This is the capon at moto in Chicago. I spent last Saturday in the kitchen. Chef Homaru Cantu was kind enough to put me on the hot line during mise en place - and make me chef of the amuse-bouche during service. Having been out of a professional kitchen for a few weeks now, the whole experience was a much-needed rush to the heart.
And to the head. You see those little beads on the plate? They're Kentucky Fried Ice Cream. We did a hazelnut version at El Bulli this season. They're made by dropping a thick liquid from a pipette into a bath of liquid nitrogen. For those of you who forgot chem class - liquid nitrogen is very, very cold. Don't get all freaked out - they're just like Dippin' Dots. Except at moto they taste like cold fried chicken - adding temperature and texture and enhancing the savoury flavour. And like every kid knows, they're just damn fun to eat.
The amuse-bouche was a single silver spoon with one bite of ricotta, Serrano ham, 25-year-old balsamic vinegar, puffed amaranth - like tiny, round Rice Krispies, and salt flakes - pale pink. The spoon was presented diagonally on a white rectangular plate.
During mise en place, I'd seen impressive, meticulous attention to detail - everything from the brunoise to the cotton candy - actually spun isomalt. But there was something else - it was very weird - again the "f" word - and not the "f" word you usually hear in a professional kitchen - or its multilingual variations. It was fun - and more so during service. We were having visible fun in the kitchen during service.
I didn't know this was acceptable at first. John - the garde manger - had shown me the first amuse-bouche spoon - and I rigidly followed his example exactly. Then Chef Cantu came over and said, "This is how I would do them." How could I have done them so wrong? I pride myself on remembering plating. When Chef Cantu was done - it was in fact different - he turned to me and said something along the lines of that with the smallest amount of food, one should have the greatest amount of freedom - that as long as all of the elements were there - all of the flavours - that one should have the freedom to express oneself.
I don't remember verbatim because I didn't quite believe my ears. He wasn't even telling me to do each one differently - but that I could if I wanted to. With that, I had at it - remaining true to his original intent - a voluptuous and vivid first taste from the kitchen.
Chef Cantu's plating with his meat dishes was fascinating - as was his teaching. He had one of his stagiaires come behind the hot line to learn the plating - a mix of broad strokes, painted plaids, and Pollack-esque splatters - not one plate the same. The stagiaire had a few replatings - but by the end of the night you could see that he was changed - you could see it in his confident plates.
But it's not just art and science in the moto kitchen - and I haven't even mentioned the carbonated grapes and oysters - or the mysterious birthday balloon. They actually experiment with old-school cooking too. The last project was a whole pig - everybody got a piece and did personal interpretations of everything from head cheese to trotters.
Hardcore, old-school cooking.
After service, the other guest in the kitchen - a design collaborator from deepLabs - and I had what Chef Cantu said was a tasting. It was no tasting - it was an eight course dinner at the pass.
We also had a sneak preview taste of a dish in progress - from pastry chef Ben Roche - a warm dark chocolate custard with Maytag blue cheese and Peruvian ground cherries. There's was one other thing that I can't remember now. Malt sorbet maybe?
The liquid nitrogen and carbon dioxide must have gone to my head.