I had an idea for a pasta dish. My original thought was to make a double sided pasta, (one side white, the other side green by introducing chlorophyll to the pasta) and then cut tiny bow-tie shapes from it. Cute, right? From there, I thought I'd serve it with broccoli, a much under appreciated vegetable in fine dining, in the form of a puree. I also wanted to do tiny poached fish mousse quenelles, and some shaved white truffles. Perhaps a nicely shaped floret of broccoli as well to garnish. A nod to an old Bernard Pacaud dish using the same ingredients, but deriving something quite different.
When we entered testing however, the result wasn't quite what I had pictured. As Harris and I started to shape the pasta, we found that the pasta was rather dull in appearance. Well, what now? A few months back, I had bought a couple of plastic imprinters (used for impressing a pattern into a stationary card) which had been sitting around in our chef's closet. One was a polka dot pattern. Polka dotted bow-tie pasta? Aha! We impressed chlorophyll into the pasta sheet creating the dotted pasta pattern we wanted. But cut to the bow-tie shape, we were still underwhelmed with the result. We liked the polka dot pasta though.
Let's start from there, we thought. We had already made a fish mousseline derived from lubina scrap, scallop, black truffle and mushroom in preparation for the dish, which we were already happy with the taste and texture of. We took this mousse, formed it into balls and poached them off to attain a perfectly round fish mousse. The thought then occurred to me that we could "jacket" the mousse with our polka dot pasta. A giant ravioli? Sounded a bit misleading. Maybe dumpling? Yeah, that'll do.
We stuck with the idea of the broccoli puree. A puree of broccoli is about as green as it gets regarding vegetable purees in the natural world. Eerily green. (Ryan LaRoche told me that about broccoli about 6 years ago when he was working at Tru, funny how things come back to you!). We added a bit of orange zest to the puree for background flavor and a lot of black pepper to push forward the savory aspects of the broccoli. We decided to add a frothy sauce of scallop (made from rinsing the guts of our live scallops vigorously, then simmering them with fumet) to add a briny, iodine flavor and to cover the bright green puree. This way the guest would get a jolt of color tableside. To top the dumpling, we reiterated the broccoli in a different texture in the form of a fine julienne of the stem of the broccoli, which is stark white. A touch of black truffle julienne added a bit of luxury and reinforced the earthy flavor of the broccoli.
And so we found our Dumpling dish. I had no idea that we would end up with this dish in the form that it took, but that's the joy of cooking anyways. The kitchen, the group of people you are cooking with, and the ingredients eventually guide you to a conclusion. This dish would not have unfolded in this manner had it not been for these circumstances, and I love the inherently fragile nature of the creative process that cooking brings. An idea, the reality of the idea, adjustments to that idea, and we end up with a result that I find much more interesting than the original idea.
I recently read an interview with Joe Queer, lead singer of the long running punk rock band the Queers, regarding how he goes about writing an album. He states that he simply writes down the name of 12 to 15 song titles that sound entertaining to him, and then writes backwards from there. What a great approach. I am always fascinated by other's creative processes, as I find that it is with different perspectives that I might see something new. Inspiration can come from lots of different places in creating new food at L2o. Sometimes we come across a product that we happen to be particulary excited about. Other times, I want to add a method to the kitchen's reportoire that we haven't done before, and then find a product that fits the context. And sometimes, I just want to put a dish on the menu that has been long forgotten about by modern kitchens, simply because I don't like that it's been forgotten. With our current tuna dish, the vessel itself was the starting point.
I get much more joy out of finding something new in traditional flavor pairings and common ingredients than I do with using exotic components or creating bizarre combinations. Here, we take a rather ordinary pairing: tuna tartare and avocado. We add acid in the form of tomato water, a touch of caviar. We tinker and tinker with the size of the dice of the tuna, the thickness of the avocado, the salt content of the tomato water, until it all meets together without one ingredient overpowering the other. Eventually we arrive at a result that we find creatively satisfying, yet approachable and comforting.