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Michael Carlson's Big Night
February 13, 2008 6:22 PM   Subscribe

What do you do when Charlie Trotter and a party of twenty of the world's best chefs come to dinner? Chicago hipster chef Michael Carlson serves a 14 course meal to some very refined palates. The next day he cancels all reservations, gives away everything from the refridgerators, and drops out of sight for months.

First course?

Truffle-size roasted beets hollowed and filled with bacon chocolate ganache and rolled in cocoa. Served with a shot of cold beet juice and white chocolate foam in a glass rimmed with bacon powder.

Yummy FPP (food porn post) celebrating the return of Schwa.
posted by timsteil (61 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sorry, but this one looks like someone my cat would cough up.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:41 PM on February 13, 2008 [4 favorites]


Bacon, you say? Bacon and chocolate? [singing] Myyyyyyyy kind of town, Chicago is. . . .
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:41 PM on February 13, 2008


From the Schwa website that is.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:42 PM on February 13, 2008


reality (burnout) is boring. he should have killed them all instead -- hiring ninja hitmen disguised as sushi chefs -- in a move to eliminate his competitors and become the greatest chef in the world
posted by matteo at 6:43 PM on February 13, 2008 [5 favorites]


He didn't drop out of sight, he was getting a triple bypass.
posted by 45moore45 at 6:46 PM on February 13, 2008


Man has that neighborhood changed.
posted by Max Power at 6:50 PM on February 13, 2008


OMG, all the pictures on the second link come FROM THE FUTURE!

That said, the 'modern style' courses sometimes sound like refrigerator scrapings, but I'm constantly surprised at how good the combinations taste together.
posted by pupdog at 6:51 PM on February 13, 2008


bacon chocolate

That is all.
posted by DU at 6:54 PM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have reservations!
posted by Mid at 7:12 PM on February 13, 2008


MaryDellamorte: That looks like the second course (oatmeal-dusted fried oysters served with cooked oatmeal, raisins and maple syrup). Knowing what it is makes it look only slightly less disgusting, though.
posted by brain_drain at 7:18 PM on February 13, 2008


.
posted by kaspen at 7:22 PM on February 13, 2008


I think I verge on non-taster status, and I find the supertaster world that these chefs live in to be completely beyond comprehension. I still love a great restaurant (my favorite, I think, is Babbo), but 9 times out of 10, I think I would be just as happy with Ray's Pizza. And I'm with Mary's take on the presentation, although that probably means I'm just a philistine who has not challenged his preconceived notions about haute cuisine. Or cat barf, for that matter.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:22 PM on February 13, 2008


Man, that's the kind of restaurant I would go to if I knew anyone who would go with me.

Which I don't.

Can you imagine taking kids?
posted by unSane at 7:23 PM on February 13, 2008


What's with the plates? Is square the new circle?
And the one that looks like a kid's summer camp ashtray?
And the food looks gross, but at least the portions are tiny.
posted by hexatron at 7:26 PM on February 13, 2008


Food porn is right - thanks for the post, timsteil. That 9 course meal sounds so intriguing - lucky you, Mid - will you report back to us?
posted by madamjujujive at 7:27 PM on February 13, 2008


I'm quite certain that the best chefs are complete potheads. Chocolate bacon? I swear to god, I invented that during my Labour Day Weekend hash haze.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:44 PM on February 13, 2008


fff: bacon-chocolate? You're insulting munching-out stoners the world over.

Ick.
posted by pompomtom at 7:49 PM on February 13, 2008


A great story.

I'm quite certain that the best chefs are complete potheads.

The interview with Carlson at the end of the Tribune article confirms that impression.
posted by painquale at 7:52 PM on February 13, 2008


Human sacrifice, bacon and chocolate living together - mass hysteria.
posted by cazoo at 7:55 PM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


PLEASE GOD OH PLEASE WOULD YOU PEOPLE STOP IT WITH THE HARD-ON FOR BACON PLEASE PLEASE OH GOOD GODDAMN PLEASE
posted by item at 8:02 PM on February 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


Schwa was one of my favorite people on IRC, and the person who turned me on to MeFi. Wonder whatever happened to her...

As far as the food goes, this is way so over the top. I've eaten at the French Laundry in Yountville almost 20 years ago, and that was awesome then, but it wasn't so esoteric as this is. I imagine about 10% of the people that can afford to go there actually understand it, and the rest go so they can tell their friends.

It's like the Andy Warhol of food.
posted by Eekacat at 8:03 PM on February 13, 2008


That was an interesting read and an enjoyable post. I like the looks of the 9 course too, and though $105 is not chump change in my own life, it's a pretty good price for a dinner that serious.

Among other things, food is a medium, and doing stuff like this with it is art. Yummy art!

It's no wonder he had to go have a nervous breakdown after that dinner. Thomas Keller alone, as a guest, would do it for most cooks. As a front-of-house veteran, I can only image the stress the actual cooks would be feeling.

It really surprises me that Trotter would take the group there without vetting it first, though!
posted by Miko at 8:03 PM on February 13, 2008


*sigh* what a guest list and what an incredible story of a meal. Thank you for this, my infusion of food porn has been on the low side lately.
posted by pywacket at 8:08 PM on February 13, 2008


This seems more esoteric than the French Laundry, eek? That would sincerely surprise me, based on what I've read: French Laundry sounds a lot more out-there, a lot more precise, a lot more control-freaky. I haven't been lucky enough to eat there, but want to one day. Schwa seems like a casual weeknight corner bistro in comparison to what Ruhlman describes of the French Laundry, or what the French Laundry cookbook prescribes, or what Pheobe Damrosch says about Keller's approach in this book about Per Se.

Looks like Carlson won the Food & Wine Best New Chef - interview here.
posted by Miko at 8:09 PM on February 13, 2008


Fwap Fwap Fwap.

Shoots foam-emulsioned cod roe from his artfully carved tahitian vanilla pod onto a slice of patagonian snaggletoothfish that has been cooked, sous vide, with licqorice, iron filings and a touch of ennui, dusted with a fine mixture of carageenan and 1,3 benzo-p-dioxin - served on the side of a delicate recycled paper 'poori' filled with an 'air' of szechuan mountain-nanny toenail clippings.
posted by lalochezia at 8:17 PM on February 13, 2008 [10 favorites]


Meh, I had that for lunch.
posted by brain_drain at 8:38 PM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sorry, but this one looks like someone my cat would cough up.

That is exactly the same thought I had.
posted by Mr_Zero at 8:45 PM on February 13, 2008


Dining room guests heard the same music that played for the chefs in the kitchen: loud, raw hip-hop and heavy metal.

Come to Schwa: elegant haute cuisine, set to Slayer's Reign In Blood.
posted by naju at 8:52 PM on February 13, 2008


Sure Miko, but of course I'm comparing a French Laundry of nearly 20 years ago. Top Chefs constantly have to keep progressing or risk being passe. I hear now they have a salt course at the French Laundry. When I went the food was unique, really not so far removed from other good restaurants of the area. Certainly a large step up as far as perfection goes however. I think it's the photos of the presentation of these plates that makes me feel that they're more over the top. Of course, I've spent the last 14 years being a knuckledragger, and I'm far far removed from when I lived in the Napa Valley and on the cutting edge of food and wine. Out of touch I am, absolutely.
posted by Eekacat at 8:54 PM on February 13, 2008


Schwa served no bread; Carlson once told fellow chef (and bread enthusiast) Brett Knobel, "I don't believe in it."

marks the moment that I began to suspect this dude was not my culinary cup of tea.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:05 PM on February 13, 2008


Lamb with green curry, Israeli couscous and homemade root beer.

But I do have to give it up for a guy who makes his own root beer.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:10 PM on February 13, 2008


Well, he says he doesn't like bread, but his brioche and panzanella turn up a couple times.

I can see what he means if he's talking about bread on the table to start the meal, though. I love bread, but that does fill you up too much, especially if you want to have a taste of everything.
posted by Miko at 9:16 PM on February 13, 2008


Interesting article, but I find this entire style of cooking too pretentious and unsatisfying. The best chefs, in my opinion, are able to make simple things taste amazing. This kind of cooking surely has its place, and I would argue that serving great chefs is probably the best place for it-- they're so burned out on great cooking that something new is more exciting then just something good.
posted by cell divide at 9:19 PM on February 13, 2008


"Yes, I'd like a table for two."
"Do you have reservations?"
"Yes, but we want to eat here anyhow."

THANK YOU! I'LL BE HERE ALL EVENING!
posted by Wink Ricketts at 9:35 PM on February 13, 2008 [4 favorites]


There isn't a salt course but rather for foie gras courses, a trio of salts is presented alongside. Depending on what they have, it can be French sea salt, Japanese seaweed-flavored sea salt, Hawaiian volcanic soil salt, or 40 million year old Jurassic salt mined from Montana. Yes, it's all rather ridiculous.

And looking at the 14 courses, I'd still have to say French Laundry's courses are much less "out there." Most are still very grounded in traditional French cooking but just updated. The flavor combinations sound elaborate but still sound delicious rather than leave you scratching your head. There's no foams, jellies, mists, adhesives, or strange emulsions. There's little in the way of fusion other than the use of Asian ingredients (as opposed to trendy West+East preparations). What makes the French Laundry cookbook daunting is the over-the-top complexity in prep that comes with having the most excessive cooks:diners ratio of any restaurant. Few professional and amateur cooks have the resources or patience to strain a sauce more than once or twice whereas Keller might have his staff pass a tomato coulis through progressively finer strainers 7 or 8 times. There's no sleight-of-hand or trickery. It's quite simply modernized French food pushed to the edge of perfection by an army of well-trained and closely-monitored cooks.
posted by junesix at 9:35 PM on February 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


From the Schwa 14-course menu:
9. Braised beef tripe mixed with a brioche puree to create a panzanella (bread salad)

See I have issues with courses like this. It's stomach mixed with a puree of bread to create a "bread salad." Interesting and entertaining but after you've got the joke, what's there the second time around if it doesn't taste all that great? Panzanella is good because there's actual bread texture. Puree it and it's just soggy, flavorless bread mush.
posted by junesix at 9:43 PM on February 13, 2008


Lucky ducks in the Ukraine have choolate lard.
posted by porpoise at 10:10 PM on February 13, 2008


The French Laundry and Schwa are doing completely different things. I've had several meals at the French Laundry but sadly have only been to Schwa once, almost a year ago. The food at the French Laundry is very comfortable and savory - sure it's in a different format than how anyone eats at home, but the dishes are mostly familiar flavors and textures. Schwa is another thing entirely, it's more like Alinea, but unlike Alinea where the food is just creative and interesting the food at Schwa also tastes good. The oatmeal oyster is fantastic, the quail egg pasta is one of the single best tasting things I've ever eaten. I'm also a big fan of the laid back service and BYOB policy. Schwa easily is the best place I've eaten at in Chicago.
posted by foodgeek at 10:21 PM on February 13, 2008


Depending on what they have, it can be French sea salt, Japanese seaweed-flavored sea salt, Hawaiian volcanic soil salt, or 40 million year old Jurassic salt mined from Montana. Yes, it's all rather ridiculous.

I went on an exotic salts kick for a bit last year, figuring it'd be no harm to blow a few bucks on different packets of higher-end salt.

Turns out that (a) real salt is MUCH better than that nasty white shit we're all used to in America; (b) different salts do taste different.

A caveat, though: I typically don't salt my food, so a little goes a long way and I really do taste it. If you use salt like my father-in-law — he literally turns his food white with salt — I'm pretty sure you'd never, ever be able to appreciate the difference good salt can make.

For the quantities of salt I use, I find it well worth purchasing sun-dried sea salt. It's not as salty as iodized salt, has a rounder flavour, and is just plain flavourful in comparison to white salt. It's tough to describe the advantage...
posted by five fresh fish at 10:22 PM on February 13, 2008


For the quantities of salt I use, I find it well worth purchasing sun-dried sea salt.

Also, it's like -- salt, so even if it's several times more expensive, amoritzed over the cost of the life of the box, it still adds up to nothing at all.

FWIW, I probably oversalt my food, but I can absolutely taste the difference, fff. I'm not a food geek at all, but I won't buy anything other than Maldon sea salt.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:43 AM on February 14, 2008


Oh I get it, all this is just to prepare our palates for sauteed rat entrails sprinkled with dried sawdust, with a dash of urine sauce, once the real food is too scarce, right?

Well, thanks, surprise me with a really good steak and I'll still be as surprised as the first time I had it.
posted by Laotic at 1:44 AM on February 14, 2008


So I have some ravioli with liquid quail egg filling and white truffles, sauteed sweetbreads with cardamom marshmallow in the fridge since Tuesday a week ago. Eat or no eat?
posted by tiny crocodile at 1:53 AM on February 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


> Oh I get it, all this is just to prepare our palates for sauteed rat entrails sprinkled with dried
> sawdust, with a dash of urine sauce, once the real food is too scarce, right?

Where's your sense of adventure? Consider Achille Murat. "baked turkey buzzard, boiled owl, roasted crow, stewed alligator, lizards and rattlesnakes." (Though he did reluctantly conclude that turkey buzzard is not good.)
posted by jfuller at 2:38 AM on February 14, 2008


Well sea salt does have larger crystals like kosher salt. But I haven't been able to taste much of a difference between kosher salt and the exotic sea salts, at least not enough to warrant the tremendous premium.

I have a rich friend who never cooked and ate out every meal with his girlfriend. To keep up appearances, he still managed to stock his pantry like a professional kitchen. One time I went to visit and he decided to make some pasta out of the blue. I watched eagerly until he scooped up a giant handful of sel de mar from a glass jar and dumped it into boiling water for pasta. It hadn't dawned on him that he had used a good $10 worth of fancy salt just to boil water.
posted by junesix at 3:29 AM on February 14, 2008


FWIW, I have it on good authority that the staff of Alinea regularly dines at Schwa on their nights off.

It's good stuff, y'all. There's nothing wrong with pushing the boundaries of taste, texture and flavour combinations.

Were I still in Chicago, unSane, I'd go with you.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 5:38 AM on February 14, 2008


PLEASE GOD OH PLEASE WOULD YOU PEOPLE STOP IT WITH THE HARD-ON FOR BACON PLEASE PLEASE OH GOOD GODDAMN PLEASE

Never!

Never never never neverrrrrrrrrr!

You can take away my bacon when you pry it from my salty, greasy, tasty hands!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:45 AM on February 14, 2008


14 courses? Amateurs. The MrsMoonPie and I had a 30-course meal a few years back (self link). Foie gras cotton candy, anyone?

And I've had the aforementioned bacon chocolate. It also has crunchy bits of smoked salt. Yummy.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:43 AM on February 14, 2008


There's really great haute cuisine out there (from people like Alain Ducasse or Sylvain Portay, for starters) that normal people who don't have anything to prove or brag about can really go and enjoy and have a great evening with friends and move on.

And then there's this pretentious crap people like Carlson purvey, where it's only about being seen or being able to tell your friends: "We went to Schwa last night."

It's the real-life version of "Frasier".
posted by Jay Reimenschneider at 9:32 AM on February 14, 2008


Yeah, and those grapes were probably sour, Jay.

Here's what I think most people don't get about food on the level of Adria, Achatz, Carlson, Blumenthal, etc:

It's not about fuel. It's about looking at flavour and texture and combining them in new and interesting ways. It bears roughly the same resemblance to your average (or even high-end) restaurant as a Picasso does to an Annie Liebowitz print. They're both artistry, but they serve different purposes: Annie shows her subject (yes, broad generalization, but bear with me ok?), while Picasso recontextualized his by showing a totally different way of looking at things.

That's what this food movement is about. It's not, and doesn't pretend to be, everyday food. These chefs are artists who are finding new ways to express things in their chosen medium. Yes, of course there are excesses and pretension. There always will be in any movement. But take a look at Achatz' 'PB&J sandwich' (peeled Muscat grapes on the vine, dipped in homemade peanut butter, covered in brioche crumbs and then toasted) and tell me it's 1) not genius, 2) pretentious. It is, rather, a playful take on an everyday staple.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:14 PM on February 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of becoming a foodie, after years of not really caring, and I buy almost all organic, raw ingredients and make my own. I also know several chefs who are longtime friends from the business. But the presentation (which looks like pretty much every other modern fine dining presentation I've seen) and food choices are a bit intimidating, if you lack the rarefied palette it must take to know what you're getting into. I am very adventurous when it comes to trying new things, but this is a bit much. The food sounds pretty good, but I'm probably not their target audience.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:18 PM on February 14, 2008


dirtynumbangelboy writes "That's what this food movement is about. It's not, and doesn't pretend to be, everyday food."

I get it. I'm more interested in simplicity as well as traditional foods done very well in relaxed, comfortable settings, rather than far-flung adventures in gastronomy in exclusive places. I can see the appeal, but it's also not easy to participate in such adventures unless you're at a certain income level, and I'm not even close (although I am willing to be sponsored, in case anyone wants to take my unrefined tastes on as a project).
posted by krinklyfig at 12:25 PM on February 14, 2008


There's really great haute cuisine out there (from people like Alain Ducasse or Sylvain Portay, for starters) that normal people who don't have anything to prove or brag about...

Oh, c'mon -- if that we're true you wouldn't have to mention names.

It's a shame that food-as-high-art has to be linked with the luxury marketplace, but that's the way it is, in the same way that the opera and the symphony (and, for that matter, the Rolling Stones) offer their wares at ticket prices many audiences can't afford. There is a way in which eating like this is nothing but conspicuous consumption. But there's also another, serious way, that's about rethinking food and encouraging new ways of approaching it.

There are different food philosophies. It's one thing to set out to be a great, highly technical, and highly successful cook who produces conventional food in a top-notch way with flawless service and a beautiful atmosphere. That's one kind of experience. Chefs like Adria and Carlson are doing something different, that's all - but it's neither more nor less pretentious. It's just got different philosophical underpinnings, different aims.

No one would want to eat like this every day. The chefs I've known eat pretty simply and humbly most of the time. There's a time to gnaw on a braised pork chop midservice, and a time to turn it into a gel and pile it onto a sheet of copper.
posted by Miko at 12:50 PM on February 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


There is a way in which eating like this is nothing but conspicuous consumption. But there's also another, serious way, that's about rethinking food and encouraging new ways of approaching it.

Exactly. Thank you for making the same point I was trying to, but far more eloquently and succinctly.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:01 PM on February 14, 2008


Everyone come to Portland for Father's Day. We can have a meetup at their Pix Patisserie bacon and chocolate buffet.
posted by turbodog at 1:55 PM on February 14, 2008


I understand this food movement, and I even like it. Personally, I don't think it is as good when compared to the time-honed techniques, using the best possible ingredients, served in a family environment. I had an amazing meal at El Bulli about 8 years ago and it blew my mind. But I also ate in the home of a chef in the same region and had traditional dishes prepared amazingly. For me the second meal was better.

Schwa sounds really cool though, because of the casual atmosphere. I love restaurants like that.
posted by cell divide at 2:14 PM on February 14, 2008


Well sea salt does have larger crystals like kosher salt. But I haven't been able to taste much of a difference between kosher salt and the exotic sea salts, at least not enough to warrant the tremendous premium.


The sea salt I use everyday is the same size as normal table salt. I paid 1.49 for a 26 oz box at the tiny store down the street. Maybe they marked it incorrectly, but sea salt isn't that expensive any more if you get the basic form. However the Fleur de Sel I bought for making salted caramel ice cream was expensive enough to absorb any savings on the everyday sea salt.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:46 PM on February 14, 2008


Miko: what Pheobe Damrosch says about Keller's approach in this book about Per Se.

OMG! I went to summer camp with Phoebe. I was a couple years older, but man, she was already a very cool, excellent person when she was 11. I've idly wondered what happened to her -- so pleasing to see that. Cool, cool.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:51 PM on February 14, 2008


Now, to answer the original question: "What do you do when Charlie Trotter and a party of twenty of the world's best chefs come to dinner?"

Well I would tell them politely that I never invited them to dinner and that they should probably just leave. Maybe point them towards a supermarket so they could pick up some DiGiornos and brag about how its not delivery.
posted by pwally at 4:14 PM on February 14, 2008


I wasn't talking about fine-grained, dessicated, blinding white sea salt.

There's NaCl salt, which is about as pure a chemical as one could wish, and is just fine for putting in your pasta water, making bread, or otherwise using in ways where its flavour is hidden.

Then there's salt that's full of mineral "impurities", is more flakey than cubic, and which has an actual flavour to it that's round and full and not one hundredth as nasty as pure NaCl. This is the salt that you use when the flavour is going to be noticed. Salt that adds to flavour instead of being a mere chemical agent.

I think we have Celtic brand salt right now. Nothing particularly exotic or expensive about it; it's not like I'm going to blow tens of dollars on a bottle of salt. It's just better enough.

[goes and checks] Turns out it's Nature's Cargo "Harvest of France." Whatever.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:25 PM on February 14, 2008


Eat or no eat?
posted by tiny crocodile at 1:53 AM on February 14


EAT! Also, eponysterical.
posted by infinitywaltz at 12:05 PM on February 15, 2008


In case the article ever disappears without an Internet Archive copy, here are the 14 courses:

1. Truffle-size roasted beets hollowed and filled with bacon chocolate ganache and rolled in cocoa. Served with a shot of cold beet juice and white chocolate foam in a glass rimmed with bacon powder.

2. Oatmeal-dusted fried oysters served with cooked oatmeal, raisins and maple syrup.

3. Roasted corn soup with grilled corn, mayonnaise, chili and lime.

4. Pad thai using jellyfish as noodles.

5. Quail-egg ravioli topped with shaved white truffles.

6. A sweet cone filled with rosemary, juniper and yuzu pudding ("mock pine") and sea urchin ice cream with salted caramel and pink peppercorns.

7. Purees of avocado and cauliflower served with golden trout caviar.

8. Spanish mackerel with zucchini flower, hummus and rosewater yogurt.

9. Braised beef tripe mixed with a brioche puree to create a panzanella (bread salad).

10. Sauteed sweetbreads with green cardamom marshmallow and smoked plum.

11. Lamb with green curry, Israeli couscous and homemade root beer.

12. Savory cheesecake made with Humboldt Fog cheese and shaved black truffles.

13. Rhubarb puree, honey sorbet and camomile agar cubes.

14. Soft pretzels with turmeric ice cream and mustard and beer emulsion next to dates filled with salted caramel and bloomed mustard seeds and rolled in crispy crushed pretzels.
posted by DataPacRat at 2:29 AM on February 18, 2008


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