Cooking Fearlessly again

I volunteered Elise and myself to babysit Jack over the Memorial Day weekend while John and Christine travel to Mexico to smuggle black market DVD copies of Kevin Costner’s “Waterworld” and small children who sell Chicklets.

We thought nothing of it when we offered to babysit over the long weekend. Much to our surprise, John and Christine gave both of us a gift certificate to the April 17th Hudson’s on the Bend cooking class.

The class was fun and informative. Elise took notes and I retained new information in the cabeza.

An interesting bit of information that I picked up was that cilantro is excellent in reducing heavy metal (lead, mercury, aluminum, cadmium and arsenic) toxicity. Heavy metals are often found in our drinking water, fruits, vegetables, fish and shellfish. Luckily cilantro is one my favorite herbs and I can eat it by the handful.

Elise was able to see a mandolin in action and wrote that down on what I would guess was a “need to purchase” list.

Watching Jeff and Robert prepare the meal was amazing, as always. For this class we all sat outside in Jeff’s backyard. I was sitting there thinking: “Wow – in the past few months, I’ve been cooking a lot like this”. I had never eaten any of the days’ menu items, but all of the ingredients are now mainstays in my kitchen – big, pungent, local and spicy flavors.

There was one change in the original menu. Instead of smoked buffalo quail, they made Duck Diablos – a medallion of smoked duck breast wrapped in smoked bacon with a thick slice of jicama, jalepeno and a mission fig soaked in balsamic vinegar. The appetizers were served with a fantastic red chile glaze.

Lunch at the restaurant was fantastic. We sat across from a family who had treated their dad to a Hudson’s cooking class for his 70th birthday. We had a great conversation with them.

The salad, main course and dessert were all great, but we still couldn’t get over those Duck Diablos – those things are so awesome (yes, I’m going to Central Market this weekend and picking up some duck breasts if anyone wants to come over for some gourmet southwestern cuisine!)

We came home completely stuffed with knowledge and food. It was a great time that has left us both very inspired.

Here are some photos from the afternoon.

Motley Crue at the SBC

Elise and I were exhausted from an all-nighter benefit for the Lone Star Classic Foundation on Thursday but with fists pumping, had another all nighter with Motley Crue and thousands of their other fans in San Antonio on Friday night.

The concert started out somewhat slow. It didn’t help that we were elbow-to-elbow in the nosebleed section of the SBC Center. Great for Motley Crue, bad for the fans. I like a concert where I can be somewhat comfortable and not feel like I’m in a sardine can.

The SBC Center in San Antonio

Every arena concert that I’ve been to in San Antonio has been a let down. This one was pretty close to not being an acception. The accoustics were horrible and being on the upper deck probably didn’t help much either.

After a few beers and some serious enthusiasm from the crowd, the Crue got rowdy. There was a semi-amusing circus theme complete with custom choppers, ribbon-dangling strippers and fire breathing little people. Vince Neil still has an amazing voice (actually, I think it’s gotten much better with age), Tommy Lee was the life of the party, Mick Mars still wails on the guitar but also still looks like he’s fighting off death and I now officially have a man crush on Nikki Sixx – if you look up ‘cool’ in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of Nikki. He was the ring leader on Friday night, pumping up the crowd and making the night a personal experience for everyone in attendance.

Tommy Lee had an awesome drum solo… there was an intermission where he walked from behind his kit and approached the audience. A few strippers actresses came out from behind the curtains and handed him a bottle of champagne (and secretly harnessed him to a pulley). Tommy ‘shared’ the bottle and suddenly rocketed fifty feet into the air and landed on a suspended drum kit where he started off an amazing digital drum solo. After a minute or so, the harness rocketed him across the stage (still fifty feet above the stage) to another drum kit where he continued his solo. He was then lowered back down the the stage and did an interesting little ditty with a digital video camera…

The concert was great aside from the accoustics and the price of tickets. It was one of those shows you have to see at least once in your lifetime if you grew up with Motley Crue.

Lone Star Classic 2005

On Thursday I met Elise at El Arroyo for Bill and Gail Engvall’s Lone Star Classic kick off party. The food and fun went on until the early morning and made it tough waking up on Friday morning, but it was all for a fantastic cause. I put a bid in on one auction and was excited when I heard “Going once! Going twice!…” and then some guy outbid me by walking up with $1000 cash. I’m glad I kept pushing my bid or otherwise the Lone Star Paralysis Foundation wouldn’t have that $1000.

Elise had told me what the party was for but because of the whirl wind of caterings she’s been doing lately, I had forgotten what the Lone Star Classic was until I showed up and she explained it to me again. It is a great foundation and I’m glad that I was able to show up and provide some support and, more importantly, that Elise fed those who’ve donated a lot of time and money to the foundation.

We were also lucky to meet Gail and Bill Engvall and Doug English, among others. It was really a great night.

Art Car Parade

I woke up yesterday morning and drove down to S. Congress to do a little shopping at Lucy in Disguise. I lucked out and found an awesome parking spot directly across from the store.

I shopped for an hour or so and when I walked out of the store, I walked into the beginning of the Art Car Parade. Luckily the parade was a slow mover so I was able to dash between entries to the other side of the street. I popped open the back of the truck and sat to watch the whole parade.

Austin is such a weird, but fun, city.

Tax time dilemma

This is from my joke of the day calendar that Grandma Thurston gave me for Christmas:

    “If a lawyer and an IRS agent were both drowning and you could save only one of them, would you go to lunch or read the paper?”

Expensive lunch

I had a meeting at OnRamp this morning to go over some final design issues for our customers’ websites. After my meeting I drove over to campus to pick up marketing supplies for the office. It was lunchtime so I called Elise to see if she wanted to have lunch since I was in Austin.

We met at her office and decided to try Hoffbrau Steakhouse. We’ve driven by it hundreds of times and have always said: “We should try that place sometime”. The Hoffbrau Steakhouse is a neat looking joint both inside and out.

    “Opened in 1934 in a former feed-store building, Hoffbrau will remind you that Austin was once a small town.”

The restaurant reminds me of a someplace you might find yourself dining back where I spent my formative years near Bellville. A greasy spoon that’s been around for 70 years and is probably one of the oldest establishments on 6th street.

Our waitress came to the table and rattled off: “7 oz. sirloin, 14 oz. sirloin, 7 oz. t-bone, 14 oz. t-bone and today’s special is the 18 oz. t-bone and the price includes salad and iced tea.”

Huh? Okay. Where’s a menu? I didn’t ask that, but that’s what I was expecting. Elise and I sat befuddled for a moment. Okay, this is a unique dining experience. What we were just told were our dining options. I went in thinking I might just get a burger, maybe a chicken fried steak sandwich or something. I had five steak options. Elise quickly bought in and ordered a medium rare 7 oz. sirloin. Just as she ordered, her phone rang and she had to tend to work. I was still in Ozzy Osbourne mode, mumbling my inner monologue: “whu, whu, I I I I don’t think I get it. I have to choose a little steak or a big steak or a little steak or a big steak or a biggy big steak??!!”

Elise was still on the phone. The waitress was staring at me like I was wearing my underwear on my head. A quick decision had to be made. Don’t like sirloin as much as t-bone. Problem solved. I’m hungry. Big steak.

“For 88 cents more you can get the 18 oz. t-bone and that comes with the salad and tea.” I was told.

“How much is it?” I asked.

I don’t remember what she said, but it was something like $17. I ordered a medium rare 14 oz. sirloin instead.

A few minutes later our steaks came out. One plate, one steak in a pool of what looked like grease. The steaks are seared on a flattop grill. I know this because the small kitchen is visable from the small dining room. Our steaks indicated this as well because there were no grill marks, just spotted sear marks. We concurred that our lunch just didn’t look right.

I cut into my steak. It had a nice color on the inside. I took a bite of my steak. “Ummm, this is bad” I thought. Elise did the same. Her steak was cooked well done – no pink.

The separated liquid on our plates that I thought was grease left that infamous film on the top of my mouth, you know, like grease. We both thought about grinning and bearing it and just eating our lunch, paying our bill, being on our way and chalking it up to experience. The steaks themselves weren’t good. That moist, seared-in spongy texture wasn’t there. I just couldn’t do it. I put my silverware down after a second sampling of my steak. The waitress immediately came over and asked what was wrong.

“This just isn’t good. We don’t like our steaks. It’s not what we were expecting and I honestly don’t want to pay for a couple steaks that are sitting in a pool of flattop grease. My wife’s steak is overcooked and we just don’t like the way they taste. I’ll be more than happy to pay for our glasses of iced tea and the french fry that my wife ate, but I’m not going to pay for these steaks.”

The restaurant fell silent.

It was like the scene in those old western movies where the stranger strolls into the saloon and the music screaches to a stop, the talking stops, the bartender drops a glass, all eyes fall on the new guy. Dead silence.

Two big black guys were manning the grill (one of which Elise said she has met before and is the owner of the restaurant). I could feel both sets of their eyes burning a hole in the back of my head.

Oh yes, I offended. It was an awkward situation.

The waitress brought the check. She pointed out that the “grease” is their lemon butter sauce. She comped the steaks and only charged us for the iced tea. I left a $5 tip because I felt bad. Two teas cost us $9.

We were still hungry so we drove across the street and had lunch at Katz’s.

We didn’t like the sirloin steaks at Hoffbrau Steakhouse. The restaurant is located on a prime piece of real estate and has been around for a long time. A lot of other people must like the steaks. Maybe it’s the lemon butter sauce.

Note: if you’re the owner or a cook at Hoffbrau Steakhouse, I work at the Thundercloud Subs on Wm. Cannon and Brodie Ln. You can find me there if you want to beat me up.

Joe Consumer

In the past year or so I’ve found myself becoming a consumer advocate with my primary focus on food. This is mainly because as I grow older and versed in the world of marketing and sales, I value my dollar and want what I pay for. I’m also the type of guy who would want someone to tell me if I had spinach in my teeth or if my capri pants made my hips look too big.

I’ve been relatively soft spoken in the past, now I’m inquisitive and willing to offer my two cents. I like to think that feedback is appreciated. I value the feedback I get from my own customers. Most of the time it’s something I don’t want to hear, but what better way to learn?

Adrian and I went to HEB on Sunday. I bought in to the point of sale cola cooler (which is very rare). The reason I bought in was because of the new Dr. Pepper bottle. I opened the cooler and reached for their new product and quickly realized it was a diet drink. I recently saw someone drinking a Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper and thought “Wow – I want to try one of those”

HEB didn’t have Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper in their POS on Sunday. I e-mailed the people at Dr. Pepper on Monday night and told them that some of us aren’t on a diet and ended up buying HEB’s house brand. I’m waiting to hear back from the folks at Dr. Pepper.

Earlier this year Elise and I had a horrible dining experience at Austin’s popular Chez Zee. I sincerely and politely filled out a comment card detailing our dinner outing. Never heard a word from Chez Zee and because of that I tell our friends not to eat there.

Elise recently had a frustrating experience at a neighborhood Thundercloud Subs store. Just today we received a friendly apology letter and a voucher for a free sandwich. When I think submarine sandwich, Thundercloud would ordinarily be the last on my list, but because of their quick response to a customer complaint, I’d entertain the notion of giving them another try (the voucher being obvious enticement).

We had chips and salsa the other night with dinner. I hadn’t had good ol’ chips and salsa in a while and quickly remembered why: our last lunch at Texadelphia. Here’s the e-mail I sent to Texadelphia this evening:

My wife and I (used to) enjoy eating at Texadelphia.

Our last visit was to the store on Brodie Ln. in Austin. Your sandwiches have always been great and if we support a chain, we would prefer to support a chain that started locally. On this last visit (I think it was in early March of this year), the chips and salsa left a bad taste in our mouths. Pun intended.

I think serving chips and salsa is a fantastic idea – very Texas. The chips and salsa we had were absolutely terrible. The chips tasted as good as wet cardboard. They were dry, semi-stale and tasted cheap. The salsa tasted like the cheapest generic brand mixed with watered down tomato paste. You guys are unique – I think you should have unique chips and salsa. Why not your own salsa recipe? If what we were served is your recipe, then Cysco and US Food Service have you beat by a long shot.

I think I’m safe in assuming that the chips and salsa hadn’t been left out or contaminated. What we tasted that day was the result of too many corners being cut.

I think you should represent Texas with your novel side of chips and salsa. Offer a variety… chipotle, habanero, cilantro, peach, roasted garlic, sun dried tomato, black beans, corn, carrot… big, bold flavors with fresh ingredients. Or perhaps partner with a local purveyor who specializes in salsas.

Maybe fry your own chips or find a new vendor that offers a better, if not premium chip product. With your current product, I’d rather drive down the street and settle for a boring burger with fries.

That being said, I’d be interested in hearing back from Texadelphia if there are any plans to change or expand upon the chips and salsa side concept.

We’d love to have a nice lunch at Texadelphia again but would feel weird sneaking in our own bag of chips.

Given my current record, I’m not expecting to hear back from Texadelphia.

I wrote to Chick Fil A this evening. Not because of a bad experience… I just had to question their old marketing tactic:

was driving to my Tae Kwon Do class this evening via HWY 620 in SW Austin, TX and saw an employee in a cow suit wearing a sandwich board. This Chick Fil A store is located on a Texas highway with the speed limit set at either 55 or 65 mph (I don’t remember which). Most of us drive somewhere around 70-75 mph past this store.

I saw the same cow an hour later on my way home from class. I jovially waved. The cow was there, bouncing, waving and probably thinking: “Hopefully I’ll look back on this job one day and laugh.” The cow waved back.

I’ve seen this cow outside of the restaurant a few times. It’s mildly amusing to see a person in a cow suit with an unreadable sandwich board or a posterboard-sized banner but honestly, it’s not getting me in the door. Yes, this advertising worked because it stuck out in mind enough to write to Chick Fil A, but I’m not going to seek a franchise tomorrow for lunch. Instead, I’m still going to wonder: “Does this kind of marketing still work?” How many years have I seen cows painting backwards letters on billboards? How many more minimum wagers are going to have to put on the suit and bounce on the roadsides? How many people are going to drive by, laugh and stop at Wendy’s for dinner instead?

I must note that I’m not some sort of humanitarian advocate. High school kids wearing a mascot suit for a chicken sandwich fast food joint is funny, but again, I’m going to stop at the grocery store on my way home instead of Chick Fil A. I’d rather have something new, fresh and homemade.

My main question is: Does this marketing strategy still work effectively for Chick Fil A? I love advertising and will buy in when the ad is clever and appeals to me. Beating a dead horse with a cow on the side of the road makes me think burgers or a newer, fresher product.

I’ve loved Chick Fil A since I was a kid. It was such a treat when my mom and I would go to the mall in Houston and we would have Chick Fil A for lunch in the food court. Your original sandwich is on my list of all-time comfort foods.

What are my options as a loyal consumer now? The cows are worn leather. Chains have bought into the low carb frenzy and that campaign is getting old (there are some of us who aren’t obese overconsumers). I look to the local guy now for fun, original and foolproof ideas.

I would like to hear your thoughts.

The Feds

I spent most of the day dredging through our files at the office in a search for corporate website and legal documentation. One of our customers was paid a visit by the FDA. Now I’m having to learn the role of paralegal.

I’m having to deal with so much red tape and BS right now. I’m also in the process of trying to hire two new employees. It’s only Monday and I’m already wound down.

Breakfast with Elise, Godfather Club

Elise worked on Friday night and I fully engaged myself in killing covenant soldiers.

Elise and I had a breakfast date early Saturday morning. We had the best fruit kolaches at Lone Star Kolaches on North Lamar. Unfortunately the pigs in a blanket weren’t as good as those of the Czech Stop in West, TX. Elise and I had a nice chat with Massey, the owner, and made her aware of the ad that drew us to her shop.

We drove home and then parted ways. Elise met with Kim to go over wedding stuff for Brad and Kim’s wedding. I ran errands around town to get ready for the Godfather Club meeting. After Elise’s and Kim’s meeting was over, Elise and Christine went to get pedicures. I’ll never understand pedicures – or women for that matter. Why to they concern themselves with things like haircuts, pedicures, shoes and something known only to them as Aveda when there are more important things like 300 GB hard drives, 500 HP muscle cars and granules that you can spread throughout your yard that makes fire ants boil in their own digestive juices.

I stopped by NTB to get a tire patched on the Expedition. I sat in the waiting room for 30 minutes. I looked through the bay window a few times and couldn’t see my truck. I walked out to the parking lot to see the truck still parked. I told the guy who helped me to give me my keys…

Josh: “This is ridiculous. What was taking so long?”

NTB kid: “I don’t know, sir. I guess the guys in the back were just farting around.”

So I left them to play with their farts and drove to the flea market in Oak Hill and found a one man operation who patched my tire in ten minutes and only charged me $17 – versus NTB who charges closer to $30.

Later that evening I drove over to Pluckers on campus and picked up 100 hot wings for meeting (I’m strategically refering to this as a meeting instead of a party hence forth). I hadn’t been on the UT campus in a long, long time. There was activity all about. Young studious minds walking and bicycling here to there. All young, vibrant faces that made me feel old and out of the loop. I decided to not let myself feel too old because I was, in fact, cool. I had four sacks full of “Fire in the Hole” hot wings and an important meeting to host.

I got home. John came over shortly after. Adrian was next. Then Marc. Victor. Tommy. And then Kirk. We all ate hot wings, drank beer, watched Ultimate Fighting Championship, discussed business and finally a series of competitions that awarded some great gifts such as a Chipotle gift certificate, a Dale Earnhardt wall clock and matching beach towel, a shower mirror/radio/CD player and the grand prize: a new iPod shuffle. Congrats to Tommy for winning the shuffle!

While the guys were meeting, Lanessa, Holly, Stewart and Elise went downtown to do a little bar hopping. Apparently they chose the wrong night to go to 6th Street. UT hosted the Texas Relays and every college track athelete in the nation was in Austin and wanting to party downtown on Saturday night as well. They got stuck in a parking garage as everyone was trying to leave downtown at the end of the night.

Elise didn’t get home until 5 a.m. She and the crew were stuck in traffic for two and a half hours in the early a.m.

The guys retired relatively early. Adrian and Victor stayed the night at our place. Victor left around 7 a.m. I woke up shortly after. Adrian woke up around 9. He and I watched “Road Trip” and then channel surfed for another hour or so. Elise rose from slumber around noon. Adrian and I drove to HEB where I bought goods for our steak sandwich late lunch – jerk seasoned with a chipotle and cilantro mayo.

I get it

I felt like saying thanks last night… I wrote Jeff Blank an e-mail and told him how he has inspired me. It was awesome to receive a response from him so quickly.

I was telling Elise last night after I sent this e-mail to Jeff that being a chef has to be such a rewarding job. I think of it not much unlike being a doctor. There is a finite balance among art and science. There are so many rewards and so many failures.

I’d love to be a chef.

On Apr 8, 2005, at 7:35 AM, Jeff Blank wrote:

What a tribute ….Thank you…I will pass this on to Robert. It is rewarding to know that our love for food & cooking is understood & appreciated. It makes the effort all worth it. Thanks for “getting it”



P.S. The new book will be out this June

—–Original Message—–
From: Josh Janicek
Sent: Thursday, April 07, 2005 9:47 PM
To: [email protected]
Subject: Thank you!!!


I received an e-mail announcement for the cooking class on April 17th. I wish I could attend but will be out of town that weekend.

I also wanted to say thank you for the wonderful class you held at your house back in January. That Sunday afternoon was one of the best days of my life!

I used to work at the Austin Country Club as a banquet captain. After a few months I buddied up with the chefs (back then it was Jim McNeil, Jim Sicher and Ron Cook). I showed an interest in the back of the house and helped out whenever I could. I never officially ‘worked’ in the kitchen but I made sure to bug the hell out of them… “what is that? what’s in that sauce? how did you cook that?”

I would get home late at night after working a banquet and be so inspired. I began trying out my own ‘culinary endeavors’ shortly thereafter. I screwed up A LOT of meals trying to play chef. That was six years ago. Since then I’ve become a lot more comfortable in trying new things in the kitchen.

A few years ago I took my wife to Hudson’s on the Bend to celebrate her getting a new job. It was our first time at the restaurant and we both absolutely loved the food, service and atmosphere. My wife bought me the ‘Cooking Fearlessly’ cookbook and a gift certificate to your cooking class for my birthday a year later. That was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

Since then we’ve been back to the restaurant many times and have loved every meal.

After many sliced fingers, burned food, broken plates, fires, jalapeno oil in the eye, etc. etc., I really enjoy cooking and, more importantly, enjoy cooking fearlessly – and I don’t think I’m too shabby for an amateur!!

Again, thanks for the many great meals and, more importantly, the inspiration!

Best regards,

Josh Janicek

Hudson\’s April cooking class

Chef Blank is having a cooking class at his house on Sunday, April 17th. I want to go so badly. I’m going to have to limit myself to once a year.

If you’re in the Austin area, I can’t emphasize how awesome an experience it is to attend one of these cooking classes. Click here to sign up. It’ll put you back $125 so forego paying your utility and phone bill this month if you have to!!

    – Buffalo Quail Riding Jalapeno Cheese Grits –
    Pecan Wood Smoked Buffalo Quail riding atop Spicy Jalapeno Bleu Cheese Grits

    – Toasted Pecan Coriander Crusted Goat Cheese Salad –
    Candied Pecan Crusted Goat Cheese atop Mixed Field Greens with Blackberry Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing

    – Hot and Crunchy Ruby Trout –
    Hot and Crunchy Ruby Trout Swimming in a Pool of Mango Habanero Aioli Splashed with Ancho Sauce Chillin next to Toasted Pearl Cous Cous

    – Flaming Burro Bananas –
    Flaming Bananas in a Spiced Tuaca Fire Drizzled over Vanilla Bean Ice Cream