Monday, September 28, 2009

In case you haven't noticed...

We've had to put the brakes on this thing for a while. The big move to Blue Ridge and Sonoma had already shut down work on the TV pilot, and now it's going to claim the blog as well. No worries, soon the Mad Chef will have more time to devote to this, and we'll be back bigger and badder. But for now, a brother's gotta put his head down and handle his business.

Big things ahead, and it's taking all the time there is to get there. So get the RSS feed, get the email updates, and you'll be the first to know when we're back. Soon, people. See you then!

The Mad Chef & The Brain

Wednesday, August 26, 2009



Well, I guess I have some explaining to do.

For the past 3 days I have been spending time with chef/friend Nicholas Sharpe of Sonoma restaurant. By that I mean I have been in the kitchen here rather then at Blue Ridge.

The decision came from Barton several weeks ago but only recently happened. It just so happened that I was lobbied for over the past month by the Sonoma folks, since there is only one sous here and there should be two. There are currently 2 plus the chef over at Blue Ridge and that does not include the tournand, and there isn't one here either. As much as I would love to say that it is all peaches and cream over here, Mr. Sharpe takes it upon himself to remind me I am no longer in Kansas. I have very little time to get acclimated to this kitchen and up to the standards of the former Maestro and Mio sous chef.

Standards are higher then I have ever worked with in a kitchen. Everything is kept spotless throughout service, the only person talking is the chef, no one but the chef touches the tickets at expo, everything is tasted before it leaves the kitchen, servers only interact with the chef, etc. Its nothing new when I really sit back and think about it. It is the higher standards that I have looked to work with in a kitchen for a long time. That, and constantly getting reminded that
I'm an idiot, have the hands of a brick layer, fabricate fish with a butter knife, "now" means "5 minutes ago" and so on.

They even took the liberty of hazing me after only two days in the kitchen. I was sent to Good Stuff Eatery in search of a "bacon stretcher." Now I am no expert on charcuterie, although most people know I cannot resist a good foie gras, but I knew from the moment they told me where to go and what to get, it just didn't sound right. I walked out of the restaurant and got on my phone to use the Interwebz, thank you Al Gore, and began to search this "bacon stretcher" thing.

Turns out it does exist, but I still didn't want to walk into that place to ask for it. WTF would a glorified burger joint be doing with something like that? They also told me to ask for Spike and get some free burgers. Long story short, Spike wasn't there, the guys at Good Stuff caught a good laugh, and back here Nicholas and the sous were already laughing hysterically when I got back.

This is going to be a fun kitchen, but don't think for a minute I have entered Wonderland. This Capitol Hill hot spot is going to test me to my limit, but I'm no longer the wide eyed kid I was the last time I worked in this part of town...


Deep sea fish that hovers around 1000ft deep in the sea. Hence the bubbly eyes, they pop out when they are caught on the fishing line and get brought to the surface. I also got to break down a pork loin again yesterday and talk to some farmers. We had to stick around until well after midnight because a delivery came in by way of Eco Friendly Farms and Beverly Eckelstein, as fresh as it literally gets.

A whole new world...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Heads and Tails

Sometimes we get to fabricate some pretty cool stuff in the kitchen. When an entire animal comes in, I, along with the other chefs, daydream of all the cool things we can do with the parts of the animal that are not normally used.

This pic was just as I was re-enacting an entire scene from Hamlet ("Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy...). Kitchen theater, it's all the rage.

OK, so it eventually got made into soup, but my scene went almost perfect until I began to laugh at myself for getting into a debate with the head of what was a 30 pound lamb an hour ago. Small for our standards and a poor yield for serving. Thank goodness one of us thought to make sausage for brunch!

Did anyone catch that review in the Post? I do not think I have been ripped that badly by a critic since the days of Zola, and even then we managed 2 stars. It almost reads like there were some personal issues between he and Barton. Either way the show goes on.

Barton, chef, and I realize it was fair in the assessment of many of the dishes he disliked. Well, the 3 that he did not. The fritters, I wish I could have that batch back. I have had a hand in them since day one. The vegetable pot pie came off the menu last week because none of us was happy with the dish. I forget what else he tore apart, and that is mostly because I have not read it yet. It was too depressing. Oh well, thus is life.

Out of time...more pics on the way! Ciao.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mental Health Break

So the Mad Chef just sent me some 5 paragraph scribe that looked like it was written by either my 15 month old or Sarah Palin. I was going to try and manufacture it into actual understandable English, but by the end of the second sentence, I wanted to kill myself.

So, instead, I will post pictures of puppies for your enjoyment!

Friday, August 7, 2009

There's No "I" In "Mashed Potatoes"

Thirsty Thursday...

If yesterday was hump day, why did I choose to go out and drink last night? Who knows and who cares, I will most likely end up doing the same tonite with different people. I am not an alcoholic I swear, I just like the taste of beer.

Today a surprise in the form of Frank Morales, my old chef from Zola almost 10 years ago, who paid us a visit in the kitchen and hung around for several hours. Maybe he is going to stick around for a while as Barton prepares for the zillion other ventures he has going on. Morales just recently left Rustico, which was taken over by another former chef of mine from Olives, Steve Maninno. Things could get interesting around here, having so many chefs in one place at the same time. Too many chiefs, not enough Indians would be the saying. To be a bit more PC, I will say too many chefs not enough cooks...

Tonite we did just around 150 covers out of nowhere and I ran out of mash potatoes at 9pm. Well, I noticed we were low beforehand and had another batch working when we ran out. It all would have worked out fine had Barton not been walking down the line in the middle of the rush and noticed they were being made. No, don't give any credit for jumping on the problem and finding a solution so quickly. Instead question why the fuck I was running out in the first place. "There is no I in you fucked up..." Thanks Barton.

I mean I had the potatoes ready, only one table had to wait 15 minutes for their food. Barton catching me in the act was all it took for the night to go to shit. Not even the entire day, not even the entire evening. The last 30 minutes of service sucked because of that one issue. Yeah.

Everyone left with smiles on their faces though, including Chef and Barton. It's Miller time...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Team Player


I got a day off yesterday! I met up with a friend for lunch, caught up with my friends in The Higher Concept before they hit the stage this weekend with MTV, and J Glaze just happened to be in town as well. Not to mention going to dinner with my friend Nick to Black Salt. The food was OK, we were sent out multiple comped plates from the kitchen, so we had plenty to sample. Guess it's good to be with the Chef de Cuisine of a well known restaurant sometimes.

I made it to bed before 2am, and I walked into the kitchen this morning around 9. Chef let it be known immediately that he would be leaving by 1pm and taking the day off. Uh OK, I mean it's not like I had a problem with it, but I would rather see him get an entire day like myself instead of a half. They are few and far between enough that we both appreciate it when it does happen.

Then Barton strolled in in the afternoon to go over some menu changes (again) before service. Things were great, and I was asked if I could open and be in at 8am Wednesday morning so chef could spend sometime with family that was in town. No sweat, so chef can take 2 days off, meaning my mini-vacay won't be far behind!

Or not.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Times, They Are A-Changing...Our Menu?

Where to start?

Well, I had off yesterday and had lunch with one friend and dinner with 3 others. Starting at Jaleo for drinks downtown and ending at the W hotel with the J&G. I really would love to get into the details of the evening. Let's just say dinner went well except for a few unexpected guests thinking they ruled the Interwebz with blogs and comments on sites like, while completely unaware of who yours truly worked for...

More important is one of our first reviews was published recently in the Washington Times. I would love to rip whoever wrote this a new one, but to each their own, I guess. I mean, that is if we really don't have a bread service (which we do upon request) or ever served sea bass (which we don't).

The list goes on...I think it is poorly written, and I'm telling you, I know poor writing! (Ask The Brain about the condition of some of my blog posts...) Don't even get me started on the pic! (below)

They at least could have made sure I was looking a the fucking camera. This almost beats the redundant quote for OnTap I had several months ago...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Triumvirate

May Or May Not

"James, just so you know, Anthony Bourdain may or may not be seated right now."

Thanks chef, do you just want to keep me on my toes or are you going to let me go out there at talk to that...we will leave how I feel about him aside for now. I get lines like that from time to time to make sure I am watching the food, and for chef to put a smirk on my face. Last week it was Tiger Woods, the weeks prior it was some other visiting chef or local dignitary. Let alone the mention of He Who Must Not Be Named, DC's preeminent food critic, who may or may not be checking us out at any time.

It's cool, all in a days work. Chef and I are not running around as much lately, the cooks and the new sous have stepped up in ways that we couldn't have hoped for in only a month of service. We have only been open a month? Well, a month and 2 weeks, but it feels like we are in month 6 already.

I guess that is a good thing, except for the fact that our menu has changed so much since we started it's almost laughable when I see a review in the Express magazine, and it has a picture of the trout the way we served it our first week of service. Then they go on to talk about beet leaves, and neither chef nor I can recall ever doing anything with them but grilling them with Swiss chard for a certain plate. Never have we served it as a side, and I think one of us would recall that.

I found a pint container of some type of breading the other day that tasted awesome and I had no clue what it was. I went to tell Barton that it should be going on our french toast at brunch because it was so damn good. He looked at me and told me I made it a month ago for that exact reason.

Yeah, I need a nap or something.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fresh and Clean


Well, I had the entire day off yesterday, and a friend volunteered to come over and help me clean my condo. I mean, what am I supposed to do say, no? Long story short, laundry got done, my kitchen and bathroom are immaculate and I stayed on the mellow side for once. I think I was even asleep by was nice.

After getting 8 hours of sleep for once, getting up this morning was the hardest thing ever. With no alcohol to burn off, well not too much, it seemed as if the entire day I may have been walking on air. Putting items together from the moment I walked in and getting ready for brunch.

Have I ever mentioned how I feel about brunch? The worst possible shift for a human being to work. According to Barton that is only if you drink, and guess who falls into that category? Don't get me wrong I love eating brunch, if I am up that early, but damned if I won't stick to my words about working it.

Ah well, another day come and gone. One correction from yesterday's post. Since I tend to confuse a lot of my own words from time to time, Davon Crest is on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, not in Pennsylvania. As much as I would love to put that editing issue on The Brain, it is my own. We get so much from farms in that state I tend to just type that as force of habit...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

If You Wanna Take My Picture....Then I Won't Even Shave...

Thursday evening...

Chef and Barton were at FOX for 3 hours, so I got to listen to some tunes while I cut some Sockeye Salmon from Alaska, Mahi from North Carolina, Bluefish from here, and cleaned up some calamari. Not to mention the tomato sauce and mushroom ragout that were on the stove.

Before they returned I had most of the prep done for the day and expedited most of the lunch service. Then I realized just how much there was left to do, because Wednesday's Davon crest arrives from Pennsylvania today. Tonite they brought so much stuff, including some sungold tomatoes, which were probably the best tomatoes I have ever had. Cases upon cases of stuff that we had to break down and do everything but cook so that it would fit into our walk-in, which I think I have mentioned before is the smallest in the city.

Before the lunch was over, as we were going around cleaning, a photographer actually stopped by and took some pics of the place and surprise surprise, the guy wanted a pic of the 3 of us. I can't remember if it was for the Times or the Washingtonian, but it's one of the two.

I only wish I had known about it sooner, ya know, maybe I would have shaved today?

Ch, Ch, Ch, Changes!


Things are going rather smooth in the kitchen of late. Barton is in every shift and rarely jumps behind the line, but to plate a couple of items and watch over the chef and I. The food is coming along well with the changes we have made.

It is almost too bad some critics (OK, one) have eaten in here so soon, and moreso the fact that some people just don't understand why we put certain items on a plate. Why we say it on the menu, and yet expect something more to be on it than stated? It is not like we are here to do 4 star food, we are selling a product that not many other restaurants are...letting the food do the talking. A fucking novel concept, I know!

Today chef and Barton are heading to FOX to do a segment on Blue Ridge during lunch. Not a good idea to leave the Mad Chef in a kitchen alone, with all these toys to play with!