On the Knife's Edge of Culinary Entertainment
On one hand, Experience Dining is all about the food-sometimes as many as 10 courses of delicious fare that's created for maximum edible and visual impact. Other times, the delectables seem to blend into the background, creating a tasty tableau for discussion, laughter and possibly additional entertainment.
Such is the paradox of this palate-pleasing trend. "These are one-time-only events that reveal the hosts' personality, style and desire to share an experience," explains Lisa Gooding-Witnauer, owner of Dining In Personal Chef Service in Phoenix.
Because her custom dinner parties are tailored to the host's tastes and vision, Gooding-Witnauer works closely with her clients to discover the perfect menu based on their desired ambiance, number of guests and specific likes and dislikes. "Most people want a wonderful meal that flows," she says. "Sometimes the host has a theme in mind, but I can create a fresh menu from one item the client loves. If they suggest a pear salad and it's springtime, I'll say what about an herb-encrusted baked salmon served with fresh spinach. It's not like straight catering where you're choosing from a list."
With a five-course custom dinner party usually lasting about three hours, there's plenty of time for good conversation. "Sharing a common meal, especially in the setting of your own home, creates a really special event where all the senses are enlivened," Gooding-Witnauer says. "Humans like to be together and food creates a central experience of nurturing, sharing and celebration."
Experience Dining doesn't have to stop at the dinner table, says Josh Bradley, owner of Dezain Studios in Medford. About once a month Josh trades his designer's tools for a chef's hat, borrows a restaurant's kitchen for a night and produces a soup-to-nuts event that he calls Silk Experience. In exchange for the price of a ticket, Experience Diners partake in a comprehensive culinary undertaking from original artwork on the menus to multimedia stimulation to meticulously prepared edibles.
"What I'm really interested in is crafting an experience," says Bradley. "I do a lot of research for each dinner and by the time it's over, I've practically written a cookbook."
Bradley's latest production was called India/Rebirth and featured seven courses of original specialties using traditional Indian flavors. "The dinners aren't intended to be cultural facsimiles," he says. "Although they're rooted in cultural integrity, they're meant to be an interpretation filtered through my own sensibilities."
That might explain an Indian pot de crème with a smooth layer of banana custard topped with rich chocolate, garnished with crushed cashews. Sighs of satisfaction blanketed the dining room. "Subconsciously I refer to the diners as the audience," Bradley says. "And each event is almost like performance art; most of the techniques I've done before, but the finished product is one-of-a-kind."
Whether it's an intimate, in-home custom dinner or an evening of unexpected and edible entertainment, Experience Dining is destined for a table near you.
Medford chef Josh Bradley shares one of his favorite recipes with Joy readers. Vegetable Samosas with Tamarind SauceSamosasSpicy MasalaTamarind SauceDirections
1 package phyllo dough
2 sticks unsalted butter or 1/2 cup ghee
1 head cauliflower, chopped into small pieces
1 bunch spinach, washed and sliced
1 medium yellow onion, chopped small, diced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
2 tablespoons spicy masala mixture (recipe below)
1 fresh serrano chili, minced Salt and pepper to taste
1/8 cup ground coriander
1/2 tablespoon ground fenugreek
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1/2 tablespoon cumin seed or 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
1 teaspoon ginger powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup tamarind concentrate
2 teaspoons fish sauce or to taste
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar to taste
Make spicy masala by combining ingredients in an airtight container such as a glass jar and shake to mix.
For samosa filling, heat a wok or stainless steel saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons butter or ghee. Add masala spice blend and cook for 15-20 seconds; it should sizzle and pop. Add the onion, sautéing for 2-3 minutes until soft. Next add the chili, garlic and ginger, stir-frying for 30 seconds, and then add cauliflower. Stir-fry cauliflower for 2-3 minutes; lower heat to medium-low and cook until soft. Add spinach and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Salt and pepper filling to taste and cool before making samosas.
To assemble samosas, prepare phyllo by cutting it lengthwise into 3" wide strips, covering with damp towel to keep from drying out. Melt remaining butter or ghee. Each samosa will be made with two strips. Place a piece of parchment paper on the counter and brush with some melted butter or ghee. Place first strip down, brush with butter, place second strip down and brush with butter again. Place 1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons of filling in a diagonal line near the left side of the strip. Fold the phyllo over, pulling the top corner to the bottom edge to create a triangle. Fold straight over and then fold again, bringing the bottom edge up to the top edge, maintaining the triangle shape. Continue until you reach the end and then brush entire outside with melted butter or ghee and place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat until you run out of phyllo or filling and bake samosas at 325 degrees until golden brown and crispy on the outside, around 20 minutes.
While samosas are baking, make tamarind sauce. Combine tamarind concentrate, lime juice and fish sauce in a small saucepan and heat through. When hot, add sugar and adjust flavors.
Serve hot samosas with side of dipping sauce. Makes 24 samosas.