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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

If these spices could talk...

Leaving is hard. That's why I rarely do it. As I am packing up my kitchen, in preparation for my departure to the west coast, I am finding more about myself as a chef. Take my spice collection for example--sorting through the multitude of glass vials, smudged with fingerprints, I realize I am becoming increasingly sentimental. How could I not be? There were the spice bags that my friend brought to me from India, and powerful saffron used in my favorite paella dinner party. That was when a bunch of my good friends came into this very kitchen to huddle around the stove, drinking Spanish wines, and taking turns stirring the seafood filled paella . Nothing tasted more delicious than eating such food that was made in the spirit of true friendship and fellowship.

Today I saw a copy of Andy Husband's cookbook called "The Fearless Chef." Aha! That's what I always wanted to be, a chef devoid of fears. That's what I tried to instill in my cooking pupils this summer when I made them do a "stinky cheese" tasting. But right now I'm a Sentimental Chef. I am feeling uncomfortably fond of my collection of spice bottles, and that's not good when you're trying to pack. I have already filled up two boxes of them to bring with me to California. Yes, I know they have cumin in LA, it's a melting pot, but not cumin from my kitchen, that's gone into my dishes. Twice last month, that cumin schlepped to New York with me in a blizzard.

The title to Andy's book reminded me that every chef I admire has a meaningful story to tell. If you are attuned to it, and if they are good at it, you can clearly taste it in their cooking. These are the chefs that can make a dish that is canonical, sexy, thought-provoking, hopeful and exciting. These are the ones that we love to adore.

In my research on the Los Angeles food scene, I am increasingly intrigued by the restaurant Providence. First of all, I grew up there, and have enjoyed its one-of-a-kind cuisine from the Italian salumerias of Federal Hill, to the hot weiners dusted with celery salt by McCoy Stadium, to piping hot clam cakes at Rocky Point amusement park and the quahogs that my dad used to make us dig. I still think now that it would be sweet to be a quahog digger. More importantly, I am struck by the meaning behind the word that inspired the name of the city, as well as one of the most buzzed about restaurants in the country. I take it's meaning as this: to have foresight, to have a vision, to have a story to tell. From what I've read, Chef Michael Cimarusti has a compelling story to tell, and I haven't even tasted his food. But that's my whole point in a nutshell. From the looks of it, he has created a desirable menu based on his love of the purity of fresh, wild seafood inspired by his fisherman Grandfather, Jo. My father, like Cimarusti's Grandfather, is "a man of the sea." He loves to fish down in Narragansett Bay, and he's quite good at it. In fact, he and I came to this country by way of the sea.

Rumor has it that there are plans to create a chocolate room at Providence. At first I thought it sounded odd to even think about mixing chocolate with seafood. I love chocolate and relish the time Jacques Pepin wisely advised me that to be happy, one must eat one piece of chocolate each day. And there's no question that I'm an elitist when it comes to New England seafood. I mean, even a skinny Jasper White once flirted with me. Just kidding.

So I had to call up my friend and sometimes collaborator, chocolate expert and author of the wonderful blog, The Tasty Show, Dana Zemack, to ask her if seafood paired well with chocolate.
Her answer, was: "for most part no." She said it would be an unusual pairing, a much better dessert for a seafood dinner would be a citrus fruit based dessert. The sweetness of chocolate along with its the lack of acidity would not pair well with seafood. However, Dana did recall one shrimp, coconut, and cocoa dish that she taught in a savory chocolate cooking class, but even then it was more cocoa than chocolate.

Then I came across a possible explanation to this question. Written on their website where they described their "a vision of creating a restaurant instilled with East Coast tradition mixed with just a slight twist of West Coast eccentricity."

And suddenly it all made sense, and I gained faith in divine Providence that if anyone could pull of a blended vision of seafood and chocolate off it would be this Chef. Okay, I'm being a little literal and dramatic here, but I have a feeling that soon a number of my future, fellow Los Angelenos will be asking each other my initial thought: What exactly is a chocolate room? And where can I get one?"

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