Each week on the Food Chain, we ask a chef to describe a dish he or she recently enjoyed. The chef who prepared the dish responds and then picks his or her own memorable meal. On and on it goes. Last week, chef Mike White of New York’s Marea raved about the escolar that Eric Ripert serves at Le Bernardin. What do you love, Ripert?
Who: Eric Ripert, Chef-partner of Le Bernardin, New York
What: Grilled Toro
Where: L20, Chicago
When: Spring 2009
“When I was in Chicago this year I went to eat at L20 where the chef is Laurent Gras. I ate a grilled piece of toro from blue fin tuna, which is farm-raised actually, so it’s sustainable—just in case. It was part of a tasting menu. The presentation was striking. It was between molecular cuisine and classic cuisine. The fish was basically a thick rectangle, grilled on the robatayaki, the Japanese grill with little pieces of charcoal underneath. It was very well seared. Then he served it with fresh apples, and he made an emulsion of black olive and red miso, and it looked like, how can I say? Like mini domes. He made also some mini domes of the juice from the green apple, but it had the consistency of an almost liquid gummy bear. He served it with a celery root purée and—if I don’t mistake—there was some lime juice in the sauce as well, and a few tatsoi leaves on the plate.
I remember I was like “wow” this is really a good presentation. It was gorgeous and when we ate it, it was incredible: The fish basically melts in your mouth, almost disappears like a cloud because of the richness of the toro; there’s the freshness of the apple and the crunch; with the richness and the smokiness of the toro; and the surprise was coming from the olive emulsion that went so well with the celery root puree. It was like a smart fusion cuisine between, obviously, Japanese influence, and then Mediterranean. I think Charlie Trotter was the king of putting a lot of ingredients in the plate and until you taste it you wouldn’t believe it works. He was the exception to the rule, brilliantly. Some chefs use a lot of ingredients, some less. If it’s done with talent I’m into anything.”
L2O chef-partner Laurent Gras responds:
“We’ve had this dish on the menu since the restaurant’s opening. A dish does not develop in one day, sometimes it involves different sequences that you finally put together, but I always start with the main ingredient. Here I thought that the richness, the fattiness, the clean flavor of the toro would be a very good support for both salt and acidity. What was very interesting to me was the combination of green apple, lime, olive, and miso, because I love all those flavors and I thought they would balance well with the richness of the Kindai toro. Kindai toro comes from a farm in Japan where they grow tuna so it’s environment-safe. It’s a very good farm. They start the toro from an egg up until it’s fully mature, it’s really a long process from beginning to end. It can be two or three years or more.
Here, the toro is tempered first — you want to bring it to room temperature before cooking it. We grill it to a little over medium rare so all the fat is melted inside, because all the flavor is in the fat. The way we plate the dish is that each bite is designed to pair a different component, a different touch of flavor. We have a very fine slice of green apple that’s been squared and seasoned, green apple gum set with a low-acid gelant, and the miso is mixed with green olives, squid ink, miso, soy sauce, and dashi — just a drop. The celery puree goes under the dish. And then on the toro itself we have a dash of wasabi for an explosion of fresh mustardy, wasabi, fresh green flavor, a single note of something else. It’s not always on the menu because we don’t always have Kendai toro all the time. We had it last week but didn’t have it for the six weeks before then.”
And with that, we’re taking off for the holiday weekend — this year, of course, we’re thankful for absolutely nothing more than you. We’ll be back bright and early Monday morning.