I am a professional chef, currently working at Rosalie's Cucina in Skaneatles, NY.

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  • Location: Syracuse, NY
  • Favorite foods: Hopefully what I'm eating and/or making next.

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Cheap eating options in Paris and Italy (Rome, Florence)

@hillymae - I looked for that cafe near the Pantheon, but we never found it unfortunately. Maybe if we're back in the area before leaving on Tuesday we'll try again.

A note for my fellow SE readers planning to go to Italy is that even the mediocre tourist food is passable. The real issue is that you pay so much for food that isn't of the highest quality. But when you compare a slice of pizza at the touristy location right down the road from our hotel (on Quattro Fontane) to the average small town America pizza shop, it's night and day.

I'm going to put together a comprehensive post on my food experiences in Europe, but there's one place that no matter where you are you should hop on a train and get to. La Pergola restaurant on the island of Capri is worth every penny to get there, every step up the steep hill to get to the actual restaurant, and every dime you'll spend on the fresh seafood. For 12 euro my wife had a seafood salad as an app that was surprisingly made out of all sea food (mussels, calamari, shrimp, littleneck clams, urchin, etc) and the crispest and freshest radicchio I've ever had.

My grilled veggie salad was just as fresh and delicious. Most of the veggies served at the restaurant come from their garden on site. And all the lemon (in every form) comes from the lemon grove which sits right next to the terrace seating area. The wife and I shared a whole grilled sea bass for lunch, which we chose from a plate of fish the waiter showed us with the fish that was caught that day. The menu also includes other fish that may or may not have been caught that day, but was likely caught within a few days of it being served.

Essentially this is the place to go if you love seafood. And if you just barely like seafood, La Pergola is where you go to fall in love with it.

Eating & drinking Florence, Tuscany & Rome

1 day in Rome (it's 6am on day two now) and I can recommend highly the Hosteria Romana on Via de Rasella (not too far from Trevi fountain). It's actually a really good first foodie stop in Rome if it's your first visit. The menu is very tourist friendly, along with the traditional offal items of Rome. My wife had a carbonara dish that made her happier than I've ever seen food make her. I went with a mushroom risotto that was flavorful, but nothing too special. The ossobucco on the other hand was so good I have to believe it'd be illegal in America.

We also went into a pizza place that had a guy at the door beckoning us in (something we learned in Paris indicated that you might get decent food for the price, but don't expect anything truly wonderful). I had pizza with pomodoro, fresh mozz, basil, and hot peppers that was impressive for a pizzeria. The white chocolate and coffee tartufo was way above average as well. I don't remember the name, but it was on Via Quattro Fontane.

Cheap eating options in Paris and Italy (Rome, Florence)

Part 1 of the trip is over tonight as we say au revoir to Paris. I'll update everyone with detailed food info after we're all done (too busy exploring right now). But if I can say anything it's to never eat on the Champs Elysses. it's everything overpriced and touristy about big cities. We had a crap meal at L'Alsace that cost us as much for a single entree as two 3 course meals (that are good to fantastic) would cost at a little cafe.

Ravioli press.. kitchen worthy - yes, or no?

I would say it's not really worth it. My preferred option is some Ateco plain round cookie/biscuit cutters. They have the rounded side that you can use to seal the filling in, and even make decorative circles, before using the cutting side to cut the pasta.

But it's not like this is a major investment. I personally wouldn't get one, but I see no reason you should go without.

Eating & drinking Florence, Tuscany & Rome

@bareneed - Will do. Our flight leaves this afternoon, and I've just printed out all the restaurant recommendations from various sources.

Eating & drinking Florence, Tuscany & Rome

The SE community is certainly a great source for this info. I have a ton of stuff from these guys for my trip. We leave Saturday for Paris, Rome, Florence, Capri, Venice, and towns in between. I'll be sure to report any interesting findings when we return.

Whats your favourite breakfast food ?

I like a few slices of homemade bread with a quickly made fruit jam, some cheese, sliced prosciutto, and some melon. or fish soup. Nothing is better for breakfast than a hearty and delicious fish soup.

More often than not I eat pancakes for lunch or dinner, but I'll never say no to pancakes for breakfast.

Can anyone recommend a good burger joint in London, UK?

@katieparla - I'll remember that on my next trip to London. But I'll be in Paris, Rome, Florence, and Venice in a little over 2 weeks. No time for burgers!

How long does pancake batter last?

I would die if I made that much pancake batter. Because the only thing I know about how long the stuff lasts is, "as long as it takes to cook and eat." I had to half my typical recipe because it made a few too many for me to consume.

Restaurant Shenanigans

@bareneed - You're more than welcome to come down and enjoy. The area is a vacation spot for the generally well off (doctors, lawyers, celebrities all have summer homes in the area), but Rosalie's is a family restaurant. Just be in the mood, if you go on the weekend, for a fine dining plate served at a boisterous restaurant.

And our kitchen is wide open, the bar wraps around and turns into the kitchen with the first table being just a few feet away. Feel free to come up and say hi if you're in, I'll be the guy working the grill area of the line.

You also might want to send me a message via email or something if you're coming on a Saturday, otherwise the fish special offering might be what we call "scoop and serve." LOL Basically something that we can do easily over and over without overwhelming the station like a soft polenta. I keep the more intricate dishes generally reserved for weekdays. I get the angry glare from whoever I'm working with that's "picking up" if I go with a risotto on a Saturday night.

Recipes for cookies that hold up well in the mail?

I've never had a problem sending any cookies through the mail. My mom sends me sour cream twists (which are admittedly very sturdy) through the mail if I'm not able to make it down for Christmas.

Lindsor tarts would be good. I've always gotten them at local bakeries down on Long Island and in NYC. So I'm not sure just how difficult they are to make...but here's a link to the first recipe that came up on Google.

If the cookie is delicate you have to package it that way. You can ship glass and delicate breakables without much of a problem if you properly package. All i do when sending cookies is put either a piece of bread or saltine crackers in there to keep everything from going stale. Other than that, I've had no problems.

Looking for Outstanding Cooking Courses for Professionals

If you're really willing to travel anywhere the Cordon Bleu school in Paris does one-off courses for people. Either a lecture for the day where the chef cooks for you and explains, or hands on stuff. I know someone who did the one day pastry course and said that they learned more about pastries in that one day than in years of working within the business.

I'm not sure if the Cordon Bleu's in America do the same thing, but it's something to look into. They're actually really decent culinary schools. Also look into local community never know what treasures you'll find there. A lot of the community colleges in this area have chefs teaching that are CIA, French Cordon Bleu, French Culinary Institute, etc graduates. Cooking is a trade, so you'll find great learning opportunities where you might have thought there wouldn't be any.

I also second doing something really refined and skill based like ice sculpting.

Can anyone recommend a good burger joint in London, UK?

I never had a burger while in England now that I think about it. had horrible fish and chips, sure. Closest I have is the most simplistic, and tasty, roast beef sandwich at the Lamb & Flag. If you get fed up looking for a burger and want a meat-centric sandwich I recommend that. Good luck on your search!

What to do with a LOT of rum?

I'm guessing I'm the only person who thought that they should put on eyeliner, grab a ship, and go pirating on the open seas for a weekend.

Restaurant Shenanigans

@bareneed - I don't know sometimes. I just watched the second episode of that new Jamie Oliver show (I'm press, which is how I've already seen it...I didn't illegally download or anything) and the kids at the school couldn't identify a potato. I can honestly believe that there's a large portion of the populace that wouldn't be able to tell the difference between skate and scallops.

I'm a seafood lover and it's something I take pride in cooking at the restaurant, so the first post in this really pisses me off. I'd like to strangle the chef at that restaurant. Where I work we buy a variety of fish for the daily special, and if it's a more exotic fish (or at least uncommon in the area) we have a whole breakdown of the fish for the serving staff to talk to the customer about. We even go into the details of wild caught versus farm raised, since we'll often get one or the other depending on market price. So someone could come in and get a farm raised salmon on Monday, then come back on thursday and we're serving wild white king salmon...and the servers are well aware of the differences.

I don't expect every place on the planet to put that much care or thought into their fish, especially if fish is just a random choice placed on the menu. But outright deception is disgusting. Mistakes happen, from server to cook, but if you get the same plate with a different protein on it....well, you have to at least wonder.

And running out of the item is absolutely no excuse. At the beginning of service we tell the servers what on the menu we're low on, and they have a sheet to write it down. then we ring a big bell to alert them that we're down to a few orders, and finally when there's two of something (more on a busy night) we ring it again to 86 the item. If we're low on a fish, and going to move to a different one (regardless of price difference), we give an exact count. So we'll say, "We have 12 orders of swordfish to start the evening, then we'll be moving to barramundi." 10 orders or less of any item is given solely to the lead waiter on that night. Out of 50 nights of service there may be one table that orders an item that it turns out we're out of and can't accommodate them on...but if they still want the fish that night, we charge them the price for the fish they get.

Why are professional cooks and bakers so poorly paid?

There are a lot of factors involved. I've recently opted to leave a position as culinary manager at a corporate restaurant, and for hiring purposes I'm given by the company a median paygrade that our region operates at. Which means all of my cooks have to even out to near that number. In order for that to happen a good number of employees have to be making LESS than the number I'm given.

There's also the factor of how much profit the general restaurant makes. I've been amazed at the salary offers I've received. I trailed for a night at Craft Steak, planning on making my big move to the NYC dining scene. After a long night of working in the kitchen I spoke with the chef about a potential job, and when he asked what I wanted to be paid I gave him a number about $5k more per year than I make in Syracuse, NY. Figuring this was a reasonable request considering how expensive NYC is to live in I was flabbergasted when he responded that the best he could do was about $6k LESS than I currently made. I checked around a bit and discovered that this was an average starting rate for higher end NYC restaurants.

Culinary school is a big problem for a lot of chefs. The big schools charge an exorbitant amount for tuition with little to no chance of ever making the kind of money to do more than pay minimum payments on the loan. If you have the desire and can find the right restaurant you don't need culinary school. The value of these schools really lies in the connections you make, which allows you to get into the restaurants you went to school for. I got lucky with the restaurant I work in, where I work with chefs with 20-30 years of experience in fine dining that are eager to share everything with me. They've done the schooling, they've done competitions, they've done every aspect of the industry...and I get to soak in all of that information for free on a daily basis.

If your local college offers a good culinary program (and many do, often being taught by CIA grads) then I say go for it. I have all of the CIA "textbooks" and there's nothing in them that I haven't already learned on my own, or by working in the industry. This is a trade business, and how you learn your trade is a personal thing. Cost, time, desire all factor into your decision.

As for how much you're paid to do the job, you just have to remember that money will come with years of hard work. But love for your life's work is an elusive thing that most people in life never find.

Vegetable Quest: Beets!

Treat the tops like any hearty leafy green.

Beets are extremely versatile. You will have to roast or boil them to utilize in many different dishes since you'll want cooked beets.

I've made beet pesto; beet ravioli; beet, shallot, and basil salad; beet and smoked blue cheese manicotti; shaved beet salad topped with saffron caramelized fennel; beet creme fraiche...and a number of other dishes.

Making a lamb shank tommorow! ANY TIPS OR ADVICE?

I have an affinity for navy beans with lamb shank. I'll usually cook the dried bean most of the way in water, and then finish in the braising liquid.

As for what to braise in, I'd never braise in just wine...although I would braise in just stock. My favorite, if possible, is to make lamb stock and braise the shank in 2 parts lamb stock to 1 part veal stock. With about a half cup of red wine per quart of stock. I also take all the typical stock veggies (onion, garlic, celery, carrot, parsley, etc) and get them a deep dark brown and add them into the braising liquid to impart even more flavor.

It's Spring Break! Girls Gone Wild in the Kitchen-Dinner 3/15?

@leebo - that sounds really light, fresh and incredible. I'll be making that this week.

It's Spring Break! Girls Gone Wild in the Kitchen-Dinner 3/15?

I made a whole roasted chicken (which I brined, and then stuffed with an orange and thyme sprigs). I used the giblets to make a blackberry "gravy" that was slightly purple, and completely delicious. Vedge to go along was some asparagus and maitake mushrooms. I got the oil and butter really hot before adding the maitake, and it sort of fried them up for a really interesting mushroom crunch. And the coup de grace was herb roasted potatoes.

where do you work?

As of Thursday I've accepted a full time chef position with Rosalie's Cucina in Skaneatles, NY. I worked there for 6 months last year, and now they have a vacancy I'll be filling.

The restaurant was opened by Phil Romano (of Fuddruckers and Macaroni Grill fame) for his sister. It's now privately owned and operated by the original manager.

There are a number of "signature" or "family recipe" dishes on the menu including a braciole served with hand made gnocchi, puttanesca, and rappini. Rigatoni with bolognese, which is made with the scraps from the tenderloin, sirloin, and veal that's cut each day. And a ridiculously popular bowtie chicken pasta made with an asiago cream sauce. Every day there's a new fish special, which will be my responsibility to create and execute.

Sides suggestions for Spatchcocked Turkey

@CallieGirl - The easiest way to think about "spatchcocked" is just to imagine a full bird that's been butterflied. You break the back out and flatten the bird, which makes it ideal for grilling or pan searing.

CJ's turkey sounds amazing, and I have no qualms about eating the originally provided sides along with that bird. Perhaps a maque choux would be nice alongside. Or make it easy and grill all of the veggies. Grilled asparagus, white trumpet mushrooms, and cippoline onions would be nice.

decent cheap whiskey?

I say for the people you don't want to serve the good stuff to you just make them gin and tonics with New Amsterdam gin. I'm not much of a hard liquor drinker, except for scotch, and my feeling is you should always have the best you can afford. No blended, aged at least 15 years, and drunk neat.

Jameson is right on the edge of breaking your budget, but it's a good Irish whiskey at a decent price. Might be the balance you're looking for.

Where can I find an oven brick?

Not only will you be able to cook pizzas on a stone for that close to authentic brick oven crust, but if you leave the tile/stone/brick in your oven at all times you'll improve the efficiency of the oven.

What to cook when you are exhausted?

Stir fry is always a great fast option. I'm known to eat a bowl of cereal and some yogurt for dinner when I just want to eat now and am too tired to bother cooking.

Grilled cheese sandwich with gruyere is another fast favorite of mine. Pasta tossed with butter, olive oil, chopped garlic, parsley and pecorino also pops up on my home menu quite often.


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