Amuse Bouche

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

left to right above: angel hair frittata, pea soup with seared scallop, tuna tartar with basil gelee, lamb noisette, stuffed manicotti

I enjoyed this week much more than I did last week. We were preparing amuse bouche, or “teasing the palate.” I have always enjoyed amuse bouche challenges on Top Chef, although I personally have only had the actual experience once before. I also find the name entertaining. It makes me smile.

I had chosen to prepare the buckwheat blini recipe and we were then informed that the person preparing those would be completing a classic caviar service presentation. Yikes! I’ve only had caviar once and it was in baking class. One of the things I LOVE about school is how many foods and experiences I get to try. I try to go into every item with an open mind and give a fair, honest assessment to how much I enjoy a food. Ok, maybe not with the forcemeat, but I feel like I REALLY gave liking the taste of it my best shot. I felt like I asked a million questions this week but Chef Thompson pointed out, “That’s kinda what I’m here for.” He made it crystal clear that caviar presentations are meant to be precise and elegant. All the lines had to be completely clean. Someone is paying almost a couple hundred bucks for this plate. You better make it look friggin’ amazing. I really did my best.

The buckwheat blini is basically a yeast leavened pancake. Most pancakes use baking powder to make them rise and become fluffy. The yeast made these rise and gave them flavor, but took almost two hours to make! That’s a long time for tiny pancakes. While I was letting the blini batter rise, I prepared the garnishes which were parsley, red onions, egg yolk, egg white, crème fraiche and capers.

Chef showed me how to mince parsley correctly. I couldn’t believe something so simple made SUCH a huge difference!!! It was amazing. First, the parsley absolutely must be washed. Then it is dried by squeezing it with a paper towel. Then it is minced. Forever. And ever. But the effect is amazing. Once it is all minced, it is put back in a towel and wrung out. The result is parsley that is almost dust like. It looked far superior to the mincing jobs I thought I was doing on parsley in the past. Is it isn’t wrung out, it will start to deteriorate extremely quickly. I boiled the eggs and then pushed the whites and yolks separately through a mesh strainer. I wasn’t sure about this at the beginning, but it actually made the egg look very delicate. I attempted to fine bruniose the red onion. I knew I was going to get a comment on them because they were absolutely not perfect, but I know I just need more practice. Onions are one of the more difficult vegetables to dice nicely because of the rings inside and how everything falls apart once you hit a certain point. Especially with teeny tiny cuts.

Once all my mise en place was gathered, I began plating. I piped the crème fraiche in a border on the plate, adding a heart as a signature mark. Of course. I used my two pastry scrapers to form lines of the garnishes. The one that came with my school kit is plastic and it made things more challenging. I also realized I probably should have piped after plating the garnishes because I kept having to worry about not getting my scrapers in the crème fraiche border. I pulled out my tweezers to help get the lines as even as possible and then used them to place the capers carefully. I plated my finished blinis and placed caviar in its bowl.

I was happy with the final product, although I know I could improve upon it given the chance. I concentrated very hard on this plate and people kept asking why I was so angry. I wasn’t angry. I was just focused. I wasn’t even too anxious. I was actually enjoying myself even though I was focused so hard on trying to make everything as perfect as possible. I guess I need to practice smiling when I am focused so people don’t get so worried.

This was how another team plated their caviar. It's hard to get good pictures with some of the garnishes being white on a white plate.

Another amuse bouche that was made was tuna tartar on a basil gelee (jello). Let me pause here. I know I was quite passionate last week about the aspic (chicken jello) and how much I hated it. There is a reason I dislike it so intensely. I cannot eat jello. Of any flavor. I have wanted to like jello since I was a kid. It smells so good when you are making it, the colors are so pretty, it’s shiny and jiggly and looks like tons of fun. But I just can’t eat it. The texture (and that of bananas) makes me gag. Give me jello poke cake or banana bread and I’m good to go, but straight jello. Can’t do it. So you can imagine how Chicken Jello makes me react. Now we have basil jello. I did find it amusing how entranced Chef was with one specific tuna tartar amuse bouche presentation. It jiggled every time he gently shook the bowl, and he shook the bowl every time he walked by it. There were even comments about it shaking like a behind. Very amusing. Yes. Pun intended. In any case, I thought it looked amazing and even forced myself to try it. I didn’t vomit since it had other textures with it and the gelee was a thin layer, but I didn’t love the taste of it.

Natane prepared the clam chowder spoon. Pancetta and potatoes were diced very small and sautéed till crispy. Then they were placed in the bottom of a spoon and a clam chowder liquid was placed in a foam gun and foamed on top. Clam chowder foam. Whodathunkit? It was really difficult to get a decent picture of the foam with definition because it was so white, but you can at least see the general presentation.

There was also a lamb loin served on a parsnip chip with a port syrup reduction. I really loved the lamb. The chip would have been fine plain. I didn’t really like the reduction. I think it got burned a little bit, though. Overall, I would have preferred just the lamb.

Last but not least we had stuffed manicotti. This was ok, but they were cold by the time I got to them which I didn’t love. I loved the presentation of them, though, in the bundles that Ian made.

Tuesday we went to Whole Foods and sampled various cheeses. They were amazing, especially the blue cheese that we tried. I found several exotic cheeses I want to taste, along with the wine pairings listed. I’m considering having a collaborative wine/cheese tasting party where everyone brings one wine and cheese to share. Anyone want to join in?


jennifer said...

damn!!! why can't we live closer??? I would so bring wine and cheese!!! (and crown in a
I LOVED this week, reading it I could feel your enthusiasm, how awesome.
and I can't eat bannanas or oatmeal for the same reason, but I can eat jello...i just don't like jello. it seems pointless to me. lol.
yeah this week is cool.

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