Monday, May 12, 2008

Porkey Pete

This is the first meal hosted by Thursday Club NYC's very own executive chef. With the mounting pressure to perform, Porkey Pete was understandably nervous. Thursday Club NYC ("TCN") had become something like the culinary equivalent of "fight club", and to attend means you must host. And this is very intimidating. Let's see: so far, TCN for me, a newcomer, involved having a ball (literally) at Teddy's offal night and liv(er)ing it up at Boogie's with some serious southern cooking. Instantly I was convinced that this group takes food and the culinary arts seriously. But step into Porkey's kitchen and you see this man is downright bonkers. I don't know how long he has been collecting these various cooking related utensils and appliances, but he could easily run a first class restaurant out of his home. Anyway, the topic of Porkey's kitchen contents should remain to be discussed in a separate thread describing his vocation. But suffice it to say that the expectations arose as soon as I saw the vast confines of his kitchen and gear. So now Porkey saw the look in our eyes which said: "hmmmm, so let's see what you can do with all this fancy shit ...". Needless to say, Porkey knows his shit folks. Nobody I know ate as well as we did that night.Technically 9 fucking courses if you include the informal starters. Porkey - how do I compete with that when my turn comes up?

So let's get started. Porkey's friend Dan had brought over some truffle honey and so we started with this, crackers and a Cayuga blue goat cheese from the Finger Lakes region of NY. This was quickly followed by Amuse Bouche of Crepes with Smoked Trout, Apples, and Horseradish Crème Fraiche (picture below). A mild taste was followed by a nice kick in the mouth from the horseradish. At this point, I knew we were in for a special night. So we sat down for the meal and the show began.

On a beautiful piece of wood that Porkey obtained from an old restaurant (the picture below does no justice here folks), we were served a trio of shot glasses: 3 types of soup. The first was a Vichyssoise which was served cold and carried a creamy, velvety texture with the mild flavor of chicken broth. Then we took the shooter of Gazpacho, with flavors of tomato, vinegar, red pepper and Persian cucumber. The tangy flavor of tomato went well with the aftertaste of the Persian cucumber. But my favorite of the trio was the warm spring pea and wild mint soup. This was ridiculously good and I would have downed a pitcher of this stuff, even though the fat content of these soups was increased ten fold to obtain maximum flavor from the shot glass quantity. Butter emulsified into cream? Love it.

So, what better now then fried pork rinds? A duo of cracklings: (1) Berkshire truffled Fritons de Porc and (2) Gribinis (Pete’s version is kosher chicken fat cracklings) and liver mousse. The pork rind was delicious: crisp, salty and fatty served with a balsamic to cut the grease. But Porkey had previously apologized for the recurring chicken liver theme. Yet the chicken liver mousse was so incredibly delicious, that I only wish I had more. The fried kosher chicken cracklings were perfect when bathed in copious mounds of the rich mousse. And Porkey made it sound so easy: "oh, just roast the liver in chicken fat and add hard boiled farm fresh eggs, chicken fat, shallots - blend...". Well, anything I have ever touched with liver turns out horrible. I shall learn this recipe one day... Technique, technique - go to Porkey Pete!

Check out these lovelies below:

Now the next dish was really quite amazing. As Porkey began heating his blades across a flame to cut through some roll of fatty goodness, I knew we were in for something special. Terrine of Hudson Valley Foie Gras topped with Lychee caviar, surrounded with roasted pistachio nuts and toasted brioche toast points. The foie was so smooth like butter, with such a superb taste with perfectly toasted brioche. Lychee caviar is apparently made with Sodium Alginate and requires a PhD in Chemical Engineering and 3 years of experience in one of Ahmadinejads underground lairs. Or that is what it sounded like to me, 8 drinks in.

By this point, we're all stuffed, but Dan, Grant and I are amazed by Porkey, who still has all the energy and swiftly moves into play on the raw fish, namely Tuna and Escolar “cru” with Caper Berries, Calamata Olives, and Shaved Fennel with Meyer Lemon and Toasted Fisele. I believe pickled ramps made the way on the plate too (bravo Porkey - was wondering when the ramps would make an appearance).

Carrying on with the fish theme, we next have Pan-Seared Arctic Char with Sautéed Ramps and Medley of Spring Vegetables with Black Truffle Vinaigrette. Perfectly seared, crispy skinned Arctic Char on a bed of ramps, peas, fava beans and asparagus tossed in truffle vinaigrette. Fucking hell this was good. I have since tried this at home using Porkey’s techniques and it turned out quite good (although I can’t get the perfect sear Porkey got - check the sear out below).

Such a simple combination was so perfect. Going again to Porkey's understanding that simple knowledge and technique is more important than show. But then, just to make sure we knew he can put on a show, he breaks out with pork cheeks. Apple Cider and Calvados Braised Pork Cheeks with Quinoa and Morels to be exact. Braised 4 hrs in a apple cider and calvados (French apple brandy) concoction, with fresh tarragon, morel mushrooms that were perfectly crispy on the outside and Quinoa (pronounced Keen-Wah), a high protein / low carb grain grown in the Andes mountains of South America and once a staple food of the Incas I am told. Oooooh... These large cheeks were so sweet and tasty I would have kissed each bite if I was alone. The fatty flesh of pork cheeks braised in such a lovely juice had created a wonderful aroma in the home and tasted just as good as it smelled.

By this time we were stuffed. We all ate our pork cheeks though, except for Adam and Dan. So we passed all remainders on to the big G man who joyfully downed all remains. If I knew Adam and Dan a bit better, I would have smacked them for letting such perfect cheek chunks go to waste.

OK … moving on to Dessert. Let's go with something light fellas. After all, we each just downed 4 lbs each of pork rinds, fatty cheeks, truffle oil, cream, chicken fat, and butter. Nope. How about some Decadent Chocolate Terrine with Raspberry Coulis?Fan-fucking-tastic night Porkey!!

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