Mist: Salt Lake is a pop-up restaurant aiming for Michelin caliber; dinner will be served to ticket holders evenings between Jan. 19, 2012 and Feb. 19, 2012. Go here for tickets.
This weekly Wednesday blog records the progress of the project.
Most of us cook according to recipes gathered from cookbooks, magazines, TV shows. We make sure we have the exact ingredients called for, we set aside time for cooking and we follow the instructions to the last quarter-teaspoon.
Compared with how an experienced chef goes about creating dishes, what we do is paint by number. Here's how Chef Gavin Baker is going about it for The Mist Project:
Chef Gavin has to come up with 15 showstopper dishes if he’s going to make his dream of a guerrilla Michelin-quality restaurant come true. And when he describes the process, it does sound a lot like making art.
Inspiration can come from anywhere–an image, or a flavor pairing or a new technique. Once he has an image and a flavor profile in his head, he has the beginning of a “dish.”
He makes sketches in a notepad and drafts possible recipes, adding ingredients, removing them, adding them back again. He talks with his team about his idea, and considers props, techniques and presentation.
Then he starts building the sketches into actual food. Sometimes it works great the first time… sometimes it takes several iterations to get it right… and sometimes it doesn’t feel like it’s on the right track from the beginning.
“The key is to keep playing with it anyway and see what kind of fruit it will bear,” he says. “And the hardest part is knowing when to let go, when you admit maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all.”
Then, a dish has to have a place in the menu. “A great menu–certainly, a menu with Michelin goals– has to tell a story. You can’t just randomly plug in a series of dishes.
You have to think of the entire menu as a whole: flavors and looks that lure the diner in, capture their attention, take them on a journey, give their senses a break in the right places, explode into fireworks in the right moments, has dramatic pauses and a climax.”
Obviously, with 15 courses, this is going to be a complicated story.
Chef Gavin is using a combination of new and old techniques. “I’m looking for just the right amount of molecular gastronomy (only when needed to add effect) and just the right amount of modern cuisine (to satisfy certain creative urges) and just the right amount of classic theory (to keep the diners engaged,)” he says.
Some of the molecular gastronomy techniques, like freezing with liquid nitrogen, are necessary – how else are the chefs going to make ice cream in the middle of a palm tree store?
The constraints of a guerrilla restaurant–cooking in a temporary space with no gas ranges or hoods means modern techniques are essential: “We rely on sous vide cookery to gain intensity of flavor,” says Gavin. “We use non-traditional ingredients in the kitchen: carrageenan to emulsify and gel things, and calcium hydroxide to fossilize.”
“Certain pieces will take weeks to complete – we’ve already started on several components because of the monumental effort it takes to perfect things like the hand-blown sugar orbs and ice filtration components.”
The reactions of readers to this blog about the creation of Mist: Salt Lake have been mixed–some think the whole goal of a temporary Michelin quality restaurant is ridiculous, impossible and over-hyped.
Others are glad to hear of someone even trying to reach for those stars.
Me, I find the whole process fascinating.