After a busy weekend and busy week, we had the privilege of hosting a special wine dinner for a local group named the Cellar Masters (the members created the elite crowd as a spin-off from the local Chaine des Rotisseurs). The table was set for 16 guests, and the theme of the night was pinot noir with each member bringing in bottles for blind tastings. Most of the pinot's averaged $300 or more and were opened randomly throughout the 7 course meal.
The menu writing evolved a little differently than usual for us. Instead of pairing courses to specific bottles of wine, we chose four to five general aspects of pinot noir's complexities to guide each dish, and Chef K listed them out on the menu as an aide for matching them to the wines. The food we put out was well received by the group, who came into the kitchen afterwards to thank the entire staff and ask thoughful questions about the creations. Their open-minded interest and food knowledge made the dinner incredibly worthwhile for us. The courses for the night unfolded as noted below.
Skinless Sweetbread Sausage, burnt balsamic meringue, vegetable sprouts, celery root chip
profile: tart, celery, creamy, earthy
This dish was an old school meets new school MG dream for me. For the sweetbread sausage, we prepared the sweetbreads classically with a milk soak followed by poaching briefly in acidulated water. After removing the membranes and cleaning them, I minced them and added 1% Activa RM by weight and l'epice de pate then rolled them into logs. They were then poached again in 120 degree F water to help set them. Afterwards, they were chilled and sliced into the above portions... seared in beurre noisette, sauced with a deglaze of balsamic and demi glace mounted with butter.
The 'meringue' is simply balsamic reduction whipped up in a mixer with Versawhip 600K. The sugars in the balsamic and the stability of the Versawhip allow it to be browned with a torch. I love this dish because it takes a little of everything I love about cuisine and brings them together in beautiful harmony. It also proves that MG techniques and classical methods can work together.
"If you want to synthesize, I empathize." -- Andre 3000 ("Synthesizer" Aquemini)
BBq'd Black Cod, Taiwanese barbeque wet rub, 7 spice taro root chips, micro shiso, XO sauce
profile: salty, sweet, spicy, earthy, grassy
This is an Asian fish and chip dish. We used Bull's Head brand Taiwan barbeque sauce as a marinade and coating for the black cod which arrived incredibly fresh. We procured some baby shiso leaves from Tropical Delights in Homestead, FL. The taro chips were dusted with our TW7spice blend and salt:
1 Tbsp sichuan peppercorn, 4 tsp fennel seed, 4 tsp coriander seed, 4 tsp cumin, 4 tsp cinnamon, 4 tsp ginger (toast all spices and grind in a spice mill)
"Beet Box" Duck, herbaceous duck rillette, beet confit, harlem peppered duck breast, beet sauce
profile: wood herbs, salty, creamy fat, mild sweetness
Although no one in the group probably knew what beat box is, we wanted to throw it into a description. We had been wanting to experiment with the sous-vide simple syrup confit method on beets. Although it took a little more time than the less sturdy melons we used before, it did work with the encouragement of a simmering water bath. More experimentation is needed with this.
The highlight of this plate for me is the rillette. Again, more old school. I wanted to make a really great duck confit, and was able to take up the 5 days that I need to do it right. The result was one of my best. Chef K put just as much love into the rillettes as he pulled the confit into thread-thin shreds and minced them up by hand with a little fresh herb. It was so creamy and full of flavor... you just wanted to make a sandwich out of it.
Chocolate covered Cherry Lamb, cherry beurre monte, cocoa nib glace d'agneau, rosemary polenta, Jamaican mint
profile: tart/sweet, nutty, cocoa, bitter, rosemary, mint, buttery
We are stretching to call this chocolate covered cherry, but technically it is. The lamb loin was seared, sliced into medallions, and cooked very slowely in a mounted butter emulsion of dried cherries and madeira wine. The lamb glace is infused with toasted cocoa nibs... hence the chocolate and the cherry.
The addition of a polenta cake flavored with rosemary and Jamaican mint was Chef K's idea at the last minute. It set the dish up completely. If you have never before tried Jamaican mint, I strongly suggest that you find some. It has an entirely different flavor from traditional mint and it much more sturdy and better for drying and cooking. A sprig of it sits on top of the lamb above. This plate was a perfect match for almost any pinot.
Black Forest Pinot Noir, Trinidad spice cake, gianduja popcorn powder, sorbet, blackberry gelee 'noodles'
profile: spice, berry, nutty, creamy, tart, chocolate
Fabian took a left turn into the twilight zone with this one... the gianduja popcorn powder and blackberry jelly noodles were a kick. The Trinidad spice cake was a twist on a recipe in the last issue of Saveur. I really cannot remember what the sorbet was, but I believe that it was a pinot noir sorbet. The flavors of berry in this dessert were perfect for the featured wine.
Oregonzola Blue Cheese Marble, dried fruit, nuts, spices
profile: aged cheese, creamy, nutty, spices, licorice
We are still using this technique since seeing it on the Ideas in Food blog. It's so incredibly useful for designing a cheese course. Incorporating similar concepts as the Cold Stone Creamery type ice cream shops, we simply take whatever flavors or essences we need to match a specific wine or other ingredient and pound them together. To work with the flavor profiles of pinot noir, we mixed two Oregon blue cheeses, a little boursin for smoothness, dried apricot and fig, toasted sunflower seed and cashew, and a mixture of pink peppercorns, fennel seed and aniseed.
The technique, of course, is to pound all of these items together between plastic sheets with a flat mallet, chill in the freezer until sturdy, cut into shapes, and plate-up. We lined up these plates before the meal began and let them sit out at room temperature. The dish was so softened when served, that the guests could literally spread them onto flatbreads like butter. The crunchiness provided by the nuts and spices hidden within provided a balance in textures with the dried fruit offering periodic bites of sweetness.
We finished the dinner with a mignardise of cocoa dusted grapes. The leader of the group, having built a relationship with us through Chaine dinners, sent small glasses of each wine to the kitchen for us to experience. Just having the opportunity to savor these elite pinot noirs made the dinner worth it for us. 3 of the glasses I sipped from were all from 1987 or earlier. I regret that I do not have more information on the wines, but as I said in the beginning, it was sort of a blind tasting and bottles were brought in at random from everyone's cellars. After indulging in so many great wines in one night, I now know why the group is called the Cellar Masters. It really gave me a focus on the attributes that great pinot noirs have, and we are already planning to do another dinner with them in the spring.
Another side note: Chef K was offered a culinary position in the Chaine des Rotisseurs by the chapter's Baille after the dinner. The office was previously held by Chef Allen Susser. He deserves it after so many years of orchestrating dinners for the organization. Props to the playa!