And just like that, everything changed.
Even though it slowly took over the planet one country at a time, A prior life seemed to no longer exist. And so begins this unorthodox phase called “quarantine”.
By nature, I am not a homebody. I seek inspiration and comfort in my daily social discoveries and experiences. Foreseeing these upcoming changes, I decided to make a daily routine to keep my sanity alive and well. After my morning espresso, I grabbed my phone with my music and started walking. Walking in the streets, parks, anywhere I could. I repeated this daily and slowly walked further and further each day. My wandering eyes started catching glimpses of elements that I found to be interesting or beautiful.
Most of all I noticed textures. The textures of rocks, tree bark, dried sand, leaves, and the list goes on and on.
I began taking photos of these discoveries for no reason other than to capture what I thought needed to be preserved. Or just to accumulate more unnecessary photos on my phone.
Studying these natural treasures, my creativity started to unravel. It unraveled a thought, which turned into an idea , which slayed open a task which would be almost 3 months in the making. The concept of “texture”, all by itself, needed to be explored. It started to become a dining experience. A pop up. A dining experience.
Unfortunately, the only thing blocking this from becoming a reality was a global pandemic. Shit.
Oh wait, I don’t care, I’ll create it anyway!
I decided move pass the viral road block and follow the path to make it happen anyway.
It was decided. I started taking my camera with me some mornings to capture better photos. Though I had already documented several with my iPhone.
How was I going to do this conceptually?
I had compiled the ones that inspired me the most to see how they would birth the idea for a dish. After all, How would a picture of a piece of rock turn into a creative dish? That was the beauty of this. All of this was new to me. I almost always create dishes via “concepts” first, meaning that something other than an ingredient would fuel me to create an edible piece of expression and artistry. Some of these inspired me to replicate an element of it visually. Others inspired me to create flavors or textures to become a whole dish telling its unique story.
I continued to work as a private chef during these times,. My travels would take me to West Texas, Colorado and La Jolla, California.
The mixture of various terrains brought glorious diversity to my visual stimulation.
In the middle of all this, I realized how beautiful this was. Not the virus or the horrible pandemic, but due to an unforeseen event, I was able to stay creative and make something inspirational non the less. And I gave it a name.
“Imaginary Texture Pop Up”
My approach and thought process of this was difficult and pushed me to delve into realms of artistry I had not explored before. I was very excited to create this artistry on the new Hering Berlin plates designed by Stefanie Hering. She is truly a shining star in the porcelain world.
So follow me on my journey, a journey inspired by mother earth in all her glory.
Magic Of Color
Red: Strawberry, dianthus, beet, Syrah, rose, red spinach
Green: Pine shoots, cucumber, green apple, exotic citrus herbs, nasturtium
Kefir mead custard, Osetra caviar
Scouring the coasts of Southern California, I stumbled upon red. The immense power of red. The intensity of this shade stopped me immediately as I stood in wonder. “Why must I stare and why do I feel this way”?. A series of these plants lined the landscape and the foliage surrounding it was a deep rich green. I looked deeper and saw that its power came from the surrounding green which gave the red a deeper voice to sing. After all, a black is only as deep as another color surrounding it.
I had just seen an episode of Abstract on Netflix. An incredible show showcasing creatives, designers and architects from around the world. One particular enlightening episode was with Olafur Eliasson, A designer based in Berlin who made me look at color, and lack of color, through his eyes.
I needed to create a dish where red and green shared the same visual and emotional purpose. To look beyond just using these two colors as part of the dish, and place perspective on feeling as though one was eating in “Red” and “Green”.
I’ve never created a dish where I was to follow color so completely to compose a tasting symphony using color coded instruments. It was actually very challenging and incredibly creatively fulfilling to approach it this way. A balance of sweet and savory would manifest, though mostly savory ingredients in the green department. Another challenge was to be able to further match the red and green ingredients together so the flavors would also support each other.
I needed a middle ground flavor component to serve as a flavor bridge and bring everything together. A custard made of kefir and lightly sweetened with mead was chosen. I wanted to use a little bit of black to counter the white and show depth to the red and green. Osetra caviar to add salinity found its way.
For the red, the foundational flavors were, but not limited to the following:
Strawberries in textures, dianthus, beet, Syrah, rose, and red spinach.
For the green, the foundational flavors were, but not limited to the following:
Pine shoots, cucumber, green apple, exotic citrus herbs, nasturtium, and green apple sorrel.
East Coast Crab
Honeycomb cucumber juice
Cucumber pickled in aged Golden Xuan tea vinegar
Colorado has incredible natural beauty everywhere you look. Though on one of my morning strolls, I saw something unique and poetic. I passed a small pool of water activated by falling rushing water. And in it, a few flowers and petals danced about in no particular form or style. I hypnotically starred in wonder and thought of how the flowers and petals reminded me of chamomile. I thought of how I should make chamomile ice cream one day. As I focused on the lullaby sounds of the water, I thought to myself, “How about pairing chamomile with a flavor from the sea”.
As I stepped away on my walk, I thought of how these unusual flavors could truly combine in flavor ecstasy.
By the time I got home, I had it. East Coast crab, tossed with lemon peel, French olive oil & sea salt. Chamomile infused cream infused and lightly whipped. Compressed cucumber juiced and lightly blended with honeycomb. Cucumbers pickled for a week with a homemade Golden Xuan tea vinegar, mustard seeds and chive blossoms. Taking a simplistic approach to flavor and presentation, I layered them on top of each other to bring out the maximum flavor experience.
Lemon verbena buttermilk custard, English peas in 3 textures, absinthe,12 hour tomato confit, dark lavender oil
The desert southwest, West Texas to be exact. Love it or hate it, it has it’s own unique vibe, energy and terrain.
When the quarantine started, I was there. The morning excursions slowly started chipping away at my un amusement of being stuck there. The desert landscaping of most houses was never my forte, though once you see it long enough, things change. In particular, there was a specific landscape that was composed of
gravel, stone and rock built into it. I continued to pass the same place daily and I noticed something I hadn’t before.
The variation in forms and structure started to speak to me in deep curiosity. This one group of rocks were topped by a thin shard of rock. I was obsessed by it. It seemed as if it didn’t belong with the others in its simplicity and wonderment.
I wanted to solely express this “shard” element in a dish. Feverishly I worked on this concept like the Dr. Frankenstein trying to bring Frankenstein to life.
English peas were now in season and I adore these tiny emerald creatures. So this would be my starting point. Making a pea stock from the shells was first.Then making a puree in two rounds with fresh peas. Playing with various starches I was able to create the perfect shard texture by using dehydration. Next focusing on an intense pea sauce dotted with dark lavender oil. Lastly, perfectly cooked peas finished with salted Irish butter and shallots. A soft buttermilk curd infused with lemon verbena. Tomato confit heightened by a low confit technique. A light glaze made with absinthe and lemon balm leaves to finish the dish.
Koji ginger brined lobster
Compressed green melon
Lemon balm oil
Fermented rice broth
The effects of rain. The way it smells, the way it nourishes our planet and the way it affects our moods. Books have been written about it.
One night in Colorado, there was a particularly intense rainstorm. The subtle song of its liquid expressions placed me in a deep sleep.
That next morning I walked outside and noticed how the morning dew had left it’s mark on the leaves and plants. Recently leaving the desolate terrain of the desert, I was awe struck to see this glorious phenomena.
I took a photo that captured its allure perfectly.
The dish had to be very organic in nature and presentation. First I wanted to mimic the dew drops, this manifested the idea of lemon balm oil. Next a sour broth of fermented rice. Lobster would be marinated in Koji and ginger, then caramelized in lobster butter made from its shell. Compressing green melon in a lightly sweetened melon juice and dill blossoms to finalize it.
The dish would be served on a tray with the same plants that inspired it.
Power Of Three
Squash blossom molé
West Texas pecan molé
Columbian Geisha coffee molé
The La Jolla Cove in southern California has a beautiful coastline. My morning adventures started exploring there. Parts of it were rocky with large boulders and incredible rocks populating the entire space. I marveled at all of these textures and noticed that the whole mountain side was bleeding into this terrain. The rocks had fallen over time and created all of this spectacle. One boulder had three rocks lying on top of it, as if perfectly placed. I noticed how powerful it was and the reason it spoke to me with such vigor was were the three rocks. This stuck with me as I continued walking. So much so that it inspired me to look at incorporating the concept of 3 into a dish. With absolute purpose.
Having 3 different sauces to taste with an ingredient that itself is in 3 different textures.
I adore cauliflower, in all forms. I also love the complexity of Mexican mole and the flavor spectrum it provides.
Shaved cauliflower brushed with Tokyo Negi oil and smoked salt
Fermented cauliflower puree
Caramelized cauliflower in brown butter and maple syrup, fried Tokyo Negi, marigold
Served with different 3 molés varying in intensity. Each one between 28-35 ingredients. These ingredients equal one simple yet complex taste. First a squash blossom molé, then a West Texas pecan molé, and lastly a Colombian Geisha coffee molé. Each texture of cauliflower is to be explored with a selected molé or discovered as desired by the diner.
Wagyu Short Rib, Jasmine caramel
Sesame leaf, Cashew cream, Fried lime leaf, Smoked roe, Pickled grapes
On a particularly windy morning, the rain soiled landscape made my morning exploration challenging to say the least. Upon reaching a mountain trail, and in the middle of dirt and rock, the wind had blown a leaf and single flower together. It stood out as if it was framed for me to discover. Luckily I took a photo of it before the wind blew it away again, gone forever.
I took the concept of using two main ingredients. And with this, elaborating flavors to support each other. The leaf was a powerful first start. I love the favor of a sesame leaf, so I started there. Then I thought of the enticing scent of a jasmine flower. What a gorgeous thought. It slowly developed into the a flavor to carry the jasmine. I thought of a jasmine caramel glazing a sous vide wagyu short rib. The sesame leaf would be layered in sweet, saltiness, creamy, crunchy and acidic. Sweet pickled red grapes, smoked arctic char roe, cashew cream, crunchy fried lime leaf and chive blossoms set the stage to accompany.
Movement of Water
Salted hazelnut cremeaux tarte, Apple & ash
Hazelnut prailine cremeaux, Osetra caviar, Green apple sorrel
On this day I decided to take a sunset walk on the beach. The sun came off particularly deep orange in its hue that evening. The day had washed up variations of seaweed and other sea life onto the shores. I’m quite unfamiliar with this terrain and discover new elements of beauty every time I comb it. A section of beach seems to have what looks like black sand intertwined with the regular brown sand. This gives off a sort of monotone lootuk to it. In addition, the sea had carried other brown seaweed and elements creating this artistic scene to activate my inspiration. As I absorbed it, my first thought was hazelnut and ash. Then hazelnut, ash and caviar. Completely inspired by using brown and black ingredients to create a dish. This would be a truly unique as a pre-dessert.
As it unfolded, the flavor of apple seemed to round out and finalize the flavors. I wanted to use two separate elements of hazelnut. A rich and savory cremeaux would amplify the tart. A hazelnut prailine crust and puree would add the sugar tones. An apple skin ash, green apple and green apple sorrel add dimension. The sea star is Imperial Osetra caviar serves to bridge the savory and sweet courses in symphonic style.
*Raw strawberry tart, Hibiscus canela glaze, bee pollen cream
*Roasted strawberries , Whipped Peanut, Dill blossom, Grains
*Roasted strawberry broth, Argan oil
While in Aspen, I started to become very adventurous on my morning walks. I started to stray from the normal paths and take obscure turns into the mountainous valleys. I decided to press through the dense Aspen forest and high grass to search for the creek that I could not see, but I could definitely hear.
There had been reports of a bear in the area so I felt a hint of indecisiveness on this particular morning. But worst case scenario, I thought, “I can say I wrested a bear at one point in my life”.
As I pushed further and further away from safety, I saw something shimmering to my left. I stopped and said outloud, “That’s a fuckin tree”!? I’d not seen this tree before, the bark was dark red with small white spots with a thin black trim. Oddly enough, there was only one of these trees. I immediately thought of the strawberry skin. I grabbed my phone and snapped a few photos. I did continue and eventually find the creek, which made a great finale. But that peculiar tree was the true treasure of the day.
As I worked on the concept, I had several ideas of using strawberries as a focal point. In the end, I decided upon a strawberry tasting and showcasing strawberries in raw and cooked forms and even different textures.
Frozen 70% Ecuadorian chocolate bavarois , Bing cherry rooibos compote, Frozen black sesame & vanilla bavarois, Powdered chocolate tuille, Red sorrel
One of the very first photos that inspired me for this conceptual journey was the following. There was a Santa Fe style house on this particular street. Complete with adobe, cactus and desert landscaping to boot. They entire side of the house had this red rock pavement which consisted of many block rectangles. It stopped me in my tracks every time I passed by. For some reason it fascinated me. And I started to work on the this block concept. I had never approached a dish by solely trying to embrace a shape. It took me a few weeks to actually come up with something I found inspiring. After all, If I can’t inspire myself as well, I have failed to nail the concept.
Three different flavors, all in block form would start the process. Cherry season had just started and I really wanted to use this as a main ingredient. I wanted to offset the blocks with a single perfect Bing cherry. The diner is to taste the cherry in its purity first. Then move onto the cherry dessert. Being summer, It was understood that I should create a frozen dish. A bing cherry compote was infused with African Rooibos tea and made into a frozen bavarois. Next was a frozen 70% Ecuadorian chocolate bavarois sweetened solely with date sugar. Finally, a frozen black vanilla bean and black sesame bavarois to make the dish sing. A chocolate tuille was lastly made into a powder to provide another cocoa layer. Finally the red sorrel to add that natural tartness to round these flavors out.