Monday, February 6, 2012

The Kitchen of Comfort

Believe it...  Sometimes its difficult to find a creative outlet as a professional chef.

sometimes its nice to just kick back and collapse on the floor

Don't get me wrong, I love what I do and I do it all the time, but sometimes the restaurant life gets a bit repetitive.  As chefs, most of our day is spent keeping up day to day operations and producing the same dishes, the same way, in the same kitchen and with (hopefully) the same staff.  We spend our time attending to the details that allow you and your spouse to go have an anniversary dinner where you can reminisce about how you fed this same chocolate cake to each other on your first sweet.  Most of the crowd is after what we might call 'spaghetti and meatballs' cuisine, and they pay the bills so we feed them exactly what they want:


...and we get bored.

The 'Reality Dinner' series in Houston came from this idea that I get from the Japanese term omakase, which is like a customized tasting menu available in many quality Japanese restaurants.  My personal interpretation of omakase is as follows: "A series of dishes intended to establish a dialogue between chef and client in order to determine the 'perfect fit' for the palette and perhaps the health of the individual consuming the meal."

The first Reality Dinner was a menu based on a list of ingredients and was revealed to the diners course by course, chalked up on a blackboard by my GM as they came out.  Some were planned, some were surprises even to me and some were riffs on pre-decided themes.  To be sure, even the team of chefs helping to put this thing together had only a rough notion of what was happening...huddled around for weeks deciphering one of my sporadic ingredient lists riddled with cryptic notes, slashes and arrows.

It was an experiment at the time intended to figure out what drives people together, I wanted to see the reality of a dining experience up close, from all angles.  Why are we here eating this weird stuff that I  couldn't have identified had someone not told me what it was?  "I'm not sure why it tastes so good to everyone else, its just plain odd to me."  I wanted to reexamine the dining experience as something of a theatrical venue because I believe it has gone down that road a bit.  'Molecular Gastronomy' and 'micro-local' trends and people's newfound knowledge and temperaments that they come to the table with.  How do we reconcile the subjective experience of dining and the objective running of a restaurant whilst keeping everyone happy?

These dinners were a fantastic outlet for our more adventurous clients and for all of the staff as well, from bartenders to managers to kitchen staff, a place where everyone could both learn from and contribute to something greater than all of us.  Anyone who has participated in these types of events knows exactly the type of synergy I'm referring to.  Food has been very special to most of us in one way or another since the beginning of our collective history.  Wars have been fought over the stuff, families are bound together by food-centric traditions.

For many of us, food is comfort.

In continuing to study what it is that drives people to put certain things in their mouths other than sheer necessity, we're putting together a series of dinners to investigate the history and motivation behind "comfort food"...the 'Theatre of Comfort' dinner series.  We want to understand what makes the intimate experience of dining so special and where some of the crazy traditions and foods were born, what kept them alive through the years.  I posit that we will find a close connection to necessity and to the abundance of specific foods within specific localities that have laid a path for tradition's journey to the modern day.  We will put together a series of regional menus and study the history and lore surrounding food traditions from the area, pair appropriate music and engage a theatrical theme for each dinner.

Theme ideas include: The American South, Italy, Latin America, The Northeastern US, Eastern Europe and Russia, The Japanese, India, The Pacific Rim, and of course China.  Some of the menus will be up on my next post and we will keep updates coming revealing time and place, thematic notions, and sundry entertainments.  Comment for us on any suggestions, special requests, if you're interested in hosting one of the dinners or if you'd like to lend a hand in any way, let us know!


  1. Are you going to do this in Houston? My special request would be anything containing Huitlacoche.

  2. I can do this in Houston if there is enough interest...right now I'm in NYC and planning to start some action up here:) Huitlacoche is DA BOMB! Good call!
    Let me know if you know of anyone who wants to sponsor a dinner down there and we'll work out the deets. Ciao!

  3. Corn smut and roasted root veg... Man I remember those days.. HA! A little polenta... Add an airline (minus the arm burn)... And some jus.. And you have yourself a damned fine plate 'o food!

  4. Houston would love to have ya! This sounds fantastic.