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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Food for the Soul

Matzah Ball Soup, Fried Chicken, Corn Beef w/ Cole Slaw and Russian Dressing on Rye, Perogies, Gumbo and the list goes on. What do these foods all have in common? They are all comfort foods! They are what people go to when they need a little familiarity in their daily lives; they are what make us feel good.

Now as many of you know, I am originally from the Jersey Shore, just south of Atlantic City and my comfort food is Cheesesteak! Flash fried thinly-sliced pieces of beef, generously combined with fried onions and diced hot cherry peppers stuffed into an Italian Sub Roll, just writing about it makes me want to go out and make one!!

Most food historians credit Pat and Harry Olivieri with the creation of what is now known as The Philadelphia Cheesesteak back in the 1930’s as an alternative for their diners at a hot dog stand in South Philly and as the popularity grew, they opened up Pat’s King of Steaks on East Passyunk in South Philly, where it still stands, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The sandwich was, and still is in most parts of Philly, a Steak Sandwich and as customers always do, they wanted to see some changes and eventually cheese was added as an option as have been other options, such as a Pizza Steak (a steak sandwich with pizza sauce added) and many, many other options.

Being what I think is a Cheesesteak purist, I stick with the basics. Steak, Cheese, Onions and Hot Peppers. My favorite cheesesteak places are Dino’s in Margate (just south of Atlantic City) where I grew up and I still remember their phone number and The White House in Atlantic City.

The White House is probably the most famous sub shop outside of Philadelphia. Back in Atlantic City’s heyday (way pre-gambling), it was the place to go! When the Beatles played AC (and yes, I made my dad take his then 11 year old son to Atlantic City Convention Hall, old home of the Miss America Pageant) to see those flop-tops, they had subs there and their pictures still adorn the walls as do many celebrities that used to play in Atlantic City, at The Steel Pier, The 500 Club and other venues; Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis (who first were paired up at the 500 Club), Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons and way too many others to list in a short column. Thought Atlantic City has changed a lot, the old Italian neighborhoods have mostly given way to, well, let’s just say, they ain’t what they once were, The White House Sub Shop still exists and still has lines all day long.

I can almost smell the onions now!

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Sanctuary…. A Place of Safety…

With everything that is going on around us in the world today, everyone needs a little sanctuary, a place where they can go and get away from everything. To me, that is a kitchen!

When I am in my kitchen, I am in my sanctuary. The only thing that I am doing is cooking and to me, that is my ‘safe place’. Cooking is the only thing that matters then and I really try not to think of anything else.

Why do people in our profession love to cook? Maybe the following story will give you an idea…

About four years ago, when I first started Decadence Gourmet Cheesecakes, I was invited to give a cooking demonstration at a local senior’s center. As time was going to be a little restricted, I decided to do a batch of Key Lime Cookies, really easy to bake and they do not take that much time. I was talking to the audience and when I was dusting the cookies with some powdered sugar, an elderly lady who was in the room started to talk about some cookies that she remembered her mother making when she was growing up, a German Spiced Cookie called ‘Pfeffernusse’. After we had passed out the Key Lime Cookies to the audience, I went back home and kept thinking about that lady and the Pfeffernusse.

I did some research on-line and found some recipes and banged out a batch that evening. The next day, I went back to the Senior Center and found the administrator. I gave her the batch of Pfeffernusse and said, “Please see that these get to that one lady”. She said, “You did not have to do that.”

As I was driving away, I thought to my self…Yes, I did, that’s why we cook!

(If you have any comments about cooking and why we do what we do, please post them!)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Greetings fellow foodies!

Hi, nice to see you, we have your table tight over here, come on in!

My name is Lee Mathis and I will be your host for this blog. In this blog, I hope to entertain you with Culinary Tales, Stories, Events and such from a Foodie Point of View, yes, I am an unabashed Foodie! I love to cook; I love to find out why other people love to cook and what this great area has to offer.

I love the Grand Valley! Plain and Simple! I moved here from New Jersey, via a 20 year or so detour in Northern California and for whatever reason, found a home. About two years after I moved here, I found myself wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life as I just wasn’t happy with the path it had swerved onto. After over 20 years in the newspaper industry, I just wasn’t happy and looked back on my life to see if there was something that made me happy and I realized that I had always loved to cook.

Whether it was flipping pizzas on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, cooking steak and eggs at The Ranch House or making Silver Dollar pancakes at Nash’s Beef and Beer, both on the Boardwalk, also in Atlantic City, doing ‘Protein Feasts’ for my roommates, friends and neighbors in Sonoma, California or just seeing a recipe in the newspaper that I had to try, I just LOVE TO COOK!! So, why not see if I could make a living doing what I loved?

Upon some research, I found out that Mesa State had a Culinary Program and was told to give Dan Kirby a call and made a call that would help shape the next version of my life.

Now, Dan did not know me from Adam, yet spent over 3 hours the next day talking to me, not just about Mesa State’s Culinary Program, but the path I had been on and where I wanted to go. I applied the next day and was accepted into the program.

About three or four weeks into the program, I brought in a cheesecake that I had been making for years, a Vermont Maple Cheesecake and one of my Chef instructors, Chef Jon St. Peter, took a bite, then another and asked me where he could buy one. I thought about it for a minute and said, “Give me 90 days!’. After meeting with the Small Business Incubator people, I opened Decadence Gourmet Cheesecakes 90 days later. We celebrated our 5th Anniversary this past August.

What I hope to do with this blog is to have some fun! There is too much stress and worrying in our lives and, at least in my mind, food and cooking is a way to escape a little from that. I will be interviewing some of the ‘food’ people around the Valley, letting you know what makes them tick, and maybe posting some recipes that you may actually want to try out at home and a little bit more.

I also would love to hear from you! Have you been to a restaurant that you just loved? Was there a dish that just blew you away? Is there a recipe that you would like to see? Drop me an note and I will see what I can do!

So,Welcome to my little world of food and foodies!!