One of the most talked about restaurant openings in the U.S. recently has been Vespertine in Culver City, Los Angeles. Self-described as “a gastronomical experiment seeking to disrupt the course of the modern restaurant”, the building it’s housed in (pictured here*) has been described by others as a “crashed spaceship”, and dining there like “eating on Jupiter”. Jonathan Gold, the Pultizer-prize winning critic for the L.A. Timessummarises the experience:
It’s not dinner; it’s Gesamtkunstwerk [German for ‘total work of art’]…“Checking in with valet before dinner is required,’’ says an email sent to you before your dinner, “as this member of our team is integral to your experience.’’ You hand off your keys. You walk past a watery ditch lined with shattered rock whose cracks ooze green light. You are led to an elevator in the rust-colored steel structure, and are let off in the kitchen and a bowing Kahn. You climb stairs to an aerie at the top, settle into low couches, sip at a concoction of white vermouth garnished with a purple passion fruit flower. This is the first of many flowers you will see tonight. You will recognize none of them. … The more you eat of the turnips, the more vinegary the dish becomes, until by the end you are practically coughing at the fumes.Continue reading “Dinner Theatre”
So I’m going to jump on the bandwagon – but if you think I’m going to predict which are my top restaurants, think again – what follows are my nominations for Best Food Movie. Now there are some provisos as this is a fairly contentious movie category and I welcome debate and dissent (feel free to send in your comments).Continue reading “Pinch of Salt: Food Oscars”
On the menu: Smoked tomato risotto, bacon, leek and baby marrow, steamed mussels
We loved the innovative presentation of this dish, the great tomato flavour, it’s contrasting textures, as well as perfectly cooked risotto. Tell us a bit about it?
Chef Warwick Taylor: I like runny risotto… so many people throw in cream and mascarpone cheese, which it’s not meant to have. It’s meant to be an emulsion of the fat you use, like butter, which keeps it light. It’s really more about the sauce around the rice than anything else. Then we throw in some smoked bacon, leeks, baby marrow, and baby spinach. We slow-smoke tomatoes over Rooikrans wood and then make a little tomato sauce out of that. So we have a nice smoked tomato sauce as a base, which we fold into the risotto, and off we go. For the mussels, a bit of white wine, soft herbs, a little bit of lemon in there, so they’re basically just steamed open, and then we pop them into the risotto.
It’s such an attractive plate! Is it of your own devising, or were you inspired elsewhere?
I was walking with my wife through the Sabine Hills in Italy and we stayed a night at an agriturismo – one of those organic farmsteads that give you a room and a bed and a meal of food grown on the farm. They’re very proud of the fact that everything is grown on the farm.
We sat down to dinner and the hostess placed a bowl of olives on the table and pitcher of water with slices of yellow lemon and a vase of flowers.
On the menu: Tempura linefish with sushi rice, avocado, sesame, wasabi mayonnaise & spiced lemon dressing
On a recent visit, we found this dish to be a real standout, both on the plate and in its precision of flavour. What was the inspiration behind it?
Chef Richard Carstens: In 1993 I was working for my mentor, Ralph van Pletzen, at a restaurant called Ralph’s in Stellenbosch, and he was the one who introduced me to a lot of aspects of Asian cuisine, like Indonesian, Chinese and Thai.
In those days not everything was readily available on the Internet, but there were these amazing magazines like Vogue Entertaining, and I was always drawn to Japanese cuisine, which was really coming to the fore in Australia. So I went to Australia around ’97-’98, and lived in Melbourne for that period, working for a chef who was into French-Japanese fusion, or Franco-Japanese cuisine. When I came back in ’98 I was working at Le Provençal restaurant in Franschhoek (now Grande Provence), and that’s where I started Franco-Japanese cuisine. There’s one dish from that era, the “Franco-Japanese interpretation” of oyster, prawn, calamari, and linefish, which I still do an evolution of every year (sometimes with up to three different versions, like when I was working in at Lynton Hall,* where we changed our degustation menu every night). Continue reading “Story of a Plate: Tempura Linefish at Tokara”
Just as Cape Town gears up to host its very first pizza and pasta festival, it was slightly unnerving to read about a recent pizza festival in Brooklyn, New York, that left attendees feeling rightly cheated of the money they had spent on tickets (up to $69 per person), when instead of an abundance of pies (as they call them over there), they found mostly empty tents and pretty pathetic pizza offerings.
“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.” Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume
Growing up you couldn’t get me to eat vegetables for love or money – the best I could muster was iceberg lettuce (provided it was doused in Thousand Island dressing) or potatoes, but even that was restricted to chips and roasted, mash at a push. I could eat tomatoes that were cooked in a sauce but would rather eat my own hand before a raw one passed my lips. I didn’t even try mushrooms until I was sixteen.
Why, you may ask – my answer would be that I have absolutely no idea – I just didn’t like the idea of vegetables. I was a very fussy eater as a kid and I guess my mother just indulged me. I remember one evening she was away, so my dad had taken on the cooking duties. Having no clue as to what we kids did or didn’t eat, he decided that blackmail was the best course of action and told myself and my two sisters (one of whom, to this day, is still a ridiculously fussy eater) that if we ate everything on our plates he would take us to the Drive-In. I realise that this seriously dates me and any millennials reading this will have to Google search Drive-Ins, but in our household in the 70s this was a serious treat, especially on a school night. Continue reading “Pinch of Salt: Vegetables Are The New Black”
On the menu: Wayfarer smoked trout with guava (part of a tasting menu which changes every night)
We were intrigued by the combination of fish and guava – how did that come about?
Chef Constantijn Hahndiek: Yes, it is an unusual dish, and the reason we went for the guava is because that trout is so unique; it’s got both a strong smokey flavour, and also quite a bit of saltiness from the smoking process.
I wouldn’t choose to travel overseas with me. It’s not that I’m a cheapskate – actually, no, it’s precisely that I’m a cheapskate. I have ruined more foreign meals than an old man with an accordion wandering from table to table in an Italian restaurant. I sit and scowl at the menu, I purse my lips and make mental conversions into rands, I snarl at wine waiters and start suggesting to my wife that we share the main course. I am well aware that these are not attractive qualities but I can’t help it and it’s too late for me to change.
We were on Sipan island in the Elafiti archipelago, just off the coast of Croatia. The night before we’d been in Dubrovnik and had eaten at a restaurant whose name I have expunged from my memory because when the bill arrived I think I experienced a small stroke. Continue reading “Table Manners: The Joys of Not Needing Supper”
In our latest newsletter we explored the issue of fine dining:
There seem to be an abundance of dining “styles” these days, including some new hybrids, like “fast fine” and “fast casual”, and older movements getting modern attention, like “nose-to”tail” and “farm-to-plate”. But what about good old-fashioned “fine dining”?
The website Fine Dining Lovers recently posed the question of what fine dining is to a group of celebrated chefs across the world, and their varied answers point to the fact that there is certainly nothing “old-fashioned” about it – at least not in the sense that there is a strict formula for how to provide it. One chef summed it up as being about “making people feel good”, while another mentioned providing diners with the “best experience” in a way that doesn’t have to be “formal”, “pretentious”, or “elegant”. Chef Mauro Colagreco (chef-patron of the 2 Michelin-starred restaurant Mirazur on the French Riviera) had perhaps the most poetic answer: “For me it’s a big question. It’s a place where you work with memory, with art. I think it’s a place where you find emotions, luxury – but new luxury. Once, to have a garden was common, something everyday, but today to eat something from the garden is a luxury. Luxury has changed.”Continue reading “Plates and places for dining in style”