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Pot Liquor Love: A cornucopia of food stories, past and present, you may have missed


A cornucopia of food stories, past and present, you may have missed. Sample these as part of your summertime epicurean indulgence.

Brought to you by your purveyor of Pot Liquor Love–

©Leo Adam Biga 

A Soul Food Summit | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories
https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/a-soul-food-summit/

Charles Hall’s Fair Deal Cafe | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside …
https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/11/charles-halls-fair-deal-cafe/

Big Mama’s Kitchen & Catering | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories
https://leoadambiga.com/category/big-mamas-kitchen-catering/

Shirley’s Diner | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories
https://leoadambiga.com/tag/shirleys-diner/

A. Marino Grocery | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories
https://leoadambiga.com/tag/a-marino-grocery/

Omaha Chapter American GI Forum | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside …
https://leoadambiga.com/tag/omaha-chapter-american-gi-forum/

The Great Omaha Chocolate Festival – The Reader
http://thereader.com/dining/the_great_omaha_chocolate_festival/

A Culinary-Horticulture Marriage | Edible Omaha
http://edibleomahamag.ediblecommunities.com/gardening/culinary-horticulture-marriage

New film ‘Growing Cities’ takes road trip look at urban …
https://leoadambiga.com/2013/10/21/new-film-growing-cities-takes-road-trip-look-at-urban-farmers-cultivating-a-healthy-sustainable-food-culture/

Eat to live or live to eat, Omaha’s culinary culture rises …
http://thereader.com/visual-art/eat_to_live_or_live_to_eat_omahas_culinary_culture_rises/

A Different Kind of Bistro – The Reader
http://thereader.com/dining/a_different_kind_of_bistro/

JOURNEYS: Within Our Reach: A Starving World – Metro …
http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/November-2014/JOURNEYS-Within-Our-Reach-A-Starving-World/

Pot Liquor Love: Chicken is King at Time Out Foods | Leo …
https://leoadambiga.com/2015/10/28/chicken-is-king-at-time-out-foods/

Southern Fried Love Road Trip Diary I | Leo Adam Biga’s My …
https://leoadambiga.com/2016/06/01/a-southern-road-trip-diary/

Southern Fried Love Road Trip Diary II | Leo Adam Biga’s …
https://leoadambiga.com/2016/08/12/southern-fried-love-road-trip-diary-ii/

Book depicts area whole foods culture in stories, recipes …
http://thereader.com/visual-art/book_depicts_area_whole_foods_culture_in_stories_recipes_pics/

Good Memories and Good Eats – The Reader
http://thereader.com/dining/good-memories-and-good-eats/

Righteous Southern Grub at Dixie Quicks | Food & Spirits …
http://fsmomaha.com/righteous-southern-grub-at-dixie-quicks/

Maria Bonita | Omaha Magazine
http://omahamagazine.com/articles/tag/maria-bonita/

Passing the Torch at the Dundee Dell | Food & Spirits Magazine
http://fsmomaha.com/passing-the-torch-at-the-dundee-dell/

Anne and Craig McVeigh Bring Beacon Hills Take on American…
http://fsmomaha.com/anne-and-craig-mcveigh-bring-beacon-hills-take-on-american-comfort-cuisine-back-to-where-their-food-careers-started/

Doing Things the Dario Way Nets Omaha Two of its Most …
http://fsmomaha.com/doing-things-the-dario-way-nets-omaha-two-of-its-most-distinctive-restaurants/

Chef-Owner Jenny Coco Proves She Can Hang with the Boys …
http://fsmomaha.com/chef-owner-jenny-coco-proves-she-can-hang-with-the-boys/

Mary Current and her Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce | Leo Adam …
https://leoadambiga.com/2017/03/06/mary-current-and-her-crazy-gringa-hot-sauce/

The Long Goodbye for Bohemian Cafe – Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside …
https://leoadambiga.com/…/the-long-goodbye-for-bohemian-cafe-iconic- omaha-eatery-closing-after-92-years/‎

Chef-Owner Jared Clarke Goes Wood-Fired | Food & Spirits …
http://fsmomaha.com/chef-owner-jared-clarke-goes-wood-fired/

Tacos and Tequila Take Center Stage at Hook & Lime | Food …
http://fsmomaha.com/tacos-and-tequila-take-center-stage-at-hook-lime/

A systems approach to addressing food insecurity – The Reader
http://thereader.com/news/a-systems-approach-to-addressing-food-insecurity/

Pot Liquor Love: Chef-Owner Jared Clarke Goes Wood-Fired

April 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Food, wonderful food. If I’m not eating, then I’m thinking about eating, which is to say I’m thinking about food. Writng about food is the next best thing to actually enjoying a good meal because I get to visualize it and challenge myself to describing it, although writing about food on an empty stomach is not recommended because it can lead to overindulging when I do satisfy my appetite. Here, in my latest piece for Food & Spirits Magazine (http://fsmomaha.com/), I feature chef-owner Jared Clarke and his Timber Wood Fire Grill, which is the latest expression of his own journey in food. Follow my Pot Liquor Love food blogging at leoadambiga.com and on Facebook at My Inside Stories. And since food and movies are such a good pair, remember to follow my Hot Movie Takes on the same two social media platforms.

 

Pot Liquor Love:

Chef-Owner Jared Clarke Goes Wood-Fired

Chef-Owner Jared Clarke Goes Wood-Fired

Chef-owner Jared Clarke found a niche with his Railcar Modern American Kitchen in northwest Omaha. With it now well-established, he hankered trying a new concept with Timber Wood Fire Bistro in Countryside Village. Since opening in 2016 at the former site of The Bookworm, this extreme open-kitchen, wood-fired menu restaurant has added a signature spot in the heart of Omaha.

Like many young chefs, the 30-something Clarke is an interesting mix of traditional and contemporary influences. He borrows a little from many cuisines for his take on American comfort food rooted in French technique, all accented by a touch of super-hot oak-fired flame to enhance not obscure ingredients’ optimal flavor.

“The hardest thing as a chef is to choose to follow trends or not. I’ve always done comfort food. I grew up on the farm eating from-scratch meals and enjoyed it. I like making things very comforting and warming to your soul. When I was a young chef I was all over the place because I wanted to learn as much as possible. Japanese, Thai, I’ve learned how to make all those cuisines.”

But he always found himself coming back to comfort food, which has become a ubiquitous descriptor of what countless eateries serve.

“I don’t know if this trend will go away or if it’s even really a trend. It’s always been there.”

Clarke is a rarity in these parts as both a certified chef and a trained food scientist. His knowledge about the chemistry of food pairs with his talent and experience in the kitchen to maximize flavor combinations and freshness.

“I do have a better understanding of things. It helps making better sauces or extracting more flavor out of bones. It’s knowing when to season and not to season. It’s knowing where to start and stop your food. There’s science to back these things up.”

Far from being stuck in a laboratory in his formative culinary years, he began cooking professionally in his late teens. He earned his chef certification at Southeast Community College near his hometown of Fairbury, Nebraska and his culinology degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Unlike other food science students, he had no interest in doing test kitchen work for ConAgra or Kraft.

“My goal was to get better at my job as a restaurant chef. A lot of my professors were like, ‘What are you thinking?’ ‘I’m thinking about making better food.’

In college he worked at Chili’s and Misty’s in Lincoln. After college he moved to Chicago to work at Lettuce Entertain You and Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant.

He made a splash upon returning to Nebraska as executive chef at Blue Sushi Sake Grill in Omaha. Already on the short list of top new local chefs, he announced himself a chef-owner to watch with Railcar.

His coast-to-coast travels across America for business and pleasure find him learning new techniques and trends as well as tried and true things he then melds into what he does at his two restaurants.

“I’m always trying to make myself better as a chef.”

Railcar’s success emboldened him to try Timber Wood.

“I’ve always wanted to do my own wood-fired cuisine – something fully wood-fired, not a wood-fired oven and then finish it off on the grill. I wanted something where I could incorporate a lot of different cuisines with the kiss of the wood flavor. Give that campfire flavor with more refined food. I try to do more French techniques with food off grill in the oven, rather than going straight Midwestern cuisine or doing cowboy style food.

“Some people ask, ‘Why don’t you do barbecue?’ Well, that’s not the idea. The idea is to do more refined food off the wood fire. I’m not looking to smoke the food. I’m not going to be using a hickory or an applewood because I’m not looking to really change the flavor of the food – I’m looking to enhance it. I use oak because, to me, it adds an extra layer of seasoning that kind of sets the food apart. But the roast chicken still tastes like roast chicken.”

He went against the grain of what most of us associate with wood-fire.

“I didn’t want to focus strictly on pizzas because everybody thinks wood fire and pizza. I wanted to do something different here than make pizza like everyone else is doing. We have a small selection of French-style pizzas – pissaladière – on our menu. French-style pizzas don’t have a lot of sauce. Some don’t have any sauce at all – they might just have some herb oil. We use a lot of high-end ingredients on it. It’s not your normal pizza. It’s a cross between Neapolitan style pizza and the focaccia. You have a cracker crust on the outside but it puffs out enough where you get these airy bubbles. It’s chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside.

“The traditional Provencal-style pizza we do has a lot of lavender and thyme, caramelized onions, anchovies, salt cured olives. We do a little frisee salad on top with shaved pecorino and a sherry vinaigrette.

 

Jared Clarke

 

That’s a pretty classical combination for the Provence region. As chefs we have to be food historians, too. If you don’t know where your food comes from or how it came to be that cuisine, it’s hard to understand the food you’re putting forward.”

He became sold on the open-kitchen concept after seeing it in action on food travels.

“The aroma, the food coming out of there, talking to the cooks, having a great time – I thought this might be a fun concept to try in Omaha.

We designed it to give people the ability to sit at the counter or walk by and really see the show. Other open kitchens in Omaha are still closed off to the public – you can’t walk right next to the line and peek in and talk to the guys and interact if you want to.

“Here, you can interact with us.”

The show diners are treated to is a fast-paced ballet of efficient movements by the head chef, sous chef and support crew, variously working at a 900-degree cast-iron grill and oven and on the six-burner stove.

“On a busy weekend we pump out a hundred meals in less than an hour. Customers are like, ‘Wow, you guys are fast. How do you do that?’ They’re intrigued with how we’re able to put food out because they don’t really get to see it anywhere else. To me, that’s the fun part of it – people get to see what we do. When we have 300 or 400 people on a Friday or Saturday night they can see us working hard, getting the orders out right. They see there’s a lot involved with their food.”

Clarke’s impressive chops are an amalgam of his many gigs and stops. He said the local chef community is much more generous today than when he came up.

“You were just doing whatever you thought was right and nobody ever really taught you. Back then a lot of the chefs here were not interested in teaching other people. They felt like if they taught you how to do their job they would lose their job. When I was in Chicago it was the other way around. If they taught you how to do your job, then their job just got easier. It all trickled down. If everyone has the same mentality and you’ve given them the tools to be great, then you don’t have to be there every day.”

Having two restaurants now, he said, is “a little trying.” He spends most of his time these days at the start-up, Timber Wood. He said, “Railcar is what got us here and we want to make sure that continues to be successful, so we make sure we have the right people over there. My ultimate goal is to spend time at both places so nobody feels neglected. Chefs that I have at both restaurants are going to guide things moving forward.

“It’s tough though because you have to figure out where you want to be, what you want to do, and I like being on-the-line. I will eventually be off-the-line a lot more. I want to be cooking more, but you’ve got to manage things, too.”

The satisfaction he finds in his work, which is also a lifestyle, is fundamental.

“It’s the artistic approach to it because I really enjoy being creative. I grew up in an artistic family (his mother was an art and music teacher and his father a farmer) and this is my outlet now in just being creative and free. When I’m on-the-line I’m in a happy place – I’m making food for people, and at the end of the day, that’s what I want.”

He fell in love with locating Timber Wood in the old Bookworm space, he said, because of the “great windows, openness, and natural light.” Following a much beloved business is not a bad thing. “The Bookworm was here for I don’t know how many years, so this space has really good memories and feelings for people. If there had been eight restaurants here I probably would never have come to this space.”

Ultimately, it’s the food, not the brick-and-mortar that matters, and like many of his colleagues he strives for fresh, local, sustainable.

“The biggest thing is making sure suppliers are providing you with the best product possible at the right time. As spring rolls around we’ll start really getting the produce. The goal is to try to bring forth as many fresh products as possible and get it from as close as you can. It supports the community a lot more.

“The amount of options you can buy from has increased. We’re starting to see more cheese, dairy and poultry farms. Ten years ago we didn’t have this even though producers had the ability to do it.”

Meanwhile, as if he doesn’t have enough going on with two restaurants, a wife and three kids, he’s visioning new eateries.

“I already know what they’re going to be. As a guy who used to play a lot of chess, I’m always thinking four or five moves ahead of the game to see what else is available when the time’s right.”

Clarke’s proud to be a player in this ever more dynamic food scene that’s gotten some of his friends and colleagues national attention.

“I don’t think Omaha is a flyover city anymore. People are excited to actually be here.”

Hours for Timber Wood, 8702 Pacific Street, are: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to close on Friday. And 9 a.m. to close on Saturday and Sunday.

Visit https://timberomaha.com or call 402-964-2227.

 

Mary Current and her Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce

March 6, 2017 1 comment

The heat quotient of food is a relative thing but when you talk about certain varieties of  peppers, well, hot is hot, and the only question then is how much heat can you tolerate. Mary Current makes hot sauce. Not just any hot sauce, but Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce. Actually, she makes a point not to emphasize so much the heat as the flavor. Be that as it may, there’s still a definite kick to her sauce, which I suppose is the point when it comes to hot sauce. Anway, the story of how Mary came to turn a homemade brew meant just for her family and friends into a branded product and business sold all over is told in my Omaha Magazine (http://omahamagazine.com) profile of her.

 

 

Mary Current and her Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce

©Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Originally appeared in March/April 2017 issue of Omaha Magazine (http://omahamagazine.com)

Mary Current and her son, Anderson Current, started making hot sauce three years ago. She never planned on being a commercial food producer despite working the front and back of the house at restaurants, studying culinary arts, and being married to a retired food and beverage director. “It just kind of happened,” she says of Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce’s origins. One day this foodie and home gardener decided to make hot sauce from her bumper pepper crop. She had made pico de gallo and salsa, but never liquid hot sauce. Friends and family loved that first spicy concoction and wanted more.

Her four main sauces became habanero, jalapeño, datil, and chipotle, each with notes of poblano, anaheim, vinegar, citrus, garlic, and onion. Specialty sauces have followed. She only arrives at a recipe after much research and experimentation. Finding the right complementary combinations, she says, “is what I really like doing,” adding, “That’s what I get a kick out of. It’s like a gift.”

The initial strong reception got mother and son thinking, especially after the savory micro batches proved popular with Anderson’s friends in Colorado, where he lived with his wife, Constance. The couple worked for Whole Foods. When they moved to Omaha, Anderson helped his mom turn her food hobby into a business. Constance designed the logo with a Medusa-like head sprouting chili peppers. The two shopped the sauces around to trendy eateries like Block 16, and found that chefs and patrons also enjoyed the homemade spicy condiments.

Crazy Gringa has come a long way since Mary cooked and bottled the sauces at home and sold them out of the trunk of her car. Her condiments are now made in a commercial kitchen and are staples at the Omaha Farmers Market, select Whole Foods, Natural Grocers, Hy-Vee stores, and some restaurants. She plans on keeping things small.

Working together allows the family more quality time, which is the main reason why Mary likes keeping it all in the family.

“When we make hot sauce, that’s our bonding time together,” Mary says of her and Anderson. Her husband, Doug, helps with receiving.

Mary also likes maintaining a small operation because it allows her to pour as much of her heart and soul into the operation as possible.

“It really is a labor of love. I’m never going to be rich, but I love to see the joy on people’s faces when we’re back at the Farmers Market and they say, ‘I can’t live without this hot sauce.’”

Just as Crazy Gringa showed up on store shelves, City Sprouts board president Albert Varas sought an area food manufacturer with whom he could partner. He realized these simple sauces with complex flavors have, as their base, items interns can grow and cultivate at the City Sprouts South garden at 20th and N streets. He contacted the Currents and found they shared a passion for building the local food culture.

The Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce maven partners with Omaha City Sprouts on a social entrepreneurship project that may spur more collaboration between for-profits like hers and the nonprofit urban agriculture organization.

City Sprouts South grows various peppers for Crazy Gringa’s signature hot sauces. The boutique company, in return, donates a percentage of sales over four summer weekends to support City Sprouts programs. Meanwhile, Crazy Gringa works with other local growers to supply the peppers City Sprouts can’t.

“We just hit if off,” Varas says. “They are all about community service, engagement, and sourcing hyper-local food with a mission behind it. It was always my dream we would partner on bringing a value-added product to market. It’s a great way to engage our interns.

“The relationship adds revenue and relevance to what we’re doing.”

Having the hand-grown peppers picked and processed in Omaha fits Crazy Gringa’s emphasis on fresh, local, and artisanal. Current also creates limited-run small batches for City Sprouts and other nonprofits to give away as gifts or prizes.

 

Anderson helped build the raised beds for the peppers at the site that community activists turned from a dumping ground to a garden.

Mary loves that her product helps a community-based ecosystem.

“So many kids don’t know where their produce comes from and City Sprouts helps educate them about how things grow,” she says. “Those interns learn how to garden, so they learn how to sustain themselves and their families. We’re happy to support good things in the community like this.”

Interns gain a sense of ownership in Crazy Gringa’s success.

Varas says, “The interns need something to do and something to believe in. One intern, Rafeal Quintanilla, is a mentee of mine and he really digs the idea that he has a stake in the finished product because he waters and cares for the peppers and harvests them. He has pride in being a part in creating this delicious hot sauce.”

The partnership with Crazy Gringa “has far exceeded my expectations,” Varas says, adding, “It’s not just transactional—it’s been an incredible reciprocal experience.”

Mary Current concurs, vowing the relationship will continue as long as she’s in business. “It’s an amazing concept. They’re wonderful people to work with. I can’t think of a better place to give back your money.”

More collaborations like this one may be in the offing.

”I think this is a model that could and should be replicated,” Varas says. “My hope is that we will be able to recreate this next growing season with Crazy Gringa and possibly other food businesses.”

Visit crazygringahotsauce.com

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

 

Pot Liquor Love: Doing things the Dario Way nets Omaha two of its most distinctive restaurants

December 27, 2016 Leave a comment

As anyone who’s even a little familiar with the evolution of the Omaha culinary scene knows,  this burg has seen an elevation in quality and variety of cuisines, especially in chef-owner eateries that routinely push the envelope. One of the leaders in this movement has been Dario Schicke, a native of Bosnia who learned his craft in Europe and New York before making a dramatic impact here, first with Dario’s Brassiere, which continues strong, and now with his second place, Avoli Osteria. Two eateries within a block apart in Dundee, which boasts the best strip of restaurants in town can outside the Old Market, with two totally different cuisines and aesthetics. Dario has a big personality and a big story to match. This is my profile of him in the winter 2016/2017 issue of Food & Spirits Magazine.

Follow my Pot Liquor Love food blogging at leoadambiga.com and on Facebook at My Inside Stories. And since food and movies are such a good pair, remember to follow my Hot Movie Takes on the same two social media platforms.

 

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Pot Liquor Love:

Doing things the Dario way nets Omaha two of its most distinctive restaurants

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appeared in winter 2016/2017 issue of Food & Spirits Magazine (http://fsmomaha.com/)

 

Half measures don’t cut it with Dario Schicke, the Bosnian chef-owner who bears a striking resemblance to Alec Baldwin. Schicke’s helped raise the Omaha culinary scene through a pair of Dundee restaurants dedicated to distinct, authentic European cuisines.

His Dario’s Brassiere and Avoli Osteria located within a block of each other on Underwood Avenue represent unique concepts at the upper end of casual fine dining. Dario’s features a French and Belgian-influenced menu complemented by imported beers. Avoli’s features northern Italian fare paired with wines of the region.

Each eatery contributes to Dundee’s foodie haven reputation. Though widely acclaimed, including a James Beard nomination for Dario’s, they were risky niche ventures made more risky by Schicke adamantly sticking to his vision. He admits he used to be even “more hardcore” demanding things be done his way but he’s relaxed some since putting together systems and staff that execute his vision.

His stubborn refusal to compromise makes sense when you understand all he went through to earn the right to do things his own way. He fled his homeland at age 20 only a few months after the Bosnian War erupted. His refugee experience began in Croatia before he moved to Germany and reunited with fellow refugees who could work but couldn’t travel. He met his wife Amy, a native of Kearney, Nebraska, at a Munich beer house where he worked.

He grew up in a restaurant family in Sarajevo. While surviving in Germany he worked various food jobs. Then he and Amy moved to New York City, where they soon took over a Greek deli that sold imported beers he set about studying. That search led him to train at the French Culinary Institute and he used those skills to transform the deli into a French bistro. The couple planned moving to the south of France when Amy got pregnant. The first of their two daughters was born in NYC. Amy got pregnant again. Then 9/11 happened – with the twin towers collapsing less than a mile away. The business suffered and the trauma led Amy and the girls to resettle in Omaha while a shell-shocked Schicke tried salvaging the business, then searching for a buyer until recouping his investment and joining his family here.

He briefly worked at the French Cafe before landing at the Market Basket. His classically prepared chef dinners found enough of a following that he and Amy invested everything they owned in order to open Dario’s. Its staple entrees and beers set it apart. For less adventurous diners it proved too much an outlier.

“At the beginning it wasn’t easy. I can’t tell you how many people would look at our menu and just walk out,” Schicke said. “We didn’t sell  anything but Belgian beers, That was unheard of at the time. We lost a lot of business but it was the only way I could push our waiters and front of house staff to learn about those beers. All those beers didn’t exist in Nebraska, We had to special order them.”

Some customers resisted the hefty prices but he explained these hearty brews are far different than even domestic crafts. Besides, he argues, you get more for your money at Dario’s.

“Nobody has a problem paying $6 or $7 for a glass of so-so house wine with their meal, but in this case you get 11 ounces of the best of the best beer.”

People who tried it, invariably liked it. The same with the well north of $10 burger and fries, “I knew our burger and fries were going to be a hit because they’re delicious, but if we sold that for $6.99 that’s all we were going to sell. We had duck breast and scallops and mussels and crepes and chicken and pork chop. We brought our sandwich and entree prices as close as we could so we didn’t turn into a burger joint.

But even if you order a hamburger you’re still going to get braisserie service – you’re going to get bread and butter, a huge beer glass and water glass, both hand-washed and polished. You’re going to get all that, plus fries, for $11. Our fries are hand-peeled, hand-cut, soaked in water overnight, then blanched. You get what you pay for. There was nothing to compare to it at the time.”

He recalled a disgruntled customer who complained about a burger, fries and beer costing nearly $30 with tax.

“This guy told me, ‘I’m not happy.’ I was like, ‘Sorry.’ Two days later the same guy came in, even angrier, saying, ‘Damn it. I couldn’t stop thinking about that burger and fries.’ Exactly. So we just stuck with our passion and now the culture’s caught up with us.”

Then, with Avoli, he filled a local gap in northern Italian food. In keeping with that cuisine’s tenets, there’s no pizza or lasagna or spaghetti and meatballs on the menu, rather a curated selection of fresh, homemade and imported dry pasta dishes.

“Both of our places are focused on a region in Europe and that’s what we’ve stayed true to from day one. Dario’s ten years now and three and a half years with Avoli. We don’t change for any trends or influences. That was the idea. As a chef and restaurant owner I really want to commit to the style and region we’re going to represent. We don’t want to deviate in any way.”

He couldn’t have crested more different eateries.

“They are so opposite these two restaurants that I can’t even mix a single person working in both places,” Schicke said. “Everything about them is different. There’s no overlapping menu items. I went so extreme even our security companies and computer systems are different. I didn’t want to open a second Dario’s – I wanted to start       something new.”

Besides, he said, “the only way for me to step outside of Dario’s was to do something else.” With Dario’s already well-established and having a “great crew there,” he devotes more of his hands-on time to supporting Avoli with its complex menu and larger kitchen and dining room. But he still starts and ends every night at his namesake spot, Dario’s.

He, Amy and friends did the interior designs of both places themselves.

“It’s very personal to us. Why pay somebody a lot of money to tell you what you like?”

Schicke’s passion for getting thing right and his hunger for always learning new things finds him taking off to hone his craft at restaurants. To prep for Avoli, he said, “I went to italy and worked in a whole bunch of Italian restaurants because I wanted to do it right. I wanted to do what today’s Italian food is. So I went all the way down deep, from product to menu to how people eat, what they eat, how they source and how we translate that in Omaha.”

There are no fussy fusions at his restaurants. The dishes are created using the same ingredients and preparations as in Europe.

“At Avoli we use only Prosciutto di Parma and Prosciutto di San Daniele. We don’t cut our parmesan, we get a wheel of parmesan every few months that’s about 95 to 110 pounds. It’s like a $1,200 to $1,400 piece of cheese. That’s what we use exclusively. When we grate our parmesan it’s like snow flakes and it just melts into the pasta. It’s a huge difference. We use certified olive oils. We went out and sourced authentic Italian olive oils. We get double zero flour from Italy. San Marzano tomatoes, farm fresh eggs. That’s what we do.”

He acknowledges his ability to adhere to such standards is made possible by the independence he maintains.

“I’m really lucky I have people at home supporting me because it could easily be a situation where partners say, “We could be making a lot more money serving something else.’ But we don’t have investors – we don’t have a lot of people involved. I don’t have anybody telling me what to do.”

If he took shortcuts, it would only spoil things for this perfectionist and traditionalist.

“I do this for passion but also you have to make a living doing it. I have a family to raise, I have a house. You have to be able to build a life around it. It’s exciting and challenging. Running a restaurant, dealing  with business aspects, being creative and cooking every day for two places, not easy, and a lot of times not fun. To mix all that in one bowl, it’s rough. That’s when those Belgian beers come in handy.

“Raising teenage girls – I need stronger than Belgian beer to get over that,” he said, laughing.

In the restaurant business there’s no option but to be committed,

“There’s too many moving parts, it’s too expensive,” he said. “Our art is probably the most expensive art in the world. We have to have heat, air conditioning, plumbing, electrical. insurance, all this stuff to practice our art. You need like a thousand bucks a day to practice, so you have to be smart about it. I tell people, if you don’t have passion, just don’t do it, do something else.

“Otherwise, you’ll get burned out.”

He said the success of his restaurants is simply a function of “our crazy passion and not giving up – we just do what we do and I’m very proud of what we’ve done.”

Even though both places feature staples that never change, Schicke allows himself and his chefs freedom to experiment with new dishes. He recently introduced Avoli staff and diners to Croatian pasta.

“You make like a bread dough, roll it really thin, then bake it. Then you break it into pieces and cook it like pasta, so it’s twice-cooked pasta that has like a bread quality. We’re going to serve goose and the dried pasta’s going to be rehydrated and cooked in those goose juices, with

chestnuts and all that stuff. That’s my comfort food.”

Some inspiration is tied to the seasons. At Avoli, for example, he said, “You get to the summer and it’s all about great olive oil, vinegars, tomatoes, basil. You can’t help it. But as soon as it gets colder, the nights are a little longer, that’s when I shine with flavorful marinades and braises. A little more complex food – using less expensive ingredients and making them luxurious,”

Meanwhile, he’ll keep pushing his skills by guest working in kitchens.

“It’s fun, it keeps me excited, I learn to do things better. Then I come back here torturing everybody with what I saw.”

 

Dario’s, 4920 Underwood Ave.

Tuesday-Sunday, Dinner, 5-10 p.m.

Saturday Brunch: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.

Sunday Brunch: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

402-933-0799

 

Avoli Osteria, 5013 Underwood Ave.

Tuesday-Sunday, Dinner, 5-10 p.m.

402-933-7400

 

Visit http://www.dariosbrasserie.com and http://www.avoliosteria.com.

Pot Liquor Love

August 23, 2016 Leave a comment

 

 

Pot Liquor Love 

Not long after Pam and I began getting to know each other, we discovered several things in common, and some of what we found we both have a real passion for has to do with food. Having been in a previous long-standing relationship with an African-American woman, I already knew that the food I grew up eating and the food that many African-Americans grow up eating share many similarities. This, despite the fact that I am of Polish and Italian ancestry, two cuisines you wouldn’t ordinarily or immediately associate with soul food. But much of the food my late parents grew up eating and that they then weaned my two older brothers and I on is what could be called peasant cooking, which is essentially what soul food entails. The peasant connotation simply refers to the fact that people of little means, whether Polish or Italian or Black, historically make do with whatever is at hand. including what they eat. The humble rooted people on both my dad’s Polish side and on my mother’s Italian side certainly made do with what they raised and tended on the land and with what scraps of meat they could afford to purchase. The same with Blacks, whose soul food tradition derives from what was available from the sweat of their own brow working the land and what they could scratch together to buy.

Thus, the Polish and Italian cuisine I grew up eating, just like the Black soul food cuisine I was introduced to years later, features lots of greens, beans, potatoes, pastas (think spaghetti and macaroni and cheese), grains (barley, rice, grits) and lower end cut, slow cooked meats, including pig’s feet, cheek, hocks,  butt, ribs, oxtails, smoked turkey wings and legs and beef liver, although some of those formerly low cut low priced meats have since become pricey gourmet items. There are pan-fried and deep-fried connections, too, between my roots and Pam’s, such as chicken livers and gizzards. and, of course, chicken.

My mom and dad split the cooking. Their go-to dishes included: smothered pork chops (his), bean soup with hocks (his and hers), oxtail soup (his), braised oxtails (hers), oven-baked chicken (his), beef stew (his), Italian stew (hers), pig’s feet (his), greens (hers),

Pam has expressed surprise over and over again when, upon talking fondly about various dishes her family enjoyed eating, I come right back with, “Yeah, we ate that, too.” She is fairly amazed even now that I have consumed more than my share of ham hocks, for example, and that I still cook with them today. We didn’t have collards, but we did have mustard and assorted other greens. My mom grew up eating dandelions and she’d once in a while incorporate them into our greens as well.

The whole idea behind this mode of cooking and eating is to stretch things in order to feed several hungry mouths without straining the budget. That means lots of soups, stews, casseroles, bakes and concoctions where you throw in everything on hand to make what Pam’s family used to call “stuff.” Every ethnic group has it own variation of this everything but the kitchen sink dish that is more about expediency than it is culinary style. But Pam and I both agree that there’s never a good enough excuse for making something that lacks flavor. We are both big on bold, robust flavors achieved through liberal seasoning and cooking methodology. When it comes to meat, and she and I are both classic carnivores, we prefer slow baking, roasting methods that produce copious amounts of natural pan drippings that we spoon right over the serving portions or that can be the base for rich, delicious gravies and sauces. You might say we are connoisseurs of pan drippings because we appreciate the layered, complex, concentrated flavors they contain.

The resulting “pot liquor” is produced whether cooking beef, pork or poultry, but you have to have cuts that are bone-in and contain some fat, too. Fat and bone, that’s where the real flavor resides, and all the seasoning and veggies you add only help enhance the flavor. Yes, pot liquor is the really deep, fat and marrow released and rendered goodness that gets deposited in those puddles, streaks and bits. We never serve a meat dish without  some of the pot liquor over it. I love that term because it’s so apt to what the essence of pan drippings are. Rendered fat and bone is where it’s at and when enough of it is released and it gets to coagulating and browning to where those alternately gooey and crusty bits collect at the bottom and edges of the roasting pan, it distills right there in the oven or even on top of the stove into a heady, briny brew that really is best described as pot liquor.

Pam knows by now that one of my favorite food things to do is to take a hunk of bread and sop up the smear of congealed pot liquor left on the pan. Oh, my, that is a burst of flavor that rivals the best bites I’ve ever eaten, Not even a 4 or 5 star restaurant can duplicate that taste.

There are other pot liquors not exclusive to meat dishes, such as the brew created by cooking collards with ham hocks. Pam makes some righteous greens with hocks or smoked turkey lumps whose pot liquor is enough to get intoxicated on when sopping it up with corn bread or pouring it over most anything.

With the holidays coming up I am already salivating at the thought of Pam’s roasted turkey – she makes the moistest turkey I’ve ever eaten – and its pot liquor bounty that pairs well with the greens, the stuffing, the candied yams and everything else for that matter.

Sure, there’s more to life than food, but at the moment I can’t think what that might be. Cooking a meal for someone is as true an expression of love as I can think of. It is the epitome of sharing something precious and of delighting in someone else’s pleasure or satisfaction. Pam and I regularly take turns cooking for each other. Her home cooked meals bring me right back to my childhood and early adult years eating at home with mom and dad. She likes my cooking, too. It also takes her back. By now we both know what we like and what we don’t. Our tastes, with a few notable exceptions, are remarkably alike.

On our recent trips down South we experienced a few dishes with good to the last drop pot liquor love. Read those at–

https://leoadambiga.com/?s=southern+fried

Not sure whose turn it is in our couple cooking rotation. It doesn’t much matter though you see because whoever has the duty will be putting out big flavors. That’s what you get when you cook with love – flavor. The one cardinal sin we can’t abide is bland food. That and skimping on the pot liquor. When we sit down to dinner, it’s not so much “pass the salt” as it is “give me some more of that pot liquor, honey.”

I don’t mean to imply the lip smacking magic of our Pot Liquor Love is what keeps us together, but it sure helps.

Pot Liquor Love: Summer Miller’s book depicts area whole foods culture in stories, recipes, pics


“New Prairie Kitchen: Stories and Seasonal Recipes from Chefs, Farmers, and Artisans of the Great Plains”

I am very happy for my colleague and former editor at The Reader, Summer Miller, for the success she is having with her first book, New Prairie Kitchen. She has poured her passion for food and for the emerging Great Plains food culture that Omaha is on the leading edge of into her labor of love book. She has lovingly rendered the stories of chefs, growers and artisans involved in this movement as a way of life. She connected her passion with theirs and the result is a book of personal profiles and original recipes, all beautifully illustrated by Dana Damewood’s photography. My story about Summer and her book appears in the July 2016 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com).  Follow my Pot Liquor Love food blogging at leoadambiga.com and on Facebook at My Inside Stories. And since food and movies are such a good pair, remember to follow my Hot Movie Takes on the same two social media platforms.

 

Pot Liquor Love:

Cover of

Book depicts area whole foods culture in stories, recipes, pics

Summer Miller mines the new prairie culinary landscape

©by Leo Adam Biga

©Photos by Dana Damewood

Appeared in the July 2016 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

Omaha author Summer Miller came to write her Gourmand World Cookbook Awards finalist New Prairie Kitchen in the midst of a life reset.

More than a recipe book, Miller profiles 25 chefs, growers and artisans involved in creating “the new Midwestern table” and its clean-healthy- fresh food credo. Each subject’s represented by signature dishes they provided and by photo portraits Dana Damewood made.

“I knew I wanted to tell stories,” Miller said.

She specifically wanted to share stories of this loose community of creatives she met while researching the book.

“I was passionate about this. I really believed in showcasing Nebraska and these people. I felt it was an act of service to them and to the region and to the whole idea of it. This book for me was always about promoting the people. What I find inspiring about them is their willingness to work against the grain and twice as hard because they believe in what they’re doing. They just don’t do it easy, they do it right. That reinsured me to do that with my own craft.

“I learned so much from the people in it. It was such a growth experience  – both the writing process and the human connections.”

She views the project as a collaborative. Her “thorough’ process entailed multiple interviews. When it came to recipes, there was “back and forth – tweaking, changing, conversation. My name is on the book but it was a major collective effort.”

Miller chose profile subjects – from Omaha Grey Plum chef-owner Clayton Chapman to Hastings Back Alley Bakery owners John and Charlotte Hamburger – who represent “people coming together to try and elevate our food culture.” “You didn’t have to be a James Beard-nominated chef to be in the book. I didn’t care if you had training or not. I cared that you used local products. That was the only filter. If we do something well here, we should use it and support it. They’re our neighbors.” Her subjects extend into Iowa and South Dakota.

Damewood’s photographic approach fit Miller’s vision.

“I needed somebody who could let people be who they were, who could work as a photojournalist and not have to have a studio set for everything, who would handle whatever came to us in the field.”

Miller worked closely with chefs “simplifying and making recipes more functional for the home cook,” adding, “I didn’t expect to become as involved in the food as I did.”

 

 

The project came into focus for the veteran Omaha journalist only after  she left reporting-editing for a corporate job and then got accepted to graduate school, When a chronic back problem required surgery and Miller found herself pregnant, grad school got scuttled. Between post-op recovery, new motherhood and unemployment – she’d quit her job – her old identity no longer fit. The book transformed her. It began with this avid gardener and home cook meshing her food interest with her storytelling instinct. She filed freelance food articles and penned a weekly seasonal eating column. All informed by the emerging farm-to-table movement she felt drawn to. Through Emerging Terrain dinners and other collaboratives, she saw chefs and growers partnering.

“We have this amazing pool of chefs and when they work with producers who understand how to grow something beautifully and at what point the sugar content of this vegetable is just perfect and at what point these greens reach their spiciest peak and the best time to pick them, that really excites these talented people to be creative. That in turn provides us as consumers with really good food.”

The more she surveyed the scene, the more of a local whole foods activist she became. She said, “Being able to eat well and to eat good food can come at the fine dining level and it can also come at the casual level.” Even living in the country and knowing growers, she said “it’s still hard for me to source local food.” That’s why the back of her book includes a directory of local whole food chefs and growers.

Thus, the book and its themes grew out of Miller’s own life.

“I grew up working in gardens. Once I had a family food became even more of a counterpoint in my own personal life. I think the rest of the world is kind of coming along to that, too. This has been going on for years, but it’s just really now hitting the new wave of local food. I really care about home cooking, I care that people do it and I care that people understand you can do it and it doesn’t have to kill you. I really believe families want to eat better,” said Miller, who teaches cooking classes.

Then there are food’s social-emotional dynamics.

“Feeding people has always been a way to comfort others. It lets them know they’re tended to. It’s not new to show people you love them through food. That’s what we do when we don’t know what else to do.”

She rues the family dinner’s become “vilified” in a foodie culture that makes chefs celebrities and eating out the norm.

“I think it’s too bad food today has become elitist. That’s so sad. I don’t think food is an art. It’s a medium and a vehicle and like any medium you need to respect it but you also don’t make it more than what it is. It’s a way to feed people, it’s a way to connect people, it’s a way to nourish ourselves, our souls, our bodies, our families, our relationships, and we need to find our back to that. I’m a home cook advocate – I’m like a defender of dinner.

“I don’t honestly like the word foodie because it puts the emphasis on the food and I believe the emphasis should be on how food brings us together. These things are big to me. Being able to make something nice and to serve my family a meaningful, memorable meal, especially around the holidays, is how I show love.”

 

 

 

She said the pendulum’s swung too far.

“I think it’s great we know what arugula is now, but I think we have to be careful not to elevate food above the people eating it because it’s a means with which to share our humanity with one another and to show love and compassion.”

New Prairie Kitchen’s message has resonated enough that the book went into a second printing within months of its May 2015 release by Chicago-based publisher Agate.

Miller did an extensive book tour last summer. People came out “in droves” to see her and some of the chefs, growers, artisans she had appear with her at several stops.

“I was gone almost every weekend. I was pretty drained by the end of that. I was definitely ready to be home with my family.”

The book brought her to the attention of EatingWell magazine, whom she now contributes to.

She’s delighted some fans use the book as a travel guide to visit featured venues.

This expert author likens the local food culture to where recycling was decades ago. “It wasn’t yet integrated into life but now we all do it. I think whole food will become that as well – it will become what we do.”

“The best thing coming out of this is people learning what food should taste like after decades of having flavors dumbed down. Once you have a truly well-made hamburger and you learn just enough to do it better yourself at home, then you will not waste the time, energy, environmental resources to go spend $8 on a combo meal

“Learning what food is supposed to taste like in its most unadulterated form is the first step in healing ourselves and our families. You have to be able to eat well every day, and you can.”

Follow her at http://www.scaldedmilk.com/about-summer-miller/.

Requiem for the Bohemian Cafe


Requiem for the Bohemian Cafe

 

©by Leo Adam Biga

News that the Bohemian Cafe will close in September leaves me with mixed feelings. Don’t get me wrong, I love the place and all its high-caloric staple dishes, faux motherland decor, kitsch Czech knickknacks, waitresses from another era, and old-line customers who waddle in and out in the haze of an oncoming food coma, I am one of those customers. I was introduced to the place when I was a child. It was a go-to venue for extended family celebrations on my Polish side, which is the Biga side. Like many of you, I grew up hearing its radio ad jingle on KFAB, “Dumplings and kraut today, at Bohemian Café, draft beer that’s sparkling, plenty of parking, see you at lunch, okay?” and I am certain I will never be able to get it out of my head.

The other side of me is Italian (Pietramale) and of course Omaha’s Little Bohemia enclave is only a dumpling’s throw away from the Little Italy district.

More than once a gathering of Bigas occupied the party room at the Bohemian Cafe when I was growing up. It always seemed like a culturally excotic immersion experience. As the years passed, I continued going. It was one of my late parents’ favorite places to dine at. When they finally moved from North Omaha to South 9th Street right across from Grace University, I actually ended up eating more than ever before at the Bohemian. Usually with both of them or one of them. My brothers long since moved away to Colorado and as far as they were concerned the Bohemian was a must stop.

 

 

The owner of the cafe had it right when he told the World-Herald that a restaurant like his is more than just about the food, it is an emotional experience. Emotions easily rule out reasoning. There’s nothing wrong with the food there. For what it is, it is very good indeed. Unique among eateries here, too. But let’s just say it’s highly doubtful more than, say. 10 percent of its menu items are anywhere in the vicinity of heart healthy and maybe 10 percent of its ingredients are fresh, locally sourced, organic. It’s not the kind of place, I dare say, that has relationships with area small famers and purveyors. That’s just not what it does. That’s just not part of its DNA or character. It is all about doing things the same way. That’s both good and bad, of course.

The local restaurant scene has a few old independent holdovers left around who also remain unchanged. I expect they will all soon be gone, too. Not necessarily because the mass of us are choosing or demanding healthier, fresher options, though more and more of us clearly are, but in fact because there are so many more good restaurants to choose from today than 5, 10, 15 years ago, and each with its own indvidual take on cuisine. The options are staggering. And they simply do things at a higher level. Their food may not always taste as good as the Bohemian’s but it’s comfort good done at a fine dining or gourment level. For about the same price.

The Cafe’s owner acknowledged he and his staff are out of touch with the times, including the need for 24/7 social media branding. If I could make it happen, i would choose to keep the Bohemian going, but with some updates and other changes, while keeping the integrity of what sets it apart. The owner has said he would embrace someone taking it over, It’s possible, I suppose, but I don’t see that occurring. I will miss it. You can be sure i will enjoy at least one more authentic Czech meal there, probably one of its veal dishes, soaking up the delectable richness of that pot liqoured gravy, and happily stagger out in the midst of a diabetic onset episode. if you come upon me in the throes of that delirium, please don’t interfere – it is all part of the experience. And so, South 13th and environs loses another anchor amenity (I miss you Marino’s and St. Wenceslaus and Angies and all the rest). But we do have new amenities in the House of Loom and the Blue Barn. We have reactivated amenities in the Burlington Station becoming the home to KETV. Change happens. You lose things, you get new things.

I just don’t know what I’m going to do to feed my kolache fix come this fall. Oh, I know I can find kolaches elsewhere, but the point is they will never be the same. Same with the sweet and sour cabbage and the bread dumplings. Now, kindly join me in a tribute, nostalgic singalong of “Dumplings and kraut today…” while we knock back a cold dark stout.

 

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