Grant Achatz Finds Kajitsu’s Lotus-Root Gelée ‘Strikingly Inspiring’

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Kajitsu's tiny vegetables with lotus gelée. Photo: Melissa Hom

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, Comme Ça chef David Myers fell under the spell of the Sping Thaw centerpiece Grant Achatz created at Chicago's Alinea. What's stood out for you lately, Grant?

Who: Grant Achatz, chef-owner, Alinea, Chicago
What: Tiny vegetables and white mushroom with lotus-root gelée and sesame cream
Where: Kajitsu, New York
When: Spring 2010

"The dish that has inspired me the most recently was a course at Kajitsu in New York. It was a mixture of miniature vegetables, none of which were bigger than a thumbnail. These were arranged perfectly with a lotus-root gelée in a wavy, pearlized dish that looked like a seashell. It was an incredibly delicate, pure rendering of the spring season both aesthetically and on the palate. While eating the vegetable course, it was so strikingly spring in its appearance that after returning from New York, I immediately gathered the sous-chefs so we could start talking about how we could capture spring both aesthetically and flavor-wise."

Kajitsu chef Masato Nishihara breaks it down:

"I created this dish sometime last April. I wanted to showcase the similarity and the contrast between the lotus-leaf-shaped silver plate that was used for the dish and the color of the actual lotus leaf placed on top of the dish. I used five different lotus-related items in this dish: lotus flour, lotus seeds, lotus rootlets, a lotus leaf, and the lotus-shaped plate. But I didn’t want to have our servers explain every single ingredient to the guests because I believe it’s good to leave some room for the guests to enjoy 'chewing over' what they are eating.

Besides the lotus, [the dish] contains a tiny turnip, a tiny parsnip, fiddlehead ferns, snow peas, ramp, and a shiso shoot. As I always do, I prepared each ingredient differently by using various cooking methods so that I could make the most out of each one. But in the final process, I marinated all the ingredients in the same dashi stock so that the flavor would become harmonious. When I plated the dish, I added some fresh vegetables in order to add texture."