Monday, 27 October 2014

MoG @ Home #2 - Eleven Madison Park (Ministry of Gluttony at Home)

Regular readers of the Ministry may have noticed an almost month-long gap between posts between mid September to mid October. There were several reasons for this absence; moving offices, three birthday parties and a weekend away down south certainly contributed somewhat to a lack of writing time, however the biggest reason for the break was this cookbook.

A few years ago I started a serious cookbook collection, with a strong focus on the kind of difficult-to-cook-from restaurant cookbooks that often end up as coffee table eye candy/food porn instead of seeing practical use in domestic kitchens. With its stunning photography of even prettier plating, the Eleven Madison Park Cookbook has been one of my most treasured, however chef Daniel Humm's lengthy, multi-component dishes have always been extremely intimidating. When I plucked up the courage a couple of months ago to cook a series of monthly multi-course meals from my collection, I knew an Eleven Madison Park dinner was a difficult but inevitable challenge I would have to face. After successfully beginning with a relatively more straight-forward dinner cooking dishes from Momofuku Ko, I plunged into the deep end with the 3-Michelin starred dishes of the Eleven Madison Park cookbook, thinking that its more muted approach to Modernist cooking would make it easier than the Fat Duck cookbook dinner that was to follow. While the Fat Duck dinner had its own unique challenges, I could not have been more wrong - the week leading up to the dinner was easily the most challenging week of cooking in my life, recalling the mad scramble of folio week when I was in art school.

More on the difficulty later; I'd first like to focus on the finished dishes as served on the night. For this dinner, our guests were our friends Trevor and Annaliese (who had joined us at Jackson's earlier in the year), Justin and Sarah (who have dined with us a few times now, including at Pleased to Meet You, the Old Crow and Maya Indian), regular Ministry of Gluttony at Home guest Ben Basell, and my former art collective collaborator Hayley Bahr. Being busy in the kitchen, Trevor kindly assisted by photographing the finished products. As with the Momofuku dinner, we served a related cocktail as a welcome drink - last time was a 'Chinatown' Manhattan, and we maintained the American theme with a Cosmopolitan, made to a fairly classic recipe except for the use of Raspberry Vodka due to us having used all of the regular vodka recently for cooking. The use of Raspberry Vodka worked fine anyway, giving it a slight berry flavour to accompany the tartness of the cranberry juice.

Unlike the easy Chicharron of the Momofuku dinner, Eleven Madison Park's many Amuse Bouche recipes are almost as challenging as other restaurant's main courses, with many featuring an abundant use of truffle and other luxury ingredients far beyond our budget. I eventually settled on the Goat's Cheese and Lemon Galette as it seemed both the least complicated of the lot while still being exciting, and one of the cheapest to make. Consisting of flourless Galettes made out of egg and Gruyère, an Agar-set Goat's Cheese Mousse and a small taste of Lemon Jam, this surprisingly gluten free dish was a refined take on cheese and crackers, and though there was some work to be done prepping the ingredients - including reducing the Lemon Jam for 6 Hours! - it was a fairly simple assembly job for service. The dish that was an immediate hit with all present, and Alissa and I were glad there was enough left over to snack on the next day. Being made from Gruyère, the crackers had an incredible depth of cheesy flavour, and the pleasingly sour flavour of the Chevre was nicely balanced out by the sweet and sour Lemon Jam.

The Strawberry Gazpacho with Basil, Black Pepper, Olive Oil and Guanciale was a dish I was particularly excited about cooking, and another one that was largely a simple assembly job for service while a lot of work in the prep. This was a particularly clever dish that substituted the more conventional tomato component with strawberries, and the combination of strawberries, capsicum and cucumber as a base for the soup made this a sweet, sour and refreshingly zesty first course. Garnished with Guanciale, Confit Strawberries, Olive Oil, Cracked Pepper and Young Basil Leaves, I was particularly impressed by this recipe, and although the time hulling strawberries, dicing up vegetables and the 3-6 hour marinating time can seem daunting, this is the one recipe anyone considering cooking from the Eleven Madison Park cookbook should try. We liked this so much that we've already made it again for a family dinner, and its cool, refreshing flavour is set for a return as part of our Christmas dinner. Seriously; it's that good - and if you take out the Guanciale, it even vegan!

Having never prepared artichokes before, the Ricotta Gnocchi with Artichokes and Smoked Pork was always going to be a challenging dish, however many of its components were actually relatively straightforward. The Ricotta Gnocchi itself was quite easy to make - ricotta was squeezed of all its excess moisture overnight, mixed with egg, flour, parmesan and salt and then buried in a tray of semolina that formed a crust around the outside, before being boiled and then browned in butter in a pan. The result was the most pillowy soft, cheesy Gnocchi I've ever tasted. Set in a bed of Artichoke Puree, the making of the puree allowed me the opportunity to badly cut up a few artichokes as practice for the later slices, and the flavour of the blitzed up meaty hearts was unbelievably delicious; it is difficult to describe, but if you've eaten fresh artichokes before, you'll know the flavour. With another batch of artichokes sliced and cooked in wine with olives and herbs, this was a dish that really let the artichokes shine as the dominant flavour. The recipe's final genius touch however came in the use of grated on Smoked Pork Jerky as salt, as the smoky, porky flavour gave the dish more than any ordinary salt could. Our guests were very happy, and Alissa and I both consider this the best dish of the evening, and one of the best dishes from our first three dinners. Because of the prep work for the artichokes being a little fiddly, I can't see myself making this dish quite as often as the Strawberry Gazpacho, but I'd love to give this another go as a single dish dinner next time artichoke season comes around.

The Herb Roasted Lamb with Eggplant, Sheep's Milk Yogurt and Cumin was less prettily plated than I had wanted - especially considering how diabolically difficult this dish was. All the Eleven Madison Park recipes have subrecipes, and sometimes subrecipes within subrecipes, but this Babushka doll of a recipe literally had a supbrecipe (4 gallons of Veal Stock!) within a subrecipe (Lamb Jus) within a subrecipe (Moroccan Lamb Jus). Having missed the first Veal Stock phase until after I had already put in my special meat order, I had to compromise on a store bought alternative that was probably no where near as good. In spite of the store bought stock, my last minute decision not to serve the pickled baby eggplants as they tasted horrible and the absence of the pretty borage flowers used as a garnish in the book, everyone loved this dish. The Sheep's Milk Gel and the Eggplant Puree were delicious accompaniments that proved three different sauces needn't be overkill if they are complementary. The recipe's traditional, non-sous vide instructions for cooking the Lamb Loins were spot on - Justin, a regular of the Trustee and a fan of all things meat, went so far as to say this was the best cooked piece of meat he'd ever eaten, and having been introduced to Fried Sweetbreads by Alissa and I at the Old Crow, was delighted to get to eat them again. Ben called it as his favourite dish of the evening, and he really enjoyed the almost Vegemite-like intensity of the Jus. The deliciousness of the dish meant the time was well spent, however I can't say I'm in any hurry to make this one again.

While plating of the Lamb was not as pretty as I had wanted, it was not the outright disaster that was the Chocolate, Fleur de Sel and Caramel - something that particularly upset me as this was the one dish I had actually made before, so I was confident about getting it right. I remember Heston giving strict instructions in the Fat Duck Cookbook about ensuring a room is the right temperature and humidity for a dish; having thought he was pedantic in the extreme for suggesting this, I learnt first hand just how much humidity can destroy a dessert. Consisting of Chocolate Ganache Circles, Sucree Tubes, Sucree Dough Crumble, Cocoa Nib Tuilles, Chocolate Sorbet, Salted Caramel Ice Cream, Caramel Gel and Fleur de Sel, this is a complicated but manageable dish, however when being made on the most humid September day of the year, it proved a nightmare. When rolling the Sucree Dough around the cannoli tubes, the humidity warmed the chilled dough up so much that it started to fall apart before I could even finish, and though they finished up okay they were harder to make than they really should be. Worst was to come however, as just as I was about to lift the Ganache Circles off the acetate to serve they literally melted back onto the plastic and refused to come off while the Tuilles melted back into semi-liquid chocolate. I was so furious I almost didn't serve this dish, however after Alissa calmed me down we decided it was better to serve a misshapen mess than to serve nothing at all - though by that stage I couldn't be bothered with perfectly shaped quenelles.

For those interested, this is how it was meant to look like, and is closer to how I presented it last time I made it. It is really a great dessert that cleverly uses salt, caramel and chocolate in various different forms to build something greater than the sum of its parts, and the addition of the orange flavour in the Sucree Dough gives it a nice acidic hit. I'm not usually a fan of chocolate desserts, but its a dish I would happily make and eat again.

Finally, we brought out Petit Fours of Caramel Apple - a dish consisting of a Green Apple Sorbet set in semi-circles with the most delicious Salted Caramel in the middle, coated in Green Cocoa Butter with an Almond Crumble/Praline base.

As with the Amuse Bouche, the Petit Fours at Eleven Madison Park can be complicated and expensive - there is a White Chocolate Truffle dish that is literally made from White Truffle Ice Cream and topped with a circular slice of White Truffle! The Salted Caramel in this dish was absolutely delicious, and Alissa and I agreed it was the best Salted Caramel we've ever tasted. What could have been overly sweet was nicely tempered by the cold and refreshing Green Apple Sorbet. Being a bit fiddly, I can't see myself making this anytime soon, but both components were definitely worthy of being made individually for other purposes.

When making dishes this complicated largely by oneself, one has to be extremely organised, and for the week leading up to the dinner every night was spent making at least three components. With so much to do and at times utterly mentally drained, I didn't document every component made for the meal, but the following photographs will give you some idea of the process involved.

In spite of being the last thing served, the Apple Sorbet was the first component I made. Apples were peeled and sliced...

... then vacuum sealed to be boiled.

After boiling they looked a bit like this...

... were blitzed in the blender...

... and the pulp strained. Being fine dining, just about every dish involved a fine sieve at some point to ensure consistent smoothness. If there is one key difference between refined sauces and something rustic it is without doubt sieving.

Then all I had to do was make the Salted Caramel...

...and the Almond Crumble...

... and after assembly we had something that looked like this.

Meanwhile pieces of pork were brined, cut into chunks and placed on a wire rack...

... while coals were heated on the stove...

... until they glowed red hot and destroyed the enamel on our baking tray. I guess its now our smoking coals tray.

Then the meat was put in the oven to be cooked low and slow, smoked and dehydrated...

...resulting in these deliciously pork salt substitutes.

Although the Eleven Madison Park Sorbet does not require temperature control, I tend to follow the sorbet making process of Nick Palumbo of Gelato Messina.

Only having one of the old Breville ice cream makers, I tend to prefer using dry ice and my Kenwood to make ice cream, not because of its flashiness...

... but because it yields the most professional results one can achieve without spending thousands on a Pacojet or a professional ice cream machine (liquid nitrogen is excellent too, but I'll save that for the Fat Duck dinner).

The Lemon Jam was simple - just sugar and lemons...

... however 6 hours of reducing is a long time to have to watch something on the hob, even if I was doing other things at the same time. 

Sadly some time consuming components didn't even make the final cut. Take for example the tomato water I made to pickle the eggplants.

Not having a chamber vacuum sealer, I decided to freeze the Tomato Water to bag it with the baby eggplants. The resulting Eggplants did not taste particularly appetising, so we made the decision not to serve them.

Hulling strawberries is a tedious task...

... however when Confit Strawberries are as delicious as they are, it is worth it.

For the Lamb Jus, 10 pounds of Lamb Bones were put in a tray...

... and roasted in the oven.

Meanwhile vegetables were diced...

... and browned on the stove.

Bouquet Garni were prepared...

... a rich stock was made in two separate pots...

then reduced...

... and reduced even further to this concentrated jus.

Lamb Fat was frozen, minced and then rendered.

The Ricotta Gnocchi had to be piped into small balls. After this, I've come to the conclusion I hate having to fill piping bags.

The Ricotta Gnocchi were completely submerged in Semolina.

Meanwhile Eggplants were prepared...

... and turned into an Eggplant Puree, here sieved through a Drum Sieve/Tamis. 

The result was super smooth; I love eggplants and would considering making this component to serve in a more simple dish. The process for the Artichoke Puree was similar, though with the Artichokes threatening to brown from oxygenation, I didn't even bother trying to photograph that process.

Gruyère and egg can be baked into crackers without any need for flour; who knew?

Working with dough in humidity was not fun, but I got them on the cannoli tubes in the end. Thankfully the crumble is simply made with the off-cuts from the same batch of Sucree Dough.

Uniform plating is important to me...

... and these dinners serve as a great way to getting my plating skills up.

Cooking from the Eleven Madison Park Cookbook was an eye-opening experience. While the degree of technical skill required was not necessarily that much higher than the Momofuku dishes from the month previous, the recipes invariably consisted of many more components and require a lot of perseverance to make - especially if you're foolish enough to make it largely by yourself as I did. I can at times be somewhat impatient, however doing these dinners has made me realise there is a distinct difference between patience and perseverance. Thankfully, I've realised my level of perseverance when attempting seemingly insurmountable time consuming tasks is considerably higher than my patience, and I would suggest that with some perseverance I can't see why anyone with at least moderate skill could not pull these off in a home kithcen. However, with so many components and special ingredients, this meal ended up costing a lot more than I had anticipated; by my calculations, if I were to pay myself $25/hour to do something like this I'd have needed to charge our guests over $120 each just to cover my time and the cost of ingredients. Granted, a restaurant working in bulk can exploit efficiencies in other ways and get better prices for produce, but it really goes to show why fine dining prices are what they are. Having cooked these dishes, I really appreciate Daniel Humm's artisty, and I'm pretty much prepared to pay whatever price Eleven Madison Park charge when Alissa and I get to finally eat there one day. 


  1. Wow!!! You guys did such a great job by the look of it - I'm completely in awe!! Congrats on what sounds like an incredible night :)

    1. Thanks Kristy! It was hard work, but also an awesome learning experience. We're planning more dinners next year - we'll be sure to send you and Jeremy an invite to next year's season :)

  2. That IS AMAZING!!! Wow. I'd love to be able to pull it off one day, though I doubt I'd be able to! Even just cooking a birthday dinner for my family zonks me out! haha. The process sounds long and laborious but it sounds like you powered through it and enjoyed every step of the way!

    1. Thank you! I've definitely worked up to this - the first time I opened this book, I really thought I could not make anything, but having completed one dish gave me the confidence to try more. It's still pretty tiring, though a lot of fun!

      Stay tuned for the Fat Duck dinner post later this week/early next week :)

  3. Love reading about these home cooked dinners! It's amazing to see the amount of work that goes into the dishes. I love cooking but don't think I have the patience to do what you do so bravo!

    Look forward to the next one!


    1. Thanks Ai-Ling! I think I'm suited to laborious tasks - in high school I loved print making, and I did experimental film as my medium of choice at art school so this is probably just another change of medium.

      Next post will be Fat Duck... should be in by end of this week/early next week.

      As for the next dinner... it's gonna be Attica themed!

  4. Wow!! What a great job! The food looks exquisite. We've got the 11MP cookbook too, not sure that we've actually used it though... So far we've just looked at the pretty pictures. Great idea for a dinner party :)

    1. Thank you! It's such a great book... the plating and photography have to be some of the prettiest out there. And the recipes are intimidating to say the least - I had this book for 2 years before I had the courage to try making something from here!