Saturday, May 29, 2010

Crab Cakes

Several years ago, we had a spate of complaints about our crab cakes. They were all along the lines that our crab cakes have no flavor, that they're tasteless. After several years of no complaints, we've had another recent rash of similar complaints.

Our crab cakes are made from the best blue crab we can buy, mayonnaise, celery, parsley, panko, salt, and white pepper. That's it. Over the years, I've tried every binder known to man for holding crab cakes together (béchamel, fish mousse, scallop mousse, egg whites, sour cream, etc.) and the best binder hands down is a mayonnaise made with a neutral oil.

Crab meat has a very delicate flavor that is easily overpowered by other flavors. This is why I especially despise crab cakes containing any form of assertive bell pepper or, God forbid, Old Bay seasoning, which reeks of celery seed. Some people actually like to taste bell pepper or celery seed rather than the $18 per pound crab. If that's your preference, fine; it's not mine though.

The complaints come from one of two kinds of people. The first is someone who actually prefers to taste bell pepper and celery seed to crab. I don't understand their point of view, but they're entitled to it. I just wish they'd allow that my crab cakes are well made, just not to their taste.

The second complainant is one who does not perceive the value of expensive fresh blue crab bound with just as few additives as are necessary to hold the crab meat in a cake. These are the ones who tell me that the frozen crab cakes (that are short on crab and long on filler) at Costco are as good or better than mine. I wish these people, rather than pick on my crab cakes, would just say that mine are too expensive for them. That's really what their gripe is, so why not just say it?

In any case, the complaints are few and far between and for each, we have served thousands of other customers who have loved the crab cakes. And I'm not changing my recipe regardless of what anyone says.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

When Local is Not Better

Yesterday, one of my long-time local suppliers and I parted company.

From his perspective, the economy has hurt his sales to the point where my restaurant was the only one in this small town still to buy his product and the economy has severely reduced the amount of his product that I can sell before it goes bad. Moreover, it was a long drive for him to deliver to me. From my perspective, the quality of his product has been slipping to the point where I had refused to accept or pay for an increasing number of deliveries.

So really it came as no surprise yesterday to get a phone call from him saying that he couldn't afford to deliver to me any longer. I was at the point of making the call myself. I'm also sure that he didn't want to deliver any longer because it had to sting when I had to reject his product, even though I was very nice about it.

When we had discussed the quality of the product, he would say over and over, "But none of my other chefs have a problem with it." Unfortunately, because his other customers are not nearly so quality focused as I am, my entreaties to him to improve the quality of his product fell on deaf ears. It happens.

Fortunately, I have another supplier who is 100% attuned to delivering the highest quality product possible. And I can get this extraordinary quality product for the same price that I have been paying to my now former supplier. The downside: my backup supplier is not local.

I really do want to buy locally. It's been a hallmark of my restaurant for the better part of a decade, long before it became fashionable to fly the local flag, and so it pains me to have to part company with a longstanding local supplier. But when local is not better, I don't have a choice.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Chef's Tasting

"Shrimp Provençale"—Pernod-poached shrimp; salad of oranges, oven-dried black olives, fennel confit, and fennel fronds.

"Cream of Arugula Soup"—Last of the bolting arugula with watercress stems, yellow onion, potato, splash of cream.

"Bouillabaisse"—fish and shellfish poached in classic bouillabaisse stock; stock reduced and gelled; pansy, microradish, and poached shrimp garnish.

"Poussin and Veal Galantine"—boned poussin stuffed with local free range veal, porcini, pistachios, madeira, pancetta, bacon, and green peppercorns; one and a half quarts brown poussin stock reduced to four teaspoons; micro squash with blooms.

"Porcini Gnocchi Trifolati"—classic potato gnocchi augmented with porcini powder (very tricky dough, very light on gluten); morel mushrooms cooked in the style of truffles (trifolati) with butter, brunoise of pancetta, garlic, and lots of fresh parsley; shaved asparagus. Sorry for the crappy photo, camera would not focus.

"Prickly Pear Cheesecake"—prickly pear purée; candied hibiscus bloom; hibiscus syrup; borage blooms