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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Carmel and the Desperate Foodie

Family affairs called me to Carmel this past week, this is the home town of my Brother-in-law, and one of his most favorite places on earth. He had a big family meeting, and made it into a family trip, which lead my sister to ask if I could swing down, and hang out while the various in-law stuff happened. Sure, why not, although Carmel and Monterey have never been my favorite places. I don't care for crowds, not a big 'shopper' and I have found that this area, while a great source of incredible produce, is incredibly hard to find any of it cooked, or at least, cooked for a good price. And much of the seafood is, oddly, quite pedestrian. Trapped as I was, I managed to find the Carmel Farmer's Market (again, curiously small for being in the middle of one of the most amazing growing areas in the world). We managed to score some great onions, garlic, lettuce, tomatoes, Romano beans and locally made Italian sausage from a family that has been in the region for over a century. We also got some locally made linguine and some Parmesan at the market, now we were talking. We then hit the local fish market, and much to my joy, found Monterey squid, some of the last of the season as well as some wild caught Mexican prawns. The Monterey squids are small market squids, with thin bodies and delicate tentacles, delicious little beasts. For some reason, all of the local restaurants deep fry them, thus destroying the texture and flavor.

One knife, two cook, no problem, pocket knife

Hopefully you can get a feel for how these squid are. They are very tender when handled and cooked correctly. These would end up for a saute, as a couple of people expressed doubts about the tentacles. Here are the sausages, we ended up just browning these in olive oil and slicing.

Italian-ish sausages

These sausages had been made from Kurobuta pork, with loads of fennel seed, black pepper and Chardonnay from a local producer. Amazing flavor, and while not cheap, they were used to prepare food for 9 people. The Romano beans, given the traditional slant cut, these were given a quick blanch and quench, you can tell by the color that these were incredibly fresh and just a little crunchy still.

Romano's, a favorite of mine

With all the ingredients prepped, we waited for everyone to get done with their various family chores, oddly, my chore ended up being getting groceries, cooking, and oh, I had to buy a new pan and steamer/pot combination. My sister had to also, as there were no pots in the house.

Squid dish, mid cook

A little olive oil, some finely minced garlic and chopped onions, and a few teaspoons of locally made apricot jam. Which, while it might initially sound odd, the sweet and fruity flavors really worked into the squid quite well. This was reduced until the squid was tender.

Beans and sausage

Beans, garlic, onions and sausage rounds, all sauteed up, just until hot. The prawns were halved and tossed into the pan and everything was quickly brought to temperature. I removed most of the meat and beans to a bowl and tossed in the linguine, no rinsing, no rinsing! Just straight from the pasta water to the pan, along with a handful of the Parmesan, a half cup of milk and toss to coat. The pasta water will thicken the sauce up.

It ain't pretty, or focused, a platter for my linguine!

Plated, as it were, in a half service pan liner. Yay, fancy plating! The pasta was panned, tossed with freshly chopped Italian Parsley, then the meat and beans on top. Again, family style in a apartment, with not pots and tiny, tiny, dishes. This would have been great on a large platter.

Squid with Apricot preserve

The squid, now Calamari, which had been cooked in the reducing apricot preserves, took on a faint color, and loads of flavor. This dish was terrific as well, and a great compliment to the pasta dish. Along with the salad of local lettuce and tomatoes, a vastly superior meal to what we could have gotten in town. The Farmer's Market, as small as it was, served me well, with reliably fresh produce and food stuff. If you discount the pots, which will see many cooks in my kitchen, the food for this dinner was around $80, for 9 people. Which is far better than anywhere in the area.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sustainablity, Innovation, Dinner

In my real life, away from the plate, I am a landscape architect, I have been such for nearly 30 years now, and my practice has been quite traditional. That is to say, I have focused on the traditional design and engineering of landscapes, generally with an emphasis on public sector projects and commercial development projects, the 'bread and butter' of traditional practice. And it has been good for me. Even more than my passion for food, landscape architecture has filled my life with joy, purpose and meaning. In a lot of ways, my design and food ideals have met at this nexus, reflecting my sensibilities, my heritage and my preference for design to reflect nourishment of the whole person. Playgrounds or pasta, it has always been about finding that place where the soul if fed as much as the body.

Of late, I have come to understand that there is a change in how society and culture interact with the built environment, a change that I think is reflected in the resistance of many to see the world in a new paradigm, an entrenchment and resistance to innovation. I think many of us, who felt we were the pointed end of the spear, that were going to redefine society, now see that society has changed. We seek relevance, some in the old ways, some in new ways. And though I fear, that I am of that old way, that my skills and knowledge are irretrievably growing archaic, I see things changing. And I see incredibly dynamic young people, doing interesting things, defining how they will choose to live, not buying into the paradigm of my time. When I think of ideas that somehow point to a time 50, 100 even 200 years ago, clinging to the idea that there should be no change, indeed, there can be no change, I see fear, I see reluctance to embrace a brave new world.

What the hell am I talking about? Tonight, I had the chance to connect some of this vision, with an old friend, in the form Greg DeLaune, who has recreated himself to be a part of creating this new world, and a new friend, Hiroo Nagahara, a chef trained on traditional foods, traditional methods and science. Into the mix, was an even newer friend, Debbie Acosta, who is charged with creating a new and vibrant, sustainable and innovative San Leandro. And I am the soft connection, that lead all of use to be at a dinner in Berkeley, where we would talk about innovation, community building, sustainability and chocolate cupcakes. Food and design, and it's all about the story.

I convinced Hiroo that this would be a great chance to do a little catering job. And into this space he came.

Not exactly Vegas, Baby

Yes, a re-purposed office space

Of course there is a kitchen

I wouldn't blame Hiroo if he never cooked for me again

Can you serve a dinner for 31 people, with no stove, no refrigerator, no counterspace, why yes, if you are good. Hiroo is good. By the time was all sat down to eat, light was fading and I have found that there is no good photo to be taken with an I-phone by candlelight. But, I was mostly there to meet folks and to get more of a feel for sustainable and innovative culture. There was this dish...

Roots and Dirt

First off, I loved the plating and whimsy of this dish. This was the appetizer course, meant to serve 3 to 4 people, it was carrots and radishes, in various stages of pickling, curing and sous vide. There was a puree of apple and miso, and the 'dirt' which was a roasted seaweed powder. This was so delicious.

Some lovely poached Arctic Char

Without a kitchen, Hiroo was forced to prepare an entire dinner that could be cooked off-site, bought to the kitchen and plated. He used the sous vide and poaching, as well as amazing ingredients to bring a four course dinner forth from a table and counter.

Date a chef, live the glamorous life, plate greens

With a budget of $25 per person, Hiroo recruited the one person he could depend on to work for nothing. Thanks to Weiwei for jumping in and plating. It really isn't as fun as it looks. This plate would end up holding poached Arctic Char over wilted greens as the first course, and sous vide Black Angus tongue, with roasted potato and spinach. No pictures as it was too dark, but, it was delicious, amazing given the price and lack of a kitchen. And then dessert, which I wish I had a description of, other than that it was a gluten free chocolate cupcake, using Hiroo's own flour, with a chocolate cheesecake stuffing, and chocolate crunch layer and topped with chocolate frosting. Oh, all Valhrona Venezuelan chocolate, the good stuff.

I often look for the story, the connection or meaning of the food I am eating, what the chef was trying to say or do. What his story is, and I know Hiroo loves food. But, I know he also loves bringing his food forth to people, the he enjoys that people enjoy the food, get what he is doing. He could easily fall back into a big restaurant, get back on a line. But, he is doing things like this, technique and knowledge, top ingredients, all placed on a plate for a very moderate price. Bringing very fine dining to an office space. I have eaten a lot of bad sandwiches at dinners like this.

In all, a wonderful night of meeting some folks doing very interesting things, talking with Mike Zuckerman about adventures in creating and exploring urbanism, sharing and culture in a new world. hearing about Freespace and talking about spontaneous innovation with a focus on giving. I also met a young man, couldn't be more than 30 or so, who is working to develop real time water quality monitoring solutions for industrial processes, and a young woman working with major corporations to create core changes in corporate values to increase their sustainability and relevance in the new economy. A room full of people changing how we live in our world, seeking to change how we have always done it.