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.
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 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 (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 (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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!