Showing posts with label paradigm. Show all posts
Showing posts with label paradigm. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

PODZILLA! Cobaya Dinner

The last Cobaya event at Bourbon Steak was a pretty posh affair: beautiful long wood table, glowing candles, fine china, elegant plating. This latest one? Not so much. Coming together somewhat at the last minute, this one put together Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog, and his gastroPod (a mobile 21st century kitchen built into a shiny vintage 1962 Airstream trailer), with Chefs Kurtis Jantz and Chad Galiano, the masterminds of the Paradigm dinner series who cooked up Cobaya Gras a few months ago. Was it a bit rough around the edges? Perhaps. Was it rather steamy eating outdoors, even with a breeze blowing in off Biscayne Bay? Well, I finally stopped sweating about an hour ago. Did we eat some great food? Yes, and that's really what it's all about.

Lining up at the gPod

Our venue for the evening was Harvey's by the Bay, a bare-bones, divey bar in the back of the Harvey Seeds American Legion Post off Biscayne Boulevard and 64th Street. It was a somewhat fitting location given our theme, which was to celebrate American (loosely speaking, anyway) street foods. Given the chefs' propensity to tweak and fluency with contemporary techniques, I knew we could also expect some interesting twists. Here's the menu for the evening:

The event even felt a bit like a genuine street food experience, as Chef Jeremiah served everyone from the gPod, and Chefs Kurtis and Chad (and Mike Marshall, the zen master of fried chicken) did their service either right off the grill, or from a covered otudoor bar in Harvey's spacious backyard looking out on Biscayne Bay. I forgot my camera and so you'll instead have to put up with a few goofy "Hipstamatic" pictures I took on my iPhone, though you'll find better pictures and more recaps at Tinkering With Dinner, or a chef's-eye view from Chef Chad at Chadzilla.

Updated: another recap with lots of pics here at Wokstar.

(continued ...)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Paradigm Shift

A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.  - Karl Marx

Very generally speaking, I think most of us tend to think of art first and foremost from an aesthetic perspective. Yet it is also in most instances - to a greater or lesser degree - a commodity. The financial success of the recent Art Basel weekend undoubtedly attests to this. By the same token, most people tend to think of food first and foremost as a commodity - nothing more than a thing to be bought and consumed. Yet food also has the capacity to strive for art, aesthetics, even perhaps metaphysical subtleties.

A recent dinner which put together Chefs Kurtis Jantz and Chad Galiano (the guys behind the Paradigm dinners) and artist Stephen Gamson at PH2 provided an opportunity to explore the intersection points of art, culture and dining.

One of the things I so admire about Chefs K and Chad is the seriousness and earnestness with which they take any mission. I recall them telling me that when they did their first menu for the Miami Spice promotional program, they put their heads together to formulate a menu that would use spices to highlight local ingredients - only to be baffled when they saw so many other restaurants just cranking out the ubiquitous farmed salmon, chicken paillard and skirt steak. So I knew when they were asked to do a collaborative dinner with a local artist that they would come up with something inspired.

Gamson's pictures all use the same simple iconography, borrowed from the visual lingua franca seen on bathroom doors around the world. The first dish we had took visual cues from the artworks, roughly duplicating the forms in some "his and hers" stick-figure anticuchos of baby octopus and chicken liver (though I'm not sure which would be "his" and which "hers"). The baby octopus, marinated with green Tabasco sauce and lemon, was paired with a Boscoli olive sauce (a twist on pulpo al olivo). The chicken liver achieved a crispy exterior and a tender, warm interior, the crunchy batter made using Trisol (one of the many items in Ferran Adriá's "Texturas" bag of tricks). The aji panca tartar sauce was nicely brightened by an unexpected bit of fresh tarragon.

Next course, a Surf-n-Turf of "2 Tails": on the left, lobster tail, cooked sous vide, served over a green bean salad dressed with "Jester" vinegar (made, if I heard right, from the remnants of some heavy-duty Aussie Shiraz from a Mitolo wine-pairing dinner), paired with a 30-second microwave corn cake (derived from an Adriá technique which you can see here, with the added bonus of Anthony Bourdain throwing out an oblique René Magritte reference). On the right, an oxtail meat pie, with a wonderful tender buttery crust, topped with some hot pepper jelly which made for a nice contrast to the rich meat filling.

I was not anticipating a "shout-out" but, lo and behold, the next dish was called "Frod's Shrimp Dickles." Months ago, Chef K and I had gotten to talking about pickled shrimp and I'd told him my mom had a great recipe. He asked me for it, and I got it from Mother Frod and passed it along - certainly never expecting to see it turn up on a menu. But there it was, and their adaptation was actually not so far off from the original - though mom surely didn't pair hers with a surprisingly nice brussels sprout slaw (surprising for me, anyway, as I usually don't like brussels sprouts raw) and some home-made cheese-its. (If you really want the shrimp recipe, I'll post it). Chef K will tell you that a "dickle" is a "dill pickle" - that's also Chef K's creation, not Mother Frod's.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lessons Learned in the Test Kitchen

So after six hours in the kitchen for a Paradigm dinner service (as recounted in Part I and Part II of my running diary), what have I learned from my "Chef Fantasy Camp"?

Alls chefs are not sociopathic miscreants. Contrary to the reputation fostered by "bad-boy" chef tell-alls like Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential," the population of every kitchen is not the equivalent of a jailhouse with pots and pans. I know it's fun to imagine that every kitchen is like the crew of a pirate ship, and perhaps some are. But the kitchen at Neomi's is full of sincere, hardworking people who you'd be perfectly happy to take home to your mother. Maybe they were just on their best behavior for me.

Mise en place is where it's at. I know this is really basic and that just about any book about cooking will tell you the same thing. But there is simply no way any menu like this can be done, or indeed virtually any professional kitchen could function, without a lot of advance prep work. Seeing the process involved to put out one 11-course meal for ten diners makes the sheer logistics of places that do this all the time, with even more elaborate menus, all the more daunting. Even as a home cook, there's surely a lesson here too. We enjoy doing dinner parties, but it drives Mrs. F crazy that I seem to spend most of my time in the kitchen. The more prep that can be done in advance, the less time it takes to get the food out.

Plan, plan, plan, and then be ready to improvise. Shit happens. Hopefully nothing too monumental. Despite all the advance work, something invariably will go awry. As guests were arriving, Chef Windus was still hauling his anti-griddle from outlet to outlet trying to get it to work. As the ticking clock started to narrow down the window of opportunity, the chefs quickly switched gears and got the blood orange puree into some molds, onto some ice, and into the freezer, in enough time to set before it was time to be plated. You have to be constantly ready to adapt.

Inspiration can be like wild fermentation. Ideas travel fast these days, particularly when people are willing to let them do so. One of the components for the Paradigm menu was inspired by three words in a twitter post: "beer can cabbage." This is not the first time I've had a dish in Miami that was inspired by the eternally creative Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot of the blog Ideas in Food. Several months ago I had a dish at Talula that paired roasted bone marrow with pickled bananas, inspired by this post. I've noted previously how one of the things I find so interesting about much contemporary cooking is the "open source" nature of it. Where for much of culinary history, recipes and techniques were closely guarded secrets, today many chefs eagerly - almost as a badge of honor - share information about methods, ingredients, ideas and inspirations. This can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, those prone to simply mimicking will do so, which can lead to a disappointing and ironic sameness in a cuisine that should be a platform for creativity. On the other hand, those who see this information as tool and inspiration, rather than just something to be duplicated, can effectively use it as a springboard for their own ideas.

There is such a thing as "lefty" plating and "righty" plating. It just so happened that lefties (myself included) dominated the kitchen last Friday night, but not exclusively so. It was pretty amusing to see one chef start a plating element, and then to have another follow behind and have to twist himself into a convoluted pretzel to duplicate the brush of a sauce across the plate.

The waitstaff have a serious sweet tooth. Sometimes they need to be appeased. Especially after a long night of bringing out food for other people, a little something to boost the spirits and energy levels is a good idea. Keep your waitstaff happy.

In case you were wondering – if there is anything in the slightest way distinctive about your appearance, your clothes, your manner, your voice, or just about anything else – you can be pretty sure the waitstaff have come up with a nickname for you. I don’t want to know mine. You probably don’t want to know yours either.

I'm clearly not cut out to be a professional chef. For any youngster with TV-inspired visions of becoming a celebrity chef, or mid-life-crisis-aged amateur cook contemplating a career change - spend some time in a kitchen. It's hard work. My "fantasy camp" was a small - and preposterously comfy - sampler of what it's like to work in a professional kitchen: I was there barely more than 1/2 the day of a typical cook (in an earlier post I linked to a StarChefs survey showing that the average workday for most culinary professionals is 9-11 hours), I didn't spend hours chopping onions or dicing potatoes or trimming artichokes. I wasn't working over a hot sauté or grill station for hours turning out hundreds of covers. I was spared the thrill of tracking inventory, taking in deliveries, and cleaning up stations. And yet by 11pm I was beat. There's little doubt in my mind that you have to really and truly love what you do to last as a chef. While I share their passion, I don't know that I share their energy. It's a lot easier on the other side of those swinging doors between the kitchen and the dining room.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

In the Test Kitchen at Paradigm (Part II) - Sunny Isles

In an earlier post, I had started to recap my experience in the kitchen of Neomi's for one of their "Paradigm" tasting menu dinners. Jacob Katel from Miami New Times now has his "Behind the Line" pictures up, and you can see all of my pix in this flickr set. Part I of the running diary left off about half-way through the dinner, which is where I'll pick up the action here.

cuban sandwich8:48 pm - as the guests are having the "refresh" course, plating starts for course VI, "cuban sandwich." It begins with a shmear of Wild Turkey honey mustard, and then a square of a fluffy "swiss miss" sponge is placed with one side near the center of the plate. A rectangle of thinly pressed bread is balanced upright, leaning on the sponge.

8:52 pm - Marianne, meanwhile, seems to be everywhere at once. She's expediting orders, she's cooking, she's plating, she's handing finished dishes to the room service guys ... nonstop. While Chefs K and Chad's attentions are focused mostly on Paradigm, she's making sure the rest of the kitchen keeps running while still helping out with most of the Paradigm dishes too.

8:57 pm - I saw the cubes of pickle-brined berkshire pork belly come out of the walk-in a couple hours ago; I don't know what's happened to them since, but they now look burnished and golden-brown and, well, downright sexy, if you go for such things. The pork goes opposite the cheese sponge and helps prop the bread up. The cheese is topped with a pickle "froth" (emulsified with soy lecithin is my guess) and then garnished with vibrant magenta bull's blood micro-greens. A sprinkle of guanciale powder (I'm guessing made by adding tapioca maltodextrin to rendered jowl bacon fat) goes over the cube of pork belly.

cuban sandwich
8:59 pm - the "cuban sandwiches" go out to the table and an extra one comes my way. I taste each of the components on their own, but that's not what this dish is really about. After all that work plating, the way to eat this is to mush it all together so the flavors can mingle. And when they do, it is indeed like a Cuban sandwich made with some really awesome pork. Steven's eyes light up when he finds out there's an extra plate for him too.

9:01 pm - it's right around now that Malka Espinel, Pastry Chef at Johnny V, shows up in the restaurant. It's like deja vu all over again as Chef Chad and Marianne start putting together a couple plates of each of the earlier courses for her and her guest to sample.


9:12 pm - a sheet pan of sliced hamachi comes out for the "tiradito," course VII. Chef Chris is putting some of his sweet potato polenta down on the plate, and Chef K follows behind him with three spirals on each plate of the vibrantly pink hamachi. Next each plate gets striped with some bright yellow aji amarillo vinaigrette, then I follow with a spinkle of toasted cancha corn on each piece of fish. Some glistening white coconut "pearls" go over the fish, and finally, a sprig of micro-cilantro.

tiradito9:18 pm - I try the tiradito. The fish is meaty, tender, and sweet, really nice hamachi. The fascinating thing about the dish is that it offers neither the acidity nor the salt that I'd typically expect of a tiradito. Rather, the extra components each seem to bring another dimension of sweetness, along with a touch of heat from the aji pepper sauce, which complements the natural sweetness of the fish. And the colors are sensational. The chefs probably won't appreciate the association, but in retrospect the pastel pink, yellow and orange make me think of Miami Vice. I could definitely see Crockett and Tubbs wearing these shades.

9:20 pm - someone notices the fried onion rings - which were supposed to be one of the components to the tiradito - still sitting on the pass behind the plating area. Doh. They make for a good snack for the kitchen. The batter uses Trisol, a product from Ferran and Albert Adria's "Texturas" line of products originated in the elBulli workshop (and Chef K poured some pisco into the mix to stick with the Peruvian tiradito theme too). The wheat starch, used in combination with regular flour, helps fried items stay crispy, and indeed these onion rings have great crunch. Even more interesting, they hold that crunch and don't get soggy or greasy for several minutes (as long as they lasted in the kitchen, anyway). Too bad they didn't make it out to the dining room.

corned skirt9:29 pm - my moment of truth is approaching. Course VIII is "corned skirt," skirt steak prepared in the manner of a corned beef, which also features (my) swiss orbs, nestled in a pumpernickel streusel, a ketchup caraway vinaigrette, "beer can cabbage," and kennebec potato chips. On his blog Chef Chad gives a good description of the inspiration and prep for the "beer can cabbage." All I can say is "mmm, chicken skin." He showed me one of the whole heads before service and it is indeed an awesome sight to behold.

9:37 pm - the corned skirts go out to the table and I sample. The skirt steak has a great texture, a fantastic crimson color, and is wonderfully juicy, but has soaked up too much salt from the brine. Chef Chad is already making mental notes for next time to adjust the brining time. The cabbage shows some promise but also, I think, needs some tweaking. It seems to have picked up some bitterness either from the beer or the smoking, and the texture falls undecidedly somewhere between tender and crisp. And my swiss cheese orbs? They're looking a little more spherical, and they hold up on the plate OK, but I find that the exterior membrane is too thin (like a pudding skin) and they're too loose and liquid inside. Needed more time in the alginate bath to form a thicker exterior. Perhaps I'm my own worst critic, but the pride of creation is quickly tempered by the frustration of knowing something could be better.

corned skirt

9:43 pm - we're starting the move into the sweet side of the menu, but gradually. One of the common threads of many contemporary cooking approaches is the breaking down of barriers between sweet and savory. For instance, it's one of the tenets of the "Synthesis of elBulli cuisine" (#13); it can also be seen in the menu at Alinea where subtle diagrams show where on the spectrum of savory to sweet each dish falls, or at Tailor in NYC where almost all the dishes have sweet and savory components. foie In Paradigm dinners I've had previously, there's been a "pre-dessert" that acts as a transition from savory to sweet, picking up elements of each. Here, Chef K has picked an interesting main ingredient for this transition - foie gras. Disks of a light, cold foie gras mousse are paired with several other components that further the interplay of sweet and savory - cherry relish, cherry drops (more spherification), a ribbon of banana, white chocolate, dried sherry vinegar chips, pistachio brittle, and dots of a bright green basil puree.

foie9:52 pm - the many pieces of the foie dish are assembled, even more than I've listed above. I taste, and this dish hits all the right spots. It really gets you thinking why foie is typically used to start a meal instead of to finish, particularly when it's often paired with a sweet wine like a Sauternes (which tends to throw off the palate early in a meal). So much about the foie is dessert-like: it's rich, it's creamy, it's even somewhat sweet. The other components all effectively play off this savory-sweet balancing act, but the real stand-out is the "cherry drop." Orbs of spherified cherry juice have been held - macerated, in effect - in cherry balsamic (a trick Chef K says he picked up from the Alinea cookbook, noticing that the recipes often called for spheres to be held in a flavored liquid). The orbs clearly pick up the vibrant flavor of the vinegar and give a sweet-sour burst that is the highlight of the dish for me.

yogurt10:05 pm - Pastry Chef Fabian's time has arrived, and he begins assembling the first dessert. I know from prior experience that even Chefs K and Chad rarely have much of a clue exactly what to expect from Chef Fabian until he starts plating. He is a man of talent and mystery and I'm always intrigued to see what he has in store. The first dessert, course X, is described as "yogurt, toffee foam, lime air, pineapple glass, raspberry textures, red pepper streusel." I see what's going down on the plate and am struggling to connnect all the dots. There's a translucent golden round, which he's topped with a red dab of something, then some pearly white yogurt spheres go over that, then a squirt of a toffee foam, then a spoonful of a lighter air (the lime, I assume), then a couple of barely-there tuiles with black sesame seeds. Then the assistant pastry chef Deborah comes around and is grating what I'd swear is a gigantic red beet over the top of it. The "beet" turns out to be a frozen raspberry dough which I think Chef Fabian says also has some almond paste in it.


10:28 pm - at some points during the course of the service, the plates are lined up just about ready to go and the kitchen is waiting for the diners to finish and the servers to clear; at other times, the waitstaff are gathered and waiting impatiently for the next course to make its way out as the chefs finish plating. But other than these between-course intervals, the waitstaff are not usually in the kitchen. I notice now, however, that the waitstaff seem to have come right back to the kitchen after the dessert was served. It would appear that all of the servers have serious sweet cravings going on, and are lurking anxiously around hoping for a taste. There's one extra plate but, seeing their eager expressions and having been eating all night, I offer mine up as well. It is gone in about 6.5 seconds. The waitstaff are happy.

10:31 pm - the extra round of dishes for Chef Malka Espinel, who's in the restaurant tonight, have nearly caught up, and Chef K is plating the foie pre-dessert. Those pretty foie disks, though, are now melting and barely make it intact from the sheet pan where they were held on to the plate. Chef K makes a quick adjustment - the foie disks are now foie smears. All is well.

brioche10:39 pm - plating starts for the last of eleven courses. First,a line of chocolate "soil," at one end of which is balanced a round caramelized brioche soaked with honey. A scatter of "vanilla evoo rocks," a quenelle of chantilly sorbet,a dab of coconut foam, a scatter of purple-green micro-greens, and the dish is complete.

10:47 pm - the final course goes out the door to the dining room. I have a taste of the brioche. It's great - simultaneously light in texture, but dense with sweet caramelized honey, like a really good brioche pain perdu. A fine close to a fine meal.


10:53 pm - I see a step ladder next to a fridge and take a seat on it. It's the first time I've sat down in more than five hours.

11:04 pm - the dinner is done. Chef K checks to see if there is still any Estrella Damm Inedit in the house. This is a beer which Ferran Adrià helped craft specifically to accompany food, and I was fortunate enough to try it several months ago when we visited Dos Palillos, the Barcelona restaurant of Adrià's former chef de cuisine Albert Raurich. One bottle (it comes in a big 750 ml) left. Chef gets several glasses and we all toast to a successful dinner. That beer really hits the spot right about now.

11:14 pm - the chefs go out to the dining room to visit with the guests, and drag me along with them. The diners look happy and satisfied. I am in no way responsible for this, but it's a good feeling nonetheless.

11:22 pm - I return to the kitchen, glug down another far less exotic beer with Chef K and Chad, and as they're summoned back out to the dining room to schmooze the guests, I peel out of my "chef's whites" and pack up my stuff. The kitchen is pretty quiet now, and has been turned over to the hotel's night shift. I've hardly done a thing all night, and still I'm beat. I've been on my feet for nearly six straight hours, my feet hurt, my back hurts, and I could really use a shower.

So what have I learned from my "chef fantasy camp"? Coming next post - Lessons Learned in the Test Kitchen.


Trump International Beach Resort
18001 Collins Avenue
Sunny Isles Beach, FL

Neomi's Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 22, 2009

In the Test Kitchen at Paradigm (Part I) - Sunny Isles

paradigm menu

This is the first of a multi-part series of posts. Click here for Part II and for Lessons Learned in the Test Kitchen.

“Paradigm – the Test Kitchen” is a once-a-week “restaurant within a restaurant” in Neomi’s Grill at the Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles, featuring multi-course tasting menus that explore some of the more contemporary concepts and techniques being batted about the culinary universe these days. I’ve been wanting to write about “Paradigm” since I started this blog, but had been lacking new material. I have been to a couple of these dinners already (as well as a pre-Paradigm birthday party dinner, which in retrospect turned out to be something of a dry run for the Paradigm format), but those were several months ago and I’d already given extensive recaps of them elsewhere.

Paradigm is an “interactive” dining experience – the chefs come out to explain several of the dishes, many involve tableside final prep (smoking guns, espuma garnishes, consommé poured at the table), and some even involve diner participation like the nuoc mom “noodles” extruded from a squirt bottle into a warm broth that we had at one dinner (modeled after Wylie Dufresne’s “instant noodles” at wd~50). As an amateur cook and curious diner, I’m always interested in seeing and learning how the food actually gets to the plate. Give me a choice between a seat at a bustling kitchen bar where you’re at risk of being jostled by waiters picking up orders at the pass, or a plush banquette with white tablecloths, and I’ll take the kitchen bar every time. I like to see, and smell, and hear, the transformation from raw ingredients to finished dish; I also just enjoy watching the rough ballet of a well-coordinated kitchen.

Neomi's Chef de Cuisine Chad Galiano and I tend to have the same online reading lists, and when Grant Achatz started a discussion about open kitchens and interactive dining, it prompted some thinking. The Achatz column, and a follow up, traced the evolution and implementation of a new idea at Alinea, where a big silicon “plate” is unfurled over the entire table and the chefs come out of the kitchen to do the final assembly of a dish on the gigantic “plate.” My initial reaction to the Achatz piece was that it was interesting, but more akin to the traditional tableside service than it was to a genuine open kitchen (though seeing the pictures piqued my curiosity further). While it sounds like fun, I’m not sure that it’s what some diners – myself at least – seek in the “open kitchen” experience. It may not be true of everyone – and it may defuse some of the “mystery” of the textural and other transformations that are among the hallmarks of much contemporary cooking – but some of us actually want to see the whole process, and see the kitchen actually at work instead of putting on a show.

We traded some emails, which led to the following proposal from Executive Chef Kurtis Jantz and Chef Chad: come in for a Paradigm dinner, but there would be no seat at the table for me. Instead, I would join them in the kitchen, watch (and possibly “help”) as dishes were being prepared, and they’d make an extra plate of each dish for me and I could eat it standing up in the kitchen. As an extra bonus, Chef Christopher Windus of BlueZoo in Orlando would be in as collaborating guest chef. Now this would be an interactive dining experience. Needless to say, this was an offer I accepted eagerly.

After spending 6+ hours in the Neomi’s Grill kitchen for a Paradigm dinner service this past Friday, I have much to tell. First off, let me again express my gratitude to Chefs K, Chad and Chris, as well as the entire staff at Neomi’s, for putting up with me as I got to experience my “chef’s fantasy camp.” Everyone was tremendously friendly and accommodating. I’ve been kicking around how best to share the experience, and eventually arrived at a multi-part approach; a “running diary” a la Bill Simmons’ NBA draft diaries, and then perhaps a list of “lessons learned.”

A complete set of my pictures from the evening can be found here on flickr.

5:30 pm – I get to the restaurant, ask for Chef Chad, and he comes out and brings me around back into the kitchen for a quick tour and introductions. The kitchen is a bit of a maze and I’m thinking I should be leaving a trail of bread crumbs. Chad introduces me to the rest of the folks – Pablo working sauté, Moe working pantry, Kenold working the grill, Marianne working everywhere. Pastry Chef Fabian di Paolo pops in and out. The kitchen is about 15 degrees warmer than the restaurant, and I almost immediately break into a sweat. This is one of my great talents - Mrs. F calls me "alpaca" because I'm a heavy sweater. Howie Kleinberg's got nothing on me.

5:33 pm – a look at tonight’s menu. Eleven courses total (a little more elaborate even than the typical Paradigm dinner). Chefs K, Chad and Chris have been brainstorming on the menu for most of the past week. There are handwritten notes here and there and drawings for what plates will be used for each course. I’ve had these meals before but never really thought about the logistics in any great detail. They are confounding. Eleven courses, each of which has on average about five components, makes for more than 50 moving pieces. Wow.

5:34 pm – Chef K is in his office (I’ve seen bigger broom closets) with one of the assistant chefs, Osnel. Chef K is going on vacation for a few days and is debriefing on everything that will need to happen in his absence.

5:36 pm – Chef Mike (nice to see him back in the kitchen) brings me a chef’s jacket and apron to wear. OK, I’ll admit it. I feel pretty cool wearing a chef’s jacket. I’m like a kid at Wannadoo City. And, yes, I'm a dork.

5:38 pm – Chef Chad is ready to put me to work. At a station he’s set up a squeeze bottle filled with Emmental cheese thinned down with milk to a loose fondue consistency, a couple bowls filled with what looks like water, a tablespoon, and a spoon that looks like a metal Chinese soup spoon but slotted, with holes in the bottom. I’ve got an idea of what’s coming – spherification! One of the bowls has had some sodium alginate (a product derived from seaweed) added, producing a reaction with the calcium in the cheese (a little extra is added) so that when a blob of the cheese goes into the alginate solution it forms a firmer skin or membrane around the outside, but remains liquid in the center. Presto – a liquid-filled cheese orb! And no sharp objects involved.

spherification 1015:39 pm – Chef Chad shows me the technique of squeezing some of the cheese into a tablespoon filled with the alginate solution, then unloading into the bowl, then, after a short time to let the membrane form, scooping it with the slotted spoon into the second water bowl to hold for service. And away we go – I’m spherifying! Actually reverse spherifying, if we want to be precise (“normal” spherification adds the sodium alginate to the flavored liquid, then puts it into a calcium chloride bath; “reverse” spherification has the calcium in the liquid and uses a sodium alginate bath). I announce to noone in particular that I am going to add “molecular gastronomer” to my business card.

5:42 pm – Chef Chad introduces me to Chef Chris Windus from BlueZoo. If Chef Chris weren’t wearing chef’s whites, I would have guessed that he was an NFL linebacker. He’s got a smirk on his face that seems to say, “Who let this joker into the kitchen?” Over the course of the evening, I’m somewhat relieved to see that this may just be an expression of perpetual bemusement. Or maybe I’m letting myself off too easy.

5:54 pm – I’m still spherifying. I can only do a few of these at a time as they seem to want to stick together. And I’m nervous. Whenever I’ve seen spheres, they’ve always looked so perfectly round. Mine? Not so much. Chef Chad comes by and looks at one, kindly says “It looks like a heart.” OK, not really what we’re shooting for but still it’s cute, right? But to me it just looks like it’s got a butt crack. I’m hoping these smooth out some as they soak.

Emmental orbs6:00 pm – I’ve got about 30-some-odd Emmental cheese spheres done now. There’s only 10 diners and only one of these is going on each plate for a particular dish, but I want to give them a high margin for error. Besides, it’s fun.

6:23 pm – Jacob Katel from New Times shows up. His food porn on Short Order often makes me drool. I’m astonished to see the tiny little camera he uses for his work.

6:30 pm – feels like the calm before the storm. Marianne is working on a pistachio brittle for one of the dishes. Marie, who usually works banquet garde manger, comes in and starts helping out. I later find out she's doing this off the clock just to learn. She also gives me the “Who let this joker into the kitchen?” look.

6:36 pm – maybe for some, being an Executive Chef is all just glory, appearances at food festivals and guest judging on Top Chef. If you read Eric Ripert’s “On the Line,” for instance, you don’t get the impression he’s actually stepping behind the line and cooking all that often any more. But there’s Chef K, chopping onions. Maybe he’s just putting on a show for me.

6:42 pm – so much of this meal is planned, and indeed many components are prepared well in advance of service, and yet you always have to be ready to improvise. Chef K is unhappy with how the batter for some onion rings is setting up. It worked fine yesterday, but today it’s just soaking up oil; has me try one – it’s greasy. Going to try adding more flour but may just start from scratch.

anti-griddle6:47 pm – I notice that Chef Chris has been wheeling around the Anti-Griddle (it’s like a griddle but with cold instead of heat, so that you can quickly freeze liquids on its surface) brought down with him from Orlando and plugging it into different outlets. About 30 seconds after he flips the power switch, it makes a sputtering sound. That’s not good.

6:53 pm – Chef Chad brings me one of Chef Chris’ liquid corn ravioli to try – straight out of a buttery sauté pan. It is fantastic. The pasta texture is silky but still has some substance to it, and the corn filling is oozy, salty, sweet and bursting with fresh corn flavor. One bite and I know where I’m eating next time I’m in Orlando.

6:58 pm – Chef Chris is still hauling the Anti-Griddle from outlet to outlet, trying to find one that will make it happy. So far, no such luck.

raza' chowda'7:04 pm – Chef Chad invites me to help with assembly of the first course, the “raza’ chowda.” This dish has all the components of a clam chowder, but they’re going to be assembled in a hollow glass tube; you slurp on one end, and get all the contents in your mouth at once. Diced razor clams, tiny mirepoix dice, and a gelatinized smoked tomato water have already been assembled in the tubes. I think five of us (Chris, Kurtis, Chad, Jacob and myself) crowd into the little walk-in cooler to help set these up, or to take pix. A little “cork” of potato is stamped out for one end of the tube from planks of potato cooked sous-vide at 83C. At the table, the chefs will add a bacon foam to the tube to complete the chowder flavors. I get one to try – the flavors are spot-on and the delivery method is really clever. You first get each component one-by-one, and then as you get all of them, the flavor combination perfectly duplicates a clam chowder.

7:08 pm – Steven, the food and beverage manager, comes into the kitchen to let everyone know the Paradigm guests have started to arrive. Someone who had been to an earlier Paradigm dinner bought out the whole table for tonight. They’re also expecting Malka Espinel, Pastry Chef at Johnny V in Fort Lauderdale, to be paying a visit later tonight.

7:11 pm – Chef Chris breaks out a Level Vodka bottle that is filled with a neon-pink liquid. What is this? Bubble-Yum bubble-gum infused vodka. Pours a sample for us. Lord – keep this away from my children. It tastes just like bubble gum. Unreal. For good measure, we also try a sample of the Wild Turkey American Honey bourbon. Yes, this could be dangerous stuff.

7:16 pm – Chef Chris is still moving his Anti-Griddle from outlet to outlet, but everyone is quickly sizing up Plan B. The Anti-Griddle was going to be used to make a frozen blood orange disk for a “refresh” intermezzo course; Chef K finds a silicon hemispheric mold sheet which he cuts in half and puts in a tray of ice with some kosher salt. The blood orange puree will be scooped into the molds, laid over the ice, and then put into the freezer to set up.

7:21 pm – several things are taken out of the walk-in to come to temperature, including Shropshire blue cheese “cheesecakes” for course II. I get to sample one – fluffy cheesecake texture, vivid blue cheese flavor. This is going to get paired with a riff on buffalo wings. I think it’s going to work.

7:32 pm - Steven advises that the guests have sat down for dinner. The show is on. Meanwhile, the kitchen hums with the constant background sounds of room service and dining room orders going out. While I came for Paradigm, there’s still a hotel to feed.

7:35 pm – the chefs go out to the table to meet-n-greet and do the tableside presentation for the “raza’ chowda’” in a tube.

food party7:37 pm – Chef Chad is starting the plating for the second dish, “food party episode 1”. He explains the inspiration much better than I’ll be able to do. Sounds like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse meets Tim & Eric Awesome Show meets Iron Chef. I think I need to watch this. There is one long table in the very front of the kitchen that is used for all the assembly and plating. Chef Chad starts by making circular patterns of carrot and celery on each of the plates. These are followed by the blue cheese-cake, then a chicken “wing” lollipop (actually thigh meat molded together using Activa a/k/a transglutaminase a/k/a “meat glue”) with a semi-crispy, hot-sauce infused batter, some julienned pickled carrots over the cheesecake, and finally, a hot sauce froth.

7:45 pm – servers return from the table after the tubular chowder experience. Some of the diners are a little squeamish about it, but after trying, they all seem to enjoy it.

7:57 pm – “food party episode 1” goes out the door to the table. I sample one in the kitchen. In prior experiences I’ve been underwhelmed by dishes using “meat glue,” but this chicken lollipop sells me on its virtues. The shredded thigh meat has the intense flavor of dark meat, is incredibly juicy, and has not been so pulverized as to be unrecognizable as chicken. I’d initially thought the hot sauce flavor was coming just from the sauce, but it’s in the batter too. The rest of the flavors are spot on. I especially like the vividness of the carrot and celery drizzles on the plate. They may look pretty, but they're not just decoration.

food party

8:03 pm – Chef Chris drops back to the sauté line to warm his liquid corn ravioli.

corn ravioli8:10 pm – plating starts for course III, liquid corn ravioli over a bed of corn and spaghetti squash, with a thin, square sheet of Laughing Bird shrimp (another Activa trick). I’m invited to help with plating the shrimp sheets. They’re each already individually portioned between squares of wax paper, and just require a little flip onto the plate. Most of mine comply with only minor mangling. Fortunately, Marie notices that the squares are each also covered with a transparent sheet of acetate, and we remove it before service.

8:14 pm – ravioli are out the door. I try the fully composed dish. The ravioli is just as delicious as the one I sampled earlier (though it was more fun to pop a whole one in my mouth straight from the pan); the corn and spaghetti squash hash it’s served over adds another nice sweet vegetable component. The Laughing Bird shrimp used for the sheet, with a little bit of chive in the mix, are absolutely delicious; I’m torn as to whether the presentation and textural transformation really add anything, but polish off the dish before I can decide.

corn ravioli

8:18 pm – course IV, “hogs headless cheese” sandwiches, are getting assembled. A clamshell-shaped steamed brioche bun (similar to the ones traditionally served with Peking duck) is topped with a slice of “hogs headless cheese” – so-called because it’s a pork “head cheese” made with trotters and shoulder but no head – then paired with a rhubarb sriracha (made in house, with a nice acidic tang from the rhubarb but needing of more heat, in my opinion, if it is to call itself a sriracha sauce), julienned pickled green peaches, and a garlic scape mayo.

headless cheese8:25 pm – headless cheese sandwiches go out to the table and I get to sample one. The components are mostly Southern, and yet the flavor composition reflects a distinctly Asian profile. In fact, this is clearly a banh mi with a Southern accent. The head cheese might have been a little too bland on its own and each of the other components a little too assertive, but together – fantastic. They've made an extra of each dish for Jason from New Times too. I've got a sense he's never seen food like this before, but in addition to being a good photographer, the guy's a good sport and a good eater too. He puts away everything with glee.

refresh8:42 pm – each Paradigm menu I’ve seen has a “refresh” course in the middle – a variation on the old-school tradition of an “intermezzo,” often a sorbet, to serve as a “palate cleanser.” This time around, they go old-school with the sorbet, but new school with the flavors. Deborah, Fabian's assistant pastry chef, makes an appearance. A small bamboo serving dish gets a bit of kumquat marmalade, and little globes of the blood orange sorbet (the Plan B as a result of the non-functioning anti-griddle) and a piquillo pepper sorbet studded with black caraway seeds. These go out to the table with a pair of little chopsticks. With the extra one made for me in the kitchen, I opt to just pick up the little dish and do the whole thing like a shot. I think this is the way to go. The flavors play off each other beautifully, doing a great balancing act between savory and sweet.

Coming up next ... six more courses - and do my Emmental orbs pass the test?

Trump International Beach Resort
18001 Collins Avenue
Sunny Isles Beach, FL

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Someone's in the Kitchen ...

I have written previously elsewhere about some fascinating meals I've had from Chefs Kurtis Jantz and Chad Galiano and their "Paradigm - The Test Kitchen" weekly dinners - some of the most adventurous and cutting-edge cooking that you can find in Miami. Prompted in part by some recent discussion about "interactive dinners" and the relationship between kitchen and dining room, they agreed this week to a very different approach - they're letting me into the kitchen to "help"[*] with tonight's Paradigm dinner. It should be an interesting and crowded kitchen, with Chris Windus from BlueZoo in Orlando also in as a collaborating guest chef.

Their food and beverage manager was smart enough to insist that I provide a waiver and release of liability before setting foot in the restaurant kitchen. Here is the one I suggested:


I fully understand and acknowledge that:

1. Kitchens involve sharp, pointy, hot, heavy, and/or greasy objects which may have inherent dangers, risks and hazards. If any fingers or other appendages are severed or otherwise damaged in the course of the evening, I will suck it up and deal.

2. Contemporary kitchens often use a variety of products and devices that some people consider unnatural, intimidating, foreign and even dangerous. I agree not to snort or otherwise ingest copious quantities of Activa transglutaminase, not to use the “smoking gun” for anything other than culinary purposes, and not to stick my tongue to the anti-griddle.

3. Kitchen staff often have a, let’s say, unique sense of humor which often involves practical jokes. I hereby assume the risk of: the “hot plate”; duck fat "ice cream"; "mayonnaise creme brulee"; drinks laced with mussels, worcestershire sauce, fish sauce, or Tabasco; and pockets surreptitiously stuffed with raw shrimp or liquid nitrogen (damn "molecular gastronomists"!), or even a whole salad.

4. I may be directed to "chop flour" or get "chicken lips", a "bucket of steam", a "left handed chicken stretcher", "cans of elbow grease", a "parsley curler," a "Kuemmelspaltmaschine,"
a "tomato ripener" or a "grape peeler". I will try not to be too gullible.

5. Some chefs are raging egomaniacs prone to yelling and throwing things or attempted infliction of psychic damage - apparently, especially if their name rhymes with Shmarlie Frotter. I agree that if subjected to such treatment, I will pay them back later when I retell the story to a national audience.

I hereby release Paradigm, and each of its present and former owners, principals, members, agents and employees from any and all liability for damage, losses or personal injury to myself resulting from my participation in such activities.

[*]Mrs. F reminds me that while it's nice of Chefs K and Chad to humor me, I should not begin to delude myself that my rudimentary kitchen skills will be in any way useful.