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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Inaugural Weekend at U.P. (Unlimited Possibilities) at Dominique Ansel Kitchen

Inaugural Weekend at U.P. (Unlimited Possibilities) at Dominique Ansel Kitchen

"First Heartbreak" - Burning Meringue Flower

Sometimes fortune smiles. 

When Dominique Ansel announced he would be welcoming a small group into his kitchen for a dessert tasting, it was impossible not to think of Willy Wonka. And when those tickets became available one Monday morning to whomever was lucky enough to click the website link at the right moment, it was equally difficult not to feel like Charlie Bucket.

How could anyone have a chance against the Veruca Salts of the world... those who had created the web-bot equivalent of a factory filled with nut-shellers unwrapping chocolate bars (this is true... the team at Dominique Ansel Kitchen knows that there were programs created to try and overwhelm the on-line ticket system)?

And yet, sometimes you unwrap the corner of your chocolate bar and there it is... the glimmering edge of that golden ticket. Run home to tell Grandpa Joe, because we're going to the Chocolate Factory.

Dominique Ansel Kitchen After HoursIt was 9:25pm - several hours after Dominique Ansel Kitchen had closed for the day. The front door was locked and the night production team was hard at work (disappointingly not a single Oompa-Loompa among them). There would be no more Croques Monsieur sold this evening. Only those with tickets in hand would be let through the door.

Limited to just eight people per seating, the tasting was an incredibly intimate event. By 9:30, six of us had assembled.

"The last two missed their flight to New York and won't be joining us," we were informed. A small group had just become that much smaller, and no one had fallen into the chocolate river yet.

The Tasting TableEscorted up a candle-lit staircase, we made our way to the upstair production kitchen where we were greeted by our hosts for the evening - Dominique Ansel and DAK Executive Pastry Chef Karys Logue.

There were a few brief words of welcome before, "Ta Da!" - from the ceiling descended a massive, mirrored, slab-of-a-table suspended from a series of mechanical winches.

Pre-Dessert Market Vegetables
Chairs were pulled from the walls and the table was set with an assortment of edible greens gathered that morning from the local green market. "Vegetables before Dessert," we were informed.

The Menu
The menu was billed as a series of firsts... "First Word"... "First Kiss". It was all in recognition of the fact that what we were about to be the first to experience something totally new.

Course 1 - "First Word" Alphabet Soup

Course 1: "First Word" - Sweet Pea, Rice Milk, Gin, Carrot Cake, Yogurt Meringue

Weeks prior, each guest had received an email asking what their first word had been. And here it was, spelled out in miniature meringues - "Dada!"

Chefs Plating the "First Kiss"
As we ate, Chefs Dominique and Karys were hard at work plating the upcoming courses. Sitting just a couple feet away, we had a rare opportunity to watch as each detail of their complex creations came together on the final plate.

Course 2 - The "First Kiss"

Course 2: "First Kiss" - Raspberry, Roasted Peanut Water, Cream Soda Pearls, Fresh Mint

It was a little pastry humor. By all appearance, the "First Kiss" was beautiful and elegant. But there were no utensils. There were no instructions. When the time came to try it out, it was extremely awkward for everyone.

Course 3 - "First Time Living on Your Own" Toffee Crepes

Course 3: "First Time Living on Your Own" - Sweet Corn, Crepes, Smoked Toffee, Lemon Zest, Anise

Made to look like some partially burned omelet eaten from the very same pan in which it had just been cooked, the caramelized crepes and sweet corn 'yolk' were a favorite across the table.

Course 4 - "First Heartbreak" Burning Meringue Flower

Course 4: "First Heartbreak" - Bergamot, Cocoa Nibs, Marshmallow, Bitter Almond, Chocolate Pain de Genes

A course of true showmanship, the "First Heartbreak" was an inspired take on a Baked Alaska. Each guest was given a box of matches and instructed to light the end of a piece of rice paper that was poking through the plate of meringue flower petals.

Course 4 - Remains of "First Heartbreak" Burning Meringue FlowerOne by one, our flowers burned. Some flames raged... others barely lit.

A Mid-Meal Chef Selfie with Dominique AnselHalfway through the evening, we had to stop for a quick Chef Selfie!

Plating the Palate Cleanser in OrchidsTo wash away the memory of the "First Heartbreak", what followed was a simple, sorbet palate cleanser...

Palate Cleanser Served in an Orchid
 ...served in a not-so-simple fresh Orchid.

Course 5 - "First Job" Memo

Course 5: "First Job" - Coffee, Malt, Nougat, Cardamom, Praline Feulletine

Catering to the NY clientele, the "First Job" came wrapped as an urgent memo.

Course 5 - "First Job" Ganaches
Boldly colored towers of various mousses and ganaches came together to create the first bar chart dessert I had ever seen. Nougat flavored "taxes" and coffee flavored "caffeine" dominated. No one received more than a little taste of the cardamom "sleep".

Course 6 - "First Fine Dining Experience" Chocolate Mousse Wellington

Course 6: "First Fine Dining Experience" - Dark Chocolate, Black Currant, Red Wine, Brown Butter, Puff Pastry, Creme Fraiche

It was a chocolate mousse "wellington". And while the format certainly captured the imagination, the wine and butter sauce was another standout for the evening. Good breeding and proper manners nearly flew out the window as the desire to lick the plate screamed in my head.

Course 7 - "First Dance" Elderflower Cake Pop

Course 7: "First Dance" - Strawberries, Mascarpone, Elderflower

Don't call it a cake pop! Topped with the last of this season's wild strawberries (the very, very last), this (very large) one-bite-wonder was made to look as though it were donning a whipped mascarpone tutu.

Course 8 - "Next First" Sake Ice Cream

Course 8: "Next First" - Cherry, Sake Lees, Lychee

All good things must come to an end. But as the "Next First", the final plate was a promise of more good things to come. And wouldn't you know, it was served with a cherry on top!

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