swining and dining

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Good Morning Hong Kong!!!!!!!!!

My friend Beverly was a radio DJ, excuse me in HK its Radio Presenter, for a weekly radio show, she is no longer there but kindly called her old partner and asked if he, Kevin, would like a radio guest, "famed" Chef Rodelio from Los Angeles (Whatever right). he jumped at the opportunity to interview yours truly...who wouldn't.

After we had dinner at Lucy's, the charming cozy restaurant in Stanley Village, we ventured to Kowloon, what was supposed to take 35 minutes took alsmost 2 hours as we got lost and lost and lost, (Bless Beverly for not cracking under the pressure) As the adventure to the radio station entered its 100 minute, we would listen to Kevin previewing the interview with me, "We're lost!" . I would shout at the radio, I'm coming.

Finally we arrived close to 1am....tired and frustrated I met Kevin and his visiting Mother from Belfast and we got to it. The interview was for an hour as we talked about food, Asian culture, Filipino food, life, traveling and music...it was really cool...maybe a glimpse of a second career?

We got back @ 3am and I prepared to leave the next day for Vietnam, my buddies Frank and Joe were arriving the day after me so I had one evening in Vietnam on my own. But first there was one more 5 star meal to be had at Bo Innovation, a cutting edge chef named Kevin Leung, a maverick and self promoted "Demon Chef". Self taught and inspired by Ferran Adria and Alain Ducasse, his menu was very French with Asian touches...tasting menu it is.

We started with an array of amuse bouche, the most memeorable was toro sushi with foie gras flakes. Followed was a tempura frog leg with a truffled porridge, quite nice. The remaining dishes were plated on misproportioned plates and lacked sophistication and flavor. The intentions of his menu were honorable, but once again I was subjected to style over substance. Something us Chefs get caught up in...this trip has definitely fortified my sensibilities and my style of cooking. My desire to stay within myself and cook with style and have substance on the plate. We left the meal and went to have noodles down the street before I headed to the airport.

I arrived in Saigon later that night, after checking into my hotel, a fabulous one at that, I hopped on a pedicab and went for a midnight swine hunt (no not that swine...this is a family blog...thought the ladies were out in full force) I found a corner cafe and ordered a bowl of pho and lemograss pork chop....amazing...of course it was because my good ole pal, Bill Clinton's picture was hanging in the restaurant...I really want to go restaurant hopping with this cat. After my meal I venture thru the night market then eventually turned in for the night...alone, you guys are funny.

The next day Frank and Joe arrived eagerly ready to venture and eat...before they arrived and I caught up with the Madness, March Madness...I'm a big UCLA Bruin fan and Final Four Baby....(for those of you who don't know I went to school there)...GO BRUINS!!!!!!!!!!

The night before I made friends with the pedicab drivers and we decided to take the pedicab tour...pure madness!!!! Will have to leave you hanging there...the lunch bell is ringing...we preordered the suckling pig and can't be late. Swine at first bite.

SA miss you tons, wish you were with me, I smile when I think of you. A shout out to "Carmelake", have a great convention in LA.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Hong Kong.....damn thats a big Chinatown!

One of my comments to my buddy Brian about going to Hong Kong was "Is there an "Americantown". Hong Kong is many things...picturesque, fast paced, international, a "big city" feel... and definitely a stop for anyone going to Asia.

After arriving at a probably the most advanced airport in the world, I boarded a train to meet my highschool friend Beverly @ the downtown station. After she picked me and got me settled, she handed me the 2006 HK Magazine Restaurant Guide..."pick where you want to go!" We decided to indulge ourselves to a night of Dim Sum, at a five star Restaurant named "Dim Sum". I took command of ordering as usual and went to town...the dim sum was not that different to what I have eaten in NY, LA and SF...what was different and good were the accompaning sauces (no chinese mustard available here guys) from tangy to salty to sweet, each dim sum had a sauce. Some of my fav dishes were good, like salt pepper pork chops and salted fish and chicken fried rice. We finished our meal with don tah and mango pudding, classics, they were better than advertised. Beverly held her own and didn't flinched to the amount of food I ordered. This was only the start to Beverly partaking into the food follies to come. The next day would bring my "Chef Partner in Crime" Frank and his NY Bro Joe...."eh howya doin'?"

Met up with Frank and Joe the next AM, we decided to take off for Kowloon, just north of Hong Kong. Kowloon is a bargain shoppers paradise...imagine blocks on blocks of shopping, jewerly, electronics, clothes, if its made in China, its in Kowloon. We wandered the streets for a few hours with a brief stop at an electronics store to get my ass beat by Frank on "XBOX360-Boxing"...I needed a pick me up lunch so I busted out the "Guide" ah a five star Peking duck Restaurant again aptly named "Peking Restaurant". We tried to find the place on our own...."taxi!" was shouted 15 minutes later. We got there...we thought....walked up some steps, read the sign...this is it. We, of course, got the only english speaking waiter..."take us on a trip, whats the specialty of the house?...we got duck...duh. along with the duck we ordered pork with peppers, chili prawns, and "fish a la squirrel"...we had too.

After our 3rd beer each, we devored the pork , prawns, and still no "fish a la squirrel"...then suddenly a large plate of butterflied deep fried fish topped with this orange glaze arrived at the table...no squirrel, just the name on the menu (we thought it was hilarious) msrketing baby, we bought it. The fish was crispy and lathered in a sweet and sour sauce, quite good, but not as good as the Peking duck served with pancakes. (I'm partial to the pancakes over the steamed buns when I have duck.) We stolled out of there 4 beer down (each of course), we needed a walk so we decided to take the ferry across back to Hong Kong. Kowloon and hong Kong has a lot of open air food markets...not for the weak stomach, the seafood was not iced, but fresh, so fresh the hearts (fish) were still beating (I kid you not), the meats just butchered and hung in front of you, the produce so varied and beautiful...we wished we could just buy some ingredients and cook ourselves.

When I'm traveling I often forget the date, this day was St. Patty's Day...everybody celebrates this day...and did we later that evening, but first, dinner was scheduled at another five star restaurant (3 in 1 1/2 days...not bad). The place was called Lumiere, why there? well the restaurant was billed as a fusion of flavors of Sicuan and South American Flavors. The place was stunning, even more stunning was the view from our table of the Hong Kong Harbor....thats were the stunning stopped. The food, lets just say...you won't be seeing Sicuan and South American Restaurants in the states soon. The food was bland, I think they payed it safe and didn't want to venture one way or another, we were all unimpressed (I was already looking forward to a late night congee stop) We ended up in Lai Kwan Fong (I hope I spelled that right) an area of bars loadede with chinese and westerners. the guiness wasa flowin...the big green hats wasa wearing....the booze wasa drinking (open containers in the streets (whata country)....We hooked up with friends of Beverly's and shook our "asses" at a local disco. That was fun. And yes I got my congee with BBQ Pork.

On tap Macau....Macau is part of the SAR of China (formerly under Portuguese Rule), but is still considered another country. Macau is being touted as "The Las Vegas of Asia"... and it was. We took the hour long turbo jet ferry to Macau, on the ferry we met a lovely girl who was a tour guide. Where do we eat? "Fernando's" as her eyes lit up, Beverly's also recommended this place. Apparently Macau is becoming a food haven...and you know me and havens. Fernandos it is. The taxi took us past the strip and casinos to what looked like the Macau Riviera. On this beach nicely tucked away we arrived at "Ristorante Fernandos" One smell was all it took. Frank and I said "This is gonna be good" Fernando's is a family run and is housed in a brick building with a patio reminicent of Europe. The tables were covered with checkerboard patterned table clothes...just my style. We got a tabler in fifteen minutes, at this point were 2 beers down. We ordered like royalty...chorizo, roasted chicken, grilled sea bream, grilled cuttlefish, sauteed garlic whole prawns (the best I've had) suckling pig (what?) drunken steak, steamed clams. It was one of the most memorable meals on my trip...flavor, flavor, flavor...no frills and great bottle of Portuguese red wine. DONE!!!! Who would of thought this...It is seriously woth the day trip to Macau. We then walked into the kitchen and took pictures and watched the cooks....just cook, simply and with passion. That meal was the only thing we ate that day....no BS.

We then took in the local sites and markets, filling the day with adventure after adventure ending up at a Casino...bottle service there is a must...a bottle of Jack Daniels ($60), we finished the bottle and at that point we were happy...stumbled back to the ferry and went home. Great meal and great dessert.

And thats just day 2...still to come my Hong Kong Radio Talk Show debut, shopping in Stanley Village and off to Vietnam. I'll swine you up soon.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

I'm baaaaaaaaaack....just kidn, just a little tease

Miss me, come on!!!!!!!!!!! sing it!!!

you know you miss me, you know you missime blind!!!!

Not "swining" long, just a quick note to say....I have found the swine!, OK I'm bloggin from a 5 Star Hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia...(I'm roughing it)...anyway back to that later...its been a week...what a week.

I'm setting some time aside tommorrow (before my 5 hour spa treatment) to catch you all up. Heres a quick rundown....Hong Kong dining paradise, shoppers paradise....Macau, "what happens in Macau, stays in Macau!"...anyway I got to tell you of the best meal so far on my trip...ita all about Fernando's in Macau...Saigon...pedicab tours, tunneling, shooting M-16s...late night Bahn Mi and Pork chops...Cambodia, cooking demo for the Cambodian kids at the Angor Wat Temple's Market, you gotta hear that one...

So look for the S'wine...coming soon

Friday, March 17, 2006

Time flies..... when your swining

Are you kidding me, my time in Oz is over, let see....six rounds of golf (thats equivalent to walking 30 miles) dozens of beers, bottles of wine, enough lamb to hold me over till next spring (damn that lamb kebab was good!), pages of food notes and creative brainstorming and most importantly...I took it all in, no cell phones, no cooks not showing up, no customer complaints...just good ol fun and food.

Its been a great 2 weeks so far, I think part of me was just cruising and pacing myself for the next couple of weeks. From Melbourne I venture to Hong Kong where I meet up with my chef buddy Frank and other recruits for the "Southeast Asian Fest of 2006". I will also be seeing an old highschool classmate, Beverly, she and her husband have lived in Hong Kong for 8 years now...I'm sure she will know a few cool places to go to.

Before leaving Melbourne, Brian and I took a journey to Bells Beach, home of Australian Surfing, there we ate at Los Cabos, one of two burrito joints in Melbourne. Yet another business opportunity, the burritos were weak...weak...weak. Brian has really got to get on this and open his burrito shop. We also had Fish and Chips, love what these shops do, you can choose the type of fish you want fried and how much you want to eat, there are 6-10 different types of fish available. I really enjoyed my fish and chips.

Looking back, the time here was well spent...I've haven't felt this relaxed and inspired in a long time. We caught the opening ceremonies for the Commonwealth Games on the tele, Melbourne was definitely on "center stage". Though I didn't have a major epicurean moment, the overall food scene in Melbourne is enjoyable...many highs and some unexpected lows. Would I rank it in the class of New York or San Francisco.....ah "nope". But if you were traveling to Melbourne, the food would add to the experience. I'm sure I missed a lot of great places, but of course my intentions were to just let it come to me.

I haven't blogged in a few days, this is a quickie until I set up shop in Hong Kong...I think part of me is mentally preparing my self for the food comas to come...and in HK the swine is on.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Refreshed....and ready to go

Ahhhh what a differnce two days make...after the mild culinary palputation...I'm back on track.

Sometimes going to have another meal to exorcise a bad meal doesn't always work (SA... it definitely worked @ Zortiko....screw that LA place) A chef has to take the matter in his own hands. Monday was Labor Day, a holiday in the State of Victoria, Australia..These Aussies take holidays seriously....everyone if off. What better way to celebrate any Labor Day than with a good 'ol fashion BBQ or Barbie.

Sunday morning we made a trek back to the Queen Victoria Market, (A) to buy a few souvenirs, (B) to meet up with another old apprentice chef and (C) Procure mis en place for of BBQ or exorcise the meal from "MoMo".

(A) I'm gonna share a bit of personal info, I have been in 17 weddings in my life...none of them mine (though I was once engaged) best man 3 times on 3 continents...aside from my inability to say "no"...obviously, I have been honored by being asked to be the Godfather of 11 yes "E-LE-VEN", children...and with the blessing of many close friends, I've decided to at least spoil my Godchildren with gifts from my travels...everyone is !@$#@#$ out of luck (I am unemployed right now...remember sabbatical=unemployment) Actually I will comment on that later.
Mission (A) was accomplished.

(B) Another mate, Daniel Fingerhut also lives in Australia, he was my senior apprentice who looked after me at the Greenbrier, he has worked in Oz for ten years now and considers it home. Daniel was the first senior apprentice to take me under his wing and show me the ropes. I was paired up with him my 3rd night at the Greenbrier, we had the Beef Station...or known as the Station from Hell. If I haven't shared anything from the Greenbrier let me share this. The kitchen is the sized of a football field, a 60 foot line with 10 stations, a chef's office that looks like an airport control tower, and get this a scoreboard, yes a scoreboard!.... each apprentice or cook was assigned a station per night (with the exception of the Beef Station), there were no POS printers...orders were counted on a scoreboard correspondng to each station. Each station had one dish, thats right one dish, each dish was forecasted that night to the number of orders that might be ordered, could be more could be less. Everything (except starches)was a la minute "cooked to order", sometimes you were forcasted to do 40 orders and sometimes 110 orders...the beef station 275 orders..."TWO-SEVENTY-FIVE" Baby! 1300+ covers a night (by the way the Resort is a Five Star and Five Diamond) Daniel was there when I got the biggest ass-kicking of my life, he got me thru that night and the season.

Anyway, it was great to catch up with Daniel, seeing old chef friends and talking about our humble beginnings is a great grounding experience. We reminiced of old times and he shared a great story with me that I almost forgot...he remembered when I would cook for a few chefs after working 12 hours in my tiny apartment. He commented that no matter what time it was or how tired we were, I was always up for cooking, he referenced the passion I had back then, and that its in the kitchen where I shine. I thanked him for that. We met Daniel over a cup of coffee, freshly made creme filled donuts and that dam marinated lamb sandwich I can't seem to forget. We ended our conversation on the hopes he would visit me in the states and to remember always why we do what we do....because we love it.

(C) Brian wanted to do a good 'ol BBQ, once again there are no good BBQ joints in Oz...we made our way to the meat and poultry vendors, there we negotiated to buy 6 kilos of pork ribs, 4 kilos of chicken thigh meat, assorted grilled meats and sausages. We then bought amazing produce and condiments...I stumbled upon some beautiful white anchovies, a personal fav (SA there are good...) olives, this time mascarpone stuffed peaches....these were "scooby snacks". The menu was simple, BBQ pork ribs with homemade BBQ sauce, sesame and pineapple marinated chicken, warm potato salad with bacon, boiled eggs and shallots, blue lake green bean salad, mac and cheese, fresh peach creme caramel, and celeriac salad. We procured the rest of our ingredients and began a afternoon of prepping and beer drinking.

By evening time we were ready for our BBQ, it was a fun afternoon chopping, picking, seasoning, tasting, and simply cooking....we bounced ideas off one another and slowly erased the lingering flavor of the meal a couple of evenings ago. So far these past weeks have allowed me to cook, to create, think out openly, evaluate, dream, sit down and watch guiltless TV, and breathe. I have started a journal of menu ideas, new ingredients and techniques...all of which will help me create menus for my new gig in LA....yes, I won't be unemployed for long...Before I left LA, I agreed to be the Executive Chef of a newly renovated boutique hotel in Santa Monica. The kitchen (under my redesign) and restaurant will be getting a multi-million dollar renovation. I'm very excited and look forward to share more with you soon. The menu will seafood based and will have a few of my signature dishes, but moreso, the menu will reflect a renewed dedication to my art and the exciting flavors of my trip thus far and places yet to be seen.

Monday morning...10am...guests arriving in 4 hours...time to get my swine on. Gotta go. In swine we trust.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

"Brain Drain" and lessons of a bad meal

As a chef we are looked upon to know everything about food, we should know how to make everything, where it comes from and definitely where to eat....

NOT!!!! we humbly make mistakes, don't know everything about food....and definitely don't always know where to eat...

Friday, March 10 was a food day...we ventured into Downtown Melbourne to begin a day of eating and exploring. First I needed some breakfast...my buddy Brian suggested a buffet at the Langham Hotel..."buffet" my middle name. We entered the 4-star hotel looking like tourist as I wore my designer "Sony" camera around my neck. We made our way to the restaurant and were seated immediately. The host informed us that the buffet would close in 45 minutes...to us that meant at least 2 'fly bys'...The buffet was stupendous....from omelets and pancakes to order, Indian food, cured meats, cheese, fresh fruit, fresh squeezed juices, grilled meats and fresh honeycomb...you betcha...I had some of that on my croissant.

We mustered enough stomach space for 1 1/2 trips...you guys disappointed, yes we thought we were up to the challenge but our eyes were bigger than normal. After the "buff"...we made our way to the Esplanade...along the Yarra River, very picturesque, very European in feel. The City is getting ready for the Commonwealth Games and they are not kidding!. On the Yarra River is a parade of floats designed like fish representing each competing country. The streets were clean, the citizens excited and many foriegners walking the streets. Along the Esplanade is a row of Restaurants, many of them Modern Australian...and yes...barramundi this and that!!!! We continued our walk through the "cookie cutter" restaurant section of the Esplanade toward the Central Business District (CBD).

Midway there we stopped for a glass of wine and plate of cheese, people watching and suntanning...I'm so dark. (Sidenote Guys....not many sightings of Naomi Watts or Nicole lookalikes...but if you love the "blondes", get here NOW. I'm a brunette guy) Also midway was Federation Square, a Frank Gehry architecture inspired (I don't believed he designed it) Museum of Arts and Entertainment Complex. (Hey SA...nothing like the Guggenheim). There then we checked out the "Hottest Restaurant in Town"....Taxi. What defines "hot"? apparently our former President Bill Clinton just ate there...gotta love the guy, a foodie and cigar smoker (didn't go there)...Taxi has an industrial look and the food is Japanese inspired, I felt like I was in Hollywood though as I noticed a DJ booth just right of the sushi bar. Trends travel fast huh...we didn't stay just perused...the plan was to go to a famous Melbourne Wine Bar for tapas and flights. We also stopped by a place called Chocolate Buddha, loved the name, not the place...cafeteria like and uninspired menu.

Ah finally a place to nosh...we walked into Langton's, voted best wine list in Melbourne a million years running. A modest place but WOW!, what a great open kitchen...very french, very brigade system. They were only serving tapas at this point so we ordered the slow braised meatballs to go with the Pinot Noir Flight.
My friend (yes HER again) has definitely got me back into drinking wines (I'm sure she is smiling as she reads this) and now I'm fussier than ever. I appreciated the Australian Pinots over the New Zealand ones...anyway after this short stay we ventured into deep CBD. The trendier and more exciting restaurants are in this District...Longgrain, an Asian Bistro, Flower Drum, high end Chinese, Grossi Florentino, the best Italian Restaurant in town. We picked up the 2006 Good Food Guide for dinner options...there were a handful of choices but Brian had followed the press and career of Chef Greg Malouf of MoMo, a modern middle eastern restaurant. So we stopped by there and made a reservation...."party of two @ 6pm, but we need the table back by 8pm"...wait, am I in LA?. We then killed 2 hours before dinner drinking wine and eating dumplings over looking the Melbourne Bay.

6pm on the dot...the aromas coming from the kitchen could not be denied...we had high hopes, operative word "had". We sat down and ordered glasses of Sparking Shiraz...mind you that would be the last time I have that...it tasted like a "7up infused sangria made by a fraternity brother during rush."...I came back to wine life with a glass of Primitivo....safe and sound.

We opted for the 6 course "degustation menu" or so we thought. First came out a SINGLE plate of "Beef Tartare"...what? we are supposed to split this ourselves!!! Ahhhhh "degustation menu"....I know we are Chefs but come on, @ $90.00 per person...that Chef better plate each course seperately. We kindly asked the server if this is how the "degustation menu" would come out...yes she said.....ohhh @#$@!$ NO! we replied. We changed our minds and decided to have the dishes ala carte...we can split the plates ourselves right?. After the first course we both had a feeling that we made a bad choice....I was so excited to try a different cuisine, the aromas in the air had more pizazz than that first dish. Our entrees (remember these are appetizers) came out....A chicken liver and quail terrine for me and lambs brains for him. Once again nothing....the terrine was uneventful and lacked enthusiasm, no middle eastern spice, no character, no flavor. As for the lamb's brains...the plate was beautiful as the katafi wrapped brain was atop a bed of greens dressed with a bacon vinaigrette. FLAAAAATTTTTT!!! the creamy texture (and cholesterol) of the brains was bland and the viniagrette...what bacon? It was only my second time eating brains of anything so I looked forward to this. We couldn't help but feel that the Chef served "his" (brain) and "checked out" that evening. The dining room was half full, my stomach even less full. We both looked at each other and thought two things...(1) he was having an off night (2) it is what it is....I believe "No.2" stands for what we got. Our main courses made it to the table a Pork Chop and Pidgeon...I don't even want to waste any computer bytes on this mess....Check please!!!!

My buddy Brian was very disturbed by our meal, more than I was... (hey SA, it rivaled in disappointment to you know where...) Brian is a Chef of detail and commitment, any Chef with the acclaim that the Chef (of MoMo) has received shouldn't serve food like that, we both agreed we could've "faked" Middle Eastern food better than that. I said to him that I learn more from having a bad meal than from a good meal. 30 minutes pass by as we make our way back to the car...then he said "you're right".... I know.

On the drive back home the meal was still on our lips in everyway...(I was thinking about my leftover mascarpone stuffed dried fig in the fridge most of the drive...) We are both very proud Chefs, we have respect for others and have the confidence in our skills to do the right thing...."give them flavor, they (customers)may not like it or appreciate it, but at least they will form an experience opinion." Even if its making breakfast, sandwiches or anything anybody eats...make it tasty!!!

Maybe I should ask that Chef of "NO!NO!"...sorry "MoMo" if he wants to join me on my sabbatical...after that meal, he needs it more than me. I often have doubts about my skills (not that often), the one thing that I've learned about my food is that my personality and sensibilities ground my cooking. My food is unpretentious (most of the time) not fussy, flavorful and well executed, but most of all made with passion...each and every dish I touch. I think as Chef's we get wrapped up in using designer ingredients or techniques...some Chef's live by "presentation" over substance....others just cook for the love, no notoriety, no glamour, no lets say "blog address". I can be very virtuous (is that a word?) when it comes to food and cooking. I know I've been blessed with recognition and status, and I hope I continue to try and do the right thing. I left Koi because it became too surreal....Why would I leave the "hottest" restaurant in LA....many chefs have asked me. Opening my own concept, Yi Cuisine, was also a reason to leave...Why would any Chef then leave a place he created and is a partner in?...I simply missed cooking...missed the love.... somewhere in running a restaurant, dealing with creditors, managing the front of the house and the press...I lost myself....maybe the Chef @ MoMos has done the same or maybe its just me. Being a Chef and being who I am is so closely related....because they both come from the heart.

I've been gone for over a week now (yes SA it feels like two w/out you) Traveling makes you think, makes you ask, makes you face up, makes you doubt, makes you miss people, make you see them (the one's you miss) in a different light, makes you see yourself in a different way, makes you dream....makes your brain hurt...I'm drained.

Swining off!

Friday, March 10, 2006

OZE.....no worries mate!

Well I safely arrived in Melbourne after spending 8 hours @ Nadi Airport, Fiji....Boy did I need a drink!!!

This is actually my second time in the land of "Koalas, Tim Tams,and Roos", I'm stopping here to visit my buddy Brian, he was an apprentice with me @ the Greenbrier over 10 years ago. The last time I was here was after the Sydney Olympics in 2000, I was actually the best man in Brian's Wedding in Portsea, a beautiful seaside town southeast of Melbourne.

Oh yeah....those of you who have been requesting pix...I'm on dial-up here in Melbourne and it takes way to #$@$%^ long....as soon as I'm wireless or DSL'n I'll upload pix galore, some from Spain, Fiji and Aus. Back to bloggin...

During my apprenticeship, I made a few close friends, over the past 10 years we have seen each of our careers go through the highs and lows. The Greenbrier was filled with many talented aspiring chefs...Brian was definitely one of them, we were the top sophomore apprentices, so naturally we were and still are very competitive in cooking and in golf. Brian is one of my peers that I can always talk to about food and career choices, we have deep respect for each other and he knows that I'm #1 (sort of a joke between he and I, as apprentices we often competed to be better than each other, we address each other as #1 or #2....egotistically (is that a word?) he knows that my career is #1...even though I think he has had a great career.) Brian went to Culinary School in Paris, trained under Pierre Troisgois, Gary Kunz and Susanna Foo. He has an amazing passion for detail and technique, a gift that has helped him establish himself in Melbourne. Currently he is also on sabbatical...its the water right?

Creatively we are a great team....we both enjoy talking about and eating great food. This trip to Melbourne will be all about the food. Brian compares Melbourne and Sydney to San Francisco and Los Angeles when it comes to food. Geographically, Melbourne is closer to many of the wine producing areas of Australia. There are more restaurants in Melbourne per capita to Sydney..hands down. In Melbourne there is a food culture, in Sydney, well lets just say he thinks its LA. Some of you may know how I feel about Los Angeles and San Francisco...having lived in both cities for over 10 years seperatley I have a great take on both cities and what they mean to me. "San Francisco is like my first love....Los Angeles is like my "first time"...both special, one more than the other depending on the question"

Australia is also amelting pot of sorts...there is a large Greek and Italian population here as well as Middle Eastern, Chinese and Indian. There is restaurant on every corner (which is why I've only seen 2 Starbucks in 2 days), from Lebanese, Greek, Modern Australian (I'll comment later) Chinese, Indian, etc. almost every culture is represented. Dining is a pastime in Melbourne..the food scene here is well represented and Chefs have celebrity status. From the seafood, lamb, beef, produce and labor pool, Melbourne is serious about its food.

My first meal after I arrived was a rostisserie chicken...what a chicken....apparently Chicken shops are a thing in the suburbs of Melbourne. The chicken was juicy and the skin crispy...and get this, it was stuffed with dressing...so of course I had to ask for gravy to be lathered all over my bird and chips. We opted to make dinner later that day...what were these two chefs craving....fajitas....Aussies don't do Mexican food here!!!!! Yes, ideas raced through my head again...I did open a Mexican restaurant in San Francisco years ago. They were damn good fajitas...it was a nice start to the eating frenzy.

The next day we played golf and decided to go into the City for dinner, he was craving Chef's food....ahhhh what is Chef's food? well, for most Chefs, we love simple and classic dishes such as a great roasted duck, anything braised...oxtails is a fav, terrines, pate, crusty bread, cheeses, mashed potatoes and peasant cuts of meat like tripe, trotters, sweetbreads etc. Brian took me to a place called the "European", true to its name. Checkerboard floors, wood tables and chairs, and a blackboard with hand written specials.

We started (they call them "Entrees") with the Scampi with Brandade and Ox Tongue Salad... I enjoyed these dishes with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. The scampi was tender and was seasoned ever so slightly, the brandade was dry-dry- dry. The Ox Tongue salad was uneventful but good...we wanted comfort food we told ourselves. We then had the Duck Breast and Angus Steak for our "Main Course". Both deliciously simple and perfect after a long day of chasing a white ball around for 4 hours. No Frills, no major dissapointments...Wow!....how boring was that...patience...my stomach is warming up. and what about the "Swine" apparently pork is very popular but should be bought from artisan purveyors. Most pork sold in supermarkets and middle of the road restaurants have a strong smell and flavor. So I'll still be on the lookout!!!! I'm only getting started....lamb's brains on the horizon.

But more about "Modern Australian" food. Melbourne is a great City...European in many ways yet very modern (with the exception of not enough wireless internet sites) The architecture is a mix of British and Contemporary influences....the food very ingredient driven....yet I couldn't help but notice the redundancy in menus. My first perusal throught the "Restaurant Rows" of Melbourne made me feel like a 4- hour "deja vu". Each menu of the trendy "Australian" food inspired restaurants read like this..."Barramundi this, barramundi that, Twice Cooked Pork Belly (Ahh the Swine!!!).... everywhere, Wagyu Beef Carpaccio, Wagyu Beef Tartare...everywhere" After a while it was all a blur...the lack of originality was not evident on all menus...just the restaurants that were "HOT". The ethnic restaurants were creative yet still there was nothing that grabbed me. We opted for Indian food that night...I'm sure you would agree that "Butter Chicken" sounds up my alley...anything made with a cashew puree and Ghee (Indian Clarified Butter) can't be good for you...also Lamb cooked in spinach sauce ....tasty. The obligatory naan showed up along with Gulab Jamin (also a fav)...the Indian meal was a good change but the Lamb's brain was still on the horizon.

The next day brought me to the Queen Victoria Market...the largest open market in Australia I'm told. We were hungry and raced passed the stalls selling stuffed koalas, Uugs, and Oze T-Shirts...I took a few moments to check out the produce but the mission was "Protiens". Alas the entrance to the Food Court...better yet to "Europe"....the sight of hanging cured meats...antipasti in the deli cases, the smell of "stanky" cheese...and the sounds of different languages....now we where getting somewhere. We stopped a Greek food stand and ordered Borek, a thin pan fried pastry filled with spinach and cheese and lamb sausage. These Greek "quesadillas" were good especially the lamb...we also had a marinated lamb sandwich with fresh herbs, tomatoes and cucumbers....so good you might see it on a 'Subway' menu some day. After refueling we strolled the meat and seafood market...wish there was "smell-mail", I would be sending you the smells of freshly butchered lamb, beef, poultry, line caught fish and shellfish. That was fun....we were kid sitting that day and as you would guess... the kids wanted outta there.
We had to work off this grub fest so we took the "kid" to an arcade...by the way....it was attached to a casino..."I'm all in!!!!!

Yet to come lamb's brains, restaurant hopping in the City, and the lessons of a bad meal.

To Swine is Divine!!!!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Alas...the main journey begins

What's a sabbatical without a long trip to far away lands where you know nobody nor speak the language. So alas, a 2 month trip to the far South Pacific, Australia, Hong Kong, Macau....and recently just added Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Kuala Lumpur and wherever the swine takes me.

Before leaving LA, I had dinner at several restaurants including Bastide (before it closed), Patina, Norman's, Roy's, Cafe del Rey and newcomers Citizen Smith and Ford's Filling Station. Each restaurant was different with highs and lows. One of the most memorable dinners was at Cafe del Rey where my friend Frank Fronda is the Chef. He delighted us (yes, her again...my food soul mate) to an original and standout 10 course dinner the night before I left. One of the reasons why we went there is because Frank will also be traveling Southeast Asia and we will be hooking up in Hong Kong and becoming "Hawker's Delights". So stay tuned for the Adventures of Rod and Frank in the upcoming weeks, he too loves the "swine". Although I had the opportunity to dine at these great places, I found myself excited about eating street food, not looking for letter grades, open air markets, "true" wild seafood and finding the "swine."

You can never pack enough or right for a 2 month trip, with the help of Mom (it doesn't matter how old we are, Mom still worries...) I manage to pack efficiently.
Taking the red eye flight was a great choice as I crashed out and woke up on the island of Fiji or should I say Fiji Islands. Growing up in Hawaii has spoiled me, so traveling to other islands is second nature and I feel a sense of home. The physical beauty reminded me of Maui and the Big Island. The people as warm as the glaring sun, the water as blue as any I've seen, the food as bland as and envelope stamp. At least what I had at the open markets and street food stands. Most of island cuisine consist of seafood, taro, coconut milk and vegetables. I saw the resemblance to Hawaiian food and most food cooked in the Pacific Rim. Three days of uninspired flavors didn't diminish the awe nor the beauty of these islands and people. The speak English...thank God. Still, the hectic pace of the open markets was exciting and liberating...an environment not often experienced in the States.

I recognized the varieties of vegetables Fijiians cooked with and its ties to Filipino food. Also prevalent in Fiji is the Indian culture with its curries and and distinct flavors. I will return someday, definitely checking out the outer islands and to do some snorkling. This stopped served as an intermezzo of sorts and the time to decompress was well worth it.

I am currently in Melbourne, Australia catching up with old chef friends from my apprentice days at The Greenbrier in West Virginia. They have been succesful in the land of Auz and I look forward to experiencing what new and exciting things the culinary scene has to offer. Melbourne is definitely the food town of Australia.
I'll be also playing alot of golf and watching Aussie Rules Football. Cheers mate!

Until we Swine again.

Monday, March 06, 2006

and then some...cont

Okay...where did I leave off...first I want to share another virtue of mine, lets call this "swine 3:06" we are always told, make things happen, the world won't come to us, we need to go to it...the irony is that the most memorable times in my life were neither planned or sought out...the Spain trip was just that.

After the pinxtos marathon part dos, I have to mention a short intermission...guys, have you ever witness a woman become posessed, I mean posess with the shopping "God" whatever her Greek name is (if there is not one there should be one)...on our way back to the car, we entered this lovely shop in San Sebastian...what ensued was slightly disturbing but highly entertaining (I have 4 sisters and many close female friends, so shopping isn't foreign to me) SHE went on this 45 minute binge of power shopping only...quite amazing, at one point of this power surge, she was behind the counter climbing ladders and helping herself, the owner of the shop was so impressed that she actually gave me a gold pendant as a gift for my manly support and encouragement as my posessed friend racked up a hefty bill. And then it ended, only because the shop has to close, probably the only thing that would have stopped her. We finally made it back to the car with bags in tow. Our original plan was to go to a Cider house or as they called it "Cidereria" for lunch but ultimately became dinner.

Ah the European adventure continues as I "male out" and attempt to find our way to the cider house without confirmed directions and going on my male birthrite "GPS"...uuuuuuuuuuurgh (screeching tires) This came from my mouth "habla ingles? donde esta el cideria Petrigui?...yes I buckled under the pressure and the comments made by my passenger and got directions...awe...we made it, so we thought, we drove up to a building, there were lots of cars and busses so we figured this was it...we got out of the car and peered into a window looking at a gathering of people with the energy of a "bingo" championship...this can't be it...and it wasn't. We failed to see the large stone building behind and quickly parked again and entered. This place was packed, imagine 500 people sitting communal style on large wood tables and wood benches. The kitchen flanked the left of the Host table and I was salivating at the gorgeous rib steaks being thrown on the wood burning grill. Oh, my manly instincts were also witnessed to the mistake of not making reservations, but it doesn't hurt when you have a beautiful female with you to "pull that card, drop the lip and say "we came a long way to get here"...we were seated 10 minutes later.

We sat on a table with a group of international business men whom kindly instucted us on the etiquette of dining in a Cider house..he took us into the cellar room of old wooden barrels easily containing 1000s of gallons of apple cider. There you formed a unenforced line to which you took you glass and caught a stream of cider flowing from a spicket stuck into each barrel. This exercise continued through out the night as we drank cider and enjoyed a preset meal family style.

What a meal, first we had a crusty french bread and baccalao tortilla, basically and egg omellette filled with the salted cod, mind you there were no sharing plates so we ate off the serving plate (just like my house) Then more baccalao, this time served with caramelized leeks and potatoes, just as good and yes the salt made me even more thirsty. During the meal and experience, you can imagine that I was thinking of concepts to bring back to the States to duplicate this dining experience. The meal continued with the before mentioned rib steak cooked just the way I like it...still mooing. Dam that beef was good....the meal ended with cheese and quince paste and a purchase of cider. It was 1am at this point and we had to get back to Bilbao...up next Restaurant Arzak.

Of course before we left the States, I attempted to get reservations at el Bulli, sorry closed until June they said, but fortunately my Chef's persistence got us a reservation at the equally excellent Restaurant Arzak.

After a morning of galavanting and getting a police escort back to the hotel (thats another story) we arrived in San Sebastian for our 2pm lunch ressie. After dining at Zortiko, we already felt this culinary trip was a success. My life of eating has brought me to L'Arperge in Paris, the French Laundry in Napa, Le Bernadin in New York to name a few, and now I add Arzak to this list. WOW...not because we were in Spain, not because of my affinity for Spanish cuisine, simply because it was pure passion and truth.

From the moment we entered the stylish dining room and were greated by the accomodating and generous staff...the experience was natural and unbiased, comfortable and exciting. To take you through each dish would take a publishing contract. The wine selections were exquisite and the timing impeccable. The dining room was full yet not intrusive...and my company equally amazing. By the end of the meal (about 16 course and 4 hours) we were welcomed by Juan Mari Arza and his daughter Elena...both so charming and welcoming. We took obligatory pictures with Juan Mari and bought cookbooks which of course were signed. Each dish a distinct exserted emotion and precision, each dish a new flavor, a new texture, a new expression. Simply unforgettable...

As a chef a once in a lifetime experience, as a person a moment I will remember that makes me grateful and definitely humble. I'll keep this trip with me always.

On deck Fiji....swine you later

Saturday, March 04, 2006

In search of pork...and then some

Okay, I must be a chef from LA because... "I 'B' bloggin!" This is virgin territory for me...I don't even read blogs. IR-regardless (that's for you CC and KS), here we go....

What is a culinary sabbatical? Is it a chef's excuse to "write off" trips around the world, another term for "I'm burnt out and need a break", or simply a big case of "cooking block" a la writers' block. For me... a little bit of everything...but more importantly its fulfulling a dream.

One of the most ask questions I've received is "How did you know you were going to be a chef?" Like some chefs, I had an epiphany at an early age, but it wasn't until my late 20's that I embraced this gift and started on this journey in becoming a chef.

So there I was, an eager-"I will be a Sous Chef when I graduate from Culinary School"-"I can cook anyone under the table"- Culinary Student. Reality Check!!!!!

Looking back at my life cycle of a chef: dreamer-culinary student-apprentice-prep cook-garde manger-line cook-saucier-asst. sous chef (aka. glorified line cook)-sous chef-chef de cuisine-executive chef-chef/owner.... I'm back to dreamer.

One of my chef friends compared us chefs, to "sharks"...to which only chefs understand each other and we that we are always looking for our next thing. There is a lot of truth in this...we are nomadic, unsatisfied, competitive and have an insatiable ego. I share this because it took me leaving my own restaurant to find the "next thing" better yet, myself once again.

Aside from culinary aspirations as a teenager, I always found myself dreaming of far away places, traveling, exploring, ...living. And now I have embarked on a journey of sorts....of food, inspiration, peace and love. Love? what is this I speak...I've learned for myself that being a chef is a relationship, I have shared with many culinary grads this virtue of mine. Like all relationships, we must continually find that spark, that fire, that smile, that "I can't live without you feeling", that.... you get the point. I love what I do...beyond explanation...beyond reason, but the key for me is balance....this sabbatical is about balance. How lucky am I to be in a profession that brings people together, that puts smiles and frowns (if they're on a diet) on people's faces, a profession that takes all five senses to create and receive.

Enough of that...lets get down to the food...because its all about the food. Those of you who know me and some who actually have dined with me can agree...I'm not menu shy (in other words, I'm not a 3 course meal guy)....I will share a few food stories in the future, but for now I'll start with Spain.

Espana...very dear to my heart, being Filipino American (I have Spanish roots) my early influences are my parents cooking, Filipino cooking, with lots of Spanish influences. As a child, Spain was the only place I wanted to visit when I got older, well life happens and it wasn't until this past January I finally got to go. Thus the first leg of my sabbatical, actually it was a "hanging out with my friend-hair up her ?%$-lets take off somewhere tommorrow-site 59-expedia searching till 4am-were going to Spain"-TRIP....bless her heart (I'm protecting the innocent by not naming her, but I did find out that her name pronounced with a certain
Spanish accent was a "BAAAAD WORD"...and yes I call her that now, as long as I'm five feet away)

Northern Spain, Basque Baby!!!! here we come. We all know about this tapas rage...we went to the "Holy Land".....immediatley after we arrived we (in the freezing rain) ventured into old town Bilbao and had our first experience of pintxos or tapas...we...sorry she researched (by the way not everyone is worthy on going on an eating trip with me...she held her own...and now I'm catching the flack from it if you know what I mean) We walked into this bar where they had plates of bite sized (for me of course) three bites for the amateurs...pieces of edible 'gold'. We stood at the end of the bar looking lost but hungry as the only english speaking person asked us what we wanted. We immediatley ordered Txacholi, a minerally white wine and placed an order for two of those and those and those and those..... Basically they were pieces of sliced french bread topped with an array of braised beef, baccalao, anchovies, roasted peppers, poahced quail eggs, cured salmon, chorizo, Spanish ham and Spanish tortilla. Oh yeah, they are on the honor system, you basically keep count on how many you have and then they charge you per piece...what a country! After the first few bites we knew the 14 hrs of travel time and snow in Paris (layover) was beyond worth it. We also looked at each other in amusement as patrons who ordered pintxos threw the napkins on the tiled floor as if it was a hotel bathroom. WOW!...how liberating was that. We continued and stopped at 3 other places that night with the same routine although varying our libation. Each place was half full (remember freezing rain and its about 1 am) but had these pinxtos all lined up, liken to a br0thel on payday. We had at least 3-5 pieces each (she didn't want to share so I ordered my own....I told you she held her own) Each pintxos was uniquely different and tasty. After our marathon pintxos event, we both concluded the first foray into Spanish cuisine a success.

The second day again saw us in the pintxos bars gobbling up more "tasties" before dinner, apparently Spaniards go to these bars for a drink and pintxos before dinner....thats right....after commenting to a new Spanish friend how much we loved this way of eating, he kindly informed us that it is customary to have 1 or 2 pieces, not the 3-5 "darwinianesque" shovling of food into mouth. OOPS...crazy Americans. Later that night we went to a Michelin 1-star restaurant called Zortiko in Bilbao. Michelin 1-Star!!!, Awesome, easily a four star US restaurant, we were going to a 3-star later that week. Obviously being a Chef, I have an affinity for the level of cuisine we strive for bck home....but truly, this meal we had was memorable and palate reviving. We ordered the tasting menu with wine suggestions from the young but capable Captain. His recommendations were right on....From the first course of grilled squid with ink ice cream, to the tomato and cheese ravioli with porcini espuma (foam), to the roasted baccalao with leek fondue, to the esquisite desserts, this meal left us with "the meaning of life"...in other words, the clarity to which I love cooking and dining was exclamated and resurrected. I think she had a few "moments" of her own during dinner. The chef's passion was so evident, the technique flawless, the flavors a symphony. Like "rock stars" we closed the place down @ 2am, met the chef and took a tour of the kitchen. At this point I was looking at apartment vacancies ready to move to Spain.

The next day was a trip to San Sebastian, making our way throught the snow ladened mountains to the beautiful seaside culinary capital of Spain. We got a late start, "food coma" you ask...try again, lets just say no last calls. Anyway we made our way to the old town portion of San Sebastian with its cobblestone streets and multiple pinxtos bars. Being the middle of the afternoon, the bars didn't have any pintxos ready but we conducted a reconassaince mission. Best move on our part, we walked by this bar with its windowed filled with lobsters, fish, Spanish ham, baccalao, olives....they had me at the Spanish ham. We waited till sunset as the bars opened, then found our way back to this place of epic "self promotion". Are you kidding me!!!!... imagine a 30 foot bar counter filled with 40 different pinxtos, I was on brain freeze....we threw out the customary 1-2 pieces and pretty much had dinner (we actually had dinner..details later) I went to town, she went to town, no words were spoken for a good half hour. She joined me at a table where I was indulging into tapas of sauteed squid in ink and braised tripe...God I love these people. I'm having flashbacks writing this piece. I was in love...again. I need a cig. Dinner still scheduled for 10pm. Details in the next posting

This being my first posting, I'm writing from Fiji, I still have to complete Spain and catch up until present day. I'm getting the hang of this "Bloggin"....or whatever this has turned into. Swine you later. (Cheesy...you gotta know me)