Archive for jamon

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

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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.

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…

Red pill, Blue pill

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 25, 2009 by Jeffrey Weiss
 
I got a call from Morpheus (aka Javier, Adolfo’s son) the other day…

I was happily going about my early morning routine of setting up the kitchen and was just settling into my café con leche and fish prep when the phone rang:

 

¨Neo, come to the other restaurant.¨

  

¨Pack your knife kit, wear your chef whites, bring a change of clothes… and follow the white rabbit.¨

 

At the other restaurant, Morpheus was sitting in his pimped out black car:

¨If you take the blue pill, you go back to the restaurant and prepare for service. ¨

¨If you take the red pill, you come to Madrid for a special food expo for the restaurant and… other stuff will happen too.¨

Choose, Neo:

Restaurant service

OR

A night of questionable morality and
dubious certainty with Adolfo and family

Um, what do you think I did?! I took a handful of red pills!!! 

Here are the results:

The convention hall

The convention hall

Convention Hall #2

Convention Hall #2

Our companions the next booth over

Our companions the next booth over

The sexy Tio Pepe girls. It must be the hats...

The sexy Tio Pepe girls. It must be the hats...

With Adolfo & Nacho Manzano

With Adolfo & Nacho Manzano

Adolfo works the crowd

Adolfo works the crowd

The crowd gathers... anyone who's anyone in the Spanish food world!

The crowd gathers... anyone who's anyone in the Spanish food world!

Morpheus (Javier, in front) and his older brother, Adolfito

Morpheus (aka Javier, in front) and his older brother, Adolfito

 
with the mack daddy himself

with the mack daddy himself

The Castilla-La Mancha crew

The Castilla-La Mancha crew

with Florencio Sanchidiran, the king of jamon carving

with Florencio Sanchidiran, the king of jamon

Florencio playing with jamon

Florencio playing with jamon

… and then it was off to the after-party and a looooong Madrid night:

Adolfo, aka Al Pacino/James Dean/Escofier in the same body, driving his red jag, cigar in hand

Adolfo, aka Al Pacino/James Dean/Escofier in the same body, driving his red jag, cigar in hand

with Javier and novia

with Javier and novia

The after-hours crew

The after-hours crew

 And some videos from the night:

Video from the Millesime cooking expo

Video from the afterparty

The sound of scallions chopping (formerly 1,000,000 little things)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2009 by Jeffrey Weiss

hubris [ˈhjuːbrɪs], hybris

n 1. pride or arrogance

2. (Literary & Literary Critical Terms) (in Greek tragedy) an excess of ambition, pride, etc., ultimately causing the transgressor’s ruin

[from Greek]
hubristic , hybristic adj

Thanks to JP and Paras for a little lesson in humility and mea culpa

Disconnected in the Hills

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2009 by Jeffrey Weiss

Ah, Toledo… beautiful hills, breathtaking cathedral, foods from the heartland of Spain.

And I can´t write about any of it… unfortunately, my computer decided to commit hari kari so I am relegated to the scant locotorios around town for my connection to the real world.

But fear not, foodfans… I´ll get things rolling again shortly.

Keep the faith!

Food as art: An edible evolution?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2009 by Jeffrey Weiss

An argument of epic proportions recently occurred in our group.

How to cook an egg—the subject matter of the argument—is one of the most important things you can cook in a kitchen according to many chefs. For example, many French chefs gauge the skill of a cook by how they make an omelet—which led to the famous cooking maxim:

“Show me how you cook an egg, and I will know everything about you.”

Our conversation turned heated over the proper way to poach an egg—that is, whether you should follow a traditional cooking method or whether modern techniques can (or should) be applied.

Here is the short version of the conversation:

Don Juan

Don Juan

“Cooking an egg in a water-bath for an hour or however long doesn’t compare to a traditional, four-minute poach! The yolk is totally different…”

Papi Chulo

Papi Chulo

“You’re insane. I cooked eggs at 64°C at Momo everyday for the past year. It’s the same: the yolk runs like a sauce. It f*cking rocks!”

El Resacón

El Resacón

“Yeah, it’s true. We cook our eggs the long way at 63°C too… it totally works. You get a perfect yolk—it’s one of our signature items, and it’s a totally stable method for cooking.”

Wolverine

Wolverine

 “Wolverine eats eggs RAW! Grrrr…..”
 
Don Juan

Don Juan

“You guys are crazy. Maybe you have magic eggs… it’s not the same yolk. Maybe we just don’t have magic eggs in Germany!Where can I get some of your crazy, magic eggs?”

“From a magic farmer, on a magic farm, with magic chickens? Where is that magical farmer? Does he have a magical  daughter? I want to meet him, and then meet his magical farmer’s daughter and have some magical farmer’s daughter sex. And then, maybe I can make some magical poached eggs like yours for breakfast on the magical farm for my new magical girlfriend…”

“Let’s hug it out… I can’t quit you, you cook so nice for me.”

**A disclaimer… before my friends decide to throw me a beating:

This accounting of the convo is my best recollection, with a few added pics because I have a crap-ton and don’t know what to do with them all! 

Long poaching, short poaching, magic eggs—something bigger than a “huevo-lution” was being discussed here, but back to this conversation in a moment…

Shortly after Poach-gate 2009, we ate a meal containing some of the following dishes:

Tortilla & caviar

 

Preciously shaped (read: Transglutaminase-glued) fish filets, gelled sauce stripes, fruit caviars—all of these techniques have become ubiquitous; made possible by a new wave of culinary inspiration, funny powders, and the blending of laboratory and kitchen sciences.

Tradition!But there’s a storm brewing on the horizon, and its name is tradition… does anybody else hear Fiddler on the Roof?

For some cooks, culinary traditions are non-negotiable: As Don Juan says, a poached egg takes 4 minutes in acidulated water, NOT hours in a Combi-oven or a water-bath.

Otherwise, the result is just NOTa poached egg, thank you very much. It’s something else; a modern bastardization of a classic technique, symbolic of so much occurring in a world steeped in respecting tradition and order.

Likewise, traditionalist cooks view funny powders as less a garnish and more something for line cooks to snort, sauces as something that shouldn’t be turned into cute little caviar balls, and foams as something with only one culinary purpose: to top a cold beer at the end of service.

This mentality is the result of a backlash against what many cooks term “the misuse” of the ever-expanding kitchen lexicon of the past 10 years. These same critics point to the random foams, spheres, and gels appearing everywhere this side of McDonald’s as signs that chefs have crossed-over from the netherworld of the kitchen into the realm of the pretentious artist.

Or the wannabe artist.

So is the cooking of modern chefs—the Michelin-starred names we whisper with hallowed respect and/or venomous jealousy— for sustenance or aesthetic value? Are such things mutually exclusive?

When does food, the stuff on the plate, transcend such labels and touch guests on a deeper level? And exactly when is it ok to use modern techniques (like the 64°C egg or alginate and the like) as a substitute for traditional techniques? 

When should tradition be upheld?

These are the questions that went round and round our dining tables at nearly every restaurant over the past few weeks. The conversations began at El Bohio, one of the most impressive meals that we had, and they continued at El Poblet–one of the least impressive. They were spurred on by every foam, every use of methylcellulose, every avant garde technique that we didn’t recognize and, therefore, questioned.

Then a revelation occurred at our last Michelin-starred stop—Dani Garcia’s Calima, my eventual restaurant-home for 6 months. After an inspired, Andalusian-based meal we chatted with Dani Garcia–such a cool guy– and then retired to Calima’s patio overlooking the Mediterranean Sea for coffee.

That’s when we turned around and spotted this:

Cocinacontraditión can be translated two ways:

1. Cocina con tradición = cooking with tradition

or

2. Cocina contradictión= cooking contradiction.

Let there be light!

A big thank you to Professor Kwortnik of the SHA for a semester of driving this point home:

El Bohio, a restaurant (and chef) steeped in traditional La Mancha cooking, relies on the flavors of the region to “tell a story.” Calima is similarly steeped in the traditional cooking of Andalusia, and does something similar with dishes based on gazpachos, porras, and seafood specific to the region.

By contrast, El Poblet struggled to tell their story. We saw a parade of gorgeous dishes that utilized new and wondrous techniques… but something was missing from the dining EXPERIENCE—it lacked SOUL, that intangible quality that separates good experiences from great ones.

Now, I´m not saying that a link to tradition ¨a Michelin star gets.¨ Like any good Hotelie will tell you, everything depends on circumstance… and for a bunch of high context, jaded cooks like us a connection to tradition will win us over everytime.

So while I don´t yet have any answers to our roundtable questions, I look forward to Monday when I embark on the next phase of this journey. My first teacher and school: Adolfo Muñoz at Restaurante Adolfo.

Fittingly, we ate at this restaurant on our first night of our 3 week journey–and we bore witness to the most classic roots of traditional La Mancha cookery.

The way I see it:  I am very lucky to start with a traditional chef… for the next 6 months, I get to find my own connection to the past.