Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Getting Mushed

Woke up this morning, the world turned upside down,
Things ain't been the same since the Blues walked into town.

Woke up this morning feeling pretty much like I had been run over. Run over but with a great sense of accomplishment and excitement.

It's been a whirlwind three days since Aki and Alex rolled into town and brought the IdeasInFood.com bandwagon to town. Early mornings at the farmers markets, long days of classes that continued into evenings of chatting about food and life, culminating in last nights' eleven-course tasting menu dinner for 25 people at Woodberry Kitchen.

One of the problems I see as a professional barista is that we have a very narrow view of the world and our possibilities within. Almost all baristas are content with preparing what's on their standard menus - typically a collection of relatively boring and lame variations on the same concept: the trinity of coffee, milk and sugary something or other. Macchiatos, lattes, cappuccinos and oddly-named minor variations dominate the lexicon of the modern-day barista.

On the other hand, there's the cadre of competition-focused baristas who spend months (or perhaps years) developing, defining and refining a "signature drink" that is almost guaranteed to never touch the lips of anyone else but a competition judge because they're either too complicated for regular service or that barista secretly (or not so secretly) wishes he could just do away with the signature drink altogether because it's just a waste of their time.

What's really sad is that such a narrow focus prevents us from achieving mastery of our craft. So many baristas are so obsessed with the coffee that they won't see beyond. The thought of coffee and food is just odd. Absurd even.

For this tasting dinner, I was tasked with developing at least one coffee-related beverage to pair with a course. In the world of competition barista, this task would take place over months - with time to develop, refine and perfect. In this world of crazy, breakneck and create-it-as-you-go foodservice, I just wasn't going to have that luxury.

Originally, we were talking about a lamb-pairing. After doing a little research, I thought that a citrus-related drink would pair nicely. Of course, we're talking about seasonal ingredients and flying by the seat of our pants menu development and things would change once Aki and Alex arrived.

First up was the thought of a coffee pairing with either rockfish (striped bass) or fluke (a type of summer flounder). Sweet goes nicely with fluke, so I was partial to fluke. Of course, the decision was made to go with rockfish, making my task a bit more difficult.

With citrus in mind, I called up Daryn Berlin of Counter Culture Coffee and asked him to send me some samples for the dinner. I was looking for a citrus-y coffee to incorporate with the original lamb idea. They wouldn't arrive until the day of the dinner, which meant we had to work with something else. Digging around Woodberry's inventory came up with a bit of the La Golondrina from Huila, Colombia. It's a nice coffee that would have to suffice since the beverage I had in mind would take three days (at least) to prepare.

First step was to mix a half pound of coffee with a half gallon of cold water and steep for nine hours. Would have liked to have gone longer, but nine hours was all the time I had available. After nine hours, strain the mixture, mix with .5% gelatin and freeze overnight. The next day, wrap the bugger in cheesecloth and allow to thaw in a colander over a sheet pan for 36 hours.

The idea was to create a lightly sweet and tarty lemonade with a lingering coffee quality utilizing this coffee "consomme." I wanted a clear liquid that wouldn't affect the yellow-ish color of the lemonade but that would still have a coffee flavor. Unfortunately, the consomme liquid was clear but it wasn't "clear." It still had the brown color of coffee, just with brilliant clarity. Not a disaster but this consomme would most certainly affect the color of the lemonade.

After doing a couple of tests, I came up with this recipe:

Lemon juice - 11%
Simple Syrup - 15% (syrup made of 50/50 sugar to water ratio)
Consomme - 12.5%
Water - 61.5%

This recipe yielded a lightly sweet and tarty lemonade with a smooth and lingering coffee flavor. It had the sweet zing of lemonade with the lingering finish of coffee. Success.

The real problem came when I scaled up the recipe to make 5 liters.

The ratios developed were based on weight, not volume. But when it came time to calculate the weights of the ingredients, I calculated the weights except for one: the water.

Water in and of itself is par for both weight and volume. Meaning that one milliliter of water weighs one gram. Same goes for fluid ounces and weight ounces. Problem is that the consomme, simple syrup and lemon juice weigh more than water.

So, after calculating this recipe:

550g lemon juice
750g simple syrup
625g consomme

I left the note: "to volume: water" for Corey, who was mixing the batch for me.

Since those ingredients are heavier than water (with lesser volume) and the recipe is based on weight (not volume), when the time came to fill the container to the 5 liter mark (instead of weighing the entire batch to 5 kilos), the mix was too "watery" and lacked the punch, depth and complexity we were looking for.

The mix needed more punch, more depth - more "oomph." Added a little more simple syrup, some sassafras syrup that was sitting around and some salt and voila! - something worth drinking.

In the end, the drink made it onto the menu for the fourth course where it was paired with a Middlin Risotto with bacon, lovage and gouda.


Anonymous said...

If I were not working 85+ hour weeks right now, I would be on the first flight into town for one of these dinners.


Anonymous said...

I've always enjoyed your perspectives on coffee, food, and life. Thanks for continuing to share those perspectives... and perhaps I'll hear from ya on another forum? Eh?