My skepticism about modernist cuisine, so named after ‘molecular gastronomy‘ fell out of favor; is not a thing I hide. As it is with so many things, the doubts stem from ignorance, intimidation, and unabashed pig-headed stubbornness. When Chef Anthony Cafiero (AKA Tony Two Fingers) approached me about doing a tentop based on modernist techniques, my skepticism faded as I began to understand the kind of dishes he wanted to do. This wouldn’t be a masterbatorial onslaught of foams, gels, and powders; a showcase of chef-jizz that just barley resembled food. No, Tony has a real knack for applying these techniques in a very non-obnoxious way, and his infectious enthusiasm one cannot help being swept up in. And while this dinner did in fact have foams, gels, and powders; they were all used as an interesting twist on something Tony is quite good at, making food taste good. I mean, you’ve eaten at Tabla, right?
I felt those pangs of skepticism return as mid way through the first day of prep, we hadn’t actually cooked anything. We had used the blender about eight times, had done some steeping, so I guess there was some heat applied, but cooking? This wasn’t quite cooking yet. We made a curried carrot foam that would keep it’s shape for days. We made passion fruit pearls (or ‘caviar’) in a way that I would almost call easy. We made a panna cotta that was intended to be served warm. Yeah…warm panna cotta…I was digging this, I was learning things here. We brined some venison loins, and that was the closest to my comfort zone as we were going to get that day.
It wasn’t until the day of service that we started to ‘cook.’ Pork bellies were tanked for a long, slow swim in the circulator. Tombo tuna was butchered. Venison came off the brine and also went into the tank to cook sous vide. As we started to set up the mise en place for service, I started to get a sense of the full scope of what were about to do. We had five one to two bite ‘tastes’ followed by eight courses of modern tapas, 6 savory and two sweet. We had an intermission planned with aroma therapy and cocktails. We had Chris Onstad on hand to document it all in his distinct, eloquent prose. As the guests started to arrive, I knew that this was going to be a once in a lifetime dinner.
Service was a bit of a blur, I can’t lie. Each course came together as planned, but I was shocked as the colors and flavors popped the way they did, it being the middle of winter and all. We rolled through the small bites, we smoked tombo to order, Tony seared sturgeon and I finally felt heat on my arms as the fire burned hot and fast. As we plated the ‘Umami Cereal,’ I had one of those moments where I thought ‘Wow, this is my job,’ and whatever I had done to get there I silently rejoiced in. It’s crazy to watch a dinner go from a page filled with scribbles to such a visceral experience. During our short intermission, we served a cocktail called a ‘neBroni,’ where in we made a simple negroni augmented with root beer liqueur. We sealed it up in a cryovac bag and had Eric squeeze it into the glasses like an udder, pouring it over orange ice cubes. Eat your heart out Morgenthaler. The most memorable plating for me was the one pictured above, a coffee crusted venison loin with a concord grape fluid gel and beluga lentils. The venison was a succulent morsel, and I had a blast with the ‘blood spatter‘ style plating.
A play by play of this dinner would only serve to trivialize it, as it was an experience that cannot be replicated with words or otherwise. Suffice to say Chef Cafiero is cooking WAY over our heads, all the while being one of the most approachable and friendly dudes on the scene. Here’s the full menu from this amazing night. Click here to log into facebook and see the entire set of pictures.
the modernist with Chef Anthony Cafiero
apple & absinthe granita w/ pork powder, sangria sphere with finger lime & shiso, mushroom cream w/truffle pearls, licorice w/eucalyptus & pickled pears, apple cider w/ chorizo gel and crispy crepe
smoked tombo tuna w/lemon gel & passion fruit
sturgeon w/ celery root, red cabbage & curried carrot
warm red kuri squash panna cotta w/ teff & espilette
umami ‘cereal’ w/maitake, wheat berries, jamon broth, millet & brussel sprouts
pork belly, romesco, mushroom ‘air,’ paprika
venison tenderloin, coffee, cocoa, beluga lentils, concord grape
lemon curd, cranberry sheet, 42 second almond cake
ganache, chili, crispy soy, smoked meringue, graham struesel