Sunday, March 16, 2008

Just Cook

I love it when customers ask me to "just cook," to create a special menu just for them. Last night customers gave me an unlimited budget and total free rein: "we eat everything." Here then is their 11-course dinner with photos. I apologize that I am no photographer. How I got to be 46 years old with no digital camera skills is another story, but I learned a lot about photographing food and about Photoshop in this crash course. Old dog learning new tricks.

Minced Thai Chicken with Thai Basil Pesto in Thom Kha Coconut Soup

I love Thai food and have been cooking it for over 20 years. I like to reinvent and reinterpret dishes in the standard Thai repertoire, as in this dish which takes parts from Drunken Noodles, Larb Gai (minced chicken in fish sauce) and Gai Thom Kha (coconut and galanga soup with chicken). The highly seasoned soup reduced to a sauce consistency is plated down in the well of the plate, with a deep-fried round of sen yai (rice noodle) over that, and a mound of larb on top of that. Garnishes are a quenelle of Thai basil pesto, a Thai basil leaf, and chiffonade of kaffir lime leaf.

Wild Mushroom Salad with Country Ham and Crab; Ham Aspic

I wanted to stuff a big morel with a mousse of country ham and crab, but we're just a few weeks early for morels—I'll save that dish for some of my April menus. This is a "salad" of fresh sautéed yellowfoot chanterelles from Oregon with bits of country ham and jumbo lump crab. The aspic to the left is what is left from cooking down the hock from my Thanksgiving ham for about six hours—intense hammy goodness. Micro-arugula completes the dish.

Mussel Stuffed with Chorizo

Stuffed mussels are a common tapa; this version takes off on our steamed mussels with chorizo that we serve from time to time as an appetizer. I started by rendering some microdice of chorizo in a bit of olive oil. Then I used the colored and flavored oil and mussel steaming juices to make a béchamel. I mixed a bit of béchamel with chopped steamed mussels and the rendered chorizo, then stuffed empty mussel shells with that mix. I napped the top of the mussels in more béchamel, topped the béchamel with breadcrumbs, and browned the breadcrumbs in the oven. Chorizo can overwhelm many flavors, but I was surprised how complementary the mussel and chorizo flavors were together.

Tuna Sandwich: Tuna Sashimi in Disguise

This is one of those tongue in cheek dishes that I like to do when I get the chance. I split a tea sandwich-sized block of #1 tuna in three layers horizontally and then seared the outer two layers to just barely color them. These two outer layers become the "bread." I spread the lower slice with a wasabi paste and placed the totally raw center layer on it. Then I spread that with a miso paste and placed the top layer back on the "sandwich." A quick bias cut finished the illusion. The garnishes are outstanding shiroshoyu (white soy) and seaweed salad.

Braised Skate Cheek with Broccolini and Pancetta

Skate cheeks may be my most favorite seafood ever. We cannot get them very often, but when we do, they sell like hotcakes because they are so fantastic. We dredged the skate in flour and seared both sides. Into the pan went garlic, pancetta, and crushed red pepper flakes. Then we hit the pan with a good shot of white wine, sufficient in quantity to finish the skate by quick braising in the oven. When done, we added blanched broccolini, a tablespoon of butter, and rewarmed it on the stovetop, swirling the pan to bind the sauce with the butter.

Ossobuco of Quail on Carolina Gold Rice Risotto

While not a true ossobuco in the sense that the bone is not cut, this quail "shank" is braised and served in the same manner as traditional ossobuco, lamb shanks, and so forth. Its genesis was in a tableside conversation with a customer who inquired how many kinds of ossobuco and shanks we normally prepare in a year. The customer was eating a quail appetizer at the time. I started listing the ones that we do regularly (bison, venison, beef, veal, lamb, pork, etc.) and then spying the quail, I ventured, "I could probably do ossobuco of quail as well."

Here it is sitting on a bed of risotto that I made from Carolina Gold rice, an heirloom rice from Anson Mills. The risotto is colored with saffron in the classic Milanese tradition and garnished with microdice of pancetta and the immature peas from inside sugar snaps (mange-touts).

Rack of Rabbit; Braised Brussels Sprouts Petals; Virginia Corn Cake; Rabbit Demiglace

I love rabbit. It reminds me of being a kid and eating at my grandmother's house. She always knew that my favorite meal was "fried" (really, smothered) rabbit trapped on her farm, turnip salad (what we in the South call braised turnip greens) from her garden, and crackling corn pone (a hand-shaped baked football of white corn meal, hot water, bacon grease, and crackling—the crispy bits of skin and fat leftover from rendering lard). This dish is my tribute to her.

Here I have reprised that meal with a corn pancake made from local corn meal down on the plate, blanched Brussels sprouts petals finished in bacon grease over, the medium-rare rabbit rack on top of that, and a demiglace made from all the rabbit trimmings and offal (except the liver, which I grilled and ate myself).

Piquillo Pepper Stuffed with Picadillo Dulce of Virginia Lamb; Pimentón Sauce

The customer for whom I cooked this tasting had tasted my lamb piccadillo dulce (sweet and sour lamb) stuffed in piquillo peppers at a prior dinner and asked me to reprise the dish. When she tasted it before, we sat the stuffed pepper on top of a chorizo potato cake.

To reinvent the dish, I decided to invert it a bit. I cut two disks of piquillo and sandwiched them around a layer of finely minced picadillo in a mold. Then I froze the whole thing and enrobed it in a layer of pimentón-flavored mash. Next I blitzed chorizo and panko in the Robot-Coupe and breaded the cakes. After browning the cakes in a pan, I warmed them through in the oven and topped them with pimentón sauce and a mousse of goat cheese. Kudos to Virginia Lamb in Berryville for a world-class product.

Fan of Grilled Yak; Fregola Sarda Flan; Sour Cherry Demiglace

For the final savory course, I marinated a top loin of yak in herbs and garlic, then grilled it lightly and sliced it thinly. The yak strip is sitting on a flan of fregola sarda—a toasted pasta from Sardinia that resembles toasted Israeli couscous. I boiled the fregola and then baked it in an unflavored custard. The dish is garnished with sour cherry demiglace; the cherries are a segue into the next course, the first of two dessert courses.

Cherry Triptych: Deep-Fried Dried Cherries, Cherry Honey, Double Chocolate-Covered Brandied Cherries

Whenever possible, I like to present trios of dishes on the same plate, probably a result of old school thème et variations that my French profs beat into me in college.

Here we have on the left deep-fried cherries. Frying plumps them and caramelizes them a bit; they are addictive. In the back are three brandied griottines, wild cherries from France, enrobed in first white and then dark chocolate, and in the right forefront, a chocolate cup filled with cherry honey made from local honey (the hive is about two blocks from the restaurant). The cherry honey can either be poured over the fried cherries or consumed as a shooter.

Chocolate Trio: Three-Chocolate Bark with Marcona Almonds and Pink Sea Salt, Chocolate Macaroon Bar, Mexican Chocolate Soup

Back to the trio theme, I unleashed my inner Jackson Pollock on the three-chocolate bark, proving (with all due respect to Mr. Pollock and his family) that anyone can do it. The bark is made from a layer of dark and milk chocolate somewhat blended with a palette knife, with white, milk, and dark chocolate drizzled over. The bark is strewn with Marcona almonds and pink sea salt for flavor.

The chocolate macaroon bar is my take on a Mounds bar and the Mexican choclate soup is that amazing intersection of milk chocolate, heavy cream, ancho chile powder, and ground canella (Mexican cinnamon). I wish the chocolate macaroon bar looked neater, but it is simply too hot in my restaurant kitchen to do fiddly confectionery work.


  1. Hi. If you are interested in cooking Thai food see what you think of
    It's got about 30 recipes each one with a cooking video to go along
    Good if you like to try cooking Thai food at home

  2. Wow, I've always wanted to find a restaurant in Winchester with an actual chef. And now not only have I found a good restaurant, I believe this restaurant homes a chef with a passion for food and for cooking, if only judging by looking at the dishes listed previously. I have to say simply reading the descriptions of these dishes makes me salivate at the core of my stomach. I'm looking foward to dinning at One Block West and tasting a deserving dish without the hassle of traveling out of town. Thank you

  3. Your images look very flat on this site. The lighting is ALL wrong.

  4. You're so right. Where were you, jackass, with your fancy camera and lights when I needed you?