I'm so excited for this event. I have been so excited for this event since the beginning of this class. I cannot wait to see what everyone comes up with, and how they orchestrate the event. I've always enjoyed hosting people and feeding them, but I have never really done it on this scale. Funny enough, I am not intimidated at all.
I really did not have any clue of what I would want to do for this event until the first lecture we had about experience in food. I was very inspired by the the first image, of a person reaching up to grab coloured vials above their head. I imagined an orchard that our guest could move through and reach up to pluck a 'fruit' but that fruit would be some savoury bite instead. I drew up ideas for creating edible ways to affix those bites to the branches, or thought that if I could find a suitable open container I could place it in a vessel and then hang them from a tree.
My second serious concept played with the idea of brushing one's teeth. I wanted to create a fully edible toothbrush, paste and possibly a mouthwash as well. When I first proposed this idea I had no idea of the flavours or logistics that would be involved. I didn't know if we would be able to make an edible toothbrush or if it would be more of a real object. Would the paste be mostly a foam or with more of paté? If the paste had body to it would the mouth wash have to be hot to dissolve the protein in your mouth? How would we keep it warm?
It didn't really help that when I introduced this concept to others in the class it was met with immediate disgust. It was really discouraging, I couldn't get any useful feedback, instead everyone just wanted to explain about how personal brushing their teeth felt and how they thought the logistics were impossible. It wasn't until I talked to Barry that I was able to develop the concept any further. We started talking about creating a utensil, edible or not, that would capture some food and you would have to scrape it into your mouth before eating it.
Eventually this idea was scrapped because of time, we forged ahead with the edible ornaments project. I really wanted a jewel like quality to our savoury bites. When Felize proposed this idea to Barry he suggested getting a live tree, unlike the dead branches that I was imagining, his suggestions were for a rosemary topiary or a small pine/spruce/fir/conifer and to pair our flavours with either of those scents. I enjoy how this engages more of the user's senses than just sight and taste. We decided to get a pine tree because it would be easier to track one down this time of year, it would be larger, cheaper and the flavour of pine is more interesting and complicated to try pairing food with.
I immediately started doing research into recipes with pine. Most everyone makes a pine simple syrup. Over the summer, when I was working with some bartenders and we made infused simple syrups and served them in cocktails and over soda water. I decided to use some of the needles from our tree and make a soda for our guests to drink to go with the hors d'oeuvres.
Here's the syrup before straining.
Continuing on, I found a pear and pine jam in my recipe search. The Finns make a bread with pine bark. My mother suggested looking at recipes that use gin, because gin tastes like juniper which is similar to pine. Steven sent me a great email suggesting about ten different flavours/ingredients, on which I settled with pear, rosemary and vanilla. I made a simple pear marmalade with vanilla extract and fresh rosemary.
Slowly, our savoury bite was taking form. I wanted to have a piece of chicken breast or thigh in the bite, but with a more attractive form than the meat would necessarily allow, Steven once again came to the rescue and told me about transglutaminase. Colloquially known as meat glue. It is an enzyme that binds proteins together, meaning that you can take a piece of meat, sprinkle it with 1% by weight transglutaminase and shape it as desired and hold it there in that shape for 4 hrs to overnight. After that period of time it will always remain that shape. It's what makes chicken nuggets, but here in a more high brow fashion.
The last element to pull together was the wrapper. I knew that if people were going to grabbing the bite from a votive hanging from the tree they would need a dry piece to hold onto, no one wants to reach their hands into a wet mass of fruit and meat. We thought of a traditional cracker but ruled it out because when a person reached in with their fingers, they would still be meeting the wet topping first. A puff pastry clam shell around the bite was our next concept, and that how we drew it on the proposal sheet.
Steven suggested a wonton wrapper, since it's about as basic as you can get for a dough. When we got a hold the wrappers of themselves, we had to come up with a way of baking them in the shape we wanted them to have. Looking through the drawers in McNeal we found a bunch of little beakers that seemed just the perfect size to drape the wrapper over. It took the advice of both Zeta and Kendra for us to get to a desirable texture and colour of our wrappers. Without the brushed milk and oil the were gummy and pasty, not fun to eat at all. Here is one our test batches in the oven:
Once we got the method down, we went into full production:
Then we had to fill the cups with the marmalade and chicken
I had already bought tealight holders from Ax man to use as our vessel, I just needed to make a wire collar on each of to hang them from the tree. I didn't want to bring other ornaments onto the tree, so that people them wouldn't be distracted. I did want to light the tree, casting a warm glow over the food.
People seemed quite happy with our presentation at the event, lots of people were very taken with the spruce soda. I heard it described as tasting 'like walking through a wintry forest in the afternoon'. I'm pleased with how this event came to pass, and I'm very glad that I took this class in it's experimental run. I can't wait to come back to it in the fall and help out.