Sunday, October 10, 2010

Katsuya Does Cobaya

On September 5, Chef Katsuya Fukushima cooked for our "Visiting Dignitary" edition of Cobaya. Chef Katsuya has spent several years in über-chef José Andrés restaurants, including as head chef at Café Atlantico and minibar, and shortly after our dinner made a victorious appearance on Iron Chef America. Chef Douglas Rodriguez was the gracious host, lending us the dining room and kitchen of the now-recently-opened De Rodriguez Ocean in the Hilton Bentley Hotel on South Beach and contributing several dishes as well.

You can read my recap at Food For Thought and see the pictures in this Flickr set. The menu:

Passed Apps:
"Fish n Chips"; Serrano Ham Croquetas with Apple & Curry
Smoked Marlin Tacos; Oyster Shooters

"Ginger Beer" Cocktail

Salmon, Tuna and Tambour Rouge Ceviches

Tomato, Burrata and Uni Salad with Arugula, Rose Petals & Dashi Gelée

Cinnamon Miso Soup with Clams & Sweet Potato

"Loco Moco"
(Wagyu Meatballs with Truffle Gravy, Rice, 63° Egg, Macaroni and Spam Salad)

"Moros y Cristianos"
(House-Made Rice Krispies and Bacon Brittle with Black Bean Ice Cream, Cherry Drizzle)

"Thai Dessert"
(Coconut Sorbet, Peanut Butter Powder, Tamarind, Citrus, Cilantro, Cayenne)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Where Angels Fear to Tread

'Tis hard to say, if greater Want of Skill
Appear in Writing or in Judging ill,
But, of the two, less dang'rous is th' Offence,
To tire our Patience, than mis-lead our Sense:
A freelance writer for the Miami New Times took it upon herself to give a "critique" of the Cobaya dinners in their Short Order blog today. I put "critique" in quotes because what was most interesting about her comments - to me, anyway - is that she has never actually been to one of our events.

It is, frankly, disappointing that someone who has never been to one of those meals, and (forgive the snark, but I can't help it) doesn't know how to spell the word "palate" properly, thinks they're in a position to judge and give advice on "reevaluating the concept" of our Cobaya dinners. Even more disappointing is how the "critique" plainly got a number of facts wrong, facts which could have easily been determined from the information right on this website.

But most craven of all is that New Times has failed to publish the lengthy comment I left on the Short Order site responding to these matters.

Short Order even had the chutzpah to respond to a tweet questioning their writer's psychic abilities to evaluate dinners she's never had by saying "We contacted Cobaya several times with no response. They can respond to us now if they'd like."[*] Then, after being told multiple times that my comment had not been published (and when a further attempt by me to post a comment on the blog also failed), they simply ignored me.

It sadly didn't occur to me that my response would be outright disregarded by any semi-serious, semi-professional journalistic outfit, and so I didn't save a copy of it. In light of New Times' failure to publish it, I'll do my best to recreate it here.

"prices are high for the menus offered" - Since August of last year we have done nearly a dozen events. Every one of them is different, and the prices have ranged from $35 (an event that featured six items and a drink) to $115. Four of them have been $55 or under. But we recognize that many times, this is not an inexpensive endeavor, and strive to deliver value. I think most of the time we've gotten it right.

"One local seafood restaurant hosted a six-course "experiment" for $90 and today, the same location, offers a five-course for $65." - I think it's great that Altamare (the restaurant mysteriously not named in the blog post) is now doing wine dinners somewhat similar to the event they did with Cobaya. What Short Order's comparison overlooks is that the Cobaya dinner pricing was all-inclusive, while Altamare's wine dinner pricing is exclusive of tax and tip - which makes up almost all of that $25 difference.

"menus are hardly experimental" - the fundamental goal here - as is described in the mission statement, if the writer had only perused it - is to give local chefs an opportunity to cook the kind of food they really want to cook, and to connect them with diners who are interested in that experience, whatever it may be. Some of those meals have been more technique-driven, others more ingredient-driven; some have been more "cutting edge" than others. You can surely pick a few items out of nearly a dozen menus with probably close to 100 courses and find some things you've eaten before. Our diners have also had the chance to try foie gras with root beer gastrique; tripe risotto; liquid greek salad; halibut with pastrami dashi; pulled pork char siu bao; whole roasted Hialeah pig; pork belly with whipped banana glaze, cilantro cocoa kettle corn, yogurt spheres and white chocolate powder; crawfish pie with tasso gelato; soba style yakamein; grilled lamb heart with kumquat chutney; Korean fried sweetbreads and frog legs; cupcakes with foie gras buttercream ...

I think you'd be hard pressed to find a similar dining experience on any menu of any Miami restaurant.

We're honestly not all that concerned with whether Cobaya is "not so underground," and we're certainly not fretting over whether we "qualify for the big-time" (whatever that may be). Indeed, that much ought to be clear from the mission statement:
For those who question the "underground" street cred of this mission, those questions are perfectly legitimate. My answer is, "I don't care." We're not limiting ourselves to meals cooked in abandoned warehouses in secret locations disclosed the day before the dinner; we're also not limiting ourselves to white tablecloths and silverware changed between every course. We're very open-minded that way: all that matters is if the food is good, and we think there's enough similar-minded folks to make that game plan sustainable.
Now, we do welcome constructive, informed criticism, and we get comments, both publicly and privately, from participants after every one of our events. They are not perfect - they are, indeed, experiments - and I think each of them has had their successes and failures. And it is not with pride, but with humble gratitude, that I note that the ongoing support for Cobaya has been tremendous. There are nearly 400 people who have joined the Cobaya Google Group to receive announcements of events. Those events have typically sold out hours after they are announced, and the overwhelming majority of people who have come to one event seek to come back again.

I see this as a testament to a much more vibrant dining culture than many give Miami credit for, and a tribute to the chefs who have worked to create these meals. We're fortunate to have some very talented chefs here, and I'm constantly grateful to have been able to help put together an open-minded group of diners who are appreciative of their efforts.

[*]The writer did indeed send me a couple emails asking generally to speak about Cobaya before the story was published. I did not respond. The truth is - and I know this may come as a shock to "journalists" whose stories, more often than not, consist of regurgitated press releases - we are not particularly seeking additional publicity for Cobaya. That certainly doesn't give a writer license to get the facts wrong or to write something completely half-assed and unbalanced. The "editor" (I think that's what Jose Duran is with regard to the Short Order blog, though it's hard to tell) responded to other comments from people who have in fact been to Cobaya dinners with the following: "Basically, you're all full of it and I don't disagree with Christina because I've heard far worse things about Miami's "Cobaya" dinners." With that attitude, I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that they didn't publish my response. Unfortunately, it seems the inmates are running the asylum over there at New Times.