Chef's Blog

Solage Calistoga's Executive Chef Brandon Sharp shares his passion for cooking, life and all things Napa Valley.

A dish that will not come to fruition, though fully realized on the white board and between Ryder and me, is Roasted Rack and Cranberry Sausage of Millbrook Venison with Buckwheat Spaetzle, Red Wine Braised Cabbage, Parsnip Puree, and Juniper Sauce.  For various and banal reasons, we aren’t going to be buying venison next week, but we didn’t grasp that fact until after we’d talked it out and tasted the whole dish with our mental palate.

Game is strong in flavor but very lean; bloody, often.  It pairs with powerful but athletic red wines–for me, chinon, malbec, syrah, petite sirah.  It cannot always handle the tannins of cab, and is often too wild for cab’s gentility.  It begs for fat (hence the sausage), sweetness (parsnip puree), and full-flavored, burly accompaniments (buckwheat spaetzle) with a good dose of agrodolce (red wine braised cabbage).

Ryder and I talked about game, and our approach to venison, for a good fifteen minutes before we arrived at the above composition.  It’ll probably never be made, but at this point in our evolution as cooks, the balancing of flavors, textures, and temperatures we created is almost more important to our development than the execution.  As a cook, you spend your life executing but never creating.  The pendulum swings back the other way when you are responsible for composing the menu.

I don’t pretend, and never will, that chefs are artists, but there is a parallel with art’s passage  (let’s say the release of a novel) in composing a new dish:

there’s an ingredient I want to use (this lady was acting INSANE on the subway)

it sounds perfect on the white board (this is draft number three hundred),

the flavors make sense in my head (it’s syntactically unimpeachable),

it looks and tastes great (they’ll LOVE it),

“What do you think?” (I should have been a farmer),

I can’t believe I put this on the menu and people are going to pay money for it (I’m going to buy and burn every copy),

Maybe it still tastes okay (it’s still syntactically unimpeachable).

Or maybe publishing a novel is as hard as opening a whole restaurant.  I’m sure you could get grumpy, perfunctory service at the Johnathan Franzen Pancake House 24 hours a day.  Anyway.

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