Add a Mexican “accent” to your Thanksgiving table with these recipe secrets

Growing up, my mother always seemed to make Thanksgiving feel international. We lived outside of New York, and it seems that the United Nations had a ready list of guests from the country of your choice who were just waiting to experience an American Thanksgiving. And so, we headed faithfully, every year, to the Wilton train station to pick up flavor du jour, our Thanksgiving guests from Turkey, Russia, China. Maybe that is why I still feel the need to bring a bit of fusion flavor to this most American of meals, or maybe, I just can’t eat without chiles! Either way, here are some easy ways to add a little bit of Mexico to your meal, while still keeping with tradition:

  • phot by Adam Wyles

    phot by Adam Wyles

    Add chorizo (Mexican sausage, rich with spices like cinnamon and cardamon, available at Chico’s Produce on 24th off Harrison, buy the dry or chorizo seco, if its available) to your stuffing. You’ll want to remove the casing as you brown it well and mix with your favorite recipe.

  • Add chipotles to your salad dressing- really, this works well with raspberry dressings, caesar dressing- at Tres Señoritas Gourmet we do a house special dressing that is sundried tomato-based with chipotle and lime that is our most popular. Refer to Chiptoles: what they are and how to use them for other interesting ways to combine this smoky, spicy flavor into your cooking.
  • photo by Chiot's Run

    photo by Chiot’s Run

    Add serrano chiles to your cornbread. More flavorful than jalepeños, you’ll want to be judicious if your dinner crowd is not used to sabor caliente.

  • photo by Marcela Hernandez

    photo by Marcela Hernandez

    Add rajas de chiles poblanos to your green bean casserole. For cooking method, see Maiz part 3: Sin Maiz, No Hay Pais which shares a recipe for Poblano Strips with Corn, after reading the recipe, you may just want to substitute this dish for your green beans! Or, add chopped poblanos, fresh or canned corn niblets and crema Mexicana (available at Chico’s Produce or Casa Lucas, both on 24th Street) to your rice for a fiesta look and extra flavor.

  • mole.jpgInstead of gravy, serve your turkey with mole. Granted, this rich, chile-based Mexican specialty, which can be prepared with hazelnuts (see photo above) or with a hint of chocolate (see Secrets and Pleasures of Mexican cooking: Abuelita chocolate) is time-consuming to produce and there are as many recipes as there are Mexican grandmothers, but with luck, you may find some delicious mole at a nearby Mexican restaurant, or try your hand at making your own from one of the many on-line recipes if you are an adventurous chef.
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Interview Series: “What does it take to be a private chef?” w/ Chef Rose Johnson

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 10.00.49 AMThis is the first our series of interview with some of the top private chefs in the Bay area. If you are considering hiring a chef, or becoming one, the aim is to help you understand how to do that. We’ll be sharing trade secrets, end even some recipes, so stay tuned! Our first interview is with Chef Rose Johnson. A former Kitchit Marketplace chef, Rose Johsnon is the daughter of a restaurant owner and granddaughter of hotel and restaurant owners. Her introduction to the hospitality industry came at an early age. As a child, her immersion was complete as she made homemade donuts and set out continental breakfast for hotel guests, baked pies and made appetizers.

From Head Pastry Chef at legendary Philadelphia restaurants, White Dog Cafe, and The Striped Bass, to chef and teaching positions at New England boarding schools, health care food service, teaching adults and children, catering and conference cooking, Chef Rose has worked in all aspects of food service. She owned and operated an evening dessert cafe and her cooking segments have been featured on Canadian TV. Since opening Rose Johnson Catering & Cooking Classes, she has cooked for the US and Canadian Ambassadors to Denmark, ladies nights-out, non-profit fundraising events, a Danish wedding, and other gatherings up to 50 people.

Lawson Gray: What do you think it takes to be a private chef in the SF Bay area?

Chef Rose: To be a top chef in the SF bay area, you must be attentive, creative, cutting edge and highly skilled. That would be the same for any big city, what makes this area unique is that you must also source as locally as possible and be well versed in your California wines!

LG: What do you see as your “job”, what I mean by this is, what is it that you think you can/should do for your client? What your goals are when you are on-the-job?
CR: My job as a private chef is to first of all, to create a menu together with my client and to make the entire experience as seamless as possible, and then of course to cook and taste and finesse the food to the best of my ability. Since I am a tough critic, I think about what would impress me as a client and go from there. In our trade, you get one chance to impress so you better be on top of your game every single time. My ultimate goal is to create memorable meal. It is also my job to ensure the timing, service and clean up is executed without flaw,

It is important that any chef plan, based on menu and service style, number of courses, to have enough staff members.  Beyond that, its my job as a private chef is to communicate what I will need; for instance making sure I have a place to park to load and unload, clearing their counters, making a little space in the refrigerator etc.

Rose 3
LG: What is you “cooking philosophy”, if you will, your approach to food?
CR: My philosophy is to ” keep calm and let the passion flow ” and to remember, “you are only as good as the sum of your ingredients ” and words of wisdom from an old Catholic nun, “good, better, best- never let it rest, until your good is better, and your betters best”!

LG: What would you say are the top 3 criteria a client should use when hiring a private chef?
CR: • Number one- look for a chef who menus are within the realm of your own tastes. For instance, maybe you’ve read rave reviews about a chef but when you read their menus you think meh, or you think, what is this ” frozen hibiscus air on chicken feet with mushroom dust, kale froth and a tarragon strawberry squid ink cream”? You want to choose a chef whose menus resonate with the kinds of food you love.

Rose'a food

• Number two-try to find a chef that communicates well with you.

• Number three- do a quick search to check them out. You want a chef with experience, not fresh out of culinary school. A chef that has ” paid their dues” working out in the field– be it restaurants, hotels, cruise ships etc. or even just years as a private chef or caterer. Those kinds of working experiences help build the chef’s ability to handle any situation in a cool, calm and collected way. Some websites, like IfOnly and Private Chefs of the SF Bay pre-screen and qualify the chefs they promote, so this a good place to look as well as just “googling” your chef, of course.

LG: What are the top 3 things a client can do to make sure an event is the best it can be? What can the client do?
CR: Follow the directions you send ahead of the event, set the table (unless you have agreed, ahead for time, that your chef and their staff will be responsible to do this), make sure the chef knows if you are particular about anything in your kitchen. For example, make sure your chef knows not to use the garbage disposal it isn’t working well or to open the windows if the stove fans aren’t very strong so as to minimize smoke. And for me, if you have air conditioning please put it on because I am a hottie!

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In the true spirit of the Bay area, new business model for bespoke dining emerges as former Kitchit chefs form co-op

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 9.48.01 AMThe San Francisco Bay area is all about innovation, creativity and a kind of cooperative spirit that is the legacy of the 60’s and the Summer of Love. And so, it seems only fitting that a new, cooperative business model formed by folks who would seem to be competing for the same customers would be born here, in the Bay. Here’s is how it happened:

In an August 18th column, we posited the question: Did Kitchit Tonight force the demise of the Kitchit Marketplace? and explored the landscape of the food-meets-tech business sector which is thriving in the San Francisco Bay area, with its innovating dining options that range from pop-ups to secret dining clubs. While many of these innovations are a great fit for the middle market that is serviced by Kitchit Tonight ($39 dinners are prepared in a commissary kitchen which cooks re-heat and plate in the customer’s homes), there is little activity as the higher end. IfOnly has definitely stepped up its efforts in the Bay area, and even courted some of the former Kitchit Marketplace chefs, but their business model is diverse as are the culinary “Experiences” they offer, ranging from a chef’s shirt hand signed by Michael Chiarello ($250) to an entire category dedicated to Culinary Apprenticeships, and, of course, offers from some of the top chefs in the region (we counted over 20).

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 10.11.47 AMWith so few players in the space, Kitchit Marketplace chefs felt they were left without critical access to customers who are looking for bespoke cuisine. Chefs are a communicative group, and a FaceBook group quickly popped up called Formerly Kitchit Chefs, where ideas, gig opportunities, complaints and suggestions were exchanged and friendships fostered. Out of that, a new model emerged: a co-op marketplace which currently hosts six chefs on a website called Private Chefs of the SF Bay (full disclosure: this columnist is one of the chefs on the site), which went live November 1st, 2015. Each chef has a presence on the site’s home page, their own dedicated page complete with bio, menus, food photos and contact information. The business model is one in which a small percentage of proceeds from events booked through the site go back to the co-op to support marketing and site maintenance, with half of those funds being earmarked to support selected Bay Area non-profits operating in the culinary sector.

Screen shot 2014-09-25 at 11.50.18 AMScreen Shot 2015-11-02 at 10.00.49 AMScreen Shot 2015-11-02 at 9.53.57 AMScreen Shot 2015-11-02 at 9.54.15 AMScreen Shot 2015-11-02 at 10.08.49 AMScreen Shot 2015-10-31 at 12.07.15 PMScreen Shot 2015-10-10 at 12.35.02 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-02 at 10.10.52 AMThe co-op marketplace, with its tagline, “A Curated Collective of Culinary Talents” offers a broad range of cuisine; from California Cuisine to Indian, Latin, Mexican and Moroccan to Wine Country and Asian Fusion and Southern comfort cooking, as well as culinary coaching and cooking classes. “We wanted to offer the consumer enough options so they can find whatever they were looking for on the site, but not so many as to overwhelm them with choices” says Chef Rose Johnson, one of the core team members. Private Chefs of the SF Bay has some more unusual culinary offers, as well, like Wild Game from Chef Bobbi Jo Wasilko, and a Guest Chef of the Month as a way to involve more chefs in the venture and offer unique food.  “We are covering all our bases” continues Chef Rose, “we have chefs from as far north as Santa Rosa, east to Tracy and south to Los Altos”. Customers have the option of requesting a specific chef, or asking a concierge to send menus and proposals from up to 3 chefs.

Private Chefs of the SF Bay is also doing some things differently, with six chefs who feel they learned a lot from the Kitchit Marketplace experience. For example, and this is perhaps one of the keys to why Kitchit turned to a lower end ticket, a downward spiral is created when chefs undercut each other in order to fill their schedules. With some many chefs on the Kitchit Marketplace, one experiencd chef explained it this way, “So many chefs [lack the experience to] command the appropriate rate for their work… [and need to] learn how to do some math on food and labor costs…. I was a Kitcheningsurfing chef in the very beginning when it had a marketplace, [and saw that] all too often the winning bid ‘chef’ had undercut the price point budget a client would set just to get the job”. To avoid this kind of unhealthy competition and create an offer that is more consistent, the chefs in this new co-op set agreed-up minimum pricing, and came together on a score of other policies that affect the customer, like travel distances and related fees, costs per server, and holiday rates. “We wanted to make it easy for the customer, and allow them to make their decision based on the chef, his or her culinary style and bio, the menu— the food” says Johnson, as opposed to comparing policies. Beyond this, each chef sets their own prices and is in direct contact with the customer from the start, something which is not the case with third party sites whose income stream is generated from the chef side. The co-op model lends itself well to the open communication between host and chef so crucial to creating a successful event.

Are co-ops the new direction for bespoke chefs? That remains to be seen. The Bay area chefs behind Private Chefs of the SF Bay are sharing the model with former Kitchit chefs in the New York region. It will be interesting to see if they follow suit.

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If you know better, you can do better: Are Americans appropriating Day of the Dead 2015?

Altar in Mexico, photo by Carlos Martinez

Altar in Mexico, photo by Carlos Martinez

I write a piece about Day of the Dead every year at this time. It’s what I do, after all. My writing focuses on Mexican culture, traditions and cuisine. What started off as a way to inform my readers about celebrations taking place in Mexico has migrated, quite literally, to reporting on festivities in the U.S and especially in San Francisco. The migration has following the curve of the gentrification of my neighborhood here, in the Mission district. When I first arrived, over 20 years ago, only a very small group of mostly Latino neighbors gathered in Precita Park for a subdued celebration of Dia de Los Muertos. Now and especially over the past couple years, the “parade of souls” is looking a lot more like the answer to the permanent ban, in effect since 2010,  on large scale Halloween parties in The Castro. While reports on the size of the crowd which gathers in the Mission for Dia de Los Muertos vary wildly (some say 10,000, other ten times that), there’s no doubt that the majority of participants are no longer either from the Mission, nor even from San Francisco for that matter, nor  are they Latinos. Molly Sanchez  made the same connection with gentrification in the Mission at this time last year, when she quoted  SF State Ethnic and Latino Studies Professor Teresa Carillo in her piece for in The Bold Italic, entitled Dia de Los Muertos: Appropriation or Appreciation?  “The discussion of Latino customs becoming popularized to broader audiences is especially relevant given the current gentrification of The Mission. To have that appropriation on an economic level be the backdrop of this holiday really accentuates the damage.”

In this country, dressing up for Day of the Dead has become an alternative to costuming for Halloween. This is definitely not a widespread custom in Mexico, where the focus is more on creating altars and visiting the dead at the panteon or cemetery. Photo by Carnaval Studios.

In this country, dressing up for Day of the Dead has become an alternative to costuming for Halloween. This is definitely not a widespread custom in Mexico, where the focus is more on creating altars and visiting the dead at the panteon or cemetery. Photo by Carnaval Studios.

As a columnist for the, I sporadically receive information from PR firms looking to have me promote their product. This year, to my dismay (and for the first time), I received just such an inquiry from a tequila producer, suggesting I write something about Day of the Dead and tequila, informing me that there is a tradition that associates the two and with a flip lead in about “Getting Spooky with tequila cocktail recipe”. My reply:

“While I am very familiar with the Day of the Dead tie-ins to tequila (I am not sure whether you are aware that I co-authored the only book on Mexican fiesta and festival foods), that means putting a bottle of tequila on the altar if tequila was the favorite drink of the departed loved one, not creating fancy new cocktails.. I am remiss to commercialize Day of the Dead, but happy to write something for Halloween”.

Why do so many participate, painting their faces, building altars, carrying candles? Perhaps is what has attracted “gringos” to the holiday is something writer/performer Aya de Leon identified in her post, Dear White People/Queridos Gringos: You Want Our Culture But You Don’t Want Us – Stop Colonizing The Day Of The Dead“…. “it is completely natural that you would find yourself attracted to The Day of The Dead. This indigenous holiday from Mexico celebrates the loving connection between the living and our departed loved ones that is so deeply missing in Western culture. Who wouldn’t feel moved by intricately and lovingly built altars, beautifully painted skull faces, waterfalls of marigold flowers, fragrant sweet breads and delicious meals for those whom we miss sharing our earthly lives”.

Whatever the motivations of those of us who are not Latina or Latino is, respect must be one of them. For me, one of the elements that separates appropriation from appreciation is that, the ability to appreciate, to treasure the culture in which one is temporarily participating. This means taking the time learn about the meanings, the traditions, the food and the history. It is in that spirit that I share the following,  adapted from the book, Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes, (by this columnist co-authored with Adriana Almazan Lahl).

Day of the Dead, which is not a day at all, in fact, but in Mexico, a celebration which runs from Oct. 30th through November 2nd, will be celebrated here in San Francisco on Monday, November 2nd with a procession, organized by the Rescue Culture Collective and a Festival of Altars, organized by the Marigold Project, from 6-11pm, Garfield Park, 26th & Harrison Streets.

What is Day of the Dead?

Día de los Muertos is the only modern Mexican festival for which there is conclusive evidence of pre-Hispanic roots. During the month of Xocotlhuetzi, which fell in July and/or August, the Aztecs marked the Great Feast of the Dead. It was the conquering Spaniards who “relocated” the festival to coincide with All Hallows Eve. The Aztec celebration coincided with the harvest of beans, chickpeas, rice, corn, and pumpkin. These foods were part of the offering that was placed at the altar of the goddess Mictecacihuatl, ruler of the afterlife along with her husband, Mictlantecuhtli.  Researchers think that these traditions eventually became conflated with others, which included burying personal objects of the deceased, along with food and offerings.

While the holiday falls almost concurrently with Halloween, and the customs surrounding both events include sweets, skeletons and spirits; that is where the similarity ends. Until recently, there was no dressing in costumes or asking for candy in Mexico (this is something that recent “immigrated” and only occurs in parts of the country). Dia de los Muertos is neither scary, nor somber; it is joyous. The skeletons are not morbid; they are gaily dressed and lively. The spirits are not ghostly phantoms but rather those of the deceased, who are thought to return to visit their early-awaiting families on these special days.

A.Davey - Cemetery on the Day of the Dead in Mexico

A.Davey –
Cemetery on the Day of the Dead in Mexico

Although the seasonal smells and colors of Los Muertos are in evidence everywhere, from the largest city to the most remote rancho, this is a private, family fiesta; a time of reunion and reunification of the living with the dead. There are some regional differences in dates, but generally October 31st or November 1 is Day of the Innocents (Dia de los Santos Inocentes), reserved for spirits of children who have passed, with a special days on October 30th in some parts for children who died before baptism (los niños en limbo). November 1st or 2nd is Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos or Dia de los Difunctos) a day to spend with the spirits of deceased adults.

European or Pre-Columbian Roots
Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival is a living example of what the Church sought to avoid when All Souls Day was established in 13th century Europe; persistent adherence to pre-Christian rituals and attitudes. The Spanish may have introduced the custom of food-offerings to Mexico, whom, in spite of the Church’s efforts to eradicate the tradition, enjoyed feasting with their dead. However, the similarities between pre and post Hispanic traditions in Meso-America make it difficult to trace the origins of specific aspects of the festivities honoring the dead.

Day of the Dead Rituals in Modern Mexico

As Mexican families prepare for the festivities, houses are cleaned and furniture moved so as to have space to build a colorful altar. These altars (altares) are the fruit of a complicated family project, which may begin days, even weeks prior and in which everyone in the family has a role. Almost everyone goes to the cemetery (pantheon) and in some areas of Mexico, even spend the entire night visiting with the spirits of their loved ones, beside their graves. It is not uncommon to picnic at the gravesite. Family members clean up and decorate graves, which attracts vendors to the cemeteries selling flowers and decorations. Others play music to entertain the deceased and their families, hoping to earn a few pesos.

In Mexico, many spend the night in the cemeterys o as to be close to the spirits of departed loved ones. Photo by Greg Willis Day of the Dead in Oaxaca Xoxocotlán - Panteón Antiguo

In Mexico, many spend the night in the cemeterys o as to be close to the spirits of departed loved ones.
Photo by Greg Willis
Day of the Dead in Oaxaca
Xoxocotlán – Panteón Antiguo

Day of the Dead Bread
The best Pan de Muertos (Day of the Dead bread) in San Francisco can be found either at La Victoria or La Mejor Panaderia, both within a few blocks of each other in 24th St. in the heart of the Mission. The history of this sweet treat is as fascinating in its folklore as it is in its variety of shape and style. Undoubtedly a European import, (after all, its not cornbread de muertos or tortilla de muertos) the basic ingredients, butter, cane sugar and wheat flour were not known in Meso-America prior to the conquest. However, the animal forms (these breads often resemble turtles, rabbits, and crocodiles) are suggestive of Aztec traditions, in which anthropomorphic figures were formed from amaranth seed dough and eaten. The Bread of the Dead dates back to the conquest years, when the Spaniards first arrived in Meso-America and were terrorized by their discovery of Aztecs rituals of human sacrifice. In one ceremony, they sacrificed a virgin by taking her heart and burying it in a clay pot full of amaranth; the leader of the ceremony would then bite the heart. In an attempt to eliminate this ritual, the Spaniards created bread with a heart shape, coated with red sugar simulating the blood. Their acceptance of this substitute marked the first time the Aztecs gave bread divine attributes, the beginning of a slow transition to Catholicism.

There have been many studies that seek to define the meaning of Pan de Muertos. Some show that, in an effort to keep with Indigenous roots, the four lines usually found atop the bread simulate the four cardinal points of the Aztec calendar, each of which, in turn, relates to one of their four principal deities. Another interpretation of the four lines, more in keeping with the teachings of the Catholic Church, is that they represent the bones of those who have passed away and the center represents the heart or skull.

Mexican cooking with pumpkin

Enhancing the confusion with Halloween, pumpkin has been an essential part of Day of the Dead ofrendas since Aztec times, when they used the sap of a maguey plant as a sweetener for calabaza. The arrival of the Spanish brought sugar cane, first introduced in Vera Cruz as early as 1524, which changed the was the sweetened pumpkin was prepared. Cooks began to candy the pumpkin by placing it into caldrons called tachas that were used for making sugar. It simmered along with other spices and fruits, resulting in the dish known today as Calabza en Tacha. Another seasonal specialty is Pumpkin Mole. You can find a recipe in our book,  Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes.

Posted in Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Holiday Traditions and Recipes, Mexican Cultural Events | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

He hunts, she cooks: a nubie’s guide to eating and cooking wild game with recipe

Raisin Stuffed Quail in a Pear Nest with Spaghetti Squash and Pear Duck Demi-Glace. (He Hunts, She Cooks)

Raisin Stuffed Quail in a Pear Nest with Spaghetti Squash and Pear Duck Demi-Glace. (He Hunts, She Cooks)

Hunting for your dinner sound like a throwback or something that happens in the north woods of Canada somewhere? You may surprised to learn that its a trend that is growing, especially here in the SF Bay area! How much of that is attributable to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s recent revelation that, “The only meat [he is] eating is from animals [he has] killed…” is hard to say. While Zuckerberg was referring to slaughtering his own goats, chickens and pigs in the May 26, 2011 Fortune article, a subsequent report in Gawker quoted him as saying that he has learned to hunt, gotten a license, and shot and killed a bison, which he describes as more “tender and sweeter than beef… [and] lower in fat and cholesterol.” So we thought we’d offer a primer, for those of you who might be thinking about doing something similar, or just want to know how to cook some of those more unusual proteins that are starting to show up in Bay area markets from Kroger’s to Whole Foods.

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 12.35.02 PMDan and Bobbie Jo Wasilko are a traditional husband-and-wife couple: Dan hunts for wild game and Bobbie Jo cooks what he brings home. But unlike the stereotypical hand-off at the pot on the stove, Bobbie Jo will often go into the field with Dan and he will often help Bobbie Jo in the kitchen. Bobbie Jo is a naturally talented chef who began to specialize in preparing wild game shortly after she and Dan were married. Bobbie Jo has taken this passion for cooking wild game and created a personal chef business called Cookin’ Wild™ where she provides multi-course, wild game meals for clients in northern California. In Bobbie Jo’s She Cooks blog, she provides recipes and background information on how best to prepare many different types of wild game and even exotic meats and seafood, while Dan’s He Hunts blog provides tips for hunters. We interviewed Bobbie Jo about what its like to be a chef in this unusual niche.

ANDREA: You are in a pretty unique niche when it comes to private chefs and caterers how do describe what you do? How did you get started?

BOBBIE JO: As transplants to the area we wanted to make friends and thought the best way to do so would be to invite people to dinner to enjoy our wild game. Many of our guests hadn’t ever tried wild game or if they had, it was usually a bad experience, so it was encouraging to know that my methods and recipes won them over to be fans of wild game.

Many of our dinner guests encouraged me to do something in the wild game industry, such as writing a cookbook or opening a restaurant. One dinner, our friend, Dave insisted I prepare and serve a wild game dinner for his boss and guests as a Christmas present from him and his coworkers. I accepted the challenge and created and served a dinner centered on a main course of fig walnut stuffed rack of wild boar. Dave’s boss and his guests loved it!  I found the experience to be fun and I enjoyed watching the client’s reaction to trying something new.  So the next day I created my “Cookin’ Wild” personal chef business.
ANDREA: It seems like the SF Bay area, with its penchant for exploring new food trends, might be an ideal place for your kind of business. Do you find this to be so? Did you have this in mind when you decided to launch here?

BOBBIE JO: The Bay Area is an ideal place to offer this type of service, with its diverse cultures and ethnicities many types of foods are available and accepted. It was also encouraging that several restaurants in the city and in the wine country have a wild game dish or two on their menus and many have a “wild game week” or event in the autumn which usually sells out in advance. This was a good indicator that a personal chef business based upon wild game would do well here.
ANDREA: How does your business fit with the sustainable and local foods that are at the core of California Cuisine?

BOBBIE JO: There is definitely a movement towards eating locally here in Northern California with each city and suburban town offering one or more farmers markets during the week and with more access to free-range and ethically grown and harvested meats and poultry. Along these lines, when a client of mine or their guest tries and enjoys the wild game I serve, they may be more encouraged to beginning hunting for themselves or be more open to accepting a free duck or piece of venison from their neighbor who does hunt.

Wild game also goes along with the foraging movement.  I know plenty of folks who consume only their hunted game, and solely harvest wild plants, herbs, fruits, vegetables, and mushrooms.  Bragging rights include not having set foot in a grocery store for any produce or meat in years.

Hunting, foraging, harvesting, and processing everything that comes into the kitchen means food has been in sight at all times.  Field to table, field to plate, eat what you hunt, are phrases I use every day, and practice to bring great meals to my clients, and my own table.
ANDREA: How has hunting changed, if at all, over the last several decades?

BOBBIE JO: Many new hunters, especially the twenty and thirty-somethings, are entering this sport with a different attitude than previous generations. Unlike those who were taught to hunt at 12 years old because it was a family or local tradition, these new hunters approach it as a way to be active in acquiring healthy, local foods. They want to experience obtaining their meat with their own hands.  The popularity of folks growing their own gardens has also jumped up considerably.  Even those who live in urban dwellings with very little space will at the very least, grown some herbs and tomatoes on roof top decks or in pots on balconies.

ANDREA: Who do you think your target audience is? How do you “get the word out” about eating wild game and encourage folks to try it?

BOBBIE JO:  For my personal chef business my target audience is anyone with an adventurous nature and who is willing to try wild game and appreciate it’s uniqueness.

To reach a larger audience, my husband and I are launching our own TV show called “He Hunts She Cooks” on Hunt Channel in 2016. Our concept is to show how my husband and I work together to harvest wild game and to create amazing meals with it.

Interestingly, one hundred and fifty years ago, wild game was the main source for dinner.  But with urban sprawl and the change toward large scale farms, and animals being over hunted, folks began to turn towards farm raised animals like cows, chickens, and pigs.  However, now that wild game is better managed, and their numbers are growing, combined with the new urban/suburban hunters, and the traditionalists, wild game is back!  And with the return of wild game brings new cooking methods and influences.  Don’t get me wrong, slow cooking a venison roast in a crockpot is great, but using new methods such as sous vide cooking brings wild game to a whole new level, which will appeal to a wider population.  My idea it to marry the traditional idea of hunting and harvesting your own food to modern cooking methods to create something everyone can enjoy.  We hope to reach a wide audience with our show to inspire couples to work together and to bring back wild game cooking and elevate it for the new millennium.

ANDREA: The hunting industry and lifestyle has recently been under fire for high-profile trophy hunts for exotic or even endangered species.  Have you and your husband experienced any push back or controversy, and what is your response to those against it?

BOBBIE JO: Our approach is more mainstream, where I offer wild game dishes based upon plentiful or even herd animals such as deer, elk, wild pig, rabbit, duck, and pheasant. I will offer more exotic meats as well, including alligator and kangaroo, but these are also fully sustainable and are within the normal diet in many parts of the world. Because of health and safety regulations, the game I serve to my clients is documented by the USDA or other international agencies. In some cases the meat is farm raised, but still has the wild genetics. Clients may also provide their own harvested game that I will prepare for them as part of my personal chef service.  In regards to hunting game, my husband hunts for the table, as opposed to trophy hunting.  Now if he does kill a really nice deer with a large rack of antlers, he’ll certainly make his case for having it mounted, but it’s not usually something he concerns himself with.  Especially since older animals aren’t as tender or tasty as younger ones, anyway.   The only mounts he has are one black-tail buck and one very big nasty looking wild boar.  I can honestly say, I pulled out every trick in my culinary arsenal to tenderize or to improve the flavor of that old boar, but just couldn’t get a great result.  So from then on out, if he wants me to prepare it, he must keep it under a certain age and weight.  Our trophy is in the plated dish.

6. Most people have never eaten wild game. What are some of the “openers”? Dishes that make it easy for people who might otherwise he hesitant to experiment with a new protein?

BOBBIE JO: If I’m looking to ease a client into trying wild game for the first time, I’ll offer dishes like venison, pheasant, quail, or rabbit. Those animals seem to be the easiest to approach for the uninitiated.  As I often do, I invite friends over for dinner to be my guinea pigs to try out new dishes I’m working on to gain their assessment before preparing it for a client.  One dinner we invited friends over to try new recipes I was working on.  Our friend, J.L. and his wife, Debbie were coming for dinner.  I was working on rabbit rillettes and J.L. said his wife hated rabbit.  We forged a plan to get her to change her mind.  I made an appetizer of mustard cognac braised rabbit rillettes on crostini with sliced pear.  We didn’t tell Debbie what it was.  After three servings, we decided to spill the beans.  She was shocked to know she’d been enjoying the rabbit, and realized that in the proper hands, rabbit is yummy!

For my clients who are hesitant about trying wild game or incorporating it into a menu, I offer them a financial incentive.  I always say, “If you’re willing to try my game dishes, and you don’t like it, I’ll deduct it from the bill.”  To this date, I’ve never had to remove it from the bill.

Pomegranate Molasses glazed Rack of Wild Pig with Roasted Figs and Pecans (He Hunts, She Cooks)

Pomegranate Molasses glazed Rack of Wild Pig with Roasted Figs and Pecans (He Hunts, She Cooks)

RECIPE: Venison Loin Medallions with Black Truffle Foie Gras Pate, Cabernet Venison Sauce


4-6 ounce boneless Venison Loin Medallions (elk, antelope, deer)
1 pkg. (6 ounce) D’Artagnon Black Truffle Foie Gras Pate*
Kosher Salt
Fresh Ground Pepper
Grape Seed Oil (substitute canola oil, or vegetable oil)
3/4 cup Venison Stock (or beef stock)
1/2 cup Cabernet Wine
1 Shallot, minced
3 Tbs. Butter, divided into 1 Tbs. and 2 Tbs.
2 Tbs. Flour

*extra pate left over

Prep for the venison

24 hours ahead: Season venison loin medallions with kosher salt and refrigerate, overnight.One hour before cooking, bring the medallions to room temperature on the counter. Pre-heat the oven to 350º. Re-season the venison with a bit more kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.Set aside while the sauce is prepared.

To make the Cabernet Sauce
Over medium heat, to a small sauce pot, add the 1 tablespoon butter, and add the minced shallot and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the wine and heat for 4 minutes. Then add the stock and continue to reduce for another 4 minutes. Mix the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and flour together to make a paste, and whisk into the sauce to thicken. Once the sauce is thickened, turn down the heat to keep warm until the dish is finished.
To Finish
Heat an oven safe pan (or cast iron), over medium high heat. Add a few tablespoons oil.
Add venison medallions and sear until browned. Turn over and sear the other side until browned, then place in the oven for about 6 minutes. Remove the medallions from the oven and top each with 2 tablespoons (about 1 ounce) black truffle foie gras pate (*reserve the remaining pate for the sauce). Turn off the oven and place the venison back in the oven to heat the pate.
Just before serving, whisk in any leftover pate to the red wine sauce. Serve with sides of your choice.
Chef’s Notes
“I served this dish with yukon gold potatoes that were first boiled whole and unpeeled until tender, shocked in cold water, drained, then sliced and sautéed in butter, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper.

The trumpet mushrooms were sliced and sautéed along with the potatoes.

The carrots were braised in a frying pan with 3/4 cup water, a tablespoon sugar, 2 tablespoons butter, salt and pepper. They were cooked at a medium simmer for 20 minutes, until all the water was evaporated, and turned into a caramelized glaze.

The potatoes can be boiled the day ahead and refrigerated overnight, then sliced and sautéed just before serving, as well as the mushrooms.

The carrots can be started 20 minutes ahead of serving time to simmer while the venison is cooked.”
By Bobbie Jo Wasilko

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Did Kitchit Tonight force the demise of the Kitchit Marketplace?

(Note: all the photos shown below are from chefs who’s talent was available through the Kitchit Marketplace. To hire these chefs, you may now contact them directly.)

With Silicon Valley in its backyard and the riches of California’s farms all around it, the San Francisco Bay area provides what is arguably the perfect intersection of food and technology. So, it should be no surprise that the Bay is also a hotbed for start-ups in this very busy business sector. From Munchery to Cozymeal, Feastly to CookApp ( of course, there had to be an app for that, especially here in the Bay) a plethora of choices have popped up in the past several years for diners who are looking to explore restaurant alternatives that offer great food. The market has even attracted the attention of the global community dining company, EatWith Me, which, according to a September 18, 2104 TechCrunch article, “now has more than 500 hosts in 160 cities and 30 countries around the world” and moved its base office to San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood from Tel Aviv a little over a year after its launch.  Some of these offer peer-to-peer dining a la Airbnb, others focus on group cooking lessons where you eat what you and your friends prepare, some send a private chef to your home and still others have a meal-in-a-box concept, like Blue Apron. This market sector is as busy as a kitchen full of chefs!

Pan Seared Diver Scallop - Tomato Jam, Bacon Confit, - Lavender Beurre Blanc from Ira Siegel, I. Catering Siegal in Campell

Pan Seared Diver Scallop – Tomato Jam, Bacon Confit, – Lavender Beurre Blanc from Ira Siegel, I. Catering Siegal in Campell

One of the early entries into the food-meets-tech sector was Kitchit, which launched October 1, 2011, as an innovative service, with a mission “to transform the way people eat at home, powered by outstanding food and service from chefs”. Bay area private chefs were excited. Here was a great platform to connect them to clients; one that was professional, seemingly understood their talent and allowed them to focus on creating great food while it focused on marketing it. So excited, in fact, that by the time Kitchit folded its Marketplace with a surprise announcement to its chefs yesterday, there were over 150 chefs participating in Kitchit Marketplace in the SF Bay area.

Closing Kitchen Marketplace

Chefs received this email from Kitchit management, “we have made the difficult but important decision to focus our company’s work exclusively on our Kitchit Tonight “service [which allows] diners choose from seasonal prix-fixe menus and [be] matched with a local Kitchit Chef post booking. … Centralized menu creation, ingredient sourcing, and prep cooking, allow[s] chefs to simply pick up their mise en place (this is the practice of setting out all your ingredients, prepped and ready for use) and execute the meal. This transition will effectively close our other service, the Chef Marketplace” [citing] the market response to Kitchit Tonight [as having] so outpaced our expectations that we find our team wholly consumed by that half of the business.”

Vietnamese Bun with Lime Grilled Shrimp and Pineapple chili sauce from Mariko Amekodommo,

Vietnamese Bun with Lime Grilled Shrimp and Pineapple chili sauce from Mariko Amekodommo,

So what happened?

In October 2014 received “$7.5 million in funding led by Javelin Venture Partners to make its chefs available to more users in more places” (according to a Dec 9 2014 article in Tech Crunch), on the heels of its launch of Kitchit Tonight, a weekday service offering a 3-course meal and preset menu for the prix fixée of $39 per person. This launch may have been in response to competitor Kitchensurfing bringing on Jon Tien from Zynga as new CEO just after raising $15M, according to a Dec 3, 2014 Tech Crunch report.  Kitchensurfing offers “weeknight dinners for $25 per person. Prepared in your home by a personal chef” and has experienced exponential growth. Since its founding sources say, “thousands of chefs have joined, and more than 100,000 people have experienced a Kitchensurfing meal” and the comanay has a presence in multiple markets including New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, but interestingly, not in San Francisco, which, perhaps, is an indication that Kitchit successfully fended them off  with the launch of Kitchit Tonight. Investors in Kitchit have to have been watching very carefully to see what would happen as Tien took the reins. The funding round brought Kitchensurfing’s total funding to $19.5 million. “The company would not comment on valuation, but a source familiar with the round said it was at least $40 million” (Tech Crunch, Dec. 9, 2014). Kitchit’s total funding to date is $8.1M, we could find no information about market valuation.

Farmer's Market Salad from

Farmer’s Market Salad from

Kitchit Marketplace chefs were confused with the launch of Kitchit Tonight, which they felt competed on the very same website with the bespoke cuisine they offered, and that Kitchit Tonight lowered the bar. With the effiencies of its own commissary kitchen, the ability to buy in bulk, and paying chefs $30/ hour with a 3 hour max and no compensation for travel costs/time, it seemed like a lose-lose for chefs who were used to commanding anywhere from $50-$100 per person, and even more, and managing their own labor costs, purchasing and menus. Many saw a significant decreased in revenue from a source that some had come to rely upon as their primary income stream as Kitchit Tonight attracted customers who might have requested a chef from the Kitchit Marketplace. Kitchit’s marketing push was clearly on their new offer, they even shocked San Franciscans with fake parking tickets, sparking and SF Eater story with the provocative title, Culinary Startup’s Meter Morons Blanket SF Cars With Fake Parking Tickets.

Beet Ravioli by Deborah DalFovo

So, did pressure from investors contribute to the demise of the Kitchit Marketplace? No way to know… What we do know is that the folding of Kitchit Marketplace is contributing to, if not the demise, the serious diminishment of an important income stream for many Bay area chefs, according to a source close to the group. The laments from Bay area chefs are palatable:

Chef Rose Johnson is one of these, “Yesterday I was in shock starting from the quake (a 4.0 shaker woke us up in the Bay at 6:48 a.m.) in the morning to the ending of our livelihood in the afternoon.”

Chef Deborah Dal Fovo, spoke of “What a huge disappointment it is to hear the news today. Especially before the holidays. Fortunately, we all know that there are lots of clients who love our Marketplace service but unfortunately we are now disconnected” and went on to say how, “Kitchit’s Chef Marketplace offered a unique and valuable service to clients who desired high end quality private chefs to rare connection between clients looking for 4 star private chefs to entertain with elegance in the privacy of their home

For Chef Ira Siegel of I. Siegel Catering in Campbell,  ” The mere access to these clients..  was priceless…. Kitchit Marketplace gave us the opportunity to showcase our talents and our craft to a myriad of clients. It afforded the client not only a restaurant quality meal but an experience…and… allowed us as artisans to share our craft and love of food as well as present and execute artistically. It gave us access to clientele that not only dined in the top restaurants but wanting a meal not available or unique.”

What Chef Christopher Wong found out with Kitchit Marketplace is  “that there are a lot of people from all walks of life who simply love food, great company and respect what creative and passionate chefs do. To be able to have that experience in their homes was a luxury and a great gift to their guests and themselves”.

Chef Derek Burns saw Kitchit’s Marketplace, as “a rare chance [for the diner] to have stellar chefs create restaurant quality experiences in their homes, with it’s closing those gourmands are left to prefab meals and traditional catering…a different sort of throwback.

It will be interesting to see if the brand can maintain its reputation for great food, for which there are no shortcuts. One chef who took on a Kitchit Tonite gig shared his experience, “Last time I cooked, they sent me on a 35min drive in 93° [weather] with a piece of albacore which smelled like tuna, not bad tuna, but fresh fish is almost odorless and no ice for a VIP who was expecting fresh ahi!”

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On National Rum Day, a good read, the ultimate Piña Colada and more recipes

What better way to embrace the last bit of summer than to celebrate National Rum Day on August 16th? Below, you’ll find some recipes for traditional and non-traditional rum cocktails from the folks at with Flor de Caña‎, celebrating 125 years of production of family-owned, award-winning Nicaraguan rum. Flor de Caña premium and super premium rums are distilled and crafted from estate-grown sugar cane at Flor de Caña’s fully self-sustaining facility in Chichigalpa, Nicaragua.

The following interesting tidbit about rum and Nicaragua appears in my friend, Richard Foss’ Rum, A Global History:

In 1933, the year in which, right as Americans were repealing Prohibition, a small fire at a neighboring lumberyard spread to the warehouse on the Thames in an area known as Rum Quay, where 6,500 of wooden barrels stored three million litres of liquor, burned for four days. “The firemen trying to fight the blaze were made tipsy by the fumes. The amount lost was equal to the production of Barbados at the time…. Nicaragua, which produced some excellent rums, probably had some extra product to put on the market [that Fall, as then president Carlos Jarquin], in a break with tradition ordered that none of the parties were to provide voters with free rum at polling places. Its hard to tell if the voting turnout that year was so low because of this” or other forces at work.

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 11.19.26 AM

To explore more on the subject of rum, make National Rum Day your excuse to order a copy of Rum, A Global History, a truly fascinating look at origins of rum, from the Caribbean to the USA, to Europe, globally in India, Australia, and South America and beyond. Richard also looks at “Rum’s Fall from Grace” and resurgence as the Temperance movement, wars and religion effected consumption, and is chock-full of interesting information, even a list of rum museums.

The Ultimate Piña Colada

Image by Flor de Caña

Image by Flor de Caña

2.5 parts Flor de Caña 7 Rum
3 parts pineapple juice (we recommend you make your own, see video)
1 part homemade organic coconut cream (see method below)

Method: Coconut cream is what rises to the top of a can of full fat coconut milk when it’s chilled, just like regular cream in a bottle of pasteurized milk. To “harvest” the coconut cream, you’ll need to chill a can of organic, full fat coconut milk. Thai Organic Coconut milk is a good choice. Open the cold can of coconut milk and simply scoop out the creamy layer you on the top.  That’s it; you’re ready to make your Piña Colada. Each can of coconut milk should yield about ¼ of its content as cream, so buy accordingly. Prepare pineapple juice (it’s easy, see video). Combine the FDC 7, pineapple juice and coconut cream in a blender. Add cup of crushed ice and blend on high until smooth. Pour into a tall glass and garnish with a pineapple wedge.

Flor de Caña Ultimate Mojito
2 parts Flor de Caña 7
1/2 part limejuice
1/3 part superfine sugar
3 leaves mint

Method: Muddle limejuice with sugar in a Collins glass. Add mint leaves and muddle again. Fill glass 2/3 full with crushed ice and add rum. Top off with a champagne float. Garnish with sprig of mint.

Flor de Caña Manhattan

2 parts Flor de Caña 7 rum
1 part sweet vermouth
1/6 parts maraschino liqueur
1 dash orange bitters

Method Add all ingredients to mixing glass filled with ice. Stir vigorously and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a cherry.

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