Spanish Wine Soiree...
Can one who has never been to Spain do anything really close to what you might see in the streets of Barcelona? San Sebastian? Madrid? Seville or even the Islands a "stones throw" from the peninsula?...Probably not, nor did I even want to! I wanted to go off on my own, cooking from my heart and soul and giving my own spin on things, departing from the norm, purposely and intentionally keeping my own identity from the NW, and bringing the wine nuances and flavors from this "tre cool" culinary hot-spot to us, along with some very good winemakers and even the Spanish consulate himself! So...with this vision of warm, heartfelt foods, new spring ingredients and a locally infused harmony of tastes, our team created a very well received and extremely tasty evening of "new world" tapas. I never claim to be "authentic" or "classic" whenever I do regional, national or international "Tastes fo Somewhere", for I do not feel one really can, without actually being from there or living there...so, I spin off in a direction of my own that some may not always find to be truly representative of that locale, but in the end, if it tastes great, and it goes well with the wine, who cares? If you want something "authentic" or "classical"...go there! But one thing I can always promise, is that you will be taken care of from a food and flavor standpoint! Here is the menu that we did for the event. Combinations of some, did definitely reflect a Spanish presence somewhere, perhaps it was the research I have done, the studying and reading into the wee hours of the morning, the influx of Spanish ingredients or the high caliber or high profile chefs cooking in some of the best kitchens anywhere? Who knows. But, this is my view, and one that is solid. Unfortunately, no pix's this time. We started out with little shots of White Gazpacho; Green Grapes, Rustic White Bread soaked in milk and water, toasted Marcona Almonds, aged Sherry Vinegar, EVOO, and Sea Salt. This was flanked by assorted Breads, Crackers and Grissini, ok, so it is not Spanish...whatever! They were tasty. Truffled Popcorn cooked in Duck fat was positioned around the room at each table for a little nibble. Marinated Olives and Artisan Cheeses, such as Mahon (sheep), Moncerda(sheep), Garrotxa(goat) Roncal(raw sheep), 6 month Manchego and a Curado (aged 2-3 months) which were all fantastic! Next we made a Spanish "Coca", which is really like a little open-faced "tart", made of Green Olive Bread, Shaved Grilled Fennel, Serrano Ham, Roasted Piquillo Peppers, Roncal, Marcona Almonds and Olive Puree. These were all room temperature "tapas" strewn around the room. Then, we made warm little bites that were placed at each Spanish wine station. The first was my play on "Spanish Eggs", which consisted of roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Cipolline Onions, Piquillo Peppers, White Anchovies, Smoked Paprika Cream, a cracked Quail Egg and baked briefly. Then we placed a slice of spicy Pork-Fennel Soppressata in it's side, all tucked into a petit "cocotte". Our next table sported a dish of Braised Calamari stuffed with Braised Beef Short Ribs, Garlic, Herbs and some reduced braisage. It was paired with Spanish Rice Beans, cuisson, Smoked Olive Oil, Cara Cara Oranges, Dates and sprinkled with Fleur de Sel. Our next savory piece in this "tour de force" (thanks Grant), was Quince Brushed Organic Beef, cut from the chain and dredged with Coffee, dark Cocoa (72%), Smoked Sea Salt and Pepper, seared and pan roasted. It was accompanied by glazed Onions and a drizzle of Pedro Jimenez. Then came the one that everyone was just giddy over...The Maple Braised Pork Belly, complete with it's 3 day process of curing, marinating, braising for 6 hours, portioning, then braising again and glazing. And you know, it still could have had more time! These highly sought after morsels were sitting atop steamed Baby Clams, Garlic, Preserved Lemons, Smoked Paprika and some Antelope "Chorizo". Nothing a little Spanish Olive Oil and micro Celery couldn't handle! Then, with all that...we just could not have been happy with ourselves without sending out a little sweet taste in which to savor. Paired with some awesome Pedro Ximenez and Guiterrez (a similar style of wine as Sauternes), we concocted a warm Almond-White Chocolate "Cappuccino" with fireweed Honey "Foam", Tapioca, savory nuances and a Saffron "Drizzle" all done up in a taza. To top it off, we went full-on in dark Chocolate Ecstasy, with flavors of PX itself, Candied Brazil Nuts, Fleur de Sel, Cinnamon and Figs. Simply decadent. And why not, for this was my style. In the end, perhaps, when I travel to Spain hopefully this year, I can see where I stand and judge for myself if I am worthy to call this excerpt of tastes anywhere close. All I know is, is that it was tasty and people liked it. Until then...
Food for Thought...
Quite often, I am somewhere, just contemplating food pairings...one thing with this, and another thing with that, or maybe with this over there, or even, if it makes sense, altogether, to make something totally unique! I know that this theory does not jive with all chef's, and that's cool, because that is what makes things interesting, and keeps us as professionals and craftspeople individual. Imagine if all the houses or cars that manufacturer's produced all looked alike and had all the same features?... How boring would that be! I like to look at food in new ways, and ways that bring new tastes to the forefront, challenging one's mind, one's palate and thought about flavor. That is not to say that I like to be different, just for the sake of being so,(yet it sometimes turns out that way) but to provoke something incredible and so tasty that you can simply enjoy it for the sake of it being surreal and mindblowing. Some chef's keep it very simple, and everyone can surely appreciate that, for those flavors we all can sense in our minds and taste buds are so vivid due to this subscription or submission. But I tend to like to explore the realms of quite a few layers later...a universe of ingredients, a new technique not used everyday, or more so, flavors and combinations that are not so commonplace. And why not? Why not be a bit crazy and insane? I am blessed with the ability and gift of having a good palate and the passion to be able to craft my workmanship together with technology and bring new flavors to life. As I once read, "one can not explore new oceans unless one is willing to lose sight of the shore". As cliche as that may sound, it holds truth and honesty in our cooking. I offer you as a reader this...try things together that you normally would not. As long as you use common sense, good, strong technique and great ingredients, it is hard to steer down the wrong path. Albeit, you may certainly come up with some pairings that your average guest or friend may not approve of, but you will feel good about not being afraid to explore. Remember Christopher Columbus? As a cook, what have you got to lose? Here are just a few thought provoking ideas and new dimensions in flavor below:Cinnamon/Potato/Garlic and Lime
White Chocolate/Caviar/Prosciutto/Smoked Paprika
Dark Chocolate/White Anchovy/Olives
Parmesan-Olive Oil Ice Cream/Prosciutto/Linzer
Foie Gras/Bittersweet Chocolate/Pineapple
Pedro Ximenez/Caramel/Strawberry/Black Pepper/Mascarpone
Well, that is a start, or perhaps an end to something you wish nothing more than to cast away as being utterly ridiculous. That is understandable and even predictable. But I ask you...what if? How did Ferran and Albert, or the whole host of others in their wake(Achatz, Dufresne, Arola, Trotter, Andreas, Balaguer, Herme, Rovira, etc.) come to what is arguably some of the most inventive cuisine of the last couple decades? Did they sit back on their laurels and rely on their good looks or their conservative and pedestrian style of cuisine? No, they forged ahead where others would dare not! Now, we see many talented and skilled, young and old, male and female cuisiniers trying ever so daringly to be different, and yet, to be the same in that we want to be good! To be rewarded by our customers, our peers and most of all, our pride of something we alone, or maybe together created. I always say to those around me..."it is not my guests whom I strive to please, yet it is I, for if I can do that, I can please them. If I can not, then perhaps nobody can. If I have not, then I did not do my best"! With this I rest. In good food and cooking...cuisinier.