Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Chefs Summit Part Three

In two of the demos (described in posts below) I mentioned the use of "bloomed" basil seeds. By bloomed, I mean soaked in water until they swell. This photograph shows dry seeds on the left and bloomed seeds on the right. The bloomed seeds are strained and used as textural garniture. Not surprisingly these taste like basil, but do not have a particularly strong flavor.

Lee Ann Wong graced the stage next with Chef Jeremy (also of the French Culinary Institute) to perform a mixology demo. She discussed molecular gastronomy research at the French Culinary Institute and a man named David Arnold, Director of Culinary Technology. Their mission is to learn how science and technology can improve the taste of food. I took this to mean, improve the enjoyment of food. For the mixology demo they prepared a cocktail of celery vodka with clarified grapefruit. Some fascinating techniques were at play here. First, to clarify the grapefruit, they dissolved gelatin in a small amount of grapefruit juice (to insure dissolution) and then mixed it with a large quantity of juice to make a solution that was .5% gelatin by weight. This they frozen and, finally, slow thawed over a fine meshed cloth. The gelatin binds all the solids (impurities) as it freezes. Slow thawing draws out a raw, crystal clear juice, leaving the impurities and gelatin behind. Very cool. She demonstrated all these steps, yet had product ready to represent each stage. The clarified juice is cocktail-ready. Next, she used a sous-vide machine (really a kryovac machine, a machine designed to vacuum pack foods in plastic) to decompress a pan of vodka and raw, sliced celery. She mentioned it is critical to keep all components as cold as possible before, after and during the process. In fact, she recommends storing the infused vodka in the freezer. Otherwise, high temperatures will cause the flavors to "brown out." The machine is run until it reaches zero atmosphere. The air in the celery is sucked out. It actually looks exactly like the vodka is boiling. When most of the air is sucked out the bubbles become slowed and fine. At this point the machine is shut off. The vodka celery mixture is allowed to sit at zero gravity for one hour. Then the machine is turned back on and allowed to finish its cycle. This process is repeated once to draw the vodka back out of the celery. The resulting infusion is strained through a coffee filter and kept very cold.

Here is Lee Ann Wong working the kryo-vac machine.
Before assembling the final cocktail, Chef Jeremy used a CO2 tank and two-liter soda bottles with specialized tops to carbonate a one to one mixture of celery vodka and grapefruit juice. This was not exactly a simple process. It involved three injections, shaking the containers to get the CO2 into the liquid and releasing pressure after each injection. Finally, they get a sparkling cocktail with a fine bubble quality, not unlike champagne, that will hold on ice for six to eight hours. The cocktail was garnished with lemon stick and various mints from the Chefs Garden. They had plenty to go around. It absolutely wonderful, very refreshing, very flavorful.
Celery Vodka and Clarified Grapefruit Cocktail

Lee Ann Wong then discussed some other mixology applications of this process, including one of her personal favorites, infusing gin with cucumber. She saves the cucumber and serves it as a "boozy snack." Yum.

Lastly, Chef Paul Del Favero of Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace. Faveros demonstrations was the most traditional, using no techniques borrowed from the realm of molecular gastronomy. He discussed the running of a kitchen that does between twenty to twenty-five thousand covers a month. Mind boggling. The food was simple and beautiful: fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with house made ricotta, corn and basil on a pools of yellow bell pepper coulis, spiked with habaneros, a starter that has remained on the menu since the inception of the restaurant. Thanks, Paul, for brining us back down to earth with this beautiful dish.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Chef Summit Part Two

(for part one, see the post below)

The third chef to take the stage was Celina Tio, who recently departed The American Restaurant to build her own. She was joined by a former sous chef, Jonathan, and the two followed suit behind Christopher Lee and his sous in that Chef Tio left most of the "molecular" persuits to her second in command. She made her version of a New England lobster roll. Instead of the roll, she substituted a bread crumb panna cotta. The lobster salad was topped with celery pearls. These pearls demonstrated what is perhaps the most wide-spread use of molecular gastronomy in restaurants today. One may transform any liquid (celery juice in this case) into a pearl by utilizing sodium alginate (or sodium citrate) and calcium chloride (or calcium lactate) in solution. This process, sometimes called spherification, results in a "pearl" with a gelled outer layer and a liquid center. Ferran Adria pioneered this technique with his famous olives. Jonathan had a very cool little tool that allowed him inject many drops into the solution at one time.
Celina Tio makes mayo for the lobster salad.
The finished plate with celery pearls. She made enough lobster salad for everyone to have a bite.

Next up was Giuseppe Tentori, a nine year veteran of Charlie Trotter's (two of those nine as chef de cuisine) now chef of Boka. Guiseppe is all about love and details and spoke with a passion and respect for food unparalleled. He told a brief story about one of my idols, Jean-Louis Palladin. Giuseppe was working a benefit with Palladin. Jean-Louis tossed a small salad so gingerly and lovingly with both hands that he drew looks askance from a host of other chefs. Giuseppe understood this level of attention. He brings this to all the food he touches. He demonstrated making a "skin" out of tomatoes by slow roasting tomato, sliced into petals, and pressed between layers of parchment and dried in a slow oven. He also "bloomed" basil seeds in water to achieve a texture not unlike caviar with a basil flavor. These were arranged with other components (copa, buffalo mozz, tomato powder, and balsamic ice cream) to complete a complicated version of the BLT.
Chef Tentori gives a dissertation on love and sexy food.
The BLT.

After Tentori, Bravo Top Chef, Marcel Vigneron took the stage with close culinary friend. I ate lunch across from Marcel later in the day. I didn't admit that I don't watch TV (what's Bravo?). Recently he had been in Alaska working on boats. He's trying to immerse himself laterally in all aspects of food, both harvest and production, and remains unchained to the restaurant world. That may change, as he and his buddy spoke of opening a place with a third friend in NYC. Marcel's demonstration had many elements. First, he made a gelee with melon juice with agar agar and some gelatin. Agar agar with set warm. Gelatin will not. Both together make a good result, the use of gelatin cuts the required amount of agar agar, which has a flavor of its own. Lowering the amount of agar, allows for more purity of the melon flavor. He also made a mousse out of gazpacho by adding gelatin to it and using a nitrous oxide canister. The fundamental center of this dish is the union of melon and tomato. Garnishes included king crab, cucumber, a toasted mix of ground celery and coriander seed, fleur de sel, nasturtium blossoms, basil flowers, bloomed basil seeds and a brunois of fava beans with rice wine vinegar.

Another beautiful plate, although he covered up the lovely melon gelee with gazpacho mousse and other garnish.

More to follow in Part Three of the Chef's Garden Second Annual Chef Summit at the CVI.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Second Annual Chef Summit at the Culinary Vegetable Institute Part One

I was very lucky to be invited to attend...

the Second Annual Chef Summit, the brainchild of “Farmer” Lee Jones of The Chef’s Garden, held at the Culinary Vegetable Institute last Friday, July 18th. It had been many months since I was at the CVI (or, for that matter, had visited the farm). To quote Lee, “This is an experience that brings the missions of The Chef’s Garden and The Culinary Vegetable Institute to life.” I had an absolutely fabulous time and learned a great deal. Also, I got a big heartwarming bear hug from Lee. Many of the chefs took tours in the morning, which I skipped. Not only have I toured the farm several times, but it’s almost an hour and a half drive and it’s such a luxury to sip coffee and read the morning news at leisure. I arrived just in time to enjoy lunch provided by the CVI (good timing, eh?), after which the real fun began.

Chefs get busy inside the CVI preparing for demonstrations.
More activity, and the CVI team preparing lunch.

First, Lee took the stage to give some words of welcome and talk about Veggie U, a program for 4th grade class rooms that’s in 1400 schools across the country. (I’ll write a little more about this program in another post). He then talked about the first summit. Having seen many talented chefs across the country doing really cutting edge work, he decided to bring as many as he could together for a summit where these innovators could demonstrate their work and inspire others. The summit dovetails with a benefit for the CVI and Veggie U, held the following day.

Farmer Lee Jones addresses the attendees.

The summit featured demonstrations by Will Goldfarb (a pasty chef with credentials that would humble anyone in the culinary arts), Lee Anne Wong (a Bravo TV producer and personality and chef at the French Culinary Institute), Christopher Lee (a culinary power who now runs Gilt Restaurant in the New York Palace Hotel), Marcel Vigneron (a young culinary nomad whose globetrotting experiences include some tutelage at El Taller under Ferran Adria and a second place finish in season two of Bravo’s Top Chef), Paul de Favero (a La Varenne graduate, now Executive Chef of Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill), Celina Tio (former chef of The American Restaurant, now building her own place) and Giuseppe Tentori (former Chef de Cuisine at Charlie Trotter’s, now Executive Chef at Boka). In attendance were many culinary personalities and industry types, including Bruce Seidel a producer for the Food Network and famed chef Bobby Waggoner who was busy shooting pictures.

Will Goldfarb demonstrated first with a little help from his daughter, Lulu, and a local culinary student. He dismisses the “false idea that technology and natural cooking and slow foods don’t go together.” He made a pomegranate-beet mousse with xanthan gum (a natural byproduct of fermentation of glucous by a bacteria found in cabbage). The xanthan gum eliminates the needs for egg white and thereby considerably lightens the end product. He also used Versawhip, a soy-based whipping agent. When properly mixed with an immersion blender, he passed the mixture through a sieve and the whipped it in a Hobart mixer. He thickened some apricot kernel oil with tapioca maltodextrin in a one to one ratio by weight to achieve a powder used to perfume the final assemblage. He also made a coulis consistency sauce with orange juice, sambuca and ultratex, a version of tapioca starch. To complete the dish he had some hazelnut ice cream made with a gelato base and garnished the ensemble with baby fava bean leaves, crystal lettuce and micro yarrow. He concluded by putting all of this into a freeze-stable bag as an example of a “to-go” dessert. Funky. Tons of great info on the use of these products, which he sells through his company Willpowder.
Will Goldfarb and assistants.

Will with the dessert in "take-out" form.

Next to take the stage was Christopher Lee with his sous chef, Justin. Together they demonstrated their spring radish salad from the menu at Gilt. Chris Lee brought a very down to earth sensibility to the stage, claiming to prefer traditional methods while allowing his younger, more adventerous chefs to bring molecular gastronomy to the menu. The salad featured radishes pickled, blanched and raw. As accompaniments, they made a crumble out of sesame seeds and almond flour, a greek yogurt mousse (mixed with milk and lime juice) using a nitrous oxide canister, and, finally, a cold gelee "noodle" out of white soy and yuzu using agar agar and locust bean gum. The locut bean gum gives the noodle it's flexibility. The agar agar alone would make it too brittle they said. The final item for the dish was a cucumber-shiso sorbet, which they had made ahead of time.

Chris and Justin on stage.

Justin injects the mixture into tubing and sets the noodle by diping the tubing into an ice bath. He then extracts the noodle by using an empty syringe to push it out with air. The finish plate. Looks great!

The rest of the day will appear in parts (in posts) to follow.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

La Sosta di Pio VII, Barberino, Val d'Elsa

An osteria in Tuscany
Recommended by our hosts at La Torre di Ponzano, the osteria La Sosta di Pio VII, turned out to be a great place for local, inexpensive and rustic cuisine. It is located 3km north of Poggibonsi, and maybe a 1/2 km downhill tumble west from La Torre di Ponzano, along the road that cruises through Val d'Elsa, which parallels the superstrada connecting Firenze and Siena. It's just inside the western tip of Chianti Classico DOCG region. We so enjoyed this meal that we attempted a return visit later during our stay only to find the place closed due to driveway and parking improvements. Inside the main dining room you can see a trough along the wall and short walled stalls that once separated animals in this former manger. La Sosta is run by a family (a common thread to our experience). The husband runs the front of the house and sources much of the product; the wife is the chef; the son waits tables. I had many questions for the husband about the beefsteak fiorentia. With his little English he graciously explained as much as he could regarding the aging or lack of aging the beef and it's origins. According to him, the beef he uses is bred in the Limousin region in France, then transported and raised in Tuscany. In the end, I ordered boar. The beefsteak is meant for more than one person. It would have been too much for me.

The dining room of La Sosta di Pio VII

Happy to be dining in Tuscany.
This was a very interesting dish of cucumber warmed with a local, salty cheese and garnished with chives. We don't often think of eating cucumber warm like this, but it was quite good.
I ordered this pate. It was coarse, like meatloaf really, and spiked with white truffles. Very good.
This is homemade pasta with basil, tomatoes and local cheese.
This was a generous side dish of sliced tiny zucchini with herbs and shallots. Here is the "wild" boar. All the cinghiale is really far raised. It has tremendous flavor, but is a little tough. Roasted new potatoes.
Not a riserva, but yummy.
An apple "cake"- very good.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Beat-the-Heat Cool Summer Dinner

Cold Cucumber Soup and a different method for cooking beets
While the weather here is mostly mild, Cleveland is seeing some temperatures in the upper 80's and pushing into the 90's, albeit rarely. When this happens, a cold summer menu can be very enjoyable and refreshing. D and I recently prepared an evening meal of cold cucumber soup and salad of mixed greens accompanied by baguette peppered goat cheese. Since I've not posted any recipes here yet, I thought this might be a fine time.

To make the cold cucumber soup (serves four):
3 cucumbers
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 clove garlic
2 Tbsp fresh dill
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro
1 tiny pinch nutmeg
1 pinch cayenne (or to taste)
sea salt to taste

Peel, seed and chop the cucumber. Put the cucumber and the remaining ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Adjust the consistency by adding more milk (or water) as necessary. Taste and adjust seasonings. I didn't measure my ingredients exactly, so play with the herbs and amount of yogurt until you are satisfied with the flavor. I have conservatively estimated the herbs, so you may need more. The table set with some napkins and place mats we picked up in Provence.

Not a bad wine, especially when on sale at Whole Foods for about half the regular price. I confess to liking a slightly oaked, sur-lie sauv blanc.

Now, who in their right mind would crank up the oven just to roast a few beets in this hot weather? Here's a great alternative. I used this method for our Bastille day dinner (see post below this one).

Peel and cut the beet into whatever size and shape you wish to serve. Place the cleaned beets in a zip lock bag with fresh herbs, olive oil, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a small dash of good vinegar. I used fresh thyme and oregano. A little minced shallot would help, too. Seal the bag and drop it into a small pot of simmering water. I used the pot/same water that I had on to blanch the peas. The beets will probably need about twenty minutes cooking time or less, depending on how small you cut them. Check for doneness by lifting the bag out of the water and giving the beets a gentle squeeze with your fingers. Yes, it's going to be a little hot. Hey, toughen up. Are you a cook or what? Allow the beets to cool in the bag. When the beets are cool, drain them into a container for storage in the fridge. Or you can save them in their juice, if you have used very little vinegar. And now for some pictures of the meal.
Beets in the bag, going into the pot.Beets simmering along side some peas.The finished product. Yum.Prosecco should be three things (in my humble opinion): inexpensive, chilled and delightful!Here's a fine example.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

La Jour de la Bastille

Bastille Day

...also happens to be our wedding anniversary! We made full use of the beautiful weather yesterday by strolling along the beach and dunes at Headlands State Park. The surf was a bit more rough than usual. The crash of the water tumbling small stones into sand filled our ears, the sun warmed our skin and the wind kept us cool. It was almost like being at the ocean. We picked up a pasta machine on the way home and made raviolis filled with fresh peas, ricotta and parmesan for dinner. I sauteed these with crimini mushrooms, sage leaves and shallots in olive oil and butter. I topped this with a little bit of sauteed spinach. We also enjoyed a small salad of mixed greens and beets and washed all of it down with Presecco. Yum.

Here are a few pics from last year, our pivotal trip to Provence. We spent the day in Isle-sur-la Sourge and the evening watching fireworks from our hotel room over-looking the Rhone.
Check out the clarity of La Sourge.

Dianna in silhouette.Feu d'artifice over the Rhone.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Vixseboxse Art Gallery will remain open!

My possible future location for Petit Soleil is currently a well established, thriving art gallery called Vixseboxse. It seems there has been some incorrect and misleading information about their future spreading on the Internet, related, I am sure, to my intentions for Petit Soleil in this location. Please be aware that this highly successful business is not closing! They may close this location, but will remain an active business. It is certainly true that I myself have been misinformed and may have fostered this regrettable confusion.

Let me absolutely clear about two things: one, while I am moving forward as if all is settled, I am still waiting for a Letter of Intent from the owners (who are waiting on cost figures of their own). Two, and most importantly, Vixseboxse has not made any public announcement. They may close the location, but will not close as a business. If you should encounter information to the contrary, please correct it at every opportunity. Thank you! These are terrific people. I apologize to them for my responsibility in creating and contribution to the confusion and misinformation.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Firenze (aka Florence)


OK, back to the core of this blog: food, wine and restaurants! I'll refrain from commenting much on Firenze except to say we had a fabulous three-night stay at Il Bargello B&B (the website does not do it justice). Firenze is a wonderful city we certainly plan to revisit. So, on to the food pictures. I consumed a decent amount of gelato in Firenze. This first shot is not great, but shows me enjoying a cone of pistachio, one of my favorites flavors. We tried gelato from a number of stands and while all of it was pretty good, there were stands clearly superior to others. I judge this first in the texture. Gelato should been more meringue-like than ice cream. I think some readers will take issue with this observation. Consider than gelato has substantially less air churned into it than ice cream. However, gelato, normally made with milk rather than cream or a mixture or milk and cream, has a lower fat content than ice cream despite additional egg. The effect on the tongue is much different. Gelato has more staying power, it melts a little less readily. I find it less rich due to the lower dairy fat, yet more luxurious in it's creamy mouth feel. Confused? The solution: eat some gelato and forget about it! Yum! The second aspect by which to judge gelato is...you got it, the flavor. The more intense the flavor, the better. I'm getting a hankering for some just thinking about it.

We ate dinner the first night at Birreria Centrale, a moderately priced restaurant serving traditional, rustic cuisine. We were given a little extra attention, Il Bargello having made the reservation for us. So we were treated to Prosecco at the start of the meal and a pour of grappa afterwards.

Cured goose breast with truffle oil, shaved pecorino tuscano and lemon on greens. Fantastic.

D's dinner, tortelloni (ricotta and shallot) in a rich hazelnut sauce. Yummy, but not pretty.
Gnocchi with pesto. These were a disappointment: tough and lacking in flavor.

Rustic, but tasty: roasted pork loin stuffed with apple and pear.

Lunches we took on the cheap: sandwiches or pizza. The pizza at a place called Yellow Bar was really good. Yellow Bar is a young, somewhat hip, family friendly place with a wood fired (what else?) pizza oven. When it came to sandwiches, I opted for speck. It's essentially a boneless variety of prosciutto that's been cured with juniper berries. Mmm, so good. It's a shame we can't get speck in the US.

Our second dinner was at Trattoria Anita, another traditional and moderately priced restaurant in a back street behind the Uffizi. It had it's pleasures and disappointments as well. The highlight was ravioli in sage butter, the let down: osso buco, decent flavor, but poor texture. Sorry, no pics for this spot. For our third meal we decided to raise the bar. So, we visited one of the better known spots in town, Cibreo. No, not the extremely expensive fine dining room, but their trattoria, a different room, entrance, menu etc., delivering food out of the same kitchen. (Someone correct me if I'm wrong about that). The food was outstanding. I wish I had taken more pictures. It was not presentation perfect, but it was spot-on taste-wise. D started with a tomato timbale (presented like a vegetable flan, but made with gelatin, not custard). Fabulous flavor and texture. She also had a pureed soup of yellow peppers, very yummy. I took the fish soup, a brownish concoction, thickened with bread which was out of this world. I also enjoyed the brandade (aka salt cod...I forget what the Italians call this stuff, maybe it's something like bacalao). It was served cold with toast and pickled beets on the side. We skipped dessert. I had an espresso and we got gelato on the walk back to Il Bargello B&B.

The salt cod.

Dining at Cibreo's trattoria.

Finally, I'll post a few pictures from the Mercato Centrale, Firenze's indoor market. Enjoy.

(Yep, this is tripe.) Beefsteak Fiorentina, anyone?