Chef Chris Cosentino of San Francisco's Incanto restaurant and salumeria Boccalone, as well as star of several popular Food Network shows was recently in Montreal on a leg of the promotional tour for his new cookbook "Beginnings: My way to start a meal". While in town, after doing a book signing and meet & greet at Appetite for Books chef Cosentino teamed up with friends and fellow chefs Derek Dammann (of the now defunct restaurant DNA) and Fred Morin of Joe Beef & Liverpool House to prepare a meal that won't soon be forgotten by all who were lucky enough to have attended.
The meal was initially anticipated to be a celebration of the recipes from chef Cosentino's new book; but it was apparent, and with good reason, that the bounty of Montreal's diverse food markets and the beautiful garden on the terrasse at Joe beef amidst which the dinner was held wound up influencing the meal to a great extent.
A charcuterie plate showcased cured meats prepared by Montreal chef Derek Dammann, accompanied by vegetables and leafy greens from the Joe beef garden, all served on the cookbook itself, which had been covered with a few sheets of butcher's paper. The deep-red Barolo bagna cauda plate was served with popular Jean-Talon market produce vendor Birri & Frères' vegatables, beef in the book's recipe for tartare putanesca full of briny olives and capers was replaced by horse meat to take advantage of its availability in Montreal. Foie gras was incorporated in dessert just as it was on the cusp of being deemed illegal to use on the following day in chef Cosentino's home state of California. Even a cheese plate and a calf's brain frittata that were not in the orginal plan were spontaneously added to the meal. A couple of impromptu dishes that were likely a result of a chef inspired by his surroundings and not willing to pass up the opportunity to take advantage of a city in which there are no laws restricting readily available brain on butchers' shelves and unpasteurized milk in the production and sale of cheeses.
There were hints of chef Cosentino's trademark use of offal throughout the meal, but it was far more subdued than what many might have expected. Yes, chef Cosentino's philosophy of "nose-to-tail" cooking is a big part of his media persona; but this meal, which he described as being far more indicative of the sort of food he cooks on a regular basis at his restaurant was a sterling example of his diversity and a testament to the fact that there's far more to his cooking style than some media conduits would have you to believe when they tend to focus primarily on his enthusiasm for cooking organ meat.
The chefs shared conversations with guests, ribbed us for taking food photos, laughed, and mingled with the crowd between trips back to the improvised kitchen space in the garden's shed to prepare the following course. Food was served family style for tables of friends and strangers alike to share, talk and enjoy over good wine and cold beers. The weather was perfect, the lamb cooking in the smoker out back left an intoxicating smell in the air the whole evening, and the food kept on coming in generous portions. All-in-all a meal beyond reproach, 15 courses over nearly 5 hours executed by a team of chefs the likes of which don't come together every-other-day - a real treat that came at an extraordinary value.
Prix Fixe Menu - 50$
"DNA" Salumi (Ham, Speck, Capicollo, N'duja)
Chilled Soft-Boiled Egg & Anchovy Crostini
Calf's Brain Frittata
Barolo Bagna Cauda, Birri & Frères Vegatables
Marinated Tripe Salad, Potato, Chili, Vanilla, Parsley
Lobster Fra Diavolo
Cucumber, Radish, Bottarga
Horse Tartare Putanesca
Strozzapretti, Raw Egg Yolk, Beef Fat, Duck Stock, Shaved Venison Liver
Smoked Lamb, Hay-oli
Rice, Beans, Radishes
Charred Fava Beans, Anchovy Butter
"Italian" Cheese Plate, Green Strawberry Mostarda
Peach & Almond Soft Serve Ice Cream, Fresh Fruit, Lady Fingers
Peach Crumble, Foie Gras