Friday, March 11, 2011

Chef's Table

Here are more photos from a recent Chef's Table. We had some fun with these dishes. As always, they are a result of collaboration among the cooks and me. In creating these menus, everyone throws in ideas and we see what sticks. Usually some hybrids happen and for the better.

Cucumber Summer Roll. We were kicking around amuse ideas and somehow got onto summer rolls when Tony offered the idea of using cucumber instead of rice paper. I ultimately changed this course from an Asian-inspired one to a more European-flavored one, to bring it in line with the rest of the menu. Inside the roll is cucumber, carrot, parsley stems, and court bouillon-poached shrimp bound with a mayonnaise flavored with lemon zest, dill, and capers. Crunchy with big flavor, yet very refreshing, everything a good amuse should be.

Rockfish. We've been on a fish-in-broth kick for a few tasting menus now (because we love the idea of half soup, half entrée) and so we came quite naturally to rockfish (the local name for striped bass, this from the Chesapeake Bay) with wild mushrooms and a Surry sausage jus. Sometime in the middle of the night before the tasting, I hit me to put the fish on a base of parsnip crème caramel to add some sweetness and richness to the dish. (Don't ask me why I decided this or even how, I don't have a clue. Like most of my food ideas, it just appeared in my brain). The caramel is very dark so it is not very sweet and there is no sugar in the custard. The flavors worked very well and I think the guests were intrigued with the it-looks-like-dessert-but-its-a-fish-dish aspect.

Breakfast. This is just the kind of dish that tickles a lot of chefs and brings out the kid in us. Who doesn't love breakfast for dinner? We've had a version of this dish on the dinner menu for about a week and apparently our customers don't love breakfast for dinner! It seems de rigueur in these parts to order a salad before dinner rather than something that we have put our creative energy into. Sigh. You see down on the plate a pimentón sauce and Virginia maple syrup (yes, we make damn fine maple syrup in Virginia too) and on top of that a napoleon of parsnip latkes and grilled rounds of Alan Benton's country sausage, all topped with a poached quail egg and a dribble of hollandaise: Eggs Benedict gone miniature.

Nest Egg. This dish is the merger of two other ideas, one a Carolina Gold and Sea Island red pea hoppin' john risotto and the other a polenta ball stuffed with oxtail ragù. We ended up stuffing the oxtail into the risotto and forming it into eggs, serving it on a nest of chiffonaded romaine, a nod to the Lenten season. I'm sure this must have been fun to eat, cracking through the crisp panko crust to get at the silky risotto and the liquid ragù.

Shepherd's Pie. What to do with a lamb saddle? Answering that question is how we arrived at this dish. I think it was Tony's idea to stuff it with all the mirepoix and seasoning that we usually put into shepherd's pie. While we were reinterpreting the classic, we decided to put the mash (in this case, parsnip and celery root) on the bottom, down on the plate, to hold the rounds of lamb loin roulade. I boned the saddle such that the tenderloin and the top loin (both sides of the T-bone) were intact and rolled it so that the top loin wrapped the tenderloin, the rare part you see in the center. Quite successful. Travis' stuffing was dynamite.

Apricot Tart. Bad Ed! Bad Chef! This dessert was way too big for a tasting. But I really couldn't help myself. The tart crust is shortbread, heavy on cornstarch so that it is light and crisp. This is topped with lemon curd, light on sugar so that it remains tart, and moistened dried apricots. In the background, you see a phyllo cup with vanilla bean ice cream. Crème anglaise over everything. Too much! I promise I will try harder to come up with smaller dessert courses in the future (not really!).

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