Showing posts sorted by relevance for query sous vide. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query sous vide. Sort by date Show all posts

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Point Counterpoint - updated

This will be a short one. Yesterday, Shola Olunloyo, an opinionated and thought-provoking Philadelphia chef who is in the process of opening a restaurant called Speck, put up a post noting "We are desperately trying to find a reason why we should not cook virtually every piece of meat in this restaurant sous-vide." And the same day, chefs Alexander Talbot and Aki Kamozawa of the creative hive that is Ideas in Food, though not apparently in response to Shola, provided an answer:

Sure, functionality, speed and consistency are important, but there is something special about a gorgeous piece of meat (or two) cooked properly in a salt dusted skillet; it's fat renders into the pan and the constant turning (a la McGee) allows for uniform cooking and a beautiful crust. A quick pan sauce made with wine and butter, finished with fresh herbs snipped from the garden and a warm rest (we used a pyrex pan with a lid) resulted in different textures and flavors playing off one another with delicious results. The depth and consistency of the crust changes with each bite and the inner meat is supple and juicy. It may take a little more effort by the cook but every so often old school is the only way to go.


So how do you like your steak?

UPDATED: It's been suggested (by Chef Olunloyo, anyway) that I've either  predetermined a conclusion or attempted to create a non-existent controversy with this post. Yes, internet conversations can be slightly odd. So since Chef Olunloyo has not posted the comment I added on his site (which is always a great read), I will try to duplicate it here.

I have no predetermined conclusion on the subject nor any desire to create controversy. I certainly didn't call anything "boiled meat in a bag," and indeed, in context, it ought to be clear I'm no enemy of sous vide cookery. If I'm guilty of anything, it's perhaps an excess of brevity, or stated more simply: bad writing. The fact that I couldn't initially find a good picture of any sous-vide cooked steak (a deficiency I've now remedied, though the photo quality is still suspect) also may have suggested a taking of sides. But it really was intended as nothing other than a simple inquiry as to technique and preference.

Personally, unless I'm starving and iron-depleted, I usually find that eating a bigger cut of steak can become monotonous, and so the textural contrasts of which Alex and Aki speak are indeed something I often find desirable. On the other hand, in other circumstances (and Chef Olunloyo's post does make clear he is talking about skinnier, more flavorful cuts - skirt, deckle, hanger) I may well agree that sous vide cooking with a quick sear to finish is the way to go.

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 ...)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cobaya 31 - Area 31 with Chef E. Michael Reidt

Cobaya 31

It's always exciting when we have the chance to get a nationally recognized chef like Michelle Bernstein to cook for Cobaya, like we did last month. But for me it's equally exciting when we can find someone who may not be on everyone's radar screen already. From the number of our diners who weren't familiar with Chef E. Michael Reidt, or hadn't been to Area 31 at all, our dinner this past Monday would fall into the latter category. I hope they feel like they've made a happy discovery.

Area 31, a restaurant with a sustainable seafood theme, opened about two years ago; but being hidden away on the 16th floor of the Epic Hotel in downtown Miami it can easily elude notice, particularly by locals. John Critchley was the chef until about six months ago, when he departed for Washington DC (he's now at Urbana) and was replaced here by Chef Reidt (who was traded from Baltimore's B & O American Brasserie).[1] Chef Reidt actually has some Miami connections from earlier in his career: ten years ago he was the chef at Wish on South Beach.[2]

Chowfather, a fellow Cobaya instigator, was particularly excited about having Chef Reidt do a dinner for us and was instrumental in making this one happen. And Chef Reidt really delivered. Here's our menu for the evening (you can see all my pictures in this Cobaya 31 flickr set):

Cobaya 31 menu

Amuse Bouche
Heirloom Tomatoes, Peaches, Truffle Cheese, Flowering Basil
Roederer NV Brut Premier

Cobia Ceviche
Pressed Avocado, Puffed Rice, Granny Smith Apple, Red Pepper Sorbet
Pio Cesare Cortese di Gavi 2010

Foie Gras "Fluff"
Smoked Peach, Crispy Basil Sponge, Pineapple, Tamarind Gastrique
"Cobaya Cocktail"

Maine Lobster, Green Asparagus, Grapefruit, Vanilla Turnips
Luca Chardonnay 2007

Diver Scallop
Crab, Farro, Chorizo, English Peas, Coconut Broth
Turkey Flats Rose 2008

Sous Vide Duck
Confit Pork Belly, Carrot, Curry, Pistachio
Bell Syrah 2007

Dark Chocolate
Truffles, Dehydrated Mousse, Yogurt, Cherry Sorbet
Lindeman's Framboise Lambic

amuse bouche

Starting with the amuse bouche, Chef Reidt encouraged us to really dive into the experience, and in this instance to literally stick our noses right down into the bowl. It was a sensible instruction, as the flowering basil from Paradise Farms offered up a potent spicy fragrance. The basil was the highlight of a simple, pure composition of heirloom tomatoes, slivered peaches, a couple thin shards of truffle cheese, and pea tendrils, floating in a limpid tomato water. Crisp, racy Roederer NV Brut Premier Champagne played along well (and the wine pairings were mostly spot on with each of the courses).

(continued ...)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cobaya Griese at MM74

One of the reasons we enjoy these Cobaya events is that even as the organizers, we never quite know what direction the chefs will take. You can't necessarily predict where a chef's real passions or interest lie from the kind of restaurant they run.

Thomas Griese is the chef at MM74, a Michael Mina restaurant in the Fontainebleau resort in Miami Beach. It's a "dressy casual" kind of venue, someplace you might go to before heading to Liv (or maybe even after clubbing: it's open until 2am on weekends) and get anything from hamachi "poppers" to a $26 burger to Mina's classic lobster pot pie. Don't get me wrong, the food at MM74 is good – very good, in many instances – but you wouldn't expect a high end, classically French inspired dining experience there.

But that's what Chef Griese did for his Cobaya dinner, drawing inspiration from his stage at The French Laundry and other fine dining venues[1] to put together a meal that was as luxurious and fancy as any we've had.

(You can see all my pictures in this Cobaya Griese at MM74 flickr set).

The theme was set from the start as we settled into several tables cloistered in the back of the subterranean restaurant downstairs in the Fontainebleau (our first actual "underground" dinner). A kusshi oyster blanketed in a silky truffled yuzu sabayon, with a dollop of osetra caviar perched on top, was a subtle nod to Keller's classic "Oysters and Pearls."[2] That striking lurid blue is from infusing curaçao into the salt on which the oyster is plated.

From oysters, caviar and truffles to foie gras, of course: in the form of a crème brûlée, blended with mellow white miso. Brioche toast soldiers with slivers of banana and some fresh herbs and flowers were plated alongside for dunking into the creamy custard after you pierced through its burnished sugar cap, with dots of a sweet ruby port reduction circling the dish. The combination of liver, miso and banana might sound unlikely but made perfect sense: a matching of similarities instead of contrasts, with their rich, creamy, unctuous qualities merging into something positioned right between savory and sweet.

(continued ...)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Cobaya / Ideas in Food Dinner

While the teeming hordes invaded the sands of Miami Beach for the South Beach Wine and Food Festival last week, fifty intrepid souls ventured to the Wynwood Arts District for a very different dining experience. When we heard that Chef Alex Talbot of Ideas in Food was interested in coming in to town to do a dinner, we jumped on the opportunity.

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 room
the dining room

the guinea pigs
the diners
The whole meal was prepped on the gastroPod, with everything served on recyclable disposable plates. It was interesting to me that Chef Alex arrived in Miami with no food prepped in advance, and no menu planned, with everything from idea to execution taking place in the few days after he arrived.

the kitchen
the kitchen
Here's the menu he put together:

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 Cavatelli
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
strawberry relish

Malted Milk Custard

the menu
the menu
(continued ...)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cobaya Underground Dinner Experiment #2, 2.5

My weak joke the past couple months when people ask about "Cobaya", our underground dining experiment, is that South Florida really isn't made for underground dining, because as soon as you try to go underground you hit water. Well, we may be in the process of proving that premise (and any number of other reasons why people might think South Florida isn't made for these kinds of things) wrong.

After a great first dinner at Talula from Chefs Andrea Curto-Randazzo, Frank Randazzo and their talented Sous Chef Kyle Foster, we set out to try it again. This time around, Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog was the chef; and instead of going underground, we went up, to a fantastic Midtown penthouse courtesy of the good folks at The Factory Interactive.

The demand for more unorthodox types of dining experiences may be greater than many people give Miami credit for; we had so many people interested in the dinner that we ended up adding a second seating on Sunday, with a total of about 36 guinea pigs joining us over the two nights. If you've not followed this on the Cobaya site, the idea is pretty simple: get talented chefs to cook great, interesting meals for adventurous, open-minded diners.

The full set of pictures from this weekend's dinners can be seen here. Jacob Katel at Miami New Times got some great pix that are up on the Short Order blog. What follows here are some visual and textual snapshots of the meal; I welcome other diners to contribute their thoughts.

Edited to add: some more nice write-ups and pix here at Mango & Lime and Blind Tastes, and this awesome video shot by James Painter Belvin on Saturday night:

the view

The venue was truly special, a penthouse condo in one of the Midtown buildings, with great views south of downtown, east across Biscayne Bay and west on the setting sun.

operating table is ready

10-24-09 menu
10-24-09 menu

guinea pigs

greek salad
"greek salad"

This dish combined a clarified tomato water, gin-compressed cucumbers (the cucumbers combined with gin and then put under vacuum seal so the flavoring liquid is drawn into the cells of the vegetable), home-made feta-stuffed olives, and Hendricks gin (which itself echoed the cucumber notes). A great cross between a salad and a martini.

stone crab
stone crab, mustard emulsion, Meyer lemon oil

A one-biter with all the traditional flavors of perhaps our best-known local seasonal delicacy.

pumpkin burrata dumpling

Another one-biter, this one had some technical issues that prevented the burrata filling from flowing, but it didn't affect the flavors.

chef jeremiah
Chef Jeremiah plating pork belly

pork belly
pork belly, 63c egg, maple syrup

The pork belly was brined, braised, confited, seared and delicious. A nice "breakfast for dinner" effect was achieved by combining with an egg cooked at 63 degrees celsius in an immersion circulator, and - the clinching final touch for me - a drizzle of maple syrup.

halibut like a reuben

One of the most interesting and creative dishes of the night, Alaskan halibut was wrapped and rolled into a long spherical shape and cooked sous vide, topped with a sprinkle of crumbled rye streusel, and paired with a "pastrami dashi" poured tableside - a clarified broth redolent with the smoky, peppery spicy flavors of pastrami. I really enjoyed this unexpected but successful pairing of a delicate fish with these bold smoky notes.


No picture but a really neat little liquid shot of white chocolate and red curry over shaved ice. Not so much a palate cleanser as a potent flavor bomb, this was another of the more intriguing tastes of the night, with the unusual combination in an even more unexpected cold form being a real pleasant surprise.

short rib
72-hr short rib, parsnip puree, zin reduxx

Here was another use of sous vide technique, big meaty short ribs slow-cooked (really slow - three days' worth) at low temperature: enough heat to melt the collagen and connective tissue, but not so much as to cook the meat to shredding disintegration like a traditional braise; served with a drizzle of a Zinfandel reduction, as well as a velvety rich parsnip puree (reminiscent, dare I say it, of Joel Robuchon's famous potato puree) which also had a welcome brightness from what I thought was celery root.

another night, another experiment

I returned Sunday night for another round with another group of guinea pigs. Frod Jr. came along with me on Sunday, and some of these pictures are his. He also ate very well: the stone crab, the pumpkin gnocchi with short rib (below), and the krispy kreme flan (also below) were among his favorites. Fortunately we remembered to keep the gin out of his "greek salad."

10-25-09 menu
10-25-09 menu with a couple changes

pumpkin gnocchi
pumpkin gnocchi, short rib ragu, ricotta salata

The short rib from last night, reincarnated as a meaty broth to pair with pumpkin gnocchi.

chef jeremiah, chef k
Chef Jeremiah, Chef K helping out

A couple special guests came out for the second night: Chefs Kurtis Jantz and Chad Galiano, the guys behind the Paradigm dinners. Chef Jeremiah put them to work.

whole piglet
whole piglet

A nice surprise for the second-night diners: a whole, 39-pound piglet, fresh from a Hialeah slaughterhouse that morning.

piglet leg and belly
piglet leg and belly

Chef Jeremiah completely boned out the pig before roasting, and made some rich trotter cakes from the head and trotters.

chadzilla, chef jeremiah
Chadzilla helping Chef Jeremiah plate the pig

Chef Chad Galiano dishing out the trotter cakes for the pig.

piglet plated
the piglet, plated

krispy kreme flan
krispy kreme flan

For dessert, a Krispy Kreme "flan." Donuts were pulverized and blended with a flan base, aerated and squirted into mason jars and then cooked; paired with a goat's milk cajeta (like a tangy dulce de leche). Mmm, donuts.

Many thanks from me to Chef Jeremiah and all the rest of his crew for a great meal, to Jason Inasi and The Factory Interactive for providing such a fantastic venue, and to all my fellow guinea pigs for coming out and really understanding the spirit in which this is being done. For those interested in future dinners, they will be announced on the Cobaya website, and you can also join the Cobaya - Gourmet Guinea Pigs Google group and you'll get notice by email when new events are announced.

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.

Monday, December 19, 2011

CobayAzul (a/k/a A.B.C. - Azul Bizarre Cobaya)


The basic idea behind Cobaya is a simple one: let chefs cook whatever they want, for diners who want to experience it. The execution of that idea can sometimes become very elaborate. It did at Azul earlier this week, where Chef Joel Huff and his crew assembled an eight-course dinner that was often as complex as it was flavorful.

Another of the ideas behind Cobaya is to highlight chefs who may not be getting the attention they deserve for doing interesting, creative, inspired work in Miami. This latest dinner was another good example. Azul is one of Miami's few "fine dining" spots, and some great talent has worked there - its first executive chef was Michelle Bernstein, who spent four years there before going off on her own, when the talented Clay Conley took over - but like many hotel restaurants, it's a place that's more popular for visitors than locals.

When Chef Huff took over Azul this year, we quickly put it on the list of places that we thought could fit with Cobaya. Huff helped open up José Andres' Bazaar in Los Angeles, his menu at Azul was a fascinating read, and his sous chef, Brad Kilgore, was posting some great things on his blog, "The Power of a Passion," about what was going on in the kitchen. We were able to set up a dinner, and as usual, gave the chef free reign to create the menu and format.

An additional twist was introduced when we were contacted by a producer for Andrew Zimmern's show, "Bizarre Foods." They were going to be in Miami for a week, and were interested in shooting one of our dinners. The Azul dinner happened to be during the time they were in town. I'll confess, I had very ambivalent feelings about this. Truth is, we don't market or publicize these events at all other than by emails, blog posts and twitter; we make no money from it (everything collected goes straight to the chefs, and the organizers pay for their own seats too); and the group is, purposefully, very self-selecting. There are only so many people who are willing to show up for a dinner knowing absolutely nothing other than how much it will cost. We like it that way.

But when we talked it over with the restaurant, they were excited, and we thought it a worthwhile opportunity to show a larger audience the potential range of dining experiences in Miami. Watching Anthony Bourdain's Miami episode of  "The Layover" sadly confirmed that even as experienced an eater as Bourdain can still have a viewpoint of Miami that's based almost entirely on Miami Vice (a 25-year old TV show) and Grand Theft Auto Vice City (a 10-year old video game that mimicked the look and feel of the 25-year old TV show). It's kind of like doing an episode on San Francisco that's informed exclusively by having watched Big Trouble in Little China.[1]

Though the lights and cameras were inevitably something of a distraction, Zimmern and the Bizarre Foods crew (and Zimmern's guest Lee Schrager) were overall very well-behaved party-crashers. Zimmern himself, both when doing his routines for the camera and off, was genuinely curious, interested and engaged, passionate in his discussions about food, and effusive in his appreciation. It will be interesting to see how it comes out on the screen.

Here, in the meantime, is my take on our meal. You can see all my pictures from the dinner in this CobayAzul flickr set.

(continued ...)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Michybaya - Cobaya Dinner with Chef Michelle Bernstein

Sometimes, with her radiant smile, former-ballerina perfect posture, and national (Top Chef judge) and local (Check Please host) television presence, it's easy to forget. But let there be no doubt about it: Michelle Bernstein is a badass chef. Yes, it's the quality of her cooking that cemented her national reputation and led to those TV gigs, and her namesake restaurant Michy's on Biscayne Boulevard and the Spanish tapas-inspired Sra. Martinez in the Design District are regarded as among the top restaurants in Miami. But neither of those restaurants are "new" any more, and in a somewhat magpie-like food community, restaurants that are five, or even only two, years old are sometimes overlooked in favor of the latest shiny objects.

That's stupid. Thirty-four of us got to see just how stupid earlier this week, as we finally connected with Chef Bernstein for one of our "Cobaya" dinners. Since we began doing these events nearly two years ago, we've been trying to get Michelle to cook for us. Indeed, we first started talking about it back in the summer of 2009; but then she was busily gearing up to open at the Omphoy in Palm Beach, and any number of things intervened thereafter. The stars finally aligned recently, particularly with her new bakery/café down the street from Sra. M, Crumb on Parchment, turning out to be a perfect venue for the dinner.[1]

As we always do, we gave Chef Bernstein complete free rein to come up with the menu and the format, and she put together one of the most elegant, polished, and satisfying dining experiences we've had so far. You can see all my pictures from the dinner in this "Michybaya" flickr set, and find links to some other pictures and recaps over at the Cobaya website.

the table

The space at Crumb (basically the airy, open atrium of a collection of home furnishings shops in the Melin Building in the Design District) was rearranged for our dinner into one long table, with 34 of Crumb's artfully mismatched chairs lined up on either side. The table was set with naturalistic centerpieces that actually incorporated some of the mise en place for our dinner (OK, not really, but those were real mushrooms), and enough silverware to baffle even Emily Post.

Chef Bernstein said that she doesn't like to overstuff diners with too many courses, so she held it to five (actually six if you count a pre-dessert, which I would):

Oyster Chawan Mushi with Scallop and Uni Ceviche
Julien Fouet Saumur[2]

Whole Roasted Foie Gras with Garden Vegetables
and Carrot-Orange Sauce
Kiralyudvar Tokaji Sec

Chupe de Mariscos with Squid Ink Croquetas
Mercy Pinot Noir Arroyo Seco

New York Steak with Truffle Butter and
Gnocchi with Celery Leaf, Lily Bulbs and Budding Chives
Mas Sorrer Montsant

Calamansi Soup with Pineapple and Mint Ice Cream

Banana Tarte Tatin
Rock Wall Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc

oyster chawan mushi

This was a very nice way to start things, an oyster "chawan mushi." Chawan mushi is a savory Japanese egg custard, often a bit more watery than a Western custard with the addition of dashi and/or soy sauce. Here, Chef Bernstein steamed the custard right in the oyster shells, with the briny (Kumamoto?) oysters nestled within, and a little cap of softened enoki mushrooms and green onions. This carried all of that wonderful "taste of the ocean" of a good oyster, but with the flavor stretched and prolonged by the creamy custard. Mrs. F doesn't particularly like oysters, but she loved this dish. For a bit of contrast, between the oysters was a small bowl of a scallop ceviche (not a "true" ceviche, Chef Bernstein qualified, which I think means the scallop was very lightly poached rather than just "cooked" in the acid of citrus juices), given an extra dose of richness with a tongue of orange uni laid over the top.

(continued ...)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Cobaya Gets Cruxed

At some point fairly late Monday evening, after the last course had been served, somebody asked me how this all came about. I looked at the chef. He looked at me. I shrugged. The truth is, we no longer had any clear recollection how, exactly, we'd gotten to this point.

The chef was Brandon Baltzley, former sludge metal drummer and Chicago cooking wunderkind, mastermind of the Crux itinerant pop-up restaurant / culinary collective, author, and soon-to-be chef and farmer at TMIP, somewhere in the country an hour or so out of Chicago. We were decompressing in the Broken Shaker bar in the Freehand Miami (f/k/a the Indian Creek Hotel), which had just played gracious host to Brandon's nine-plus course dinner for forty Cobaya guinea pigs. It was a dinner that he'd really only started prepping some time around midnight the night before. The fact that it came together at all was still something of a surprise to me. The fact that it turned out so well was nothing short of remarkable.

It was always going to be a bit tricky. Brandon was planning to come in to Miami early Sunday morning, have a sous chef from Chicago join him down here, and shop and prep all day Sunday and Monday with help from Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog at the Freehand. Then the sous chef went AWOL and Brandon missed his flight (TSA taking particular interest in a duffel bag full of vacuum-sealed offal and little baggies of white powders - "They're just hydrocolloids!"), and as of mid-day Sunday it looked like there wasn't going to be any dinner at all.

But we would not be so easily sidetracked. After some quick reshuffling, Brandon was on another (non-direct) flight from Pittsburgh (his temporary home base), his mom was on a Greyhound bus down from Jacksonville to come help, Jeremiah had a trip to the seafood market to make, and I had a grocery list to feed a crowd of forty so there would be something to cook when Brandon finally arrived. Jeremiah and Steve Santana busted ass the next day to help with the prep, and Brandon's backup kitchen reinforcements arrived Monday afternoon.

Some people thrive on chaos and stress. And by Monday morning, Brandon had gone from thinking we needed to reschedule, then thinking he wouldn't be able to execute the menu he'd planned, to actually adding on a couple extra snacks on top of it (and supplementing my grocery shopping duties as a result). Somehow, it all happened.[1]

With the benefit of hindsight and sobriety, I now have a better idea of how this thing came about. I'd actually been following Baltzley for some time: his most recent project, Crux, a sort of itinerant restaurant pop-up / co-op, seemed very much in the same spirit of what we're trying to do with Cobaya. Plus, he's got a pretty intriguing backstory, interesting enough to have scored himself a book deal (which clearly gets bonus points for having a blurb that manages to mention Paula Deen and Grant Achatz in the same sentence).

So I sent him a message: "You want to come down to Miami in December and do a dinner?" The response came quickly: "I am definitely game." I reached out to Chef Jeremiah, now the in-house chef at the Freehand, and a long-time Cobaya facilitator, and we were able to line up a kitchen and a dining space at the Broken Shaker, with the Bar Lab boys Elad Zvi and Gabe Orta contributing some cocktail pairings to go along with the dinner.

After 36 frantic hours, here was the end result.

(You can see all my pictures in this "Cobaya Gets Cruxed" flickr set.)

(continued ...)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Dinner with Chef Brad Kilgore

It's not often that my photos draw much attention beyond a small group of food-obsessed Miami locals. But when I posted pictures from a dinner that chef Brad Kilgore put together a few months ago, discerning folks around the country took notice. I think Brandon Baltzley, the chef behind the nomadic Crux "micro-restaurant" traveling roadshow, summed it up when he tweeted: "Who the fuck is @brad_kilgore and why is no one following him?"

In direct answer to that question: Brad Kilgore is a local chef who until recently was working at Azul restaurant on Brickell Key. He was a sous chef under Joel Huff when Azul did our Cobaya dinner last year, and along with chef de cuisine Jacob Anaya, took on added responsibilities when Huff left a couple months later. Before coming to Miami for Azul, Brad had been working in Chicago, including stints at Alinea, L2O, and Boka, then became Executive Sous Chef at Epic. For his complete backstory, read here.

But you can't just walk in and order a dinner like this at Azul, for at least two reasons: (1) we had assembled a small group for a "let me cook for you" kind of night, so what you see here isn't on the regular menu; and (2) Kilgore is no longer at Azul. So why am I posting this now?

Well, the good news is that Brad left Azul in order to partner up with Jeremy and Paola Goldberg of Route 9 in Coral Gables and the recently opened Exit 1 on Key Biscayne. Brad has been putting his menu into place at Exit 1, and while that stunning whole pig you see here isn't on it, there should be plenty of other opportunities to taste Brad's handiwork. For just one, he's doing a dinner with Cigar City Brewery next week on Tuesday, December 18.

So consider the meal described here something of a prototype.

Our dinner started with an amuse bouche modeled after one of my favorite unlikely combinations: vitello tonnato. Brad's version substituted a melting puddle of braised veal breast, topped with a frothy emulsion of egg yolk, tuna and lemon, all dolloped with warm goat butter. This rich bite was a preview of the indulgence to come.

And it came quickly. The primary notes of the first dish - cauliflower and caviar - were a riff on the French Laundry's cauliflower panna cotta with beluga caviar.[1] Kilgore's version started with a puddle of a cold, creamy cauliflower and white chocolate "vichysoisse"[2] Next to that was a generous mound of really fine royal osetra caviar, topped with a quenelle of a darkly caramelized roasted cauliflower gelato, mounted with a few crisped florets to reinforce the notion. This was rich upon rich, but it still found its balance. I loved it.

(continued ...)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Stella! - New Orleans

It is impossible for me to talk about Stella! without talking about its ebullient chef and owner, Scott Boswell. His life story sounds like something out of the Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. He came to professional cooking as a third career, yet in a short time since then has done stints with Iron Chefs Masahiko Kobe, Hiroyuki Sakai, Chin Kenichi and Masaharu Morimoto (and stages with other luminaries such as Grant Achatz, Charlie Trotter and Eric Ziebold as well). He was one of the first chefs to start the return to normal life in New Orleans after Katrina wreaked devastation, slinging burgers hot off the grill at his not-yet-opened Stanley restaurant for folks in need of sustenance, even as his flagship, Stella, in the middle of a renovation, was demolished. If you told me that he performed a heart transplant in between courses during our meal, I wouldn't have been surprised.

I also can't avoid talking about Chef Boswell because I likely wouldn't have had the chance to eat at Stella without his intervention. Our New Orleans travel plans fell into place late: I only knew around December 23 that we'd be going there a few days later, and there were very limited seatings available the day we hoped to visit Stella. But I also knew - because Chef Boswell is an avid (possibly compulsive) twitterer - that he was in the market for a Momofuku cookbook, for which Amazon had seemingly misplaced his order. I offered to bring him a copy in a transparent effort to curry favor. Though Amazon ultimately rectified his book order, he nonetheless bent over backwards to set us up with a reservation. And when I say bent over backwards, let me be clear: he personally arranged a reservation for us, on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, from Orlando, while on vacation, with his family, in the middle of roasting a 50-pound pig. And then tweeted, emailed or called about a half dozen times during the days thereafter to make sure we were coming. I was floored.

We eagerly arrived a few days later. The restaurant is an eclectically decorated place toward the northern end of the French Quarter, with two separate dining rooms that somehow feel both elegant and homey, perhaps bordering just on the edge of kitschy - like visiting the house of a fancy, rich grandma. As we entered, I spied Chef Boswell in the doorway to the kitchen and upon introducing ourselves we were greeted warmly and shown the kitchen. Chef Boswell is a bundle of non-stop energy and has the perpetually pleased look of a kid in a candy shop. When he's not in the kitchen, he's peeking around the corner to check on the diners like a mother hen tending to her flock, or sometimes roaming the dining room cradling a truffle seemingly the size of a baseball in his hand. I suspect that truffle has embedded its aroma in his palm like an olfactory tattoo by this point (maybe that's his plan).

Since my pictures are terrible, here is the rundown of the tasting menu:

Roasted Heirloom Potato Purée with Applewood Smoked Bacon Lardons, Fingerling Potatoes, Truffle-Scented Petite Brioche Croutons and Truffle Crème Fraiche Caviar
Lobster, Egg and Caviar ~ Farm Egg, Canadian Lobster and American Paddlefish Caviar
Jumbo Gulf Shrimp and Andouille Risotto with Baby Shiitake Mushrooms, Melted Brie, Local Scallions and Virgin Olive Oil
Pan-Roasted Hawaiian Walu with Hot Buttered Popcorn Crust, Louisiana Crawfish and Corn Maque Choux and Sour Cream and Onion Butter
Steak and Egg ~ Seared Filet of Prime Beef Tenderloin and Sunny Side Up Clyde's Farm Araucana Egg with Breakfast Potatoes, Truffled Hollandaise, Texas Toast with Foie Gras Butter
San Andre Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Toasted Almond Brittle and Wild Huckleberry Compote
Chocolate Chip and Autumn Truffle Ice Cream with Truffle Panna Cotta and Raw Truffle Honey

Truffles, caviar, lobster, more truffles ... this is a menu that reads like one of those Iron Chef episodes (the original, not the American spin-off, that is) where the chefs are trying to sway the judges by shamelessly plying them with luxurious food products. Stated another way, it seems like a menu drafted by someone who isn't paying for their own ingredients. It is indulgent and over the top, all in a good way.

Though the wine pairings were tempting, a decent selection of half-bottles provided the opportunity to get to know a couple wines in a little more intimate detail, and so we had a 2007 Louis Michel Chablis Premier Cru Montmain, and a 2005 Arcadian Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir.

shrimp amuse
Our meal started with a light, delicate bite - a Louisiana shrimp infused with kim chi, nestled in a mango purée, crowned with crispy taro strips. The sweet-spicy aroma of the mango provided a nice bridge between the sweet crustacean and the kim chi flavors, though I would have enjoyed even more chile heat.

kabayaki wonton

A second amuse bouche followed, this beautiful eel kabayaki wonton atop a puddle of a yellow curry sauce, in an equally beautiful glazed ceramic bowl. There was a nice crunch to the fried wonton, contrasting with the rich, salty-sweet filling within, all enhanced by the curry spice which was further enlivened with dots of chile oil.