I was reading this blog post the other day, I highly recommend it, and was reminded of one of my favorite books Elements of Taste. Now I assure you I did not name my restaurant after this book. It was a name that my wife came up with and was the only name that myself, my wife and my father could agree on.
Back to the book, not only is it a great book from a great chef but it really makes you open your eyes to the complexity of food. I think that all chefs strive for balance in their cooking but achieving it takes something more. The book talks of the elements of food that you taste--salt,
A patron that I hadn't seen in a while commented on the complexity of a soup she had eaten that night for dinner. Now while I am very grateful that she liked the soup, I tried to remember what we had done to bring this joy to her. You know what I have know idea.
About 2 years ago I said to myself that I would no longer use "bases" of any kind, if I couldn't achieve what I wanted naturally I wouldn't do it. Now being in south jersey this proposes many problems. Number 1-- Jersey is known for tomatoes, why I have no idea, but people like my wife will eat them year round. It doesn't matter if they're in season or not( January=not). Number 2-- people in this area expect a certain something when they eat-- I think it's a preconceived idea of what something should be. Most restaurants use bases in their sauces and soups and therefore require a thickener. And thickener is the preconceived idea of soup. So when I thought it was a good idea to put a basic tomato bisque on a local restaurant week menu I discovered the big mistake. Tomatoes suck in January and people would expect a thick over creamed, roux thickened soup-- so how do I fix this.
It was quite simple actually, we ordered a case of "regular" tomatoes, let them age as long as we dared in a cold kitchen, then roasted them. The simple roasting of the tomatoes concentrated the flavor and brought out a rich flavor and deep red color. Did we do anything special after that? No, not really, we make a basic white mirepoix, added white wine, reduced and then the tomatoes. Cooked it for about 25 minutes at a good simmer, pureed and strained. It was finished with a touch of cream and "nutless" pesto-- and that's it. Did the soup turn out "tomatoee"-- yes, was it "creamy"-- to my standards, was it thick-- not a chance. The soup by many peoples standards and comments-while very good in flavor not thick enough(or hot enough-but that's another post). But what so many people didn't realize, we couldn't achieve that "complexity of flavor if we thickened with a roux-- it would be all covered in flour.
Had I achieved after all these years that complexity in my food that I strive for? I don't think so, because I'll never be happy, lucky yes, happy no. But a lot of experience and a little luck goes along way to make some people happy. I have a great staff and great customers that are willing to try most things we do but looking for that balance between what I envision and what I put on the plate-- I don't know if I'll ever achieve that.
But, I'll keep trying.....
7 years ago