Tentop Presents: The Modernist with Chef Cafiero

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.

tentop presents

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

small fish

smoked tombo tuna w/lemon gel & passion fruit

big fish

sturgeon w/ celery root, red cabbage & curried carrot

small veg

warm red kuri squash panna cotta w/ teff & espilette

big veg

umami ‘cereal’ w/maitake, wheat berries, jamon broth, millet & brussel sprouts

small meat

pork belly, romesco, mushroom ‘air,’ paprika

big meat

venison tenderloin, coffee, cocoa, beluga lentils, concord grape


lemon curd, cranberry sheet, 42 second almond cake


ganache, chili, crispy soy, smoked meringue, graham struesel

10 Responses

  1. LadyConcierge said on 15 Jan 2012 at 12:20 am

    Wish we could have been there. I look forward to making a reservation one of these days at your dinners.

  2. Tonya said on 15 Jan 2012 at 8:51 am

    When people start spouting off about who are the best chefs in Portland, I am always both annoyed and relieved.

    Annoyed, because when it comes down to talent, technique, and flavors, for my money no chef in town is as consistent and reliable, while receiving as little fanfare, as Chef Tony. His love of the food and how much fun he has sharing that with his diners is, as you perfectly described, infectious.

    Relieved, because I dread the day the rest the world, discovers what we’ve known all along and tries to steal him from us.

    Many thanks to Chef Tony for a stunning meal and to you, Jeff, for being the glue that holds the Ten Tops together. I feel honored to have been in attendance this evening and can confidently say it was one of my top three meals EVER.

  3. Michael M said on 16 Jan 2012 at 11:41 am

    You and Chef Anthony created a masterpiece.

  4. mrjeffmccarthy said on 17 Jan 2012 at 9:34 am

    @Michael - Thanks, boss. I just did what I was told. I should have been doing this for years!

  5. mrjeffmccarthy said on 17 Jan 2012 at 9:35 am

    @Tonya- These words coming form you have much weight, I feel each and every sentiment. Thank you.

  6. mrjeffmccarthy said on 17 Jan 2012 at 9:36 am

    @LadyConcierge -We’d love to have you!

  7. Michael M said on 18 Jan 2012 at 11:35 am

    @mrjeffmccarthy Doing what for years? Doing what you were told? Wouldn’t that be refreshing ;-)

  8. mrjeffmccarthy said on 19 Jan 2012 at 3:24 pm

    @Michael- yes that was the joke, silly

  9. Anthony Cafiero said on 25 Jan 2012 at 4:36 pm

    you guys all rule, thanks so much for eating/cooking that dinner! it was the best meal I have ever cooked, to date at least!

  10. mrjeffmccarthy said on 3 Feb 2012 at 3:52 pm

    @Anthony Cafiero _ Thank YOU, Chef,

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