We handle quite a variation of groups and events throughout the various outlets in our resort. Food allergies are one and special diets are another, and it's beneficial when someone contacts us ahead of their arrival allowing us time to communicate the situation to our staff. I was put on the spot last night by a different sort of dietary request.
The raw food diet has been around for a few years now. Despite it's fair existence, I have never personally had to deal with it. I guess that by keeping myself ignorant (even with great books such as the Charlie Trotter Raw book which has been our for a few years... and which I have never purchased or read), I left myself open for a spontaneous challenge. That challenge came in as part of a party of 20. Two women in the group claimed to be on the raw food diet, and I found out with less than 30 minutes to their reservation time. Even worse, they were owners of a condo next door... who are famously high-maintenance and we can never seem to please for some reason... despite our best efforts.
So with a quick and fruitless internet search, I cursed our slow network and found a morsel of information. People choose the raw food diet because they believe that vital enzymes and other nutritional goodies are lost when food is taken above 116F... that's just a little over room temperature in south Florida! Also, 75% of their diet must consist of raw foods... that makes sense considering that certain flavorings and oils must undergo a good deal of processing (usually involving heat). Dairy (considering the pasteurization process) I was not sure of, so I avoided it. Raw meats... well, they fit the bill, but I wasn't sure on their acceptance.
Here was my submission to "Battle Raw Food." The tuna component on the right is there only because I found out (again, only 10 minutes before dishing) that although the girls were on the diet, they absolutely allowed themselves the vice of seared raw tuna and soy sauce... whatever. So the tuna went on, cold smoked with the new smoking gun, and topped with soy-infused shaved red onion.
The rest of the plate was my spontaneous creation... compression-braised watercress (smoked with peach wood, then compressed with grilled peanut oil), vacuum-infused eggplant with white anchovy oil, garlic, and preserved meyer lemon dust (compression technique again), slow-warmed teardrop tomatoes, and shaved pecans.
The watercress was interesting... allowing smoke and wilting without heat. Strong meaty flavors there. The eggplant was also interesting. My train of thought was that although the dieter could not enjoy anchovies themselves, I could use the oil with compression to offer a similar flavor to the diner... this falls in accordance with the 75% rule in my book.
Next components. To add more umami, I threw some tomatoes in the Alto Shaam for a short time on low temp. This slow-ripening or pulling of flavor reminded me of MFK Fisher's story of placing orange wedges over her radiator in her French Apartment. It's a slow dehydration and glutamate builder. Taking something naturally good, and making it incredible with very little effort... only patience. The shavings of pecan are just for extra flavor dimension and texture. I wanted to incorporate some sort of nut shaved on the microplane, but which one could I use without toasting? Maybe it was conceived years ago by growing up with a pecan tree, but the flavor of raw pecans are much better than toasted pecans. I'm not sure if I'm the only one out there who feels this way, but it makes the pecan an anomoly among nuts.
So what's the conclusion here... when I offered to answer any questions about what they were eating, both ladies declined. They also both ate the tuna from the plate and did not even touch the rest of it... insult to the chef! I try not to let such things get to me, but I did run around hyped up for a good 40 minutes on this dish while organizing the rest of the parties food. It wasn't a masterpiece, but I was momentarily proud of it (at least in technique and flavor... not in presentation). Miami is full of trendy wannabe nobodies without a freakin' clue. Rise above, Zilla! The bright side is that it allowed me to educate myself on yet another ridiculous food diet and its unnecessary rules.