Stella Culinary Blog
As most of you already know, I've been nominated by Food And Wine Magazine for "People's Choice Best New Chef." As a small town chef in Truckee, the nomination came as a surprise, especially when I saw who else was listed in the California Region, including Thomas McNaughton of Flour + Water and Matthew Accarrino of SPQR; two very talented chefs in San Francisco who have achieved much acclaim.
When I made the decision to leave San Francisco early on in my career, I knew full well that I was sacrificing all the tools, experience, and connections that working in the city would offer, but the trade-off was more than fair. Being able to call the Tahoe/Truckee area my home for the last six years has been a reward in itself. Yet the fact that a national publication like Food and Wine has the town of Truckee on its map is what makes this nomination both exhilarating and humbling. I, like many other ex-city-dwellers who now call Truckee their home, have always believed in this region as a world class end destination. We live where people spend all year planning to vacation, and if you're in the service industry like me, you have the extra reward of creating memories that in some cases will literally last a lifetime.
It would be a bit insincere to say I wasn't slightly caught off guard by the whirl-wind of attention that this nomination has stirred up. The highlight so far was being interviewed by Beth Ruyak of Capital Public Radio in Sacramento, especially since I've always been a bit of an "NPR Nerd" and had an interest in radio broadcasting growing up; an interest which led me to share my passion for cooking through an audio podcast of my own. As you can imagine, doing a podcast is one thing, but being on live radio, where any verbal mistake will be instantly broadcasted to a countless number of nameless, faceless listeners was absolutely nerve racking. Listening back to the interview was a cringe fest; I was way too close to the mic (but couldn't tell because I had no head phones) and was talking a mile a minute, all the while trying to drown out the voice in my head saying, "Jacob, you do realize that you're totally bombing on live radio, right?" As a guy who's fairly good at operating under pressure (at least in a restaurant environment) being live on the air with a personality I remember watching on TV when I was a little kid was the closest thing I've had to a panic attack since my wife went into labor.
Yet despite my nerves and the desperate desire for a "mulligan," being on live radio was one of the highlights of this nomination; that, and the "beehive" that is San Francisco dining getting kicked around for the first half day of voting when they saw some no-name chef tucked away in the hills of Lake Tahoe leading the polls. We even got a nod from The San Francisco Chronicle's Inside Scoop Columnist Paolo Lucchesi saying "In a huge upset over the city folk so far, the guy from Truckee is winning the vote in the earlygoing." I guess that's the power of the Stella Culinary, Cedar House and Truckee/Tahoe community, who charged hot out of the gates Monday morning when the nomination was first announced.
After rallying the troops to insure "the guy from Truckee" wouldn't walk away with the top prize, Chef Thomas from Flour + Water and Chef Matthew from SPQR are currently leading the polls, with yours truly in third place. Yet considering the reach and resources of all the accomplished chefs nominated in the California region, just being in the top three, and at one point leading the polls, is a huge win for Stella, The Cedar House, and most importantly, the Truckee/Tahoe Community.
If you haven't voted yet, you can do so by following this link here: http://www.foodandwine.com/peoples-best-new-chef/california. Voting will close this Monday at 2pm PST. Please note that you can only vote once, and multiple votes from the same IP address will be deleted per Food and Wine Magazine's rules.
Also, because I've been so busy the last few days, I know that some questions and various forum topics have fallen through the cracks. I'm going to do my best to go back and answer all the cooking questions that you've sent in. If you don't see an answer in the next day or two, please remind me via e-mail: email@example.com.
One of the things that I have been neglecting is publishing a fascinating guest post on Teas, Tea Pots and Brewing Methods written by Stella Culinary Community Member Marco099. The post keeps flipping a weird security glitch in my Apache servers because it contains keywords that are misinterpreted as malicious commands. Anyways, while I try and work this glitch out with my hosting company, I thought I’d post a PDF download link here for your reading pleasure. A special thank you to Marcos099 for all the hard work he put into writing this great post, for nothing more than the ability to share his passion with our small community. And that, in the end, is what Stella Culinary is all about.
Thank you to everyone that's voted so far, the loyal and passionate people who make up the Stella Culinary Community, and of course the staff at The Cedar House Sport Hotel and Stella Restaurant, who are the ones that make a nomination like this possible through their hard work and dedication.
Cook With Passion!
Stella's first culinary boot camp was an amazing time, bringing people from across the United States and Canada together with one singular goal; to become better cooks. This intensive five day course was constructed to challenge and push the students to their limits, debuting our new core curriculum, the F-STEP cooking process.
The F-STEP curriculum was designed to train the students how to think like a professional chef, not just blindly follow recipes. In fact, most of the recipes in the boot camp curriculum were changed daily and "on the fly," forcing the students to utilize their newfound understanding of flavor structure and technique.
On the last day of class, our twelve student boot camp was split up into six teams of two, with each team being responsible for creating their own unique dish as part of a six course tasting menu. This final exam required the students to go through the F-STEP thought process, thinking about Flavor, Sauce, Technique, Execution, and Preparation. Each student had to time the execution of their dish to fit perfectly within the structure of our six course tasting menu.
What the students ended up producing was nothing short of impressive, as you'll see in the photos below. All dishes and their corresponding recipes were designed, prepared and executed by the students on their final day of class, with each team being responsible for completing a composed tasting portion and a family style plate.
Cynthia and Marty kicked off our six course tasting menu with a chilled carrot-ginger puree as their amuse bouche (above). Their first course was an "ahi tartar napoleon with avocado, sesame, crispy wontons, and spicy-asian aioli" (below).
For their family style plate up, Marty and Cynthia painstakingly wrapped the wonton skins around a wooden rolling pin and deep fried them in the shape of a shot glass, which they then filled with the tartar mixture (below).
Next, Jack and Sue offered up a delicious bacon-wonton intermezzo (below).
Jack and Sue's appetizer course was wood fire roasted prawns with charred frisse and sumac (below). The bitterness of the frisee balanced nicely with the sweetness of the shrimp and was tied together by the lemon tang of the sumac, a spice indigenousness to Africa.
Darcy and Keith created a Vietnamese style chicken satay. The chicken was first brined and then sous vide, skewered with sticks of lemon grass, served with two separate dipping sauces and a refreshing rice noodle and pickled vegetable salad. The combination of the crispy, rice coating exterior with the tender, juicy interior, made this chicken absolutely delicious. Add in some fresh, South East Asian inspired ingredients and you have yourself a light and enjoyable dish.
Chris and Roger served a sous vide pork tenderloin roulade, filled with provolone cheese (first photo below). Calling it the "Cuban Ruben," this dish was a fun and unique play on a traditional flavor structure with a few twists, including home made pickles, Russian dressing and a garnish of preserved lemon rind.
Sticking with their inspired theme, Chris and Roger also offered up an "mint-mojito" intermezzo in the form of a refreshing sorbet (middle photo below).
Fred and Douglas created an intermezzo of "house made potato crisps with cucumber creme fraiche dip" (pictured bottom right, below). This cooling bite was followed by their "mexican-spiced duck sausage 'on fire,' seasonal vegetables with chipotle aioli and lime-pineapple-habanero sauce." The sausage was made with ground duck breast, formed into a cylinder using plastic wrap, and cooked sous vide. The combination of the rustic-roasted vegetables and the spiced sausage was outstanding.
The final dish was served by Eva and Mike. For their intermezzo, they offered up a "cucumber-cumin shooter with lemon and fresh mint." This was followed by a perfectly "sous vide fillet of beef with chickpea puree, sauted spinach, cucumber salsa and thyme-wine demi glace." The chickpea puree is really what made this dish. It had a smooth texture and subtle flavor that paired nicely with the full reduction demi and the perfectly cooked fillet of beef.
Thanks again to everyone who participated in this November's boot camp.
If you weren't able to make it to this boot camp, don't sweat it. We plan on doing another this spring, although we have yet to set dates. If you want to be on our early notification list, please enter your name and e-mail address in the form below.
UPDATE: SOLD OUT!If you would like to be notified when out next boot camp dates are released, please enter your name and e-mail in the sign-up box below.
You might also find this boot camp wrap up post interesting, where we go over all the dishes the boot camp students created for their final exam.
Based on multiple requests, I'm happy to announce the Stella Culinary Super Feed. This feed will allow you to subscribe to free automatic updates either through iTunes or traditional RSS (using the "aggregator" of your choice). This means that every video and audio podcast released will be available through this one, simple to subscribe to, "Super Feed."
If you're already familiar with how to subscribe to podcasts via iTunes or RSS, simply click on the corresponding links above and you'll be set. If you're unsure how this free subscription process works, then read on.
How to Subscribe Via iTunes
To subscribe to the Stella Culinary Super Feed using iTunes, simply click the iTunes link at the top of this post. A new window in your browser will open, revealing the feed in iTunes format.
Click the "View in iTunes" button found on the left hand side of the new browser window. A dialog box will pop up, asking if you want to launch iTunes (if it's not already open). Click "OK".
When iTunes launches, you will be taken directly to the Stella Culinary Super Feed Page.
Click on the "Subscribe Free" button found right underneath the Super Feed logo. When the dialog box pops up and asks if you're sure, click the "Subscribe" button.
You're all set. Now you can stream all of our videos and podcasts to your Apple TV or load them on your iPhone, iPad or iPod so you can study on the go.
Please take a second to leave Stella Culinary a review on the Super Feed iTunes Page.
Subscribing With Traditional RSS
RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication" and is a convenient way to stay up to date on your favorite blogs and podcasts. Before RSS, you would have to go to each individual content producer and see if they had posted anything new. With RSS, you can "Subscribe" to your favorite content producers' digital feed using a "News Reader." This way, all you have to do it check your news reader to see if any new content has been published.
My personal favorite RSS Aggregator is Google Reader. It's easy to use, and since I already have a Google Account, it's extremely convenient.
To subscribe to the Stella Culinary Super Feed through traditional RSS, click on the "RSS" icon located at the top of this page.
A new browser window will open and in the top right hand corner of the window, you'll have multiple options on what feed aggregator you want to use. Since I have a Google Account, I'll click on the "+ Google" button.
The next window will ask if you want to add this feed to your Google Home Page or your Google Reader. Since I use Google Reader to keep track of all my favorite websites, that's the option I'll choose.
If using a different RSS Reader that isn't listed, simply copy the RSS feed (http://feeds.feedburner.com/StellaCulinarySuperFeed) and paste it into the URL field under "Add New Feed."
Apprentice. Journeyman. Master. Not only are they a measure of a craftsman’s skill, they are also an institutionalized methods of learning. The apprentice learns first through observation, then by mimicking and practice, and finally having mastered one thing, moves on to the next. This method of teaching our craft has existed for hundreds of years and continues to this day. Even the greats of my generation learnt how to cook this way. These traditions are a way of life. A means of passing on the accumulated knowledge of the ages to the next generation so that they can take up their banner and replace them. Much as a proud father and mother pass the torch to their sons and daughters. The problem with this type of learning is that due to the very rigid and structured nature, questioning and innovation are not encouraged. Why do we do something in a particular way? Because it has always been done this way, and always will be. Through repetition and rote. Do not question, do not deviate. One omelette, two omelettes, three hundred omelettes.
Traditionalists abound, and even the younger ones will defend the old guard to their dying breath. This is very european. Their veneration for tradition is ingrained into their very bones. It’s one of the things that I think is a marked difference between european and american cooks. American cooks are more willing to experiment, to try new things. They have not been indoctrinated into the same culinary traditions. When european cooks come across the pond to america, they form their own culinary and cultural enclaves. Their bastions of tradition standing against the tides of change. Many american chefs send their cooks off to europe. They are told, go travel, go eat, go cook. I have not once met a cook that has come back that has not been changed by their journey. They spend time over there, and their experiences transform their food. However their cooking is influenced and inspired by, instead of taken over.
I’m not going to claim that one way is better than the other, I don’t believe that. I’m not going to say we should stereotype american and european cooks either. El Bulli in spain was probably the pinnacle of culinary innovation and I suspect they will continue to be so once they reopen in 2014. Personally, I’m more of a traditionalist and don’t really enjoy a lot of the culinary experiments that are taking place, but I respect them. Everything has it’s place, and the next whacked out sous-vide-liquid nitrogen-xanthan gum-spherical-tomato water-ice cream-wafer sprinkle flake may become as common as chopped basil in the future. Who knows.
What brought this all up was when I observed some rather heated discussions going on about poaching steak (for the hell of it apparently), using sous-vide, and new versus traditional methods. One chef even tossing out “So one steak is cooked three times and chilled twice in zip lock bags before you put it on my plate? What has happened to real cooking?” It was quite the discussion. Both sides had their points, but some of the closed mindedness was unsettling in the least. Funnily enough it wasn’t the old guard that were being so closed minded, they just stated their opinion and left it at that. It was their younger proteges that seemed to be the most vehemently vocal, railing against the fuzzy wrong headedness of their colleagues deigning to experiment with callous aloofness to tradition. I’ve seen this same attitude with bakers and no-knead bread. It is not bread they claim. There is no depth of flavor. No kneading? No art. Ridiculous. Never. You. Are. Wrong.
Following this, I could not stop thinking about how we grow and learn in this craft, this passion of ours. How we pass on our knowledge. Which I believe is a responsability and a duty for anyone with an interest in cooking. How things change over time. How very wrong it is to dismiss anything as it is stifling progress. It is limiting innovation. If at first you don’t succeed try, try again. While some may decry the innovators of the time, eventually some of those practices become a part of our culinary heritage.
Been shooting lots of video this past week for our Stella Bread Series that will supplement some of our upcoming audio lectures. This is a 70% hydration boule with about 10% whole wheat and leavened with a sourdough starter. The video turned out great, the bread was AWESOME, but first, we need to get through two more audio lectures to lay a nice foundation. Sorry to be such a tease!
LOST IN TRANSLATION
When I was asked to explain the whole saute pan versus frying pan issue it seemed at first to be a rather simple thing. However, the topic itself raised a whole other series of questions for me. Why are there so many french terms used in english speaking kitchens? Why do we even use them instead of our own unique words? What led to french labels and techniques dominating the globe and spreading as far and as wide as it does today? Subsequent Lost In Translation articles will explore the culinary history and evolution of french cooking as well as it’s impact on cuisines around the world. However, let’s first look at the subject that kicked off this series of articles. The saute, sauteuse and sautoir.
~ Saute, Sauteuse, Sautoir ~
The kitchen, both domestic and commercial, is littered with french terminology and for good reason. It is the french that set out in print the what, when, where and how of modern culinary practices and techniques in use today. It was the french chefs who were hired by other countries royalty and upper class houses to prepare lavish banquets and feasts. Their methods and terminology have stood the test of time and endured throughout the ages. History as well as several major societal and cultural upheavals are what has birthed one of the dominating and most influential cuisines to leave it’s imprint upon the globe.This is not to say that there are not also a goodly number of culinary texts and traditions from other countries that have endured as well, however, french cuisine stands apart as being recognized at either extreme of the dining experience. On the one hand it is almost art with it’s small complicated towering mounds of delicately sauced and perfectly cooked morsels of food. They flood the palate with undulating waves and layers of flavour and texture, each more exquisitely satisfying than the next. On the other hand it is also renowned for being a culinary pioneer of down to earth, rustic and heart warming comfort food using every scrap of an animal or vegetable. While most of us would snap our asparagus in half, blanch and eat the top part, the french would calmly retrieve the discarded stems, peel them, and show you the wonderfully tender shoots hidden beneath. To use a euphemism of my own making, the french dive deep in both ends of the culinary pool.
The english saute pan is derived from the french pan called a sautoir. A noun, a thing. The word saute can also be used as a verb, an action. Our problem is that we tend to borrow some terms and ignore others as well as the meaning behind the word and thus lose the comprehension of everything else similar that surrounds it.
In french, to saute something merely means to fry ingredients with a little fat over high heat. That is the complete definition right there, nothing more, nothing less. The word saute itself literally means jump. I’m sure this is not new to anyone, and everyone has read this explanation or heard it somewhere. What most of us fail to grasp is the actual meaning behind the word. The jumping is in reference to the action of ingredients in hot oil but can also refer to the sauteing technique of tossing food rapidly into the air. What type of pan you use determines the method of sauteing that is most applicable.
The sautoir is a wide shallow pan with straight sides, what is also termed a saute pan in english. Sauteing in this is what we would normally call pan frying. As water escapes the ingredients, due to heating, it jumps and bounces in the pan. It sautes. Think of how you cook a steak on the stove-top. High heat and a bit of oil in the pan and away we go. A few minutes on either side and then off to rest before plating and eating. There is no tossing of the food in the air. We are not swinging the pan around like we’re sifting for gold. Yes, this is still sauteing food to the french. Remember, high heat and a small amount of fat. That is the only qualification to be considered for sauteing an ingredient.
The sauteuse is a long handled bowl shaped pan. If you took a big cereal bowl and put a long handle on it you wouldn’t be all that far off. We would use small pieces of meat or vegetable, often times both at once, with the saute method of rapidly tossing the items in the air to achieve browning on all sides. This is what we are most familiar with when we use the term saute.
Another similarly misunderstood word is deglaze or deglacer. Glace. Demi-Glace. Glace de viande. These are all terms we have heard before. Most people know that glace is the french word for ice. If we deglaze the pan and make a pan sauce we call this in french, saute-deglace. But to understand it in culinary terms as the french use it we have to look at it’s meaning. For example glace de viande, which is really concentrated and reduced brown stock or sauce, would translate literally as meat ice. I know, it doesn’t sound very appetizing, but there it is. It also doesn’t really make much sense in english. Glace, where we get our word glaze from, doesn’t only mean ice, as in frozen water. It is referring to the whole process of cooling or heating something so that it thickens. If anyone has ever seen the rubber hockey pucks that are glace de viande, you are probably now getting an inkling of the true meaning of the word glace. Deglace where instead of glacing or glazing something till it thickens to the proper consistency such as in barbecue ribs, we are doing the reverse. The fond or solids, this glace, left in the pan becomes liquid. We deglace or deice them. Another way to say it it is that we un-ice it, we melt it.
All this rambling is to point out what I meant by understanding the cultural and contextual meaning behind a word or phrase. Especially a foreign phrase, and to not use it rote or off the cuff. Why the words mean what they do is very important. If you asked someone how their boyfriend or girlfriend was and got the response “They rock my world.” You would understand. Trying to explain that to someone in a literate sense that only speaks italian, for example, would be almost impossible. Literal translations simply do not work. You have to get at the significance of the phrase to truly relay it’s meaning. This is the most important lesson to take away from this whole article and not just the meaning behind the saute pan and the saute method.
The weird dichotomy of the whole saute, sauteuse, and sautoir thing though is that, if you step into any non-traditionally french kitchen and ask for a saute pan what you’ll most likely be handed is a sauteuse, and if you buy a saute pan what you’ll get is a sautoir. Most pans you see stacked up and used in kitchens and on the burners are simply frying pans or poeles which we define as a flat shallow curved sided pan. We most often use the saute method with them, but they are neither a sauteuse or a sautoir. Ironically, one cannot saute food, in an english kitchen, in a saute pan.
Hard at work creating new videos for your educational enjoyment!
Wine dinners are always so much fun; an intimate environment where people can interact with the wine maker and share their passion for everything food and wine related. On Friday, June 17th, we hosted special guest, Ray Coursen, owner of Elyse Wines. While their home base is in Yountville, Ray sources grapes from different regions all over Northern California, including the Naggier Vineyard, which is located in the Sierra foothill’s town of Grass Valley.
When I visited Ray in Yountville and tasted through his wines, we discussed what kind of foods we craved with every new sip. With their complex finishes and sometimes unorthodox techniques, Ray's wines inspired a unique menu.
Elyse 2010 Rosé
This course was originally supposed to be an amuse bouche of foie torchon with roasted apriums. Yet, as is my nature, I can't leave good enough alone and I've been retooling my torchon recipe using a couple different techniques. This time around, it didn't turn out how I wanted. Not to mention, because of our late start to Summer, apriums weren't yet available. But it all worked out for the best.
Ray generously donated a case of his 2010 Rosé. It has a beautiful, crisp mouth feel with a clean and refreshing flavor structure, especially when served chilled on a blistering summer day. There was a slight hint of strawberry and the tingling of the acid on my palate gave me the slightest perception of effervescent carbonation, even though there was none present in the wine.
I had just received some beautiful A+1 ahi from my fish guru, Domi. As you can see in the picture, the ahi is a dark, rich red; not that flaccid pink color you see in a lot of low-end sushi cases. That pink color, by the way, is set by smoking lower grades of ahi with carbon monoxide.
We butchered the Ahi into "saku" and then cut nigiri-style slices. We then trimmed up some strawberry halves to make a platform for the ahi, much like a mound of rice. Since pickled ginger was a little too harsh for this presentation, (it would have blown away the delicacy of the Rosé), we opted instead to serve a slightly pickled strip of cucumber as a "palate cleanser."
The whole thing was sauced with a little bit of our home made citrus teriyaki and a slight sprinkling of sumac to enhance some of the slight citrus notes I picked up in the Rosé. It was garnished with a little piece of fizzy, which will fizz and sparkle in your mouth, a beautiful sensation when followed by a sip of Rosé.
Ahi and strawberries are always a great combination, especially when strawberries are at their peek. It was also Ray's favorite course of the night. At the end of the dinner he commented, "Everything was great, but the ahi with the strawberries just blew my mind!"
hamachi belly sashimi, prosciutto di parma, dehydrated roasted sesame oil, melon salad
2008 L'Ingénue, Naggier Vineyard
Oh hamachi belly, my arch nemesis for this menu. I've served hamachi belly many different ways, but when it came to this menu, I just kept over thinking it. I had about three iterations of this dish, including two failed components that I tried to experiment with the day before the wine dinner. In fact, I spent the Thursday before futilely testing a new concept that would ultimately end up in the trash.
The day of the wine dinner, I took a deep breath and realized I was forcing it. I was trying to make this hamachi dish something that it wasn't, and quite frankly, it was fighting back. Hamachi belly is such a beautiful, succulent piece of fish - my job was to leave it alone and let it do its thing...for the most part.
After the hamachi and I came to an understanding, it ended up being my favorite dish of the night.
The L'Ingénu is a complex white wine with an uncharacteristically long finish. I wanted to play off of some of these finishing notes; the slight smoke and citrus would go great with the prosciutto di parma. The fattiness of the hamachi and prosciutto would be cut nicely by the wine’s acidic bite. The melon salad was there to round out flavors and make a bridge between the hamachi and prosciutto.
The sesame oil is mixed with tapioca maltodextrin, an extremely light weight bulking agent. The cool thing is, when it hits your palate, the maltodextrin melts away, rehydrating the sesame oil back into its original form. This is especially convenient when pairing with a wine, allowing the guest to try different components together without the sesame oil running all over the plate, possibly taking over the dish.
roasted duck breast, bing gelée, spring radish, seared rainiers, soy-duck glace
2006 Le Corbeau - Hudson Valley
In last month's newsletter, our featured seasonal ingredient was cherries. I wrote about a dish I did a few years back that consisted of a pan-roasted duck breast and a Bing cherry reduction sauce. It was simple, tasty, and an instant hit. While pairing duck and cherries isn't the most original idea ever, it's damn tasty.
When I first tasted the Le Corbeau, it screamed out for cherries. Mind you, it didn't taste like cherries; often when I pair food with wine, I'm looking for complimentary flavors, not foods that taste like the wine. Pairing a wine that taste like blackberries with an actual blackberry dish will often cause the two to cancel each other out. But if you pair with a contrasting yet complimentary flavor affinity, that can lead to an interesting and inspired dish.
Another thing that struck me about the Le Corbeau was its finish; it had a lingering spice. This is usually caused by "un-ripe tannins" that will completely dry out your mouth. But as I tasted the wine again and again, I realized that my mouth wasn't dry or being overwhelmed with tannins; yet this spicy note lingered on the finish.
"What is that spice on the finish," I asked Ray. "I know it's not tannin; I just can't place it."
"We coil up dried grape vines and pitch them in during the fermentation process."
"Is that a common practice?"
"No!" He chuckled. "No one else is that stupid."
And I'll be damned; it worked. It really worked. The spice was absolutely screaming out for duck, but it wasn't until a few weeks later that I was able to match that flavor with food. We were having a late Winter with almost no Spring in California which allowed us to buy some heirloom radish varieties that were much more mild then usual. Once the Summer sun starts to heat up, radishes become extremely spicy. Lacking the overbearing warmth of the sun, they still have a distinct radish spice, but it's much more subdued on the finish, allowing you to appreciate complexities in the radish that one simply cannot taste during the mid-summer months.
Wanting to control the amount of radish each guest received per bite, we parisienne balled a mixed case of radishes which yielded little spheres about the size of a large English pea. This was mixed with a frisée salad that paired nicely with the sweetness of the cherries, helping to tame the spice of both the radish and Le Corbeau.
petite rack of lamb, roasted broccoli salad, honey-anchovy aioli
2007 Howell Mountain Zinfandel
Looking at this dish, it lacks the panache and presentation of the previous three courses. Yet sometimes simple is good. As a passionate young cook I often find that self-editing will reveal the best possible dish. When I took a sip of the Elyse Howell Mountain Zin, this lamb preparation was simply what I wanted to eat with this wine.
The rack of lamb was sous vide at 133°F/56°C for an hour and a half. After cooling the lamb, it was then seared to order and butter-basted to bring the core temperature back up, yielding a perfectly mid-rare piece of lamb with a beautiful roasted crust. It was served on top of a roasted mushroom and broccoli salad and dressed with a honey-anchovy aioli.
I know the aioli might sound a little weird, but think of it in the context of a Caesar dressing. In its emulsified state, Caesar is basically an aioli with parmesan, anchovy fillets and other ingredients incorporated. Now think of what happens when you take this same home made Caesar-on-steroids and add white boquerone anchovies and a 50 year aged sherry vinegar; only you add a little too much vinegar to really give it a tangy kick. That sour tang is then balanced with a dash of apple blossom honey to bring the dressing into focus.
Then imagine taking broccoli and wild mushrooms and frying them at 400°F, giving them a quick char, and dressing with this aioli. The dish is completed with a full reduction pan sauce, meaning that we don't use any starch thickeners. Instead, for this sauce in particular, we took about 5 gallons of veal and duck stock and reduced it down to about 2 quarts, reinforcing at each stage of reduction, straining multiple times, and finishing with a splash of Howell Mountain Zin and a few pats of butter.
"cheese & wine" - pierre rober, abbaye de belloc, livarot coupe
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Morisoli Vineyard
Ahh, the Morisoli Cab. Ray produces a few different Cabernets, all from different vineyards. They way he puts it, "You're either a Morisoli Guy or a Tietjen Guy."
To make things even more interesting, the Tietjen Vineyard is directly across the street from Morisoli. What's more, Robert Parker and the Wine Enthusiast scored both wines an equal 90 points. I had to make up my own mind, which should be expected, but is none the less a daunting task when the wine maker is watching you taste from across the counter expecting you to choose a side; to decide "what kind of guy you are."
"I'm a Morisoli Guy," I finally concluded. "The Tietjen is great, but the Morisoli is what I want to pair food with and in my mind, that's what I always go back to. What wine do I want to 'cook for'.”?
"I'm a Morisoli Guy too," Ray admitted.
So what does this mean?
The Elyse Cabernet produced from the Tietjen Vineyard is what I would call an "instant gratification wine." If you want to drink a big, California Cab by itself, this is the wine to drink.
The Morisoli on the other hand makes you earn it. It's not instant gratification. Up front, it's subtle yet complex. The wine was so cohesive that it was hard for me to put my finger on any one flavor. But the finish; oh the finish! It went on for decades, complex and ever changing from second to second. A good food wine is all about the finish; the flavor structure that lingers on your palate, ready to enhance the next bite of food, at the same time, the food enhancing your next sip of wine.
Ray's pairing idea was brilliant. "With this, I think we should pair cheese."
"Absolutely!" I agreed. Wine and cheese are a time-tested pairing made in heaven. The problem was, finding cheeses that could not only stand up to this Cab, but enhance it.
I choose Pierre Robert, my favorite triple cream cheese, Abbaye de Belloc, a sheep’s milk cheese with a subtle pecorino tang without the salt, and Petit Livarot. Petit Livarot is a washed rind cheese with a distinct, "barn yard aroma" that is actually much milder on the palate then it is on the nose. Bite for bite, this was probably the best flavor pairing of the evening.
flourless chocolate cake, seared plums, cayenne, aged balsamic, smoked sea salt
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Port
The Elyse port has an amazingly complex finish. While this port is definitely "sweet," it's not so overbearing that it kills your palate, making everything taste dull or sour in contrast.
It was Ray's idea to do a flourless chocolate cake which turned out to be serendipitous. One of the newest additions to the Stella team is Kevin, our executive pastry chef. This guy kills it on a daily basis. His techniques are incredibly solid only to be matched by his recipes.
I'm not a huge chocolate fan, usually too bold for my palate. Just a personal preference. And I'm especially not a fan of flourless chocolate cakes, which are usually dense, chewy pieces of formed chocolate. Yet Kevin has made me a convert. His flourless chocolate cake recipe is amazingly simple and will be posted in an upcoming article.
The chocolate cake was served with aged balsamic syrup and seared plum. The plum was sprinkled with a small pinch of cayenne to give depth and dimension to both the chocolate and the port. The cake itself was sprinkled with a little smoked sea salt; smoke always being a great flavor to pair with sweet.