Johnson & Wales

A Guide to Exceptional Table Settings

Valentine’s Day is just a few weeks away so I thought I would help you set the mood by helping you set the table.

It might surprise you to learn just how much of what we taste is influenced by the other senses. To prove the point, there is a fad currently emerging called “dark dining.” There are two different approaches to dark dining but both involve the customers being blind for the entirety of the meal. DD enthusiasts claim that food tastes differently when you eliminate one of the senses. For the record the two different approaches to dark are that some restaurants have servers donning commando-style night-vision goggles while the other employees only vision-impaired servers.

The importance of what we see towards what we taste is essential. This is why chefs are so maniacal about their plate presentations. One example that comes to mind is Chef Charles Mereday formerly of the Battle House Hotel in Mobile, AL and a classmate of Tyler Florence at Johnson & Wales University.  A few years ago I did a profile on Mereday for ‘Zalea Magazine. My editor told me that when they photographed one of Chef Charles’ entrees for the article that the photographer took the liberty of rearranging the items on the dish. The chef politely removed the plate and cooked the dish again asking that the picture reflect the way the dish is served.

For the home cook an easy way to set the stage visually is to set the table creatively. One great teacher of how to set a table is Food Network star Sandra Lee. Though many have been critical of the food on the show (Lee admits to using 70% pre-made foods), none can argue that the TV star sets a beautiful table, or what she calls tablescapes.

Lee’s talent for tablescapes has started a whole genre of DYI books devoted to setting the table. Ironically she is the only person who has not published a book on the subject:

Of course treating your dining room table like a Broadway set is not the only way to set the mood. A simple yet elegantly set table can pop by simply putting a little effort into folding your napkins. I have compiled some videos that will walk you through the process.

7 Questions with Graham Kerr

7 Questions is a series of interviews with the culinary movers and shakers you want or ought to know better.

In the tabernacle of celebrity chefs three names stand head and shoulders above the rest: James Beard, Julia Child and Graham Kerr.  Beard was the original cheflebrity having published his first cookbook (Hors D’oeuvre And Canapes available at amazon.com) in 1940 and he was pioneering food television as early as 1946.  Child’s journey from house wife to household name has been well documented, most recently in the hit film Julie & Julia.  Sadly Chef Beard left us in 1985 and Julia back in 2004 but Chef Kerr, he’s still going strong.

Graham Kerr’s star began to rise in the late 1950’s when he was named chief chef catering adviser for the Royal New Zealand Air Force.  That coveted post led to a series of recipes for radio, magazines and, ultimately, a book, Entertaining with Kerr. Eventually Kerr caught the eye of NZBC producer Shirley Maddock who put the jovial Scot on New Zealand television in 1960.

Graham Kerr the Galloping GourmetSeveral years on TV down under soon brought the New World knocking. CJOH-TV wanted Kerr to star in a new show to be shot in Ontario. To make things better Kerr’s beloved wife Treena would produce the show inspired by a book Graham had co-written with Len Evans entitled The Galloping Gourmets. For making the move to Canadian TV Kerr would be paid the incredible salary of two million dollars.  That’s unheard of today much less in 1967.

Things were going well for Graham and Treena Kerr.  The Galloping Gourmet was a hit easily justifying the big pay day.  Even though some (mainly doctors and nutritionists) were critical of Kerr’s unabashed use of butter, cream and rich, fatty cuts of meat the North American viewers were in love Kerr’s classic French food and gregarious personality.  Graham was a star – bigger than Beard, bigger than Julia.  Things were good.  But like everyone that has ever lived the Kerrs were on that roller coaster called life.

In April of 1971 the good times came to a screeching halt.  Graham and Treena were passengers in an RV that was rear-ended by a speeding produce truck.  The world’s most famous chef was paralyzed for a short while.  It would be three years before he returned to television and when he did it was with a different purpose.

Kerr was still cooking the rich foods that had made him famous but his close call had led him to Jesus.  It was not long before his faith would collide with the often anti-freedom of religion folks that permeate the entertainment industry.  He had decided to include a Bible passage in the closing credits of his new show, Take Kerr.  The media was not happy and as a result the show only lasted one year but new shows and opportunities would make him the chef of the 1970’s.

When the 80’s began Kerr was again on top of the world and in high demand.  However, in 1986 something happened that would forever alter his gallop.  His wife and partner, Treena suffered a stroke which was soon followed by a severe heart attack.  His high fat, high calorie food was killing her.  Now in his fifties, Graham Kerr completely reinvented his cooking style.

Graham and Treena KerrThis is where I enter the story, if only from the fringe.  I was a struggling musician in Nashville who had yet to understand that this fascination with food could eventually pay my bills in ways that music never had.  Working nights as a line cook at a Tex-Mex restaurant I often awoke to the cooking shows on day time cable TV.  That included the Graham Kerr Show.  The show revolved around his “Minimax” approach to cooking; it was revolutionary.

By this time there had been cooking shows about healthy cooking and there had been shows about food that tasted good.  But this was the first show about healthy food that was genuinely tasty.  “Minimax” meant that the recipes minimized fat and cholesterol while maximizing aroma, color, texture and taste.  No show before or since has influenced my cooking more than the Graham Kerr Show.  I learned tricks that have helped me my entire career.

Gone was the butter and in it’s stead an ingenious oil blend – 15 parts extra virgin olive oil and 1 part toasted sesame oil – the result was a liquid very similar in flavor to clarified butter.  Also missing was all that heavy cream; it was replaced with evaporated fat free milk.  Brilliant!  The argument can be made that Kerr was responsible for salsa supplanting ketchup as America’s most popular condiment once he explained about its many healthy attributes while remaining exceptionally flavorful.  He also extolled the important role fresh herbs and produce play in making food delicious without adding unnecessary calories.

After dozens of cookbooks and hundreds of hours of television Chef Graham Kerr still found the time to answer 7 Questions.

1. How many countries have you called home?

United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, USA (5)

2. From Entertaining with Kerr to Gathering Place you’ve done some 450 hours of food television; is there one series that you think best captures who you really are?

Gathering Place, an in depth search for lifestyle solutions in my life.

3. Which chefs have influenced you the most?

Andre Simon (Food & Wine Society Founder)
Maitre Chef des Cuisines Silvano Trompetto (Savoy, London)
Master Chef Karl Guggenmoss, Culinary Dean, Johnson & Wales University

4. Who was better in a street fight, Julia Child or James Beard?

Julia

5. What do you think of this new era of celebrity chefs with their Beatlesque followings?

A rather crowded wave of surfers without a clear line to the beach and diminishing waves.

6. The new Cooking Channel is showing The Galloping Gourmet; do you ever watch it?

I must admit that we no longer have TV.  I’ve only ever seen 4 episodes.  When you watch what you do you can become an edited person.

7. What’s next for Chef Graham Kerr?

A daily web blog on seven major changes we must make by 2020 on www.grahamkerr.com, starting November.

For those of you who have never scene Chef Graham in action enjoy this classic clip from the Galloping Gourmet.

ICA: Mason vs Morimoto

Tonight senior Iron Chef Morimoto has his hands full in Battle: Skirt Steak as Chef Sam Mason (formerly of Tailor in New York City) comes a callin’.  Host Alton Brown is on hand with judges Michael Ruhlman, Jeffrey Stiengarten and The Office’s Kate Flannery.

On his Independent Film Channel series Dinner With the Band, Chef Mason tests the limits of adventurous eating by cooking for the hottest names in Indie Rock.   Mason’s rock and roll demeanor (punk hair, tattoos) makes him the perfect host for the cutting edge guests and their eclectic palates.

Sam’s culinary background began at Johnson & Wales University but graduation saw him leaping the pond to work at Ladurée in Paris for Pierre Hermé .  Back in the states Mason honed his craft working for Jean-Louis Palladin, then as pastry chef at Union Pacific, Atlas and Wylie Dufresne’s WD-50.  Mason’s latest project is a yet to be named “sophisticated and mature” restaurant in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Mason was named one of the 10 Best Pastry Chefs by Pastry Art & Design in 2005 and was nominated for Outstanding Pastry Chef by the James Beard Foundation in 2006.  He is known for blurring the line between savory and sweet so expect the unexpected out of the flashy, inventive challenger.

Wikipedia on skirt steak:

The term skirt steak refers to two cuts of beef steak, one from the plate and one from the flank. Both are long, flat cuts that are prized for flavor, but are tougher than many other steak cuts. Both types of skirt steaks are used identically.

In the United States, the NAMP (North American Meat Processors Association) designates all skirts steaks with the meat-cutting classification 121 (NAMP 121).[1] NAMP 121 is subdivided into the outer (outside) skirt steak (NAMP 121C) and the inner (inside) skirt steak (NAMP 121D).

The outside skirt steak is the trimmed, boneless portion of the diaphragm muscle, which is attached to the 6th through 12th ribs on the underside of the short plate. This steak is covered in a tough membrane that should be removed before cooking.

The inside skirt steak is a trimmed, boneless portion of the flank. Inside skirt steaks are trimmed free of fat and membranes.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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