Anthony Tahlier
Danny Grant's wild king salmon, pumpernickel, radish, caraway.
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Spring/Summer Menu Preview 2012

Irene Sax / January 2012

Five chefs emerge from the chilly depths of root veg and braising season to imagine what they’ll be cooking as the weather mellows to languidness and daylight stretches time. Irene Sax captures their reveries.

Danny Grant
RIA, Waldorf Astoria Chicago
“Being in the center of the country is enormously important because of the bounty of produce and the great farm animals. There are certain times of the year when we can find every ingredient for a dish in our backyard, and spring is one of them. Then we can create a tasting menu that is a true representation of the Midwest.”

Duck egg, English peas, bottarga, potato. “Just before service, poach the duck egg in its shell so the white is firm but the yolk stays custardy and rich. Carefully peel the egg and place it on top of a sweet pea mousse that’s made by juicing the shells and pureeing the peas, highlighting the sweetness with a little orange zest and fleur de sel. Set little slices of bottarga on top for the toothfeel and cover with a potato net. I admit that we have a machine that does most of the work of cutting out the net for us. When it’s formed, we rinse it, brine it, and vacuum-seal it between pieces of fish paper [a high-quality absorbent paper usually used to wrap raw fish], a two or three day process that removes most of the moisture and starch so it can be fried super crisp. The mousse and egg go into a shallow bowl, and tableside we pour in a rich shellfish consommé made from lobster and Dungeness crab shells. Then we shave on flakes of bright orange egg yolks that have been brined and dehydrated, so they mimic the consistency of the bottarga. This is a clean and refreshing dish, a perfect starter to a spring tasting menu.”

Wild king salmon, pumpernickel, radish, caraway. “The inspiration for this dish comes from a Reuben sandwich with pumpernickel and caraway, only we use fatty salmon instead of corned beef and different radishes instead of coleslaw. For the base, brine wild king salmon in a 5 percent salt solution, then smoke it with no heat so it’s not cooked at all. Let it rest six hours to let the smoke penetrate. Brush with olive oil and cook in a 100 degree oven so it never gains any color but has an amazing texture, fatty and flakey. I prefer this method to sous-vide; I think it tastes better. At this time of year we can get six different kinds of radishes, which are glazed, shaved, and pickled. We also shave pumpernickel slices, which are first brushed with brown butter, then heated in the oven so they curl up. Tableside we pour on a salmon emulsion that’s fortified with smoked salmon, bacon, mushrooms, and caraway and finished with a bit of crème fraîche. The plate looks like a garden of radishes, herbs, and pumpernickel. It’s wild-looking.”

Lamb rack, morels, asparagus, ramps. “This simple dish is all about spring in the Midwest. Trim down the meat to the eye of the rack; lightly salt cure the fat cap, press it between two heavy sheet trays, and roast it to a perfect little chip that’s crisp and fatty. Sear the lamb eye and then cook over medium-low heat in butter with lightly crushed unpeeled garlic and thyme sprigs, basting constantly until medium-rare. The ramps, served pickled, creamed, and charred, are practically from our backyard, gathered just south of us. The pickled bulbs add acidity to balance out the fat of the meat, the creamed ramps compliment it, and the lightly charred greens bring a smoky element to the dish and add to the texture. I find that smoky charred things go well with morels, which you often find growing near a burned down orchard. We prepare the morels four ways: lightly sautéed until crisp, braised and stewed with Cognac and butter, in a morel cream, and finely chopped and mixed with bread crumbs, then scattered on the plate for texture. We get the monstrous purple asparagus from Michigan. When we peel off the millimeter of purple there’s a glorious bright green exposed that adds a punch of color to the dish. The meat is plated off-center with the garnish dancing around it and a lamb jus poured tableside.”

Pastry chef Aya Fukai
Plum, chocolate, blackberry, anise hyssop. “This dish plays with your mind the way that desserts can do more than savory dishes. Make demi spheres of chocolate mousse, glue two together with plum jelly to make a ball, and coat the ball with more jelly so it looks like an actual plum. Serve with plum coulis and top with fresh blackberries, cocoa-nib crumble, and a scattering of freshly baked and dehydrated angel food cake bits. These are more for texture than taste: some of the bits are dehydrated and crunchy, while others are left soft and spongy, so they absorb the flavors of the chocolate, the coulis, and the notes of blackberry, mint, and fennel in the accompanying anise hyssop sorbet.”

Kim Alter
Oakland, California
“We do a lot of family-style service at Haven. It gives me the option to cook a whole leg of lamb or send out a shepherd’s pie with a trivet and let everyone help themselves. When people hear “family-style,” they think Chinese or old-school Italian, but we’re trying to bring this to another level, with everything organic.”

Tomato composition: raw, cooked, pickled, candied. “This is a light composed salad with a beautiful mix of colors and techniques. The raw tomatoes are chunked and marinated in a Banyuls vinaigrette. Others are cooked down with a garlic confit and served warm to add a contrast in temperature as well as taste and texture. For the pickled tomatoes, I’ll go to the farm myself, pick some before they’re ripe, and then pickle them in Champagne vinegar with chiles, a little garlic, and coriander seeds. And for the candied tomatoes, slice into rounds, dehydrate, and then candy in a simple syrup. Scatter quartered balls of sweet fresh burrata over all and a garnish with the long-stemmed onion blossoms that grow all over the Bay Area.”

Guinea hen, quinoa, beans, hazelnuts, preserved lemons. “Marinate the bird in olive oil, citrus rind, and a mixture of herbs; stuff it with just a little of the quinoa and mushroom scraps. We have a grill in our pizza oven, which gets to really high heat, and the guinea hen cooks in there until it chars a little. This is served with what I call ‘dirty quinoa salad,’ like dirty rice, made by tossing the grain with the giblets and liver, diced preserved lemons, and hazelnuts. I make a warm vinaigrette with some preserved lemon puree and the guinea hen jus—this works as a sauce and also a dressing for the bean salad. This whole presentation is where the family-style service really works. Instead of chicken parts, we can present whole birds; it takes pressure off the kitchen when you’ve got parties of six or more.”

Scallops, corn, cèpes, endive, summer savory. “Sear scallops on one side until caramelized, then take them off the heat before they’re overcooked. Serve with a corn ‘pudding’ made by scraping off the kernels and juicing them, then reducing the juice all day over low heat until the natural starch turns it into a thick puree. Stir whole kernels into this “pudding.” On the plate go the scallops, a confit of cèpes seared on the plancha at the last minute, a relish of corn tossed with diced pickled peaches, shallots, and summer savory, and slightly bitter braised endive sprinkled with more summer savory. This is a good example of a dish that I can make for one or, by adding more of everything, turn into a family-style platter.”

Pastry chef Matt Tinder
Peaches, cookies & cream, nasturtium blossoms. “Peel ripe peaches, cut them in half, weigh them, and vacuum-seal along with 10 percent of their weight in sugar. When they come out after 10 hours, they are silky and dense, with a texture that’s a little like that of canned peaches but with a brighter, more intense flavor. Cut them in pieces and set alongside a mousse made by stabilizing rich nutty Devonshire cream with just a little gelatin and siphoning the mousse onto the plate. The surprises are the “cookies,” which are actually raw cookie dough—a mixture of almond meal, butter, and toasted almonds but no eggs. They’re pressed into shapes so they look like cookies, but taste like a confection. The garnish is candied orange and red nasturtium blossoms, which echo the color of the peaches.”

Ignacio Mattos
Brooklyn, New York
“I’m from Uruguay, but the food at Isa is from many different cultures. The pastry chef is Chinese, my sous chef is Puerto Rican, and there are two kids from Texas in the kitchen. This diversity makes sense where we are: not only New York City but Williamsburg, which is so diverse and energetic.”

Braised pig’s ears with fava beans & smoked egg yolk. “Soak the ears overnight in a brine of equal parts sugar, salt, and water. The next day simmer them for a good five or six hours with some aromatics; place in a wood-burning oven until caramelized; cut into long strips. Blanch shelled and peeled favas with some kind of herb, maybe nepitella, depending on what’s growing in the garden upstairs. Smoke the egg yolks over wood chips: crack the eggs and place the yolks back in their shells. Smoke them for about 20 minutes in an improvised smoker. Lay a yolk over the ears and favas. This is one of our heavier appetizers. I plan the dishes so someone can have a three course meal with no guilt and still feel like a person afterwards.”

Spanish mackerel with cucumbers, avocados, tomatoes & bottarga dust. “Cut fillets from the mackerel; roast them at 300 degrees with just a little olive oil and salt; remove from the oven and give them a sqeeze of lemon juice. Serve with salted cucumbers, a very clean and smooth avocado puree—just avocado, lemon, citric acid, and salt—and a tomato ice. Again, it’s very straightforward, made by crushing and salting tomatoes and letting them sit overnight so they give off their water, which is frozen and shaved like a granita. Put a mix of different basils, capers, and some white beans—fresh flageolets, if possible—alongside, plus a spoonful of aïoli made with new green garlic to tie it all together. Sprinkle with bottarga turned into a dust by passing it through a tamis.”

Duck with sweet potato leaves, apple & seeds. “This is a very refreshing and summery way of eating duck. Leave the breast pieces on the bone so they don’t dry out; season them with salt, pepper, dried orange peel, and a vinegar reduction; cook in a skillet skin side down for a good 25 to 30 minutes; place in a low oven for an hour; remove bones; season again. Serve with packets of sweet potato leaves stuffed with chunks of Ginger Gold apples, the first to come in summer. These are moistened with goat’s milk yogurt and tucked into the packets with a mix of flaxseed, poppy seeds, pumpkin seeds, and dried seaweed all mixed together. Everything gets a sauce made from the sweet potato leaf stems and leaves that are passed through the juicer, emulsified with vinegar and grapeseed oil, and stabilized with xanthum gum. It tastes very light and refreshing, like a little garden on the plate.”

Pastry chef Pam Yung
Charred rhubarb, fresh berry sorbet & house-made mascarpone. “Char rhubarb with a tiny bit of sugar in a very hot oven; the idea is to maintain its tartness. Cut it into big chunks; macerate in a simple syrup. Also macerate some berries, depending on what’s available, and turn them into a sorbet. Make mascarpone by bringing good heavy cream almost to a boil; add tartaric acid and salt; set it in cheesecloth to allow whey to drain out. When it’s done, it’s like a cross between whipped cream and sweet butter. And for texture, make a kind of granola combo with chopped nuts, amaranth, and quinoa. The plate is sweet and tart, fresh and charred, creamy and smooth, and seriously crunchy.”

Justin Cogley
Aubergine, L’Auberge Carmel
Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
“Because we have only 10 tables and offer just a four course prix-fixe and a tasting menu, we have extraordinary freedom when we think about ingredients. We can really focus on the food. For example, strawberries are usually associated with pastry, but last year we did a savory first course of lightly steamed fish with pickled strawberries.”

Monterey Bay abalone with pickled sea lettuce, daikon radish & hijiki. “Abalone arrive live from waters just 20 minutes away. Take one out of its shell, clean it off, and remove the muscle; pound it lightly. Cook it sous-vide for half an hour at 60 degrees Celsius [140˚F]; pan-roast in butter at pick-up. Sea lettuce is what comes along when the divers bring up the abalone. Clean it to make sure there are no creatures hiding in it, then pickle it with rice wine vinegar, water, and sugar. When it has a light pickle flavor, lay it on parchment paper to drain. Cut daikon into little bâtons and braise with soy sauce and kombu; add the hijiki at the end for a moment. The abalone is the highlight of the dish. We cover it with sea lettuce and lay the dark threads of hijiki and the daikon around it so it looks the way you’d see it in the ocean.”

Braised lamb shoulder & tongue with pickled elephant garlic. “We get the whole shoulders, bone them, clean them up, and rub them with spices—usually cumin, coriander, fennel seeds, and grains of paradise. Then we roll the meat back up tightly and cook it sous-vide for 12 hours. To serve, cut two slices from this beautiful roulade; garnish with lamb tongue, ruffled mustard greens, and big pieces of pickled elephant garlic. The tongue has been seared, cooked for a couple of hours, sliced very thin, and browned in a pan at the last minute. We’ll char a couple of scallions in a hot cast-iron skillet, add them to the plate, and at tableside spoon on a milky garlic sauce. This is made by blanching garlic five times—the last time in milk—then pureeing the milk and garlic together and reducing it in a double boiler so it doesn’t scorch. A little mirin is added at the end for sweetness.”

Steamed European turbot with olive paste, fennel & upland cress. “We get the turbot whole, and cut four nice fillets from it. These are slowly steamed and covered with a fennel cream that sets up when it touches the fish. For the cream, cook fennel stalks in a flavorful vegetable stock along with onions, Pernod, and fennel seeds; add heavy cream, which makes it a bright white; strain; reduce. To serve, place pieces of raw fennel around the fillets, each piece topped with a bright orange cluster of smoked wild steelhead roe; garnish with ruffles of cress and circles of intense black olive paste. This is started in the Gastrovac, a fancy machine that vacuum-cooks at very low temperatures to extract maximum flavor. We process the olive puree with natural gelatin and squid ink to make it black, then lay this out on a sheet pan to set. From this, we’ll punch out disks that pack an intense olive flavor for their size.”

Pastry chef Ron Mendoza
Strawberries & spruce meringues. “Macerate local strawberries with a little sugar and a splash of St. Germain elderflower liquor. Bake classic meringues seasoned with a few drops of essential spruce oil. Sometimes I make tons of little ones the size of a half dollar and other times bigger ones that I break apart to look like a snowball after it’s smashed. Stabilize golden passion fruit curd with a little agar-agar so it can be formed into different shapes, like a cylinder or a spiral. Put the curd on the plate and surround it with the elderflower-perfumed berries and a scattering of meringues. No two plates are ever the same, but they’re always beautiful.”

Bryce Gilmore
Barley Swine
Austin, Texas
“Last year we had no spring at all; we went right from winter to early summer. I was looking forward to working with asparagus and peas, but after one week they were all gone and I had to move on. That’s why it’s dangerous to plan ahead. What always inspires me is to see what the farmers have.”

Pickled shrimp & grilled asparagus salad. “For this dish, I seal up Gulf shrimp with a marinade of oranges, lemons, Sherry vinegar, shallots, garlic, thyme, and rosemary and cook them sous-vide. Meanwhile, separate barely-cooked-but-still-liquid egg yolks and firm whites to make a farm egg dressing. Add garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil to the yolks. Slice the whites and toss them with pea sprouts and thin asparagus char-grilled over a wood fire. The plate holds a couple of shrimp and the asparagus salad with a good dollop of that golden mayonnaise. Our plates are about half the size of an entrée. They’re not small like tapas, but customers find they have to order three or four dishes to fill up.”

Bacon-wrapped rabbit, quick pickled carrot, beer-creamed spinach. “Debone a whole rabbit, leaving the loin attached to the belly and flank. Make a forcemeat with the chopped leg meat, pistachios, garlic, and tarragon. Lay down a thin sheet of house-made bacon, put the rabbit torso over it, spoon in the forcemeat, and roll everything up into a nice tight log with plastic wrap. Cook sous-vide and then cool. For service, cut into slices and finish in a pan until the bacon crisps. For the spinach: sweat shallots, garlic, and chile flakes in olive oil; wilt spinach leaves in the pan; place on a sheet pan; refrigerate to cool quickly; finely chop. I find this gives it a better flavor than cooking in water. Caramelize onions, garlic, and oyster mushrooms; deglaze the pan with a malty lager that has a bit of caramel in it; add cream; reduce till it’s thick; stir in the spinach. The last thing to go on the plate are brightly colored carrots cut into thin ribbons, cooked sous-vide with bacon fat, Sherry vinegar, mustard, pistachios, and tarragon.”

Sweetbreads with Brussels sprouts, bacon & garlic puree. “Peel and poach sweetbreads a few minutes in heavily vinegared water, then portion them and vacuum-seal with buttermilk, thyme, and sliced garlic. At pick-up, toss a sweetbreads portion in a flour/paprika mixture and pan-fry it, basting with butter. This goes with little bitty baby Brussels sprouts that a farmer around here grows. We just clean and trim them and leave them whole, caramelizing them in a pan with olive oil and butter and then glazing them with a little chicken stock. At the end, they get a sprinkling of diced house-made bacon that we grill to give it extra smokiness. The sauce is made by blanching garlic in milk three times to take out the harshness, then pureeing along with the last milk bath and enough Marcona almonds to thicken to sauce consistency.”

Pastry chef Kyle McKinney
Barley panna cotta with macerated berries. “Infuse milk with dark chocolate and some pale malted barley, which we get from a local brewery. Stir in a little white chocolate and gelatin; pour into mini cup molds; set lightly. Make a chocolate/barley crumble by fine-grinding barley, cocoa powder, and malt flour, then cutting in butter, sugar, and some all-purpose flour; bake on a sheet pan until dark and crunchy. Place two mini cups of the panna cotta on a layer of golden crème anglaise on a plate; surround with fresh Texas berries macerated with confectioners’ sugar, verjus, and vanilla beans; scatter the crunchy chocolate crumble around. It’s clearly a dessert, but it feels like a cereal.”