Some people thought I was crazy, and when 20 women and 0 men initially signed up for my “Fondue and the City” singles mixer at Murray’s, I thought I might be way off track, too. Luckily, we put the word out that any man interested in 1) women, 2) cheese, and 3) beer should head on over to Murray’s one cold Friday night in January et voila… If you melt it and serve it with beer, they will come. My theory that fondue ultimately leads to love still stands.
Category Archives: This never would have happened in Finance
Here’s just a quick post about my first experience with St. Maure Chevre…
First, I am not a food snob. Sometimes I’m obnoxious, but I assure you, it’s without any other reason than that I’m oddly particular. I don’t judge food and I don’t judge your tastes (intentionally) because frankly, food to me is about both comfort and nostalgia. So, when I tell you that my first experience with goat cheese was on a chevre-producing farm outside of Tours, France in the Loire Valley, it’s not because I’m showing off, it’s because I had truly never been exposed to goat cheese before this time.
I was 19 years old and had followed my friend, Amanda, to France to study abroad for the summer. This was my first trip abroad without my family, and I was thrilled and terrified for the adventure. About a week before taking off, my then-boyfriend took me to see the movie “Final Destination,” about a class field trip to Paris where the plane crashes… Needless to say, he’s an ex-boyfriend now. I don’t know if it was that movie or just the fact that it was my first flight sitting all by myself, but that was also the first time that I realized that I am terrified of flying. That’s a dandy little peak into just one of my MANY increasing phobias and superstitions – oh, just remember to touch the outside of the plane before boarding… that helps keep in the air, you know… as do crying babies on your flight… because what kind of a God would kill babies in a firey plane crash???
Back to the cheese. One of the many excursions worked into my study abroad program was to a small goat farm that produced Saint Maure Chevre. At the time, I was convinced that I might be allergic to the goat cheese since I had only recently discovered that after years of riding horses, I had developed an allergy to them. And to me, goats and horses smelled EXACTLY the same. I peeked out of our coach bus upon arrival at the farm and was slapped in the face by the overwhelming heavy, slightly sticky sweet, hay and animal sweat scent of goats galore. My first instinct was to run.
Luckily, my dear friends mocked my fear and forced me from the bus to confront the odor-producing fiends face-to-muzzle. Damn, they were cute. They stank like there was no tomorrow, but those little cud-chewing bastards were super adorable. While my friend played with stray kittens that she found scampering amongst benches of hay (insert every stereotypical, bucolic image that you can), I hesitantly petted the coarse foreheads of a pack of rank goats. Their oppressive, syrupy stink was about to chase me away when someone called to me to come and see the baby goats…
Oh… sweet… cheezits… These soft, poodle-sized (although I’m not a fan of poodles – they seem arrogant), puddle-eyed mini-goats were endearing in the way that they stumbled over one another, trying to stand upright to get closer to my waiting hand, ready to caress those buttery ears. They just killed you in the way that toddlers stumble around, their legs not yet strong enough to fully cope with the enormous weight of their bowling ball noggins. Even their annoying, staccato calling was heart-warming… if only they didn’t stink… Yet still, I pet away, enjoying their adorableness and thinking slyly, well, how much worse does this really smell than anything else in France. (FYI – that’s a terrible joke – I’ve never actually met a stinky Frenchman. Their cabbies smell MUCH better than most of our regular citizens do).
Finally, we walked into the cheese-making facility for the shock of my life. After smelling the goats and swearing that I would forego tasting the cheese (even though up to this point, I LOVED cheese and had trouble refusing any food in general), I was completely surprised when a stocky French woman donned what looked like a hazmat suit and led us into a stainless steel, white, sterilized cheese-making facility. There, I learned about how goat milk was collected, coagulated, and molded into a tube surrounding a straw that was both traditional and used to help the tubular cheese maintain its shape — to this day, I sometimes think “paille” instead of “straw” when I see a singular piece of hay. We were then led into another room where the goat cheeses were coated in vegetal ash (although I didn’t recall it being vegetal ash at the time, but just know it now from the Murray’s affineur giving me a “it’s vegetal ash, you dumbass” look when I asked later), and aged for 1 week, 3 weeks, 7 weeks, and then 10 weeks at its oldest.
As we sat at large, wooden picnic tables set over hay in an outdoor barn area, I anxiously awaited what this “chevre” would taste like. Part of me hoped that it wouldn’t smell or taste anything like the goats that I was trying to rub from my hands onto my jeans (remember, this is before the days of Purell… whoa, right? Yup, I’m THAT old). When the first, 1 week aged chevre arrived, sliced into a round with just a small hole interrupting the snow-white, ridged perfection of the cheese, I leaned in and sniffed. Yup, still smelled like goat, but not in the sweat-covered coarse-haired fur-ball way that the goats had. The scent was milder, a little sour, but not in a bad milk way at all. Now that the cheese lay in front of me with just the faint wisp of a bloomy rind circling its outer edge, my normal food-cravings set in and my mouth began to salivate. I grabbed the disk and bit in…
Delicious. Yes, it still tasted a little like licking a goat, but damn, that tangy mild-creaminess could not be disliked. It tasted fresh. I was completely perplexed by how something that came from an animal that smelled anything but could taste like fresh-picked flowers, vegetables and fruit. As the aged versions arrived, each one becoming a little more plastic-y, somewhat resembling stained glass, I was intrigued by how the animaly-ness actually changed into nutty, almost meaty notes. In fact, the 10-week aged St. Maure was quite nice and snackable – it was like al dente pasta, its texture providing a lovely break from the soft creaminess of the younger versions. While the cheese was enlightening, the apple cider that we were then served (also produced on the goat farm) was unfortunately NOT what I had been hoping. It was as if an apple had been rolled across the back of a sweaty goat before being pressed and fermented…
After that trip, I ate “salade chevre chaud” as much as possible before leaving France. In fact, I ate it almost daily following my daily infusion of a pate de campagne sandwic and fromage blanc with fraises du bois. When I returned home, sadly, I couldn’t find my St. Maure again. I found other, delightful Loire Valley chevre varieties in different forms/shapes, but never that beautiful, tubular bundle of goodness complete with paille core. In my complete ignorance, I had no idea that it would be hard to find in the states.
As the years passed and my waistline increased, I’ve found my delicious St. Maure many, many times. But nothing prepared me for the day that I stepped into the caves at Murray’s as an intern and was asked to pat down the fuzzy, penicilium candidum mold surrounding the delicate and tender goat-milk cheese forming on a fresh log of St. Maure. Mike, the affineur, is not one for displays of emotion, so I hid the chills that ran up my spine and sniffed in the tear forming at the corner of my eye, quickly patting, rolling, and flipping the fragile logs.
It’s such a small thing, literally. It’s a log of goat cheese for Christ’s sake! Yet for someone like me, who everyday questions whether or not leaving my old career (and paycheck) was the right decision, it was a silent confirmation that I’ve chosen the right path. Sometimes I forget to savour moments like these, but luckily, a little thing like the scent-memory of a stinky goat welled up enough emotion to make me stop and be thankful.
…well, I’m not quite and eagle, I’m more like an overweight, lazy, park-grazing pigeon. It’s not important. What IS important is that I’ve found a new home! I have just completed my first week at Murray’s Cheeses where I will be organizing their classes and special events. I would have written sooner, but finally learning from all my past luck, I figured it was best to wait until the ink dried and I was actually there before letting it be known.
On top of my cautious announcement, I’m also holding back on the effusive elation, even though the job sounds like and has so far been pretty damn cool. Why? Well, I’ve learned that if you walk into a job with ridiculous expectations, you usually get spiked like a free-floating, unaware volleyball. So this time, I’m going in hoping for the best, excited for all the incredible things that come with the job, but extremely aware that this is, at the end of the day, still a job.
This path, the way of cautious optimism, allows me to experience every little benefit of my new Murray’s life as it happens, vs. trying to anticipate all of my enjoyment at once at the waaayyyyy beginning of the job the way I’ve done in the past. For example, the very first day I started work, my job was to taste 6 different cheeses, totaling about 1/2 lb, paired with 6 different wines. That was my JOB. I had to take a class about cheese for free – no, wait, I was PAID to take a class about cheese & wine. With every bite that I took, my mind frantically tried to wrap itself around the moment. It just couldn’t be. Someone was paying me to eat a 1/2 lb of cheese… It’s like all those times I wished upon a star didn’t fall on deaf ears.
And then the next day, when I ate another 1/2 lb of cheese and paired it with hard cider, which was even BETTER than being paired with wine, I considered that maybe this was all a cruel dream and I would wake up elsewhere… Here I was, tasting amazing American-made ciders that on their own were pretty damn good, but when paired with the right cheese, basically sang in your mouth (and not my karaoke singing). Could this really be happening or was I being punked?
The following day, when I ate an entire pound of cheese, I saw that there could potentially be some negative consequences to this job… I told myself that when sampling cheeses, I should only smell and nibble enough to understand the flavor, texture, and appreciate its pairing if it had one. Yes, this is what I told myself even as I devoured the last ounce of my 12th cheese of the day and happily washed it down with a glass full of Brooklyn Local 1 pale ale. At this point, I may still be dreaming, but who the hell cares, I’m going to live it up. Right now, I hope for but never expect an incredible day, which means that each day ends up being a little like a surprise Christmas morning, except there’s no tree, just lots and lots of cheese presents.
So, the next time you see me, I hope it’s at Murray’s where you’ve come to take a class! I plan on introducing some great hands-on classes taught by all of the great cooks I know who I’ve wanted to learn from and now have an excuse and venue to do so! And when you do see me, if I’m a little more solid, don’t blame the cheese… it could very well be the ridiculous Francois Pralus chocolate that my friend Taylor introduced me to on our way out of work last week. More on the dark chocolate Infernal Bar tomorrow.
(And if you’re still reading even though I’ve been delinquent with my blogging, thank you for your support!!! I will definitely be better in the future, and will most likely be posting shorter, more pointed posts given my lack of time… the new brevity will most likely make it a better blog anyway.)
…Because I’m officially done with FCI. After basically living within the walls of 462 Broadway for the past 2 years (plus a few days), I’ve officially said goodbye to the place that trained me to cook and gave me my first job after my career change.
This past weekend, I finished up my last job with FCI as the Guest Chef Coordinator for the New York Culinary Experience. Months of planning culminated in an amazing (and exhausting) weekend where I not only ran around like a chicken with my head cut off to make sure that the Guest Chefs had what they needed for class, but I did so without much of a voice since true to being a disaster, I got terribly sick the week leading up to the event.
There was chaos, yelling (on the part of a particularly diva chef and her sous-chef), and crying (mostly on my part quietly in the corner of the storeroom), but in the end, it was the perfect capstone to my career at FCI. Basically, every different division of the school, from the student volunteers to the Admissions department, worked together this weekend to make this event happen, and it warmed my heart in a cheesy girl scout kind of way – not that I was much of a girl scout, I think I made it to Brownies before I pulled a, “Bitch, peddle your own damn cookies” to my troop leader. Of course, this weekend, I was more of the troop leader and my girl scouts were an army of student volunteers who helped me keep my sanity, most-likely preventing a hypoglycemic rage blackout on my part. Basically, these student volunteers probably saved more than my life this weekend.
I also had the chance to witness Chef Jonathan Benno and his team from Per se teach a 2 hour class on using every part of the lobster, serve up multiple appetizer-sized tastings, bring with and cook their own lunch (Cuban sandwiches), all the while not making a single peep or showing any perceivable signs of stress. Damn. That’s freaking elite. I don’t think they ever verbally communicated… maybe there was eye contact or SWAT-like hand signaling going on, or maybe, just maybe, they run like the freakishly efficient well-oiled machine that you would expect them to be. Even if it was to be expected, witnessing their stealth and precise movements and harmonious interaction left me in complete awe. My jaw would have been hanging to the ground if not for the fact that I had to chew the extra tastings that his team plated up for volunteers and staff in the kitchen. Yeah, they had time for that, too. Without FCI, I would never have witnessed something so unforgettable. It was like an exit bonus, minus a whole lot of zeros.
After the frantic energy of this weekend, I spent a few quiet moments finishing up some work in a dark office Sunday night and it hit me all at once – FCI has been my home away from home for 2 years. I’ve spent more time there than anywhere else since moving to NYC. There have been amazing times, and then there have been terrible times, but in the end, I’m so happy and thankful for the friends that I’ve made and all the experiences that I’ve had. Where else could I have become so completely addicted to cocktails (which I believe is called alcoholism…), Swedish meatballs, consommé, blogging, and the best damn baguette this side of the Atlantic?
This event represented the best of my time at FCI, and it made it both easy and difficult to say goodbye to the school. You always want to go out on a good note, but going out on a good note sometimes makes you wish for more. You know, like that perfect dessert that makes you want to stay and order just one more plate.
First of all, let me just say that I wrote this whole post out on my WordPress app on my iPhone… which then deleted it as it was trying to connect to the network. Awesome. Probably for the best as I still can’t type very well on the touch screen and am just Fanny Fat Thumbs, typing 8 letters at a time by accident. That post would have made even less sense than the rest of my posts.
So, for the second time… Murray’s Affineur, Mike-aroni & Cheese, is in New Orleans this week to take a little time away. Unfortunately, the caves seemed to have sensed that he was about to leave and threw every malfunction that it could muster at him, almost as if they were saying, “Where do you think you’re going, Mike Anderson?” with that creepy Sigourney Weaver evil computer voice. Who moved my cheese? Mike Anderson did. The poor guy had to empty out an entire cave and transfer all its cheeses to a different cave, and then do the whole thing again. By the time he actually did make it out of there, he had earned his vacation about a million times over. It’s weird, the caves didn’t seem to have any problems until about 3 weeks ago, which ironically enough, is when I started working there…
And what was I doing in the midst of the cave hauling? I was patting down and flipping my cheese pets in Cave 3, aka “my happy place.” The one time I offered my help in lifting a 50lb wheel of cheese to my fellow intern, Isak, gave me a look that said, “The day that I need a small Asian woman to help me, a giant Scandinavian, lift something is the day I kill myself.” Actually, his look said that but he also said it out loud in case I missed it.
Isak thinks that my Asianess is also the reason behind why I love the fuzzy cheeses in Cave 3, because apparently, Asian love cuteness… Yeah, alright, it’s true. What’s wrong with that??? Isak and I have decided that fuzzy bloomy rind cheeses will be the next rage item in Japanimation – all they need are little googly eyes and some sort of super power, like the ability to be delicious. Don’t be surprised if furry cheese toys are the next big thing coming out of Tokyo.
At least my iPhone helped me take these pictures… although it probably wasn’t a great idea to touch my phone with my mold-coated hands. The answer to your question is No, I will never learn.
Bring on quasi-job/internship #24: Murray’s Cheese Cave Intern. That’s right – yours truly has been spending her free time flipping cheese and patting down penicillium mold in Murray’s chilly subterranean caves. If you don’t know Murray’s, then you don’t know cheese. Murray’s is THE cheese dealer for cheese addicts everywhere. Stepping into Murray’s is like visiting your cheese dealer’s cheese den, complete with other cheese addicts twitching in front of the counter asking for another cheese hit.
I am a cheese addict. I enjoy cheese and I would eat it at every, single meal if I could. Introducing me to the caves of Murray’s has now broadened my cheese-eating horizons, causing me to up my already perverse cheese intake and once again, sabotaging any hopes of a diet. It doesn’t help that my fellow intern loves cheese AND food, so we’re either talking cheese while working or spending our break walking around the West Village searching for yummy ways to fuel our cheese-flipping tanks. So far, Indian kati rolls and falafels have done the trick. I suggested to him having a cheese lunch everyday where we just split a baguette and 1/2 lb of cheese, but even he thought that may be pushing the cheese limit.
So far, my favorite cave task is patting down the bloomy rind cheeses. What does that mean? Well all of those delicious white, tender rinds on the outside of your Constant Bliss or Brillat Savarin start off as this beautiful, cotton-candy tufted white mold called penicillium candidum. That soft, white fuzz has to be gently patted down to form the supple rind. Murray’s Affineur, Mike Anderson (who I like to call Mike-aroni & Cheese, although I don’t think he enjoys it as much as I do), told me that if the mold gets out of control, the rind becomes tough and rubbery. I don’t know why, but there’s an amazingly rewarding feeling that comes with helping the rind develop… who knew that watching mold grow would actually be fun?
The only downside to patting down and flipping an entire cave of soft-ripened, bloomy rind cheeses is that after you’ve zoned out and taken care of the entire cave, you can no longer feel your fingers or toes. Not only that, but for some reason, the digits on my left hand just stop functioning and I basically have to use it as a board to place the cheese on while my right hand continues to work. After I leave the cave and walk out into the warm sunlight to defrost, my entire body immediately starts to ache and itch as the blood starts pumping again and the numbness starts to tingle away.
Oh, there is one last little side-effect that *might* be considered negative. My hands haven’t stopped smelling like mushrooms for a week. I wash and wash my hands and have even rubbed lemon on them to no avail. Mushroom central. The other day, post-lemoning, I was chopping onions and garlic and started smelling the delicious aroma of sauteed mushrooms! I couldn’t understand where it was coming from until I smelled my hands and realized that I had perfectly seasoned my mushroom fingers.
On the bright side, I get to shove my fingers into my friends’ faces and say, “My fingers smell like mushrooms and cheese” about 30 times a day. What’s even better is that not one of my food-loving friends has jerked away and yelled, “that’s gross!” Instead, they usually take a meaningful sniff, contemplate the aroma, and say, “Yup. So they do.” Awesome.
This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to be Nick Suarez’s (Food Competition King) sous chef for the 4th Annual Great Hot Dog Cookoff in Brooklyn. Nick’s been after me for months about competing in one of these cookoffs, but I’ve had to explain to him several times that it’s just not my thing. Am I a competitive person? Used to be. Now, I’m kind of trying to pursue a more life-zen attitude about everything to prevent me from flying into a competitive rage blackout and waking up surrounded by bodies. This seemed harmless, though – I wasn’t actually competing, I was just helping a friend to achieve their dream. And what friend doesn’t want to do that? Am I right? I was still on the fence until Nick explained that the competition was being held inside Kelso brewery where beside the endless hot dogs, there would also be endless beer on tap… How could anyone resist? I suited up in my “What the heo?!” t-shirt (heo means pig in Vietnamese), which featured an angry pig cartoon (very fitting for me), and was ready to rumble.
Chris and I showed up on Saturday morning and Nick had everything already organized and packed except for the corn salad, which he had left for me to season. As usual, I dumped a heart-attack-sized portion of salt in (he actually had to refill his salt well after I depleted it) before heading straight for the lime. A little sugar and cilantro later and all it was missing was fish sauce. This wasn’t a Vietnamese hot dog, though, this was a latin-fusion dog inspired by Nick’s childhood of when his chef-mom would leave him and his 2 brothers at home with his food-loving, but non-chef dad. Now, I’ve had Nick’s dad, Santi’s, cooking before and it’s pretty damn good. But I guess when you’re used to your mom rolling out the culinary red carpet, you’re a little more discriminating when it’s dad’s turn to man the stove.
Nick’s dad would apparently cut up hot dogs and then mix them with canned corn that he had charred in a cast iron pan. The roasted, caramelized flavor and crunch of the corn were perfect compliments to the meaty, savory, tender hot dog. Nick decided to up his hot dog memory by adding elements of another favorite corn treat he’d had growing up, zocalo corn – it’s corn on the cob roasted over a fire and then smothered in mayo and sprinkled with cotija cheese. Squeeze fresh lime juice on top, and the sweet crispy corn, creamy and tangy mayo, topped with savory, nutty cheese just pops with deliciousness. Nick added the cotija cheese and mayo, plus crispy bacon lardons, fried onions (in bacon fat), grainy mustard, a little reduced balsamic and sherry vinegar syrup, then just a brush of Portuguese piri piri sauce for heat. Oh, and Nick made a special trip to Sunrise Mart for Japanese Kewpie Mayo. Why is Kewpie mayo so special and delicious? Because it has the magic of MSG, and there’s nothing wrong with that!
At first, everyone thought there were too many ingredients in Nick’s “Corniest Dog in Brooklyn,” but when you think about it, it’s basically like making a deconstructed corn salad, with the onion, bacon, mayo, mustard, and acidity laid out as separate components. Chris, Nick’s brother’s girlfriend, Taylor, and I followed our fearless hot dog leader into battle, each of us carrying magical elements to what we knew would be a winning dog. We had to wait for our shift at the grill, so we placed our bags in the shade, and headed to the beer tap… again, and again. In fact, we visited that bar so many times that my husband decided that he would help out and just walked behind the bar and started pouring. The Kelso employee who was actually manning the bar just looked at him, saw that he was helping, and shrugged her shoulders and let him continue. He basically remained behind that station for the rest of the day.
Meanwhile, we grilled hot dogs and buns to perfection. The buns were drizzled in mayo, lined with grainy mustard, and smeared with fried onions before laying the hot dogs down, which were then brushed with piri piri. We brought all of our mise to our serving station and began placing the hot dogs, cut into thirds, into muffin liners before being topped with the corn salad and cotija cheese. Each dog also got a triangle of lime to be fresh-squeezed on top. We started joyfully handing out tastings to the crowd of people who had gathered around our table until we realized that we had miscalculated, been too efficient, and that we were not allowed to serve out our hot dog tastings yet. No worries, we apologized and just kept on assembling, covering our table in little bites of latin-inspired corn & cotija hot dog goodness.
I don’t know if someone said “Go!” or if a whistle blew, but all I know is that suddenly, we started handing out the dogs. It probably took under 2 minutes for almost 200 tastings to just disappear from our table, leaving behind nothing more than cotija dust and crumpled muffin wrappers that blew across our piri piri-stained paper tablecloth like dust balls moving across the street in the old west after a gun fight. We finally breathed out and were thankful that we had remembered to taste our hot dogs BEFORE passing them out as we had completely forgotten to save even one last bite for ourselves. Then, we waited… there was still one more round of tastings before one of the fine hot dog chefs in the room would be crowned champion. Luckily, we were able to keep our cups full and our throats well-lubricated as Chris was still manning the tap and chatting up the crowd, answering questions about which beer to try as if he worked at Kelso and brewed the beer himself.
Finally, they began calling out the winners for “Audience Choice” and several other categories… We waited to hear “Brooklyn’s Corniest Dog,” but still, we never heard it. It looked bleak and I’m not going to lie, I was starting to feel the rage blackout creep into the corners of my eyes. But then, we (and the entire room) were saved. The last category, the ultimate win, “Best in Show,” was about to be announced… They teased us, saying they couldn’t quite read the name… and then we heard it: “Nick Suarez.” Our fearless leader had led us into Hot Dog battle and we had emerged victorious.
Did it feel good to win? Sure… But it felt better to hang out with friends and all bust our butts together to help one of us achieve his dream: to win a Wiener Trophy. I did have one regret though – I wish I had set aside a full cotija & corn dog for myself. Just one bite of it wasn’t enough.