A long time ago, in a city far away, I worked at a restaurant named Lampreia. It is the first restaurant I list on my resume, my genesis.
The heart that pumped the life into this small 40 seat restaurant in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood was a man named Scott Carsberg. It was in his kitchen that the chef I am today was born.
The food was often considered northern italian, and if you need to label it then that will do fine. While he cut his teeth in the forgotten titans like Seegers, Le Pavilion, and Palio, Scott’s cuisine most often reflected the time he spent as chef at Villa Mozart, an restaurant and hotel in Italy, but closer to Austria than any major italian city.
While the flavors and techniques used in the small 3 man kitchen at Lampreia were informed by Classicists and the alpine region that stradeled Italy, Austria, and Switzerland, in retrospect I mentally define the cuisine differently. Not classic, not northern italian, this one word truly embodies the cuisine Carsberg produced on his line every day for 18 years.
Never was a dish given more than it needed. A piece of seared foie gras would be flanked by a thick slice of ripe mango, and a silver dollar pool of saba. Mussells poached in saffron broth and plucked from their shells would peek from beneath hand stamped corzetti, rustic looking coins of pasta, the flavorful mussel broth the only addition to the plate. Ill never think of macaroni and cheese the same after being served one of my favorite dishes ever, a tender sheet of pasta laid flat in a bowl, seasoned with nothing more than cracked black pepper, finished with a thick drizzle of warm fonduta cheese sauce, offered tableside.
When apples came into season, we would invariably begin to bake Scott’s “Balzano Apple Cake.” The recipe returned to Seattle with him from Villa Mozart, and has traveled with me to Chicago.
To call it a simple cake would be an injustice. It isn’t simple. Apples are peeled, cored, and shaved paper thin, no quick task. A batter infused with tahitian vanilla bean coats the apples, just enough to bind them in bookish layers. There is no cinnamon or brown sugar or ginger or herbs in this cake to distract from the flavor of the tart autumn apples. This cake is nuanced, considered, and above all restrained.
At Lampreia, we would slice a thin bar of cake across the grain, and lay it down flat on the plate. A line of vanilla creme anglaise was piped against the bottom edge of the cake, and…. nothing. That was it. It needed nothing more.
At Avec, I have recently introduced this cake to the menu. Baked in a round and cut in wedges, the Balzano Apple Cake was reborn as a Shaved Apple Galette, and is served with shavings of a stellar wisconson-made parmesan and a drizzle of black olive oil.
It is with honor that I recreate this apple cake from Lampreia, a restaurant who’s 2012 closing left a hole that will not quickly be filled in our world of cuisine. I hope I have done the cake justice, carefully selecting the cheese and oil that accompany it, and restraining any further efforts to adorn it. I hope it would make Scott Carsberg proud.