Day 7: More fruit. Sugar. Fear.
You think you have a pretty good idea of what there is out there. You know about Gateau St. Honoré and profiteroles. You’ve also poached a few figs in wine, and you’ve rolled out your own puff pastry. You seem to be getting a pretty good handle on things. And then something totally unforeseen rolls along and blows your mind. This happened tonight, in the form of roasted pears and figs in caramel. The fact that I definitely love all three things (surprising, I’m sure) never led me to consider putting them together, even though the technique it requires is simple and the ingredients are quite ordinary. This sultry combination was just symphonic, and the whop of vanilla ice cream Chef very kindly added made it more perfect than food deserves to be. The chewy halves of fig, the crispy seeds and the bits of charred pear, the sweet sticky caramel, the heady and refreshing ginger... Esther Williams wished for synchronicity like this.
Another surprising trinity found itself combined in my bowl: strawberries, balsamic vinegar, and tarragon. This delightful concoction waits in my refrigerator even now, dreaming of yet more vanilla ice cream. The acidity of the vinegar isn’t apparent in the dish, but its particular kind of sweetness mixes with the sugar and adds a grapey hue to the brightness of the strawberries. That same acidity, while it vanished from the dish, helped the pungency of the tarragon penetrate into the berries. This combination obviously sounds a little strange upfront, but it’s terribly engaging once you get past all that. Let it be the Bobcat Goldthwait of your party the next time you need to serve a little bit of fruit.
The profounder aspects of our education are becoming more apparent, at least to those of us who want to look a little more deeply into things. It’s not about learning how to make blueberry muffins or candied orange peel. It’s about allowing ourselves to examine things we’re already very familiar with – like strawberries or pears or vinegar – in new, less obvious ways. I have extraordinary luck to be in an environment where the equations I must balance are guided not by formulas, but by sweet, salt, bitter, sour, and chocolate. Realizing these things makes it all even more thrilling. Speaking of formulas, it seems that approximately two hours of sleep can be replaced by about four hours of hands-on excitement.
We also made some truly horrific apple chips.
The class was frightened at two distinct times. The first time was when it was announced that we will be taking our first quiz on Monday. That scare lasted only briefly since Chef went on to detail every question that will appear on it, which was awfully fair of him, I thought. The second time, however, was when he began to elaborate on yesterday’s sanitation event, introducing the subject of the New York City Board of Health. Those are the folks that can enter your establishment at any time, without prior warning, and tell you to pack your personal belongings and leave; they’re closing you down because they found too much dust on top of your refrigerator hinge. (Not that there would ever be dust on my refrigerator hinge; I clean that thing maybe fifteen times a week. Obviously.) This whole matter of sanitation is the intimidating one so far. To put it in very broad terms, it means that we have to stop licking our fingers. That sounds simple, but if you think it’s easy, go make a batch of gingersnaps and, starting now, don’t put another thing into your mouth until they’re done cooling. Not baking, cooling.
Then get back to me.