Big Night in Des Moines6/26/2013
In Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott’s 1996 film “Big Night,” two passionate Italian restaurant owners on the Jersey Shore bank their future on serving a grand dinner for a famous jazz singer. Their guests relish the feast, but the celebrity never shows. A modification of “Big Night” played in Windsor Heights last week. David Baruthio and Sarah Hill, Baru66’s Alsatian-American restaurant owners, nervously fussed for days to prepare a degustation for Thomas Keller and Sebastian Rouxel, America’s greatest chef and his pastry chef at The French Laundry, Per Se and Bouchon, respectively. Both famous guests showed up on time.
“This is bigger than ‘Big Night,’ because right now there is no restaurant critic in America who commands as much awe as Keller,” explained a nervous Baruthio several hours before game time.
Keller and Rouxel were in central Iowa to promote their book “Bouchon Baking.” They do very little such promotional traveling, though. Keller is no “celebrity chef” seeking exposure and branding power while neglecting his restaurants.
“I am always in the kitchen. Sebastian is always in the kitchen. That’s where the creativity is, and that’s where we want to be,” Keller said.
So why come to central Iowa?
“I wanted to see where Eric (Ziebolt, James Beard Award-winning chef from Ames who used to work at The French Laundry) came from. And also because, when Eric was with us, we learned that Iowans are both enthusiastic and savvy about great food. We served his mother’s recipe for corned beef tongue at French Laundry,” Keller explained while sipping double espressos in the late afternoon.
Keller and Rouxel delivered several insights into superior baking. Both said they prefer electric equipment over gas or dual energy ranges and ovens. Rouxel touted confection ovens for baking superior madeleines “to produce the essential bump.” He also said he loves to add pistachio paste to them for color. To use the bounty of a seasonal herb garden, they both touted pairing fresh herbs with fruits in ice creams.
“Peach and rosemary are particularly marvelous together. Just keep the herb subtle,” Keller advised.
Both suggested that home cooks calibrate their ovens frequently and throw away their measuring cups, tablespoons, et cetera, and use only all-gram recipes and measures, because they are far more exact. When baking breads, Rouxel said not to bother with measures at all, just percentages.
“For instance, 20 percent flour, 78 percent water and 2 percent salt for baguettes,” he said.
While Keller and Rouxel were signing books at Williams and Sonoma, Baruthio and his staff prepped for their big night. They served a few practice dinners to regulars. For their amuse bouche, they laid an oyster on roasted eel with fennel, mint and a duo of melon balls. Then they prepared baby leek salads with foie gras, Asiago wafers, pickled shallots and an egg yolk that had been slow-cooked at negative temperature. The egg complemented the leeks marvelously. Next came pan-seared halibut on sweet corn pudding, with La Quercia salame and pop corn.
Their main course delivered a Dalla Terra organic lamb duo — a rib and a medium rare meatball— served in a large splash of jus next to minted oil, mint yogurt, Kalamata olives, chick peas and arugula. Their cheese course was my favorite. It laid Reichert Dairy Aire Robiolina di Reba on toasted planks of cedar with divine chive blossoms, pickled cherries, blue vinaigrette and arugula. Dessert courses brought peaches poached in Sauternes with lemon verbena and a salty, roasted pistachio ice cream. For a migniardises, they laid strawberry espuma on top of vanilla panna cotta.
Keller and Rouxel ate everything and also ordered steak and frites. Keller walked into the kitchen to thank the entire staff.
Sometimes big nights have happy endings.
Side Dishes Facing the closings of two major thoroughfares, Sonic shut down its Southwest 63rd Street store in May. Its sign then blew away symbolically. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.