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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why we do it!

As I get older/wiser/crazier (pick one), I am realizing more and more why I do what I do and kick myself in the butt for not realizing my passion for cooking earlier on in life!

It's not like I did not have the 'signs'... From my mom teaching me how to make Sizzle Burgers (basically hamburgers fried in Worcester sauce before I was in my teens, from having Fondue parties back in the 70's when I was in High School, from cooking in the Atlantic City Boardwalk, again in the 70's, to having 'Protein Feast BBQ's' when I lived in Sonoma, CA in the late 70's, to having always looked through the food sections in the newspapers, seeing something and thinking, 'Oh, I gotta try that' and so on...

But nooooo, had to go into sales and make the easy money...

It was not until I had moved to Grand Junction in the early 2000's, went through a few jobs, was driving a cab one day and said.. 'I gotta change my life... what have I always loved to do... cook! Called up the local college, then Mesa State College, now Colorado Mesa University, asked if they had a culinary program, which they did, called Dan Kirby head of the program, who met with me the next day, spent a few hours just talking and I enrolled the next day. The full story is on our website.

Now that I been in the culinary field for over a decade, I still think back and wonder how much better I would have been if I had realized this passion earlier.. yeah, I know hindsight 20/20 and such.

But I also realize that basically I am much happier than I was in sales. Yeah, making money, spending money, but not really satisfied.

Again, having been in the field now for this time, I have had the opportunity to see many chefs, cooks and students, cooked for weddings, office parties, special events and with our cheesecakes and I think that I am one of the lucky ones.. I actually wake up a lot, thinking about food and what I can do to make people go.... Damn!! That's Good!! I love to cook!

At Decadence Gourmet, we have one simple mantra as to why we do what we do...

'The look on people's faces when they take their first bite!'

That's it, that's what it is all about!

Now, I have seen many people in our industry that seem to be in it for the wrong reasons, in it for just the money (good luck on that one!), or just going through the paces, same stuff all the time, nothing really innovative, hoping that their food is 'passable'. I just cant be one of those people...

There are a lot of chefs/cooks out there that know more than I do, are more technically advanced, but I doubt if many of them have more passion, there are a few and in a way, I hope that I am wrong, but.. how many times do I have to see Truffle Fries on a menu and people think that is something new?

It is all of our duties to 'push the boundaries' somewhat.. to try something new and let people know that while 'tried and true' is ok,,, there are other things out there!

One of the chefs here in town that I look up to is Josh at Bin707. Josh is always looking to reinvent food, to put out plates that make people go ..Damn!! When I have guests or family in from out of town, his place is a must-go. Check out their menus (and it updates..) and you will see what I mean...

So, people like Josh at Bin707, Theo at 626onRood and some others that I have met, reinforce my belief that some are in this business for the right reason!

Now go on out there and get your grub on!


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Culinary Schools and their offerings

As many of you may know, I am a proud graduate of the Colorado Culinary Program at Colorado Mesa University. Having gone back to college after.. oh, let's just say a ....few years (decades) away from college, I realized that in order to keep evolving my life, I had to do something or things will just not change... Definition of Insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result...

Culinary Schools and other culinary programs are a great Petri 'dish' which allow for aspiring culinarians to work on their craft or in my case, not exactly sure what direction my culinary explorations were going to go, to let them surface... And trust me, the Chef Instructors have the patience of the gods in most cases. Imagine having a student, older than they were... with a Jersey Attitude!

While the students learn the basics, work on their skills and such, I think that one of the side benefits of these programs is, where offered, the on-campus restaurants that these programs offer. Here, students, with the aid and guidance of their chef instructors, not only learn what is is like to actually work in a restaurant, both front of the house and in the kitchen.

From menu planning to executing the menu, from expediting to service and customer service, these restaurants not only give the students much needed experience, but also allows the public to see what these aspiring chefs (or in my case... cook from Jersey) can do and to get what usually is one of the best food values in their area.

Out here in Western Colorado, we do have that luxury.. in the form of Chez Lena, the on-campus restaurant of my culinary school. Here, every semester, the students put out some truly great (and very affordable) food! They serve lunch from 11:30 - 1 pm Tuesdays through Fridays.

So whether it is out here in Western Colorado, at any of the well-known Culinary Programs (Culinary Institute of America, Johnson & Wales) or at your local community college, check these programs out, support your local schools and enjoy!

Here is this semester's menu from Chez Lena in Grand Junction...

Enjoy!!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

These people get it!

Recently, I drove down to Olathe to pick up some cheeses from Rocking W Cheese & Milk.

We had been doing our 'Pop-Up/Flash' restaurants in Grand Junction and Palisade for a few months, mostly with our 'En Fuego' theme.. Yes, Heat.. with flavor! At one of our 'En Fuego's', a fan of ours came up to me in the kitchen and asked me where I was getting my Habanero Jack cheese, which we use on top of our Flamin' Burgers and I answered, 'At the grocery store'.

He told me about this small, family-owned, dairy and farm down the road a little in Olathe, CO, Rocking W Cheese and Milk and how great their products were and that they made a Habanero Jack.

Curious and knowing how our En Fuego Fans have a such great tastes, I took a drive down there in March and picked up some (along with some of their Chipotle cheese) and started using it with our pop-ups.

The folks who run this could not be nicer, great little store and many, many varieties!

In early November, I had to go down to reload on the Habanero Jack and took some samples of our newest product (our first offering in our Shelf-Stable line of product), our Colorado-Style Southern Chow-Chow as I thought that they would make a great addition to what they offer.

They absolutely loved it (and now carry it!) and Angie (the office and store manager) aid I had to meet someone and she went and got Dan, their cheese maker, who came out, tried it and also loved it!

Now Dan had never met me, did not know me, but as we discovered, Dan was a PepperHead just as I am. We talked about heat and how it had to have flavor as heat without flavor just doesn't cut it. We talked about Ghost Peppers, Scorpion Peppers and more and said.. 'Hold on for a sec.." went into the back and came out with something new he was working on,. a Ghost Pepper Jack Cheese!!

It was GREAT!!! Heat, with Flavor!!

He said that he also wanted to play around with Scorpions in a cheese (which I subsequently sent him some of ours) and then mentioned that he would also like to play around with using our Chow-Chow in a cheese, so you know I had to give him a few jars to play with. (We will let you know what comes out of this!)

As I drove away and headed back up to Grand Junction, I started thinking about this meeting and aid to myself.. These folks get it! In the food business, while there are many people that are good at what they do, not all of them 'get it'... these folks do!

Putting one's soul into what you produce, intermingling with both your customers and your suppliers, going that extra mile... yeah, these folks get it!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Eats along the Highways

I have to admit that 'commuting' between the operations of Decadence Gourmet here in CO and our expansion into VA has been getting a little 'tiring', I think I drove over 60,000 miles between the two in the last 12 months.

One of the brights spots in these drives is finding new places, well, at least new to me, along the route I drive. This last trip, I decided to let Guy Fieri's show, Diner's Drive-In's and Dives, show me the way!

I have been a huge fan of shows like this, Man Vs. Food and the like and would always rather spend my money at local, mom & pop kind of places than at the numerous chains that seem to be everywhere. So, hit the computer, picked a few cities that I knew I was driving through, decided that a little 'veer' off the Interstates is not a bad thing and hit the road.

One of my favorite spots that I had found before, Taco Punk in Louisville, had closed so I wanted to find a new stop in Kentucky and after checking out Guy's recommendations in KY, decided to check out Wallace Station in Versailles.



Being a fan of one of Kentucky's other products, I knew where Versailles was, having driven down to Bourbon Country before, only about 20 minutes off I-64, and pulled in a little before lunch.

Took one look at the menu and while it all looked great, one thing stood out, an Inside-Out Hot Brown! As the Hot Brown Sandwich is somewhat of a staple of Kentucky food, had to try this variation, it was totally awesome! Turkey, Ham, Bacon, Tomato and a White Cheddar Mornay Sauce, what's not to like. I was real glad I arrived when I did as when I got there, only half the tables were occupied, but by the time my food was ready (and that was not long at all), there was a line almost out the door, the place was packed and people were waiting for tables to open up.

I picked up a copy of the local weekly paper to read and there was an article about the owner/chef, Ouita Michel. Not exactly what you would expect at a small, rural deli. Nominated 5 times for the James Beard Foundation Best Chef in the Southeast, Chef Michel, originally from Kentucky, had honed her skills at the Culinary Institute of America, moved to New York, but knew that her place was back home.

Yeah, you can find these kinds of hidden gems along the road.. if you just look!

Now, I also knew that I was going to be driving through Topeka, KS the next day and as that is kind of the last 'city' before I hit the plains of KS and the last leg of my drive up and over the Rockies, figured it was time to get off the interstate again and once again, Guy did not let me down.

Smack in the middle of Topeka, not far from the downtown area is BoBo's Drive In.



Voted one of the 8 Wonder of Kansas Cuisine, Bobo's has been around since 1948 and serves what we call 'Drive-In' food. You can still order from your car, maybe 6 small tables inside and a horseshoe shaped counter, where I found a seat. Had their Spanish Burger, onion rings and root beer.



No, Bobo's will never get a Michelin Star, but ya know what.. good food is good food!


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Life on The Road

For the past year and 1/2, I have been on the road, at least half the time!

As many of you know, we expanded our business, Decadence Gourmet Cheesecakes, into Virginia last Spring and I have been bouncing back between VA and CO since then. Two months there, two months in CO, 3 months there, then back again and so on.

For many years, I thought that life of the road was 'all that', but as I get older/smarter/worn-out, I do miss the days where I did not spend as much time on the road. Heck, I have put over 50,000 miles on my truck since this endeavour started!

Don't get me wrong, I love VA, it is great, but Western Colorado is my home and where I feel I belong so we are now looking for people and investors to run the VA and the rest of the expansions.

One of the things that sustains me is discovering new foods, new food places and being able to morph that into what we cook. Example being our newest product, a Colorado-Style Southern Chow Chow.. (think Southern Chow-Chow meets HEAT!). A great combination of a traditional Southern Food meeting Southwest Heat!

And I really do love Road Food! I do look at Diner's Drive-in's and Dives, Man vs Food and other sites to seek out new places and, for the most part, they are really, really good!

But the road is getting weary!

As we start to wrap up 2014, things are looking really good and 2015 looks like we will be lowing the doors off, so until I find the right people and investors...

Keep on Keeping On!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Cooking with HEAT!

Yes, we love to cook with HEAT!

All kinds of heat... Ghost Peppers, Habanero's, Scorpions, Fresno's, Serrano's, Thai Chiles, Jalapeno's (even though we treat those like breath mints now) and most recently, the new Carolina Reaper Peppers, which come on at 1,500,000 units on the Scoville scale, (50% hotter than the Ghost Peppers), we love cooking with these!

There is just something about food with heat! It opens up the senses, it makes you feel alive!

Now, we will not out out food that is just hot, it has to have flavor.. or why even do it!

For the past year, we have been doing our 'Pop-up/Flash' restaurants (En Fuego) around the Grand Valley of Western Colorado, at Peach Street Distillers in Palisade and at The VFW Post in Grand Junction, trying to put out some of the tastiest and hottest food possible! We are doing these for a few reasons, first and foremost.. We love to cook with HEAT! and secondly, we have been developing the menu for the restaurant that we want to open in 2015.

We have incorporated Heat in everything that we put out, ranging from 'Flamin Burgers' (Ground Angus, Ground Bacon, Ghost Pepper Sauce, fried in Ghost Pepper oil and more), Atomic Wings (made with Carolina Reaper Peppers, we actually made people wear gloves and sign releases!), Ghost Pepper fries served with a Trinidad Scorpion Sauce, we even made Habanero Mango Popsicles, among many, many other offerings.

Yeah, we have developed a nice following!

The next Pop-Up is at VFW Post 1247 at 14th & Ute in Grand Junction on November 11th, from 5 - 7 pm. (Become a fan of ours on Facebook, where we announce such things!).

We will continue to cook with HEAT, continue to push the pallettes to extremes and have some fun!

Want some recipes with HEAT? drop us an email!


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Last GJ Free Press Column



The Time Has Come…

All good things must come to an end and the time has come to end this column in the Free Press.

One of the things that I have always been fond of saying is that if you do not evolve, you become extinct and evolve we must!

For almost six years, I have pontificated about food and life in the Grand Valley and beyond and it has been a blast, but times and things change so this will be my last column in the paper. For our dedicated fans, you can still follow us on our blog.

Almost six years…. Over 200 columns, rants, raves and musings!

In this time, we have found many fans, some of which have written and emailed us, stopped by the many events we have done throughout the Valley and expressed their fondness for the column and for that, we thank you. The staff at the Free Press has been great, and I also want to single out Josh Nichols, who back in January of 2009, allowed me the space to write, thanks Josh!

We have seen many changes throughout the Valley in our time in the paper, people come, people go, but the one thing I have learned, is that we truly have some great foodies here! From the folks in the restaurants, bars, brewpubs and cafes to the people in the streets; good food and good eatin’ prevail!

It has been a privilege and a pleasure writing this column and for that… I thank you!

So I am going to end this column the way it began… from our first column…

‘It was somewhere around the edge of the dessert, in the Grand Valley, when the food began to take hold…”

You can still follow us on Pinterest; Decadence Gourmet Cheesecakes and Decadence Cheesecakes Cooking Thoughts..

You can keep following the adventures of Decadence on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Decadence-Gourmet-Cheesecakes/171538834903 ,on Twitter (www.twitter.com/decadenceGJ) and on Pinterest (http://www.pinterest.com/circ2000/decadence-cheesecakes-cooking-thoughts/).

Lee is the founder and owner of Decadence Gourmet Cheesecakes and Catering. He can be reached at decadencecheesecakes@mindspring.com, through their website at www.decadencecheesecakes.com, on Facebook or by calling 256-4688!

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As stated, we will still be writing, about food, travels (and food) and life (and food!)...but mostly here, in cyberspace!