"It's not much but it's ours"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


A few days before Sybil and I got married, I received a call from my managing agent (yes, I have a managing agent, get over it) to say that I was being considered for a job. Both Sybil & I were very excited to hear the news. I was excited because, quite frankly I thought I was unemployable at this stage in my life and Sybil was excited because she thought I was exploring the "or for poorer" part of our vows a little too closely.

It turned out that I was up for one of the three postions as judge on the hit Food Network show, The Next Iron Chef. Over a number of weeks, ten of the USA's top knife wielders compete for a place amongst the ranks of seasoned Iron Chefs like Bobby Flay, Cat Cora and Morimoto San.

To do this, they must face down various challenges provided by The Chairman and commented on, in his own unique style, by Alton Brown.

I was fortunate enough to be offered the chance to opine for money and, on October 3rd of this year, the onscreen battles will commence. Be sure to tune in and see who makes it to the legendary Kitchen Stadium as myself, Iron Chef Michael Symon and restauranteur Donatella Arpaia pass judgement.

As The Chairman puts it


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Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I had eaten more pork ribs than any right thinking man should ever probably consider during Road Trip USA 2010. Eating more on my return was certainly the furthest thing from my mind.

However, when Sybil suggested that I join her and some friends for supper of pork neck stew and ribs in Korea Town the day after I got back to Los Angeles, I just found myself simply unable to resist. I am a gorgeous man, but I am not a strong willed man.

Those of you who read the blog on a regular basis will know that I am developing quite a passion for Korean food, based on my experiences here on the West Coast. It may be founded on enthusiasm rather than any great knowledge at this point, but it is strong enough that our next great travel adventure will be to Seoul and Busan in November. I am so excited I already have a countdown clock ticking away on my computer.

Until the happy day when we set off, the abundant selection of Korean food in LA is managing to suffice quite nicely thank you very much. With the help of Sybil and her pals, I am managing to experience a wide of cooking styles from this varied cuisine and am slowly beginning to realise that it is not all about Korean BBQ.

As if to prove the point, our supper that night was at Ham Ji Park. It is actually well known for its BBQ and had recently been awarded second prize for its skills in that direction at the 2nd Annual L.A. Korean BBQ Cook Off. However, we were not there for the ‘Q, I was instructed. We were their for their equally famous Gamjatang, a stew made with pork neck and potatoes. The name, I am told means “Potato Soup” and the broth was originally flavoured with spine bones, but now uses the more available neck bones.

Sybil and I met two of her friends at a nearby Korean bar for a happy hour drink, which were accompanied by a large plate of fried chicken gizzards with deep fried garlic. Then we walked a couple of blocks up 6th Street to where Ham Ji Park was already beginning to fill up and our friends were waiting.

So often, when I go out to dinner with people, I am handed the menu with the words “you are a food expert, why don’t you order?” and, quite frankly, usually I am more than happy to do so as it means I can be sure that all the dishes I want to try hit the table. When it comes to Korean food in L.A, however, I bow before Sybil’s friend, Amanda. So, I just sat back and sipped on my drink while she babbled to our server and everyone else shouted at her to make sure she didn’t forget any food substance vital to our night’s enjoyment.

She didn’t, and it was only a matter of a few minutes before the small plates of banchan began to be placed at strategic points along the table. Following soon after these were two big bowls of, Bo Kum Bop, Kimchi fried rice, topped with chopped Spring onions and a raw egg. Amanda began to mix the contents expertly until the rice had turned from white to rusty red.

Next up, the Dae Ji Galbi, Korean spicy pork ribs, which had been marinated and then grilled. They could not have been more different from the ribs I had tried on the road trip, like those rib tips at Roper’s in Saint Louis, the wet ribs at Payne’s in Memphis or the dry rubbed ribs at Rendezvous in the same city. However, I couldn’t help but think that the proprietors of those noble restaurants would approve of what this new wave of immigrants to the US were doing with Brer Pig.

Finally, came the much lauded pork neck stew, simmering away in its metal serving bowl. The pork neck bones were flecked with chilli and glistened in a deep red broth alongside chunks of softening potato. The meat was tender but still required a bite and the long, slow cooking had released all the flavour from the bones, which added to the depth of the chilli broth. Despite the fact I had topped up my already high meat table pretty rapidly, I kept spooning the delicious juices from the serving bowl to my mouth until I gave out a loud spicy burp and stopped for fear I would start sweating red broth during my sleep.

We called for the bill, a paltry $22 each including tip and the ladies wrapped what little remains there were in take out boxes to be enjoyed for lunch the next day. However much I love the pig, I could not even begin to imagine looking at ribs, necks or any other swiney part for a while and handed mine over to Sybil for safe keeping.

I am now on a more sensible diet for a while. I am on the wagon and really enjoying the abundant harvest of fruits and vegetables to be found in California until I lose some weight and my bodily functions return to somewhere near normal. However, with more winning Korean dishes like this on offer, I can’t wait for the next trip.

Eighty days and counting. TICK. TOCK.

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The last day of what had been a truly memorable road trip began with a tour of the Louisiana swamps.

We thought it only fair that, given between us we had eaten the meat of about one young alligator in the last two days, we should give them the chance to get their own back. So, we strapped ourselves into a shallow boat propelled by a huge fan and hurtled along the bayous in the pouring rain until our guide spotted a likely suspect. He was a big old beast, the ‘gator that is, not the guide. About fifteen feet long and with jaws, we were told, that could exert over 3000lbs of pressure with each snap. We left it to our guide to get close enough to find out what kind of mood he was in as we cowered in the relative safety of the boat.

By the time we returned to land, both Neal and I were starving. It had been an early start and it was well past noon by the time we were dropped off back at our hotel. I had two choices. Mother’s which is famous for its ‘debris” sandwich and Central Grocery, which is equally famous for its Muffuletta. I had tried both before on previous visits to the city, but it was the Italian inspired sandwich of meat, cheese and olive dressing which won out this time as I dragged Neal through the humid streets of The French Quarter to Decatur Street. He moaned a bit, well he moaned a lot, but the huge stuffed sandwich was enough to shut him up if only for a brief while and we sat, happily munching away wedged between locals and tourists, until we had eaten our fair shares to the last crumb.

It was enough to keep us going for a few hours and, while I caught up with some work, Neal began to pack for his hideously early start the next day. By 7pm, we were just about hungry enough that supper was not a totally stupid idea and we made doubly sure with a little NOLA version of a “Tru Normande” to make a suitable hole for the last meal of the trip.

French ’75 was another splendid drinking spot recommended by Chris & Laura McMillian. Behind the bar, Chris Hannah whisked us up a New Orleans classic Brandy Crusta and one of his own creations a “Movie Goer” both good enough that we were tempted to delay our restaurant reservation and stay on to sample more of his skills. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending if you speak to us or our physicians, Neal’s early start the next morning made the decision for us and we left Chris to get on with his job as we marked French ’75 down as a must visit for our next time in the city.

Another must visit for any visitor in the city is Susan Spicer’s stellar restaurant, Bayona. It has been open for over twenty years and can lay claim to being the big bang point of modern New Orleans cuisine. This was my third visit and, although my last time there had been a slight disappointment, there was one dish very firmly in my mind as we were shown to our table and handed a menu.

Throughout the trip, I had banged on to Neal about how good the garlic soup at Bayona was. So good, in fact that when I was asked recently to pontificate on the best dishes I have ever tried, this was up there in the top ten. Neal may have become weary of me by this time of the trip, but the look on his face told me that he at least understood why I had gone on and on and on and on about this dish for the last twenty days.

Even though we moved on with our meal and thoroughly enjoyed our identical order of sweetbreads followed by thick cut pork chops, it was the garlic soup which Neal kept mentioning all the way until the charming server plopped a dessert menu in front of us. It was little surprise to me, but a great surprise to her when Neal looked up after a few moments and said “I think I’ll have the garlic soup again” She soon came back from the kitchen with another bowl of that soup alongside an offer from the chef, who had been so amused by Neal’s request, to send out a dessert anyway.

The soup really is that good and, if you doubt me, here is a link to a page with the RECIPE. Give it a try. It will change your life and you can thank me later.

That was a fittingly fun end to a trip that had been packed from the beginning with great adventures. A trip that included seeing a team lose 18-4 at baseball and a trip that had included travelling across “crack central, Saint Louis” in search of pig “snoot”. It was a trip that had included a round of Old Testament themed crazy golf and a viewing of the world’s biggest rocking chair. It was a trip that had allowed me to pay tribute to some of my heroes; Ali, Dr. King Jr. Elvis and Rosa Parks. It was a trip that had seen us sleep in a sharecroppers shack in Mississippi and a ranch in Arkansas. It was a trip that had seen us drive 3,000 miles and through twelve states as we went in search of the heartland of this amazing country.

And, of course, it was a trip that had seen us eat fantastically well and nowhere better than in my favourite eating city in the whole of the USA, New Orleans. We staggered back to the hotel with only a brief stop to catch the last notes from a ragtime band on the edges of Bourbon Street.

Neal left early the next morning and, while en route sent an e-mail saying “Road Trip USA 2012. How about up North next time?”

I replied with two words

"Damn straight."

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Saturday, August 21, 2010


On our third morning, I had to catch up some writing. That left Neal needing to entertain himself for a few hours. He chose to do this by visiting the World War II museum, which opened recently in New Orleans.

A few hours later, he returned announcing that, “according to the museum, WWII was won by a combination of Tom Hanks, John Wayne and Champion The Wonder Horse”. The fact that over sixty million people of other nationalities also perished during the conflict had been almost totally overlooked in the unseemly rush to attribute success entirely to the USA.

God Bless America.

Fortunately, if some Americans can be insular to the point of stupidity, some like my chums, Chris and Laura McMillian can be educated, charming and fantastic company. They had both agreed to spend one of their all too rare days off showing Neal and I around the city and had, quite rightly decided we should begin with lunch.

I had visited The Parkway Bakery & Tavern before on my previous visit to NOLA and had no hesitation agreeing when Chris suggested we head there after finding out that our first choice was closed on a Monday. By the time we arrived, it was already packed and, while the other three went to the small patio to snag a table, I stood in line to order our lunch through a window in the main dining room. The Parkway Bakery is generally recognised as providing one of the best examples of one of New Orleans’ classic sandwiches, the Po’ Boy.

Chris explained that the original Po’ Boy was filled with fried potatoes and the juices from a roast beef joint. Now, they come in many shapes and forms and the most popular one is filled with fried oysters. They were off the menu during our visit for obvious “BP fucks up The Gulf” reasons, so I ordered two with shrimp, one with roast beef and one, for Chris with both, for a bit of “surf & turf” action. They were as huge as I recalled and we sat for nearly half an hour at our table, munching happily on our sandwiches and sipping on cold local beer until all that was left was a few crumbs of baguette on the table to wipe away with our wrappers.

The humidity had reached chronic levels by the time we returned to the car. So we readily accepted Chris’s offer to show us around the air conditioned pleasures of his and Laura's pride and joy, The Museum of The American Cocktail. Chris is a director, along with other such mixing luminaries as Dale DeGroff, Ted Haigh and Robert Hess and the excellent displays offer up only a small fraction of the astonishing collection, which they try and rotate.

The history of cocktail making in the US offers up a fascinating social history of America, from its origins with the advent of refrigeration, through prohibition to the “golden age” of the cocktail in the 1950’s and 60’s. It is well worth a visit and, if you are lucky enough to be there when Chris and Laura are in attendance, you will also be treated to an accompanying lecture as you view the exhibits.

Of course, looking at cocktails is like dancing about architecture. It means nothing if you can’t sample one. We headed to The French Quarter and to another famous old bar, Tujaques. Tending bar there for the last decade or so has been another of NOLA’s top notch bartenders, Paul Gustings. To say he is a character would be putting it mildly. He works the bar like few others I have ever encountered and manages to make superb cocktails while dispensing beer in go cups to confused frat boys who have strolled too far from Bourbon Street.

All this talk of old school cocktails had me wanting something from the days of Harry Thomas. While Neal tried a Sazerac, I tried his take on a classic hangover cure from the 1890’s, a powerful Angostura Rum Phosphate, which sent my head spinning and my body reeling out into the heat of the afternoon sun.

Fortunately, by suppertime, I had snoozed it off just in time for us to meet up again with Chris and Laura for supper. Cochon highlights the German/Cajun food that chef, Donald Link grew up eating while he was raised in Acadiana. Sybil had loved its unapologetic pigginess on her visit during the previous year’s Jazz Festival and insisted that I should give it a try. She was spot on. Cochon provided easily the best meal of the trip.

It was Chris who suggested how to handle the small plates menu. “Just order it all” he drawled as he drained his first slug of beer from a chilled pitcher. I looked at the card menu. There was one thing on there that I couldn’t eat, oysters. I love them but unfortunately they don’t love me. Otherwise, it seemed like a very sage idea and I told the charming server to bring us all the small plates, one each of all the boucherie, one order of the Cochon entrée of the day and an order of pork rinds just in case we got a bit hungry inbetween.

The state of the bread can tell you a great deal about the intentions and abilities of a restaurant. Here at Cochon, it was hot from the oven, feather light and served with creamy whipped butter. It was so good that eight mini loaves disappeared in eight mini seconds and Chris was soon waving his hand in the air to demand some more.

Every dish that followed was as good, if not better than this positive introduction to Chef Lick’s cooking. We all had our favourites. Neal was particularly taken with fried alligator with a fiery aioli, while Chris sunk more than his fair share of oysters (brought in from out of state we were told) which had been cooked in a wood burning oven and covered in another spicy sauce. Laura liked the deep fried hog’s headcheese, while I cleared most of a plate of rabbit livers on toast served with a pepper jelly and dug out most of the contents from a crawfish pie made with a light pastry crust.

It was the kind of meal that almost inevitably made me ask Neal, during a break when we all came up for air, “why can’t we have restaurants like Cochon in London?” Unfair, I know, but “WHY CAN’T WE HAVE RESTAURANTS LIKE COCHON IN LONDON?”

The only weak spot came in the form of some overcooked pork ribs. They looked Flintstone enough to make us all go “coo” when they arrived, but they were touch as old boots and about as tasty. A shame, but they did little to dampen our enthusiasm for what was otherwise a spectacular meal.

We were not finished yet, however. Despite the fact that we were well into “Bye Bye Belt” territory, the sight of a blueberry cobbler arriving at the next table convinced us that we should at least order one to share. It was as good as the rest of the meal and Neal decided to top it all off with a shot of Catdady Moonshine, which prompted the server to deliver the bill with a “here’s the cheque, Catdaddy” in a way that made the three men at the table shiver just a little with pleasure.

Another superb day spent with superb people.

Have I mentioned yet that I love this city?

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