This is the first part of a three-series post on a dinner that took place at the Hotel Bel Air on Wednesday, October 23rd featuring the wines of the Ca’Del Bosco and the cuisine of Wolfgang Puck and Daniel Boulud. You can see the first part here
One of the things that separates Haute cuisine from every day cooking is not just the the quality of the ingredients, but knowing how to utilize them. Santa Barbara spot prawns can be found on quite a few menu’s around town, but rarely are they blanched to a pinkish perfection as I witnessed in Wolfgang Puck’s course.
Every chef had an excellent mise en place; for me another thing that separates haute cuisine is the inclusion of only the perfectly sized pieces in strict adherence to the desired cut. Does your mirepoix have exactly 2 onion segments for every celery and carrot? Is there a lone batonnet in your small dice? I could not find discrepancies and deficiencies in these dishes, which for me only elevated their presentation.
I expected to see the Asian influence in Wolfgang’s cuisine, but I was slightly surprised to see it also in Daniel’s – reading his latest book reveals quite a few insights on several Japanese techniques that he favors and is utilizing at restaurant Daniel.
Daniel’s Sous Chef Sergio in particular, kept mentioning how large the quail were, to which Wolfgang’s Exec. Sous said, “Yeah, they are from a farm here in California.” I still notice it, even though I’ve lived here for years now; the continual reinforcement that California has pretty much the best of everything. The technique that was used to sear them in hot cast iron, scalding the skin repeatedly with the hot oil to acquire a delicate crispy skin. I adored the fact that they weren’t served completely well done, with a hint of light rose and garnet in the quarters when they went to plate. They were simply beautiful when stuffed and twined.
Normally, pastry really isn’t my thing. I don’t really eat a tremendous amount of sweets but Chef Breanne Varela is the one that I credit with really changing all of that. Her prolific output at the opening of Tavern in Brentwood, alongside some of the best chocolate chip cookies (chewy) that I have tasted gave me a deeper appreciation. I was particularly interested in the fact that the pastry station at the Hotel Bel Air had a completely removed station off the line with it’s own ovens, prep sink, etc.
The pastry program here I was really impressed with right off the bat; the organization of their mise en place, their speed, and their plating precision. Also I loved how they held their cookies at room temp under the oven, arranged nicely in neat rows.. Oh! their cookie selection. I’m obsessed with chocolate chip cookies, and when I asked for one I was greeted with, “May I warm that up for you?” Not a yes or a no, just a how would you like that. Questions like that make me want to propose marriage. I wasn’t surprised to see acclaimed Pastry Chef Sherry Yard greeting guests with her warm personality and big smile on the floor of the dining room.
Moments like these remind me that Los Angeles is the greatest food city, bar none on planet earth. As I watched Adam Fleischman chat with Wolfgang and Maurizio Zanella, I pondered that Los Angeles is exporting its restaurants to NYC, while NYC is sending LA pastries. There is simply too much land here, too much space for Empires of Chinese cuisine or whole towns of Korean culture. Nothing is confined by a borough or situated on a sinking island; it is anchored by the producer of 80% of the nation’s produce. LA is the best, and just keeps getting better.