Up Popped a Restaurant

In cooking, as in many things in life, it’s all a matter of scale.

The chefs — (l to r) your humble author and pals, Ernie and Peri

The chefs — (l to r) your humble author and pals, Ernie and Peri

“That’s not enough gazpacho for 60 people!” my wife declared, alarmed, as I walked through the kitchen with a gallon bag a quarter full of soup. “I have another bag,” I said.

“It’s still not enough!”

I explained to her that each guest would get a very small serving of gazpacho with half a hard-boiled egg and a little Iberico grilled cheese baton. It was the day of our big fundraiser dinner for the school, and there would be lots of explaining to do.

My morning was spent adjusting various sauces, preprepping and cooking whatever I could. Two of my best friends and handy guys in the kitchen, Ernie and Peri, joined me around 1 p.m. for company, moral support and sous chef assistance. Their first task was to figure out how to peel some 30 hardboiled fresh eggs. And if you’ve never tried to peel a hardboiled fresh egg, you don’t know the fun you’re missing. Two hours later the eggs were raggedly peeled (“They’ll be in the soup, no one will notice,” I assured them), an hour after that we checked off the last of our prep tasks, loaded up the cars and headed up to the Mesa.

The menu

The menu

The menu was seven courses, plus a last-minute amuse bouche addition — I’d been hiking the day before and discovered a tree full of overripe white figs, which I would roast in zinfandel and honey and stuff with chevre and a guanciale “pig candy.”

The evening was warm and breezy, the tables set with exquisite care by our very talented friend, Catherine, buoyed by the ineffable presence of our delightful neighbor and all-purpose assistant, Angela. There was a long table outside by a fountain seating 12, several other al fresco tables on a patio outside the main dining room, where another large table sat another 12. Two tables in the kitchen sat an additional 12. The first guests came at 6:10, by 7 p.m. only a few had yet to arrive. We seated everyone and the food began emerging from the kitchen.

“Any ugly plates or anything missing ingredients, don’t serve until last,” I told my kitchen staff. “Those will be for us.”

The line

The line, plating “Fish & Flowers”

Indeed we in the kitchen ate a few ugly plates. A few courses we missed entirely. The one vegetarian guest was briefly forgotten and served a fish dish. But overall the evening ran extremely smoothly, and even though it was produced more like a restaurant than a dinner party and we were extremely busy for five hours, the funnest place to be was of course the kitchen.

By 11:30 p.m., four cases of wine were gone, desserts had been consumed, there were many congratulations and fervent appeals to please open a restaurant in Topanga, the last guests had departed, and we relaxed — briefly. And then, we cleaned.

At 1 a.m., the Trust Ranch returned to the state of a home for gracious hosts Sue and Martin and their two girls, we departed. I would sleep a grand total of four-and-a-half wine-logged hours before my 3-year-old came springing into bed at 6:18 demanding cereal.

Nicole, the principal of the school for which we were raising the money, emailed in the morning to thank me. “I hope you can now breath and enjoy the rest of your weekend.” But I was already busy chopping, slicing and dicing for a four-course dinner I would prepare that evening for friends at the Steve McQueen beach house in Malibu, and a Hawaiian barbecue the following afternoon at the home of some other friends also in Malibu. No rest for the weary.

"Caspian Still Life"

“Caspian Still Life”

*    *    *

Caspian Still Life
serves 4 – 6 as an appetizer

1/2 lb. thinly sliced vodka-cured salmon (or smoked salmon as a substitute)
4 slices German pumpernickel
1/4 cup creme fraiche
1 tsp. lemon juice
grated zest from 1 lemon (use the finest grate possible)
1/4 tsp. truffle oil
1 tbsp. wasabi caviar (or salmon caviar)
1 shallot
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1 tbsp. balsamic reduction (or “glaze”)
flaky sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat the grapeseed oil in a small pan over medium heat. Slice the shallot as thinly as possible on a mandoline or with a sharp knife. Place the shallot slices in the pan with the oil and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are crisp and golden. Remove from oil to paper towels to drain.

In a small bowl, combine the creme fraiche, lemon juice, zest and truffle oil thoroughly. Scoop from the bowl into a small plastic snack bag or sandwich bag.

Toast your pumpernickel, and then cut each slice into four triangle “points”. Arrange a few toast points on each plate, and then make a rose of a couple slices of the vodka-cured salmon and place on top of each toast point. Continue until you’ve used up all the salmon and each toast point has salmon on top.

Cut a very small piece from the corner of your creme fraiche bag, and using it like a pastry pipe, squeeze a small pattern of the lemon truffle creme fraiche over each plate (see photo above). Then drizzle each with a little balsamic reduction. Scatter some caviar about each plate, and then top with a pinch of crispy shallots and serve.

15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. suzanna
    Sep 03, 2013 @ 00:54:08

    Great to see you and the 2 handsome sous! Also glad to see the hog sauce revival…yum yum!!


  2. Michelle
    Sep 03, 2013 @ 02:15:20

    Bravo! But, egads, I feel for your poor sous trying to peel fresh hard-boiled fresh eggs. Impossible!


  3. glennis
    Sep 03, 2013 @ 03:26:40


    Let me know next time you need a kitchen slavey – I might be available to volunteer!


  4. Marie -Michelle Hewett
    Sep 03, 2013 @ 05:54:03

    7am in the morning in France, fall is already in the air here and my mouth is watering….felicitations Sean!


  5. Par-ee
    Sep 03, 2013 @ 23:22:44

    Egg-gad, I vote for a preparation that requires smashing them with a hammer! We had quite a discusion on the methods of the proper boil and peel of those mommy-chicken fresh darlings. Managed a few perfect ones and I swear the green ones peel the best. I did some looking about and there is a whole lot of advice on the interwebs some of which actually seems reasonably scientific. I am thoroughly skeptical. I feel an experiment coming on and therefore need some eggs… Sean gimmie!!!


  6. Nonie
    Sep 04, 2013 @ 05:57:12

    Wish we had been there Sean; it looks awesome. Nonie


  7. Trackback: KING of the Food Snobs | Rachel's Table
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