Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Good to be in the know

What should a chef do when he has a bunch of new recipes to try out but has no normal outlet for the creativity? Obviously, he should invent a fictional persona - complete with Mexican wrestling mask - and gather his friends and relations at a café in the depths of Cambridge for an after hours underground dinner. Obviously.

Please meet Chef Delicious. He is not nearly as scary as he looks. In fact, he is rather lovable, especially after you try his food. Chef Delicious is a professional chef in the Boston area who cooks New American food with a focuses on local (to New England), seasonal, and sustainable ingredients. He knows the farmers in the area, he knows when and what the land surrounding Boston produces and more importantly, he knows how to use it all.

I had been looking forward to his Mexican-influenced winter feast for weeks. It was my second Chef Delicious dinner and I could hardly wait, having a good idea of the quality of the food in store for me. To put things in perspective, attending this dinner was so important to the Texan, that he shook off a fever in the middle of his bout with the flu by downing a mouthful of pills of various shapes and sizes and demanding to be brought along to the dinner. Against my better judgment (the Texan may know yeast, but I know viruses), the Texan came along. I didn’t have the heart to deny him a feast, Chef Delicious style.

The Texan’s suffering was well worth it. A group of about 18 people gathered at a café past closing hours (as a favor from the café owners) to mill about drinking tart margaritas, smearing toasts with a spicy chicken liver pate, and hovering over absurd amounts of Island Creek oysters. With at least half the available oysters safely housed in my belly, the time finally came to sit down at long, white tablecloth-covered tables decorated with grant silver candelabras. At one end of the table, sat Alex Whitmore of Somerville’s Taza Chocolate fame. At the other end, my close friends from grad school. I got my dose of celebrity and friendship all in one, topped off by a ton of oysters. The dinner was barely under way but I was already a very happy girl.

First course out consisted of giant platters piled high with large mussels with orange peel and cilantro, paired with a lightly hoppy pilsner. Normally, I hate hoppy beer, but paired with the citrusy mussels, both the beer and the mollusks were transformed, playing perfectly against one another. I only wished I could pour the mussel juice into a glass and drink it. For breakfast. Every day.

Next up, a smooth black bean soup, garnished with a small dice of sweet parsnips and carrots poled in the middle. The black bean soup must have passed through about 15 sieves – it lacked the body I would have liked to have in a winter soup. I heard quiet longings for a crouton or crumbled queso fresco from people on either side of me and I agreed with both. Something was missing. Overall, not my favorite course. And not the easiest to photograph – ergo, the empty plate.

The next course set everything right. Oh how very right. Oxtail mole with sauteed spinach, roasted mixed winter vegetables and roasted potatoes. I don’t have the words to describe this mole. The sauce was thin but packed with flavor, redolent of peanuts and sesame. The meat cooked till it came off the bone, making for a mouth-coating collagen-rich velvety sauce. I wanted to bathe in the mole, to rub it on like lotion every day for the rest of my life. That recipe shall be mine, mark my words. The sweet, juicy winter vegetables played very nicely with the mole love. I was getting happier by the moment.

Next, an aged goat cheese with super sweet red grapefruit sections and a green salsa style sauce with parsley, sesame oil, and perhaps a touch of mint. Building harmony where none was expected, the sum of the course was far greater than it’s parts.

To calm the overstimulated taste buds, a palate cleanser of a sweet lemon and chili sorbet, served in wine glasses.

As if that wasn’t enough to please and satiate, there were two courses of Taza chocolate-centric desserts, beginning with a creamy spiced hot chocolate, followed by a chocolate tart with a cacao nib-studded whipped cream. To say that the tart was rich would be an understatement. The chocolate was very dark and a little bitter, almost tannic in its intensity. I was approaching unconsciousness just two bites in. one bite later I had to admit defeat. Too rich for my blood and too late in the evening for my cranky post-doctoral body.

All that was left to do was to thank Chef Delicious profusely for a wonderful and intelligent meal (it's an odd to say about food, but Chef Delicious' preparations really are intelligent. His food is unusual and thought-provoking, with flavor combinations reminiscent of but not quite in line with the expected). I reminded him yet again that I am an excellent chopper and am happy to assist and any and all future Chef Delicious endeavors, thanked his lovely wife, brother, and sous-chef who helped prepare and serve the meal, and rushed to get home, to bed, to sleep, to digest… and to reflect on how good it felt to be surrounded by amazing people, great food, and to be the envy of all the folks staring at the elegant gathering inside the closed café, wishing they were invited to the party. Hehe. Life is good in the underground.


Naveen said...

That sounds like a great evening. I aspire to be "in the know," too.

lissa said...

so. jealous.
why did chef delicious have to start on these endeavors after i left boston? ugh.
i don't miss the massive amount of snow it sounds like you are getting - but mexican anything, let alone a chef delicious meal is making me ridiculously homesick.

vee said...

Hi Anna,

I'm a grad student in the Boston area and I've been searching online for Boston dining experiences taken to a new level. My literature search (ha ha ha...) has only taken me so far but has led me to your blog! I was hoping you could share with me how one becomes part of the underground? I really hope to hear from you at happiness_the_fish(at)

Much obliged,

JC said...

What's the chef's wrestling name?

Sounds (and looks) like a great meal!

I'm going to the "Barbecue Capital of Texas" this weekend. I have brisket on the brain.

Rachael said...

I love that he wears a mask!

Allan said...

No posts here for a long time :(

BostonBrad said...

That sounds great, please let me know how I can get on the mailing list for a dinner like this!

Jessica said...

Hi Anna,

My name is Jessica and I'm working on a show for the Cooking Channel. I'd love to ask you a couple questions about your blog. Is there a way to contact you?? You can email me at jfs at