Kappo – Orlando,FL

In the world of food writers, I’m a relative pauper. I don’t realistically see myself ever being a world traveler. I suppose that’s why we invent words like WANDERLUST. It was specifically created for people like me, and I reckon that’s why food and travel shows take up so much of my free time. The act of living vicariously through television is a yet to be named mental syndrome that I’ve developed over the years.

The word ‘vicarious’ often times connotes punishment. Therefore, in my case, vicarious is the proper word choice. Not being able to trot the globe is excruciating for someone with an intrinsic love of global cuisine. I think my blood lust burns hottest when I watch some spoiled host fall all over themselves while dining in Japan. If I ever had the chance to visit any of the prefectures, getting me to come back home would be a colossal task.

With that said, my recent trip to Orlando reassured me of the fact the Orlandoans have some very special new dining establishments. While I was in town, the city reactivated my faith in having the traditional experience right in my backyard.

I suffer most when I watch these guys walking through some back alley in Tokyo with their guides, and just so happen to stumble into a tiny izakaya or a micro sushi bar that was literally cut out of a wall. Generally these types of places seat no more than a handful of patrons at a time. I envy the admiration and communal attitude shown between patron and host. It’s a completely raw atmosphere involving only a cook and their guests.

Size matters.

Tucked in the rear of the deservedly popular East End Market in the Audubon Park district, lies Kappo, a 6-7 seat food stall specializing in Japanese specialties made from the heart, with ingredients source primarily from local vendors.

kappo

This is exactly what I was looking for.

I know that Central Florida has made some pretty decent strides to expand the culinary parameters of acceptance. However, until Kappo raised their clunky metal security partition for business, it was the first time someone dared to take a chance on the local palates. At the very least they’ve brought a new approach to our dining scene, one that’s causing food lusters to flock like rats in Meyers flats for a chance at the Sunday lunch omakase. Their setup and the way they treat their guests is eerily reminiscent of a high energy family meal. All that’s missing is the wonderfully boisterous pinpoint sound of my Nana’s voice coming from all directions like a swarm of killer bees.

The restaurant (which is not really a restaurant, but more of a proof of concept food lab) is run by five people that flow through the kitchen like a steady and uncompromising current. Some cut their teeth in New York City, a battleground for aspiring chefs, but all of them were friends before being business partners. If memory serves me correctly, all or a majority of the team spent time studying at the University of Florida. The interaction they have with their patrons is part of what moved me in such a positive way. I enjoyed my first meal at Kappo alone, seated with a group of strangers, some of whom were regulars and some, like me were there on their maiden journey. I wasn’t saying much because I’m not socially awkward or anything. I like to call it guarded. I’m always ready to parry an opponent when the situation calls for it. I wasn’t talking to anyone but simply watching the technique, since I find we can learn much from watching others work. The chef asked me, as he was a mere three feet from my face and I was hunched over staring at his mushroom cleaning technique, “Do you not like the food?” I replied. “I like it very much so. It’s actually making me exercise my brain.”

The food was entirely thoughtful and inventive from my point of view, with ingredients that I’m positive, have never been on any menu in this region. Truthfully they aren’t even on Kappo’s either when it comes to their Sunday lunch service, which changes not seasonally, not monthly, not even weekly, but per seating. What is eaten during the noon service might be totally differed from what a diner at 3 pm has, and I couldn’t be happier about that.

The meal is structured similarly to a traditional Kaiseki style service. It’s not just a whole bunch of sushi and sashimi, although when they do offer you a plate of either, you will want to eat it post-haste. Each dish is presented as a ceremony that ends up being a party.

The meal began with a rectangular bento box, from left to right, it contained a single bite of chopped horse mackerel sushi with matcha salt shishito pepper party umbrellas, followed by a duo of oysters, one with sake gelée and cucumber jus, and the other with lobster roe, bombarded my receptors with a tiger uppercut of oceanic flavor bursting at the seams. On the right there was foie gras of the sea, monkfish liver with grated daikon radish, which provided a paté like consistency.

Kappo bento box

Following that we enjoyed a delicate plate of flounder, snapper and salmon sashimi with salmon roe and cucumber relish.

Kurobuta pork belly kakuni with coarse country store grits from a mill up in Tallahassee was a comfort reminiscent of both a steamy bowl ramen and a creamy serving of porridge, while the pork confit, milk poached sweetbread croquette with pan roasted shimeji mushrooms, shiso dressing and a nori schmear was a nod to the more complex and time-consuming methods that the French have taught us to toil over. I think the croquette was the best bite of the day, as it was such a welcoming surprise. As the chef explained what lay before me, I had to ask myself, “Wait, what? Where am I?”

Kappo omakase

By this time in the meal, all of us former strangers now had a common bond, that of receiving a fantastic meal from some seriously genuine folks. We began to converse and relax a bit, all while groups of people from the market buzzed around trying to see what all the fuss was about. It was a good feeling to have, as if we were privileged in some way. Which in part you were as only 50 people in the entire world got to eat what we ate that day.

The last savory course was said to always include rice, so we were presented with a vibrant bowl of chirashi adorned with thin strips of omelet, diced scallop and salmon belly along with pickled vegetables and pickled plum.

Kappo chirashi

The chef instructed us to start eating. As we began to devour our rice bowl, two of them walked around our area and started pour shrimp head broth into our bowls, and made a second pass to sprinkle various crazy condiments as if we were part of some food related ceremony/drum line. First came the dried ume flakes, then togarashi, matcha, salted pop rocks and dried milk powder. They kept telling us to keep eating so that every bite is different. It was such a fantastic and interactive interpretation.

For dessert, we were treated by the pastry chef to a perfectly made tuille, filled with silken tofu mousse laced with coffee soaked cherries. It was placed in a sake cup filled with coffee and dried cherries to give an even more pronounced familiarity.

Kappo matcha green tea ice cream

Finally, we were treated to the creamiest, most luxurious matcha green tea ice cream I’d ever had. It was accompanied with some sweet red beans and a bed of honeycomb nougatine which caused the levels of flavor to jump passed the power of reason. I said out loud that my wife was going to be so mad that she missed out on this, as she is an expert on the subject.

Without fear of public retribution, I can honestly say that it was the best meal I’ve had this year. We use these terms loosely because cuisine is so subjective, and often times those words lose their meaning, but I mean it. If I could choose, I would want to enjoy that type of dining experience every single day. I don’t want to be a Kappo stalker, but I can see how that could easily become a thing.

Kappo on Urbanspoon

Friends of James Beard Benefit Dinner: Elevage – Tampa, FL

Who is James beard and why does everyone in the food world love him? Honestly, I’m not exactly sure all the reasons, and as most can confirm, I’m too lazy to do a Google search to find out. What I do know is that he loved food more than you or I ever will. He built up a grand knowledge of cookery, developing a huge following through the many series of instruction throughout the country and in his home in Manhattan for decades during the middle of the 20th century. So many credit Julia Child for her enormous influence on the American home cook. Well, Mr. Beard was a similarly potent influence on just about every aspect of food, be it in the restaurant industry, food writing, instruction and even in our groceries.

When gauging the greatness of an American chef, a simple check to see if he or she has ever been a semi-finalist in the yearly award ceremony will erase all doubt. Just to sniff at a James Beard award is basically a confirmation that you know what you’re doing, and the best part is, anyone can win. Except me maybe, but I don’t hold it against them. I’m not bitter…really.

FOJBB_LOGO-web-page

The James Beard foundation has instituted a roaming dinner series all over the country as a vehicle to raise money for the vast amount of charity work they do. They call them Friends of James Beard Dinners. The Tampa Bay Area has been host to a few of them, but not for a long time. It’s been almost two years since we enjoyed the cavalcade of local chefs coming together for a great cause. You might think that bringing together eleven chefs from Tampa Bay, who in a round about way compete everyday for our business, and sticking them  in the same kitchen might be a recipe for disaster. However, from what I’ve heard about the back of house goings on, it was more camaraderie than competition. Even though I’m sure they all wanted to put up the best food possible, they did so without vitriol.

Consider the state of the Tampa food scene two years ago. A meal like this couldn’t have even been conceived, as many of the chefs that shared the spotlight didn’t have places of their own back then. Now, we have a bare minimum of eleven chefs representing their respective establishments to give us the meal of a lifetime. All of these restaurants have their own identity and point of view, yet acted like worker bees inside the host kitchen, Chad Johnson’s Elevage at the Epicurean Hotel.

Tampa James Beard Foundation 2014

I realize the timeliness of this piece is a bit off as it has already been covered by other entities. I don’t feel it required an immediate write up as you can’t find any of these dishes in any of the kitchens of any of the restaurants. At least that I know of. The purpose is to show you what these guys and gals are capable of. We can give them all our blessing to really go for it all the time by supporting them and being good patrons. Order the specials or the tasting menus at these places. You will almost always be given a sleek meal that is usually a peek into the future when compared to the rest of the menu. To describe every dish in dramatic detail would result in an additional 5,000 word essay and I’m sure you don’t want to suffer through 14 separate dishes each with their own unique pop culture reference to describe the flavor. And you probably don’t want to hear about how I thought something tasted like bologna, but in the best possible way of course.

Tampa James Beard Foundation 2014 2

I will say this though, every chef paid homage to their home state, be it in the technique, the ingredients used, or the Florida cracker cuisine that’s gaining notoriety. From the lobster & avocado salad with passion fruit vinaigrette curated by Restaurant BT, to the smoky quail with a burgoo sauce that married the flavors of our Florida swamp with the simple elegance of the rolling Basque hillside presented by Chef Johnson himself, even our favorite dish of the night, the Snapatrufalojam, a perfectly portioned piece of crispy skin on Florida red snapper laid on a truffled mash and sweet tomato jam with little black truffle shavings strewn all over the plate. Thank goodness it’s truffle season! I love the fact that chef Zack of Z Grille didn’t let anyone in on the concept, not even the head of the wine program knew, as he had to guess on the pairing. It added to the mystique in a Jennifer Lawrence way, not the odd Rebecca Romijn Stamos O’Connell kind of X-3 the Last Stand kind of cluster.

Tampa James Beard Foundation 2014 3

My only concern is my waistline. Some of the dishes were entrée size. By the third or fourth course, most of the room was belly aching about being full. If some of the dishes were smaller, I think we would have enjoyed the visually sensational peanut butter and chocolate kitchen sink dessert that was presented by Café Ponte. There was even a petit four bar from Chocolate Pi that was too tempting to bypass. I sampled one of the coolest bites ever thought up, what do you get when cross a cheese plate with a cookie? A beet and goat cheese macaron. Great idea and execution, hopefully that will end up in the case this fall.

My wife and I were invited guests of the Epicurean hotel for this meal to support a great cause, namely providing scholarships to underprivileged kids so that they can fulfill their food based dreams. The event helped us to meet new friends with the same love of eating, we may not have ever met otherwise. Those included were Laura Riley of the Tampa Tribune along with her photographer who gave the table some nice insight into was really going on in the kitchen. Not to be forgotten was a married couple who were some of the most humble and down to earth conversational people I can remember. The wife mentioned in passing how her father traveled the globe and actually created a cookbook from all the ideas he brought back home. I asked if it was in circulation, and she said it was still somewhere out there. After exchanging contact information, a few days later to my bewilderment we received a copy in the mail. How sweet was that. Thank you very much Sadie. We plan to put it to work real soon. Along with giving me a couple more places to add to the list of must eat restaurants, it also grew my desire to plan a visit to the Beard house in Manhattan to attend one of the more than 200 dinners they host a year.

2014 Epcot Food & Wine Late Nights LIVE!

You know fall is in full swing when a dozen of the world’s finest culinary cultures gather around the World Showcase Lagoon to show off their regional specialties. This year, Logan and I were asked to give their new Late Nights Live event a test drive on the very first night it was open to the public. Think Food & Wine Festival mini. Here’s the rundown, the party starts at 9:45 pm, after the exhausted families have exited the park. Eighty bucks will get you a lanyard with a card good for five food items and one adult beverage, complete with light up disco cup. You’ve got six booths to choose your chow, while a live DJ serenades you with his best Skrillex impression. Best case scenario. in theory, you can drop your bean all while eating beans at the same time you can trip on some topiary.

 Disney Food & Wine Festival Late Nights

We scouted our choices before making any hasty decisions. The choices were as follows: Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Greece, Canada, Ireland and the Dessert & Champagne booth. We were hoping that they’d rotate through the countries each week, but upon investigating, it seems that these booths will be repeated.

We hit Hawaii first and snapped up both choices, tuna poke with seaweed salad and lotus root, and kahlua sliders with sweet and sour pineapple chutney and spicy mayo. The slider was a slam dunk. I was worried the chutney would be overly sweet, but it brought just enough sugar to accentuate the pork. The kicker for me was the spicy mayo which had an addictive ginger tinge. The tuna poke was fresh but overly subtle if that even makes sense. The seaweed salad helped bring some much-needed umami.

Tuna poke & Kahlua sliders

Ireland is at the far side of the Late Nights Live event area, so we made the trek with the intent to eat our way back to the entrance. Lobster and seafood fisherman’s pie was, for me, a bit suspect. Seafood being served en masse in Disney doesn’t instill the greatest confidence. However I quickly reversed that opinion as soon as I tasted it. Smooth and creamy mashed potatoes hid tasty chunks of lobster and fish and the buttery crust made it pure comfort food. Not to be outdone was the chocolate lava cake (I’m not sure why it’s Irish but I didn’t complain). They’re about the size of a golf ball, but that’s all you’ll need because these little guys are rich. The pitch black Bailey’s ganache oozes out as soon as the fork touches down. Thankfully, the chefs kept the sweetness in check with just a simple glaze to finish it off.

Ireland - Lobster fisherman's pie, chocolate lava cake

The only real line started as soon as the party began. As it does every day at the festival, Canada is the belle of the ball with its truffled filet offering. If we were to compare food to the 1992 World Series Champion Toronto Blue Jays (which happens like every single day), the steak would have to be Joe Carter. With its down to earth attitude and its constant perseverance, the filet, alongside its mushroom compliment keeps hitting frozen ropes through the gap year after year. The rainbow trout, (Canada’s second offering) well, it’s Pat Borders. An unlikely hero who rose from obscurity and public apathy.  The chefs at Disney decided against removing the skin. This was a bold move in my mind. I try to take my personal preference out of the equation when evaluating festival food. Remember this is for a mass audience. I feared the appeal of a skin on fish combo would be lost on the majority. Never have I been more incorrect. It added great flavor and complimented the crisp bacon that cascaded over the top of the filet, like tasty little unstable boulders.

Canada - Filet w: wild mushroom and truffle butter, smoked trout, frisée, bacon

Making our way towards the entrance and the Grecian booth, we picked up our souvenir cups with the special cocktail which both of us were indifferent on. Not because it was bad. We just don’t drink much. The cups were seizure inducing, like a DeadMau5 appearance, yet very cool, unlike a DeadMau5 appearance. As I type, my 6-year-old has already confiscated them for his private use. While in Greece, we ordered the chicken gyro as well as a boat of molten cheese topped with honey and roasted pistachio. I remember when the Greece booth opened a year or so ago, it had always been bypassed since the offerings appeared a bit plain jane to me. As Central Floridians, we have a cavalcade of Grecian delights within a short drive, which didn’t help motivate me to try it. The flavors on the gyro were very well done, with notes of lemon, garlic, and oregano all blanketed underneath a creamy tzatziki . If you’ve never had chicken souvlaki, this is a good representation. The melted cheese, made to resemble flaming saganaki was a study in simplicity, having only three known ingredients. That of the honey, pistachio and the cheese itself. It sure ain’t the prettiest filly in the stable. Nevertheless, on taste alone it was surely “affirmed.” Although I’ll admit to the fact that I’ll be stealing that flavor combo for personal use, I still hope in the future that this particular booth changes up their choices for a more adventurous Mediterranean take.

 Greece - Chicken gyro & Saganaki

Finally dessert was served. I have to say when we received our sampler plate of a tiramisu inspired opera gateau, blueberry lemon cheesecake Swiss roll, and passion fruit and lime gelée layered custard thing, I was baffled. This all was really great tasting stuff and wonderfully executed. We both had our preferences for the flavor combinations included in these mini offerings. I am a serious cheesecake and passion fruit guy, while James shares my passion for passion fruit and has a historic love affair with chocolate. Not only was this the most complex and complete dish, but at a $4.00 price point, it was also a comparative steal. We would like to thank the folks at Walt Disney World public relations for allowing us to be their guests. Think about the amount of food that comes out of each baby kitchen. No one had any complaints, or sent food back as far I could see and everyone was walking around dancing to the beat. We are adults acting like adolescents. Why? Because it’s a freaking great time.

Epcot Food & Wine dessert trio

Saus – Boston, MA

Writing up tasty meals in one of America’s greatest cities is a tough job, thankfully, my little sister is up for the task. It’s been a while, but we’ve got another guest post on deck from the author of Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill. Take it away Lobe!


Diana and I just took a trip to Boston. Mostly for the rich history, but also to explore the food! We asked the proprietors of Eat a Duck to guide us in the right direction, food­wise. They gave us a chunky list to choose from (two restaurants which will be featured here later) and we chose Neptune Oyster Bar as one of our first stops for lunch. Neptune doesn’t take reservations, so we figured going for lunch would give us a better shot at getting a table. Upon arriving, waiting at the front of the restaurant and being ignored by staff for an entire five minutes, we were informed that it would be an hour and a half wait. So we bailed, and headed to Saus instead.

Saus Frites

Saus was exactly what we needed. A comic-­clad “street food” shop offering all manner of frites, poutine, snacks and sandwiches. I chose the plain frites with “SamuraiSaus,” a chili and mayo combination with the shrimp and scallion fritters with a deliciously refreshing chili dipping sauce, fittingly named “green monster”. The shrimp and scallion fritters tasted like the shrimp cheong fun from La Maison Kam Fung in Montreal, only fried (‘murica.) I couldn’t decide whether to dip the fritters in my Samurai Saus or the green monster sauce. Both complimented the fritter and left a lingering heat.

Saus Shrimp & Scallion Fritter

Diana ordered the “Legit corndog” and plain poutine, something I think she’d been craving for quite some time. The corndog’s perfectly crispy batter made for a truly “legit” corndog. The poutine was classic. Delicious gravy drenched cheese curds over crispy frites. Both snacks came with quick pickles and pickled onions. The pickles were on the rare side, with enough of a cucumber twinge to make the pickle sweet and counter all the salt we were consuming.

Saus Legit Corndog & Poutine

The staff was wonderful, candid and prompt with our order. The walls were covered with framed Tintin covers (Jimmy would be pleased) which made me feel right at home. The location of this establishment is also pretty choice, it’s on Union, next door to the Union Oyster House and Bell in Hand Tavern. If those two historically rich restaurants can’t seat you right away, and you’re starving, make your way over to Saus and get satiated. You won’t be disappointed.

Saus on Urbanspoon

Sushi Pop – Oviedo, FL

I’ve noticed a trend recently of small towns, that less than a decade ago offered nothing more than aging diners and fast food chains, are sprouting innovative restaurants serving stunning cuisine on par with the best in the country (i.e. Indigenous, Red Door and Rooster & the Till). It could be that these youngsters are tired of killing themselves trying to compete with the heavy hitters in the big cities, or maybe it’s a desire to bring their talent and creativity to a new and less obvious markets. Whatever it is, these little towns are not only benefitting, but reciprocating the trust shown by these restaurants with their patronage.

A great example of this trend is Sushi Pop, a high energy, day-glo wonderland of Japanese cuisine that’s more Omotesando than Oviedo. On an otherwise sleepy street, the bright pink signage serves as a beacon to the hungry masses…in a town of less than 50,000 people. Yet when you cross the threshold, it seems as if the whole town simultaneously had a hankering for hamachi.

Sushi Pop sign & interior

For the better part of two years, a certain sibling who will remain nameless (Lobe) had been pestering me to visit Sushi Pop.  Every month or so I’d get an email detailing their latest uni shipment or some other enticing menu creation by Chef Chau (can you think of a more perfect name for a chef?). However Oviedo is not exactly convenient to get to from Miami or Sarasota. I’ve been known to travel insane distances for great food, but I was having a hard time getting in the car for a multi-hour road trip for sushi.

After finally getting the chance to visit, I am humbled. The food being created at Sushi Pop is the real thing, this ain’t some Nobu knockoff, peddling the same “high-end” Japanese that has become so tiring. Even when you see similarities, like local rock shrimp tempura with tobanjan aioli, Chef Chau and his Chef de cuisine Cesar Cruz put their own spin on it. The crudos offer a glimpse into the Valhalla of fish that is Tsukiji market where Sushi Pop sources much of their seafood. Flavor packed scallops from Hokkaido give a nod to Korea with a punchy kimchee salsa that elevates the succulent bivalves. The ominous sounding hamachi hara kiri takes the bygone samurai tradition to heart with tender cuts of yellowtail belly, fresh from a jaunt through Southeast Asia with chili garlic sauce, Thai basil, shallot oil and toasted peanuts.

Sushi Pop small plates 1

The tour of Asia’s finest cuisine isn’t confined to seafood, as is demonstrated with Sushi Pop’s take on KFC (Korean fried chicken). Sweet and spicy gochujang lacquers the crispy wings which give way to the moist meat below, spiked with toasted white sesame and scallion. You want veg? Sushi Pop executes on that front with a beautiful plate of hibachi grilled asparagus, meaty garlic braised mushrooms and soy glazed pea shoots.

Sushi Pop small plates 2

Perhaps the miso braised short rib open faced ravioli is more your speed? And why not, what with a truffled brown butter quail egg under an avalanche of tome cheese. Of course pork belly is always an option. That night the dish was a superb trio of Kurobuta tacos with braised Berkshire pork belly, hoisin bbq sauce, scallions, micro cilantro and avocado.

Sushi Pop small plates 3

It’s easy to get caught up in the early stages of the menu and forget all about Sushi Pop’s namesake. Naturally there’s an extensive list of maki rolls, many with touches of Korea, France and Porkbellistan, but the initiated will know to sample the nigiri and sashimi section first. All of the usual suspects are here, fresh from Tsukiji and priced to move, even the Otoro and Uni remained attainable. However the nigiri specials beckoned.

It’s one thing to fly in high-end fish from Japan and call it a day, it’s an entirely different thing to take said fish and start riffing. It’s a bold move, one that could easily lead to over sauced, sickeningly sweet concoctions that waste the beautiful protein. Thankfully these Oviedo otaku display incredible reverence for the seafaring treasures they serve, bestowing each with complimentary flavors that only elevate the fish. A belly duo seemed appropriate, in both salmon and yellowtail varieties. The former, adorned with Chinese ginger, shallot salsa, white soy and radish sprouts was revelation. The fat striped salmon, with it’s subdued, buttery flavor was countered with the fantastic acid from the ginger and shallot. The yellowtail, took a page out of Mr. Matsuhisa’s Peruvian inspired book with jalepeño, lime zest sauce and cilantro sprouts, fantastic.

Sushi Pop sushi

Ah it’s the end of the post, you all know what that means, dessert. Granted, Japanese restaurants aren’t typically known for their desserts, but I think we’ve established that this isn’t a normal Japanese restaurant. This is the kind that takes Japanese sweet potatoes and makes bread pudding out of it. Toasted marshmallows and a reflecting pool of Saigon crème anglaise join a nice scoop of praline ice cream, complete with a bacon hat. Not to be outdone is the P.M.S., the diabetus (sic) inducing combination of peanut butter crumbles, molten chocolate cake and salted caramel ice cream.

Sushi Pop desserts

It’s rare for a restaurant to deliver dish after stunning dish with such consistency, especially with a packed house on a Saturday night. I just hate that Sushi Pop is so far from me, or anything else for that matter! Hey Chef, keep us gulf coasters in mind when you open up your next outpost. I know a bunch of serious sushi savants who’d love a chance to savor your Tsukiji fare…just saying.

Sushi Pop on Urbanspoon

Chef (2014)

I was a 15 years old year old kid who loved music and was a pretty fair dancer. I grew up listening to big band, jazz, jump blues and swing standards from my grandfathers collection. I watched the movie Swing Kids in theaters and then bought it on VHS as soon as it became available. I learned all the moves and tried my best to emulate my friend peter and swing heil. Then came Swingers. That movie, though I’ll admit it was too adult for me at the time, introduced me to a whole new way of looking at the culture. It taught me that you don’t have to like something because it was trendy, hip, hep or rooted in nostalgia. Music is timeless. The work of Count Basie, the Stray Cats or even Hepcat is timeless for me. Why? Because it’s good music. Swingers highlighted a culture synonymous with Southern California in the mid-90’s, as a teenager, I never knew existed. Although the subject matter strays from the music more often than I’d prefer, it’s still one of my all time favorites. Never would I have imagined that Jon Favreau would ever create a film that spoke to me in such a similar way, to a point where I felt he had a clear window to my psyche.

Chef Banner

That was until I watched Chef. Obviously, I love food. Jimmy and I write or talk about it daily. Everything we eat may not make the cut, but food is a constant topic of conversation in my circle of friends. My love of food has given me opportunities I never would have gotten without it. It sustains us and brings us together. The entire process of cooking delicious food makes us happy and is oddly therapeutic. As the title character (played by Favreau himself) helps us all to appreciate. As his life is turned upside down, his mantra continues to be “I don’t care what everyone says, I don’t care about the bad things that happen, or the money, I just want to cook great food.” When you are a cook, you will never lose that love, no matter how life unfolds. Another important lesson I took to heart is that you always take the ones you love along for the ride. No matter how you perceive your mundane chores or you days spent taking care of ordinary tasks. If someone wants to be your accompaniment, you let them. That reevaluation had nothing to do with food.

Chef 2014 scenes

The other poignant topic to hone in on is that of negative critiquing. Although, I feel the arrogant food critic, the type that is going to bash so that followers laugh at their contrived venom, is slowly becoming obsolete, this movie helps you understand the power of such words. On that note, it also points to the dynamic influence social marketing has on the consumer both on negative and positive fronts. The power of one voice could crush someones business just as easy as it could trebuchet it into stardom

I don’t want to go into minutiae of the all the food loving tidbits liberally sprinkled throughout the storyline. I’ll leave them for you to discover, but prepare yourself for massive amounts of food porn. Aside from a couple of logistical issues involving mobile food licensing (It’s a sore subject for me ok!) that felt simplified for storytelling purposes, it was a masterpiece. No wait. It was a KC Master-piece!

Have you ever heard a film nerd speak excitedly about all the nods that occur in every super hero movie? It’s pretty impressive, especially since I love comics and I still miss half of the stuff until I watch them 6 months later on the Screen Junkies YouTube channel after a night of heavy libation consumption. If you’re sharp and pay attention throughout the film, you’ll find lots of food related easter eggs, not to mention all the references and cameos along the way. I left smiling from ear to ear. Even the soundtrack is well thought out. I hope you all search it out and  enjoy the movie half as much as me and Jimmy did. We both agree, for us, it’s a film that will be on constant rotation for years to come.

Chef 2014 at Franklin BBQ

I realize the initial buzz for the film has probably been reduced to a low simmer. That doesn’t matter here. We just want to share our thoughts with you guys. I for one am so glad I waited to see it at the exact moment I did, in a half full theater just outside of Norman, OK. There were audible gasps of delight and wonderment when food that was clearly not the norm in this area was served on screen. It was a great reaction and I felt proud. As the movie’s theatrical run is all but over over, look for it on demand as well as a DVD release on September 30. Or…use other nefarious ways to procur a viewing. I

Before I go, I have to say one thing, because I know it will be a sore subject to some. If you’re reading this and you saw the movie, you’ll understand. Yo Favreau! Where’s the salami bro?

The Bread Pedlar – Lakeland, FL

We rarely speak about a place unless there are heaps of dishes to discuss. Regularly, the routine is to sink into a few meals worth of content before giving our devoted approval. This time is different.

The Bread Pedlar

For years, maybe a decade even, I’ve complained about the lack of a true bread artisan within a reasonable driving distance. Sure, I’m the first one that’s willing to round-up a flock of associates to head out-of-town for good pho, dim sum or a nicely cooked piece of beef. However for bread, well, don’t we all deserve a proper loaf in every city, township and municipality throughout this great land? If you polled Will McAvoy, I’m sure lack of stellar bakeries is one of his most prominent contentions with America being the greatest land of them all. Well, that along with the number of incarcerated citizens per capita, the amount of people who believe umami is real and defensive spending to avert war. None of this is our fault of course, unless you’re the kind of person that believes America is just a place to be – no better and no worse than any other place. The variance is how much room for opportunity we have. We can literally be anything we want to be. You can be an information technology expert, a hydroponic gardener/designer, a baker or all of those combined. Ask Adrian Lucas. He is all that and probably even more. As for his drive to create greatness with his own hands, I doubt we’ve even floured the surface of his potential.

Bread Pedlar croissants

Adrian is the kind of guy who saw a gap and filled it. I recall the conversation we had one morning, standing together waiting for our weekly beignet fix. As always the topic had meandered it’s way toward food and restaurants, what the city needed. I requested a good butcher and charcuterie shop, Robyn from poor porker sounded in from her lofty perched with an order for a tasty cheese monger. Adrian asked us both “What about bread?” I could sense both Robyn and my knees kind of turn to jelly as we went weak realizing both our desires could be filled perfectly with the inclusion of a crusty piece of bread. We must have been part of some sort of secret focus group because not long after, the freaking guy was off to Europe to attend a masters class on artisanal bread making. When he returned, he got to work developing his style with a legitimate small bread oven he brought across the pond. He began putting his practice to good use by selling small quantities of his wares at the market, which is sort of where we stand today. I give a huge tip of the cap to anyone that can master this nearly lost art. I’m honestly scared of yeast. I’m afraid that if I have it in my house, it will activate and form into a Voltron-like character and destroy me while I sleep. So, you can clearly see, someone who has the power to manipulate and harness this unpredictable living being that is a ball of dough and turn it into a slice of edible art, I give a great deal admiration toward.

Don’t let all this talk of bread sway you into thinking that he is limited to a singular focus. There are a few other options, hopefully with more to come. I’d love to see something like a Pithivier. We are the ones that can make it happen if we continuously show support for this tiny, tight-knit group of artisans, until it’s obvious that they’ve filled a noticeable void in the market. They are the custard to the empty profiterole that is our town.

Bread Pedlar bike n' bread

For now, to enjoy a taste of the real life, you can only find his small bicycle drawn cart once a week. Look for a proper charming Brit with rugged good looks and calloused hands meant for baking, sporting the most authentic “Newsies” cap you’ll ever see. Do not delay. As I said before, this operation can only pump out a small sampling of amazing baked treats. He usually pumps his peddles to arrive just before 10 am at the downtown Lakeland curb market Saturday mornings, and from my experience, he will sell out of the pain au chocolat and various country-style bread loaves in less than 30 minutes.