Archive for Thursday, November 20, 2003

Chef keeps ‘em coming in — and coming back

Prefabricated foods and the microwave have no place in James Taylor’s kitchen

November 20, 2003

It's two o'clock Tuesday afternoon and James Taylor (nope, not that one) is wrapping up a luncheon he prepared for 100 real estate executives at The Brassie restaurant in Basehor.

The luncheon went smoothly -- Taylor and his staff whipped up a tasty smorgasbord of country-style delicacies such as smoked turkey, ham and cornbread in addition to uncounted other items, without a hitch.

With palettes satisfied and stomachs full, it's time for a break. Taking a breather is no problem, all that's left for the day is putting together a meal for a Christmas party of 250 people later that evening.

After sitting down and lighting a cigarette ("I must smoke 50 of these a day, sometimes") one of the real estate diners interrupts Taylor's nicotine infusion.

"You did an excellent job," the man says. "It was very, very good."

Such is the life of a chef -- stressful and frenetic at times, rewarding and peaceful at others.

Taylor, a fast-talking (and fast smoking) Wyandotte County resident, is the executive chef at The Brassie. He is a chef who loathes pre-packaged meals, fast-food chains and that evil antithesis of fine dining, the microwave.

"The microwave is the anti Christ of the kitchen," Taylor said.

He's trained by European chefs but would rather be known for making a great $6 Reuben than a $100 chateaubriand.He has 28 years experience in the restaurant business and just to get it out of the way, there isn't any special story to his name.

"James Taylor is actually a pretty common name," he said.

With Thanksgiving on the horizon, the Sentinel asked Taylor for some cooking tips for the holiday season. Take it from the guy who knows a thing or two about masterminding meals for large groups of people.

"The truth is it's just as easy to prepare for 10 as it is for 100," Taylor said. "It's really not that hard. When you get past 100, that's when it becomes difficult."

OK, so barring anyone is preparing meals for a military battalion, what's the most important element in cooking for say, a family dinner?

"The key is being prepared ahead of time," Taylor said. "When I'm doing a party, I'm usually done an hour before the party starts. If you're running to the last second, that's when you start running into problems."

Items such as cornbread stuffing and sweet potatoes are ideal for items than can be prepared a day ahead of time. They also tend to taste a little better after a night in the fridge, Taylor said.

Now, let's talk turkey.

"A slow cook, that's the best way," Taylor said. "That's a big, big bonus."

Also, cooking the turkey between 143 and 145 degrees is recommended. This will avoid your guests having to down gallons of water between bites because you cooked a dry bird, Taylor said.

Taylor also suggests cooks separate the turkey's skin and meat, smoothing butter, salt, pepper and other spices between.

And for heaven's sakes, use "cross utilization," Taylor said. Leftover ingredients can be used for other dishes. Taylor said avoid the pre-packaged stuff. It's only good for the cooks at factory-style restaurants.

"When you can, use scratch ingredients," he said. "There is so little scratch cooking going on but if you cross utilize it makes for a better meal."

Taylor suggests the following recipe for a sweet cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving. The ingredients include:

  • one stick butter
  • one-half pound brown sugar
  • one cup of heavy whipping cream
  • two cups of cranberries

Take the cranberries and rehydrate with water or brandy and let them sit for 24 hours. The next day, strain the cranberries. After preparing the caramel sauce, below, add the cranberries to the sauce and simmer slowly for 15 to 20 minutes.

For the sauce: melt the butter in a pan and add the brown sugar. Stir until the sugar begins to dissolve. Add the cream and stir until it thickens.

"You end up with something sweet and tart at the same time," Taylor said. "It goes great with turkey or ham."

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