You're right. 2 biggest lessons... mise en place is everything, and keep your chops up. You don't want to get rusty and forget how to pull sh*t off. If you don't challenge yourself constantly, you're just spinning your wheels. It's a mental and physical exercise.
2 dishes on our last menu draw influence from ethnic foods that have been very big in Miami for a long time... Cuban and Peruvian (obviously, if you just read the title). Cuba is 90 miles south of Key West and is just a short swim away so it is firmly rooted in Miami culture. Peru... well, I can't say it's more prevalent than Columbian, Venezuelan, or Brazilian culture here, but thank God it's here. Peruvian cuisine is a unique blend of Latin flare and flavor governed by Japanese restraint and aesthetic. Many well known chefs from America and beyond have started to pay attention to Peruvian food over the past year. There are many key dishes to borrow inspiration from. Here are a couple of riffs we did with Chris Windus...
Chef Howard Richardson from Winston Industries stopped in while in the area. Although we've been using our CVap oven a lot, the uses have been pretty straightforward. Howard showed us how to maneuver around the control panel a bit more, and gave us a lot of insight into controlled cooking. We discussed temps, times, brines, transglutanimase, texture manipulation. The conversation was so good, I almost forgot to take notes.
Here's Howard examining some wagyu brisket after running 24 hours at 56ºC. The brisket is actually for our Scotch Single Malt dinner tonight. (Reservations still open!) After using the CVap for a couple of other quick projects, the more desirable mid-sections were cut from the brisket and all pieces were bagged with herbs and jus to run another 18 to 24 hours. Can't wait to pull them out and taste them!
Afterwards, we tasted some organic vodkas and liqueurs from Tru (amazingly balanced spirits). Not a bad afternoon... mad preppin' again all evening.
When we first began collaborating with Chris on the last Paradigm dinner, one of the things we wanted to utilize was the bluezoo 'tubes.' These borscillicate glass cylinders were first implemented by former chef, Ed Biliki, and Chris has personally done countless versions of flavor combinations using them. They were featured as the first course for the dinner, and the flavor combination was 'chowda.'
So, how does the tube work? Both ends are open, so a 'plug' must be created for one side. This will usually involve a soft gel and some sort of crisp plant matter... we used a bacon fat infused potato. The gel that Chris is setting within the tube is smoked tomato water.
The rest of the elements are subsequently built over it... in our case, chopped razor clam tossed with brunoise of mirepoix and serrano then oyster cracker crumbs. Afterwards, we foamed bacon cream inside the tubes to 'hold' it all together. The tubes are placed on specially made stands with clips to hold the tube horizontally (sorry, no picture), and the guest is instructed to forcefully suck the food out.
The 'plug' at the end forces all the elements to enter the mouth at once (don't worry, it's pre-measured as a perfect 'bite'). You can only imagine what kind of perverted thoughts and strange looks the guests can give after this tutorial. It's all a good laugh, and fortunately we had the perfect crowd for it that night.
Pulling off a perfect pillowy steamed bun has been on my 'list of things to accomplish' for quite some time. I've gotten some nice results but nothing with that flawless texture. Steamed brioche has been done for a long time going back to El Bulli and also at Andre's restaurants, so I used Fabian's recipe to give it a shot. I've got to say that my favorite element on this plate is the rhubarb sriracha (using the White on Rice recipe as a base). It's got subtle heat and a nice tartness from the stalks that balances perfectly with the dash of nuoc mam.
Although there is no real cajun influence on this dish, aside from the head cheese, I've always firmly believed that there are parallels between cajun cuisine and Asian cuisine... mainly Vietnamese and southest Asia. This is by far not an all encompassing statement, but seeing how the Vietnamese culture in South Louisiana had so easily adapted to our indigenous foodways and landscapes (or maybe waterscapes are closer to the point) it is not far fetched. This should be the subject of another post.
This 'reuben-esque' dish was inspired by a tweet and a post. You've just got to love modern media and those who embrace its full open communication potential. Chefs are much more generous with the information they share today, but having access to so many ideas from so many sources extends the power of brainstorming to new levels. The whole thing becomes almost organic and alive. Ideas bounce quite well in cyberspace.
corned skirt, beer can cabbage, pumpernickel streusel, ementhal orb, caraway ketchup vinaigrette, kennebec chips, mayo
Michael Ruhlman posted about homemade pancetta recently, and thew in a mention about making corned beef out of flank steak. My mind went to corned skirt immediately. I took his cure (with some helpful info from him on percentages of sodium nitrite in cure salt) and put the skirt in motion.
About the same time, Alex tweeted 3 words... 'beer can cabbage.' I sent those same words to Chef K in a text message, and his immediate reply was 'wrapped in chicken skin.' Well, how could you not proceed with an idea that sounds that damn good? We put that into action as well.
Cabbage was prepped with beer can- sized holes carved out and brined for 2 hours.
They were then given a little flavor and herbs and wrapped in chicken skin and propped up on open beer cans.
Slow smoked on the weber with wood chunks for a few hours.
Fortunately, the chicken skin stayed with it after slicing. Extra blessings. Next time, caul fat and bacon!
To the guys who sparked inspiration for this dish, to my chef team, as well as all the others out there... Happy Father's Day. It's my first, and I'm couldn't be more thrilled to be 'in the hood.'
That was actually the name of the following dish. The inspiration came from the first episode of "Food Party"... actually from Thu's 'wedding cake.' She made a cornbread cake, blue cheese 'frosting,' carrot and celery garnishes, and some carefully place yet crudely extracted buffalo wings.
The (more humane, or at least slightly less disturbing) version above features a chicken lolli (dark meat, of course), buffalo froth, a Shropshire blue cheesecake, pickled carrot, and carrot and celery juice. It's always easy to do a dish centered around buffalo wing flavors... seems to please quite a wide demographic.
Here's the bunch of us at evening's end after 11 courses. Having Chris in the kitchen was an honor. David didn't cut himselfof blow-up our thermocirculator (actually I did have him make ementhal orbs, and he did a great job).
not a rant, but more of an observation of sorts...
This is in reference to temperatures. There exists an entire spectrum of ideal temperatures beyond the adjectives 'hot' and 'cold.' I have been reflecting on this much lately. Obviously, the ideal state for any edible object requires a more accurate description than these 2 defining words.
Our entire staff has been reviewing our Mobil standards lately. Many of the point system factors are centered around outdated concepts of food. A lot of them are Euro-centric and imply that stepping out of this parameter will prevent your rating of excellence (all the way down to the cheese course specifications). Hot soups must be boiling hot... should they really? Cold foods must be kept cold... how cold exactly? Sure, we've all had the adage of 'hot food hot plate/cold food cold plate' drilled into out brain matter as cooks, but shouldn't we get more specific about things.
This was also sparked by last seasons Top Chef when Collichio ripped up one of the European guys for 'freezing' his fresh fish in order to cut it nice and thin (I'm still confused over that remark). There is a difference between freezing something and allowing it to firm up in the freezer. Obviously the longer is stays in there, the more it will descend to the temperature of the enclosure (eventually destoying the texture) until the entire mass of food is one equal temperature (like controlled cooking in reverse). All food can be tempered... not just butter and chocolate.
We utilize our freezer many many times during prep to firm up set foods just enough to pop them out of molds without jeapordizing the integrity of the texture or to faciliate some other purpose. The same concepts apply to heat. How will this plate component be best appreciated... room temp? body temp? slightly hotter than a hot day in Florida? These are the gray areas. It's a juggling act.
A more recent example is the latest Top Chef Masters episode where Wylie's food is labelled as sci-fi simply because of the way he cooked his egg (yeah, yeah the sous-vide chicken too, but it's the same argument). They must have edited in some different plate shots because I didn't notice anything utilizing Martian technology. He did cook an egg properly instead of dropping it into boiling hot water and overcooking it (and the egg was not sous-vide... there was no vacuum involved). Is that sci-fi? Is perfection futuristic to the point where it's alien to us? All I noticed was a chef creating a damn fine plate of food and trying to get each ingredient to exist in it's optimum state... isn't that what all chefs do (or at least they should)?
The last Paradigm dinner we did was 2 Fridays ago, and we were hit by a freakish tropical storm (rendering some places in South Beach without a roof or even flooded). Our damage was having water blown into our hood system motors which shut the entire ventilation system down for the night. As temperatures in the kitchen rose, we struggled with many plate components. Such delicate foods require specific conditions and losing our control over this one area made for a very frustrating evening.
Hopefully all is well tonight and all of our gray areas remain their proper hue.
This week's Paradigm dinner is shaping up to be a lot of fun. Chris Windus will be joining us and driving down from Orlando with some goodies. We have all been collaborating on the menu via email for the past week. Many of the dishes are riffs on old flavor combinations. Another good friend will be hanging out in our kitchen as opposed to the table (which I believe more cuisine enthusiasts should do... whenever I sit in the dining room it helps to boosts my overall perspective for cooking and the reverse should hold true as well). All reservations are bought out by a previous diner and the energy is already building.
One of our friends, Mark, who is the chef at Crescent City Brewhouse in New Orleans text'd us a few days ago for help putting some hog's head cheese together. Without immediate access to a recipe, he went at it on his own... the pic's over his cell phone looked so good, I had to make some.
There are 2 basic 'schools' of head cheese in Louisiana (as is true for most indigenous foods there)... the down-home country bayou Cajun version and the cityfied New Orleans creole version. Although I could not tell you the full recipe and process for making the Cajun version, I do vividly remember my grandpa stirring a huge cast iron cauldron in the backyard over wood fire, with glimpses of pig's head floating up as he worked the huge wooden paddle. Later on, I can recall many aluminum tins filled with grayish meat mass congealing in the fridge to be sliced and slathered on french bread later.
The New Orleans version has two basic nomenclature problems... one (as with both versions) is that it isn't 'cheese,' and the other is that there is no head involved. Many home cooks in the city will simply stew down some pork shoulder with seasonings, add gelatin, and allow to set. It usually appears more reddish in color, and is definitely more piquante.
My home version is a hybrid of the two. I regret that I had no head, and I could not realistically pick a half hogs head up at the grocery store. However, the large Latin cultures here (along with the law of supply and demand) insured me that pig's feet would definitely be available.
A mixture of feet and shoulder is a great starting point. I wanted to let the base stock go overnight. Without having a crockpot, I put the whole mess plus trinity and aromatics into my Sous-Vide Magic PID and let it roll at 80º overnight (or for about 12 hours). Using a John Folse recipe as a loose reference, I found it strange that both of his given recipes called for added gelatin. Now, obviously I do not have a problem with adding gelling agents to food, but with all that pig feet why should I need to? Well, just for insurance, I threw in some slices of beef tendon... let's keep it pure.
After simmering all night, the stock and solids were separated. Remove all meat and connective tissue from trotters, add to the meat, and grind up in your meat grinder. Sweat more onion, celery, chiles, garlic, green onion, parsley and cook the stock along with the ground up meat. Let it simmer very slowly and reduce. Once the mix looks good, turn off the heat and allow to cool until the solids and liquids are not fighting to separate. Then ladle into molds and refrigerate.
The traditional way to eat this poor man's charcuterie (actually very similar to a classic daube-glace) is on either crackers or bread and of course, with hot sauce (and not Tabasco, but something good like Crystal). Damn, I feel so nostalgic.