The Business I Loved

When I was a little kid I was very good at constructing forts using my building blocks. I figured out later that what I was really good at, design, and artistic composition, required something that unfortunately was my weakest subject in school… math.

Then, after I took a job as a busboy at the Caprice restaurant in Tiburon California, I fell in love with the restaurant business. I loved juggling five things at once depending upon timing, quality service, and of course… knowledge of your product.

At the Caprice I learned table side service. I would carve filet tenderloin, rack of lamb, and prosciutto. I also prepared Steak Diane, Duck a L’Orange, Caesar salad, Crepes Suzette, Cherries Jubilee, and a myriad of other dishes at the table.

Along with the dishes listed above I learned to make cocktails, and began the process of learning about wine. Each element was a journey which took me down different paths requiring intimate knowledge of product and service. The more I learned about the restaurant business,  the more I realized that each aspect of cocktails, food, wine, and service was a never ending educational deep dive.

I also knew that to aspire to the heights of fine dining excellence I would have to make a great commitment. This would require being around the best chefs, managers, and sommeliers in the world.

I’ve seen customers fight in the restaurant, carried out on a stretcher, cuffed by police, and pass out with their head down on the table with a thump. I’ve been threatened by customers, and even worked at a restaurant that received a bomb threat.

Each restaurant I learned something new about food, wine, cocktails, and myself. I’ve worked on the largest dinning ship west of the Mississippi, the oldest and most respected hotels atop Nob Hill in San Francisco, owned a restaurant chosen in the top ten by Time Life Books, and journeyed to NY to work with Joel Chenet (who was the personal chef to the president of France).

The Master Sommeliers I’ve worked with in Las Vegas include Ian Cauble, and Fred Dame (the third in the US to become a Master). I studied with Master’s Evan Goldstein and Wilford Wong when I was a General Manager at the Fairmont in San Francisco.

Along the way I was in charge of the wine list for Mason’s at the Fairmont Hotel, the wine lists for the Mark Hopkins Hotel, the California Hornblower Dining Yacht (entire west coast), Epanoui in Tiburon, The Plumb Room in Fort Lauderdale Florida, Bonnie Castle Resort in up State New York, and John Ash in Santa Rosa California.

Each restaurant and every situation I learned something new about food, the pairing of food and wine, and the distinct differences between liquors. I received my sommelier certification in 2014 at the Aria (a five star hotel in Las Vegas).

I see the movies Burnt, Chef, and others that take me back to the pressure cooker that is the restaurant business. The execution of food is the art of starting with exceptional product prepared consistently in an artistic form.

It’s funny that with all the artistic presentations that drew oohs and aahs from the guests, the most complements I ever received was at the steak house, Jean George at the Aria Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

This was proof positive that when travelers dine out, they appreciate more than anything, a good steak. Of course working in the restaurant business is filled with high drama between the front and back of the house, management, staff, and of course the guests.

When I worked at L’Oliver in San Francisco I worked with some really crazy servers. One such server, Robin, was a raging alcoholic. He’d do double shifts, working lunch and dinner. He would start drinking scotch out of a coffee cup when he arrived for the lunch shift, around 10am.

By dinner time Robin was inebriated, and when the last seating rolled around, he could hardly stand. On one such occasion he was serving a well dressed couple having an intimate celebratory dinner.

After clearing the ladies unfinished Dover Sole entree, Robin went in the back of the restaurant and finished off the Dover Sole. After drinking another glass of wine he paired with the Dover Sole, hiding behind a curtain in the kitchen, he staggered out to the couples table.

It was beautiful to watch. Kind of like a car crash you want to turn your head away, but can’t. Robin was weaving between tables to reach the couple. As he began to tell the couple about desserts, he spit a piece of the Dover Sole which landed perfectly , a direct hit, onto the gentleman’s tie.

Watching this was like watching a movie in slow motion. The gentleman looked down at his tie, looked up at Robin, and said, “Check please.”

The gentleman, after leaving the table with his wife, made a B line for the owner. All I saw were arms flailing as he described the egregious service. The owner was beside himself with apologies to the customers/victims.

I then went to find Robin to tell him to watch out for the owner that was coming for him. However, Robin was passed out in the private dinning room, drooling on his uniform in a position of absolute content.

I hid in a dark corner to watch the owner arrive to find Robin, wake him up, and suspend him for two weeks. I’m not sure that Robin even remembered anything past 6pm, but for me… it was truly a funny sight to witness.

I’ve got a hundred stories like that one.  Each day was a journey into the unknown.  This revolved around the people I worked with in need of psychiatric assistance, and the guests in search of escape, drowning themselves into the world of inebriation.

 

Thanksgiving… a Time for Thanks and Giving

Reflections in a mirror reveal the present. It is the holidays however that the mirror seems to reflect the past while giving you a glance into the future. I’m sure that most of us during this time of giving thanks also gaze into our souls that miss the loved ones we spent so many holidays with.

The Thanksgiving meal represents a blessing that brings our family and friends into the fold. It is the real beginning of the holiday season. The day brings witness to the special thoughts we have for those we haven’t seen (in many cases) for months or even years.  Friends and family travel from near and far to be with the ones they love and care about. Special is the pomp and circumstance that surrounds these festivities. It’s the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Football, The Classic Meal,  and of course the Decorations.

Ever since I was a little boy the Thanksgiving meal was Turkey, Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes, Green Bean Casserole, Jello Salad, Yams, and of course… Pumpkin Pie. Since the meal I remember there have been additions like ham with a sweet berry sauce, lamb in a whole grain mustard sauce, prime steak cooked to a perfect medium rare, cauliflower in a 4 cheese sauce, and for desert… pecan pie.

Also, we mustn’t forget the beverages. Thanksgiving week is the scheduled offering of Beaujolais Nouveau. This wine is released on the third Thursday of November at 12:01 am. It’s a wine that lasts for just 6 months but reflects the perfect pairing with Turkey. Delightfully light and fruity it is the ultimate reflection of the French vineyards kicking off the holiday season.

Other than the Beaujolais Nouveau the other perfect pairing wines  come from the Burgandy region of France or the Russian River area of California. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the chosen compliments to the above mentioned meal. The apple and fall fruits represented in the classic chardonnay (with a hint of oak and a whisper of fresh herbs and spices) enhance the vegetables, salad, and accompaniments.

To me the most elegant, graceful and pleasing wine to be served at this feast is pinot noir. The description would include but not be limited to a little black cherry, strawberry aroma, subtle earth, and mint. This harmonious symphony of flavors produces a balance between beverage and food that is heavenly. When you pair the correct wine with the perfect food, light in character but high in acid that exhibits the characteristics of said wine, you have a wonderful culinary experience that brings out the best of both the food and the wine.

The flawless Thanksgiving is one that begins with a hug and ends with a hug. It is a very special moment in time when the connection with those at the dinner seems like you’d spent countless hours with them over the course of the year. However, in many instances it is the first time in many months or years that you’ve gotten together with these family members or close friends.

Acknowledging how blessed we are in those rare moments where time stands still, is a gift unto itself. To share the love and friendship that is the link between generations, or just the human connectivity that is rendered on this very special day, is a reminder of how precious time is.

As the door closes and we wave goodbye, we often think of this:

If they came back tomorrow, we’d take them back today… because our world keeps growing smaller every second, minute, hour… they’re away.

Happy Thanksgiving to those we spent time with, those we miss, and those that wish they were here.

 

Jack’s Story

pazaz bakeware
Pazaz Premium Bakeware

How PAZAZ Came To Be

I’ve been in the restaurant business most of my life. I started working at a French restaurant in Tiburon California (The Caprice) when I was very young. Years later, after college, I became a partner in a restaurant (Epanoui), also in Tiburon. While I was there, Epanoui was voted as one of the top ten restaurants in the entire country by Time-Life Books. Following that unique experience, I left California on a new culinary journey.

After working as a manager/maitre’d in south Florida (The Plum Room) I went to upstate New York and worked at L’uberge Du Cygne in Manlius New York. I heard of a chef in upstate New York with a famous reputation and that is when I went on a quest to work with one of the greatest chefs in the world. This is when I met and worked with chef Joel Chenet who had been the Chef at the French Consulate in Paris France and prepared food for the President of France.

Missing California and my family I traveled back home and got a job working as the lead captain at Amelio’s under executive chef Jackie Robert in San Francisco (check out New York Times article in 1987, “ FOOD; KNOWING NO BOUNDARY”).

I had the pleasure of working with chef Jackie Robert whom prepared one of the inaugural dinner’s for President Ronald Reagan. With that experience I then eventually became the General Manager at Masons in the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. After that I was in charge of all the restaurants at the Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill, including room service and the Top of the Mark.

Now I work for Chef Jean George Vongerichten in Las Vegas, and have decided to take my culinary expertise into the very products that help produce “World Class Cuisine”.

The Heavy Duty Aluminum Baking Sheet Pan, Non-Stick Baking Mat, and the Steel Mesh Cooling Rack are examples of my exhaustive search for quality merchandise. I had these products custom made to my specifications, with the knowledge I have attained over the years through my apprenticeship with world-class chefs and the focus associated with every aspect of the creation of a dish.

In the world of the culinary arts the tools that you use help produce the “Magic” associated with dishes that captivate the mind, stimulate the palate, and test the very boundaries of the “dining experience”. It is with this attention to detail and commitment to excellence that I bring you my brand, “PAZAZ”.

PAZAZ™ Kitchen Tools for the Discerning Chef

Recipes are the architecture that builds the foundation of a meal. Every recipe contains steps produced in a certain sequence that reveals the most effective and efficient way to extract the greatest flavor and presentation. Through-out this process (as in anything worth doing) the tools you use must be of the highest quality to ensure the greatest possibility of success.

Several years ago I enlisted a company to build my PAZAZ™Kitchen Tools. These tools were built to my specifications using the finest materials available. Each tool was tested to rigorous standards based upon strength of composition, ability to withstand extreme temperatures both cold and hot, and dishwasher safe.

The idea the PAZAZ™ logo would represent was sent out to a design website which contacted graphic artists from around the world. An amount was agreed upon to ensure designers would be interested and so the contest was on. Eventually the contest was won by a person from Bangladesh. The chefs hat and the magic wand, the wording, and ultimate design represent an exhaustive process that took several months to complete.

As I tested each manufacturers tools I realized that one stood out from the rest. That company I enlisted to produce PAZAZ™ Kitchen Tools crafted each tool to my specifications so that the Silicone baking mat would fit snuggly inside the sheet pan with the cooling rack on top of the baking mat. Like a culinary puzzle each piece is crafted to accentuate the even flow of heat to ensure any product placed on the cooling rack will be cooked evenly through-out.

Currently my PAZAZ™ Kitchen Tools are being used by three star Michelin Chef Jean George Vongerichten, Michael Mina, and Dave Adlard (Candle in the Woods, Idaho). These world class chefs understand that manufacturing of product for a multitude of guests requires sturdy, hand-crafted Kitchen Tools. The PAZAZ™ products could have only made it to the kitchens of these world renowned chefs if they stood up to the rigorous test of quality enriched by craftsmanship.

My PAZAZ™ Kitchen Tools can be used to produce the most amazing savory or sweet dishes. As many of us gravitate towards chicken and fish and away from beef we can access flavors that accentuate the nuances of the flavor profile. One such recipe which can feature chicken or fish is a “Classic Lemon Pepper Chicken”.

Prep time is 10 minutes, cook time is 15 minutes, calories 221 using four ingredients and serving four people. Simple and delicious in one soul-stirring hot shot.

First:

    • 1/4 cup of flour
    • 1 tablespoon of McCormick perfect pinch lemon and pepper seasoning
    • 1 pound of thinly sliced boneless and skinless chicken breasts
    • 2 tablespoons of butter
    1. Mix flour and lemon/pepper seasoning in shallow dish. Moisten chicken lightly with water. Coat evenly with seasoned flour.

    2. Melt butter in large nonstick skillet on medium heat. Pan sear 1/2 of the chicken pieces 2 to 3 minutes per side or until golden brown.

    3. Place chicken on steel mesh rack which is placed over the silicone baking mat on top of the aluminum sheet pan. Oven should be set for 300 degrees and chicken should cook for 4 minutes.

    4. If you’d like to “kick it up a notch” place chicken over mixed greens with avocado, tomato, and goat cheese or blue cheese. A homemade dressing of a mango or peach white vinegar mixed with basil oil 2 parts oil to one part vinegar will be the perfect balance of acid to alkaline.

Included if you purchase all three PAZAZ ™ “Kitchen Tools” at www.pazazshop.com will be a cookbook with original recipes tried and tested by me. Enjoy for yourself or as a gift for the upcoming months when the bounty of the earth is at its peak.

Summer Recipes, Part 3 – PAZAZ™ Style!

Dinner parties in the summer can be a wonderful exercise in creativity. Don’t just dip your toe in the pool, jump right in. The beauty of this season is captured with fruit and vegetables that will make your palate sing, your stomach salute, and your heart whisper to your soul.

Peaches and Herb, reunited and it feels so good. White peaches are lower in acid than the yellow peaches and taste sweet whether firm or soft. Now is the time to try these delectable treats that are both fragrant and delicious. Let’s get your peach on!

Recipe Number One is a show stopper that incorporates a combination of different textures and tastes to form an overture to the summer bounty.

This is the White Peach/Blueberry salad with goat cheese, apple and avocado finished with a peach vinaigrette and garnished with chive.

The ingredients:

    • White Peaches
    • Blueberries
    • Butter Lettuce
    • Avocado
    • Cashews
    • Goat Cheese
    • Apple
    • cilantro
    • chive

(Pick a colorful plate that accentuates the ingredients with colors such as turquoise, yellow, bright green, or red.)

In the center of the plate use a metal mold to form a lettuce tower. The base should be sliced avocado, then the butter lettuce mixed with cilantro and chive incorporated with cashews and topped with sliced apple. The dressing in this portion of the dish should be a cranberry/pear vinaigrette mixed with virgin olive oil.

Slice the peaches forming a half moon around the tower careful to leave space in between each peach slice. That in-between space will be filled with blueberries outlining the shape of the peach. On top of the peaches and blueberries you will drizzle a peach vinaigrette mixed with basil oil (two parts oil to one part vinaigrette). Then, crumble goat cheese over the top of the peaches, garnish with two full chives crossed and “Bingo”, you have a beautifully orchestrated dish.

The beauty of any dish is the collaboration of textures and flavors that provide a montage of different experiences with every bite. Here, the tower provides the textures of the silky smooth avocado, the neutral butter lettuce, the salt and firmness from the cashews, and the crunch of the apple.

Around the tower is the different types of flavors represented by the white peaches and the succulent blueberries. Then there is the grassy flavor from the goat cheese that provides the contrast needed to accent the beauty of the fruit. The acid from the vinegar adds another layer of contrast with the chive garnish the perfect “icing on the cake.”

Recipe Number Two is a savory dish that will most certainly make a grown man/woman cry. They will cry because of the palate exciting experience that elevates even the most mundane personality into a heel clicking, hoedown jumping, rumbling/tumbling ball of inner smiles.

This is the Wagyu beef carpaccio sliced very thin and wrapped around a panko Rogue River blue cheese truffle topped with Perigord black truffles and surrounded with a four leaf balsamic vinegar.

The Ingredients:

    • Wagyu beef
    • Perigord black truffle
    • Rogue River blue cheese
    • Panko bread crumbs
    • Four Leaves balsamic vinegar
    • Italian parsley
    • Himalayan sea salt

Take a Wagyu beef filet and cut it into small square pieces. Put each piece of the filet under a film of saran wrap. Take a metal mallet and pound the Wagyu into submission. Each piece should be an inch in diameter and flat as a pancake (dust with Himalayan sea salt).

Make into a ball the Rogue River blue cheese then wrap with panko bread crumbs. Drop them in a vat of frying oil for 30 seconds. Place the carpaccio balls on a rock plate (to add dimension to substance) then place four in the middle of the plate. Shave the Perigord black truffles over the top of the carpaccio balls, surround with the Four Leaves balsamic vinegar and garnish with chopped Italian parsley.

Enjoy this Summer of Love recipe fest to kick off the outdoors… indoors.

JEAN GEORGE – Chef and Restaurateur

If you don’t know, I’ve worked for this world class chef for the last 11 plus years. I work at Jean George Steakhouse, located in the Aria Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

I’ve worked in great restaurants all over the country, including California, Nevada, Florida, and New York; and every one has taught me different valuable nuances about food and wine.

I can tell you this… the more you learn about food and wine the more you realize how little you know. What I mean by that is with wine and food there are so many foods and wines associated with countries.

Then there are regional wines and dishes, villages, and finally family crafted wines and recipes. This list is virtually endless and so is the journey to prepare food, craft wine, beer, and liquor to ultimately create an experience by which all others would be judged.

Certain people are built for certain professions. At the age of 16 Jean George Vongerichten was cooking at a three-star Michelin restaurant (the highest accolade a chef and his or her restaurant can achieve), L’Auberge de L’ll generally considered Alsace’s best restaurant. He remained there for four years and then went on to work with iconic chef Paul Bocuse at Eckart Witzigmann (in Munich), and finally with Louis Outhier of L’Oasis, on the French Riviera.

It was Outhier’s genius that set Jean George on his true path by sending him to the United States and Asia as leader of his “flying squadron” of chefs. Ultimately Jean George cooked for four years in Asia spending time in Bangkok, Singapore, and Hong Kong. As he now says, “The flavors of lemongrass, ginger, cilantro, and coconut milk, changed my life.”

Now Jean George has 40 restaurants in 11 countries including the Bahamas, Brazil, China, England, France, the French West Indies, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Singapore and Morocco. His ability to translate his knowledge to the front and back of the house (with a great team that travels well) makes a statement about his recipe for success.

The real beauty of a great chefs repertoire is the simplicity in which they execute the dish. This enables the quality ingredients to stand for themselves. At the heart of any composition is a melody that is highlighted by the orchestration conducted by the maestro that makes the senses dance.

Letting the ingredients speak for themselves is the key to great cuisine. Not relying on fancy presentation or exotic garnishes to embellish but the weaving of culinary components into a symphony of flavors to create a memorable dish is the pronounced goal.

If you’re in Las Vegas please stop by our restaurant, “Jean George Steakhouse”, to experience a great steak with some memorable appetizers, side dishes, and desserts. One such appetizer is the Kobe Carpaccio. We are one of only nine restaurants in the country that has the real Kobe beef from Kobe Japan. The Kobe Carpaccio is Kobe beef that is sliced very thin draped over a cheese truffle fritter topped with a Perigord Black Truffle and surrounded with a four leaf balsamic vinegar. Four small pieces… ridiculous.

Jean George was hooked by the restaurant business when he was young, plucking chicken feathers for dishes in a fine French restaurant. I was hooked when I was 16 years old by the restaurant business (front of the house) when I realized the beauty of providing great service to appreciative guests to create an unparalleled dining experience. The key to anything you love is to become proficient at it learning the variables that knowledge can provide and then communicate that information in a simple yet articulate manner.

I have been blessed to be in the restaurant business virtually my whole life. From serving, writing wine lists and menus, to becoming a chef and a sommelier… the love I have for the restaurant business I feel is a gift.

This coming year, midway through, will be the last time that I will provide the dining experience to the guests I’ve come to love over the course of a lifetime. But what I’ve learned about life…it’s about beginnings and endings.

Let’s see how the next chapter unfolds.

Southern Utah… PAZAZ™ Style

The beautiful topography of Southern Utah captures the nuances of nature in the form of multi-colored rock formations that dance across canyons sculpted by rivers, streams, and creeks.

As the alpine glow transmits different brush strokes of color, the time and the direction of the sun wave a magicians wand to play with the optics transmitted by seasonal change.

Driving north of Las Vegas to this land of enchanted vistas you pass through the Virgin River Gorge located between St. George, Utah, and Beaver Dam Arizona. This long canyon is carved by the Virgin River in Northwest Arizona. The Virgin River rises on the Colorado Plateau creating both the Zion National Park and the Virgin River Gorge.

Each mile brings me closer to my favorite restaurant destination located in St. George Utah. This town was named in honor of Mormon apostle George A. Smith also known as the “potato saint” because he urged early settlers to eat raw, unpeeled potatoes to cure scurvy. Smith didn’t participate in the town’s settlement but chose the first pioneers to enhabit this area.

Besides the natural beauty there is one restaurant that stands far above the rest in consistent food quality high-lighted by spot on service. This restaurant,”The Painted Pony”, is a text book example of caring owners finding a formula and staying within the boundaries of their expertise.

A warm greeting begins the experience expedited by prompt service. Then, the server questions the direction the guest wishes to be taken through the land of culinary delights.

For me, one of the menu items that stands above the rest (in the appetizer category) is the organic beet napoleon. Organic beets topped with julienne crispy beets with a layer of goat cheese in between to create the desired napoleon affect. This dish is served with a balsamic dressing garnished with beet leaves and fresh herbs. This dish should be paired with a Sancerre (sauvignon blanc) from France.

The entree course is a Hawaiian fish called “ONO” which means “delicious” in Hawaiian. Place the “ONO” (a delicate white fish) onto the PAZAZ™ baking mat inside the PAZAZ™ cookie sheet in the oven at 350 degrees. The slow cooked fish should be in the oven no longer than 6 minutes to create the desired med-rare composition. The rest of the formula to compliment this fish that melts in your mouth consists of couscous with roasted Brussel sprouts in a citrus beurre blanc. The fish is then topped with an apricot chutney to complete this flavor explosion. I love to pair this dish with an Argentinian white wine varietal called Torrontes.

Completing this meal is a classic bread pudding in a creme anglaise paired with an ice wine from Niagara-on-the-lake in south eastern Canada called Inniskillin.

When you find yourself in Southern Utah don’t forget to stop at this amazing destination restaurant, “The Painted Pony”, fueled by the expectation of a meal produced by chefs that care, expedited by professional servers in an environment that calms the spirit and enhances the experience.

This post is sponsored by PAZAZ™ “The Magic of Cooking” kitchen tools for the discerning chef. Please go to pazazshop.com to purchase the amazing Non-Stick Silicone Baking Mat, Heavy Duty Aluminum Cookie Sheet, and the Steel Mesh Cooling Rack. Bring PAZAZ™ into your life!!!