Restaurant cooking and the evolution of a dish
A recipe for white miso kladdkaka (gooey Swedish chocolate cake)
The restaurant kitchen is often a painful place to be; physically and, for me at least, emotionally. If the home kitchen is a place of relaxation and zen, this place feels more like the gym. Only this gym has the worst heavy metal playing from a grease-stained iPad, a 300 degree charcoal oven burning a few feet from your workout section, and sous chefs that all too frequently slip their finger too deeply. And, of course, the sessions at this gym last 14 hours at a time.
It took me a long time to figure out how any of us managed to keep going some days. Week after week. On and on. The only answer I could settle on is that the body is an adaptable thing. We simply get used to it. After a while, we even get to the point that we forget what work is like without some level of physical or emotional discomfort.
I think I did get used to that pain as well. It’s the only reason I lasted as long as 5 years in the industry I suppose. But there is, absolutely, a pay off for this pain. The pay off is the environment. The people. The push to improve the same thing day after day. I've heard it asked why restaurant food tastes so good and I can tell you it isn't some magic that chefs manifest. Some hidden chemistry this select band of weirdos is privy to. It's thanks to the commitment between a group of people, night after night of cooking the same thing, to make that thing better.
A great head chef will create a potentially beautiful dish, but only half the work is done at this point. The refinement, the balancing, the evolution continues. Is the garnish perfect? How can the seasoning be improved? Vinegar? Lemon juice? Pickling liquor from those dill flowers maybe? If I had a few days away from the kitchen, a familiar dish could be markedly different on my return thanks to questions like these being asked. I'm certain it's such questions that elevate food into something truly special. These are the same questions, of course, through which time-honoured recipes are created at home. In the restaurant things just move that bit faster. Regardless of where it happens or how long it takes, this is the process by which food transcends mere senses to become a poetry that registers directly with the soul.
Oh, and we used a lot of butter.
This development and questioning of what we have before us can lead all cooks into exciting new places. Food lovers have never been more excited and aware of new trends, traditions and tastes. What would seem objectionable even ten years ago, is embraced (even fetishised) now. Salted caramel. A falling back in love with offal that sees restaurants confident enough to bring lung, heart and brain back to menus. Different types of raw seafood. These are just passing examples demonstrating both an openness to unfamiliar experiences and, perhaps more importantly, an increasingly educated pallette.
And as for salt with sweet things, the next time you make a sorbet at home, I ask you to add a pinch. You'll end up with a sorbet more intense, fuller and rounder than you would have had without it.
And I promise it won't taste salty because of it.
It's with this idea of pushing recipes along, evolving them and trying to improve them that I came up with my miso kladdkaka.
Kladdkaka is a Swedish classic. It is beautiful. It is a chocolate cake without compromise. It is the ur-chocolate cake. The Swedes demand no raising agent and barely any time in the oven for this comforting fika stalwart. What little baking is required is done so purely to form a skin on the top. The consequence is a dish that manifests particular qualities straight from the oven that differ vastly to those when it's taken from the fridge a day later. As to which is the right and proper way of eating it is hotly debated. From the oven the filling is barely set, mousse-like in it's wobbly vulnerability. From the fridge the following day, however, one is faced with a beast of deep conviction. Firm, dense and joyously lacking in subtlety.
The addition of white miso, the japanese savoury paste made from fermented soy beans, complements the deep chocolate flavour, transcending the experience to something truly special. The saltiness of the miso rounds and emphasises the bitter chocolate, whilst the paste's fruity aromatic qualities add notes of tart summer berries as well.
It is at once a dish perfectly at home on a cold Christmas day, whilst simultaneously reminding you of what vibrant fruits await you 6 months down the line.
White miso kladdkaka
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