Friday, November 22, 2013

Big Sur Food & Wine

Pinot Walkabout - Photo courtesy of Big Sur Food & Wine Festival
We recently hosted events for the annual Big Sur Food & Wine Festival here at Post Ranch.  Our festivities started on Friday afternoon with the Pinot Walkabout in the Sierra Mar garden.  Chef Justin Everett from Cavallo Point and I made a selection of appetizers to pair with some of Central California’s finest Pinot Noir.  That night were honored to have chefs Suzette Gresham from Acquerello and Rocky Maselli from A-16 join Kent from the Carmel Cheese Shop and Luc from Saltwater Oyster Depot for an incredible opening night dinner.  Both chefs were an absolute pleasure to work with and created two exceptional pasta dishes in the Sierra Mar dining room.  Unfortunately, our third guest chef confused the event date and did not show up.  We realized this challenge at 4pm and scrambled to put together a substitute appetizer.  The menu stated grilled octopus, but we did not have any octopus in stock, in fact, the only seafood we had was wild king salmon that was already half cured for breakfast.  After removing the salmon from cure we quickly grilled it on one side over mesquite then served it with white bean puree, fresh herbs and a preserved lemon vinaigrette.  The final dish was a hit and the Sierra Mar team did a great job filling in for the missing chef.

Lexus Grand Tasting - Photo Courtesy of Big Sur Food & Wine Festival
 On Saturday we partnered with Lexus for a very special dinner at Sierra Mar.  I have no idea what I was thinking when I wrote the menu - but somehow I listed the winter apple lantern as the first course.  The logistics of lighting 100 edible lanterns and topping them with fragile apple rings were quite intensive, but the final result of a hundred glowing lanterns entering the dining room was well worth the effort.  For our entrĂ©e, Elizabeth prepared a beautiful roasted bison tenderloin with toasted walnut puree, pomegranate and roasted endive.

Lexus invited us to cook inside of their booth for the grand tasting on Sunday which was held here at Post Ranch.  The booths are always creative works of art, and this year’s was no exception.  The booth was modeled after an old west saloon, complete with a wall of spurs and cowhide bar stools.  Keeping with the theme, we made aji Amarillo glazed smoked chicken wings, braised mangalitsa pork belly on crispy chicharones, acorn bread with prickly pear preserves and smoked smores in mini jars.  Over the course of the event we served over 4,000 tastings.  Being in the booth and having the opportunity to talk with guests about the food made for a great afternoon.

Thanks to Lexus, our guest chefs and everyone who made the event such a success!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sea Cucumber Chawanmushi

We have been experimenting with Sea Cucumbers for the last few months.  These gelatinous bottom dwelling creatures are quite bizarre even by my standards!  When they encounter a predator they excrete their digestive track and internal organs, giving the attacker something to stay occupied with while the cucumber slowly undulates away.  They are then able to re-generate these organs and carry on their life as normal.
You will occasionally find Sea Cucumber, often in dried form, in some dishes across Asia.  Here in the United States they remain quite rare, especially in their live form.  Inside each cucumber is a series of white strips of muscle that run vertically inside the body cavity.  When removed they are incredibly tender and sweet, reminiscent of the delicate flavor of razor clams.  In my opinion, these are by far the most choice part of the sea cucumber, unfortunately, however, they only make up 5% of the total body weight.  Once you remove these muscles you are left with a tough, gelatinous, shoe shaped object dripping with slime and constricting into a tight cylinder.  After several disastrous attempts to make this outer part edible I threw in the towel and decided just to use the interior muscles.

In the back of my mind I had an idea that if I were to cook the outer portion of the sea cucumber enough it would become soft - but even after six hours of simmering it was still like eating a rubber band.  Finally I decided to cook them until they become soft, no matter how long it took.  I sliced them into thin strips and 14 hours later they transformed from rubber bands into more palatable soft gelatinous strips.  I transferred these strips to the dehydrator overnight and then dropped them in 500 degree canola oil where they puffed up like chicharones.  After a seasoning of sea salt and espelette, they tasted incredible with an airy crunch rivaling the best chicharones I have tasted!

We have featured the local sea cucumber on top of a chawanmushi-style custard with raw sea cucumber on top and the crispy sea cucumber chips to garnish.