Tuesday, August 30, 2011

the creative process.

Every chef (artist, musician, etc.) has a process, a starting off point, where the roots of a dish begin to take hold.  For some it's a classic recipe or something as simple as a color or season.  For others it's more abstract, passing whimsies that land lightly on the mind.  I have never really been able to nail down how or why I cook what I cook because in the end, each plate I put together tells a little story of all of my experiences over the years.  It's very difficult to explain this process but I figured I'd try here, more for self-inspection than anything else.

An example:  Heirloom tomatoes, young cucumber, chicharron powder, lemon mayonnaise, arugula.

So, in planning the menu for our PushStart Birmingham, I really wanted to think about Summertime, an easy task.  To me, nothing says Southern Summer like tomatoes and even more so, a BLT.  I remember as a kid, we'd go to my aunt's country house in Virginia.  We'd race down to the garden and push our way through verdant smelling vines to find the ripest tomatoes that had been gently warmed by the sun.  Sliced in thick slabs, salted and slathered in mayo, they'd get topped with still sizzling bacon and cold, crisp iceberg lettuce, all of it sandwiched between toasted white bread.  I can still taste those sandwiches.

That quiet memory was the starting point for the salad.  Nothing really all that ground breaking.  Just a solid base.  Where I have the most fun, is here, trying to rearrange the elements of something familiar to make something a little different, maybe even exotic.  We got the best heirloom tomatoes from the market including Golden Peach, Mortgage Lifters, Brandywine and baby Sweet 100's and sliced them in to irregular shapes.  The bacon got swapped out for chicharrones (read "pork rinds") ground in to a fine powder with salt, coriander and pepper.  The usual lettuce and mayo on the sandwich was left out and we added in tender arugula leaves and tangy lemon mayonnaise to act as our salad dressing.  Young cucumber was added in for a cool little crunch and there you have it, our delicious take on a BLT sandwich.

At this point, I wanted a little added flair to set it apart so I began thinking of ways to garnish this plate that would scream "Summer."  The obvious choice was basil but instead of using the fragrant leaves, we rehydrated the mild seeds and mixed them with salt and molasses vinaigrette.  With their jelly-like texture, they made me think of frog eggs.  Fat bullfrogs, chirping and floating lazily on lily pads in the warm evenings came to mind.  Then I remembered lotus, a cousin of the water lily, that they use in a lot of Asian kitchens.  The hollow lotus root would be the perfect foil, peeled, sliced thinly and fried crisp in extra virgin olive oil.  Their crisp texture and salty, starchy flavor mimicked a crunchy potato chip that, if eating a BLT sandwich, would be the perfect side.

And there it is...a fancy-fied version of something tiny that means so much to me.  This is the perfect example of how I build each plate, rooted in memories and traditions with extra elements to make it fun while leaving behind the pretense of some "high art."  I hope that someday, I can have the opportunity to share my experiences with everyone, and possibly create a new memory or influence for someone else.  I hope to see you all very soon.


  1. Oh YOU! i loved reading this post. and even though it's 8:03 am and i don't eat bacon, i totally want a blt right now.

  2. BLT's can't tell time!!! Love you, che.