Guest Chef Murray Wilson - "The Rockpool"

Seriously, it never ceases to amaze me how cool chefs are around the globe. I met Chef Murray Wilson recently on Twitter and immediately he was up for a guest post. In any case, here is Chef Murray's guest post. Thank him on Twitter @murray_wilson if you want. Awesome! 

Chef Murray Wilson - 'The Rockpool' 

I created this dish to recreate a childhood memory of foraging in rocks by the beach. 

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Everything on the rock is edible, mussels, clams and oysters. The broth is then made into a foam to mimic waves. The sand is fennel and roasted garlic, pickled seaweed and cucumber compressed in gin, samphire, smoked avocado purée, chicory root baked in clay and bay leaf powder to mimic rocks and moss. And a touch of apple for freshness and acidity. 

The rock was foraged from a local lake and the dish is served like this to diners with the story behind the dish told. Many diners found that it did remind them of childhood times and even a couple were quite emotional. 

It's fantastic that food and presentation can affect people in such a profound way and it makes me very proud to be a part of such a great industry

 

Mugaritz - The Meal Of My Life (Michelometer at 14*)

It's taken me a while to finish this post. My first answer is to say that it's just taken time - there were over 20 courses, after all. But to be completely honest, I think it's because it was such a personal and intimate experience and subconsciously I want to keep it all to myself. But in reality, if this post inspires someone to visit the amazing Mugaritz then it's all worth it.

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Let me start by saying my plans for San Sebastian were a bit ambitious. Some would even say stupid. I booked us in for two nights and planned to get to three of the best restaurants in the world in on the visit. So, in addition to Akelarre one night for dinner, this also required the herculean feat of visiting Mugartiz for lunch and then Arzak for dinner (more on that one in another post). Yep, that's 12 Michelin stars and over 50 courses in roughly 28 hours.

In any case, let me begin (and apologise for the longest post in the history of man).  

First up, "Fishbones" with nuances of lemon, garlic, and cayenne pepper. It was a very interesting and tasty way to start the meal. Very crunchy on the outside but the lemon and garlic was super smooth.

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I hate to say this, and I feel like a bit of a hypocrite, but the Summer truffle and "solera" was our least favourite dish by far. It was hard to put my finger on it but it was actually fairly bland. But you should have seen the waitress' face when the truffles collapsed before she placed it on the table! We had to reassure her a dozen times that it wasn't like she dropped it on the floor...

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Dish #3 was Small crustaceans bind with seeds and saffron cream. Just have a look at those little prawns! We were absolutely back on track with this dish.

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Now, Chef Aduriz is world famous for his Edible stones. Simple in concept - potatoes cooked in edible clay - but absolutely magnificent in execution. I mean, just look at these...

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The simple but flawless theme continued with Preboggion, which is a Stew of weeds, and crisp potatoes. And by this time we realised that the pace of the dishes was perfect as well. Just fast enough to keep hunger at bay but slow enough to interact with the staff and have a good laugh.

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Can you believe that our next dish was Green chickpeas with salt from the Anana valleys? I mean, seriously... simple ingredients at their finest. 

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This would probably be my second favourite dish of the meal - cold peach and razor clams. Who would have thought that those two went together so well? As soon as I can find some razor clams at the fish markets I'm giving this one a go.

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Things started to get a little weird with Tanned lobster flesh and fermented rice. The fermented rice would be straightout weird and probably not very nice, were it not for the mind-blowing lobster. This dish rocks! And it turns out they use a machine from Korea and its sole purpose is to make this rice.

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Sweet corn, milk cream, and seeds. I know this may not look that appealing, but trust me, it is. Oh yes.

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An interpretation of a shark fin with roasted cauliflower broth was next. One guess what this is?? If you guessed calves tendons then you've been here or you need some sort of prize. Never would have thought it. Never would have eaten it before but this was well worth the risk.

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Ok, this had to be one of the most fun parts of the meal and so indicative of the atmosphere they have created here. It was a dish of Poultry Royale, and a game of Astragals Royale. The dish was a poultry flavoured custard. But wait, we had to play a game with each other where you put a secret number of playing pieces behind your back and each person guesses what the other has. Turns out the Gourmet Female isn't very good at hiding her unused pieces so I won in a landslide. The prize? A massive tub of caviar that matched with the poultry custard in an absolutely amazing way.

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Now, I think they do this for most people but I don't care - I got to visit the kitchen of the fourth best restaurant in the world. It was awe-inspiring. And I even stole an idea about a wall sized chalkboard in our new kitchen.

When we walked in we were greeted with a little macaron. I jumped in a bit too quickly - as it was racing down my esophagus one of the chefs jumped in and asked, "Do you eat everything?". He looked pretty concerned so I started to wonder what I just ate. Turns out these geniuses have discovered that the protein in pig's blood matches that of egg white. So that tasty little morsel was a pig's blood macaron with a foie gras filling. I don't care, it was freakin' amazing!

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Back to the table and some Grilled squid with onion. I love the play on flavours and textures through all the dishes. Doesn't that look like burnt onion? Beautiful.

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Following next was Cantabrian sea Bonito and dark Marmitako juice. That dark juice was so rich and thick but it matched the Bonito perfectly.

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Next up, Red mullet in a butter of its own liver. With almonds and bread. Again, such an amazing combination of flavours and textures. Perfect.

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Sweetbread of suckling lamb with seasonal mushrooms. Not a sweetbread fan? You would be after this one. I would absolutely love to grow those little mushrooms. Not to mention the amazing and spicy flowers.

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Sheets of "entrecula", grilled steak emulsion and salt crystals. Pardon my French, but best-fucking-steak ever. See what's on it? That's a reduced fat emulsion of the steak itself. Come on. I can die now, thank you.

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So, once the savoury dishes were finished we were ushered out to the beautiful garden to enjoy desserts. I'm not sure if it's the wine or the anticipation but someone's ready for dessert!

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The mashed and dressed fruits with concentrated melon juice was so gorgeous I had to take a video of me pouring in the juice. Just beautiful and a perfect palate cleanser to start desserts.

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Following on was frozen almond turron. Very reminiscent of an ice cream cone in flavour and texture. Beautiful!

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Yeah, ok, the wine was kicking in by this point. Almost forgot to whip out my phone for the next photo. So, post-bite this is called "Glass. Sugar and cocoa as a cookie". And yes, it is as good as it looks. Better, actually.

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The next dessert was "Mocha in its lightest version". They weren't kidding - this thing almost disappeared before it passed my lips. So incredibly light.

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The last official dish was candy caviar. See the rocks the cone is set in? Cookie dough. Yep, we've reached "best meal of my life" status.

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We finished with the seven deadly sins. Want to know what wrath was? Empty. Genius.

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It's hard to say just what made this meal so amazing. Part of it was the glorious food, obviously. But part was the lovely and oh-so-friendly maitre d ("Where do you go next?" he asked. Zaragoza. "Ooooooh, th-era-go-th-aaaa". We still mimic it to this day), the interesting diners who were happy to have a chat, the kitchen tour, and the garden. But I think it also was because I finally said "screw it, I'm going to ask what's on my mind". And the end result? Number one was an authentic chef's apron from the kitchen! You can't buy these folks. 

Now I need the courage (and respect) to wear it. 

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But part of it was also scoring my copy of Mugaritz BSO, spotting Chef Aduriz at the end of the meal and getting him to personally sign it.

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Yep, definitely the meal of my life. I don't think I can ever go back as any other visit couldn't possibly live up to this experience. It was emotional. Thank you, Mugaritz, Chef and team. You made my holiday.

Unbelievably, a quick snooze and off to Arzak for dinner! More on that soon. 

Akelarre - Revered San Sebastian Cuisine (Michelometer at 12*)

In most guides to top end cuisine in San Sebastian you’re faced with the decision of the “holy trinity” restaurants you’re going to visit. This includes Arzak, Mugaritz, and the ever-classic Akelarre. To me, this was an easy decision – do all three! In two days! Yikes!

Our adventure kicked off with Akelarre, which has been a staple of San Sebastian for over 30 years. Chef Pedro Subijana is revered in these parts and is considered one of the patron saints of the new Spanish cuisine. The restaurant also holds three Michelin stars and has been in and out of the top 100 in the world for a number of years. I was told  by Chef Heinz Beck before I came that the three restaurants and experiences would be very different and this certainly held true.

Akelarre is located in the hills just outside of San Sebastian, about fifteen minutes in a cab. It’s a beautiful drive and you get to see some pretty views on the way. But nothing can prepare you for the view once you enter the showcase of a dining room. We were lucky enough to have the best seat in the house, up against the glass with a full view of the sunset (this was about 9pm in August). Just stunning.

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In retrospect, this was definitely had the most formal feel to it of the three we visited here but we still enjoyed the unique experience. Your choice is one of three tasting menus, one of which contains their classics and the other two being new creations. The good thing is that each guest can choose from different menus so the Gourmet Female and I decided to split the decision and each try one of the new tasting menus. You can do a la carte here but seriously, why in the world would you?

We started with what we considered the most playful and “cool” dish of the trip. It was a zen garden of different playful items – an oyster leaf, a caramelised mussel, covered chickpeas, etc. The most clever aspect was the prawn “sand”. Delightlful!

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I chose the Bekarki menu. The Gourmet Female started her dish with tableside roasted prawns.

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My first main was, “Xangurro in Essence, its Coral Blini and ‘Gurullos’. This was essentially a large crab claw on a Blini with

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Next up was, “Green Broth Infusion, Red Prawn and Smoked Monkfish”. As I mentioned with La Pergola, this is another dish that appears to be one that could be straightforward to recreate when viewed. But when tasted it’s a completely different matter. That green broth infusion is one of the most complex I’ve tasted yet it still allowed the prawn to stand out on its own.

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This is where things started to go crazy for me. Firstly, I have had foie gras before but it has always been mixed with something else and delivered in small quantities. This was two whole pieces of foie with “Salt Flakes and Grain Pepper”. Now I guess they have to use the quotes when the words they use are not actually what’s used but it was a giveaway to me that something was up. Still, I was horrified when the waitress brought me two beautiful pieces of foie, only to drop two small bowls of “salt and pepper” on them. But I quickly realised that they were something altogether different. I couldn’t decide what the “salt” was made of but I’m pretty sure there was a cocoa element to the “pepper”. Black-out good.

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As I have mentioned in other posts, salt cod (or bacalao) is a key part of Basque culinary culture. Akelarre didn’t drift too far away from those roots in, “Desalted” Cod Box with Shavings”.

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I think the prettiest dish of the night was “Roasted Pigeon with a Touch of Mole and Cocoa”. Having gone through Mexico a number of times I can appreciate how mole and cocoa can work with poultry. But the presentation here is world class.

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The “cool” factor for me on the night was, “Mile and Grape, Cheese and Wine in Parallel Evolution”. Effectively, this is a dish that combines grapes and cheese as they move through age and maturity. The cheeses get more rich and heavy while the grapes slowly become sultanas. Brilliant!

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We finished up with, “Orange ‘Tocino de Cielo’ Sheet with Fruits Leaves”. In this creation the chef has created an edible and “scratchable” plate of orange with chocolate fruit leaves on top. A great combination of citrus and chocolate to finish the meal.

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Not the greatest shot of us with chef Pedro Subijana but I think the light above his head is fitting! BTW, chef was kind enough to come in the next morning and sign his cook book for me so that I could take a copy home.

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In the end, we loved our trip to Akelarre. The views were spectacular and the food was inspiring. This is a new Spanish food institution and chef if respected with reverence by all those who have come after. We did enjoy Mugaritz and Arzak more, but for different reasons. In the end, it was a meal we will cherish forever.

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Imago and the Perfect Roman Meal and View! (Michelometer at 6*)

Much like in Milan, we didn’t have much of a clue as to the local food scene and searched high and low to find recommendations of places that would fit in nicely with our global culinary tour. One place we found that not only had a Michelin star but was recommended in “Where Chefs Eat” (which I highly recommend, by the way) is Imago, which is just above the Spanish Steps in Rome. And as luck would have it, our hotel was just a few paces from the steps as well so it would be a good option in the Roman heat in a suit. 

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What we didn’t expect, however, were the views. Simply amazing views out over the entirety of the city and we were kindly placed at a window that took it all in, including our first sunset in Rome. Magical.

“Where Chefs Eat” says that it would take some incredible cooking to overshadow the views and chef Francesco Apreda has done just that. And not only was the food incredible the service was light and friendly. This is Michelin-starred dining the way we like it – relaxed and comfortable, fun and whimsical, but outstanding and world-class. Imago hit all the notes for us and made for an incredible evening.

Apologies in advance, the lighting was very poor midway through the meal so I’ve had to try to enhance them to be able to get an idea of what we were eating. But to be honest, while the food looked good it tasted just that much better. You have to experience this place for yourself!

Things got started off with a couple little amuse bouche, the first being a deep-fried quail egg with a chilli jam. We were already rolling...

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Next was the breaded scallops stuffed with buffalo mozzarella, celery and truffle. I hate to admit it but this was the first time I had shaved truffles. It was everything I hoped and really inspired me to pick up a number of truffle products in the deli the next day to take home.

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Aperitif i hand, the Gourmet Female was ready to go! I can't say enough about the location and views. Spectacular.

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Next up was baby prawn tartare, oil-flavoured bread and citron. The prawns were incredibly light and soft (and of course, raw) and the citron really added an explosion of flavour. We found ourselves eating this one tiny bite at a time, hoping that it wouldn’t end. Definitely a great way to start.

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Well, we hit our favourite dish early at Imago, with the parmesan cheese ravioli in cold tuna broth, double malt and 7 spices. The thought of cold tuna broth concerned me a bit but it was so much better than I could have imagined. The raviolis were light and the broth very smooth. And the best thing was they gave us two tubes of the chef’s special 7 spice blend! Well, they first gave only one to the Gourmet Female but once they learned how much I love to cook they brought a vial out for me as well.

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By this time it was clear to us that the chef had spent some quality time in Asia, learning how to pair exotic ingredients with his modern Italian dishes. The next dish paired sparkling wine risotto with pepper and sesame blend, caciotta cheese and balsamic vinegar. We’ve had many different risottos over the years but this one was amazing and not heavy in any way. And it was just the perfect size to keep us going until the next dish.

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I know this dish is hard to see but, to be honest, even if it was much clearer it would still be difficult to discern what’s in it. The chef created a dish of capellini pasta with garlic, olive oil and chilli pepper, smoked eel and cocoa. We both made a face when we read “smoked eel and cocoa” but it was gorgeous! The eel had a mild flavour and the cocoa added a real richness to the dish without making it too heavy. Civilisations for thousands of years have used cocoa as a spice in savoury dishes so maybe we should get into using it some more…

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Again, another one that’s hard to see in the photo but it was pretty much as described - duck breast Tandoori-style, baby lettuce and wine-flavoured apricots. I’ve become a bit of a duck fan over the last few years and this one definitely didn’t disappoint.

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Just as we thought we were about to hit the main dessert dish the chef changed it up on us and brought out a couple surprises. He sent out a beautiful strawberry marshmallow with a coffee ice cream mix and then a fluffy little pastry. Both were gorgeous.  

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As I said at Cracco, we have started to see some trends in the menus on our trip. The finishing dessert at Imago was a memory of Zabaione-flavoured egg, coffee cream and orgeat water ice. You’ll notice that the theme is similar to the dessert at Cracco but when we tasted it we realised it was quite different. It was the perfect ending to an amazing meal.

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One tip we’ve picked up thus far in Italy – you’ll quickly notice that they give the menu with prices to the gentleman and the menu without prices to the lady. Quite a throwback in these “modern” times but we loved it. It seemed old school and classy. In any case, a couple more meals in Italy and then we’re off to Spain!