Chicharron. A little fried miracle.

14 Apr

Top 10 dirtiest sounding meat cuts.

10 Feb

Top 10 dirtiest sounding meat cuts (in no particular order):


10. Short loin

9. Belly trim

8. Hind shank

7. Inside skirt

6. Pork loin strap on

5. Bone in breast

4. Lip on rib

3. Hanging tender

2. Ball tip

1. Spatchcock


If you’ve got more good’uns, add them in the comments. You sick bastard, you.



Smothered Rabbit

2 Jan

Smothered Rabbit

I posted a picture on the Facebooks on New Year’s Day. It was the meal I cooked for my family on that day– Smothered Rabbit; which, as is the tradition in parts of the USA, I served with black-eyed peas and collard greens. Lots of friends wanted the recipe, so here it is.  FYI– the rabbit is “smothered” with a rich, herby Southern-style gravy, not a pillow. If rabbit ain’t your thang, you can substitute chicken. But, this would also work great for all sorts of critters: game birds, squirrel, cuts of pork– whatever. I’ve posted my Smothered Rabbit recipe on my “Just Cook This” page, but here’s the quick link. Enjoy, and Happy New Year!

I Don’t Believe in Fate

4 Dec
Ruth Brinker, Founder of Project Open Hand. Image-

Ruth Brinker, Founder of Project Open Hand. Image-

I am the Executive Chef at Project Angel Heart in Denver, and I really love my job. It’s an excellent balance of the things I am passionate for: Kitchen work, food, helping those in need, and giving back to the community. You might say this job is tailor made for me. Some have even told me that it was meant to be, my being in my current position; particularly after relating the following story to them. I have to thank our Modified Meals Specialist, Logan, for suggesting I document it.


You know, I wasn’t always a chef. I wanted to be a television journalist at one point. I even went to college for Broadcast Communication Arts at San Francisco State. As a media student, I put myself out there for just about any gig I could get—helping bands load in and out of clubs, working as a DJ at the college radio station; and my most frequent grunt work—helping out local and national news-type entertainment feature shows as an on-location Production Assistant (PA). This mostly meant running cables, setting lights, lugging tripods, checking mics, etc. I usually got paid very little—sometimes just lunch—but I was in it for the experience. I helped on home improvement shoots, golf matches, political debates, news conferences and corporate training films; just to name a few examples.

In 1987, when I was 19, I did a shoot that changed my perspective on life—and helped shape my future.

There was a show called The Home Show on ABC. I think it starred Gary Collins and it attempted to cover everything from gardening, cooking, simple fix-it ideas and arts-and-crafts. It was kind of like Martha Stewart, but with a little Entertainment Tonight and Regis Philbin thrown in for good measure.

I was on their Bay Area PA list and they called me. The call went something like this: “Can you meet a crew in the Mission District at 7:00 am Thursday for a full day, multiple location shoot? You’ll get a show end credit.”

I said yes. Like always.


So on this particular occasion, on a corner in a somewhat sketchy area, I met a director, a woolly camera man (whom I suppose I kind of look like now) and a sound guy outside of a fairly non-nondescript yellow building with the name “Project Open Hand” on the door. I’d never heard of it.

We were welcomed into the facility by an older woman named Ruth Brinker. She was both very sweet and all business. Ruth, as I learned, was the founder of Project Open Hand. Project Open Hand provided via delivery– and still provides– nutritious meals to people who were living with HIV and AIDS.

Now in 1987, “living” with AIDS wasn’t exactly accurate. AIDS was, simply and brutally, a death sentence; and it was only a matter of time before Project Open Hand’s clients would succumb to (more often than not) a slow, suffering, terrible death. There was still a stigma at the time, even in San Francisco, surrounding an HIV diagnosis. I was, now that I reflect on it, highly informed in relative terms (at least with the info available at the time) in regards to HIV, its transmission and its prevention. San Francisco State aggressively provided its students and staff with literature, workshops, rallies, lectures—even condoms (which was borderline scandalous) — to keep the SFSU population in tune and safe.

So, when I was told that on our shoot we’d be, in addition to touring the Open Hand facility, hopping around several San Francisco neighborhoods delivering meals with Ruth and interviewing clients, I was starting to understand that Ruth was a pioneer.

Ruth had seen friends die horribly from AIDS. She saw the effects of the stigma on the morale and will of those who had contracted the disease: family disowned them, friends stopped visiting, they were vilified in their own churches. In short—they often died abandoned and alone. So Ruth acted.

Ruth started Project Open Hand to provide food, this was true. But the visits from the delivery drivers, the conversations, the assurance that they were valued as humans, friends, neighbors and individuals provided a dignity and grace that was so often absent in the denouement of the lives of those with AIDS during the height of its plague-like rampage. When no one else was there, Ruth was.

We went immediately to the industrial kitchen. I believe Project Open Hand provided somewhere around 1000 meals per day at that time. We met the chef named, ironically, Jonathan– like me. I remember thinking, “Wow. A real live chef.”

He showed us the large cooking vessels, the cold and dry storage areas; and, finally, the dish-up line, which was being used by a group of young women.

It was one of my jobs that day to get releases signed by all who were to be on camera. The women, initially, refused. It seemed they were part of a work-for-board program from a rescue shelter; most of them had escaped situations of domestic violence. They were afraid that their former abusers would spot them on TV and come after them. I offered to only film their hands and arms, and they were good with that; although some had to cover distinguishing tattoos with tape.

Ruth explained that the food was designed, mostly, to keep weight on their clients. Most AIDS sufferers had “wasting” issues, and if severe could lead to death sooner than if they had maintained as healthy a weight as possible.


We finished up our tour and headed out on the streets of San Fran. First stop: the Castro District, and a gorgeous apartment right in the district’s heart.

Ruth, meals in hand, knocked. And I thought for sure that Charlie Watts, the drummer for the Rolling Stones, answered the door. Spitting image, no kidding. However his voice, full of flair and all-American, told me Charlie would have to wait for another time to meet me. “Charlie” led us upstairs.

There, sitting on the sofa, was the man we had come to talk to. He had a luxurious red robe on and had obviously just gotten up from laying down. He looked thin, but otherwise I might never had known he was ill.

As we set up Ruth and the director chatted with him. He was a real estate executive, and described the changes he had seen in the Castro. He had known Harvey Milk. He said he could not show his enthusiasm in the same way that he used to before he developed AIDS, but I couldn’t see that. He beamed when talking about his life, about his home about his partner “Charlie,” and about Ruth.

The cameras then rolled. We caught a few moments of this gentleman’s energy that he had displayed during our pre-interview. Then things changed and he began sobbing, “Charlie” fled the room and the man asked us to turn off the camera, which we did.

He admitted trying to put on a brave face; but he was, in reality, scared, bitter and upset. He apologized and we simply said it was OK and for him to take his time. We stood in silence as the man cried and eventually said he was ready to try again. This was the first of several times that day that I—and I believe the others save Ruth—got shaken.


We loaded up the car and took a very silent trip into the Tenderloin District, known at the time for crime, drugs and flophouse hotels. And we pulled right up to one of those very establishments.

As we unloaded, a few people gathered around and started asking what we were doing. We said we were on a TV shoot. Wrong answer.

“What are you shooting?”

“This is our neighborhood!”

“Get the fuck out!”

“You guys always come in here and show how much this place sucks. You suck!”

And then, as I was lifting the tripod out of the car I accidentally tapped one of the people yelling at us in the leg with it.

“Now your ass is getting sued!”

The whole thing just escalated into us trying to maintain our composure, and the crowd growing and getting louder. It was not a good scene.

Ruth stepped up, and led three of the people under the shady portico of the hotel while we stood very close to our equipment. I don’t know what she said, but within a few minutes one of the main people who had been yelling at us came over and calmly told us that he and his friends would make sure our car would be safe while we went inside and did our job. And then he thanked us and shook each of our hands.

Up to the third floor we climbed since the elevator didn’t work. A rat here, some roaches there. I had read about places like this, but I had thought they were a product of Hollywood fiction. Nope.

We made it to our destination and knocked on the door. It took a long time, but then the door opened. And I maintained my cool, but it was not easy.

The man’s arms and part of his face were covered with Kaposi’s sarcoma, a blotchy type of skin lesion common with those who had full-blown AIDS. He had dried pimples and some areas of peeling skin on his face and scalp. He was robed, but otherwise unclothed. Barefoot.

“Come in!” he said cheerfully as he gave Ruth a big hug.

He had seemingly prepared for our visit by clearing a corner of his single room by a window. It had a small desk, a chair and, bizarrely, a tiny aluminum Christmas tree about a foot high atop the desk. It was April.

The rest of the room’s contents had been pushed into the other corners of the room or on top of the bed. Clothes, papers, etc.

He mostly chatted with Ruth as we set up. We didn’t learn a whole lot about him in the pre-interview; but he had obviously had a rough go. He was cheerful and animated as he spoke.

Cameras rolled and the director asked him about how Project Open Hand’s food had affected his life. Like the previous gentleman, he broke down. But he didn’t want us to stop. What he said and how he said it is burned into my memory:

“It’s not about the food,” he said. As he said it, he rolled his hands in the air like he had hold of a volleyball; back and forth, back and forth. His eyes were bright and serious. “It’s about the love.”

Not a dry eye.

“Do you like my Christmas tree??” he asked enthusiastically, breaking the silence.

“Yeah,” said the director. “Is there a story behind it?”

“I keep it up because I don’t want to have to set it up again this coming Christmas. I know I’m going to live to see this coming Christmas.”


We made several other stops that day: Noe Valley, Hunters Point, and then back to the Mission District. The scope was broad in terms of who Project Open Hand was serving— from the swankiest Castro apartment to the seediest Tenderloin hotel.

We all parted ways back at Open Hand. Ruth thanked us, shook all of our hands. We all had words of admiration and thanks for her, and she was extremely gracious. What a lesson I had learned that day. I had been just another ignorant kid from the ‘burbs. My eyes had been a bit more opened thanks to Ruth.


Fast forward 20 years.

I was in a cubicle in Centennial, Colorado, just outside of Denver. I was now the Executive Chef at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station as part of the United States Antarctic Program. The job required 4 four months on site at the Pole. The rest of the time was in that cubicle putting together the one giant food order for the year (which took months to plan and eight C-130s to deliver), hiring the crew, working with logistics, etc. Big job. Big office job.

I needed something to get me back in a kitchen. I also wanted to teach. I had chatted with a cook over cigars at the Pole and he had told me about an organization called Operation Frontline (now called Cooking Matters), which was part of Share Our Strength. He said it was mostly teaching people living on limited incomes how to cook healthy on a budget. Kitchen and teaching. I signed up.


My first class was at a community center in a largely Latino area of Denver. I had a kitchen full of young women, most with babies at their hips. I had a translator and a white chef coat.

The class was going along smoothly, I thought. People were attentive, asked questions and I felt like I was teaching the group something.

Then it happened: I said something, although I can’t recall what. I paused and waited for the translator to tell the group what I had said. Then every woman in the group suddenly perked up. Stood straight, eyes wide. They looked around at each other with surprised expressions on their faces. Had I offended someone? Had I said something stupid?

Then they began nodding in agreement with whatever I had said. And then looked me right in the eye waiting for whatever I was going to say next.

OK, this was another big moment for me.

I had been selfish. I’d volunteered with Cooking Matters to get kitchen work and teaching experience for myself. Selfishly.

Now I had said something that had implanted itself into the brains of these young mothers. Something positive that would potentially affect the health and eating habits of themselves and their babies permanently. This was not about me. This was about the greater good. Like Project Open Hand. Like Ruth. I was hooked.

I volunteered for more classes, I joined the board, I traveled down to New Orleans with Share Our Strength after Hurricane Katrina. I was even Cooking Matters Colorado’s Chef of the Year.

One class I taught was at a place called Project Angel Heart. “Nice kitchen,” I thought as I walked in. I looked into what Project Angel Heart did. Prepares and delivers nutritious meals, at no cost, to improve the quality of life of those coping with life-threatening illnesses.

Well now… Who did that sound like? My memories of that day 20 years prior– of Ruth, of the people we had visited, of Project Open Hand– came flooding back.  I became a supporter of Project Angel Heart, joining events and donating money.

Then, after I had decided to seek other employment outside of the Antarctic Program, I saw that Project Angel Heart was looking for an Executive Chef. I pointed out the ad in the paper to my wife, Penny. “This job. See this job? I am going to get this job. There is no one more qualified for this job than me. This will be my new job.”

And I did. I was hired the day before my last deployment to Antarctica. I went down for a month to train my replacement (Project Angel Heart waited for me), and I started at Project Angel Heart still jet-lagged from my travels to the South Pole.

Full circle. I had come full circle from that 19 year old media student, so affected by my single day with Ruth Brinker and Project Open Hand; to the 30-something chef who had come so far from that. There are currently dozens of sister agencies across the USA providing the very services I had witnessed so long ago. We all, however, stand in the shadow cast by the late, great Ruth Brinker and her legacy agency, Project Open Hand.

I don’t believe in fate. But it sure is a good story.

The Final Event for the Denver Adventurous Eaters Club

12 Oct

It’s with a heavy stomach that I announce that the Denver Adventurous Eaters Club will hold its final event on the evening of Sunday, October 19th at 6:00 pm at our favorite spot, and with our favorite chef, P17 and Chef Mary Nguyen.

I’m shuttin’ her down.

And our finale will be a food blowout. Here is the proposed menu from Chef Mary (subject to change):

•Huitlacoche Sopes

• Andouillette (French pig colon sausage) with Green Lentils

• Kangaroo Sliders

• Slow Roasted Ear and Snout of Pig with Red Wine Sauce and Polenta

• Bun Bo Hue with congealed pigs blood, boiled intestines, pork knuckles, banana blossom, Vietnamese coriander and saw tooth herbs

• Braised Heart of Lamb

• Blood Crème Brule with Aloe Vera Granita and Cricket Biscuit

Of course, as is always the case with P17, we can always expect lots of surprises and educational tidbits from Chef Mary and crew.
The cost of this ultimate DAEC event will be $75.00, inclusive of food and non-alcoholic beverages (not inclusive of tax and gratuity).
Please call P17 directly at (303) 399-0988 to make a reservation. I hope to see DAEC old-timers there, as well as those of those new to the club who have recently reached out to me. I also hope you’ll be there to join me in a toast to the fun times had with the DAEC.
There are bound to be questions as to why I have made this decision. The quick and dirty is this: I find I have increasing difficulty in my ability to set aside the considerable time necessary for the planning and execution of DAEC events, as evidenced by their rarity in the past couple of years. I am, however, also heartened by the amount of restaurants and chefs around Denver that now offer many of the types of items we often featured at our events on their regular menus; including, of course, Chef Mary Nguyen and her three restaurants. I’m not saying we had anything to do with that, but the offering of the offal and lesser used bits is becoming more commonplace, and that was always encouraged the DAEC. For that I am thankful and feel this adds to the fact that this is a good time to call it a wrap.
For those of you who have been with us since the beginning, thank you for your enthusiasm and friendship. For those of you who will be joining us for the first time, please enjoy this evening and be sure to meet lots of new freaky eaters to help you chew through your future fetes. Fetes—like in parties. Not fetuses; although yes, we have done that. C’mon, people, stay on track.



Gettin’ Freaky: The Origins of the Denver Adventurous Eaters Club

3 Sep


Wanna hear a story?
There are a lot of things that have been born out of necessity: the wheel, the electric light, the banana slicer. Not that my little contribution to society is on nearly the same level as those wonders of human ingenuity; but I like to think that the world may be just a tad better for the existence of The Denver Adventurous Eaters Club, of which I am the founder and “organ”-izer. This is the tale of how that happened to be…
There was a time, my sweetlings, that I was in the employ of the United States Antarctic Program, dedicated to the pursuit of scientific research and discovery upon the great sub-continent. As the Executive Chef at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, I made seven deployments to the geographic South Pole, most of which lasted four months, mid-October to mid-February. During that time, as one might imagine, strong friendships were formed among the lucky few who were privileged enough to become members of the fairly exclusive group known as “Polies”– those who have lived and worked at this remote site.
I chose to move on from the Polar Program in 2005 because, to put it technically, it started to drive me batshit. As a result, I’d be spending my first winter in several years in the US, the first in several years without Polies, and my very first in Denver.
snake wineAs my friends left the following season, Penny and I toasted them goodbye at one of the dinners we had often attended together as “The Gastronauts”– a group of Polies and honoraries who would trek out to some new eatery one of us wanted to try. It was a blast, and while I could anticipate more outings once my Polie friends returned in the spring, four months was a long time to wait. Trust me– I had learned that at the Pole.
So I started looking for groups of folks who might fill the gap– temporarily, of course, and certainly not to the same extent– as the deployed and beloved Gastronauts. That led me to a local dining out meetup group I found online.
It seemed to fit the bill. As I explored the mission and makeup of this group, I saw that it appeared to be comprised of those wishing to dine out with new friends, enjoy some witty chatter and try new restaurants. They all looked and sounded so nice! Cool– I signed up for a night out at Domo, a Japanese restaurant in Denver that I had never been to.
I arrived at Domo on time, despite getting a little lost on the way there. Domo is not in an area you’d expect a restaurant to be. It’s next to the tracks in an area that looks like a great place to catch tetanus. Aside from the somewhat elaborate entranceway, Domo looked more like a dark, creepy warehouse out of some kind of Punisher movie than a restaurant. As I entered through the gate and then through the little courtyard, I saw a potentially beautiful and large Japanese style garden ahead. I say potentially beautiful because it was dark and the middle of winter in Denver and there was not a leaf or blossom to be seen. But dang, it looked like it would be absolutely stunning in springtime.
The first thing one notices as one enters Domo is its massiveness. The place is strikingly huge. Next, its authenticity. Beautifully worked logs– gigantic– vault to the ceiling. Traditional Japanese seating dots a warm dining room decked out like a Japanese country house. Fantastic.
Domo don’t mess around– and there is a very specific reason for that. The owner, Gaku Homma, is not only the chef at Domo, he’s the freaking sensei of the attached aikido dojo. Seriously– the guy is world-renowned. Plus there’s a museum. Plus that garden. Chef/Sensei Homma is, to put it mildly, an over-achiever. I have his cookbook. It’s written well and informative, but there is an underlying tone that seems to be telling you, “If you don’t cook rice the way I say to cook rice, you’re a fuck up.”
You know why else Domo don’t mess around? Students travel from all over the world to study with Sensei Homma; and in turn they work for Chef Homma in the restaurant. How about that? Think that kitchen is disciplined?
You know why else Domo don’t mess around? This is my favorite reason: There are signs in several places throughout the restaurant, and also printed right on the menu (and in their FAQ, AKA, the Domo Code of Conduct), that basically say, “We know how to cook around here. Don’t you even think about asking for soy sauce, salt, pepper or anything else to alter our food that we are so generously allowing you to eat.” Awesome. Of course I’m paraphrasing here, but that was the gist and I was fine with that– I have no problem putting my meal 100%  in the hands of a chef I respect. There was a sign right there on the hostess stand so one couldn’t miss it when one walked into Domo. OK. I’ve been warned. This was going to be pretty great.
Except it wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong– Domo was amazing. It is one of the most unusual restaurants I’ve ever been to, and the food, service and atmosphere– I mean you’re basically transported to a Japanese farmhouse– rocks. If you’re in Denver, just freaking go.
What was wrong– so very wrong– was this group of numbskulls I had unfortunately found myself in the company of during an otherwise outstanding dining experience.
It’s generally not right, children, to speak ill of others behind their backs. There were two or three people out of this group of around a dozen that were actually pretty cool. However, the rest were utterly embarrassing, and by exposing their behavior here perhaps I can enlighten an otherwise numbskullish future diner from pulling a serious and regrettable faux pas.
silkwormThe leader of the group simply would not shut up with his braggish babble. He barely allowed a word in edgewise, and then he interrupted about how great he was. The few cool people passed eye-rolling glances at each other as he bloviated– which was most of the time.
Others couldn’t find anything they wanted to eat on the (extensive) menu because they were too picky. You gotta be kidding me. Nothing? How picky do you have to be? I mean, there’s teriyaki chicken fer crissakes– what five year old can’t eat that?
And they were cheap. Now, I am cheapskate myself when I’m not out to eat with people. In a circumstances like these, people should know going in that if they’re going out to eat they will be droppin’ a bit more cheddar than usual, we’re not talking a lot here, if they wish to have a fulfilling experience. Wasn’t that the point?
Oh my god, no, as it turned out. I still can’t quite figure out why these people were out to eat. I was actually thinking that if someone I knew happened to walk by and see me with these Honey-Boo-Boos I’d have to hide away somewhere for a while.
And here is the one event from that night that changed my views on dining out with strangers forever:
A woman of about thirty, let’s call her Susie Tightwallet, ordered miso soup with a side of rice. That’s it. Among the cheapskates, she won the tourney and reigned supreme. But, I digress…
When Susie Tightwallet’s food arrived the server, a lovely young woman  (and I only mention this next bit because it’s important to the story) of Asian decent who spoke beautiful English because she was probably born and raised in Denver, set Susie’s food before her. And then, you guessed it, Susie Tightwallet went there.
“May I have some soy sauce please?” asked Susie Tightwallet.
“I’m sorry,” said the server, “we are not allowed to give out soy sauce.” Probably because Chef/Sensei Homma might give her a swift kick to the throat.
“No, I mean I want soy sauce,” continued Susie Tightwallet. The signs are all over the place, remember.
“Again, I apologize, but we do not give out soy sauce.”
It was then that Susie Tightwallet turned to the group with a look of utter ignorant shock and asked, “Do you think she understands what I am saying?”
And, with that, I wolfed down my food, left ample cash on the table (I certainly did not want to stick around for the circus that was sure to ensue when the check got split up) and got the hell outta Domo.
I left pissed, embarrassed and discouraged. Not because of Domo, but because these jackasses– members of a meetup group claiming to be all about dining out– did not know how to fucking dine out.
I still felt that void where the Gastronauts used to be, and over the next few weeks I thought maybe I ought to start a group of my own. How about the People That Know How to Fucking Dine Out Group?
Too wordy.
But how does one reasonably predict that cool, informed and polite people might be attracted to this type of group? Who generally fits that bill?
lamb heartTravelers, I thought. Not tourists– travelers. There’s a difference. Those that love going around the world and immersing themselves in the culture of wherever they might be– including food. I consider myself a traveler, so why not start a group?
Dining with Travelers. This was nearly the group I decided to form. It has a nice ring, and the dinner conversation would probably be great. But man, those picky eaters bugged the shit outta me. I wanted to be sure to weed them out as best as I could, and Dining with Travelers just didn’t seem to go far enough.
If you read my post called A Tribute, dedicated to my friend, the late, great Hubert Tse; you know that I was raised on an unusual bill of fare for a suburban white boy. I had never had a fear of eating the exotic, challenging or different from what your typical American palette is used to. “Not picky”– I fall into that category.
Travelers that are used to the idea of different cultures. Those who are not picky eaters. Hmm. Combine those two and you’d probably also find people who are used to being polite with those around them due to various cultural exposures, and who aren’t afraid to spend a little money and try something new. These people would know how to dine out.
p17 menuThe Denver Adventurous Eaters Club was born. Over the years we have had some amazing times: guest chefs opening their restaurants to us for unbelievable dining experiences, checking out some of Denver’s most unusual menus, member potlucks (which can get insane)– even an appearance on Bizarre Foods America with Andrew Zimmern. We have over 800 members and counting at the time of this writing.
Check out some of the following pictures from the Denver Adventurous Eaters club archives to see how much fun we have; and tell us about some of your craziest eating experiences in the comments.

Thanks to Laura Bloom, Yen and Joel Peach for contributing photos. For even more photos, check the Denver Adventurous Eaters Club photo page.

Yah-- that's me with a short beard being interviewed by Andrew Zimmern. Although my interview hit the cutting room floor, it was an honor to chat with him during the filming of one of our events for Bizarre Foods America at Parallel Seventeen. I basically told him just about everything I've written to you in this post.

Yah– that’s me with a short beard being interviewed by Andrew Zimmern. Although my interview hit the cutting room floor, it was an honor to chat with him during the filming of one of our events for Bizarre Foods America at Parallel Seventeen. I basically told him everything I’ve written to you in this post.

Alligator siu mai (from an alligator recently hunted by a DAEC member) made by the amazing Chef Mary Nguyen at Parallel Seventeen , where we have had three incredible events.

From the last potluck. Look at that happy group of freaky eaters!

From the last potluck. Look at that happy group of freaky eaters!

Caribbean style goat testicles by Chef Michael Long.

Simmering menudo at a DAEC event.

Simmering menudo at a DAEC event.

PotHead-- Potted Pig Head Rillette, by buddy, member and restaurateur Biker Jim Pittenger.

PotHead– Potted Pig Head Rillette, by buddy, DAEC member and restaurateur Biker Jim Pittenger.

Tongue and Cheek-- beef tongue and halibut cheeks by Chef Michael Long.

Tongue and Cheek– beef tongue and halibut cheeks by Chef Michael Long.

Pig Intestine and Congealed Bloos Hot Pot at JJ Chinese.

Pig Intestine and Congealed Blood Hot Pot at JJ Chinese.

Fried Duck Tongue Confit at Parallel Seventeen.

Fried Duck Tongue Confit at Parallel Seventeen.

Porchetta di Testa prep for an event.

Porchetta di Testa prep for an event.

Pork Uterus Tom Ka at Parallel Seventeen

Pork Uterus Tom Ka at Parallel Seventeen

Ant larvae salad at Parallel Seventeen.

Ant larvae salad at Parallel Seventeen.

We make an annual holiday trek to the Sons of Norway Lodge for lutefisk.

We make an annual holiday trek to the Sons of Norway Lodge for lutefisk.

Fried pig face torchon by yours truly.

Fried pig face torchon by yours truly.

Head cheese prep for an event.

Head cheese prep for an event.

We do a lot with durian in the DAEC. Last potluck we had durian tirimisu and salted caramel custard.

We do a lot with durian in the DAEC. Last potluck we had durian tirimisu and salted caramel custard.

Corned bison tongue from a DAEC potluck.

Corned bison tongue from a DAEC potluck.

The Filthy Hooligan

1 Sep


The Filthy Hooligan.
That’s a cigar, my friends. A cigar I’ve been waiting to try. I’m going to talk about it; and since I know straight cigar reviews are not everyone’s bag-o-donuts, I’ll throw in some pics and commentary of some of the food I ate during my recent trip to the UK. OK?

A sausage whirl at the Horseshoe Bar in Glasgow. Set in a Yorkshire pudding with  tatties and peas. Downed along with a Tennent's lager. Good.

A sausage whirl at the Horseshoe Bar in Glasgow, Scotland. Set in a Yorkshire pudding with tatties and peas. Downed along with a local Tennent’s lager. Good.

I learned of this cigar from my dad who posted a pic on his Facebook page of him smoking one of these Honduran-made, green-wrapped stogies on St. Patrick’s Day. Alec Bradleys were reliably good smokes to me, and I was intrigued by the Filthy Hooligan’s Nicaraguan candela neon-green wrapper stuffed with Nicaraguan, Honduran and Panamanian fillers. At 6 inches and 50 ring size, it’s a great size for a 45 minute or so smoke.

Look at that guy's block. How old do you think that is, and how longs has this guy been a meat-cutter? This was at the English market in Cork, Ireland; which has been a market since 1788.

Look at that guy’s block. How old do you think that swaybacked block is, and how long has this guy been a meat-cutter? This was at the English Market in Cork, Ireland; which has been a market since 1788, and is a butcher’s paradise.

I wanted to try it, but at $176.00, it was a little outta my range to purchase a box. Luckily, my dad and I (and my lovely wife, Penny, and my lovely mom), would soon be traveling by cruise ship around the islands of the UK, and a couple of stops in Ireland seemed a great excuse for my dad to bring a couple Filthy Hooligans along for us to enjoy. He had found a web special on the JR Cigar site and bought a box for $120.00, including swag (a lighter, bottle opener and a t-shirt), which Dad said was sold out inside of three hours. Better, swag aside; but I’d have to try ’em before making an investment like that.

Bangers and mash atop bubble and squeak at the Castle Cafe in Inverness, Scotland.

Bangers and mash atop bubble and squeak at the Castle Tavern in Inverness, Scotland.

So somewhere on the Irish Sea between Dublin and Belfast, Dad and I headed to the smoking deck to get Filthy.

The charcuterie plate at the Pub St. Germain in Paris.

The charcuterie plate at the Pub St. Germain in Paris.

Now, let me state for the record that I enjoy cigars the way I think most cigar smokers do: as a pleasant activity to contemplate momentarily, and then to simply sit back, relax and go along for the nice, slow ride. You won’t find me speaking at length about cigars the way some speak of wine (a little bit, but I won’t get crazy), nor will you read of how I broke the cigar into thirds, fourths or fifths and describe in detail the leatheriness and the the hint of peaches in every facet of the stick. Like I said: I’ll review it like I, and I think most others, smoke and enjoy the cigar: How does it basically draw? Burn? What’s the body? When did it turn? Etc. With that in mind…

Take a look at that. Pretty cool looking. I’ll admit that the novelty of this cigar is part of its appeal. That Black Market label is an indication of a line of smokes I’ve enjoyed in the past, which was a good omen. However, when I carefully removed that label, a bit of the cigar wrapper tore off. Grr.



My dad cut a tight draw for me and a medium draw for himself. Then we lit up.
The draw was looser than I had hoped, maybe because of that tear, but I doubt it. My dad keeps an orderly humidor, and the draw was not that of a meticulously rolled stick.


Steak and ale pie at the Horseshoe Bar in Glasgow, Scotland.

It was a great afternoon smoke, mild side of medium bodied and a little grassy. Minty, even. Sweet. I paired it with– what else?– a Jameson’s rocks.

Cheese! At the English Market in Cork.

Cheese! At the English Market in Cork.

As I smoked, I kept an eye on the burn. An even burn can be an indication of a well crafted smoke. The burn on my cigar progressed quite unevenly. Dad’s seemed to be burning fine– and he said it was drawing decently. Take a look at the side by side in the following pic, Dad’s on the left, mine of the right.

A nice burn for my dad (L), and ashy Larry for me.

A nice burn for my dad (L), and Ashy Larry for me.

The medium body of the cigar remained steady and then changed course rather quickly about halfway through. It got a lot spicier and peppery, and not in the same way most cigars progress. It was sudden. It wasn’t necessarily unpleasant; one expects cigar characteristics to change throughout the smoke, but like I said– sudden. I’d say that the loose draw was a factor here. Dad backed me up on that. His turned a bit later in the smoke. The Jameson’s certainly did it’s job here– it held up nicely through the change.
The song remained the same, including that lousy burn, until I crushed it.

That lousy burn continued throughout.

That lousy burn continued throughout.

My overall review: The Filthy Hooligan appears to be a bit inconsistently constructed (of course that is based on only two smokes), which leads to an OK or a good smoke depending on which side of inconsistent you wind up smoking. It’s generally medium bodied, with a sudden heavy turn a little better than halfway through.

Haggis! At the Castle Cafe in Inverness. Dang, was this ever good. I'd once had a meager attempt at haggis at a Scottish Festival, and it tasted like watery oatmeal and piss. This, however, was rich with stock, toasted from the toasted steel cut oats, and full of meaty flavor. Delicious. I could've eaten a ton of this.

Haggis! At the Castle Tavern in Inverness, Scotland. Dang, was this ever good. I’d once had a meager attempt at haggis at a Scottish Festival, and it tasted like watery oatmeal and piss. This, however, was rich with stock, nutty from the toasted steel cut oats, and full of meaty flavor. Delicious. I could’ve eaten a ton of this.

Despite the fact that this cigar is not top of my list to smoke again, there is no one I’d rather kick back with in this manner, smoke and whisky in hand, than my dad. He is one cool cat. And that made that smoke much, much sweeter.

So, in honor of filthy hooligans everywhere, and to finish this post off right, enjoy Billy’s Bones from The Pogues’ album Rum, Sodomy and the Lash. Sláinte!


31 Jul

I’m taking a vacation (and therefore, so is Don’t Tell Chef). I’ll be writing for you all again in a few weeks. Cheers. Jon


29 Jul

IMAG2079As the “Organ”-izer of the Denver Adventurous Eaters Club, I’m often asked about all the crazy shit I’ve pumped down my gullet. The weirdest to me is, to this day, balut; a hard-boiled duck egg complete with an embryo. The first one I tried was, shall we say, in it’s third trimester. It looked like a wet hamster; and I could feel, as it rolled around my mouth, a little poke here, a tiny scrape there, and a crunch. It tasted OK, if duck soup with hard boiled egg yolk is your bag; but it was not top of my list to try again. But I did, and the second one I tried was younger, and preferable, I’d say.

Balut is what I would refer to as an “advanced” dish for your average American pallette. To members of my group I’ll often rank different foods by their difficulty level for those who might not be used to dining adventurously. Balut pretty much tops that advanced list of challenging foods that are semi-regularly available in the great US of A if you know where to find them. At the bottom, in the “beginner” category,  are foods like tongue and oxtail; things that if your average “normal” eater would almost certainly enjoy, especially if they didn’t know what they were eating. In the middle– liver, sweetbreads and stinky cheese. Sharing the top billing with balut is tripe. It’s just not for everybody. And I get it.

Even if one can get past the fact that it is the stomach lining of ruminants (usually beef in this country), there is no escaping its flavor profile. I describe it as “barnyardy.” The whiff-of-corral quality of tripe is part of what makes it tripe. Now, this quality should not be excessive, and is calmed by scrubbing, scraping, bleaching and blanching of the outer-space-looking, pale, rubbery gut. Even after all that punishment, the flavor lingers, and that is OK to tripe gobblers. It’s part of what makes tripe tripe.

Next thing to overcome is the texture. Tripe is tough– like biting into a Coney Island handball— if it’s not patiently prepared. And even when it is at its generally-considered-proper tenderness, it’s still a tough mother of a protein.  And it’s got a little, cartilage-like crunch that some might find objectionable. But again, that’s tripe.

Most Americans know tripe as an ingredient in menudo, a hominy and tripe soup from south of the border generally considered a dandy hangover cure. It can be fairly bland (aside from that poopy whisper); or– and this how I like it– simmered with lots of chilies and doused in hot sauce, raw onions and dried oregano (and with pigs feet– yum!). My menudo is the cover photo for Don’t Tell Chef, by the way.

Menudo– or something like it– is generally my go-to recipe when preparing tripe. But I was feeling saucy one day and decided to prepare it in more of a French fashion: cooked with aromatics and a little wine. Like a court-bouillon. Then I’d try it in a few different applications.  Here’s what happened:

So I started with blanched, grocery store bought, bleached honeycomb tripe. Honeycomb tripe is generally considered the favorite of the tripe varieties. The different varieties depend on which of the four ruminant stomachs, or which parts of said stomachs, the tripe comes from. What I like about honeycomb tripe is its appearance. It really looks other-worldly. It’s chambered, geometric surface looks more like coral than something that came from the inside of a cow. It’s a little freaky, honestly. But it is also a wonder of nature, and it’s one of the things I love about tripe.

I did something I don’t normally do with store bought tripe: I blanched it in water acidulated with a little lemon juice for about an hour. Some recommend this practice as necessary to help tame the barnyardiness. Other say that the store bought stuff is already as tamed as you’re gonna get. What the hell– I tried it, especially since I was planning on serving this tripe in a fairly mild fashion.

After blanching, I shocked it in ice water.


Then I diced it.


I got a standard mirepoix together and added a little wine and water. I brought it to a boil and added the tripe and a bouquet garni.


I then brought it back up, turned it down to a simmer, and then proceeded to cook the living shite out of it. I simply turned my back on it.


4 hours later (for a grand total of 5 hours simmering time), I had a tender (for tripe), mild (for tripe) pile of tripe cubes.


I tried browning a couple of pieces in clarified butter. It was OK, but nothing special.


Then I broke out the peanut oil.

I dredged the tripe pieces in flour seasoned with salt, pepper and a little cayenne.


Then I deep fried the pieces in the peanut oil (my favorite oil, by the way).


I served it with a little Chinese sweetened black vinegar and called the crew over.


As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my fellow kitchen crew members are my most honest and trusted critics. They knew what I was doing– namely cooking tripe– and knew that I would ask them to try these fried guts.

I am happy to report that even the doubters enjoyed the tripe chips. And if you’ve never tried sweetened black vinegar, put it at the top of your list. Freaking magic.

I’ll be doing this one again.

Do you like tripe? What other kinds of freakiness finds its way into your gob? Let the world know in the comments.

Don’t Tell Chef Around the World

23 Jul

Hi all–

Just wanted to say a quick “thank you!” to all the Don’t Tell Chef readers and fans.

We’re at over 3000 hits in over 50 countries! Here’s a list of the countries we’ve been read in:

DTC countries





I love it!

Thanks again! More Don’t Tell Chef  to come soon!