Today I am going to share one of the keys to great cuisine – use great ingredients! It seems obvious – almost cliche – but it is the backbone of all great cooking. Great chefs are not alchemists, turning poor ingredients into culinary masterpieces. Rather, every great chef I have ever come into contact with places a premium on utilizing the finest ingredients as the starting point for their cuisine. My personal philosophy is get the finest ingredients and let them shine.
Here’s a good example:
The last few weeks I have purchased the most amazing heirloom tomatoes – perfectly ripe, juicy and bursting with flavor. I’ve chosen to utilize them in a panzanella, which is an Italian tomato and bread salad. The ingredients: tomatoes, toasted bread, extra-virgin olive oil, basil chiffonade, minced garlic, sea salt and fresh-cracked black pepper. Simple. Anyone could whip some up in a matter of minutes. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, to say the least. In fact, customers have gone out of their way to praise this simple salad. Am I a great chef? I’m not sure, but I do try to get out of the way and let the best ingredients shine whenever possible. A final note on the panzanella. I grew up in New England in the 70’s and 80’s and therefore was not exposed to great produce, I’m sorry to say. In fact, tomatoes, as far as I knew, were a flavorless, poorly textured piece of produce that certainly did not cause me any excitement. Now let’s just pretend for a moment. Let’s pretend that last weekend I had the tomatoes from my childhood rather than the wonderful tomatoes that I had. I can guarantee that the response to the panzanella would have been very different. In fact, I could offer the same dish in February and not get the same results, as the tomatoes would no longer be at their peak.
Turns out I told you all this so that I could tell you something else. This weekend at Madeleine Bistro, we are offering a Five Course Chef’s Tasting Menu featuring the organic fruit of Etheridge Farms. I’ve known Gene Etheridge for many years, and I can say from personal experience that his fruit is the best that I have ever tried. He is also very passionate about what he does and is always eager to discuss his fruit and how he is able to bring out the best in each piece of fruit. This week, his peak fruits include “tasty treat” plums, “Santa Rosa” plums, yellow and white peaches and heirloom tomatoes. Here is the menu I created:
Heirloom tomato “cannoli”, basil oil
“Tasty treat” plum carpaccio
Pickled plums, green papaya noodles, toasted walnuts
Grilled seitan with yellow peach barbecue sauce
Yukon gold potato puree, grilled asparagus, shallot rings
White peach-lemongrass dessert soup and sorbet
Fresh berries, strawberry en gelee, mint oil
S’mores flavors with plum ginger ale
Chocolate ganache, graham crackers, marshmallow fluff
The menu will be available on Saturday and Sunday nights only, Reservations are strongly recommended. As an added bonus, Gene Etheridge will be in the house on Saturday night and will share a few words on his favorite subject: fruit. Hope to see you all this weekend!
July 21, 2010
P.S. – I did a Chef’s Tasting menu with Gene’s fruit last month. Here’s a photo of one of the courses: