Swine flu hysteria is over for the most part. Don't take any chances though. This dish was created using the 5 top immunity building superfoods... carrot, pomegranate, yogurt, green tea, and mushroom. So where does an apple a day fit in?
After making tea butter and thinking about other butter infusions, I had thoughts about increasing the umami in butter by using traditional Japanese dashi elements. If we sealed butter with kombu, katsuobushi, and dried mushroom, would we have dashi butter?
Using the tea butter recipe for reference, it steeped some Vermont butter and the dried ingredients in the C-Vap for 12 hours at 65º (which should be a good middle of the road temp for increasing the umami levels). The next day, it was strained off and reserved. Although I could not detect the dashi elements directly in the butter by taste (can't just stand there drinking too much clarified butter), is it possible that the umami level jumped significantly? The butter was definitely rich and flavorful, but still tasted like butter... although it helped me to make one of the best tasting hollandaise sauces I have ever whisked together. There was no distinctive difference in taste of color as with the tea butter. Considering that the true beauty of well made dashi is it's subtlety, am I just missing it somehow?
So if anyone out there has studied this subject... are umami enhancing amino acids and nucleotides soluble in fat as they are in water based solutions?
side note: the Katsuobushi article on the Daniel Patterson link is a good read. The process for making this is listed out. Upon our last trip to Taiwan, Ming and I had visited a historic katsuobushi processing factory which was set up during the 50 year Japanese occupation. The multi-story building near the sea had upon grate floors on each level and the aroma of deeply smoked fish was so thick it was embedded within every piece of wood in the architecture. The texture of a true block of katsuobushi is so denatured from it's original state. We had an opportunity to 'shave' some by using the small plane device described in the article. Before this experience, I had always looked at bonito flake as simply dried fish... in reality it is so much more complex.
I know I've been posting a lot of staff-related occurrences lately, but this is worth a huge mention.
After a year of battling with cancer, Chef Mike (aka Big Basco, the Deacon... among other names we won't mention), our exec. sous, has gone through his last round of chemo and has been declared cancer-free. He is now celebrating his self-dubbed 'rebirth day.' I could think of few things more worthy of celebration lately. It has been a long road, and the challenge has been one of the biggest physical and mental feats of accomplishment I have even witnessed one of my friends achieve. Mike has been part of our team for a long time, coming here from New Orleans in 2004. After Katrina, I was the last to move down and complete the brotherhood.
For us, the challenge has been supporting our friend while working short-handed for so long, but that is nothing compared to the struggles Mike has survived (including multiple surgeries). An operation like ours needs a personality like Mike's around. It's just good to finally have him back. Now he can finally say he "beat the shit out of cancer, and that's something that ain't no joke." God bless him. The team lives on!
The aesthetics of Japanese zaru soba and the simple refreshing qualities of the dish leave a lot of room for interpretation. If you find a restaurant that executes it correctly, you get a basket of ice cold soba noodles sprinkled with green onion, a small bowl of 'sauce' which is a soy enhanced dashi, some grated fresh daikon and wasabi paste for the cooling effect of radish. The noodles are picked up by the bundle then dipped into the sauce which has been flavored with the desired amount of daikon and wasabi. The effect of eating this in the heat of summer is refreshing. When eating it as a last course in a meal, it leaves the stomach full and the body cool.
So in terms of an extensive menu, how can this effect be used to advantage? As a segway dish after the final savory courses, the soba dish could be used to create a bridge between the two sections through careful selection of flavors and its refreshingly cold temperature. Our initial idea evolved into the following dish...
soba, rainier cherry sake granita, sweet pickled daikon, bean sprout kimchee, white soy gelee, keta, and wasabi mist
To keep the integrity of the components at freezing temperature, we left the bowls in the freezer and plated in there. This proved difficult to do in a meticulous manner since the bowls sat on sheet pans propped up on boxes in a very small space with no room to move. Although not the best thing to look at initially, when mixed all together the flavors balanced into something extraordinary. It was definitely good enough to explore further as a menu tool.
What other ways can it be manipulated through flavor changes and texture?
A couple of our younger PM cooks have recently decided to move on and pursue other ventures. This is a facet of the industry that always leaves a chef torn. We all want to keep our good employees, but we also want them to get out and learn from new experiences... seeking out bigger and better things.
It is about 1 year ago that I received an email from a culinary student in Rhode Island who wanted to come work for us. He interned here, then was hired on. Ben marked a moment for us when we were getting interested cooks who wanted to learn with us and strive for knowledge, not just applicants looking for jobs (as any hotel chef will empathize with). Our operation is not huge, but covers many areas. The knowledge is not always the kind displayed on the plate above. It's being humble, challenging yourself, and pushing forward. Hopefully the trend will continue. We wish Ben luck and beneficial experience at his new job at Area 31.
We also recently lost another ambitious cook named Carlos, who plans to eventually settle in Chicago to further his experience. Carlos was also a great help in our day to day operations as well as having a budding interest in modern cuisine. Any Chicago chefs looking for a seriously dedicated employee should drop a line.
I have been known to speak fondly of the 'butter sugar' corn that was sold directly from the farms up in New England during my time at J&WU up there (which I used to seek out when I wasn't in class or working one of my 2 jobs... walking miles in the snow... uphill, both ways). Since then, it was always the epitomy of great corn taste in my experience. That was until this past week, when I was introduced to Zellwood corn grown up in the Orlando area of south Florida.
Zellwood corn is grown by Long and Scott farms mainly and even has its own festival. It's a bi-color corn with a flavor as sweet as pure sugar. We've tried it a few ways so far... steamed, grilled, sous-vide, juiced, as pudding, in Michael Laiskonis' sorbet recipe. Perhaps the best way is to just eat it raw.
Bertha is one of our cooks who has had a unique history. I posted about her once sometime ago here. She was recently nominated by Chef K and our HR department to represent our hotel at the Inn Key Awards given by the Miami and The Beaches Hotel Association. There are about a thousand hospitality employees representing every hotel/resort job from hotels all across Miami. Needless to say (from the excited look in the picture below), Bertha took home the top prize for achievement in the hospitality industry. She sat waiting in discouragement while they announced every other winner in every other category, thinking her name was missed or she was left off the list. The obvious reason was that her name was withheld until they called the prize for the last grand daddy of all the categories. We're all extremely proud of this accomplishment for her, and have praised her in internal meetings and amongst our coworkers. I just want to blast her trumpet over this blog as well. As Chef K stated to our team, we have so many great employees that it would be impossible to even nominate some over others. The reason Bertha was put over the top was because she gives her free time out of work in the most selfless manner. She works with the homeless, not only to feed them (as she was fundamental in getting the Jack Davis bill passed in Florida), but by helping to amplify their voice. She gives endlessly to the church and seems to be involved in more charities than I can count. She makes the rest of us look selfish.
Obviously, we are proud. That's Chef K standing in the back expressing his pride in awe. Our hotel also took the Inn Key award for Guest Relations... another moment of pride.