The kitchen is a comfort zone that I find myself in daily, regardless of the place or time. For example, last night I visited the home of a neighbor— the house is historic— on a bluff over looking the ocean. The guests were all attractive and interesting people to be with.
I went to the kitchen as soon as the introductions were completed. It’s a truly spectacular wing of the house with large cabinets fronted in glass, filled with plates and glasses of every shape, color and size dating back to a time when this house may have been built (early 20th century). The house has at least 8 bedrooms by my count. As I walked through the pantry/ staging room it brought images of ocean front parties for 20 or 30 people with five and six course dinners to the front of my imagination. The chef was busy and paid little attention to my interest, a staff of four stood to his side preparing sushi rolls and wonton’s for passing on the patio outside. I continued to paint the picture in my minds eye of the meal that I would like to orchestrate in this room with the talented people who surrounded me. Those brief moments will be my favorite memory of a night that may otherwise have been a fog of quick conversation and little more.
Cooking gets to the heart of my happiest times. I can tell of days when I was ten at my Grandmothers apron strings, topping string beans or harvesting tomatoes from the garden in Whitewater Wisconsin or choosing the best loaf of brown bread at the deli in Montclair New Jersey. Two things ring clear from those memories, it is all important to take time in choosing the best ingredients and they are nothing if not prepared with love and care. My grandmothers were both superb cooks with two drastically different backgrounds. Grandma Cee Cee Ambrose had been born and raised in Americas’ heartland and new how to cook from scratch because that was the only way it was done.
My Grandma Andre had been born in Amsterdam and raised traveling the world, her father was the President of the Holland America line and as a child she saw the sights and tasted the flavors that only a child with her family connections could experience. They included walking the Great Wall of China and cruising the Amazon. From her kitchen in Montclair the flavors were more worldly, most created to suit the palate of my Russian born Grandfather Jules Andre but the philosophy of cooking was very similar. Start with products that you source from those you trust and take time and care to prepare them.
As a boy scout I was often given the assignment to organize meals on our camp outs and over night outings. Without knowing it I choose to follow the values that I had learned from both of my grandmothers. On more than one occasion I vividly recall carrying three or four large turkeys into camp for preparation on an open fire or in the Dutch ovens. Winter camp outs involved large slabs of Canadian bacon and in some cases I had the responsibility of holding them in the bottom of a sleeping bag to keep it from freezing before the morning meal. I found enjoyment in the process of planning and preparing a meal and I enjoyed the occasional reward of not having to clean up as the other scouts would take on those duties.
From the beginning fresh, wholesome products have been the basis of my menus. If the day called for grilling lunch on the side of a river it would have to be freshly made Wisconsin bratwurst or freshly ground beef for burgers. I still cook like that today. Looking for unique, stylized ingredients is an adventure and as a chef in a highly competitive market living the adventure requires a great deal of effort and I love every minute of it.
As my pursuits changed from recreational to professional, learning new techniques and styles continue as my passion. In the 1990’s I traveled America observing in kitchens and briefly working for top chefs in cities like New Orleans, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. I learned the flavors of Thailand from Fred Erica of Vida in L.A. and Michael Mina at Aqua, San Francisco taught me to make a miso glaze that would flavor and preserve Black Cod. While visiting Susan Spicer’s kitchen at Bayonna in New Orleans I saw a vegetable smoker for the first time and her staff turned my head to the idea of crusting catfish in cornmeal and spices.
New York’s famed chef Charlie Palmer got me started when he invited me to spend as much time as I needed in his wonderful kitchen at Aureole and from that experience I created the potato crusted flounder recipe that has won raves from Estia customers over the past 15 years.
As the executive chef at Le Gourmet Chef I intend to continue the search for creative energy. This new assignment gives me incentive to pursue adventure by exploring the sources of food, drink and all of the elements that are incorporated into the field of entertaining. In the past few weeks I’ve already visited an authentic salmon smoke house on Irelands southern coast and an oatmeal plant just outside of Dublin. The visits were full of new horizons and information that I look forward to using in my kitchens and in presentations as I cross the country representing Le Gourmet Chef.
Entertaining is still as exciting for me today as it was watching my grandparents prepare for a holiday feast back in the early 60’s. Fresh and colorful is my motto, The Kitchen Chronicles will be your sous chefs position to stand along my side. Join in the adventure of cooking fresh and wholesome food for entertaining Le Gourmet Chef style.