for those of you who dont know about the experimental cuisine collective, its a pretty cool organization i belong to. i like to call it a “club” and pretend like theres a secret handshake, but people there look at me funny when i grab their hands and twirl them before tapping them on the bum. a few weeks ago (i know, so neglectful!) the ecc hosted their annual day long symposium, hosted by jeffery steingarten.  click here to see the program for the day.

now, on to the audience, which may have been even more eclectic than the speakers:

in front of me sat a larger lady who sat perched on the front of her seat (and the one next to hers), and leaning forward as to rest her forearms on the seat in front of her. she was jovial and loud, and should probably host a cooking show one day on pbs. perhaps that was her mission as she handed out business cards to any one who would make eye contact as she spoke at a decibel just too loud. at one point she told a story about having to sign a contract agreeing to never sue for sexual harassment… although i doubt that would have been a problem for her.

in front of her sat a small precocious young girl, just out of college, who boasted of supporting herself by making vegan-sprinkles, and hosted her last dinner party by serving “bloody-mary-ravioli”. she yearned to return to the kitchen, but will likely not return soon, as she is busy applying to a masters in architecture-theory at columbia university.

beside me sat a middle-aged suburban lady, without any discernible connection to food, science, or publishing, who would alternate between talking energetically and (lucky for me) dozing, as did our emcee for the day: jeffery steingarten.

now, we all love jeffery steingarten, don’t get me wrong: the way he talks as if he has marbles in his mouth, and the way his rudeness and self-involved-ness is charming and comical rather than frustrating and off-putting. however, was i the only one in the audience who did not understand some of his jokes? such as his opening phrase: “i didn’t prepare anything to say, and i have never been to an ECC event before”? the rest of the audience giggled.

the rest of the panel was no disappointment either:

dr. charles zuker of columbia university began the day with an enthusiastic and fascinating presentation about the science of taste perception (post about the science of taste to be posted in the *near* future, i hope!).  he announced, however, that was having difficulty tasting that morning after popping two prescription pain-pills. if this is how he was when he is “off”, i wonder how he is when he is “on”! he was followed by chef david arnold of the french culinary institute/cooking issues who i can most closely describe as a shorter john cusack on amphetamines who paced from side to side while discussing the best way to prepare clarified lime juice for a carbonated-margarita. (if you have never experienced it, after not having eaten since 9am, a shot of carbonated margarita goes straight to your head) . luckily he also passed out small baggies of three types of home-made tortilla chips.

maxime bilet and grant lee crilly, of the cooking lab, who both took part in writing the epic series “modernist cuisine“, gave a well read presentation. maxime bilet is soft-spoken, warm and laid-back, who looks just a bit like the french uncle jesse. definitely a new crush for me. he and grant (who stayed to the side in a well pressed navy blue apron) seemed confused on how to adjust to their new-found fame.

while their presentation was not as inspiring as i had hoped, the samples of food they passed out were: the first small bite was a “rare beef stew”: a cold (for “spring”) clear blood-red broth with tiny pickled mushrooms, and baby carrots. it was absolutely beautiful in presentation and flavor, however, there was a slight dissidence between the smell and the taste of the soup that was brought to the attention of maxime by dr. zuker. 

but then i was served, what is possibly, the best thing i have ever eaten: “cream of poultry”. a sauce that was passed out in a shot-glass. no garnishes, just a shot of pressure rendered fois  fat: with a slight nutty smell, the broth was silky and creamy without an oily residue. it was savory without being salty, with a umami flavor that filled all the crevices of your oral cavity.  grandma, i must admit, this was better than even your chicken soup. it had a strong flavor that was only able to be ingested in small sips, but at the same time, i wished my shot glass would never empty.

there was another presentation by michael laiskonis of le bernadin, but unfortunately most of the audience (or perhaps just me?) had difficulty paying attention as we were too busy licking the few last drops of our cream of poultry out of the tiny cup. as the day began to come to a close, my stomach rumbled with hunger. i wanted to eat, but i also wanted to keep the amazing umami taste in my mouth as long as possible. i finally understood the resistance of tweenage girls to wash their hands after meeting justin beiber.

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