Culinary Meca, Portland OR

With temperate weather all year round, the fruit, berries, fresh produce, and beef and poultry are abundant, not to mention it’s proximity to the Pacific for an on demand supply of the freshest seafood it’s not hard to understand why Portland, Oregon is loaded with amazing restaurants, organic markets and FOOD. This is a city that breaths food. And with food comes some terrific brews. We’ve never seen so many microbrews in one area. Not only can you find local brews from Portland, but from just about every district, even street within it’s walls.

Here’s a look at just some what’s going on. Chef Marcus has had the privilege of touring both the Oregon Culinary Institute and Western Culinary. These competing schools are each employing NECI graduates. Woody Bailey, an AOS from Oregon Culinary, was an intern in Marcus’ kitchen at the Inn this spring. He was completing his second internship at the Five Spice Restaurant in Lake Oswego, OR and set Chef up with a 3 night stage/work experience while Chase & I were in Vermont. Chef Marcus worked the grill station with 8 pick-ups for Friday, Saturday and Sunday night shifts. The Five Spice kitchen crew help set up the station, showed Marcus what his plates should look like, and set him free. The rest of the first evening, what he forgot, the chef seemed to already know and had it ready. By the end of day three, Marcus had it down, well, almost. It was definitely fun to work with such a great bunch of guys. It was great to have had this experience. Thanks Five Spice! This would make a good internship site.  Check out the menu at

As many of you know, Chef Michel and his wife Annemarie LaBorgne were in the Portland area for 3 successful alumni events which Chef Marcus had the pleasure to attend. The first was in Seattle, Washington at Todd English’s Fish Club at the Marriott, where the head chef is a NECI alumni. The second at the Heathman Restaurant in Portland and the third at Hooba’s in Husum, Washington both run by NECI alumni. Look for the upcoming alumni newspaper for those who attended, and probably some pictures.

We have also been in contact with many other New England Culinary Institute alumni and friends here in Portland. Keep a look out for updates on their full names and graduation dates. Matt Crone and wife Julie, Adam C?, Anthony ?, Matt Allen, Becca Pilgrim, and Paul Kasten, to name a few.

Published in: on November 10, 2007 at 5:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Home Ranch

Nestled amongst the aspen trees deep in the northern Colorado Rockies, lives a very real dream vacation of many. The Home Ranch. It’s a luxury dude ranch, somewhat of an oxymoron, I suppose, but after our two day stay, we are familiar with why this is an elite Relais & Châteaux property. Guests are pampered with amazing cuisine, friendly, helpful and experienced staff, and private cabins with plush pillows, a comfortable porch and a hot tub. This is the luxury side. The dude ranch side, the Home side, guests are aware of after they meet the owners, Steve and Ann, and get to know the employees. It feels like one big extended family at the Home Ranch, and is apparent why so many of their guests come back year after year. Meals take place around two long tables in the main dining room, where fun conversations with new friends occur. Chef Clyde Nelson has been the executive chef here for 19 years, and currently has two NECI students on their internships, Chris Locard, and JD. There have been many NECI interns in the kitchen over the past 16 years, each bringing with them a “passion and knowledge” for food, according to Chef Clyde. General manager Johnny Fisher states that he’s been in the business for over 30 years and can say that“(New England Culinary Institute) produces some of the best students”. We had a very special meal prepared for us in honor of Chef Marcus’ arrival. Chef Clyde introduced Chef Marcus and told of our travel adventures and culinary goals. (We were told later by Ann, the owner, that this is the first time Chef has ever spoken at dinner) Both Chris and JD then presented dinner to the 19 guests, with 4 courses they themselves had created and prepared. Dinner was complete with a banana’s foster show in the dining room…Everything was amazing. Fly-fishing, horseback riding, cow wrangling, and exquisite cuisine…what more is there to the perfect vacation? It was an honor to have experienced the Home Ranch, and we take with us lasting memories. Thank you.

Published in: on September 13, 2007 at 3:05 am  Comments (1)  

Azalea & Zen, Des Moines, Iowa

Another great Des Moines stage took place at Azalea with Sous Chef Sean Wilson, Essex ‘07. Sean and his co-sous chef run two restaurants out of one kitchen. Zen, the sushi bar and lounge sits on the corner of Walnut and 4th Street and serves an average of 150 covers a night. Directly across the hall is Zen’s sister, the very elegant Azalea. Beautiful high ceilings with open exposed beams, both of raw concrete and wooden logs, balanced by black velvet curtains hung from the ceiling and dark suede and leather upholstery, with large mirrors and solid oak accents everywhere. Chef Marcus spent Friday evening with Chef Sean. He orders from some 37 purveyors alone. Plus spends time at the Asian and farmer’s markets purchasing ingredients he never thought he’d use. He calls up the Hawaiian fish market and orders his sushi grade yellow fin to be delivered the next day. It’s quite and operation. Chase and I were given the grand tour while the farmer’s market was taking place, and Chase washed our dishes in the Azalea dish machine. We reminded him that every great chef starts at the dish sink. Saturday night, the three of us had a wonderful meal at Azalea. The menu is American eclectic with an Asian flare, if I had to pin it down. There’s tuna tartar, gently seared raw tuna with capers, red onion, and hard boiled egg…It was sushi and Russian caviar blend, and wonderful. There’s a wood fired oven in the open kitchen which makes a variety of wood fired pizzas, and quail with corn bread stuffing. There’s a delicately flavored potato ravioli with pesto and sweet corn broth, so mild we could taste each ingredient perfectly. The fried calamari was perfectly cooked, The best he’d ever had, Chef Marcus said. Tempura batter wrapped around tender calamari with a pepper aioli dipping sauce. The goat cheese on the arrugala greens with prunes was the perfect balance of spice and sweet. Braised beef short ribs, spicy Kim chi, and white rice made for a wonderful entrée, and I enjoyed my sea bass in fish sauce. Des Moines is ready for great food, and Azalea and Zen are doing their part to provide it. Thank you, Tripp, for a memorable time.

Published in: on September 5, 2007 at 2:41 pm  Comments (2)  

“Cuisine at Home” Magazine

Cuisine at home is no ordinary magazine. It’s every at-home culinarian’s dream…an at home recipe bible, if you will. Cuisine at home is loaded with delicious menus, meticulously thought out directions, beautiful photos of the recipe process step by step, and mouthwatering pictures of the finished product. Better yet, it has none of the advertisements you see in most magazines. Each issue is dedicated to a different theme, some with all soups (at least 50 full color recipes), or 60-minute weeknight ideas. It’s like having a new fun cookbook delivered to your home 6 times a year, and a reference guide you’ll proudly display and use frequently. Even a professional chef will find inspiration in these books. Chef Marcus was honored to be at August Home Publishing in Des Moines, Iowa on Friday, the home of Cuisine at home. There are quite a few NECI graduates on the staff including Lisa Grasso, Essex ‘04, MJ (Mary Jane), Montpelier ‘06, and our host for the day Haley Wilson, Essex ‘07 who are all chefs working in the magazine’s test kitchens. Development of this 100 page treasure is a 6 month process involving recipe ideas, testing, editing and photographing. There are editors, test kitchen associates (like Haley), food stylists, artists and photographers all working together to prepare Cuisine at home. While we often think of high stress jobs associated with being a chef, with long unorthodox hours, the magazine aspect of the trade is quite the opposite. Yes, Haley and the others donned the traditional chef’s jacket (though I’m not sure it wasn’t because Chef Marcus was visiting), and yes, they prepare food, but that’s where much of the similarity ends. They shop at the local grocery store, not a purveyor, and buy product available to the every day consumer. They test and prepare, and test again each recipe, following each and every step as it is written each and every time (to ensure those at home can create an exact duplicate without having a culinary background). They get to eat the final products, where usually chefs only get to watch it being eaten. They go into work at 8am and leave at 5pm and have Saturdays and Sundays off. (Not in at noon, out at midnight, Never a weekend off!) And, this is my favorite, they get to wear flip flops to work. (You never get to wear open toed shoes in the restaurant!) Behind all this eating and having fun, though, is a very real, very serious job that the staff at August Home Publishers takes to heart. Take a look at this magazine at and the next time you pick up a magazine, think of how much work went in to bringing it to your home. Chef Marcus was thrilled to see this side of the culinary field (and also a bit jealous of the hours and low stress, I think). Thank you, John Meyer (senior editor), and all of you at Cuisine at home for a wonderful stage and tour. We’ll be looking forward to the next issue!

Published in: on September 2, 2007 at 10:34 pm  Comments (2)  

112 Eatery

Since we’ve been back from South Dakota, we went to dinner with Dan Zelle and his family at the unique 112 Eatery in St Paul. When he made the reservation for us, Dan said we were in for a treat. And boy was he right. This restaurant was opened by a chef for chefs. After a long, hard night at work, this is where the chefs and kitchen staff come to eat and socialize. 112 Eatery is open with a full menu until 1 AM. Perfect hours for the hungry night owls who’ve just gotten out of work. The menu ranges from simple salads and egg sandwiches to foie gras and sweetbreads. We ordered just about one of everything and passed the dishes around family style. Much better than having to decide! I chickened out on trying the sweetbreads, but everything else was wonderful. Foie gras/lardon salad, crostini w/ white anchovy and avocado, lamb scottadito with goats milk yogurt, tempura prawns with rooster mayo, sautéed sweetbreads with porcini & clam sauce, tagliatelle w/ foie gras meatballs, Chinese fried eggs, cold cuts and house made pickles (we probably ordered more) and delicious desserts to top it all off. We’ve been talking about this meal all week long. Food by chefs for chefs. This would make a great spot for an internship site.

Published in: on August 17, 2007 at 6:31 pm  Comments (1)  

Northwestern Fruit Company, St. Paul

We’ve all gone to the grocery store to pick up food for dinner on the way home from work, but how often while dining in a restaurant do we think about how they got the food?  Being in the service industry and in the kitchen, we fill out a req. sheet, turn it in to purchasing, and Voila, the food we need arrives.  But how?  We had the unique opportunity to tour Northwestern Fruit Company in St. Paul, Minnesota which is a small (but growing) produce distributor in the Twin Cities area.  Dan Zelle is an ’04 NECI graduate who oversees the operation.  They take in an order from, say, the local convention center, fill, and deliver the product.  Sounds simple enough when put this way, but there’s so much more to the process.  The warehouse runs 24 hours a day, for starters.  Let’s take the tomatoes;  they order in the tomatoes (which is a task in itself) unsorted.  This means, in order to sell these tomatoes, they have to then be sorted by both size and ripeness, boxed, labeled, stored, then shipped.  There is also a full production deparment within the building.  If a customer orders coleslaw, they hand make coleslaw, package it, label it, store it, ship it.  You get the idea.  Northwestern Fruit Co. also makes french fries, specialty mixed stirfry packages, coin carrots, you name it, they’ll do it.  The team of delivery drivers then bring the produce ordered straight to the restaurant, the chef checks it in, again, Voila, your req. sheet’s been filled.  Time to prep!  Thank you, Dan, for sharing the other side of the food industry with us, we enjoyed our visit!

Published in: on August 3, 2007 at 2:54 am  Comments (1)  

Town Talk Diner

Traversing Minneapolis is much easier than getting around Burlington. The streets run N-S or E-W so finding Town Talk Diner at 2707 and a half (which has a reason, I just found out) was easy. We actually stopped right in front of the Diner while discussing where we were going. It was noon, well before service which begins at 4 at the bar and 5 in the dining room, so we rapped on the front window and waited to be let in. Chef Tor Westgard greeted us and began giving us his “5 cent” tour of the restaurant. The original diner was built in an alley way, hence the “half” in the address. It used to serve 2 pancakes, bacon, toast and a cup of coffee for $2.99. The diner (for the obvious reason) went out of business, and lay dormant for four years. I may be off on my facts, so don’t quote me, maybe until 18 months ago when Chef Tor and his partners purchased it.

Anyway, they are all chefs with a vision. What do NYC bistros, Paris cafes and New Orleans bbq shacks have in common? They all bring people together. That is, ultimately, what food is for, isn’t it? How do they at Town Talk Diner bring together people of all different ages and backgrounds? They offer a relatively inexpensive and eclectic array of dishes. From grilled cheese to pan seared salmon with lentils. Some come in for soup and a salad, while others consume 3 courses with a bottle of wine. Each and every item prepared is given the same value and uses the same procedure and skill, regardless of what it is, grilled cheese, burger, or salmon. There’s even a Fried Egg sandwich on the menu, and you can throw in a 40 oz Mickey (yes, that’s beer) and it comes in its own champagne bucket! Another unique feature of the Town Talk Diner’s menu is the way the chef-owners have incorporated diner food with trained French techniques. The “frickle” for example is the old fashioned fried pickle of the 20’s fair era, but with a culinary twist. Chef Tor definitely shows enthusiasm for his restaurant. His “5 cent” tour lasted until 5 as he prepped and talked about his business with Marcus. Chase & I ducked out after 10 minutes and headed to the Mall of America.

Chef Tor and his partners run a very organized and clean restaurant from the top to the bottom, from the kitchen to the bar. Tor does all of the ordering himself and personally checks in all items. Tonight, actually, was the first night in 18 months there was no chef in the kitchen, as he took a night off. We dined at 6 and I will say that the staff did a great job.

We (Chase & I) joined Marcus and fellow NECI alumni Dan Zelle (’04 Montpelier) for dinner at Town Talk at 6. We began by ordering the frickles, cheese curd, and onion rings. The “frickles” are normally done at the state fairs in spears, or even whole, which is what I envisioned. Town Talk pickles 4 cases of cucumbers in house each week, and slices them thin, then batters and fries them and serves them with mustard dill sauce. They were sweet butter pickles and delicious. The cheese curd is also lightly battered and fried. Chase had a hard time sharing these. When we ask what he wanted for dinner, his response was “this” as he held up the cheese. We eventually talked him into a weiner. Marcus had the Kitchen Sink Burger, Dan the braised lamb with quinoa and cucumber tabouli, and I ordered the seared salmon special with carrots and lentils. It was all very good. And we are all very full.

Marcus enjoyed his stage…thank you Chef Tor and Town Talk Diner.

Published in: on July 31, 2007 at 1:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

L’Espalier & Boston, Mass.

We set up camp 30 miles outside of Boston at Winter Island Park in Salem, Mass. It was still foggy, just as in Portland, the perfect setting for exploring this town with its grim history. The following morning, we packed a backpack, parked in the commuter lot, and took the T into Boston’s North Station. Chase then got his first experience with a big city subway system. I almost missed our stop…not realizing that there are 4 different green lines. We did pretty good, though, having not traversed Boston’s underground before. We stopped into the Prudential Building’s food court for a quick bite and then over a block to 30 Gloucester Street, the home of L’Espalier, sister restaurant to Sel de la Terre. Through an old and fancy looking iron gate door, down beautifully polished marble stairs, and back up a winding stair case, we met with the Chef de Cuisine, James Hackney. His English accent and blue bandana made us feel instantly comfortable. He invited me back into his kitchen later during service to take some fun action shots of the restaurant. Chase and I then headed back to the harbor area to explore the aquarium and Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market area while James introduced Marcus to his crew. The garde manger chef turned out to be a NECI student on his first internship, Jonathan Till…He seemed quite surprised to have a NECI chef/instructor there.

After a fun (and all-too-short) day, (Aquarium, balloon animals, a street act, pizza and lemonade, oh, and ice cream, and lots of walking and subway rides and a peek at Fenway- there was a game going on- we could feel the energy from 3 blocks away) and and and…

Where was I? Oh, after an all-to-short day, Chase and I walked back into L’Espalier with our Tee-Shirts on, and were warmly greeted by the hostess and Matre’d and led up two flights of stairs to the kitchen. Marcus and the staff all seemed very much to be enjoying themselves… Laughing and exited about the intimacies of the food they were plating (as the chef plated the item, the entremetier would veg, the sous chef would garnish, the server would wipe the plate…there seemed to be total-kitchen interest in each and every plate served). I took a few pictures and listened to Marcus tell me of his night. The menu starts at 2 courses, $75 and goes up from there. This is a very high end French fine dining establishment. Each plate is put together meticulously and skillfully. Most ingredients are brought in daily from fresh local vendors. There is even a garden on the roof with fresh herbs, mixed baby greens and cucumbers! How cool is that! There’s a smoker up there as well for any house-smoked items. Each chef is responsible for the prepping and ordering of each of (their) own stations. If they miss something, it’s on their shoulders. Marcus got to cook and plate on the line tonight, something that he greatly enjoyed judging by the smile on his face. He had to opportunity to view (and sample some) such treats as Italian caviar, rich Hudson Valley Fois Gras served on “dirt” (crumble dark chocolate), Vermont rabbit ravioli, fresh striper bass, fresh whole lamb, and Grilled Tenderloin with morels and amazing homemade onion rings in which they substituted vodka for the water in the onion ring batter…what a concept! There is a cheese tray which is offered a la carte…they work directly with the farmers to get what cheese they want. Marcus even was asked to check-in the mushroom order…an hour long adventure in itself. He saw black truffles the size of his fist and fresh shitakes that looked like button mushrooms their caps were so full and many more exotics I can’t remember the names of. A statement made from James Hackney which stuck with Marcus was (and this was announced to the kitchen) that NECI students are more prepared for the industry than CIA graduates because they already know how to cook.

Just as I say my night ended all to soon (it was after 8), Marcus said the same. He certainly enjoyed working in L’Espalier’s kitchen with James and Alex (the sous chef) the NECI intern and the rest of the staff. Thank you, L’Espalier, for a wonderful stage…Please visit them online at and in person when you are in the area. L’Espalier is moving to a new location nearby within the year complete with a brand new commercial kitchen with a center island to give the chef more control.

And thank you, Boston for a fun day in the city. Tomorrow we leave New York where we are visiting my family, and drive down to Hershey, PA to see a friend whom we haven’t seen in 7 years. Can’t wait………

Published in: on July 22, 2007 at 4:36 am  Leave a Comment  

555, Portland, Maine

WOW!!!  There is a reason this great chef has been named one of the top 10 up and coming chefs…

When we arrived in Portland for Marcus’ stage at 555, we walk around downtown to check out the city for a few minutes.  There was a farmer’s market just being broken down right in the center of the city square.  This very central location for such a market shows how significant a part the local food and farmers play in the city of Portland.  555, just up the street from the market, sits quietly on the corner awaiting the evening’s hustle.  As we approach the restaurant and begin to marvel over the menu items posted in the front door window, we are waved in by a mellow mannered and calm Steve Corry sitting at the bar with his work.  After some introductions and chatting, Chase & I head off for the Children’s Museum of Maine and a walking tour of downtown Portland while Steve shows Marcus his business.

Chef says:
For the first time in 4 years, I had the chance to stand back and watch the workings of someone else’s kitchen.  And not just any kitchen- Stephen Corry is a 2002 NECI graduate and one of Food & Wine’s America’s top ten chefs.  His kitchen is one which is perfectly orchestrated with food prepared with the utmost care, everything was tasted and seasoned to perfection.   I think what impressed me most is how well-trained and focused his kitchen staff is.  They work together as a serious team, 6 sometimes 7 cooks on the tight line, each with their own four or so pickups, and helping the next station out.  For all you NECI students who think the Tavern line is small, it’s half the size, serving 150 a night fine dining.

I sampled the lobster knuckle sandwich (this is the dish which was featured in Food & Wine) which was amazing and so creative, a tower of two slices of green fried tomatos, with a peabody lobster stuffed in between and an avocado aioli and topped with a full lobster claw.  I am also impressed and amazed at the grilled ceasar salad(I was so excited about this I’ve called Chef Dave and left him a message about it) .  Hearts of romaine sliced, oiled, salted and quickly grilled (yes, grilled) with ceasar dressing zigzagged across the top with shaved parmesan and peppered croutons.  complete with itailan white anchovies.  Phenomenal!

The waitstaff is very organized and attentive to guests (it’s an open kitchen and hard not to notice everything that’s going on) No food sat in the window for more than 30 seconds.  Oh, and I should mention… Everything possible on the bi-weekly changing menu (with some signature items staying) is purchased locally at the farmer’s market.  The same one we saw when we came to town!

We even had NECI grad Thomas drive up from Old Orchard Beach to see me and dine at 555.  (Thank you TJ and Erika)

We were invited to sit down and dine, something we so badly wanted to do, but we had Chase and it being 8:30 already (555 was having a very busy night, with 70 on the books and I’m guessing they’d already done 90 and at least 15 pp in the bar waiting for tables), we sadly declined.  I was fortunate enough to have been able to taste so many of the dishes.  Steve, thank you.  I would absolutely encourage anyone traveling through Portand to stop in and see Steve Corry and his amazing staff at 555 Congress Street, Portland, Maine.

Published in: on July 19, 2007 at 8:26 pm  Comments (1)