Thursday, October 18, 2012


The obvious neglect we've weighed upon this blog has left it all but dead. If any who follow are interested, I have started a new blog relating both to the present and a future project (St. Anthony in Douglas, Michigan). Check out Post Agricultural Acts if you like the content we posted here. Would love to continue our conversation there.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

our blog has moved

Mighty in the Midwest the wonderful people who made our website, got us all set up with a new blog over at Tumblr.  We don't understand it but we're posting all of our new stuff over there. Some come along and join us at Reserve's Kitchen,

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Tail: the Chicken Wing of a Pig

Our menu has been changing a lot lately.  I like to think of it as an evolution.  We tweaked things going into ArtPrize, and now we're being hit with the end of summer and the transition into cold weather vegetables.  This is probably the last week for heirloom tomatoes, but the Brussels sprouts and cabbages and kales are coming in beautifully. 
With all these changes the one I am most excited about, that I tell everyone they have to try, that I brag to my distant relatives about is our deep fried pig tails.  Crispy skin, succulent sticky fat, and the porkiest bits of meat pulled right off those tiny little bones.  Just like a chicken wing but so much better, because it comes from a pig.
Some dishes spring fully formed directly from the head of our Zeus, Chef Matthew Millar.  This one bounced around a bit, picking up bits and pieces before it found it's home on our menu. 
  1. Chef was excited about some naturally fermented soy sauce being made in Kentucky and aged in spent bourbon barrels. Bluegrass soy sauce
  2. I was dying to buy some fish sauce I had heard of being made the traditional way on an island in Vietnam, simply black anchovies, salt, and time. Red Boat Fish Sauce  When I called to order it the owner of the company answered.  He told me he had come to the U.S. as a refugee in the late 60s and had never been able to find fish sauce as good as what he remembered back home.  Together with his uncles he started the company to produce and import "extra virgin" fish sauce.  If you like Southeast Asian food you really need to buy some of this.
  3. I brought about a dozen deep fried pig's feet to Chef's birthday party this summer.  If you want an amazing meal, go to a chef's birthday party.
  4. We had a growing collection of pig tails in our freezer from all of the whole hogs we had been butchering.
Chef put it all together.  First brine and then confit the tails, and finish with a 350 degree fry in our lard filled fryer.  The dipping sauce is made with the Bluegrass soy sauce, Red Boat fish sauce, raw garlic, sherry vinegar, riesling, honey, chili peppers, and some ground black pepper that Cuong, the owner of Red Boat Fish Sauce, sent us that is grown on an island in the waters where the anchovies are caught to make his sauce.
We have sold out of pig tails every week so far.  The farm who supplies us, Gunthorp Fams, just over the Indiana border, only slaughters so many hogs per week, and each one only has one tail. They deliver on Thursday so your best bet is to come on Friday night to get one. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

In the Muck

Salad with Trillium Haven Vegetables

I went to college at Grand Valley nearly twenty years ago, so from time to time I found myself driving through the fields around Hudsonville and Jenison, just west of Grand Rapids. I clearly remember being struck by the dark, visibly rich soil that paraded up the hillsides; you can't help but be struck by it, it's everywhere. The gently rolling hills in the distance make this landscape quite breathtaking. There is quite a lot of agriculture in the area, ranging from good sized dairies and big tracts growing corn or soybeans for feed, to small organic vegetable growers like Trillium Haven Farm and Groundswell.

I wondered what made the ground so dark but not enough to dig in and find out. The aroma of onions was always thick in the air in the summer months so I figured this may be part of the reason. Eventually, Jesse from Grassfield's gave me an eye opening history lesson. Turns out that, like much of West Michigan, this area was first settled by the Dutch, specifically, Dutch farmers. In the Netherlands where most arable land was below sea level, farmers were used to draining the land they intended to farm. The Dutch are by nature creatures of habit so when they relocated to West Michigan they did what they knew: they found low lying land in a marsh or river basin and drained it. This revealed very fertile, rich, dark black soil on which to raise crops and graze animals. I have often heard farmers who work this land refer to as being "down in the muck".

The vegetables that grow there are different. You will notice this immediately on your first visit to Trillium's booth at the Fulton Street Farm Market. They visually have distinct, bright colors. The root veggies in particular are fat, round and sweet. Compared to the vegetables grown by another favorite organic grower closer to the lake and considerably further south, it's night and day. The Lakeshore vegetables are bright and lithe and tapered, with clear, clean flavors. They seem healthy like a long distance runner. Good vegetables grown in the Grand River watershed look rosy and plump, and seem healthy like, well, a strong Dutch farm wife. This little pocket of farms is West Michigan agricultural terroir in a bottle, a place where the physical character of the land and the cultural habits and know how of those who settled there come together to produce something that is not repeated elsewhere.

Vegetable season is in full swing and the output from Trillium and Groundswell is nearly overwhelming. It's a struggle to use everything we'd like to. The salad above features some of the current favorites, including purple, white, and red carrots, lamb's quarters, flowering dill, and baby fennel and will be hitting the menu next week.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


So, not surprisingly we have committed a mortal blogging sin and left ours unattended for months. I would like to say that it's been too hectic, but the truth is we could've found time. Shame on us. Look for Green, Brandon and myself to begin publishing weekly at a minimum beginning immediately. The growing season is in full swing and farm visits are planned and we're looking forward to sharing what we learn.

Thanks for your patience.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Quiche Lorraine. Mangalitsa bacon, onion, and Pennsylvania Noble

Like a lot of chefs my age, I've spent many hours with Thomas Keller's books. There are techniques from The French Laundry Cookbook and Bouchon that are still in use in my kitchen today. A few years ago at Journeyman, we decided to check out Keller's quiche recipe and we liked it so much, that after a few minor tweaks to "make it our own" it went on the menu where it was universally beloved.

Keller describes quiche as "the essence of luxury", a statement that sparked our interest in trying his out. The quiche we knew was typically a soggy, frozen pie crust filled with spongy, curdled eggs and a few poorly cooked garnishes throughout. This is not French quiche, he explained. French quiche is deep, two inches, and is a quivering, light, luminous custard spiked with flavorful, seasonal, and carefully prepared ingredients. This is typical of Keller's recipes. Simple and familiar things are granted enlightenment through an understanding of a dish at its essence, through its history, or possibly a reexamining of its role in modern cooking. Eating this quiche for the first time was like finding a long lost brother.

Brandon, my current sous and butcher, spent a few years as the "day guy" at Journeyman, and is intimately familiar with this quiche. He has made dozens. He has lived through the frustrations of finicky pate brisee, the horror of opening the oven door to find your batter leaking, or leaked and baked solid to the sheet tray, and the not so momentary hatred of a not so competent line cook turning his back on it for a minute too long, only to find the buttery, crisp crust burned to charcoal. This quiche is a labor of love, time consuming and demanding. Give any phase of its production less than your full attention and it can fail. But when it's right...

Brandon, Green and  myself have talked fondly now and then about quiche. Brandon began wondering if there could be a place on our menu at Reserve for it. As he is prone to do, he prowled the internet late at night, learning what he could about its history and found that in the days of the guilds in France, where the art of charcuterie was, if not born, formalized, it was actually the right of the charcutier to produce and sell quiche. That's right, quiche is charcuterie. Not pastry, not brunch. Charcuterie. I suppose it makes sense. Pate means "paste" in French, and back in the day referred to anything (though usually meat) baked in a pastry crust and eaten cold. Quiche is of course most commonly eaten hot these days, but this one is a knockout cold. It has therefore joined our terrine and sausage on our charcuterie menu as a nod to its history.

After some time spent damming his leaking quiche with corn flour, Brandon has mastered it. Like Keller, we have a taste for the classics: Florentine (spinach, cheese, and shallot) and Lorraine (pictured above and on the menu now). Our quiche Lorraine contains our house made mangalitsa bacon, caramelized Visser Farm onions, and a blockbuster American artisanal cheese (in lieu of Gruyere) called Pennsylvania Noble. It is a cheddar in style, inoculated with a white mold -- the same mold responsible for brie and camembert -- during the last two months of aging. The custard is made with Hilhof organic cream and milk and eggs from S & S Farm. Thanks to these great producers, Keller's mentoring, and Brandon's obsessive-compulsive nature, it is outstanding. I won't describe it further. Come in and taste for yourself.

Keller ends his introduction to quiche by saying "I'm sorry America has lost the quiche - or never really had it. I'd like to see it return to its proper form, and for more people to know about it and appreciate it." We're in, chef. We will do our best to spread the good word.

Monday, January 17, 2011

How to cook

When I talk to people who don't cook I often find myself saying something ridiculous like, "Cooking is easy, it's mostly just paying attention to what you're doing."  Which I really think is true but is just about the most unhelpful statement you can make.  It got me wondering if I could come up with a formula for cooking, breaking it down into its parts, 10% this and 33% that.  So here is my list and percentages:

shopping 35%
     you can't make good food with bad ingredients
technique 15%
     it's easy to destroy good ingredients if you don't treat them right
history/knowledge/context/experience 5%
     mostly avoiding past mistakes or building on past successes
creativity 5%
     I think often over-rated in American culinary culture, the quest for the next new thing leads to more bad food...
patience 15%
     knowing when not to mess with it, waiting until summer for strawberries
paying attention 25 %
     cooking is an interactive and dynamic process

What do you think, would you assign different percentages or different elements?