2014-03-15 / Features

‘I want to be the best chef I can’

straight ahead
mike floyd

There is just something wonderful about all this rain and sunshine passing through our town signaling the start of spring.

The clean crisp air has just the right amount of humidity for comfort.

If I had a garden, like I used to, my round-nose shovels would have already turned the earth over with well amended soil plus some wintered over mulch.

To take the place of all the gardening I used to do, I have made my kitchen into a real working kitchen of creativity and upgraded my small appliances so I get the results that I expect when I use them.

For many years, I really had no idea what capabilities the Internet and Amazon held for a serious chef like myself.

I haven’t worked in a restaurant in three years and really don’t miss the days of being a prep chef. But, like most, the bottom line for almost all cooks and chefs is that they love to prepare food that people like.

Cooking as a professional takes on a high amount of pressure and the use of specialized skills get severely tested every shift.

Thankfully, I don’t have that scenario in my kitchen, except maybe the pressure to make sure every thing comes out right at an occasional dinner party. It usually does.

At my house, I have great equipment like high-end French and German knives, John Boos wood cutting boards, shredders, cheese graters, food mills (to grind tomatoes, keeping out the seeds) and luxury pans like All- Clad and Calphalon. I have two knife blocks and a huge collection of kitchen gadgets that are wedged into my kitchen drawers so tight you almost have to empty them all out just to get your hands on a melon baller. Good grief.

I rent my place, thus I don’t have a giant stainless steel sixburner oven to cook on but probably would if I owned the place. I use an electric oven, an old GE, that must be 40 years old but it’s fine for what I do. It can be cranked up to 500 degrees and does a wonderful job on roasted vegetables, rib roasts and holiday turkeys. I don’t need six burners.

I use a lot of Duke energy when I cook and since it’s usually just me I’m cooking for, I wanted to bring in a new, energy-saving appliance — a Breville Smart Toaster/Convection oven. I had seen it advertised on television and I think the word “Smart” drew my attention to it.

“Smart” meaning what? I’m fairly smart and does this oven cleverly suggest the idea that you would be intelligent to buy it?

Not exactly, but when I tell people about it I mention you must pass an online IQ test.

I looked over their product description, specs and consumer reviews, and there was no doubt I had to have this puppy, a $250 tabletop oven in my gourmet kitchen.

Several product reviewers claimed they had just plugged it in when they got it and been using it every day since then. I’m cool with that and you know what? I use it at least five times a week and it can do it all.

It even comes with a pizza pan, but I opted for the up-graded pizza stone for $29.95 because it helps put an even crisp on the frozen pizzas I buy, which are usually the Kashi brand.

Why, do you ask, is all this important to me? It’s a running competitive game I have between myself in self-improvement — you should get a little better at everything you try more than once. It’s my mission statement.

So, guess what? Breville has a whole line of Smart appliances, including waffle makers, rice cookers, deep fryers, bread and pizza makers and microwaves.

They even have coffee bean grinders, which are supposed to grind the roasted coffee bean rather than those blade processors.

According to articles on the Internet, the blades heat up from friction and spoil the taste of the freshly ground bean. If you want the true taste of delicious coffee beans, they must be ground by a burr grinder. They just grind and pulverize at slower speeds so there is no heat.

Hey, what did I know? It sounds like it make sense and the more I read, the more convinced I became. If I wanted to maximize the taste of my coffee, I have no other choice but to get a coffee bean burr grinder.

If you look on the Internet, there are a lot of burr grinders to choose from, anywhere from $29 to several thousand. Since I was so impressed with the Breville Smart Oven, I checked out the Breville burr grinder. Ouch! $199.

That was expensive but the more I read the consumer reviews about the Breville model, the more I became excited. Remember what I said about my motivation on getting a little better in what I do and make?

Well, $199 is well worth having if it improves the coffee I brew every day. And if somebody comes over and has a cup of Joe at my house, I want it to be about the best they’ve had. I spend plenty online for the roasted beans I have shipped in every other week so let’s lock it down!

My Breville burr grinder came in last Monday and I’ve got it all set up for this weekend. I bought some great espresso coffee beans from a big roasting house, Coffee Direct, and will use my grinder which is already on the espresso grind setting. Smart, huh?

You fill up the bean hopper, above the grinder, with four or five cups of beans, dial in how many cups of coffee you will be brewing and hit the start button.

The Smart burr grinder does the rest and the desired amount of ground falls into a container and you just drop it in your coffee maker, I use a Bunn, and you’re in business.

For maximum flavor and taste, I am going to use distilled water, which has no added minerals, chlorine or fluoride in the brewing. The true taste of the roasted coffee bean itself can then be featured.

You should try it sometime. I’m not knocking Roxboro water but my plumbing is quite old where I live and there can be a metallic taste to it on occasion.

As you can see, shopping and cooking for me is more than just a normal part of my workweek. Since I don’t play tennis, racquetball or golf anymore, I use my cooking skills and food knowledge to challenge myself and crank out some great food and I’m passionate and competitive about it.

I don’t have to be the best chef but I want to be the best chef I can. If I have to buy expensive kitchen equipment to be my best, it’s money well spent.

And if somebody just happens to tell me that some palooka makes the best Italian meatballs in town, it just means they haven’t tasted mine.

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