Recently, during a birthday celebration for a friend at Eleven Madison Park, we were invited to see the kitchen of what is, arguably, one of New York’s best restaurants; the number of staff on any given day roughly equals the number of diners – THAT’S how attentive the service and complex the menu. While cooks in crisp white toques worked with great concentration around us, we were treated to some culinary sleight-of-hand in honor of our friend.
Using liquid nitrogen, a chef made us a molecular gastronomy version of the classic Manhattan cocktail. He swirled liquid nitrogen into a mixing bowl with rye whisky until the alcohol froze in tiny shards- no mean feat (depending on the proof, alcohol freezes at -10′F to -30′F)
Then he used the a bath of liquid nitrogen to freeze scoops of a sweet vermouth infused with bitters until a frozen outside encapsulated a soft interior. We were each given a glass with some of the crystalline rye and a homemade marsachino cherry, the ball of vermouth on top…and instructed to crack it with a teaspoon to release its still-liquid interior. It was like an essence of Manhattan, all pure flavor without the taste of alcohol. We were instantly intoxicated, charmed and amazed both by the cocktail AND by the performance; our view of what a cocktail could be EXPANDED.
In the distance on a wall I spotted the sign, above, and asked the maitre’d about it. She said that when chef Daniel Humm took over the kitchen, his English wasn’t very good. He would show his chefs what he wanted, and say “Make it nice” code word for “Make it fabulous!“
Soon after, we stumbled on this trailer for a film about renowned Spanish chef Ferran Adria who for six months of the year closed his legendary restaurant El Bulli, considered one of the world’s most innovative, and worked with his culinary team to prepare the mind-blowing menu for the next season. We’re looking out for El Bulli: Cooking in Progress, a study of food as avant-garde art and the chef that inspired other chefs to push the culinary envelope. His mantra: “The more bewilderment, the better!”
I’m not a materialist, I don’t care for things. I don’t like cars, I hate things that can be exploited. I live a simple life. The only luxuries I have in my life are travel and food. I don’t even own a car—I use a small car that is here. It’s not even my car. I use it to come to work sometimes. Really, to get from place to place, I just take a taxi. I have a cell phone that I use a lot. I use the phone to get organized, but on July 30, when I start a new life, I’m going to remove the phone from my life.”
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midnight snack: homemade peanut butter cups