tens of thousands of people. This is not only disgraceful but it’s downright cruel and leads me to ask these so called Presidents and CEO’s how many of them spent the day with their families? I don't mean you had to make your way to the office for a phone call I mean you spent the entire day away from your family and got a twenty minute break to eat your meal you selfish bastards.I’d personally like to know. 

In a work environment that has few full time jobs and scarce benefits leads me to believe these so called leaders decided to be open on Thanksgiving because what were these workers going to do...say no?! I personally believe someone needs to wake up the gimp to give these shit-bricks what they gave their employees. A good bending at the waist. Employees if you want to stick your time cards up there I'd understand. Oh and just so we are clear, I'm not buying the "I'm accountable to the stockholder" bullshit. Unless that stockholder wants to make their way down to their local Toys R Us and deal with grown adults fighting over the last Tickle me Elmo doll...Which oddly has a lot more meaning this year.

As for you America, I’m pretty disappointed there wasn't an outcry or outrage from anyone that said hey you know what…Enough of this crap! Surely we can have two holidays (counting Christmas) a year free from corporations. Only one store that I noticed had the guts to stand up and say enough is enough and that was P.C. Richard & Son and went so far as to say other stores that open on Thanksgiving have no respect for their employees or family values. I’d say that’s about right and thanks for doing the right thing PC Richard & Son. Hey I’m about as far from virtuous as one gets but for one day a year you should be able to hang with Uncle Raphael, and I can pretend to stand my cousin Bob… even though he is double dipping in the clam dip. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Seacoast Food, the Truth.

I’ve lived in the Portsmouth, NH area now for about four years and a majority of that time I have been traveling to other areas of the country for work, and eating out non-stop. So when I come home I spend most of my eating time at home in the comfort of my own kitchen. Being a former chef it’s hard to beat the food cost, quality and drink prices at home. 

When I did decide to venture out to eat I’d check local reviews and “Best Of” lists. I was assured each and every time that I’d receive a great meal at a great price from great people giving great service as if I’d be going to Mister Rogers Restaurant with Elmo as my server! Sadly, on several occasions I’d come away wondering if I had been to the wrong place.

Within the past six months I’ve started talking to a lot of cooks and chefs in the area. With my limited experience of local restaurants I would ask these cooks if I had gone to these places on a bad day, or inquire about restaurants I wanted to try based on reviews and write-ups I’ve read, I mean can they all be “great”? I was met with eye rolling and laughter…”Haven’t you heard?! There’s no such thing as a bad restaurant or bad review on the seacoast!” I don’t understand, I’ve had bad meals and at least one of the local/regional reviewers has had a bad meal as well.

What followed from these cooks was in a word…Disturbing. Theories from the cooks/chefs went from “It has to do with advertising dollars/ It’s a money grab” to “A poor review from a critic would destroy them, the critic or restaurant” to “It’s too small of a town” and “it’s considered bad taste and it may hurt…feelings.” This may come as a shock to you kind and gentle people but my response to hurt feelings and poor taste as a result of a poor but honest review can be summed up in two words, tough shit.

Warm fuzzy reviews are not only a disservice to the cooks and restaurant owners, but to you and the local economy as well. A chef who is an owner put their name, money, personal life and reputation on the line. They need feedback good bad or indifferent to gauge whether their product is good or not. Smiling and nodding like the village idiot when what you really want to do is vomit on the chef’s clogs doesn’t help the chef improve.

Even if the chef isn’t an owner they still deserve the truth which in theory will benefit you with a better end product. Don’t worry about hurting their feelings. Somewhere along the line as a young cook, they made something that prompted their chef and mentor to compare their food to something lower than whale shit. They are a tough breed of people who are used to dealing with things going wrong and fixing them, that’s what makes a great cook. A cook that can’t handle adversity or criticism is a shoemaker.

The restaurant owner of a bad restaurant, reading how “great” the restaurant is will make them question why else could the bottom line be so damned bad? They need honest feedback, they already have friends who kiss their ass and smile… they don’t need another. A restaurateur armed with good honest information will be able to make a better decision regarding menu, personnel changes or just plain pulling the plug on an operation gone pear shaped.

Tourists: Yup, the rumor is that the seacoast gets its share of tourists. When I go to a strange little hamlet for some R&R I check out local reviews, blogs, and “Best Of” articles to discern where I’m going to eat. If the reviews, articles and “best of” pieces are skewed popularity contests or fluff, and the places in reality suck… I’m going to write that town off as a culinary wasteland. This in turn is going to hurt local businesses because if there’s nothing good to eat why would you stay there?

I’m not saying we need to do bad reviews for the sake of doing bad reviews like Pete Wells of the New York Times did to Guy Fieri’s Restaurant in NY. If a place is that bad maybe just leave them alone and don’t say anything about them…ever. When it comes to a Restaurant that has a good concept, chef and staff just missing the mark…let them know about it like Brian Aldrich of @SeacoastBevLab did this week in his review of The Thirsty Moose. It was smart, honest, on the mark and, it was about damn time!

So heads up cooks I’m going to be out there eating…a lot. You cooks asked for it because as one put it “We deserve more than vanilla reviews.” I’m not looking to run anybody over, but if a restaurant or its food is not being delivered as advertised I’ll let you know. This upcoming spring I’ll be giving you a Top Five Restaurants of the Seacoast list that you can take to the bank and a Top Five “Up and Coming” List as well. The chefs and restaurateurs deserve it, the tourists deserve it, local businesses deserve it and seacoast…YOU DESERVE IT! 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Podcast With Chef Evan Hennessey and Chef Matt Louis

Pavlov talks to Chefs Evan Hennessey and Matt Louis   In Dover New Hampshire.
Chef Hennessey Is the Chef Owner of Stages One Washington in Dover NH.
Chef Louis is Chef Owner of Moxy in Portsmouth NH.
We talk about everything from one of them being a candy junkie, to one using curse words. OH NO!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Jesus and Cream Cheese

After a twelve hour flight delay, more beer than I can recall, with friends I’ve long forgotten and a bus ride to a place called Stansted Airport… we were finally leaving jolly, old England. Thinking back on the trip… I’d seen a guy with a Mohawk, a rat lashed to his shoulder, demanding cash to have his picture taken; I saw a guy get stabbed 5 feet away from me in Trafalgar Square and a guy getting sexual favors from a transvestite in the streets of Soho. In short, it was a bizarre little corner of the world, but little did I know my nights of drunken revelry would be relatively mundane compared to my plane ride back to the states.

After boarding the Boeing 747 Jumbo, my buddy, myself and a couple guys we’d run across from Staten Island, NY, were all seated in a row. The only stranger amongst us was sitting next to me, of course. He appeared to be American with a full long flowing beard and dreadlocks …I couldn’t help but think he looked like a Rastafarian Jesus in this outfit, and the fact that he rolled his own cigarettes only made it comical.  He was dressed in a long flowing white robe of the kind you’d see at an OPEC summit or a Christmas Nativity Scene, but, I guess, in reality, is called a thawb.

Settling in, and after an hour or so in the dark cabin, everyone started dozing off.  All of a sudden, the lights came back on and flight attendants started pushing their carts down the aisle, announcing it was snack time. Snack time?! Feeling somewhat hung-over and not being able to sleep, I needed something to kill part of the eight hours of flight still left before arriving back in Newark.  Besides, if memory served, where there are snacks, there’s booze.

I really enjoyed my snack. Jesus, on the other hand, well I’ll put it this way…one man’s snack is another man’s art supply. Now, anybody who knows art can tell you, you need crème fraiche to do anything worthwhile in the abstract department. However when life gives you cream cheese, you make post modernist expressionism on the back of the seat in front of you. Yup, some folks work in clay, others in metal or wood, Jesus… was a cream cheese man. 

He worked in forms and movement far too advanced for this young, un-art-educated man of eighteen years to wrap his head around. But I thought it smacked of smoldering sensuality… especially when he started embedding the goldfish into it. Move over Picasso….make way for Jesus at the Guggenheim! This is where it went pear shaped.  While I thought it to be some of his best work yet, Jesus seemed unconvinced, even angry to the point of being inconsolable.  Either that or he was tripping his balls off. He started beating the seat in front of him like it owed him money to replay his student loans.

The man in the seat, who until this point had been sleeping, woke up, turned around and asked “Do you mind, I’m trying to sleep?!” Jesus said nothing and seemed to relax for a couple minutes before commencing to beat the back of the seat a second time. This time the man stood up and calmly explained that if it continued, he’d have to call a flight attendant. Jesus calmed down again for a few minutes and lit a cigarette.  He then began to tap the seat and started to dab his fists into the creamy work of art he had created for me and my seatmates to enjoy. He began to poke the chair, as if trying to gauge the strength of tap needed to make the poor man once again arise from his relaxed state.  We didn’t have to wait long… as the man stood up and turned to say something, Jesus stood up and in his own silent way, commenced to slobber knock the man in his cake hole.

Thus began the scrum…the man was stunned and with his face covered in cream cheese, jabbed back, knocking Jesus’ lit cigarette into the chair behind him. This caused another half-asleep man to jump up and wearily try to grab hold of Jesus without really understanding what was happening. The first man saw an opportunity to throw a haymaker and after hauling back and letting go, Jesus ducked his head just in time for the newly involved man to get knocked the hell out. Jesus put up a decent struggle, but by this point there were multiple male flight attendants and either good Samaritans, or air marshals, pig piling on the still quiet Jesus, and cream cheese was everywhere.

Everybody sitting around Jesus was sent down to first class, for our safety, and given free drinks for our troubles. It was like an after party, where we drank and recounted our stories of what had just unfolded. After landing and waiting in a long, grumpy and drunk line to get through customs, a swinging door opened with a bang, and some half dozen or so of New Jersey’s finest busted through carrying a hog tied Jesus through the express lane…. to a full cavity search I’m sure. A cheer erupted through the crowd of weary passengers, some wearing a white schmear of courage. To be sure, it was a great trip with a thousand memories, but none as vivid as when I toast a bagel and grab for the cream cheese.  

Friday, November 2, 2012

Sex, Cocaine and Fried Chicken

It was my first place and by first place I mean a bedroom to put my stuff where if I wanted to leave my dirty socks on the floor for a week I could. Except that I had a girlfriend at the time who probably wouldn’t be too keen on having a boyfriend who wasn’t capable of picking up a pair of dirty socks and depositing them into the hamper five feet away. That being said I was king of my bedroom and had use of the kitchen, living room and my own bathroom. It was just like being home except now I was the one bitching about cable bills and not my father.

The problem with working from eleven at night until seven in the morning is that you are sleeping when the rest of the world is working and working when the rest of the world is sleeping so it ends up being a pretty solitary lifestyle. Then the weekends come and you have to figure out how to get your weekend back to the point you could interact with other human beings. In theory you do this by going home Friday morning and getting just enough sleep so you can be tired enough to sleep when everyone else is going to bed Friday night.

This is where being my father’s son comes into play where I only require a couple hours of sleep to stay up the better part of a decade. So after visiting with my girlfriend who still lived at home and getting the hairy eyeball from her mother at about midnight or so, I knew it was time for my weekly ritual of hanging out at the grocery store for a couple of hours. By this time I was a relatively accomplished home cook, but being short on money as most eighteen year olds are I was relegated to window shopping at the grocery store. Looking at all the ethnic food we didn't have growing up in New Hampshire and thinking, do I need guava paste? After a couple hours I’d take my ramen, rice, pasta and cheap cuts of meat back to my castle.

Charlie, the man I was renting from initially came across initially as a kindly seventy year old man who was fiercely proud of being Armenian and would regale me with the history of his land and his people. Not being very good at world history and having a short attention span besides, I would quietly nod knowingly and wonder how long I had to sit there before I could take my leave and tend to the pile of dirty socks that had accumulated before my girlfriend came to visit. It wasn't long before I came to see a different side of Charlie.

I came home late one Friday night after a weekly shopping excursion with shopping bags in both arms, using my elbow I flipped the light switch to expose a fully naked twenty something year old woman of color approaching me. You could have knocked me over with a feather when she approached me and asked “can you give me a bump?” Eh, ah… give you a… I’m sorry what?! You know, a bump… you have any coke?! Uh… no, I think all I got is ginger ale.

She chuckled and patted me on the shoulder as I stood staring into her dull sad yellowed eyes and dry almost cracked lips. “What’s going on?!” asked an annoyed Charlie who was standing at the top of the stairs wearing only boxers. The woman turned and ascended the flight of stairs and disappeared into Charlie’s bedroom with him following. After shutting the door they proceeded to have a muffled argument as I put away my groceries in stunned disbelief.

I slept in the next morning and coming down the stairs Charlie and his companion were in the kitchen making fried chicken and collard greens. Charlie introduced the woman looking fresh as a daisy as if the night before had never taken place. I sat staring as she used a brown paper shopping bag to coat the chicken and she explained how she grew up in Louisiana and this was how her mama had made it. As I had nowhere to go and a love for fried chicken I decided to stay and eat. It was some seriously amazing fried chicken and I remember being fascinated by the texture of collard greens with bits of ham hock and the magic that is potlikker.
I moved out of there a couple months, several of these situations, and many different chemically dependent women later to my own apartment. A couple of years later I read Charlie had been shot to death in his home by a young woman and it was apparently over a drug deal gone bad. Charlie was giving these girls money or drugs to support their habits in exchange for sex. 

No there isn't a happy ending to this story of one person taking advantage of another’s weaknesses but then again life isn't always a sit-com where everything gets fixed in thirty minutes. It was a life lesson on what comes around goes around. It taught me that you shouldn't always take advantage of a situation just because you can. And it was a primer on potlikker, collards and really good fried chicken that would serve me well when I moved to the south.