Craig LaBan's 4 Bell Recipes
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There's a reason it's called "restaurant food." A tremendous amount of prep work, technique, expense, and patience goes into the kind of exquisite creations you're likely to eat at one of Philly's four bell tables.
But you don't necessarily have to make your own puff pastry or steep veal bones for days to make demiglace to recreate some of that dining-out feeling.
Here's proof: a recipe from from each of our recently crowned four-bell chefs that adventurous home cooks might consider making.
Granted, each one is a bit of its own project. But they're doable for the determined entertainer. And worth it.
Feel free to subtract elements according to your ambition level. But those who do take on the full feast will have a new appreciation for the value of that prized reservation.
- Craig LaBan
Chef Marc Vetri This is a favorite starter because it is such a flexible recipe that makes good use of whatever ingredients are in abundance, and in season. Great for improvisation. Even Vetri, though, acknowledges that irony that there is typically no herbs in his "torta d'erbe." In this version, though, swiss chard and zucchini lend each slice plenty of green.
Chef Michael Solomonov This is a perfect example of the creative process that has shaped much of Solomonov's contemporary cuisine. He takes familiar flavors rooted in tradition - in this case, the smoked fish, poppy seeds, runny eggs and challah of his own Balkan-Israeli heritage - then spins them into an updated fantasy of house-made ingredients, clevery presented like "a toad in a hole." If done just right, there's even a bit of tableside drama: when you slice through the middle, the egg should ooze out onto your plate. It should be noted that since the sable recipe calls for egg in the middle and sable on top, Solomonov bakes his challah (see recipe) in a loaf shape. For those who'd like to use his challah recipe for a more traditional braided shape, the chef suggests watching this video.
Chef William DiStefano This is a good example of the modern inclinations that the chef brings to this kitchen - a surprising love of exotic spices (turmeric, in this case) blended with house-grown seasonal inspirations from the hotel's rooftop garden (honey, lavender, thyme.) Two other points of note: this is one of the best uses I've seen for the purple Okinawan sweet potatoes that have been showing up in town late. Also, this is a great example of a distinctive fish-cooking technique that pretty much all chefs who emerge from the Four Seasons (and Jean-Marie Lacroix's lineage) employ: searing the skin side of the fish for a crisp, flipping, and then basting quickly with butter that's then been added to the pan.
Chef Pierre Calmels The Pithivier accompanying the lamb chop is a definite nod to the chef's love of French classics. Typically, Pithiviers are sweet pastries, with frangipane or almond paste, although meat pies are also done. Here, it also is a clever use for the scraps from the butchering of prime ingredients (like those chops). In Bibou's kitchen, nothing is wasted. The filling is inspired by the spicy lamb sausage of North Africa known as merguez. But it's also lean, so it gets Frenchified with the richness of foie gras, Bibou's favorite indulgent touch.
Chef Josh Behm Pastry chef Claire Shears usually crafts lovely and memorable desserts. While she's out on maternity leave, however, the Table's talented new chef Josh Behm, has also showing his skill as an accomplished pastry man (his job for two years several years ago at the Kimberton Inn.) Sticky buns, in particular, have been a lifelong obsession, thanks to childhood memories of devouring pastries from a good friend of his grandmother's. So this base recipe is traditional ("and super fatty," says the stick-thin chef.) Their homey comfort, though, is given Talula's modern twist with this side of ice cream - a sweet-and-savory maple base countered by an assertive of sea salt, a finishing dust of which should crackle on top, both cutting and amplify the sweetness with every bite. These are best when baked fresh and removed from the oven just minutes before serving.