Momofuku Milk Bar isn’t fancy. The minimalist design including strand-board casework, small front counter, simple packaging, and chalk board menu suggest a place staged with simplicity and profit in mind. Fact is, I have never been overly impressed with the interior of Milk Bar and probably wouldn’t seek one out except for the fact that I am completely addicted to Chef Christina Tosi’s strawberry lemon cake truffles. Her candy bar pie is incredible too but the truffles draw me in whenever I am within a block of a Milk Bar outlet (usually the one in midtown). My trips to New York always place me within walking distance to the store on West 56th street, lucky peach indeed.
W56th St. Milk Bar
So it was with great joy that I watched Christina Tosi edge out some of the best chefs in the country to receive the 2012 Rising Star Chef of the Year from the James Beard Foundation. The honor is awarded to “a chef age 30 or younger who displays an impressive talent and who is likely to have a significant impact on the industry in years to come” according to the foundation web site. That she is so talented, heads a growing empire of stores, is teamed with one of the most recognized chefs in the country in David Chang, and leads a team of folks mostly under the age of 25 is a testament to her talent. That she does all this in one of the most competitive and hyper food markets in the world is monumental. She deserves this recognition (even though I am a huge Dave Beran fan!).
Chef Christina Tosi (2012 James Beard Awards)
On stage, Tosi looked radiant in a black sleeveless dress with red pumps, her shoulder length hair straight and parted. Relaxed, she accepted her award with grace as chef Grant Achatz looked on (he won the award in 2003). She made sure to thank the Beard Foundation and, more specifically, to thank her extended team (as any good leader would). She showed tremendous poise and humility while also exuding great confidence. What a great role model at such a young age.
Congratulations Christina and the entire Milk Bar and Momofuku team…
Next week, I predict that NEXT restaurant in Chicago will win “Best New Restaurant” at the 2012 James Beard Foundation Awards and that Chef Dave Beran will win “Rising Star Chef of the Year”. My rationale for this prediction is based primarily on the incredible success Beran, Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas have had launching what I consider to be one of the most innovative and technically successful new restaurants in American history.
If you follow NEXT you already know that to dine there you have to buy tickets for the menu being offered, that only sixty four seats are available each night and that tickets for each three month run sell out in minutes. Pretty innovative huh (albeit old news now that Kokonas and Achatz have proven the model). The food community also knows that Beran and his team execute each menu flawlessly (there have been three menus to date: Paris 1906, Thailand, Childhood and now El Bulli (Sicily and Kyoto are soon to follow). Each time NEXT offers a new menu the creative team at the restaurant completely reinvents the experience, resetting the entire table top, service ware, menu, production and service. That these guys can shift themes every three months from Paris 1906 to Thailand (including a rave review by the N.Y. Times), turn the corner and take on Achatz’s and Beran’s memories from childhood in the 70’s and 80’s in menu form and then run a 29 course El Bulli menu three months after that (to extreme accuracy) is unheard of; a feat of super-culinary capacity and sheer determination. NEXT is the best new restaurant in the U.S. and, probably, one of if not the most innovative restaurant in the world today.
NEXT Restaurant Kitchen
Recently, I had an opportunity to enjoy the El Bulli menu and visit with sous chef Rene Deleon (Beran and Achatz were in Kyoto conducting research for that future menu). Deleon and the rest of his culinary crew are all fresh faced, young and of fighting weight. They hustle with kinetic energy in the kitchen while performing their roles with precision. They love what they do and covet the experience. Deleon in particular praises the opportunity to work at NEXT and the incredible leadership provided by Beran and Achatz. He relays his perspective while filling his purchase order for the following day’s comestibles, sitting at a table at 1:10 am in the morning as though it’s 4:00 pm in afternoon (his work day is nearly done). He lives the nocturnal life, the life of a cook where daylight is for sleeping (it off) and nighttime is for work and play; where you go home when the sun is rising not when it sets. A life the public rarely ever sees but one that serves as the basis for an underground culinary culture that we all love or have learned to love to be successful.
And that’s my point. NEXT thrives as a restaurant, a business, an art-form and aesthetic within the culinary realm. And it delivers. Beran, Achatz and Kokonas will receive the recognition they deserve at the 2012 James Beard Foundation awards. Kudos and congratulations in advance, I know of no other team that could pull off such a wonderful launch as these guys and the women and men who work for them. What an incredible American culinary and cultural asset. I can’t wait to see what’s NEXT.
Nitro Caipirinha with Tarragon Concentrate
Dry Snacks: Puffed Rice Black Pudding, Nori Cracker, Black Olive Butterflies, Puffed Coffee Polenta,
Cuttlefish and Coconut Ravioli with Soy, Ginger and Mint
Savory Tomato Ice with Oregano and Almond Milk Pudding
Hot Crab Aspic with Mini Corn Cous-Cous
Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc
Cauliflower Cous-Cous with Solid Aromatic Herb Sauce
Suquet of Prawns
Potato Tortilla by Marc Singla
Trumpet Carpaccio with Rabbit Kidneys
Red Mullet Gaudi
Nasturtium with Eel, Bone Marrow and Cucumber
Civet of Rabbit with Hot Apple Jelly
Rabbit Civet up close
Gorgonzola Globe (Gorgonzola bechemel siphoned into a balloon, frozen via rotation in liquid nitrogen),
topped with fresh grated nutmeg tableside
Foie Gras Caramel Custard
Spice Plate (guests play a game of identifying each of the 12 flavors placed around the perimeter of the plate)
Mint Pond (Mint Powder, Muscovado Sugar, Macha Tea Powder)
Chocolate in Textures
Creme Flute and Puff Pastry Web
Jules Verne Lollipops, Chocolate and Puffed Rice, Yogurt Croquant and Raspberry Lolly, White Chocolate, Lemon and Coffee Lolly, Star Anise and Mandarin Lolly, Raspberry Kebab with Balsamic Caramel Cloud
Over the past couple of years I haven’t spent much time talking about breakfast and brunch. During that time the trend tracking restaurant experts have predicted the continued disintegration of the traditional restaurant day-part (breakfast , lunch and dinner) and the ongoing expansion of hours that serve what is being called the “all day eater.” My own research over the past two years confirms this change particularly in the QSR and fast casual segment but only recently have I noticed more and more fine, full service restaurants moving into the breakfast and brunch day-part in an effort to capitalize on potential new revenues built on existing fixed costs. Starting in January I am making a conscious attempt to gather information on breakfast and brunch in the fine, full service segment to see if expansion in this day-part that fine restaurants historically have neglected is occurring. My research starts in Denver.
While in there last month a chef friend recommended that I visit Colt & Gray for brunch to check out their take. Five of us made our way to the corner of Platt and 16th streets in Denver late one morning. It was sunny out and the sky was a deep Denver blue. The restaurant is located in a renovated three story red brick building just west of the Platt River in an area of Denver that has been on the rise for more than a decade. We enter and quickly find a table.
The menu is both creative and expansive with items like crispy raisin bread pudding, house scrapple with fennel and kimchee, house smoked trout with scrambled eggs, house made corned beef hash with poached eggs and a special of Merguez sausage, crispy foie gras potatoes, Frisee and poached eggs. I also like the “kitchen sink” breakfast sandwich with sausage, egg, cheese, gravy, bacon, fries on a bun. It’s more of a “heart attack on a plate” than anything but from what I hear it’s one of the best-selling items on the menu. The Dal Makhani with creamy curried lentils served in a Staub cast iron cocotte warm flat bread, fried eggs and an added side of braised lamb tongue is unique in composition and creativity and attracts our attention as well. Perhaps, as I think to myself quietly, part of the evolving breakfast trend is driven by the desire for people to find a finer level culinary excess during breakfast, a meal-period that otherwise is served only by the more traditional offerings of the quick service segment. Colt & Gray has found a niche in serving this desire.
Most of the seats at the bar are occupied and I notice the drink menu is playfully divided into two categories “recovery” and “retox” with the recovery drinks light on alcohol and high in creativity and the retox items more aggressive with alcohol and served in pitchers because “brunch is social.” Coffee consists of a selection of locally roasted options in traditional form and Teatulia tea is served. The food and beverage options are thoughtful and well executed while demonstrating flourishes of creativity for this day-part. Colt & Gray is solid evidence that there is room for a return to quality brunch service in the fine full-service segment. As much as I used to hate rising early on weekend mornings to run brunch service after a late Friday and Saturday dinner closing, it’s hard to deny the value of generating additional revenue during the morning when your restaurant would otherwise be empty. Now I just need to decide whether to choose “recovery” or “retox” with my kitchen sink sandwich.
Charcuterie Platter with Country Pate and Triple Cream Cheese
Sometimes a photo of a food item is enough to inspire me to post to this blog. Such is the case with this picture of Kumamoto oysters with Foamed Mignonette. It was snapped a couple weeks ago just after Chef Chris Young, coauthor of Modernist Cuisine with Nathan Myhrvold, finished preparing them. The mignonette foam is stabilized into a “dry foam” with 1.25% of de-oiled soy lecithin powder, an emulsifying agent and byproduct of soybean oil production. Young describes this as a dry foam since the water within the foam is drained away once it’s stable. Lecithin stabilized foams are not new; Ferran Adria started making them more than a decade ago. Some consider foams passé. However, it’s always fun to play with both new and old ideas in the kitchen just to see what happens. Sometimes accidental innovation occurs.
The ingredients used are fairly neutral in color (shallots, white balsamic, water, sherry vinegar) creating a beige foam and, ultimately, a monochromatic dish. Color aside, the foam has an intense vinegar, salt and shallot flavor that is carried throughout the foam creating a deep contrast to the meaty, sweet and slightly musty taste of the oysters. The foam adds a texture and tingle that dissipates almost instantly when the oyster is slurped. I love the look of these oysters and hope you do too.
When I first met Lon Symensma he was headed to the Culinary Olympics in Berlin Germany as a member of the U.S. National Apprentice Team in 1996. Under the watchful eye of the gentle and gentlemanly uber-coach and former H.J. Heinz Corporate Chef Roland Schaeffer, Symensma and his team were shining stars that placed in the top ten in their division. Symensma was clean cut possessing great energy and a good foundation of culinary skills having completed his initial training at Scott Community College in Davenport Iowa. Sixteen years later Symensma is owner of Cholon Bistro in Denver and, word has it, a soon-to-be nominee for a James Beard Award this year.
That Symensma pursued his dream of opening his own restaurant is what I admire most about him. Many of the other chefs I knew in the 1990’s who competed at the international level chose professional careers in higher education or at country clubs or hotels. Very few pursued sole proprietorship; the ratio of risks to rewards being too great. However, Symensma kept his head on straight, paid his dues internationally and, eventually, went on to run the kitchen at Buddakan in New York City, one of the highest grossing restaurants in the country.
When I caught up with Symensma in Denver recently, he laughed about his time at Buddakan and suggested the four years he spent there took a decade off of his life. Having dined a Buddakan back when he was there, there is probably some truth to his comment. Buddakan is a massive restaurant and one of the flagship stores for Stephen Starr Restaurants out of Philadelphia. When I visited in 2007 the house was full and the kitchen was cranking. The volume of food produced was staggering, it was not a kitchen for the faint of heart.
Fast forward to 2011 and Symensma is in Denver having flown close to the flame in New York. Paired with former CIA classmate Alicia Pokoik Deters and her husband Jim, the three formed Flow Restaurant Group, opening Cholon as a first concept in 2010. Symensma crafted a menu that is approachable and aligned with the clientele in Denver while honoring his eclectic Asian style. The bistro itself is modern in décor with a massive custom wooden door, concrete floors, exposed ceiling and large informal dining room (no tablecloths here) with open kitchen along an interior wall. During service Symensma stands in starched whites at the kitchen counter, back to the crowd, expediting with customers seated to his left and right.
His food is better at Cholon than it was at Buddakan, probably due to smaller size and better attention to detail. However, the food is more rustic. His Kaya Toast with Egg Cloud is rich and creamy with tremendous flavor and the French Onion Soup Dumplings are a great contemporary take and a classic. My favorite dish is the Singapore Style Lobster with Sunny Side Egg and Bao Buns. This isn’t fine dining or modernist cuisine but it is great local food at a fair price with fantastic service. The restaurant is loud and full of energy and the city of Denver has embraced it but I estimate Cholon does the same volume in a week that Buddakan used to do in a day. Symensma has proven he has capacity for more. I predict that he is just starting what will become a regional restaurant empire as Cholon settles in and he gets back to his fighting weight.
I found the Taylor Shellfish Farm store quite by accident while driving around for a bit in Seattle. It all started half an hour earlier as I set out for the night and found my rental car battery dead. Mea culpa, I left the lights on by force of habit after exiting the last time I drove and this inexpensive choice of cars doesn’t have an automatic shut-off. Interesting fact that once we get used to assistive technologies like an automatic shut-off for your headlights they cause certain levels of mindfulness and judgment to weaken. Makes me wonder what other parts of my routine would be compromised should the supporting technology suddenly go missing. I make the call to road-side assistance and prepare for the annoying wait. After an hour a young guy hired by the rental car company arrives looking straight out of a Seattle grunge catalog in flannel shirt, olive drab knit woolen hat, torn jeans and worn hiking boots. His hands are greased over but his personality is service oriented and the kid is a tremendous help. He has the car recharged and running in less than five minutes while exuding a casual friendliness so common in this part of the country. After a few more minutes he takes off in his red two-wheel drive economy pickup proffering advice that I drive around for the next 15-20 minutes this rainy afternoon to charge the battery. Good advice indeed and this is the reason I stumbled upon Taylor Shellfish Farm in the 21st minute of my recharge drive.
The blue neon sign in front initially caught my eye as I took a left off of Union Street onto Melrose. At first I drove right past peering in to see the place before circling back to park and take a closer look. Once inside it is immediately clear that the shop will provide an interesting excursion. For those of you who read this blog, you know that shellfish are a fascination. Modern shellfish farming has become a low impact, high value industry for seaside communities and a valuable benefit to marine ecosystems. Taylor has been in the business for more than 100 years and represents one of the better-known growers in the Pacific Northwest and the company has joing the growing ranks of seafood and shellfish companies that have opened their own restaurant and/or retail outlet. Island Creek has done this in Kenmore Square in Boston and Blount is about to open an outlet in Providence, Rhode Island.
There’s a large stainless steel six-bay circulating salt water tank in the middle of the shop filled with six varieties of oysters, two types of clams and one bay dedicated to mussels. The circulating system uses ultra violet light to sterilize the circulating seawater keeping the system bacteria free and the oysters, clams, and mussels happy. I grab the attention of the manager and we select a half-dozen oysters. He advises to try two Totten Inlet, two Olympia, and two Shigoku as a start. The Totten inlets are large and have a dark-lipped jagged shell. Straight from the tank, each is ice cold and full of liquor. At first slurp I get a nice sweet and briny oyster flavor and a slight bit of tannin in the finish. Next I try the Shigoku’s. Each has a deep shell with a smooth white lip. These are similar in flavor to the Totten Inlets but they have a higher percentage of liquor and a sweeter finish. Finally, I sample the tiny little Olympia’s with the silvery flesh and curling adductor muscle. These have a deep, creamy almost browned butter flavor with a quick follow of copper and tannin. Tiny and less physically satisfying than the larger Totten Inlets and Shigoku’s the Olympia’s packs nearly twice the flavor. Freshness is outstanding and I am ready for more but time has run out and I have to move along. Walking to the car, I am thankful that the battery went dead earlier since the chain of events afterward resulted in my stumbling upon Taylor Shellfish Farm’s retail store.
In 1987 a good friend and culinary mentor the late Fred Hendee, a Seattle native, returned from a quick trip to his home state with a half dozen Geoduck clams. Having grown up on the sea shore eating all sorts of mollusks and crustaceans (clams, oysters, mussels, periwinkles, crabs and lobsters) my passion for local seafood was already well-developed when Fred opened his cooler and showed me these monstrous mollusks. Over the next few hours Chef Hendee blanched, skinned, sucked, cleaned and fabricated the clams into all sorts of items from thin pounded, needled and breaded clam strips to thinly sliced Geoduck siphon sashimi. We slightly froze and ground the neck of one clam using a coarse plate grinder and made a wonderful long-simmered cream based chowder and butterflied the breast (belly) meat into steaks that, after a slight pounding, we sautéed in beurre noisette with lemon and dill. Unfortunately, neither of us at the time thought to record the fun on film and the experience with Chef Hendee was lost all but to my recurring memories.
And this is what I think about each time I visit Seattle and see a Geoduck clam; Chef Fred Hendee smiling in the kitchen while teaching me how to handle a new and interesting seafood product. On this trip I am taking a fresh Geoduck back with me that I purchased at the Taylor Shellfish Farms shop at the corner of Melrose and Pine Streets in Seattle. At my request, the store manager has agreed to fabricate the clam for me while I shoot some pictures. Packed on ice, it was a quick flight home and a fine meal afterwards.
Simmer the Geoduck in water for 15 seconds and remove, quickly pulling the outer skin off of the siphon and belly.
Open the clam up with a sharp knife
Remove the shell from both sides of the clam
Clam with shell removed
Detach and discard the intestinal track
Separate the siphon and breast (belly) and split the siphon with a knife
Clean the siphon of sand and impurities
Cleaned siphon and breast
For sashimi, slice the siphon thinly
Prepared Geoduck Sashimi with Gingered Soy syrup, Cucumber Carrot and Cilantro Slaw
Making foodservice related predictions for 2012 is a fun game and one that requires reflection on the prior year to determine where things are headed in the short term. Looking back on 2011 it was a pretty good year for foodservice. For or fun and sanity, Americans turned to eating out as a lower cost recreational activity throughout the year. As of this writing, the U.S. foodservice industry, according to the National Restaurant Association, continues to set sales volume records and has added over 200,000 jobs since the depths of the recession representing a real bright sector in the economy. Chefs continue to gain momentum as cultural icons and America’s fascination with all things culinary appears to be expanding rather than receding. 2012 will be a year when chefs continue to expand their reach in media, food manufacturing and retail, commercial foodservice and travel. That this sector of the economy can’t be outsourced or shipped overseas is nothing but a bright spot as well. Looking ahead to 2012 and into 2013 there is nothing but upward opportunity for the restaurant industry. The observations and predictions made below are but a spotlight on trends noticed first-hand in recent months.
The Process of Finding Food Trends:
These trends for 2012 were compiled based on my own expertise, thoughtful observations from visiting or eating at dozens of fine dining restaurants, supermarket and fast casual restaurant concepts in more than a dozen U.S. cities. When visiting a city I preplan an itinerary that involves visiting at a minimum, one fine dining restaurant rated 26 or higher for food (if available) by Zagat guide, one quick service restaurant (preferably independently owned) and a visit to the prepared food section of a least one high-end supermarket. It isn’t unusual for a visit to include multiple restaurants and retail markets as time and budget allows. My primary goal is to gauge the culinary talent, menu trends, restaurant design, service, wine and beverage, pricing and overall economy as measured by restaurant pricing and volume, even if based on a limited sampling of the local market.
During my visits, in addition to dining, I usually talk with the chef or owner of the establishment and spend time prior to the visit studying the establishment’s web site and menu if available. After dining at a restaurant and taking notes, my experiences from select visits are posted in simple form on satedepicure.com along with a photo record of the dishes I enjoyed and, in some cases, comments and reflection. Through the past year I have once again collected hundreds of photos of the dishes I sampled. One of the interesting things about satedepicure.com is that the site features photos of what I was served rather than studio shots of dishes created for public relation purposes. Satedepicure.com captures an experience in actual form along with notes based on expert opinion.
Early in December I synthesize these data while searching for patters in cooking methods, ingredients, menu descriptions, décor, service, and philosophy. If provided a tour of the restaurant, I look through my notes for trends in design and equipment as well. Once I have compiled a rough list of patterns from the past year I sort them according to ones that are emerging (gaining momentum) and ones that have become so ubiquitous that they have transitioned to permanent. With so much data on hand, this process of sorting and listing is time-consuming but surprisingly easy to do; the patterns become obvious at the macro level. For ease of publication and search I have posted three sets of trends.
The items listed in the links above are based on the synthesizing and sorting process noted. They are my own (with all their limitations) and represent, to the best of my knowledge, wheresome aspects of food, dining, and service are headed in 2012. Happy New Year and thank you for reading Satedepicure.com
Culinary Science: The modernist cooking movement, mostly driven by Modernist Cuisine patron Nathan Myhrvold and coauthor Chris Young has energized a changed craft where culinary science reigns supreme. This isn’t molecular gastronomy, it is the chemistry and physics of food that underlies all we do in the kitchen. Chefs are using the science of cooking along with an improved understanding of agriculture and nutrition to innovate and improve their practice.
Small City High Quality: As a national traveller there was a time when it was hard to find great fine food in smaller markets like St. Louis, Orlando, Birmingham, Denver, Salt Lake and Phoenix. Today, there are excellent restaurants in these and other small markets that mirror the major national food cities like Chicago, San Francisco and New York in quality and relative creativity. A good example is ChoLon bistro in Denver where Chef Lon Symensma performs his trade. After working with Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Steven Starr at Buddakan in New York Symensma could have found a home in New York but chose Denver as his new home base further elevating the food scene in that city. Chef Kevin Nashan is doing the same in St. Louis at Sidney St. Cafe. What a wonderful evolution.
Chef Inspired Culinary Media: According to some, food is second only to sex in occupying the human mind. The decade long radical expansion of food related media and entertainment commercializes this phenomenon but is all too often driven by media executives who are outside the realm of the professional chef. In 2011 chefs continued to create their own media opportunities and it is likely that some will continue to grab hold of and direct media in the year to come. A good example is the emergence of David Chang and writer Peter Meehan’s irreverent food journal Lucky Peach. Chang, the incredibly gifted (both in an out of the kitchen) owner of the Momo Fuku empire attracted Anthony Bourdain as film critic and some of the best chefs in the country contribute recipes. It’s worth a subscription. I also like the videos chefs like Mark Ladner (del Posto) and Daniel Humm (Eleven Madison Park) post on YouTube. Makes me wish YouTube would create a food channel of its own so these videos are easier to find.
Quality Chef Driven Food Manufacturing: In case you missed it, the products manufactured under the brand name of chefs like Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali and Norman Love have earned first place in their respective categories as noted by Consumer Reports magazine. Emeril’s cookware even out ranked (paced first) the Culinary Institute of America’s line of cookware (placed last) in Consumer Reports. This emerging trend suggests that professional chefs have moved beyond simple brand marketing and co-packing of products and are focused on producing high quality food products and hard goods that consumers will genuinely appreciate. Perhaps the era of simply selling a face is giving way to a real focus on quality.
Fine Supermarket Prepared Food: To be sure, I listed the supermarket trend last year and thought it was maturing. However, just when it appeared that supermarkets had fully evolved their prepared foods departments Wegman’s, a regional chain in the North East, raised the bar an developed a massive high end global food court with hundreds of seats and amenities and rolled out the concept to huge success. Supermarkets like Wegman’s are leveraging their brand position, buying power and raw ingredient costs, vertical integration, culinary talent and product quality to produce restaurant quality food on location. According to insiders, the revenue per square foot earned in these high end prepared foods departments exceeds most other departments in the supermarket and the trend to push food preparation up front so its visible to customers (think chefs in whites cooking as you watch) is driving sales growth. Keep an eye on supermarkets in 2012, they have the revenue and resources to push into foodservice even deeper, much deeper than even I predicted in 2011.
Hand Rolled Rustic Pasta (Strozzapreti, Trofie, etc): Menus across the country feature these simple, fresh pasta preparations and it is the simplicity in preparation and diversity these pasta’s allow that drive the expansion of their use. My favorite rustic pasta dish of the past year is Barbara Lynch’s Rabbit Strozzapreti at Sportello in Boston. Look for these rustic pastas on more restaurant menus in 2012
Cauliflower: Cauliflower is making a comeback. Michael Solomonov at Zahav serves it as a Mezze and fries it crispy with chive oil, mint and garlic. Rasika in Washington D.C. prepares traditional cauliflower (Ghobi) Manchurian Calcutta style with spicy Chinese sauce so delicious you won’t want to share. Chefs are serving it pureed with garlic, olive oil and lemon until silky smooth, roasting it, and slicing it whole to cook sous vide. The mundane is now interesting.
Sablefish and Clean Oysters:Sablefish (Black Cod) is a sustainable seafood species mostly found on the west coast that has gained traction on menus from Seattle to Chicago. With a light white flake, wonderful rich flavor and firm texture Sablefish is a leader in the seafood category. My favorite of the year was the Black Cod prepared by Chef Jason Freney at Canlis in Seattle. In addition to Sable Fish clean oysters are the rage. Ever since American Mussel Harvesters figured out a way to eliminate bacteria from shellfish by soaking them in sterilized running sea water for 24-48 hours the results have been industry changing. Back in October I feasted on a raw bar buffet of AMH’s oysters along with Chef Thomas Keller at an event in Newport Rhode Island. Keller was inspired to hear how AMH purges the oysters and a week later connected his culinary director at Bouchon with AMH’s sales office. The increased safety of these oysters and clams is motivation enough to pay the slightly higher cost.
Vitello Tonnato: This veal and tuna dish is old school Italian and gained popularity after Sam Sifton wrote a story about the dish in the times back in August 2011. Over the past couple of years I found the dish on occasion usually at an established Italian restaurant in one of the larger metropolitan markets but it wasn’t until I visited Del Posto and sampled Mark Ladner’s version back in May 2011 that I gained a full appreciation. On my second visit to Del Posto, I had the dish again and it was even better. This is a fantastic dish and I a wonderful alternative to the ubiquitous Ahi tuna on so many menus, a fish that is often treated with carbon monoxide to prevent discoloration. Look for more Mediterranean and Italian restaurants to copy Del Posto in the coming year.
Offal: One of the best dishes that I sampled in 2011 was the venison heart that Chef Alex Talbot of Ideasinfood.com served during the 2011 Star Chefs conference in New York. Talbot seasoned and cooked the heart at 57c in water bath for nine hours, cooled, cleaned, and trimmed the hearts and sautéed them. Served with charred pecan topping, they were delicious. I also had fantastic duck hearts at Zahev and lovely Ciccioli at Baccalone in San Francisco. Offal is making a comeback and this time chefs know what they are doing. Chef Chris Cosentino of Baccalone and Incanto fame in San Francisco told me that his definitive work on the subject (offal) will be published by Williams Sonoma in March 2012. Look for increased interest from chefs and consumers alike.