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2011


2011 Recipes by month:

January

Chicken Ramen - Chanterelles, Scallions, Fried Egg, Miso Broth

February

Triple Wings and Pulled Pork Recipes

March

no recipes this month

April

Almost Exactly Mad Mex Mahi Tacos

May

Grilled Ramp and Chevre Omelet

Ramp and Morel Gnudis

June

Pig Roast Tacos with Mojo Criollo And Mojitos!

July

no recipes this month

August

Grilled Flank Steak Chopped Salad with Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette

Sautéed Striped Bass, Corn, Chanterelle, and Basil Panzenella

September

no recipes this month

October

Stone Soup

Grilled Hanger Steak, Fresh Creamed Corn, Warm Green Bean Salad with Pancetta Vinaigrette

November

Roasted Beets, Dinosaur Kale, Sumac, and Pistachios

Butternut Squash Manicotti in Gorgonzola Cream

December

Steak and Jalapeño Quesadilla and Good Old Tequila Sunrise

 

If you want to point out grammatical errors, typos, and blatant omissions, or if you’d just like to drop me a note and say hello, or if you want to throw out an idea for a future column so I don’t have to sit around and scratch my head for a week, or if you actually cook a recipe and want to say how it came out, me. I would love to hear from everyone.

Maybe if your e-mail is offensive enough, we’ll put it up here.

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The online archive of big Burrito Corporate Chef Bill Fuller's recipes and essays from 2011

January

Rah, men!

I give up! Stop the food, the booze, the parties! Between cooking for and participating in party after dinner after cocktail hour, my growing waistline is barely obscured by baseline level perma-hangover. Never really hurting, just dehydrated and tired (see photo), I seem to start each day with the resolution to cease the festivities, only to find that by my day’s end the festivities have cornered me and shoved some short ribs in my mouth and a cocktail in my hand. And with looming the series of the early January restaurant Holiday parties (we’re a little busy before Christmas and New Years, ya know), I fear for the future of my liver and soul. Little more worried about the liver, seeing as my soul’s final dispensation is probably settled.

But, to persevere is the way of the Chef, so persevere I will. However, there must be a medicine to this malady, a cure for what ails me. Sure, a couple of Egg McMuffins in the morning can grease away the hangover, and I generously administer the aspirin, water, and Vitamin D cure, but what really makes me feel better is a nice hot bowl of ramen noodles. Slurpy noodles and hot broth get the sweat on and the belly full.

Most of you know ramen as the dried noodle cake and foil seasoning packet in a bright plastic wrapper. You probably bought them in college and nuked them in your dorm room. You have relied on them for cheap fast meals at work, or two packets with a little leftover turkey breast for dinner. However, the ramen I like is no more this product than a November-cold Jonagold is apple Kool-Aid.

Ramen is a Japanese dish consisting of wheat noodles cooked in a light (usually) broth with thinly-sliced meat and/or vegetables. The broth can be meat-based, fish-based, miso, or some combination thereof. Garniture in the soup can be anything as well, from sliced, roasted pork loin to julienned shiitake mushrooms to a raw egg stirred into hot broth. Ramen originates as a Chinese dish, probably stemming from any of a variety of Chinese words for noodles (lo mein most familiar to us – thanks Wikipedia!).

So, you are afraid to cook Japanese food at home? This kind is easy. I like to visit Lotus, and Asian food store in the Strip, and purchase a bag of the fresh noodles at the far back corner of the store. They are in small clear plastic bags with red writing. Some are more yellow (egg yolk or food coloring to make them look like egg noodles) and some are white. Don’t worry, they cook the same. Get a few mushrooms if you like, and a small head of one of the chois (greens) for sale there. I like a touch of light miso in the broth, so pick that up when you are there as well.

At home, assemble the ingredients. You’ll need a broth, of course. I like chicken stock flavored with a little miso. You can use water seasoned with dashi (instant soup flavoring – also available at Lotus) and miso. You’ll also need some meat. Any sort of roasted meat – chicken, beef, pork – that is a leftover is good to use. If you want to cook your meat fresh, you can as well. No worries. Or tofu, you Veg-heads. Just slice whatever it is nice and thin.

Prep the veggies. If whatever you use it thick or fibrous (root vegetables, whole mushrooms, etc) cook them quickly to prepare them. (This sounds complicated, but if you had roast pork loin and steamed broccoli for dinner last night, then a box of Kitchen Basics chicken stock, yellow miso paste, and some tasty fresh wheat noodles gets you ready for dinner.)

Bring broth to a boil. Add noodles. Bring back to a boil. As soon as noodles are cooked, which will happen very quickly, portion out to bowls(s). Pour broth over. Add sliced meats. If you want to get fancy, fry or poach an egg and plop it on top. The warm yolk mixes deliciously with the broth rendering it unctuous and velvety. Remember, the fresh noodles are dusted with starch to keep them from sticking. This will add to the texture of the broth. Keep a little excess broth on hand to adjust.

I like to eat this with a deep bowled porcelain Asian soup spoon and chopsticks. It makes me feel all authentic and crap. And don’t be afraid to slurp. Proper noodle slurping is not culturally offensive in the cultures that know how to dig a big hot bowl of noodles. Finally, excellent slurping can be very sexy. Imagine your favorite hot Italian actor/actress sitting across from you finishing their noodles with pursed, sucking lips and little bites. Mmmmm.

Hangover gone, back into the Super suit.

For your ramen convenience, here is a recipe and a video of me making it on KDKA’s Pittsburgh Today Live. I’m on there usually every other Thursday. If you are interested in following my segments (we have some fun and make tasty food) I send out an update the day before via my Twitter feed – chefbillfuller. Or you could just check it out at Soba with above mentioned hot star.

And, uh, Go Steelers!!!!

Click here for excellent ramen-making video!

Recipe: Chicken Ramen - Chanterelles, Scallions, Fried Egg, Miso Broth

February

Supersticious-bowl

Steelers are in the Super Bowl. Again. Excellent! Twice in three years. We revel in Super decadence. Thanks guys!

So, we got that out of the way. But, as a true Pittsburgh-loving Steeler devote, my thoughts are on the food. What will I make? Well, its simple. I?ll make the exact same thing I did for the other playoff games. Why? Because it worked! Many of you out there understand what I mean. For those who don?t, let me explain.

Winning football games involves everyone involved. The payers, coaches, refs, and the fans. By fans, you think I refer to the offence-disorienting cheering of the fortunate souls in the stadium. Sure, that matters, but what matters more are the habitual arrangements of talisman and fetishes with ritualistic practice that we practice. Some examples of the things I need to do to win games:

The big Burrito jersey ? Some years ago, in return for donating our time and food to a charity event sponsored by the Steelers, we were given official jerseys with the names of the restaurants on them. I absconded with #1, big Burrito. I wore it soon after to the Super Bowl in Detroit. As everyone knows, we won. Since then, I have worn it every time I watch a game. Also, it does not get laundered until the season ends. Why? Because it carries the magic with it.

Jack Doesn?t Wear the Gear on Game Day ? My buddy Jack, avid fan that he is, cannot wear any Steeler gear on game day. Why? Because when he does, they lose. Easy enough. His wife and kids can wear the stuff, his house can be festooned with Black and Gold (not Yellow, BTW), but his body will not display the team logo.

No Terrible Towel - It occurred to me, after a series of agonizing Steelers losses during which I whirled my terrible towel with wild enthusiasm, that I seemed to always be finding and whirling the Towel only to suffer terrible defeat. So I tried a few games without, and the winning returned. In fact, the Steelers finished the 2008/2009 season on their Super run shortly thereafter.

Situational Issues ? We realized while watching the Baltimore game at a friend?s hose in Southern Maryland (we were attacking behind enemy lines) that when Liz (wife of Jack) entered the room where the game watching was occurring, bad things happened. How we deciphered this, I am not sure, but it was with the assistance of some measure of beer. She, when this was explained to her, banished herself from the game viewing area and joined the kids on Wii Just Dance 2. She would call for reports, but did not renter the room until time expired. This was situational to that game only, for reasons unexplainable to any of us, because her presence in the first half of the Jets game showed that she was clear. Although she was prepared to depart if necessary. When she and I realized that we had changed places at halftime (in the fourth quarter) and had caused the axis of the game to shift, we resituated and righted the cosmic ship.

So what does this have to do with food? Well, for the Ravens game we made pulled pork mini sandwiches and grilled wings. But not just grilled wings but three flavors of wings. Classic, really spicy, and Asian-y flavored. And the results were clear. So, just in case, I made the same thing for the Jets game. And guess what, it worked.

So on Super Sunday, Jack will be wearing no Steeler shirt, I?ll have my #1, full season funk and all, we?ll be munching our pulled pork sandos and washing them down with wings, and everyone will keep a close eye on Liz?s physical location. In this magical array, we will help align the forces of good to the Steelers? advantage.

Go Steelers!

If you want to see these recipes made, tune in to Pittsburgh Today Live, Monday January 31.

Triple Wings and Pulled Pork Recipes

March

Flavors of the Yucatán

The Yucatán peninsula has no rivers. No trout streams, clear creeks, trickling brooks, nothing. There is no flowing water.

On the surface, that is. But underneath, gushing through the porous limestone shelf that lifted above the ocean some one to two million years ago, there are many. Water seeped through cracks and holes, eroded the limestone, and formed a print negative of our familiar pattern of surface waters. Of course, as these waters gathered from trickles into streams, into true underground rivers, the limestone ceiling above then weakened in places. When these weak places collapsed, they formed sinkholes, cenotes in the Mayan language. Cities and towns arose by the cenotes, ensuring year-round drinking and irrigation water.

In addition to being a source of water, the Mayans thought that cenotes provided access to the afterlife. Sacrifices were made into them, water was drawn from them; life provided and taken in the same avenue. A highway to and from the zenith and the nadir of existence.

It is believed, that like the terrain, the spirit of the Yucatán flows up from the deepest parts of our souls, and lets us look back down these same chasms to the placid waters or churning rapids that lie below. It is believed that in traveling there, if one allows it, one is able to access all phases of temporal and spiritual existence leading to revelations about the truths of our souls.

So it was. I discovered that I have a Mayan spirit living inside my soul, starving to get out. It was revealed to me over a bowl of Sopa de Pavo on my first day in the country. This is a simple soup, made by poaching a turkey in its own broth, picking the meat from the bones, adding it back to the broth with minced whole limes, diced jícama and tomatoes, crisp corn tortillas, and chopped Chaya, the magic herb of the Yucatán. Delicious! A definite challenger for one of the world’s top “chicken” soups.

Turkey is featured prominently throughout the region. Understandably, as it is a native animal, unlike cattle and pigs. Another delicious turkey dish, Pavo en Relleno Negro, appeared in a number of forms. Always featuring the burnt chili sauce (sort of black mole), the turkey was roasted, ground, or pulled. A first blush of burnt taste quickly gives way to rich, sweet roasted chili and sour orange.

Every meal in the Yucatán was accompanied by some sort of fresh salsa, and onion-heavy pico di gallo with minced fresh habanero, as well as some variation of a roasted habanero condiment, ranging from simply chopped, roasted habanero to an emulsion of roasted habaneros in oil to roasted habaneros stirred into a little pureed tomatillo. My favorite was a pitch-black puree of torched habaneros pureed with a bit of lime juice. Oh yeah!

Salbutes and panuchos – little crisp tortillas topped with lettuce, tomatoes, and shredded turkey (panuchos have black bean paste inserted inside the tortilla) were a lot of fun and made little easy appetizers or light lunches. There were plenty of tortas, grilled beef or pork on a soft roll with avocado slices, tomatoes, and either mayonnaise or a smear of a black bean spread. Empanadas were wrapped in a corn dough, not flour, that was flecked with Chaya.

Everywhere I drank aqua frescas. Water, citrus juice, and ice, a delicious refreshment from the tropical heat. Of course, caution as to the source of the water and ice is advised. I discovered that my favorite was Chaya and fresh squeezed orange juice. Every morning, I’d have a glass or two.

What is Chaya? Excellent question. Chaya is a shrub that grows wild throughout the Yucatán Peninsula. It is a delicious green, with a flavor like sorrel and spinach and chard. It is in every meal, in most dishes, used as a garnish, a vegetable, a wrap for tamales, everything. Purported to be a super food (and amazingly hard to find in the US), it worked wonders on my general well being. The only thing better than Chaya?

Cochinita Pibil! Has to be the national food of the Yucatán. Chunks of pork, marinated in achiote (ground annatto seeds) and sour orange, wrapped in a banana leaf, and slow-roasted to sweet pork tenderness, exhibited the beauty of pork in its harmonious sweet/sour/smoky/rich perfection. Mayan barbecue? Yep! On a fresh corn tortilla with roasted habanero, pickled red onions, and a squeeze of lime. Oh Yeah!

And the best beverage? A Chelada. Imagine it's hot. A glass is placed in front of you. It has a salted rim and ice, and is filled about half way up with lime juice. Next to it is a bottle of beer – Negro Modelo, Dos Equis, Sol – whatever your flavor. You pour the beer into the lime juice. Tart and tasty, after a few sips, you top the glass back up. Less tart, more malty. The process continues, until at the end, there is a slight taste of lime as the last liquid is drawn off the ice. Always hard not to have a second one.

So, since I returned Sunday evening and have not had a chance to work these flavors an ideas from my mouth memory through my brain and out my hands, I have no recipes to give this month. I would advise, though, to keep an eye out at Kaya, and at the new Mad Mex on Highland Avenue that will open in April, to see if anything seeps through.

Keep an eye on the cenotes…

April

The twisted road to Shadyside: A brief history of Mad Mex

Wanna Play Restaurant With Me?

Let's see...

  •  Construction two days behind, stressing me about being prepared for opening inspections, check.
  • Situation and vacation at an out-of-town store necessitating the presence of Matt, my main Mad Mex Kitchen Dude for this week, check.
  • Too many applicants for bartenders and not nearly enough for kitchen (as has been the case for every single restaurant I have ever opened - this will be #15), check.
  • Huge interest by every friend, co-worker, employee, neighbor, stranger, and Martian in my sphere, check.
  • Looming Pittsburgh Marathon and most of us training for some or all of it, check.
  • Biggest seasonal menu changes of the year (Spring explosion of ramps, peas, morels, fiddleheads, baby vegetables, field lettuces, soft shell crabs, Alaskan halibut, shad roe, etc) about to occur at Kaya, Casbah, Soba and Eleven, check.
  • Transitions in two Sous Chef and Assistant Manager positions, check.
  • And a @#*&! newsletter column to write, check!

Must be time to open a restaurant. Yee Haw!

Actually, the opening of Mad Mex Shadyside (alternately Mad Mex Highland, Mad Mex Eastside, Mad Mex East Liberty, and My Family's New Second Home) is easily one of the most exciting openings we have ever had. For years, we have wanted to get Mad Mex into the East end of town. We have looked at many spaces, tried many ideas, but until this year were not able to secure the exact right location. Until it fell in our laps, directly across the street from Casbah and in the middle of our universe. The ultimate Mex, huge, beautiful, and powerful. The crowning achievement of our mission thus far!

I'm a little excited.

The nine steps to Shadyside

Every iteration of Mad Mex brings a new idea to the table, a new way of doing things, a new perspective on the Mex, a piece of the puzzle solved. Sometimes the innovations work, sometimes not. Oakland, before my time, was first, primal mex. Innovation there was the concept of Mad Mex itself - big burritos, good wings, great beer selection, strong margaritas, and Cindy and Denita rocking the dining room. What else did you need? Who cares if you couldn't hear your friends? They were probably being drunk and stupid anyhow.

Next was McKnight Road. Innovation here was to actually build and operate a "restaurant" rather than the every night party that was Oakland. Not that Oakland wasn't fun, but maturation occurs in even the most emotionally malformed of us. At North Hills, the bar got longer, a bigger dining room had places for people to actually walk between the tables, the kitchen grew to accommodate the increased volume. Concepts like "training" and "accountability" and "coming to work on time and not high" began to be part of the lexicon. Not too much, though, as tequila still poured out of the big steel margarita machine.

When we built Philly, we made a big Mad Mex in a big city. Exciting, vibrant, and little scary, it has been one of our most dynamic locations. In Philadelphia we learned our first lessons about the interface of college students and city dwellers. Seems they all want late night food and margaritas to wash it down. Their styles are different, as are their dreams and desires. Our musical requests grew in scope, as did our range of apology letters to offended student groups. The Thai Curry Burrito menu jokes quoting Two Live Crew were a little rich for the blood of the sophisticated Easterners there. No worries, have a beer, we fixed it.

State College brought us into true contact with the awesome, raw drinking power Penn State University Alumni. The usual fare of crazed, thirsty college students pales in comparison to their "Glory Days" parents. Good thing they go back home to Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, Warren, and everywhere else. If we had that crew in every weekend it would kill the staff. As it is, during game weekends we pay people to stand at a table in the back and make buckets of margaritas all day. I've done it and it is as sticky-nasty as it sounds.

Happy Valley also brought us AYCEB night. For the lay person, that stand for All You Can Eat Burritos. Yes, Mondays @ State College Mad Mex are an homage to gluttony. I know you want to know the record. There is a record number of burritos consumed during AYCEB. But that's disgusting. You want to know? Really? Do you slow to look at traffic accidents too? Shame.

The next store was Mad Mex Robinson. We experimented there with building a very large restaurant and bar. To service it, we designed the kitchen featuring a double cooking line. That is, within the kitchen were two mirror-image set-ups of cooking areas to rock out the food to two halves of the place at the same time. Seems logical, right? However, either it was a terrible idea or we were too clueless to work it out. We killed it and figured it out the old way, one line feeding the whole dining room.

However, Robinson's great big parking lot brought us to the idea for a Huge Cinco de Mayo party. Drawing from our experience at Philly and State College, we were absolutely confident we could handle pouring endless drinks for many thirsty people. And we do. But there are still people mixing buckets of margaritas all day (I have done it there too, yes sticky and boozy still), arguing with holders of fake id's, and placating ravenous PSU alumni on a tear.

The next restaurant was South Hills. There, the brilliant idea was to rewrite a large part of the menu and open with this new menu. The thought was that since the South Hills customers might not be as familiar as other areas of the city with what we did, we would get a clean slate to try out some new ideas with honest feedback. This is important, as you might imagine, since most of us have been eating our favorite burrito for eighteen years now and don't want to try anything different. In fact, we view changes to the menu as an affront, and write furious comment cards. And we refuse to even order the new things and complain without even trying them, no matter how hard the cooks are working to get them done or how good they are.

As is obvious, we crashed and burned and reverted back to the normal Mad Mex menu after a few long weeks. Some say the whole debacle was my fault. I say we did it as a team. And I still liked the braised chicken, cloves and all.

And no, my feelings weren't hurt.

Mad Mex crosses the border... to Ohio

Eager for some calm, we headed to Columbus. A lovely town, clean with broad streets and decent Midwestern people, seemed like a great opportunity to get a break from the insanity. We embarked upon a mission to build a really nice Mad Mex; excellent craftsmanship, great art, probably our best looking store to date. It is a beautiful place, maybe a little nice for margaritas and burritos. Luckily for us, the occasional bar crawl comes through and makes work for the local drywaller and tile guy. Really, punching through a tiled wall? Ohio State wins that category, whatever that is.

That vacation led us back to Pittsburgh. In time since we had departed for Ohio, we realized that we had left our brothers and sisters in the eastern part of the county out of the picture. They had to drive to Oakland, fight for parking and wait forever for a table, or trek to a Mad Mex ten suburbs away. That, we realized, was an affront to all that is holy about the Mex. No Pittsburgher should ever have to journey that far for chick pea chili. Period. So, the Monroeville store began the phase of fulfillment of the truest part of our mission, heretofore unspoken among us, the responsibility incumbent upon us to pave Southwestern Pennsylvania with burritos.

Monroeville also brought about the inside/outside bar, greatest invention ever (besides my iPhone). Where else can you sit outside, under a roof, with heat/air conditioning, and watch football while being waited on and brought food and beer. Again - outside, no rain, heated or cooled as necessary, fed and beered. Monroeville, this was our gift to you, noble tribe of the East.

And Cranberry, for you too. It seemed like such a great idea, we thought Butler county would like to try it as well. They liked it just as much. Even better, we built a half wall around your patio with drop down canvas walls when necessary so you can be "outside" and not be bothered by all of the annoying things being outside in Butler County brings - like bears n'at.

Finally, we put it all into a pot and cooked it up, waiting for the next space. It's all there in Mad Mex Shadyside, except of course hopefully the wall-punchers and bears. List of ingredients:

  • A giant Rick Bach mural of mutant cow/horse/pig people with Jim's dogs!
  • Huge horseshoe curve bar with many, many margarita machines!
  • A big, powerful kitchen to rock out thousands of burritos led by Kitchen Master Chads, so badass that he gets an unnecessary "s" at the end of his name!
  • Beer cooler the length of a semi trailer stocked with a ridiculous number of kegs of microbrews!
  • A second floor overlooking the dining room!
  • A private party room on the second floor for you high rollers and bachelorette parties!
  • And the entire front wall of the restaurant folds up to open onto the street.

Oh yeah. Here we go! Makes me forget all the other worries about staffing and menu development.

Fish Tacos on TVI almost forgot, since it is lent, here is the recipe (almost) for our grilled Mahi Tacos.

Almost Exactly Mad Mex Mahi Tacos

And here is me making them on the TV.

May

Here's what I'm not going to talk about this month

I had a bunch of subjects ready:

1A humorous look at the opening chaos at Mad Mex Shadyside. Super busy every day with great support from all of you - the amazing teamtable of sweet servers, bad-azz line cooks, rock-solid dish dogs, and generous bartenders kept it all running as the team of managers worked ungodly hours to try to pull it together. C. M.,you are the new big Burrito God. I would have laughed at a listing of my new aches and pains, especially my back, oh man, 43 is no 23. And I’d have closed by telling you that we’ll be doing some new stuff there, extra drinks, food experimentation, and a 20 person Real Mexican coursed dinner paired with tequilas and wines in the Big Table Room.

2The upcoming Pittsburgh Marathon wherein big Burrito has around thirty entrants. Sponsored by the company, we are running to raise money for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Foodbank. Please help us raise funds by donating – click here to get to my fundraising website. This newsletter would have been rife with comments on my crappy training to run the half-marathon which peaked a month ago and faded hard during the Mad Mex Shadyside opening. Look for a stumbling, mumbling, limping Big Chef around mile 11.

3Of course, with Mother’s Day coming around, I could have wrought tears from the coldest of you with the story on her undying passion for peanut butter fudge and complete inability to ever get it quite right. She and I would stand in the kitchen, spooning a sticky mess of peanut-y sweet milk off her oval fudge plate while indulging our shared urge to shove sweets in our mouths. I may have offered an aside regaling you with the No-Bake Cookie Wars, recounting her defeats at the hands of dry, crumbly cookies, over-oatmealed cookies, never-setting cookies, burnt cookies (I don’t know). Nancy Zemak, I miss you and love you and wish you’d kept the candy-eating gene to yourself.

4In similar bittersweet fashion, I could have relayed the story of the quiet Sunday morning where only my aged Italian garden neighbor and myself were at the community garden plot on Stanton Avenue. We worked quietly, separated by an old chain link fence, language, and thirty years, until he broke the silence. We discussed the rain, the previous occupant of my garden plot, and how hard it is to fight the groundhogs and deer. He handed me fava been seeds (which are sprouting in profusion), pea seeds (about half as viable), and onion starts that have not yet brightened and may not make it. I crossed over to help with his rototiller which we were unable to fix. He shared stories of growing up on a farm in Italy.

5And always exciting, the spring ingredients – ramps, morels, asparagus, and their ilk would have been brightly illustrated with an outraged rant on the lack of farmers willing to put in asparagus beds, discussion of morel foragers and their weird and secret ways (you know who you are), and my impatience for real peas from real farmers within driving distance. I also might have included an essay on the decimation of local foraged wild plants (especially ramps) by over-eager foragers trying to supply greedy New York Big-Time Chefs. The way to keep the population vibrant is to take less than 10% a year. I do have a couple of ramp-y recipes:

Grilled Ramp and Chevre Omelet

Ramp and Morel Gnudis

And a little video to go along with it, replete with Fuller Kids: Fuller Ramp Video on KDKA.

But with so much going on and so many topics (not to mention the electric news from around the world that is distracting us all) I decided just to say happy springtime!

June

big Burrito conquers the world!

big Burrito Corporate Chef Bill Fuller | June 2011

In the course of a young chef’s training, it is important to travel, see foreign food in strange places, work in a kitchen where you don’t speak the language, and get drunk with the cooks there. This is best pursued before things like babies, mortgages, and aging livers adjust their life-view. This kind of learning is excellent because, in addition to teaching the young cook about new ingredients, methodologies, and food philosophies, it also leads one back into the truth of what feels true about food. I encourage this with our young chefs, sometimes to our detriment, because this voyage out into the great culinary unknown often so excites their imagination that homey little Pittsburgh is no longer satisfactory.

But, to hold them back and discourage their growth will lead only to their stagnancy and frustration. And, given the manifold difficulties and discouragements looming in the chef life, it is a sin to not let them embark upon these kinds of journeys. The ones that return come of their free will and desire to be here, cooking on the lush banks of the three rivers. The ones that stay gone email missives of their new lives, restaurants opened, babies had, important meals cooked, and endless cell phone photography of dishes on stainless steel pass-throughs.

And they all take their big Burrito heritage and Steeler fandom with them.

We have two young chefs from big Burrito out on their personal Rumspringas. The first to go this spring, Chad Townsend, is currently cooking in the kitchen of Marc Veyrat. Chad has been with us for somewhere in the neighborhood of six years, rising from cook to Derek Steven’s Executive Sous Chef. He has been a tireless worker and a huge force in creating the success of Eleven. One of Europe’s big time chefs, Marc Veyrat has earned six Michelin starts, three each at two restaurants. His cooking mixes the current trends of Molecular Gastronomy with the modern passion for local seasonal ingredients. Chad spends a lot of time collecting various familiar and not-so “mountain herbs” from the garden, and then cooking all day and night. Chad is tweeting his adventures (usually as a blast or message once or twice a week) at @Chad687.

Sean EhlandSean Ehland, Executive Chef of Kaya, finally made it to Copenhagen and is starting his first week at Noma, currently the foodie favorite for the World’s Best Restaurant. Chef-owner René Redzepi explores the ingredients and preparations of the northern lands using both classical and Modern techniques. He also is a huge proponent of foraging, leading teams of his cooks on pre-dawn excursions to collect the day’s ingredients. Training at Noma is a hot ticket for young chefs, and Sean is the perfect person for the job. He’ll work hard, drink in knowledge, and sift through what is good, great, and bad there. I’d also like to recommend following his Twitter feed @SwEhland.

It pleases my brain that these two young men, both good guys, both dedicated to their jobs and their craft, have chosen to visit two of the world’s most important chefs for stages. (A stage, pronounced like the second half of garage, is a term for a working visit in another chef’s kitchen.) They are both cooking in kitchens for chefs enamored of very modern Molecular Gastronomic techniques that they don’t see in our kitchens. Both chefs also forage for their food and cook seasonally, offering an excellent opportunity for these young men to learn about the terroir of their restaurants in intricate detail.

I so look forward to a glass of wine on my porch with Chad and Sean and listen as they tell me how the other side cooks, what the raw shrimp of the North Sea smell like, how Alpine spring onion greens taste almost, but not quite, like ramps. I will drink it in long draughts, and imagine the flavors of the world.

A simple recipe for pork tacos and mojitos to accompany.

Pig Roast Tacos with Mojo Criollo And Mojitos!

July

Grill Bill: Vol. 2

big Burrito Corporate Chef Bill Fuller | July 2011

Summer is the time of the year where we feed the mosquitos by occupying our lawn furniture to eat food cooked outside, outside. Many of you grill, and most fancy yourselves experts, but I know. I have watched many of you civilians grill. I have seen hundreds of dollars of fine steaks be burnt into dryness. I have choked down raw pork chops out of politeness. It is a tragedy what some people will do to a noble piece of meat.

However, I thought that as we slide into the long July 4th weekend, I’d provide a community service and share my grilling knowledge with everyone, saving unsuspecting cook-out attendees of death by lighter fluid. This methodology has been developed during my (almost three) decades over restaurant gas grills, back yard barbecues, and campfires. Enjoy.

My base grilling primer:
5Grease your meat! Any raw meat that is going to hit the grates of the grill should be lightly oiled before grilling. Not dripping with oil, just barely shined. Too much oil will cause flare-up. Oiling up really improves the quality of your finished product. First and foremost, it creates a barrier between the grill grates and your meat to help prevent sticking. Second, I believe it helps the non-contact surface of the meat to gain some color from the micro-frying action of the oil as it heats up. Finally, a little nice olive oil flavor improves everything.
5Make it tasty! Sure you want the flavor of the meat to shine through. And it will, especially if you season the surface well with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. This is as fundamental to grilling as the oiling. In restaurants, bfeore each steak or chop or slab of tuna hits the grill, a cook will lightly oil with olive oil and season BOTH SIDES with salt and pepper. The little flip of the filet after seasoning the first side is a sweet little motion. Make sure to sprinkle the salt and pepper evenly over the entire surface.
5Keep it Wholesome. If using charcoal, look for one made out of whole wood. Do not use the “match light” varieties that are impregnated with flammable petroleum products. Go as light on the starter fluid as you can (using a chimney to start is ideal). If you feel the need to play with fire, instead of squirting half a can of fluid on smoldering coals, set off illegal fireworks in the alley after dinner. The neighbors will love it! (Morningside, I am still adhering my self-imposed one year ban on all fireworks that launch and explode. Snakes and sparklers only this year. I promise!) Also, mix fuels. I start with charcoal but add a chunk of hardwood or fruit wood before I start to cook.
5Keep it Clean! Every time I grill, after getting the goals hot but before I cook, I clean the grate. Place it over the fire, allow it to get hot, and scrape it down with the grill brush. Put effort into it! If you are tough enough to build a fire, you are tough enough to lean over that brush and get the burnt gunk off the grill. If you have no brush, a ball of aluminum foil works well. After scraping, use an old towel lightly soaked in oil to rub down the grates. Hold it with the tongs, not your hands, duh. This gets the last particles of gunk off as well as producing a light coating to help your meat not stick. Some people spray the grate with cooking spray. I would not advise this as there are explosion hazards.
5Learn all the positions and use them. When the meat first hits the grill, this is Position One. After it marks nicely, turn it 90 degrees to Position Two. Let it sit long enough to mark again. At this point, if your timing is good, the meat is a little under halfway to the finish point. Flip it over onto Position Three. The side you are now looking at with perfect cross marks is the service side. In real grilling, that side will not touch metal again until you plunge a steak knife into it. Finally, quarter turn to Position Four. Relax in this position until the meat is where you want it.
5Roll it up on its fatty back. If grilling a pork chop, ribeye, strip steak, or lamb loin chop, there is a delicious fatty cap on the loin muscle. After the meat is lovingly marked, pull the chop over to a cooler part of the grill and set it up on its back with the fatty side on the grill. Let that render out and crisp up. Keep an eye out for flare-ups, as rendered fat is pure fuel.
5If it gets too hot, move around. Some grillers advocate keeping a spray bottle with water to fight flare-ups. I completely disagree. Spraying burning charcoal and fat with water sends a plume of ash up onto the meat. I want to eat a pork chop that tastes of pig and light smoke, not gritty ash. If it flares up, move it away from the heat. There are lots of hot and cold spots on the grill, use them to your advantage.
8Sometimes, you need to cover up. The grill comes with a lid for a reason other than to allow the Easter Bunny to hide the plastic eggs with the big money inside. Once you load up the grill, place the lid on. It will create an oven in there, helping the meat to roast. It also helps to concentrate the smoke flavor. Open the vents a little to let your neighbors smell what a bad-ass grill cook you are.
9The delicate stuff needs it hot and fast. If you are grilling fish or lean, thin pork loin chops, cook on the hot spot, turning and cooking quickly. The hotter the grill, the less likely it is to stick or dry out. For grilling, choose steak fish. You will struggle with halibut. However, perfectly grilled trout is fabulous! The crisped skin balanced with rich flesh is excellent.
5Rest. After grilling a piece of meat, it needs to rest. This is an opportunity for the liquids and temperature to equilibrate. Five to fifteen minutes is good.

Relax. There are a lot of rules, but the end product will be great. If you grill every meal for the whole summer, you’ll get really good. And learn to enjoy the burns on your hands and forearms. They are the mark of the veteran grill cook.

August

The Tao of the Tomato

big Burrito Corporate Chef Bill Fuller
August 2011

A difficult thing for a developing chef to do is to feel confident enough in their abilities and reputations to allow the ingredients do the work. It is a fear of being perceived as lazy, unable to perform complex kitchen procedures, or unknowledgeable of modern ideas and techniques. Often we try too hard, transforming textures and flavors into forms vastly different from the original product and we lose the essence of the starting point. It is here where the talent of Chef is defined. We must use the best product that we can find and deliver it to the plate with all of its beautiful essentials intact. And we need to learn to stay out of the way.

All cooking is transformation of raw food. And all transformations of raw foodstuffs to edible forms is cooking. Picking the fruitno, planting the fruitis the first step in the cooking process. Creating the intent of cooking by planting the plants in full knowledge that the tomatoes will be picked and eaten is the first step. Some of the tomatoes will be eaten out of hand, the simplest form of preparation utilizing simply water to wash and a hand to lift the tomato to the mouth. A good number of the tomatoes will be turned into salad, sliced and marinated, paired with basil and burrata. More complex, this involves some simple steps, washing, coring, and slicing the tomatoes, making the cheese (raising the cow, and milking it), picking basil, seasoning and arranging. Other preparations might involve sauce production in which the tomatoes are cooked, jarred, and boiled for sterilization. A further preparation is that the tomatoes could be cooked into a barbecue sauce, with other adjuncts, and used as a component on a plate where there might be vegetables, a pork chop, and some starch, each component with their own history of adjuncts and processes.

In many modern kitchens, further treatment of the products may be employed. The tomato might be pureed with other gazpacho-y ingredients (cucumbers, garlic peppers, etc.) and very gently strained through cheesecloth, yielding a clear tomato water or tomato consommé. Into this might be placed tiny cubes of vegetables representative of the ones previously pureed to make the broth. One might further manipulate the tomato water by adding sodium alginate and dripping it into a solution containing some dissolved calcium. Calcium absorption into the surface of the tomato alginate droplets, in which the sodium salt of the alginate is highly water soluble, rapidly forms the water-insoluble salt calcium alginate, creating a wall inside which the tomato water is still liquid. A couple of these on a plate adds a squirty oral experience as well as a visually unusual edible golden plastoid tomato sphere.

There are discussions and arguments within the cooking community as to what level of transformation is good and at what point manipulation of food is bad. Is the ideal the tomato eaten out of hand? Sure, if the tomato is quite ripe, and you are desirous of a tomato, and there is a sink at hand over which to eat said tomato. However, this experience is often seen as unfulfilled potential. Many chefs look at the tomato and ask themselves How do I make this better? This has lead us to the salads, sauces, and spheres.

A better way to consider the tomato, I believe, is to ask the question, How might I steward this product to carry forward every important, pure, primal tomato element, evoking bucolic summer memories both lived and dreamed, while simultaneously pairing it to other foods, also guided forward in their natural beauty, in such a way that each compliments the other and creates a greater whole? And, if in fact we are to achieve that, how much retention of the original tomato character is necessary? Or is the end product of the transformation more desirable? If I desire a rich warming dish of Spagbog, Spaghetti Bolognese (thanks Mandy Westwood, Denver 1985) there is no way it wants to be fresh. It wants to be cooked, really cooked, and rich. But for a light fish dish, a quickly foodmilled raw tomato with a little shaved garlic and extra virgin olive oil is great (See this months Striped Bass recipe from ELEVEN). The second best way to eat a tomato other than slurping it down over a garbage canin a soft white bread sandwich, eaten while the juices run down your arm, is simply amazing.

The difficult part of this season is that the ingredients are so profoundly fantastic (especially with this hot, humid summer) that we are given an incredible opportunity to do as much, or as little as we want. To bring a rutabaga to plate that excites a diner, ah, that is a challenge. But we have simple a rutabaga, with only a few essential beauties, and it must be transformed. Only a hungry steer would wax philosophic over the raw deliciousness of the rutabaga. And maybe Chef Derek Stevens, the one true fan of rutabaga that I have ever met. But for the tomato, we must pause at every step of the transformation and decide if this is the good stopping point. The same can be said of most of the seasonal ingredients: basil  raw, pesto, cooked, infused; corn  raw, scraped, milked, roasted (in or out of husk), grilled (in or out of husk), pudding-ed, gelled, foamed; peaches  raw, butter, jammed, pied, grilled, stewed, sphered, frozen and shaved, smoked.

So, to wander back to the beginning, we are gifted with this season, one of the most amazing summer produce seasons of my career, and it is beautiful. And this brilliant bounty with its manifold potential delicious states forces us to consider what it means to be a Chef, what our responsibility is to the purity of the ingredients, how base our indulgences of style, flavor, and technique might reach, and to what level we must restrain ourselves and allow summer to just be summer on the plate.

Enjoy a couple of simple recipes.

 Recipes:

Grilled Flank Steak Chopped Salad with Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette

Sautéed Striped Bass, Corn, Chanterelle, and Basil Panzenella

September

 Bereft of a Chef

Chef Bill Fuller's travel plans have been derailed, grounded and sunk. Deprived of some modern connectivity, his laptop battery won't hold out long enough to write a piece this weekend, so please check back for recipes.

Fear not, fans of long form essays. Last month The Post-Gazette printed an in-depth piece about big Burrito's influence on the Pittsburgh dining scene over the years. Check it out here.

October

 Get intimate with your food

big Burrito Corporate Chef Bill Fuller
October 2011

I have been thinking a lot about how people eat, where they perceive that their food comes from, and why they eat how they do. The lack of cooking ability in the general populace makes me worry about our loss of intimacy with what we put in our body. This worries me, as I obsess a little about food and where it comes from and makes me afraid of the food society we are crafting.

I have stated before that I believe that feeding people is only less intimate than two other human activities, surgery and sex. The more I consider it, I must say that I retract that, that the three are equally intimate, differing in type but not degree in the depth to which the activities affect our lives in the very depth of our beings. In all three activities, we allow people act in a way in which the affect our body in an intimate, structural, functional way.

And, since we are allowing these people deep inside the sphere of safety we construct, we have criteria that allow us to have the trust that they will not hurt us. We carefully choose our surgeon, getting second and third opinions, until we feel that our intuition, bolstered by the giant machine of medicine, insurance, government, and Hippocratic doctrine, has vetted the process and the actor enough to allow them to open us and perform their craft on our spleens and spines and brains. We date, watching carefully the person across the table, their manners and attitudes projecting them upon future interactions. We meet the family, the friends, see the place thye live and the place from which they hail, all the while assessing what kind of human sits across from us. And when we touch, still unsure, we stay separated by alcohol, by humor, by latex. It is only after time, after numerous trials, that we remove our protections to allow the person truly into us.

But when eating, when providing the fuel and vitamins and proteins that power, build, maintain, and improve the entirety of our bodies and minds, we are never so cautious. Rarely do we know the person that cooks our food, nor the person that selects the ingredients, nor the person that grew them. We do not know what has been added or removed from the food, the type and level of nutrition that it contains, the effect that it will have upon our short term moods and long term health. We pull up at a drive-through (I indict everyone, myself included) and receive a sandwich in a wrapper. We open it and eat the sandwich, happy to have a full stomach and enjoying the level of spice, salt, fat, texture, and scents. We are fed, it was easy, we are happy. But that food is consumed, masticated and digested, each molecule absorbed, transformed, and utilized in the continuing process of building, maintaining, and operating our bodies. To repeat, each molecule becomes a piece of our bodies as fuel or structure.

potatoesYet we expect little assurance of the purity, the safety of that raw material. It is assumed that the government regulates our food safety. It does, a little, but poorly and inconsistently. We hope that some paternal entity monitors the hands that prepare our food. But, aside from annual inspection, there is little supervision of what occurs in the kitchen. There is no Hippocratic oath chefs take, no molecular prophylactic to ensure protection from the insertion of toxins into our cells.

Previously, the risks of eating food prepared by strangers was slim. Occasionally one dined at a restaurant, usually chosen from an assortment of the same group of restaurants, while the rest of the food consumed was prepared by family, friends and neighbors. The preparers were known and trusted, the sources close and integral. In our current milieu, very few cook at home on a regular basis. We dine out, take out, and blithely insert the food into our mouths and absorb it into our bodies. These meals are unprotected casual food sex, events of questionable safety and security.

So what to do? The answers are simple. Know your food. Know the chef of the restaurant, the butcher at the store, the farmer, the shopkeeper. Cook once in awhile, and buy the ingredients directly form a person. Shop at a farmers’ market and ask a question. When you dine out, give honest thought to what might be happening behind the kitchen doors. Are they cooking back there or opening boxes from the freezer? Ask the server, the manager. Inform yourself. And teach your children where food comes from and how it needs to be prepared to sustain them.

Recently, I presented Stone Soup to the students at Dilworth Traditional Academy. Using vegetables grown in the garden, we made vegetable soup following the story. Here is the recipe. Make sure you season well to bring out the flavors of the vegetables!

Stone Soup

Anyhow, here is another recipe. Great local food dish. Get the corn before it is gone (it's best right now!) and make it yourself and feed it to friends.

Grilled Hanger Steak, Fresh Creamed Corn, Warm Green Bean Salad with Pancetta Vinaigrette

November

Fall Eating

big Burrito Corporate Chef Bill Fuller
November 2011

Autumn dining is when you eat all the things that you hated as a kid. Spring eating is easy for kids; mild lettuces, baby carrots, English peas, asparagus for the mildly adventurous. Summer, ridiculously eatable. Peaches, corn, tomatoes and green beans are things that you can get kids to eat, even beg for more. But the late season crops, greens, squash, beets, and the dreaded Brussels sprouts, Death on a Plate.

My first foreboding of autumn dining terror was always the late summer fried yellow squash. Early in the season, when the skin is tender and the seeds tiny, yellow squash is delicious. Battered, fried in bacon fat, and loaded with salt and pepper, it was impossible not to eat. But beginning in the second half of August, as giant, pregnant, woody, lumpy yellow squash were hauled from the garden to be sliced and fried, my dread grew. The batter fell off the squash bomb as it was passed onto my plate, a four-inch wheel of inedible paper skin loosely containing slimy seeds in squash gut slime. I hated these and never understood why anyone would grow yellow squash. To this day, I struggle with the scent of cooking yellow squash.

imagineBut that was only the beginning. Greens, cooked to death with too much liquid and not enough pork, were spooned into limp wet pools on my plate. Not a bit of texture and no flavor, my DuBois, PA tribe never understood how to get it right. But worse still were the Brussels sprouts, arriving at Thanksgiving, cooked mercilessly to mush, signaled the true end of life. I choked down what I could, hiding the remaining demons under turkey bones and untouched canned cranberry sauce (also a horror show).

Truly evil, the death-blood-moon of the beet rose over the winter dinner table. Cooked soggy and not seasoned, the beet ruined meal after meal. We did not know the golden beet, the candy striped beet. We misunderstood the delicate nature of the small beet, striving for dirty-tasting huge monstrosities simply boiled and placed on plates, wet with bland red stain spoiling the innocent mashed potatoes. That beet juice-soaked potato, how I railed at you, silently of course under the Mordor eye of Grandma Fuller, wanting to divide the pile but knowing I’d be forced to eat it all anyway. Why beets?! Why?!

Imagine my revulsion, my disgusted horror, at the concept of PRESERVING these beets, pickling them in canning jars to lurk, purple dark with grey floating eyeballs of hard-boiled eggs, to stare at me through the winter, threatening my dinner plate. I’d be sent down to the basement. “Billy, can you bring up a jar of pickled beets?” To my doom in the basement, caught between the wall of root death and the shale outcropping of the unfinished raw stone shelf opposite the canning cabinet. Somehow, the canned peaches had long disappeared, as had my mother’s ethereal crabapple jelly, leaving only the beets and their evil sisters, the stewed tomatoes and potted venison. I’d pick a jar, each death the same as the next, and run upstairs, realizing at the last minute my fear of the basement creatures prepared to eat my skinny young flesh.

It took a long time to get over my late season vegetable fear. The introduction of simple butternut squash soup, techniques for roasting beets, proper seasoning and cooking of the hardy brassicas, has improved my appreciation of the genre. Truly, the rapid revolution over the last 35 years has been remarkable, a testimony to the nascent sophistication of my palate. I have conquered all the vegetables of November, grown to love them.

All of them except one.

The cabbage. Specifically, the boiled cabbage. I have yet to scale that edifice. Maybe this year….

Here are a couple of recipes for tasty November dishes. This is an excellent meal, Salad followed by Manicotti. If you cant find or don’t want to hassle with the pasta sheets, use flour tortillas or crepes.

Roasted Beets, Dinosaur Kale, Sumac, and Pistachios

Butternut Squash Manicotti in Gorgonzola Cream

I’d serve these with a crisp white, a French Sauvignon Blanc perhaps, something zesty but not overly grapefruit, or eggnog from the carton.

December

The Name Game
(Mad Mex Willow Grove opens)

big Burrito big Chef Bill Fuller
December 2011

The feel of a newly assembled restaurant opening team bears great similarity to the first few days of summer camp. While a few people might know each other, most are meeting for the first time. Friendships quickly develop and disintegrate. Flirting happens, and often more than that, especially when the beers start to flow after hours. Cliques coalesce and mutate. Personalities appear, chafing and embracing one another. Eventually, the excitement settles and the new community evolves, and it becomes normal.

One of the trickiest parts of this process is the learning of names. In the beginning, there is a lot of “Hey you, could you hand me that.” and “The waiter with the dark hair needs to check his section.” I particularly suck at remembering names. It is a stoppage in my brain, a file I filled long ago the will not allow me to erase data for more storage.

Or maybe it is because I am getting older.

Almost immediately, the service staff realized that I could not remember their names, no matter how many times I asked. Additionally, Mad Mex servers do not wear nametags but I wore my logoed chef’s jacket every day. They found it amusing, and casually invented a new game. It went like this:

Opening night pics from Willow Grove“Can you run these nachos to the bar?”

“Sure, if you remember my name!”

“Rachel.”

“No, not even close.”

“Jesse? No, Katrina?”

“Nope.”

“Come on, help me out please. This food’s getting cold.”

“Okay, I’m Melissa.” Laughter from all in the kitchen

Of course, Melissa’d come back around about an hour later, long after I’d stopped repeating her name to myself, and ask again. I wouldn’t know. More laughter

It didn’t help that half the males on the floor staff seemed to be named Ryan, and there were at least 5 variations on Katherine. Everyone wore a black Mad Mex shirt and, with the exception of two taller men and one woman, were all within 3 inches of the same height. And Joe came in sporting a completely different look, including facial hair, glasses, and hairstyle four days straight. How can I manage that?

We worked it out finally. I learned some of the names by association; Olivia because my niece has the same name, Jaye because I’ve never seen it spelled that way, Katarine because I called her Katarina one whole shift until she corrected me. I bestowed some nicknames; Tom Brady for the miniaturized waiter version, Ravens Guy for the only Ravens fan in the place, and Yoga Girl, waitress/yoga instructor that stood in the perfect posture of yoga teachers that always makes me feel like a hunchback.

Of course, the best solution was to slip out and return to Pittsburgh for a few days to see the kids. I am absolutely sure that when I return there is no way they’ll remember that I don’t remember their names.

Another highly important piece of team building is for the opening crew to migrate to the bar at the ends of their long shifts, test the new bartenders on their drink-making abilities, then socialize for hours after the first real day of business at the new restaurant. Discussion of new employees, procedures, layouts, setups, and schedules mix with good-natured joshing to encourage caffeine detox and tequila accumulation. Camaraderie develops and stress slips away after that full-speed-every-minute 18-hour day

The bracing piece of this particular form of arrives with the return to work for the second full-speed-every-minute 18-hour day of business after four hours of sleep and incomplete metabolism of cactus-originated ethanol. The work crashes upon and, truthfully, before one knows it midnight has arrived. To celebrate surviving this second long, stressful, and hung-over day, it is again important to talk and test the bartenders’ mixing skills until the wee hours.

The Sunday morning after these two long opening days greeted us with the inconsiderate feature of a brilliantly sunny morning and lots of work to do. We needed inspiration and rejuvenation. It was important that I make a rich, flavorful, greasy breakfast that was achievable with the ingredients on hand yet did not really taste like Mad Mex food. I grabbed a flat of eggs, an onion, some jalapenos, and flank steak and got to work. The following is a reconstruction of what occurred that morning.

And yes, we launched into Day 3, warriors thirsty for victory.

Recipe:

Steak and Jalapeño Quesadilla and Good Old Tequila Sunrise

© 2011 big Burrito Restaurant Group. All rights reserved.