An Amazing Evening of Discovery – Head to Tail with Chef Chris Cosentino and Host Michael Ruhlman
Offal is the so-called “Fifth quarter” or the things that would fall off (“off-fall“) after the butcher got through taking a primal down to chops, steaks and roasts. In the past, no one butchering their own animal would waste a bit. As we have outsourced our work to others, we’ve grown away from the realities of what happens to the rest of the animal that was once attached to the steak we’re consuming. Chops don’t grow in shrink-wrapped styrofoam trays, you know.
Cosentino feels so strongly about not wasting the rest of the animal, you are moved listening to him. He came to his position after his experience holding an animal that was being slaughtered for a restaurant, until she died. Being that close to the reality of the process of harvesting our animal proteins; just hearing the story told – you come to feel that anything short of 100% utilization of it is immoral.
Back to our fifth quarter meal.
The Astor Center in New York City is newly opened to host wine tastings (see the state-of-the-art room in the slide show – complete with white lit table inserts and individual sinks at each seat) and special dinners such as ours. It’s a gorgeous kitchen equipped with camera, retractable heat lamps, sealed dumpsters, they’ve thought of everything. I got a quick tour and Lesley Townsend, our host did a great job making everyone feel welcome. Ruhlman, author of Soul of a Chef, Reach of a Chef, Charcuterie, and more, was the perfect host for this evening, drawing out what Chris is most passionate about and why.
Wines were selected by Astor and most of us at our table were unfamiliar with them. They’re worth investigating with your wine shop.
Bits and Bobbles – Passed hors d’oeuvres
- Beef heart tartare puttanesca – one of my favorite courses! (Remember I’d written about getting a beef heart for Valentine’s Day?)
- Fritto of honeycomb Tripe with picholine olives and marjoram – also very good, served in a little paper cone, like a county fair treat
- Crostino of salt cured pork heart, eight minute farm egg – salty, creamy, crunchy, had to stop myself from eating more
- Porchetta di testa with radish and pecorino – like the most unctuous mortadella, Doc’s favorite
Served with Zucchi Pignoletto NV, Emilia-Romagna – like a prosecco
- Beef tendon & sweetbreads, with chile and mint – like pho, combining rich paper thin slices of tendon, warm crisp sweetbreads and the chile and mint; one of my favorite dishes
Nero d’Avola, Feudo Montoni 2003, Sicily
- Turf and Surf: trotters and lobster with tarragon – like a porcine crab cake; so rich, I could eat only one; crispy on the outside unctuous inside
Ribolla Gialla, La Castellada 2000, Friuli-Venezia Giulia
- Crudo of Venison liver, with beets and juniper balsamic – I was in the minority of guests who loved this. It was seared with aspecial olive oil heated to the smoke point, like a rich foie, deeper flavors; I think people had a hard time with the concept.
Sangue di Guida, Tenimenti Confalonieri, La Versa 2006, Lombardy
- Whole roasted spring lamb neck, with sheep’s milk polenta and gremolata – this was delicious and probably one of the most familiar preparations; a slow braise – 6 hours!- created crispy skin and tender meat that we were instructed to shred with two forks; like pulled pork. It’s me in the Grub Street video eating this (see below).
Nieddera Rosso, Costini 2003, Sardinia
- Blood orange candied cockscombs, with bayleaf rice pudding – like a blood-orange giant gummy candy.
Recioto di Soave “Col Foscarin” Gini 2004, Veneto
Chef Shares Passion/Obsession with Diners
The evening was very thoughtfully laid out. Having Michael Ruhlman host the meal with a connection to the kitchen meant we could get the chef’s description of each dish as it was being served. After the meal, Chris joined us for a wrap up.
One thing is very clear when you speak to him about this topic, he is passionate and some might say obsessive. The link will take you to Chow.com’s video clip of Chris on offal. Those of us who have been called both passionate and obsessive, don’t feel the slightest offense, I can assure you. Chow’s Obsessives series is great.
I spoke with Chef after the dinner, and later over the phone about the dinner and the topic of offal. He said it was challenging to do this dinner away from his restaurant, his sources, his purveyors, his staff. But, he was thrilled to have his good friend Jonathan Levy and Chef Aaron Sanchez among others who gave of their time to come help out with the meal. It was the first time he’d taken the show on the road.
One thing Michael made clear and Chris echoed, using all the animal is going to call on all the skills of a chef. Anyone can learn to cook a steak, and even if they’ve not done it in years, can probably figure out how to cook it to temp. Offal is so different in each bit, pig’s ear versus venison liver; beef tendon or beef heart; from animal to animal or part to part each is so unique a meal like this one clearly showcases the talent in the kitchen.
Video, Photos, Links
- Here’s a video clip taken by Grub Street (NY Magazine’s Food Column). My 15 seconds of fame includes shoveling food in my pie hole, of course. At least it was good grub – thanks to Chef Cosentino, The Astor Center and Michael Ruhlman. This video gives you a great sense of the evening’s energy and a few of the dishes.
- Click here to see my photos of the evening.
- Here’s Chef Cosentino’s website and blog: Offal Good.
- What offal is NOT: gross-out factor food like that eejit on Travel Channel eats. Honestly, doesn’t Zimmern remind you of that pathetic kid who’d eat anything for your milk money? He’s confused people about what constitutes responsible and delicious offal, he’s damaged the profession of food writers and travel hosts, too.