SF Chefs 2011 Think Tankfeatured

Since I’m off traipsing about Italy right now, I have to miss one of my favorite food events of the year — SF Chefs. Food. Wine. If only I could be in two places at once. Fortunately, I found the perfect correspondent to nosh in my place!

Michael Seibel is one of the most enthusiastic eaters I know. When he isn’t chowing down for LMS he acts as CEO of Justin.tv.

Michael kicked off the culinary extravaganza that is SF Chefs by attending the SF Chefs Think Tank: Culinary Innovation Demos seminar with Thomas McNaughton (Flour + Water) and Craig Lane (Bar Agricole) demonstrating in-house pasta making and small plates specifically designed to be paired with a cocktail-driven menu. Enjoy!


Tortellini en Bordo

Tortellini en Bordo

When the thinking was done, this dish shined above all others.  Created by chef Thomas McNaughton of Flour + Water this Tortellini en Brodo was one of the top 5 small bites I’ve tasted all year (which included a sampling of the best pinchos of San Sebastian and the rediculously good tasting menu at Arzak).  As for flavors, McNaughton fills his tortellini with freshly made ricotta cheese, hand picked oregano, and tomato powder.  The ricotta was both smoother and had a lower moisture content than store bought varieties which truly elevated the flavor.  The addition of of the tomato powder added the perfect touch of acidity. The overall effect was explosive like fresh goat cheese but subtle (unlike fresh goat cheese).  For those of you who are curious, the tomato powder is made by dehydrating fresh tomatoes (you can do this in your oven set on very low) and then buzzing them into a powder.

While preparing this dish McNaughton shared his encyclopedic knowledge of pasta making acquired through significant tours in Southern and Northern Italy.  In the “dough room” at Flour+Water they turn 3 mother doughs into the over 50 different varieties of pasta that appear on the their menus every week.  One trick he shared was that pasta making should be seen as three distinct steps: hydrate the dough, work the gluten, then rest.  He recommends using a vacuum sealer and a fine mist spray to facilitate the hydration step.  To keep consistency night after night, all recipes are measured by weight not volume and the moisture level of the dough is calibrated to its use.  Hand cut pastas like pappardelle are made with a super moist egg dough that includes only egg yolks for maximum flavor.  Stuffed pastas like tortellini are made with whole eggs and are slightly drier to compensate for the moisture of the filling.  Extruded pastas like spaghetti are made with with a very crumbly dry dough because the pressure of the extruding machine hyper hydrates the dough.  When making a sauce for your pasta McNaughton points out that many people include too much fat in their recipes.  Apparently at lot of oil will coat the pasta preventing it from absorbing the sauce and will coat your tongue muting the overall flavor.

There is no way I could share all the information McNaughton covered without writing a book, but after an hour of talking non-stop he commented that he only knew 10% of what there was to know about pasta making.  Scary.


Cooperstown Cocktail

No culinary think tank is complete without a mixologist and Craig Lane of Bar Argicole did not disappoint.  His drink, the Cooperstown, was a simple mix of equal parts dry vermouth, sweet vermouth, and gin topped with a pineapple mint leaf.  On the first sip the sweet vermouth dominated with its slightly chemical aftertaste but after a quick mix with the finger all the flavors melded together perfectly to create a smooth slightly sweet summer drink with absolutely no burn (apparently Lane uses a milder 84 proof gin in this recipe).  One of the most surprising ingredients in this cocktail was the ice.  Bar Argicole makes their own ice that is frozen with no air.  The result is product that melts slower, keeps the drink cold longer, and has an amazingly dense mouth feel (beware that chomping on this ice could cost you a trip to the dentist).

Overall SF Chefs did not disappoint with this weekday lead up to the Grand Tasting Event on Friday and Saturday nights.  A perfect amuse bouche.

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