June 21, 2011

Brushing away the cobwebs.... and sharing some big news.

:::: tap tap taps on the microphone ::::

"Hellllooooo...... anyone out there?"

Hi, you guys.  Bet you've been wondering where I've been.

(Maybe you haven't.  That's okay, too.  My feelings won't be hurt.  Much.)

Two things to tell you:

1) I've had to take a break from cooking because I'm having some health issues.  It's nothing serious or fatal or life-threatening.  But, it's weird and (frustratingly, once again) diet-related.  The experts are sorting everything out and beginning to uncover some odd triggers that are making certain numbers in my bloodwork go all wackadoo, thus affecting my baseline physical health.  I'm ready to turn my body over to science because I feel like a lab experiment with all the tracking and measuring and poking and prodding and scanning and needles and testing.  I'll share more details when I have more information (in case anyone else out there has/has had the same symptoms) and when I know more about what my food future will look like.

2) One thing I do know about my food future is this: I am writing a book.  With Mike Isabella.  And I couldn't be more excited!  You might know Mike from Top Chef and Top Chef All-Stars.  Or, you might know Mike because you ate at Zaytinya when he was executive chef.  Mike's new restaurant, Graffiato, opens this week, and if you're in Washington or you're visiting my lovely city in the future, I hope you'll add Graffiato to your must-eat list.  Mike and I have already begun working on the book -- his wife, Stacy, is doing all the recipe testing -- and I can't wait for you to read it and cook from it.

Off to the grocery store on Thursday morning, and back to cooking this weekend.  I can't take it anymore.  I miss my kitchen.  I miss this blog.  I miss all of you.

So, get ready for some English peas and ham and lavender, and my attempts to make my own tofu.  After which, if I buy a hackeysack, join a drum circle, and braid my armpit hair, please come rescue me.  Please.  I BEG YOU.

See you soon.

February 21, 2011

Some links, some love, and a little something for YOU!

Oh, you guys... THANK YOU so much for the kind emails, Tweets, and messages of all kinds re: my crappy January and February. Things are starting to turn around and get better, so I'm thankful for that. 

I spent the past four days working on an Alinea dish I'm still writing about.  Yes, you read that correctly: FOUR DAYS.  It's a doozy.  I'll let you figure out what that means.

So, while I'm still plugging away at that, let me share a few links with you:

Chicago Tribune: "Making Chicago's Top Chef: Grant Achatz has reached the summit of the culinary world with Alinea. But what did it take to put him there?"

New York Times: "The Perfect Menu.  Now Change It."

And, if I can self-pimp for a minute?  Saveur magazine chose me as one of their "Site(s) We Love" and I'm so, so honored, because I love them right back.  And, all of you for reading the words and the things and the stuff.

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Because I'm in a good mood, I wanna do a little giveaway.  In the mood for an iTunes giftcard?  Thought so.

In the comments, tell me what you cooked this weekend.  Or, what you ate.  Did you have the day off Monday?  Were you a lazy slug?  Did you tackle your to-do list?  Did you go out of town?

So yeah... it's just me being nosy.  Hit me up in the comments, and tell me how you are, what you're cooking and eating, or what you did or did not do this past weekend.  Let's get caught up.

There's no right or wrong answer, and I'll choose a winner at random.

Be back soon... and you'll see what happens to these guys:


April 01, 2010

Alinea at Home, on the Road!

NOTE ADDED April 4, 2010: Comments are closed.  Check the date at the top of this post and think about what holiday occurs on April 1 every year.  :)

About six months ago, I saw this little vintage Airstream trailer for sale on the side of Route 40 in New Jersey, as I was driving to see friends at the beach:


That led to a weekend of thinking it would be really great to get a few friends together, ditch life for a month or two, and see the country in our kickass Airstream trailer.  Then, of course, reality set in as I realized I actually kinda need to work to pay the bills, can't really take 2 months off right now, isn't that Airstream a little small for a group of four friends, blah, blah, blah. 

But, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it because even though I tend to think of myself as a homebody, I've long had secret wanderlust... a desire to see America from the road.  A lot of my friends took the summer off after we graduated from college and did the cross-country driving thing, and I didn't.  And to be honest, I kind of regret it.  So, since that weekend I spotted the Airstream, I've taken on a ton of extra work to build up my savings account so that when the right time came along, I could just hit the road for a little while (even if it's just in my car) and let the roads unfold before me.

And then it hit me: maybe I could cook my way across America.  Better yet?  I could cook for YOU all the way across America.

I sat down with a small group of friends and colleagues and started to brainstorm, and after a hectic few months of intense planning and the help of some awesome people (and a really generous and wonderful investor), I'm here to tell you, I'm doing this:

Truck4 That's me in there, trying to pry open a stuck window (Stupid refurbishers! Um, I mean GREAT refurbishers. Hi, Cath and Chris! Love you, mean it!)

Starting this weekend (holy crap, I can't believe it!!) for the next 12 weeks, I'll be on the road in my new, totally outfitted, solar-supported, LEED-certified Alinea on the Road food truck, doing avant-garde adaptations of traditional street food.  I've learned so much from doing this blog, so I've been spending a lot of time in secret working with new street food-influenced flavors and adaptations I've been DYING to talk about, and now I can!

Here's my menu:


Here's what some of the food looks like (nothing like having an awesome test kitchen here at home to shoot some pics for you guys, right?):

Taco Dry Shot:

DSC_0025 Dehydrated and powdered/crumbled polenta, tomato, jalapeno, refried beans, and garlic, with hints of paprika, cayenne, and chili powder.

Korean BBQ Gelee

DSC_0002 Tamari soy sauce, garlic, turbinado sugar, onion, liquid smoke, beef stock, pork stock.

Falafel Liquid Shot

Lettuce, tomato, sesame, garlic, coriander, cumin, and chickpea distillation, with micro lettuce garnish. We've been able to source eco-friendly, biodegradable mini shot glasses for these, and they look a lot like the glass in this photo.

Pho on a Pin

DSC_0017 This is so flavorful -- all the elements of pho (beef, rice noodles, fish sauce, onion, ginger, star anise, clove, sugar, scallion, cilantro, chili, lime, and bean sprouts) blended to a puree, compressed, then cooked sous vide before cubing, flash frying, and rolling in a powdered Vietnamese spice mix that re-liquifies as soon as it hits your tongue.

Sweetbread and Lobster Popsicle

DSC_0011 I keep the sweetbread-lobster liquid (seasoned with onion, salt, pepper, carrot, fennel, thyme, and saffron) in a refrigerated container at 38 degrees Fahrenheit, then make the popsicles to order in our mini, on-board liquid nitrogen tank.  Hope to have video of this for you soon, because I've finally mastered liquid nitrogen.

The other menu items are (still working on photos of these): 

The Banh Mi Explosion is awesome -- I took inspiration from Alinea's Black Truffle Explosion and forged all the flavors of a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich (meat - usually pork or beef, cucumber, pickled carrots and daikon, cilantro, and Vietnamese chilis).  Pork stock has worked best for this, though I'm augmenting it with veal stock when I can.  This little ball of liquification is encapsulated in a very thin reconstituted rice-paper coating (to act as the traditional sandwich's baguette), and the whole thing quite literally explodes with flavor when you pop it in your mouth. 

Seasonal Gelato Powder is just as it sounds -- I'll work with seasonal fruits (or vegetables, depending upon availability) to make a gelato base, which I'll powderize with tapioca maltodextrin, and add an essence of ice cream cone base so you get the full effect.  When you eat this, it's like the Dry Caramel I made when I first started the blog -- it turns back into liquid in your mouth.  I'm starting off the tour with two flavor offerings: beet with balsamic vinaigrette, and grapefruit-vanilla.  As the spring and summer progress, I'll work with what's in season wherever we are -- peaches, cherries, strawberries, rhubarb, and I've also been experimenting with a cucumber-lime-jalapeno gelato base that will blow your effing socks off.

Cupcake Straw is one of my personal favorites.  It's entirely gluten-free (though our focus group tasters had no clue, and loved it), and we'll start out with a red velvet cake base for the first few weeks, switch to dark chocolate, then end with a coffee-flavored cake base.  Essentially, we fill a small, clear, disposable cylinder (6" long, 3/4" round) with rich, almost-custardy cake crumbs, brandy-soaked tapioca pearls, a fruit puree (starting with fig for now, because it's really mellow), and powdered/dehydrated icing.  You bring the tube to your lips and gently inhale, and all those flavors come together in your mouth all at once.  It really is like eating a mini-cupcake, only I think the flavors are more concentrated and intense.  I'm really proud of this one.  When I ate at Alinea last summer and had the Bubble Gum in the cylinder, I knew I wanted to figure out how to do that myself, and I finally did.

Hot Dog Air should get you geared up for summer.  If you followed me on Twitter during the playoffs last year, you know I'm crazy about baseball (Go, Phillies!), and I wanted to have a sensory offering that reflected something I love about summer.  So, I figured out how to make a really rich and complex hot dog stock, and am using a vapor gun to inflate small, reusable, and earth-friendly mylar balloons with hot dog air.  You just hold the balloon in front of your face and slowly press it between both hands, while you breathe in.  It's amazing (and in a strange way, actually filling).  I may, at some point, pair this with a mini-truffle-butter popcorn ball, or a cotton candy dry shot/powder. We've applied for a few ballpark vendor permits for the month of June, which would be amazing if we can make it happen.

Tempura Foie Gras on a Stick is, probably, the most decadent street/carnival food I've ever made.  By freezing a 1" piece of foie gras to exactly 27 degrees Fahrenheit, then dunking it in (gluten-free) corn meal-infused tempura batter, it can be cooked in the deep fryer for exactly 30 seconds, which warms the foie all the way through without it becoming liquified fat and burning the surface of your tongue when you bite into it.  You've never had a corn dog quite like this!

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Below is the list of cities and dates where I've gotten vendor permits.  We'll be open from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. on the dates below (except where noted). It's first-come, first-served; and, we're budgeted for and planning to be able to serve to 250 people per day.  If you live in any of these cities and wanna help get the word out, let me know in the comments and I'll get you the PR materials for your local market.

April 3 - 4 -- Washington, DC (corner of 13th and U Streets NW)

April 5, 6, 7 -- Philadelphia, PA (corner of Market and S. 10th)

April 9-10 -- New York, NY (corner of E. 4th Street and Broadway)

April 13 -- Pittsburgh, PA (Morewood and 5th Avenue, just outside CMU)

April 15 -- Cleveland, OH (Voinovich Park/Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum)

April 16 -- Chicago, IL (Clark and Division)

April 17-18 -- Madison, WI (N. Charter St. and University)

April 22 - 23 -- Des Moines, IA (E. Grand and E. 6th Street) *time: 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.

April 26 - 27 -- Denver, CO (E. 23rd and Colorado Blvd.)

May 1 - 2 -- Salt Lake City, UT (W. 400 S and S. 300 W)

May 5 - 6 -- Seattle, WA (Pike Place and 1st Ave.)

May 7 - 8 -- Portland, OR (NW Couch and 10th)

May 11 - 12 -- Napa, CA (Rte. 29 and Trancas in the Northwood Shopping Center parking lot)

May 14 - 15 -- San Francisco, CA (Dolores and 18th)

May 19 - 20 -- Venice, CA (19th Street at the beach) *time subject to change to 1 - 5 p.m.

May 22 - 23 -- Las Vegas, NV (this is still tentative, but we're close)

May 26 - 27 -- Phoenix/Tempe, AZ (E. University Dr. @ S. Rural Road)

May 30 - 31 -- Santa Fe, NM (Grant Avenue and Johnson Street)

June 2 -- Austin, TX (Congress and E. 3rd)

June 4 -- New Orleans, LA (Decatur Street @ Esplanade)

June 7 - 8 -- Memphis, TN (Beale and S. 2nd Street)

June 11 - 12 -- Asheville, NC (45 S. French Broad Avenue)

June 15 -- Richmond, VA (E. Broad and N. 8th)

June 17 -- Washington, DC (13th and F Streets NW)

June 19 - 30 -- Hold for Mid-Atlantic/Northeast ballpark appearances

You can follow me and the crew (you will LOVE these guys) on Twitter at @AlineaOnTheRoad or become a Facebook fan and stay updated that way.

I'll blog about the tour as we go along, complete with videos and photos, AND some special guest appearances in a few key cities!  I've got a really fun playlist lined up with some great tunes by Aretha Franklin, The Doobie Brothers, The Commitments, Def Leppard, Jamiroquai, Debbie Gibson, Elvis Presley, Jack Johnson, Elvin Bishop, Master P, Lil Jon, George Michael, Neko Case, Styx, and The Who, to name a few.

Come on out and say hi -- I'm really looking forward to meeting you all!

Up Next: Alinea On The Road -- Washington, DC (the big kickoff!)

Read My Previous Post: Open Discussion -- Photography, video, blogging as documentation... what's okay, when and why?

NOTE ADDED April 4, 2010: Comments are closed.  Check the date at the top of this post and think about what holiday occurs on April 1 every year.  :)

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