Monday, May 10, 2010

Condiment of the day: Catch-up

A few weeks ago, I hopped on a plane and flew across the country to Boston, Mass. to attend a food writing workshop hosted by It was a short seminar, scheduled to last three hours, and it was clear that I was the only one that traveled more than half an hour to be there – or so I assume. The seminar was straight to the point, titled 'Breaking into Food-Writing', covering pitch-letters in every aspect from how to write them and who to send them to and how to develop a story to pitch to a publication. It was pretty informative considering I have yet to put together a pitch-letter or better yet, come up with a story piece all on my own.

Aside from the three hours I spent in that small, windowless room at the Boston Center for Arts learning little tidbits of information about the students and how to piece together a pitch-letter for the likes of magazine editors, I putted around on the subway and got lost on the streets of Cambridge and Allston.

For the duration of my visit, I couched it (or futon-ed it) at a friend's place. My friend Stephen Hammond was gracious enough to let my New Mexican butt sleep on the futon for a few days equipped with a sleeping bag and a pillow. I was happy, I had a place to shower, brush my teeth and plug in my laptop. We were also just a few steps from Harvard Avenue where there was an abundance of eateries and watering holes for hungry and thirsty.

Conveniently enough, I worked with Stephen at the Tavern and now Stephen works with Paul at Chez Henri. There's the connection–we all worked together last summer on the Vineyard. And so it was only natural that I found my way to Chez a few times during my visit and enjoy a cocktail or two and had the pleasure of watching real chefs do their magic on the line. No microwaves, vacuum sealed meals. Just real food.

I had the opportunity to watch
Scott Gates, another friend from the Vineyard, work saute. I saw him start three to four dishes at a time using several pans, some on the range, some in the oven. Plating was always fun for me to watch. A spoonful of celery root puree spread with the back of a spoon and then topped with seared trout and haricot vert. Or there was the seafood appetizer with mussels, pieces of fresh fish, tomatoes, onions, herbs and a light broth. Even the kids pasta was made from fresh pasta and just a pat of butter–or more if Paul was cooking.

When Paul was cooking on the line he was working grill. Or at least for a few plates. He had this awesome looking grill, that had a sort of iron shelf on top of it that would allow for different distributions of heat. Just as a backyard grill has the hanging rack on the lid that can be used to keep things warm or to cook things slowly, the shelf had the same purpose. I even saw another chef use it to blister some tomatoes for another dish. I was impressed and made a mental note for my own kitchen, if I decide to have a grill.

Other than the observations I made of the chefs, the use of flavors and the plating, I was able to try some pretty good eats. Though I didn't visit the places that I had originally planned on visiting, I did get to eat some good food. Of the things I ate, the fresh oysters were probably the best and the beers were definitely awesome.

Paul brought me to the North End, also known as 'Little Italy' to tourists like myself, to eat at this tiny, yet huge in taste, restaurant. It couldn't have been much larger than a two-car garage in width and the seating may have been just about two cars deep. The seating was definitely limited but I dug how they would seat you elbow to elbow with cats you don't know. You had to get to know them, and that is exactly what I saw happen. People would just sit down and when the food started coming people would ask each other what they were eating and then the conversations kept flowing like the wine, or as steadily as the young lady in the front of the store could open fresh oysters, clams and crack open crab claws. This girl had it down to a rhythm that she probably could have done in her sleep.

I can't remember the names of the oysters I ate that day, but if you're an oyster pro, maybe you can identify them from the photo. I know it was five different varieties of oysters from the New England Coastline. They all had different profiles and were delicious each in their own way. We also had some mussels and Suzanne ordered a blue crab salad to start. Once the starters were done, we moved on to the real meal. Paul ordered the Monday special, a lobster spaghettini, Suzanne ordered the vitello tonnato, a sandwich with tuna tartar, roasted veal and a cucumber salad, and I–in hopes to rekindle some memories of the Vineyard–ordered a lobster roll, though instead of the mayo it was just served with warm butter.

And everything was stellar. I enjoyed every bite of it—even the last few bites that I gave to CJ, the guy that delivered the week's fresh bushels of oysters, clams and mussels. He was really chill, he even took a small bite from Paul's spaghettini.

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