Monday, April 11, 2011

Room 4 Dessert 2 Pop-Up w Chef Will Goldfarb

I suspect when you're around Chef Will Goldfarb, you often feel like you're playing catch-up. He always seems to be about three steps ahead - he thinks fast, he moves fast, he works fast. Last week, he made a quick stop in Miami for a one day pop-up, dubbed "Room 4 Dessert 2." The name, anyway, is a spin-off from his well-regarded if brief-lived New York dessert-and-drinks place from about five years ago, but trying to keep track of everything Chef Goldfarb has done is a bit like trying to nail jelly to a wall - a stage at El Bulli, a tour of Australia including work with Tetsuya Wakuda, back to the U.S. at Morimoto in Philadelphia, Cru in New York, his own sandwich shop, Picknick, a sojourn in Bali to work as pastry chef at Ku De Ta, a business supplying provisions for the contemporary cupboard, WillPowder, and the list continues to go on.

Chef Goldfarb is an unabashed practitioner of what goes by the various misnomers of "molecular gastronomy," "science cooking," or most recently "modernist cuisine."[1] Which is simply to say that he eagerly uses any and all ingredients or techniques available to him - hydrocolloids, gelling agents, emulsifiers, stabilizers, liquid nitrogen, and so on (much of this stuff is conveniently available for purchase at WillPowder).

It's interesting to me that even less adventurous diners seem to take a little less umbrage to the use of such things in a dessert format. When used in savory courses, you often hear complaints that people don't like their food "manipulated" and that it doesn't "look like" food any more. But we're already accustomed to eating desserts that are manipulated, and to using processed ingredients in desserts that don't taste good on their own (baking powder, cocoa, or even flour for that matter). Everybody loves a chocolate mousse, but very few people think about the processing of the ingredients that leads to its creation, or complain that it doesn't resemble its "natural" form. As Chef Alex Stupak (former pastry chef at wd~50, now running his newly opened taqueria, Empellon) put it: "Birthday cake is the most denatured thing on earth."

Here's a run-down of the event; you can see all of my pictures in this R4D2 flickr set. You can also get a look from inside the kitchen via Chadzilla, and another take on it from Mango & Lime.

(continued ...)

The event was hosted by Miami Art Space, a little oasis just west of the Midtown Miami complex. Guests for the second seating hung around an outside lounge area as the first seating was wrapped up, then were ushered into a spacious room that had been set up by Blooming Design & Events with a long communal table and a staging area for the chefs on one end.

Room 4 Dessert 2

Before we got to the sweet stuff, some of the locals provided a few savory starters. First off, from Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog, an oyster.


But not just any oyster. Jeremiah's told me twice now everything that was going on here, and I still can't remember it all (I'm not sure he can either). These were nitro-shucked,[2] coated in a bacon dashi gelée, nestled back in the shell along with an umami-bomb of flavors including Kewpie mayo, powdered crispy shallot, fried garlic, powdered dashi, and togarashi, then crowned with a dollop of caviar for good measure. Rockefeller would have been jealous.

"spaghetti & meatballs"

Next, a take on spaghetti and meatballs, from Chefs Kurtis Jantz and Chad Galiano of the Trump International Beach Resort. Their untraditional version of a most traditional dish used translucent lamb jus "noodles," gelled using agar agar and locust bean gum, and lamb tartare meatballs, the meat cooked rare (sous vide) to 50°C and then bound with an herb aioli. A charred scallion oil pulled everything together, while some diced apples compressed with honey, pepper and lemon juice and a crown of local arugula and pea tendrils provided nice fresh contrast. Far from just a gimmicky presentation, this was a genuinely delicious dish.

beef tongue and "kimchi fried rice"

Chef Alberto Cabrera (who has most recently been working with soon-to-open restaurant The Local in Coral Gables) provided the last of the savories before the dessert dishes - a terrine of smoked beef tongue with a take on kimchi rice. The lattice-work layers of beef tongue had a pleasing chew, reminding me of char-siu pork. It was plated with a kimchi-flavored fluid gel underneath, along with a salad of local greens and puffed rice which echoed the texture and flavor of a kimchi rice cooked in a dolsot stone bowl.

From there, Chef Goldfarb took over.

Key Lime Margarita

First up, a Key Lime Margarita. (Note: I'm linking throughout to descriptions and recipes that Chef Goldfarb tweeted after the dinner; good man that he is, Chef Galiano compiled all of them over at Chadzilla. Since all the technical details are in there, I'll mostly skip them here). This white-on-white-on-white composition included a Greek yogurt spherified "gnocchi" topped with white chocolate "air" crowned with a Key lime "cloud" (firmed up with liquid nitrogen?). Somewhere in the mix were crystals of Bali salt. I'm a big fan of chocolate and orange together (don't get me started on the long-gone Baskin Robbins mandarin chocolate sherbet) but not usually so much with other citrus. This worked for me, though, the white chocolate not so pronounced in itself so much as adding a lush creaminess to the tart lime, given a further rounded tanginess by the yogurt, and all of it brought into focus by the salt (which also brought things full circle back to the "margarita" notion we started with). You would have to be paying pretty close attention to pick up each of the textural nuances to the different components, though.

Geisha 2011

Dessert 2: "Geisha," a dessert Chef Goldfarb has been toying with in various iterations for years. On the bottom, a layer of coconut "cream" (or "geishysoisse," one of Chef Goldfarb's many portmanteaus and puns), then above, a carbonated raspberry mousse. In between, a crisp, crumbly black sesame sablée. On the top, spray dried coconut powder. I liked how the black sesame sablée - like the salt in the margarita - provided a savory note that served as something of an anchor for the dish and its mousse-y textures, but I found this the least interesting dish of the evening.


Dessert 3: "Rouge," a play on the notion that things that are the same color should taste good together. I don't know if that makes any particular sense, but it worked. There was a lot going on here: raspberry/cherry/beet sorbet, roselle (Jamaican hibiscus) jello, red wine reduction, vanilla "gellantilly" (a whipped cream thickened with gellan), Campari meringue dusted with freeze dried raspberry powder, some red and purple microgreens and flowers.[3] There was a fantastic layering of flavors and textures here, each different, but each complementing the other. What ran the risk of becoming simply a murky mess of indistinct flavors instead acheived the exact opposite: each note vivid as your palate bounced from one to the next. Really exciting, fun stuff.

The Sugar Refinery

Dessert 4: The Sugar Refinery, a play on different types of sugars and what can be done with them. Once again, several things going on here: caramel cream, white chocolate "toblerone", muscovado granité, walnut praline tuile. You might expect a dessert with an overt sugar theme to be cloyingly sweet, but there was once again such fantastic contrast of flavors and textures that it was anything but. In particular I loved the light-textured granité with an almost snowy frozen mouthfeel, and the spicy punch of ginger palm sugar in the chocolate "toblerone."

Nobody says I love you anymore

Dessert 5: "Nobody Says I Love You Anymore". They don't say it this way, anyway, with stinky, runny Epoisses cheeese over shortbread with a quenelle of brown butter and popcorn ice cream and a sprig of micro wasabi. A simple composition compared to the two earlier dishes, but no less effective. The funky washed-rind cheese provided a nice snap back from the sweetness of the prior dish, the shortbread was gorgeously rich and buttery, and the ice cream somehow pulled everything together. An excellent cheese course.

Dessert 6: For a finale, "The Jeffrey" (subtitled, "The best part about the Jeffrey, it goes away, but then it comes back."). Why "The Jeffrey"? Another of Chef Goldfarb's little jokes. For those of you who missed "Get Him to the Greek"[4] - let's just say it's the pastry world's version of the turducken: a pinenut praline wrapped in armagnac ganache stuffed in a hazelnut/brown butter financier covered with a grapefruit paté de fruit and topped with a passionfruit marshmallow. Accurately described by Chef Goldfarb as the entire petit fours tray in one bite, and by one of the guests as the best damn cupcake ever. Sorry, no picture: I was too busy stroking the furry walls.

The event was organized by Randy Rubins (Chef Goldfarb's longtime friend and also WillPowder's distributor, through his company Ciao Imports). It was the first pop-up Rubins has done in Miami (he's done them previously in New York) and he pulled it off with great success. Miami Art Space provided a great venue, and a bunch of locals provided assistance - not only the savory starters from Chefs Bullfrog, Jantz, Galiano and Cabrera, but also pastry chefs Malka Espinel, Jenny Rissone (who Goldfarb dubbed the "Princesses of Pastry"), and several students from Le Cordon Bleu Miami.

Chef Will Goldfarb
Will Goldfarb

Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog
Jeremiah Bullfrog

Chefs Jantz & Galiano
Kurtis Jantz and Chad Galiano

Chef Alberto Cabrera
Alberto Cabrera
Miami may not be on the culinary world's cutting edge, but it is proving to at least be something of an early adopter lately. We've got food trucks, we've got underground dinners, we've got chefs like Will Goldfarb drawing 100 diners for two seatings at a one-night pop-up. Let's hope that like the Jeffrey, he goes away, but comes back:

[1]I'll defer to the Cod to unpack that one.

[2]Just one of many inspirations triggered by the new Modernist Cuisine book. Don't love the name, or the price tag, but what they've done is genuinely fascinating and clearly inspirational.

[3]Organic herbs and microgreens were supplied by the "G.R.O.W. Project" ("Green Railway Organic Workshop") urban garden near the Miami airport, which I had no idea existed until the event.

[4]"It's like a drug Neapolitan."

1 comment:

  1. The following comment came in from chadzilla but for some reason didn't go through:

    Great post! Worth the wait.
    We have written some very corny menu items in our day, but Goldfarb takes it to a whole other level.
    You're right about the LN2 in the margherita. In fact, I don't think there was any course that it wasn't utilized for. We really need to get some of that stuff... K and I have been out of the game on that one for far too long.
    Reading your comments against Goldfarb's intentions for each dish only re-confirms for me how much control he actually has in designing compositions to match guests' perceptions. He's spot on. One of my favorite descriptions was when he was describing the Jeffrey to us. After discussing the components, he said it was like that 'bigger than normal' piece of sushi that you almost can't fit into your mouth, but manage to do so anyway... thus getting the full effect in a slightly challenging mouthful... the effort getting a little easier with each manageable bite. After eating one, that's exactly what it was like. His financier was incredible.
    I do confess right here that while serving them, I accidentally dropped a Jeffrey down some woman's back. Although she did notice, I don't think she minded for some reason. The power of the Jeffrey.