Food For Thought
Have you ever had the opportunity to do what you do for a living for someone who you truly admire for the accomplishments they have made in the same field you work in?
I remember when I was playing music and I had the opportunity to play with James Brown. The stress and nervous energy was overwhelming. I managed to pull it off and got some amazing compliments from his band but was kind of left short as I didn’t get a chance to speak with him directly. I got a chance to rid that feeling from myself this week.
For those of you who may not know the Michelin Guide system is a series of annual guide books published by the French company Michelin for more than 100 years. The term normally refers to the Michelin Red Guide, the oldest and best-known European hotel and restaurant reference guide that awards Michelin “stars” for excellence to a select few establishments. The acquisition or loss of a star can have dramatic effects on the success of a restaurant. Michelin also publishes a series of general guides to many countries around the world.
In 1926 the guide first awarded stars for fine dining. Initially there was a single star for restaurants; in 1931 the hierarchy of one, two and three stars was introduced. In 1936 the criteria for the three starred rankings were published.
One star: “A very good restaurant in its category” (“Une très bonne table dans sa catégorie”)
Two stars: “Excellent cooking, worth a detour” (“Table excellente, mérite un détour”)
Three stars: “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey” (“Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage”).
Now this may sound simple, but the definition of a very good restaurant by Michelin standards is truly extraordinary. To gain a star could set your business alight but also, the opposite is true if you lose one. At last count there were approximately 2010 Michelin Starred restaurants in the world. That number may seem pretty high but in the grand scheme of the millions of restaurants worldwide, the number is incredibly small. Even smaller still is the 303 “2 star” restaurants worldwide. This feat is no easy task. It takes years of hard work, dedication, creativity and standards of the highest level to earn this position. The hardest to earn, “3 stars,” is only awarded currently to 106 restaurants in the world.
This week I had the opportunity to cook for a chef who has worked in all three of these designations. It’s a daunting task to say the least. For some reason, no matter how good you think you are, there is always a level of self doubt that creeps into your head when you have to perform for someone in your field who has shown their abilities to achieve the accolades that you strive for. This was one of those evenings. I felt the menu was solid, I felt the flavors were true. I felt that that was enough.
Earlier in the day, I had spoken to Rebecca about my desire to simplify my food. The massively elaborate presentations and multitudes of elements on the plate are becoming simpler and more refined. I think this shows a maturity that all chefs go through when they get to a position in their career that they feel comfortable with their style and their palate. In retrospect I was very happy that I chose this route that day.
There were some strict dietary needs to follow for the meal. I could use no dairy, no fried foods, no molecular ingredients and no red meat. Anyone who knows me knows how difficult this would be without the use of butter! Especially in desserts, dairy is such an important component. However, we took this in stride and thought diligently about how to assemble seven courses of food to fit this bill.
“KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid” rang through my head all day. In the end we came up with a beautiful menu: 1st: Champagne and cranberry pickled oyster with daikon salsa and celery 2nd: Sashimi of tuna and watermelon with ponzu and kohlrabi 3rd: Crudo of scallop with wakame puree, compressed melon, aerated mango, and espelette pepper 4th: Shrimp with Korean flavors 5th: Tataki of swordfish with papaya salad and Vietnamese Nuac Cham sauce 6th: Seared snapper, clams and calamari with white vegetables and a black broth of smoked tuna and squid ink 7th: dairy free Chocolate Chantilly mousse, fresh berries macerated in berry gastrique, raspberry sorbet, chocolate olive oil ganache and hazelnut praline.
The night has replayed in my head over and over. There was definitely a problem with order. I put two spicy dishes back to back. That’s a no-no in a multi-course menu. You need to refresh the palate after a spicy dish. This slipped my mind and I kick myself. However, that was the only negative of the evening. The dining Chef was very gracious and offered comment on the entire evening from the food to the service and the room itself. All comments were very good. It keeps me pushing to get that next level of excellence out of my staff and myself. We know that the restaurant is good. But how good really is this little place? Well, when you have someone who has been all over the world working at the Michelin level tell you that you are right on par with them, it means a lot.
A very special thank you to my team, namely Lyssan Delancy who worked diligently on the dessert course using a technique she had never tried to make one of the most delicious chocolate mousses ever by just listening to my instruction one time, and mostly to Lor-Don Rolle who showed that cordial, professional and gracious service is possible here in the Bahamas. He doesn’t know it yet but Chef offered to help send him to Europe to train in Michelin starred restaurants for 4-6 weeks to help grow. Chef was also gracious enough to offer to send my staff in the kitchen to Europe as well. That kind of experience is priceless to us here in the Bahamas. I look forward to having them reach their full potential with these experiences. I may even go myself to brush up on my skills!
One thing I have learned from this experience is to not stress the small stuff. If you feel like you have the skills to match up with the big boys, the only way to find out is to do it. We did it and it came out great. Next time I will pay more attention to the order to make it perfect!
With only a few days left to go before Christmas and no paper on Christmas day, this is my last opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday season. Remember to make your plans early. Christmas Eve is almost full and New Year’s Eve is filling up fast! Also, Monday the 23rd we have our “La Vigilia” or Feast Of Seven Fishes supper club event and the 30th of December I am teaching a class on sushi! Remember, we are entering our busy season so reservations will most likely be required to get a spot here at Flying Fish. Thank you all for your support, for reading these articles and for your belief in our little restaurant in Freeport Bahamas.