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Ad Hoc


A brief moment before passion overtook reason

I had my first Thomas Keller meal on Saturday night!!!

We tried to get into French Laundry at the last minute, but never heard back from the wait list.  My brother-in-law gave my parents the French Laundry Cookbook when it was first published in 1999.  I don’t think my parents ever really looked at the thing (shhh!).  It’s not that they didn’t like it, but frankly I’ve never seen either of them follow a recipe, and Thomas Keller isn’t exactly the place to start if you’re following a recipe for the first time.  They’re sort of old school James Beard-types, especially my father.  He read all of Beard forty years ago and now rarely picks up a book in the kitchen with the exception of the occasional reminder from tattered pages.  But I’m different from them.  At the top of my Christmas list at the age of twelve was a classic Kitchen Aid mixer.  How was I expected to work in a kitchen without one?  I knew from a young age I needed tools! and that the right tools would open the doors to haute cuisine.  Perhaps in my minds eye I already had my sites set on the French Laundry.  I was destined to be a Kellerite (a label I’ll happily apply to myself, with confidence, in spite of the fact I’ve never eaten at his signature restaurants).  I’ll never forget sitting in my parents’ living room home for winter break from college pouring over the French Laundry cookbook and marveling at the number of straining processes involved in any one single dish. 

frenchlaundry cookbook

The journey to Saturday night dinner was long and filled with deliberation.  After I got a spot on the wait list for French Laundry, I called Bouchon (TK’s French bistro), and secured a 9PM reservation.  Very late for I. and I.  There was something that felt a little staid about Bouchon (total preconception, but a preconceived feeling nonetheless).  I’d heard rumblings about TK’s new spot: Ad Hoc, and decided to give them a try.  A reservation at 8:15?  We’ll take it!  I visited the website and liked what I saw.  First, the story of their organic origins:

The building at 6476 Washington Street was originally intended to be a very different type of restaurant. While we were designing it we thought we’d experiment by opening a temporary restaurant and calling it Ad Hoc, which literally means, “for this purpose.” The idea for Ad Hoc was simple – 5 days a week we’d offer a 4 course family style menu that changed each day, accompanied by a small, accessible wine list in a casual setting reminiscent of home. We wanted a place to dine for our community and ourselves. The decision to change over the restaurant, however, was taken out of our hands by our guests. The response was so positive, we simply couldn’t close. So, in September, 2007, we decided to stay open permanently and now we’re serving dinner 5 nights a week as well as Sunday brunch.

Then I checked out the menu (posted on their website daily) and got really excited.  Here’s what we had:

adhoc menu

Everything about our Ad Hoc dinner was ideal.  In the world of education, we often talk about the importance of the context in which learning takes place.  My learning about TK’s food was no exception.  I arrived starving and admittedly slightly grumpy.  I was immediately disarmed by the professionalism of the server who greeted me in her UPS-ish brown button down uniform (replete with Ad Hoc vintage trucker hat style patch on the sleeve). Hm…interesting way to start things off.  Yet, I liked it.  I was comfortable.

We were seated at a small table on the far wall from the door against a window.  The decor is modern without being sterile or CB2.  I immediately approved of the flowers: large scale arrangements of forsythia and immature almond branches.  The crowd was diverse, and casual.  There wasn’t a shred of pretension, just a bunch of people who seemed pretty happy to be eating great food.

We looked over the menu (which I’d already memorized).  Our server came to the table and inquired about any food sensitivities or allergies.  I didn’t want to tell him about I.’s dairy allergy, but when I. did so himself our server simply replied, “that’s no problem we’ll do something else for you [for courses three and four].”  Wow.  I was impressed.  Tolerance of food allergies?  Substitutions?  I hadn’t expected as much.

I. doesn’t drink, but I love my wine.  I said, “for wine I was thinking…” and before I could finish my sentence the waiter inserted, “the Riesling.”  “I’ll take it!” I replied.

I love a knowledgeable server with a strong opinion.  Nothing better in my book. 

As it turns out, the Riesling was delicious with my salad.  The sweetness of the wine played beautifully against the saltiness of the capers that accented fresh watercress with beets and fava beans from the French Laundry garden (where else?).

The rest of the meal is just a blur of bliss.  Once that tri-tip came out I think my mind turned off and from then on I was strictly ruled by passion.  I vaguely remember switching to red, but rational thought escaped me for the rest of the evening.  I think I wanted to swim in horseradish creme fraiche.  Any takers?

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Great Grandmother’s (Maternal Side) Mayonnaise Recipe

As taught to my mother in the 50’s by Eddie, an extraordinary woman who worked for the family and who had learned the recipe from Great Grandmother…and I quote my mother [my input in brackets]:

Now you must understand that when Eddie was teaching me to cook, or rather I should say I was hanging around the kitchen while she cooked,
hoping I might fathom the mysteries of all that delicious food she served us;  when I asked her, after she had put something in the oven, “When will it be done?” her reply was invariably  “When its cooked.” [do you see why it took me so long to learn how to write short sentences being that I was raised by a Memphisonian mother?]

So I will give you the amounts and it may take your own intuition to get the mayonaise to the point where Eddie would exclaim the concoction to be “Just right.” [this is the case with most family recipes, including recipes from the paternal Yankee side]

1 egg yolk
1 lemon
1 dollop of mustard [you must intuit “dollop”]
salt and pepper
2 cloves of garlic pressed  (if desired)
1 bottle of olive oil [you must intuit how big this bottle is–but here I will give you a hint–perhaps 12, but that is only derived from my own intuition, and therefore is not exact]
1 teaspoon paprika
lots of elbow grease [there are probably electric tools that can take the place of this, but it won’t taste as good and won’t be as much fun or memorable]

First you take a nice size mixing bowl and one small bowl.

Crack the egg on the lip of the small bowl and separate the white from the yolk by tossing the yolk from one half of the egg shell to the
other and letting the white fall into the small bowl.  Either keep the white for another more virtuous day or discard.

Put only the yolk in the large mixing bowl.

Squeeze the lemon and add only the juice (no seeds) to the egg yolk.

Add the mustard to the egg and lemon juice.  I use Dijon,  post-life in France but Eddie used Colman’s powdered mustard [since 1814, but new and improved website with audio] after adding water as directed.

Salt and pepper  and paprika to taste.

Post life in France [the first time this phrase was written I edited it; after having read it twice I left it in],  I started adding the garlic at this point.

Take a fork or a wire whisk and make an emulsion of the above ingredients.

Take a deep breath.  This is the crucial step.

Add the olive oil in a steady,  slow stream;  all the while whisking all the ingredients to form a stronger emulsion. This will happen
gradually.  Much elbow grease will be expended.  You might notice a little bit of olive oil off to the side of your bowl;  hurry there and
bind it with the emulsion.  You want to stop adding the oil when the mixture reaches saturation.  It will not be the consistency of a store-bought mayonaise,  but you do want it to come to a peak when you lift the whisk.

If you go  too far and add too much oil the mixture will separate and you will have  a nice dressing but no mayonaise.  To quote Elizabeth David “Start again,  this time more circumspectly.

Sprinkle the mayonaise with paprika.

You may serve it directly or cover and chill for later but not terribly much later!

“Mmmm just right”

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