Your reporter writes from a plane flying from Pittsburgh to Denver.
Last night I had the rare but not unprecedented privilege of having someone else cook my food for me. Not only for me, but for 60 of my closest friends, or at least 60 of my closest friends in Pittsburgh. And it was not only “someone” cooking the food, but my (actual) friend Andrew Morrison, who was the opening chef at Habitat, the topnotch restaurant in Pittsburgh’s new Fairmont hotel.
Andrew’s fairly straightforward but beautiful interpretations of some of the dishes from The Food Matters Cookbook reinforced my feeling that he’s not only ultra-competent but creative enough to have a brilliant future. Pittsburgh is lucky to have him and, from what I could tell in the few hours I was there, it’s a good place to be.
I have to admit I was nervous; there have been times when chefs have said they were going to cook “my” food and then proceeded to do whatever they wanted, interpreting the hell out of it and making it unrecognizable, at least to me. I knew Andrew wouldn’t do that, and I knew the FMC recipes were good, but good enough to please a fine-dining crowd?
I thought so, and I’ll try to make that my last evaluative comment. We started with bulgur cakes with spinach, topped with skordalia; they looked twice as good as the last time I’d made them (this was to be expected), but tasted just about as planned. And either no one in the room had eaten lunch – and in addition they were liars – or they were good enough to eat.
Next up: beet tartare. Again, the look was different but the taste the same as the last time I’d eaten it, when it had been made by me. Fun. And again, people claimed to like it.
Two-pea soup with frizzled ham next. What’s not to like? At this point, people were starting to become full (at least I was), so I wondered what would happen with the next course: carrot gnocchi. These, like all puree-based gnocchi, are not easy; if you add too much flour, they get gummy. But if you add too little, they fall apart. Andrew’s staff handled them perfectly, and, topped with butter and sage and a little Parmesan, they were successful too. I know this because the portions were huge and mostly they were finished.
Clearly worried that people wouldn’t have enough to eat, Andrew did add two “Bittman-inspired” courses – or whatever you want to call them – to the menu. One was a gorgeous golden trout, locally raised, filleted, and “stuffed” with celeriac. The other was a double lamb chop, also local, served with eggplant puree and favas. These dishes I can say were terrific, since they weren’t “mine.”
Dessert: pear crisp with cardamom, another FMC recipe and something of a standard. Can’t go wrong.
Today: a tv interview (if my plane is on time), which will be over by the time you read this, lunch with Scott Jurek, and then, if all goes well, the first presentation of my new talk at The Tattered Cover (which, if all goes doubly well, will be available on audio soon), followed by a late dinner with … well, not sure who. Tomorrow: Minneapolis.
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