Williams-Sonoma and Fatted Calf

I don’t attend cooking classes very often, but when I do I always come away with a fresh perspective about food and how it excites and connects people. Last Friday evening I was invited to attend a sausage workshop at Williams-Sonoma’s flagship store on Post Street in San Francisco. For cooks who love to shop, there is no better place than this tri-level mega store. From the friendly and informative customer service staff to the smells of food demos wafting throughout the store, Williams-Sonoma creates an overall food experience on par with the great food and shopping emporiums of Europe.

Though their demo kitchen lacks theater seating and hanging monitors, it makes up for it in its informal ambiance. There were beautifully dressed long dining tables set with products from the store encouraging a convivial atmosphere. And with seating reaching the edge of the demo counter, guests got an up-close view of the instructor and his craft. That evening Fatted Calf’s proprietor, Taylor Boetticher conducted a sausage workshop, turning pork butt and the like into delicate flavorful sausages. Once you’ve eaten a freshly cased, perfectly grilled sausage you will never purchase the fully cooked packaged variety again.

I haven’t prepared sausage since cooking school and was excited to get a refresher course on the subject. Chef Boetticher prepared three sausages for us: Hand-Cut Mexican-Style Chorizo, Fatted Calf Rosso Sausage, and Pork Crepinettes with Tournantes Olives, Pimenton and Orange Peel. The hand-cut sausage was a revelation, demonstrating that you don’t need fancy appliances like a meat grinder to prepare sausage. His ratio of fat to meat might shock some people, but its the only way to achieve plump juicy sausage. Chef Boetticher recommends 20% to 25% of your total weight be fat, preferably from the meat you’re using. So in the case of the chorizo, Chef Boetticher used the trimmed fat from a pork shoulder, chopped it finely, and keep it chilled until all the other ingredients were prepped and the sausage was ready to be mixed. For this recipe he used 4.5 lbs. of pork shoulder and .5 lb. of fat.

As one of the leaders of fine charcuterie in the Bay Area, Fatted Calf has created a cult following with local foodies. While chopping and mixing, Chef Boetticher spoke about his culinary background, how he met his wife at the Culinary Institute of America, and how his business was conceived. Frequent travel abroad, especially in some of the most respected charcuterie capitals of Europe, peaked his passion for salumi, sausage, and terrines. What started out as a small enterprise in a rented catering kitchen has turned into a wildly popular Ferry Plaza and Berkeley stand and permanent storefront in Napa’s Oxbow Market.

Chef Boetticher is a wealth of knowledge and freely shared tips and insights. But what I got out of the evening, besides an amazingly delicious meal and take-home recipes, was a newfound respect for the art of sausage making. Some keys to producing incredible sausage include following temperature guidelines so that the fat doesn’t melt and emulsify with the other ingredients before stuffing; marinating the meat with salt and other flavorings overnight to tenderize the meat; and only using a quality meat that will provide clean flavors.

Chef Boetticher will be conducting another class on Friday, May 28th where he will be making artisanal pates and terrines. He’ll share his secrets of making country-style pate with cognac and herbs and stovetop preparation for duck rillettes with Marsala wine and aromatic herbs. I would highly recommend taking this class for those interested in this culinary tradition, learning from a young chef who has deep respect for the craft of charcuterie while enlivening it with a renegade approach to flavors.

To find out about other upcoming Williams-Sonoma classes or to sign up for the upcoming Fatted Calf class, call the San Francisco store.

Williams-Sonoma

340 Post Street

San Francisco, CA 94108

(415) 362-9450

Fatted calf produces a rotating list of charcuterie, often depending on the whim of the chef and what’s available and seasonal. To find out what he’s whipping up, call or check his website. You can also place an online order and have his product delivered.

Fatted Calf

644 C First Street

Napa, CA 94559

(707) 256-3684

http://www.fattedcalf.com

Paso Robles Wines

For me, there’s no question that the best part of owning a retail establishment is selecting the product that will fill shelves and ultimately bring people back again and again. It’s a challenge (and skill) to forecast which items will sell, and can ultimately be one of the main deciding factors that will make or break you. You would think that if you love to shop (like me) that it would be easy to know what to purchase for customers. But actually it can be the opposite. I needed every ounce of restraint every time a vendor came to visit with a new food product or wine. I wanted to support everyone, taste everything, and fill the store with these delicious items. Thank goodness for Greg and his keen eye for the bottom line. He hates to shop and hates to be bothered while focusing on customers so something better be good for him to stop, taste, and commit.

Ordering wine was one of the highlights of my daily grind. Well, tasting wine would be more accurate. Most of our small distributors were happy to come by and pour samples from their portfolio and I was always happy to oblige. Even though we’ve been out of the store for almost two years now, I still receive tasting invitations. Now when I go I represent the media, not the trade and I don’t have the purchasing power I once did. A ten case deal has dwindled to searching for one special bottle, but, hey, it’s still shopping in my mind.

The Paso Robles Grand Tasting blew through the Mid-Peninsula today and Greg and I attended for different reasons. I went to savor past memories and possibly pitch a future story whereas I know Greg came away contemplating his next move. Will wine be involved? Let’s hope so.

More than 30 wineries were in attendance and one of our favorites was from Maloy O’Neill Vineyards in Paso Robles. He poured a 2005 Lagrein ($36) that was utterly irresistible. Having never even heard of this Italian varietal, Sales Manager Tim Gabriel gave us a little history on this seldom seen wine. The grape comes from Italy’s Alto-Adige region, which borders Italy and the Austrian Alps. Not many domestic wineries or commercial growers tackle this grape and if they do it’s usually blended with other grapes. Not sure about the total percentage of Lagrein in this 2005 release, but it was unusual, inky, and complex.

Another winery that stood out was Silver Horse Winery in San Miguel. All three of our pours were amazing. The 2009 Albarino ($27) was buttery, crisp, and very complex for such a young wine. The 2007 Tomori ($38) is a blend of syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot and the 2007 Sage ($40) is a blend of malbec, petit verdot, and cabernet sauvignon and both were fantastic. Sage is described as a Bordeaux blend that is big and bold, has great cellar potential, and only has 13.5% alcohol.

Several of the smaller wineries that we sampled today are often in need of representation from distributors. But sometimes the best way to get a favorite wine into your local market is to take a sample of it to their wine buyer or owner and ask them to order it for you. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. Many of the wines we liked are only available through their website or tasting room. If visiting the Central Coast on the third weekend in May, head to Paso Robles for their annual Wine Festival. Friendly people and great wine.

Quince Restaurant

Last week’s night out in San Francisco was magical. And, no, it wasn’t because we found parking within feet of our destination. It was because my husband took me out for an amazing meal at Quince Restaurant in San Francisco. For more than two hours we drank, dined, and relaxed in the comfort and care of a professional staff. Yes, every component of the meal was divine.

I didn’t bring my camera because it was a personal birthday celebration for me, but I can say that every plate placed before us was worthy of a photo. I also didn’t bring a pen or pad but do have a personalized birthday menu.

For a first course I had the Sea Scallop with Fresh Chickpea, Meyer Lemon and Taggiasche Olive and Greg had the Trenette (pasta) with Sweetbreads and English Pea.

For my second course I had the Alaskan Halibut with Crawfish, White and Green Asparagus with Riesling Sauce and Greg had the Five Dot Ranch Beef Ribeye with Oxtail-Potato Croquette, Spring Onion and Bone Marrow.

For dessert, I had a medley of gelato including pistachio, lemon thyme, saffron, and honey and Greg had caramelized Pink Lady apples with yogurt ice cream and sesame brittle.

Needless to say, every thing was presented beautifully, sauces were spot on, foams were used with restraint, and it was a meal to be savored. But the best part was the service. We chatted with our server who we later found out was the restaurant’s captain, Quang Tran, and complimented him on his and his staff’s professionalism. He seemed genuinely pleased to receive our comments and said that they take a lot of time perfecting the front-of-the-house experience. He expressed concern about recent comments on yelp regarding the staff’s aloofness and off-putting air and we assured him that we felt the absolute opposite. The best staff is one that operates without interrupting the dining experience.

We discussed how proper dining service has fallen to the point that the art is almost become obsolete and most diners today haven’t a clue what proper procedures are. Simple standards such as waiting until everyone has finished their meal before clearing plates is hard to find. But you can’t blame the staff. This lack of training comes from the management, and if the management or ownership is uninformed, well then, you’re going to get sub-par service that will be passed around town like a phony twenty dollar bill.

Thanks, Quince Restaurant (and Greg), for a delicious meal that was enhanced by a well-trained exceptional staff.

The Olive Oil Times

I just had my first article published in The Olive Oil Times, a digital magazine covering the world of extra virgin olive oil. I’m excited about the prospect of contributing food-related articles since I would love to eventually develop recipes for the olive oil industry. I practically bathe in the stuff and have been on an olive oil high since the Cobram Estate tasting that I went to last month.

Speaking of Cobram Estate, I just received samples of their premium line and took my first taste. Yum! Mostly Spanish varietals, I can’t wait to hold an informal tasting for friends and get everyone’s feedback. I just hope I can hold off on using the stuff until the date.

In the meantime, enjoy my post and the other articles on this new site.