Monday, July 13, 2009

StudioKitchen meets Ideas in Food

Shola Olunloyo and Alex Talbot are two of the most creatively driven chefs I know. You can see it for yourself – on a nearly daily basis if you like – on their respective blogs, StudioKitchen and Ideas in Food. Both are chefs who seem to strive not for perfection so much as for the best possible expression of the next step in their constantly evolving field of art; Shola calls it “the search for deliciousness.” Both are highly driven by technique, process and exploration of ingredients. Like Wylie Dufresne, who I think makes for an apt comparison, their approach can be scientific and highly manipulative, yet their end results almost always manage to be delicious and organically satisfying at heart, not just precious and cerebral.

Both men have been sharing ideas and, occasion permitting, trading chops for several years now. They share other things in common as well. Both seem to enjoy photography almost as much as cooking. The photos you’ll see below were all taken by Mr. Olunloyo and you’ll find equally stunning shots at Ideas in Food as well as at the StudioKitchen blog. Both have also chosen the private stage over the restaurant world, cooking for small groups or working as private chefs for hire, more often than not entirely on their own (or alongside a life partner in Alex’s case).

Talbot’s recent move, along with his wife Aki Kamozawa, from New York to the outer Philadelphia countryside in Bucks County, PA, has allowed for an easier exchange of ideas between Shola and Alex, an exchange that’s recently culminated in a series of private dinners held at Shola’s actual StudioKitchen. Attending night one of a two-night collaboration held this weekend, I half expected a meeting of such talents to result in a clash of egos or a struggle for expression in the kitchen. What I happily found instead was a seemingly harmonious melding. Alex’s introverted style and precise work ethic in the kitchen matched comfortably with Shola’s extroversion in presenting the dishes and working all aspects of the room. I called their match-up SKIF a few days back; they call it IDSK. Let’s call it Studio Kitchen meets Ideas in Food. The meal they built together was often surprising – and always delectable.

Again, the photos below were taken by Shola; he and Alex banned photography at the table for the evening to help keep everyone's focus on the food (and eating it while it’s hot) and the company.

Mango-Yogurt Sorbet
wild char roe, arugula

If the idea of fish eggs paired with ice cream seems strange, just pare it down to its base elements: salty and sweet. And really tasty. A real jump-start for the palate. The cured wild char roe is produced by BLiS, the same company that makes some of the most hedonistically delicious maple syrup on the market.

Corn Pudding
smoked sea urchin

Santa Barbara uni, gently smoked over cherry wood. Corn shoot garnish. The corn “pudding” was seasoned with ginger, celery, onion and lemongrass, and thickened with carrageenan. Shola made corn soup at the first StudioKitchen dinner I attended, many moons ago; it’s been a constantly evolving staple in his arsenal ever since.

Goose Egg Yolk
chorizo-chanterelle hash, garden herbs

The goose egg was slow-cooked in its shell for two hours at 65 degrees F. Served with chorizo from Despaña and topped with a nasturtium. Like I said, beautiful and delicious. And a fantastic pairing with Huet’s 2002 Vouvray Brut Pétillant.

Foie Gras Marble
blueberry, pistachio, cantaloupe

PB&J for grownups.

Softshell Crab Tempura
old bay, honeydew raita

A tiny crab so late in the season for softshells… a testament to working with a good fish monger. Delicate and perfectly cooked, accents courtesy of garlic scapes and borage flower.

Ramp Top Cavatelli
geoduck clam sauce

Ramp season may be gone but blanched ramp greens apparently freeze very well…. I’m in complete agreement with Shola, who likes to eat this by the bowlful; unquestionably the comfort food dish of the evening.

lemon verbena, pickled watermelon rind

The sweetbreads were brined overnight in a bath of buttermilk, salt, sugar and verbena. No crusty distraction here, all organ-y goodness, with balancing brightness and snap provided by the bed of pickled watermelon.

Pig Cheek
cornbread, collard greens, red cola sauce

The only dish of the night that didn’t entirely excite me, perhaps better scaled toward a stand-alone main course than as a small plate. The collard greens in particular didn’t seem to sync with the rhythm and vibe of the rest of the meal.

Sangria Squab
berbere potsticker, kohlrabi

Startlingly gamy at first bite but deeply satisfying at the last. Squab from Central New Jersey’s Griggstown Farm.

Delice de Bourgogne Burrata
fennel, green olive oil

The decadent richness and creaminess of Delice de Bourgogne, adjusted to show the fresh, slippery, bubble tea-like texture of burrata. Dressed with the delicious Olio Verde of Gianfranco Becchina, produced at Antica Tenuta Principi Pignatelli in Castelvetrano, Sicily.

Carrot-Bacon Cake
blood orange marmalade ice cream, maple vinegar

Just as savory – if not more so – as sweet. Many at the table agreed that this could work just as easily as a stuffing for game birds as it could dessert. Lovely with a little taste of PX – and a fine way to savor the end of the evening's adventures.


Samantha Dugan said...


David McDuff said...

Absolutely, Sam. Shola is obviously accustomed to photography being part and parcel of his work in the kitchen. There's a light box setup just beside the cook/prep area and he's helped along by some very fine photographic equipment.

The flavors of each dish were just as stunning.

Gaetano said...

"not just precious and cerebral"

To my mind there is nothing less appetizing than a plate full of "ideas".

David McDuff said...

Hi Gaetano,

Thanks for stopping by.

I understand your point completely. Ideas are nothing without taste or, as Shola might say, "deliciousness." My point was that when Shola and Alex pull of their dishes, their ideas do result in just such deliciousness, plates that are fully satisfying, not just interesting. Once in a while, of course, the idea does fall short when it comes to execution. But one could say that's true of the practice of any art form, culinary or otherwise.

I just attended another IDSK meeting a few days ago. If I can get it together quickly enough, I'll be posting photos and a quick summary in the next few days. Stay tuned....

Gaetano said...

"plates that are fully satisfying,"

Geez i can't even find a fully satisfying french fry or pizza pie.

Thanks for your reply David

David McDuff said...

Maybe it's time to expand your product line.... "Gaetano's Canalé and Frites Shop" has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

Pizza in Philly is a whole other story, though I've been pretty impressed with the pies at Osteria (and have yet to try Starr's new place).

jacobperius said...

Very interesting, I like the idea of pairing fish roe with the likes of ice cream, it seems like it would work, after all, caviar and creme friache work. If you are interested in food, visit my blog:
I am an aspiring chef, and food is my life. Literally.

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