Typically, we use our Cobaya dinners as a way of turning a spotlight on a particular chef, to give them free reign to craft a menu that gives voice to their creative impulses or personal culinary obsessions. But collaboration has its rewards too, and we've long hoped to do a dinner that would bring together several local chefs to cook a meal.
That opportunity finally presented itself through the generosity of chef Michael Shikany, who opened the kitchen of his new restaurant in Wynwood – Shikany – to several other chefs for a "Cobayapalooza" dinner on July 16. Shikany and his pastry chef Jill Montinola were joined by Diego Oka of La Mar Miami, David Sears of SushiSamba Coral Gables, Mathias Gervias of the Setai, Danny Grant of 1826 Restaurant and Lounge, and Timon Balloo of Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill and Bocce Bar, who collectively put together a nine-course menu loosely organized around the great La Boîte spice blends made by Lior Lev Sercarz (each dish used a different La Boîte custom blend).
The restaurant was an ideal setting for the event, with room for nearly fifty guinea pigs in the stylish dining room, as well as for all the chefs and their crews in a bright, wide open kitchen. It was a great opportunity to highlight both an ambitious new restaurant, and a number of other talented young chefs working in Miami – several of them fairly new faces.
(You can see all my pictures in this Cobayapalooza flickr set).
Course 1 (Galil N. 13) Fresh Diver Scallop Crudo
Shikany started things off with a diver scallop crudo, thin ribbons of the shellfish topped with diced strawberries, pickled watermelon rind, and white truffle oil, and plated with a swoop of black garlic aioli, a powdered creme fraiche sorbet, dots of hibiscus gel and still more items I've lost track of. A lot of flavors, a lot of techniques; but also a really good, fresh, plump, sweet scallop as the centerpiece of it all.
Course 2 (Coquelicot N. 24) Oysters & Salmon
Next up, David Sears of SushiSamba, who served a round of tender salmon topped with a crust of poppy seeds and spices (almost an "everything bagel" kind of thing going on here), accompanied by a tangled salad of sorts of oysters, pickled onions and sweet cherry tomatoes, accompanied by generous dollops of jet black sturgeon caviar and cool creme fraiche.
Course 3 (Luberon N. 4) Wild Quahog
Back to Shikany for the next course, a sort of cross between sashimi and ceviche featuring – among other things – a fat quahog clam, ribbons of madai (Japanese sea bream), assorted seaweeds, cubes of tofu and purple Okinawa potato, dabs of puréed sweet potato, tiny caviar of "Coke syrup," an herbaceous green emulsion, and a little squirt bottle of a spicy soy sauce to apply in DIY fashion. I think the perfumey, lavender-forward Luberon spice blend was making its appearance in the dabs of translucent fluid gel interspersed around the fish.
Course 4 (Vadouvan N. 28) Yellowtail Snapper
Diego Oka's yellowtail dish was, for me, one of the most intriguing of the night. While ceviche tends to get all the attention these days, there's an incredible diversity to Peruvian cooking, which his dish highlighted. The fish was served over a curry-spiced, chocolate-dusted potato stew, which had a fascinating, nubby texture and great depth of flavor.A translucent quinoa crisp, peanut butter powder and a sauce of huacatay (Peruvian black mint, with a zing sort of between typical mint and basil) completed the dish.