Monday, August 9, 2010

The Techno-Emotional Tomato Tour at The Urban Element

Last night my husband and I spent the evening at The Urban Element. After our amazing experience at Atelier, we thought it would be fun to see some of the magical creations in action and possibly even learn how to replicate some of this unique artistry on our plates at home. Oops, I mean, have my husband replicate some of these techniques. To actually put myself up there in that category of cooking-genius is well, wishful thinking to say the least. My husband on the other hand, no problem!

And the Urban Element is always there to make it all possible.

Chef Sarah Allen, who has worked alongside Chef Marc Lepine for years, was there to demonstrate. The interactive cooking demo, named The Techno-Emotional Tomato Tour, showcased the many different ways tomatoes can be prepared and enjoyed. All the while teaching completely new ways of preparing our food. Who knew tomato soup cakes could make a decadent dessert!?

This was Sarah’s first time doing a demonstration like this and it showed. But her nervous energy began to lift after pointing it out and having a good laugh with the rest of the group. I figure it’s this same self-consciousness that stumped her on some of the questions that were asked. Although I would have loved to get right down to the nitty-gritty details of all the things she was working on, I can also appreciate that not all chefs (probably most) have the ability to create amazing meals while simultaneously educating a group. It really was nice just to see her in action. And the food she prepared, did not disappoint.

Two others were also in the kitchen preparing our meal, Marysol from the Urban Element, who wondrously ran the kitchen in the background and then occasionally poked her head in to ask Sarah some interesting questions when we had run out. And Luis, a student from the Cordon Bleu Cooking School here in Ottawa and currently doing his stage at Atelier, who was very enthusiastic and a pleasure to have around. He really knew his stuff, and his confidence in the kitchen was apparent.

Our first dish was a fantastic start, Panko-Fried Green Tomatoes with Tzatziki and Dehydrated Red Onion. I wished there were more than just two on the plate because these lightly battered morsels were delicious. The garlicky Tzatziki was to-die-for and it took all of me not to lick the little bit that was left on my plate. I did manage to clean most of it off with my fork though! And a pretty dill flower, straight from the Atelier garden, added an extra punch of flavour. This tasty starter was served with Balbach Estate Riesling Kabinett 2008 from Germany. Chosen by their in-house sommelier, this perfectly matched wine featured aromas of ripe peach, citrus, mineral and a touch of petrol.

Next we had the Tuna Ceviche with Avocado, Yellow Tomato, Lime and Wasabi Mayo. Because of my stupid avocado intolerance, I had to eat it without, but my husband assured me that it was so perfect and so much better with it. Yeah, thanks. Well, I didn’t miss it at all, the Wasabi mayo had me in such aw that that’s all I could focus on. I couldn’t believe that such a strong spice, diluted so perfectly in the mayo mixture, could do so much for the meaty tuna. There was no overpowering, just pure perfection in this combination of ingredients. And the wine that came along with it made it that much better. Stadt Krems Lössterrassen Grüner Veltliner 2009 from Austria. A ripe apple nose, with further fresh aromas of pastry, citrus and coconut. Flavours of cinnamon spice and green apple intermingle with notes of pear and grapefruit on the palate. Crisp and mouth-watering acidity. Delicious.

The next course, one that proved to be somewhat challenging, had started off by mixing Agar Agar powder into a tomato purée to create a gel-like texture. The desired consistency took some time to achieve, but once it was done, it allowed for the tomato water to then be separated, using a cheesecloth. It was weird to see the colourful red portion of the tomatoes being discarded and the clear water being kept for the recipe. Oyster (Fat Bastard from the Whalesbone), Tomato Water, Cucumber Foam, Horseradish and Mint (actually substituted with arugula to get the brighter green colour since the mint wasn’t as fresh) – a very fresh combination of ingredients. The flavours were really light, not as exciting as some of the other dishes, but very summery. The clear tomato water tasted very much like tomatoes though, which was kind of fun, considering I automatically picture this flavour coming from something bright red. Shaved fennel was also added to the water, making for a nice crisp texture to liven things up. Once again, a marvelous pairing, Domaine de la Poultière Sec Tuffo Vouvray 2008 from France. A dry, fresh and clean wine with good weight and a long, crisp and flavourful finish.

The making of the next course, the Tomato Sorbet, was the most exciting to watch. They took some tomato juice, and then, by the addition of liquid nitrogen, the liquid magically turned into a frozen sorbet. This sorbet, I must say, was like going through a surprise exercise with your taste buds.

Looking at it, your mind goes mmm, sweet sorbet. But when you take a spoonful it’s an explosion of tomatoes in your mouth followed by a kick of cayenne and pepperiness. So savory and refreshing. The perfect combo for a hot summer day if you don’t have a sweet tooth. I would love to have this again.

This dish was probably my favourite one of all. Sous Vide Duck Confit with Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes, Rainbow Chard, Beet Paint and Goat’s Cheese. The meat was super tender and moist, the chard adding a lovely earthiness to the entire dish, and the most fun part, the droplets of beet paint along the side of the plate. The beet paint can be created by mixing Ultratex Starch to beet juice, thickening it and then straining it a bit. Simply pour the mixture into a bottle with a small hole and use as a paint to decorate the plate. Each droplet is bursting with beet-goodness. Another French wine was paired with this dish, this time a red – Château Pineraie Cahors 2006, a medium-bodied Malbec blended with a smaller amount of Merlot.

Luis kept us totally engaged with his creation of our final dish, the Tomato Soup Cake with Maple Sugar Frosting, Basil Cream and Nitro Dumpling. We all sort of paused in disbelief as he presented us with the Campbell’s Tomato Soup Can. The final result had me floored. The addition of cinnamon and cloves to the batter mixture made the tomato almost taste like carrot cake. A heavenly maple sugar frosting made me melt in my chair and the frozen basil cream, made again from liquid nitrogen, was yet another burst of flavour that left you in sheer amazement that something so small could pack so much zest. And the final glass of wine, Puklus Tokaji Aszu 3 Puttonyos 2003, a Hungarian dessert wine, made for the perfect end to a fabulous meal.

One of the things I noticed most about this meal was that, although it had an amazing amount of flavour (seriously, how many times have I used that word in this post!?), there was very little olfactory sensation. You know when you walk into a room with a ton of things being cooked? Well, only a few things actually required cooking. And I think that having that sensation removed in some cases, really makes you concentrate even more on what’s going on in your mouth. A very interesting feeling. I felt it even more so at the actual restaurant, where nothing was cooked at all. However, they did bring in smells through other channels, like burning rosemary for example. The entire experience hits on all your senses in so many different ways, not your traditional see it, smell it, taste it. Each one is separate but works beautifully together. If you’ve never tried molecular gastronomy or techno-emotional cooking in it’s true form, it really is something quite unique that should be experienced. And Marc and Sarah are the experts that can bring you that.

So once again, I leave the Urban Element with a new appreciation, a happy tummy, and great shots to reminisce on the experience.

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