Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Eleven Courses

After ten months of staging (like mirage-ing) at Uchi, my time finally ended yesterday. I'm on the opening crew of Haddington's - an American tavern with gastropub influences. So with that, and school, I ended my time at Pappasito's, Uchi, and Mulberry. Haddington's will be opening very soon with some ridiculously awesome food, so stay tuned for that.

In addition to yesterday being my last day at Uchi, it was my first meal at Uchi. I had eaten countless family meals there and tried several components to several dishes, but had never had a fully composed plate.....until yesterday.

"Pumpkin Explosion"
That's what the guy that brought the amuse-bouche to our table called it, and that's what it was! Man oh man. There was dehydrated pumpkin, pickled pear, a micro-herb of some sort, it was one tasty bite.

Their take on ceviche. It had salmon and striped bass sashimi, baby tomatoes, yellow bell pepper, some of that micro-brunoise garlic I was always talking about, and cilantro. Ceviche is pretty much ruined for me forever now. Killer.

Hama Chili
Another winner. Yellow tail sashimi with ponzu, Thai chili, more micro-brunoise garlic and orange supremes. Sweet mother. Delicious.


I generally am not a scallop fan. However, when it's on sushi rice, avocado and spicy aoli,wrapped in nori, and topped with black sesame, you won't find a bigger scallop fan. Fied (our server and my good buddy from waaaay back) told us the tail of how he once ate 9. I could do 10.

Walu Walu
Forget mahi-mahi, THIS is the fish so nice, they named it twice! This is oak-grilled escolar (imagine the best halibut you've ever had and multiply that time 1000) that is served in a "pond" of ponzu and topped with negi (scallions cut on a crazy bias), candied citrus, myoga, and garlic chips. Each bite was better than the one before it and had no one been looking, we would've slurped the bowl clean.

Hamachi and Madai Sashimi
Baby yellowtail and Japanese black snapper on perfect sushi rice. A whisper of soy (dip it fish side, not rice side!) and these tasted like the ocean. Perfection.

Bacon Steakie
Stop reading. Drive to Uchi. Order only this dish. You're welcome. What is it? Oh, right. Niman Ranch pork belly is sous vide for TEN HOURS, then ever so lightly dusted and flash fried for a crispy texture. It is served over basil puree and garnished with kumquats, basil, and watermelon radish. IF I am ever wrongly convicted of a murder and sentenced to the chair, this dish will get strong consideration for being the last culinary delight to grace my palate on the way out.

Shag Roll
Salmon is ever-so-skillfully rolled in sushi rice. They flash fry the whole role, slice it into bite-size pieces, top each with spicy aoli, and serve it all over squid ink sumiso. Just great. Really great.

At this point in the meal, Summer and I are getting quite full. Thinking we can't do more, Fied hits the table with.....

Wagyu Niku

Wagyu short ribs. Yea. A lot of you may know wagyu as "Kobe" beef. Well, Kobe is a type of wagyu - more specifically the region that it's from. Anywaaaaaay, this stuff is just ridiculous. Next time you are out and see "wagyu" on a menu, splurge. Split it. Take out a second mortgage on your home because it ain't cheap. But do whatever you have to do to get wagyu into your facehole. It is melt-in-your-mouth delicious. In this case, it had been grilled and was served with charred cauliflower, shishito peppers, and red grapes - that had been cut into cubes and the scraps were pureed with coconut milk and then the grape cubes were submerged in this liquid and vacuum sealed to impart all that flavor back into the grape (all that for a garnish, yea). I would say this was without a doubt the highlight of the night, but that's like asking which Bill Murray movie is the best. There's just no comparison amongst them all. They are all equally amazing.

But wait! We're not done.....

Quail Liver Mousse
Quail livers were pureed into a mousse, which lined the bottom of the plate. Over that was porcini mushrooms, a mushroom gelée (jello), micro-herbs, shaved radish, and a mushroom powder. Full disclosure, I didn't care for it. There was something sweet on the plate that really through me for a loop. There was sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami, rich and light all together and it just didn't work for me, but hey, 10 for 11 ain't too shabby!

Dessert Spec
I used to hang out at Uchi for service once a week, shadowing the pantry station. In addition to salads, oysters, apps, starters, and amuses, the pantry position puts out the desserts. Needless to say, I've tried them all: The coffee panna cotta with mango yolk, coffee soil and white chocolate sorbet. The peanut butter semifreddo with peanut brittle crumble, golden raisin puree, apple chips, and apple miso sorbet. The creme caramel with shattered almond glass, brown butter sorbet and ginger consummé. And the lemon sorbet with pistachios, pistachio crumble, balsamic reduction, beet puree and beet glass. So naturally, we ordered the special. A fine choice. A goat cheese mousse was accompanied with honey crumble, pickled cranberry puree, orange tuille, and pistachio sorbet.

What a fantastic end to the best meal I've ever had. Now I understand why we did all the things we did. Why it takes an army all day long to prep for a 6 hour service every night. Why it is paramount that your knife be so sharp, you can shave the hair on your arm with it. Why, when you don't do something perfectly, you're made to do it again. And again. Until it's right. Because it's all about the experience. Would the food taste the same if the garlic wasn't in perfect 1/16" by 1/16" cubes? Maybe. But people sure wouldn't be talking about it the next day. Would anyone notice if you didn't shave the garlic chips paper-thin, blanch them twice from cold water, then in simple syrup, then fry them? Maybe. But then maybe the hama chili wouldn't cause you to audibly sigh when placed in your mouth.

I learned more than I ever thought I could in my time at Uchi. I sharpened my knife and my knife skills. I met some really great people. I made some really great friends. I made some contacts and it got me the job I'm about to start. I will forever be grateful and fondly remember my time there. I do plan to go back to eat, and to do some more time at the prep table. And thanks to Uchi, my friends, family, and coworkers will be forced to endure my "hai!" for many years to come.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Just Desserts.

For the last week, we've been doing plated desserts. And they went a little something, like this:


We soaked lady finger cookies in coffee syrup and brandy, layered them with mascarpone filling, and topped it off with a dusting of cocoa powder . Then, we wrapped that in tempered dark chocolate in which we had written "Tiramisu" in white chocolate. There's a tempered chocolate filigree, and cigarette garnish on top and a dark chocolate loop-d-loop with raspberry coulis in the loops. Simply delicious. And quite fancy if I do say so myself!

Lemon Semifreddo

This was, no question, one of my favorite desserts of the class. We made an Italian meringue by pouring 240º melted sugar into whipped egg whites, adding lemon juice, and folding that into whipped cream. Then, it went into the freezer overnight. The next morning we pulled it out and into the fridge about 20 minutes before service so it would just begin to thaw - so it would be semi-frozen (Get it?). Surrounded by raspberry coulis and fresh raspberries. Good grief! It was GLORIOUS!!!!!

Vanilla Panna Cotta

I was not super-pumped about the particular flavor of this dessert, but I can see lots of potential for other flavors. It's just milk, cream, sugar, vanilla and gelatin. Basically, a semi-solid milk pudding. A little boring, but like I said, go crazy with flavors and (like they do at Uchi) frozen fruit puree fillings. This is garnished with, again, raspberry coulis and a florentine shard.

Florentine with Raspberry Sorbet

This florentine cookie is just ridiculously easy and DELICIOUS!!!! It turns out almost just like brittle. You bring sugar, corn syrup, and butter to a boil. Take it off the heat and add pastry flour and sliced almonds. Spoon about a tablespoon onto parchment on a cookies sheet (it will spread to about a 4-5" circle). Bake until golden. When it comes out, let it sit for just a second to start to cool, then place it over a small ramekin and let cool to make a cookie bowl. You can wrap it around all kinds of stuff to make all kinds of shapes. It's a really cool cookie.

Chocolat Mousse

If you've got a special lady friend that likes chocolate, shoot me a message, I'll get you this recipe, and you'll never have to buy jewelry or do the laundry ever again. This stuff is a guaranteed lady killer. We piped it into a tempered chocolate "bowl" (we dipped a balloon in the chocolate, let it cool, and popped the balloon), and garnished it with filigrees, piped chocolate loops filled with raspberry coulis, and a chocolate cigarette. That was all filler, the mousse was the killer.

Bread Puddin'

Remember when we made brioche 4 weeks ago? Well, we froze the extra and today, we thawed it. It got cut into bite-size pieces and soaked with a super rich rummy egg custard. We added golden raisins and baked it for 45 minutes in a convection oven. Served with a side of creme anglaise (which would've been better with bourbon), this was awesome. Be prepared to see a lot of this in the future. It's a great application for left over bread and ...... DONUTS!!!!

Last week we made some real fancy stuff. Pate a choux and hard caramel and stuff like that. Included in that last was lemon mousse pastry swans. "Chef, can we make crazy swans?" was the question asked by a classmate of mine. "No. No freak swans, please." Matt and I made a Lake Springfield swan any way. Meet Merle:

He's a two-headed, lemon mousse-filled swan. Isnt' he lovely? Natalie Portman ain't got nothin' on Merle!

See ya next time!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gingerbread DKR

When I signed up for school, back in February, I heard about the gingerbread competition. I was intrigued. I thought it might be fun to participate. I told my buddy Greg that when it rolled around, we were making a gingerbread version of Darrel K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium. And that's what we did.


We spent a week on this project. A loooong week that culminated in a 10 hour, 6pm to 4am all-nighter. It's not quite as tight as we would have liked. There was a little bowing, which created gaps. There were a lot of cracks. So many cracks. This stuff was super dry and a quite brittle when it was thin - so our patching efforts can be seen.

That being said, how awesome is this thing? The sheer scope of this project is awesome. 12 batches of gingerbread. Forty pounds! No one else took up the entire 2'x2' board like we did. Everyone else made houses and churches. We made a STADIUM.

We dropped it off this morning on almost no sleep. I returned early this afternoon to find out our fate - we just missed the top 3. According to Chef Jennie, we were the "critic's pick". The judges, the chefs, the people that went to the event, even Chef Herve Charbot - the head of the pastry program at the Ottowa LCB campus - were quite impressed. A few technical errors, which we were aware of and were to be expected, given this was our first from-scratch gingerbread house, kept us out of the medals. But we had a blast and learned from our mistakes.

Here are a few pictures of production. For some reason, it won't let me upload more. I'll put the rest in a folder on my facebook page. Check 'em out!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Me Want Cookie!

Ha. Yea. Yesterday and today was all about the cookie.

The top there was of course chocolate chip cookies. They were great. I'm going to reduce the amount of choco chips and replace it with some crazy different stuff to try to simulate a cookie I had from Momo Fuko Milk Bar called the "Compost Cookie". I'll keep you posted on that. Then we made biscotti. I'm a fan of biscotti, but this particular recipe had anise seed. Anise seed has a crazy strong licorice flavor that totally ruined the biscotti for me. I got some other recipes form the chef to try some other flavor profiles, so stay tuned for that as well. The last cookie there is the "spritz" cookie. They probably remind you of those Pepperidege Farm cookies with the jam, except these aren't dry, and the jam doesn't stick in your teeth for days. They are moist and light and there is just enough jam to give you a nice strawberry flavor.

Today's cookies were great as well. We'll start on the left with the checkerboards. We made chocolate and vanilla dough yesterday and let it set up in the fridge. Today, we rolled it out to 1/4" thick, stacked vanilla, chocolate, vanilla, chocolate, and sliced that into 1/4" strips. Then alternated those to make the checkerboard pattern. We wrapped that with the scraps that we had layered and rolled out to 1/16". Then sliced THAT into 1/4" thick cookies and baked em. Not super tasty, but they look neat! Then we made pecan shortbreads - basically the best pecan sandies ever. We also made "linzers". These are an almond cookie that we rolled out thin, cut out with a cutter and punched holes in the tops. There's a layer of raspberry jam in between, and they sure are purty, ain't they? And of course, there's brownies on the right.

This was a nice couple of days, but pies are next, so I have to stay focused.