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Three Days With Chef Ric

April 18, 2016

For years, NPR was the soundtrack to my life. It’s what I listened to when I woke up in the mornings. It’s often what I would have on the radio during my commute to work. It even provided me with news and entertainment on the weekends.

Somehow that pattern of media consumption didn’t quite carry over when we made the move from California to New York. I think some of that had to do with the programming mix on WAMC. My sense was that it was weighted heavier with local programming and less reliant on the national feed.

I loved that national feed.

Which isn’t to say that the local programming in Albany isn’t without its charms. I really really need to start making more of a point to listen to Foodie Friday. The problem is that two o’clock on Friday afternoon is usually when I’m pushing my Yelp deadlines for the weekly newsletter. However, the show archive is available on the WAMC website.

But this last week’s show was a doozy.

You can hear the conversation with chef Eric Bolton here, but really, if you want to listen to something a bit more engaging, I’d suggest listening to the segment on Cast Iron Cooking with Deanna Fox or Jewish Cuisine with my rabbi.

As a side note, we’re going to talk more about Jewish Cuisine later this week on the FLB, because Passover is rapidly approaching.

My point in bringing up the radio show isn’t to focus on the chef’s unfortunate lack of enthusiasm. Sometimes public speaking events go poorly. It can happen to anyone. I’ve had it happen to myself. But there was something interesting that happened on the show.

More than anything else, the callers seemed to think a chef should be a flavor guru.

One person was looking for precise measurements for a seasoning blend. Another was looking for how to use lavender when cooking lamb. A different caller was asking about seasoning early versus seasoning late.

These all seem like easy questions, but they were all lacking critical pieces of information and context. And thus the chef was trapped in a lose-lose situation. Chef Ric Orlando came to the guest’s aid by sending in the name of a book that readers could buy on the subject.

It’s called The Flavor Bible.

Anyhow, that was Friday. On Saturday, I bumped into Ric at the Hudson Valley Hops festival. He had just finished judging the pale ale blind tasting, which was won by Shmaltz Brewing Company’s Brewers Wanted Pale Ale. Personally, I was super impressed with the pale ale that Indian Ladder Farms new brewhouse brought, but I wonder if that was penalized for being cloudy. I missed the judging, which was being moderated by Steve Barnes, so I can’t say.

But Silvia Meder Lilly and Chef Dimitrio Menagias were also on the panel, so maybe I can find out a bit more about the process from them.

Back to Ric. So, one of the things that he’s known for is using clean foods from local purveyors. His restaurant is in Saugerties, where the locals have been interested in this kind of stuff since the 1960s. And perhaps the thing I was most excited about when New World Bistro Bar opened up in Albany was that we finally had access to a grass-fed hamburger.

Part of me expected Ric to tell the caller that when you have great ingredients, seasoning is irrelevant. However, I soon realized that I was conflating my ideas of what makes good food with Ric’s.

After all, his signature dishes are all heavily seasoned, inspired by global flavors. And I sat on a panel with him once where he lambasted the objectification of pristine farmers market produce. He works with farmers to get their ugly stuff–the things they can’t sell at the weekend beauty pageant–and Ric will use his chef skills to make those ingredients shine their brightest.

I tried a bite of the Korean pork and rice dish he brought to Hudson Valley Hops, in addition to the sausage and bean casserole. They were indeed quite tasty, and super comforting for someone who had been sampling beers for a couple of hours.

Then on Sunday, I went to a bat mitzvah where Ric’s New World Catering was brought in to feed the guests at Flight Trampoline Park. I wasn’t jumping, but I had my own feat of endurance.

How many blackened stringbeans could I eat before I couldn’t eat anything else?

The answer was a lot. But really, I thought I would have been able to eat a lot more. There’s something really extra satisfying about seeing a huge catering tray full of a food you enjoy, and knowing that most of the kids attending the festivities aren’t going to touch the stuff.

So I didn’t feel bad going back for seconds. Or thirds. Or fourths. Because there was so much leftover, I was even sent home with a little doggy bag. Now, I just have to figure out a good use for those in the next couple of days. Maybe they could make a delicious cajun fried rice?

I tell you what, though. I’m not going to need The Flavor Bible to help me improvise that. I’ll start with the New Orleans holy trinity of green peppers, onions, and celery [edit: mistakenly I originally wrote “garlic”], and build from there. Culinary creativity need not be fraught with anxiety. I believe in learning about a cuisine, and its palette of flavors. If you taste as you go, success or failure in the kitchen is typically more about cooking technique than flavor. Flavors can be corrected. But there’s not much you can do for a dried out roast.

Now I’ve only got a few more days to eat all the bread and drink all the beer. Then come matzoh balls and a full week of matzoh. You’ll be hearing more about that very soon.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Debra permalink
    April 18, 2016 12:43 pm

    Isn’t the New Orleans Holy Trinity rounded off with celery, not garlic? I seem to remember years ago Chef Emeril Lagasse using peppers, onions, celery?

    • April 18, 2016 12:46 pm

      Yes. You are right. And I know the trinity. It’s right in the link. I just had garlic on the mind.

      Gah! I hate getting it wrong. Thank you so much for the catch.

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