Sunday, December 6, 2009

Paradigm: Redux Art Basel Dinner

This weekend, as part of Art Basel, there were a series of dinners with chefs offering seven-course menus inspired by the work and philosophy of an artist they're paired with. The events were put together by, Violeta and Jason, whose last names I didn't I didn't catch when they introduced themselves. If either of you are reading this, please feel free to explain more about yourselves and the project in the comments.

I attended the Friday evening dinner. The chefs were Kurtis Jantz and Chad Galiano from the restaurant Neomi's. There, they do a weekly “restaurant within a restaurant” that they call Paradigm where they explore new techniques and ideas. Here's a write-up of one of those evenings by Frodnesor who was also there for Friday's Paradigm: Redux. The new technique most prominent this evening was sous vide which was used on most of the courses. Nothing seemed squished so they must have just used the temperature controlled water bath aspect and not the vacuum pack bit. They described their style, at least for the night, as Peruvian cuisine influenced by Southern cooking. This meal, I think, was more the other way around.

The evening's artist was Stephen Gamson who works with what he calls "modern hieroglyphics". Symbols important to us today that will be puzzling in a thousand years--ampersands, stick figures sitting around a table, etc--familiar icons open to personal readings all presented in big clear relief against a monochrome background. Now, if you had asked me to pair food with his art, I'd have gone with a Happy Meal. Plainly presented icons deliberately without meaning or context says starch, salt, sugar and fat to me. He mass produces close variations, just changing the colors, which also speaks to fast food. But the chefs said the clean geometic style was something they had in common and, judging from the food they presented, yeah, I can see it.

The dinner was held in Penthouse 2 of 4 Midtown in Miami Beach which has this gorgeous view of downtown (except in focus). I probably should have gotten a shot of the room itself. There were lots of people with cameras there; I'm sure you can find some if you look. They'll probably also have taken pictures of the chefs and the artist. I'm not comfortable taking pictures while someone is talking to me so I only shot the food. If you've got pics to share, please post links in the comments.

The first course was Stick Figure Anticuchos--grilled baby octopus marinated in green Tabasco and lemon with an aji panca tarta and deep fried chicken liver with a Boscoli olive sauce and Cajun cancha corn. The baby octopus flavorful with a hint of citrus. The liver had a lot of flavorful too with, unfortunately, just a hint of burnt. The breading had an unusual powdery texture that a fellow sitting near me attributed to a chemical I heard as "tri-salt" that's intended to keep the breading from getting soggy, but a search on that term and variations doesn't turn anything up so I don't think I've got it right. Seems a sensible choice for catering; Penthouse 2 had quite a small space for the chefs to work in so I understand why they would use such a thing. I wasn't thrilled with the results, but I wouldn't have liked soggy breading either. That said, the central flavors were unchallengingly pleasant, prominently displayed, straightforward and familiar, presented in bold contrast, which I thought was a really good match to the art without going trashy as my impulse was.

The second course was a surf-n-turf: an oxtail meat pie--the meat cooked sous-vide (and the tougher bits pressure cooked)--topped with pepper jelly and a green bean-lobster salad dressed in home-made red wine vinegar and oil and topped with a microwaved corn cake. The pie's crust was light and flaky, the meat tender, the jelly sweet and tart without a whole lot of heat. A very nice little morsel. The lobster salad had some nice textures, but was under-seasoned to my tastes. The corn cake was fuffily light, sweet and brightly flavored. That bit was really interesting in both technique and result.

Third course was Frod's Shrimp Dickles--the pickled shrimp (an escabeche technically) based on a recipe from Frodnesor's mother, although he said it was quite different by the time it hit our plate. The shrimp were paired with a honey-mustard Brussel sprout slaw and home-made white cheddar/Parmesan cheese-its. I liked the sweet light pickle that let the shrimp flavor through without drowning it in vinegar. The slaw was crisp without being too difficult to deal with and creamy without being over-dressed--a difficult balancing act well pulled off. Slaw's tricky. The cheese-its were a bit heavy, but had a lot of real cheese flavor. I thought the flavors played well against each other, but the combination of textures wasn't as coherent.

Fourth course was "Meat". The chefs described the dish as a play on the Publix meat department and it's dissociating effects from where meat comes from. It's an Angus prime sealed in a cryovac with a few flavorings and kept at 45 degrees C for an hour then chilled, chopped and mixed with a little parsley and onion. In the center is an egg yolk from an egg cooked to 64 degrees C which gives it a putty-like texture. We were given condiments to go with: caper salt made by drying and grinding capers to a powder and 'whas dis here' sauce, a homemade Worcestershire sauce that came with a silly story about how Worcestershire sauce came by its name despite being really invented in New Orleans. The meat had a quite pleasant tender texture and had the classic tartare flavors (although with the slight difference of quite rare beef instead of raw). I thought it had, perhaps, a little too much egg yolk for the amount of meat, or maybe I should have mixed it all up to more evenly distribute it. The cool, but not, cold temperature it was presented at brought out the best in the flavorst. A pleasant dish with in interesting presentation that made some sense with the art.

Fifth course was the Golden Egg - scrambled eggs cooked very slowly in a sous vide bag to 71 degrees which the chefs, through, experimentation found to be the precise temperature for perfect results when the egg has something mixed in (70 degrees for plain eggs). In this case, truffles. Too my mind, too much truffles although some would claim there's no such thing. The texture is a little odd--creamy but dry. Not something you can get in a pan very easily if at all. I found the novelty a little unsettling, really.

Sixth course was pork belly cooked sous-vide to 57 degrees in a ham-style glaze made of Inca cola and pineapple juice. It was paired with whipped spiced banana, cilantro cocoa kettle corn, yogurt spheres and white chocolate powder. That's pretty complicated, so I think the art went out the window for this course. This was the meatiest pork belly I've ever encountered; maybe it was compressed by vacuum packing? The meat was tender and the fat melty as one would like. The glaze didn't glaze so well, but it made a nice enough sauce. I thought the banana foam made a tasty combination and I liked the flavor of the popcorn with the pork (although not the texture so much). The yogurt spheres and white chocolate not so much.

And finally, dessert. This was prepared by guest pastry-chef Jenny Rissone who worked under one of the main chefs six years ago. It's monstera deliciosa, a fruit you may recall I had a heck of time dealing with, in a napoleon with meringue wafers and paired with dulce de leche gelato encased in sugar globe. The frosting of the globe is from the freezer; those with gelato that wasn't frozen solid had beautiful shiny green Christmas-ornament globes. I quite liked the combination of the soft monstera kernels with the cream and the crisp meringue. The fruit was just a touch under-ripe--other people at the table thought it was carbonation, but it was the monstera feebly trying to kill us--but had lots of its bubble-gum-esque flavor. The gelato was creditable enough, but I thought the candy shell made it too sweet. Frankly, I would have been happy with just the napoleon.

Whoo, that took nearly as long to write up as it did to eat. Overall, I liked the dinner even if nothing jumped out and wowed me. But neither did the art so maybe that was intentional. If you went, what did you think?


LaDivaCucina said...

I think it sounds like that art was minimalist and so was the food! I applaud you for going and trying something new though!

billjac said...

I don't think both the artist or the chefs would appreciate the 'minimalist' label. Both were more abstract and iconic than minimalist. And really the chefs put out some very good food away from their home kitchen and should be praised for that even if I wasn't blown away by the dishes.

SteveBM said...

Nice recap and nice meeting you the other night. I posted my thoughts here: Its reassuring knowing I wasnt the only one who had a not-so-fatty piece of pork belly haha

billjac said...

Frodnesor also wrote up his review of the dinner. It's here-- you'd like a third take on it.