I want to become a better food, wine and cocktail writer. But how can I do this? To achieve my dream, I've taken on a role much more suited to a man half my age. Food writing is a job that has always come very easily to me. Maybe it is because I had a part-time European upbringing and I spent nearly a decade behind the stoves.
There was always an emphasis on fine wine and food in our home. The same holds true for wine writing and especially my specialty, cocktail writing and creation.
Many of my peers in the food writing world are very talented home cooks. Some have even written cookbooks and still others are authorities on various world cuisines. However most of these authorities know about food strictly from a purely voyeuristic perspective.
Restaurant work is brutal both physically and psychologically. I believe that in order to become a more informed voice as a food writer, I had to find myself a unique niche as that writer. I've done so by securing a position at the Ryland Inn.
To experience the passion of this gleaming new restaurant, you must experience it from the inside out.
Sure you can dine out at the best restaurants in the land, plenty of my peers treat eating out like I treat Twitter. (Like an Olympic event)
I believe to truly speak of yourself as a food authority you have to know about all aspects of the industry, not just dining out. Cooking food in a restaurant setting should be a big part of this experience, I'm sure of this.
Cooking in a restaurant is like no other job in the world. I will go on record to say that after working in the highly competitive, corporate world of private banking for nearly twenty years- restaurant work is much more difficult and certainly more stressful.
If you don't have a passion for food, then you can never become a chef.
I started a couple days ago doing bar-back work at the Ryland Inn. Hauling ice, stocking the bar- making sure the wines by the glass are "married" and the backup bottles are stocked. Juices are freshly juiced and everything done amazingly quickly by the time that the first guest walks in the door. The bar at the Ryland is quite creative in nature, led by Christopher James and his ultra-talented and easy going compatriot at the bar, Marc Hudacsko. I assisted both lighting fast bartenders this past Saturday night and by the comments they imparted to me at the end- I did a fairly good job of it.
It's been roughly twenty-five years since I've experienced a Saturday night dinner rush, and I was truly humbled by this experience. (Thank you) From the moment that we opened to the minute we closed I was doing something and feeling something that I hadn't felt since I was in my mid-twenties.
And this was truly scary!
You have to continue to move or be moved. The restaurant business on this level is a well oiled machine, made by hand- with love. It shows by each action not a reaction.
Passionate, smiling and confident inside is what it means to work in a restaurant of this caliber. You must keep your cool, even as all about you is a flurry of "behind you" and "watch your back" whispered just below the din of contented guests.
The dining room is in slow motion- while the able and caring service staff move with a defined and with an often, highly choreographed, balletic ease.
The bar fills up early with afternoon drinkers, then come the walk-ins without reservations to relax and possibly eat at the bar or wait (while drinking) for a most coveted table. The Ryland Inn is all about relaxation and extreme attention to detail. Each guest is served a toasty hot cup of cider on their entry to smooth their palate into that rarified comfort zone, where customer becomes a trusted guest.
At the bar, this commitment to excellence in service is apparent. Each cocktail is carefully crafted from the most mundane Cosmopolitan to the huge chunks of ice that grace tumblers of bourbon hailing from great lineage. No, they don't have Pappy at the bar, but they do have some other surprises. I suggest that you come in for a drink.
The Ryland Inn, located in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey a laboratory of gastronomy. Be it of a cocktailian nature or most certainly the food.
Anthony Bucco, is the Executive Chef is backed by his highly competent yet soft spoken- Chef d'Cuisine,Craig Polignano in their desire not just to feed, but to sate their guests.
They are doing amazing food that speaks clearly of the quality of the ingredients. And in keeping with this philosophy, each meal can be pared with wines that exemplify the subtle nature of their most individualistic and expressive style of cooking.
Wine is also a most important element at the Ryland Inn with many gems to experience on the carefully curated list.
Make a reservation, they're on Open Table.
Experience is what makes a restaurant a success. (To be continued...)
A Rum Tasting (highly unscientific)
They say rum followed sailors around the world. Where there are bodies of water, there is rum.
Two new rums to our shores in the USA are Old Port from India and South Sea Rum from Australia.
Upon opening the old fashioned bottle of Old Port Rum I was immediately struck by the aroma of toasted green coconuts, sweet orange zest and vanilla paste. White flowers expand on the front of my palate and the 40% by volume alcohol level is not overpowering to the tongue. This is a Deluxe Matured Rum (by the label) and it has a very rich, almost thick mouthfeel. It's said that sugarcane was first discovered in India. This makes perfect sense by the quality and finish on every sip of Old Port Rum. The Amrut Scotch Distillery is responsible for filling my mouth with a spice laden slurp of the highest order. I took Treasure Island off the shelf and quote:
" There were nights when he took a deal more rum than his head would carry; and then he would sometimes sit and sing his wicked, old, wild sea-songs, minding nobody; but sometime he would call for glasses round, and force all the trembling company to listen to his stories or bear a chorus to his singing. Often I've heard the house shaking with yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum; all the neighbours joining in for dear life, with the fear of death upon them, and each singing louder than the other, to avoid remark." (Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson)
Old Port Rum is gorgeous stuff. Dreamy really. My head is suddenly filled with ship tales and stories of the high seas. What did the sailors drink on the Pacific? Rum!
My glass is completely filled by one cube of ice from the Mavea "Inspired Water" pitcher. Yes, it freezes nearly completely clear, without boiling first. The unique filtration system removes all the particulates that cloud ordinary ice. I love the creamy nature of this water and my glass is always topped off with an extra cube for good luck.
Old Port Rum loves a splash of Q-Tonic Water to release the hidden secrets of this dark and spicy spirit. I don't use the tonic to change my cocktail, I use it to make it better. Cane sugar, like my rum is the key ingredient in Q-Tonic Water. You can taste the difference!
South Sea Rum
If you think for a second that sailors in the South Seas only drank beer on their long voyages, you'd be mistaken. Rum is a most durable beast and the thirst of sailors the world over understand the value of rum as something more than just refreshment. Each sip of rum connects the sailor with every sailor who plied the oceans before him. South Sea Rum is handsomely bottled in an etched bottle with a silver medallion on the front of a pot still. A sailors compass graces the front of the bottle and the lettering is script, etched into the finish of the clear bottle. The style of the bottle is similar to high end gin with the toasted hazelnut color of the liquor not covered up by unnecessary labels or marketing blurbs. The first sip reveals a core of dark wood with a purity of toasted nuts and a backbone of caramel corn. There is a spice and citrus element to this rum along with distant smoke and a spicy underpinning that says sugar cane spirits. South Sea Rum is also 40% by volume- both these rums are different than their counterparts from the Caribbean.
The Old Port Rum is like a salted caramel while the South Sea Rum is like a pillow of dreams. In this case the dream is the purity of the ingredients.
Take a nice short tumbler glass. Add one Mavea "Inspired Water" ice cube. Add a twist of a Meyer Lemon. Add a healthy splash of Q-Tonic Water (to stave off Scurvy) and sip. There is a softness of this rum. It's not harsh in any way. A punch would be lovely with the butterscotch elements revealing themselves long after you've swallowed your tot.
A fine tot it is! I'm a fan!
Warren Bobrow is the Food and Drink Editor of the 501c3 non profit Wild Table on Wild River Review located in Princeton, New Jersey.
He is one of 12 journalists world-wide, and the only one from the USA to participate in the Fête de la Gastronomie- the weekend of September 22nd. 2012 in Burgundy.
He attended Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans in 2011/2012.
Warren presented freestyle mixology at the International Food Bloggers Conference in Portland, Oregon. (2012)
Warren judged the Iron Mixology competition at the Charleston Wine and Food Festival (2012)
Warren has published over three hundred articles on everything from cocktail mixology to restaurant reviews to travel articles.
You may also find him on the web at: http://www.cocktailwhisperer.com
Warren is a published food writer and former cook.
He's written food and cocktail articles and news for Edible Jersey, Chutzpah Magazine, Voda Magazine, Tasting Table, Serious Eats and Total Food Service Magazine.
Warren attended the Kentucky Derby and the Oaks Day Races this year while on assignment for Voda Magazine.
He writes for the "Fabulous Beekman 1802 Boys" as their cocktail writer. (Klaus, the Soused Gnome)
He writes for Williams-Sonoma on their Blender Blog.