Cooklyn Improv

Cooklyn Improv

Last week I attended a Rachel’s promotional event hosted by Pim from Chez Pim. The yogurt, cottage cheese, and drinks were good and I was able to met some fellow food bloggers including Cathy of Not Eating Out in New York and Talida of Talida Bakes. Pim also introduced me to a few of her NYC friends, who after knowing me for all of 5 minutes invited me to an improvisational cooking event they were helping to organize. It was all shrouded in a bit of mystery, but since I’m all about cooking with no recipes, it sounded like fun.

Friday morning, I received an email a la Mission Impossible, instructing me to procure $20 worth of ingredients of my choosing for the Cooklyn Improv #1. It also requested that I film a video of myself as I read the mission letter, stating that it would be combined with footage from the event to make “something”.

I later found out that each person was given a different budget along with a theme such as meat, wine, vegetables, and fruit for their shopping. Upon finishing our shopping, we were to report to an address in Brooklyn at exactly 3pm and team up with 7 other amateur chefs to prepare a 3-4 course meal that would feed 15 people.

Jonathan

I arrived at the designated time, knives and random kitchen gadgets in tote along with my groceries. While generally an optimist, I honestly had no idea what to expect as I rang the buzzer of a grand old brownstone. Moments later I was greeted by a smiling Jonathan (above), our host for the evening, who runs Lab 24/7, a performing arts space in the cellar of his home.

Ego’s checked at the door, and a deadline to meet, we quickly got to work, introducing ourselves and the ingredients we brought with us. Within an hour the 3-4 course meal had grown to 7 and we were ready to hit the burners with our improvised concepts. The plan was originally to pair off into groups, but what ended up happening was something beautiful and organic.

There was no executive chef who ran the show, but we all pitched in where needed, rotating in to add our touch to a sauce and then back out to wash some dishes. It’s rare to get a group of creative people to agree on anything, but the level of cooperation and collaboration that developed was truly inspiring. As a social experiment in acephalous communities it was a huge success. But how was it gastronomically? I’ll let you be the judge.

Michael (left), truffled gratin (top right), bounty of produce (bottom right)

Michael was given the category of “mystery ingredient” and brought an eclectic collection of items including popcorn, Ricola (yes, as in the cough drop), kimchi, and flounder roe. The Ricola was melted into a syrup and used to flavor a gin shot along with some sumac. Unfortunately the flounder roe was one of the few ingredients we couldn’t find a home for. At the top right there’s a truffled heirloom potato gratin waiting to go into the oven. Below that is a small portion of the spread of ingredients that spanned two large tables.

Stellah, sea urchin and sirloin, and the table

Stellah (above left) introduces the wines she brought. To the right is several pounds of whole sea urchin, complete with prickly spines and four large sirloin steaks. Below that is the table as it looked set for the first course.

Tyler

Tyler (top right) who runs Mikuni Wild Harvest in NY was in charge of vegetables, and came packing a serious bounty of produce, including about 5 of these black truffles (below). The prospect of shopping out of his magical van makes me want to open a restaurant.

Black Truffles

Watermelon radish salad with chard microgreens and blood orange indonisian lemon vinaigrette

The first course was a watermelon radish & micro chard salad with an apricot, blood orange and Indonesian lemon vinaigrette. This was served with a side of fresh goat cheese garnished with red vein sorrel and various flowers.

Watermelon salad on table

The next course didn’t photograph well (meaning I forgot to take one), but it was a smoked pigs trotter broth with a confit of fingerling potatoes, yogurt and red shiso. The smoke in the trotter with the caramelized potatoes and red shiso melded perfectly together and is a combo I’ll be playing with in the near future.

Danielle, Sea Urchin and Black Trumpet Mushrooms

Danielle, who brought the sea urchins, got started shelling them right away. This was one of my contributions, a Japanese inspired dish which we called a deconstructed chawan mushi. Instead of mixing the egg and dashi together we slow poached the eggs and served them floating in a bowl of black trumpet mushroom dashi along with sea urchin and some green shiso micro greens.

Kimchi apple salad on a tortilla

After the subtle, creamy egg course, this piquant salad woke up the palette with the combination of spicy, garlicky fermented kimchi mixed with apples and served over a crisp nutty tortilla. A piece of popcorn garnished each salad as a playful twist on the fried corn theme.

King trumpet mushroom and black truffle asiago sauce on home made paparadelle.

While every course was delicious, this was one I would pay a lot of money to have again. The semolina pasta was rolled to the thinnest setting on the pasta maker then hand sliced and served with a king trumpet mushroom and black truffle Asiago sauce. The white wine in the sauce was initially a little too tannic and was overpowering the other ingredients, but as people took progressive swipes at it, adding things like sugar and honey, it began to mellow out. Finished with a generous mound of shaved black truffle and some chervil on top, it made me want to lick my plate clean.

Steak, purple potato and truffle gratin, baby mixed carrots and red wine cranbery reduction

The main course was really the pièce de résistance in terms of collaboration. The sirloin was seared then roasted and sliced and served with a red wine reduction, accompanied by roasted baby carrots, a truffled purple Peruvian and fingerling potato gratin, and a black trumpet mushroom puree. Every chef had a hand in putting this one together and the sauce changed hands no less than 3 times before it emerged on the plates as a glistening Bordelaise.

Finally, for dessert, we had a fabulous Fuji apple tart tatin with a rich buttery caramel sauce and freshly prepared goat yogurt ice cream.

Chefs at work

This was the scene for most of the night. I’d call it orderly chaos. Considering we were all a bunch of strangers, cooking with ingredients that we didn’t know about until we arrived, I’d say the evening was a huge success. I didn’t get photos of everyone, but thanks to everyone who organized, to the camera men, and to everyone who participated in making the magic happen. I’m definitely looking forward to Cooklyn Improv Episode #2!

Scale

  • http://www.weareneverfull.com/ we are never full

    damn, marc. when you commented on our blog about this i was totally scratching my head wondering what the hell you were talking about. this looks like madness – like, good madness! i would feel a bit nervous at first but it seems like everyone was in it to help and learn from each other. i’d love to be a part of this, so if you ever hear of another and they are willing to take a few extra people on, i’d love to know.

    the level of skill that went into cooking all this fabulousness seems pretty high. but what an excellent, and cool, opportunity to have a unique experience.

  • http://www.weareneverfull.com we are never full

    damn, marc. when you commented on our blog about this i was totally scratching my head wondering what the hell you were talking about. this looks like madness – like, good madness! i would feel a bit nervous at first but it seems like everyone was in it to help and learn from each other. i’d love to be a part of this, so if you ever hear of another and they are willing to take a few extra people on, i’d love to know.

    the level of skill that went into cooking all this fabulousness seems pretty high. but what an excellent, and cool, opportunity to have a unique experience.

  • http://souvlakiforthesoul.com/ Peter G

    Wow! What a great experiment in gastronomy and co operation! I would have been petrified. I think you guys delivered a fantastic feast!

  • http://souvlakiforthesoul.com Peter G

    Wow! What a great experiment in gastronomy and co operation! I would have been petrified. I think you guys delivered a fantastic feast!

  • http://www.kalofagas.ca/ Peter

    Whoa…I glad you can back from this evening with positive results. Just one a-hole in the mix could have ruined the evening.

    The plates and descriptions sound wonderful…a successful collaboration.

  • http://www.kalofagas.ca Peter

    Whoa…I glad you can back from this evening with positive results. Just one a-hole in the mix could have ruined the evening.

    The plates and descriptions sound wonderful…a successful collaboration.

  • http://chefholly.typepad.com/holly_hadsell_el_hajji/ Holly

    That looks like a lot of fun. I might try to pull something like that off, it looks like you need a large space. Most of my friends aren’t professionals but real foodies so it would be fun.

    • http://www.lab247.net/ Jonathan

      Hey Holly. Glad you’re inspired to do a cooking improv of your own. if you were interested in participating in the next one at Lab 24/7, feel free to join our group called “The Cooklynites” and we’ll keep you posted on the next event. You could certainly invite friends as well. Join here:
      http://www.lab247.net/group/foodhacking247

  • http://chefholly.typepad.com/holly_hadsell_el_hajji/ Holly

    That looks like a lot of fun. I might try to pull something like that off, it looks like you need a large space. Most of my friends aren’t professionals but real foodies so it would be fun.

    • http://www.lab247.net Jonathan

      Hey Holly. Glad you’re inspired to do a cooking improv of your own. if you were interested in participating in the next one at Lab 24/7, feel free to join our group called “The Cooklynites” and we’ll keep you posted on the next event. You could certainly invite friends as well. Join here:
      http://www.lab247.net/group/foodhacking247

  • http://www.justgetfloury.com/ Ginny

    This is the greatest idea ever! It looks like so much fun! :)

  • http://www.justgetfloury.com Ginny

    This is the greatest idea ever! It looks like so much fun! :)

  • http://www.talidabakes.com/ talida

    Oh, wow. My mouth was open while reading the entire post. Absolutely amazing! Sounds and looks like a blast :)

  • http://www.talidabakes.com talida

    Oh, wow. My mouth was open while reading the entire post. Absolutely amazing! Sounds and looks like a blast :)

  • http://allthingsnice.typepad.com/ Syrie

    Marc, you have the most interesting and creative experiences. This is a fabulous post and what an exciting event to be a part of. Truly magical! The photos are fantastic.

  • http://allthingsnice.typepad.com Syrie

    Marc, you have the most interesting and creative experiences. This is a fabulous post and what an exciting event to be a part of. Truly magical! The photos are fantastic.

  • http://chefthecity.blogspot.com/ kayce.

    that salad looks absolutely gorgeous… it’s so rare to find anything on the savory side that can compete w/ beautiful pastry dishes, but that salad is definitely it. ^_^ amazing job!

  • http://chefthecity.blogspot.com kayce.

    that salad looks absolutely gorgeous… it’s so rare to find anything on the savory side that can compete w/ beautiful pastry dishes, but that salad is definitely it. ^_^ amazing job!

  • http://www.practicallydone.com/ helen

    What an ambitious and fabulous event! All good things seem to start in New York. The photos tell a great story too.

  • http://www.practicallydone.com helen

    What an ambitious and fabulous event! All good things seem to start in New York. The photos tell a great story too.

  • http://www.thedailyspud.com/ Daily Spud

    Wow, what an event. I think something like that would scare me, but in a good way!

  • http://www.thedailyspud.com Daily Spud

    Wow, what an event. I think something like that would scare me, but in a good way!

  • http://foodalogue.com Joan Nova

    Great adventure…great execution.

  • http://foodalogue.com/ Joan Nova

    Great adventure…great execution.

  • http://www.pigpigscorner.com/ Pigpigscorner

    Wow this is amazing! What a wonderful experience and it sounds like so much fun!

  • http://www.pigpigscorner.com/ Pigpigscorner

    Wow this is amazing! What a wonderful experience and it sounds like so much fun!

  • http://staceysnacksonline.com/ Stacey Snacks

    So when is the Cooklyn Restaurant opening?

    That salad is GORGEOUS, as is all the food and photography.
    Sounds like a great experience.

  • http://staceysnacksonline.com Stacey Snacks

    So when is the Cooklyn Restaurant opening?

    That salad is GORGEOUS, as is all the food and photography.
    Sounds like a great experience.

  • http://lisaiscooking.blogspot.com/ lisaiscooking

    What a great idea. Great job by all, and the food looks amazing.

  • http://lisaiscooking.blogspot.com/ lisaiscooking

    What a great idea. Great job by all, and the food looks amazing.

  • http://www.steamykitchen.com/ Jaden, SteamyKitchen

    Sounds like a fabulous dinner! Love concept of cooking improv

  • http://www.steamykitchen.com Jaden, SteamyKitchen

    Sounds like a fabulous dinner! Love concept of cooking improv

  • http://pithyandcleaver.blogspot.com/ maggie (p&c)

    Wow how cool! What a great idea.

  • http://pithyandcleaver.blogspot.com maggie (p&c)

    Wow how cool! What a great idea.

  • http://janetching.wordpress.com/ Janet

    Wow what an exciting event! A real gastronomic experience! You guys must have so much fun!

  • http://janetching.wordpress.com Janet

    Wow what an exciting event! A real gastronomic experience! You guys must have so much fun!

  • http://colloquialcookin.canalblog.com/ colloquial cook

    I am stunned! Well done Marc and all the others! I love the chawan mushi in the urchin’s shell.

  • http://colloquialcookin.canalblog.com/ colloquial cook

    I am stunned! Well done Marc and all the others! I love the chawan mushi in the urchin’s shell.

  • http://www.hungryandfrozen.blogspot.com/ Laura @ Hungry and Frozen

    Marc, you’re always doing such cool creative food things! This looks amazing – I’m sure I would have completely flailed at such a task but you all seem to have worked together to produce incredible results. And that pasta looks divine :)

  • http://www.hungryandfrozen.blogspot.com Laura @ Hungry and Frozen

    Marc, you’re always doing such cool creative food things! This looks amazing – I’m sure I would have completely flailed at such a task but you all seem to have worked together to produce incredible results. And that pasta looks divine :)

  • http://scalloped-edge.blogspot.com/ Joanna

    What a fabulous event! I love the idea, I love the mystery surrounding it, I love the random factor introduced by everyone bringing something different, and it looks like I’d love the end result, if only I could reach into my computer and taste all those dishes.

  • http://scalloped-edge.blogspot.com Joanna

    What a fabulous event! I love the idea, I love the mystery surrounding it, I love the random factor introduced by everyone bringing something different, and it looks like I’d love the end result, if only I could reach into my computer and taste all those dishes.

  • http://www.palatetopen.com/ Jen

    Only in New York ;) I’m in awe of the ingenuity and sleek presentation that a chaotic collaboration created. You must have thrived on the room’s energy!

  • http://www.palatetopen.com Jen

    Only in New York ;) I’m in awe of the ingenuity and sleek presentation that a chaotic collaboration created. You must have thrived on the room’s energy!

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  • http://www.veggiebelly.com/ veggiebelly

    wow! the even sounds like so much fun!

  • http://www.veggiebelly.com veggiebelly

    wow! the even sounds like so much fun!

  • http://www.justcookit.blogspot.com/ just cook it

    Fantastic story and wonderful photos

  • http://www.justcookit.blogspot.com just cook it

    Fantastic story and wonderful photos

  • http://constableslarder.blogspot.com/ Giff

    sounds like an amazing cooking experience

  • http://constableslarder.blogspot.com Giff

    sounds like an amazing cooking experience

  • http://www.ambitiousdeliciousness.com/ Ambitious

    Hi Marc,

    Looks like a fun time! I will keep my eyes peeled for the next event :)

    Do you never ever use recipes?

    • marc

      I have a few cookbooks I’ll use for inspiration occasionally and there are some references I use like On Food And Cooking, but I rarely follow a recipe all the way through, and if I do I don’t post about it here. There are also a few things on here loosely based off inspirations I came across on the web (like the ragu post or the bacon pecan pie), but I’ll site the source.

  • http://www.ambitiousdeliciousness.com Ambitious

    Hi Marc,

    Looks like a fun time! I will keep my eyes peeled for the next event :)

    Do you never ever use recipes?

    • marc

      I have a few cookbooks I’ll use for inspiration occasionally and there are some references I use like On Food And Cooking, but I rarely follow a recipe all the way through, and if I do I don’t post about it here. There are also a few things on here loosely based off inspirations I came across on the web (like the ragu post or the bacon pecan pie), but I’ll site the source.

  • http://sporkandfoon.typepad.com/ Teanna

    Wow. Purely amazing. I just signed up online. I’m just now starting to really branch out and get away from recipes and use my instincts and palate more and not use recipes as a crutch! Right now, I’m splitting my time between NYC and DC, but am moving back to NYC this summer. I hope I get to take part in the future, it sounds like such an amazing experience!

  • http://sporkandfoon.typepad.com Teanna

    Wow. Purely amazing. I just signed up online. I’m just now starting to really branch out and get away from recipes and use my instincts and palate more and not use recipes as a crutch! Right now, I’m splitting my time between NYC and DC, but am moving back to NYC this summer. I hope I get to take part in the future, it sounds like such an amazing experience!

  • tetiana

    that food looks AMAZING. good stuff J-Z

  • tetiana

    that food looks AMAZING. good stuff J-Z

  • http://chefsgonewild.blogspot.com/ Zenchef

    That looks like a lot of fun! I didn’t know these cookin improvs’ even existed. Great concept!

  • http://chefsgonewild.blogspot.com Zenchef

    That looks like a lot of fun! I didn’t know these cookin improvs’ even existed. Great concept!

  • Passaggio

    The salad is beautiful. It photographed like a fine English chintz on a plate. Maybe it was the hint of blue that set it off….

  • Passaggio

    The salad is beautiful. It photographed like a fine English chintz on a plate. Maybe it was the hint of blue that set it off….

  • http://www.eatingclubvancouver.com/ _ts of [eatingclub] vancouver

    Oh wow. Fabulous collaboration. I had to chuckle when I read Peter M’s comment: so true. =)

  • http://www.eatingclubvancouver.com _ts of [eatingclub] vancouver

    Oh wow. Fabulous collaboration. I had to chuckle when I read Peter M’s comment: so true. =)

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  • susan

    that sounds like sooo much fun! love the sea urchin dish.

  • http:.//immaeatchu.wordpress.com susan

    that sounds like sooo much fun! love the sea urchin dish.

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Welcome!

I'm Marc, and I want to teach you some basic techniques and give you the confidence and inspiration so that you can cook without recipes too!

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