(Originally published December 12, 2013 on Examiner.com).
The “Fire-Roasted Eggplant, Smoked Sesame Seeds, Tomato Dashi, Plum Sorrel” was a new dish introduced at The Amalur Project “Chapter 3” Pop Up series this past November. For this dish The Amalur Project’s chefs Sergio Perera and Jacob Kear wanted to use a vegetable that they hadn’t explored at their prior events.
Chef Kear’s inspiration for this dish came from his childhood. Jacob remembers his grandmother in Japan who used to go into his grandfather’s garden and pick all kinds of vegetables including eggplants. Jacob’s grandmother used to char these eggplants over Binjyotan Charcoal and then serve them with soy sauce and dried bonito flakes plus a little ginger. This preparation was simple, but yet delicious, with a lot of umami. Chef Kear at The Amalur Project’s last installment wanted to share this child hood experience with his guests.
The eggplant was sourced from local farmers markets including the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Chef Kear noted, “when you have a chance to go to any farmers market it’s obvious what’s in season and what’s not.” According to Kear, The Amalur Project is all about season, they only use product that are in season. This same philosophy also applies to all the ingredients the chefs forage. Kear continued, “some items you can’t find all year long and that’s what keeps us on our toes. Sergio and I want to use the best tasting products that are available during that particular season.”
On a Binjyotan Charcoal grill, Chef Kear stated “charring the eggplant over a fire adds yet another captivating dimension.” For this dish, once charred, the eggplant’s skin is gently peeled. The remaining meat of the eggplant is marinated in tomato dashi to bring out more of the umami in the eggplant. The chefs also make eggplant chips by slicing the eggplants on a mandolin and baking them for 20 minutes. They keep these chips in a dehydrator to stay crispy until ready for serving.
During service the chefs take the eggplants out from the tomato dashi marinade and then cut them in half, length wise. They then place the eggplants in the oven until the centers gets hot. After taking the egg plant out of the oven, Amalur’s chefs brush the hot eggplants with bonito soy sauce plus sprinkle on some smoked sesame seed furikake. In Japan, furikake is a condiment that is used to sprinkle over rice. For this dish for their version of furikake, the chefs toast some white sesame seeds, smoke them, and then add bonito flakes, toasted kale, and other a few other things to make this Japanese spice mix. Two eggplant chips are added on top of the eggplant meat along with a garnish of plum sorrel. No salt or pepper are added, the dishes flavors are all umami.
With plating, Kear commented that often it is harder to plate things when you only have three to five components on a dish. This eggplant dish has only four components: eggplants, furikake, eggplant chips, and plum sorrel. So Jacob and Sergio’s inspiration for plating was to make the eggplant look like half of eggplant. Plum sorrel has a similar color as the skin of the eggplants. Jacob stated, “I think it’s a beautiful dish. We don’t believe in eighty percent garnishes, we ask ourselves why? Good food is good food, right? So there’s no need to cover up what is already delicious with things that don’t make sense.”
Chef Kear continued, “this eggplant dish reflects everything that Sergio and I believe in. We believe thatThe Amalur Project creates a menu that is seventy-five percent vegetarian and twenty-five percent meat, which means we focus more on vegetables and wild products than on meat and seafood. What we do at The Amalur Project is perfect nature and life through the lens of an artist who has supreme control of technique and is thereby liberated from it.”