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docsconz

Ideas in Food

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I first became aware of Alex Talbot and Aki Kamozawa several years ago through posts on the eGullet Society Discussion Forums and through friends and acquaintances who were aware of their work. I followed their careers at Keyah Grande in Colorado and then when they returned east through their incredible blog, Ideas in Food. They were always so creative, their food looked marvelous and they documented their work religiously and openly. Though I had never tried their food (it wasn't for lack of desire on my part), we had opened a dialog while they were still in Colorado. They returned east with the idea of opening their own restaurant/ small inn outside of New York City. One of the areas they have been considering is the area in which I live, the Upper Hudson River Valley. Last spring they came up to look at a few possibilities and i arranged for a good friend of mine, who is a Realtor and very interested in food to show them around the area. Though nothing has come of that visit as far as finding the right location for their project, it was great to finally meet each other and continue a dialog.

My friend, Tom and I thought wouldn't it be fun to bring them up to do a dinner for us and some friends. He and his wife are people we always enjoy being with and we thought we could include a few more people. Alex and Aki were off to Montana for the summer, but would be back for the fall. We met up again at the Starchefs International Chefs Congress in NYC in September and firmed up our plans for this weekend. It would be fun to actually experience what I had been admiring visually and conceptually for so long.

We thought of friends of ours who we hadn't been able to get together with for too long who would be the perfect complement for this meal. Greg and Sharon Taylor, the former owners of The Friends Lake Inn in Chestertown, N.Y. were instrumental in my wife and my culinary development in the 90's as we frequented great wine dinners at the Inn and became close friends with them. After they sold the Inn, which continues to do a great business they built (literally) a new house on Friends Lake and altered their hospitality approach to that of a small, but luxurious B&B, The Fern Lodge.

When Alex first gave me a price for the meal, I almost gagged as it was considerably higher then I naively expected. Nevertheless, after consulting with Tom and his wife and the Taylors we determined that we would go ahead. Tom and I would split the cost of paying for the dinner, while the Taylors would host the dinner, house Alex and Aki and provide most of the wine that we would enjoy. As I hope to show with this topic without mentioning the specific cost, the weekend was an absolute bargain.

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The dinner would be Friday night at the Fern Lodge, whose kitchen and dining facilities and overall ambiance are exceptional. Alex and Aki having done all their prep prior to driving up from the City were supposed to arrive at my house in the early afternoon so we could go up to the lake and set up at a leisurely pace and enjoy some daylight. Unfortunately, they misjudged the time it would take and arrived at my house shortly after 5PM. We quickly regrouped and I headed up to the lake with them while my wife followed a bit later. In some cases, the delay might have been a harbinger of disaster. Not so in this case.

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They had a cooler full of their prepped food vacuum sealed to conserve space. The unloading was quick and efficient. I had an inkling of some of the things they were working on from following their blog, but I finally saw the actual menu. This would be interesting.

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Though the kitchen was well equipped, Aki and Alex brought all the equipment (outside of actual burners) that they would need. In the photo below, Aki is unpacking the Polyscience circulating water bath, the most specialized piece of equipment that they brought with them.

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Getting used to another kitchen can be daunting, though I think Alex and Aki settled into this one rather quickly and easily. Another special piece of equipment they brought with them was a set of Himalayan pink salt slabs that they would grill scallops on.

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Everything in its place, they were ready to cook...

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... and we were ready to enjoy.

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For a great sense of their work at Keyah Grande check out this great report from my very good friend, molto e. This report and several personal correspondences of experiences at Keyah Grande were major influences in my continued interest in Alex and Aki's careers.

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Looks like something great is afoot, docsconz!

Please tell us you'll post images of the food, you can't leave us hanging. What on earth is bee bollen-grains of paradise?

BTW that is one handsome kitchen.

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Looks like something great is afoot, docsconz!

Please tell us you'll post images of the food, you can't leave us hanging. What on earth is bee bollen-grains of paradise?

BTW that is one handsome kitchen.

Nah, I didn't take any food photos. :raz::laugh:

Good catch on the "bollen" typo! Of course that should have read "pollen".

Not only is that kitchen handsome, it is incredibly good for doing what kitchens are supposed to do - cook. This is a particularly great kitchen for entertaining and events like this, even though this one was relatively small. Our hosts used their hospitality experience wisely. :smile:

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The kitchen started to get fired up.

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I first became aware of these salt blocks and the myriad of potential uses for them at David Burke's Demonstration at the Starchefs ICC. Ironically Aki and Alex missed that demo as they were busy with the Pacojet Competition at the same event.

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Our table was set and awaiting diners, food and more wine. Our experienced hosts also had the tremendous foresight to hire young man to help with service and cleaning. He did a fine job.

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It was time to start taking most of the food out of the cryovac bags.

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Aki is holding "cherry-lime leaf kohlrabi"

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Apple-jalapeño, a condiment for the Hot Chestnut-Ginger Knot.

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Jars for soup service.

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Alex plating a salt slurry to keep the oyster of the first course in place.

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Aki cutting cubes of lamb for finishing. The lamb is actually two different cuts, belly and neck glued together with activa in order to achieve a thicker and more flavorful cut. Thee meat was pre-cooked sous vide to be finished on the stove.

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Aki cutting the walnut infused compressed cucumbers.

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All spread out.

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The sous vide pre-cooked turkey wings remain in the cryovac - for now.

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Aki picking flowers.

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Sharon and Greg work on the wine.

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The oyster plating gets closer to service.

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More bagged goods.

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Those look appetizing!

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Our first course, the oysters are almost ready. It is time to sit at the table.

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Insanely jealous doesn't even begin to encompass how I'm feeling at this moment.

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Alex and Paul served the first course.

For a view of that course as plated by Alex see here. The lighting in the dining room at the time did not allow me to photograph the dish as Alex presented it, so I altered it a little:

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Island Creek Oyster, cauliflower, mustard, brown bread

The oyster were not exactly raw nor were they exactly cooked. They were shucked then poached in their own juices for 20 minutes at 48ºC before they were chilled. They incorporated some of the best aspects of both elements. The consistency though slightly firmer than a raw oyster, but not as firm or congealed as a thoroughly cooked one. It retained some of its wonderful rawness without truly being raw. In addition, the brininess was added back with a spoonful of the poaching liquor. Being an oyster purist I would have been very happy downing a dozen of these just as they were. Even so, the accompaniments provided good flavor and textural complements to the oyster. The cauliflower had been pureed in hard cider then mixed with yogurt and mustard and set with the assistance of carrageenan. In this dish and elsewhere, Alex and Aki used various powders. They were not necessarily obvious or noticeable. They weren't trumpeted for their own sakes, but to achieve specific culinary effects.

Speaking of complements, we went for a classic oyster combination with the first wine.

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The pairing of this intensely mineral rich wine worked great with the briny oyster itself, but wasn't quite as stellar with the assertive brown bread and mustard components of the dish.

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Good work doc, keep it coming!

I have been reading Ideas in Food for some time and while I am fascinated by their ability to process food in untold ways, I have to admit that visually, much of the end product makes me think, well, of jello. I can only see their food, not taste it, and what I see is many of my favorite food items ending up as cubes or slabs. So I await your report of how it tastes.

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Good work doc, keep it coming!

I have been reading Ideas in Food for some time and while I am fascinated by their ability to process food in untold ways, I have to admit that visually, much of the end product makes me think, well, of jello. I can only see their food, not taste it, and what I see is many of my favorite food items ending up as cubes or slabs.  So I await your report of how it tastes.

This is a great point. Until this weekend I had only ever tasted one dish of theirs and that was literally a taste of their Pacojet contest entry at the Starchefs Congress. Nevertheless, I loved the aesthetics of their food as well as the concepts they employed in how they paired ingredients and the techniques they utilized. Because I was so curious, I really, really wanted to get a real sense of what they were doing and not just a photographic or conceptual one. Well, this weekend I did get that sense, and I can say that there is plenty of wonderful gustatory substance behind their visual and conceptual styles. Their cuisine is very much flavor based and designed to please. Like any excellent chef, they are also very well grounded in classic technique in addition to their modern, creative approach. Ironically, this report will still only provide a virtual experience for those readers who haven't experienced their cooking. For me at least, I will be able to continue to follow their careers with a greater understanding of what they are actually achieving and I look forward to enjoying their cooking many more times in the future.

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Wild Brook Trout Roe, smoked maple and cayenne-cashew ice cream, cranberry brioche

Wow! This course was spot on perfect. It had everything. The flavor balance was impeccable with the roe providing salt, the ice cream and brioche a little sweetness, the ice cream some smokiness and mild heat and the cranberry a little acidic piquancy. None of those elements stood out against any other though as they blended seamlessly. In addition, the textural elements were also amazing with complexity provided by the crunchy dryness of the brioche, the moist, cool creaminess of the ice cream and the explosive pop of the Blis caviar. This was one of my most satisfying dishes of the year.

We continued with the Chablis through this course. It worked well.

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I had a little time in between courses to monitor the activities in the kitchen.

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A busy stove.

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Alex tying knots.

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Winging it.

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Zucchini-Cheddar Soup, black squid

Putting to use the flowers picked by Aki and the glass containers pictured earlier, this soup ws brilliant in flavor as well as color. Cleverly placed to follow the trout roe, this soup contained what visually appeared to be black caviar, but what in reality were pulverized squid particles that had absorbed its own ink. The meatiness of the squid added a strong element of umami to this delightful dish. Once again, the balance was impeccable. The presentation, though simple, was perfect.

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Our wine pairing, This was a delicious, crisp chenin blanc that married well to the soup.

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Chestnut-Ginger Knot, parsley, apple-jalapeño

Although also a knot, the technique used to make this is different than the one used to make another recent Knot that I am aware of - Wylie Dufresne's Foie Knot. Should he care to chime in, I will let Alex describe the details. Once again, this proved to be a tasty, well-balanced dish rich in imagination and creativity s well as bright, delicious flavor. The jalapeño element was just enough to lend a hint of heat without being in the least bit overbearing or overwhelming.

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We continued with the Savenniéres, once again working well.

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A laugh out loud clever presentation, perfectly crisped exterior texture and truly succulent flavor made the next course one of the table's favorites of the evening. The sous-vide cooked, butter-finished boneless turkey wings were absolutely sensational, easily the best example of that ingredient I have ever experienced. The bleached turkey wing bones that I jokingly quipped about earlier, proved to be the visual centerpiece for this remarkable dish that gave it context and highlighted the couple's knife wielding skills.

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Turkey Wing, carrot-ketchup, cilantro, soy-lime

Can you tell that I loved this dish? The other components of the dish enhanced the flavors and brightened the dish without overwhelming it. The skill and wit involved to take an ordinarily very pedestrian element and make it into true haute cuisine was to me perhaps the best single example of their combined prowess.

An additional element of interest is the use of oft-disposed of cilantro stems as part of the garnish. These stems had been compressed under vacuum, altering the cellular structure and effectively cooking them. Although I am not sure that they add anything flavor-wise that more traditional cilantro leaves wouldn't have they worked well from a design and aesthetic point of view, while also providing sufficient flavor and a use for something that would otherwise have been wasted. In this respect, Alex and Aki's approach follows that of Ferran Adria and his team who continually strive to find quality uses for undertrodden ingredients with often dazzling results.

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That this wine was slightly maderized did not lessen the enjoyment of its accompaniment.

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looks awesome!

they use some very professional line cook style devices - and a sick viking oven!

did they ever cook professionally other than their b&b and inn?

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looks awesome!

they use some very professional line cook style devices - and a sick viking oven!

did they ever cook professionally other than their b&b and inn?

No, but food and entertaining are very important to them and they do both very, very well! Greg, in addition to his roles with the B&B is trained as a mason (he built the lodge and was responsible for most of the upgrades to the Friends lake Inn when they owned it), is an executive with the wine importer, Frederick Wildman and Sons, LTD and an avid skier and cyclist. He is also one of the funniest storytellers I know. Together they are great hosts and great company.

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This weekend we finally had real sense of autumn as the fall had here-to-for been unseasonably warm and sunny. As such it was particularly appropriate to have dishes that were redolent of the season.

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Pumpkin Pumpkin, Benton's smoked bacon

Borrowing their technique for Sunflower Seed Risotto, Alex and Aki did the same using pumpkin seeds, though the size of the seeds hardly justify calling it "risotto" and they don't. One difference with the sunflower seed recipe is that instead of chicken broth they used a pumpkin broth. Once made they combined it with pumpkin puree and Callebault white chocolate to make the "Pumpkin Pumpkin." The dish was completed with the addition of compressed parsley stems, crumbled Benton's smoked bacon and shaved pecorino romano on top. Once again, the trademark depth of flavor and balance were there in this unique dish hat truly spoke of autumn.

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This was an outstanding match with the residual sweetness and acid standing up to and complementing the sweetness of the pumpkin and the smokiness of the bacon.

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After the pumpkin course we moved into a more subtle phase of the dinner centered on seafood.

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Turbot, golden beet, passionfruit, horseradish

Subtle, I say? What is subtle about golden beet, passion fruit or horseradish? And with whitefish? Are they crazy? Well, believe it or not, this really was a subtle dish as the yellow based ingredients were modulated to provide little more than a slight, balanced accent to the sous vide cooked turbot. The fish was allowed to remain the star despite the usually assertive ingredients paired with it.

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This dry reisling provided just the right accents to play off the beet and passionfruit, while again letting the turbot shine.

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Scallop searing in butter on the salt griddle.

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Coffee Cavatelli, salt seared scallops, cucumber-walnut, gruyere

The scallops were sweet and delicious, but I can't say that I noticed any real difference from other nicely seared scallops. The cavatelli were made using freeze-dried coffee, a process that Alex said that had grown out of an email conversation that he had with Wylie Dufresne over how instant coffee was made. Wylie noted that he had been making gnocchi and spaetzle with instant coffee. The compressed cucumber-walnut by itself was interesting, but not of particular interest. The cavatelli, cucumber and gruyere together, however, were synergistic to the point that they were more than interesting. They were also delicious, especially with the beautiful scallops. We stayed with the reisling through this course.

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The next course in progress:

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Aki preparing spaetzle and kale.

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Tuscan kale.

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Pretzel spaetzle

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Rendering and finishing the lamb

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Plating the lamb, spaetzle and kale.

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Braised Lamb, pretzel spaetzle, Tuscan kale

If one likes the taste of real lamb, this lamb was incredible as it was rich, crispy, and full-flavored. Although I was starting to fill up, I could have eaten significantly more of it and the portions were generous. Along with the turkey wing, this was probably my single favorite individual element of the meal. The pretzel spaetzle were quite tasty as well and worked nicely with the lamb. Though I enjoyed the Tuscan kale, this was probably the one element of the meal I that seemed a little out of balance to me. This was quite strongly flavored, good, but I would have preferred the purity of the lamb without it being quite as strong as it was.

Ranking the dishes to this point, my favorite was the trout roe as it was the most synergistic combination. This was followed by the turkey wing, which though not quite as synergistic as the roe, had a great star with a very good supporting cast. The lamb had the same and perhaps even better quality star than the wing, a good supporting actor, but another that tried to steal the show only to weaken it. This is far from saying that I didn't enjoy the dish as I did very much. I just think I would have enjoyed it a little more had the kale been toned down a bit.

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This Washington State syrah was a great companion to this full-flavored dish. Big and bold, it was a perfect choice, neither overpowering nor being overpowered by anything on the plate.

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The scallops were sweet and delicious, but I can't say that I noticed any real difference from other nicely seared scallops.

What a show! I have also enjoyed reading about your meal at A&A's Ideas site, something I started doing only a few months ago. You said it best: "always so creative, their food looked marvelous and they documented their work religiously and openly". I'm guessing they have inspired a very, very large number of people by sharing their process in such a considerate way.

Oh yeah, the scallops . . . so do they taste of rock salt at all? How do you clean that thing?

Also, I loved the turkey wing treatment! I, too, have had some fun with that ingredient. I grew up in Canada's "Golden Horseshoe" and have consumed at least my own bodyweight in Buffalo wings over the years. At a CFL Grey Cup party years ago I served up a platter of the biggest turkey wings I could find a la Buffalo-aise style. It was borderline grotesque, like eating a poached ostrich egg where bigger is not always better.

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The scallops were sweet and delicious, but I can't say that I noticed any real difference from other nicely seared scallops.

What a show! I have also enjoyed reading about your meal at A&A's Ideas site, something I started doing only a few months ago. You said it best: "always so creative, their food looked marvelous and they documented their work religiously and openly". I'm guessing they have inspired a very, very large number of people by sharing their process in such a considerate way.

Oh yeah, the scallops . . . so do they taste of rock salt at all? How do you clean that thing?

Also, I loved the turkey wing treatment! I, too, have had some fun with that ingredient. I grew up in Canada's "Golden Horseshoe" and have consumed at least my own bodyweight in Buffalo wings over the years. At a CFL Grey Cup party years ago I served up a platter of the biggest turkey wings I could find a la Buffalo-aise style. It was borderline grotesque, like eating a poached ostrich egg where bigger is not always better.

The scallops certainly didn't taste salty. They were delicious, but I can't say that I was able to discern a significant difference from other well prepared high quality scallops cooked simply.

Wings are certainly tasty, though one rarely sees them given the kind of treatment Alex and Aki did. I love an injection of humor and wit into a meal - especially when it tastes as great as these wings did.

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