Thursday, March 15, 2012
In 2001, Andrea Reusing, now owner/chef at Lantern in Chapel Hill, was charged with writing the menu and running the kitchen at Enoteca Vin, a European wine bar and restaurant on Glennwood Ave. I started waiting tables at the Ethan Allen Club in Burlington, Vermont in 1991 but the extent of my kitchen experience was limited to a year or two stretching dough at Ken's Pizza on Church St. So I was surprised when this local juggernaut and self taught chef hired me as a prep cook at a restaurant that would rival the best in Manhattan. I was trained by a guy with two full sleeve tattoos and the symbol of Kronos on the back of his right hand. He had a deep scare from chin to ear, and one to match from just above the back his left elbow to the apex of his armpit. He looked like someone who might shank you but was as calm and friendly as a grandpa. When I asked him about his arm, he said
“Have you ever hopped a train?”
He told me he was walking the tracks one day and got jumped. They hit him with a lead pipe in the back of the arm as he was running away. The last thing he remembers before blacking out is seeing his arm swinging next to him ,“like a salami in a tube sock.”
Brian Ohara was born in southern Illinois just outside of Champaign. His first job was washing dishes at the Hoagie Hut in Decatur, IL. When it was slow he would help cut fries, shred mozzarella and watch them make the pizza sauce.
“They called it gravy,” he recalls, explaining that all gravies are sauces but not all sauces are gravies.
But the west was calling and he a few friends jumped a train to California. He met Earthworm on box car outside of Kansas City who had a brother who had a place in San Francisco' China Town. He explained how working there helped him understand the roll of spice and aromatics in cooking, and how to compartmentalize food.
“A pot of beef broth will keep for a week or more. Same goes for rice noodles. This allows you to order small amounts of the perishables daily. Bean sprouts, jalapenos, limes, basil, mint and meats need to be fresh. It’s like instant Asian chili. And it makes fiscal sense. “
Brian traveled for years before settling in Raleigh. He followed bands like Kiss, Motorhead and Thin Lizzy. He’s lived, worked and eaten his way through cities like Seattle, Phoenix and New Orleans. Traveling and working in a myriad of restaurants and eateries has afforded him a panoramic perspective of society and culture.
“The serfs boiled the bones of the rich for sustenance, to make stock and soup to nourish the hungry. They took that stock, boiled it down and called it demi-glace. Add marrow butter, serve it with veal chops, and it’s gourmet. Circle of life.”
Brian Ohara worked at Vin for five years before becoming the Pastry Chef. In 2008, he was made Head Chef. He now runs NC Brewmasters in downtown Raleigh and serves things like Shrimp Ceviche with roasted pablanos, charred onions and plantain chips, Deviled Eggs with pickled okra relish, and a Catfish Biscuit topped with an orange- chipotle slaw and cilantro-mint salad, all for under $8. His food bridges the disconnect between comfort or soul food, and gourmet. It is regional cuisine made with local ingredients using the best techniques from all around the world.
“When something works in the kitchen, it has staying power. Pickling, hollandaise, rouxs; they’re a piece of history from all over the world. The kitchen is like an international food laboratory.”
The most limiting factor in Brian Ohara’s knife kit is an inexperienced restaurant owner. This is a fairly common occurrence in the restaurant industry. The duality of the creative and financial are engaged in a constant struggle. The most effective way relieve this is a chef who is also the owner. These prove to be the best and most successful restaurants. Poole’s Diner, Capital Club 16 and J. Betski’s are all testaments to successful chef owned restaurants where the food does not suffer for the sake of the bottom line. Brian O’hara falls in with this elite breed that have the creativity and experience to make this happen. Now all he needs is his own restaurant.
Last fall, five delegates from Slow Food Triangle attended the Terra Madre Conference in Turin, Italy. Slow Food is a global, grassroots movement, started in Turin, which celebrates local food, from farm to plate, as a way of preserving the tradition and culture of a region. The conference unites 5,000 chefs, growers, wine makers, food artisans and gastronomes from over 150 countries for a food summit of epic proportions.
In North Carolina, Slow Food Triangle works with Eastern Carolina Organics (ECO) to further promote the Slow Food doctrine. ECO, started in 2004, is a cooperative of small family-owned organic farms that facilitates distribution to local retailers and restaurants. Since their formation, membership has gone from 13 to over 40 growers. In 2011, ECO was named Business of the Year by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, touting them for their “commitment to helping sustainable family farms thrive in North Carolina.” In addition, Slow Food Triangle partners with non-profits to help educate children on eating healthy. Together they host workshops on how to grow, prepare, and cook food that makes up a balanced diet.
Unfortunately, all these grassroots efforts to promote economic stability, environmental sustainability, cultural preservation, and public health are being threatened by big business. And the consequences are dire.
Hydraulic Fracturing is the process of procuring natural gas from shale by drilling thousands of feet in to the earth’s crust, pressurizing the well with fluid, and extracting the energy rich gases. This fluid is believed to contain over 500 chemicals. In the shale itself, there is ethane, propane, butane, arsenic, cobalt, lead, mercury, chromium, uranium, radium, and radon. It also requires millions of gallons of water from an already stressed water supply. During the process, 60-80% of the water used remains under ground. 20-40% of that is returned to the water table.
In 2005, Pennsylvania started natural gas production with hydraulic fracturing and is now home to over 1500 wells. Five years later in Tioga County, water from an impoundment pit, used to store fracking flowback, leaked in to a nearby pasture killing all the vegetation in the area. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture then quarantined 28 beef cattle that drank from the contaminated water. They were released from quarantine in May 2011 and, shortly after, the herd gave birth to eleven calves. Eight were still born or died at birth.
In April 2009 in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, 17 beef cattle drank flowback water that washed from a well site platform after a spring rain and pooled in an area accessible to the cows. Residents reported the cows began bellowing, bleeding from the tongue, and foaming from the mouth. They were all dead by days end.
The North Carolina General Assembly has recently passed legislation funding the research of Hydraulic Fracturing in NC. Due to the extremely toxic nature of the shale in which the natural gas resides, the exploratory drilling uses a Geiger counter to determine when they have reached resource rich levels. Thus far, reports show a majority of this shale exist in the Falls Lake watershed.
At a time when organic certifications are being standardized for the US, Canada, and Europe, which will double markets for smaller, sustainable organic farms in our local economy, it is a misappropriation of funds to research, or even consider, a source of energy so antiquated, destructive and irresponsible. Science and technology is at a point where it is necessary for sensible legislation to direct monies in to research and industries that foster and build a progressive infrastructure that makes the public good a priority. We can only hope that our elected officials will fight for intellectual fortitude so that sustainability and pubic health wins out over big business and the bottom line.
In honor of Godfather Week on AMC I bought a double wide of Yellow Tail Shiraz-Cabernet(11$), Rainbow Pasta(enriched with spinach, tomato and carrot,2$), Newman's Own Pasta Sauce(2$), chicken breast(2 for 4$), and 'Manager Special' Baby Bella Mushrooms(1$).
I started heating a pan on high while salting and peppering a chicken breast. Once the corn oil started smoking I cut the heat by half and laid the breast in pan, dropping the end I was holding away from me to reduce the risk of an oil burn. I set a small cast iron skillet on top to add weight. This reduces cook time and improves the sear, adding color and texture. After the breast starts to whiten on around the edges, I flip it and replace the skillet. When the breast is almost done(it will continue to cook off the heat) I remove it to cool, add more corn oil, chili flake, and chopped garlic. Before the garlic browns I add sliced Baby Bellas and diced white onion. As the garlic starts to brown I add a splash of wine and a third of the Newman's Own. Once it starts to simmer I added more wine, the pulled chicken breast, and a handful of cooked pasta. I brought it to a simmer again and killed the heat. After tossing with chopped parsley and shredded cheddar(Cabot's Seriously Sharp White) I plated and added half a buttered everything bagel. I filled my wine and sat down in time to see Luca Brasi get choked out.