I was watching the Victor Borge special on PBS and his daughter mentioned that he had a special trick; at the beginning of every performance he would “exhale” a puff of smoke. If the audience laughed, he knew that he could perform his comedic routines to the fullest. If the audience was unresponsive, he knew that this particular audience was more interested in the music and he would adapt his performance accordingly i.e. less comedy and less of what Victor Borge was rightfully famous for and justifiably named a genius.
This reminded me of a “trick” that Chef David Bouley used to “judge” his clientele. (I got this piece of information from Chef Bouley himself). He would serve them as a first course his “Homemade Silken Tofu, Trout Roe, Soy Gelee, Shiso, Santa Barbara Uni, Yuzu Sorbet, Apple Foam.” If the clients ate every bite, he knew he had adventurous diners and would adjust his chef’s tasting menu accordingly. If, on the other hand, they left the dish barely eaten, he would alter his special chef’s tasting menu to a safer route. Needless to say, we belonged to the former group.
To give you some idea of Bouley’s cuisine, below is a representative sample of some of his dishes from various meals in 2010.
Corn Tuile filled with corn and dusted with nutmeg, Sashimi of yellowtail in a brik cone topped with soy gelee and micro greens, a “taco” filled with avocado, tomato and basil, baby sweet corn cannoli, parmiagiano “sandwich” and a tuile of baby yellowtail tartar.
Malibu sea urchin with sea trout roe, soy milk gelee, soy sauce gelee, shaved shiso, yuzu sorbet and yuzu gelee with apple foam. This is just a great dish – one of the best preparations of uni I have had anywhere. “I wanted to go on eating it forever.”
On a bed of jasmine rice, small pieces of “Japanese Xmas Tree Leaf”, 2 thick slabs of Seared Toro from Spain and topped by a Kumamoto Oyster. This was another spectacular dish with such an extraordinary balance of texture and flavor. The Toro was fatty and unctuous and I hated having finished it.
Skate with tiny diced capers to the side, topped with 24 hour tomatoes, ringed with a bit of truffle oil and a line of yellow powder which was camonile flowers. This had a decidedly Basque feel and again the over-used word perfect.
Young garlic soup with a coconut base, bits of ginger in which were Florida shrimp poached in wine and Sauteed New Zealand Langoustines. An Organic Hen Egg had been dropped in the soup so that the warm soup “cooked” the egg . This was very rich and equally delicious.
Line caught cod fish with tomato/green apple gelee, cucumber sorbet, fresh wasabi, olives and a touch of vanilla dust. This dish was a study in temperature as well as sweet/sour contrast. The cold sorbet with the cod, the bite of the wasabi with the vanilla added up to a visually, textural, hot/cold contrast.
Roasted Sturgeon, Oscetra Caviar, Shallots, Chives on Jasmine Rice served with Grey Goose Vodka sauce. This was an A+ and one of the best dishes I have ever had. The whimsy of the dish – sturgeon, caviar and vodka – an ode to Russia. The flavor was mind-blowing and the sturgeon cooked perfectly.
Poached Lobster from Massachusetts with a light Beurre Blanc served with Watermelon Glazed with Ginger, Ox Heart Tomato Sorbet and Organic Avocado Crabmeat Roll and Tomato water. A visually stunning dish that was as delicious as it looked.
Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Muscat Grape, Apple/Rosemary Puree with Mango caviar and Armagnac Sauce. Absolutely superb and the mango caviar is an important and delicious element in the foie gras dish.
The loin and rack of Organic Baby Lamb from Cooperstown and the loin and rack of pork from a small farm near Bouley’s home in Connecticut on top of hand-made fettuchini with serrano ham, a sauce of simple jus, mushrooms and on the side fingerling potato puree.
New Zealand Red Axis Venison crusted in black truffles with baby Brussel sprouts, Fingerling potatoes, White salsify, Red Delicious Apple Puree with Port wine and Asian Celery Puree with Balsamic Vinegar — A beautiful rectangular approximately 2″ piece of meat that was rare, juicy and tender. The apple puree with port wine was equally delicious.
Moral of the story – be the adventurous diner.