Creating within restrictions

When I came back from my long trip, walked into my kitchen prepared to return to work, I saw something that had me a little, well, miffed. The chef had submitted the menu items for a November promotion we are participating, desserts and all. Only he hadn’t asked me for my dessert submissions.

So what I saw on the menu had me a little ruffled. I expected to see two of them there, one an inherited dessert that will never leave my menu, salted peanut butter ice cream, and another of my own creation that has been on the menu for quite a while. But the third dessert, Warm Almond and Carnoli Rice Soup with Ceylon Cinnamon and Orange Blossom, was new. And all I could think was sneer and think, “That’s not my dessert.”

My snit didn’t last long, just until the chef explained he didn’t want to disturb my trip and just put something up there. Our chef, you see, is probably the most considerate person I have met, and it’s hard to be a snoot when he had your best intentions in mind.

As he was talking to me, I remembered how much I love to create with tight restrictions. This was something I loved about school, art classes in highschool, photography in college, and everything in culinary school.

You are given an assignment with boundries, and forced to find yourself within them. I always loved seeing the finished projects lined up next to eachother, seeing how vastly different each one was. Even within the tightest restrictions, everything reflected the individuality of the creator.

So after rereading the dessert that was not mine, I put my ego in check, and began to treat it like an assignment. How would I make an almond and rice soup? How will I incorporate the ceylon cinnamon and orange blossom flavors? And as the wheels started spinning, confined and restricted, I began to love this dessert.

It was something I wouldn’t have come to on my own. My desserts are deep in americana, nostalgic, heartfelt, playful and modern. Shannon’s desserts are classic with much french influence, comforting, ellegant, and simple.

I began testing variations on the almond soup, which in description is much like an almond horchata. In my research I have found a traditional Polish soup taking body from the almonds and rice, and a bit of acid from golden raisins. The addition of fruit makes me ask, can I add body with subtle roasted pears?

Questions still remain, do we toast the almonds or leave them raw? Will the flavor of raw almonds be as distinct warm as they are cold? How thick, viscous, dense do I want this soup to be, and what do I use to achieve that?

We have tested warm rice puddings to garnish the bowl before the warm soup is poured table side, deciding on one flavored with caramelized ceylon cinnamon sticks. Most exciting for me is the venture into the world of poached and steamed meringues. I have only read about them really. The recipes promise a soft, tender meringue much like a delicate marshmallow. Classically presented in a dish called Îles flottantes, or Floating Islands, these pillowy meringues float in a pool of vanilla creme anglaise. Because I am who I am, I spend more time diving into american classics than french, and I may never have pushed myself to make these on my own accord.

Now we are working on including the aroma of cinnamon, either from smoldering cinnamon sticks hidden between the soup bowl and it’s liner, or in an aromatic fog released by dry ice. Either way, a subtle cinnamon should tease your nose as you enjoy the warm soup.

The moral of this story is easy to see. I could have lost out on a chance to grow and expand due to a stubborn ego. It would have been an easy road to take. But it’s a nice reminder to myself that looking around the kitchen, everyone is unique, and each has something to offer that you wouldn’t have seen on your own.

2 Responses to “Creating within restrictions”

  1. S. KAY WEBER says:

    I really love your column, altho’ I do miss the rest. reviews. You are so frank and open and not afraid to speak your mind, my kind of personality.
    I worked, in the kitchen, in a local establishment, for eight years and everytime, I had to miss an occasional Friday or Saturday nite, I would come back to find that chaos had ensued! At least in my mind, anyway.
    I would be so pissed, that some idiot had destroyed a perfectly beautiful onion, by not slicing it into uniformed slices, or chopped gorgeous mushrooms to bits, instead of slicing them properly, for salads. I found that I got over it BUT when I left for good, finally, and got my week-ends back, I certainly didn’t miss it. Took a lot of silly stress out of my life. So, in a small way, I get how you felt. Food is so important to us, presentation and uniformity mean so much. How things look, are presented, may be psychological but the mind can do strange things. We eat to live but we also eat to enjoy and for this, we are fortunate to live where we do.
    I will keep reading of your adventures. I am a ‘foodie’, as I am a librarian and also an author of culinary mysteries. (‘check out’ my books on any website, Amazon, etc.) As I go to book signings, I always warn anyone who purchases by books, to make a sandwich before reading! My books are yummy and so is your column. Thanx and keep it going.
    S. Kay Weber

  2. hillel says:

    Hey… I’m easing into the restaurant reviews. :) All the posts on Israel are preamble to the reviews of the place I ate there. Hang in there. :)

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