You might not be familiar with the name Vernon "Ol' Lilly" Lilly, but he's a well-known villain in bear lore. He was famous for hunting grizzly bears, traveling great lengths for a single kill. He's considered one of the most notorious mountain men in American history, but it was in Cuba where Lilly and I squared off face to face, and where I reconnected with my old friend Chef 'Po Bear.
'Po isn't a bear I've talked about here, mostly because of a deep guilt I've long carried. If you know my story, you know of a sous-chef I replaced at the Michelin star restaurant when I was first coming up. That sous-chef was 'Po Bear. We were close friends, and I felt that I'd betrayed him. While I continued to rise through the ranks, he was ostracized in the culinary world as humans would quip he was "the bear version of Wally Pipp." He relocated to New Orleans and opened 'Po Bear Sandwiches until disputes over the name forced him to close shop. Dejected, he set off on a trip around the world to clear his mind, leading to our fateful encounter in Cuba with "Ol' Lilly."
Lilly fascinated me as a cub. The stories of his misdoings kept me up all night out of fear, but I couldn't get enough. Then one day he arrived to our sloth. In my hometown, that day is known as the "Ol' Lilly Massacre," but I just know it as the day Lilly poached my parents.
As my reputation as a chef continued to grow I began receiving invitations from heads of state to chef their special dinner parties. It was at one of Castro's soirées in Cuba where I once again caught a glimpse of Vernon Lilly. I felt a sudden rush of anger and resolved immediately that I must capture this evil man so he could be tried for his many bear crimes. I managed to go undetected by Lilly that evening and put my revenge plan into motion the next morning. Disguised with fancy clothes, a fedora and a cigar dangling from my mouth, I introduced myself in the lobby of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. To my utter shock, Lilly and I formed an immediate connection. He was warm, kind, and a true raconteur. He showed me all over Havana the next few days and I found it hard to believe this could be the same man that terrorized my family in his younger years.
Then one morning driving down Avenida de Maceo he finally revealed his true intentions. The reason Lilly was in Cuba at all, he told me, was to poach my old friend, 'Po Bear. 'Po was in town as part of his trip 'round the world, and little did he know Lilly had been tracking him all along waiting for the right moment to make the trophy kill. I was aghast as I realized we were making our way towards 'Po and I had no way to tip him off. When we arrived to 'Po's bungalow he was outside picking from a plantain tree. Not fooled by my disguise, he greeted me with an emphatic, "Bear!?" only to then discover Ol' Lilly as he rounded the corner behind me. Lilly could barely believe his luck; two prized bears right there for his taking. Lilly quickly hit me with a dose of chloroform and I was laid out cold in the garden, surely only moments from my demise. My next memory was waking up to the smell of fried plantains, and a furry paw handing me a mojito. As I knocked off the cobwebs and my state of mind returned, I watched as the authorities took Vernon Lilly away, never to be seen again.
'Po never wanted to discuss exactly what happened that day, but I knew I owed him my life. I promised him I'd always be there for him, no matter what. We shared a big bear hug and went our separate ways. I thought of 'Po often over the many years that followed, and was thrilled when I finally received message from him asking for a favor. He'd caught wind of Cow by Bear, even attending dinners in San Diego and Seattle, and he wanted in. Specifically, he wanted to return to the South. After exploring many great cities, it was decided that Chef 'Po Bear would open Cow by Bear Savannah, the latest expansion to our dinner party experience experiment.
It hasn't taken long for word to catch on about the unique experience Chef 'Po is putting on, and I couldn't be more proud of his Best Chef of the South nomination! If you love Cow by Bear, it would mean a lot to us if you'd give Chef 'Po a vote (voting ends Monday), and help us in spreading the word about our newest location. You can hear from Chef 'Po himself below, and check out the recipe for his delicious summer salad currently on the menu in Savannah.
Introducing Chef 'Po Bear
“I am honored to be part of the Cow by Bear family and proud to offer this experience to the fine people of Savannah that have welcomed me with open arms. I am touched by the nomination for 'Best Chef of the South,' a dream a tiny 'Po could only have imagined growing up among the sheep in the highlands of France. I wouldn't be here without the dedication of the others who helped me get Cow by Bear Savannah off the ground, so Bear - wherever you are - this one's for you, buddy! (Also, I'm missing that pair of running shorts you borrowed last time you were here if you could please send.)
I hope you'll all enjoy my summer salad recipe below, and dine with me at Cow by Bear Savannah!"
Chef 'Po Bear
Sweet Dreams Are Made Of Cheese
for the mozzarella panna cotta:
500 ml heavy cream
200 g fresh mozzarella, cut into small dice
3 sheets of gelatine leaves
1 tsp salt, or more to taste
2 tbls good quality extra virgin olive oil
for the tomato confit:
1 qt of cherry tomatoes, or any small variety
4 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
olive oil (enough to toss tomatoes in)
8 sprigs of fresh thyme
salt &pepper to taste
for the parmesan chip:
shredded parmesan cheese
for the mozzarella panna cotta:
1. Over low heat and in a medium saucepan, melt the cheese in the cream, stirring frequently for about 30 minutes.
2. After 20 minutes, bloom gelatin leaves in ice water for 10 minutes.
3. When most of the cheese has melted, and has gathered into a dense ball, drain and squeeze the water from the gelatin and add it to the pan, stirring to dissolve.
4. Remove pan from heat, strain into separate bowl and season with the salt and olive oil. Discard any solids left behind.
5. Prepare a panna cotta mold of your choice by greasing the inside lightly with oil. Pour panna cotta mixture into mold and let cool to room temperature before chilling in cooler for at least 4 hours.
6. To remove from the mold, gently run a sharp knife around the edge of the mold, dip bottom of mold in hot water for 10 seconds, and then slowly remove panna cotta.
for the tomato confit:
1. Preheat oven to 250F.
2. Toss tomatoes and garlic in oil, and spread out on sheet tray lined with parchment paper or silicone mat.
3. Tuck the thyme sprigs in and around the tomatoes and garlic, season with salt and pepper.
4. Place tray in oven and cook until tomatoes are just starting to split open and dry out, about 1 ½ to 2 hours.
5. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature before storing all contents in an airtight container.
for the parmesan chip:
1. Preheat oven to 425F.
2. Prepare sheet tray with parchment paper or silicone mat.
3. Place small amount of cheese, about 1 heaping tablespoon, on the tray and shape into a circle (the layer of cheese should be thin enough to see through to the tray underneath).
4. Place tray in oven and cook until lightly golden brown, about 4-6 minutes, then remove from oven to cool. The cheese will continue to brown and cook.
5. Once cooled, the chip should be hard and brittle. Remove from the pan and place on paper towel to soak up any excess oil. If not using right away, store chips in an airtight container in an area with low moisture so chips stay crisp.