This is a rant. You have been warned.

I do not write on here as often as I’d like, but I’d rather keep silent than just spout sweet nothings onto the digital page. But this night I have something to say.

If you come to wherever I’m cooking, and proceed to tell me how you expect to see a fucking chicken mushroom pasta on the menu, as if it was the pinnacle of gastronomy, then forgive me for using my right as a Chef and professional to tell you to fuck off.

Nothing is more annoying than dealing with guests who claim to understand about food when every single syllable escaping from their unfortunate faces proves their ignorance. I tell myself that maybe their intimidated by the beard, by the TV persona, by the chef’s jacket and apron punctuated by the scars on my hands. Maybe they want to get my respect? That’s me making excuses for other people. The reality of the fact is that those selfsame people are – more often than not – vapid, selfie-stick fashionistas who wouldnt know the difference between boiled water and a cup of tea.

The only reason I like to cook is to hopefully create something new and enjoyable. To attempt to educate and recreate emotions. Like the first time I ate peanut butter, or the feeling I get when frying eggs in butter, listening to the sizzle and pop and the sweet nutty aroma of the foaming butter dances up my nose and tickles my head-brain.

I don’t want to create a menu to feed you what you can get elsewhere, but to create something you can only have when *I’m* cooking it. It’s like the difference between a cover band and the real thing: it’ll always be a fascimille of the original and can only ever aspire to be a decent copy. Last time i checked, no one was buying albums of cover bands.

This path of creation invariably leaves me open to criticism. Fine. I can take criticism, but not when its so vague and ill informed that it can’t possibly be correct. An especially offensive young lady proclaimed herself “a Fettucine expert” before complaining that she was unhappy with the flavor of her pasta because “it tasted of mushrooms and had black specks in it”. I wasnt sure how to respond: it was a mushroom pasta and we finished it with cracked black pepper. It was spot on in every metric we use in the kitchen. Yet right in front of me was a woman declaring (quite loudly, i might add) that in “all her years of eating fettucine, she’s never seen anyone make it like this.”

My mental response used very colorful language, however the words I permitted to leave my mouth were “I apologise for every horrible plate of pasta you’ve mistakenly accepted as ‘good’. What is in front of you is the product of much thought, hard work and care. If food prepared with respect isn’t to your liking, I recommend returning to the sorry excuse for an italian restaurant you’re happy with and staying there.”

Since then, I’ve been subject to a number of similar incidents. There was the gentleman who ordered duck breast then returned it because “it didn’t taste familiar”. When pressed for more details, it was revealed he had never eaten duck before. There was another gentleman who informed me that his idea of a perfect pizza was a super supreme stuffed crust pizza from pizza hut and that I should try to make a pizza like that one to satisfy his “expert” palate. Imagine my internal dialogue! In my head, I was relieving them of their vital organs, sauteeing in garlic and onion, then serving it to their stupid, misinformed and ridiculous faces.

What’s the point of even cooking, then? Why spend hours upon hours honing our craft and making an expertly reduced demi-glace when the powdered version is hailed as being the “perfect” sauce?
When a customer complains of the green crunchy things in their salad, why bother even sourcing and shelling boxes of pistachios?

Because we’re better than that. We’re better than the people only interested in the latest trendy spot opened by the trendy restaurauter. We’re trying to prepare food that has context: Freek and Pearl barley may not be as fashionable as Quinoa and Arborio rice, but they’re locally grown and carry merits of their own, beyond the shallow marketing and belabored buzzwords of the PR and social media machine.

When you come to my restaurant, please leave your pretention at the door, and bring an extra bag of consideration. The Kitchen staff and wait staff are not your temporary slaves: in this arena, we are your betters and you would do well to show us the respect we afford to you.

And to the next person who complains their well done steak is dry: please do yourself a favor and shut your pie hole: everyone is stupider for having listened to you.

Burnt to a crisp, 15 minutes

Get back in the Kitchen!

It’s been a minute.

Ever since my beard started hosting its own cooking program 2.5 years ago, I haven’t really had any time to write articles, especially since my first restaurant, Chef’s Market, opened around the same time as this whole TV thing.

It’s terribly flattering and affords me recognition from people I admire and respect for my cooking, as well as an influence on how we eat and why. I’ve given a number of interviews about what its like being a TV celebrity chef so I’ll let those give you all the information. I’m just here to talk.

Cooking requires practice, so does writing. Only through practice do you get better and maintain a keen edge. That having been said, I fear my writing has been dulled through years of disuse. And twitter. Seriously, twitter has spoiled me and Instagram ruined me. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? So no caption needed, right? lets throw in some hashtags and we’ll be golden. #brainatrophy

So what am I on about? this post is just a flexing of the muscles, a clearing of the cognitive cobwebs. I must remember about baby steps – take it one day at a time. So this is short, but I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things. Maybe a post about the restaurant? maybe a treatise on the show, Matbakh 101? How does a few posts on my creative space, the Arabesque Development Kitchen? Many things are coming, and winter is certainly one of them.

Oh there will be recipes. For sure. In the meantime, thanks for reading. I’ve missed you (I’m looking at my keyboard).

Raw preparation, 15 minutes

Redeeming Fieri

A restaurant review of Guy Fieri’s newest concept in the New York Times has recently gone viral. The platinum blonde, husky host of Diner’s Drive ins and Dives is an easy target; he’s not known for subtlety nor for setting the world of gastronomy on fire. His concepts – much like his TV show “Diners Drive-ins and Dives” – are all about food that he would like to eat himself.

Fieri flingin' flava!

Fieri flingin’ flava!

In that regard, I can understand why a snooty food reviewer would be inclinded to fire off on all cylinders and write a hyperbolic review of a restaurant created to take advantage of Mr. Fieri’s Celebrity, especially when paired with the tourist trap appeal of Times Square. Reading the review, it became apparent that the only difference between this new outlet and other established American dining chains like Ruby Tuesday’s or Chili’s, is the fact that there is a Food Network Celebrity’s name attached to the sign out front.

I doubt he cooks there himself, and I’m fairly certain the recipes were developed by an underling and approved by at a tasting session by a group of Bluetooth-equipped suits. Mr. Fieri is all about marketing the concept. So, with that being the context, one wonders if the restaurant even merited a review in the first place? Certainly the review was a pointed and at times personal attack, and reading between the lines, it seems the men and women on the ground – the people actually preparing the food – were the ones at fault.

Yet the piece became extremely popular; even to merit a response by Guy himself who explained that the staff may require retraining – while at the same time reaffirming faith in the concept. The sensationalist piece spawned another article as to whether or not a negative review actually affects customer’s willingness to try out the restaurant. Interestingly, it did not, and even encouraged some people to try it to see how bad it really was. Sort of like watching a train wreck – we know we shouldn’t gawk, but we can’t look away either. This review probably did Guy Fieri a big favor by putting the spotlight on a new restaurant, and perhaps even opened a few doors for high profile appearances at the location.

In this light, I can’t help but be on Guy’s side: the plucky Food Network Star standing on the event horizon of a New York Times Black hole review. And honestly even if the food was as advertised, was he going to get a 4 star review? I certainly wouldn’t have given 4 stars, no matter how much I enjoyed the food; but I’m prejudiced and I’ll admit it. The New York Times should admit it, too.

Contrast that review with another, decidedly negative review of a Neuro-Gastronomy restaurant in New York. Yes! This is what food writing is all about. There was no hyperbole in the review: just brass tacks. It reads like a cautionary tale of culinary snobbery, pretentiousness and blindness. That’s a review I can take seriously; I would no more go to that restaurant than have dinner at a “lights out” restaurant. But while both reviews document restaurants that are – at their core – gimmicks; one has a gimmick we can appreciate, while the other is made at our expense.

There is a lesson to be learned here. The restaurant industry is not an easy one, and it doesn’t get easier at the top. Restaurateurs and Executive Chefs may not slave away in front of an army of saucepans; but the job trades one set of physical burns for another set of emotional ones. The emotional ones tend to be more expensive to heal.

Percolated, 35 Minutes.

The Pop Up: Chef

It seems like I’ve been talking about this project everywhere except on my own website. I blame twitter because there is instant feedback and the pressure to write a particularly interesting post dissolves when you’re faced with 140 characters. I’m sure there’s an observation to be made about decreasing attention spans or the power of haiku styled tweets; but let’s be honest and say it: I’ve been lazy busy.

The story of the Pop up and it’s progression has been documented in a number of online and print publications, as well as on my twitter feed or the Pop-up facebook page. Please excuse the cellphone pictures of the food; my photographer friend has been too busy walking the spanish countryside.

I’ve aggregated the full list of links below; If you haven’t seen these yet, please take a look and leave a quick message about how I’ve changed your life and given your palate a purpose to keep on living.

Chef’s Table listing on Guestaurant

Big Bang Theory by David Blanks, Daily News Egypt [Review]

A Victorious Concept by Sarah Khanna, Egypt Monocle [Review]

Sit at the table of a Top Chef by Dalia Ferrer, Ahram Online [Interview]

Pulling the Strings by Wesam Masoud, Egypt Monocle [Opinion]

5 minutes, nuked.

 

Internet Trolling: Grab Bag edition!

I do a fair bit of web surfing. I ride the big waves like the New York Times or Chowhound, and occaisonally find myself in the backwaters of I-am-bored.com or 4chan. Othertimes, I’m taken by my browser to darker, more disturbing waters – where Lara Croft has an affinity for multiple appendages. I;m then reminded of Rule 34 of the internet.

So on these surfing trips, I came across a few humorous and interesting pages I liked so much, I took time out of my super busy schedule writing recipes for a new Gastropub and wrote this post. For you.

Now don’t you feel special?

Going Out To Dinner With Food-Loving Friend A Huge Ordeal I’m not like that; but I can be if I’m out to dinner with another foodie. Then it’s just a masochistic gripefest.

The Pasta Naming game: I got 5 wrong. Don’t tell anyone.

The Ancient Egyptians invented pie crusts. Score another one for Egyptian Food History!

17 Best Picture Food Scenes: Kinda reads like an advertisement for the DVDs, but these list 17 scenes from 17 Oscar winning Best Pictures. Kinda pointless, really.Shouldn’t have linked it; but I wrote this line already.

How Panko is really made: Electrocuted bread. That’s how they do it in factories, anyway. and a coarse grain. This video will demystify the panko and should give you an idea of how you can make a viable substitute at home. Clue: High hydration, hi salt, hi yeast slow cooked dough. (Note to self – NHCIA test kitchen episode!)

Cooking Time: 3 minutes.

Midnight Snackbox: Thomas Keller’s Spanglish Sandwich

Strange things happen when I’m sick with the flu. It happens a bit too often (according to the Bouch) but when it does I can take advantage of my stress free and congested sick day to play around in my home kitchen. Plus I get the munchies something awful when I’m sick.

If you haven’t seen the movie Spanglish starring Adam Sandler, then you aren’t missing much in the way of cinematic excellence. What you are missing, is arguably the world’s greatest sandwich designed by arguably the greatest American chef Thomas Keller. He consulted on the movie – Adam Sandler plays a successful chef – and created a simple yet mind-blowing sandwich everyone with a full set of teeth needs to try.

The video of Mr Keller teaching Mr Sandler, with recipe, is here.

I’ve been making this sandwich myself quite often these past few days; mainly for 1 reason: I have in my possession a package of smoked streaky beef bacon from EgySwiss. The same beef bacon we use over at Top Dawgs. While it’s not as fatty as I would like (Oscar Meyer turkey bacon from La Fromagerie is still a superior albeit more expensive product) a few experiments allowed me to get around the lamentable lack of fats. What’s wrong with no fat? Well 2 things: First, fat is flavor, so there’s that. and #2, the beef bacon dries up too quickly. As it stands now, the packaged bacon is sliced too thinly – a thicker cut may yield a better cooked product. But the flavor is pretty damn good.

The solution is to shallow fry the bacon in some foaming butter over a medium heat. after flipping once, I lay them out on a rack and allow them to crisp up in a 140C oven till I get the rest of the ingredients ready.

Other notable departures from Chef Keller’s recipe were the omission of the cheese and the lettuce – I’m not usually a fan of cheese on my sandwiches (personal preference) and I had no lettuce. I did add caramelized onions and Dijon mustard to provide a bit more kick to the entire affair. It’s important to remember that the key is a runny egg yolk – overeasy eggs need not apply.

This is what I ended up eating in 30 seconds.

Now I realize that most of you won’t be getting your hands on EgySwiss’ Beef Bacon any tme soon since their not available for commercial retail. But that doesn’t mean there is no hope – EgySwiss also has a very good smoked duck breast, which when sliced thinly and fried up in butter will hit the same flavor notes, just not the same textural ones. You could even go native and use Al Marai Bastirma (or other low garlic bastirma) and make yourself a posh Egg and Bastirma sandwich.

You’re welcome.

Cooking Time 10 minutes.

Internet Trolling: Happy Beefgiving Day!

What the hell is beefgiving day anyway?

In true Aussie fashion – where babies are eaten by dingos (sorry bout ya baby) and its considered normal to walk upright on the bottom of the earth – Meat and Livestock Australia have concocted Beefgiving day to encourage consumers to think of beef when they take their barbies out in the hot sun this summer.

Beefgiving day, it would seem, is a day to bring together adversaries over the pleasures of the seared flesh. It is in this spirit that a video has been created by a company called Kindling Media to show two Australian politicians coming together over beef cooked in a flying kitchen over the Australian parliament house in Canberra. I wonder if the Aussies are aware that to “have beef” with someone means to “have or start agrudge against another person” – this makes the concept of the video incongruous to the little 2Pac in all of us.

Here in Egypt, Australian Beef is routinely touted as the best money can buy, with Gourmet Egypt cornering the market on upside down cattle through their mother company, AM Foods. Australian Beef is on offer at almost every 4 or 5 star hotel in Egypt, as well as a few well regarded Cairo restaurants. For flavor and consistency in quality, it stands above most other options; but being the Red, White and Black blooded Egyptian that I am, I’d prefer to see more use of Egyptian cattle at these restaurants.

We can’t expect the Egyptian Food Service Industry to recover, let alone grow, if we keep importing foreign (and faraway) ingredients while our own locally produced pantry is ignored and slighted. Keeping local means keeping costs down. And if local Egyptian producers aren’t cutting the mustard (‘scuse pun); then w should work with them and demand a better product. Eventually we’ll get there, and on the way, we just might give this industry the boost it needs.

Poached, 10 minutes