Originally Posted: 06 Oct 2009 12:13 AM PDT
As chefs, we too are artists, and we, as artists, tend to take liberties with that which is traditional in trying to create something new. To do this, we use quotes ‘like this’ to inform the diner that this is ‘my’ interpretation of whatever I might be quoting. We will deconstruct a soup, making it look more like an antipasti plate, yet still call it a ‘soup’. Sure, it may not look like a traditional soup, since I have geléed the consommé and placed a pretty little brunoise of it on your soup ‘plate’, but all the ingredients/components are there. And why not, who is going to challenge our own individuality and creativity. Most artists of any form of medium are generally misunderstood, unless it is trendy at that moment (see molecular gastronomy).
There is a great freedom in knowing that I can fudge a bit with recipes and their traditional monikers and still provide a level of comfort and familiarity with most diners. In doing so I feel I am helping lead them down the path to culinary enlightenment by ‘tricking’ them into ordering something familiar that I have tinkered past any resemblance to what they might have known. I don’t have any figures to back this up, but I would guess, in my own experience, that most diners order things they know or know they will like. Very few people are as adventurous as to try sweetbreads for the first time at the advice of their server. For many diners that would be akin to stopping by the local boxing gym and paying $20 to get punched in the gut, you figured you weren’t going to like it and it cost you $20 to find out you were right.
Kalamata Olive-Feta Salsa
One of the safer vehicles for tinkering with is salsa. Everybody has seen it in one form or another, most know what goes in it, and the word ‘salsa’ is a safe word on high end restaurant menus, except when it’s in ‘quotes’. Salsa comes in two forms, a wet, almost pureed dip and a cruda, or chopped sauce. It can be cooked or uncooked, tomato based, chile based, or, if it is in ‘quotes’, none of the above.
My love of salsa started when I moved to the Southwest and bought my first mortar and pestle (I collect them now). The Mexicans where I was working brought in their own mortar and pestle to make salsa for their lunch every day. It was tangy, spicy, full of texture from bits of raw onions and chiles, nothing like the stuff we would get in jars from the A&P for football games. I wanted to be able to make this at home, and apparently I needed a mortar and pestle to do it properly.
When I got my first chef post, I put fresh salsas on my menus. The menu itself was globally influenced and as I would learn more about a different cuisine the menu would reflect my shifts in interest, but I still kept the salsas, only now I was doing basil-citrus ‘salsa’, caponata ‘salsa’, ratatouille ‘salsa’, fennel-apple ‘salsa’ and this Kalamata Olive-Feta ‘Salsa’, a common Greek Salad that I ‘salsa-fied’ to serve with grilled lamb, soft polenta and pumpkin seed oil.
• 1 cup Roma Tomato, seeded and small diced
• 1 cup white onion, small diced
• ½ cup Kalamata Olives, sliced
• 1 cup cucumber, peeled, deseeded and small diced
• 1 ½ cups good feta, small diced
• 2 Tbs. parsley, chopped
• 2 oz. aged red wine vinegar
• 6 oz. extra virgin olive oil
• Fresh ground black pepper
1. Combine tomatoes, onions, olives, cucumbers and red wine vinegar and mix well.
2. Let stand for 5 minutes.
3. Add feta, parsley and olive oil, mix well.
4. Chill for 30 minutes and serve.
As I said earlier, I serve this with lamb. It could be roast leg, chops or T-bones, I once served this as the garnish on lamb sliders, it was a hit. I chose to serve this also with polenta, which I think balances the bright flavor and crunchy texture of the ‘salsa’ with an earthy and comforting base. I wouldn’t hesitate to serve this on pork, chicken or seafood.