side dish - what's stirring in indie kitchens
chef: andy farrell
location: bridgid's bar and restaurant, philadelphia, pa
recipe: sheppard's pie with braised lamb
home cookin' in a restaurant setting
All over the place. I'm influenced every time I go out to dinner, go to the supermarket, watch the Food Network, and exchange food ideas with guests at the restaurant. I play in the kitchen a lot, trying different ways to recreate dishes I've had or read about. Sometimes the play creates some really strange things. It wasn't until recently I learned to show some restraint and know when something isn't going to work.
Where did you learn to cook?
No formal training I learned it all on the job. I've been working in the restaurant industry since I was 17, at all different levels of cuisine. I'm coming from the big corporate steakhouse, a national chain, with prime grade steaks and the price tag that comes along with those things. It's a cuisine for the expense account crowd or those who can afford to indulge. It's not for the blue collar folks.
I started my cooking career at a bistro down the Jersey shore, shucking clams and hauling fresh fish every morning, soft shell crabs. I learned how to do a lot of fresh fish early on, and the Italian family that owned the place taught me to cook all these classic Italian sauces. They set me up with a really nice basis for going ahead.
Recently I bought a cookbook called The River Cottage Meat Book. The River Cottage is a multi-faceted organization in England run by a talented guy named Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, kind of an English Alton Brown, but better. He puts lots of emphasis on homegrown and responsible food production. The front cover is a big gnarly picture of a standing rib roast. Very good book, more than a cookbook. Besides that and handful of others, I don't use cookbooks, I prefer trial-and-error cooking.
What's the one ingredient you could not live without?
Pork fat. I'm terrible because I find myself putting it into lots of food items, just as a background flavor enhancer. I don't think I've ever just poured bacon grease into the trash. I save every drop of that liquid gold. I'm pretty liberal with garlic too.
Favorite Microbrew beer or wine?
Lately, if I'm thirsty and need a beer I go for Yards IPA. It's very refreshing and it doesn't get better than drinking local. I'm really looking forward to tasting all kinds of new stuff out of the new brewery. I'm a big fan of Southampton Brewery in New York and Avery Brewing from Colorado as well. Good, full flavored, bold beers.
Since coming to Bridgid's I've really been educated on beers. You have to be here, because the guests have such a high beer IQ that they expect the people serving it to them to at least be on their level and bring new perspectives to the dining experience.
Cooking with great microbrews is a treat that I never really experienced before Bridgid's. Whether its braising beef shoulder in a big nasty stout or using the spice of an IPA to flavor some pork or chicken dish, beer is a great, low cost way, to add great flavors to ordinary dishes.
Favorite music to listen to while cooking?
I'm a big fan of the Italian composer Ennio Morricone. He scored a lot of Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns and some other great movies. Great dramatic music. I listen to lots of different stuff, but Morricone, Phish, and old school R&B (a la Otis Redding) dominate my iPod. Also, I need to plug my old friend Brian Connell, he lives in Athens, Ga and recently released his first album. I'm telling you it's 12 bucks well spent. If you don't like it, come to Bridgid's and I'll buy you a beer for your trouble. But you're gonna like it.
What is your favorite type of food?
I like to eat what is local. I like what I would characterize as peasant food. The simple, sometimes slow-cooked, tougher cuts of meat. Stews, shanks, homemade pasta, that kind of stuff. If it takes longer to prepare something, typically that means you care more about what you are serving. The more love and care behind a dish, the better it'll be.
Most memorable meal?
My mother made a pumpkin pear soup once. It must have been a Friday during Lent or something like that, because we weren't allowed to eat meat. She must have been all pizza-ed out and didn't want fish sticks, so she decided to make a pumpkin pear soup. We were used to eating "normal" stuff like hotdogs, hamburgers, spaghetti, so pumpkin pear soup was just too exotic for us. I didn't even want to try it; my brain didn't even think that way about food then. And I've always wondered, ever since I've gotten into the business and even now that I'm at the point of becoming an owner and restaurateur: what was good, what was bad? I want to go back in a time machine to find out what was in that pumpkin pear soup!
Most irritating celebrity chef?
Hand down its Andrew Zimmern. The content of his show is great, opening people up to new ideas about what food can be. That's important, but I think he's pretty annoying, almost condescending.
What makes indie food better?
Indie food is better because of the people behind it. The restaurant business is brutal and for people to independently own and run a restaurant is hard. People do it because they love to create an excellent product, so as a result, owners of independent restaurants usually spend more time in the dining rooms and the kitchens of their restaurants than they do in the dining rooms and kitchens of their own homes. Eating at an indie restaurant is like stepping into someone's house and being taken care of like a valued guest and friend. I like that feeling, on both ends of the spectrum.
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