In the past decade, Modernist Cuisine has been slowly (but surely) revolutionizing the art of cooking. Culling precision methods from the chemistry lab, founding pioneers from such world-renowned restaurants as elBulli in Roses (no longer open for service, but soon to be a think tank foundation come 2014), The Fat Duck in Berkshire, Alinea in Chicago and wd-50 in New York, have instilled a deeper understanding and appreciation of this mad scientist, yet bon vivant mode of dining.
A six-volume, 2,400 page compendium called Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking is dedicated to the mastery of the science-inspired wizardry that involves utilizing liquid nitrogen, homogenizers, centrifuges, and elements such as hydrocolloids, emulsifiers, and enzymes. Say what?
No need to bust out your own goggles and Bunsen burners to figure it out because Modernist Cuisine thrives right here in Orange County. North Orange County even, and more specifically in Fullerton. Hard to believe? Probably even more so that it’s housed in what was once the 1918 Pacific Electric Railroad Station and is now the 10 month-old HopScotch Tavern — originally conceived with the notion of serving hearty hunter, forager fare.
From the beginning, the tavern itself has led by an impressive and expansive selection of the best whiskeys, cocktails and brews, but it was lacking a certain je nais se quoi that would complement mixologist James Wood‘s cadre of libations. That’s when they tapped into the inexhaustible talents of Chef Cody Storts and his Culinary Militia comprised of sous chefs Jeff Moore, Giovanni Bolivar, Bradley Meredith and Pastry Chef Mai Phan.
Pairing dinners are always a wonderful vehicle to introduce dining patrons to a chef’s ingenuity and skill. This one, so deftly executed by Chef Cody, James Wood and their team went above and beyond our expectations.
First on the kitchen runway that evening was an elegant amuse bouche fashioned like a nosegay. They say first impressions are everything and this singular bite, though wee and delicate, was big in flavor and complexity. The brine of the scallop was mild enough not to overpower the summery notes of the melon. Lovingly referred to as caviar because of the appearance of their juice vesicles, the fascinating Australian finger lime gleamed on the plate like Outback jewels. Of course, the creamy whip of bacon mousse generated from a nitrogen charger, really set the tone for the evening’s surprises to come.
Taking his own cues from molecular gastronomy, Wood spherified Chambord using sodium alginate and calcium chloride resulting in pearls popping like tiny gushers of black raspberry liqueur. Pairing it with Cremant Blanc, the first course was duly dubbed “Champagne and Caviar”. Poll an international group of jet setters regarding what two items are always stocked in their chiller and the response will inevitably be champagne and caviar. From the shadows, we could almost hear Robin Leach toasting us with wishes and dreams.
A rustic cherry wood plank presented our next course of the evening: Charcuterie. Any chef worth his salt is worth his weight in gold when it comes to the art of food preservation. A vast range of painstaking preps involving salting, smoking and curing that take hours and hours or days at a time is an epicurean labor of love. All worth it, of course, to be able to eke out the luxurious duck terrine speckled with dried cranberries and pistachios; the fermented and air-dried Ticino peppered salame; and the spiced meat candy that was the short rib jerky — making eyes roll to the back of heads with rapture and converting die-hard vegetarians.
Anyone amping their game, whether it be a dinner date or a kitchen offering, is bound to include lobster somewhere in their stratagem. This dish was delightfully unusual in its presentation as well as its flavor combinations. A perfectly cooked specimen of buttery poached crustacean beamed in its simplicity over a South American bed of pickled green papaya noodles and thin discs of purple tomatillo. Courvoisier cream dipping dots — produced in a bath of liquid nitrogen for a flash freeze — were ladled gently over the top to later melt in the mouth like a favorite childhood frozen confection, but with alcohol.
Paired with: “Aged to Perfection” featuring Hickory Smoked Courvoisier, Tenerelli Farms Peaches, Aged Balsamic and Lime
Our intermezzo was by far the best that we have ever tasted. Wait, not tasted, but experienced. Typically, this course is an innocuous sorbet of the lemon or other citrus variety. In this instance, so refreshing was the blend of watermelon and limoncello and so exciting was its component of compressed melon. The Thai Basil chili on a spoon, another Modernist technique (although it recalled a famous scene from Scarface), had a feathery texture that allowed your tastebuds to bloom softly with the piquancy of the powder.
The main course of braised beef cheeks and carrot ginger puree simply made us swoon. Sous vide to the nth degree of carnivorous wonder, the meat was superbly tender and especially flavorful. The addition of Bing Cherries steeped in wine until they plumped up to almost bursting, contributed another dimension to the insanely lush demi-glace. We loved it so much that we were inspired to attempt to make a home kitchen version of it, garnering a thumbs up from our all too willing guinea pigs.
Paired with: “Porcine Unidragon” Imperial Stout Smoked with Beechwood aged in 100% Bourbon Barrels
The remarkable evening was capped off with a show-stopping dessert of corn panna cotta. We had had this dish previously at our dinner preview with Chef Cody, but were told that it was going to be a different version, one layered with caramel. Ever the artist, Chef Mai decided to change up her game plan last minute and instead incorporated a whimsical and voluminous bouffant of cotton candy strewn with house-made pop rocks. A medley of colors, textures and downright deliciousness had us searching for more.
Paired with: “Old and New”, Few Spirits Rye and James E. Pepper 1776 Rye
If you missed this super spectacular event by Chef Cody, Wood and their Culinary Militia, fret not for there are more on the horizon. In fact, there’s one right around the corner on Wednesday, August 28th in which ales from Bootlegger’s Brewery will be featured in the courses. Find out more information here:
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