The names of Alex Talbot and his wife and partner Aki Kamozawa may be more familiar to chefs than to diners. But for anyone with an interest in contemporary cooking, their blog, their classes, and now their book serve as an indispensable source of inspiration and guidance. Just one small example: I recall a couple years ago sitting at the kitchen bar of the now-closed, and missed, Talula, watching sous chef Kyle Foster roast off some marrow bones. When I asked what he doing with them, he gave me a sample of a dish he was playing with, pairing marrow and pickled bananas. Where did that idea come from? Right here. There are probably countless other similar instances of dishes where Aki and Alex provided the ignition spark for their creation, or the practical guidance for their execution.
So it was a particularly exciting experience to be able to try their cooking first-hand. Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog of the gastroPod lent his shiny Airstream trailer to serve as the kitchen for the evening and also was a huge help with sourcing, logistics and cooking; still more prepping, and schlepping, was done by local chefs Kurtis Jantz and Chad Galiano of Sol Kitchen, Albert Cabrera, and others. GAB Studio provided a great venue, with two long tables stationed in the middle of their photography studio, surrounded by works from local artists. You can see all my pictures from the dinner in this flickr set: Cobaya / Ideas In Food.
|the dining room|
Surf and Turf
steak tartare, seaweed mayonnaise, bean sprout batons
Clams in Green Sauce
parsley, coconut, garlic-mustard
Steak and Eggs
beef tendon, onsen egg, culantro
kimchi gravy, torn basil, benton's ham
Twice Cooked Scallop
pumpkin, citron-sriracha, furikake
green mango, rum raisin, lime vinaigrette
Sticky Pork Belly
cream soda, crunchy turnip, charred scallions
Powdered Goat Cheese
Malted Milk Custard
But before digging in, we were started off with a cocktail:
|ham bone bourbon|
|surf and turf|
I struggled to get good pictures of the next few courses, but there are some photos over at Tinkering With Dinner. The next dish, described as "Clams in Green Sauce," presented itself as just an emerald green pool at the bottom of a cup. Scooping within would reveal tender clams, which had been cooked in coconut water, with a verdantly colored and flavored parsley sauce (emulsified with the same coconut water) draped on top, and underneath, a thicker purée rich with garlic and mustard. In one sense this was a play on the classic Spanish almejas en salsa verde; in another, it was like nothing I'd ever tasted before, the subtle hint of the coconut lending an element that was unexpected without being discordant. For the subtle contrasts in texture of the sauces, and the unusual but not awkward flavors, this was one of my favorites of the night.
"Steak and Eggs," the American diner staple, likewise took an unexpected form, done here with beef tendon and an onsen egg, reminiscent to me of a Japanese gyu-suji stew. The tendons, as detailed here, were marinated with spices and then pressure cooked in a kombu broth enriched with chicken feet, coming out translucently jiggly with a melting texture and subtly beefy flavor. Beef tendon, prepared well, as here, reminds me of bone marrow, only slightly firmer and more substantial. The "onsen eggs," meanwhile are an attempt to duplicate the texture of eggs which, in Japan, are traditionally cooked slowly in natural hot springs at temperatures between 70-75°C. As detailed in the book, Ideas in Food's method strays from the "contemporary tradition" of the 63.5°C immersion-circulated egg. Instead, they raise the temperature and shorten the cooking time, doing 73°C and 13 minutes. It yields a silky but set white surrounding a warm but still oozing yolk, and avoids the more gooey texture to the white that many people find off-putting. More sprouts, with the young, slightly crunchy beans attached, provided a nice textural contrast and a bit of nutty flavor. The culantro advertised on the menu was indetectible to me, unusual since its burnt-rubber aroma typically doesn't hesitate to assert its presence.
"Kimchi Cavatelli" was still another twist typical of IIF. They tend to treat pasta as a canvas for virtually any flavors, rather than just the customary Italian pairings. Thus the book offers recipes for potato chip pasta, BBQ rigatoni, and ranch-flavored potato gnocchi, among others. Here, they treated a loose kimchi-based sauce as if it were the Italian-American traditional Sunday gravy, with flecks of Benton's ham and torn basil leaves for additional layers of flavor.
|twice cooked scallop|
|sticky pork belly|
|powdered goat cheese|
For the final course, Chef Alex really got the mad scientist's laboratory look going, with billowing clouds of liquid nitrogen chilling a tray of malted milk custard push-pops. It seemed the least fully realized of the dishes, the malt flavor being somewhat one-dimensional, wanting something for contrast - coffee? chocolate? caramel? - but was a fun presentation nonetheless.
The meal we experienced was, to me, a truly successful balance of contemporary and accessible. It's a no-holds barred approach to cooking, where kimchi goes with pasta and cream soda becomes a brine, but the goal is not to alienate or provoke, just to taste good. And it works.
These kinds of events don't come together without a lot of help, and there was plenty, starting with Chef Jeremiah of the gastroPod, who was instrumental in getting Chef Alex down to Miami in the first place, helping get him acclimated, lending the Pod to serve as the kitchen for the evening, and doing countless other things to make this happen. Cobaya veterans Chefs Kurtis Jantz and Chad Galiano helped out (you can read Chadzilla's behind-the-scenes take on things here), as well as Chef Albert Cabrera, Carla, Steve, Bridges from GAB Studio, and several others whose names are hidden in my memory behind a veil of ham-bone bourbon soda. But thanks most of all to all the fellow diners whose support and open-mindedness make these events possible.