Beaujolais Nouveau

November 17, 2011

I remember the first time I ever had a Beaujolais Nouveau.  I had finished my studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder and was working in the super hip, wine driven supper club called Trios in downtown Boulder.  Those of us who were there at that time helped create this incredible vibe.  We were all so passionate about what we were doing, we were learning so much and having so much fun doing it. The restaurant consulted with three different Master Sommeliers to build the wine list and we were always tasting wine, usually really good wine.  Thursday Night after service in Mid November 1996, Tom Smith the director of the wine program cracked some bottles of Burgundy.  We all knew they were burgundies, just by the shape of the bottles.  One of the first things we learned was to be able to figure out what was in the bottle, just by the shape.  With the amount of blind tastings we were put through, and floor shifts determined by how well we did; any advantage was seized greedily.  Even when they hid the bottles in paper bags, we could tell if it was pinot or cabernet, just by the shape. But this was weird; we never tasted wine after service.  That was when we drank ridiculously strong pints of Margaritas.  Wine tasting was always very serious and very controlled.  It was about education and connoisseurship.  But here was Tom, coming up the stairs to the restaurant after stumbling back from the Boulder Wine Merchant already drunk; laughing and joking around, pulling corks on burgundy at ten o’clock at night.  I still remember Tom’s wine stained teeth as he kept saying over and over “this is no ordinary burgundy” as he poured each of us a huge glass of this bright red burgundy.  Our excitement peaked when we each were handed a full Riedel stem of this new wine, not some little tasting pour but a big, grown up portion.  I had no idea what was going on, all of us waitstaff were acting like fools, except Dave Daitch, the one waiter who had lived in Paris and knew his wine.  He was the man that taught me to appreciate Pommard and the Rhone Valley over the huge fruit bombs of California.  I remember so vividly sticking my nose in the glass expecting the raspberries, brambles and cat piss of a young burgundy and instead was greeted with the most bizarre mixture of bananas and froot loops.  It was like a child’s sugared cereal.  It had no structure.  It was like kool-aid with booze in it.  What the hell was going on??  This wine was horrible, it had no redeeming value whatsoever.  I felt like someone was playing a trick on me.  I watched Tom and Dave, they were crushing this wine in huge gulps.  I was so confused, Dave and Tom had etched in my formative brain what wine was all about: how to taste, how to discern French or Amercian oak, how to figure out the vintage just by sight, how to discern the country of origin just by taste and here they were chugging, literally slamming glasses of this garbage.

Then they let me in on the secret.  The wine was Beaujolais Nouveau. A wine produced in Burgundy, but not by the noble Pinot Noir, but rather its lowly cousin, Gamay.  It is made unlike almost any other wine in the world, by a process called carbonic maceration. The grapes are not crushed, but fermented whole, so no tannins are brought into the wine and then released only about 6 to 8 weeks after harvest on the third Thursday of November. The mad rush to get the wines to market reminds one of an old Keystone Cops silent movie.  Some 58 million liters of Nouveau were produced last year, almost half of the total production of Burgundy.  Almost all of it drank on one night, one Thursday night in November to be exact.   Besides being a great party, there is a serious side to Nouveau.  There are huge variations between vintages and Nouveau is eagerly awaited as the first indicator of quality of the year’s Burgundy harvest.

The French do not, as a rule, drink to get drunk.  It is almost like drunkenness is a foreseen, yet unintended consequence of wine consumption, something of a bother more than a destination.  All this changes on the third Thursday in November, and that is what Tom was introducing to us back in 1996.  It is just a fun night, drinking ultra-simplistic wine (under the noble guise of checking to see what the vintage will be like) and getting drunk, yes drunk.  And drunk did we become that night in 1996, each and everyone of us, completely snockered.  What fun.

I have tried to celebrate Nouveau at The Bistro a number of times over the years and completely failed.  My staff looked at me like I was mad, the few tables that trusted me enough to buy a bottle for $12 or $14 bucks thought I was playing a trick on them.  One table in particular, I know has never returned.  So I stopped trying, but every year I celebrate it in my own little way.  This year, without even planning I found myself in Nice, France on the third Thursday in November.  As I walked home from my day working at Charcuterie Chibaudo, I went by the little wine shop near Jean-Francois flat.  The owner had layed out a spread of cheese, sausages and bread and multiple bottles of Nouveau were open for tasting.  Everyone had a glass in hand, people flooding out onto the street.  The owner looked at me and asked which bottle  I would like to try, I replied “the best one”.  He laughed, slapped me on the back and said “they are all the best” and handed me a glass of Drouhin.  I drank it down and tried the other two and then bought a bottle to take home.  I stumbled across the street and bought a baguette at this amazing bakery and got to finally feel the joy of walking home with a baguette under one arm, a bottle of Nouveau under the other and knowing there was a homemade wildboar terrine waiting for me in the flat.  Cross that one off the bucket list.

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Charcuterie Chibaudo

November 15, 2011

I spent a few days this last week working at an amazing little shop called Charcuterie Chibaudo.  About 8 years ago an incredibly energetic French Chef named Laurent bought a tired little charcuterie in old town Nice and turned it into an amazing tour de force(meat).

Me and Laurent

I am unsure what kind of pull Jean-Francois has in this town, but with one word from him, Laurent opened up not only his kitchen but his recipe books to me and invited me to hang out with him and his absolutely amazing crew.  Just so it is very clear to everyone from the beginning, Charcuterie Chibaudo is completely and utterly amazing.  What Laurent and his crew does on a daily basis is unreal, the sheer amount of product that is produced and sold unreal.  From the moment they open the shop at 9 am until they close there is a line out the door.  All the while in this little kitchen more types of sausages (fresh, smoked and dried), pates, forcemeats, multiple terrines (aspic, aspic, aspic), hams, whole pigs stuffed more pork (porchetta), roasted duck legs, rillettes, pig noses, pigs feet in many different forms,  head cheese, strips of skins, chops of throat muscle, chops of prime loins, multiple forms of cured belly, multiple forms of bulk sausages, ground pork, various forms of offal, take home lunches, shepard’s pie, stuffed puff pastries called Bouche a la Reina, salt cod potato cakes, starches, lentils, sauerkraut and even desserts are being produced on a scale I have never imagined possible.  There were only four guys doing all this (one more actually, but he spent most of his time in the basement coating andiouellettes in fat and bread crumbs).  These five guys, plus two women working the counter (one was Laurent’s wife Dina, whom I met while working in Miami) were responsible for the all set up (the 30 foot long deli case was set up and broke down every day), preparation, execution and cleaning.   Laurent is an absolute mad man, moving faster than I have seen anyone move in years.  We are incredibly efficient in the Bistro, but this was awe inspiring.  They all run from place to place, sliding into position, treating the water on the floor not so much as a hazard, but a necessary lubricant for speed.  I ended up standing on a little stairway to the attic, with my jaw on the floor watching this circus unfold before me.  Twenty kilos of belly and shoulder at a time go into the chopper.

Buffalo chopper ready for action

Nothing is ground, there is no time.  The chopper is a massive recirculating bowl with three vertical blades that can reduce four inch chunks of belly into a puree in minutes.  I used a smaller scale version of this contraption when I was much younger; we called it a “Buffalo Chopper”.  Laurent says his is well over 50 years old and works like a champ.  The blades are honed multiple times during the day.  I watched Laurent make three different types of Perrugina (small finely ground sausages: traditional, spiced and fennel with black pepper) one after the other, each one taking less than five minutes a-piece in the hopper.  The sausage is then directly put into the stuffer, where a wonderful older gentleman named Richard dutifully stuffed sausages.  He did not have to run or slide, thank God, but rather just wetted multiple different types of intestines for casing the sausages and then stuffed like a mad man. Every time I looked over the table was full of sausages.  The completed sausages were then tied off like cordalettes and move to the counter to be purchased immediately by the hungry customers.  After the Perrugina, Sausage de Toulouse goes in, then Cervelias, sausage du Francfort, then more and more and more.  I could not write and document what was going on as fast as they were making it.  I got Laurent to slow down enough to talk me through the sausage du Francfort (frankfurters).  This was the one thing I really needed to see.  Emulsified sausages are really tricky, you have to suspend the fat in the protein and if you fail, there is no way to recover, it is all for naught.   Watching him make this made me feel better, he made it look so easy (I need to remember to re-read these words as I try to make them in Gil’s); simple 12 kilo of belly and shoulder, emulsifying agents and 3 kilos of ice, pureed, pureed some more, till it stretches like bread dough and then stuffed into lambs intestines.

belly and shoulder processed into sausage du francfort

When finished and air dried for a couple of hours they are boiled.  When you grab one between your fingers and bent it, it snaps in two: literally snaps you can hear it.  Laurent said that when he was in America he would always hear people say that if you knew what was in a hot dog, you would not eat them.  Here at his place there is only belly and shoulder and he smiled and said “if you knew what was in these, you would eat more”.   While all this is going on, this wonderful kid name Jonathan was stirring this huge vat of boiling pig skin.  Then dutifully picking apart pig’s heads (munching on spare little bits all the while), peeling pig tongues with a potato peeler and then forming these amazing terrines of head cheese.  Did I mention aspic?  I have never seen so much aspic in my life.  There were so many different types of terrines, all slathered in aspic.  Every single bit of the pig was used and then re-used and just for fun used again.

Laurent spoke impeccable English and his wife impeccable French.  The number two man in the kitchen (Laurent’s right hand) was this incredibly talented guy named Nicolas.

Nicolas finishing sausages

Laurent was in charge of the production of sausages and running the front counter when the two ladies got too swamped.  I could not tell the difference between incredibly busy and swamped, they always seemed to be swamped.  The intercom never stopped barking for re-supply orders.  Nicolas also spoke impeccable English and was always moving, but he had time to talk me through what was going on.  I think Laurent told him to do so.  It just struck me how absolutely genuine everyone in that kitchen was.  Every single person was awesome and no one had an ego.  For a couple of days I got to really hang out with Nicolas.  I have made terrines, some forcemeat and sausages, but not on an industrial scale like this.  I knew where the holes in my knowledge were, I just needed to see it in action.  I picked up more in those couple of days than I would have in a month of trial and error in Gil’s.  Nicolas knew the questions I was asking and being a chef knew how to answer them.  It would be impossible to adequately express my appreciation to all of the crew at Charcuterie Chibaudo, most importantly Laurent and Nicolas.  I am so thankful that they opened their house to me, I know what a big deal that is for a chef to do so.  Laurent should be very proud of what he has accomplished.  Even as I write this I am in awe of what he and his crew does on a daily basis.

As I left Chibaudo, I remembered that Jean-Francois asked me to bring some andiouellettes home and I did so diligently.  After days of watching all of this wonderful belly and shoulder being made into amazing sausages, I was more than excited to finally enjoy some of them.  As he was cooking them I looked up the type of sausage on the internet, because I had not witnessed these big, fat sausages being made.  Wikipedia said that “andiouellette is definitely an acquired taste and to the uninitiated the smell of them cooking is repulsive”.  About this time the aroma began to hit my nose and the sausage burst from the skin, sending a wave of scent that turned my stomach into a knot.  I asked what Jean-Francois what was in them and he replied simply “you know, guts”.  Very coarsely chopped guts.  Then I realized that I had a ten inch gut sausage that I had to deal with.  Where was the wonderful Perruginas, or Toulouse or even Francfort???  I made myself a deal that there was nothing, absolutely nothing I would not eat on this trip.  I would be damned if I was gonna look like a queasy American if front of Jean-Francois, after all he had done for me.  We pulled the sausages (Jean-Francois was pissed they burst from the skin) threw in some shallots into the fat, deglazed with white wine and added mustard and served them with steamed potatoes.  The smell was unreal, like stinky feet with an edge of that sweetness of glands.  The first bite, mainly due to the intense smell was tough and I learned that coarsely chopped tripe tickles the throat as you swallow.  But it was really, really good.  It was the same sensation I had when eating my first really, really ripe Camembert.  That intense smell is overpowering, but it was awesome.  Eating tradition French is more mental than anything.  It may seem strange to our palate, which has only seen prime cuts for the last 50 years.  The French do not eat bad food period.  They do not eat anything that is not super tasty.  They would not eat andouillette (and Ghibaudo would not sell 50 of them a day) it they were not good.  No matter how good they really are, I do not think we will try to sell them at Gil’s.  No sense shooting ourselves in the foot right out of the gates: belly and shoulder, belly and shoulder.

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The Markets of Nice

Vegetable Market

 

Fresh Fish

 

Moules sans frites

 

Charcuterie

Boned out head of Veal

 

Half of a boned out head of veal for dinner tonight

 

Tripe

offal

Tete de Piggy

And like a mouse, you never leave the table without eating cheese

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Adopted French Family

Ten years ago I found myself in Nice.  I flew in with a great friend, Matt Courtney (now the assistant wine maker at

Jean Francois' Apartment Building

Marcassin Vineyards) to try to understand the wine regions of France.  I seem to find myself in Europe whenever I have big questions or concepts that I am trying to figure out.  Both of us were Certified Sommeliers of Wine and this was almost a pilgrimage for us.  A dear friend of mine in Jackson Hole, named Claudine recommended that we look up her Uncle Jean Francois and she was sure that we could crash at his pad while we were in Nice.  In the spring of 2001 we arrived in Nice and were completely awestruck with the beauty of the Cote d’Azur.  Jean Francois is a doctor and was working late so we had to make our way to his flat.  This is where we made our first mistake, we hopped a cab.  Word of advice: never, never ever take a cab in Nice.  With our wallets much lighter we found the flat and the hidden key and let ourselves in.  We found the nearest wine shop and then the charcuterie and then the cheese shop and then the bakery and then returned to the flat with our treasures.  As an aspiring gourmand, during the first couple of hours in France your entire life changes.  Hours later Jean-Francois returned from work and in no uncertain terms let us know that we were less than welcome and it was really only as a favor to his niece Claudine that we were not on the street.  In short, we could stay for a few days and then we would need to be on our way.  Then Jean-Francois noticed the wine and other treasures that we had brought into his home.  He pulled up a chair and we began the first of many nights of “sip-munch”.  Jean-Francois came to understand that we were not “Disneyland” Americans, instead we were two aspiring gourmands in his home as our first stop of our month long pilgrimage to the great wine regions of France and Italy.  By the end of the evening, he had become our mentor (Jean-Francois is the Gourmand’s Gourmand and over the years I have learned more about food and wine from him than anyone else) and

both Matt and I were nestled deep under his wing.  Our quick departure was aborted and replaced with guided tours of Cannes, various vegetable markets, Charcuteries, fish mongers and jolly butchers. When we first opened the Bistro, Jean-Francois sent his then 17 year

The Whole Family

My Wonderful French (and Italian) Adopted Family

old son, Gustave out to Montana to work in the Bistro for a summer and perfect his English before beginning his University studies.

In the summer of 2011, Claudine finally got married and chose the Tom Miner Basin as the location and the Bistro of course took care of the catering.  Jean Francois and Gustave came from Nice, Brother Bernard and his sons came from Alsace and Claudine’s Mom, Nicole and her wonderful husband Chuck came from Minnesota.  It was one of those incredibly special events, one of the best events I have ever been involved in and at the end of the day, Jean Francois made me “honorary nephew” and invited me to come back to Nice for Gustave’s 25th birthday, and then join him to travel to visit his daughter in Milan and attend the truffle festival in November.  So I find myself back in Nice, standing on Jean Francois’ balcony overlooking the amazing city of Nice so excited I can hardly stand it.

View from Jean Francois flat over the Mediterranean Sea

I flew in from Barcelona after a two hour delay and was greeted at the airport by Jean Francois’ ex-wife Anne, who now lives in Morocco (everyone here is very cosmopolitan) and is back in town for the birthday party this weekend.  Anne drops me off at Jean Francois’ (he is working late, just like on my first visit) and I walk up the three flights of solid marble steps to his flat and I am greeted by Gustave’s awesome girlfriend from London, Cosima (Cosima and Gus met at a music festival a year ago in Prague and have been thick as thieves ever since).  Soon Jean Francois arrived home and put the finishing touches on a stew from Madagascar, of Braised Beef with Kefir Limes and Bredes Mafane greens (Jean Francois says if you have never been to Northern Africa you would not know them.  The closest description I have to how they taste is like eating lightning).  Soon Jean Francois, Anne, Gus, Cosima and I sat down to dinner as a family.  Once again, for the second time in as many days I was overcome with a feeling of indescribable gratitude to the blessings of this life and the friendships it offers.

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Vilanova I La Geltru

As I write this I am sitting in a restaurant called Carnes a la Brasa in the Barcelona airport waiting for my plane to Nice, eating a salad of hearts of palm, avocado and hard cooked egg and tomato bread with a type of sausage I have never heard of.  Good food is everywhere you turn.

View from Tony's Flat with Vegetable Market in the Corner

About four years ago in the dead of the winter, there was one of those special nights that happen a few times a year in The Murray.  We had an awesome band from California traveling  through on a weekday and there was maybe 15 regulars in the bar.  The energy was perfect and it was like the bar was just levitating a few inches off the ground.  The greatest nights I have ever experienced in that bar are like this: a handful of locals, an awesome band and perfect energy.  I was sitting in the bar completely blissed out, feeling the incredible Murray energy when I heard someone speaking with a super thick Spanish accent.  When I was in my early 20’s I took some time off from my university studies and spent about a year and a half traveling through Central America.  Between that and growing up in the restaurant industry in Colorado, my Spanish is quite fluent, even without speaking it for years at a time.  I struck up a conversation with this mysterious Spaniard, named Tony, who appeared in The Murray and found out that he was a Chef in a little town outside of Barcelona who flew into New York and was spending three months exploring America and he just “happened” to find The Murray in the middle of a February snowstorm.  Immediately there was a connection. He was just a good dude, pure and simple.  We closed down the bar (you can never break the gravitational pull of a Murray bar stool on these nights) and I offered him a place to crash on my sofa.  The next night he came into the restaurant and cooked staff meal of a very simple Spanish egg and potato torta for the lucky staff that happened to be working that night.  We parted the next day, exchanging emails and Tony telling me, that if I ever found myself in Barcelona to let him know.  Four years later, I found myself with a plane ticket to Barcelona so I shot Tony an email with dates of my trip.  A week later I received a reply telling me that he would of course welcome me into Spain and he would see me at the Airport.  Yesterday, as I stepped off the plane, there was Tony with a huge grim, wearing a scarf that every man in Spain seems to have in their wardrobe.  Moments later we were in a Jeep Grand Cherokee cruising down the autopista, looking out over the Mediterranean Sea to this little town called Vilanova I La Geltru, about 45 minutes south of Barcelona.  Immediately I found myself exactly where I needed to be.  I had given myself four weeks to discover the authentic and now less than an hour on the ground I had found it.  Tony’s flat is in the middle of the old town, completely medieval set up, the roads built for people and carts, not cars.  Everything mixed use, everyone lives in these cool little flats above the shops.  The building Tony lives in is marked has a brick proclaiming the year it was built: 1694.  Across the street is the little vegetable market with two wonderful old Spanish ladies, wearing the ubiquitous two pocket aprons that every old woman who speaks Spanish seems to have on.  This little market has less than 200 square feet of floor space, but has everything one needs.  There was beautiful, fresh vegetables, bottled water, pasta, olive oil, eggs, toilet paper, legs of cured ham with the hoofs and toenails still on, and, of course ice cream.  Just down the street is the local charcuterie shop, then the butcher shop (different from charcuterie), then the bakery, then the clothing store with absolutely stunningly beautiful textiles, then the little tavern with Basque tapas (packed of course), then the little cheese shop, with literally a 100 different types of awesome cheese (Enter Facebook Page), then the town square (packed with communal tables from various

Tony and the ambitous owner of the glorious cheese shop

 eateries and everyone is smoking) with the gorgeous medieval church.  All of this is within 100 yards of Tony’s flat.  There is no grid to the streets, they just wander about and this old city just goes and goes.  Every couple of blocks there is another Basque tavern (packed of course with old men wearing sweaters reading the sports pages), another bakery, another charcuterie, another amazing clothes shop, another tavern.  Everything is small and specialized and nothing but locals.  There are no tourists, except me in Vilanova. 

By this time, I had been awake for about 30 hours straight, and sleep was the furthest thing from my mind.  It was about four in the afternoon and I was completely in awe, with my jaw hanging open almost touching the ground.  I stood on the little balcony off of my room in the flat, watching the town do its thing: tiny cars squeaking through the buildings, impeccably dressed people walking everywhere, kids skateboarding, moms pushing strollers, scooters everywhere and this vibe that is so infectious to American seeing this life style.  After a half an hour in this town of 65,000 people (seems huge to us in Montana, but I bet its total footprint is not much bigger than Livingston) I did not want to leave.  Me encanto a Espana.

Saizar and Anchovies

After convincing Tony that I had no intention of taking a nap, I put on my boots and nicest pearl snap shirt, and we hit the town.  The Spanish know how to eat, pure and simple, pica pica.  We went to a little Basque tavern with a simple wood bar lined with little tapas: egg tortas, tins of anchovies, olives and a mindboggling amount of cheese.  Tony ordered a bottle of Saizar, which he referred to as an apple liqueur.  Having been awake for more than 30 hours straight the concept of “liqueur” sent a bolt of fear through my soul.  Visions of passing out and smashing my face into the tile floor flooded my thoughts.  Upon closer examination, I realized that it was not a liqueur at all, but rather a very simple apple wine, with a ritual all of its own.  The barkeep popped the cap and fitted the bottle with this special plug.  Tony grabbed the bottle and a highball glass and began the ritual pouring that I would witness over and over again all night.  The bottle held high above your head and the glass at your knee, a steady stream of apple wine is aerated into the glass, with much of it

Cartoon of how to pour Saizar

 splattering onto the floor.  The flavor is raw and unrefined and a delight to drink.  I speak as a Sommelier:  raw and unrefined are not detriments, but rather descriptors. It pricks your tongue and feels like it is still fermenting in the bottle.  The nose and palate are nothing but apples and it sits at 6% alcohol.  I tried to understand how after 16 years of buying wine professionally I had never heard of Saizar.  It is never exported and is super cheap and I bet if you drank a bottle anywhere except in a Basque tavern in Spain, it would not taste as good.  But here, with anchovies soaking in olive oil and balsamic, cheese and bread rubbed with a light concasse of tomatoes, it was perfect.

We left the tavern and returned to the flat to walk a dog that Tony is watching for a friend.  This was no European apartment dwelling dog, but

Spanish Speaking Dog

rather one of the most gorgeous golden Labrador Retrievers I have seen in a long time.  This dog was so impeccably trained it was mind boggling and he understood Spanish as well.  So many years dealing with my townsfolk’s untrained Labs, had soured me on the breed, but this dog was amazing.  I watched this dog respond to a multitude of voice and whistle commands and thought how juxtaposed it was that this amazing animal was living in this medieval town and would never get the chance to jump out of a boat to retrieve a duck on the Yellowstone.

By now it was about 9 o’clock at night.  By this time in Livingston, it is almost all over for the night, but here in Spain is when it just gets rolling.  The streets which had been bustling before now became packed.  Families and babies were everywhere, filling the square and roaming the streets.  The sense of community was amazing.  It was a Tuesday night and it was like no one had ever heard of a TV and everyone was out.  We met up with a friend of Tony’s, named Sebastian who makes his living as a tattoo artist (his studio is also within 100 yards of Tony’s flat) and we set off for the town’s best bar, called La Puput (Poo Poot).   I had thought that the little ubiquitous Basque taverns were busy, but this was in a different realm. It was a bigger spot, maybe 1500 square feet and totally packed with old men in sweaters playing dominos, families with babies munching on tapas, old couples sipping on wine in tiny glasses, young thugs with low hanging pants drinking beer and more pretty girls than I have seen in years, all in one place.  The owner was exactly as I suspected, half-crazy with wild eyes jumping in and out of the kitchen with plates of food.  The only waiter looked exactly like he was ER’s long lost little brother and was once again just as I suspected.  He does not approach your table until you raise your hand and snap your fingers.  When you order food, he returns with plates and slings them across the table like he is dealing cards as he shouts with another table.  Wine glasses are stout and the wine is a simple Rioja.  We order a half kilo of shaved dry ham, amazing white anchovies, olives and dry sheep’s milk cheese broiled on a baguette.  After pica pica, we ventured outside to smoke.  Even though Spain finally outlawed smoking in public buildings, it has done nothing to curb smoking in general.  Half of

Wonderful New Friends in Vilanova

the bar was outside And it was still packed inside.  We met some fabulously beautiful girls who are friends of theirs and spent the next few hours discussing the relative merits of different brines on sheep milk cheeses.  One of the girls, named Siluia is a some type of a CPA and I was just in awe listening to this very beautiful woman, with a sharp analytic mind waxing poetically about different regional cheeses.  Food is part of their culture in a way that is so hard foran American to understand.  We then switched over to shots of this liqueur that reminded me of Chartreuse, then there was beer and more shots and then the Spanish started to be spoken quite rapidly with lots of slang and so much body language that they all just seemed to be dancing and yelling at each other.  I leaned against the wall to help hold the building up and was filled with so much happiness, knowing that one little chance encounter in The Murray Bar in Livingston, Montana opened this entire world to me.  At some point in time we stumbled home as I woke up in a fabulously comfy bed.  Sure fire cure for  jet lag, stay up for 40 hours straight, eat like a king and drink like Bukowski, get a good night’s sleep and all will be fine.  And have this for breakfast.

Me Encanto Espana

 

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A Chef’s Journey

Leaving home

This morning I left my little town and my little Bistro to go search for something:  something real, something authentic, something true.   Over the years we have been able to build something truely amazing in our little town of Livingston.  The Second Street Bistro and The Murray Bar have become these wonderful little fixtures in Downtown.  And now we are setting off to build something new (in a very old building), something that I feel will become very important in our little town.  So I am setting off to Europe for five weeks to try to understand what exactly it is that I am trying to build.  I am returning to Europe, where over a decade ago I first stumbled upon the idea for The Second Street Bistro while driving over the Alps from Nice to Alba.  We stopped in this little town on the Italian side of the Alps and I had one the most memorable meals of my life.  The food was not overly refined, nor the service polished but it was authentic, it was real.  It was a husband and wife and a large fire and rotessierie with simple wine and honest fare and it was packed.  I thought to myself, why is it that every small town in America (that is not completely tourist driven: i.e. Jackson Hole and Aspen) has a really poor quality of food.  Drive across Montana and you are confronted with frozen chicken fried steaks, canned gravies, hamburgers and ranch dressing.  So I hatched this plan to do something real in a real town using local products from local producers and to see how far we could push the envelope.  Thanks to the amazing support our little town (and of course Bozeman) has given us it has worked beyond my most far fetched imagination.

This morning I left a place that I understand completely.  At the Bistro, I know how much salt to put into my sauces.  I also know the locations of all the places where we keep salt in the bistro for service.  In addition, I know where we keep  back ups of salt in the basement and when we run out of salt, I know where to order more.  When that guy brings my salt I know how to cut a check to pay him.  As of this morning I left all that.  I am flying to a continent that is so much older than mine is, where a building built in 1893 is not considered old.  I don’t speak the languages (except through food) and I have brought no maps, no guidebooks and no set plans, so that this could be a real adventure.  A Chef searching for the Authentic.   A real adventure with a real goal, which by defintion is a quest.  I am so stoked to get to go on a quest.  Next stop Barcelona.

Brian

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The Manhattan

A classic cocktail by any definition with enough variations and themes to be one of the progenetors of all cocktails and martinis.  Various sources list the beginnings of the Manhattan in the late 1860’s as a drink made with Rye whiskey, Italian vermouth and bitters.  This combination has seemed to have stuck through the last 150 years, with the only popular variations being the use of Bourbon or Canadian Whisky instead of Rye.

We have created our Bistro Manhattan by balancing the flavors of a smooth Kentucky bourbon, I use 1792 Ridgemont Reserve, with a great Italian vermouth, and orange bitters.  The 1792 bourbon pairs well with the solid, yet smooth and complex Carpano Punt e Mes vermouth.  The Regans orange bitters that I use give a nice background softness to the drink, yet are not so subtle as to get lost in the dark vermouth and aged bourbon.

Recently a guest gave me a bottle of the Carpano “Antiqua Formula” vermouth to use for his Manhattans.  Wow, I have a hard time not just drinking it all, just poured on the rocks.  It is a complex, slightly bitter Italian vermouth with a refined character and layers of flavor.  It is the original recipe created by the Carpano family generations ago, and I should be getting in a special order bottle of it for everyone to try in the next couple of weeks.  I plan on creating another great Manhattan from it, using a more robust bottling of whiskey, probably a traditional rye and using the Angostura bitters.  But who knows, the experimentation is half the fun.  I’ll keep you all posted and let you know how this turns out.  And feel free to stop in and give me a hand in the creation sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Nathaniel

Director of Wine and Booze

Second Street Bistro/Murray Bar

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Limoncello

I just finished making up another batch of Limoncello. It has taken a few tries before I got it right. If you would like to make some at home, follow along with my method.

I start by zesting 10 lemons for every liter of vodka. Use decent vodka, something triple distilled, but you don’t have to go over the top with ultra high end, unless that is what you like. Wash the lemons, then zest them. Be sure to only remove the yellow skin and none of the white pith. Put all of the zest into a big, clean glass jar and add the vodka. I like to add the simple syrup at this time, others prefer to let the zest infuse for a week before putting in the simple syrup. To make the simple syrup for one liter of vodka put 2 cups of sugar into 2 cups of water and bring it to a boil. This will dissolve the sugar into the water. Let this cool a bit, then add it to the lemon zest and vodka mixture.

Now comes the easy part. Let this rest and infuse in a cool dark place for a couple of weeks. Some people say to let it go for at least a month, but I have a hard time letting it sit for that long. After it has done its thing of infusing, pour it off through a strainer to filter out the big bits of lemon zest. Then pour it through a cheesecloth and strainer to take out the smaller bits of lemon that are left. Bottle up the Limoncello and stick in in the fridge, or the freezer, and enjoy it whenever you like. Traditionally it is served after dinner in Italy as a digestive aid. I think it tastes like yellow lemon sunshine. Come on down and try a glass after dinner some night, I would like to hear what you think of our brew and if you have any great recipies of your own.

Nathaniel
Director of Wine and Booze
Second Street Bistro/Murray Bar

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Free Range Beef, Yellowstone Grassfed Beef

I had the great opportunity to visit the TT Ranch operation this past week to see what they do to produce all of our local free range beef.

Zachary Jones is the ranch manager for TT beef, a family operation for generations. When he took over the family cattle operation he began to implement a system of free range beef, from calf to finish, all on open grassland. One of the greatest aspects of the ranch, and what separates him from most other ranchers, is his use of grass only. They don’t feed hay. They don’t feed grain, or corn. Just all natural, grown by the sun and rain and soil, grass. Zachary has taken down almost all of the barbed wire fences on the ranch and gone to a rotational grazing system that utilizes only one strand of thin electric fence. One person can go out and move the cows from one pasture to another in only a few minutes, all by themselves.

All you have to do is drop the one wire to the ground, and the cows come a runnin’. Just like people, they want the greener grass in the other pasture. After they go to the new grass, you just raise the wire up again and its all taken care of.

This type of grazing does require a rancher to constantly monitor the state of the grass and rotate the cows accordingly. As Zachary points out, he grazes his cows and raises the grass “the way the buffalo did”. A herd would come through, eat all the grass, trample the ground up some and move on. This type of grazing is beneficial to the landscape, and is in harmony with the way that nature operates. When looking out across the rolling green landscape, you can see what Zachary means, what he is striving to do, and how it has helped the ecosystem. Hawks fly overhead, curlews pick for bugs in the grasses, coyotes bound across the hills and badgers dig their dens in the valleys. Pronghorns run free across the prairie, unhindered by barbed wire fences, and the cattle are happy.

One of the biggest joys that I found at the ranch were the generations of cows all living together as family units. Unlike most traditional cattle ranches of our time where the calves are weened young, separated and then shipped off to be fattened at feed lots, the TT ranch keeps all the different ages together. They are not weened, but live naturally and switch to grazing when they are inclined to. The cows also live for several years, wild and free, before they are sent off to become steaks. You see, it takes 2 to 3 years for a cow that has been grazing on grass alone to reach slaughter weight. During that time they all live together. There are sometimes up to four generations all living in the same pasture together. That in itself makes me feel good.

I also saw lots of calves, some only a day or two old. Thats not the norm for most operations. But when you don’t have to fatten up a calf by fall to ship off, it stands its best chance of survival when it is born in the late spring. Zachary explained that cows will naturally be bred when the time is right for their bodies and the natural change of the seasons. Everything on the ranch seems to focus on bringing about the natural cycle, the cycles of the weather, the seasons, the plants and the animals.

While we were making the rounds and checking on the cows, the grass and the water Zachary showed me one of the great treasures of the ranch, a massive artesian well bubbling from the ground in the middle of the green rolling hills.

I was also shown a more traditional well, an old windmill from generations ago.

And even the next generation was happy to help with mending fences.

I came to a few conclusions while touring this great operation. I realized that Zachary, his family and all of those working on this ranch live a life close to the earth, attuned to the seasons, the land, the animals and how it all fits together and is interrelated. I realized that the cows have the chance to live a healthy life, a true life walking the hills and grazing the grass. I saw how the landscape blended the sun, the rain, the snow, wind, the soil, the plants, the insects, the animals and the birds all together to live harmoniously and to the benefit of all. And all of this is brought together in its final form as a steak on the table. But its a real steak, a healthy steak, a nutritious steak and a tasty steak. It makes you have a fuller appreciation for all that goes into our food, and where it comes from. The TT beef is a local product we are proud to serve, and people that we are proud to do business with. We hope you feel the same way.

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