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!

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