Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

One of the greatest things for me about being a chef and cutting my teeth in New York City is the array of associates that I have worked with over the years; a kaleidoscope of characters, who despite thousands of miles of diversities and cultures still consider each other "family" - one that is drawn from a different type of bloodline: restaurant workers.

Of those many, it is now not so subtly known that may of the faces you see in kitchens these days are from Central or South America, and more often than not they are from Mexico. I have worked alongside Mexicans for all of my career, and in the true form of friends I have adapted their ways, their mannerisms and their language, so much so that I have even absentmindedly responded to my wife in Spanish. So when we moved to Seattle there was a part of me that was afraid that I may be unable to continue that connection, until I joined this restaurant, and my cohorts: Alejandro and his cousins Alma and Pepe; some of the strongest and most dedicated workers that I have had the pleasure of working with.

My Rock, Mi Amigo, Alejandro
So when it comes to composing an idea to celebrate their heritage, I, um....., well, exploited the stereotype and went with a variation of the Margarita. I know, I know... but I validated myself when I handed Alejandro one of these cocktails and received an enunciation very specific to him: "Mmmm! Bery Goood!", and with that sweet smile of his, I knew that I had a winner.

For me, it was simple; the local grocery store had a sale on fresh mangoes. Our friendly Washington State controlled liquor store had a nice mango liqueur. So I stripped the fruit and simmered the pulp in water with some sugar and a pinch of salt to bring out the flavor, then once cooled I blended it into a fine puree with the mango liquor, resposado tequila and some fresh lime juice to brighten it up - but we at Table 219 like to push things just beyond the norm, so I stirred in fresh juiced jalapenos, minus the seeds, to enhance the flavor of the fruit without overpowering it with spiciness. It may sound a bit out-there, but think of it with the same affection as a drunken mango salsa....

Though it may not tie in with the "Cinco de Mayo" theme, this week's dinner special holds true to Table 219's concept of Americana... a thought that, to us, encompasses not only the history of food within our country, but that of the rest of the world via those who join us. Sometime I hone in on the classical dish by adding my own twist on it, sometimes I embrace our diversity and spin off into a different direction. With this approach in mind I chose to play with the idea of the flatbread.

To most Americans flatbread is mostly noted as a pizza, and many friends of mine run amazing pizza restaurants, so I am not trying to dispute their greatness here; instead I merely want to emphasize the possibilities of the medium that is fun, yet accessible.

I like to play with different shapes, so I worked a focaccia dough recipe that I have leftover from my time at the '21' Club into long, thin sheets and par-baked them into ready-made canvases 15 inches long and 5 inches wide. As a base I brushed the dough with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled it with fresh cut thyme, oven dried tomatoes, Bavarian Meats bacon (a local producer, and seriously the best bacon I have ever tasted in my life, EVER!!), with char-grilled red onions and creamy fontina cheese....finished with a spray of wild, organic arugula pesto.

In the end, I think that these speicals salute all of those that I have worked with, and all of us that have inspired each other. So I toast to you, my past and present brothers and sisters; with all of our differences, we are still the same...

With Love,