Food that’s more than “Fair”!

The San Diego County Fair – formerly the Del Mar Fair, presented a certain level of anticipation and grotesque thoughts of diving elbow-deep into a world of fried artichoke hearts, bacon-wrapped turkey legs and deep-fried Kool-Aid. I was processing delusional thoughts of having a churning sensation in my belly while singing “That’s the way I like it” along with KC and The Sunshine Band performing on the big stage. Wondering, in KC’s words, if that’s really the way I like it!

This beautiful June weather, Friday evening trip to the fair, we happened upon a Happy Hour that was serving $5 Jose Cuervo Gold margaritas. “Can you make that a double?” After a couple of those bad boys, I couldn’t bring myself to an experimentation with the gastric juices that were in need of a calming. I thought, maybe the turkey leg would be about as calm as I could get. While scanning the horizon amongst the variety of culinary fast-food purveyors, displaying the mastery and prowess using the deep-fat fryers; I noticed a concessionaire offering a variety of chicken, sausage and coleslaw. Telling my close friend and acclaimed “CritDick”, “I’m going for this!” Pointing to the extremely huge vendor set-up provided by Ken and Sandy Kasinak’s Golden West Concessions. A San Diego based “State Fair-only provider.

Speaking with Sandy, I learned that, among other “rental” businesses they personally operate; they provide concessionaire services at six State fairs annually, grossing approximately half a million dollars of revenue each year. The San Diego Fair runs for 24 days…now extrpulating that, means this couple grosses approximately one-million annually. Being at their 70’s, this couple has been doing this for 30 years. Sandy said she was tired and ready to stay it home. She was very open with me and interested in telling her story. I again felt fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from successful F&B business owners. I explained to her that I was a culinary student and was relieved to have eaten at her establishment, that was extremely busy, with a fast-moving, long line of hungry guests. She explained that her operation consisted of, and I know I’m not capturing it all, two 40-foot trailers, four smaller (approximately 25-foot trailers) and a 5th wheel that they travel to each of the State’s fair locations. Add in the 25-or-so employees and their vagabond (carnie) style living arrangements…that’s a friggin huge operation. This particular operation also included a sink kitchen with plumbing (to the fairground sewer system and an additional concession stand somewhere else on the fairground that was serving up some smaller quicker items. Jeez…no wonder this lady was tired!

Today’s wood-grilled plating included a plain (minimally spiced) 1/2 chicken, an 8-inch swath of smoked sausage covered with saute’d bell peppers and onions, perfectly cooked french fries and a mildly-mayonnaised coleslaw. The condiment station included pre-wrapped utensils,  dispenser housed napkins and pumping stations full of ketchup, mustard, Tapatio and BBQ sauce. We put all the sauces in the provided little white cups on the side of our plates. THIS, was a welcomed change to the “shit-for-food’ normally anticipated and envisioned when attending the fair. All of it was good…in fact, I would give it a “very good” rating, since the chicken and sausage were perfectly cooked, not dried out and it serviced a patron desiring just some normal food, that wouldn’t leave a ring around the toilet in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, I think Ken and Sandy also have offerings of deep-fried questionables along other corners of their operation. They seem to know how to turn a buck! All of this combined with a friendly and attentive staff pushing food out through the service opening. Also don’t forget about the cashier that actually got my sub-standard, dry and off-the-cuff humor about discounting for military seniors.

I’m going to give Ken and Sandy’s Golden West Concessions 4 tickets to a cruise outta there for their operation, hospitality and service.

4 X


San Diego’s Best – Gauchito Argentine Grill

I’m just going to call it the best in San Diego. Gauchito Argentine Grill . We really don’t have many from which to choose. So fortunate to have the best right nearby!

Traveling through San Marcos, we’ve stopped here before; and desiring to try again, often stopped by to find them closed on Sundays. Well, today was Wednesday and I happened to be in the area. I’m thinking, “I’m gonna pick up some empanadas for the family”. We are used to empanadas from Los Angeles’ “Catalina Market” and these are just as good or better. I have issues making empanadas. I can’t seem to get the dough right or the filling. I’ll keep trying…to be continued!

I just happened to be there just before their short closing (3-5pm daily). They use their closure time for dinner service preparation. I was fortunate enough to catch the owner. Turns out, she’s the founder and previous owner of Pampas Argentine Grill on Aero Drive in San Diego, the only good Argentine restaurant before she sold it. She and the original Pampas chef had started a new venture right near my house. I didn’t know the relationship. I think Pampas is still good to this day.

I met her…Celeste…the owner of Pampas…really??? I was stoked! I talked with her extensively, milking her for every ounce of information I could, yet not enough to totally intrude and keep her from their break time. I showed up just before 3pm (short closing). She was very friendly and open to conversation. My food was awesome, yet predictable. I guess I knew what to expect…I expected excellent, and I got excellent empanadas. I also ordered short ribs. They were similar to what I can make…but then again I married into an Argentine family, so a certain amount rubs off…just not the empanadas. I’m going to get that one mastered…and I have a family source. I just have to come up with the right ploy…or money! One of these days!

To summarize: Bull Shit…just go there, they are very good!


Recognizing Awesomeness! – Dr. Evil

I’ve written about this guy in the past. He’s a co-worker that really is the only one on our staff that get’s excellent culinary inspiration from the same thing as I. He really is a capable cook…consitantly bringing to the workplace creations worth recognizing.

I arrive one morning to a note. I get to work at 6am and he’s the only one that beats me.  I think he suffers from the same sleeping issue as I…my family calls it “active bowel syndrome”, in which you wake early…just ’cause… and I’ll just leave it at that. Well, Dr. Evil is a name I’m using with him from now on. I was going to call him “The Mad Doctor”, but Dr. Evil just seems fitting. As many of you may know, I’m the original “Dr. Evil” amongst several family members, so I really had to think about my reservations for the re-use.

Dr. Evil (he’s the only person in our office with a PHD), is a Wildlife Biologist so most of his shit (discussions and conversation) is demented and void of any realization of human understanding and interactional relationship. He’s a scientist for Pete’s sake. A great guy…but an absolutely awesome cook!

The note read “Chuck’s Spicy Cajun Pancit”. First thing I asked him…before I tried it was, “What the hell do you know about Pancit”. His reply was “I kinda like it, and just wanted to make something”. He brought in this contraption that had a very interesting appeal. It had color, texture, and flavor. Ingredients included some kind of Japanese mushroom (he forgot the name), Gulf Shrimp, Crawfish and Alligator. Hell, I guess now the question is, “What does Alligator taste like?” My answer is, “It tastes like chicken”, ’cause that’s what I thought it was. He also had plenty of broken (not crushed) red chili pepper to add the heat, texture and color.

I quickly complimented him on his execution. The noodles were perfectly cooked and not broken/destroyed. The spiciness was firm…but not killer, and the entire dish was spiced flawlessly. Well done! I even brought a sample home so the family could check it out.

Although I’m probably only going to buy him one…Chuck’s ability of awesomeness in the kitchen has earned him 4 bottles of inspiration!


Miramar Cafe… Or, some people have no clue!

Sounded like it might have a possibility,

The Miramar Cafe on Miramar Rd just outside the West Gate of MACS Miramar near San Diego promised fast service and specialties of Greek, American and Mexican cuisine. I anticipated a popular local, and good, comfort food emporium in which to hail…and claim as a close-to-work sneak out! Well my guess is that the homely Greek girl married the American serviceman and hired Mexicans to work in the kitchen, as is very typical here in So Cal. I think though, the homely the Greek girl wasn’t paying attention while watching her mother in the kitchen.

I was summoned to join some workmates for lunch, understanding that this place was recommended by one of the office staff…Yikes! Like I’ve said before, “scary what some people consider “really good” food”.

My boss and I arrived late, just as the other office staff was receiving their plates. It took the server 5 table trips (about 10 minutes), while dropping off plates, to acknowledge us with an “I’ll be right with you”. Everyone at the table ordered the American food (i.e. hamburger, club sandwich with fries etc). My boss and I ordered Greek. He a gyro, and I, a Greek chicken salad. My plate arrived 20 minutes after ordering. Everyone else at the table had just finished their meals. I received a large plate full of lettuce and I think 3 Kalamata Olives…with the pits and 1/2 of a tomato cut in thirds. There was a fair portion of very dry thigh or probably leg meat chicken adequately spiced. The salad was like the iceberg lettuce mix from Costco and mixed field green salad, also from Costco. The dressing was a bottled Greek or Creamy Italian, probably also from Costco…but I doubt it…it wasn’t even that quality. It just plain sucked! They also served some kind of overly white Tzatziki sauce that was void of any flavor. Oh, they did serve it with 1/2 of a pita. Really? Half? At $9.45 you’d think they could at least give you the whole pita.

Bottom line, I’m going to give this place the big single bottle of Ouzo…’cause I’m going to need a hallucination to make this place appear in a dream!


Gin and Juice – the real deal about The Pechanga BBQ Championships!

I was excited to visit my first food competition event. This was in Temecula, CA. I guess that’s kinda appropriate. There were many competitors and a handful of vendors. Busy but not crowded.

The event was scheduled from 10am to 6pm. We arrived, hungry, at 1pm to find most of the chicken was gone. Having just rocked out on the drive up, the last song on the satellite was OG (that’s Original Gangsta) Gin and Juice by Snoop. He cracks me up whenever I hear this tall, skinny dude with dread locks (imagining him in his video). Now fired up, I’m entering the event to a very good sounding band inside playing some Doobies. Kinda synonymous! I was ready for some food. I was hoping to sample some good, and even great, BBQ. I didn’t want to have the “fair” type of BBQ plate that comes with a half-ear of frozen corn and a turkey leg.

I was happy to find that purchasing entry ($5 each) and several (8) sampling tickets for $10, and an additional (3) rib tickets for another $10. Classic case of eyes bigger than the stomach. My wife and I purchased two sets of tickets…$70 bucks total. Yup 16 regular (pulled pork, chicken, tri-tip, brisket, sausage etc.) samples and 6 rib samples. Had I known the sample sizes we approximately 4oz each I would have done the quick math. That’s 8 samples X 4oz = 32oz (i.e. about 2lbs) of food each, and then the ribs. My wife said she had only received one rib sample from the displays for each ticket, but I received two. Some a bit meatier than others, but I now had nowhere to put it. I just kept taking it all in and eating with my fingers, then the sauces moved to my wrists and forearms. I was really having an issue trying to navigate 1) samples, 2) walking, 3) cold beer, 4) liking my elbows, 5) talking, 6) taking a picture or two and finally, try to keep my white t-shirt (big mistake) clean and wipe my hands with a napkin. Does anyone have a “moist towelette”? Not one friggin moist towelette in the joint. I quickly spot a set of out-houses with the sink stand in front. You know…the kind with the foot pump for water. I just kept pumping and pumping. Just my luck!…no water and no towels. At 1pm,…really? The line to get in was still stacked up and there was no chicken, no water and no moist toweletts. I was starting to get claustrophobic and then started in with the anxiety attacks. “I need a moist towelette”. Luckily there were napkins around at most of the sampling booths. We knew we would be out in the sun so both my wife and I wore white shirts. With all of the licking and finger sampling she escaped unscathed, yet I received only one small BBQ sauce ornament on the bottom edge of my shirt. It wasn’t until we were in the event 10 minutes, and our second sampling, when we realized we had dressed inappropriately; and next time, we’re gonna carry along a fist-full of moist toweletts.

We ended up finding a take-out style container to pile in the remaining 3lbs of food we didn’t eat, so we could have it later at home with the kids. The BBQ was good but realized upon departure that we had loaded up on proteins only. I think I had one very small tortilla (a pulled pork taco) with a small bit of cabbage on top. Other wise I must have eaten 1lb of various pulled pork samples alone. Then on top of that I had some tri-tip, some brisket and maybe only 1 rib. Finally…CHICKEN!, I finally found someone with CHICKEN! I quickly began to talk with the purveyor about what I might encounter with this chicken so I ask, “what kind of chicken you got here?” He says, “BBQ chicken”. I rephrase my question, “where’s it from?” The guy looked at me confused so I quickly pounced on him and said, “is this Southern or Northern Idaho chicken?” I continued to perplex this big hillbilly, probably from one of the local area’s like Chula Vista. Nothing against Chula Vista, but most of the contestants were from surrounding areas…so I had to pick somewhere! I continue, “I don’t believe California chicken is the way to go”. “Only chicken from Idaho or the Michigan area, there along the lakes”. This big cross-eyed dude wanted to stab me in the ear with his tongs… but instead, reached in the bowel and handed me a small taste of his dried concoction saying, “it’s thigh meat”. Finally I got my answer; but was given the most overcooked, tasteless piece of chicken thigh meat I think I have ever experienced. Next booth…

I finally spoke with someone who explained to me that the chicken is the first to be presented to the judges, thus it’s the first to be distributed as samples and is mostly gone this time of day. I assumed the ribs must have been the second item up for judging because by the time we left, most of the ribs were now gone. I felt bad for those entering the event after we left (2:30pm) because there was beginning to be a limited supply of most of the BBQ. The only thing these people were gonna get was the frozen corn-on-the-cob on a stick…mmmm yuck!

Overall, what did I think? Other than seeing every known BBQ grill contraption except a simple 22″ Weber Grill (my forte’), I thought BBQ sauce comes in many renditions…many, many, many renditions. Everyone’s is the best. I remember only three things distinctly. 1) I had one pulled pork that I thought in my mind would have been exceptional in a sandwich with just the perfect pickle. I don’t know what kind of pickle, I would’ve had to experiment. 2) One brisket was actually very flavorful, moist and tender (fatty, but tender). 3) Bring moist toweletts!

This event gets 4 heads of broccoli, cause I’m going to need something to help things out…Now THAT’s funny!


Tomatoes gone wild in WWII.

Finally a year on our farm and the production looks to be out of control.

My wife planted some kind of steroid-driven garden this year yielding a bumper crop of tomatoes, basil and strawberries. I think I’m finally going to get to stop taking my Metamucil.

The other day the eldest threw down some kickin’ Bruchetta featuring our crop. Hell I didn’t know that boy could make such a bang-up treat. They were GOOOOD!

I may have the youngest hoist the tomatoes above his head along the street and make some dough. Hey, times are tough! Which reminds me of electrical theory. What…electricity?. Have you reverted to smoking crack?

For many years now, I have been teaching electrical theory to college students desiring to obtain their airframe and powerplant (A&P) certificate. One of the requirements is for them to learn about electrical theory. That’s where I fit in. My background includes just a couple (20+) years of aircraft electrical/electronic systems repair working on sophisticated military war aircraft avionics systems. Along with my various other qualifications, someone decided that I was duly qualified to teach this stuff.

One of the learning objectives taught is about resistors. The color coding of old school resistors (still used) is a rhythmical remembering tool designed to remember the sequence. Without going into too much of the details, I’ll keep it as brief as possible. The tool goes like this, “Bad Boys Race Our Young Girls Behind Victory Garden Walls”. It stands for Black, Brown, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Violet, Grey, White for the colors on the resistor. I never knew what a “Victory Garden” was until my mother told me a story just about a year ago. The story goes something like this. During the Second World War (WWII), America’s economy was terrible and all efforts went to support the war. Back home, due to the poor economy, families would plant “Victory Gardens” in hopes their loved ones would come home safe.

Now, almost every time I talk about that, or tell the story…like now; I get little choked up, because I too was a service member deploying for long periods away from my family. I never knew what a “Victory Garden” was; and, at the time I was in specialty school for the Navy and learning electrical theory, I used to substitute “Victory Garden” with “Valley Girl”, from the song made famous at the time by Moon Unit Zappa.        Who???       Jeez, how old am I?

Enough of that…just enjoy the great garden pictures, hug a service member,… and say thanks!


The circus is in town!

Not quite like going to see the circus. It was missing the elephants.

Students from the Art Institute, San Diego presented their Capstone projects for display at the San Diego Air and Space Museum in Balboa Park yesterday. Some of them did a remarkable job, others…better go back to class.

I showed  my display for promoting this website. I had fun talking with many people. All in all, a good time. There was a lot of food being provided by most of the culinary students and there were other displays from the Graphic Arts Department, Fashion Design and Sound Reproduction Departments. About 75% of the displays were just culinary. Now I know where the school gets their money.

I was kind of surprised that many culinary students actually used mayonnaise in their samples, since they were to be sitting out…more remarkable was that people were eating those samples. I must confess, I dropped my guard and ate a macaroni salad that was highly recommended. I don’t know why…I just don’t know why. I swear I had a belly ache last night. I remember thinking while eating it, “why am I eating this?…, it tastes like plain mac salad. What is so good about this? Am I missing something?” Sheesh…some people. Now I feel like a jackass. One thing I have made a conscious effort to do since my Sanitation and Safety class was to avoid certain foods (i.e. macaroni salad) at workplace potlucks. This was a similar environment, yet the students “have been trained” to the same standard as I. Reality today is that most mayonnaises are processed through pasteurization (heating ) or made from hydrogenated oils (adding hydrogen to the oil base, forcing the oils to become stabilized)…which makes them far safer, and last much, much longer than those mayonnaises made from just raw eggs. Still, the limitation of spoilage and food-born illness still exists. When I have a party and decide to serve a room temperature pasta or potato salad I strictly avoid mayonnaise or cream based recipes. Hell, I usually always avoid recipes all together. I will just use olive oil and maybe a vinegar based dressing. Something that will last at room temperature. A bottled vinaigrette can also be used for you folks that just don’t know any better. I usually avoid eating those at potlucks also. Once I taste them, I’m like…uh…NO! Any way I didn’t start to write tonight about the salad…I was supposed to comment on the circus.

I forgot what it was like to create a project for a school science fair project except when I help my kids…then again, I try to let them handle it themselves and they always have done a good job. Usually I only provide technical assistance when heavy machinery or huge messy techniques are about to be employed.

So today some of the students did great. It was like a crock-pot symposium at the Betty Crocker cook-off or something. I spoke with many people and forced my business card on many folks. Reality was, I had my display in a prominent location separating two tables displaying  food. People would just walk around me, not even give my table a glance (I had no food) and take another sample from the next table. I finally moved my table in the middle of the floor, now I had some traffic from both sides. It was a strategic marketing move…he, he, he. I like that “Strategic Marketing Move”. Yeah that’s it…

So I’m not going to post this to FaceBook yet because I want to see how many people go directly to the website. I’ll repost to FaceBook later.

Have fun in life…you could’ve just tasted mayonnaise. This event gets 3 eggs.