With sadness, I have to break the news that a few of the special events at Trio, celebrating that restaurant's tenth anniversary, had to be cancelled. However, I look forward to continuing the dialogue and eventually revisiting the collaboration sometime in the future.
Though cut short, the project raised a great number of questions, and I found many of the contributions here inspiring and even entertaining. I certainly made some discoveries throughout this process, and I'd like to share some of my initial ideas.
For a peek behind the scenes, this is an edited excerpt of an earlier email to G, laying out my "first draft" of dishes...
As I mentioned earlier, these are but guidelines that may be tweaked/reworked as I taste and nail them down. I fear I'm thinking too conservatively, only because of the logistics involved. With the number of courses we're doing, I'm also trying to determine appropriate portion sizes; I love the scale of the dishes you incorporate into the 'Tour de Force,' but I wonder how much you might typically boost the amount of 'substance' in your dishes for a 10 course menu. I've also tried to balance the overt "dessert-ness" of some of these ideas, but I don't think we can make any meaningful judgments about course placement until everything is out in the open... your ideas may in turn inspire me to go in a direction I haven't yet considered.
Working Concept: Is it sweet or is it savory?
I posted my initial motivation with this dish on that eGullet discussion. I think the balance of flavors, as I taste them in my mind, work well on that ambiguous level, and could go most anywhere, either early in the progression, as a transitional course, or toward the end, as a more conventional 'pre-dessert'. The balance will be the key. To recap, if you haven't seen it... A very lightly sweetened dashi flavored custard set into an eggshell (held at room temp.), followed by a slightly warmed citrus-ginger 'coulis' (thickened with pectin), topped by a cold caramel foam (a caramel 'anglaise' dispensed from an iSi canister), topped with the roe, and a few drops of maple syrup. I like the simplicity and the compact nature of serving it in the eggshell, even though that feels kind of outdated.
Degree of difficulty: Fairly easy to prep and pick up. Virtually all the components can be done ahead...
Service: We'd need a liner of some sort, an egg cup, a demitasse spoon... We'd have to offer "instruction'' as to completely immerse the spoon into the egg in order to properly blend the flavors.
Working Concept: Hot and cold.
I hope to source the little sawagani crabs I mentioned before. They're about an inch or so in diameter, and entirely edible. The various Asian crackers, chips and snacks weighed heavily on mind: I'd like to fry these, pretty much in a light tempura style, and incorporate a blend of some sweet spices like cinnamon, or even pain d'epice or gingersnap crumbs, but perhaps as a 'pile' to 'dip' into, as opposed to an additive in the batter itself. And that leads me toward a hint of perhaps a smoked salt as well- maybe playing on the idea of the diner deciding how to experience the crab, salty in one bite, then sweet in another. As a foil, or rather an accompanient, I like the idea of a hot and cold shot of pineapple juice (tightened slightly, and some depth added by honey, spice/herb, or blended with another fruit, say pear or quince) and a crab-infused foam- either could play the hot/cold role. I see the potential for a third component to complete a 'trio,' such as a sorbet/ice cream, but again, I think the simplicity and interplay between the two keeps things nice and clean. If the crabs I want are unavailable or of poor quality, I can retool this idea, or fall back on a couple of others that also play on the concept of hot/cold or liquid/solid.
Degree of difficulty: Fairly easy. The crabs themselves will be mid to low maintenance ahead of time. Obviously, a la minute batter preparation and frying. The crab component of the shot can be done ahead, but I might like to juice and prepare the pineapple the day of.
Service: I imagine a square or rectangular plate, with the crabs and 'dips' lined up, and either the shot glass delivered on the plate (if long and rectangular) or served on the side... Perhaps chopsticks would be the best way to handle the whole crabs?
Working Concept: Hidden surprise
Kind of a "truffle" within a truffle. The engineering of this could go in many directions. I'd create a bitter chocolate truffle (perhaps truffle flavored) within a rich celery root or parsnip fondant, with a black truffle purée and either a fluid or granulated praline, or a caramel powder (perhaps coffee or chicory). The result I'd like to acheive would be for the truffle to have just begun to soften or liquefy as it hits the table. I'll have to figure out how to construct/plate this to see what works best. I'd like to do this in some sort of small dish that would enable me to cover/hide the whole with a thin chesnut wafer, which the guest would have to break through, and thus adding that as a textural element. Aroma would be another concept to tackle with this dish- I'll see if I can work in an interesting angle over the next couple of days. What do you think our truffle availability will be? I see black when I envision this. This dish could perhaps stand up to a 'meaty' component, but again, the straightforward simplicity feels good. I've also given thought to inverting the whole composition- encasing the 'savory' elements within a bittersweet chocolate shell, but the engineering concerns then multiply, as would the last minute prep.
Degree of difficulty: Moderate, depending upon how I decide to plate/heat everything at pick up. Prep, again, can be partially completed, with finishing that day.
Service: A small dish or bowl, maybe three to four inches in diameter at its top, with a liner. Kitchen-to-table time will be critical to preserve the nature of all the components, like the crispness of the wafer, etc.
Working Concept: Textures
This one, perhaps a more 'overt' dessert course, has proven most difficult to completely flesh out, if you can believe that! For some reason, I'm fixated on creating some sort of sophisticated, adult "Twinkie," though for the purpose and logistics of this exercise, scaled back and deconstructed a bit. I see a strong, linear presentation comprised of a neutral (I also like brown butter, or even corn, here) biscuit or sponge, though 'filled' with a coconut cream. Sicilian pistachio, a cider caramel (liquid), a tart gelée, and a vanilla-sweet potato sorbet would round out the dish. A coconut or alternatively flavored caramel or 'crocant liquido' may or may not come into play- I also like a buttery, caramel-like 'tuile' that I simply call 'tuile craquante’.
Degree of difficulty: Moderate to time-consuming. A lot of the nuts and bolts will have to be completed onsite: the biscuit and the crunchy textural element, be it from a caramel powder or bake-able batter. We'll need to utilize that Taylor (too bad, this sorbet is beatiful in a Paco!). A bit more fussy on the final assembly, too.
Service: A big, simple plate, my preference might lean towards rectangular or square.
I'm most eager to hear your approach with malt, since it's a fairly easy one for me, unless I take it into uncharted territory. The "classical" pastry chef in me wants to maybe go 100% conventional, as a reward of sorts, thanking the diner for being such a great sport through all of this! And thus I'd play on the chilhood concept of a candy bar, or (less exciting to me) a milkshake of sorts. But then with a chocolate element in the truffle dish, I also like the notion of playing off of the beer/grain connotation, and thereby removing it from the pastry realm just a bit.
Degree of Difficulty: By going conventional, I'd likely need to do some chocolate work onsite, but I recall you mentioning a nice slab of marble (would I need to be concerned about ambient temperature in your kitchen?). It would otherwise be a matter of delicate, a la minute assembly.
Service: I guess we'll wait and see in what direction we'll eventually go.
Working Concept: Setting a tone/reinforcing the theme
You've probably noticed I've so far omitted these from the discussion. I guess I'm being greedy and unwilling to part with one of our five ingredients! Were you serious about extending the length of this menu by a couple of courses? Should we unify the first and last bites with a common ingredient/concept? If so, do we pick another, or chose from the existing five? Could the amuse/mignardise be successfully inverted? Or, should we play off of our appointed "roles" of savory and sweet, but feel free to work without any restrictions... For example, I could do some "inventive" chocolates, pate de fruit, marshmallow, etc.
Degree of difficulty: If I go "familiar forms with unfamiliar flavors," potentially high. Some things travel well, some don't. I wouldn't mind doing three individual components per guest, but I'd also be game for doing a more complex, composed piece.
Service: The possibilities expand with our ambitions...
So, considering the fact that these ideas remain in their infancy, how did I do? Did I remain true to the original concept of blurring savory and sweet? As you "taste" these combinations in your mind, do they work? Did I not go far enough?