THe below is a email that i sent back to Freind's and family while over in San Fransisco just before christmas.
A food orientated mail.
So I’ve been in San Francisco for two weeks now staging at Bar Tartine. For anyone that hasn’t heard me go on about this place it was my favorite meal by far from the last time I was in the city. And it ended up influencing so many of the dish’s me and Jasper did this summer. In a way it was probably one of the most influential meals I’ve ever had. Along side Noma
I think the thing about Bar Tartine is that it’s more obtainable. The dishes are a different kind of complexity.Everything is given time with a huge emphisis on fermentation and using whole ingredients. Its beautiful and its easily reconsiable for the most part and flavors that are surprising or new are generally not something that i haunt tasted but something im so familiar with but yet at Bar Tartine they have cooked it or extracted flavor in such a different way.And absolutely everything is made in house. From Chili pastes to Tahini to Dairy to Bread to vinegars,cured meats, fish flakes all of it.
Bar Tartine is open nearly every day of the year opening at five pm with an extra brunch service on the weekend. Chad Robertson owns it a well known baker that started Tartine Bakery. He has written three or four books on bread and would be very highly regarded by bread folk.
Bar Tartine is run by a couple called Nick and Courtney. Nick used to live and work in Japan. He then worked in a Japanese place around the corner before taking the helm at Bar Tartine. He’s half American and half Hungarian and is about seven foot something, quite calm and his pace is slow. Courtney is half Jewish half American; she is around five foot, passionate, feisty and easily excitable. Her mood changes depending on what she is making and how well it’s going. Her pace is fast-always.They are both great.
I love the way that both are consistently tapping into there own and the others wealth of knowledge and they are always influenced by there upbringing and where they have come from and what they have seen along the way.
In the kitchen there is a whole mix of nationalities that gel together to give a really interesting workforce. A few locals a whole pile of crazy Mexicans, a guy from the Philippines who made a superbly honest and tasty chicken and blackened blood curry for family meal. A guy who has Japanese roots who is quick and so immaculate, A Korean who speaks amazing american slang the likes of which iv never come across. "twenty dollars?" "thats to rich for my blood" A really lovely Argentinian guy who looks like he should have been a rock star in the 80s. He has spent the last four years cooking for some big shot that only cooks on open fire. He is hoping to open an Argentinian restaurant in New York in the next few years. I showed him some pictures of the flavor Tandoor before I knew of his background. Next day he brought his computer in with pictures of him and his chef cooking a small family of cows on these handmade metal/ stone structures floating above open fire with 100s of perfectly blackened squash’s and onions cooked in the ash’s. Pretty slick.
The area the restaurant is in is called The Mission. It has a huge Chinese and Mexican influence with great street food and tacquerias and little shops that you can buy your entire foodstuff in plus ceviche made by the shop owner and piñatas for your party. Lots of “cool” shops and vintage places and ethnic restaurants. Although all the “cool” people say its not what it used to be. It’s a nice mix of everything and all walks of life.
It’s funny to be working again in a place that is set up in a typical brigade style. The couple decide the menu and do a lot of the creative work. The sous chefs (three in total) Run the pass and make a lot of the components with instructions from top. And then the line cooks cook the food. There are three stations. Sautee/ deep fat fryer. Grill and Garde mange (cold salads and deserts).
I’m the line cooks little helper. Iv picked more parsley and cleaned more veggies then I can ever remember. I really really miss being creative. But it’s also been really good. Its good to be brought back to basics and taught things like you don’t know how to do them. You will always learn something new and even learning and being open to that little fact is a great thing.
On my first day somebody started showing me how to make my board secure. But Instead of the wet paper or tea towels (the former I have a problem with as it ends up wasting too many tea towels) she used the tops of kelkin jars. You know the plastic bits. So simple but so good & tidy. I vowed to just go along with anything anyone wanted to teach me. It can be challenging when people are showing me how to use a vitamix or put things in a dehydrator. But I think of my yoga teacher. She always talks about the ego and i think about how good it is for the ego to have to quieten down and just follow someone else's instructions.
Iv been helping the guys out a bit on the line but mainly I’m out back in the prep kitchen. Its kind of like winning a golden ticket to see the inside of the Chocolate Factory. With rows and rows of dehydrated powders that are obscure and foreign.
They might have onion powder but also burnt onion powder, smoked onion powder and fermented onion powder. All giving different tastes and kicks. They don’t ever season with shop brought stuff. They make different herb and veggie mixes and use these powders to season the food. They have four dehydrators and a huge rice cooker to make infamous black garlic with. Anyone that ate in Dillisk this summer or I have spoken to in the last four months. Will know that black garlic is cooked in a rice cooker for two weeks until its blackened it becomes treacle like. At bar Tartine they mix it with mushroom vinegar and some other things to make a heavenly sauce that is somewhere between miso and a kick ass barbecue with umami overload. They put this on roasted, smoked then fried baby potatoes. Holy maloly. They totally blew mine and Jaspers mind when we ate here the first time.
Everything gets brined from chickens to veggies to fish. Most of it in a 1-cup salt to 1-gallon water measurement. They sit in the fridge or veggies on the counters in 40 litre drums (i have possibly cleaned or chopped the contents- 40 litres of mandolin carrot rounds or 40 litres of artichokes cleaned and scrubbed to a inch of there life) the chefs will taste them most days to check how they are doing and what they taste like. They want them to cure but don’t want them to go off. Too much salt and it wrecks the taste and too little and they will go moldy) They have a cured sea trout dish that is brined overnight in a salt water and herb mix so that its kind of floating in it and then the put the fish ( with the skin still on) in the dehydrator for about 40 minutes until its slightly cooked. Really tasty and a lot better then a dry salt cure as a lot more even. Its served in a beetroot soup. With the leftover bits of beets from juicing* and some homemade sour cream. Its super fresh simple colorful and tasty.
*(They make fresh beetroot kvass a healthy drink made using bread and veggies, in this case beets. The natural bacteria in the bread will ferment the juice and it becomes yeasty almost like a kombuscha)
They make all their soda and drinks in house and the beer that’s on the menu is from a local brewery but is made using leftover bread crusts from the bakery I think about the lion king song. "The Circle of life"
My favorite drink is there simple lemon ginger and kefir soda. I was introduced to kefir grains while doing my raw food course a few years back. I still don’t totally get Kefir grains. You can only make grains from other grains they need to be fed sugars and they re-produce. But what is it? Who knows?
I think of them the same way my even dorkier seven-year-old self viewed sea monkeys. With enjoyment and total bewilderment.
I do know that you can make lacto-fermented sodas with them. They have a natural healthy fizz and when hooked up to gas (like a keg) and served over ice they are the tastiest things going. I feel inspired to play around a lot with kefirs, juices and kombuscha’s. Ash has given me permission. Fumbally people be wary I might have you tasting a lot of fermented liquids in the New Year!
They also use the kefir grains to make there cultured butter served with the Tartine bread, which is done, in house in the whopper big bread oven. They leave the kefir grains in cream on the counter tops for a day or two. The kefir gives the cream a naturally sour tasting finish but also thickens it up “real good” and then they whip it into butter. Voila.
And the Bread… Oh dear god the bread.
I have thought a fair bit about becoming a baker in the last few days. Saying that Iv also thought about opening up a noodle shop, starting a seaweed business, Iv written a mail to Noma asking them if I could come to Japan (they are not taking any stages) Iv written to two other Japanese restaurants asking them if I could come to Japan, Iv thought about finding a new location for a type of Dillisk project, Iv thought about starting a kombuscha bar and a whole pile of other things too. But back to being a baker. It’s amazing to watch them slow and steady but always moving. I think there is such beauty in making something so humble and so tasty but with such few ingredients. They work with naturally fermented bread that’s really very alive. Bubbling pots of dough that they touch, watch and nudge to see if it’s ready for the next stage. It’s my favorite thing to do when I’m busy cleaning 40 litres of something new. Is to watch the big pots and one will just start burping out, overflowing down the sides like a yeasty volcano. Its ready and you got to be too.
I think that having the bakers on the side of the kitchen baking every day makes you strive to make everything else too. If your making the bread then why wouldn't you make everything else too?
I did a few days in the bakery. Which was more inspiring then I have the vocabulary to explain. The bakers all really believe in the Tartine Method and taste. They are total dorks and I think I fell in love with them all because of this open radiating passion. I was surprised to find out that the bakery only makes about 200 loaves a day, which doesn't seem like that many for one of the most famous bakeries in the world. There are about six bakers on shift each day but the ethos is one of working around the bread letting it react to the environment and having full attention on getting it to a standard rather then knocking out hundreds and hundreds (as a marker the guy that was showing me around worked in a bakery before that made about 1800 loaves a day and he said that was pretty standard) Its not like other sourdoughs they aim for a lighter finish. They use a little yeast in there bread not to make it rise but to take away the sourness. They use really young fresh starter it always smells more like a cream rather then sour yoghurt. Its totally different to the way I was taught and have seen sourdough being made before. When the bread comes out of the oven at four one loaf of each is cut open. Melted butter is stolen from the pastry section and everyone gets stuck in and talks about air bubbles, dog’s ears and color variation. So simple so good.
Today IV been in a place called The Ramen Shop just over the bay in Oakland. It’s a very busy place set up by two chefs from Chez Panisse. (The Californian Ballymalloe) They both spent time in Japan. And they make the best ramen IV ever tasted. The key being strong stocks homemade noodles but also a great friendly atmosphere and a cool set up. Its hard to fail in California in the end there is such incredible ingredients 365 days of the year they never have the winter glut instead all this lovely citrus comes in. And the shellfish gets even better. The diversity in nationalities and cultures means there are farms growing for Chinese, Japanese, Italian and Mexican cultures. You can get anything and everything.
The greatest thing I tasted today was (I forgot the Japanese word for it) but its when you steam greens they can be beetroot tops radish tops or going off veg (basically scraps) and then fry them slightly with vinegar and sesame and leave to ferment. It’s the tastiest thing and made from waste. Actually one more thing on that note. With left over kombu (kelp) that has been put in a stock they julienne it up and pour a pickling liquid of vinegar, sugar and chili over it. That’s also pretty nifty and called Tsuku Dani