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  • Interview Flight: Plae Bistro Executive Chef Michael Catania

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    This is an extended version of the interview flight series with Plae Bistro Executive Chef Michael Catania.

    It's part of the big run-up to Greater Green Bay Restaurant Week. 

    1)   Describe Plae Bistro’s style and what a customer can expect when going there? 

    There’s a little bit of everything for the customer. You can come in and have anything from a burger to a $35 entrée or fresh fish that we get from Hawaii. It’s widespread…the pasta’s are great. With our steaks, we have a Certified Angus Beef Program.

    A lot of times you go out to eat, you get stuck eating the same thing. When it comes to our burgers, we try to hit all different aspects. On our new menu, we’ll be doing a Vegan burger. I didn’t think of it before, but now we get asked a lot if we have Vegan items.

    I try to give everybody an option. You can have the same things on the menu, but substitute for the Gluten-free pasta or bun for our burgers.

    2)   What's your favorite meal to prepare?

    Wild game and exotic fish are two things that I have a liking towards. I was fortunate to grow up with a family that cooked, and went out to eat at a lot of places. It expanded my palette. 

    I may go out on a limb and maybe order something like kangaroo, and run that as a feature. I can try that and for my own knowledge learn how to cook it.

    For example, I ran rabbit the week of Easter. Call me crazy, but everyone loved it and we ran out of it.

    (P.S., the follow up was about any jokes he heard with rabbit on an Easter Week menu)

    “Someone said something like, 'Well we know if the Easter Bunny doesn’t show up, we have our top suspect.'"

    3)   Where do you like to eat, or whose food do you enjoy?

    I’m a sushi fan. I like Koko in downtown Green Bay. My last experience was going out to S.A.L.T. and it is a competitor of mine, but I will say I was impressed. The food was good and enjoyable.”

    I get made fun of a lot for this, but I like to go to McDonald’s. After a long day of cooking for 12 hours, on my way home if I’m hungry; the last thing I want to do is cook at home.

    4)   In your mind, what's one ingredient that's under-utilized that people can find at their local store, farmer's market, etc?

    There are a lot of cool things I like to do with presentation and the farmer’s market is known for having good micro greens. Twin L Farms are right out west in Seymour. 

    That’s something that would be is the different variety of fresh greens available at farmer's markets.

    The availability of good beef is something that people don’t realize. You can buy whole tenderloin and trim it yourself, rather than paying so much money. So if people could learn to do a couple things extra, it would be beneficial.

    5)   Are you excited to take part in Green Bay Restaurant Week?

    Definitely. It’s going to be exciting, but it’s definitely going to be busy. It’s a good thing to be busy, but the way I work, I like to be prepared for it. 

    I’m definitely looking forward to it with the expansion of the restaurant and the re-opening happening before it. I think something like restaurant week is great for everyone in the area. I’m going to put my skills out there to try and impress everyone.

    6)   How do you decide on what to put on the tasting menus?

    I was able to look at what everyone else is doing, and do items that others weren’t. One thing is my prawns, fresh Hawaiian Blue Prawns. This will be perfect…they’re U-12 shrimp and I have 25 pounds. For an event like this, I know it’s a great tasting dish, sell it at a good price point, but also look at it as more of an investment, than a money-maker.

    There some of our staples, and there are some things that we can show people we can be different.

    *******

    Plae Bistro is preparing for their big re-launch on Wednesday May 29th at 1671 Hoffman Road, Suite 10, in Bellevue. They have a soft opening for family, friends and invited guests the night before.

    What can we expect from the "extreme makeover" of the restaurant?

    "The menu is going to be a little different. We’re going to try some new things. It’s going to be in the same location, we’re just switching things around that are going to be more conducive to the customer. Right now, our bar you have to walk through the dining area to get to it. Now, you can just walk straight to the bar without interrupting our flow.”

    “I’m excited about the chef’s table, I’m going to showcase my skills, but also make it a learning experience for people. Still going to have that contemporary vibe, but we’re changing some color schemes. People are going to be wowed.”

    You can follow Plae Bistro on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Interview Flight: Hinterland Sous Chef Josh Swanson

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    This is an extended version of the interview flight series with Hinterland Sous Chef Josh Swanson.

    It's part of the big run-up to Greater Green Bay Restaurant Week.

    1) Describe Hinterland's style and what a customer can expect when going there?

    There are many experiences; we do a fine dining menu downstairs. But, we also do a lounge menu that pairs well with our brew pub.

    We try to pair our food with our beer, and we understand that not everyone is a beer drinker, so we do have a great wine list that’s available and some craft cocktails for diners.

    Head chef Kelly (Qualley) and I are just big food dorks and we’ve got a great staff that helps us accomplish that. We cook the food we’re interested in. We have some staples on our menu, some things that don’t change like the Andouille encrusted mahi mahi. The fish will change from time to time depending on the season and what’s freshly available. The rest is our culinary playground.

    We’ll read a book or experience dining someplace else that will inspire us, talk it over and get it on the menu. The Korean BBQ for example is born for our love of Korean BBQ. Both of us had experiences with it, and say if they can do it, why can’t we. We do some research, bring it into the kitchen, experiment with it and then get it on the menu.

    We try to give people good food experiences, and we’re not locking ourselves into one type of cuisine. We’re able to, if we want sushi on the menu, we will. We try to get oysters in, because it’s something that not a lot of places around here have. At the end of the day, it’s about listening to your ingredients. If you listen, they will always tell you a story. We get the freshest ingredients and get inspired by things.

    2) What's your favorite meal to prepare?  

    Right now I’m really enjoying Vietnamese Pho. It’s something we’re doing as a special on Monday’s. When I’m at home, I really like to grill steak. It’s not something that I do often, probably 3-4 times per year. But I enjoy the process of grilling meat. At work, we have a wood-fired grill, and I love toying with it.

    We’re trying to do more with charcuterie here, making our own stuff. When you start out on a journey with a piece of food, a raw product, and take 7-10 days to cure that product. Then a full day to dry that product, then smoke it properly. All the love that’s gone into it at that point, it’s a great experience.

    3) Where do you like to eat, and whose food do you enjoy?  

    In the GB area, I like S.A.L.T. in De Pere, I like their cuisine. I like Chives up in Suamico, and they just opened Bleu in Ledgeview. I really enjoy J.R. Schoenfeld's food.

    When I travel, I try to find the back alley restaurants that only the locals know about. I try to find that in town also. There’s Asian Taste Supermarket on Bodart Street that I like to frequent. Try to find as much ethnic food that’s available.

    I had a nice experience in Chicago at Alinea, a 3-Michelin star restaurant. Got to see how that operated. But I’m happiest at a strip mall somewhere that serves really great Korean BBQ, nothing fancy but if the food is there, I’m there.

    4) In your mind, what's one ingredient that's under-utilized that people can find at their local store, farmer's market, etc.? 

    I would say vinegar, or just generally an acid, which you can get in the form of citrus. Just a dash of vinegar in a pot of stew can make all the difference. We use it here like salt and pepper, it’s a seasoning process. You’re not making anything taste acidic or tangy, what you’re trying to do (1 tsp. for 3 quarts of soup) is just bringing out more flavor.

    The other ingredient that’s not often used, but I like to use, is fish sauce. It's something that if you smell it, it’s not quite right, but when used with the proper accompaniments, it can really make something beautiful.

    We can go to the farmer’s markets and buy whatever is fresh. Coming up is asparagus season; I would say get your fill while you can.

    5) Are you excited to take part in the Greater Green Bay Restaurant Week?  

    It’s exciting to get some of the local population that hasn’t experienced our cuisine. I think that any time we can get anyone thorough our doors, if we can get a plate of food in front of them, I think we can win them over. We put a lot of love in our food and it’s really high quality product, so we’re excited to get new people to experience our food. 

    6) How do you decide what to put on the tasting menus? 

    You get a couple different shots to show people what we’re all about. With the way that they’ve done the menu, with different courses, we already do some similar tasting menus. It’s a fun way to take the diner on a journey. The Japanese call it omakaze, where you let the chef lead you where he’s going to lead you and experience the tastes.”

    We may have some changes to the menu, depending on if new things became available produce wise or protein wise, but yeah we’re excited.

    ******

    On Friday, May 24, Hinterland is doing another one of their Firkin Fridays.

    I asked Josh the obvious question, what is a Firkin?

    "A Firkin is beer that’s put in a cask, called a Firkin, and it continues the aging process in the cask. Start with raw ingredients, and you wait until it’s time to pop it. You find out then what you’re going to get, because different things could occur. Typically they’re pleasant, there’s a small chance they won’t be, but we’ll take our IPA and add extra hops to it. We’ve taken our Bourbon Barrel Stout and put it into a Firkin. What happens is it naturally continues fermentation, that’s how it carbonates itself and ends up with what the English call ‘real ale’ that’s still fermenting in the container."

    Follow Hinterland on Facebook and Twitter

  • More Italian Salumi May Come to America

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    Who likes cured meats?

    I know I do. It's more than just about the taste, but the way artisans go about making their cured pork products, like pancetta, salami, mortadella and much more.

    According to the New York Times, the USDA is ready to roll back long-standing bans on the importation of many of these products from certain regions of Italy. That will start May 28.

    From the article, "the department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services announced that an in-country assessment had determined that four regions and two provinces in Northern Italy are free of swine vesicular disease, a dangerous communicable ailment that infects pigs, and that “the importation of pork or pork products from these areas presents a low risk.”

    These changes are cause for celebration for some pork importers and producers. But not everyone is convinced we'll see a major rush of Italian salumi in the U.S. market.

    “Italian producers will still have to meet U.S.D.A. guidelines for listeria, salmonella and E. coli,” said Marc Buzzio, the president of Salumeria Biellese, a New Jersey producer of artisanal salamis and charcuterie products. “Only certain processing plants in Italy meet the U.S.D.A. guidelines, and those are associated with the larger producers.”

    I do believe that the money is right for Italian producers to step up and meet those USDA guidelines and gain entry into the American market.

    This means I’ll need to keep an eye out for these new products to hit our shores, and my belly.

  • The Doc That's Rockin' Washington Wines

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    Everyone knows that the premier state of wine in America is California. But what some of you may not know, or fully appreciate, is that I believe the entire West Coast of the U.S. is home to some great wine. 

    Yes, that includes Oregon and Washington.

    Washington currently ranks 2nd in the nation in wine production behind California. Its home to some of better-known wine labels in our local grocery and wine stores, like Chateau Ste. Michelle and Hogue.

    But the buzz surrounds what smaller wineries are producing with the help of this man.

    Kevin Pogue knows his wines and knows his soils. The two make for a fantastic journey into the discovery of high-quality terroir.

    Much like real estate and bathroom usage, terroir is all about location, location, location.

    It's a great read courtesy of the New York Times' Eric Asimov, and it gets me fired up about the wines which will continue to come from the state of Washington.

    **(pictured above is the Columbia Gorge)**

  • Simple Meal Planning: Classic Stir-Fry

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    There are many times when we're rushing around with our daily lives, both from work and personal life, when we just don't want to stop and take the time to cook a big meal.

    You're tired at the end of the day and frankly, the thought of cooking is just about the last thing on earth you want to do.

    Rather than opt for a take-out, there are some quick, easy and wonderful meals you can make for yourself that won't tie you up in the kitchen for hours.

    One of the classic examples is stir-fry. A basic stir-fry recipe from the New York Times will help you create a nice, simple dinner. It'll also provide a base with which to expand on and grow into your own style of stir-fry.

    It proves that you don't need to own a wok, and how to handle cooking a meal using a very hot pan. 

  • So You Want to Host a Wine Tasting Party?

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    In the number of years I've had an affinity for wine, I can honestly say I've never been invited to a wine tasting party at someone's home.

    I know they exist, because there is no shortage of folks writing about the best ways to host one. 

    I've been to wine tastings at shops, restaurants, classes and trade shows...but the home experience still eludes me.

    Epicurious has a series of information regarding what you should know before popping the corks and answering the doorbell.

    The great thing about this informative piece is that you can about decorating your space for the event, every piece of equipment needed, further reading about wine tastings, the discussion of blind vs. non-blind tastings, how much wine you'll need to buy and even the ability to download a wine tasting grid.

    Wine tasting, like a lot of other gatherings, can be more than just the specific reason for attending. It's the family, friends and fun of spending time together.

  • Bright, Flavorful Vegetarian Pasta

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    The calendar says spring, despite what it may look and feel like outside. In keeping with spring vegetables coming into view, there are lots of ways to utilize what's fresh at the store and/or farmer's market.

    A great, simple vegetarian pasta dish calls for peas and a fresh-made parsley pesto with orzo pasta.

    Martha Rose Shulman calls it a twist on a classic rice and peas risotto.

    I like it for several reasons. The first is the use of fresh ingredients. Second is the simplicity of the dish. Third it's using a technique of making your own pesto. 

    That third spot is important because once you get that pesto-making technique down, a whole new world of possibilities opens up. There are all kinds of pesto you can make, utilizing different nuts (this one contains no nuts), different herbs or vegetables and even oils.

     

  • PREVIEW: Stone's Throw Winery New Release & Barrel Tasting

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

     

    One week from today will be the annual New Releases and Barrel Tasting Party at Stone's Throw Winery in Egg Harbor.

    Wine Club and Special Events Director Deb Paul talked to me about what fans of the Door County winery can expect to see, smell and taste on Saturday April 27.

    "The 2010 and 2011 releases for whites will include Pinot Blanc, Viognier and Chenin Blanc," says Paul. "The reds will feature Cal-Ital blend, Brunello di Turco, Russian River Zinfandel and Alexander Valley Zinfandel."

    There are less than 300 cases available for each release, and it appears last year's growing season didn't affect their production.

    So what's new and exciting this year?

    "The Pinot Blanc is new," says Paul. "The Brunello di Turco and Cal-Ital blend are our hot wines and we expect them to sell out quickly."

    Here are some tasting notes for the two hot reds:

    Brunello di Turco Sangiovese Grosso Clone Sonoma County 2011

    Traditional Sangiovese based Italianate red. Brunello cloned, blended with Dolcetto. It's traditional in every respect.

    Cal-Ital A red Table Wine Sonoma County 2011

    Palate belies the youth of this rich ripe wine– Grondino-esque.  Black tree fruits (Bing cherry and ripe blue plum). A bend of Dolcetto, Brunello, Montepulciano and Barbera. A sexy woman in a red dress!

    I asked what folks who've never experience tasting wine right from the barrel can expect in contrast to opening a bottle.

    "Tasting out of the barrel gives you a glimpse into how the wine will taste once fully aged, remember this wine is still developing in barrel," says Paul.

    It's a great opportunity for wine drinkers to expand their knowledge, plus it's a rare opportunity for folks to get that chance to taste from the barrel. (In other words, not everybody gets to do so).

    If you want to take part, hurry! There's limited availability for two tastings at 12:00 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. It's $40, but if you're a wine club member its just $35.

    Make sure to follow Stone's Throw Winery on Facebook or sign up on their e-mail mailing list when you go to keep up with all the great events they have going on.

     

     

     

  • Open Up to Onions

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    It's a vegetable that can be taken for granted. But its role in many great dishes is very important. Almost to the point of if onions were actors, the best they could hope for is "Best Supporting Actor or Actress" because it rarely stars by itself.

    While this article from the Chicago Sun-Times talks about just that, supporting roles in great meals, it should serve as a way to re-think the way you normally make onions.

    I like onions in just about anything (especially if you tell me they're caramelized), but even this gave me new ideas about onion preparation. Charred onion puree and onion jam are just two simple sides that can supremely enhance your repertoire.

    Onions are also a great source of Vitamin C, B6, Folic Acid and Dietary Fiber. So it's not just that they can make you cry when cutting them, they can help you out also.

    So next time, don't just take the onion as a simple root vegetable. Make it great with a few of these ideas.

  • Getting the Skinny on Street Food, "Parts Unknown"

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    I don't know if there's a more influential TV chef, traveler and all-around food authority right now that Anthony Bourdain. 

    Bourdain has been on top of the game for many years now, but continues to evolve. There's no rest for the weary, and no one appreciates that more than the fans of the newest CNN host.

    Bourdain spends some time talking with the Huffington Post's Rebecca Dolan about his new show "Parts Unknown," and his ambassadorship for the street food culture.

    As always, Anthony Bourdain is a fascinating read and sparks discussion about the role of street food vendors in the current culinary scene.

    Read and talk amongst yourselves, or voice your thoughts below.

  • Interview Flight: S.A.L.T. Executive Chef Ben Raupp

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    This is an extended version of the interview flight series, featuring S.A.L.T. Executive Chef Ben Raupp.

    It's longer because there's a little more to talk about, as we get closed to Greater Green Bay Restaurant Week.

    1) Describe S.A.L.T.'s style and what a customer can expect when going there? 

    We like to call our style "modern comfort".  The idea of comfort food, something which is recognizable and satisfying is combined with a modern approach to cuisine (sourcing your ingredients locally but looking globally for inspiration).  

    When a guest comes to SALT they can expect to see many dishes that they grew up with or have heard of...we just put a different spin on it.  We also encourage shared or small plates.  Communal eating is a huge part of food memories and comfort food.  

    We encourage our guests to have multiple smaller dishes to either share with their friends or just so they can try a couple of things.  Our menu is broken up to small plates (appetizer size) medium plates (larger apps or sandwiches) and large plates (full entrees).

    2) What's your favorite meal to prepare? 

    I love big brothy noodle dishes and in the summer I like to use my smoker for beef brisket.

    3) Where do you like to eat, and whose food do you enjoy? 

    My wife is also a chef so I enjoy her cooking very much, and nothing beats grandma's split and ham soup.  For local restaurants I love going to Koreana in Appleton for sushi and I find the cutting edge fine dining cuisine at Hinterland and 335 very inspiring.

    4) In your mind, what's one ingredient that's under-utilized that people can find at their local store, farmer's market, etc.? 

     I love root vegetables (celery root, turnips, parsnips, rutabaga, etc) and every time I prepare them people are amazed how good they are (even though all I do is season and roast them).  Spring is a great time at the farmers market, but I love the end of summer when it starts to get cooler and all those wonderful root vegetables start appearing.  They are each so full of flavor and unique, it’s great.

    5) Do you have a guilty pleasure? 

    Craft beer, scotch and girl scout Samoas cookies.

    6) How has the reception to S.A.L.T. been with customers, are you booked pretty solidly? How's the location in De Pere working out? 

    Obviously opening a restaurant is a nerve wracking experience, and even more so when your concept is a bit different then what is considered the "norm" for the area.

    However, the reception has been great. We fill up pretty quick for the weekends (make reservations at the start of the week for Friday or Saturday) and the weekdays are solid.  

    De Pere has also been great, from the city; to our business neighbors everyone has been very supportive and excited to have us in the area. We've gotten a chance to work on a few events with some local businesses already and look forward to doing so in the future.

    7) Are you excited to take part in the Greater Green Bay Restaurant Week? 

    Absolutely. We are a new restaurant so any chance to expose ourselves to new customers is great.  However, I'm more excited at the chance for locals and visitors to the area to see how the Green Bay food scene has changed and continues to evolve.

    8) How do you decide what to put on the tasting menus? 

    When we do a tasting menu I think about a couple of things.  

    First we do a lot of beer related events so I try to pay attention to that. Food and beer pairings can really help make the experience.  

    I also try and give the guest a chance to try a wide variety of things...vegetarian dishes, meat, seafood, etc.  

    Finally, although we do include established dishes on tasting menus we also use them as opportunities to try new things out.

    *******

    Ben tells me that they're working on building an outdoor dining space that will hopefully be open by this summer. You know, when the weather gets nice enough to eat outdoors.

    You can follow S.A.L.T. on Twitter and Facebook for the latest on menu changes, beer dinners and other events. 

  • Talk About Freezer Burn

    Posted by Jeff Flynt

    The movement toward promoting "fresh food" is apparently working. It's something that's hitting frozen food-makers right in the pocketbook.

    MSN.com reports a major ad campaign is headed our way aimed at rebranding frozen food to help sales.

    The American Frozen Food Institute and the Frozen Food Roundtable are planning to pump as much as $50 million to get folks to buy more Hot Pockets, Pizza Rolls and ice cream.

    The story says, "Consumers are seeking out fresh food because frozen food is commonly associated with high sugar, fat, preservatives and other coronary-clogging baddies delivered in sauce-laden entrees and rich ice cream treats."

    Sometimes people like that stuff, but apparently not enough of us.

    I remember as a kid I used to think one of the great things in life was getting my own Hungry Man dinner. Now I can't honestly think of the last time I ate one, nor even wanted to eat one.

    But I'll be the first to admit my tastes have changed. Evidently so have a lot of other folks.

    I'm a support of, "honesty in advertising", but would taglines like "Frozen. How fresh stays fresh," or "Fresh just froze," and "Open up to frozen," help sell me their product. I doubt it.

    Let me know how you feel about this new push to market goodies in the frozen food aisle.