5 am? You know what that means! Operation time! (at Tahoe)

rick’s ranch : pig roast - 2014

My Pastry Chef, and good friend, Jenna Ricks and her husband, John, throw an annual pig roast every year during Labor Day weekend. They inherited a ranch on an acreage of land which they decked out to match their very charming sensibilities.

For dinner, they prepared a NOLA-inspired menu :

Cochon de Lait
Corn Maque Choux
Creole Cole Slaw
Bananas Foster Bread Pudding

Everything was delicious. The bananas foster bread pudding, especially, was A-MAZING.

I worked under John Ricks years ago, when he was my Sous Chef, so he’s a chef too. Throwing a big event like this with a bunch of cooks is always fun cause you learn so much from each other, and you get to mess around outside your usual culinary wheelhouse.

I asked them to save the bones from the pork so I could make ramen for breakfast. All the collagen had cooked out of the bones during the roasting process, so making a tonkotsu wasn’t happening. Instead, I just ran with the flavor profile that was already omnipresent in their pantry: John’s blend of cajun spices, and some left over maque choux. I let the bones boil for about 6 hours before turning it down to a simmer while we crashed in our tents.

The next morning, we woke to this:

louisiana shoyu ramen with creole-spiced pulled pork & black garlic oil

We have a noodle bar at work, so I brought some of our concentrated dashi, and our marinated eggs, ‘ajitsuke tamago,’ to finish off the broth. I even threw in some scrapes and skin from our 18-month house-cured prosciutto, to substitute bonito flakes, and it worked. Not smokey, but very developed, nutty, and extra porky. It was the three of us in an assembly-line serving a line of hungry people that quickly developed; it felt like I was working in a soup kitchen.

After breakfast, me and the guys I rolled up with said our good-byes. They went off to take their boat out on the lake, but I was way too tired from my trip to Reno last week, so I needed some rest at home. Can’t wait until next year.

how to make the perfect burger

This is the ultimate burger. For an 8 oz. burger, it’s the lighest, heaviest burger you’ll ever eat. Notice how airy it is, threatening to collapse and surrender on the first bite. This is due to the a technique pioneered by Heston Blumenthal of Fat Duck fame. I’ll go over how I did mine, but if you scroll to the end of the page, you’ll find the link to the video of Heston’s quest for the perfect burger, where he goes over the recipe in detail. This is how we do our version, with notes on how to adapt it for the average household.

NOTE : Keep in mind the pictures below are from my home experiment. Our methods have changed since these were taken.


You can either grind it yourself, if you have an attachment, or you can purchase it already ground, but if you choose the latter, make sure you choose a pack that’s freshly ground, and the strands of meat are kept parallel (pictured above). You can also ask the butcher to grind your preferred cut for you. We prefer a mix of chuck, brisket, short ribs, and some dry-aged fat from our 100% grass-fed and finished Morris beef.

If you choose to grind your own meat, the trick is to catch the strands in a narrow loaf pan so they run in long parallel strands. This is the key. When the burgers are properly rolled, they strands will be locked from forming to cooking, and when you eat it, it just falls off tenderly since every single bite will be against the grain.


Try your best to keep the strands as parallel as possible, and put as little pressure on the meat as possible. Using food grade plastic wrap, roll it up like a piece of candy, tying off both ends to create a tight seal.

If you’re hardcore, like my Sous Chef, Ryan is, you’ll design a mold for this exact purpose. That’s what we use now. It also helps when you’re making a couple dozen of these every day.

TIP: it’s best to wet the work surface just ever-so-slightly (you can use a mist spray bottle); this helps the plastic stick.


Park the roll (or mold) in the freezer and chill it for 1 hour, or until the outside is completely firm, and the inside still soft.


A slicer would be the best knife to use, but make sure it has a razor sharp edge when cutting these. If you don’t have a knife that sharp, use a serrated knife just to break the plastic, and the frozen layer on the outside. You can switch knives for the remaining center.

These were weighed to about 8 oz. each.


There’s a couple of ways to cook the patty, and those will be outlined in the links below, but for practicality, I recommend searing or grilling.

SEARING : I prefer searing because you can baste the patty with flavored fat while cooking. You can use butter, suet, duck fat, or pork fat depending on your intended flavor profile. Seared patties tend to be juicer, and develop a more even crust.

Look at all the crispies.

GRILLING : if you’re looking for a deep char flavor, grill it. This make sense for certain burgers (such as our Chimichurri Burger). Otherwise, searing is recommended over grilling.

Either way you cook it, make sure to have the heat on high, and flip the patty often. Heston recommends every 15 seconds, but I found that it was too fragile. Instead, I would flip the patty every minute, for a total of about 8 minutes for medium-rare.

I season the beef with a mix of the following : fresh coarse black pepper, sea salt, mushroom seasoning, touch of MSG, and touch of sugar.

The hint of sugar helps it caramelize, and the mushroom seasoning and MSG accentuate the savory beef flavor.

When the patty comes off the heat to rest, we baste it in a beef demi-glace.


We use potato bread baked daily from a local bakery, but again, there’s some links below if you’re committed to making your own.

Spread soft butter on both sides, and toast them on medium high head.


I’m simple—mayonnaise and a dijonnaise is all I really need—but if I were to add something without taking away from the rest of the burger, it’d be a mushroom marmalade.

It consists of crimini mushrooms, balsamic vinegar, sugar, worcestershire, soy sauce, truffle oil, garlic, onions, parsley, chives, duck fat, and arbequina olive oil. How to make:

  1. Slice mushrooms, 1/8” thick; mince garlic and onions; finely chop the herbs.
  2. Caramelize the onions with duck fat slowly until the texture is slightly melty. Add half the garlic, and sweat for another 5 minutes. Have this done before starting the next step.
  3. In another pan, sear the slices of mushrooms in batches on high heat with duck fat.
  4. Let the pan cool, and add the mushrooms, sweated garlic, and caramelized onions.
  5. Add some balsamic vinegar, and cook until the mushrooms have fully absorbed the vinegar.
  6. Repeat with worchstershire, and soy sauce.
  7. Add a touch of sugar. Let mixture cool completely.
  8. Add chopped herbs, the remaining half of the fresh garlic, enough olive oil to coat, black pepper, and a drizzle of black truffle oil.


Of course, there’s an over-complicated modernist version of the cheese slice, that we do at work, but for home purposes, I recommend havarti, or—why not—American cheese. They both melt beautifully.

Notice the granulation of beef all going the same way?

Notice the granulation of beef all going the same way?

And that’s our perfect burger.


Check these links out for how it can be done with a well-equipped kitchen.

ubuntu - napa, ca - 2007

Ubuntu is closed now, but I never posted these pictures, so here you go.