What do celeb chefs text each other? Pretty much exactly what you imagine.
Carlos Salgado: Crispy Tripe?
And rice in black sauce? [...]
Some pork fat in rice
Blood too much to hope for but...
I can get good pork blood
I like this.
And still squid ink for clean ocean salinity. [...]
Bright aromatics on the crunch.
Earth & sea on the rice almost like a sauce.
The best part? You can actually eat this on Saturday. For one night, Patterson and Salgado are collaborating on a pop-up dinner at Salgado's restaurant in Costa Mesa, Taco Maria. Tickets ain’t cheap — $200 a pop — but it’s seven courses and Patterson has two Michelin stars. You do the math. You also get a copy of Patterson’s new book, The Art of Flavor, which he recently released. (More on that in a bit.)
This is only the second dinner Patterson’s hosted in L.A., although he was here a bunch last year when he launched LocoL in Watts with Roy Choi. He’s probably best known for his San Francisco restaurant Coi, which earned him his Michelin stars. It’s also where he met Salgado, who worked there for almost three years before coming back home to SoCal to start Taco Maria. Jonathan Gold has praised Salgado’s cuisine as rivaling Providence’s in elegance; it made his 101 list last year. Salgado also redesigned the menu at the Palm Springs Ace Hotel earlier this year.
“We’ve worked together a lot, so a lot of our DNA is embedded,” Patterson says. “We both like acidity, bright flavors and concentrated umami. Things that have power."
The tripe dish alluded to above came together almost entirely over text: It's a bed of squid fried rice topped with tripe that's been frozen and then shaved wafer-thin before being tossed in herbs and lemon. "We wanted to take something very rustic and dense like tripe, and make it ethereal and elegant,” Patterson says. The whole thing is covered in a recado negro, an inky black sauce that draws its color from charred peppers.
Another course is a tamal of wild mushroom, swathed in a blanched cabbage leaf and ladled with a buttery corn sauce. It's topped with huitlacoche, a corn fungus sometimes lovingly called corn smut (also known as Mexican truffle). “In a way, this dish is super old-school French, kind of classic low acidity, but there’s a sneaky spiciness, and funkiness from the huitlacoche,” Patterson says.
There are more plates:ants in salsa, an avocado puree with brown rice crackers and, compellingly, an aguachile sans seafood. Patterson and Salgado are using prawn broth to evoke sea-like salinity; added to it is tomato, watermelon, cucumber and zucchini. It’s garnished with fennel. “This is really about the sauce, which has lots of acidity and olive oil,” Patterson says. “It’s the same feeling as aguachile, with a whole bunch of herbs so every bite is different. It's really about, how can we start from a familiar place and then invert it?"
That sums up Patterson’s approach as he describes it in The Art of Flavor. Part cookbook, part how-to, it aims to help us understand flavors for what they are, not necessarily how we've been culturally trained to bundle them. There are espousals of marinara sauce with cinnamon (popular in Greek cuisine), which is said to provide a spiciness not unlike basil. (If you try this, know that ground cassia bark is often passed off as cinnamon and won't yield the desired effect.) There's also cauliflower roasted with cumin that calls specifically for browned butter, whose sweetness will enhance the dish. A standout is a recipe for young carrots roasted over whole coffee beans. Patterson developed it with René Redzepi when they were hanging out at Patterson’s house. Carrots and coffee both share an earthy flavor, he says, while the sweetness of the roasted carrots complements the bitterness of the coffee.
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The book is co-authored with a high-end artisanal perfumer, Mandy Aftel. Her clients have included Leonard Cohen, Madonna and Liv Tyler. The partnership, like the book itself, is unconventional yet fitting, since aroma is so integral to taste.
Although Patterson and Salgado aren’t cooking recipes from the book for this event — it’s a collaborative dinner, after all, and the dishes are of the moment — Patterson’s approach runs throughout. If you don’t have $200 to drop, don’t fret. Patterson will back in L.A. sometime next year to open a new location of his restaurant, Alta, in West Adams.
Still, that's a ways off, and Patterson's immediate concern is this weekend's dinner. “I've done these events all over and whatever happens, happens. As long as you go into it with positivity and love and excitement, everything will fine.”
Sounds pretty L.A. to us.
3313 Hyland Ave, Costa Mesa; (714) 538-8444. Tickets available here.