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Gonzo Gourmands, Frugal Foodies & Crazy Culinarians

Dishing Out What Food Lovers Really Crave

News and discussion on all subjects concerning food: the food industry, chefs, celebrity chefs, culinary luminaries, heritage breeds, natural/organic/sustainable foods, craft beers brewers/soda makers, artisnal purveyors, cookware/tableware/kitchenware, cooking gadgets/equipment, food porn, and more!

Gonzo Gourmands, Frugal Foodies & Crazy Culinarians - Dishing Out What Food Lovers Really Crave

Shocking Reality for Food Workers Who Provide Your Food

Be nice to food workers everywhere you go. Not just the food servers who bring the food to your table, but everyone in between them and the ground in which the food was grown or raised. Food workers include farmers, ranchers, food pickers, truckers, butchers, grocers, cooks, dishwashers, and more. If you had any assumptions that they get a deal on the food they help provide you, you may be sorely mistaken. http://www.rodale.com/food-workers?cm_mmc=Twitter-_-Rodale-_-Content-RecentNews-_-86PercentFoodstamp

Is “Foodie” Becoming a Badge of Shame?

For some time now, I’ve been known as “The Frugal Foodie,” and I even had it embroidered on my Chefs de Cuisine of San Diego chef’s jacket.  However, after  serious consideration, I’ve changed my moniker from “The Frugal Foodie” to the “Gonzo Gourmands.”  For several years, there has been a lot of discussion online and in print about the term “foodie” becoming a slur.  (Actually, I’ve heard the same applied to the term “celebrity chef,” and I will go further into that on a different blog installment.)  At first, I viewed this usage of “foodie” like Anthony Bourdain‘s “Kitchen Confidential” Les Halles crew calling the outer boroughs and NJ patrons the “bridge and tunnel crowd.”  Not so much being disdainful, but rather a time-tested categorization for a certain type of patron with a predictable set of preferences.

I assumed that the majority of people casting these aspersions were wealthy culinary elitist snobs. And, I could easily understand why some people in the industry were inwardly bristling at self-proclaimed “foodies.”  Unfortunately, some foodies think they know it all because they watch the Food Network, Bravo Channel’s Top Chef, and bought all “the best” home kitchen equipment touted by the Food Network or a sales associate at Macy’s.  Heck, these people make me wince!  But the vast majority of people in the industry are truly appreciative of the booming interest in great food, and chefs are happy that the spotlight is shining more on the “BOH” (back of house) more than the “FOH” (front of house) staff these days.

But still, I see the word “foodie” is quietly becoming a condescending slur for uninformed food faddists or celebrity chef chasers who rely on mass market branding and expensive prices as a measure of quality.  And no, it’s not some snobbish pronouncement by the upper echelon of the wealthy culinary elite.  If anything, it’s the exasperated sigh of sweaty, sleep-deprived chefs in the trenches without a TV show, book tour, or chain of restaurants.  At the mere utterance of the word “foodie,” I’ve seen industry people  make eye contact with each other and roll their eyes.  But don’t get offended. What I had at first perceived as a sardonic smirk and dismissive air, should have been more accurately  interpreted as a grimace of exasperated resignation.

Really great food is tirelessly being crafted by passionate, hard-working chefs in small neighborhood restaurants all over this country.  And keep in mind that many of them do it out of love for their craft, and not for the money.  U.S. Dept. of Labor statistics show that the median wage for a head cook or chef in May 2010 was less than $41,000 per year.* Let that be a warning to teens who think they are going into the culinary field for the big bucks.

Like in professional sports, reaching that top percentage of income earners takes a lot of extraordinary work and dedication. Wolfgang Puck, Jeremiah Tower, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Mario Batali, and Tom Colicchio  did not rise to culinary heights by going from culinary school to a TV show competition. Unless you are prepared for a long term commitment to long nights, weekends and holidays, then I wouldn’t sign up for one of those culinary programs to rack up a debt of up to $70,000.  Especially when most entry-level chefs jobs will run $10 – $15 per hour!

So, to distance myself from the uninformed “foodie” herd, I have coined the term “Gonzo Gourmands.”  I don’t mean “gourmand” in a gluttonous sense, but to mean someone who has a healthy interest in all food.  And as much as for the alliteration, I added “gonzo” to mean an adventurous person, or someone who is not shy in their appreciation for all kinds of food.  Gonzo Gourmands are not squeamish about their food being attached to bones or having a face.  I don’t mean to say that we are proponents for the extreme exotic fare seen in the early episodes of Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” with Andrew Zimmern or even Anthony Bourdain’sA Cook’s Tour,” the precursor to his “No Reservations” and “The Layover.”  However, Gonzo Gourmands are appreciative of the efforts made by Andrew Zimmern, and chefs like Fergus Henderson, Chris Cosentino, Mario Batali, Gabrielle Hamilton, and Donald Link.  These chefs have been on the forefront by putting some “low on the hog” cuts and offal onto the menus of higher end, and hopefully, more mainstream restaurants.

Gonzo Gourmands are frugal, but not cheap.  Meaning we are against being wasteful, and this is why we advocate nose-to-tail eating, and strive to find use or recycle all food.  Also, Gonzo Gourmands are interested in the breed and quality of life of the animal before it came to the dinner table.  Just as there is a difference in the composition of human tears of stress from normal every day lubricant or basal tears, Gonzo Gourmands believe animals raised in a natural, stress free environment (not confined in a small, uncomfortable cage 24/7) will taste better.  I hope you can appreciate and embrace the Gonzo Gourmand philosophy and become one of us by “Like”-ing us on Facebook, Twitter and subscribing to my blog.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the subject at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Gonzo-Gourmands-Social-Media/101724446541356

* http://www.bls.gov/ooh/food-preparation-and-serving/chefs-and-head-cooks.htm

Confessions of a Closet Forager

It’s a great feeling to see stuff about people hunting for wild mushrooms, gathering fiddleheads, and cooking up wild greens. As a kid I learned from my grandparents and parents to pick young, tender wild mustard greens and enjoy them sauted with garlic in olive oil. Of course normal people in LA/OC didn’t wander through undeveloped lots to gather wild greens to eat, so this was an entirely undercover enterprise. At times, I felt that we should be wearing disguises while we foraged. God forbid should any of the neighbors or my classmates from my elementary (and eventually), high school recognize us. But I do find it amusing when I see items I’ve gorged on for free, featured as side dishes on trendy, expensive menus.

Currently, it’s the wrong time of year to get tender wild greens, but I’ll write about them again in the spring. I’ll share where to find them, how to pick them, my favorite recipes, and I’ll make sure to include pictures.

Things They Don’t Tell You at Culinary School!

There are many very reputable culinary programs at really great colleges and universities all over the U.S.  And I totally respect the venerable C.I.A. (Culinary Institute of America) as the Harvard of culinary programs.  In fact, I’m proud to have a relative who graduated from a C.I.A.-Cornell combined program for a B.S. in Hotel & Restaurant Management.

However, I find it appalling that some of these private school chains work more like over-priced basic training facilities than institutions of higher learning.  Many of these schools are charging exorbitant tuition by feeding off of people’s love of food along with their star-struck excitement of seeing superstar chefs competing at the top of their game each week on television.

What they don’t tell these students is their 4 year degree means they know enough of the basics for salad prep, or garde manger at best.  No matter what great grades they got in ice carving or meat deboning, no great restaurant is going to risk putting them on the line when the restaurant needs to quickly bang out consistent quality dishes for the dinner rush.  No matter what accolades they got at school, nobody wants their opinion, and don’t even think about suggesting any changes on the menu.  The students really need to have an incredible passion for food, to learn to work precisely with a great sense of urgency, and think quickly on their feet.

And finally the worst disservice, is neglecting to tell these students that they’re going to have to work lower wage jobs to pay off their student loans.  By lower, I mean lower on average than students graduating with degrees in other disciplines like teaching, business, and computers.  In 2010, restaurant chefs on average, made less than $24,000, and head chefs made less than $45,000.  And worse yet, they will work 10 – 14 hour days on their feet, including weekends and holidays towards student loans for up to $70,000.  Sure there are chefs out there who go on to open great restaurants, cookbooks, TV shows, etc., but they are the exception.  Becoming a star chef is as difficult as moving from high school to pro sports – – it can be done, but very few make it.  To get to that star chef level requires a lot of very long hard hours of not making it.

For those who have not been swayed by these Dept. of Labor statistics, I would advise you to look into the culinary programs of various community colleges.  You may be surprised to know that several community colleges have actually put in respectable showings and beaten teams from nationally acclaimed culinary schools at national American Culinary Federation (ACF) competitions.  So at the very least, you don’t have to start your culinary career with a huge debt looming over your head.

Much of the this article’s information was courtesy of Leah A. Zeldes a freelance writer featured in the Chicago Sun Times.  http://www.suntimes.com/lifestyles/food/11424848-423/what-i-didnt-learn-in-culinary-school.html

Full-Time Frugal Foodie & Part-Time Chef Stalker

Fabio Viviani at VIP Post-Party for the Gourmet Experience in Del Mar 10.8.2011

Adam looks down at me during talk at his book-signing at Barnes & Noble The Grove 4.27.2011.

James Beard Rising Star nominee Exec Chef Nathan Coulon (formerly of Ivy Hotel & currently of True Food Newport Beach) as Head Judge a Whole Foods Mkt Huntington Beach Cook-Off Competition Nov. 2011

I’ve been a foodie since childhood watching Graham Kerr “The Galloping Gourmet” instead of Sesame Street.  Through the years I’ve enjoyed following Julie Child, Jacque Pepin, and Wolfgang Puck.  More recently, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some culinary luminaries & some of the southland’s top chefs.  When possible, I’ve also collected autographs on their books which include: Diana Kennedy the “Julia Child of Mexico;” Travel Channel “No Reservations” host Anthony Bourdain, “Man v. Food” host Adam Richman, & “Taste of America” host Mark DeCarlo; American Master Bladesmith specializing in kitchen knives Bob Kramer; and Extraordinary Desserts Owner Chef Karen Krasne (featured on Food Channel “Best Thing I Ever Ate” Cake Walk episode).  I got word

Exec Chef Nick Brune (in hat) of local habit wow'd the crowd at Collaboration Kirtchen 8.21.2011.

Chef Owner Su-Mei of Saffron had everyone laughing while she tickled their tastebuds at Collaboration Kitchen 9.25.2011.

from the venerable Exec. Chef Thomas Keller that he’ll sign my copy of “ad hoc at home.”In those cases where I didn’t have a book, a picture had to suffice as in the case with Travel Channel “Bizarre Foods” host Andrew Zimmern, Bravo Top Chefs Brian Malarkey (Season 3) & Fabio Viviani (Season 5).  I’ve had the opportunity to meet such incredible talented California chefs:  Exec. Chef Jon Eyer Hard Rock Hotel, Exec. Chef Nick Bruneof

Chef Antonio Friscia was cool enough to give me this shirt off his back!

Local Habit, Exec. Chef Olivier Bioteau of Farm House Cafe, Exec. Chef Chad White of Sea Rocket Bistro (soon to be at Gabardine), Exec. Chef Andrew Spurgin formerly of Waters Fine Catering & currently Chef/Partner at Campine (with Chefs Brian Malarkey & Antonio Friscia), Exec. Chef Antonio Friscia formerly of Stingaree & currently Chef/Partner at Campine as well as Exec Chef/Partner of Gaijin Noodle & Sake House, Executive Chef Victor Jimenez of Cowboy Star, Owner Chef Su-Mei of Saffron, Owner/Baker Charles Kaufman of Bread & Cie Bakery & Cafe, Former Exec Chef/Partner of Chileco & current Regional VP of 24 Carrots Catering & Events Scotty Wagner, Owner Gina Freize of Venissimo Cheese, Exec. Chef Nathan Coulon (son of Michele Coulon Dessertier of La Jolla) formerly of Ivy Hotel & currently of TrueFood Kitchen, Newport Beach; drinking centric travel “Three Sheets” host Zane Lamprey; and California foodie celebrity Chicken Charlie Boghosian best known for his fried food stand at the major county fairs from San Diego to the California State Fair in Sacramento.

Campine 3 Owner Chefs Antonio Friscia, Andrew Spurgin, & Brian Malarkey Collaboration Kitchen 1.29.2012

Bravo Top Chef Brian Malarkey meets The Frugal Foodie at Fruit of the Soul 2010

Exec Chef Scotty Wagner, chefs & staff Wine Rave Nov. 2010

Zane Lamprey, host of Three Sheets partying it up (as usual) The Lodge at Torrey Pines Chefs Celebration - San Diego Beer Week 2011

Exec Chef Christopher Logan of Creative Flavors Catering walked away with top prize & several gold medals at ACF-sanctioned Tour of Tastes cook-off competition at 2010 San Diego Fair.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet Chef Karen Krasne & her daughter Sahara at the party for the launch of her latest cookbook "Extraordinary Cakes."

Chicken Charlie Boghosian is best known for his highly sucessful deep fried food stands that can be found at the major county fairs from Sacramento down to San Diego. He actually won a 2nd place medal chefs cook-off competition at the 2010 San Diego Fair.

Low on cash in San Diego? You can feed a family of four for dirt cheap at Ikea!

Check out the daily dirt cheap food specials:

MONDAY
FREE breakfast until 11am 99¢
Organic Pasta with Tomato Sauce 99¢ $1.99 (11am to close)
——————————————————————————–
TUESDAY
Kids Eat Free! Kids choose one combo meal valued at $2.49
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WEDNESDAY
BBQ Ribs, French Fries and Cornbread $6.99 $7.99
——————————————————————————–
THURSDAY
Roasted Chicken and Mashed Potatoes $1.99
——————————————————————————–
FRIDAY
Hot Dog & Soda in the Bistro $1 $1.50

Restaurant.com has saved me and my friends LOTS of money!

I always try to avoid paying the regular discount price at restaurant.com; and, I wait until they offer a “code word” so the price drops to $2 or $3 for a $25 certificate. Always check for the lowest minimum purchase of $35 and other fine print. The closer you are to $35 without going under, the better the return on your dollar.  The current promo code is “Hot.”   http://www.restaurant.com/