Last week, I realized all over again what a lovely set of friends Mian and I have. Friends that willingly give of their time, creativity, efforts. Friends that gladly do whatever it takes to make sure that our celebrations are truly memorable. I didnt need reminders of how wonderful they are, but since I've been here, I've been open-mouthed in wonder that these people love me. But this post is not about them.
One of the ways they showed their generosity and their love for us- and their knowledge of just what would be enjoyed by us- is by gifting my Mian and me a weekend at the Inn at Langley, with a dinner reservation. The weekend was perfect- the complete stop from running around that we needed. The highlight, however, was definitely Chef Costello's six-course dinner.
The menu was playful, inventive, and firmly rooted in local produce. Chef Costello plays a lot with newer techniques and tools- creating a bacon 'snow' and porcini foam for example. These make for playful eating, as in the case of the dessert. Meant to be shared by two, it consisted of balloons of various sorbets floating on a sea of mousse. The colours and shapes were evocative of a playground, and were fun.
What blew me away however, was not so much the use of these new-fangled tools, as the realization of what truly excellent cooking means. While we enjoyed the tricks, the true magic of the dinner was how every ingredient was made to be the best it could be. My favourite part was an artichoke and bacon soup. Other than the bacon 'snow', it was plain old good cooking. Perfectly balanced ingredients, deft seasoning, and scrupulous straining- nothing that one cannot replicate. Mian's favourite was the fish. Again, a very simple dish consisting of perfectly roasted halibut, and delightfully surprising sides (a garlic scape! cucumber and yogurt icecream!). And this was true of every course. Minimal fussing, great technique, much attention.
My most humbling moment was the garlic scape. Onion buds are popular in Dehradun, and invariably cooked to a soggy mush. I had stirfried them, and stunk up the entire kitchen. Costello's scape was a gently curving bloom sitting proudly on the fish. I tasted it and found it sweet with bite. The secret probably was blanching followed by a quick toss in hot oil. The thing is, this is what an alium bloom can and should be- not the stinkin' mess I'd reduced it to.
The flavour combinations were a lot like Mian and me- looking at the plate, I couldn't understand how these could be paired together; after one bite I would realise that it was inevitable, these were always meant to be taken together. Halibut, cucumbers and yogurt. Strawberry and coconut. Watermelon (seared!) and feta. Try this at home.
Flavour combinations aside though, I now think that what makes a truly good cook is the willingness to take the trouble to be one. I dont know if I can ever master technique, but the next time I cook, I am going to be fully there- thinking, tasting, cooking.
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