Specialty Equipment: water bath, bottle-shaped moulds, thermometer
Specialty Ingredients: powdered gelatine 200-225 Bloom, tartaric acid, glucose
Dish as in The Fat Duck:
The last two weekends have all been about food, but not The Fat Duck. Last Saturday I cooked a meal for my niece plus invites and it took quite a chunk of my time. Yesterday, I went with the same niece, her boyfriend and my brother to Restaurant Ivy in Rotterdam (more on that later) and next week I will probably have to make lunch for Eastern. The result: a quick and simple dish for now. I’m itching to cook a proper dish again, but I mostly cook on the weekends, so I could not fit it in lately.
In the restaurant the gums are served as a tasting of various brands of the liquor: Glenlivet, Oban, Highland Park, Laphroiag and Jack Daniels. I usually have a decent whiskey at hand, but it magically disappeared some time ago (how could this happen?) and all I had was a bottle of The Famous Grouse. I like my whiskey once in a while, but not so much to hunt down five bottles for a few gums. The Famous Grouse had to make due.
The recipe consists of three parts. Part A is powdered gelatin and whiskey. Part B is a combination of whiskey, glucose, tartaric acid and unrefined caster sugar. Part C is just whiskey. Part A needs to be warmed in a water bath at 60°C for half an hour. The tap water at its hottest is almost 60°C, so I let it sit in some tap water, which I changed every ten minutes.
To give the sweets body the sugars have to boil to 124°C. After cooking you have to add part A and when the temperature drops to 100°C part C. By the way, the powdered gelatine reeks! Ugh. The funny thing is the gelatine smells before you do anything with it, smells when you heat it up, but is almost tasteless when cooled down and eaten. The edible wrappers of a previous cooked recipe contain powdered gelatin and they tasted not at all how the gelatin smells: disgusting. Weird.
After mixing everything it is relatively thick and has to be poured in moulds before it cools down too much. At The Fat Duck they have good looking bottle-shaped moulds; I had deformed 1€ ice cube trays. I used the same trays from the Mandarin Aerated Chocolate recipe, the ones that said do not use for chocolate, and after the chocolate and a run through some very hot water to clean them they looked like they were playing Twister.
The gums. They were very difficult to get out of the ice cube trays, maybe it was the size of the gums, my cooking or the material of the trays, so I put them in the freezer. They released themselves more willingly from the trays after that, but it was still no picnic.
This recipe revolves around the tasting of different whiskies. I had just the one, which makes it difficult to give an opinion on the dish. Mine were tasty whiskey wine gums and that is really all you can say about it if you make this recipe with one kind of whiskey.
A plate with Bresse pigeon breast, foie gras, almonds, chives, cherry sorbet and sauce is put in front of me. I already ate the plate ten times in my head before it is served to me. Now, however, I get the real deal. Hope I didn’t build it up too much and all it can do is not suck. I should not have worried, this is the stuff that blows your mind. Incredible smooth and very light tasting foie gras. Is this really the strong, heavy, fattened liver of a duck? Wow. In goes a bite of cherry sorbet with a bitter note from the piths. Again, wow. The big, firm, but soft breast still awaits me, and I happily tuck in. A familiar flavor hits me: ‘rarish’, tasty pigeon breast with its own sauce. The combination of all the components completely in sync, a perfect interplay of sweet, sour, salty and bitter.
I finish my plate and as it is pulled from the table I remember the dish is served in two. I haven’t had the leg of the bird. I joke I get a clean plate with only the leg pointing upwards, nothing else. When the dish arrives I am pleasantly surprised it is the exact opposite of just a piece of leg. I get of bowl with celeriac puree, pieces of, as I soon find out the best I ever tasted, celeriac, fried celeriac, beetroot and two spiced legs. Hé, I thought I was going to get half a bird. Does this mean I won’t go home hungry? I start of reserved and take a bit of celeriac puree, but soon forget all etiquette and attack my bowl of food. Luckily I’m with family and we’re positioned in the corner of the restaurant. I delve further into my plate and to my surprise I find more poultry. I’m trying to figure out what it is and suddenly realize there was still one breast of pigeon unaccounted for, so this must be it. Experiences in other upscale restaurant threw me off, I was never in doubt I would get half a bird. Wrong. I happily finish my plate, look up and realize I was so fixated on my food I forgot all about the restaurant and where I was. You know that feeling when you suddenly ‘wake up’ and realize you were completely closed off from your surroundings. A dish that can do that to you based on flavor is like a little magic trick. It is cooking I aspire to.
About a year before the pigeon dish the restaurant responsible opened in Rotterdam called Ivy Restaurant. The chef, Francois Geurds, worked, among other restaurants, for some time in The Fat Duck as a sous chef. He instantly got the media attention that would make politicians jealous. From the start the restaurant was and still is surrounded by the most positive buzz possible. I was also caught by the bug, but not due to mindless media coverage littered with the term ‘molecular gastronomy’. I was excited because I saw some clear influences from The Fat Duck (who knows, maybe some of the dishes/components in The Fat Duck originate from him), like the pigeon dish. It was obviously a very pleasant surprise to get an invitation from my niece to eat there. She didn’t know how much I wanted to go to the restaurant. It was just a coincidence she got it as a gift to have dinner there with her boyfriend and generously invited me and my brother along.
As you can probably tell from my, as I look back, elaborate description of one dish I liked it a lot and can say we all loved the dinner we had. One thing that really helped and is my feeling for some time, is the choice for the a la carte menu. Set menus can be delicious, but often I crave bigger plates of food. Smaller bites in a sequence of numerous dishes over a period of hours can be exhausting. In the end you can leave feeling unfulfilled. The benefits of a la carte is that you can choose what you want and (at least in this case) big portions. I remember once seeing Thomas Keller explaining his view on an eating experience and the law of diminishing returns. The more you have of something the less you enjoy it. This may be true, but I feel it is not limited to a plate of food, but the entire dinner. Ten small courses (and don’t get me started on matching wines) suffer as a whole from the law of diminishing returns. You can get bombarded with so many flavors, especially in certain restaurants, it can get too much. I see this, with all respect, as a flaw to Keller’s view. I’m more inclined to less courses and bigger portions.
The one thing that really helps choosing ‘just’ three dishes from an a la carte menu are the amuse-bouche. At Ivy they are not limited to a pre-appetizers role and they make their way through the entire experience. You get three plates of food intersected with extremely tasty bites of food. This way three courses does not mean you’re out of there in an hour. I know the amuses have got some stick over time, but I absolutely love them and feel they can contribute significantly when used properly. I hate the lack of argument in the cries the amuse-bouche part (in restaurants in general) has ‘gone out of control’ and ‘you’re already full before the actual meal starts’.
I see now that I’ve typed my way through two Word pages, so I better call it quits and start dreaming about my next visit to Ivy Restaurant.