Showing posts with label Randy Rucker. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Randy Rucker. Show all posts

Monday, December 13, 2010

Foraging with chef Randy Rucker

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We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day when fourteen eager food-centric men and women gathered at Bootsie’s Heritage Café in Tomball, Texas.  Inspired by local chef Randy Rucker, we met with a purpose - to bring out the gatherer in us.  Inherent in humans since the beginning of time, it’s an activity largely lost to us today due to industrialization and a small but very powerful number of corporations that control our food supplies and have in many cases sucked all semblance and nutritional value from our food…if you haven’t seen Food, Inc. yet, do so immediately!  

On a positive note, a shift to a local and sustainable culture is gaining momentum with Farmer’s Markets popping up everywhere in the nation.  Chef Monica Pope coined it best: eat where your food lives!   A sweet vine-ripened tomato grown in your own garden or by a local farmer will be far superior tasting to one that has travelled thousands of miles.  Oh yeah, and it’s better for the local economy and the environment.  Consider fruit from Chile - it travels some 4,000 to 5,000 miles to get to your grocery store.  In many cases it is harvested unripe, coated in wax and treated to retard its ripening…hello green bananas! 

A leader in promoting local produce and meat, Randy Rucker talks about the local terroir.   Terroir is the French work for “land” originally used by the wine industry to describe the flavors the soil imparts on grape vines and ultimately the wines produced from those grapes.   Animals raised for food that eat what the terroir produces taste better.  When cooked and accompanied by local vegetables in season, Mother Nature’s ultimate gift for nourishment and healing is gained. 

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So it is with foraging.   Wild, edible plants offer a range of flavors and benefits.   It was at one of Randy’s Tenacity dinners last year that I discovered peppery - sour wood sorrel and purslane, which imparted a distinct lemon flavor.   Enthusiastic about his vocation, Randy’s vision for his restaurant is that it is “consistently inconsistent”.   With an emphasis on the freshest food, Randy and his young crew forage several times a week.  He is also training his chefs to not only update the restaurant menu daily, but hourly.  He shuns fixed menus, claiming that there is only a short window of time that vegetables, once harvested, are at their peek.

A heartwarming breakfast of house-made venison sausage, soft-boiled eggs, biscuits and gravy prepared us for the brisk but sunny weather outdoors.  After a short introduction to the area and perusal of a website by local forager Merriwether, we were confident that we would find many edible native treasures.  Our first stop was Burroughs Park, a gorgeous 320-acre enclave offering many amenities, including a beautiful wooded area with winding trails. 

David, Kelsey, chef Randy and Chuck examine the terroir.

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This Beautyberry cluster lives up to its name.  Eaten raw, pickled or made into jelly, beautyberries can also be made into wine.  

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Edible Lichen must be boiled to neutralize its high acid content.

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We also found Bittercress, Chickweed and Queen Anne’s lace (wild carrot).  Below, Wood Sorrel…found in my front yard the next morning!

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Tiny dollarweed can be hard to find but is very pretty on a plate.

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Chuck was determined to find sassafras – and he did at the very end of our expedition.  The leaves of the sassafras come in three distinct shapes.  When dried and ground to a powder, it is know as filé.  Added to gumbo at the end of cooking, it enhances the flavors of the stew with its earthiness.  The root is used to make tea and root beer. 

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Our next stop was “the farm”, a large plot with several organic beds and fruit and nut trees.  Crops are rotated annually to maintain the soil’s high nutrient levels. 

A pea plant

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I’m holding the largest and most beautiful bunch of lettuce I have ever seen!  In the absence of a grocery bag, I made a pouch of my sweater.  I stuffed it with bok choy, borage, kale and green beans!  It was a highly fruitful and edifying day!



Monday, November 9, 2009

Randy Rucker and a wine tasting dinner

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How does he do it, this chef Randy Rucker guy?

He arrives at our host’s studio at 3:30 in the afternoon to start prepping our wine dinner for that very evening!   All by himself…eight courses…and after fishing with his family off Bolivar all morning! 

Randy’s motto reads “Mother nature gave us perfect food, my job is not to mess it up”.   To begin with, he acquires the freshest local ingredients.  Heavy on seafood courses (no complaints from me here!) his light-handed touch in preparing seafood harkens back to days in Peru learning tiradito.  East meets west in tiradito:  Japanese immigrants introduced Peruvians to sashimi – sliced raw fish, not cubed; in a light dressing and not acid-cooked (as in ceviche).

The first course (pictured above) was bay scallops, sashimi style, with orange zest and serrano chile, served with a Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose Champagne.  Divine!

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Black Drum dressed in miso, shiro dashi and herbs was served with wakame and green apple - to bring out the fruit in the wine - a Chateau Ste. Michelle Horse Heaven Sauvignon Blanc.  The leche de chile (juices) on the bottom tasted like nectar!

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Golden Croaker, caught that morning by Randy himself, was marinated in lime, cream sake, basil, and dashi (made with the Croaker heads and bones and mushroom stems);  finished with purple basil and thinly sliced serrano peppers.  The accompanying wine was perfect with this dish:  K Vintners 2008 Columbia Valley Viogner.

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Randy was lucky Helen didn’t inhale the bok choy sautéed in duck fat, as Jeff listens.

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Pork Belly - fatty and luscious with a thick and crispy crust, ciccarones (niblets of pork skin), trumpet royale mushrooms and baby bok choy.  I’ve never eaten so much pork fat in one sitting and enjoyed it so much!  To cut the fat:  K Vintners 2006 Morrison Lane Syrah.  A theme begins to emerge – complex and flavorful wines of Washington State.

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Doris and Bode chat while Nina watches Randy pour.

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Kabocha squash soup - creamy but cream less, with cinnamon butter, zests of lemon, lime and orange.  Finished with fresh basil and oregano, and served with a white wine - K Vintners Columbia Valley 2008 Viogner, just to keep our taste buds hopping!  The tartness of the wine was offset by the sweetness of the soup.

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Nope.  Doris and Nina didn’t like it very much!

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It was a blind tasting…each bottle was wrapped twice so that Tim couldn’t cheat!  Mwahahaha!

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Duck confit, roasted duck and cedar infused parsnip puree – another perfect match with Quilceda Creek’s 2003 Merlot. 

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Randy plates the beef ribs braised in kabajaki sauce, served with Yukon gold potatoes and maitaki mushrooms.  Served with K Vintners 2006 Walla Walla Valley Grenache (with 6% Syrah).

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Not your ordinary chocolate mousse – here’s it’s made with goat’s milk and spiced with lots of cayenne pepper.  Acutely spicy and strong enough to put hair on one’s chest, I was the last one standing and begging for more!   Lionetti 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 100 points Quilceda Creek 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon.

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And to top it all off, a Humboldt Fog with whole grain crackers…oozing, rich and a magnificent way to end the dinner.

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Thanks Ralph for hosting another memorable wine tasting!  You have raised the bar once again!

Read about Randy’s Tenacity dinner (held at the studio) by clicking on the link.