Lemon Squash, Lobster Mushrooms and Eggplant, Oh My
Chef Surprise Night at Recipe House is never dull. Chef German Mosquera from Roots Bistro was the first guest chef of the Fall season for the Recipe for Success chef dinner series, and he brought his A game. He created a six-course tasting menu and a couple extra treats because, he said, he was "inspired by cooking here and the audience."
A total of 18 people made for an intimate, relaxed and friendly setting for one of the greatest vegetarian meals I have ever tasted. While there was goat served with one of the courses, really this was a vegetarian's dream meal - the topic of discussion among my friends was how easily we could become vegetarians if we got to eat food by Mosquera (who is a vegan by the way) every day.
The kitchen counter featured garden bounty of stunning proportions, with fresh lemon squash, lobster mushrooms, whole turmeric, squash blossoms, lemongrass, eggplants, long beans, chiles, and on and on and on.
As an appetizer, the chef had prepared cubes of Golden and Sugarbaby watermelon with a small gathering of fresh honeycomb, Celtic salt, fennel pollen and curry to drag the moist cubes through. And just to make the melon even more beautiful, edible silver was sprinkled over top. It was fresh, sweet and crisp. The sweetness of the melon was deepened by the curry and fennel -- it almost became a different fruit with those spices.
The first course was a Wild Lobster Mushroom and Long Eggplant chips with a Black Garlic Romesco. The mushroom and long eggplants were sliced paper thin and baked till crisp. The Romesco sauce had the kind of sweetness that only comes from gorgeous black garlic. It was earthy and heady, the perfect accompaniment for the crisp chips. Mosquera added some freeze-dried corn powder that imparted a fresh-picked-from-the-farm taste, lightening the deep Romesco sauce.
The next course was Charred Okra and Spiced Granola. The okra was sliced lengthwise and charred in a dry skillet. Mosquera added fresh turmeric, tarragon, lemon juice and maple syrup. It was served with a spiced granola that, in my opinion, was the best thing on the menu. Becky, who works at Roots, made the granola from cut oats, cayenne, cumin, paprika, sunflower seeds, coconut syrup and sugar with vanilla bean. I made arrangements to order it by the sheet pan - it is intoxicating and addictive.
Mosquera's okra was perfectly charred and topped with a potato-olive oil powder. They were so good, people just started picking them up with their hands and popping them into their mouths. All of a sudden we were served an off-the-menu item because Mosquera got inspired. He sautéed sweet peppers, lobster mushroom and whole cardamom pods and fresh herbs for a delightfully sweet companion to the okra. I have never had whole cardamom pods before and found them to be a little overpowering in the beginning, but as all the flavors melded, I understood his use of the whole pod. It was a perfect combination of spicy, sweet, exotic, and bitter.
Mosquera's next course was Sweet Corn Broth, Lemon Squash Bowl and Crispy Long Beans. In steamed lemon squash bowls was a sweet corn broth that would make your eyes roll back in your head. It had heavy hints of lemongrass playing against the sweet corn. Clean, sweet, comforting and warming, it was the culinary interpretation of the first tastes of Fall - not too heavy, but with waves of warmth and depth.
As everyone was slurping this heavenly broth, Chef Mosquera came by and added a component that just occurred to him would be perfect with the soup - a white truffle barbecue sauce. I had my doubts when he said barbecue sauce, but when stirred in, it added tanginess and a creamy depth that just sent the broth into the stratosphere. The sauce was made with Thai chiles, white truffles, brown rice vinegar, heirloom tomatoes, garlic and onion. A thermos of this gorgeous broth would be perfect for lunch on a cool Fall day in the park - perfection.
Next was Potato "Stones" and White Truffle BBQ Sauce. I had never heard of edible clay, but apparently it exists and is quite tasty. Small potatoes (white, yellow and purple) were slathered in clay and baked. They were served with creme fraiche and sel gris. It was the perfect take on a baked potato -- tangy, creamy, rich and very snuggly. Thankfully, we were only served one, because it would be easy to eat a bowl full of these baby potatoes.
Our last savory course was Fresh Texas Chevre Burrata, Squash Blossom Puree, Texas Quail Eggs & Pressure Cooked Texas Goat Rib-Eye. This was a beautiful dish right up until the goat was added. The chevre burrata was the star of the plate. Tangy, lemony, creamy and wonderfully smooth, it was paired with sweet squash blossom puree surrounded by freeze-dried green peas, baby turnips, quail eggs and basil. Where normally the peas would add the "green" flavor to a dish, these peas provided the crunch, and the basil delivered the green punch the dish needed. The baby turnips were sweet and crunchy like a fresh pear.
Chef Mosquera had pressure cooked a goat ribeye until it was tender and sweet and wonderfully homey with the deep flavor that only goat exudes. Unfortunately, all the other components were so perfect that the goat was overkill. It took a third-row backseat to that silky, smooth burrata and quail eggs. I appreciate the talent involved in preparing the goat, but the dish was strong enough to stand up without it.
Lastly, we had Black Rice Pudding with Turmeric Sorbet. If you have never had fresh turmeric, it is worth seeking out to try. It looks like fresh ginger but smaller. It is vibrantly orange in color with a light brown skin. Its flavor is delicate and slightly floral. It does not have the bite that ginger does. This dessert tasted like Fall. It was served with a huckleberry gelee and black rice pudding. Between the turmeric, lavender, vanilla and cinnamon the Fallish floral tastes were washing over my palate like a crisp Fall breeze; a delicious, not too sweet end, to a healthy, fresh, inventive, creative, original meal.
The mission of Recipe for Success is "dedicated to combating childhood obesity and encouraging long-term health by altering the way children understand, appreciate and eat their food and by educating and mobilizing the community to provide healthier diets for children." What Chef Mosquera offered through his interpretation of vegetables is a great place for kids to start loving veggies and making healthier, tastier choices. Chef Surprise Night happens the first Monday of every month and is served at the Recipe House.
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