The Truffled Chef

Food, like life itself, is all about Balance

Valedictorian Speech – Stratford Chefs School, 2015

 

BELOW is a copy of the speech I presented as class valedictorian during my Stratford Chefs School convocation, May 31st 2015.  In describing this after-the-fact, I used a service bell as a prop; which is explained in the speech.

Enjoy
!


DING DING (ringing of the bell)

 

Ready for service!! Borrowed from The Prune restaurant, this bell has been used for decades as a way for the kitchen to communicate with our front of house team, that the specific course has been prepared to exacting standards and is now “ready for service“.

 

Hello, my name is Eli Silverthorne. Thank you for attending today as we celebrate the graduation of Stratford Chefs School class of 2015!

 

Those of us graduating here today fully understand what is required in order to be “ready for service”. The leg-work necessary to build but a single component, of which there are many, of a single course, of which there are several, is truly remarkable. It can take weeks to create, plan, cost, source and prepare a menu item; all to culminate during 3 hours of dinner service; as multiple efforts are synchronized to produce what we know as “guest experience”.

 

The development from a green student-apprentice to seasoned professional chef is a long, and arduous process. In a lot of ways the Stratford chefs school program shares many of these sentiments. It was long… it was arduous… but it was also unmistakably rewarding!

 

In reflection, I see that the course structure of the Stratford Chefs School program has made its mark on all of us; reflective in the way that we have developed as chefs, over these past two years. Beginning slow and methodical we were dependent on recipes and instruction.

 

In second year we jumped into service, and within a month or so we were already producing different Michelin style menus nightly; before welcoming the international guest chefs Franceso Lagi and Michael Hazlewood, where we knew to anticipate needs, and pre-cue correct answers. Finally, we stand before you today, as graduating chefs; confident without recipes, armed with technique, and supported by a theoretical framework.

 

Like a train, we have slowly picked up steam, learning stage after stage of enhanced cooking methodology. Admittedly the first year may have seemed long, very classically focused, and incredibly snow covered! I remember back to week four exams, practicing French folded omelets at home, like it was nobody’s business. I know my great friend and classmate, and recent red seal chef, Mike Padmore shares in these sentiments, as he admitted to me at the time that he even stopped seasoning his eggs, so as to not waste salt and pepper!

 

Sure, an entire week of boiling may seem a tad excessive; you may already know how your own body moves, and if you are like me, you can proudly stand here today, and proclaim that you will never turn another vegetable again in your life. In the end, you may even scoff at Escoffier; however there is a definite method to their madness here at Stratford Chefs School.

 

Deconstructionism is now commonplace in cuisine; where someone attempts to take long held assumptions, and traditions, and literally turn them on their head. The pioneer of abstract theory is Pablo Picasso, who himself once stated, in defense of his art that “one must know the rules before one can break them.”

 

I remember when I first signed up to chefs school. I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. There were however a couple surprises.

 

The long days and steep learning curves were expected. The stress of exams, specification reports, and shoe-box diorama were all par for the course. The strict focus on classical training in first year was anticipated and embraced, as we were given a glimpse of what to expect in second year, during our obligatory “service shifts”, bistro exams, and healthy menus.

 

Second year was about as great as I could possibly imagine. The school is unique in it’s focus, allowing students to plan and execute different Michelin quality menus nightly; while offering chefs-in training the opportunity to design and execute their own lunch menus during the day. We embraced this opportunity and excelled.

 

It is absolutely amazing how much my SCS peers have both influenced and impressed me. This is especially true with many of the strong young cooks graduating here today. Drawn days and long nights were made easier by sharing the time with awesome classmates; classmates who are exceptionally, determined, passionate and talented.

 

The most meaningful surprise to me, however, were the extra-curriculars attached to the program.

 

Group dinners, where students had an evening off in order experience the school from the guest perspective, has created many memories, especially birthdays.

 

The charcuterie workshops also stand out as a favourite supplement, as does its sourcing. Travelling to farms as part of the Gastronomy program was a very worthwhile experience.

 

And of course, what are extra-circulars without the nightly service de-briefing at the Boars Head. Here we learned to unwind and socialize like human beings, in the few hours we had off during each of our 16 week semesters.

 

The amount that we have learned over that time is hard to quantify. The great thing about learning such an applied trade as cookery, is the way that it grows to be ever expansive the harder you push at it.   As chefs, the things we learn are instantly applied, and from being applied they then become instinct; thus allowing new room for new knowledge, triggering a never-ending sequence of growth and applied development.

 

In closing I would like to sign of with 10 pieces of reflection; some of which I’ve taken from others.

 

  1. Practice to get it right, before attempting to go faster
  2. (attributed to Ryan O’Donnell) Always be asking yourself, can I do this faster
  3. Chefs require a support network – suppliers – co-workers – friends and family.
  4. Embrace the unplanned
  5. Learn from your mistakes; but don’t repeat them
  6. ABC’s are important – always be counting
  7. (a bit of advice given by Lucy Waverman during her tenure as Gastronomic Writer in Residence, this 2015 semester) If you are serious about what you do find a mentor
  8. There is more to chefing than mere cooking alone
  9. Be nice to your dishwashers
  10. You are only as good as your last plate

 

 

The only thing that I regret from Chefs School is that, due to grouping, I have not yet had the opportunity to work with all of those students graduating today. Perhaps one day we may find ourselves working together somewhere in the future.

 

For now what we do know is that from today forward we are no longer students; henceforth we are considered graduates of Stratford Chefs School. The future is untold, unforeseen and bright for every one of us here today.

 

If we are to compare the Chefs School program to the chronology of a a dinner service, chefs school proper marks but the prep-a-tory phase; pre-staff meal even. From here the real show begins, and the guests arrive. It is up to all of us as chefs to make it happen professionally. It is as if we ourselves “DING DING(ring bell) are ready for service.

 

Graduation, and more

 

As it has been a while since I last posted, a little recap is in order.

 

To start, I have graduated from Chefs School!!  I was able to complete my second year strong, finishing top-of-class with a much coveted distinction status.  On top of this I also had the great honour of being voted by, and representing, my peers as class valedictorian of 2015.

Class of 2015!!

Stratford Chefs School – Class of 2015!

 

The time between graduation in February and convocation in May flew by, as we transitioned ourselves from fledgling apprentice-cooks-in-training to working chefs across the country and globe.  For me, this transition was made easier as I stuck close to home, and resumed my employment at the Prune restaurant, completing all stations available in its brigade system (garde manger and pastry in year one, entremetier and saucier in year two).

 

Since I continued my employment in the same building as the school is conducted, working for the same people that taught me, it never really sunk in to me that the school phase had ended.  It wasn’t until a couple days before graduation, when I was getting myself to my valedictorian speech and peers started to stream back into Stratford, that I was able to take a second and reflect on what a great and unique opportunity Chefs School was and is.

Those who could return for the May 31st convocation

Those who could return for the May 31st convocation

As it quickly became apparent however, the opportunities afforded by SCS did not end at graduation, in February.  Abstractly speaking the skills honed and reputation provided by SCS will pay off for years and decades to come.   Speaking more poignantly, I was awarded numerous exit scholarships based on my academic record:

  • STRATFORD CHEFS SCHOOL AWARDhighest overall academic achievement
  • JOHN RICHARDSON MEMORIAL AWARDhighest achievement in pastry
  • ELANOR KANE AWARD - highest achievement in gastronomy
  • THE VINE AGENCY AWARDby application / wine essay submission

 

All scholarships were received with both pride and grace; but it is the last scholarship on the list which is of most importance to this blog.  The monetary rewards afforded by the first three were astounding; but the all inclusive trip to Napa and Sonoma counties, provided by Rob Grogh of The Vine Wine Agency, turned out to be a life changing experience.

 

My valedictorian speech will be covered in my next post; whereas the Napa adventure will be spread over 4 posts (to match the number of days of my trip).

 

 

 

RECIPE: Bechamel (white sauce)

Although this sauce has recently been brought back into revival thanks to chefs such as Sean Brock, this roux based white sauce is one of the mother sauces of classical French cooking.  It’s called a mother sauce, because it is the base ingredient to a host of other secondary sauces, found commonly in formal kitchens and brigade structures: Mornay, Nantua, Soubise, etc.  It is simple, rich, versatile and economical.  Oh, and it works perfect with cheese, and is found in my “classic” lasagna.

This recipe, which is sourced from the text FRENCH COOKING, is said to date back directly to the recipes originator, Marquis Louis de Bechameil, maitre d’hotel to Louis XIV.  I have converted the volume measurements of the time to standardized weight units.

Recipe yields 1L


INGREDIENTS:

60g –        butter
60g –        flour
1L –           milk
pinch –    grated nutmeg
t/t –          s&p
100ml –  cream 35% (optional)

 


METHOD:

  1. heat 1L of milk to simmer, reduce
  2. make a white roux – melt butter gently in pot, add flour, on low-medium heat agitate with firm whisk or wooden spoon, have it come together
    1. Do not allow this to brown; if begins to brown remove from heat and or add milk immediately (to stop cooking from flour, and thus keep the sauce white)
  3. add warmed milk to roux – stir vigorously and constantly at first; should thicken near immediately
  4. add grated nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste; continue stirring regularly to prevent lumps from forming
  5. dilute with cream if using; should coat the back of a spoon
  6. serve warm, as needed; if refrigerating, place cling wrap directly on top – to prevent film from forming

 


Source:

Boue, Delorme, Bocuse.  FRENCH COOKING: Classic Recipes and Techniques. Flammarion Press, Paris, 2010.  p.131

SCS International Guest Chefs 2015: Francesco Lagi and Michael Hazlewood

It is hard to fully encapsulate the culinary aptitudes that the Stratford Chefs School instills in its apprentice students. Its structure is as unique as it is comprehensive. Having students run a functional kitchen five days a week is an excellent approach, enhanced by the ability for students to work hands-on with guest chefs. The school’s International Guest Chef series has students work along side some of the world’s most notable chefs, an opportunity unheard of elsewhere in the country.

This years guest chefs series began with, Francesco Lagi, from Villa Mangiacane in Tuscany Italy.

Chef Fancesco Lagi, from Villa Mangiacane, Tuscany, Italy

Chef Fancesco Lagi, from Villa Mangiacane, Tuscany, Italy

Chef Lagi was 100% authentic to his Tuscan heritage, terroir, cooking methodologies and culture. He is knowledgeable in his craft, and eloquent in his stories of his Villa in Tuscany; where they produce Chianti Classico wine and forage for mushrooms daily. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity work with him in the kitchen, and wonderful to dine at one of his five meals as a guest.

SCS International Menu Series - Chef Lagi

SCS International Menu Series – Chef Lagi

Tart

Tart

Bear Ragout

Bear Ragout

Beef Fillet

Beef Fillet

"House" wine

“House” wine


PHOTOS of our group working with Chef Lagi later in the week

Plating the gnocchi appetizer: left to right: myself; student chef Sam Bavaro, Chef Instructor Bryan Steele; Guest Chef Francesco Lagi

Plating the gnocchi appetizer: left to right: myself; student chef Sam Bavaro, Chef Instructor Bryan Steele; Guest Chef Francesco Lagi

Chef Lagi, with my good friend Michael Padmore

Chef Lagi, with my good friend Michael Padmore

Chef Lagi with the group

Chef Lagi with the group

 

Chef Lagi was refreshing in his authenticity, and traditional approach to cuisine, admitting that his sole focus has always been, and will always remain, executing Tuscan cuisine in an unadulterated fashion.

Chef Michael Hazlewood, from Toasted in London, England

Chef Michael Hazlewood, from Toasted in London, England

Chef Michael Hazelwood has defined himself starkly different professing his cuisine as purposefully non-ethnic, and not defined by a particular region, method or ingredient. This allows him a more experimental focus where he can play with what’s around him: lactic cultures, butter production and whey; air-dry aged meats (both pork and beef); small plate snacks; and use of the schools wood fired oven.

Wood being "fired" in the wood oven on a cold winters day

Wood being “fired” in the wood oven on a cold winters day

Final product, served with a house cultured butter

Final product, served with a house cultured butter

Dessert I helped create; play on Bottura's broken custard dessert

Dessert I helped create; play on Bottura’s broken custard dessert; with riesling foam and rosemary meringue

Chef Hazlewood with the group; post-service

Chef Hazlewood with the group; post-service

On top of working with this relaxed yet confident chef as a student in the kitchen, I again had the privileged opportunity of experiencing their culinary talents a dining room guest.  The menu shown bottom-left omits two unlisted “pre-menu” snacks: Beef broth and radish noodle with scallions and kale, with tuna butter, and watermelon radish; which were then followed by a surprise pre-dessert of chocolate mouse, hazelnuts and lime sugar between the aged pork and maple, pear, whey dessert.

Menu

Menu

Snack #1 - shot of spun daikon in dashi broth with chives

Snack #1 – shot of spun daikon in dashi broth with chives

Snack #2: Brocolini, watermelon radish, tuna butter

Snack #2: Brocolini, watermelon radish, tuna butter

Cornichon, smoked trout, diced apple, cherry cream - no oyster avail.

Course #3: Cicharron, smoked trout, diced apple, cherry cream/foam – no oyster avail.

Fresh crab, fresh mandolin mushroom, radish, truffle, anchovy ju

Fresh crab, fresh mandolin mushroom, radish, truffle, artichoke  jus

Beef tartare, with marrow, capers, aioli dressing

Beef tartare, with marrow, capers, anchovy aioli dressing

Aged pork, grilled lettuce, sherry vinaigrette

Aged pork, grilled lettuce, apple/sherry vinaigrette, with szechuan and parsley

Pre-dessert shooter, chocolate mouse with lime sugar and citrus zest

Pre-dessert shooter, chocolate mouse with lime sugar and citrus zest

Cake with poached Pears

Maple cake with poached Pears and whey emulsion

For me, the smoked trout dish stole the show, and stands out as the best dish that I have tasted all season! The textures of the crispy chicharrones, the butteryness of the smoked salmon, the crunchiness of the cubed apples, and the richness of the sherry vinaigrette foam underneath were absolutely sublime. Involving a smoked product, hitting all the right textural notes, perfect flavour affinities, and a healthy dose of acidity meant this course was a home run by my standards. It was an absolute pleasure working with each of these uniquely talented chefs, and experience the realization that excellence can be achieved many different ways.

 

Thanks to both chefs for their journey and contributions!

RECIPE: Chocolate Chip Cookies

This recipe comes from my Grandma Patterson; and passed down to me through my Aunt Patty Digout’s “Family Cookbook”.  I have added oatmeal to this recipe, and substituted her all lard version, to include some butter for flavour.  The high lard vs. butter content helps them to stay soft, even while freezing; say if  one to use these cookies for an ice cream sandwich.  Other than that it’s been kept pretty basic.  Sometimes simple is best.

This recipe yeilds approx 24 standard cookies


 

INGREDIENTS:
3/4 cup –   crisco lard
1/4 cup –    butter
1 cup –        brown sugar
1/2 cup –   white sugar
2 –               eggs
2tsp –         vanilla extract
1tsp –          baking powder
1t –              salt
2 cups –     flour
1/2 cup –   toasted oats

 


METHOD:

1. Toast oats with touch of brown sugar, then cool
2. In mix we with paddle, Cream together butter, fat and sugars, approx 8 mins
3. Add vanilla to eggs, beat slightly to mix; add in 2 stages to creamed sugar at a time
4. Combine dry ingredients, then add to mix on slow speed till just incorporated
5. Preheat oven to 350F – grease 2 baking sheets
6. Fill into uniformed size kitchen teaspoon balls, then place in rows of rows 3×4 on each sheet
7. Bake till done, allow to cool slightly on pan, before carefully moving to wire rack to complete cooling

REVIEW: Zonte’s Footstep; Australian SHIRAZ

ABOUT:

From a cooler climate region of Australia, on shores of Lake Alexandrina, in a cool dessert of limestone terroir.  This blend of shiraz-viognier is easy to drink, similar to a cab sauv, but less in your face, more fruity, and even a hint of spice in its finish.  This blend, designed by wine maker Ben Riggs lives up to it’s purpose, being a “bloody good drink!”

 

  • OBJECTIVE INDICATORS:
    • Year: 2012
    • Region: Longhorne Creek, Australia
    • Wine Maker: Zonte’s Footstep
    • Alcohol %: 14.5
    • Cost: $18.95

 

  • APPEARANCE:
    • Clarity: clear +
    • Intensity: deep
    • Colour: Purple, purple minus
    • Rim vs. Core: ruby plus rim to purple minus core
  • NOSE:
    • Condition: clean,
    • Intensity: pronounced
    • Development: young minus; very drinkable
    • Fruit Character: fruit, currant, blackberry, cherry, strawberry
  • PALATE:
    • Sweetness: dry
    • Acidity: high minus
    • Tannin: high
    • Body: full minus – full
    • Fruit Intensity: pronounced
    • Fruit Character: fruit, currant, blackcurrant,
    • Alcohol: high
    • Length: long, long minus
  • CONCLUSIONS:
    • Quality: good plus
    • Value Category: affordable
    • Maturity: ready to drink
    • Final Thoughts: interesting wine, well received
      • Full flavour to match full body, high alcohol and pronounced finish.
        • Interesting change of pace from typical cab sauv.  blend of grapes works well
        • More drinkable than other wines of similar weight and alochol
  • OVERALL RATING:
    • Out of 10 – 8.5

RECIPE: Potato Pave

This is a classic recipe first sourced from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc.  The name ‘pave‘ means paving stone; as the crisped sides stack upon each other resemble an interconnected pattern of an older brick paved road.  Potatoes are sliced thin, baked and then pressed with weights before being re-sliced, heated, and crisped in more duck fat to order. For this weight distribution reason, this recipe works best if you have two pieces of stackable bakeware ie which sit within eachotherFree weights also aid the process also, as does ample fridge space.

Typically, I aim for approximately 1lb of potato per person (as purchased), in terms of anticipated yield.

 


INGREDIENTS:

5lbs              russet potato
1 bu              thyme
4 cloves      garlic
2                    shallots (finely minced)
1lb                 duck fat
3tbs              salt
2tsp              ground black pepper


METHOD:

  1. Separate 1/2 the thyme – keep whole; add with peeled and rasped garlic to 1/2 the duck fat, and infuse on low heat without scorching either – let cool
  2. Finely dice shallots – pick remaining thyme from stalks
  3. Peel potatoes, while whole, keep submerged in cold water to prevent oxidization
  4. Line your pan with seasoned duck fat; then with 2 long sheets of parchment (tinfoil as an alternative), and enough extra over flap to fold back over and completely cover the top, cover all four sides of the pan.  This should stick easily to the duck fat.
Example of overhang parchment flap

Example of overhang parchment / foil flap

  1. Remove one potato; trim to a rectangular cube, and slice as thin as possible using either a mandolin or meat slicer.
  2. Lay a complete layer, so that they are uniformly covering the entire base of the parchment covered pan
  3. Sprinkle potato with seasoned duck fat, then continue pattern, interlocking direction of potato at each interval; alternating shallots, thyme, seasoning and additional fat as you need
Layering with duck fat, shallots, thyme, seasoning

Layering with duck fat, shallots, thyme, seasoning

  1. Once used all potatoes, or overflowing atop of the pan, fold parchment excess flaps overtop, and cover pan with tinfoil
  2. Bake at 385F for 1hr 50mins
  3. Take from oven, allow to cool slightly
  4. Place a cookie sheet in a cool place (not fridge), not sensitive to heat.
  5. Place the warm pave on the cookie sheet, then place the secondary piece of bakeware on top, pressing down to ensure a snug even fit on all sides
  6. Fill the bakeware with weights; approx 20-40lbs and allow to cool at room temperature, in cool place, for approximately 40 minutes to an hour before transferring to a fridge overnight (ideal with weights the entire time)
Counter for an for an hr to cool off pre-fridge

Counter for an for an hr to cool off pre-fridge

Ideally there is room in the fridge for weights overnight the more the

Ideally there is room in the fridge for weights overnight the more the

 

  1. Place a cutting board overtop of the pan then in one motion slam it onto the counter; knocking it out in one pop. (pulling by excess flaps is also an option)
  2. Remove all parchment from the mass
This example is from Araxi, where cream and old cheddar were used; becoming a gratin.

This example is from Araxi, where cream and old cheddar were used; becoming a gratin.

  1. Cut into desired portion size, then allow to temper to room temp
  2. In frying pan on medium heat, shallow fry all size sides using remaining 1/2lb of duck fat; finishing on a rack in a hot oven if large portions require; serve warm.
Crisp all sides; should stand up no problem

Crisp all sides; should stand up no problem

 


 

Example of Pave Layering:

potato direction A, duck fat salt and pepper
potato direction B, picked thyme
potato direction A, diced shallot
potato direction B, duck fat, salt and pepper
“” “”
Continued  30-40 times

_____

RECIPE: Choux Pastry

This is an old recipe, dating back to the Medici entry into the French Royal household.  It, like puff pastry, uses the evaporation of a high liquid agent (butter, cream, etc) leaving behind an airy, flaky crust.  In this case, it is taken much further, with delicate temperature controls leaving behind a near hollow interior; easily piped into with whipped cream, pastry cream, even ice cream.



INGREDIENTS:

150g        flour
1 cup       water
3/4 tsp    salt
100g        butter (cubed)
4              whole eggs
2              egg yolks


 

METHOD:
1. In a covered sauce pot heat water, cubed butter, salt (want as little evaporation as possible)
2. When at boil, remove from heat, add flour all at once, stirring instantly as it hits
3. On and off, over med-high heat stir vigorously as flour comes together, clumps as a mass, and heat film firms on bottom of pot; continue till film forms

stir over heat, till comes together, and film forms on the bottom of pot

stir over heat, till comes together, and film forms on the bottom of pot

4. Quickly transfer to stand mixer bowl with paddle, turn on slow and mix to cool
5. While still warm but not steaming add one whole  egg at a time, allowing to fully incorporate before adding the next
6. After the 4 whole eggs gauge moisture before adding yolks as needed

Ideal consistency, V drop

Ideal consistency, V drop*

7. Ensure cool, then place in piping bags, allow to cool, then pipe in various forms on parchment lined baking sheet
8. tap down tips with a water dipped finger, to prevent burn tips during baking.

Left to Right: paris-brest, profiterole, eclarire

Left to Right: paris-brest, profiterole, eclaire*

Professional Standards

Professional Standards*

9. Because size variance baking temp and times are guesstimates… Start high 385-400F, when colour forms drop to 325 for approx 20 mins before drying completely at 250-275 20 mins, and turning off oven to allow to cool completely.

Cooked slowly, they empty fully on the inside without burning on the exterior

Cooked slowly, they empty fully on the inside without  burning on the exterior

10. Slice and fill with whatever type of cream, or mousse desired.

Filled with cream, they become profiteroles

Filled with cream, they become profiteroles

Pollock Profiteroles

Pollock Profiteroles

 


 

Photo Credit Notes:

The photos with asterisks * are taken from the text The Art of French Pastry, by Jacquy Pfeiffer, New York, Knopf, 2013.  p. 13

NOMA

In quoting my own lab package, handed in the day of my second stint as “student chef”; December 6th, 2014:

Unique, inventive, beautiful, and trendy, Noma is an existential mecca for gourmands the world over. Modern in technique, authentically local in sourcing, and picture-perfect in presentation, restaurant Noma reshapes culinary paradigms as it pushes forward in its redefinition of “Nordic Cuisine”. The forage-focused menu is unique to the “Northern” landscape, and pushed further still based on the specialized and scientific methodologies utilized by the kitchen team.

Yet, as esoteric as some preparation methods may seem, the idea of connectedness always seems to permeate. Ninety percent of the ingredients used at Noma are sourced within 60 miles of the restaurant; developed further as elements on the plate are meant to represent their own micro-ecosystem, following the philosophy “if it grows together, it goes together.” Since the northern geography/climate of Copenhagen harshly dictates that seasonal produce is only available for a short period of the year, the availability of food stuffs through winter requires increased foresight and inventiveness on behalf of the chef: Rene Redzepi.

Beyond Noma’s expected and extensive Michelin-star-quality wine list sits a selection of Nordic wines, as well as a fruit-juice pairing option, engineered to match the fixed multi-course menu. The dockyard décor is intentionally left raw, wooden, natural, historical, and yet modernly minimalist. This, in combination with the grey on grey attire of the floor staff fosters a more “blue collar” atmosphere than your typical “world-class” fine-dining establishment. As a result Noma is host to a mixed array of wealthy clientele: ranging young and old, true gourmands versus status seekers, all of whom travel from the far corners of the earth to experience dining at this, the world’s best restaurant.

Chef Rene Redzepi in his dining room at restaurant Noma

Chef Rene Redzepi in his dining room at restaurant Noma

Indeed, it was my task as student chef to execute a 6 course menu, as designed in concept from the world’s most notable chef: Rene Redzepi.  To be honest, when I first heard of this role/assignment, I was not overly enthusiastic.  Aside from the challenge of coordinating a vast amount of prep work*, I did not feel personally attached to the cuisine, which is best described, and I’m being technical here, as “techno-emotional“.

Noma, Pre-Prep Schedule

Redzepi’s strict adherence to an extreme localism, of an environment that I am not privy to personally, meant, to me, that there was very little that could be directly translated as applicable, here in Stratford, half a planet away.  It wasn’t until I was well into my research that Rene’s philosophy began to sink in, and I found myself embracing his paradigm and purpose.

MENU:

Menu as seen by guests

Menu as seen by guests

Course 1 (A) – Able skiver and meringue: think dehydrated vinegar meringue cooked inside a timbit, then coated in malt vinegar powder.

The meringue used for this recipe was a cooked Italian, utilizing an apple vinegar we made earlier in the week.  This was then carefully piped into a ball form, to create dehydrated spheres in advance; so as to be placed in the middle of the ableskiver as it was cooked to order during service.  To form correctly the ableskiver pan would be heated, a small amount of the batter would be added, then the dehydrated meringue placed in the middle, before coating the top with more batter, to complete the ball form.  This ran relatively smoothly, with my garde manger Sam Bavaro in control of the action.

Ableskiver pan / form

Ableskiver pan / form

Course 1 (B) – Chicken Skin Sandwich with Trout Roe

This sandwich absorbed an extreme amount of time, and labour.  First one needs to make and freeze the pumpernickle rye, to as to be able to later slice on a meat slicer and bake into perfectly thin crisps.  Then one must peel the 10lbs of chicken skins of all fat to yield approximately 3 sheet pans of chicken skins, which like the rye bread are delicately baked, then trimed, then rebaked and trimmed yet again to form perfect rectangular frames for the sandwich.

The filling of this sandwich involves the cold smoking of chevre, which is then let out with cream, lemon juice and salt to taste, before being mixed with rinsed and dried trout roe, along side freshly chopped dill.  The flavour explosions which occur both literally and figuratively in this dish are incredible; contrasted nicely by the textural and umami sensations of the rye and chicken crisp respectively.

Left: chicken & trout Roe Right: ableskiver & meringue

Left: chicken & trout Roe
Right: ableskiver & meringue

 

Course 2 – Herring and Cucumber, with Horseradish Snow

This course proved the least involved, but most stressful prep wise.  The plan up until the day of the dinner was to use Spanish Mackerel.  Then, at the last minute a switch was made to herring, meaning our protein did not arrive to the restaurant until 3 hours to service.  #cheflife

Otherwise, the dish was pretty straight forward.  There was a horseradish infused creme fraiche which we cultured in house for two days, before straining and freezing in pacoject (extreme blender) containers, to make the snow powder effect.  Cucumber brines were made using apple vinegar and dill (the squares on the plate), while the burnt cucumber was just that; a cucumber burned, on one side only.  These brined and burnt cucumbers were arranged on the plate, the herring was kissed with heat ever so quickly using a torch, some texturized brine was added as a vinaigrette, before chickweed and horseradish ‘snow’ garnished the plate a la minute.

Dill brined cucumber, burnt cucumber, herring, chickweed, horseradish 'snow'

Dill brined cucumber, burnt cucumber, herring, chickweed, horseradish ‘snow’

Course 3 – Pickled Vegetable with Pork Jus and Bone Marrow

The bone marrow was another time consuming product on this menu, stretching over a seven day period. This began with the soaking of the bones, and draining repeatedly for two days, allowing the blood clots and filth to naturally separate from the product.  We then carefully removed the marrow from the bones, by way of cleaver and hand work, before placing in a salt brine to cure for two days.  Then they were drained and cold smoked, allowed to chill, before painstakingly slicing into 5cm rounds; a task which took two dedicated members of my crew the better part of three hours to complete.

The vegetables themselves were no easy matter.  First each vegetable needed to be sliced with care using a mandoline, then trimmed to uniform size using templates provided.  These were then marinated and compressed via vac seal in respective brines, so that each vegetable would take on noticeably different flavour profile.  The breakdown worked as follows:

Apple Vinegar and Dill brine - with Cucumber – x200 1x9cm
Wakame Seaweed & vinegar - with Kohlrabi x200 1x9cm   x200 5x5cm
Apple vinegar and carmelized sugar – with Carrots – x200 1x9cm
Rosehip Brine and apple vinegar - with Beetroot – x200 1x9cm   x200 5x5cm
White wine brine – with Cauliflower – x200 pcs

These vegetables would all be trimmed, counted, layed flat, and carefully vac sealed with there respective brines to ensure maximum coverage and even penetration, using the minimal amount of liquids necessary.  The next day we would take them out of their respective brines, drain them, and pre-shape them before service.

Rosehip and Beetroot, being pre-shaped before service

Rosehip and Beetroot, being pre-shaped before service

Final assembly was a very cumbersome task, involving multiple hands, working in harmony, with a clear and anticipatory attention to detail.  The final results however were satisfying, and well worth the wait.  It looked like a flower, it smelled like a flower, it resembled a flower… a flower with umami.

Pickled vegetable & bone marrow, with pork jus

Pickled vegetable & bone marrow, with pork jus

 

Course 4: Veal Breast and Tongue

This was BY FAR my favourite dish of the evening.  There are many aspects of this meal which require our full attention.  First of these involves the veal tognue, which was sous-vide for 24 hours before being trimmed of its skin and portioned in perfectly uniform pieces; then sauteed to order in the most reduced duck glacee I have ever seen in my life.

Next is the the veal breast, which I had heard horror stories about from last year, and specifically since receiving the Noma lab as my ‘burden’.  This task involves the slow braising of a whole veal breast, which is then meticulously threaded into individual muscle fibers, and stored neatly in water before being fried in nests as garnish.  The threading took 3 of us (plus helpers) the better part of 5 hours, while the frying occupied one of us for the remainder of the 5 hour afternoon.

Example of the individual veal breast fiber

Example of the individual veal breast fiber

1st year assistance; just like the real Noma ;)

1st year assistance; just like the real Noma ;)

Above all else on this dish however stood the sauces.  Either of the onion boullion or oxtail jus would have held up on their own, on any dish we have served thus far this year at the chefs school.  But together, they formed a sublime harmony of savoury and sweet, that to this day I am still trying to wrap my head around.

The onion boullion started with 20lbs of onions, cut in half, peeled of their exterior skins, and placed in the largest hotel pan available in the restaurant.  This is then filled with approximately 20 liters of water, weighted, covered with parchment, then double wrapped to ensure a steam proof seal.  This is then placed in the convection oven, and cooked at 190F for 30 hours! before being strained (to approximately 15-16L) and reduced gradually, without ever coming to a boil, down to less than one liter.

The oxtail jus follows a similar story; beginning with approx 20lbs of protein which are first browned, with veg, then filled with duck stock, and cooked in a similar method, although for a shorter amount of time: 12 hours.  This too is then reduced from approx 12L down to 1L – and balanced with the onion bouillion to taste of the chef.

At service, the tongue was seared with the duck glacee, placed on the warm plate aside sauteed celeriac and celery, as it is garnished with then garnished with sorrel stem, chickweed, and reduced jus (oxtail and onion).

 

Veal breast and tongue, with oxtail and onion boullion

Veal breast and tongue, with oxtail and onion boullion

Course 5 – Carrots & Buttermilk

This course, like the others, required a fair amount of time and planning.  First one must peel and juice 4L of carrots (approx 16lb), then reduce that liquid slowly to just over a liter, before one can even begin the carrot sorbet.

This carrot sorbet formed the hidden center of the dish, which was then covered in buttermilk foam, and surrounded by a mixture of blanched, raw, and dehyrated carrots; along side a black microwave sponge cake.  The breakdown of carrots are as follows:

1/3 raw, of which 1/3 was then dehydrated
2/3 blanched, of which 1/3 was then dehydrated

Carrots 'n Buttermilk, from atop

Carrots ‘n Buttermilk, from atop

and, from the side

and, from the side

Course 6 – Potato, chocolate, fennel, and anise

Finally, came the petis four, which had us slice and fry crisp chips, which were then individually temperd, and coated lightly with toasted fennel and anise seed.  A petis I was very much in favour of, as a dislike overly sweet, especially as a send off.

 

6th course: potatoes chips, and chocolate with anise and fennel

6th course: potatoes chips, and chocolate with anise and fennel

REVIEW: Inniskillin Niagara, Late Autumn Riesling, 2013

  • OBJECTIVE INDICATORS:
    • Year: 2013
    • Region: VQA, Niagara, “cellar select”
    • Wine Maker: Inniskillen
    • Alcohol %: 12
    • Cost: $12.95

 

  • APPERANCE
    • Clarity: clear
    • Intensity: pale, clear
    • Colour: clear-watery, lemon
    • Rim vs Core: watery lemon rim to watery lemon core
see the corelle labeling right through it.

see the corelle labeling right through it.

  • PALATE
    • Sweetness: medium plus
    • Acidity: low plus
    • Tannin: low
    • Body: light
    • Fruit Intensity: pronounced minus
    • Fruit Character: fruity, apple, pear, peach, apricot
    • Alcohol: light
    • Length: short plus
  • CONCLUSIONS:
    • Quality: acceptable
    • Value Category: inexpensive
    • Maturity: ready to drink
  • FINAL THOUGHTS:
    • More of a drinkable riesling vs. some drier varieties
      • Harder to pair with, as it is so sweet, but no where near sweet enough for a dessert wine classification; definitely still savoury
        • Pork with apples sauce (sweet pairs with both)
        • Spicy shrimp scampi (low alcohol, no tannin, sweetness will offset or mellow heat, with enough acidity for shellfish)
    • Good local value at $12.95
  • OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

As stated on the bottle

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