Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Michelin Guide and the Best Restaurants......

Almost finished with one of the reports I'm to do regarding Chefs and their never ending quest for perfection in the culinary arena. If you're serious then the only ruler by which this is measured is to obtain a Michelin Star. You can get one, two and the maximum of three Michelin Stars and then you are at the zenith of perfection, in food that is. Should you desire to "take it up a notch" then you'd go not just for the food but for ambiance, service and whole experience and that's measured along with the stars with "knives and forks" for the couverts, and the top is to get five of them, not the black ones mind you but the red. Then there is nowhere up to go, you're at the very top of perfection in all aspects. You could also get as many points as you can from the Gault Millau (20 being the top) and Egon Ronay's or the Good Food Guide, maybe the AA Guide can give you some diamonds, all in all these are lists that Executive and Master Chefs dream of receiving at their restaurants.

The food is never still for it is always evolving, morphing according to traditions and fashion, there are also food trends to consider since the public tends to follow these and in order to keep up one must keep track of where food is heading in order to stay current and "trendy". Now you can say that classic dishes never go out of style and for the most part you'd be right, except that people are fickle and want to try whatever is the taste du jour and with that force change. You can see it to this day, even in Paris, where the classic French standards are hard to find even today, instead being replaced by lighter versions of dishes following the nouvelle cuisine movement that had been going on for eons yet the change was profound when famous chefs made it the norm. The emphasis was on lighter versions, long cooking times were shortened to bring fresher flavors out and more emphasis was placed on presentation. Gone were the heavy sauces and long cooking meats that were replaced with lighter complements with fresh, local ingredients using herbs to bring the best out of a dish.

Today we've got something very similar in the "Slow Food" and "Farm to Table" schools of cooking which mean to once again bring fresh, local ingredients, cooked naturally in a lighter style delivering more nutrition and healthful qualities to all. It seems funny to me, this "new" way of cooking which simply mirrors the way we've been cooking for quite a while. Mexico has long been into fresh, local produce (hence all the regional specialties), organics and slow cooking methods that accent flavors naturally. I remember working this way in our first restaurant in Puerto Vallarta where we even had a local lady growing all our vegetables, beans, herbs and had all our fish directly from local fishermen, straight from the fishing boats- nothing processed, frozen, canned- even our tortillas got fresh masa made daily. I can tell you that it made a big difference and people commented all the time how was it possible that everything tasted so differently..... it was wonderful.

Going back from the tangent I took, while doing my research I came upon an article (after reading through the Michelin Guide) from the Wall Street Journal regarding Mexico City being one of the Greatest Food Cities in the World, if you want to read the entire article go to it completely got us thinking of all our favorite places in Mexico City and the nostalgia trip was amazing!!!! While we are familiar with more than a couple of the places mentioned in this article, the others we don't know about will surely occupy a "must see" place on our next visit.

Here again we are presented with a food movement a la nouvelle cuisine in Mexico. Yet there seems to be more restraint in changing the classics around due to the loyalty from everyone plus having to accept that the original classics are pretty darn perfect. How could you make Chiles Rellenos any better? Or how about a traditional Mole or Cochinita Pibil? No can do and you'd be right, these dishes are more than just amazing. How about the perfect Tacos al Pastor? Done right these little bites are a religious experience, believe me, but they have to be right because mediocre doesn't cut it. We still talk about the tacos at El Pastorcito in Mexico City, their taste is permanently etched into our taste buds and anytime we've tried to find replacements, we come away sad and discouraged. There is no substitution for the real thing, done the whole way......

I will continue on my homework project since I don't want to do it tomorrow, still working on a new recipe which I'll need for the Student Competition next week for the most addictive Pizza..... Had a long list last week and by elimination I'm down to two possibilities. I will check with Purchasing on Monday to see if they are able to obtain my needed ingredients, if they can, I can promise a bomb! I'll report next week on the competition and see what the rest have dreamed up. I also want to see who the judges will be since that could influence my choice from something international and a bit more complex to maybe something more familiar that will be more acceptable, but we'll see.....

In any case with the holiday over with I can now settle down to the daily schedule and plan non-holiday menu's. For today and considering the chilly temperatures here (and lots of other places) I will share my version of French Onion Soup we had yesterday..... MMmmmm!

French Onion Soup.- A quicker version to the classic recipe but just as good, easy to make and oh so satisfying.....

6 large red or yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced.
Olive oil
1/4 teaspoon of sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups of beef stock
1/2 cup of dry vermouth or dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon of dry thyme
Salt and pepper
8 slices of toasted French bread
1 1/2 cups of grated Swiss Gruyere

In a large saucepan, sauté the onions in the olive oil on medium high heat until well browned, but not burned, about 30-40 minutes (or longer). Add the sugar about 10 minutes into the process to help with the caramelization. The onions will reduce considerably, they must be a deep rich brown color but don't burn them.

Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the stock, vermouth or wine, bay leaf, and thyme. Cover partially and simmer until the flavors are well blended, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Discard the bay leaf.

To serve you can either use individual oven-proof soup bowls or one large casserole dish. Ladle the soup into the bowls or casserole dish. Cover with the toast and sprinkle with cheese. Put into the broiler for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F, or until the cheese bubbles and is slightly browned. Serve immediately.

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