Clay with Your Food – Jered’s Pottery Challenge 2016

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Chef’s Mis en Place

On Sunday, June 5, I was fortunate to be the guest of a good friend and fellow food enthusiast, Donovan Unks, better known on Twitter as The Dapper Diner. He’d been invited to judge the annual cook off contest held at Jered’s Pottery, which includes a trio of challenges designed to produce a victor in the kitchen. The challenges themselves are unorthodox, and the results were entertaining. Dapper’s fellow judges included Sara Paloma, a local ceramic artist, and Owen Rogers, a designer and partner from IDEO.org, a non-profit design and innovation organization focused on designing products, services, and experiences to improve the lives of people in poor and vulnerable communities.

The Chef-testants featured Kelsey Kerr from Standard Fare in Berkeley, Mark Liberman from AQ in San Francisco, and Galen Vasquez from Sons & Daughters in San Francisco. All were great sports, rising fearlessly to the various challenges, as guests watched while enjoying the wine and cheese provided by our host during the event.

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Whole Rabbit wrapped in guanciale, ready for the kiln

In the first of three events, the chefs were tasked with preparing a dish in the kiln, which was heated to an intimidating 800 degrees. Chef Kerr prepared a simple dish of anchovies, and I was selected to be the taste tester from the audience. I found the sardines cooked to perfection, despite the unorthodox preparation method, giving the dish a thumbs up. Chef Vasquez’ attempt to defeat the blast furnace temperatures was a whole boned rabbit, seasoned with fresh picked herbs, and wrapped in guanciale to keep it moist, but it was the offering from Chef Liberman, a black cod steeped in miso, resulting in a buttery soft flesh imbued with stellar aromatics, that took the first round of judging. Fortunately, I was allowed a taste of all three, and while I found the rabbit delectable, I can’t find fault with their selection. The cod was spectacular, made all the more impressive in that it was cooked at 800 degrees, in a kiln no less.

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Pottery Challenge – Pictured: (L-R) Jered Nelson; Mark Liberman; Kelsey Kerr; Galen Vasquez 

 

The next challenge was for each cheftestant to create their own serving dish out of clay. After a brief lesson from master “Clayboy” Jered Nelson, each bravely took to the pottery wheel. Results produced varied degrees of success, but they gave it their all and did pretty well considering the amount of time they had to acquaint themselves with the process and their lack of experience. The event was a rousing success with the crowd as the cheering and hollering from all present would attest. It was delightfully orchestrated chaos.

As a final challenge, each chef was given one of Jered’s creations on which to plate the perfectly presented dish. The products of this effort were mind-bendingly beautiful. The sleek and surreal shapes of Jered’s imaginative creations, upon which were placed delicate morsels of food in artistic shapes and designs, were sublime.

The winner was declared at the conclusion of the plating portion, with Chef Mark Liberman taking the prize.  Guests and judges finished off the afternoon with a buffet of okonomiyaki (a Korean pancake), kimchi fried rice and refreshing soba salad, all furnished by Namu (the folks behind both the food truck and Namu Gaji), it was the perfect end to an enchanting day. If you haven’t yet eaten at the restaurants represented, you should. If you’ve never checked out Jered’s incredible creations, that’s a must as well. I know I’ll do both.

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The winning plaing entry, by Chef Galen Vasquez

Jered’s Pottery
867 S 19th Street
Richmond, CA 94804
http://www.jeredspottery.com

Namu Gaji
499 Dolores Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone:(415) 431-6268

HOMESTEAD Is Where the Heart Is

Tagliatelle with Truffle

Tagliatelle with Truffle

I often write about the familial connection to the foods we eat. The moments that lock in the collective memory each time we join together over a meal, the ones we remember for a lifetime. Some harken back to childhood holidays, and are rekindled by the scent of our grandmother’s apple pie, or a perfectly roasted ham at a long-ago Easter dinner. Others recall more recent gatherings, but each revolves around food. They wait in our consciousness like an unspoken anamnesis, to be released by a familiar smell or taste. We bite into a slice of that familiar pie, and suddenly Grandma is alive again, smiling at us from across the table, handing us a napkin for those inevitable spills. These fragile tendrils of connection are part of the fibre of our souls, reuniting us with our pasts, and brightening our todays. It is the most important of all rituals in human existence, embracing the best of life while breaking bread.

Nowhere has this sentiment of the abundant joys of home and hearth been more evident than it is at Homestead in Oakland.

 

Steelhead Salmon, Black-Eyed Peas, Carrots

Steelhead Salmon, Black-Eyed Peas, Carrots

The decor is a lovely sort of “welcoming homespun” elegance, just fancy enough for a date, but open and charmingly familial in its intrinsic warmth. The food itself is the freshest interpretation of “New American,” where everything is sourced “farm to table,” and the food is prepared to reflect the intrinsic properties native to each ingredient. The wine list is crazy extensive, if a little pricy, but nobody says you have to order from the “cellar” list. One can secure a perfectly lovely pairing from their “by-the-glass” selection if on a budget.

But Seriously… that asparagus…

I went there recently with the Better Half. We were out on one of our date nights, and had been meaning to get to Homestead, so on this occasion we made it a priority. I am so glad we did. The menu offers three courses, each one gradually increasing in portion size over the course of the options. We began our meal with our “First” course selections, his was the Butter Lettuce Salad with Blood Oranges, and mine was the Asparagus and Soft-cooked Egg. We share everything, so I was able to sample both appetizers amply. His salad was light and crisp and perfectly dressed, and I found myself having to pull back from guzzling up all his lovely orange slices. It was a lovely palate refresher with which to start a meal. Mine, however, was out of this world. I like asparagus well enough, but I’d ordered the dish because I’m obsessed with soft cooked eggs. (Obsessed.) The egg did not disappoint, but the asparagus was perhaps the best I’ve ever tasted. Each stalk was roasted to perfection, and without heavy-handed saucing or over-seasoning, the chef had managed to simply express the flavor of that particular vegetable as well as anyone possibly could. It was at that moment I realized that they were serious at Homestead about letting the flavors of the food shine through.

Fire Roasted Poulet with Yams

Fire Roasted Poulet with Yamsflavors of the food shine through.

“SECONDI”

For our “Second” choice, I selected the Pork with Wild Mushrooms and the BH had the Truffled Tagliatelle. The pork dish arrived with two different cuts, a beautiful sparerib and a moderately-sized piece of pork loin. The delightfully sticky black bean sauce gave the dish a sense of backyard barbeque, with the meat of that sparerib fairly falling off the bone. The meat had picked up all that beautiful smoke from the hearth, and the hearts of palm were succulent and flavorful. The buttery house made tagliatelle was toothsomely al dente, the aroma of truffle
a heady perfume with every bite. Really splendid.

And for the Main Course 

Our third course choices were a Steelhead Salmon for the BH and I ordered the Fire-roasted Poulet with Mashed Yams. The trout was buttery bliss. Soft and malleable, with a gorgeous flavor, accompanied by a lovely serving of black-eyed peas and spinach. When salmon is done right, it’s an experience not to be missed, and this was a perfect piece of fish. My chicken was everything I could have hoped for. Lovely strips of roasted chicken breast that just melted in the mouth; the yams were a nice accompaniment of sweet to offset the savory.

Desserts were similarly well executed, a lovely Orange Creamsicle Concoction and a dish of Profiteroles, Dulce de Leche and Chocolate. But the overarching delight was the sense of hearth and home that pervades every bite. Comfort food, elevated and executed well, is just as rewarding in its own right as any haute cuisine with all the modern bells and whistles of added “entertainment.” This is Grandma’s kitchen, food executed to extoll all its natural properties and flavors, without a lot of fuss and distraction. Just a stellar plate of food.

Dessert of Orange Cream and Cookies

Dessert of Orange Cream and Cookies

If you haven’t been already, take the family, and check it out for yourself. Relive a few cherished memories, or make some new memories of your own.

Homestead Oakland
Reservations: 510-420-6962
4029 Piedmont Ave
Oakland, CA 94611
http://www.homesteadoakland.com

Calavera Mexican Kitchen and Agave Bar

Puerca Con Frijol

When growing up in California, one grew up with Mexican food, it was a given. I’ve been a fan of chiles rellenos since grammar school. Mexican restaurants were a fixture on every block, usually found right next to one of … Continue reading