Archive for the ‘Fine cuisine’ Category

Academy and EAT Honolulu create El Bulli experience

August 30th, 2011

Nadine Kam photos

The Honolulu Academy of Arts and EAT Honolulu presented an “El Bulli” Bento during a food and film pairing to mark the screening of the documentary “El Bulli: Cooking in Progress,” capturing the work that went on in Ferran Adrià’s famed restaurant before he shut it down last month. A map below describes the dishes.

In the spirit of Spanish chef Ferran Adrià’s revolutionary restaurant El Bulli, those who attended the screening of the documentary “El Bulli: Cooking in Progress”Aug. 27 at the Doris Duke Theatre at the Honolulu Academy of Arts had the option of partaking in a food and wine pairing featuring the molecular gastronomy techniques that brought Adrià international renown.

Diners were presented with a “bento box” comprising nine tasting portions of dishes prepared by EAT Catering & Cafe’s executive chef David Passanisi and sous chef Dirk Thomas. These ranged from the local (Spam musubi terrine and seared Kulana Farms Big Island sirloin with Asian pear and shoyu pudding) to Mediterranean inspired (prosciutto San Danielle with organic olive oil spread and melon caviar).

It’s always interesting to taste food prepared in new ways, such as tzatziki delivered in sphere form to accompany a lamb gyro, and a Kahuku corn panna cotta accompanied by bacon crumbs and Parmesan “air.”

Alive Mind Cinema
El Bulli’s “Disappearing Ravioli” of pine nut essence. When dipped into liquid, the potato starch wrap dissolves before the pine nut liquid hits the tongue.

Although the merging of science and culinary art is what brought the restaurant international attention since 1987, the film shed light on Adrià’s process, that begins with shuttering his restaurant half the year so that he and his staff can devote their hours to experimentation.

Their work space looks more like a science lab than kitchen. It is as if they are willing to go back to infancy and abandon all the technique cataloged in Larousse Gastronomique, and all their knowledge of ingredients, to relearn everything from scratch. Each ingredient is chopped, dissected and examined anew, as if they had never been seen, tasted or used it before. Therefore they are able to appreciate that, when separated, the gills of mushrooms resemble individual leaves.

Led by chef de cuisine Oriol Castro, ingredients are then boiled, baked, sauteed, fried, pressure-cooked, etc., with oil, without, with water only, etc., to determine the best ways to coax out their flavor, and to develop alternative forms—liquids, gels, foam, air and spheres—of serving them.

Alive Mind CinemaFerran Adrià tastes an oil-and-water cocktail.

The trailer: Like art, the El Bulli experience transcends food to create an experience that evokes emotional response.

Deconstruction was one aspect of the kitchen’s work, and one that Adrià—determined to never repeat himself—had abandoned by the time the documentarians arrived. The key theme of the meal in progess in the film is water, and at one point, Adrià marveled at the irony of guests relaying their once-in-lifetime dining experience to friends by telling them, “I went to El Bulli and had water.”

Each step in the process is carefully documented and photographed, and assigned stars. Adriá sniffs and tastes his staff’s work, and by the time the crew reassembles in the restaurant, the menu is still a work in progress, but somehow, a theme arises, and the dishes—a merging of the best of flavors and techniques arising from the six months of experimentation—begin to take form.

The meal and movie added up to a perfect marriage and I regret never having made it to Spain to experience firsthand the work of the man who reshaped the way we think about food in the 21st century.

EAT Catering & Café is planning a fall equinox El Bulli-inspired 24-course menu in late September.

The Bento Box map.

Gina Caruso, film curator at the Doris Duke Theatre, introduced EAT Honolulu executive chef David Passanisi prior to the screening of “El Bulli: Cooking in Progress.”

The tzatziki sphere was a novel accompaniment to a mini gyro.

I liked the Kahuku corn panna cotta, left, but the Parmesan air, not so much.

You can spot the pearls of melon caviar under the proscuitto.

Great Eats Part I: Natural flavors win the day

July 19th, 2011

Nadine Kam photos
Good food doesn’t require a lot of bells and whistles. Chilled pea soup at Bergdorf Goodman’s BG restaurant.

In May I read a short restaurant review by Hannah Goldfield in The New Yorker about a SoHo pop-up called What Happens When. I was going to be in New York the following month, so I took note, though I’m careful not to fall for hype emanating from a growing legion of wide-eyed, shrill class of writers. I find The New Yorker reviews to be colorful, but also sober and truthful.

What Happens When sounded so precious, billed as a pop-up installation involving artists and musicians, with themes and decor that would change every month. They even turned to Kickstarter to raise funds for materials to construct their sets. Themes had ranged from a midsummer’s night to an Impressionist’s garden party. Sounded like a place I had to see, and it was set to remain open nine months.

When I headed to New York June 20, I was going to be there for a month and thought I had all the time in the world to make a reservation there. Unfortunately, after a side trip to Connecticut, I returned to the city to read that due to a liquor license dispute, the pop-up closed on June 26!

Happily, the chef involved with the project, John Fraser, an alumnus of The French Laundry, is also the proprietor of Dovetail, at 103 W. 77th St. (212) 362-3800. In the pantheon of New York restaurants, it’s not a top-of-mind place, the kind that get a lot of buzz outside the city, like Momofuku, Spice Market, Le Bernardin, Per Se and Maialino. But I had to see what Fraser’s food was all about.

When I got there, I saw a huge group of teen-agers hanging out, sitting near the front steps, devouring french fries. I wondered what that was all about. A quick map search showed a Shake Shack burger haven next door. Earlier in the week, I had spent an hour in line for a Shake Burger and frozen custard, and as I was sitting in Dovetail, contemplating the long meal to come (do people have the patience for traditional long meals anymore?) I briefly considered leaving in favor of the quick fix.

But my patience was rewarded with Dovetail’s delectable chef’s tasting menu.

What I like about fine cuisine in New York is the precision, purity and clarity of flavors. There’s nothing gratuitous or extraneous in the prep, because it’s the essence of the various main ingredients that they want expressed.

Grilled asparagus with light vinaigrette at Bergdorf Goodman’s BG restaurant.

Simplicity works for me. In the first of my numerous “best meals ever in the city,” I enjoyed no more than a seasonally inspired fresh chilled pea soup, grilled asparagus and BG Deviled Eggs with arugula and pancetta.

It’s the opposite of Hawaii style, which, like our culture, is chop suey in nature, as if the more you throw into the pot, wok or marinade, the better. Sometimes it’s a happy melting pot. Sometimes it’s just mush.

Here’s what was on Dovetail’s menu, at $135, with wine pairings at $90 and $80:

Amuse bouche was a deconstructed martini foam with pimento and olive, accompanied by a crisp salt cod fritter and shiitake gelee.

Avocado salad with strawberries, watercress and slices of Granny Smith apple dipped in the ashes of charred ramps.

Rolls of fluke were served on thin slices of Galia melon, topped with slivered celery and accompanied by a celery-avocado puree, shishito peppers, thin slivers of nori, and dots of shiso sauce.

Salt baked onion was introduced in its just-out-the-oven form, which temporarily caused me to freeze in panic. How was I supposed to get to it without filling it with salt. Happily, that was just for presentation. It was plated in the kitchen with summer truffles, cepes, marcona almonds and frisee. A manager came by and asked how I was enjoying it. I said it was so good I wanted to lick the plate. He encouraged me to do so. I refrained.

Lobster was served two ways, first accompanied by a perfectionist’s ratatouille, with the summer vegetables cut into thin discs and layered like poker chips, served over kalamata puree. In the second prep, lobster topped chamomile tagliatelle, tossed with saffron aioli and accented with lobster foam and  and purple cauliflower.

Sautéed foie gras was next, sitting on a pool of textured Graham cracker sauce, accompanied by fennel and huckleberry sauce.

Next came roasted sirloin topped with a king trumpet mushroom with layered beef cheek lasagna and onion.

An intermezzo of lemon-thyme sorbet with raspberries preceded a choice of dessert.

Because I had seen someone else enjoying the milk chocolate Gianduja bar as dessert on a summer tasting menu, I had to try it. It was accompanied by apricot-lavender sherbet.

And just when you thought it was over, there remained petits fours to polish off.