Thursday, March 28, 2013

Why I'm NOT going to Iron Fork.

I like the concept, I really do.  I'm sure the event sponsors make big bucks from this.  I'm sure the organizers get a huge mark on their resume and there is a lot of media coverage.  What I don't like, is a lot of other things.

At the last Iron Fork I was at, there was a huge mass of people, more people than you could find at a JT and Rhianna concert.  The people, that were there, came in two groups.  I would say that about 90% of the people there were those who were not really interested in trying new foods, flavors and even following up and visiting any of the restaurants or place sin question.  The final 10% are foodies and are all up in doing everything with food.  Those 10% can be seen and picked out as they were dressed in a less business casual but more formal attire.  I saw many foodies talking about the way different flavor combinations worked, what they saw on a recent episode of Good Eats and whether or not they would visit the restaurant based on the few samples they had.

The other huge 90% know that they will get an all you can eat and all you can drink for $45.  I've seen people passed out, outside of the event.  I've seen drunk people yelling and screaming and running through the rest of Union Station.  I have even seen people pushing their way past less dominate people so that they can get more food samples and more drinks in any line.

Is there a way that this could be fixed?  Yes, it uses a velvet rope or chain links barrier or something that would make people form lines.  I've notices that humans have the innate ability to not form a single file line and instead mob in.  If you take 50 people and tell them to get in a line to sample a glass of wine from one representative, the 50 people will not form a single file line, but instead gather around line people do at a bar: line up parallel to it.  Then the people behind that line group up and mob up, so there is no order or line.  That is a tough one to deal with.

This also means that there is no set number of times that someone can sample from the same location.  My wife and I went to this Iron Fork event with VIP tickets right at the start and by 7:30, some vendors were running out of food.  I tried some gooey butter cakes but didn't get a chance to eat some artisan chocolates, because I spotted a large woman get chocolate, eat it, bump her way to the front of the line, get another chocolate, while still holding a half-full wine glass in hand, and then find a friend near the middle of the line and talked her way up to getting a third sample.  The people handing out the food, don't have a set amount that they can give someone and were not told to stop giving sample out to repeat favorites.

The chef and cooking competitions were cool and I love watching healthy and friendly competitions to see what is cooked and what is happening.  I love how the special guest was just a news anchor.  The idea and the event was a goo idea.  I just wish that there was also a dress code.  Seeing girls in tshirts and flip flops at the ballroom at Union Station, while drinking alcohol and complaining that there isn't an indoor smoking section and it is too cold outside, doesn't make the even more favorably memorable for me.

Who knows, though, perhaps this time all of these issues have been fixed and it will not be utter chaos.  Try it out for yourself.  This Thursday night.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Location, Location, Location

While writing for tasty-magazine and for insidestl, I am often confronted with a wall: location.  Most people who follow the site,, do so because they want to see what is happening within the city of St. Louis.  Most magazines and things printed in St. Louis, which talk of places in the St. Louis area, also tend to go, what I think, is way beyond their reach.  I remember seeing the River Front Times mention a pizza shop in Edwardsville for their "Best of St. Louis" category and it made me wonder how a restaurant that is almost 28 miles away from the border of St. Louis, downtown, can be considered for something that looks only at St. Louis.  Well then, does that mean that Six Flags is located in St. Louis as well?  Even though it is in another city, I think it is generally accepted that it is in the St. Louis area.

St. Charles is only 25 miles away from St. Louis.  Does this mean that a restaurant in St. Charles can be up for a "Best of St. Louis" category for St. Louis?  I don't think that should be the case.

Because of this, when I write about things in the St. Louis area that are for St. Louisans to try, I then want to try to keep it within St. Louis. I admit that when I write about other places, I try to preface with the fact that people can travel.  I know that people in St. Louis like to go places and only those who are comfortable in their little house, do not like to try new foods, new things and going to new places.

Did I eat some good BBQ in the Ozarks?  Yes.  And most of the people who go to the Ozarks are form St. Louis.  Did I eat at a horrible restaurant in Austin?  Yes, because they claimed to be a sustainable, seasonal and farm to table restaurant like what so many of our great restaurants offer.

I have to admit that being here in St. Louis, spoils the average foodie.  While I originally thought that we didn't have as much as other cities like Vegas, New York or even LA.  It is true, that St. Louis night clubs attempt to copy those of New York and do so in a miserable fashion that they do not work here.  Also, the amount of variety of food that you can try in Vegas is no where comparable to that of St. Louis.  The Asian areas and restaurants of the areas in LA are way larger than those of St. Louis as well.  But, what is great about St. Louis, is that it has so many different cultures and ethnic food groups, within a tiny space.  It is like going to a food court and seeing almost every country and culture represented there.

I'm a sucker for trying new foods and so far within the past 6 years, I have eaten everything from Bosnian or India to Ethiopian or Nepalese foods.  All of it can be found here.  I doubt that you can find food from Nepal, in Vegas.  I was wrong, there is one location in Las Vegas:  

St. Louis is full of so many foods and cultures that I recommend that you go out there in the next few weeks and when you are thinking of someplace to eat, look up one of these restaurants and try something new.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

St. Louis has nothing to worry about.

The other night, my wife and I had a free night in downtown Austin, Texas and decided that a night out, at one of the trendy and local, seasonal, farm to table restaurants may do the trick.  This restaurant, Parkside, has won awards and attention for their raw bar and oysters as well as their use of sustainable and seasonal foods.   Not for their other foods.  Now, when my wife and I stood there, waiting 10 minutes past out 8:00 reservation, we wondered if it could be as good as other great restaurants in this same category: like Farmhaus.  The answer is 'no'.

The interior of Parkside reminds me a lot of Taste.  It is dark, the lights are high up and everything has dark wood colored tones.  The hostess staff are dressed in black.  There was seating near the bar and more seating in a separate dining room behind the bar in the next room.  What was odd about our wait, was that they seated several people who just walked in and asked for a seat, before us.  So, right off the bat, reservations here mean nothing.  After being sat at a table/booth combo, we were greeted by our waiter who was not very friendly or knowledgable.  He didn't know what the different selections of oysters had in them, where they were from, or even where they were from.  It was odd since this place is famous for their oyster selection.  As we looked at the menu, we noticed that the food was priced a bit high, which would be alright if the food came in reasonable sized portions and were great, but neither was the case at Parkside.  We ordered some drinks, he left and returned with them and then without saying a word, left.  We didn't see him come back to our table for 10 minutes.  Our waiter seemed too occupied with the large table of 8 people next to us, which was odd since they were more than 6 and had an automatic 18% tip added in and would make sense that the guy should work on the tip that wasn't automatic.

There was a good selection of food and as such, we both selected some appetizers.  We were told that the beef marrow dish is cooked to order and would be about 20-30 minutes and since after we waited 10 minutes for him to come back, we figured that the 20-30 minute wait wouldn't be that bad.  So, while we waited, and waited, finally our starters came out.  The first one that came out was the Kampachi, which was pieces of fish with some blood oranges and ginger for $12.  We thought it would be a good sized plate for $12.  This was it:

Was it any good?  Neh.  The blood orange segments completly ruined any good flavors from the dish.  So, would we order it again?  No.  It stands at a 2 out of 5 stars.

I'm thinking that I made a good decision and set off to accept my Potato Gnocchi with sunchoke butter, arugula and a citrus gel.  This is what I got:

Someone needs to go back to cooking school.  Gnocchi are supposed to be a little firm, a gummy, toothsom texture, like al-dente' pasta.  Guess what this was? Mushy.  They tasted like someone mashed some potatoes and then cooked them in little balls in boiling water, like you would cook spaetzle.  They were flavorless and not seasoned at all.  I tasted not even salt or pepper.  The sunchoke butter was super sweet and there were these orange segments which were tart.  The citrus gel, was a runny sauce.  If you say that something is a gel, then it better be a gel, not a runny sauce. Here's the thing, if myself or my wife can make food better than what we pay for at a restaurant, then the restaurant did a bad job on it.  This is a 2 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.  For $10, I'd say that the price was a bit high.

As we are still waiting for the marrow bones, we got one of the other starters which my wife had ordered.  She picked out the Caramelized Cauliflower with chili, calabrese and capers.  This was for $7 and we had a small plate here: 

So, we paid $7 for partially cooked cauliflower and a few capers.  What was most promanint about the dish was the large leaf of parsley there, for no reason.  A 2 out of 5 stars.

So, finally Marrow Bones comes out with an herb salad, a whole $14.50.  This is what is delivered to us:

First thing, flat leaf parsley leaves, strewn over the bones with some bony fescue, is not an herb salad.  Second thing is, that when something so rich and fatty is served, something that is tart or acidic should be served with it.  Traditionally the greens are tart or sour and there should be some vinegar; even a simple dressing that should go with this dish.  But there was none.  It was fat on burnt toast.  The fat was also quite boring.  At Truffles, a St. Louis restaurant, when we last ordered some beef marrow bones there, they cooked them, then scooped the marrow out, mixed it with herbs and spices and then placed it back in the bones for presentation.  So, they were not boring as in this place  I love my marrow, I really do, but this was just good, like a 3 out of 5 stars.  Its just that for the price, we expected a bit more time and effort.

The last dish was the real winner of the evening.  I figured that what looks like to be the strangest item on the menu, should be the best one to pick.  So, I ordered the Grilled Hill Country Rabbit with roasted carrots, green garlic spaetzle, carrot puree' crema, and red wine vinegarette for $24.  

Does it look like rabbit?  The rabbit, is in these disc shaped patties.  They had what tasted like bacon, wrapped around them and the whole thing tasted like bad tasting ham.  Really.  I know that rabbit does not taste like ham, so why did it taste like turned pork or salted and brine-marinated pork.  The meat was awful and even if they made a mistake and gave me ham, it was so salty, so terribly salt, you could kill a room full of slugs with one bite.  So, let's look for the carrots.  There is one that is bright orange, in the 6 o'clock area of the photo.  At about the 9 o'clock area are two more carrots.  These were more roasted than the other one and even worse is that the two dark roasted ones, were so burnt that there was no flesh there to eat!  The green garlic spaetzle, were the best part of this dish.  I ate every one of them and if you could take one part of this dish out and separate it, I would take those.  They alone were like a 4 out of 5 stars.  They were awesome and I really did eat every one.  It was just sad that it was so salty and I couldn't eat it.  I will say this: this is the last one.  My wife kept egging me into returning the dish, because it was so bad.  I told her it was okay, but after this, restaurants look out, I will ask to return items that are bad or suck.

My thoughts?  Parkside sucks.  Parkside is also supposed to be an award winning restaurant and award winning restaurants need to be good.  So, for St. Louis which has a number of award winning restaurants which pop up all the time, they have nothing to worry about.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Illinois Horseradish - By: Chef John Johnson

A horse of a different flavor

While most people know Horseradish only in the grated form from a jar and use it to make cocktail sauce and horseradish cream to eat with Prime Rib. Which by the way is one of my favorite cut of meat; we will save that for another day. Fresh horseradish root can be used in so many ways. In contrast to its name horseradish is not a radish at all and has nothing to do with horses. Some think the name came from the English translation of the German word “ Meerrectich” which means sea radish. The prefix “meer” is pronounced mare, giving the English translation as horseradish.

The horseradish is related to cabbages and mustard greens with its pungent flavor and distinct heat you may  have wondered if it had anything to do with the Japanese wasabi you get when your order your favorite sushi. Good wasabi is made from a root from Japan that is a cousin to horseradish but is much more expensive to cultivate so for this reason green coloring is added to horseradish to make commercial wasabi.
Did you know? Collinsville, Illinois is considered the capital of horseradish and holds a horseradish festival May 31st to June 2nd. This is a great way to see and taste this horse of a different flavor.  While, in most cases horseradish is used as an additive to spice up a dish rather than a main attraction. I have two recipes for you that will show you its diversity and hopefully give you some ideas to play in your kitchen.

Horseradish country Fried Steak
Beef tenderloin 2 (4 oz) portion
Garlic crushed 1 glove
Grated horseradish 1 ½ tsp
Salt         ½ tsp
Black pepper 1 ½ tsp
Smoked paprika 1 tsp
Milk         1 cup
Eggs beaten 2 each
Butter 4 tbl

White gravy
Italian sausage ½ c
Onion diced 3 tbl
A/P flour         ½ c
Milk 2 ½ cups

Add garlic and horseradish to milk and place steaks in for 45 minutes to marinate. While steaks are marinating add dry ingredients to flour mixture and set up a standard breading station. Heat you fry pan to medium high and add butter. When butter it hot, dip steaks in egg mixture and dredge in flour mixture to create an even coating. Repeat. Place breaded steaks into hot pan and brown on both sides. Remove from pan and place on paper towel to remove excess butter. While pan is still hot add breakfast sausage and onions cook until sausage in brown. Reduce heat to low, add flour and cook stir constantly until flour is cooked, should take about 4 to 5 minutes. The flour will start to have a nutty aroma. Add milk and let simmer for about 10 minutes until sauce is thick. If it is to thick add water until you have the desire thickness.
I like to serve mine over roasted potatoes and carrots which have been seasoned with simple salt and black pepper.

Pickled Horseradish
Horseradish (thin sliced) 4 c
White vinegar ¾ c
Sugar 2 Tbl
Pickling spice 3 Tbl
Salt         1/2 tsp

Place all items except for the horseradish in a pot and bring to a slow boil. Clean horseradish very well with warm water and a small brush to remove all dirt. When liquid is ready slice the horseradish with the skin on very thin until you have 4 cups. Place in a bowl and pour the hot liquid over the horseradish and let cool. Refrigerate for an hour.

Note: Horseradish will get hotter the longer to let it sit after cutting. So, to control the amount of heat I want is why I do not cut the horseradish ahead of time in this recipe. I want the flavor without the intense heat. This pickled Horseradish is great on a steak sandwich or as an accent for the country fried streak. I have even served it on its own as a snack.

By: Chef John Johnson

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A bacon party!!!!

Everyone, bacon comes this weekend. It is the St. Louis Baconfest, started by Lumiere and River City Casinos and it is a large event, downtown, St. Louis, this weekend. It is a 3-day festival filled with music, food and bacon.  Besides having dozens of vendors to sample their restaurant and bacon creations, there is even a bacon cook-off.  The best part of the event, is the 500 pound bacon creation made from Chef John Johnson.

For more information, check out their website:

Here's a picture from Chef John Johnson's baco taco article which was published earlier:

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Do you want to be on tv?

I would say that the easiest way to get onto television is to just be filmed doing something you do anyway.  But, what could that be and is there an opportunity coming up?  Yes.

The St. Louis Soulard Market announced a few weeks back that Andrew Zimmern will be there in March to film an episode part for his show, Bizarre Foods America.  Now, for those of you who don't know or follow, Andrew Zimmern is the guy from the show that eats bugs.  (Or that is how my son puts it.)  Andrew believes that the best way to experience a culture is through the food and he made many years of episodes of him traveling the globe to cities and countries large and small, eating anything and everything.  He always tries everything at least twice and always shows the best manners.

After his show Bizarre Foods, he started a spin-off, showing strange and unusual foods in places in America, bringing the show that much closer to home.  He is on his 3rd season and he has been to cities as large as Las Vegas and as small as Sitka.  It is interesting, because most travel shows, celebrity chefs and the like view St. Louis as nothing more than an airport hub; which is sad.  I like the way St. Louis is now but would love for it to have the recognition it deserves.

What is at Soulard?  Well, being the oldest outdoor market West of the Mississippi, props needs to go into that history.  Then, as odd as some may think, our market has almost every type of meat available.  From alligator to muskrat, it can be found at Soulard market.  So, what will he try?

Now, if you want to be there and see him and be one of the extras behind him when he eats all sorts of things, then you need to camp out Soulard on Saturday.  His crew didn't give me a time that he will be there, only Saturday.  But since the market is usually dead and closed down by 1 or 2 in the afternoon, I would say to go there early.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Eat like a caveman!

The newest diet craze is a fun one that can get history buffs arguing and talking for hours.  This is called the Paleo Diet.  The diet is named after the diet or the regular foods that someone during the Paleolithic age would have eaten.  The main site, of the person who brought up this diet, has evidence to support his diet theory that suggests that the version of the human being that lived during the Paleolithic age, was the most perfect example of a physically fit human.

In its roots, the diet is very correct as human beings tend to be more healthy with regular exercise and whole foods without antibiotics, growth hormones or other chemicals and artificial things added in.  Of course some wild strawberries are better for you than some store bought strawberries that were picked green and then gassed to look red.  But, as science has already shown us, organic is not necessarily better.

The diet looks at what human ate from about 1.5 million years ago to 10,000 years ago, which they consider the end of this age due to the introduction of agriculture.  The diet consists of "mainly fish, grass-fed pasture raised meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, fungi, roots, and nuts, and excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, potatoes, refined salt, refined sugar, and processed oils."-

Some of you may start thinking... "but some ancient civilizations had things like sugar, potatoes and even oils."  But then you would be one of the antagonists of this diet.  (One of the many.)  Medical experts, dietitians and even anthropologists have argued against this diet.  The idea that people were healthiest while being a hunter/gatherer isn't entirely accurate when one looks at the diseases, physical issues or even decreased life span, compared to modern peoples and diets.  Another issue with this diet is that evolution has shown that  the human body needs some things such as salt, for cell osmosis, sugar, for cell regeneration, and oils for brain and nerve development. 

Some issues that some contemporaries have noticed points to some origins of foods which contradict what the diet points to.  For example, the potato was first introduced as a food source in Peru around 10,000 BCE.  This would suggest that potatoes were available for Paleolithic people.  Also, a history issue is that Neolithic peoples in Southern Europe or even what is now Greece, who had civilizations around 10,000 BCE, may have had access to olive oil, which isn't considered Paleolithic diet appropriate.  (Even though some Paleo diet experts are suggesting that cooking with oil is advised anyway.)  Water is the only allowed drink and all dairy and carbohydrates are not allowed.

Now, while this is being considered a "fad diet", much like the "South Beach Diet", I would advise that if you wish to follow this you do it carefully.  Every commercial diet plan, quick weight loss concept or miracle diet pill shows only those with the greatest achievement of the plan but never those still working.  Have you ever had a friend or known someone who was on a diet for more than a year?  Sometimes diets work differently on different people and as such means that while that woman on the infomercial may have taken 2 of those magical weight loss pills and lost 200 pounds, that may not happen to you.  So, with this diet, be careful and be warned that if it doesn't seem to be working, try something else, but by all means, please read all you can on any diet or plan before you jump in head first.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The “Baco” Taco---By Chef John Johnson

Last month Tim Ezell asked if I could create a Bacon (Baco) Taco and bring it to his show on Fox 2. The bacon taco is taking America one state at a time. Originating in Philly where the great food icon the Philly Steak hails from. This creation has even found itself on SNL in New York City. 

They say everything is better with bacon, so I decided to accept the challenge and play with bacon in the kitchen. To see what we can come up with. 13 slices later and 42 taco shells broken we finally mastered the art of bacon creations. A creation best eaten at 2:30 in the morning or after several beers into a 7th inning stretch, this will satisfy anyone who has the munchies.

Take 13 slices of your favorite bacon and weave them together.

Placing them on a sheet pan with a foil ridge in the middle to create that infamous taco shape we all desire. 

Bake at 350 degrees until bacon begins to be crispy. Approx. 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

Fill with your favorite taco ingredients and chow down!  Now you have a monstrous 1574 calorie “Baco Taco”.

I am thinking of putting this in one of our restaurants. At the Beer House inside RiverCity Casino we took the Philly favorite “Cheese Steak Sandwich” and made it better with STL famous provel cheese. 

With “Baco” Taco Tuesday! We could make this little Philly’s bacon taco an icon in St. Louis. What are your thoughts?

By Chef John Johnson