In my last post, I talked about my reasons behind starting my own restaurant in NYC. The Underdog Kitchen was described by the NY Times as, “The hottest new experience in the city worth visiting in person if not on Twitter.” A 23 month waiting list means that I’ll be working for a while. So until you are able to get a table, here are some of my favorite recipes passed down from my grandpa to you. For now, I’ll share with all of you, “The Bugs”.
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When I was a child, my grandpa and I used to cook together almost every day. Often our cousins would come by and sit on the patio where we had set up a bar and a few tall chairs against the house just outside our kitchen window. It was a great way for them to see us cooking and to chat with them while preparing tasty treats. One of their favorites was what I called El Mosquito. I’d take a half corn tortilla, fill it with minute rice, a single pimento olive and stinky goat cheese. I’d roll it tightly and tie it with a shoelace knot with some twine and deep fry the whole thing. The knots loops would end up looking like wings. They were a big hit.
Outside of our kitchen was a small pear tree. The pears were always a little fuzzy and I would make a show of finding the perfect one that was about to drop. Then I’d take licorice and construct little legs and stick them through a knot of bread dough, the same sort of dough I use for biscuits, so not as light as a croissant but not as heavy as a roll. The unpeeled pear with the stem still attached would then be stuck into the back of the roll and two chocolate chips would serve as the eyes. I used the mini-chocolate chips to get more eyes. Because of the relatively low melting point of the licorice and the chocolate, I’d use a low oven, around 200 degrees F, and bake the whole thing for about 45 minutes. When it comes out, I spray on melted butter as an adhesive for the next step. Next, I shave coconut and chocolate into very small chunks. You can use chocolate sprinkles, but it’s best to just use a bar of Hershey’s Chocolate because it’s much higher quality. Shave it cold otherwise it just turns into a mess. Then sprinkle lightly with your fingertips over the whole spider creation to create an overall brown/gray hair coating. This is called the flocking stage. You get better results with an air compressor and a plastic bag but most people don’t have that in their kitchen. Serve on Halloween or late at night when no one is watching you cook.
Red Spice Road
This is not on The Bugs menu, but it is a fun dish I like to create in special situations for special people. Often in the restaurant business, after you become successful, you will be visited by people who used to be your worst critics. They will attempt to take credit for your present success by saying that they didn’t support you when you weren’t “good enough”. I have all sorts of special dishes for them including cold creamy soups, cucumber-based dishes and other unusual experiences that will force them to eat the dish no matter what I put in it. Then I surprise them with the special ingredients just meant for them. A special relationship is required with your wait staff that involves a separate paycheck for accurate delivery. You don’t want one of these dishes ending up in front of a real critic that could help your business.
For these sorts of dishes, I like to go to local food depositories where food goes after it has expired. There you can get ingredients for pennies on the dollar or sometimes free (if you agree not to consume it) including dented cans of peaches and Hormel chili with beans that are past their expiration date. If you mix them together in a 2:1 ratio of chili to pureed peaches, you get an unusual “cutting-edge” bisque. I heat it up to just above room temperature. Then I use a carrot peeler and trace a line around an orange from top to bottom (the orange has to be perfect and very cold – use gloves) and basically create a hollow sphere out of the orange rind similar to the AT&T logo. If you can include an orange that still has the stem, even better. You’ll have to source those directly from a farmer as most stems are removed during picking or processing. Top of the tree oranges are the best because they are the most spherical due to their closeness to the sun’s light. Stretch out and place that hollow orange sphere across the top of the bisque and cover the entire creation with very finely sifted paprika. For serving, the bowl is placed on a small marble turntable and placed on a white-draped cart. Special care is given to keeping the drape clean. A spoon is provided that is 1/4 the size of a regular spoon, around the same size as a typical lady’s thumbnail with a very long handle. We source the spoon from ice cream equipment supply shops.
The creation is wheeled out by one waiter, and all of the other waiters stop what they are doing, turn and applaud the entrance of the dish making a big show. Once at the table of the lucky customer, we have the waiter rotate the marble turntable, and around the edge, he or she makes a show of sprinkling fresh ground pepper that is extremely course (we use a special pepper grinder that has a spacer in which shatters the peppercorns but doesn’t grind them). The waiter then waits patiently and doesn’t leave until the customer starts eating. I call the dish the Red Spice Road and it isn’t on the menu. The flavors are initially spicy but full of sweetness from the extremely past-fresh peaches. The fullness of the chili makes it hearty to encourage the person to keep eating and the spices cover any sense of anything being spoiled. The presence of the waiter and the show of the delivery will force the consumer to keep eating out of peer pressure. Later that night, they experience the full fury of the red spice road exiting their body in every direction.
These are just a few of the dishes that I learned from my grandpa, the greatest chef I’ve ever known.
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