Once, a long time ago, it was the word of mouth story that was important. Bear with me please and I will explain:
The Michelin brothers in 1889 ran a rubber factory in Clermont-Ferrand, France. One day a cyclist came by with his pneumatic tire in need of repair. After a little while working on that, Edouard Michelin realized the opportunities of creating a pneumatic, not glued, tire on a rim. By 1891 Andre and Edouard had created the first removable pneumatic tire! In the 1920’s and 30’s, the Michelins operated the largest rubber operation in Viet Nam! L’Indochine, French Indochina, was a vibrant French colony.
Today when I see all those Pho restaurants near my home in Aurora, Colorado, I keep thinking about the ancient recipe of the French—“Le pot au feu”. Feu (fire in French) gave birth to Pho. It does make sense after all…..I love Pot au Feu and on a cold day in Colorado, I often put together that famous dish!
Pot au Feu Ingredients: 1.Brine: 1/2 cup kosher salt 1/4 cup sugar 1 head of garlic, halved crosswise 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns 2 fresh bay leaves or 1 dried 3 4” pieces of bone-in beef short ribs 2. Bouquet garni, meats and vegetables: 1 head of garlic, halved crosswise 10 sprigs of flat leaf parsley 1 dried thyme leaf 3 whole cloves 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns 3 2-3” long marrow bones 2 lbs oxtails 1 lb. veal breast 5 large carrots, peeled (2 chopped, 3 cut into 2” pieces) 2 celery stalks, chopped 1 onion, quartered 1 1 lb piece garlic sausage 1 small head of cabbage, halved 1 lb baby potatoes 1/2 lb turnips 3. Sauces and garnishes: 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley 1/4 cup finely chopped chives 1/4 cup finely chopped tarragon 2 garlic gloves- minced kosher salt and freshly ground pepper 1/4 cup creme fraiche 2 tablespoons prepared white horseradish, drained whole grain mustard Dijon mustard toasted sliced country bread
Preparation: 1. For brine: Bring the first 5 ingredients and 8 cups of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar and salt dissolve. Remove from heat: let cool to room temperature. Place brine short ribs in a large baking dish and pour the brine over to cover completely. Cover and chill for at least 8 hours or overnight. Remove meat, rinse and set aside.
2. For bouquet garni, meats and vegetables: Place the first 6 ingredients in center of a triple layer of cheesecloth. Gather up the edges and tie with kitchen twine to form a bundle for bouquet garni. Wrap marrow bones in cheesecloth: tie into a bundle with twine. If desired, tie oxtails with twine around circumference to keep the meat from falling off the bone. Place brisket, short ribs, bouquet garni, marrow bones, oxtails, beef bones, veal bones, veal breast, 2 chopped carrots, celery and onion in a very large heavy pot. Add water to cover meat (about 7 quarts). Bring to a boil, skimming off any scum and fat that rises to the surface. Reduce heat and simmer, skimming occasionally, until short ribs are tender—about 2 - 2 1/2 hours. Transfer the short ribs to a 9x13x2” baking dish: add 4 cups of broth from the pot and tent with foil to keep meat warm and moist. Add sausage to the pot and continue simmering until the sausage is cooked through and remaining meats are tender, about 30 minutes longer. Transfer sausage, brisket, oxtails and marrow bones to the dish with short ribs. Place a large strainer over another large pot, stain the broth, discarding the remaining meats, bones and other solids in the strainer. (you should have about 10 quarts of broth) Return broth to a boil, and then add potatoes, cabbage and the 2” pieces of carrots. Simmer until the vegetables are tender but not mushy—about 30 minutes.
3. For sauces and garnishes: mix the first five ingredients in a small bowl to make sauce “vierge”. Season with salt and pepper: set aside. Stir creme fraiche and horseradish in another small bowl; season with salt. Transfer vegetables to a platter. Thinly slice the brisket against the grain and cut the sausage into 2” pieces. Return meats to baking dish. Season the broth in the pot to taste with salt and pepper and divide among bowls. Serve the meats and vegetables with salsa verde, horseradish creme fraiche and both mustards in small bowls along side. Serve with toasted country bread.
Ok, now back to my story. Eventually in Viet Nam terrible conditions in the Michelin rubber plantations led to the famous labor movement uprising Phu Rieng Do and that led to France becoming involved in a war in Viet Nam the early 1950’s. My father remained in the military for three years waiting to see if he had to go fight in Indochine. It was a terrible war for France and eventually the French lost. We know the rest of the story—the Americans entered the war in the 60’s because they wanted the rubber trees and the pneumatic industry!
But back in France, the legacy of the Michelin brothers continued now beyond their success in the tire business—as that business grew, they began to refer people to restaurants and the Michelin Guide was born. The name Michelin now also represented the most famous culinary guide in the world. They began charging for the guide in the early 20’s and in 1929 the three star system was introduced. Today the Michelin Guide is in 24 different countries. The inspectors are anonymous and cannot talk to news media. Today of course, in addition to Michelin, there is Zagat, Gault and Millau and they are all considered very respectable……….which brings me to todays social media reviews by consumers. We have now Trip Advisor and Yelp and can we really rely on consumers writing their opinions that will indeed influence others? I think so—I want to remain positive about that experience. But more and more, as I read what some folks put up on their Facebook pages ranting about their lives, I am inclined to believe that is maybe becoming quite a circus!
So as good as I like a good review, I despite bad ones. In the restaurant business you are only as good as the last meal you served. I tried to explain to some guests last week when they made comments about a bad experience, we have good days and bad days and the mood of the restaurant is set by the staff. I try all the time to remain positive, but with all the grinding hard work we put in nightly, I too have had my ups and downs. I have been in the restaurant business for so long now that I can read people as they come in. I can perceive those who want to have a good time and enjoy the food and I can also read those who are not happy and bring with them that negativity. What can you do if a husband and wife decide to take on the wait staff because of fifteen years of pure hell in their marriage? Why come like that to a public area and make the entire place negative? Maybe I am just different, but if I am in a bad mood, I stay home!
But it is not all that bad, the good and happy customers, the ones who wait and enjoy every moment, that is the majority of my clientele. And so my recommendation re social media postings is? Just let it go with the flow.
To a table that was raising hell because, “Oh Mighty God!” they had waited twenty minutes for their food, I just looked at them and said—with my stage three cancer I waited with patience to go through chemo and radiation for six months and then I waited even more, with cold sweat, for the result of my pet scan three months later.
To a woman who came to the restaurant after the passing of her husband and we cried together and shared the memories—Love prevails!
To all who enjoy the moment, you are making memories. After all, we are all just here in a short journey so we might as well make the best of it.
So in conclusion, and please excuse my rambling, to those of you hooked on social media, make sure you do not eat a dead fly in your next meal, or get killed driving or crossing the street! Be Alive! and do go with the flow!