This week, we've been chatting with Brasserie 19 and Ibiza's Chef de Cuisine, Amanda McGraw, about the rewards of staging in kitchens outside of Houston, and about the specifics of her role. Today, we sample some of her food.
To highlight the in-house charcuterie program, McGraw put together a picturesque charcuterie plate with mortadella, longaniza Argentinian-style chorizo sausage, chicken liver mousse, smoked duck ham, pork rillette, pickles, and mustard. "Everything is made in-house by Daniel Jacobs," she proclaimed as she described the individual items on the plate. And it tasted that way.
The charcuterie was excellent, my favorites on the plate being the chicken liver mousse, which was like an ultra-smooth Pâté; the smoked duck ham, which was essential smoked duck breast; the pork rillettes, and the house-made pickled cauliflower and cornichon. The plate was served with a side of crispy toast, and though the portion was enough for three or four, I came close to finishing off the plate. I made a mental note to come back with friends to sample more charcuterie with a bottle of wine.
Next up we sampled a selection of oysters, each from a different region. On that day, the in-house selection included Umami oysters from Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, Belon Oysters from Casco Bay, Maine, Northern Cross Oysters from Ballard Point, Virginia, and a local Gulf Coast oyster. I prefer smaller oysters, so the Northeastern oysters were better-tasting to me than the much larger Gulf oyster, each with a distinct aroma, saltiness, and creaminess. "I'll come here for oysters and champagne on Sundays," said McGraw. When I expressed surprise that she would come back on her day off, she told me, "I love oysters. And we have the best oysters in town. The champagne is really affordable, too. A bottle of Veuve Clicquot is about $40 -- the markup is so low, it's the same as Spec's prices, really."
A duck confit frisee salad followed next. The salad was one of the dishes McGraw has been developing for the Brasserie 19 spring menu. Topped with a perfectly poached egg that oozed when you cut into with a fork, the dish was classic French with a Vietnamese-influenced vinaigrette. It was simple, classic French and quite lovely.
As the next plate came out from the kitchen, my eyes lit up. "So pretty!" I said. "All of my plates are pretty," McGraw replied. Another new dish in development, this one was a twist on the classic frog's legs dish. Titled "crispy frogs legs", the prettily plated dish of flour-doused, basil and garlic marinated, crispy frog legs sat on a bed of multi-colored roasted fingerling potatoes, dots of pickled mustard seeds, sauce verbiche, celery leaves and parsley. They were flat-out delicious. The frog's legs were moist yet crispy, the flesh having the absorbed the flavors of the overnight marinade and coming out full of flavor. The creamy verbiche added that French flair, while the mustard seeds added a bit of acidity. I loved it.
Brasserie 19 doesn't have a pastry chef, so the dessert was a McGraw creation as well. I typically don't like lemon desserts. I'm not a lemon meringue pie or lemon square lover. They are usually just too tangy for me. McGraw's lemon mousse cake -- essentially a deconstructed meringue pie -- was light as feather, tinged with lemon in a not-too-overpowering way. It came with shortbread crisps that gave it texture and tufts of torched marshmallow cream, which softened the lemon flavor, and though I was full at this point, in truth, I didn't want to stop eating it.
I can see why young McGraw's star has been rising so quickly within the Clark Cooper organization. Here is a young Chef who loves her craft, has invested in herself by taking the time to stage in some of Chicago's most acclaimed kitchens, who has worked from the bottom up and knows all the aspects of working in and running a kitchen, and who ultimately has the skill and vision to create delicious cuisine. Impressed yet? If you're not, just try her food, and you will be.