In a chef’s head
Pig, cow, duck, and all their tender inner (delicious) workings are constantly on the mind and preferably tongue of most chefs. The perfect preparation, how you had it in San Francisco, what you read about it in Food Art, and the bacon design of your next tattoo (time to get off the pot Chef Marcus) are just some of the topics that rattle around bar stool conversations. With so much thought and energy dedicated to meat and its cookery…chefs often fully disregard the possibility of meatless dishes.
In a chef’s experience
In the 1st restaurant I ever worked, where eventually I was promoted to sous chef, the menu was very concise in order to accommodate a very modest dining room. We could seat about 30. 🙂 Along with the small dining room came the very 1st professional crappy little kitchen that I ever worked. It had 1 crappy stove, the dish machine shared a workspace with the salad station, but worst of all there was ZERO storage. If it wasn’t on the menu at that moment, we didn’t have it in the kitchen. Thus it was an absolute nightmare for someone to come in and demand an off menu dish.
The easiest one to head off at the pass was, “I’m a vegetarian. What do you have that I can eat?” Ask any chef and they’ll tell you the same, half of these people end up ordering the fish or the chicken anyway because lots of people suck. Hahaha! BUT, I always found coming up with new and exciting vegetarian dishes to be quite a stimulating challenge. All the vegetarian entrees in “Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens” are those vegetarian dishes from my restaurants.
Why would I waste this experience? What a shame to fritter away that expertise? I’ll be cooking in the ultimate crappy little kitchen with a petite menu to match, so one of the 1st thoughts that I had when developing said menu was, “I should give a vegetarian option. It is Austin after all.”
In a chef’s process
As I’ve said before, beef brisket on the menu is a no brainer. It bursts all the Crappy Little Chuckwagon parameters. Last week we dealt with a pork selection, and knocked it out of the park by deconstructing what is beloved by all Texans, the kolache.
What does all this mean for my vegetarian entrée? What are our parameters?
- Has to be vegetarian… obviously. My go to, spotlight veggie is the mushroom. For myself, I love a splash of Worcestershire sauce, but that doesn’t work here. For those of you who don’t know, the secret ingredient of Worcestershire is anchovy. While it might seem funny to sneak vegetarians (real vegetarians– not those sucky fake ones) little fishes, it is unethical and I won’t do it.
- Must be hand held, but can’t be a repeat. I thought about grilled Portobello sliders. With a hamburger on the menu, I’d really rather not have another sandwich let alone a tiny burger. Plus I tried it, and the Portobellos didn’t shrink enough on the grill to be a slider; they just looked like mushroom burgers.
- Has to be accessible and sound delicious to everyone. What is a popular food truck item that I can recreate in my own crappy
little image? Hmmmmnnnn…
While I’m making homemade kolache dough for our burger buns, why not see if we can roll it out and throw it on the grill?! While I worked at The Grape in Dallas, we made a grilled Tuscan flatbread It was essentially pizza dough that we grilled before service. When an order came in, we topped it, flashed it in the oven, and sent it on it’s merry way. Texas flatbread really has a nice ring to it. Sure enough the soft and pliable dough rolled out and grilled perfectly. The beautiful circles with flawless grill marks looked remarkably similar to pita bread, which is a much better idea than a topped flat bread giving us the need for a crappy little oven.
My Texas Flatbread needed a filling, and using the pita/gyro as inspiration, I sautéed diced yellow onion with garlic, dried Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper. Once brown I added a ton of chopped mushroom (cremini and Portobello), turned the heat up slightly, and seasoned with a bit more salt and pepper. Typically a Greek style gyro would have a meat filling and a sauce called tzatziki. It’s a very refreshing sauce made from yogurt, cucumber, and lemon, so to adapt it for my Texas flat bread, I made it with yogurt, chipotle, and lime. Add fresh cherry tomatoes and spinach (instead of romaine lettuce) and we have a winner!! Just needs bacon… Hahaha, but I’m not wrong! Maybe as an add on option?
The chef’s menu
As I’ve said before, I freakin love this process. You start with ideas that roll around in your head like powder kegs ready to explode into something more. In the kitchen you break down the ideas to see what works, how it could be better, and can it make more sense. Can we make this more cost effective without sacrificing quality? Can we make this taste better without hurting food cost? This is the nuts and bolts of a successful food business; the very beginning of a continuous progression of change and improvement as a chef hones their craft and becomes one with their space.
As for my space, the Crappy Little Chuckwagon is on the horizon. Each day I feel her coming closer, and you can plan on May being a big, BIG Crappy Little Kitchen month! Now that the menu is tested and planned, I enter the design phase. You faithful CLK followers will be the 1st to see the menu, along with it’s maiden voyage next month as we raise money to begin our Crappy Little Culinary Journey. I’m so happy to have you with me.