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Creating Tasting Menus


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A couple of months ago I did my first serious attempt at a tasting menu (HERE). My next one is this Saturday and I've decided to focus on locally sourced and seasonal foods.

For me, a tasting menu is about flavor progression, interplay of taste, texture, temp...etc, throughout the entire meal, as well as emotional response, wine pairings, fatigue and bathroom breaks.

What I'm hoping to do in this topic is find out how others handle tasting menus, as well as throw my own two cents in about what has worked and what hasn't.

Here are some of my challenges/expectations:

1. I hold the meal at a private home for 18 guests which means much of my prep is done well before the meal, but has the ability to safely transport.

2. My food should be locally sourced as much as possible - this meal will focus on some rabbit that I just had processed and oyster mushrooms that I found in one of our river beds. I was also given some oxtail which I've never used before...in fact, my weakness is meats in general. If I can pastry-tize any ingredient, I will.

3. I want to offer food that has never been experienced before in our town. Many of our residents are well traveled, so this is not as easy as it may sound.

4. I need to turn a profit. Being only my second one, I'm still stocking up on dishes and glassware, but I made a modest profit on my last event. I also have to consider staffing which was all volunteer at my last meal, and won't on this meal.

If you have any ideas, please feel free to post them here.

Thanks a lot!!

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Today was my major planning day. I had been posting concepts on my wall for a couple of months

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and I started dwindling, combining, striking until I came up with this progression

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based on my last meal, I would expect at least one more revision before Saturday.

Is this common for those of you who do this?

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While not a tasting menu per se and not featuring rabbit.... I was at a dinner this past weekend that included:

OCTOBER 18 DINNER MENU

MIXED OLIVES

WARMED GOAT BRIE WITH PESTO

CHICKEN LIVER CROSTINI

MUSHROOM PATE

PRAWNS IN COCONUT MASALA - from vij’s cookbook

CHICKEN SATAY BITES

MOROCCAN LAMB STEW - with dates and apricots

COUSCOUS

BIB LETTUCE AND ENDIVE WITH VINAIGRETTE

STILTON CHEESECAKE WITH RHUBARB COMPOTE

The chicken liver crostini was outstanding.... perhaps this would work with rabbit livers

Mushroom pate also offered an assortment of mushrooms in which you could incorporate your oyster mushrooms...

These were are wine pairings (sparklings with the appetizer bites, reds with the main course and the Moscato with dessert)

1. Veuve du Vernay

french brut sparkling wine

2. Moet & Chandon

french brut imperial champagne

3. Yarrabank cuvee 2001

Devaux Yering

australian sparkling wine

4. Dominio de Ugarte

spanich Rioja Reserva 2003

5. Les Alcusses 2005

spanish red wine

6. Gianpiero Marrone 2007

Sole d'Oro Moscato d'Asti

italian sparkling wine

Edit to add: now that I've looked at your previous dinner I see that I am way, way of course with my suggestions..... l look forward to seeing what you come up with :-)

Edited by appreciator (log)

sarah

Always take a good look at what you're about to eat. It's not so important to know what it is, but it's critical to know what it was. --Unknown

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Sorry about the legibility (my writing and the size). I didn't really post them for the details, but more about the process. I'll post the menu as it stands right now this afternoon - its very early here and I'm off to bake bread. Again, just interested in how others create their menus.

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I start with my flavors, then move to my techniques. Here are the flavors that have been fairly set for a month now.

1. Champagne & pomegranate

2. Rosemary & Orange Peel

3. Beet, sourcream, lemongrass

4. Peanut Butter & Jelly (Black sesame & local wine grapes)

5. Oyster mushroom, cocoa, cantaloup

6. Ham & bean soup

7. Rabbit liver, carrot & asparagus

8. Lobster rooibos tea, squash, muscovado

9. Main: Rabbit sausage, Goat carnitas, avocado, cilantro

10. Whiskey cheddar, warm cider

11. Riesling & manchego

12. Caramel corn

I'll talk about my techniques tonight or tomorrow after I finalize them.

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I'd stick the oxtail into #3. I used to do a beet borscht with braised tail. The dish was killer. If it were on a tasting menu, I'd split the components apart. Here goes...

Maybe thicken your sourcream with mascarpone, add a tbsp of braised/pulled tail (per pouch), and make a quick "ravioli" with egg-roll wrappers. Poach the ravioli and set aside.

Do a beet/lemongrass broth. Pour a little broth into a shallow bowl. Put a ravioli in the middle. Garnish the ravioli with a tiny pile of julienned beets and surround it with a really light drizzle of fruity olive oil. Maybe a few bits of fleur de sel or sel gris on top of the rav. Call it a day

Cheers.

-tw-

Edited by KendallCollege (log)

eGullet Ethics Signatory

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Damn good suggestion! Thanks. And that reminds me to take the oxtail out of the freezer.

With only a few days to go, my messy wall now looks like this:

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And for those of you who like detail:

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which reminded me that I softened my butter but didn't re-form it.

Since I started this topic to share and hear about process. Today was the day that I started pairing my courses with plates, which includes mid-service washings. Here is what I am working with:

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I also knocked out a couple of components that can sit for a few days. The first was the P in the PBJ - black sesame paper with French grey salt and Garam masala:

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I think that's beautiful!

I also worked on my bean soup, and ran into some difficulties (hence, why I did it today instead of later in the week). These are the beans I'm trying to show off:

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On the left are Spotted Horse 4-Corners beans and on the right Chaco Canyon River Runner beans. Both are fairly rare and historic to our area. They are so beautiful, look at them again!

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I have two tasks here. First, I want the meat for the soup. Second, I want the skin for the soup display. The latter is the more difficult.

I attempted three methods for de-skinning. From left to right (below) I did a traditional boil/soak, then a non-boil, hot water soak, and finally a dry sousvide for 8 hours.

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The water washed the pretty spots away, but the sv method didn't quite release the skin. Then I decided to split the beans with a razor blade and just set in warm water for a while...and...voila! That's all it took.

And just to leave you with a little gift:

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Staffing is slowly coming together. Last night I met a new guy in town who used to be a sous at some fancy restaurant in Houston. I think he said it was Shade...sound familiar to anyone? I don't have time to look it up. Anyway, he's going to help out which should be a huge relief for me. I've fixed my bean soup disaster and today I get all of my gels, bases and dry bakes done.

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I don't have the definitive answer, but the progression is key to me. I discussed my philosophy in the first or second post. I don't want foods that just go together, rather I want progression in taste, intensity, emotions, etc. To me, I want to hit crescendos and orgasms, but give time and space for the refractory period.

For example, last night I made my roasted beet sorbet - it was incredibly good...too good for that point in the meal (course 3). My experience at my last tasting menu suggests that the sorbet might emotionally overpower the next three or four courses. Maybe that's not bad - its what happens at Alinea every time they serve Truffle Explosion, but I want people to enjoy and remember courses 4-6.

Last night I reworked the menu again, moving things around, eliminating components, adding components, restructuring the plating. I'll do this at least once more before tomorrow night. These are the elements that I think define a tasting menu versus a multi-course meal.

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The night before - This is the point for me where fatigue sets in - it has - I'm pooped. I'm in pretty good shape, just working on some truffle chestnut pasta which I'll freeze. I'm thinking mostly about quantity - will it be enough but not too much. I believe that you should walk away satisfied but not feeling like a glutton. Right now I'm not sure that I have enough so my plan is to scour the farmers market for any last minute fillers.

I'm very much looking forward to my fresh kitchen help stepping in. If his creds are true, then he'll be able to pick up where I've left off.

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Looking forward to the report Rob. I have a dinner coming up next month that I do every year. The district governor's meeting for the local chapter of the lion's club (usually 24 - 30 people). You almost inspired me to go this route with it this year instead of the amuse, app, main, dessert, petit four format I usually do. Almost. This particular group just isn't adventurous enough for this sort of thing though. I'll save the inspiration for an occasion where it would be more appreciated.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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Final thoughts before I post the results (probably tomorrow). Since I am now cooking for a living, I have to create the same foods day after day. Unlike common restaurant practice, my specials are my opportunity to play (versus using up old food - which isn't as bad as it sounds). But even with that I have to make food that I think will sell.

A chef's tasting menu is my opportunity to play, to push myself, to experiment. Its also at the core of what I like to do - push others' limits of what they believe should be on their plate. I fully expect my bean soup to be the hit tonight: bean paper embedded with black truffle, served over bacon powder, and with a poured hot corn soup. That little dish has a lot of cultural importance to our area, and is mostly locally sourced (less the truffle). I had to sacrifice a technique/gimmick to make the taste work since I wanted to hang the soup paper from a clip in the air, but the paper continues to be too fragile. Anyway, I think anyone passionate about their food (not just a hard core cook) should do a tasting menu at some point, for some special reason. They are the ultimate expression.

And finally, I'm solidified at 12 courses, 60+ components and a busy ass day ahead of me on top of my cafè work. And I would still like to hear how others handle this process :hmmm:

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Here's my final day itinerary (apologies for formatting issues):

Fall Tasting Menu

Saturday, October 25th

8:30 am SV wrap rabbit, and put in pot at 150F

  Farmers Market: wine grapes, cantaloupe, micro greens, filler greens, carrots?, eggs

  Juice grapes and make geleè; dry skins coated in sugar

  Shred cheddar for crisps

  Make sunchoke gratins in muffin pan

  Make corn soup

  Asparagus espuma

  Olive oil smear (82)

  Prepare jujubes

  Fix SA droplets

  Fix tuna chimney holder

  Need fabric for tablecloths

  Ingredients for scones

2 pm Carrot sauce for patè 

4 Bread out to proof

  Brioche out to proof

  Cut carrots into babies

  Carrot geleè – need acetate sheet

5:30 pm Cotton candy machine on – make, cut, store

  Make tortillas

  Prep SA grape caviar and bath   

              Bake sour cream scones

6 500 g lemongrass tea, 250 g sugar, 4 ½ sheet gelatin (softened)

Heat in saucepan til dissolved; add gelatin and immersion blend; pour in soda make with 2 charges, chill

Bake bread

  Make carrot knots and chill in ice water

6:45 Cut champagne spaghetti

Start ice cream maker with beet sorbet

Bake brioche

7 pm Seat guests

7:10 Spaghetti on fork, in baking dish

  Heat corn soup

7:20 Bread service, small plate with butter form

  Candy baby carrots in palm sugar and szechwan 

7:30 Beet sorbet on sour cream cake set in lemongrass foam with celery ice (fork scraped)

  Batter and fry tunas

7:40 Black sesame paper, Chardonnay grap SA caviar on soup spoon, wine on base

  Cut terrine for plating

7:50 Tuna Tempura, burning chile

8:05 Oyster Terrine, cocoa soil, fresh cantaloupe shavings, micro greens

8:20 Bean Soup: bean paper hung/covering over bacon powder; table poured hot corn soup

  Start frying tortillas

  Sunchoke gratins in oven

8:35 Patè: patè rectangle, draped in carrot geleè, topped with brioche slices, carrot droplets, candied baby carrots, textured ginger square, asparagus espuma

8:50 Lobster tea coconut milk ribbon, squash ravioli, caramelized seeds, mucovado mousse, 25-year balsamic

  Fry carrot knots

  Fry goat shreds

  Bake cheddar crisps

9:10 Rabbit with fried carrot knots & jujubes; miso granola, sunchoke gratin; Cabrito carnitas, cilantro foam, juniper crumbles, avocado mousse in tortilla.

9:35 Whiskey Cheddar cheesecake & warm cider soup

9:45 Riesling Marshmallows & cheddar crisps

Shopping:      HOME

NM sparkling  Sage

Carrots  Toothpicks to hold chile

  Corkscrew

Tools  Equipment

Scissors  Cotton candy machine 

Soup spoons 

Everclear

Bamboo toothpicks

Razor blade for making cocoa soil lines

Peeler

Knives & sharpener

Something to pour corn soup from like glass teapot

Heat gun to melt gel sheets off

Szechuan for baby carrots

Silpats & sheets & parchment

Tempura batter (and ingredients)

Eggs

Butter, oils, salt, pepper, sugar

Microplane for cheddar crisps

Julienne peeler

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Have you read the eGCI on menu planning? It's pretty good.

I think I've only ever done two dinner parties under six courses. The most I've done is 22. This is my standard progression of 6:

Appetizer

Soup

Salad

Main

Cheese/Fruit dessert

Chocolate dessert

If I do more courses, I usually add a amuse bouche, sorbet, pasta, and second soup in that order.

I've ended up settling upon this sort of progression because it's relatively flexible in providing the needed contrasts. It goes from a cold appetizer to a hot soup, then a cold salad then a hot main. It goes from crunchy appetizer to smooth soup then crisp salad. It goes from light to heavy to light to heavy again.

Here are some relatively unorthodox tips I almost always use to great success:

Have your guests help you plate and serve. It still always stuns me just how time consuming plating can be and when you're bringing together several last minute elements, more hands can be a life saver.

Schedule a half hour break right before the main course, shuffle people from the dining room into the living room. That way, you give your guests a chance for their stomachs to settle away from the sight of food and you can invest some time into preparing an a la minute main.

Invest in some really high quality, card stock and print your own menus half an hour before serving. It's a great souvenir for your guests to take home.

Tasting menus are a lot of fun and they've become kind of a specialty for me. One of my favourite ones was for a friend's birthday, I flew in at 1pm with just a knife and a wooden spoon and managed to shop and cook a 10 course meal for 8 by 8pm that night.

PS: I am a guy.

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A few closing thoughts about the process for me and I'll post the pics later. It was a great meal. Only two flops out of the 60 components; about 10 saves/adjustments; and 4 knock-out hits!

First, I'm tired as shit. My body is aching for recovery time. We were on site til 2 am cleaning and still didn't finish- the home owner ultimately kicked us out. I ate almost nothing throughout the night and so right now my body is screaming for me to put anything in mouth - cardboard would be fine.

Second, my sous was a rock star! But, I learned that not every chef gives their sous the same responsibility. Zach kept saying, "Thanks so much for trusting me with this much responsibility." I didn't understand why he was saying that. He had the two flops - burnt my savory granola encase rabbit and killed the fresh corn tortillas - no problem - guests didn't know. But, at the end of the night as we were re-capping, he said, "you're the first chef who actually let me do anything other than chop vegetables." WTF. 10 years in the business in some nice places and that's all he's been able to do as sous?! Hell, my high school interns do more than that - that's how they learn. I should have explored his experiences a bit more and that would have helped me define his role (and mine) better. I focused my time, since 80% of the prep was done before Zach ever saw the kitchen, on shmoozing guests and plating...and any task involving an offset :)

Third, I alluded to this earlier - be willing to let go of your cherished babies and adopt the orphans. I was so excited to make a few dishes that ended up being just okay, while the overall hit of the night was the dish that I chalked up as a disaster and ultimate filler - bean soup. The theme for the night was Memories of Fall, and I preceded the meal with a speech that talked about my favorite memories of fall, especially sitting in front of a football game under a blanket with a big bowl of my mom's bean soup with ham hocks. So I made bean soup paper, embedded with black summer truffle, set that on top of the dish that held Niman Ranch bacon powder, and did a plate side pouring of hot cornbread soup. I thought each component by itself was fun and interesting, but just okay. Well, combined they apparently were amazing - everyone wanted more...all I could say was, "Don't worry, there's 9 more courses to go."

Alright - I need to eat, sleep, clean, eat, sleep and then I'll get pics up.

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I'll have to break this down into two sections. I have pics from courses 5 on, but not the first four since during that part of the meal I was working into a frenzy trying to keep everything on time (meaning 5 and 6 courses ahead). I did have a photographer there so hopefully she took decent pics, and when I get those I'll add them since they are some of the more dramatic pics.

Course 5: Tuna Tempura

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This has become my signature dish (if I'm allowed to have a signature dish). I fill a chile vessel with everclear and flame it. This was then enclosed in an oil lamp chimney. On top of the chimney was a skewered, tempura battered prickly pear tuna (fruit) filled with chuchupate (an indigenous herb), white chocolate ganache & blueberry. Its a great dish since it tastes great and folks really think its tuna fish. Both times I've done this there have been table arguments about whether it was tuna fish or not, and I enjoy having that diversion at that point in the meal.

Process note: While this course has tremendous ooh and ahh value, and it is a fantastic tasting dish, and really highlights a local food that most people view as a weed, it is incredibly challenging to serve. The high school servers were very afraid of the flames and ended up serving one at at time so very, very slow! I'm attempting to create a base that will provide stability, and allow for air flow to keep the flames burning a bit long.

Course 6: Oyster Terrine

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Locally foraged oyster mushrooms & morels set in a terrine, served with a savory cocoa soil, basil powder and lemon olive oil pudding.

Process note: This was the first substantive course - the rest were bites. I wanted something more low-key, but with a nice finish. I soaked the shrooms in brandy for three days before setting them in the terrine hoping to find a good balance between the earthiness and the brandy - it seemed to have worked. But I had to follow up with a wow!

Course 7: Bean Soup

This was my favorite course to make. As a child I loved fall and winter nights where my mom would serve us bean soup. She would soak white beans over night, then cook them all day the next day with a ham hock, and typically with corn bread. We would wrap up in blankets in front of the TV and eat and fart - those were great times! In my updating of this family classic I started with two varieties of rare beans: Spotted Horse 4-Corner beans and Chaco Canyon River Runners. Both or gorgeous:

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I cooked these with La Quercia organic pancetta from Iowa and made my mom's soup. I pureed the soup, finished it with chestnut oil spread it on a sheet (adding some elements to help it keep its structure), added a sliver of summer black truffle, and baked the soup into crackers.

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I then cooked a bunch of Niman Ranch bacon and converted the juices into bacon powder using tapioco maltodextrin. At the farmers market I found a rare corn - Hopi White Flint corn. That was roasted, juiced, and made into a soup with a bit of brown sugar, green chile and other cornbready type seasonings.

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In the final service I plated the cracker over the powder, and did a tableside pouring of the corn soup. Tyler said that this was one of his favorite courses of the evening.

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Process note: This was the most challenging course to prepare. The crackers were so damn fragile that I had to go through four trials and finally opted to rest the cracker on the bowl. I intended to hang them from a clip above the bowl (you'll see this set up when I get the pics from course 3). Still it provided the flavor follow up that I needed, and headed us in the direction of the entrees.

Course 8: Patè

Having just secured 10 locally raised, freshly processed rabbits, and being gifted 7 pounds of rabbit liver, I set out to make a patè - my first ever. I added some brandy, currants and braised apple. I formed it in a PVC pipe to make a round.

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And then served it with a ginger pulp triscuit and baby carrot candied with palm sugar and sechuwan pepper, and asparagus espuma.

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Process note: I didn't allow enough thaw time for the pate. I had previously cut the slices, then froze them for transport, but I only took them out about 45 minutes before plating. They were rock hard. At the last second I had to throw them in the microwave to soften them which worked, but I wanted a uniform texture and temperature, and I did not get that. Still, all in all, this was the course that was declared the best by all patè lovers.

Course 9: Lobster

This was another great tasting dish. I infused a couple of lobster tails in coconut milk with saffron, then did a gelatin/agar mixture to allow me to create a warm "noodle" of the mixture.

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Next, I created a chestnut flour w/black truffle pasta, filled it with summer squash and made ravioli.

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The final plating included a squiggle of 25-year balsmico. muscovado smear, and balsamic glazed squash seeds.

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(hanging head in shame - this was clearly the most disasterous plating of the night. You may argue with me when you see the next course, but it was damn tasty!)

Process note: Sometimes you just don't have time to test. I had been PMing Tri2Cook frantically while making the noodle since I had never used agar before, but when it set up it just felt right. I wanted to create a ribbon that I could move around, but obviously it broke. I should have corrected for this error by simply cutting strips and laying them flat on the plate - it would have been an equally nice effect. The smear was also hideous, but so incredible with this course - I took it as far to the burnt side as I could without going over. Then I froze it in a pastry form...but dumbshit! it had too high of sugar contect to fully freeze, which left me with few options other than smear - the lazy chef's plating technique.

Course 10: Rabbit Goat

Speaking of not the prettiest...

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We've been having fun with this one in the regrettable foods topic. No, I didn't serve maggots! This is wild rice that I puffed for a savory granola (celery root, onion and rice). And again, speaking of not the prettiest...

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Sous vide cooked rabbit that was later shredded and filled into the granola.

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In the final plating: the granola rabbit topped with a sunchoke gratin filled with truffle cheese; fresh tortilla, avocado mousse, goat carnitas and a squirt of juniper berry cream. The plating sucked because we had some dish washing issues, but it was all good, if not a bit much for one plate.

Process note: A bit much indeed. I probably should have killed one of my golden calves - either the goat or the rabbit, but I didn't. Then confound the problem with a dishwashing backup and I didn't have my large plates to work with which might have saved this mess. So, the course that should have been the keystone of the meal was relegated to "some goat and rabbit dish." I do want to say that I found each component really wonderful, and especially the juniper cream which I will use again.

And finally the desserts:

Course 11: Apple Pie and Cheddar Cheese

5-Year Cheddar cheesecake with warm apple cider and lemon cotton candy

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Course 12: Riesling Marshmallow

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I'll post the first courses as soon as I get the pics.

Our greatest challenges were a kitchen smaller than we remembered, a sous who had only cut vegetables (but again he was really, really good), and front of the house oversights. All will be fixed on the next meal which will be Valentines weekend. It should be interesting finding locally sourced foods that time of year.

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Oh my goodness gfron1, this is an incredible endeavor. I am so impressed with the sheer magnitude of this dinner, let alone you are also cooking in the restaurant...bravo! I would love to taste the pate, the ravioli, those booze-infused oyster mushrooms, and that bean cracker, my goodness, whatever made you think of doing that one?

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The bean soup dish was the one that I had been playing with the longest. I originally wanted to find a way to separate the flavors in the bowl itself, with all of them being liquid. In the end I decided to change composition. It really is simply inspired by my mom's bean soup - although she never made it quite like that. Thanks for the kind words Shaya.

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Wow! How come I wasn't invited?

And then served it with a ginger pulp triscuit and baby carrot candied with palm sugar and sechuwan pepper, and asparagus espuma.

gallery_41282_4708_24116.jpg

Don't get mad at me, but I read "asparagus enema"

and then I saw the picture...

I'm sure it was delicious, though!

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