Like probably everyone, everywhere, chefs receive a lot of weekly email blasts. Aside from the usual barbaric sales pitches and utter nonsense, chefs also receive a lot of price lists, weekly specials, and market conditions for seafood, produce, and foraged ingredients.
But as it is tremendously important for me to decompress from the restaurant on my days off, most of these emails are immediately deleted. Every once in a while, however, I take notice of an ingredient coming to market. If it strikes a chord, I will act pretty quickly and bring it in. Then, because I am scatterbrained and discombobulated at times, I may forget not only to communicate to the team what I have ordered, there are times I even forget that I've ordered the ingredients myself.
This was the case when some rare bluefoot chanterelles, fava beans, and first of the season jumbo white asparagus showed up a couple of weeks ago. Believing they came on to market at the same time for the sole purpose of being combined together for a course, I replied to the email and scooped them up for the beginning of the EL work week on Tuesday.
After surprising my colleagues, the chefs and I began discussing other accompaniments that might bring the dish to life. We thought about scallops. Though they would be delicious and well received, it seemed like kind of a lay up. We also considered something gamey, but it's the spring time, and that didn't make sense either.
A bit exasperated, I suggested that the asparagus and chanterelles should not be overshadowed by any other protein. And that was how we arrived at the cheese. From there, I began to consider giving the dish an Alpine/woodsy feel, and considered a cheese like gouda or raclette. Chef Goody then suggested that we use a butterkase that is made locally at Pure Prarie. The Luxardo cherries seemed to made sense along the Alpine theme of the course.
At first I thought to simply melt the cheese over the asparagus, but that seemed like it would be sloppy to do that for a full house. Believing the cheese needed more of a vehicle in its own right, I considered baking a bread, but this quickly morphed into using some puff pastry that was leftover from a course we moved on from.
To prepare the Wellington, a duxelle of chanterelle mushrooms is spread out on top of a sheet of puff pastry, and the grated butterkase is liberally spread on top of that. From there, white asparagus that was blanched in a garlic and herb butter is placed in the center, and the whole thing is wrapped up like a joint... or a streusel. Considering it reminded me of a beef Wellington when it came out of the oven, I hijacked and bent the name for my own purposes.
*Note - the bluefoot chanterelles were only available that one week and are not shown. Since then, the dish has morphed into regular chanterelles, and we are now serving the course with morels.
All photos by Lorenzo Tassone
When: Winter 2015-16
Composition: Pierogi - Smoked Wagyu / Beet / Kohlrabi / Sour Cream / Dill
Chef: David Goody
Photo: Lorenzo Tassone, Tassone Photography
As many of those who have been to EL know, our menu is very much a team effort. And though I am well aware there are those out there who feel that I should monopolize the menu with my own ideas, for many reasons I have been reluctant to do so.
But without getting into too long of a diatribe as to why that is, the most rewarding aspect of collaborating on the menu is to be able to bare witness to the inspired ideas of the many talented chefs that have come through the EL kitchen. When I think of how much my own cooking style has evolved since opening five years ago, I am forever in debt to so many.
Anyhow, David Goody is my right hand man. He's the first guy in the kitchen each day, and he's the most likely to come in on his day off to work on a new idea. Aside from coming up with striking ideas like this one, he does a lot of the little things that have freed me up to focus more on superfluous shit... like this.
This course was the first dish he added to our menu when he started with us last winter. Because I love eating the luscious scraps off the cutting board while slicing the meat for our guests, there is very frequently a course featuring A5 Wagyu beef from Japan.
Unfortunately, a lot of very expensive and very delicious trim is a byproduct of the cleaning process. And though once in a while we will make some insanely delicious Wagyu hamburgers for family meal, the richness usually leaves us more inspired to take naps than welcome guests. Anyhow, We always seem to have more on hand than we know what to do with, so Goody thought to use them for a pierogi.
To make the beef, the trim was cut into cubes, and hot smoked in a hotel pan for several hours until the fat was soft and translucent. This was then passed through a grinder while still warm, transferred into a sous vide bag, vacuum sealed, and dropped into a pot of boiling water to complete the rendering of the fat.
After about ten minutes in the water, the bags are removed and the fat is strained through a sieve. The remaining meat in the sieve - combined with potato puree and seasoned - becomes the filling for the pierogi. We recommend saving the yummy fat for another use, or, if you don't give a fuck about your health, fry the pierogi in that.
The rest of the dish is several variations on the theme of beets, a house fermented kohlrabi kraut, sour cream, and dill. Aside from being a great utilization of byproduct, the dish is also a shout out to the vibrant Polish culture in Chicago. Win, win.
Composition: Charred octopus scented with smoked paprika, red cabbage compressed with plum vinegar, pineapple jam, chorizo, and chilled octopus consomme.
Chef: Phillip Foss
When: February - March, 2017
As I write this, there are hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in stagnant inventory lying in a state of uselessness in the kitchen below me. Discovering a home for ingredients that have been stranded on a shelf in the refrigerator is not only obviously useful from a financial perspective, but also it is an important and necessary challenge on a creative level. This course was a good example of being resourceful with dormant product, and it also became a favorite with our guests.
The course began with two preserves that had been in the refrigerator for some time. Namely, the preserved red cabbage and pineapple jam. When I began to consider how the two ingredients could work together on a course, I immediately thought of Hawaii where I had lived for a couple of years. This got me to think of the Portuguese influence on their cuisine, which brought me to the smoked paprika and then the chorizo. Octopus is paired up all the time with chorizo, and since the reason for that is because it is fucking delicious, I jumped on that bandwagon and rode it home.
The only semi-complicated procedure is the octopus and consomme. We used large octopus for the dish and removed the tentacles from the beaks (the beaks became family meal). The tentacles were seasoned with smoked paprika, compressed, and cooked sous vide at 72 degrees Celsius for 4 hours.
Once done, it is immediately strained, and the resulting liquid is gelled at a ratio of one leaf of bloomed gelatin which is dissolved in one liter of liquid. That is then frozen overnight, removed the following morning, and allowed to drip slowly through cheesecloth fitted over a conical sieve with a container underneath. Though it is a pretty time consuming process, the resulting purple color and deep flavor make it well worth the wait.
With the octopus itself, it is cleaned under cold running water, charred on the grill on pick up, sliced into bite sized portions, tossed with a smoked paprika oil. Another pretty cool aspect to the dish, is that when the purple consomme would come into contact with even a little of the vinegar from the cabbage, it would turn a more neon form of purple. And anyone who knows me knows how much I love purple.
Photo: Lorenzo Tassone, Tassone Photography
When: Fall 2016
Composition: Chicken Skin / Foie Gras / Pomegranate / Yogurt
Chef: Phillip Foss
Photo: Lorenzo Tassone, Tassone PhotographyWe
Story: We had been using some shards of crispy chicken skin as an accompaniment to a black cod dish, and the realization came that the broken up skins looked a lot like corn flakes.
To help the guests' mind make the association, we felt it imperative to make the dish look like a bowl of cereal. On the bottom of the dish is a chilled foie gras mousse, pomegranate seeds, and some milk that was slightly thickened with xanathan and seasoned with salt.
The crispy skins are piled on top of the foie, and since Frosted Flakes are more exciting than Corn Flakes, a freeze dried yogurt is sprinkled over the top. As a side note, in an effort to slowly ready the palate for the sweet side of the menu, this course - with some savory and some sweet elements - was served as pre-dessert.
Posted by Phillip Foss
When: Winter 2017
Composition: Beet brined and smoked moi, beet and orange juice, burnt orange, pickled beets, candied hibiscus, whipped creme fraiche, beet powder
Chef: Catherine Price
Photo: Lorenzo Tassone, Tassone Photography
Story: Moi, known as 'emperor's fish' on account of it only being served to their royal family, is a fish found exclusively in Hawaii. It is similar to trout, only much more rich in flavor. Moi only makes it to market in Chicago occasionally, so we jumped on the opportunity to bring it in for a dish conceived and developed Chef Catherine Price.
We originally brought in John Dory for the course, which we brined in beet juice and then cold smoked. We also experimented for a while with mackerel, but everything paled in comparison to the velvety texture of the moi.
There are a few disadvantages to living above the restaurant (actually, I can't really think of any), but finding something in the refrigerator to make for a small Sunday brunch is definitely not one of them, especially when there is Wagyu beef and ossetra caviar on your current menu. On this given Sunday, I served the two of them with some soft scrambled eggs and toast for an amped up home version of steak and eggs. Once devoured, I thought about serving it downstairs in the restaurant.
The Wagyu is sliced and wrapped around a piece of our toasted brioche, topped with a mound of the fish eggs, and finished with a couple granules of Murray River sea salt. As it is our first course, once we drop the finger food in front of the guests, I explain that their eating this luxurious bite at the beginning of their tasting menu is akin to a two pump chump having an orgasm before even starting the sex. Finally, to take some air of anticipation out of the room, we also play with them some more when we announce that this first bite will probably be the best thing they eat all night.
This course is probably the most polarizing we've ever had on our menu. Some of our guests love it, some of them don't like it at all. But we love it, so we don't really give a shit. The rest of the people are simply wrong.
What we're looking at is a shigoku oyster and daikon kimchi that are set in a lightly gelled smoked duck consommé. Enoki mushrooms and soy round off the preparation with a kiss of umami. Enjoy (or don't)!
This dish was conceived in the cold, dark days of winter. The thought was to take as many varieties of allium (onion family) as possible, prepare them utilizing as many methods as possible, and then in an effort to show off their versatility, serve them with as many accompaniments as I could get on the plate. The order of the progression - in which it is meant to be eaten - is from right to left.
- Onion flan topped with ossetra caviar
- Boiled leeks with hamachi crudo
- Pickled pearl onion with bottarga (grey mullet roe)
- Scallion kimchi with sautéed shrimp
- Compressed red onion with mojama atun (dried tuna from Spain)
- Confit onion with chicken liver mousse and air dried duck
- Caramelized onions with maitake mushroom leather
- Spring onion jam with seared Wagyu beef
We also added onion rings, roasted onions, shallot powder, sprouting chives, a charred ramp, and scallion ash. To finish it off, we have a kimchi gel and each of the onion ingredients are flavored with kochukaru, the pepper that is used in traditional kimchi. We recommend eating the dish one at a time and from right to left, but since EL is here to remove pretension from fine dining, we tell the room they can eat it any fucking way they want.
There’s been a trend since the early part of this century for chefs to have a dish on the menu that looks as though it is growing out of the ground. Having been overdue myself (and being impervious to the drawbacks of being a ‘Johnny Come Lately’), we offer up a small bite with a lot of unctuousness.
The course is featuring a baby radish set atop some whipped lardo, 65 degree egg yolk ‘fudge’, a slice of smoked lardo, and cryo-shattered olive represents the soil. We suggest to the guests that they pick the radish up by the leaves, dip it through the egg yolk and lardo, and then scoop up as much as they can into their mouths.
Inspiration for this squid course comes from Christian Puglisi's, Relae cookbook. The squid is shaved to resemble noodles and then barely warmed in a sauce of extra virgin olive oil, garlic, smoked paprika, and ground capers.
Yellow beets are pickled in a saffron brine (to which squid ink is emulsified in for the sauce), and then we’re finished off with a pear pudding and nasturtium leaves.