Wednesday, August 5, 2009


The weekend before last my wife and I headed to Chicago for a wedding/birthday celebration for me, starting on Friday in the 'burbs for the reception of my childhood best friend and ending with two nights of culinary debauchery in a seriously food-centric city. At first we were to go at it alone, but with my home town a mere (!!) six hour drive away, I asked my mother, stepfather and brother to join us.

For the first night I plotted out dinner at Graham Elliot, with a fun and playful menu by award winning Chef Bowles that paired elegantly plated food with an impressive cocktail list in a trendy environment. For the second night, I had bigger plans... dinner at Alinea, one of this country's greatest restaurants, helmed by a culinary genius, Grant Achatz. I have his cookbook, so I was somewhat prepared, but my mind was just as blown away as everyone else's! To see course-by-course pics, check them out here.

I knew that going to Chicago wouldn't be just a self-fulfilling prophecy of inspiration, nor do I need to eat at high-end restaurant to find a muse; it can come from vegetarian delivery from The Hill to simple bar food to festive east coast traditions.

As a chef I am constantly learning, and learning comes from researching and reading books like Chef Achatz', which goes beyond the importance of fresh ingredients to focus on new ideas like:

Global Awareness - using ingredients and techniques from other countries that are unfamiliar in order to create unique combinations

Form Mimicking - making familiar food by manipulating other items to look like it

and of course,

Technology - using what we now know as "Molecular Gastronomy": the process of using new techniques to create different textures and profiles that are unachievable with traditional cooking methods.

I am paraphrasing of course, and there are for more insights in his book and in this realm of "Modern Cuisine", for lack of better terms, than I want to get into here.

So, to get to the point, I wanted to create a special that is not only a part of our culinary view, but embraced the ideas of these great chefs, and be simple enough to execute in our small kitchen. With that in mind, a bar food type sampler was in order, with a twist.

Here's the breakdown:

The Clam Bake is a New England classic, so I centered the plate with our shot glass full of clams, brunoised purple fingerling potatoes, corn and a chorizo and beer broth that I foamed with lecithin for an airy texture. Next I went with some variations on the classics: Lamb "Wings" - seasoned ground lamb wrapped around pieces of sugar cane to act as a bone over a fresh made harissa sauce; herbed goat cheese stuffed cherry peppers, breaded and fried, over powderized house made ranch dressing (a now common substance called Tapioca Maltodextrin can turn any fat into a powder, until it touches your tongue and becomes liquid again); and my version of potato skins - hollowed out purple and red potatoes filled with an unbelievably light and smooth mousse that I made by filling a whipped cream dispenser with hot mashed potato, bacon fat, milk and truffle oil.

Not on the level of such great chefs, but well above what you will find from a small kitchen like ours - but, as you know, big things come in small packages!

~ ~ ~

As I noted above, Graham Elliot had an exceptional cocktail menu, and one drink that I (vaguely ;) remember had an infusion of bourbon and plum, which I took as soaking prunes (an ugly way of saying dried plums) in good ole bourbon for a few weeks. So when I came back to Seattle, wouldn't you know it, Northwestern stone fruits such as peaches, nectarines, and yes, plums are in abundance. I started out with the intention of making an intricate cocktail with fresh juiced plums blended with my new favorite whiskey - rye, maybe some herbs, or perhaps some of my house made limoncello.... but once I tasted the simple combination of the plum juice with the rye whiskey I realized that anything else would be going overboard. The plum's naturally sweet and tart flavor balanced perfectly with the slight bitterness of the rye whiskey, omitting any need for additional filler. A perfect summer sipper to compliment the fruits of my labor!

With Love,