Thursday, March 10, 2011

Salmon Head in Agar - Jet City Gastrophysics' Modernist Dinner

I recently had the privilege of being a guinea pig for a group of wildly creative and talented gentlemen who go under the name Jet City Gastrophysics

Their mission? To learn modernist cooking techniques. It isn't easy when one doesn't have a research kitchen and bottomless funding, but sous-vide machines can be built for under $100, and ebay is a great source for lab-grade equipment. (One person's blood sample centrifuge is another's pea butter maker). 

They had been preparing for a "Thesis dinner" in April to showcase their newfound knowledge to some very special guests, and a small group of friends and family were invited to attend the trial dinner (it was limited to friends and family, so we'd be too polite to sue in case of food poisoning). 

You can read the official writeup on the Seattle Weekly blog, but I've got more, let's say, disturbing, pictures.

The dinner started with a plate of gorgeous home-cured duck breast prosciutto, topped with a drizzle of olive oil and edible flowers. Mr. Eric Rivera has some serious knife skills. 

It was an Asian-themed dinner, so chopsticks were the primary utensils. It should be noted that authenticity was not the point of the dinner; the flavors are Asian-inspired, but the food is uniquely Jet City Gastrophysics

We had a second appetizer of sesame risotto. Sesame seeds were cooked in a pressure cooker with some beef stock, then served with fried shallots, sliced green onion, and hot chili oil.

The first course consisted of a deep-fried, sous-vide egg yolk sitting on a nest of cilantro stems, served with Sriracha salt and sous-vide mayonnaise. The egg yolk was impossibly creamy, thanks to the cooking process. 

What came next was proof that you don't need your own serving dish designer to create amazing presentations. What was once a tea candle holder from Crate and Barrel became an elegant serving dish for shrimp tuilles and cocktail sauce. 

Restructured shrimp with clementine segments, chili oil, and grapefruit peel on sesame tuille. Sous-vide shrimp with cocktail sauce. 

The next course was pho with "playful accompaniments".

Clockwise from the top: lime zest, sliced jalepeno peppers, sliced onions, Sriracha sugar, basil oil. Bean sprouts in the center.

Pho before soup:

Pho after soup:

The next course might have been the general favorite: good old-fashioned braised oxtail, formed into balls and then deep-fried, served on a zen garden of soy sesame soil.

We ooh'ed and ahhh'ed over the laser cut nori bonsai tree. Then we ate it. 

At this point of the dinner there was a general restlessness in the air - was this a, god-forbid, dry dinner? We were inching towards the bottle of Patron on the sideboard when Jethro carried a gigantic block of ice to the dining room. Chilling inside was a bottle of locally brewed sake.

(The elegant bamboo-in-ice presentation sat on top of an upturned-trashcan. Symbolic, no?)

And then the B-grade science fiction part of the meal kicked in.

A whole salmon was cut up and deep fried for fish n' chips. I won't get into how insanely good the homemade fries were, especially with wasabi mayo. 

Wait a second, what happened to the head and tail?

Salmon parts set in agar! You could just make out the salmon bits in the semi-opaque blocks. Creepy, eh?

They make great coasters.  

Continuing with the seafood theme, dessert was a play on the banana split.

Traditional Banana Split:

- banana
- vanilla ice cream
- strawberry marshmallows (ok, this is a UK thing)
- hot fudge sauce

Jet City Gastrophysics Banana Split:
- caramelized banana slices
- cashew ice cream
- sea urchin marshmallows
- eel sauce

Can't get your kids to eat their sea urchins? Make them into marshmallows!

The final mignardise was "sushi" with lima bean gel and coconut rice. 

Needless to say, the dinner was great fun for all involved. The amount of creativity and talent that went into the meal was truly something else. I wish Jet City Gastrophysics the best of luck at their formal debut next month. Keep up the amazing work, guys!

I just hope the raw-fish-in-agar thing doesn't catch on. 

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