Thursday, Oct 22nd, 2015
hide and seek
i work in Carmel, CA. a place most people don’t go. one of the most beautiful places in the world. Big Sur to the south and Pebble Beach to the north, a relaxing 1 hour drive to Santa Cruz where Keefer Sutherland heads a vampire clan (maybe he’s moved on) and another hour into San Francisco where Michelin stars can be found like Hollywood stars. i used to work in big cities and big restaurants. from Los Angeles to the French Laundry. now i work in a restaurant with 1 pastry assistant, 5 other cooks, 9 tables, and an average of 20 covers a night.
i moved here 8 years ago. surrounded by pine and eucalyptus and no one to talk pastry with. so i started a blog back then.
one spoon quenelle.
i wanted to reach out, just as the brilliant Dana Cree has done and continues doing. then my blog was taken over by twitter and instagram and the immediacy of just posting a picture and a title and having some kind of recognition. sometimes a red heart. sometimes a witty comment or even more alluring…an emoji. but the conversation is lost.
so with The Pastry Department’s help, i hope to bring back some discussion.
the “one spoon quenelle” was referred to in the strikingly visual French Laundry cookbook. it symbolized elegance, refinement, skill, technique, aesthetic, and most importantly it epitomized pastry in a fine dining setting. you didn’t do a quenelle in a bistro, cafe, pizza joint, or top a brownie sundae with a perfect one spoon quenelle. it had to be placed on white Limoges atop white linen. so perfect, so pure, so smooth….can you see it? better yet, can you taste it? oooh…. it improves the flavor of anything you scoop. so i learned to do it like every other pastry cook trying to elevate their game. with Ben and Jerry’s, with whipped cream, with butter….. and then I had it. got it, done. collect special spoons, antique shops, stolen from other restaurants, now i have a bain marie of varied spoons from various places for all sorts of shapes and sizes. I even worked at the French Laundry as pastry sous Chef and did about 80 quenelles a night for the pre-dessert.
80 covers, 5 nights a week, 16 months.
then the one spoon quenelle became redundant and lost it’s meaning (to me at least) and then i moved to Carmel. and i began rethinking what i did and retrained myself. i did and still do quenelles….sometimes. but they aren’t that important anymore. they mean very little. what matters is what flavor ice cream i make, the texture, the components of the dish, the story. the image of the dish as a whole. i’m tired of spooning non-comital crumbs on a plate to place a perfect quenelle down to show that I have 15 years of pastry experience. i know i can make one. i can stack about 6 quenelles and swirl 3 flavors into 1 quenelle.
so now i place a perfect quenelle in a dish and cover it up with shards of meringue or crispy milk. i roll ice cream in puffed grains and shape it into an organic form reminiscent of the sandstones that wash ashore on the beach 4 streets down from the kitchen. or best yet, spread just churned ice cream onto a frozen plate in a wonderful slab and top it with so many good things. this way you force the diner to eat that ice cream with what you place on top. flowers, herbs, ground honeycomb….my Cold Stone.
so what does it mean? what i think about is what does fine dining mean? what makes a Michelin 3 star dessert? can there still be attention to detail in other forms? can i translate emotion, feelings, seasons, flavors and textures in other ways?
can it still be aesthetically pleasing, beautiful even, without falling into perfect shaped trappings?
i am not saying by any means not to learn it. i want to bring up the question of why do we do it?
how do we move beyond the recognizable and be transported by what we cannot easily understand?
and this is how i begin the conversation….again.