As my last days at Palantir were dawning, I didn't want a big send-off or a party to celebrate my departure. I just wanted to cook alongside my beloved team one last time. The perfect opportunity came up when my Pastry Chef, Jenna, suggested we do a chef's table for my family and friends. I've never been able to cook for the people I care most about in a fine-dining format like this, so for me, this was a huge deal.
I remember the younger me would have went nuts and made it a point to put 3.4x10^6 components on each dish, showing off multiple techniques, and cramming as much of my ego down my guests' throats as I could. I've learned a ton of new cooking skills while at Palantir, but the most important lesson was, basically...not to do that. This menu is an exercise in restraint. There are only exactly enough ingredients as necessary, and no more. Most dishes with no more than 5 components, and some dishes made entirely from scraps of ingredients used in other dishes.
Sprinkled in between my menu was a dish from each of my chefs, who each made one dish that reminded them of me in someway. My boss, Dan Watts, who really knows wine country, paired each course with his selection of wines. Waiting and serving the tables was the great white Mike, who has the best sense of humor, and an excellent taste in good music. The result was one of my favorite menus we've executed so far, all done in a uber-minimal, make-shift kitchen inside of a corporate office.
A special thanks for my team for helping with this; this was extra work for them on an already busy week. I'm forever grateful for the awesome people I've had by my side and the amazing amount of talent I was blessed with during my 4+ years here. I'm gonna miss it all so much.
CHEF TEAM : Winson Duong, Kali Mulligan, Jenna Ricks, Norman Nicolas, Ryan Brown, and Mike Leitzell
PHOTOGRAPHY : Tom Nguyen, White Donut Productions
KUMAMOTO OYSTER : fried oyster - shiso leaf - mango curry coulis - pickled green bean
When I wrote the menu, I was an missing amuse bouche, so Ryan came to the rescue with something he learned before Palantir.
Designing the very first bite of a meal requires a bit of strategy. You want a bit of heat and fat to warm up the palette (fried oyster); something refreshing and aromatic to waken (shiso); something crisp and acidic to help you salivate and open up your taste buds (pickled green bean); and a punch of flavor, used sparingly so that it doesn't overpower (curry). This amuse does all of that, and it does it very well.
GARDEN SALAD : spring vegetables - coconut ice cream - mint vinaigrette - black malt - kabosu curd - herbs & flowers from the garden
This dish was really about the herbs and flowers from our rooftop garden; everything else on the plate is meant to compliment them.
Oxalis is a weed that grows everywhere. While most gardeners fight to get of it, we grew it intentionally to harvest the leaves, flowers, and root. They taste like an intense lemon, and provides most of the acidity for this dish. The mint from our garden is soft and subtle, unlike the the 'woody' and bitter mint from grocery stores. It's faint enough to be used as a lettuce, which is what we do here.
I always like dressing in the form of ice cream or sorbet because it's extra cold and refreshing. In this case, we used a coconut ice cream. We made a curd out of kabosu, a Japanese citrus like grapefruit, to gel everything together, and topped it with burnt malted barley powder.
TROUT MI CUIT : mt lassen trout @ 104 F - horseradish whip - baby tokyo peaches - tomatoes - yuzu - garden ramps
If I had to pick a signature dish of mine, this would be it.
The trout from Mt. Lassen is simply amazing. It's as deeply pink as salmon, but much leaner, which this dish benefits from because of the way it's prepared. We cure it, sous-vide it at 104 F, and then chill it. This yields a very special texture that's almost like a trout jell-o. It's so delicate we serve the dish with two spoons to avoid damaging the fish while eating.
The Tokyo peaches are whole, and completely edible--seed and all. The only way I know how to describe them is that they taste like Sanrio candy. They're delicious.
FB & J : strawberry - foie frozen custard - pistachio cookie - rose jelly
I picked the strawberries that were on the verge of turning, as I find they are the sweetest. The strawberries are hollowed out and filled with a rose jelly at the very bottom, and the rest of the way with what's essentially a foie gras ice cream (made from scraps of the next course). It's topped with a pistachio cookie crumb, and served as a one-bite treat.
FISH TACO : trout belly cured with salted plum - foie - rice - nori - pickled strawberry - bourbon-aged soy sauce
This is basically a hand-roll that you eat like a taco. I pickled the meat from the hollowed out strawberries from the last course, and cured the trout belly in powder of salted plum. We finish it with a generous helping of wasabi and Kentucky soy sauce that has been aged in bourbon barrels.
LOBSTER & ZUCCHINI : stuffed squash blossom ‘dumplings’ - courvoisier sabayon - hazelnut praline - nasturtium
This dish was conceived through the process of 'flavor-bouncing', a term coined by Grant Achatz of Alinea. Lobster goes well with zucchini, zucchini with nasturtium, nasturium with hazelnut, hazelnut with Courvoisier, Courvoisier with lobster.
The 'dumplings' are squash blossoms stuffed with bruinoise of zucchini and lobster scraps, then gently steamed. They taste like a very vegetal wonton. The sabayon is made from a stock of lobster shells and a ton of lemongrass.
HAND-PULLED NOODLES : sichuan bolognese - wild hen egg - chinese celery flowers - ted cheese from kenny's farmhouse
This was Kali's contribution to the menu. She chose this because hand-pulling noodles is one of her favorite techniques, and also one that I taught her. The noodles are made by banging a strip of dough against the table until they stretch and split, which gives them an irregular shape and a nice chew. She executes them perfectly every time.
The bolognese is purely vegan. It's made from vegetables that have been caramelized in a chili oil until all of their flavors married. She topped it with one of her favorite cheeses, which is simply called 'Ted', and a raw wild hen egg (which I'm very proud of).
FRENCH ONION : broth of beef bone & burnt onion - crostini with foie brown butter, marin county brie, mustard flowers
This was a last minute addition to the menu. We had bones left over from the short rib, and I knew were were going to have a pool of rendered foie fat from the 'fish taco' course that I didn't want to go to waste, so I wanted to do something with them.
The broth is pretty much a fancy pho broth, made from burning onions, ginger, and toasted five spice. We soaked some bread in rendered foie fat and crisped it up, topping it with brie, and mustard flowers from my mom's garden.
This unintentionally became a perfect play on a French onion soup.
STEAK & POTATO : 42 hour short-rib - pie ranch potatoes cooked in kombu butter - sherry bonito caramel - miner's lettuce - fiddleheads
And now, the piece de resistance. I wanted to end the savory courses very boldy, with an explosion of umami. The meat was marinated in koji (rice inoculated with a fermentation culture, aspergillus oryzae, responsible for making miso) for an hour before rinsing and circulating for 42-hours straight in sous-vide.
The potatoes are from Pie Ranch. They're super buttery, and what I love most about them is that each potato has a unique shape. I used a pin to poke a bunch of small holes into them, then poached them in a butter infused with lots of garlic and kombu.
The sauce is a sweet sherry wine that I let soak with bonito for 2 hours before straining. I then reduced the sherry until it became a caramel, and then finished it with reduced beef stock and truffle butter.
This is my version of surf and turf. I never thought steak and lobster complimented each other when on the same plate. They're both leading characters, and there's not enough room on the stage for both of them. Instead, I used flavors of the sea to accentuate the potato and steak in a more direct way.
JENNA'S TRIBUTE : white soy caramel - black sesame cake - gin & tonic jelly
I'm super bummed I didn't get a picture of this after it was fully plated, but at least I have the first few components.
This was Jenna's love/hate letter to me. It's everything that I've asked/forced her to make for menus in the past, including some new techniques I introduced to her.
It's a ton of stuff--she put up with a lot of my requests through the years--so I think it'd read better as a list:
Black Sesame Cake - cooked in the microwave using an iSi whip.
Black Walnuts - I love these cause they have a hint of blueberry, and I make her use them all the time.
Carbonated Gin & Tonic Gel - I told her a technique my mom used to do when she made jell-o, which is pouring soda into her gelatin mix, and letting it set, trapping the carbonation in. When you eat the gel, it releases the gas, and it's sparkly and tingly on the palette.
White Soy Caramel - Jenna is amazing at taking something that's traditionally savory, and transforming it into something sweet, so I suggested she use soy in her desserts one day. I thought it was going to be a challenge, but of course, she killed it.
It's all served with a blackberry sorbet that ties everything together. It's a lot of strange components but it just worked.
PUDDING : soy milk - kudzu leaf - 'kuro sato' black sugar - blue salt
I had this dessert as an epilogue to my meal at 15 East, a sushi restaurant in NYC. It was such a simple and satisfying end to my meal that I had to share the feeling with my guests too.
The pudding is made from soy milk that has been cooked with kudzu starch. It's served warm with a hot syrup of Japanese black sugar, very similar to molasses.
The dish is served last and meant to give them a warm and cozy, tucked-in feeling.
Assorted decorated chawan mushi cups for the 'french onion' course.
Plating the trout. We use a variety of black plates so that every guest receives a unique dish.