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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - American chef Brad Farmerie believes global cuisine should be reinterpretations of dishes from around the world, not a hodgepodge of ingredients thrown together.
The former engineering student practices what he preaches at Public, his Michelin-star restaurant in New York, which is known for its innovative menu that pairs bold flavors with unusual ingredients.
The 37-year-old Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, native spoke to Reuters about the power of miso and why you won't find steak at his restaurants:
Q: Global cuisine has lost some of its buzz in recent years. Why?
A: "It has gotten a bad rap because a while ago, it was an excuse to slap together things that people didn't really understand and words that would make a menu sound more interesting. You have to understand the origin of the cuisine and the ingredients before you can start twisting it. Without eating a hamburger, you can't create the next generation of hamburgers. It's a lot more work than people understand."
Q: What are some of the missteps you see out there?
A: "In my opinion, there are too many ingredients, too many cultures on the plate -- also creating dishes that are too heavy. These cuisines that some of the people are borrowing from -- Middle Eastern, Moroccan and Southeast Asian -- are not heavy cuisines, and yet people who Americanize them and they end up being big lead weights on the plate. That's not what these ingredients and cuisines are all about."
Q: How do you think you have avoided those pitfalls?
A: "It's not reinventing the wheel. You are giving a new view on what has happened before. When it's your mouth, it has to make sense. Keeping it simple and keeping a rein on your focus is a part of that and not letting it spin out of control. You still have to have some point of view where the reference is and what the flavors are going to end up being."
Q: Your restaurant has very eclectic offerings. What goes through your mind when you design your menu and new dishes?
A: "I'm always positive that if I put a dish in front of them, they will love it and be excited. When we use some of these interesting ingredients, we try to parallel it with something they are familiar with. We never, never, ever served steak. We have never served beef unless it's tongue or tail. If someone is looking for a steak, we have a filet cut of venison. If you try it, you will be turned on to it."
Q: You use miso a lot in your dishes. Why?
A: "It gives a dish or sauce richness without having to add butter or cream. I think it complements so many different of cuisines of Asia and there is a sense of place to it without being this big, overpowering flavor that comes to the forefront. I think you can thicken sauces and enrich dishes. I think it's a pretty amazing ingredient. I think that fermented flavor gives an umami (savoriness) to the whole dish."
Q: Do you think you could open Public in this kind of economic climate?
A: "It was a very different day when I opened Public, that was an advantage. People wanted to see something new, something different. I think we can definitely open something (now) because we have great people that work for us. If you are doing an interesting menu, you have to have a great crew that could sell it and a great chef that could make it."
Hamachi sashimi with young coconut, purple shiso, wasabi tobiko and vanilla coconut water (serves 6)
Vanilla Coconut Sauce
2 containers (500 ml) coconut water, flesh reserved for serving
4 stalks lemongrass, chopped
1 thumb ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 red chili chopped
4 kaffir lime leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon toasted coriander seeds
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds removed and reserved (keep the bean to add to your sugar)
juice of 1 lime
1 leaf gelatine, soaked in cold water
Combine all the ingredients, except the gelatine, in a saucepan and place over medium heat. Slowly bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to infuse. Remove the mixture from the heat. Squeeze the excess water from the gelatine and add to the saucepan. Set aside until it is room temperature then strain. Refrigerate until needed.
600 g hamachi (yellowtail fish), bones removed, skinned and thinly sliced
Picked cilantro leaves
Purple shiso (an herb in the mint family) - can substitute Thai Basil, Basil, or mint
1 red chili, thinly sliced
Reserved coconut meat from the containers of coconut water, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon wasabi tobiko (note: this is flying fish roe; available frozen in Asian markets or neighborhood sushi shop)
Arrange the slices of hamachi on 6 cold serving plates (preferably with a rim to keep the sauce around the fish).
Spoon some of the coconut vanilla sauce over the fish and garnish each slice with Thai basil, cilantro, chili, coconut slices and wasabi tobiko. Sprinkle each slice with some Maldon salt and serve chilled on a hot summer's day.
Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Patricia Reaney