I just finished my second Herbivoracious Dinner Party. I started these as a way to "stay in the game" of professional cooking. The first one was all the way back in April of 2008, and then I took a long hiatus while we had our second child. This time, Cafe Flora, where I previously interned, graciously agreed to host, which was fantastic because it gave me access to a restaurant kitchen and waitstaff, so I could focus on the food and not the thousand other details that go into this sort of event. Plus I got to work with all of my old friends. Chef Janine even offered to come in and help me plate, which was incredible – she's so fast and cool under pressure, it gave me a big boost in confidence.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will see that I've actuallly been working on the dishes for this dinner off and on for awhile now. [Click on the menu for a readable size]. I chose a Spanish menu because I love their traditional flavors and because Spain has been the source of so much innovative cuisine. Although I have a lot of interest in modern techniques, it would be too ambitious for me to prep a 7 course meal in that style for 15 people by myself in a limited amount of time. So I opted for a hybrid of traditional-style dishes with some modern twists that I felt confident I could execute.
We had a really cool group of diners. Some were close friends and family, and the other half from the wider community, including the proprietors of two other blogs: Tiger Chow and Dawn and Eric of Wright Eats. Cafe Flora set up a beautiful long communal table with white linen and candelight, and every time I popped out of the kitchen I could sense that the group was getting to know each other and having a great time. Which in the end is the point, right?
By the way, if you are interested in coming to future dinners, just drop me a note at email@example.com, and I'll be in touch when they are scheduled.
We started with boyikos, waiting on platters for the guests as they arrived and got settled with a drink. Then came an amuse of a flash-grilled grapefruit segment with olive oil, Maldon (aka the world’s greatest salt) , piment d'espellete, chives, and microgreens, followed by a salad of parsley, olives and blood orange in a sherry vinaigrette (similar to this version with persimmon).
The next course was the savory churro and morel "hot chocolate" I wrote about a few weeks back. That was the dish I was probably most proud of conceptually, but I had a slight execution problem, ending up with too much of the spice mixture on the churros. The intermezzo was an apple-celery sorbet, which underwent the most fine-tuning, including some great last-minute advice from Flora's wonderful pastry chef, Marie.
The entree was a slightly refined version of these fideos (toasted noodles) in a saffron-garlic cream sauce. Instead of basic cauliflower and broccoli, I hit up the farmer's market and ended up with German Butterball potatoes from Olson Farms, red carrots from Full CIrcle Farm, baby turnips from Whistling Train Farm, and tiny Brussel sprouts from Stoney Plains Farm. The purple and orange cauliflower had a few more petro-miles on it. Instead of cooking them off in the saffron cream, I blanched and chilled them each individually to control the texture and color, and each diner got one of each vegetable. (Photos of the fideos and the dessert courtesy of Wright Eats – thanks guys!).
Finally, the dessert was a trio of chocolates, using Aki & Alex's pectin-set "sliced chocolate" technique, which results in a texture somewhat like a chocolate pudding just thick enough to stand up by itself, and has terrific flavor release. From left to right was a 71% Callebaut with Maldon (aka the world’s greatest salt) and cajeta, milk chocolate with strawberry croquant and sunflower "soil" (made with tapioca maltodextrin), and 58% Guittard infused with piment d'espellete and cinammon, with Meyer lemon zest and a roasted Comice pear.
Thanks again to everyone who helped me with this project, whether it was taste-testing, offering sage advice, hosting or coming out to dine! I really appreciate it, and I'm looking forward to doing it again.