I’ve just turned to page 44 in a book I can’t read, written by a chef whose last name I can’t pronounce. Pictured is a bird I can’t believe he got onto US soil. And while his restaurant is one I can’t wait to visit, for now this cookbook and this dinner will have to do.
At the moment, it’s somewhere between one and four in the morning, and it’s awfully damn hot in here. Could it be the abundance of candles? Or is it my displeasure that we are seated across from frat row, young finance types taking turns making fools of themselves? Twice in the last five minutes, their champagne corks have hit the ceiling. Why were these people even born?
Disconcerted, I find comfort in a pig’s head. Kobe Desramaults and company have made a dark, gelatinous broth of the cranium; brittle, herb-flecked crackers of the ears. Kobe is the chef, by the way. He’s from Belgium, which I know only because I actually saw him there back in March of this year.
But I’d still not tasted his food, which is why I jumped to book this, the second of thirteen consecutive services in a ’round-the-clock pop-up restaurant by Le Grand Fooding. I’m feeling quite grand, indeed, eating the creamiest of oysters — poached in whey, adorned with cabbage and hazelnuts, and plopped in front of me without explanation.
There’s not much service to speak of, in fact. But talking with Anna Polonsky, half of the Brooklyn-by-way-of-Paris duo that organized this irreverent shindig, I get the sense that they want the experience to be about presence, not pretense; deliciousness, not decorum.
Salted West Flemish beef is the first dish I haven’t been crazy about. I love the texture of the meat — somewhere between roast beef and a young prosciutto — but have no meaningful feelings for its flavor, with or without the fermented carrots keeping it company. I just want to be friends.
And actually I’ve just made friends. It turns out that the two women to my immediate left work for the same restaurant group I do. A conversation sparked by salsify has brought this fact to light — roasted salsify, with a dollop of burnt bay leaf cream and gratings of an over-cured ham. These sweet, bitter, and salty elements show themselves like a spinning top, wildly dynamic but ultimately balanced. Each bite is a game, and I want nothing more than to keep playing.
Kobe, meanwhile, has snuck off into a corner. He’s elbow-deep in smoldering hay, cooking plump little pigeons over an electric flat-top stove in this New York City loft — visual dichotomy at its finest.
He stuffed and smoked those birds with the same hay over which he is now roasting them. It’s the same hay he infused into the butter that glistens on each slice he’s plated for us. Aged for a total of five weeks, the birds taste of minerals and red meat, of bacteria and barnyard. The FDA would frown on this kind of funk.
Meanwhile the crowd is all smiles. Free-flowing champagne all night has not hurt. The lone dessert — variations on goat’s milk — certainly hasn’t either. As the room empties out, a dude in a yellow t-shirt walks up to me: “Are you a blogger? Are you… Aaron?” He smiles, and nods towards a stack of cookbooks somebody has forgotten to distribute; cookbooks for In De Wulf, Kobe’s restaurant in Dranouter, Belgium. I flip to page 44. Yes, I definitely cannot read this. But I leave with a happy feeling — a feeling that at least I understand it just a little bit better now.