When you read an account of a long and drawn out multi-course meal, do you ever wonder what was left out? What descriptions were trimmed by the editor flicking his or her mouse and pressing the delete key? What bits of conversation were discretely withheld. In the name of brevity, what events were deemed too minor to recount?
Journalist and literary critic Dwight Garner recently had a meal with Ferran Adria and Nathan Myhrvold, essentially world leaders of the modernist cuisine movement. In his “End of Cuisine” piece, which was published in the New York Times, he waxes poeticly about what amounts to dishes and preparations that hail from the outer fringes food.
Older men, Myhrvold hosted the legendary Catalan chef that pioneered all things molecular. Adria closed his ground breaking El Bulli restaurant in 2011. Myhrvoid is one of the authors of the “sprawling” 2438-page Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking.
Fifty courses later, Garner ponders recipes that “can be so scientific that they seem self-defeating.” While “powerful,” demonstrating extreme mastery over flavours and textures, is the food “pedantic” or “soulless”?
Adria mocks him, greatly enjoying the blind tasting menu at Myhrvold’s Seattle laboratory.
Plagued with midnight munchies afterward, Garner ducks out of his hotel room for an “uncomplicated” cheeseburger.
An accomplished writer, the word “compelling” never appears in his account.
Sometime during the meal, Adria counseled Myrhvold to “never open a restaurant.”
The intention behind Adria’s quip likely has to do with preserving the performance art component that is serving the best possible dishes without having to worry about keeping a dining room of patrons happy. When you are in the business of developing new culinary techniques and publishing books on them, you don’t have to worry about establishing prices based on 30% food costs; managing prep and execution so dishes get to the pass; sourcing enough product for service; or handling reservations.
Opening a restaurant means carefully balancing product quality with consistent plating. It can mean sacrificing creativity to ensure dishes are accessible to your diners.
Take, for instance, events like Chef Danny Mongeon’s inaugural Flux at Mariposa Farm (6488 County Road 17, Plantagenet). It allowed chefs the luxury of serving a tasting menu outside of the confines of their restaurants. It also benefited a worthy charitable cause, Shepherds of Good Hope.
[Click here for background on why Mongeon established the Flux culinary collective.]
At Ian Walker’s farm, Mongeon issued two challenges: 1) come up with dishes the likes of which Ottawa has never seen and 2) showcase the wondrous meat and produce grown at Mariposa.
Ian Walker’s Mariposa has been the chefs’ farm since Steve Vardy opened Stephen Beckta’s eponymous flagship restaurant (226 Nepean Street) in 2003. When asked, Steve Wall of Supply and Demand (1335 Wellington Street W.) fondly remembers a shift a week, involving heading out to Plantagenet to work on the farm. Back then, Wall was a lowly cook in Vardy’s kitchen on Nepean Street.
Mariposa’s “resident” chefs, who cater events and prepare rather impressive Sunday lunch at the farm, include recognizable names: Mark Currier (formerly of The Urban Pear and Hintonburg Public House), Anna March (of the Urban Element and formerly of Farbs Kitchen and Wine), and Bruce Wood (formerly of The Urban Element).
Last Monday, Flux took over, including Mongeon’s sous Adam Bannerman of Hooch Bourbon Bar (180 Rideau Street); Kyle Mortimer-Proulx, formerly of ZenKitchen (634 Somerset Street W.); Stephen La Salle of The Albion Rooms (33 Nicholas Street); and Ian Reed at The Courtyard Restaurant (21 George Street).
Serving staff from Hooch pitched in with a number of other volunteers, including Nick Bachusky of Lunch Out Loud Ottawa.
Here are dishes served.
[w/House-churned sheep’s milk butter and duck fat and brown butter bannock – by Danny Mongeon]
[w/duck carpaccio; dry roasted crickets; and chive flowers – by Danny Mongeon]
[w/thyme-scented cashew butter stuffed nasturtium flower; verjus-marinated mustard seeds; verjus; thyme; grapefruit; and apricot puree with ginger – by Stephen Le Salle]
[w/lucky lime oysters; pickled ramp; pickling brine; and chives – by Ian Reed]
[w/spruce tip and cucumber gin sorbet; olive oil: pickled spruce tips; violas; and begonias – by Kyle Proulx]
[w/”arctic charcuterie” gravlax (made with pulp of leeks); leek and honey gelee; pickled dandelion buds; asparagus; cucumber – by Stephen La Salle]
[w/puree of dried porcini, cinnamon cap, blue cheese, and walnut puree; pickled cinnamon caps; sauteed and fire smoked blue oysters glazed in a raspberry vinaigrette; pie crust; fried kale – by Adam Bannerman]
[w/salsify sous vide in goat’s butter; confit fennel puree; charred white onion; smoked herring caviar; cucumber blossom; champagne beurre blanc – by Kyle Proulx]
[w/cured and braised pork belly; pork “snow”; pickled beet wedge; pureed beet; pork jus; pork tuille (crisp) – dish by Ian Carswell, executed by Flux]
[w/fire roasted purple carrot; White carrot sous vide in orange carrot juice (funny!); lemon ricotta; carrot ash; shaved radish; ramp kimchi; radish tops pureed with white balsamic vinaigrette – by Kyle Proulx]
[w/smoked and roasted duck breast; grated cured and salted foie; choucroute garnie; pulled duck leg with wild mustard; roasted garlic potato; sour cherry duck jus – by Ian Reed]
[Mariposa sheep yogurt; rhubarb emulsion; matled milk powder (crunch); drizzle of honey – by Danny Mongeon]
[Strawberry curd; strawberry fluid gel; fresh strawberry; pickled green strawberry; vanilla strawberry sorbet; chocolate – by Adam Bannerman]
[vodka (fortified with juniper, dill seeds, fennel seed, and daisy buds) sour; lemon and golden beet “curd” in a chia seed pastry; daisy buds – by Stephen La Salle]
Wine served included Coyote’s Run Sparkling Chardonnay, Sandhill Pinot Gris, and 30 Bench Riesling.
This wasn’t food to be critiqued. This was food to be enjoyed.
Also during the meal Myhrvold served, Adria explained, “The kind of people who mock long tasting menus are the same people you see lining up at the hotel breakfast buffet, dumping 30 different things on their plates.”
With food and labour costs always increasing, chefs are forced to be creative with more economical cuts of meat and produce so as to appease everyone’s tightening budgets.
It “tests the soul of a chef,” explained Leung.
Well, want to try food when chefs are less encumbered? Want to support a good cause? This time, Operation Come Home.
The next wine-paired multi-course Flux dinner will be held July 21st at Rideau Pines Farm (5714 4 Line Road, North Gower).
Click here to buy tickets. Only 71 remain.
What: Flux at Rideau Pines Farm
Where: Rideau Pines Farm (5714 4 Line Road, North Gower); Shuttle pickup at Hooch (180 Rideau Street)
When: Monday, July 21, 2014 5:30pm – 11:30pm
Cost: $60/person + $4.59 processing fee