Sunday, August 25, 2013

gastroLab Dinner with Chef Jeremiah

There's a difference between "clever" and "smart."[1] Clever may make you giggle. Smart makes you think. The difference is sometimes overlooked in what was called "molecular gastronomy" five years ago, then was redubbed "modernist cuisine" a couple years back, and now, according to ponderous dipshit shnorrer John Mariani, is already passé. Some of the criticism is fair: in manipulating form and texture, and disregarding flavor, some chefs were more clever than smart. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do something - in particular, it doesn't mean it tastes better.

Going back to one of our first Cobaya events, I've enjoyed several dinners with Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog (perhaps better known as the pilot of the gastroPod food truck) over the years. His latest "gastroLab" dinner was the smartest meal I've had with him - one where everything on the plate had purpose and focus, one where the thought behind each item translated into flavor.

(You can see all my pictures from this meal in this gastroLab flickr set).

The site for the dinner was the new location of GAB Studio Art Gallery in Wynwood, and Jeremiah pulled the gastroPod right inside to serve as the kitchen.

The meal started with a procession of snacks, served communally on a big wooden plank. Crispy chicken foot chicharrones used the skin from deboned chicken feet - someone must have doing a lot of chicken toenail trimming. Toast squares were topped with a creamy, rich duck liver mousse. And morcilla and eggs - something of a recurring theme with Chef Jeremiah - came with the blood sausage in two forms - in puffy, chicharrone-like morcilla-tapioca crisps, and more traditionally in the meaty, creamy, loose sausage that filled them, dabbed with a rich egg yolk jam.

Borscht has always seemed like something of an oxymoron to me - a cold, refreshing soup, but also a hearty meat stew. Jeremiah's "Watermelon Borscht" played off both those angles but focused mostly on the former. Cubed watermelon was compressed with beet juice to yield a cool, juicy bite with an undertone of the earthy root vegetable, as well as a stunning ruby hue. Meanwhile a ribbon of whipped bone marrow and a "rare beef jus" (rare because the beef was cooked sous vide to keep its color) dropped the meaty bass note onto the plate, with strands of pickled cabbage and dehydrated beet "streusel tied into the theme too. A multitude of textures instead of a simple puréed soup, but with the same happy interplay of flavors. (More complete explanations of several dishes are on Jeremiah's blog - the watermelon borscht is here).

Next, the South meets the Tropics with fried green carambola. We've all heard of fried green tomatoes. Well, unlike the rest of the country, summer isn't tomato season in South Florida. But we do still get carambola a/k/a starfruit, and often they're less than perfectly ripe.[2] So Jeremiah took the unripe carambola and treated it like a green tomato - compressed them with ricotta whey, coated them with semolina and fried them, yielding a similar texture and tartness to the classic southern staple. This was paired with house-made goat's milk ricotta (wherefrom the ricotta whey), Georgia peaches pickled in rice wine vinegar and then charred, and a radish green for a little zing. Entirely unexpected - entirely successful, the kind of dish that sounds unlikely until you taste it.

(continued ...)

My favorite dish of the night - the one that left me craving at least a few more bites - was the masa gnocchi, the dumplings with the same fluffy feel as the traditional version but with a hearty dried corn flavor and a light, pleasingly sandy, almost shortbread like texture. They were coupled with steamed corn and pickled shiitake mushrooms, masa crumbles, grated cotija cheese, and a sheet of crisp ricotta "paper." I loved this.

In restaurants, chicken is usually the safe, conservative - boring - choice. So there's a certain boldness in serving it as the centerpiece of a more experimental dinner (this is the "gastroLab" after all). That better be a damn good bird. And it was - slow cooked over hickory wood, more subtly than powerfully smoky, but with a really concentrated "chicken-y" flavor. Simply plated with pickled cherries, compressed kale and raw kale juice, this was straightforward, honest cooking - and delicious.

To finish on a somewhat sweet note, an ember-roasted sweet potato, with a shard of its crisp charred skin,[3] topped with a frothy marsala sabayon and a shot of Panther cold brew, crowned with a honeysuckle blossom. As someone who's not a fan of overly sugary desserts, I appreciated the balance of bitter and sweet here.

Hat tip to Chowfather for helping round up a group on short notice, and to GAB Studio for being such a gracious host to these kinds of events (some cool stuff in the gallery to check out, too). I'm hoping we see more gastroLab experiments soon.

[1] There's also, as David St. Hubbins will tell you, a fine line between stupid and clever.

[2] There are also sweet vs. sour varietals, too.

[3] I couldn't help but think of the scene in the el Bulli documentary, "El Bulli: Cooking in Progress" where Ferran Adrià and his assistants try to figure out everything that can be done to a sweet potato. Incidentally, despite my interest in the subject matter, I found that documentary oppressively boring.


  1. What an eye-opening post! There are many open-minded spirits out there! Thanks God! We are pretty new in town, and coming from Spain, Miami is not like a love at first sight place, gastronomically speaking. So, thank you for your blog and your post. There's hope!!! Is there any new underground dining scheduled? Wanna go, wanna goooo!!!

  2. Monica - welcome to Miami. I keep a listing of upcoming dining events on the blog here:

    For the "Cobaya" events I help organize, there is no set schedule but information on how to get on the mailing list can be found here: