Thursday, April 26, 2007

Art vs Craft....and Forgiveness

Well, the demonstration at the Art Museum (Artistic Considerations in Fine Cuisine) was a huge hit. We had a turn out of six! This was about all the room could handle: we did our schtick in the kitchen of the old Work Adobe (La Mirada) and the guests sat at old Mr. Work’s cook’s table. I talked while Brendan worked his ass off five feet away.

The guests were Museum Board members….and Mrs. Hatfield…..and a couple of pigeons, a photographer and filmmaker couple.

I talked about the obvious: cultural ways of describing tastes. European (sweet, salty, sour, bitter); new European (add umami and fatty acid). We prefer Aryuvedic tradition (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, astringent and pungent), plus umami and fatty acid.

I also talked about texture, shape, aroma…..and emotional content. Brendan developed his black rice and white scallop with white lime foam dish when Chloe was pretending to break up with him.

Even this blog is not ready for how he got his inspiration for his beet salad dish. Charles Bukowski would maybe be the only guy ready for Brendan’s beet salad emotional content.

Here is the cheat sheet we handed out:

Traditional Western thought involves four basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour and bitter…..though fatty acid is a new taste that modern scientists have discovered receptors for on the tongue.

Umami (Japaniese: is the newest flavor to be added to the five basic tastes sensed by specialized receptor cells present on the human tongue. The same taste is also known as xiānwèi in Chinese cooking. Umami is a Japanese word meaning "savory" or "meaty" and thus applies to the sensation of savoriness—specifically, to the detection of glutamates, which are especially common in meats, cheese and other protein heavy foods. The action of umami receptors explains why foods treated with monosodium glutamate (MSG) often taste fuller.

Aryudvedic tradition has six flavors and more accurately matches our experience: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent and pungent.

Color: Red Green Brown Yellow Orange White Purple Pink Blue Black

Aroma: Woodsy, citrus, musky, floral. Props to the older Jewish ladies at Bloomingdale's in New York who trained all my guys....

Texture/Mouth Feel:
Intensity: Dense Medium Light Hot Cold
Crunchy (Jicama, bell pepper, raw vegetables, Kamut, nuts, bacon, ice, hard sugar
Crisp (apple, romaine, kale
Chewy: (meats, carmelized sugars)
Fleshy: (fish, cooked vegetables, cheeses, soft grains and legumes)
Viscous: different types of viscosity: gelatin, flour, potato, arrowroot, agar agar, carrageenan; Soft cheeses, super soft vegetables (eggplant, roasted peppers)
Silky: mushroom, roasted pepper, oysters, roasted eggplant
Clear: broth, juice
Evanescent (Foam, gas)
Aggressive, active, engaging, passive
Overall appearance: Complex, engaging, passive, simple, regular, irregular
Emotional Content!
We love the client; we hate the client; Chloe dumps Brendan; we are excited by the dish, etc.

Porcini, Chanterelle cream

Beef Tartare with Thyme Ice Cream
Jicama and Blood
Orange Cumin Cilantro

Baby Beet Salad with Yuzu coconut goat cheese dressing, balsamic reduction with pineapple sage and basil
Grilled Bay Scallop with lemongrass ginger chile cream, black rice and lime foam
Pan Roasted Venison with Jamaica/port reduction with braised endive and crisped quinoa
Savories: Bermuda onion/Meyer Lemon Compot; Pineapple/Rosemary Compot; Cave Aged Carr Valley Sheep cheese; Carr Valley Baa Baa Blue; Basil gelatine, ollallieberry honey

We argue over this shit every day with every dish….sometimes in the middle of plating up the dish. No, pretty much always in the middle of plating up the dish.

At the end, the guests were freaking out. It was the best thing ever, apparently. We have to re-create this experience for more people. And way more money. A thousand dollars a head was mentioned. Yeah, yeah.

Part of the thrust of my presentation was the difference between my upbringing and Brendan’s upbringing in the food world. Of course, I brought up Brendan in the food world, but only to a certain point.

People constantly come up to me while watching me slice smoked salmon or something mundane and say: “Wow, what an art!” I always correct them, and say, “No, this is craftsmanship, not art.”

In my day, beet salad at The Colony was Belgian Endive cut crossways, tossed with Harvard beets cut the same size and mounded on a plate. A very nice plate…..Truman Capote and Jacque Kennedy and Cordelia Biddle Duke Robertson were fans….but still a mound on a plate.

Now the salad is deconstructed and arranged vertically and laterally. The dish first engages your eye, and is dynamic. Your eye moves along the plate…..what do I eat first? The sauces are in different places, visually and gastronomically. The salad can be confrontational, or comforting.

The young people in Brendan’s world (Andoni Aduriz, Wylie Dufresne, David Kinch…well, not so young, sorry David; sorry Wylie…,Joseph Buenconsejo, Txema) have taken all the craft thing as a given, and added an intensly competitive artistic component to food service. All the things above on my list are in the mix, and everything that science can bring to the plate as well.

What amazed (and later, depressed) me was that these worldly foody people we did our little show for had no idea: we cooks routinely run through all these artistic considerations in coming up with dishes. It made me think that maybe they are not paying attention…..

And if they are not paying attention, what about the mooks? If the maltodextrin jamaica crisp falls in the forest, does it make a sound?

This was the second serious artistic homerun we have hit in two weeks with the Art Crowd. A dinner we donated to the Museum sold at $2500 for six folks. The host cautioned us that it had been purchased by Republicans, and please no politics. It was to be served at the home of David Ligare and Gary Smith….at least one of whom is a mind-blowing neo-realist/classical painter. Neo-realism/classicism seems to be working out a whole lot better than neo-conservatism, by the way. David and Gary were similarly warned.

The nice man who purchased the dinner had certain feelings about the food he wanted served. After Brendan and I saw David Ligare’s paintings we completely ignored him and swung for the fences.

The only glitch in the evening came when Gary Smith contemplated the crack-tempura-ed Monterey sardines, the caper aioli, the kazabucha with the Akelaré roasted tomato broth with the tempura leek spider legs in the champagne flute and asked: “Do I eat this left or right, or right to left?”

I slapped his shoulder and hissed: “No politics, bitch!”

The crazy Republican guy we were supposed to tremble in fear of announced at the end of the night that he was pre-bidding five times last year’s price for the same meal at next year’s auction.

This is over the grand-a-head range……

Finally, I am coming to my point. As I have quoted a hundred times, or maybe twice: “Sorry this is so long, I didn’t have time to make it short…..” Mark Twain.

On Monday Night, the McCary’s and my favorite grumpy Republican friend Chuck came in with a big table as someone else’s guests. Tom McCary is a Budweiser heir AND his aunt wrote Joy of Cooking. He is from Minnesota, and is Republican to his ingrown toe-nails. He is still my friend. Oh, Tom is cheap, if he can get away with it…..despite living in one of the most beautiful houses in America (Will Shaw’s last house). His wife, Mary told me that she was so mad that she didn’t get to sign up for our Art show.

I teased Tom and Mary that they really missed out. This lecture was $75 a head…the next one they are talking in the $500 to $1000 range…..and these are REPUBLICANS buying in, not pot-smoking Democrats. Guys who ran businesses at profits….We all giggled.

The hostess of the table jumped into the conversation, her face contorted with rage and disgust, apparently at the mention of Democrats: “By Republicans, you mean normal human beings?”

We all turned to look at her. It was the face of the woman who knitted fleur-de-lys next to the guillotine…she was not kidding. Whatever happened to discourse? To a frank exchange of views? This is George Bush's greatest crime.....

Today at the Farmer’s Market, while picking out small beets at Phil Foster’s a woman came up and hip-checked me out of the way: “I need garlic!”

I said, “ I hope it is to lower your blood pressure!”

Meanwhile, I barely got into the place without confrontation. I parked way out in the boonies, and only discovered my mistake when I had to lump three cases of Vasquez strawberries 200m to my van. Fuck, where are my interns?

When I arrived, there was a cherry 60’s Mercedes coupe idling next to me, waiting to escape. The van doors open outwards, and too close for comfort for either me or the Mercedes guy. I stood and waited, and tried to go to my Zen place.

The Mercedes guy could not get out, because of the lady wanting to get in, who had cut off the other lady also wanting to get in. The Mercedes idled, I waited….holding my three cases of strawberries……drinking in the ultimate expression of German art and engineering….Forget Wagner: sixteen German valves clicking away on a beautiful day......

Finally, one of the elder shoppers relinquished and Mercedes Man backed out. I swung open the van doors, one-handed and tried to slide in the cases with my now exhausted arms and back. Immediately there was a klaxon screeching. The victorious parking lady was honking at me to close the van doors so she could pull in to Mercedes Man’s spot. It had been five seconds. Jesus, lady….you got a cake in the fuckin’ oven, or what?

I returned to Phil Foster to pick up my beets. I ran into Helaine Tregenza, a lady with an organic TV show, and a fellow contributor to KRXA-540 Tasty Planet Show. We chatted for a second about the sad state of faux-organic fellow travelers cashing in….and another old lady barged into me: “If you are going to talk, do it somewhere else!” I yelled back: “Drop dead, you old bag!”

I moved on to Coke Farms. They are both retired Stanford people who now work like dogs growing herbs, lettuce, carrots and beets. I mentioned the crazy lady who honked at me for letting my van doors be opened into her future space….and how suicidal this was, since the doors obviously would slam directly into any car parked next to me… I obviously (dressed in chef gear) shopped at every stand and made multiple trips and multiple door-openings, with multiple opportunities to pound her car to rubble….and by the way, I had to pee….and the van is a good windblock.

Laurie Coke went instantly from mild mannered older farm-hippy-intellectual lady to firebrand: “Stop that thought! You should be ashamed! It does not matter if you hate the people you work for… still do the same good job! Otherwise, they win!”

I thought I had absorbed the whole Zen of the Farmer’s Market: my suppliers, growing the stuff that I pre-order to our mutally agreed standards….completing the chain with conversation between the sowers of the seed, the harvesters of the produce, to the cutters and presenters……

I missed the lesson that you have to let the clients act despicably……not because, as they assume, that they have a position of social dominance….but because to acknowledge their despicable behavior would drop a big rock in the pond of serenity that is everyone else’s enjoyment of the market.

Got it.

Sorry, this is me: “Drop dead you old bag!”

Impeach these two cocksuckers…..and Alberto Gonzales while we are at it.

Awwright, Laurie Coke....Shame on me.

Throw in Condolezza Rice, too.

Despicable is still despicable. Crimes are still crimes.

Let me get back to my craft, and Brendan to his art. Enough already.


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