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The date for the 9th annual birthday dinner for She Who Must Be Obeyed had been chosen months ago. Two weeks before that date, it was decided that the web site for Secret Internet Project (post to follow, I promise) would go live on May 1. My menu planning up to that point had been no more definitive than “scallops, carrots, maybe beef?,” so, with my brain screaming “May Day! May Day!” the entire time, I finalized a menu I’d be able to bring together in between answering tech support emails and identifying bugs for the programing team.

My goal every year is to not repeat any dishes from previous menus, but we’ll take is as given that we began with my traditional charcuterie board (representative photo here). It was accompanied by a lambrusco:

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Prosciutto, Melon

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Also known as elBulli #1136, this was prosciutto consommé with suspended cantaloupe juice spheres. I got to use a new toy – a superbag – to clarify the ham stock and melon juice, as well as an old toy to make the spheres.

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Scallop

Egg, salt, pepper

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Sea scallop crudo with shaved cured egg yolk, viking smoked salt, urfa biber pepper, olive oil, and chive. Served with a 2012 Peter Lauer Reisling “senior,” a crisp, mineral-y white that She Who and I had sampled at a tasting dinner.

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Carrots

Coffee, yuzu, pesto

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Coffee-roated carrots with yuzu crème fraîche, carrot ribbons, and pesto made from the carrot greens. The coffee roasting technique is from Daniel Patterson of Coi restaurant, but the plating and garnishes are lifted from Journeyman.

Beef

Potato, mushroom, onion, garlic, marrow, bordelaise

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Sous vide-then-seared beef tenderloin, potato mille feuille, grilled king oyster mushroom, spring garlic, pearl onions, bone marrow sauce, and bordelaise syrup. Served with a 2010 Domaine du Vieux Lazaret Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

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Cheese

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From left to right: Hudson valley Kunik, candied walnuts, Humboldt Fog, membrillo, Jasper Hill Landaff. Served with homemade black pepper brioche.

Marmalade, Bourbon

Meyer lemon, single malt

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Although I’ve baked this cake before, She Who took pity on me and made it while I mumbled incoherently about authorization tokens and GitHub repositories. Bourbon-soaked Meyer lemon marmalade cake with bourbon butercream icing, single malt vanilla ice cream, and a Côte de Pêche cocktail. (Homemade marmalade, Elijah Craig bourbon, cocktail recipe wheedled out of the bartender at Má Pêche.)

The meal went off without a hitch: no absurdly long waits between courses, and no forgotten plating elements. As my more athletic friends say, “Plan the dive, dive the plan.” 

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Membership Has Its Privileges

February 13, 2014

Ferran Adrià

One of my regrets about not attending every one of the Harvard lectures that accompanied the Physics of Soft Matter course was that I never got to hear chef Ferran Adrià. Last night I was able to remedy that gap in my culinary education when I attended “Deconstructing the Chef: Ferran Adrià and the Experience of Food” at the Museum of Science. The lecture was for museum members, who would also get a sneak preview of the “Innovation in the Art of Food: Chef Ferran Adrià” exhibit, part of the museum’s ongoing mission to enhance food education.

Via his interpreter, Adrià, who understands English but prefers to speak his native Catalonian, described what he has been up to since he closed his legendary elBulli restaurant in 2011 and converted it into elBullifoundation. The foundation has three initiatives: elBulli 1846, a complete cataloging of all of the dishes created at the restaurant (1846 in total, documented in 14,000 pages);  Bullipedia, an attempt to do for food and cooking what Wikipedia has done for general knowledge; and elBulli DNA, a creative think tank for culinary experimentation (and a collaboration with MIT).

We learned that the 14,000 pages of recipe information translated to more than 14 hours of video, but we would only have to sit through a six-minute retrospective. As dishes flashed across the screen, I noticed that I had cooked five of them: spherified peas, mango caviar, parmesan foam, instant cake, and the vegetable panaché.

When the lecture ended, we were invited to try some Adrià-inspired dishes at a reception that also featured demos of some of  the now everyday techniques the chef had invented. The museum director and his assistant successfully spherified pea soup:

Spherified Pea Soup

Of the three dishes offered, the most interesting was this “salad” of melon spheres, panna cotta, lime foam, the spherified peas, and salmon roe:

"Salad"

With the food sampled, and judgement passed by both She Who Must Be Obeyed and He Who Will Not Be Ignored, we made our way through the exhibit. I learned that Adrià and his team used modeling clay to work out the plating of most of the dishes. This one looks good even with the clay:

Plating Test

What surprised me was seeing the prominent placement in the exhibit of the vegetable panaché, both the plating model and a photo of the final dish, which is an arrangement of basil gel, corn mousse, beet foam, tomato sorbet, cauliflower mousse, peach ice, almonds, avocado, and almond sorbet.

Vegetable Panaché

Compare that perfectly plated dish to my first and only attempt:

Panaché Attempt

While we were admiring the photo, Adrià wandered over. I asked his interpreter to “Tell Feran I have cooked this dish.”

Adrià looked at me and asked in English “You made this?”

“Yes, chef. But the timing of the plating is very difficult.”

“You cooked the most important dish in the history of elBulli!”

“It helps to have a biochemistry degree from MIT.”

“You’re from MIT!” He laughed and grabbed my hand.  I was carrying a brochure advertising the soon to be published elBulli 2005-2011, a complete record of every recipe created in those years. He was gracious enough to sign it for me.

Autograph

So yes, next month I’m buying the set of books. And I’m framing the autograph.

Did I mention I shook hands with Ferran Adrià?

ETA, 2/16/14: Here’s an article about the UK version of the exhibit.

Why is the vegetable dish so important? Here’s the description in my cookbook:

The textured vegetable panaché (la menestra de verduras en texturas), which we created in 1994, was a milestone dish for elBulli, not only because of what is on the plate, but also because it came at a pivotal moment in the the development of our cuisine, and opened up a rich seam of creative potential. The interplay of prepared textures and the use of deconstruction as a creative technique make the dish an expression of some of the best-known characteristics of elBulli’s food. Deconstruction is the process by which a dish is inspired by an identifiable external source, but in which every element of that source os modified in the final dish. Although we didn’t realize it at the time, it was probably the first use of deconstruction as a creative method.

The dish was created as an homage to Michel Bras’s iconic dish gargouillou des jeunes légumes, in which thirty different seasonal vegetables are are cooked and seasoned separately and presented together in a perfect expression of their inherent qualities. We wanted to create a vegetable dish at the same level, and at the same time we were developing different textures using liquid bases, such as foams, jellies, savory ice creams, and sorbets, all of which went on to play an important role in future dishes. The textured vegetable panaché was the result, and it opened up a new world of possibilities. Each component is an expression of a vegetable through texture: an almond sorbet, a cauliflower mousse, a tomato puree, beetroot foam, raw avocado, basil jelly, and sweet corn mousse. I still consider it to be one of elBulli’s most symbolic dishes.

ETA, 4/15/14: The complete talk is now online:

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Goldbird Variations

December 5, 2013
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This year we stayed home for Thanksgiving. which gave me an opportunity to try another non-stadard turkey preparation. The key to perfect dark and white meat is to cook the bits separately, giving each the time/temperature treatments necessary to produce juicy meat. I had already figured out the perfect method for confiting the legs, so […]

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20th Anniversary Dinner

November 20, 2013
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She Who Must Be Obeyed and I have been married for twenty years. Or, as  prefer to explain it, She Who has allowed me to live for twenty years. Rather than travel to New York to mark the occasion (as we did for our respective 50th birthday celebrations), we chose to remain in Boston and dine […]

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Do As the Singaporeans Do

October 16, 2013
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In April I started a new job working on a Seekrit Internet Project. Until said SIP launches – at which time I will tell you all about it – I have had precious little time to blog, preferring to spend my non-working hours cooking and occasionally sleeping. I contimue to try new things, but sometimes the new […]

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Roll Playing

August 6, 2013
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The sign on the blackboard at the farmer’s market stall said “beef belly.” Thinking I had an opportunity to make beef bacon (It’s a thing, isn’t it?), I asked to see what I expected would be a thick slab of fatty beef. What I wound up buying was a very long thin piece of beef […]

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Cabbage Batch

July 18, 2013
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Although I grew up just outside of New York city, there are some things I never assimilated. One was the accent, another was the ubiquitous sauerkraut on hot dogs. I always thought it was nasty, foul-smelling and -tasting stuff – at least the kind that came out of a can. It wasn’t until I started […]

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Foam, Foam on the Range*

July 1, 2013
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So many posts to write, so little time. The birthday dinner for She Who Must Be Obeyed was completely in my comfort zone, which meant I had to try at least one new thing. The “Chocolate and Milk” dessert in the Eleven Madison Park cookbook looked interesting and would give me the opportunity to mess around […]

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Eighth Annual Birthday Dinner

June 11, 2013
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I have been busy as of late due to a new full-time job, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking. The cooking has continued, I just haven’t had the time to write about it. When I realized a month had gone by without my posting about the annual birthday dinner for She Who Must Be Obeyed […]

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You’re Fired!

May 22, 2013
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I knew something odd had happened when more than a few friends asked me if I had consulted with Penn Jillette on his new ice cream flavor. I know a bit about ice cream, and I’ve known Penn for decades, but this particular intersection on the Venn diagram was completely unexpected. When I realized that […]

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