Longest Day of the Year

Solstice.

The ancient observance denoting the fact that the heavenly spheres are moving towards one of their respective extremes. In this case, Summer Solstice, and what better excuse do you need to put on your Sunday’s finest (which for me is still a chef coat) and drink the day away in sunny Tacoma. The longest day of the year has been a long time nemesis of mine, favoring the dark night as I do, the Day Star’s wrath has been a thorn in my side since I learned what a sun burn was. I have had to since abandon my gothic pale roots in favor of the farmer’s tan I now sport due to my morning commute. After years in the restaurant industry, lightless and windowless dungeons they were, the concept of a window is a largely enviable accoutrement to any chef’s domain. Even if it is a tad annoying for those “up with the sun” brunches.

The dinner was planned months in advance, after our earlier idea of a St. Patties’ day event got scrapped in lieu of guaranteed cash flow. The concept was sound: good food, great booze, a decent band, and an okay locale. For what we charge the waiter at El Gaucho would sneer at you and they don’t even have a view. But despite Tacoma’s slow and inexorable march towards class, (if the $180 bucks a night at the Marriot Courtyard is indicative of), our turn out was less than desirable. The room was festive, wild flowers from the local markets everywhere. Brilliantly colored linens with intricate center pieces, and not a bug in sight. The cocktail hour went smashingly, the plated salad a tad less enthusiastic, and the buffet it’s self followed by dessert station was a hit. But alas, despite the best attempts of Monica, Moe, and Heather our count was low and thus a wash. Sometimes being the chef just isn’t enough, and I know my cohorts did their best. So where did we go wrong? True, it is the first event of its kind (and had this one made money the first of many) and the word was definitely spread out digitally and IRL. I suppose its back to the drawing board, after all, there’s Christmas Parties to shoot for.

But if you were here to listen to me whine about failure I’d just link you to my livejournal. On to the food!

The appetizer portion was split into two attacks: a station and passed varietals. The stationary ones were Green Gazpacho Martini Glasses with Crab and Fruit Skewers with Passion Fruit Dipping Sauce. The Gazpacho was still too thick to slurp from the glass it’s self. I’ve either got to come up with a veggie stock recipe that doesn’t taste bad chilled or just dump a lot of good wine in because you shouldn’t need a fork to eat soup. And don’t tell Monica but I had this interesting idea (that follows along the lines of stupidly labor intensive and annoying) where we stuffed the crab into one of those over sized cocktail olives you see at Tacoma Boys or other upper end olive bars. The fruit skewers looked pretty with their pineapple, honeydew, fig, and strawberry but as always no one ever eats them. I shoulda just put it on the buffet for some color so they could be usefully annoyed instead of breaking them all down Monday morning for staff fruit salads.

The passed ones were more successful but just as lopsided. The veggie cakes with the new Lemon Thyme Topper were very popular amongst carnivores and sissies alike. (Hey, I may be an ass but I hold no love for those that deny themselves the sultry goodness that comes from animal sacrifice.) I’m always pleased when a staff member that hasn’t tried it yet gets swayed from the onion relish that used to top those suckers. Better living through condiment superiority. The new item, grilled fig gorgonzola toasts with thyme honey was hit and miss. The fig was flavorful, and the gorgonzola a creamy foil for the oily fruit. But drizzle of honey (which I was quite frankly surprised at how well it took to the thyme) was too sporadic in concentration. On guest said it was too much and cloyingly sweet, another too little and the balance with gorg was out of whack. I have hence proposed to make a walnut gorgonzola spread to put down on the baguette and candy the fig slices in the honey. Adding a much needed crunch and giving the honey a water proof platform to stand out on instead of making soggy bread.

Next the salad, a composed number on plates borrowed from Jonz Catering in a trade off for other services rendered. They have some really neat avant garde china ware that I would be willing to beg, plead, and generally swindle for. Gone are the days when the round gothic or oval espree patterned plates cut the mustard. Now we have bowls, squares, trapezoids, and many other shapes that mangle the eye and physics. But these petite plates were a touch small for my original intent. Despite my misgivings they were well received and I look forward to acquiring my own in the not so distant future. (If for no other reason than my own nefarious purposes.) The salad it’s self was a composed on consisting of chopped spinach, crumbled feta, white balsamic pickled red onion, and minted mandarin oranges. Though next time I think I’ll forgo the pretty arrangement for a tossed version as all the vibrant colors of the ingredients stand out on their own.

The buffet was ironically simple, as this crew generally favors the large and lavish type. Poor planning on my part held a buffet that held no hot items, the only cold ones present in the apps and the plated salad. We start off with an Orzo Primavera Orzo, composed of grilled artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, olives, and a roasted shallot olive oil and a heaping helping of parm to keep the natives from getting restless. We do so love our cheese at AGA. Next came the vegetable dish, stuffed tomatoes. Yes, I reached deep into my culinary school past for this time honored tidbit but it has always served me well and it did so again this last weekend. The carved beef steaks were a little under stuffed but the roasted corn, smoked Gouda, and vegetable medley bound with panko even sung for me a staunch tomato nay-sayer. I like them in sauces or a salad, but whole and hot generally don’t hack it for me. Needless to say I cleaned my plate of it despite many of the guests only eating the cores. Can’t blame them, all the flavor was there.

The other starch present were our Rosemary Reds, and after many years of spud preparation I have found the golden ratio of fresh to dried to give that earthy yet sweet balance to that oft sought after tuber. Borrowing once more from my past, the addition of Worcestershire sauce (something you don’t often see in potatoes) really helps cut at the butter and gives a different mouth feel as far as saltiness goes. Next came the rolled flank steak roulades, I swear, I need someone sensible to beat me about the head and shoulders during our staff meetings when I suggest these bloody items. The concept was simple enough: combine the quick and tender skewer method of cooking with the moisture saving formation of a flank steak roulade. The result was mostly as planned.

The filling ended up being a bit bland, but it absorbed the balsamic vinaigrette well and did indeed keep the steak moist. How ever even whilst slicing it in the meat lollipop style I determined the meat filling would stick to the grill tines so I chose to 9/10ths cook them in the oven and give the grill a shot at some color and presentation. If I had to do it again (and knowing my own big mouth we will) I would flat top grill them to keep them disc like and give them some real golden color that comes from ample fat and a little finesse.

The last item was one so popular we actually ran out the last time I made it. A HUGE culinary taboo and one made fairly early in my career with AGA, and one I’ve yet to repeat, thank god. A cedar plank smoked salmon with pear cider glaze. Sophisticated, popular, and always a crowd pleaser this dish is. Until that day anyway. Some way, some how, the salt cure I used the night before was just too strong. (Like my criticism I laid it on too thick.) I also wanted to smoke the fish longer but we had guests showing up and the idea of carrying red hot metal through a crowed ballroom on my way to the kitchen smelled of pain and lawsuits. The flavor was there, but hidden under dryness and salt. We still went through 8 sides of it so it couldn’t have been all bad, but it definitely could have been better.

Dessert was something that changed from moment to moment for me. In the beginning I imagined a plated dessert akin to the salad, but as this wasn’t a scheduled event like a wedding or bar mitzvah that would have been impossible. We had a hard enough time getting the people to sit down for the salad, let alone wrangling them in for a final course. Then the concept would be one similar to an event we did for the TCC Alumni party we did a while back where there’d be three tiered trays of varying types and styles but that got scratched when we realized there’d be nothing on the table as far as a center piece goes until dessert came out and that would ruin the look. Lastly we settled for a station where the appetizers were, and that turned out to be the best. I really like the Plexiglas and glass block tower though I wish it were wider and not as deep. Makes it hard for some one with ham fists like me to reach into the back for the delicate morsels.

The items were numbered three, nor more, no less, and five was right out. (Points for the reference) The first was a Lemon Curd Tartlet with strawberry slice garnish. I wish I had the ability to swirl a strawberry compote into it instead by alas I lack the knowledge. Next came a chocolate mousse cup with white chocolate drizzle. This was widely popular and easy to make, a staple for Mini-Dessert Platters me thinks. Lastly came the big disappointment of the evening. The banana cream bouche with grilled plantain. For starters, I didn’t pay attention to my order when it came in and got dark chocolate mousse instead of white, so the color was off. The banana concentrate REALLY tasted like bananas, not that plasticy artificial banana flavor you get in kids drinks. And sadly the plantains were just too under ripe to sweeten up on the grill when I had a crack at them. I really should have ordered them earlier in the week and done them the day of instead of ordering the day of. I’d also shred them and bake them for better color and texture. Now that would be a banana cream pie to write home to mom about.

All in all the event went well. I dunno if we’ll do another of its type, so far the feeling is no. People are just too used to getting free food at our open houses that the concept of paying for an event (no matter what the quality is) is alien to them. But we’ve learned and we know what to do for next time. Either way I’ll have lemonade all week to drink and that’s worth the trouble alone.

Kitchen’s closed.

-KMCD

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