Friday, February 01, 2008

flights of flavor

February 1

Yesterday I had lunch at Gilt, which was hosting an event thrown by a spice company announcing its 2008 flavor forecast, centered around 10 pairings that it has declared to be the flavors of 2008.
The lunch was developed by the spice company's corporate chef along with Gilt executive chef Chris Lee and Michael Schulson, who used to be the executive chef at Buddakan in New York, but left to do a television show called Pantry Raid. Now he’s working on opening a Japanese-oriented restaurant at Borgata in Atlantic City, in the space where Susanna Foo’s restaurant used to be.
I parked myself at a middle seat of a long table and was soon joined by Susan Westmoreland of Good Housekeeping, which is always a treat. We didn’t end up talking much, though, because after Michael finished talking about the food, he sat on the other side of me and we talked about food in East Asia and sort of gossiped about New York chefs. Mostly, he avoided giving me too much information about what other chefs were doing as I needled him for information. He did sort of nod and shrug in ways that indicated where I should follow up, so that’s what I’ll be doing.
We also talked about seasonality. One of the flavor combinations Michael had to work with for the lunch was lemon grass and lychee. But Lychees are a hot season fruit — available in Thailand in April and May, for example — and of course yesterday was the last day of January. So although canned lychees are available, Michael made a culinary statement by pickling the lychees. I thought that was a good way of serving what he needed to serve while still highlighting seasonality.
I chatted with Chris a bit after lunch. He seemed well. Apparently he was responsible for the cardamom "caviar" in the fizztini (see below), which were little green cardamom-flavored spheres made by adding sodium alginate to a flavored liquid and dripping droplets into calcium chloride solution. That’s probably the molecular gastronomy trick to go the most mainstream, unless you count using transglutaminase to hold cuts of meat together.

Here’s what was on the menu:
vanilla cardamom fizztini
Venison tartare with toasted allspice bread and candied cherries
foie gras torchon with caramelized apple, whiskey cider foam and sage brioche
field salad with kumquats, crystallized rose petals and poppy vinaigrette
lemon grass poached lobster with pickled lychee
red curry shrimp and plantain tempura with sweet chile sauce and agave nectar
cornmeal crusted scallops with heirloom beans and oregano succotash
cinnamon scented pork tenderloin with tomato hazelnut pesto, crispy olives and balsamic glaze
ginger pistachio roasted sea bass with grapefruit miso sauce and blackberry-Merlot reduction
Mexican hot chocolate “cup” cakes (it was actually cake, served in a ceramic, possibly porcelain, cup) with cocoa whipped cream
guava and coconut water sorbet with coriander scented cones
smoked chocolate and candied orange bon bon

These are the ten flavor pairings that were being highlighted:

oregano and heirloom beans
vanilla bean and cardamom
chile and cocoa
coriander and coconut water
lemon grass and lychee
red curry and masa
orange peel and natural wood (or smoke)
allspice and exotic meats
poppy seed and rose
rubbed sage and rye whiskey

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