A couple times a year, I find myself in the very lucky position to cook with some of the best chefs in the country. The tasks I take on usually involve the most basic/arduous mise en place you can imagine (think picking and cleaning endless piles of herbs or scrubbing dirt off of sunchokes) but in this environment and in the company of these great chefs it's a magical experience. I have learned so much from these brief interactions and always take this inspiration back to my home kitchen in some form or another.
I most recently got to play sous chef at Shelburne Farms with Maxime Bilet and Derek Wagner , who are both incredibly talented chefs but even better people. Derek is a chef from right down the road from me in Providence and Maxime is the co-author of Modernist Cuisine and Modernist Cuisine at Home, a cookbook that I have been working my way through (very slowly) for the past year. The dish they created was a Lamb Crudo, with aromatic oil, pepper & chili sauce, & shaved summer farm vegetables. (Pictured below.) It was fucking delicious!
Derek beautifully butchered and sliced the lamb (it started as a whole animal a couple hours before this picture was taken) and Maxime worked on most of the garnishes, while trying to make sure I didn't screw things up too badly. I learned a new way to clean a radish and also how to use one of those small plastic mandolines. We have one of those big OXO mandolines at home that I always use with a guard, and this was a whole new experience.
I had a few takeaways from this experience:
- It takes a looooooong time and a skilled hand to butcher a lamb perfectly.
- A simple looking dish can sometimes be the most complex and difficult to get right.
- In a well composed dish, each element (no matter how small) can shine on its own without stealing the spotlight.