We have an event coming up this weekend and we're serving baby Abalone with the escargot butter. It's for Direct Relief International and it's going to be at a winery in St. Ynez Valley.
I've been preparing 300 Abalone for the event and they come from the Cultured Abalone Farm located in Goleta.
Located in a the small Swiss village of Crissier, Restaurant Girardet was crowned "the best restaurant in the world" in the 70s and 80s. I attempted to get a stage (unpaid, short term apprenticeship) I was only able to make two short trips to observe in th kitchen. I furiously made notes on everything from the food to how this Swiss watch of a restaurant was managed. Chef Girardet notice my note taking and asked what I was noting. I said something like "à comprendre" to which he remarked, "il faut deux ans pour comprendre." I would have gladly spend a few months but time and the high cost of living in Switzerland was a high hurdle.
The cuisine then would still play well today. Here are some notes on philosophy and operations, followed by a set of Prix Fixe menus from the time, 1978.
Absolute quality of ingredients
Sauce made to order, use of glace (stock concentrate), fresh butter, herbs, flavored butters.
Concentration of flavors
Contrasting flavors, textures.
Quick cooking techniques.
Do not make food to look or taste like something it is not.
Do not be bound by orthodoxy in combinations and methods.
Seek and classify flavors.
Use of set menus with 2-3 choices to narrow efforts
Totally natural approach to food, decor, personnel, nothing artificial or imitation.
Name of dish should reflect contents and or cooking method.
Have herbs ready in advance
These prix fixe menus are in a raw state. That is to say, the French has errors and English is mixed in as they appeared in my notes at the time.
Foie Gras Vannaige Fines Herbs
Langoustine en Choux, Beurre Caviar et St. Pierre Fines Herbs, Piment, Olive Oil and Stock
Homard, Ail et Basalic, Beurre Homard, sur Lit de Pommes de Terre Mousseline
Pigeon Sauce Perigourdine, Cream of Parsley and Truffles
Sorbet Thé, Mille Feuile Friase de Bois
Pinot Noir, Chablis Swiss
Terrine de Legume
Papillote de Saumon, Citron Vert
Cassoulet de Moules, Crayfish and Scupion
Rognon de Veau Dôle
St. Pierre, Oignon et Coulis de Tomate
Poulet (Ail de Volaille) Truffé et Coulis de Poireaux
In the dark ages, before computers and the internet, collecting recipes for research and recording them was a tedious, handwritten task. I used a system call Recordplate, a sort of note card binder, and notebooks to capture recipes from archival books, magazines, kitchens were I worked or ideas I developed. As a result, I have some dozen notebooks and 24 volumes of handwritten recipes from places like Restaurant Girardet, Le Pres Catalan, Alain Chapel. Le Gavroche, Troisgros, La Terasse, L'Orangerie, Citrus, Citronelle, Club 33 , Chez Carey and others.
Not only are the recipes in my peculiar scrawl, they are in a chef's shorthand that assumes a familiarity with the classic French-European cooking style, mostly of the Escoffier vein. I have used these recipes as a source of ideas and probably need three lifetimes to cook them all. I suppose they are like a jazz chart that gives you the general ideas but relies on the talent of the chef. I intend to transcribe the estimated 6,000 recipe and make them available in some form. Now, if I could only get the computer to recognize my writing I might finish the task in the next decade.
Chef Michael Hutchings
The above notes from Restaurant Girardet (circa 1978) transcribe as follows:
Feuilleté de Ris de Veau -Veal Sweetbreads in Puff Pastry
Little chunk of ris (sweetbreads) sauteed quickly. Coulis of leeks with truffles. Layer in puff pastry. Sauce of veal stock, port, truffle juice (don't we all keep a bottle in the fridge?) and finished with butter.
Saute thinly sliced zucchini, lay like scales on the fish. Sauce beurre blanc with fish fumet, diced tomatoes to garnish.
Rognon et Ris de Veau Sauté
Sliced veal kidneys and sweetbreads sauteed quickly. Toss with tarragon. Sauce veal stock, red wine, tarragon and butter. Garnish with "turned" carrots, turnips and broccoli. Arrange as in the diagram.
We prepared a luncheon today for a group of ladies at a mountain retreat near Santa Barbara. Often, we are privledged to serve at magnificent properties. Thes one dates back to the early 1900s.
It was the simplest of luncheons. We started with prosciutto-melon and gazpacho shots, main course was a salad with fresh ahi tuna, saffron poached potatoes, olives, hard-boiled eggs and some vine tomatoes with sides of lovely bread from D'Angelo bakery. Dessert was a trio of sorbets and some French cookies.
At a recent gala dinner Chef Christine Dahl and I were enlisted to prepare a dessert of some 260 guests at Hearst Castle. The recipe of choice needed to pair with a cremant wine from Schramsberg winery. Normally I am not prone to fanciful names for recipes. Since this was at Hearst Castle, we indulged in a flight of fancy. The choice proved to be prescient. The low cloud cover danced around the Castle in the early evening and turned into a mist-like fog that swirled around the north terrace were the dinner was held.
Hugh Davies of Schramsberg winery sent this note about matching this wine with food. "I like fruit-based desserts with the Cremant Demi-Sec. It is made from Flora, which is a Gewurztraminer / Semillon cross. This varietal offers fruit flavors reminiscent of exotic stone fruit: pear, peach, apricot. It also has spent more than three years in contact with the yeast sediment; thus it has the toasted bread component that works well with pastries. Subtle oxidation imparts caramelized and nutty nuances to the wine, which can also help it match well with nuts (think toasted almond), honey, light caramel, and even dried fruits."
So, stone fruit, pastries, nuts, caramel flavors... The dessert that emerged utilized house made puff pastry topped with a sugar-pistachio nut blend that caramelized while baking. Fresh peaches were poached in a vanilla-cremant syrup with less sugar than a usual syrup contians. The puff pastry was split and filled with a simple white chocolate mousse (the "cloud"). Sauce was a classic vanilla custard dotted with pistachio oil and garnished with a pecan brittle. Thus stone fruit, pastries, nuts, caramel flavors. It was gratifying to see that after canapés and five other courses, the guests seemed to finish off the desseert with gusto.
Maybe this dish is one of those effete, overly fussed dishes like Peacock Tongues en Gelée, Gold leafed and Served Under Glass, Perfumed with Smoked Ginseng Root.
In any event, these were delicious appetizers we served at a recent wine dinner. It is really a simple dish that relies on the ingredients for success. Quail eggs are simmer for eight minutes in water and peeled (the tedious part when you peel 175 eggs). The eggs are cooled, split, yolks mashed and mixed with a house-made mayonnaise with a hint of truffle oil. Fresh summer truffles are diced brunoise style, 1/8 inch, and mixed into the yolks and then stuffed into the egg halves with a piping bag fitted with a star tip. We presented the finished eggs on a dab of the truffle mayonnaise set on bamboo spoons. Summer truffles are the poor cousin of winter truffles. On the other hand, they are not $1,500 per pound either. The truffle oil adds some extra perfume, like a small splash of Chanel No. 5 behind the ears.
We recently participated in a dinner at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. The Central Coast Wine Classic has hosted a multi-chef dinner at Hearst Castle for the past 25 years. Our contribution this year were the canapés served on a terrance overlooking the Hearst Castle, Ranch and the Pacific Ocean. The most favored selection was a sesame cone fillet with prime, center-cut ahi tuna with Asian flavors. Originally we were going to add tobiko caviar as a garnish.
Photo Black River Caviar
The director of the event, Archie McLaren, suggested that we contact Graham Gaspard who was attending the event with a request to use the caviar his company distributes. Graham is the principle of Black River Cavair company.
From the Black River Caviar web page: "In 1990, after many years of working closely with the fishing industry, Walter Alcalde had the vision, persistence, and determination to start the ambitious enterprise known today as Esturiones del Río Negro. Mr. Alcalde and his sons, who run the company nowadays, started to design what has now become a reality, widely exporting abroad and seeking to continue their expansion. Gradually built on solid foundations, the company has a rich, diverse history, as the first sturgeon farm in the Southern Hemisphere deserves. We would like to share the details with you.
Can caviar be frozen?
Caviar shouldn't be frozen. Doing so might spoil its firmness.
How long can caviar be stored once the can has been opened?
We suggest opening the can at the moment of consuming the caviar. Otherwise, it should be eaten within a week since opening the can.
What kind of roe is known as caviar?
Only caviar made from sturgeon roe.
Are there different types of caviar?
Yes, there are 3 traditional types of caviar. The scarcest is Beluga, followed in quality by Oscietra and then by Sevruga. There are also several species that resemble the Oscietra, due to the similarity of the roe size and color.
What color is caviar?
Depending on the species, colors may range from black to gold, being shades of brown and grey the most frequently seen.
Is black caviar the most expensive of all?
No, the most expensive caviar is the clearest one.
Are red roe caviar?
No, only sturgeon roe may be considered caviar. Red roe come from salmonids. There are also roe from other fish (lumpfish) usually dyed black or red. These are all caviar substitutes.
What is the salt level of caviar?
To keep a soft taste and ensure preservation, the minimum salt level should be 3%.
What is borax?
Borax is a mineral salt which functions as an excellent preservative due to its properties. Its maximum permitted level is 0.4%. Apart from preserving caviar, borax adds a special flavor and firmness to the roe.
Is it possible to obtain caviar without sacrificing the fish?
Although it is possible, it involves more complications in terms of fish handling and the use of hormones to induce spawning. The quality of the final product is not the same as when killing the fish. Therefore, we do not employ this technique.
How long does it take for a sturgeon to produce caviar?
Depending on the species, a sturgeon could take from 5 to 8 years to produce caviar."
The 25th Dinner at Hearst Castle was held last week and featured the culinary artistry of renowned chefs from throughout California, Carmel (Cal Stamenov of Marinus at Bernardus & Wendy Brodie, Television Chef), Monterey (Kurt Grasing of Grasing’s), Napa (Ken Frank of La Toque), Buellton (Frank Ostini of The Hitching Post), Carpinteria (James Sly of Sly’s), Santa Barbara (Michael Hutchings of Michael’s Catering and Christine Dahl of Christine Dahl Pastries). Gourmet appetizers and champagne on the terrace was followed by six courses with matching wines from vintner dignitaries.
The tariff was $1250.00 per person. While this may seem to be a king's ransom, consider that the event had to bring in all dining area rentals, a field kitchen (including four convection ovens, four stoves, four hot boxes, several rolling racks), walk-in coolers, ice trailers, executive restrooms, self-contained dish washing facilities, electrical generator, lighting and heating, a truckload of cooking equipment, $20,000 in stemware, some 120 of crew (chefs, cooks, volunteers, sommeliers, servers, musician, photographers, rental equipment crew, dish washers, security) AND start at 8:00 AM and be gone by midnight. Bob Dickey who use to photograph the event called it a "Brigadoon moment."
Organizing all this minutia is accomplished by coordinating chef James Sly. The magic is controlled by lists. He once said that "there are two kinds of people in the world, those that make lists and those that should." With that said, it was a very successful event.
My wife is very sweet. That is to say, my pastry-chef wife is a master of sweets. Chef Christine Dahl prepares special occasion cakes like this classic wedding cake. The four tiered beauty is covered with fondant icing and has buttercream piped on for the decorative element. All the piping is done freehand, without any guides or stencils.
There is a bit of engineering that must be considered as a cake of this size weighs in at over 40 pounds and has to be transported to the wedding location. The finishing touches are gold dragees applied one a a time by hand.
Chef Christine Dahl does magic with butter, sugar, flour, eggs and fruits. Here is an elegant wedding cakes that features draped fondant icing. Chef Dahl fussed over the flower placement until the right natural effect was achieved.
OK, it's summer and the squashes are rampant at the local farmers market. I dubbed these starburst summer squash. I did a simple saute with garlic, shishito peppers and fresh herbs from our garden. Next time round, I'll hollow them out, stuff with a mushroom duxelle and bake with a fresh tomato-basil coulis.
I just read about a reactionary movement in cooking away from the over-manipulated, sci-fi cooking as exemplified by molecular gastronomy. This simple dish would look very different with those aesthetics. Something like four hour sous vide, olive oil poached squash with shishito dust, roasted garlic foam and green garden herb oil accented with balsamic vinegar pearls. Sounds like Salvador Dali inspired cuisine. LOL
I am pleased to have remained true to time tested cuisine with a contemporary edge.
We eat well at home. A trip to the Farmers Market and local seafood maker brought home the makings for dinner.
Back in my childhood days, there was a kids show that featured cartoons, mostly Popeye the Sailor. The host was also an artist and he had a kid make a doodle in the drawing pad. From that the host created a drawing.
That's how dinner at home evolves. My wife lays out a doodle of ingredients and I cook. In this case what followed was Seabass in a Nage, starburst summer squash and jasmine-saffron rice with fresh peas.
The local Farmers Market in Santa Barbara always has a surprise or two. Last week I bought fresh flageolet beans and used them for an impromptu vegetarian dinner. Usually the only flageolet beans that are available are dried and come from France. I jumped at the ideas of using fresh beans. Cooking times are much shorter, on the order of 20 minutes. I braised the beans in a vegetable broth with slivers of garlic, fresh corn, shallots and diced potatoes making a sort of succotash. The ragout was a foil for a roasted portabello mushroom topped with an heirloom tomato ragout with a few gratings of reggiano parmesan. Drop me an email for the recipe.
We eat well at home. A trip to the Farmers Market and local seafood maker brought home the makings for dinner. Back in my childhood days, there was a kids show that featured cartoons, mostly Popeye the Sailor. The host was also an artist and he had a kid make a doodle in the drawing pad. From that the host created a drawing. That's how dinner at home evolves. My wife lays out a doodle of ingredients and I cook. In this case what followed was Seabass in a Nage, starburst summer squash and jasmine-saffron rice with fresh peas.
I made an impromptu salad from the Farmers Market excursion yesterday. Diced Persian cucumbers and vine tomatoes were tossed with pistachio oil and balsamic vinegar and used to dress a perfectly ripe avocado. Sometimes the less done the better a dish can be. It's about the ingredients.