Chef Migoya’s Shichimi-Togarashi Bar (at Hudson Chocolates)
Petrossian caviar in a white chocolate bar by F. Migoya (at Hudson Chocolates)
Hudson Valley Mountain Range, a randomized assortment of flavors in each mountain, “a little bit of this, a little bit of that” (at Hudson Chocolates)
Magic apples! (at Apple Pie Bakery Café)
Once a nerd, always a nerd. 2 am, prior to breakfast class (at Culinary Institute Of America)
Flavor Perception and Heightened Sense of Awareness, at the same time as The Culinary’s newspaper, La Papillote
On a sunny Friday afternoon late September, one nasturtium flower took me to hot summer days in Istanbul when I used to play marbles all day and chow down as much of the nectar from honey suckles as I could. That’s until I started making money playing marbles and would buy fried mussel sandwiches a couple times a day but that’s another story…
When I leave my A la Carte class, I walk across Roth Hall out the doors, through Anton Plaza to my campus job. I pick up a flower or a leaf along the way to snack on — from the nasturtium plant, which is used fairly enthusiastically at the restaurant where I work on weekends.
The flavor of the leaves is both peppery like arugula and spicy like mustard greens. But the leaves also pack citrus-like flavors similar to watercress. It has a high vitamin C content and it is incidentally in the same family as a tuber that I discovered while in Cuenca, Ecuador. It was one of my first posts on this blog. The tuber’s name is mashua. The seed pods are consumed in a similar fashion to capers as well. So, yes, incredible plant.
The flower is usually a garnish or a component in a cold dish. Sometimes it’s stuffed, tempura-battered and deep fried akin to a squash blossom. You get a hint of sugar if you’re lucky, depending on ecological factors. Now, hold that thought.
When Thomas Keller visited the CIA campus, the one thing that stuck with me was his emphasis on a heightened sense of awareness and the perspective that this leads to creativity. In other words, if you pay attention to how things work, you can think through leveraging their strengths or actualizing their potential. Then Grant Achatz explained how he created a themed dish reminiscing memories from his childhood and creating new perceptions pivoting from those experiences – this best manifests itself in his pheasant with shallot, cider, and burning oak leaves dish.
Now, we’re going to lean in just as Chef Keller might ask us to. Look at the little extension behind nasturtium’s ovary that has evolved precisely for pollinators with a proboscis (i.e. butterflies, moths). Remember that honeysuckle from your childhood and the wines that you frequented every so often. It’s a different structure from the nectar pocket in honeysuckles but it serves the same purpose of driving the symbiotic relationship with its pollinators. Schools that dabble in evolutionary biology would have touched upon the concept of convergent evolution. Similar structures with similar functions in different species of different lineages (e.g. flight with wings in bats, birds and insects). You can take a brief look at the concept here. Honey suckles and nasturtium solve the same problem in different ways but they appease your taste buds in a similar manner.
The next time you walk by a nasturtium flower, pluck it, turn it around and eat only this extension. Because that little extension does what a lot of chefs try to do as Grant Achatz emphasized in his speech on Keller Day — hinge on an experience or a memory in your past and elevate it to another level.
I find myself more and more turning to nature to find inspiration.
Lean in to nature, your back yard, your hike trail, your farmers market, your herb gardens… They have much to teach.
It all started with a duck breast. I built the plate around it with ingredients I’ve wanted to work with. Nasturtium, pickled banana flowers, baby Japanese eggplants from the school garden, mirin, wasabi powder…
Let’s start with the protein. I scored the duck — oh, also, this is my first time cooking a duck breast. Yes, I know, it’s weird.
I placed fat side down on a cold skillet and rendered the fat, reserving it in another container as necessary. My cross mark got crispy, the fat layer got thin and I removed the duck from the pan to hold. Later when everything else was ready, I finished the other side in a hot pan with a little bit of the duck fat and seasoning. I sliced it thin, fanned it and put it on top of my sauce. I finished it with additional sauce on top as well.
For the sauce, I sauted shallots, carrots, and ginger until I developed sufficient color and flavor. I added a T of my white miso, a T of mirin, the juice of an orange and a half a cup of brown duck stock, which I luckily had in my inventory. I strained and reduced to thin nappe without a thickener.
For the carbohydrate, I toasted a cup of barley. Then I soaked it — though not sufficiently, I only soaked it for an hour. Then I simmered it for two hours in three quarts of shiitake stem and ginger broth. Once al dente, I cooled it and finished with mirin, wasabi powder, and chives. The deep mushroom flavor, the sweetness of the mirin, and the mustardy heat of the wasabi worked well with the texture of the barley, though I would have preferred soba noodles.
The eggplant, the mushrooms, and the banana flower were seared in sesame oil and finished in a miso, shoyu, mirin and Thai bird chili glaze.
Nasturtium flowers were stuffed with a strawberry (from the school garden), cilantro, labnah (I needed something to bring the stuffing together and not fall out of the flower), and chili oil stuffing. They were then dipped in tempura batter and deep fried. The tempura batter needs work and that’s why I’m not going into the details. The stuffing worked wonders although the flowers were stuffed in minute amounts.
I think the plating needs work. Some of the glaze should have gone on the plate along with the vegetables. The plate looks too sterile without the duck sauce as well as the glaze visible in the photo. And the inclusion of the banana flower is purely whimsical.
Overall — three hours of work, lots of trial and error, well worth it.
The most common street food in Mumbai! The legendary vada pav.
Mahsed potatoes with cilantro and curry leaves, turmeric, ginger, cumin, coriander, and mustard seeds are formed into balls. Dipped in chana (chickpea) batter and tossed into vegetable oil.
They’re then served with a spicy green chili chutney in a surprisingly flavorful roll!
Eat where lines are formed at rush hour!
The first thing I ate in Mumbai was a vada pav, and it shall be the last thing I eat until I return! Packed with flavor, puffy and slightly crispy on the outside… Doused with chutneys and stuffed into a soft bun. Oh, vada pav, my favorite Indian street food. You will be missed…
I’ve negotiated a stop at the Juhu Beach chaat stands before heading to the airport tomorrow night!
Photo near Crawford Market, Mumbai
Such a luxury to cook for yourself! Fresh and blistered heirlooms with Roquefort, arugula, sumac and EV olive oil fried eggs, crostini and cornichons (at Culinary Institute Of America)
That’s my new baby! A baby Kikuichi #kikuichi #knife (at Culinary Institute Of America)
My kitchen partner Brittany’s brainchild! Butternut squash, porcini and ricotta stuffed ravioli with brown butter sauce, garnished with chanterelles, roasted squash, sage leaves and seeds
This monarch helped me realize today that lemon verbena leaves lose most of their fragrant oils and fragrance once the plant goes to flower (at Culinary Institute Of America)