Madrid Fusión 2012: Day Two
Heston Blumenthal was onstage later, answering questions posed by journalists Teresa de la Cierva and Victor de la Serna (the latter of whom speaks unaccented colloquial American English). To a question about the entertainment value of his food, he replied that "It comes down to taste. It doesn't matter what the techniques are." He did add that "Ultimately as a chef you want to give the diner pleasure, and at The Fat Duck that includes a sense of fun." He didn't say much that hasn't been said before, either by or about him. He did mention, however, the dinner he produced for television at which the apéritif was to be licked off the dining room wallpaper. On the next April Fool's Day, he said, The Sun (a Rupert Murdoch tabloid) claimed to have collaborated with him to produce the world's first lickable newspaper page. A friend of his reported to Blumenthal that he'd seen three people on the Tube actually licking the paper. "I wanted to do it myself," he confessed, "even though I knew it was a joke."
Magnus Ek, whose 44-seat restaurant Oaxen Skärgårdskrog, on the Swedish island of Oaxen about an hour's drive south of Stockholm, is often mentioned by cognoscenti in the same breath with René Redzepi's Noma in Copenhagen. Like Redzepi, Ek forages for local plants and revives traditional methods of preservation and preparation in creating his very modern menus. Unlike him, he has no Michelin stars, and has thus far remained little known outside a small circle.
Looking a bit like a diminutive Heston Blumenthal, Ek gave a lucid, straightforward presentation toward the end of the day, demonstrating a typical three-course menu. First came an onion roasted in parchment, meant to be cut open in the dining room and garnished with thin slices of cold-smoked pork fat and sprinkled with hazelnuts. The second course was pure Scandinavia: Ek smeared a plate with buttermilk curd ("We make a lot of butter at the restaurant just to get buttermilk, which I love," he confessed), then added a tangle of blanched and lightly sautéed oak moss, a variety of lichen that grows on sloe trees (he and his chefs harvest it from a neighboring island). This was garnished with lumpfish roe, salted, and mixed with grapeseed oil. Then the main ingredient was added — thin slices of salted, cold-smoked, dried reindeer heart. Over the top of everything went some mushroom powder ("To bring out the mushroom flavor of the lichen") and sprigs of wood sorrel. It all looked rather strange but delicious.
Ek's main course was described as "birch bark old cow, baked Jerusalem artichokes, and Jerusalem artichoke purée with smoked ox marrow and dried cherries." "We think that old cow [the phrase probably sounds more appetizing in Swedish], one that has had two or three calves, has the best flavor," said Ek. The meat is hung for six or seven weeks, then slow-cooked sous-vide with herbs. He removes it from the vacuum bag, wraps it in big curls of birch bark originally meant for roofing, then incinerates the outside of the bark with a kitchen blowtorch. "This is like Stone Age cooking," he says. He finishes the meat in the oven, meanwhile stirring the marrow, cherries, and some green juniper berries into the purée. Dried pork skin is sprinkled on top. When Ek cuts the birch bark cylinders open, right down the middle with a large sharp knife, the meat comes out looking… well, pretty much as gorgeous, brown on the outside and red within, as Myhrvold's had.