Saturday, June 30, 2007

a birthday degustation: "bread and jam"

Continuing our recap of the culinary journey that was our recent chef's degustation, we arrive at a challenge. It seems only proper to serve some form of bread with a formal dinner, and we truly enjoy firing up our hearthstone and doing so. However, with degustation, a chef does not wish to provide too much of a filling starch, resulting in guests becoming satiated prior to the conclusion of the meal. After some debate, our solution was the gruyere cheese gougeres pictured at right.

A gougere is a classic French pâte à choux-based "cheese puff." Pâte à choux (or choux pastry) is a light, cooked. egg-based pastry with a high steam content. The steam causes the dough to "puff" in the oven, leaving them primarily hollow. A sweet base of this type of pastry is used as the base for classic French cream puffs and eclairs, among other treats. For our degustaion, we created a savory dough, redolent with sharp and nutty gruyere cheese. Served warm and crisp, the hollow and airy pastries served as the requisite "bread" of the degustation, but didn't fill up our guests prematurely! To complement the savory nature of the cheese present in the gougeres, we served our homemade lavender and vanilla infused peach preserves (see our previous Memorial Day post which described the creation process), as well as fresh creamery butter.

The warm-from-the-oven gougeres kept our guests occupied until the next course (and the next bottle of wine) arrived-- a flight of three chilled soups paired with a lucious Sancerre. But you'll have to wait until our next post to hear all about that!

Friday, June 29, 2007

a birthday degustation: palate awakener

We continue our journey through the birthday chef's degustation event we recently were commissioned to create. So far, we have discussed the amuses bouche in previous posts...

After we tickled our guests' taste buds, we decided that it was time to awaken them with a refreshing granita. We also thought that this course-- early on in the degustation meal-- would be a perfect opportunity to dabble in the growing culinary art/science of molecular gastronomy. Molecular gastronomy is an approach to food that incorporates science to explain flavors, and utilizes techniques and ingredients borrowed from the laboratory to create culinary products.

The palate awakener course we prepared focused on a tart granita made from unfiltered Japanese sake-- Hakutsuru-Sayuri sake to be exact. The sake itself, in its unadulterated state is sweet and creamy, strongly reminiscent of honeydew melon and citrus. In frozen state, it created a cool and fresh flavor, with the harshness of the sake toned down by the temperature. With the sake, we served an aloe foam (see below for close-up picture of the foam). Foaming is a technique borrowed from molecular gastronomy in which an emulsifying agent is incorporated into a liquid-- in this case, fresh aloe juice-- and then aerated to produce a stable foam. The foam itself carries just the essence of the base flavor, as the texture itself is rather like eating air. In this case, the aloe provided a natural sweetness, as well as a temperature and textural contrast to the icy granita. A crispy and salty shiso leaf accented the cool and smooth textures of the granita and foam, as well as providing an earthy and herbal flavor to contrast the sweetness fo the fruit and sake.

The final component of this course was an orchid perfume. We prepared an infusion of orchid and vanilla with which to awaken the olfactory senses of our guests prior to the completion of the degustation. The idea of this "scientific" manner of eating was for guests to experience the granita, and then to remove the lid from the perfume and taste the granita again whilst smelling the perfume (with the expectation that due to the link between olfaction and taste, the granita would take on a far more complex flavor). The effect of the fragrant orchids on the granita was pleasantly floral, with the taste of flowers mingling with that of the sake. As one guest happily exclaimed, "the flowers linger so long... it tastes amazing."

As you can see, the orchid perfume was a deep purple in color, and even deeper in scent and contribution to an already complex course. With both our taste buds and our olfactory senses awakened (as well as tactile, as we provided wooden spoons to our guests to use, changing their tactile experience of eating), we turned our attention to the focus of the degustation-- to highlight the clean, sweet flavors of locally grown fresh produce. In an upcoming blog, we'll discuss how we did just that with a flight of three chilled soups. But first, we'll tell you about the "bread" we served-- perfect to keep guests from getting too full... Until then, itadakimasu!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

a birthday degustation: amuses bouche

Our chef's degustation and wine tasting event continued with a plate of three amuses bouche (see previous post for an explanation of the term). Unfortunately, our pictures do not do them justice!

Served on a white Asian-inspired plate, with a porcelain Chinese soup spoon resting on a vibrant green lemon leaf, the three bite-sized morsels were each quite different-- although complementary-- from each other. One was earthy and buttery, one pungent and sharp, and one cool and creamy. Together, they created three bites that tickled our taste buds and prepared us for the remainder of an enjoyable evening!

The first amuse bouche of the three is also a recipe inspired by Chef Thomas Keller- A delicate poached quail egg, warmed gently in a butter emulsification peppered with brunoise of turnip, carrot and leek, and topped with applewood smoked bacon. The buttery sauce, combined with the molten egg yolk, and crunchy smoked bacon created a delicious flavor combination!

Our second amuse bouche was sharp and pungent in contrast to the smoothness of the poached egg, and cut through the buttery flavors coating our palates. Here, fire-roasted sweet chili peppers sat atop a blini of acidic white turnip. A small portion of roasted eggplant puree and a fresh thyme sprig provided the bite with an earthy and smooth finish.

Our last amuse bouche was cool and creamy-- the perfect way to finish this course. A crunchy handmade jasmine rice cracker with sea salt was topped with a chilled mint gelee, which acted as a fragrant palate cleanser. A dollop of creamy cauliflower-infused panna cotta topped the gelee, with a braised cranberry bean finishing the dish and providing a bit of textural contrast.

All in all, the three bites of food-- each more complex than the last-- only made us hungrier for what was to come. Our coverage of the event continues in tomorrow's blog, with a foray into molecular gastronomy! Be sure to check back...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

a birthday degustation: amuse bouche

To begin our chef's degustation menu, we served a traditional amuse bouche. 'Amuse bouche' literally means "to please (or tickle) the mouth." They are generally thought to be tiny, bite-sized morsels of intense flavor served at the start of a meal to prepare the diners' taste buds for the remainder of courses served. We chose to serve an amuse bouche for our guests to sample while reviewing the menu and getting comfortable at the dining table. We then later served a plate of amuses bouche to the guests (but that will be detailed in a subsequent blog...)

The initial amuse we prepared was a modified recipe of Chef Thomas Keller, owner of acclaimed French Laundry restaurant in Northern California's wine country. We share Chef Keller's culinary aesthetic of clean flavors, fresh produce, and locally produced ingredients, and have been influenced by his recipes and approach to food. Therefore, a respectful tribute to this American pioneering chef seemed both appropriate and required to start our meal.

The amuse bouche started with a thin black sesame seed tuile (a French wafer-thin cookie, which literally translated means "tile"), which was wrapped into a cone shape while still warm. The tuile was filled with a tartare of toro-- the fatty belly of fresh sashimi-quality blue fin tuna. The toro tartare was finely chopped, and infused with minced chives, sea salt and black pepper, and lime oil. Topping the tartare (in our tuile "cone") was a creme infused with the essence of Maui sweet onions. Garnished with chives, and presented in a beautiful footed bowl filled with rock salt and orchids, the amuse was delightful to both the palate and the eyes!

Accompanying this course, and the subsequent course of amuses bouche as well, was a deliciously dry champagne, Perrier Jouët Grand Brut, Brut, Epernay-France. Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

a birthday degustation: introduction

We recently embarked on a culinary journey that will take us the next two weeks to describe... a chef's degustation menu and wine taste in celebration of the birthday of a good friend and client.

"What is a degustation menu?" you might be asking. Well, we're glad you did! Degustation is a term meaning, "a careful, appreciative tasting of various foods." Thought to have originated in France in the 1900s, the concept highlights tiny portions of a chef's signature creations, presented in succession. Oftentimes, a tasting of accompanying wines or spirits is presented. Generally, these types of meals contain a minimum of eight courses, with the maximum limited only by the guests' stomachs!

For our degustation, our executive chef (actually, that's me!) planned eleven courses, with ten accompanying wines. The menu was based upon fresh, seasonal ingredients, with locally grown and produced fruits and vegetable showcased when possible. The wines selected were chosen from vineyards around the world, to carefully complement the cuisine.

The table was set in white, with white tableware, linens, and candles. Fresh vividly colored gerbera created a sophisticated, yet playful, contrast to the blank white canvas against which we chose to present our cuisine.

Printed placecards (which stylistically matched the invitations that had been previously sent), skeleton leaves from the rubber tree, and miniature Japanese bamboo rakes for a zen garden completed the tablesetting.

Orange "pin cushions" and various natural elements combine to form a soothing ikebana inspired arrangement, lending a calming ambiance to the event.

Menus printed on marbled vellum were provided to the guests, so they could keep track of the multiple courses, and the progress of the flight of foods. Of course, the courses were also explained by our chef (again, that's me!) during the course of the meal...

To get a better view of the menu, simply click on it!
Over the next few weeks, each course presented during the chef's degustation, starting with amuses bouche, and ending with mignardises, will be showcased on our blog. We encourage you to check back, enjoy the pictures, and read through the culinary journey of an orenji degustation and wine tasting!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

orenji on the road: Peru & Bolivia: a photo retrospective

We conclude the posts about our recent trip to Peru and Bolivia with a photo essay, sharing some of our favorite pictures from the thousands that we took! As we previously blogged about restaurants, foods, beverages, and guinea pigs, the photos posted below are more reflective of the scenery and people of Peru and Bolivia. We hope you enjoy viewing them, as much as we enjoyed taking and sharing them!

The narrow streets and town square of colonial Cusco, Peru.

Native llamas and alpacas... and brightly-colored textiles made from their hair!

The start of the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu...

The snow-capped Andes!

Arrival at Macchu Picchu...

Lake Titicaca...

A native quinoa plant...

Pre-Incan temple faces...

The people of La Paz, B0livia...

The "Valley of the Moon"