Our own Eric Rivera and his wife Mindy left early this morning for Copenhagen, where Eric will do a 10 day stage at Noma, the best restaurant on Earth. Not bad for someone still in culinary school! We wish you all the best, Eric, and can’t wait to hear all about it!
Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas of Chicago’s Alinea, named the best restaurant in the country, dropped by Seattle last week to promote their new book Life, on the Line. Scott, aka Seattle Food Geek, was scheduled to do the interview but could not make it. I was asked to fill in for him. Due to my complete lack of experience and professionalism, a freewheeling conversation ensued, and we discussed everything from their book, hunting, and music to their newest projects about to launch in Chicago: a restaurant called Next, and its companion bar, Aviary.
Nick Kokonas: So, Jethro’s not a food writer, he’s subbing for a food writer.
Grant Achatz: Thank god.
NK: So you know what that means? Actual intelligent questions that we haven’t had.
So, any questions you don’t want to answer, just say “fuck you”, and whatever.
NK: You’re going to get like, twelve “fuck you’s”.
GA: Ah, come on…
NK to GA: By the way, I finally read that interview. Joe Satriani? That’s where you went with that?
GA: The guy can play guitar, man.
NK: Yeah, in ’84.
Continuing my awesome ability to find super deals on the Internet, I stumbled across a posting on Craigslist for an unused Gaggenau combi oven for under a grand. That’s a chunk of change no matter how you slice it, but considering these things go for $3000, it was quite a find. There had to be something wrong with it. I went to take a look and heard the story: the guy bought the oven at an auction from an appliance store that went out of business, collecting a wide variety of gadgetry for he and his girlfriend’s dream kitchen. Then, she left him, and headed back to China. He was trying to get rid of all of it. No scratches and everything seemed to look good – so I went for it. A few days later with the help of my neighbor, and I had it installed and, thankfully, working up above my fridge.
Back in December, we wrote about a special project we chose to embark on. We decided we would take all of the knowledge we’ve gathered over the months working together and actually apply it to a full blown meal. We christened it “The Thesis Dinner”. Last week we finally got together and served a multi-course tasting menu to some close friends and family.
I don’t have any pictures of the dishes, as my camera (that is to say, iPhone) became the de facto DJ of the evening, playing a variety of Latin music, from Ranchera to Tango to Spanish rap. Luckily, it was documented by a couple of attendees, and you can see the fruits of our labors here and here.
It was great fun serving the meal, and took all day to make it. We arrived at Scott’s at 9am and left around 10pm. My feet were killing me by the end of it. I used to bartend and I forgot about how it is to stand the whole time. But I suffered through it, poor little old me.
We’re making adjustments to the menu for a very special luncheon version coming up. It’s an exciting step forward and I can’t wait to see – and taste – the final result.
I was talking with chef about a month ago about tapioca maltodextrin and how cool it was. Take something with a fat content and mix it together and you can create powders! Even something without a fat content can be transformed, it’s amazing! I was selling the idea to him like it was a late night infomercial and he said, “alright, show me”.
So the next day I brought in my tub of maltodextrin into work and proceeded to spin some clarified butter with it and I had him taste it. He grinned and told me, “alright, are you sure you can do this with the chorizo”. I said, “yes, of course”.
I gave him a list of things I needed and when I asked for chorizo I wanted three pounds and he gave me five and said he didn’t want to run out. The event we were planning for was the Seattle Food and Wine Experience. I covered it last year as “media” and this year I would be at the event working behind the scenes (awesome!)….and not only would I be working the event I would also bring Mindy along to help out and unleash my chorizo powder creation on the world!
First run: I sliced the chorizo really thin, about 1/16 of an inch then placed it in the ovens at work but the problem was that the ovens at work can’t be set to the setting I needed them to be….200F minimum. I knew this would be a problem because I would be cooking the hell out of the chorizo. I did it anyway and told chef that I would be able to control the chorizo at a lower temperature with my dehydrator. He wasn’t very happy with the first run but he let me do it anyway after I convinced him I would get it to work.
So why cook it?!!!?!? Well, this idea is pretty much what I like to call Modernist Bacon Bits. Bacon bits are pretty cool but they are so 1990…..we need an update! The thing I like about bacon bits is they are crunchy…..I needed a way to make the chorizo crunchy but without losing a lot of color so off to the meat slicer and off to the dehydrator.
8 hours in the dehydrator and at a certain temperature these little pieces will keep their color and become crunchy! The only problem I had was that I had a four tray dehydrator and I could only fit about 1/4# of chorizo at a time so I spent a few days cycling the chorizo through (ugh…). After the chorizo comes out of the dehydrator it goes to the refrigerator to cool down.
The next step was to send it through the food processor and create bits. I had to do these in batches too and I had to make sure the bits going in were cold. After they came out I started doing small batches again of chorizo bits with maltodextrin. I tasted it and it needed a bump in flavor so I took left over pieces chorizo and rendered them in clarified butter then processed that with the maltodextrin then combined the bits and the clarified butter mixture.
After combining I laid everything out on two sheet pans and refrigerated them for a few more hours then sent them through a tamis to create a smaller powder.
Pack it up and get it ready to take to work now.
When I went into work then I transferred the powder into shakers so that way we could finish off the plates we would be serving up for about 1100-1500 people at the Seattle Food and Wine Experience. No pressure! Chef tried the powder as I was placing it in the shakers and he grinned again and said, “You know, I was a little worried about the outcome but you nailed it”.
So off to the show!
POWDERED CHORIZO!!!! IT’S ON THERE!!!! HOW COOL!!! The fun thing about this dish is that it was pretty elaborate. Two sauces: Piquillo pepper puree and an aji amarillo sauce, rye bread crisp, pickled shallots (says red onion on the card but chef opted for shallots…they’re better for this application), crispy chick peas tossed in a fennel seasoning, fried parsley, and in-house hot smoked Neah Bay black cod. There are days of work into this and the person that walks by and just grabs the dish will just eat it in two seconds and walk to the next booth…..that’s how it works! However, we had people stopping in their tracks and asking about everything on the plate. The sauce, the chickpeas, the cod, the powder, everything! It was a success!
Do that 1100-1500 times…every time!
The best part is that Mindy came along for the day to help out so it was nice to really show her the madness of what I do. She had a great time! She’s also a natural at plating so that helped out tremendously!
(Mindy and Chef Kevin)
During the event chef told me that he wanted to do more stuff like this in the restaurant so I have a green light to bring my crazy ideas into the restaurant now and we’re now brainstorming the Voracious Tasting in April which will be the same kind of atmosphere but more restaurants will be featured. We’ve tossed a few ideas around and in the next week I have to put these ideas in front of him so we can start a first run and do it all again.