Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Big Things to Come

I want to start out this week by giving ourselves a great big pat on the back for not only making it into Seattle Magazines Best Breakfasts issue this month for our Seattle Slam brunch item, but also to have its likeness grace the cover!! Not only that, but our sister restaurant was selected for Best Northwest Spin on French Toast! Watch out Seattle, we're taking over....

This week's special is a study in simplicity, not due to a lack of imagination, but because less is more; sometimes you only need focus on a few ingredients and let them shine - anything beyond that is just overkill. There are times when I have gone out to restaurants and have had a dish riddled with so many flavors with the intention to be unique that the final product tastes ironically muddled. I have built my career as a chef on the fundamental concept of focusing on around four main flavors to a dish, and I only now stretch beyond that philosophy after over a decade of cooking professionally with great care.

One of the best ways to create a flavorful dish with minimal components is to get the best ingredients and keep it as fresh as possible; that's why so many people are making such a big deal about seasonal/local produce - you are getting a product at its best because it hasn't traveled for a week to reach you. Another important aspect is to keeping it fresh is to do as much of the work yourself, like rolling your own pasta instead of buying it. Not only is it a fresher product, but I am a firm believer in the thought that every extra bit of effort that you put into something adds up to make it even better.

I seem to be making handmade pasta for a special on an average of about once every two months, which only shows you the extent of my attention span because after making 10-15 portions, three times a week I am cursing myself for the hole that I have dug myself into!

This time I wanted to try out a new idea of making jumbo tortelloni filled with richly braised lamb, complete with sauce, so they would break open like soft boiled eggs where the center runs out when you cut into them. I made my pasta by pureeing local, organic baby spinach, eggs, flour, salt and extra virgin olive oil in a food processor. After a rest I ran portions of the dough through a pasta roller to get them started, but then hand-rolled them to larger circles big enough to hold the extra amount of filling.

As the tortelloni rested I began to build on the other component of the dish, the kabocha puree. Kabocha is a winter squash commonly known as Japanese pumpkin, which has a sweet, velvety flesh similar to the butternut variety. I enhanced the squash's smooth texture by cooking it with onions and garlic softened in olive oil and a generous amount of half and half before blending it into a silky smooth puree that could be compared to the perfect eggless custard.

As I continue my journey as a chef who is trying to hone his prowess behind the bar, I am constantly trying to outdo myself. The hardest part for me is the fact that in order to grow, I have to use ingredients that that simply I don't like; in cooking I can get around it by tasting the dish as a whole and knowing that not everyone likes/dislikes the same flavors, but things change when you dip into the relm of alcohol; there probably isn't a person reading this that doesn't have a distain for a particular type of liquor. For most, it's probably tequila, since we have all had our bad share of experiences from drinking it, but sometimes a spirit has merely run it's course in your life, and that spirit for me is gin.

In college, gin was a staple in the lives of my roommates and I, and though I haven't looked at a tonic water bottle the same way since, the resurgence of quality and handcrafted gins have given me a new breath. So, for this week's drink special, I decided to do a play on an old classic made with my nemesis.

The typical gin fizz is made with gin, lemon juice and powdered sugar that is shaken and topped off with soda water, giving it a cloudy appearance, but I decided to add a fresh blueberry syrup that I made instead that I feel compliments the subtle floral notes of Hendrick's Gin. Sorry, but we don't carry the traditional Tom Collins glasses, so I guess a pint glass will have to do!!!

With Love,