Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Victor Decker: One Hell of a Guy

I almost always write about food.... sometimes food doesn't matter.... The following is my thoughts over the last couple of days.... My friend, and loyal police officer, Victor Decker - Gonna Miss you buddy....

We all have our own memories and stories.... laughs and jokes....tears and sadness. Especially now. Never more than now....It is hard to sum up a man's life in a couple of words, or paragraphs, and this certainly won't do any justice - writing has always been my escape, and I would much rather marvel and dance in the light of his life with these words than accept the painful truth that we are all dealing with in the loss of a great man, Victor Decker. For me, I heard the news and like, just about everybody, refused to believe it. Coping with death is something we all do differently and there certainly isn't any right or wrong way to cope. All I know how to do is appreciate the life that has been taken and somehow try and merely focus on the positive that this life represented.

It will take a couple of weeks working at Baxter's those same hours Decker was patrolling the streets, to finally believe and accept that he is gone. Right now, as I scribble away here in the office at Baxter's, I think that if things were different, he might be out at the bar joking around with customers and playfully giving my staff a hard time. That was his routine he almost nightly came in to check on things at Baxter's, where we would catch up on life, his newborn baby, or the progress of our sandwich shop, the 3Way Cafe, which finally opened back in May. When we did open the cafe he religiously ordered our "Pilgrimage" sandwich and over the course of his lunch moaned and groaned about the pains of having to sit through court, especially since he most likely worked until 3AM the night before. He always parked that F150 right out front, and it is hard to look at the pictures from the scene of his death where that truck is mounted on the tow truck - Shouldn't that convince me? I just don't want to believe, or come to grips with it, because its one of those things I will never understand.

Victor was exactly what a police officer should be - a public servant. He was fun and approachable, though took his job and responsibilities seriously - his accolades speak for themselves. Above all else, he cared - not just about us - his friends and the community, but he cared about anyone he could help. When he stopped by the restaurants, it wasn't to check in on and keep tabs on anybody - it was the opposite. It was to catch up on life, to tell us about the 3 hours of sleep he got the night before because of the baby crying, or to tell a joke. If I ever needed help downtown at the restaurant, I sent him a text, knowing if he was working I'd have an answer within minutes. If not, he was probably at home asleep, and in which case I reached for the house phone to call the police non-emergency line. I wasn't the only one - all of us bar managers had him on speed dial, and that wasn't because he was a loyal, and respected police officer, it was because he was a friend. It is incredible when you think about the relationship Victor Decker had with downtown Norfolk, and especially the bar and nightclub scene. He was omnipresent, and looked out for everyone's best interest, and above all a true servant.

One night a waitress of mine had too much to drink, a situation that unfortunately happens all too frequently in this industry, and Victor stumbled upon her bar hopping down Granby Street, and instead of charging her with being drunk in public or giving her a hard time, he escorted her over to Baxter's where I met the two of them. He and I made eye contact and he broke into an unforgetable grin, "She's all your's now - I'm done babysitting for now. When her old man gets here to drive her home, tell him to leave my check for babysitting...." We chuckled, and he wandered back to his bike where he was off to log another couple of miles, before the night was over. He was always proud to mention the number of miles his bike had logged since he began riding it back in January, and as we were closing up, Victor passed back by, and stopped in to make sure that my waitress did, in fact, make it home safely. He didn't have to do that. He wanted to....because he cared. He genuinely cared, and that seems all too rare these days. Take this story of compassion, and multiply it across all of downtown Norfolk and that is how Victor Decker will be forever remembered.

About five months ago, when we were in the process of opening our sandwich bistro, The 3 Way Cafe, myself and the other partners were working long, 18 hour days. Daryl Bresach one of the partners, along with myself calls this last summer, the "Summer from Hell". It was the night before opening the shop and all day we spent, with friends and restaurant employees, putting the finishing touches of paint on the walls, hanging the various pieces of art around the restaurant, and doing all of the last minute things that barely ever get done before opening. We finished around midnight with blood shot eyes, and drained immune systems. For three months sleep was an after thought, but we wanted to show our appreciation to our friends who were able to help make this day a of becoming a restaurant owner a reality, so we wandered over to one of the local bars where we treated our generous friends to a couple of cold beers and a round of shots. My body was tired from the long weekend managing at Baxter's, and any other time was spent at the sandwich shop trying to tie up loose ends. I knew the morning would be here before too long, and the last thing I wanted was to spend the first morning at the new restaurant hungover. I wandered over to my car and began the trip home, to Chesapeake with a slight buzz, which turned out to be a bigger buzz than I perceived. Flashing police lights lit up my rear view mirror and I appropriately pulled my beat up Lexus over to the side on City Hall Avenue. The officers did their duty, and I tried to explain my hellish day, my forgetting to eat dinner, and offered to stay at 3 Way Cafe, a mere block away, to sleep it off. Within five minutes there were three police cars at what you thought would have been a drug bust, or worse. I was asked to step out of the vehicle, and I blew into their breathalyzer, which of course is standard operating procedure. In my mind all I could think about was where the hell is Decker, he's gotta be out tonight..... It turns out he wasn't out. He was at home sleeping. I told the officer who pulled me over that I was the manager at Baxter's at the beginning of the ordeal, and pleaded for mercy. It turns out that the officer, without my asking, called Victor Decker at 2 AM and was sound asleep with his beautiful wife. The baby would be waking in a few short hours, and he almost always religiously turned his cell phone off, in order to get a good, uninterrupted night sleep. "He's a good guy, a real good guy - tell that knucklehead to take it easy and that he owes me a free sandwich if that sandwich place ever opens."
"Turns out its openning in the morning, get some sleep buddy."

Well, sure enough Victor Decker came in that first week we were open and ordered the "Pilgrimage". I noticed him, though didn't want to make eye contact with him, since I felt the kind of disappointment equivalent to that of letting one's parents down. He smiled at me, I walked around and gave him a big hug. All he did was shake his head and smile. The officers didn't know that I knew Victor Decker, they did however know the relationship he had with all of us, all of us restaurant people downtown. They knew if I was a guy worth giving a break, then Victor would know and vouch for me. I didn't deserve this, its simply the kind of guy he was. He was selfless, larger than life, and will always be a part of this street. I still don't have the words to express my sadness and anger and pain. The only hope is that time will heal, and with time we will all be stronger. Now all we can do is give time, time and remember the joy he brought to all of our lives, and if nothing else encourage the public servants we know in each of our lives to use him as an example. Hell, if they did, this would be a much better place. See you on the other side my friend. Thank you for everything.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Deep Thoughts Analogized with Soup.... ha.......

Creamy Potato Soup with Havarti, Crispy Pomme Frites and Chive Oil - Recipe Below

There is something special and eternally gratifying about creating a meal.... Think about it - whether you are cooking for yourself, your loved ones or patrons at a restsaurant, the end product, whatever makes its way onto the plate or into the bowl is your creation - it will never be eaten nor exactly replicated ever again.... Sure there have been a million Cream of Potato Soups - some of which are very similar to mine, but none identical. Perhaps I am looking too deep into all of this or maybe I merely using this as an example of merely one facet of my life - our lives... So work with me here.... take that idea and spread it across your life, community, country, culture religion and the world. If you take this idea across the idea of human nature and through the spectrum of life which are defined by inherent emotion and worth, you recognize how incredibly distinct every person is with the choice to create their own future...We are continually defining it and creating our own "dishes" every day....Why not try and make it a good one..... So here, I am making an analogy in relation to soup which could potentially come across silly, though the soup is very tasty soup, and one I am proud to serve - whether my customers like it or not is irrelevant, because its mine - the biproduct of my efforts, both physically and mentally, and is the result of many educated choices along the way. Make educated choices, and start actively defining your future, thats what I vow to do, in my own life...... Anyway, back to the soup..... I can't wait to serve it tomorrow... I just hope our guests make the right choice by ordering it... :)

I just finished cooking soup for tomorrow's Lunch at 3 Way Cafe..... Cream of Potato... So, what I did is as follows..... I cooked the potatoes which I made into 1 inch cubes, in chicken stock. I added some onion powder, white pepper and a small pinch of nutmeg. Halfway through this cooking process (15 minutes at medium high heat) I tossed in the white part of green onions, some garlic cloves and a bouquet garni (a bundle of herbs tied together - here I used thyme and parsley), until everything was tender....I let things cool just a bit, and pureed everything, though started slow, as to not sending steaming hot liquid up and out the side of the machine. Once I had pureed everything, I passed it through a strainer to ensure that no clumps were still lurking. This also helps make the puree incredibly silky. I returned the mixture to the stock pot, added some Heavy Cream and a Havarti Mornay.....A mornay is a cheese cream sauce that is made from a roux, which is a mixture of a "fat" and flour - I used bacon grease, to give that "loaded baked potato" feel... Combine the flour and grease over low heat, stirring constantly to ensure that the flour doesn't burn - this also helps prevent any raw flour taste from leaching into the final product. So, once the flour and grease are incorporate and mixed for a minute or two, whisk in heavy cream and bring to a slow boil and add cheese. For me, I have chosen to finish it with Chive Oil and Crispy Pomme Frites....I feel the intense green color of the chive oil will be a wonderful contrast to the rich, creamy and blanket white soup that it will be garnishing.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Soups.... Almost that time of year.....


Everyday for the openning month of 3WAY CAFÉ I made three soups a day – we were trying to run with the concept of “3” as much as we could to detract from the sexual undertones that the name implied. We did, however, open in May, not the most conducive month, or time of year to move a lot of soup. The first week I even ran two cold soups: Canteloupe Bisque with Mint, and Hawaiian Black Sea Salt, then also a Guajillo Pepper Gazpacho – I sold a cup or two of each over the course of a sixty person lunch. After that first month we cut it down to a “Soup of the Day”, atleast for the blazing hot summer months, and on average still on served a couple cups a day – there would be days when I literally wouldn’t sell any. Talk about frustrating.
Fortunately we have some good regulars, and everyone seemed to be responding well to the new sandwich bistro downtown. A local artist in the nearby arcade comes by atleast twice a week and gets a cup of soup and enjoys lunch by herself, reading the newspaper while Frank Sinatra whistles over head. My face brightens when an order for soup comes in, I look at Ron and blurt, “Hell ya!”, and once my excitement is over, I always do my best to see how the customer liked it. Almost daily, somewhere around halfway through lunch the batch of soup is almost always half gone. My business partner Daryl, and his girlfriend Kat are two of the biggest soup fanatics I know…… Ironically, I don’t really even like soup. Sure, I like them as much as the next guy, but I enjoy making soups because I enjoy layering and building flavors, and seeing ingredients come together into something special. Like every other aspect of cooking the art of saucier is merely understanding and recognizing your ingredients, how they work with each other, how the flavor profile changes upon cooking it, and determining the right amount in relation to every other ingredient you have.

Anyway, Daryl and Kat give my soups unwavering praise, and I always have them try a couple spoonfuls before we open to ensure that it’s to their liking. Our cook Ron and our delivery driver Barrett have joined their team in an assault to put a hit on my soup. Just last week the four combined ate nearly all of my soup before 1 PM – it was a Roasted Tomato Bisque that we were running as a special with a “souped-up” grilled Cheese – we sold a near record 5 cups of soup, which sounds silly, though three of these came after the lunch rush – we only had two cups left to sell. I literally, in 5 minutes scrambled to stretch the two cups with some cream, a little chicken stock and some corn starch. I made Barrett puree some roasted tomatoes for me, and by the time I was done making the soup nearly every four-letter word escaped my mumbling breathe, and Ron who was putting the final touches on a few salads for a to-go order could barely keep from breaking into an enormous laugh. Daryl, the biggest soup culprit of them all was reclusive in the back office knowing my head was about to explode. All I kept murmuring was, “can’t y’all just wait until “expletive” lunch is over and then you can have all the “expletive” soup you want!” I ironically was frustrated at the fact that we actually sold soup! HA! In those first couple of months, it couldn’t have been more frustrating to see batch after batch of soup go to waste, not to mention the countless man hours it took to create these soups, though it did however give me a chance to refine my recipes, and thankfully Kat kept track of how many different soups were made in those first months, and the number is somewhere in the thirties. Many of those recipes are in the pages to follow – some are cold, most are hot. Most aren’t very difficult to master and they are pretty tasty. Well, that is atleast what Daryl tells me – that way he can eat all of my soup, butter me up, and I can’t get mad when we run out. So, that afternoon, Daryl finally came out of hiding as Ron and I were cleaning up the kitchen. We were joking about my rare explosion over the soup incident. I looked at Daryl, Daryl looked at me then he made eye contact with Ron. Ron turned away, cracking the slightest of smiles, “Damn, Daryl, so nice of you to come on back now…Now that he’s done screamin and cursin….” Daryl, started, “Chris makes great soups, Ron – you don’t think this episode is going to stop us do you? Hell, he just better start making bigger batches….