Lots of Foam, And Close to Home, Too


Bennett Chinn, 38, is a chef, the new kind: camera-wise, fit, accessible, inventive, with blue eyes, a crew cut and a little Southern drawl.

He's also a great cook who gives out recipes, detailed recipes including presentation cues, when asked.

Chefs dont always do that. Or they forget something important. Or they can only give out the formula for 60 servings when you are cooking for two, or proportions come in kilos and milligrams when your scale reads pounds and your measuring cups, ounces.

Which is why I like Chinn, an Atlanta-raised CIA graduate who used to compete with his mother to see who could make Gourmet magazine dishes best.

I like his food, too. And I like watching him prep for the weekend's menu at Moosilauke in Kent, which he recently took over as executive chef.

One recent Thursday I visited him in Moosilauke's kitchen, a narrow, nicely designed space with all the necessary stuff like a salamander, a lot of high-powered gas burners, plenty of stainless steel, a convection oven, truffle oil, a smoker for outside and the usual restaurant artillery of sharp knives, fine sieves and beautiful large white dinner plates, these with a British name and an Indonesian provenance.

He is blanching lobsters, giving them a six-minute boil and then dumping them in ice water, afterflicking their curled-under tails.

"I always check my lobsters: If their tails snap back when I pull them straight, they were alive when they hit the water, he tells me.

If they don't snap back after cooking, they get tossed.

He extracts the lobster meat to cook later and uses the shells to make stock for a cream sauce he will foam.

"I love foam," he tells me.

Or, in Spanish,


espuma. Or "molecular gastronomy" as some zany food writers like to describe Ferran Adrià's practice of pouring mixtures into a cannister and shooting them out "deconstructed" as foam, with the aid of a couple of nitrous oxide cartridges.

 

So foam is on Moosilauke's menu these days. And so is tenderloin of beef poached at 135 degrees in duck fat. And so are barely warmed oysters in a cream "martini" sauce. And crème brûlées: three different flavors - saffron, lemon grass and chocolate, all served together.

I made reservations, later, and my mate and I ordered all these dishes.

The restaurant is dark, candle lit, with exposed timbers and a two-sided fireplace lighting up a dozen tables in the main dining room. Service is friendly and inexpert, and the menu is quite adventurous. We hit the lobster foam right away in an incredibly delicious scallop dish and went on to the poached tenderloin - a boring piece of meat that needs charring, I think, to work, and the oysters: the oysters of my dreams.

I asked Chinn for the recipe and learned something interesting: Not all great restaurant food depends on unique equipment (foams), highest-grade ingredients (first-rate tenderloin of beef) or a culinary degree.

A reasonably experienced and interested home cook can turn out Chinn's excellent little crème brûlées and even his spectacular dish for oysters.

 


Oysters

in Martini Cream


Ingredients:

6 oysters: Chinn uses mal-

becs. He likes their but-

tery and briney flavor

and their boat-shaped

shell. I used Narragan-

setts, which were what

I could get and they

were very fine

Oyster liquor

1 tablespoon sweet butter

2 tablespoons white ver-

mouth

2 tablespoons vodka,

Stolichnaya recom-

mended

1 small shallot finely

chopped

1/4 cup heavy cream

Salt, white pepper and 2 pinches of sugar

 

Rinse the oyster shells in cold water carefully. Open them, capture the liquor and place the half-shells on a towel in a small sheet pan, cover with parchment paper and a towel and refrigerate.

Melt butter in a small saucepan and gently cook the shallots until they are transluscent. They must not color. Season with salt and pepper.

Deglaze pan with the vermouth and vodka, removing the pan from the fire first. The liquor will flame, and that's fine. You want to burn off most of the alcohol. Reduce the mix to half the volume.

Add oyster liquor that has been strained through a fine sieve and a coffee filter and add cream. Reduce so that the oyster cream sauce coats the back of a spoon and running a finger through it will leave a clean line. Taste for salt and pepper and add two pinches of sugar. Yes. I thought that was odd, too. But Chinn is right. A little sugar balances the acid in the alcohol. It does not end up tasting sweetened.

Now place a spoonful of sauce in each shell lined up on a sheet pan. Add the oysters and place in a 300-degree oven for 60 to 90 seconds, "just until nicely warmed." Not at all cooked.

Arrange oysters on a plate lined with sea salt, spoon on the rest of the sauce over the oysters and decorate with a little caviar. Chinn likes Osetra, but at $77 an ounce this week, you might try domestic caviar.

Then you can add a tiny fleck of dill and it's ready to eat.

This serves two.

Except in our house, where it served one.

That would be me.

 

 


Bennett Chinn at Moosilauke, which is at 23 Maple St. in Kent.

 

The restaurant is open Fridays and Saturdays from 5:30 to 10 p.m. until spring, when the schedule will expand. For reservations, call 860-927-4145.

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