I had a little holiday lunch with Daniel Patterson, the cerebral chef and owner of Coi, last week. We didn’t have any remotely foamy or fancy. He just sat in the tattered, faux-velvet chairs at Punjab Kebab, catching up with me and happily polishing off his very uncerebral chicken curry.
Daniel preparing for Madrid Fusion.
Never one to let an opportunity slip by, I asked him to let me in on some of his top ingredients of the year. You’ve got to use your friends for what they’re worth and Daniel always has something that he’s excited about. He told me he’s been spending about 15 hours a week sourcing ingredients from farms and markets. Here are some of his current favorites:
1. Chervil from County Line Harvest Farm
2. Zucca Tonda Padana pumpkin (“It’s a gorgeous mottled green and yellow Italian pumpkin—very sweet, with an incredible depth of flavor. I make it into a mousse.”)
3. Wild miners lettuce
4. Oxheart carrots, an heirloom varietal from Marin Roots
Turns out he was one of a handful of American chefs asked to speak at the Madrid Fusión 2008 (a conference of “the best chefs in the world,” as Daniel put it with a laugh—“and me”). From the Bay Area, Alice Waters and Thomas Keller are the only other chefs attending. That's where the Oxheart carrot comes in.
Understandably, Daniel’s thinking ahead about what he’s going to cook; those Oxheart carrots just might be the star. I understood the first element of the dish—“carrot baked in salt crust and peeled”—but he lost me at the carrot purée, which he makes by doing something to the effect of juicing the carrot, adding agar agar to it to solidify it, then puréeing it with a bit of pine needle essential oil so that it becomes unbelievably silken… And then he starting talking oxalis flowers, candy cap mushrooms and his hope that all this would evoke “a walk through the forest.”
This might be what the forest floor tastes like.
At this point, after looking at my quizzical face, he took my notebook and pen and starting sketching out the dish. There were a lot of arrows. It was then I realized I was never going to be invited to Madrid Fusion. It just wasn’t going to happen. So thank god for people who think like Daniel. Someone’s got to take that envelope and push it. And there certainly aren’t a lot of chefs in San Francisco willing to take that chance.