Thursday, April 25, 2013

Spring Lamb with Garden Peas and Fresh Wasabi

In the last two weeks our garden has taken off.  Fiona's months of preparing the soil and starting thousands of tiny plants has resulted in a veritable jungle of herbs and vegetables.  We can't keep up with the baskets of mustard, thousands of arugula flowers or the never ending supply of mint and thyme.  The peas that climb the back wall of the garden have already produced large-sweet pods and are covered in perfect curly tendrils and white blossoms.  This formidable stand of peas inspired our recent lamb dish:  Miso roasted spring lamb loin with Sweet Peas, Fresh Wasabi Root, Toasted Nori-Rice Crisps and Tamari Pickled Peanuts.

Speaking of pickled peanuts.... a few weeks ago I had the chance to cook a luncheon at Marea in New York City on behalf of Monterey County.  Some of New York's most prominent food and travel writers came to the luncheon to learn about Monterey County and see why it is quickly becoming a food and wine destination.  During my short trip to New York I fit in some great dining.  One of my favorite dishes was an aged squab breast with pickled peanuts and Foie Gras "peanuts" that was part of an 18 course tasting menu at Atera.

When I was thinking about how I wanted to incorporate our abundance of sweet peas onto the menu my mind migrated to wasabi coated peas.  Wasabi peas reminded me of Iso Peanuts (a popular Hawaiian snack food of peanuts crusted with soy and nori).  This brought be back to the pickled peanuts I had at Atera - and somehow from there I ended up with this dish.  The textural contrast between the pickled peanuts and fresh peas is really nice. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Lone Mountain Wagyu with Local Asparagus

Some of the best asparagus in the world comes from just North of us in the Salinas Valley.  This time of year there is an abundance of the tender shoots in all shapes and sizes, ranging from bulbous purple spears to thin green needles.  Each variety has its own unique texture and flavor profile.

Tonight we celebrate the local asparagus harvest with roasted wagyu ribeye, toasted brioche and bone marrow hollandaise.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Berkshire Pork

Carmel Valley Berkshire Pork with Lucques Olive, Preserved Kumquats, Anise Puree, Tiny Red Onion and Root and Whole Roasted Sweet Onion.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Thanks to Bon Appetit for nominating Sierra Mar and Post Ranch as one of the best Food Lover's Hotels in America.  We're honored to be included on the list.  Click below to give it a read:


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pebble Beach Food & Wine

Last week we participated in the Pebble Beach Food and Wine Festival.  Each time we do a food event we try to do something new and exciting - but when you are cooking for 2500 people, logistics can be a challenge.

Earlier this year I was researching caviar and was amazed at the pictures of giant sturgeons in Russia filled with Caviar.  Old ladies in hairnets were intently bent over each fish extracting the precious roe.  I learned that each mature fish can carry six to eight pounds of roe, and is almost entirely filled with the dark grey eggs.  Of course this is an ingredient steeped in controversy - and I would never think about supporting the unsustainable caviar trade.  I wondered whether an American paddlefish would have as much roe and whether it would be possible to acquire one for the upcoming event.

With a quick search on Google I was able to find a handful of people who either caught or farmed paddlefish in the South East.   For a moment I felt optimistic, but soon learned that nobody was willing to commit to getting a whole fish with roe inside.  I called fisherman, farms and universities but got the same answer everywhere I looked.  Finally I called Renee at Big Fish farm who was also not terribly optimistic about the project.  The challenge is that the roe is extremely perishable and cannot be shipped inside the fish.  Since the fish are held in large wild "ranches" it is always uncertain how large the fish will be or what it will yield.  The harvesting season is in late March and early April, but there was no guarantee the right fish could be located at the time of the event.
Finally, after much back and forth, we devised a plan.  The fish would be caught and held in a smaller enclosure until the event took place.  The roe would be removed from the fish and lightly cured before getting shipped to California with the whole five foot long fish.  Renee and her husband sounded incredibly knowledgeable, but I had never worked with them and was more than a little concerned about how reliable this shipment would be.  The fish was scheduled to arrive on Friday before the event- this meant if anything went wrong I would be back to square one and have less than two days to put together another concept for 2500 people.
When the box arrived a few Fridays ago, I anxiously opened it.  The fish was beautiful, sleek and dark grey with a long paddle nose and frilled filters inside the mouth.  One small taste of the roe and I was convinced - it was perfect with a firm texture and mild salinity.
With the help of Aga and Martin in engineering we put together a beautiful bar using reclaimed metal sheeting from the wharf in Monterey.  This bar would be filled with ice and have a mirror angled on top to reflect the roe as we removed it for each serving.  The final result was nothing less than stunning and a crowd quickly gathered around the booth with cameras and iPhones in hand.  Six cooks worked non-stop, frying tiny potato cups, piping them full of warm potato foam, dropping in a single caper, a perfect wild garlic blossom, tiny leaf of wood sorrel and a large dollop of caviar.
These perfect bites were assembled on a tray and passed out by two serves, elegantly dressed with nails sparkling like caviar.
The event was a great success- the only question is....what do we do next year?!

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Link Between Contemporary Chefs and Urinals

In 1917 when Marcel Duchamp entered "Fountain" in the Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in Paris, it was disqualified from the show.  The piece he submitted, a stock porcelain urinal, was seen as a disgrace to Parisian fine art and an insult to years of tradition and finely honed artistic technique.  Duchamp described his intent with the piece was to shift the focus of art from physical craft to intellectual interpretation.  While it seemed like an obvious joke, the act of defiance acted as a catalyst for a generation of upcoming contemporary artists, and is credited by some as the beginning of the modern art movement.

I can't help but think of this when I look at some of the contemporary dishes being prepared in restaurants around the world:  Relae where Chef Christian Puglisi splatters sauce across plates in seeming defiance to years of fine-dining aesthetics;  Noma where Chef RenĂ© Redzepi uses elements like moss and charcoal-both the antitheses of traditional refinement, or Alinea where Chef Grant Achatz has abandoned traditional formalities both in the kitchen and dining room, like the tablecloths he stripped away and deemed unnecessary.   

Much like the fountain, these acts of culinary dissidence have sparked a revolution in the restaurant industry, a complete rethinking of what it means to be a "fine-dining" destination.  These culinary waves can be seen in restaurants around the world.

While I believe most of our cuisine at Sierra Mar is deeply rooted in time honored culinary tradition – we are frequently inspired by new ideas and techniques.  Tonight we are working on Rabbit with Chorizo and Crispy Rice.

Do  you like the direction contemporary chefs and restaurants are going or do you prefer the classic refinement of traditional fine-dining?  Please share your thoughts below. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Recipe Technology

The recipe collections you often find in restaurants consist of tattered three-ring binders filled with plastic page protectors crammed full of handwritten recipes, magazine clippings and printed pages with handwritten conversions and changes.  The corners are worn and pages stained with years
of greasy fingerprints and spilled sauces.  While these books serve as a nostalgic window into the kitchen's past, their relevance in a modern kitchen is debatable.

We have recently transitioned all of our recipes onto a shared drive that cooks and servers can access from two iPads mounted in the kitchen or their cell phones.  The recipes are updated in real time as they evolve.  In addition to recipes, there is a copy of the schedule, daily menu planning grids for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, product spec sheets, garden statistics, wine information and a number of other resources.  All of the creative information and recipes are available to any of our employees at any time.  A cook can check their phone when they get out of their car and see the items on their station for that evening - based on this, they are able to harvest items in the garden and properly plan their production schedule.

Not only is the new system more efficient
- it also helps our goal of being more sustainable by eliminating a ton of paper!