Open Stove 35: When Mise En Scene Becomes Mise En Place
We could have given them liver and a nice glass of Chianti to see what dishes they’d come up with, but Adam Ratmoko and Sean Korcal had it made from the start.
The theme of the 35th edition of Open Stove at COOK was “Celebrate the Movies”, a nod to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Philadelphia Flower Show. And when I say “a nod” I mean a direct rip-off, in the most flattering way possible.
Honestly, can you blame us? The contenders for the evening basically wrote the theme themselves. On one side of the stove, Adam Ratmoko was assisted by Joe McConnell, both representing team Strangelove’s which shares a name with Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film. On the other side, Sean Korcal took lead, assisted by last month’s Open Stove contender, Geno Betz, both from Bardot Cafe, itself named for French film ingenue, Brigitte Bardot.
So what did the cinema-culinary theme mean for the diners who were also the judges for the evening’s festivities? It meant that each curveball ingredient that the cooks would be forced to include in their appetizer and entree courses was pulled from among the great canon of film food. But as with any motion picture, before one arrives at the feature attraction one must either enjoy or suffer through the previews. In the case of Open Stove that meant two impressive amuses bouches. Ratmoko put up a dainty quail egg over kimchi, mustard, and a rosy splash of paprika oil, while Korcal presented a deep fried chicken oyster (Amélie, anyone?) stacked on a cornbread madeline with black pepper sand and “buffalo” foam (of the hot sauce, not bison, variety).
The secret may or may not have been in that Buffalo sauce, but either way, the surprise ingredient for the appetizer courses was a nod to Fried Green Tomatoes: tomatillos! Like a first time Oscar-winner, team Bardot couldn’t resist grandstanding a little bit, so while they got to work they presented each diner with a little extra surprise: a handsome nugget of za’atar brioche and sesame honey butter.
First courses couldn’t have been more different. Ratmoko took on (vaguely) Japanese flavors, putting up plates of potatoes that had been simmered in dashi stock and served over a tomatillo and garlic aioli dressed with garlic chives and nasturtium leaves, all slick with sesame oil. Korcal, for his part, poached off sheets of pasta and assembled what he called a “deconstructed ravioli.” Layers of pasta hiding a few shelled mussels and a wedge of braised and caramelized fennel, all atop two purees, one of tomatillo and fennel and the other of sun-dried tomatoes.
Intermission? Icy shots of vodka.
Act 2 meant a new surprise for the cooks, and this time they would be expected to leave the gun and take the cannoli (shells) and to serve them up alongside live lobsters–three per team.
Fortunately for diners (and unlike Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall), nobody wasted any time on chasing the crustaceans around the kitchen. Team Strangelove’s opted for the knife through the head approach, and team Bardot went for straight-up dismemberment as their respective means of dispatch.
The sheer coincidence of the night was that both teams had brought quail as a main protein for their entree courses, which begged the question: in what films have quail been featured? The panel of audience judges offered Wedding Crashers and There Will Be Blood, so add those cinematic masterpieces to your list.
Korcal offered his little birds stuffed with beef, pork, and veal and glazed in a sherry maple gastrique. Carrot and sweet potato shared top billing with nuggets of lobster tail coated in crushed cannoli shell and fried, a lobster beurre blanc on the plate glazing the whole with ocean richness.
Ratmoko’s plate brought us back to the Whistle Stop cafe: chicken-fried quail with a slippery pile of pea greens cooked in lobster stock scented with shallot and Thai chili. Though something on the plate looked like mashed potatoes, it revealed itself to be whipped buckwheat honey, a shock of sweetness tempered by apple cider vinegar and drizzle of smoky paprika oil, punctuated by crunchy cannoli shell garnish.
If you can imagine it, dessert was even more impressive than a box of Milk Duds dumped into a bag of popcorn. Team Strangelove presented a glossy chocolate tower, layers of chocolate, caramel and blood orange mousse atop a swoosh of swiss meringue. The whole affair was capped off with threads of candied orange zest and a tea and anise hyssop syrup. Like clockwork, Bardot’s dessert also featured orange and chocolate, but this time it appeared in various textures. An almond financier, a dome of lemon and lime curd, chocolate cremeux, blood orange segments, dainty wheels of candied kumquat, and a scattering of cacao nibs.
In the end, the star-making performance of Sean Korcal and team Bardot won out, despite a strong debut performance by Ratmoko of Strangelove’s. And who knows, there could always be a sequel…
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