Monday, February 16, 2009

Winter Tasting Dinner: The Kama Sutra - The Results

As I was developing this menu I had docsconz's voice in my head (I often have eGers' voices in my head when I do things like this). In various topics, but mainly in the thread on best MG restaurants in the world, I remembered John talking about the MG restaurants that jump the shark and are more interested in pursuing an idea/gimmick versus putting out great food. I know that I have a tendency to do that because the more techniques I learn, the more I want to play. And that often leads to my emphasis being on technique instead of taste. So with John's voice ringing loudly, this menu wasn't a slave to the concept of aphrodisiacs or Kama Sutra. I worked in aphrodisiac ingredients when appropriate, and let the KS titles find an appropriate home with a dish instead of modifying a dish to fit the KS position.

Here's the setup. Four times per year I put on a tasting dinner that themes with the season. Winter was surely the hardest to theme with since I also try to source much of my food locally. For this dinner I was only able to use a handful of locally produced foods. This meal also happened to land on Valentine's Day which was coincidence not design, and that led to the theme of the Kama Sutra.

Of my 18 guests, four had been to the previous dinners and had an idea of the style of food. The other 14 had no idea, had never heard of Alinea or el bulli, etc. I did a brief introduction that explained the style of preparation and then told them to shut off their analytic brains and enjoy the ride. This meal leaned more heavily on meats since its an area where I need to grow in my skills. As such I had been studying the new Keller book and borrowed from it for this meal, as I did Alinea, which I'm much more comfortable with Achatz's techniques. Enough intro, here's the meal.

Course 1: Amuse Bouche: The Lotus

A direct ripoff from Alinea. Freshly squeezed granny smith juice sphere encapsulated in horseradish white chocolate/cocoa butter shell, set in celery juice. For those of you who know this dish, my shell was a tad thick, meaning it did burst easily in their mouths, but required a second of chewing to swallow the shell. Not ideal, but the flavors always have been, and always will be a great starter to a meal. I stayed mostly in the kitchen which was out of site (normally I find houses where the kitchen is visible so as to add to the drama), but I knew we were off to a good start when I heard the roars of laughter - it is a fun dish!

Course 2: Splitting the Bamboo

My adolescent male went wild with this one. I flew in ultra fresh tuna loin, cut it into smaller stips, coated in black and white sesame seeds, a bit of seasoning, and a quick pan sear to leave the inside very sumptuously red and meaty. I then split the strip and spread the legs (so to speak). Set inside the crotch was a reverse spherification of smoked oysters to which I added a high end tonic water. The plating included a nori flakes, savory malt, soy granola and miso nage.

Course 3: Caressing the Bud

In this course I was using Keller's technique for sous vide radishes, but I made some modifications which had nice results. The radishes were cooked in a sweet vinegar sauce, served with sunchoke soup, fried carrot threads and what I was calling a rubic's cube of root vegetables. I considered this one of my two courses for people to relax the senses - nothing too fancy, just comfort foods to take a break before the onslaught that was coming next.

Course 4: Mirror of Pleasing

My favorite course to plate although my pics sucked hence the ultra close up. Caviar set inside of a geleè with lime pudding, banana foam, curry salt, citrus flakes and sous vide monk fish cooked with fennel.

This course evolved greatly. First, the geleè was supposed to have sea urchin gonads. I couldn't get them. Next, the geleè was supposed to have crawfish brains. I couldn't get them. What kind of Cretans are running this town! So I settled for caviar.

Second, the monkfish was supposed to be a much more important part of this dish. I ordered a fresh whole and received frozen fillets - I wasn't happy. I had been studying Morimoto's processing demo at the Chef's Congress and really stressing over it, and then these frozen bags showed up. Bummer - no liver, no gills...boring. Still a really good course that had exquisite plating.

Course 5: Pair of Tongs

OMG! This was the first time I had ever prepared or eaten belly. First, I've sent a deposit to my cardiologist, but second, this was one of the best things I've ever eaten. Riffing off of Alinea's recipe, its a sous vide cooked belly seasoned with cayenne and smoked paprika. Each cube is then topped with a thin sugar shell also seasoned and set under a broiler to melt. The result is a thin crisp shell over a luscious moist and highly flavorful cube of meat. Plated with mascarapone polenta, juniper berry sauce and savory chocolate soil.

This was the course that I first started hearing, "I don't know if I'll be able to finish this meal," - damn that tuna steak! Everyone did finish however, and nothing came back on any plates.

Course 6: Congress of Crow

Help! Plating Emergency! Duck breast pastrami, rye gnocchi, pickled mustard seeds, chestnut oil pudding, slaw and a roasted chestnut financier.

A quick note about the use of a chestnut financier. A while back I had bought chestnut flour and accidentally wound up with roasted instead of regular. The smokey flavor has ruined one dish after another - the only combo that I've really liked has been in a white chocolate scone. During NPR's Thanksgiving food show this year, one of the guests made a passing comment that "The cabbage family loves smokey flavor." I wrote it on my prep board at the cafè and sat on it waiting for the right time. Finally this dish came into being and I knew it was my chance to apply that statement. It worked incredibly well. Good combo.

Course 7: Milk & Water

This was the only course that I didn't think was good. Most of the guests liked it but I did hear one say, "I guess my palate isn't developed enough to appreciate this." :/ I don't like hearing that. My snobbery is self-imposed, not intended to be passed on to the guests.

This was the cheese course. I had numerous technical difficulties and the highlight never worked. It was supposed to have cheese caviar which never would set for me. The cheese cracker was supposed to be filled with cheese sauce - the cracker was too hard. So I went for the punt and put the sauce on the bottom, a bit of pear puree, and szechuan peppercorns. Let's forget this one and move on...

Course 8: Pop!corn

A mechanical difficulty here - my immersion blender died. Always bring a backup system! Alinea's popcorn soup with caramel foam - a foam that I had no way to froth. On the skewer is a popcorn ball dipped in chocolate and rolled in neutral pop rocks - our menu orgasm! Roars of laughter filled the room.

Course 9: Butterfly

Such a pretty dish, and such perfect flavors after all the previous food. Iuzzini's citrus compari granite, lemon curd, grapefruit geleè, citrus flakes, and damiana geleè cube.


Tri2Cook said...

Awesome job once again Chef. Looks and sounds delicious. I know you called it "simple" but I'm loving the colors in the sous vide radish with rubic's cube of root vegetables dish. Inspiring.

CalumC said...

Great stuff, but seriously, first time with belly? You have some serious catching up to do.

Gfron1 said...

Thanks. CalumC - you would be surprised the things that are missed when you live in a small town. Before I started cooking here, none of our restaurants ever did any of the more interesting modern foods. So what is old hat to many is new stuff here. If you caught my previous comments about spheres you know that I know how old hat they are, but in town I still do them because it brings so much joy to people because of the novelty. Because of this, cooking is so much fun here.

Ron McFarland said...

Wow, what a beautiful presentation. Sorry that I (we) missed it. I'd love to attend your next event. Ron M