Ted Blazer is a pretty good chef. I discovered that truth last Wednesday evening at the Mirror Lake Inn's Taste Bistro and Bar, their more informal restaurant attached to the bar off their main dining room. A few weeks ago they began inviting various locals starting with the Inn's general manager Carl Grunlund and then Linda O'Leary to share their culinary talents on Wednesdays, an outgrowth of featuring various celebratory chefs during the summer and fall. In the past several of the featured guest chefs at their annual Adirondack Festival of Food and Wine, their success inspired owner Ed Weibrecht to propose inviting various locals to propose and prepare a menu featuring an appetizer or salad, entre and dessert.
The way it works is about a week before their culinary arts are put to the test, the guest chef meets with Executive Chef Jarrad Lang to discuss a proposed menu and be given a tour of the kitchen. The Mirror Lake Inn acquires all the needed ingredients, and provides its cooking staff of a sous chef, dessert, chef, salad chefs and various line chefs as part of the guest chef's support team. The initial taste testers are the dining room staff who get to try out the first plating and provide their feed back. Final adjustments are made, and then it is a matter of waiting for the reaction of the patrons.
Blazer was following Wolfgang Brandenburg, who really raised the bar both by the turnout (they ran out of several items) and his take charge attitude in the kitchen, his ability and desire to prepare and cook every aspect of the meal, and desire to stay behind the range throughout the meal. As Jarrad said, given the opportunity he would have washed the pots and pans as well.
Chef Blazer, MLI Dessert Chef Bernie Wolf and MLI ExeC Chef Jarrad Lang discuss how to present Ted's Ice Box dessert.
While I was waiting for Blazer to arrive, the following week's chefs of Chandler Ralph, Hannah Handler and David Aldrich arrived to meet with Jarrad to discuss their proposed meal, which would feature recipes drawn from Adirondack Health's new centennial cookbook.
"Have any of you had an experience at this?" asked Jarrad.
"Chandler is a little more formal of a cook than me," said her husband Aldrich. "I tend to stick my head in a refrigerator and say to myself, I can make something out of this."
"Yes, as a student at the Cornel School of Hotel Administration, but my whole career has been in hospitals," said Handler. "What would you like from us?"
"That depends on how much you want to be involved," said Jarrad. "I have an army in the kitchen so we can get a lot done in a short period of time. We had Wolfgang in last week who got behind the range and did it all."
They then discussed their proposed menu, which Jarrad liked especially finishing with a cranberry pie, which Chandler would make.
"I usually use a ready made pie crust but you probably don't use them do you?" said Chandler laughing.
Jarrad said no, they make own pie dough and pointed out that whenever possible they used local ingredients. They agreed that Aldrich would take the lead on the soup and assist Handler with the entre, and that they would all arrive next week at 2:00 P.M., this as Ted Blazer arrived complete with a personalized chef's jacket and hat.
As she got ready to leave I asked Chandler is she had any anxieties. "Oh yes, of course," she said. "I generally don't cook during the week, David does. But, this is going to be fun."
"Do you cook a lot?" I asked Ted. "What's your entre?"
"No, I try to cook a little bit, but it is hard. I have to be in Albany often and my days are long. We used to run the Highland House for 15 years, so I cooked a lot but that was mostly breakfasts and some lunches. In 1982 Horst Webber came over for dinner. I made him the dish we will have tonight. He took off the lid and said, 'Ach, we make that at the Wildwood.' So I have called it, We Make that at the Wildwood ever since. But of course, you can't call that here, so we came up with Penne ala Porto Rocco. We will serve it with mixed greens and potatoes salad and finish with a classic Icebox Cake."
"How is it to put up with guest chefs every week?"
"It is fun," said line chef Brooke McDonald.
What time does the dining room open?" asked Ted.
"In five minutes," said Jarrad
"Five minutes!" said Ted. "Let's get that sauce going. Where is my wine?"
"Wine?" asked Barry Sears
"Yea wine," said Ted.
"When you get done chopping you can get your wine," said Sears. "Do you want some help with that (chopping parsley)?"
"Getting is done a little faster," said Sears.
"I am not on a time clock," said Ted.
"Do you want it smaller?"
"Should it be?"
"It can be whatever size you want, it is your dish. It can be larger, smaller or just that size," said Sears.
"Well, I don't normally use parsley, OK, show me," said Ted.
"You hold the knife down like this with the flat your palm like this and rock it. You don't want to use your fingers as they might slip." He zips through half the parsley in seconds. "Now you try it."
Later over on the line, Jarrad and Zack McCormick are helping Ted reduce the sauce. "We are going to cook it more. We want to reduce the wine by half. During the meal we can make up a couple and shelf it, then when you need it, reduce it down a bit more and add the cream. You want to be able to do it in stages. Do you think it needs a bit more garlic?"
"A touch more," said Ted. "Let's add the pasta and broccoli."
"Try it," said Jarrad."
Ted does with a spoon. "I think it is ready."
"Yea, you got it," said Jarrad.
"It has a nice richness to it," said Becky Johnson, a member of the wait staff. "The sweet and spicy combination is very nice. In fact, I like it so much I am going to get a little more."
"Are you sweating?" said Wolfgang Brandenburg stepping in to the kitchen to see how Blazer is doing.
"I was a little while ago, but now I am OK. We are ready. Take a look at this salad. I want you to taste it."
Brandenburg does. "It is really good, you could ask for employment here."
Later, when Ted Blazer steps into the Bistro to see how people like the food he prepared, John Friedlander said to him, "Hey, get back in the kitchen, It is not just good, it is very impressive."
Upcoming guest chefs are: Feb. 22, Sue Babcock; Feb. 29, Parmelee Tolken; March 7, Naj Wikoff.