Saturday, December 10, 2005

Masked Man, Part II

Brendan's lightning run to the Great Socialist State of Cah-lee-fornia (Why does everyone make fun of Arnold's pronunciation of California. I am no fan.....Amanda was a gropee on ''Twins''....'Arnold, you are a sex pig!'.......but all the Latinos that live here (30%?), and everyone in the Latinate world (Spain, France, Italy, Mexico, all of South America, etc. pronounce it Arnie's way. I mean, the word itself is Latinate, for was not thought up by the marketing department at Pfizer....).

Anyway, in the course of his seven days here this was his schedule: prep and perform four dinners for us at Lizardo's, all with new appetizers and entrées; Monday night dinner at The Store with a new entrée, sauce and presentation; pull a well with Duncan in the pouring rain......and party like a mad weasel every night.

The change in his work ethic wrought by six weeks at Mugaritz is amazing. People accuse me of being a demanding, high pressure kind of boss. Forget it. Brendan has gone beyond: he made us carry everything in from the street at the Hatfields'.....for fear they would see the recently washed and waxed (but not clean enough) van. And, the top of the ice chest was a little dirty....banished to the garage. Fuck...

Brendan came from a place with 31 20 year old chefs....I am by myself, for chrissakes, and I am 56.

He was also the timing Nazi. Timing on dishes was neurotic......beating me like a dog: "Dad, check the fish.....Dad, check the filet.....Dad, check the venison...." Shopping was neurotic as well. Combing Whole Foods for heirloom soy sauces and weird shit....six different Asian places for dried bonito.

The biggest changes were visual and gustatory. Every cut of every piece of meat or fish or fruit, and every vegetable, was carefully thought out. It reminded me of a jeweller sweating over breaking down a big diamond. Presentation is king in Spain-land.....not too much stuff on the plate.....nice colors....everything arranged ever so......

And the flavors.....very simple and very subtle. The revelation sauce for Brendan was a dish from Akelaré in San Sebastian (the only course he liked out of nine, of course). It was over monkfish.....tomatoes roasted over charcoal, and left to drain in a colander. The sauce was collected.....and that was it. Another was a Mugaritz sauce: caldo del dia with a little dried bonito. The caldo and bonito are not heated, just warmed for a few minutes and the bonito strained out. Add excellent soy sauce. That is it. Remembering back to my early days of reducing stocks for demi-glace, rubbing leeks through chinois, sweating and praying over egg-bound dishes with massive flavors.....Old School, Pops. And check the venison......

I was afraid our locals wouldn't get it....that the flavors would be too subtle, portions too small. The Cachagua ethic is ''Pile it on!" No.....people freaked. It was culinary ju-jitsu: the right flavor in the right spot, and bam! Down goes the bully.... Quality is quality, Cachagua or Barcelona.

As partial pay-back for his efforts, we went to dinner at ''Bouchée'' in Carmel....our local source for high-tech, small-plate foods. We brought an '81 Mouton Rothschild along for giggles.

As always, owner David Fink was beyond gracious. Our Mouton was comatose......we kept waiting and praying for it to come around....but no. We decided it was the Terry Schiavo of wines: locked in a persistent vegetative state. David treated us to a raft of wine pairings as we mourned the Mouton.

Still, the food was just OK.....nothing special, despite two guys from Jean Georges in the back. The deconstructed gazpacho was cucumber and tomato brunoise....that's it. Chopped cukes and tomato scattered under overcooked tasteless prawns with the asses torn off!! Aaaaack! Brendan had spaghetti-o's with a nice broth and baby herbs. He had a pig snout fritter, nicely done....but still: it was pig snout, truffles or no. I had skate full o'bones and tortellini as comatose as the Mouton. Jeez. The chocolate beignet was the bomb, though.

The kid flew out the next day for New York. See yez. Still trying to find culinary recompense for him, I ordered up a dinner for him and a friend at wd50. His friend Sam Mason is the pastry chef, and another Mugaritz survivor, Francis, is a line chef. Success at last! The best meal of his life....worth flying to NY, eating, and flying back. The normally reticent Brendan was effusive......even a week later. So, there!

So.....the difference between the Spanish and everyone else is, They have an entirely new way of looking at food.....and it can rub off in a short six weeks. to check this out, short of flying to Spain or New York. The hot new food books among the best Spanish chefs...and the kids in their kitchens doing the actual work....are the two newest books by Xabier Gutiérrez.

Xaby is Juan Maria Arzak's food lab rat.... the concept guy. Like Wylie duFresne at wd50, he pulls in ideas from everywhere. The food tastes, it moves, it smells (there is one dish that is just aroma!), has colors and textures that are beyond the beyond. For a real foodie, the best Christmas book ever.

The two titles are 'El Bosque Culinario' and 'Asfalto Culinario'. They are not recipe books. Instead, Xaby walks you through his thought processes and his book is about natural inspiration, the other industrial/urban. The result is Arzak's unique mix of high technique and beautifully inspirational ingredients. Oh.....they are in Spanish, but it doesn't matter. I would think even a non-cooking art head would appreciate the trip. Even a non-Spanish speaking art head.

Available from de re coQuinaria ( along with every other hot new Basque food book. Shipping is about 5 days. Amazon may have some lame translation.

Political sarcasm returns tomorrow: DiFi sponsors a bill exempting ExxonMobil from foreign tort claims in industrial accidents (poor Peruvian miners and a mercury spill)!!!!! SB 1874: Foreign torts. On the anniversary of Bhopal! Aaaaaack! Do they have no sense of irony?

We need to get a bigger bag: Hillary (no flag burning bill....seriously!), Howard Dean (spinning fool), Lieberman (right with Britney in ''Support Your President, No Matter What", the next Rumsfeld, only incompetent, and possibly incontinent), Zell Miller (the Phil Spector of the Democratic Party), and Harry Reid (yay Mastercard and the bankruptcy bill!).....stuff these fuckers in it and float it out on the Japanese current......


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