Inspiration/Shades of Brown

Inspiration is that elusive quality in the kitchen. The more you want it the further it seems from you. Sometimes ideas for dishes flow in and out of my head at a rate of knots and it’s all I can do to hold onto some of the more interesting ones. At other times I stare blankly at the food in my fridge or the page in front of me and it’s like I’ve never picked up a knife before, I have no idea what to cook.

After my first day in the kitchen at Viajante I left, without a shadow of a doubt, inspired. When I first made it into the kitchen I had to suppress the strong urge to giggle with glee. I felt like I had somehow duped them into letting me into their restaurant, and that at any given minute I might be discovered for the fraud I was and ejected from the premises.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of the people I would meet, horror stories from starred-kitchens are commonplace. Contrary to those tales, everyone who I met was genuinely friendly and willing to show me what they were doing, explain why and tolerate a stream of questions from me. This attitude of sharing and openness is one of the strongest (and best) trends moving through kitchens across the world. The old-school system of hierarchy and hostility seems to be dying and I’m grateful it does so as I move further into that world.

The food at Viajante was simply stunning. Reassuringly, I understood a lot of what people were doing, the processes and ingredients they were using. There were some things which were still totally new to me but I was relieved that the hours I’d spent reading and learning about food hadn’t been in vain.

The roll call of incredible restaurants that people had worked at was amazing – Mugaritz, Arzak, WD 50, Maze – these were some real culinary heavyweights. Needless to say, it put my own accomplishments into such sharp perspective it was almost comical.

I left after my first day determined that I would one day rank up there with those chefs.

Preamble aside, the dish that this post is partly about was born out of that experience. Nothing I saw in the kitchen features in the dish yet it came from that spark of inspiration which lit a sizeable bonfire in my brain.

I’m quite pleased with this dish in this form – it was my first run at it. It’s a comforting plate, one inspired by the thought of the bananas we roasted with chocolate on bonfires during trips to South Africa as a child.

The peanut brittle was there to add a crunch and a slight saltiness that really lifts the combinations. I love the brown butter puree which is from the amazing Ideas in Food book, whose recipes rarely fail – BUY IT.

After first eating, I felt the puree didn’t stand out enough but I realized its role is really to hold everything together, providing the nutty, warm background that all the elements share. The coffee and chocolate ganache also requires careful balancing or it will overpower the banana. It is water based rather than cream, so it has a wonderfully intense flavour.

Having shown it to the guys at work the suggestions were to roast the bananas and add some acid. This version in the photos features the banana roasted for 6 minutes in a hot oven having been coated in sugar, it really helps boost the flavour and texture. The ideas weren’t a surprise, I had original made a lime and basil fluid gel to balance the palette, I screwed up the process though so it didn’t make it to the plate.

I was worried that overall the palette might end up a little dull (by which I really mean brown) but I was pretty pleased with the end result, the basil garnish draws the eye to points and is critical to add bursts of freshness.

I’m quite pleased with the photos too, they came out really well and are unashamedly influenced by those in the Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook. I hope the extra effort on them that I’m putting in will lift the blog into what I want it to be.

Lots more coming up soon. One of my resolutions is to be more disciplined with this blog so come back soon.

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Chocolate and Ganache

–        400g  dark chocolate (finely chopped)

–        300g water

–        50g strong, tasty espresso (use instant coffee if you need to, obviously adjust to taste)

Boil the water, add the espresso, then pour over the chocolate. Cool over an ice bath whilst blitzing with a hand blender. When the ganache reaches ribbon stage transfer it to a container and chill. Even if it doesn’t reach ribbon stage (mine occasionally doesn’t if I don’t have an ice bath) just blitz it til well incorporated and chill, it will just be slightly denser.

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