SASOU Chef Competition - 2008/2009

(apologies to Max Von Sydow)

This was no ordinary cooking competition. Iron chef? Mere celebrity twaddle. Top chef? Sniveling amateurs.

This, my friends, was S.A.S.O.U -- "Super Awesome Supreme Overlord of the Universe" Chef.

The idea of having a cooking competition started with my friend Amy some time ago. Organizing eight busy schedules dragged the competition over a period of a year, and we haven't SASOU'ed recently, but it was great fun and there are some good pictures, so I thought it worthy of a post.

A quick overview, then some photos: 8 friends, divided into four teams of two people each. Four separate episodes/meals. Each episode featured a different key ingredient. Each team was responsible for a different course - salad, appetizer, entree, dessert - and each course had the same common ingredient for that episode. The first dinner was based on the pear. The second, sweet potato. Third, ginger. Fourth, hazelnut. Dishes were judged and scored in various categories, including creative use of ingredient, presentation, and taste.

A delicious appetizer based on sweet potatoes, with beets and pistachios

The Prize: the winning team received a dinner at Nage, a great restaurant in D.C. (where our friend Glen Babcock happens to be the head chef), paid for by the other three teams.

It was awful close (and of course, pretty subjective), but in the end, Kitchen Monkey and his fiancee pulled slightly ahead for the victory. I was endlessly impressed with what the other teams came up with. My team's best dish (I think) was our dessert: Triple-ginger Snap Cookies with Fresh Berries, Ginger Zabaglione, and Raspberry Sauce. Check it out. Thanks to Scott for the photos.

Team Kitchen Monkey's Ginger Zabaglione dessert

A delectable hazelnut cake

A pear and goat cheese salad

Sweet Potato Bisque and Scorecard

Team Kitchen Monkey's salad entry, with hazelnut-encrusted tuna tataki and
goat-cheese-stuffed tortelloni made from hazelnut flour

A hazelnut-based mezze selection, including
excellent home-made pickles


Snowmageddon (and Creamed Eggs on Toast, a comfort breakfast))

After almost a week of being snowed in, Kitchen Monkey's D.C. row-house is starting to feel more and more like the Overlook Hotel. We have had some great fun in this surreal, once-in-a-lifetime storm, including homemade pizza and game night with various neighbors, and an epic game of snowball fight/capture the flag (documented by yours truly, here).

Before moving on to the breakfast and the recipe, check out this time delay slideshow taken from the front window of our house, starting before the big storm and lasting until the next day. Pay particular attention to the tree (or bush?) across the street toward the left side as it sags with snow and then springs back up after the snow either fell off (or, more likely, was shaken off by the owner). You can also see berried branches in our yard begin to sag with snow in the frosty foreground.

You can also check out a brief video here of the same scene during the subsequent February 10 blizzard (dubbed "Snoverkill"). Now, onto the grub.

Creamed eggs on toast has always been a comfort food for me, and was one of my favorite breakfasts when I was a kid. It's great for a wintry stay-in and takes only minutes to make. Most recipes I have seen call for hard-boiled and chopped eggs, but my mother always scrambled them, so that's how I do it. Sorry, no picture. In any event, it's nothing to write home about, aesthetically speaking.

Creamed Eggs on Toast
Serves two or three, depending on how hungry you are.
  • 4 eggs, scrambled in a bit of butter (make the curds not too large, but not too small either)
  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 3 Tbsp. AP flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 to 6 pieces of toast
Scramble the eggs as mentioned above. Make toast.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, then stir in the flour and salt, to make a roux. Slowly add the milk while stirring, until all milk is added and the sauce thickens. Add the scrambled eggs, a bit of pepper, some sweet paprika, and serve over toast. That's it.


Kitchen Monkey Getting Married! (and Restaurant Daniel, and Other Matters)

Yes, it's true! I'm tying the knot, and there's much to tell about that, along with an amazing engagement dinner at Daniel in Manhattan, but first a bit about the long absence.

Shamefully, it has been around a year and a half since my last post. I've been busy with work, recording music, and yes, cooking. Somehow the blog fell by the wayside, but I'm hoping to change that. Yes, I know I've said that before. No, I'm not assuming that you care.

I want to note one other sad aspect of my long absence. Until the later years of this blog, I was linking all the photos from Photobucket. Well...my Photobucket account went dormant, I didn't do anything about it, and now ALL of those photos are gone. In their place you will see an image saying that my account no longer exists. Bastards. Over time I will replace many of them, but many others are on a long-gone computer, and are therefore forever gone. But enough about the past! Onward to the future!

There have been numerous interesting food adventures in the past year or so--sojourns to out-of-the-way butcher shops and farms; fantastic farmers markets; excellent D.C. area restaurants--but two adventures easily stand out. The first is the SASOU Chef cooking competition/supper club that Kitchen Monkey and seven friends formed over a year ago. SASOU deserves its own post, however, and will have to wait. The second was a truly phenomenal dinner at a truly phenomenal restaurant: Daniel.

That dinner was part of what I would say was a perfect day, the day I proposed to my soon-to-be-wife. Without going into too much detail, I proposed in a secluded part of Central Park in Manhattan, she was surprised, and she said yes. She knew we had reservations at Daniel. She didn't know it was going to be an engagement dinner.

This is the lovely dining room at Daniel. Executive chef and owner, Daniel Boulud, opened this restaurant in 1993 and in 1998 it moved to its current location at Park Avenue and 65th Street in Manhattan. In 2008 renovations were completed to its interior, the one you see above. It has been called one of the ten best restaurants in the world. The President of France has made Boulud a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur. The restaurant has three Michelin stars in the 2010 Michelin, the book's highest rating. It is elegant, grand, and any other hyperbolic synonym you can find for those words.

It is also out-of-this world expensive. Kitchen Monkey is not a wealthy man. He has a mountain of law school debt. But obviously this was an extremely special occasion. Was it worth it? YES. Will I be able to go again any time in the next five to ten years? Probably not.

First, I should describe the service, and if in doing so I sound like a hick who just saw his first skyscraper, so be it. First we were seated in the cocktail lounge to await our table and sip perfect (and we're talking 'Platonic Form' here) martinis. Not too much later, we were shown to our table in the dining room pictured above.

Over the course of the evening we were assisted by at least seven different people, each one with a different role, and each one of them like ninjas: their movements smooth and effortless, sometimes too quick to be noticed. Not long after we sat down, my fiancee asked me if I had seen what had just happened. I had not. She explained how she had sat down, placing her pocketbook (a $12 Filene's Basement affair) on the table. Almost before she had even noticed, a waiter/ninja had silently slipped her pocketbook off the table and placed it on a small plush pedestal next to the table. I had not noticed any of this.

Moments later, we looked up to see another man folding my fiancee's scarf (also from Filene's Basement--$20) in crisp, perfect folds, and setting it across the back of her chair, to keep it from touching the floor. In a French accent he said "this is my job...this is all I do...I fold scarves." It turned out later he was the sommelier.

But the food! How was it? I'm not Shakespeare, but allow me to wax poetic: GOD DAMN IT WAS AMAZING.

I started with sauteed foie gras (feel free to hate, all you haters, I understand why it's wrong and actually agree. I am not always a rational being and am aware that I may spend the afterlife being pecked for eternity by angry geese).

My main course was a stunningly tender venison loin that made me want to weep with joy. My fiancee's main course was a fillet of turbot, which was baked on a block of salt from Spain, I think. It was wheeled out to the table still on said block of salt. Another french-accented waiter effortlessly filleted the fish at our table. It was served with pureed parsnips which I have to assume had as much butter as parsnip and were remarkable.

For dessert I had a ganache, and it was decadent and delicious. During the entire meal we were treated wonderfully. I don't know how much that had to do with the fact that the staff knew ahead of time that this was an engagement dinner. Would we get the same treatment on an average visit? Don't know. Don't much care. They also brought us an additional dessert, with the word "congratulations" written in chocolate in fine cursive on the plate. Nice touch.

After dinner, the assistant manager came over and asked us how everything was. He was very helpful when I asked where we might find a cigar bar. There happened to be one the next block down, called Macanudo. It is one of maybe four or five places left in Manhattan that allow indoor smoking. We finished the night there with a cigar and cognac, and happened to sit next to a woman who had just gotten engaged that day. Even the initially-frosty bartender warmed up to us once she overheard that we had just gotten engaged.

In short, it was a wonderful day. One I will never forget.