Dinner Shows • Classes • Catering • Culinary Shop
EVOO Cooking School

A cathartic rambling…

First and foremost our goal at EVOO is to provide a good dining experience that also inspires our guests to make the recipes at home. We know that our approach with ingredients and techniques has to be attainable for them. No molecular gastronomy for us! I admit I enjoy the concept and do follow it to a degree because cooking has always been science to me. But the way to inspire home cooking is not going to happen if our guests have to first buy a kitchen chemistry set.  We even apologize when our recipes are longer than five or six ingredients. We encourage our customers to be free spirits when it comes to recipes—using what is available instead of following a recipe to the letter.

That is the easiest part of my job. What I find continually challenging, is sticking to our commitment to sustainability. In the beginning of our business here in Cannon Beach, we described our desire to use local sustainable and organic ingredients in every class. And in the beginning we had to define what those words meant. Fast forward to today, defining the words has been all but dropped in our nightly discussions of food, a good sign that more people are learning about the practice. Still the sustainability mantra that we profess continues, and seems even more challenging. We have had to insert the words, “we strive to be” sustainable when speaking about our policies, because the more we learn the more we know how much farther we need to go. It’s humbling. If we were closer to the city (Portland) and maybe a bigger name or deeper pockets, we might be better able to get the ingredients we want.

Lenore and I are taking a day off, so this morning slept in and actually had a cooked breakfast of eggs instead of our typical shredded wheat and fruit. Day off just means I don’t have to go in to the school, but do need to place orders. I just got off the phone with some of my vendors for tomorrow’s market dinner and Lenore turned to me and said, wow, you really go to allot of trouble to get the products that you want. “Are salmon available?” “Where are they coming from?” “How are they caught?” Yes, they are available, gill net out of nearby Young’s Bay. Anything, line caught, I ask next? He tells me only troll caught out of the Rogue River, pretty smallish but still fat and good eating, so I ordered one for tomorrow’s dinner. This call came after already checking with the local market vendors first. I always give Linda Brand Crab, for example, first right of refusal, so to speak.

Finding naturally raised and finished beef is also a roller coaster ride for us. For a short time we worked with a small ranch in Oregon and enjoyed totally natural beef. Then they were forced to close for financial reasons when the recession hit and we could no longer get grass fed beef. Finally found another farm, but had to forgo the natural finishing because this farm trucked the steers to be processed in California, requiring them to eat grain/not grass for several weeks at the end of their lives. For now we are still searching, though I am considering dropping beef from my menus until I can find a completely grass fed and finished local product.

Naturally grass fed/finished cattle are available for the retail consumer. Of course these come frozen and in all varieties of meat cuts. I could go that route, though consumer perception is that frozen product is inferior to fresh. And least we forget there’s a big hit to our carbon foot print by keeping it in a freezer. And our clientele may not be ready for eating all that a whole carcass has to offer. Still it appeals to us to see if they are. After all, it is our mission to provide inspiration for home cooks to make our recipes at home. That said, by demonstrating how to use whole or sides of beef we might be giving them what they want. It means using all the lesser known cuts, and even the offal. It would demonstrate more sustainability because even using a freezer would be better than the fact that this summer I am requiring tenderloins from three animals per weekend to serve tenderloin on the menu just the month of July. Five weeks in July, and that is 15 steers just for one month on my menu. Really makes me stop and think about using that mantra of sustainable ingredients!

I will keep examining my practices and keep searching for the products I respect.  I appreciate them that much more when they show up at my door. Often I am the one to prepare them, too. It is a long way from my days as an executive chef—code for never touching food. I am the one who sees to it that the fish is well iced; that the herbs are in fresh water standing up under a cheesecloth umbrella; that the garlic and onions, and all staples, are rotated so they don’t begin to sprout or worse. When the fish arrives less than 24 hours from catch I can’t help feel exhilarated and grateful. On the flip side, I feel rotten whenever I find something well past prime in my refrigerator that I cannot use and must discard.

Right now, I am going to work on another form of sustainability; that of balancing Lenore and my work life with dinner and a movie with friends. Till next time….


My day off

We had been asked for a date to serve a small group described as foster kids, who were meeting from all over the country in Seaside, Oregon’s headquarters for the foster club, and who their director believed would gain allot from one of our dining experiences. We finally settled on a lunch experience on my day off, this past Monday. It was two years in the making already so we felt it was worth it to give up one day off.

So we put together a four course luncheon for who we pictured was our audience. We served fresh veggie and Oregon pink shrimp spring rolls with a gazpacho shooter to start, followed by a tenderloin kabob with Koren spices and a vegetable fried rice; next a fresh salad with strawberries and blue cheese and last a double chocolate cup cake with graham cracker crust and a whipped marshmallow meringue on top. It sounded like foods “kids” might like and we came in will no other expectation.

We were anxious to hear more about the Foster Club organization, but waited until we had served a couple courses before we took time to go around and hear from them. Lenore asked each to tell us their name, where they were from and what they hoped to accomplish in their lives. After the first two took their turns, we were hooked and almost fixated on their every word. Our emotions were stirring up and kept us fully attending till the last story was told. It took only about 15 minutes. I was stunned by their poise and articulation in telling what seemed like deep personal insights that I imagined the average person coming to sometime in their thirties. Each told how long they had been in foster care and one expanded saying that during their time in foster care that they had attended 17 different schools before graduating from high school. One said she was 21 and a senior at Stanford but that she had been in foster care for several years and found that she had grown to appreciate that her experience with Foster Club now was certainly helping her meet her goals as an adult. Every story hit us in such a way that we were instantly changed on the spot.  Our own attitudes and understanding of the foster care system were coming into focus and would be changed forever by this day.

Lenore was too choked up by the time the last person spoke, so I rescued her and pulled our attention back to the food. All the time I was aware now that my job was not nearly as important or meaningful as what these kids were going to accomplish with their lives. A few of them were going to leave the next morning to testify on Capitol hill, in Washington DC about foster care. To say we were humbled is an understatement.

We were changed. The rest of the meal we laughed and talked about food and Harry Potter, hoping no one would say too much as Lenore and I were planning to see the movie that evening.

Upon saying goodbye everyone came to each of us and shook our hands, often giving us tight hugs as well, again with that unexpected self-confidence and poise of a much older person. They each expressed their enjoyment and appreciation for the day. One woman said she never met anyone like my wife who had only known them for 2o minutes, yet who understood and she could see how much she cared.

Lenore’s tears were from joy for the most part. A faith in the character and leadership of these individuals. It was exhilarating. It was a good day off!


Cool

Ah, summer has arrived. The summer heat beating down onto our thin black asphalt roof coupled with no insulation is enough to melt our computers in our attic office; consequently it is the only room that has AC. Our dogs are sequestered in the air conditioned room; Lenore is up there too. When she comes down stairs she marvels at how cool it is down here. Really? She says it is hard to regulate the temperature up stairs–she is either freezing from AC or sweating after tuning it down. She cannot hear our music playing during the summer, because the AC is humming intermittently. She welcomes the chance to spend time downstairs.

Downstairs every screened window is opened and some floor fans blowing the fresh ocean air around. But make no mistake we still feel the heat of the stove and ovens as we prepare for tonight’s dinner. Our lunch guests are filling up the tables outside on our deck while they partake of fresh bowls of my pasta and sauce. Some customers still prefer to gather around my stove inside, and I enjoy their company while I am cooking.

As in past seasons we serve European-style Cheese Boards–we are calling them BOB’S BOARDS because I am choosing great bulk cheeses we’ve never carried before and matching them up with some of the new dry aged cured sausages we do carry now (soon to be our very own recipes). Some of our guests say they really enjoy the leisure atmosphere here, long enough to enjoy a full bottle of wine and some good food. Some say “healthy” food; I think I know that they mean “whole foods” prepared fresh on premise. We gladly fulfill that niche for them. It is what we do best. Start from scratch and create dishes we love to eat too. Summer is heating up, but for me it is cool.