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.

 

The Burgundy Region of France

 

For those of you who know me, my favorite wine is Pinot Noir closely followed by my favorite white wine…Chardonnay. These two wines hold a great deal of love and respect when you’re speaking of the Burgundy region of France.

Pinot and Chardonnay from the Burgunday region of France are two of the finest varietals ever made by the skilled winemakers of this region. Burgundy is a historical region in east-central France, in the region of Saone.

The area is criss-rossed by a network of canals and studded with grand chateau’s, and the most interesting mosaic of vineyards in the world. Unlike Bordeaux which has whole vineyards dedicated to a specific brand, Burgundy is a collection of seperate dedicated rows of grapes.

My favorite Chardonnay from a specific vineyard is Batard-Montrachet. The origin of its winemaking culture dates back to the Middle ages when the Cisterian abbey of Maizeriers and Lords of Chagny was proactive in the region. The wines of Montrachet came into the limelight only in the 17th century.

Batard-Montrachet is a Grand Cru vineyard. Grand Cru refers to the quality of a particular vineyard and the terroir in which the grapes are grown. It is the highest and most respected wine classification within the Appellation d’origine controlee (AOC), which is the governing board over the wines produced in Burgundy and Alsace, France.

Batard-Montrachet is an appellation in the Cote de Beaune of Burgundy, granted for white wines in 1937. The appellation is limited to a single Grand Cru vineyard which is located between the picturesque communes of Puligny Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet , in the Cote D’Or escarpment.

The beauty of this wine and those in this region is the terroir. Terroir means a sense of the place the grapes were grown. The earth, the trees, flowers, wind, water, but especially the soil. You completely taste the region where the wine is made and that is a gift so rare to be savored with every sip.

The description of a Batard Montrachet: Fragrant white blossoms, crisp pear, lemon curd laced with a stony mineral underbelly which lingers on the finish.

While I love the white wines of Burgundy my favorite wine in the world are the Pinot Noir wines from the DRC. DRC stands for the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. It’s history began in the 13th century when the vineyard was operated by the local monastery. The Abbey of Saint Vivant in Vosne. The vines are thought to have been cultivated by the Romans before that, giving them their name of “Romanee”. My favorite Pinot Noir is La Tache.

At this time, the vineyard was only a fraction of the size it is now. In the 1600’s, it passed into the hands of the Croonembourge family, who also expanded it by purchasing the land known as La Tache (from the DRC’s famed La Tache wine takes its name).

In the 1700’s, the vineyard was bought by the arrogant Prince of Conti. Not only did he add his name to the land and the wine it produced, but he refused to share a single bottle of the Romanee Conti vintages, even with close friends and family.

SInce the mid 1800’s, the Duvault-Blochet family has been operating the winery. They purchased additional lands that make up the current eight vineyards owned by DRC and transformed the business into the world-renowned winery it is today. Domaine de la Romanee-Conti’s vineyards are all designated Grand Cru, but their vineyards are UNESCO World Heritage Sites also.

Domaine de la Romanee Conti has set the record twice for the most expensive wines sold at auction. Two bottles of the 1945 vintage sold for $496,000 and $558,000 in 2018. Now, the famed Romanee-Conti goes for just over $21,000 a bottle.

The decription of a 1945 La Tache pinot noir: The wine is very deep, dark, and richly coloured. It has notes that are unique and exotic to the nose with oriental spice, and black truffles. The wine is very intense with ripe berries and extremely tannic with great aging potential.

To breath in this region as you would breath in the ocean’s salty air for the first time is a bucket list goal. The sense of history and the depth of character passed down from each wine-making generation is so rare. Each family member treasures their place in history as they consistently produce the finest wines in the world.

 

 

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The “Magic of Cooking” implies the creation of something special in the kitchen, a transcendent experience by which all other experiences are judged. 
Music and Cooking are very similar. Both require passion, attention to detail, and a love that transcends the musical score or the recipe.  As you are the conductor of your life, we take very seriously our responsibility to give you the greatest kitchen equipment to help create your culinary experience. 

Two Gems from the Gem State…PAZAZ™ Style!

In the panhandle of Idaho there are two things you can almost always count on. First there is the unbriddled beauty that rears its head around every corner. Then there is the other not quite so positive aspect, which is the service in most restaurants. Apparently training the service staff in most cases is an after-thought.

We were at a very nice restaurant in Sandpoint Idaho called, “41 South”. Before we even got our appetizers the server had dropped two “F” bombs. The GM (a young man from Vegas) was so high, chewing on his lip with his hand shaking from side to side so violently that the wine really had no chance of ending up in the glass. He quickly disappeared while blurting out something about allergies… never to be seen again.

However, every once in a while you stumble upon a real gem with beautifuly crafted food, a wonderful winelist and service to match. These are the restaurants you want to recommend and visit the next time you’re in that neck of the woods.

Terraza Waterfront Cafe is just such a restaurant, located on the beautiful lake Coeur ‘D Alene, Idaho.

The cuisine represents a montage of Latin American cuisine. From the Andean peaks, Amazonian rainforest, Patagonian glaciers, Inca ruins, and the exciting night life… welcome to Terraza Waterfront Cafe.

The menu checks the creative box with Elote Cakes made from corn, queso fresco, and cilantro. The Peruvian Ceviche (which is gluten free) is comprised of albacore tuna, shrimp, and rockfish. The Roasted Beet Salad was the best I’d ever had. The dish included tamarindo citronette and spiced pepitas, The Taco Plate which gives you a choice of three different tacos, or the same kind if you prefer, includes Crimini Cauliflower with chili spices, salsa roja, salsa carbon, and cilantro. The Carnitas is infused with salsa verde, shaved cabbage, pickled onion, and cotija. Finally there is the Chicken Taco with salsa cruda, sweet onion, cilantro, and manchego cheese.

Rounding out the lunch menu is Grilled Fish with a chili lime spice, salsa pina, jicama slaw, and crema. The Carne Asada lights the taste buds on fire while the Argentinian Chorizo is a sausage lovers dream. I of course have gone vegan so I have to live vicariously through others when it comes to their fish and meat culinary experiences.

As wonderful as the food, service, cocktails, and wine selection are, the location is even better. Easy to access in a very up scale neighborhood (looks like the homes on Balboa Island in California) the peaceful waterfront, boating, and general ambience is captivating. So when your in Coeur D’Alene make sure you set aside an afternoon to enjoy this very special restaurant.

The other must go to town and restaurant is the town of Wallace Idaho and the Blackboard Marketplace restaurant. Wallace is the only town in America where every building is listed in the historic registry. This happened because the government wanted to put a highway through the town and the miners and other locals found a way to stop them with the historical registry designation on everything.

Another unique aspect to the town of Wallace is a manhole cover in the center of town which proclaims Wallace, “The Center of the Universe.”

The Blackboard Marketplace includes unique shopping, dining, and a relaxing experience which feels like the old west meets the creative new west. One wall in the restaurant has a blackboard with chalked figures of famous movie stars. Other notable conversation pieces include old mining equipment and two televisions that are playing old 50’s and 60’s black and white shows. But its really the quality of the food and the timely service that bring people back again and again.

The dinner menu includes well crafted dishes such as the Beef Tartare. This dish is filet chopped and served raw with capers, bacon aioli/egg/crostini. The Ahi Tuna has an Italian herb crust finished with a white balsamic vinaigrette/lemon aoili/capers. Unusual but equally tantalizing is the Lobster Corn Dog with a corn/saffron citrus aioli. Entrees include a beautiful hand-crafted Lasagna with bolognese, mozzarella and Parmesan. If you love Osso Bucco this is the place with the braised lamb shank served in a red wine demi’glaze accompanied with a potato puree.

On a side bar I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a side tour that was the highlight of our trip to Idaho. The Sierra Silver Mine Tour, Inc. is a must see tour. Marty takes you inside the Sierra Silver Mine and actually fires up the equipment and explains the procedures for safety and mining the oar. This was by far one of the most informative and valuable experiences in understanding an important part of Western United States history.

This blog is sponsored by PAZAZ™ “The Magic of Cooking”, Kitchen tools for the discerning chef. Please go to www.pazazshop.com to purchase these AMAZING tools.

An Up-and-Coming Wine Region

If you love wine as Nancy and I do you will not be surprised that we have literally stumbled upon an up and coming AVA (American Viticultural Area) in the Lewis-Clark Valley located in the central Northwest of Idaho.

There are two main AVA’s in Idaho. First, there is the Lewis-Clark Valley AVA, home to 16 wineries; then, in the southwest, there is the much larger Snake River Valley AVA, home to over 60 wineries (shared in its western part with Oregon).

The Lewis-Clark AVA is the first and only wine region to be nestled in the unique mountainous backbone of the Bitterroot Mountains. With steep river canyons and plateaus, it is home to the lowest elevation vineyards in the state at 950 feet. It’s also unique in that it spans both Idaho and Washington. Nearly 72 percent of the land is located in Idaho, while the rest lies in Washington State. The area is home to wineries growing just 80 acres of grapes which consist of 14 red and 9 white varietals.

Recently in wine competitions judges are consistently ranking Lewis-Clark Valley wines among the best in northwest competitions and beyond. The reason I am bringing this to your attention is because this region has really not been discovered by the average wine connoisseur. This region is considered part of the “new frontier” of wine growing areas in the United States.

It’s interesting that this region actually has a deep rooted history of growing grapes and producing wine. Wine grapes were introduced to the Clearwater Valley in 1872, thanks to the pioneering efforts of three gentleman, Louis Delsol, Robert Schleicher, and Jacob Schaefer. Of the three Schleicher was the most successful bringing home a number of awards for his hand-crafted wines.

To put things into perspective, when I first started going to the Napa Valley the wineries were more farm than winery. The hills were dotted with wineries that produced wines that were just starting to gain national recognition. The first real acknowledgement of wine in the Napa Valley belonged to Schramsberg Vineyards when then president Richard Nixon introduced this wineries sparkling wine “Blanc de Blanc” to the “Toast of Peace”. This was a toast (with Schramsberg sparkling wine) that opened up the normalization of relations between China and the U.S.

Then in 1976 there was the famous “Paris Tasting” which pitted Napa cabernet and chardonnay against the most famous first growth red Bordeaux wines from the southwest of France and the world renowned chardonnay from the Burgundy region located in the east-central part of France. Napa, with its Stag’s Leap Cask 23 cabernet and the now famous 1973 Chateau Montelena chardonnay, won the “Paris tasting” judged by a panel of all French judges. After that, California wines were about to explode.

Its interesting to note that there were really no decent restaurants in the Napa Valley until the early 80’s. That is when restaurateur Claude Rouas founded Auberge du Soleil and began a trend of exceptional cuisine to compliment exceptional wine.

Trends have no respect for people. I see the Lewis-Clark Valley AVA with its unique topography becoming an iconic destination. One such example of this trend can be seen from the Clearwater Canyon Cellars perched on the edge of a large sweeping bench overlooking the Clearwater River on the way to Orofino Idaho. To match its spectacular views is the wine it produces. Last year this winery won the prestigious 2020 “Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year”. Keep in mind that its competition included over 2,000 wineries from Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia.

Some quality restaurateurs are beginning to come to Lewiston, Idaho, and are  producing hand-crafted dishes sourced from local farms. It is not out of the realm of possibility that within a very short time this region will be associated with some of the finest restaurants, vineyards and wineries in the world.

Today It’s Madeira, PAZAZ™ Style

Madeira is one of my favorite fortified wines. When I was a general manager at Mason’s restaurant located in the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco I brought Madeira into the restaurant as a compliment to our port selection.

My immersion into Madeira wine began at a tasting hosted by the Wine Spectator featuring the legendary Michael Broadbent. I was introduced to Michael Broadbent as a wine writer. I read his book “The Great Vintage Wine Book” which has 6,000 tasting notes dating back to the 17th century. His tasting notes are estimated to number over 90,000 in more than 140 notebooks. He has received the acknowledgment of “Master of Wine” and has lectured on the subject of wine since the mid-1950’s.

In the early 90’s I went to this “Madeira” event to find out more about the subject from this legendary wine expert. I went not knowing what to expect but found out that this beverage would become my favorite “fortified” beverage.

A brief history of Madeira includes the fact that Madeira was poured during Thomas Jefferson’s toast at the signing of the declaration of independence in 1776. Madeira was also savored at the inauguration of George Washington. Madeira was so ubiquitous that it perfumed ladies handkerchiefs; was given to military personnel for serving their country; and was frequently recommended for sick and overworked people.

Madeira is a fortified (fortified with brandy) wine aged under heat and produced in the demarcated region of Madeira located off the northwestern coast of Morocco composed of two inhabited islands, Madeira and Porto Santo.

There are five distinct grapes: 85% of Madeira is produced with the red grape, Negra Mole which is a crossing of Grenache and Pinot Noir. And you are also introduced to four other “noble” grapes which are white wine grapes including Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malvasia (aka Malmsey).

There are four levels of sweetness marked on every Madeira wine bottle label:

Sercial – Dry

Verdelho – Medium Dry

Bual – Medium Sweet

Malmsey – Sweet

Another layer to add to this tapestry of flavor is the fact that Madeira is unique not only due to its wonderful sweetness and textured palate, but also for its ability to endure. Madeira doesn’t change in any way when left open. I’ve tasted Madeira open twenty years and the flavor was alive and full of the same structure that was so engaging when first opened.

Which brings me back to my Broadbent tasting. When I tasted the different styles of Madeira and learned of its history coupled with the commitment to produce a world class beverage… I was transfixed on the quality and mouthfeel of this transcendent wine. That is why I purchased for the Fairmont a case of 1873 Madeira to be enjoyed by the aristocratic clientele frequenting this beautiful restaurant, Mason’s, atop Nob Hill in San Francisco.

When patrons would ask about the 1873 Madeira I would simply turn to them and state, “Personally, I drink no wine made this century”. Of course that wasn’t true but it certainly got their attention.

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Passion PAZAZ™ Style

When you live in the experience and you are passionate about what you do there is a magic that goes well beyond the task, the event, or the story. This “magic” can be felt by those around you that hear the change in tonality of your voice, the movement of your body, and the glow that surrounds you.

My dad used to sway to the music he was playing, close his eyes, and drift into a sublime space. This series of gestures inevitably created a wonderful connection with the listener that brought the music from his soul to his fingers to the audiences ears. Every movement was based upon a phrase that brought witness to the “Passion” of the moment. Smiles could be seen, bodies pulsated, and hearts were touched.

As a small boy I would never forget those moments of pure joy that spurned me on to become an impassioned ambassador of all things that could be considered “art”. Music, theatre, sports, and even food and wine became my wheelhouse.

When I’m in the world today I see those that blend their talents into an art form that freezes a moment within a picture frame of time. The rarity of this combined with the spontaneity of the circumstance captures a talent, years in its development, to unleash an experience that morphs into a memory.

When someone gives a part of themselves to add to the moment there becomes a connection or a bond that can not be broken. It is within this vulnerability that produces an inner smile forming a path that winds around our heart.

Watching glass blowers go through the process that begins with raw materials and upon completion ends with a work of art is one such example. Another is the musician that beckons to the audience to hear the notes one by one that forms a phrase, that produces a song.

Within my profession of food and wine there are few times that a chef or a server can complete the connection to the guest. Because of the importance of reading the guest, knowing the food, and producing the product as written on the menu there are many variables that can disconnect the expertise that is required to connect all those dots.

That is why it is so rare to feel complete satisfaction within the culinary world. But when you do there is a sense of “Passion” that goes well beyond the outer envelope and speaks to the soul of the team. This produces a lighting bolt beyond sustenance and beyond the orchestral dining ensemble that just produced a very rare culinary symphony.

For all those involved in any art form I salute your “Passion” because it is within this context that you just made the world a better place.

This blog is sponsored by PAZAZ™ “The Magic of Cooking” Kitchen tools for the discerning chef. Please go to www.pazazshop.com to purchase my Non-Stick Silicone Baking Mat, Heavy Duty Baking Sheet Pan, and the Steel Mesh Cooling Rack… an experience by which all others would be judged.