A cathartic rambling…

Jul 25th, 2011

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….