Our first restaurant review video. Poor production quality? Yes. Bad lighting? Check. Awful sound? Definitely. Good food… actually, yes.
We’ll work on improving things in future videos.
I withstood the rain today, meandering through the University farmers market in desparate hopes of a sign of a coming summer, and found it in two baskets of strawberries and a pound of cherries. The first of the year!
The cherries aren’t great, and let me tell you they certainly weren’t cheap! And I’ll bet if I counted, each strawberry ran me upwards of a quarter a piece. It wasn’t only my desperation for anything besides rhubarb that led me to these purchases.
Tomorrow, at noon, I will be the chef demonstrator at the farmers market on the street outside the pike place market. I have been a little nervous, you see. It’s really hard to demonstrate a dessert with out fruit! Last resort, I could have shown off my favorite rhubarb compote. But really, it’s June already, and rhubarb is like, so last season.
Thankfully I spied a table with my strawberries, which disappeared in a matter of minutes, myself taking two of the last four pints. The crates of cherries were going just as fast, but with a truck load carried over from Chellan I wasn’t at risk of missing out. They aren’t yet as sweet as I know they can be, bursting with the intense sunshine they absorb, so they will be treated to a pickle with balsamic and sugar , or a stewing of sorts with their pits.
Ironically, after all this hullabaloo over some fruit, that isn’t the focus of my demonstration tomorrow.
I will be demonstrating a technique for queso fresco. Nothing fancy, but this humble cheese is something I find incredibly impressive each time I do it. This cheese I have seen under many an alias. At Veil we call it Fromage Blanc on our menu, I have often seen it as Farmers Cheese, and the New York Times even featured a similar recipe under the name Ricotta. Press this cheese for a couple of hours, and you have Paneer.
This easy and quick cheese is a product of curdling milk at 170 degrees with an acid and straining the curds from the whey. This preparation varies from most other cheeses by using an acid rather than rennet to cut the casein’s, and break the curds from the whey, but that is a different post, waiting for myself to become better informed. Because an acid is so readily available, and this cheese is meant to be eaten as quickly as you can, it is the most accessible, and therefor humble of cheeses.
My introduction to this process was last summer at Veil, where we traded the milk for half and half laced with tarragon, rosemary, and thyme. This sat between a mascarpone enriched risotto and a veil of shaved parmesan surrounded by a thin drizzle of truffle oil. I have seen it stuffed into all manner of pastas, layered in lasagna’s, used in spreads, and of course in desserts like cheese cakes.
To apply this method to dessert, we will steep the milk with lemon balm before we break it, and serve it sweetened with a drizzle of honey, a scattering of toasted nuts. I chose this recipe because it is the perfect foil for summer fruit. While the New York Times called it bland in a good way, I prefer to think of it as subtle. Either way, it is definately a blank canvas, and can be dressed up or down, being paired with something simple like sliced strawberries tossed with a bit of sugar and black pepper, or something a bit more involved like peaches roasted with honey and chamomile. It could be scattered with fresh raspberries still warm from the sun they collected on the vines in your back yard minutes before, or pickled sour cherries. Sliced nectarines dusted with turbinado and burnt with a torch wouldn’t mind sharing the plate with this cheese, and a sautee of plums and cherry tomatoes a la Claudia Fleming would find a spot next to this cheese just as comfortable.
I am still formulating a dish to feature queso fresco at Veil, although I am sure we will call it Fromage Blanc as we always do. To take this simple summer dessert from the back yard to the white table cloth, I’ll add textural components, fruit components, force the cheese into an obedient shape with two spoons, and then design a beautiful plate to make this as much a feast for the eyes as the palate. Already I see a honey sauce stenciled on the plate, a proud white quenelle of queso fresco broken from sea breeze fresh raw milk, raspberries, crystallized ginger, shards of a cookie of some sort, and petite green leaves of lemon balm scattered.
But who knows where this dish will be by the time the rest of the fruit arrives. I do know that this delicious and amazing fresh cheese will help me and my menu welcome summer and her fruits into Veil.
Queso Fresco, or farmers cheese
½ gallon whole milk
2 to 4 oz lemon juice
1 tsp sea salt or kosher salt, or ½ tsp table salt
A handful of lemon balm or lemon verbena, or other fresh herbs
A fine mesh strainer
A large bowl
A large slotted spoon or slotted utensil
A thermometer that reads up to 180 degrees Fahrenheit
A large pot
1. Prepare the mesh strainer by lining it with 3 layers of cheese cloth large enough to drape over the sides, and set it over the bowl.
2. Place the milk and salt in the large pot with the herbs, and scald. Remove from heat and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Insert the thermometer. Bring the milk back to 170 degrees, and begin whisking in the lemon juice, starting with 2 oz and adding more if needed. Whisk until the milk curdles, let it sit undisturbed for a few minutes.
3. Carefully transfer the solid curds to the cheese cloth lined strainer, removing the herbs, and allow to drain for 10 minutes. Alternately, you can carefully pour the contents of the pot into the strainer, slowly and with much caution.
4. When the whey has drained from the curds, remove them from the cheese cloth and transfer to a storage container. Chill for an hour or two before serving.
In other parts of the world, fruit is in season. In places other than Seattle, pastry chefs are working with more than Rhubarb.
But no matter how many sunny Seattle weekends drive a burning desire to work with fruit, nothing but Rhubarb, which technically isn’t even a fruit, is available to me.
I know, I know. Soon I will be whining that there is so much fruit and so little time. You see, here in this great green city, our fruit seasons are compacted onto each other for 3 quick and furious months.
In two weeks strawberries will come, followed quickly by raspberries. Plums will begin the stone fruit season, and by the time I have a dish worked out for them, cherries will be piling up and the first of the peaches and nectarines will be coming in.
But until then it’s all rhubarb, all the time.
This year, I have been making a lot of my favorite rhubarb recipe, orange rhubarb compote. Aside from being a fixture in my refrigerator and being gifted to friends, this working girl of a compote has a healthy professional career. She wakes up early dressed in soft hues of pink, to work at Veil’s brunch, served with toasted Columbia City breads in the morning. Moving into evening, she slips into something sexy, and nests a quenelle of buttermilk sorbet. Across town, this lady changes into her jeans and t-shirt and spends each day covering scoops of Molly Moon’s fantastic ice cream and is featured in a sundae with lemon ice cream, Chukar cherries, and vanilla whipped cream.
In a near brush with fame, this compote was to be featured in a local magazine. However, it hit the cutting room floor, making it necessary to share the recipe here with you. Soft, luxurious, and intensely deep in flavor, this compote’s real attraction is the simplicity in which it is prepared. I think you too will find yourself coming back to this recipe again and again, maybe even well into the onslaught of seasonal fruit.
Orange Rhubarb Compote
2 tbsp butter
1 lb rhubarb
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp orange liquor
zest of one orange
1. Trim the Rhubarb of the ends, and split it lengthwise down the center. Cut across in 1 cm. intervals, leaving you with rough cubes of rhubarb.
2. In a large bowl, toss the rhubarb with the sugar and orange liquor, and orange zest, and set aside.
3. Melt the butter in a medium heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. When the butter has melted add the sugar coated rhubarb. Let this cook over a medium heat, undisturbed, for about 2 minutes. When the rhubarb has started to release juices, gently stir.
3. Continue cooking the compote over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the juices are all released, then begin to thicken. Cooking time is about 10 to 15 minutes total, until the compote looks thick and the rhubarb is tender.
* I set a timer last time I made it, just for you, and it took 13 minutes and 17 seconds until the desired texture and thickness was reached. This time will depend on the size of your rhubarb pieces, the particular heat of “medium” on your stove, etc, etc, etc. So use your intuition.
* Many of the cubes will break down from cooking, but some of the larger ones will remain as little tender lumps, offering bursts of tart rhubarb flavor in the mouth, and a pleasant texture on the tongue. If you like, you can break all the rhubarb apart with aggressive stirring, using the spoon to break the rhubarb up. You might even puree it and pass it through a sieve if you are looking for a smooth compote. But the less you stir, the more chunks you will leave intact.
I’d say the following is the most dramatic subject line I’ve ever received on an e-mail:
“Please Read. We have been betrayed. The end.”
It’s from the folks at Gypsy, Seattle’s very own underground restaurant. We posted about it back in September of 2006, February of 2007, and about cooking and eating at its sister venture Vagabond in March of 2007.
Gypsy was super passionate, always fun, and often tasty. The best thing about the few times I participated in one of their dinners was that the Gypsy folks were having a good time and trying to make something special. Dana even cooked for them several times.
And now, according to their e-mail, they have to shut down. Here’s the e-mail:
Camelot has ended.
We wake up, we go to work, we come home, we occasionally eat out. Most lives are fashioned after this pattern. Most restaurant’s lives are as well: make food, sell food, clean up, go home. Sometimes, a very magical sometimes, restaurants are able to trancend the merely ordinary and in doing so, transform to some small degree the lives of its patrons.
Gypsy has been this magical place for many many people. New friends, new ideas, new love, a salon of creativity. But as with all things destined to touch hearts, evil waits to take it away. We have been betrayed. Gypsy as we know it was too scary a place to exist, so now it doesn’t.
We are going much deeper underground. Those who really know how to get ahold of us, please email (please don’t call us), we will start a new list, a more protected list. Dinners are cancelled for all intents and purposes. And to the traitor to the clan we offer you this: May you never sleep well, may laughter sound bitter in your ears, and may food always taste like ashes to you…this is our Gypsy curse. You have destroyed a good thing.
That curse at the end is a real doozy. Some random thoughts on this:
I hope Gypsy reforms. But I am surprised they announce that they’re reforming in the mail. Won’t the people they got in trouble with see their intentions? I guess I have a lot to learn about running a secret underground restaurant. Luckily, that’s not a requirement of my job. I just intend to eat there.
I wish the Gypsy folks luck, and I’m sorry someone screwed up a good thing.
It seems every publication is all lists this time of year. What to gifts buy for this person or that, what to wear for holiday gatherings here or there, and finally, the “best of” lists.
We all have them, and personally, I love talking about them. Do you agree, disagree, what would you add or detract. Can you guess what kind of “best of” lists most cooks discuss?
If you said food you are a bit off. That comes second. First and foremost we discuss music.
Then we talk about food. Today Jonathan Kauffman’s “best dishes” list was on the top of our minds at Veil, mostly because one of our own dishes was in the honorable mention section. A prawn dish with caramelized chard, a honey gastrique, and a sunflower seed/bacon condiment. This “best dishes” list gave us all an excuse to discuss the best things we had tasted this year. Just us, cook to cook, in our own kitchen where the influence of “the scene” doesn’t penetrate.
I was very very lucky this year to make a few rare trips out of the kitchen to New York, Chicago, San Fransisco, and Colorado. Along the way I tasted some pretty amazing things. Seattle’s provided a few herself, and this list is going to contain a taboo for me. I am going to include a dish I would normally NEVER put on my own list.
Dana’s ten best bites of 2007
1. Paprika Punch cocktail, Tailor, NYC.
Hands down this is the best thing I have tasted this entire year. The cocktail was made from red bell pepper infused vodka, was mixed with something sweet and sour, and if I remember correctly was muddled with jalapeno. My friend Rosio and I lost all manners and asked for “refills”, which we were given 3 times. I think about this drink at random at least once a day, cravings attached.
2. Ssam, Momofuku, NYC.
I only made it to the ssam bar, and only ever had the berkshire pork ssam. But I went back to have it multiple times both trips this last year, and will do exactly that next time I am in Manhattan. The Ssam is a kind of Asian burrito, this one made with braised Berkshire pork wrapped in a rice pancake with kim-chee puree, grilled onions, pickled mushrooms, chili sauce, rice, and edamame. This dish was so amazingly delicious that it makes me wish for a momofuku in Seattle so I could eat it all the time. Even though I know franchising would destroy what makes momofuku so delicious, I want it.
3. Yuzu curd with spruce yogurt, pistachio, liquid sablee, WD-50, NYC.
This was the first of Stupak’s desserts that I tasted, and still the most memorable. The pastry sous Rosio plated me the tiniest cutest version of the dish out of scraps while I watched the cooks in service. Yuzu is quite possibly the most amazing citrus flavor as is, but paired with the bitter greek yogurt and the essence of spruce it was transcendent.
4. Pork Belly with Miso Butterscotch, Tailor NYC.
Butterscotch never had it so good as it does in Sam Mason’s hands. What is for me one fiddle flavor, butterscotch becomes the entire band here with the simple addition of miso. Perhaps it’s because miso is actually alive. Perhaps the sugary sweet combination of caramelized sugar is the perfect platform for deep earthy flavors. What ever it is, the combination of miso and butterscotch was a revelation for me. The fact that it bathed pork belly didn’t hurt either.
5. Meyer Lemons picked from my Uncle Tom’s tree, Santa Cruz, CA.
I feel ashamed that in this sustainable day and age, where we should be connected to the source of our food, I could be so shocked by something growing in my uncle’s yard. But the lemons I had always known were there blew me away. Warm from the sun, ripened on the tree, these yellow orbs turned out to be Meyer lemons rather than the standard variety. It was as much a taste revelation as a that of connection, this act of reaching my own hand, grasping the dimpled flesh and plucking fruit so rare to me in Seattle. Lemon-aid never tasted so good as it did that day.
6. Cauliflower soup, white chocolate foam, curried cauliflower puree, dark chocolate, Schwa, Chicago, IL
I scheduled a one day layover in Chicago to eat at this restaurant. I was very eager to see the restaurant with no front of the house staff, where clad in whites, cooks come out to your table, take your order, open the “bring your own bottle” of wine, and run the food. I was excited to taste the food I had heard so much about from cooks I knew in the city, pictures I had seen in Art Culinaire. So when I rushed from the airport, took my seat alone, I was bubbling with excitement, visibly so. I ordered the larger of the two set menu’s and was treated like a, well, like another cook! The third dish that came was this, creamy warm cauliflower soup with a sweetish white chocolate foam on top in a tiny mug, reminiscent of a winter cup of cocoa. The plate was scattered with random patches of deliciousness, furthering the combination of chocolate and cauliflower. This flavor combination seems wacky, but comes out of Heston Blumenthal’s kitchen, a place the chef Michael Carlson had spent time as well. I used to shave cauliflower stems for their chocolate and cauliflower risotto, and darn it they really did smell like chocolate.
7. Fried Mayonnaise, Pickled Tongue, onion strussell, romaine, WD-50, NYC.
This dish, one of Wylie’s most notorious, was familiar to me by way of media and word of mouth long before I entered the restaurant. I saw it go out the kitchen, I didn’t think much about it, and then I ate it. My first immediate thought was, “this tastes EXACTLY like a hamburger!” Exactly, folks, like a delicious perfect hamburger. It hadn’t occurred to me that this dish had such a gripping context. I was floored by the amazing texture of the warm fritter filled with thick “mayo.”, by the perfect texture of the pickled tongue, by the precise ratio of brunoised romaine hearts and onion strussell which made every bite into the american classic in your mouth. But the apparent thought that went into making this dish perfect was what stood out most. This dish isn’t something someone stumbled upon, it’s a labor of love, and I thank Wylie for every long hour he put into making it perfect.
8. Lemon Cucumbers, Sitka and Spruce, Seattle, WA
Finally, something in Seattle, right? This dish couldn’t be more opposite from that at number 7. Lemon Cucumbers, picked up by Matt Dillon at the farmers market a few hours before his restaurant opened, sliced and briefly cooked with fresh dill and trempeti olive oil. Served all by themselves, on a plate his roommate picked up for him at the goodwill, in the tiny restaurant habitating a stripmall storefront. These lemon cukes were tenderly selected from their source, and with as much respect as the farmer grew them with, this chef cooked them. It may have been the only day they were on Matt’s Chalkboard menu which changes as rapidly as the farmers markets, but lucky me for stumbling in. It was a dish I’ll never forget.
9. Moroccan spiced Lamb Burgers, Veil, Seattle, WA.
Sliders have been more than trendy these past years, but Shannon’s version made as a bar snack for his cocktail lounge standout from the pack. Made with fresh lamb shoulder ground with garam masalla, they are topped with a rich cows milk feta and balsamic pickled shallots. Sandwiched between little brioche buns dressed with a house made harissa aoili, I could eat these all day. The flavor combination adds up to much more than the sum of it’s parts. I often find myself or another cook making little meatless sandwiches out of the feta, pickled onions, and harissa aioli for a quick pick me up snack durring service.
10. Mixed Citrus Creamsicle, Veil, Seattle, WA.
This is the dish I said was way out of bounds for me, because it’s one of my own. Normally I would NEVER put something of mine on a list like this. It goes against all humility I strive for, and breaks the deep criticism I view everything I make with. But this dessert is amazing. It’s everything I want all my desserts to be, and it’s the only dessert I have made that I want to sit down and eat. A uber light and airy tahitian vanilla bean bavarian, is made with an italian meringue rather than the usual custard base. By cutting out the rich custard base and substituting something very lean, the floral nuances of the tahitian vanilla bean really shine. It sits aside a mandarin sorbet, puckery, icy, and paired with the bavarian makes the orange/vanilla base for a creamsicle. Under these two components is this amazing bitter, acidic, fragrant passionfruit yogurt sauce pooled in a swoosh of brioche pudding. The broiche pudding, similar to a stovetop pudding rather than a baked bread pudding is a dense texture completely unexpected, and the yeasty rich butteriness is surprisingly delicious with the dessert. Little candied kumquats and confited meyer lemon add to the plate, which has received the same unsolicited compliment from nearly everyone I have fed it to, “this is one of the best things I have ever tasted.” And for once I can whole heartedly agree with them. This dessert is one of the best things I too have tasted, and every time I do I am stunned that it came out of me.
Enough about me, what are your favorite tastes this year???
It’s that time of year again, folks. Sure, time for holidays, nesting, hot cocoa, and all kinds of cold weather behavior. But it’s time again for Seattle’s biggest restaurant promotion. You knew it last march as “25 for 25″, but things have changed a bit.
For starters, the promotion is now being referred to by the public relations company that hosts it as “dine around Seattle”. (It may take me a while to stop saying 25 for 25). But the spirit of the promotion is the same, a cheap 3 course menu in Seattle’s favorite restaurants.
The numbers now total to 30 restaurants, and the 3 course menu is now 30 dollars, making it “30 for 30.” In addition to last years restaurants diners can now enjoy this promotion with the “bold original kitchen artistry” at BOKA in downtown Seattle, the Andean cuisine of Mixtura on the Eastside, old world Italian at Barolo, neighborhood dining at the 35th street bistro in Fremont, and visit little old me Veil.
The best change for me is their independent website. Now fully managed by the PR firm that runs it, I can fianlly use more than 50 characters to describe my desserts, and have the capability of changing them online during the month long event. In the past, a truncated description was given 3 months before the event. With no flexibility, the online menu often didn’t reflect what we were actually serving, as we changed things seasonally or according to our own whims.
You can guess that much of the kitchen banter has centered around this promotion. One topic has been Seattle’s “dine around” being born of Manhattan’s “restaurant week.” Our chef de cuisine spent 4 years with Jean George, and participated in the promotion there. Much like here, it becomes a balancing act of cost effective but delicious and impressive cuisine. Each dish must be quick to cook and plate to accommodate the high volume of orders, but look polished and beautiful as though the kitchen is cooking just for you. Each customer must be given extensive service, but not so much that it denies the very full dining room any attention. They must stay long enough to have a completely enjoyable meal, but finish and leave in time for the two other parties that have booked the table later in the evening. It’s a true exercise in efficiency. While many restaurants experience this kind of volume year round, it brings a flood of business to the rest of us on traditionally slow nights, sunday through thursday.
The irony, we all joked, is that this is the only time of the year when the cooks can actually afford to eat in many of these restaurants. Let me remind you that well paid cooks made about twelve dollars an hour, the starting wage is nine. If you are making fifteen dollars an hour you are either in a large corporate chain, or in a position of management, (or very lucky.) So the cooks at a fine dining establishment, where the average diner spends one hundred and fifty dollars per person for food and wine, simply can’t afford to eat there. After taxes, a meal at the restaurant we work at will cost us roughly two days pay. So you can bet we take advantage of this sweet deal.
Last year I had a meal at Nishino, a japanese restaurant way out of my price range, and at Yarrow Bay Grill, where the entire promotional menu was less expensive than a single entre from their dinner menu. This year I am planning on checking out Cascadia, a high priced establishment in Belltown that I have been curious about for some time now.
There has been some controversy over this promotion, voiced publicly by local restaurateur and chef Ethan Stowell. While the promotion brings large crowds to the participating restaurants during otherwise slow months, it leaves those restaurants not participating even slower. While I have seen some restaurants not officially participating in the event offer the same menu at the same price, they don’t benefit from any of the p.r. efforts which direct would be diners to those featured in printed and online publicity.
Veil is participating for the first time this year, and we have been tweaking the menu all month. I have just finished the development of a rosemary marshmallow enriched with brown butter for our celery root soup, and finally set my warm almond soup, a dish I had been struggling with as it was not born of my own conception.
Our menu offerings for the first 2 weeks follow. In two weeks time we will likely change things a bit, offering a few new dishes. In particular, a butternut chiffon will be entering the dessert menu. A chic version of pumpkin pie, a butternut custard is lightened with whipped cream, and set over a chocoalte hazelnut crust. It’s light and creamy, and lacks the slight bitterness I associate with pumpkin itself.
Celery Root Soup, sage marshmallow and balsamic vinegar
Roasted Beet Salad, hazelnut, herbs, and grapefruit confit
Hard Shell Squash Risotto, mascarpone and parmesan cheeses, chive oil
Drake Duck Confit , root vegetable hash, sherry vinegar and caramelized vegetable sauce
Ruby Trout, roasted yams, green apple, bacon, apple cider puree
Roasted Abalone Mushroom, curry potato pave and wild mushroom puree
Salted Peanut Butter Ice Cream, cocoa nib crunch, milk chocolate cremeux
Chocolate Fondant Cake, bittersweet caramel truffle, Cracker Jack
Warm Cream of Almond Soup, ceylon cinnamon, roasted pears, orange blossom cream
For those of you, and I know you are many, who have read the recent issue of Food and Wine, you are aware of this years Top Ten New Chefs. Therefor it will be no surprise when I write of Seattle’s own Matt Dillon’s honor in being included.
His restaurant, Sitka and Spruce has barely been open a year in a strip mall on eastlake avenue. The restaurant includes the bare minimum of required front of the house attributes, a mere 5 tables, a menu on the chalkboard, and a handful of wines. Matt and his cooks run the food, the single waitperson hashes out the rest, and the line stretches out the door at all times.
I myself have stood in this line many times eager for what ever Matt has to offer. Sometimes I have to be happy with what ever Matt has left, as my friends and I wait and watch the dishes we had hoped for being erased from the fleeting menu as they run out. More often than not, forcing us to make different decisions we are treated to something delicious we would have missed. Case in point, the head cheese I had no plans on ordering. The offerings come in two sizes so you can customize your meal, sharing with friends and maxamizing on your enjoyment. I dream of the day when I can walk in with enough people to just order the entire menu.
I take into account when ranking a restaurant how well I remember my dinner as time passes. From Sitka and Matt I distinctly remember tender squash filled ravioli with simple sage leaves in butter to coat, pork belly cooked crisp with Yakima cherries and a sweet vinegar redux. I haven’t forgotten the squab with winter root vegetable studded farotto, the tuna with a sweet onion and fennel slaw and cardamom granita.
I recall cooing at a warm chocolate cake with elderflower cream, made from elderflower foraged by Matt’s roommate. Often most critical of desserts, I found myself swooning over Matt’s simple olive oil gelato served with what else but vinegar, a trio of sweet fruit scented vinegars to be precise to drizzle at will.
But the most distinct and lasting impression left upon me by this restaurant came from slices of yellow cucumber, cooked lightly, tossed with fresh dill and drizzled with Trempetti olive oil. Deceptively simple, but remarkably memorable.
To me, not only is Matt’s cuisine incredible, it’s quintessentially Seattle. The space is unassuming, come as you are, where folks feel as comfortable in their fleece pullovers as the hipsters at the next table. Matt uses more local purveyors than any restaurant in this city, which prides itself on it’s farm to table mentality. And Matt himself can be found in the kitchen, looking charmingly rugged with his beard and T-shirt, pouring himself into each plate.
If you do decide to go, go early and be prepared to stand in line.
A lack of posting on my part can only mean one thing. I am working my butt off in a kitchen far away from computers and the internet. Yes folks, I have found a new home in a small, intimate fine dining restaurant in Seattle called Veil.
I ate at the restaurant durring its first few months of operation in december 2005, and found myself quite taken with the restaurant. The dinner was polished, well thought out, refined, beautiful, and everything tasted perfect. The dining room is one of the most beautiful I had ever seen. It quickly became my dream restaurant, with an aesthetic close to my own, and a type of cuisine to aspire to.
When I put things into perspective, that I was leaving a job because I was unhappy and didn’t want to feel that sting again any time soon, that I was not leaving Seattle anytime soon, and that I wanted to build off the inspiration found at WD-50 and recreate the environment of passion I thrived in at Lampreia, my path was clear. I wanted Veil.
When I use the fact that I am arriving at 8 in the morning and staying until late in the evening as evidence of my pure joy, you might think I am a bit crazy. But to have a place you can pour your heart out to, that inspires and drives you to give 100 percent, well that’s my dream.
I have been working on new desserts, plating them with the chef and then tearing them down. Again, you might think I am crazy to find joy in someone tearing my work apart daily. But each day I go back in, and work on making the dish stronger.
Which is where I am going right now, back into the fire to try a few things again, to recreate a few that I have found success in, and to work my butt off.
After my third day at WD-50, a strange thing happened. I found something I thought I had lost; my reason for cooking.
Years ago, I worked for Seattle’s most talented chef, Scott Carsberg. Don’t get me wrong, there are many very talented chefs in this city, doing very nice things in their restaurants. But Carsberg has a spark, a rare gift that very few in the world have; an intuition for flavor, and the restraint to present it perfectly He also runs a kitchen as tight as they come, setting the bar higher each day than the last, never letting standards for himself or his staff drop below that. In this kitchen I was born as a chef, and in this kitchen I thrived.
When I tell people I worked for Scott for nearly 3 years, they look at me with hungry eyes. He has a reputation for being a big personality, and they think I must have seen more than they can imagine, taken abuse like a soldier, witnessed bizarre and violent outbursts.
The truth is, it was a pretty quiet place. Sure, he barked a bit, I’ll admit that. But for the most part, he and I came in, did the best work we possibly could, put out the most perfect plates we knew how, and ended the night talking about how we could do it better the next day. Nothing was forsaken if it made the food better, no matter how much extra work it made for us. Conversation was left to a minimum while we focused on work, and no music was played lest it distract us. So literally, it was a pretty quiet kitchen.
I went into work with a clear vision each day, to make the most beautiful food possible. I took that to The Fat Duck, being enlivened even more. But somehow, somewhere, I lost that without realizing what had happened.
But after my 3rd day in Alex’s pastry kitchen, I saw food created for the same reason I once knew. It was after spending the later part of the evening watching the plates go out. Each plate was created to be as perfect as possible, not to go out the window as fast as possible, not to get out of the way so you can work another ticket. The food was not dumbed down so more of them could be made, nor was any plate any rushed, ignored, pampered, or given different treatment than the one before it. Every plate was simply the most perfect dish it could be.
It hit me then and there, that there is nothing I can gain in my own life right now that fills me with satisfaction the way working to my fullest potential does. There simply no reason for me not to be out creating desserts as beautiful and perfect as I know I can, each and every night. I know what I can and want to do, so why am I holding back?
To work at WD-50 would have been a dream, likewise many of the great kitchens in that big city where you don’t have to argue to set standards. To have stayed at The Fat Duck would have been heaven. But for every choice we make in life, life makes one for us, and life has told me I live in the pacific northwest.
Thus, I am breaking free of The Rainier Club. Not to say that there is anything lacking in this kitchen, but the kitchen runs on another chefs vision. Bill creates symphonies, grand dishes with a myriad of melodic flavors. I am Scott Carsberg’s child, a minimalist through and through. I am ready to express that, or work along side another with a vision to match.
Now comes the hardest part, finding that place again.
Earlier this year, a couple of friends and I gathered to make soup. Not just any soup, but “smoking soup”.
You see, while my friends are varied and many, these two friends are a chef and a food writer. This soup was an early summer version of a dish my friend Becky Selengut collaborated on for an underground dinner. The theme for the dinner was, “Autumn Smoke”, each course featuring an element of this late season quality. The soup was rich creamy parsnip served with apple butter and crisp parsnip ribbons. The “smoke” in this dish was really a fog, rolling from under the soup itself, and carrying with it the aroma of cinnamon.
The soup bowl was set inside a larger bowl that was partially filled with a warm cinnamon “tea”, and just before serving, dry ice was dropped in. The steam, or fog, caused by the ultra cold frozen carbon dioxide boiling rapidly in the warm cinnamon tea enveloped you with the spicy scent while you ate the soup. A dramatic presentation with a functional role that impressed a friend dining with us, Matthew.
Matthew, a food writer, was so impressed not only with the dish, but with the complete accessibility of the reactionary ingredient. Dry ice is available readily at any grocery store fish counter, for a minimal cost.
The article here, Aroma Therapy, hit the stands this past Sunday, prompting me to share my own side of the creative process.
It was a day like most spent with friends. I was detained by Matthew’s darling daughter Iris, who introduced me to all her toy figures, many of whom live aboard a pirate ship. I spent time catching up with Laurie, Matthew’s wife. I joked with Becky, who’s pace quickens in the kitchen, along with her wit. And we sat at the table together, sharing the same meal, and chatting until we had polished off the block of cheese bought for the garnish.
The article features a spring adapted recipe including peas and panchetta, and envelopes you in the fresh aroma of mint. I urge everyone to use this impressive technique, and be creative. The liquid underneath can carry any water soluble aroma, corresponding with the soup, which can be chilled or hot.