Toledo to Marbella via Ithaca

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2010 by Jeffrey Weiss

2 quick words about HEC 85:

Best Ever.

Shucking favas... a LOT of favas. **Photo courtesy of Zach "The King of Kvetch" Reuben **

For those who were living under a rock at the SHA last week, I made a little surprise side-trip to Ithaca, NY to take part in HEC (Hotel Ezra Cornell) 85.

I was given the honor of cooking a couple of event for this student-run event over the past few years (HEC 83- Power Lunch photos, HEC 84- Gala photos) so when this year’s HEC fell at a perfect time during my ICEX scholarship I figured I would take the opportunity to help out where I could. And off to Ithaca I went on a little surprise visit…

That said, it was a total joy to take part in a very small way with the event. Great food, great people, a little drama– but what would HEC be without a little drama?

Thanks to C Popp and the HEC crew for letting me come peel potatoes. See (most of) you guys in August!

And now onto Marbella and one of the most exciting restaurants in Spain: Calima. My new chef, Dani Garcia, is one of the widely-acknowledged initiators of the usage of liquid nitrogen in the kitchen… should make for a very (everyone groan together now) COOL experience. Yuk yuk yuk…

Espetos: skewered sardines roasted on the beach

Here’s some homework, kids– next post will be from Andalucia: the south of Spain and the home of flamenco, gazpacho, espetos (sardines grilled over live flame in beach-made fire pits), and me for the next 5ish months:

YouTube video of Dani Garcia

Calima article

And just in case you missed the Cornell Daily Sun article…

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Saying goodbye: Half begun is only half done

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2010 by Jeffrey Weiss
                                                              
I hate saying goodbye. 

It’s so morbid: a focus on the finality of the moment instead of a commeration of what was and a celebration of what is to come.     

So, in deference to my time in Toledo and in celebration of what I consider a truly special friendship with a great restaurant family, I am going to recount my final days in the restaurant as a way of explaining exactly why Adolfo Muñoz, his restaurant, and his family all SERIOUSLY rock… and why you, dear reader, should visit them ASAP.     

First, the backstory:       

Easter in Toledo is huge. It is a weeklong festivity that is– to use some crude ‘merican-in-a-bad-southern-accent terminology– the Super Bowl of religious holidays in Spain…     

Easter in Toledo

    

       

SO going to hell for that comparison, but Paras says I am well on my way already thanks to the f-bombs I dropped in the cathedral of Segovia!    

  
       

Due to the heavy presence of Catholicism in the city (as evidenced by the GIGANTIC cathedral right outside my front door and strolling Jesuses dragging crosses and bleeding in the streets), Easter means a week of tourism, parades, and LOTS of business for the local restaurant trade.     

And what is the fanciest, most respected restaurant in Toledo for Super Christ Bowl (SCB) 2010? You guessed it: El restaurante de Señor Adolfo Munoz. This means that everyday of SCB 2010, for lunch and dinner services, we were slammedededed busy– with Saturday being my last day of work and Sunday my travel day.     

The final night of Toledo debauchery

Saturday work was typical: Cuts, burns, blood, sweat, and tears.    

When the smoke cleared and all was done, it was off to the bars for a few drinks and some promises that I would return for family meal on Sunday– yes, I am a self-confessed food mooch when it comes to our “paella sundays” for family meal at the restaurant. Plus, I wanted to see Adolfo, Javier, and everyone at the restaurant before going.     

With all of the packing and preparing on Sunday, I got there in time for food–but service was starting so goodbyes were fast. Within minutes of opening the doors, they were packed, orders were coming in, and I needed to get to the train station early for my 6pm train (I was, stupidly, trying to change my ticket for an earlier one–more on that in a second).     

As fate would have it all of the trains were full, so I had to wait. At 5pm, I got a call from Javier: “Are you here? We are outside the train station.”        

I looked up–and in walks Javier, fresh from work in his black Armani and with 2 shopping bags in tow. And behind him, in his gleaming white chef coat, walks Adolfo–also carrying 2 heavy bags of shwag (did I mention my bags were TOTALLY filled with stuff already?!).        

One of Adolfo's gifts. Part of it says: "Jeffrey, your successes shall be our triumphs."

They came to say they appreciated my time, my work, and my friendship.        

They came to say that I am family.        

They came to say goodbye.      


Now, a lot of people at my school in Ithaca are studying general hospitality–how the services we provide impacts, and more specifically brings joy, to others (let’s call this external hospitality).      

And a lot of other people study Organizational Behavior and Human Resources–the means by which we provide that service, as seen through the lens of interpersonal, interorganizational behaviors and communications. In other words– how organizations treat their people and how those people are impacted (let’s call this internal hospitality).        

You know where I am going with this: What chefs do YOU know– meaning famous guys; the guys with book deals, medals from presidents, and A LOT better things to do than go to the train station after a bust-ass service– that would come to the train station to see off some annoying American wanna-be cook?         

This, my friends, was hospitality on any and every level, at it’s highest form, in action.    

It’s something that the  Muñoz family does seemlessly everyday of their lives for their customers, their employees, and each other. And so, for the first time in maybe forever, I was speechless and utterly humbled at such a profound lesson as I borded my train for Madrid.        

Which brings me back to my original problem…I hate saying goodbye.        

So, I respectfully refuse:        

This isn’t goodbye, Toledo.        

This isn’t goodbye, Adolfo & Javier.        

This isn’t goodbye cacamusa (a local specialty and one of the best pork dishes this side of the Atlantic)        

This isn’t goodbye annoying, middle-of-the-street-walking tourists, crazy vertical hills, inspired Moorish architecture, or preachy nuns who stop me and ask “Do you know Jesus, young cocinero?” (to which I reply “yes, Sister–in the kitchen”)          

This is goodbye for now…        

Thanks for the memories.   

Final moments in Toledo with mi familia Española

Dial M for Matanza

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2010 by Jeffrey Weiss

I’m currently on a 5-hour train ride returning from one of the most amazing experiences of my career… and my life.

Acorns, acorns everywhere

While passing through the Extremeñan countryside, you can see rows upon rows of acorn trees and, every so often, a herd of animals rushing from one grove to the next.

But these are no ordinary animals… these are the famous Iberico pigs of Extremadura, and they are one of the main reasons I applied for this scholarship in the first place.

 

Beginning in the beginning: After talking with last year’s ICEX scholarship winners, I heard that the best, most memorable part of their journey was the matanza (the traditional pig slaughter of Spain that yields chorizos, salchichones, jamones, and all manner of porky goodness) in which they partook.

They travelled to The Rocamador during the second part of their tour—an ancient monastery-come 4-star hotel & 1-star restaurant in Extremadura that has a special farm where they conduct their own Matanzas in the old method (meaning EVERYTHING done by hand).

 

Spanish butchery 101

 

 

I was told in hushed, reverential tones that I would learn about Spanish pig butchery.

 

  

 

Learning the secreto of the secreto

I would learn how to locate the secreto, the pluma, the papada; how to cut a jamon; how to make all sorts of pâtés and spreads; but, most importantly, I would learn WHY the matanza is so important to Spanish culture. SWEET.

And then the news came down from the-powers-that-be: NO matanza this year, NO Extremadura, NO learning, NO NADA. Just a visit to a jamon factory with NO TASTING involved. EPIC FAIL.

That is, “epic fail” until Adolfo and The Most Interesting Man in The World (MIMW: you know who you are) heard my plight—and agreed to help. A few phone calls later and Carlos, the owner of Rocamador and coolest pig guy this side of Alan Benton and Jimmy Dean, agreed to put me up and let me learn. 

Head to Bardajoz, 2nd star on right, straight on till morning

So my ass got on the first thing smoking to the most secluded area of Spain…          
                                                         

And at this point, I am going to take a moment and give props to Carlos, his family, and the folks of The Rocamador: Listen up… this place, these people, everything here SERIOUSLY ROCKS.

La Familia with Sr. Goofball Rodolfo

Talk about gracious hospitality: These guys let me hang out and ask annoying questions for over 2 weeks, made me feel like part of the family, taught me everything possible in the limited time I was there, let me work where and when I wanted, and even fed me some of the most amazing products:                                                        

Fatty, delicious secreto

Local oranges with more flavor than a Sunkist wet dream, secretos of Iberico more marbled than kobe beef,  and the migas—oh, the migas that they made for every morning of the matanza.

Migas & Cowboy Coffee

You probably figured out: I think this place is INCREDIBLE—a very special, historic, and beautiful gem in the heart of Spain.     

In your lifetime, you absolutely must visit to appreciate what food is and where it comes from—and if you are a food person or lover of all things pig, drop what you are doing right now and get on a plane. You have NEVER tasted pork like this, folks…

With mis maestras

Next post is part 2 from Extremadura… stay tuned, Bat Fans.

15 minutes…er, seconds… of fame

Posted in Uncategorized on February 12, 2010 by Jeffrey Weiss
Let the excitement begin…

Madrid Fusion is here: Bring on the celeb chefs, bring on the press, bring on the free food, the liquor (and more liquor, and MORE liquor!), the adoring fans, the accolades… and The Chef Coat. 

The Chef Coat--Team USA

I know–it’s silly but bear with me here. This is the first time I have  earned a chef coat with my name on it; a coat that symbolizes the acomplishment of selection for this scholarship.                                   

And it’s pretty awesome: It’s a fancy Brigard coat with our country flag, the spanish flag, our names, and other “bling.” 

Like a bad Jew on Christmas (sans decent chinese food, which is nowhere to be found in Spain), I ran up to my hotel room, ripped off the plastic wrapping on my coat, slid it on… 

aaaannnnddd it’s big. WAY big. Fit-two-of-me-in-there big. F My Life… guess those hours of sweating during service did me some good afterall! 

So with a fancy Brigard chef “mumu” in tow, I ran around Madrid Fusion with my fellow cooks. We ate a little, drank a lot, and then it was time to go on stage for our moment–our 15 seconds of fame. 

Which was when I saw one of the greatest chefs in Spain, Juan-Mari Arzak… in a chef “mumu” also: 

Juan Mari Arzak

ICEX 2009-2010 Team

And all was right in the world. 

Here is the Madrid Fusion photo set: 

Madrid Fusion photos

Photo dump v3.0

Posted in Uncategorized on January 31, 2010 by Jeffrey Weiss

Ok, the much promised food porn photo dump.

Enjoy!

Madrid Fusion

Salamanca, Bad queso, and our “so called” matanza

MercaMadrid with Adolfo

Restaurante Adolfo photobook

General Spain photos

Aaaaannnddd lots of videos. Who loves ya, baby?!

The video dump

Proof of life

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2010 by Jeffrey Weiss

To quote Kidrock: 

 

‘Guess who’s back, motherf****r!’ 

It has been a loooooong time since my last post, and through the computer crashes and lost packages much has happened in the now winterwonderland that is Toledo, España.  

The snow covered Alcazar & Ciudad Antigua

Snow in Toledo

I guess its best to begin with the unanswered question of where we last left our hero: 

Obviously, I received a special care package from a special someone with some special knives, kitchen tools, and a kickass little laptop to play with and update my blog. Internet is still spotty in the Ciudad Antigua de Toledo, but more on that later…  

A big shout out and thanks for an intervention by 3 separate employees of the Embassy of the United States in Madrid and US Senator Dianne Feinstein (yeah, I wrote a letter)–all of whom contributed to over 2 hours worth of phone calls on my behalf to over 14 different post offices, agencies, and bureaucrats. Your tax dollars at work, folks. 

Finally, on a snowy day in December, I walked 45 minutes to the Madrid Barajas airport office cargo holding area of Correos, armed with my letter from ICEX calling me “Don Jeffrey Weiss, un cocinero importante de los Estados Unidos” and a rehearsed speech about how I am a representative of the United States of America and DEMAND my package.  

The guy looked at me and said: 4 euros, por favor.  

All this over… 4 euros. All the phone calls, all the time and energy, all the blood, sweat, and tears. 

Gracias, Correos. You STILL suck. 

Playing with a fresh-as-the-sea tuna loin

What has not sucked, however, has been my time and experiences cooking with Adolfo and his crew at the restaurant. I have been in the fish station for this entire time, and have had the opportunity to meet some phenomenal people, play with some incredible products (sea urchins, tuna loins, black truffles, white truffles, and other ridiculously fresh and expensive goodies), and cook some great food.   

   

  

Adolfo’s cooking is based on the cuisine of Castilla-La Mancha, the soul food of Spain with foundations in the garlic-and-onion-heavy peasant-cuisine of Don Quixote. 

The King of MercaMadrid looking over mariscos

Couple this foundation with: 

1. Using the freshest ingredients available (something made possible since Adolfo is the KING of MercaMadrid, the 2nd biggest wholesale market in world behind the Tsukiji market in Tokyo) 

and 

2. Preparing dishes simply with a minimum of fat and salt (no, I am NOT used to low-salt cooking–I SO oversalt my sauces… oops!). 

Adolfo broke out his gold medal

…and you can see why Adolfo Muñoz is one of the most popular faces in the alta cocina of this region (if not all of Spain).

The guy just got a gold medal from President Zapatero for his work here–the only other cooks with the same medal are Juan-Mari Arzak and Ferran Adria. Now THAT’S some serious company… 

Alas, life here has not been all oversalting Adolfo’s life work over a hot stove. 

Thanks in large-part to the generosity of the Muñoz family, I have experienced so much of the Spanish culture. Without the boring details, here’s a short list of the highlights: 

– Christmas in Spain with my sister, meaning more mariscos (shellfish for my gringos out there) and food than any reasonable person would want to consume. But we did… 

– Spanish new years, complete with the throat-seizing tradition of cramming 12 grapes down your throat–1 for each bell-strike at midnight 

–  Visits to MercaMadrid to watch Adolfo negotiate, cajole, and otherwise convince fish vendors why they should sell him the best products for the lowest prices. He even convinced the tuna guy to give him, for free, a bunch of fresh ijada— fatty tuna collar. And it was scary good… 

And coming soon: 

– We are cooking for President Zapatero and 300 of his closest friends. As in the President of Spain. Guess I might need to behave… they took my ID info yesterday!  

– Thanks to my connection with Adolfo, Javier, and a couple of anonymous friends in ICEX (you know who you are, “Most Interesting Person in the World!”), I will be going to Extremadura for 2 weeks to meet and eat the famous Iberico piggies! 

Check out the Rocamador, a converted monastery/super fancy hotel/Iberico pig farm: www.rocamador.com 

And, no, I didn’t forget: I totally owe you guys some food porn. Next post will be it, provided Flickr and YouTube cooperate…

Ode to the Spanish mail system

Posted in Uncategorized on December 2, 2009 by Jeffrey Weiss

You SUCK.

You have held my package, containing my fancy Japanese chef knives and borrowed laptop in limbo for TOO LONG. You SUCK.

You answer calls with a sneer, and customer service for you is an oxymoron tantamount to military intelligence. You SUCK!

You view customers as a nuisance to your occupation; something standing between you and your 7th cigarette of the day… at 10 AM. You SUCK!!

Even when you are wrong (as if the customer could ever be right here), you simply feign disinterest and sneer in contempt. You SUCK!!!

In conclusion, please give me my package. You SUCK!!!!!!!!!!!