October 4, 2013
Evidently, too many people turn their nose up to my beloved national dish. I am often left wondering why especially when there are so many other foods that also contain offal and are loved by the same people who won’t try haggis. I’m left scratching my head.
This situation has left me to think about how to present haggis in my upcoming book. I have looked at it from every angle. The spice, the oats, the organ meat itself, the cook process and lastly, how it is served. Traditionally it is served with neeps and tatties but I have found some risk takers dishing it up in other forms as well but still not really hitting the mark as far as enticing the rest of the world to eat it regularly and not just on Burns Night.
While I contemplate what it is that might possibly need work to make it modern, I have to admit that I seriously overthought this one. The haggis itself is a beautiful dish. Most often overcooked and underseasoned but certainly a beautiful dish. A dish deserving it’s very own poem written by Scotlands most famous poet? Aye, it is!
Described by words like reekin, gushing and glorious I have to wonder are we diluting this glorious dish with sides undeserving? Where did the neeps and tatties come into all this anyway?
Honestly, in my opinion, this is where we lose the interest of the dish. It’s not the haggis, it’s the 2 lumps next to it that don’t compliment the dish at all. If neither are mashed then possibly just possibly it is enjoyable but here is my take on the whole trinity of things.
Texture. That’s right, the texture is too soft. Soft haggis, soft potatoes and soft neeps all mashed up and offering nothing to the diner except a distant memory of baby food.
I say forget the neeps and tatties. Even if you fry both, it is still lost because I just don’t see how they go together permanently. Well, let’s just say it is a work in progress but a mushy supper is typically not on anybody’s plans for a good meal so no wonder it is hard to sell especially if it is all 3 your selling!
I will continue my work on this and hopefully come up with something of a solution. If not, the book will just have to simply include haggis all by itself. Either way that’s not too bad in my book.
Address to a Haggis
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.
The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.
His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?
Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!
But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.
Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis
September 13, 2013
As I work towards the completion of my next book, “Modern Scottish Cuisine”, I can’t help but envision the importance of not only what the food will look like on the end of a fork right before it hits the taste buds but most importantly “How does it represent Scotland?”
Although both questions are important, I have to lean more toward how does it represent Scotland. My approach at first was always to take the old recipes, modernize them up in a neat and trendy package and hope the public likes it. As I develop the recipes and approach the process as a product developer, I have to be honest and say this is morphing into it’s own dynamic outcome. I have then took a long hard look at what was it that made me start on this journey and reflect upon the emotion that has brought me to where I am today.
Modern Scottish Cuisine isn’t about the old, I must confess, it is about the new. How do we rediscover what it is about our food and what have we missed?
I am especially happy to reflect on the products, flavors and textures of the foods for the book. But the real story is that of what the food represents. It represents Scotland.
I am anxious to get this one complete for a lot of reasons but most importantly to share with anyone interested or even peak the interest of who might not have been otherwise. In my ‘Scotland is Delicious’ campaign, I encourage both native and decendants of Scotland to make the classical dishes Scotland is known for. To share our dishes with family and friends and especially our children so they do not forget the sights, smells and flavours of old.
Those are the true comfort foods I remember and also never want to forget. I think one traditional Scottish dinner isn’t too much to ask to help save our culinary identity, do you?
March 22, 2013
Just about every culture I can think of has some type of flat bread or product indigenous to the need for a dough type product intended to enrobe foods, provide nourishment and most of all be easy to hold. This idea is thousands of years old and has evolved with the times into meeting the necessity of staying relevant with changing generations that crave traditional foods but with trendy combinations and presentations.
The tattie scone should be no different, I would think, but it is. It has played a very important part of being identified with the Scottish breakfast and while working in tandem with the traditional Scottish slice sausage, the tattie scone has helped identify the Scottish breakfast from any other breakfast in the British Isles. It is as Scottish as the Scotch Egg yet suffers from a similar fate in the assumption that it is only good if served before 10 AM.
I saw this an an opportunity to expand upon the traditions of the tattie scone and help re-shape a future of this delicacy to reach the other day part opportunities that loom beyond breakfast. I let my imagination run wild. My first order of business was to change it’s shape. In an effort to do what I could with the scone I found it most restricting using the pre-packaged form of sliced triangular shaped portions to not work so well in its current form with the exception of cutting those pieces into smaller triangles and serving with sliced smoked Scottish salmon, cucumber cream, a slice of boiled egg and a dollop of caviar on top. Sort of taking the place of a classical blini if you will.
I proceeded to make my own and from there I was impressed by the versatility of the tattie scone. I first made a large circle, thinner than store bought, and fried it off. Instead of cutting into triangular sections I left it whole. I then steamed it to make it pliable. Filled it with slow roasted pulled beef, carrot shreds and onion. Rolled it up similar to a large spring roll or burrito. It turned out great. I took the trimmings from the dough and after rolling paper thin, fried them up and since the sandwich I made reminded me of a burrito, I made a sort of nacho platter out of the fried trimmings with crumbled sliced sausage, green onions, diced tomatoes and crumbled Shropshire Blue cheese. Wow, it worked perfectly. I kept traditional Scottish flavours and shaped them into a modern presentation that I would hope more restaurants in Scotland would serve to their guests. Now I only need to think of what to call it!
As I went on, it seemed as though the ideas just started flowing. Some things worked while others not so well like making a meat pie with the scone dough. Well, I thought it was a good idea at the time. At the end of the day my point was made though. Our food from Scotland is delicious and with a little ingenuity we can expand upon what we have and share it with the world. That is the whole idea of Modern Scottish Cuisine….. to share it with the world.
March 11, 2013
Since writing my memoirs I am surprised at the support I have received from the many readers whom have let me know how much they appreciated my story. As you may know, it is not easy putting yourself out there in an effort to entertain as well as inspire the reader and at the same time open yourself up to criticism. I guess I have also learned this as a chef also. I work hard at creating a dish, analyze and often times overanalyze the preparation, envision the artistic view of the dish and demonstrate my years of practice by putting it out there for criticism or scrutiny.
The same holds true with my publication of GINGER. I put off the project for a number of years for the simple reason that I wouldn’t think anybody would be interested. I have my wife to thank for giving me the encouragement to finally get it done and to share my story with whomever would be interested in it. The same goes for a lot of food innovations I have developed through the years. Sometimes I just like to keep certain dishes to myself when other times I look very much foreword to sharing with whomever is willing to try it. I take the praises with humility as well as take the criticisms with seriousness and sometimes a grain of salt.
It had taken me several years to not take the criticism personally. I would sometimes take it as a blow to my very sensitive feelings and rebut the criticism with often time insult or dismissal. I am glad to have matured from these feelings and believe that maybe there was more to postponing writing my memoirs. Maybe I just wouldn’t have been ready for any kind of praise or criticism. Being it so very personal, I truly believe now that I wasn’t ready.
I never studied to be a writer. Although I have writers that I admired through the years, I never thought of someday actually writing anything more than a menu and possibly some recipes for people to enjoy. I now opened myself up to be criticized for not only my abilities as a chef, a vocation that I have trained earnestly for years, but my abilities as a writer. A vocation that I had never studied nor ever wanted to study to do professionally. I have always just wanted to work with food.
I am extremely grateful to those whom have contacted me and let me know how much you have enjoyed my book. I am truly touched by those who have said that it inspires you. I am also appreciative to all of you who recommended Ginger to others. That is truly one of the greatest compliments I could have ever hoped for. It ranks right up there with Mark Sutherland of Dunrobin Publishing liking the story so much that he took a chance on a first time, no name author and published his work for all the world to read because he not only liked the story but saw the potential that others would like it too.
That being said, when I got my shipment of promotional books from my publisher I worked on a list of potential reviewers whom I thought would enjoy the book as well as help get the word out. As I was going through the mailing list Christina, my wife, let’s me know that President Clinton would have to be on the list. She was right. He would have to be on the list.
After sending it to him, I have to admit, I thought I would never hear back from him about GINGER. I made every excuse I could think of to not worry about whether he read it or not but deep down inside I wanted not only him to read it but I wanted everybody to read it. Not for any personal gain but rather because I wasn’t afraid of criticism anymore and that is a great feeling.
My story. The story of a boy, who was born and raised in Scotland, and who moved to the United States at age 10. The product
of an immigrant family where a new life, divorce, alcoholism, poverty and desire drive this boy to become an award winning chef overcoming a situation where all the odds are against him.
From the streets of New Jersey to being hand picked to cook at the White House for the President of the United States.
Ginger is not by any means a sad story. To the contrary, it is about passion for a career that would separate the man from the boy. From shy and insecure to a driven, fanatical perfectionist trying to learn from the past and wish it was different—only to come to terms with what really matters and the things that cannot be changed.
Ginger is a boy who never gave up. A boy that never accepted life’s trials and misgivings as an excuse to give in and accept
uncontrollable conditions that shape one’s life for the worse. His will is not hereditary but is instead contrary to his father’s will.
You might think that when people move to another country, life would be easier upon acclimation. In reflection, nothing could be further from the truth. For Ginger’s family, this move was not easy. His social class would be transformed from what he perceived as normal, happy and content to abnormal, unhappy and discontent.
Life, as you may know, is only easy if you are living somebody else’s and never your own. If someone else has planned it for you and paid your way through the tolls of adversity then yes, life is easy.
This homesick boy learns to adjust and start a new life. Unfortunately, not a better life but rather one that challenges him to be a better person in the end and not to be fooled by not being good
enough to do what makes him happy.
He’s a boy who wants to be a chef and he does just that. He doesn’t settle for an easy occupation, as a result of a hard life, but rather one that takes hard work, dedication and the ability to please people and wanting nothing in return. It’s an occupation that is never glamorous. It is hot, uncomfortable, and stressful and drives the sane to be insane.
Ginger becomes an artist in a craft that relishes taking in the castaways of normal society and exploiting them for their mere self gratification and addictions, only to pay them with the pains of hardship. But it is love and love is blind.
This is not a cookbook; this is a cook’s book. This is my book.
February 7, 2013
As we draw close to a day on fancy where chocolates, flowers and the ever important dinner are soon upon us, I consider the dinner to be the ever important part. Part of that is of course me being a chef but also part of that is the sheer joy of sharing food with the one you love.
As I work to put Scottish cuisine on the radar of global food trends, I have found Scottish food to be more delicious than I first imagined possible in part due to the wholesome natural flavours of home. Scotland is delicious!
Pan Seared Scottish Salmon with Leek Sauce:
2 Center Cut Skinless, Boneless Salmon Filets, lightly seasoned with Salt and Pepper
1 TBSP Oil
For The Sauce:
2 Tbsp Butter
2 Slices Rasher Bacon, cut into julienne strips
1 Leek, white only rinsed and cut into julienne matchstick length
1/2 Cup Prunes, sliced into julienne strips
4 Oyster Mushrooms, sliced into julienne strips
4 Shiitake Mushrooms, sliced into julienne strips
1 Cup Heavy Cream
In a sautee pan, heat the oil then sear each side of the salmon filets under medium heat. Once crisp remove from heat and place in oven (350 F/ 175 C) for 12 minutes or until firm. Meanwhile, melt butter in separate pan, toss in the bacon and sautee till lightly crispy. Then add the leeks and saute until leeks become tender. Around 4 – 5 minutes over medium heat. Once leeks are tender then add the prunes and mushroom. Give it a good stir and season lightly with salt and pepper.
Add the heavy cream and reduce till thickened. Around 5 – 7 minutes.
Remove salmon from oven and place in center of plate. With tongs, pile the leek and mushroom mix on top of salmon equally. Then pour the sauce from pan over mixture till fully coated.