Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Chef Show

Every once in a while, I have a really great dinner. I mean the kind of dinner that reminds me why I love to eat out, to think about food, look at food. Every once in a while I have a meal that leaves me with a grin on my face.

Food alone is not enough to achieve this level of culinary euphoria. It requires a combination of factors, sensations, and experiences. It depends on the staff of the restaurant, its ambiance, lighting, smell, decor… When all those things click into place, I am left sated and re-energized in my devotion to this hobby of mine that is beginning to take over my life.

Obviously, I wouldn’t be rambling on about this if I didn’t recently have just such an experience. I did, at Ten Tables in Jamaica Plain.

Ten Tables is a misnomer. They have delusions of grandeur – it’s seven tables, max. There is just one server (because frankly, there is no room for another one) and two chefs in the tiny kitchen. The food philosophy at Ten Tables is simple – use the highest quality ingredients, organic and sourced locally, whenever possible, prepare them simply, without fuss and pretense in order to showcase the ingredients, not the chef. In other words, they don’t mess with your food.

Kanchan and I got to sit at the chef’s table. Again, this is a misnomer. It’s not a table so much as a narrow bar with two very tall bar stools quite literally in the kitchen. It was awesome and voyeuristic. There was no rushing, no yelling, no frenetic movement or apparent stress in the kitchen. There was calm quiet, logic, and calculated movement. When the chef set out to do something so simple as slice an heirloom tomato, he looked at it from all angles, found the spot to cut that would showcase the tomato to its best advantage, and cut slowly, deliberately and precisely. It was amazing to watch.

The whole meal - a four course chef’s tasting menu, in our case - was prepared in much the same fashion. Calmly, respectfully, and dare I say it? Lovingly. The chef did something I have never experienced before – Kanchan and I were not served the same dishes during the tasting menu. Confused, we asked why. The answer was so simple and obvious that it made me wonder why every tasting menu isn’t done this way – the chef said that it allows us to taste more, to experience more. Obvious and genius.

So that was it, my glimpse of a professional kitchen, of a person who loves what he does, who gets to have his hobby be his work. Curious concept, that.

P.S. Some of what we were served:

Heirloom tomatoes with white anchovies and arugula

Poached hake with farro risotto and sweet pepper relish

Perfectly salted, crusty coulotte steak with a truffled white bean puree, shaved fennel, and paper thin radish slices (my favorite course, by far)


JC said...

That sounds and looks lovely. I like that the kitchen was relaxed and calm, and I like the idea of using local, quality ingredients. It seems like they would have to have a kitchen like that if it's so open to viewing by customers. Can you imagine what a frenetic kitchen would do to one's enjoyment of a good meal?

By the way, I think you rubbed off on me (If only. Sorry, horrible joke.) this evening as I came very close to making a rather large incision in my thumb while mincing some garlic. Luckily it just sliced my thumbnail!

DD said...

Love the pictures!

Hillary (of Chew on That) said...

Oooh great post! I was reading about chef's tables in the Amateur Gourmet's book! You're so lucky to have gotten to sit at one. Thanks for telling us about it.

aimee said...

I can't believe someone would inspect a tomato for the best angle to cut! Are you sure that's what he was doing? He wasn't just checking for blemishes? And being careful and precise with the cutting because he heard about the epidemic of finger slicing going around?

jc - Hahaha 'horrible' jokes are the best. High five!!

Anna said...

JC - That's not a horrible joke! I'm with Aimee, that's hilarious. I am sorry to have influenced your knife for the worse. I think a frazzled kitchen would be great fun to watch, but it would make for an awful dining experience. Totally.

Archna - Thank you! We will have to go there at some point.

Hillary - It was totally lucky! My friend made the reservation and they just happened to have those two seats. I was looking forward to it for so long! How do you like the book?

Aimee - He was totally looking for the angle. He made all the slices the same diameter and thickness, from different tomatoes! I can spot OCD from a mile away.

JC said...

I'll just have to keep making the horrible jokes then!