I have had the great fortune to have experienced the cooking of Alex & Aki and Shola on a number of occasions both fee-based and not and have come to know all of the them to the point of considering each of them a good friend. Being acquainted with them and their cooking, it has struck me for some time that they would work very well together in the kitchen. Their styles are complementary and their outlooks similar. I have been trying to get them to come up to my area together, but for various reasons doing so jointly had previously been unable to come to fruition. With the recent move of Alex & Aki to Buck's County, PA, essentially becoming neighbors to Shola, everything changed. Though it wasn't happen in my backyard, I was thrilled when I heard that they would be collaborating on a Studio Kitchen style dinner. I simply would not miss their first effort together, which as fortune would have it, would occur on the weekend just prior to my 50th birthday. What better way to start a celebration?!
I will post my experience in three parts, including the first post, published to provide a preview of the event.This post will focus on the food, offered under the theme, Shades of Green, Tastes of Spring and the last on Shola and Alex in the kitchen.
Upon entering the studio, introductions were made by and for those who had been previously unacquainted, while those who had previously been acquainted renewed those acquaintances under the anticipatory energy of the coming dinner. As with all previous Studio Kitchen dinners, guests were encouraged to bring libations to share. We started with a delicious little French bubbly.
The first four courses were paired with a Sake from Granville Island near Vancouver brought by David & Rachel from a recent trip. We drank the JunMai Nama which was excellent.
Our final wine of the evening, 1993 Royal Tokaji Co. Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos. Made from botrytised Furmint grapes, this was the dessert wine of choice for the Russian Czars. The 1993 vintage was one of the first after the fall of communism in Hungary. It provided an excellent much for the evening's final course.
Ever since Ferran Adriá participated in a Q&A on eGullet in December of 2004, I have used a quote from that session in my eGullet signature: "Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster." Since then, Adriá has expounded further on that idea, emphasizing the pleasures of taking ordinary, non-luxury ingredients and using the alchemy of a chef, creating something special from them. With the possible exceptions of the beautiful wild Alaskan King Salmon and the morels, none of the ingredients utilized by Alex and Shola for this dinner can really be classified as "luxury." There were no truffles, foie gras, bluefin tuna, Wagyu beef or Ossetra caviar. Neither lobster nor Mediterranean gambas found their way onto the menu. That is not to say that the ingredients were poor or inferior. Far from it.The ingredients were chosen with care and were top quality. The Blis roe, though not readily available, are the product of a superior artisan who has taken relatively mundane ingredients and created something special. The same goes for the Benton ham, the vadouvan spice mixture, the cheeses and any other quality ingredient that was used to prepare this meal. The greatest alchemy, however, came from the minds and hands of Alex and Shola themselves. Their creations are original, beautiful and most of all delicious. Combine that with the intimate setting of Studio Kitchen, fine wines and great company and the result is an unforgettable evening. An experience like that makes a drive from upstate NY a no-brainer. I look forward to the possibility of making that trip many more times for any future collaborations between these talented individuals that may occur.