“Erin, you have a mold problem.”
So said my punniest colleague as they unearthed the treasures from the deepest shelves. They were helping organize the kitchen equipment in one of our never-ending attempts to inventory all of the bits and bobs I had accumulated over years of making menus for Nordo. Each course needed that one special thing to transform it from normal food to dream world food. So, the shelf had 65 terra cotta pots, 20 cast iron cauldrons, a cotton candy maker, tiny skillets, tiny corked bottles, tiny spoons and dozens of different silicon molds.
I’ve made potatoes look like roses, goat cheese look like sugar cubes, dips look like candy dots, and one dessert that accidentally looked like an eyeball.
In 2023 the culinary world is stepping away from making foods that look unnatural. It was SO ubiquitous through the aughts to make food that looked like one thing but tasted like another. It was relegated to the realm of gimmickry. How many different flavors of ‘caviar’ do we really need? People (or at least food critics,) want food with heart, more soulful, less whimsy.
But are you watching Top Chef this season?
If you are I have one word for you: Buddha. That guy is mopping the floor with his molds. It’s the first time I’ve ever wondered what the contestants are allowed to bring besides their knife rolls. In an offhand comment he told someone he brought $1000 worth of molds. THIS is a man after my own heart.
Buddha Lo’s dishes have been stunning pieces of art. And his sensibilities are a little cheesy, a little on the nose, and completely delightful.
The one time he was in the bottom was for a home cooking style challenge. He was accused of getting “too cheffy” on his dish. While his grumble, “I thought this was Top Chef not Top Home Cook” made him look like a bit of a sore loser, as a viewer I’m totally with him! I can imagine what a soulful tagine tastes like, and that’s fun and all, but the Trompe-l’œil* challenge last week was his to lose, and his “looks-like-a-charcuterie-board-but-tastes-like-a-bunch-of-other-stuff” was so theatrical. Isn’t that so much more fun?
For my partner Terry’s 50th birthday we traveled all over Southeast Asia. While we were in Bangkok we splurged and went to Restaurant Gaa, the Michelen starred restaurant of a protégé of Gaggan’s, the guest judge on Buddha’s most moldy show so far, and a culinary hero of his. My favorite dish amongst many mind-bending treats in the epic tasting menu was lamb brain terrine molded in the shape of a tiny brain. It was so funny, so alarming, and so delicious.
Chef Garima Arora of Restaurant Gaa is the first Indian woman to win a Michelin star.
This time of the year is just bursting with gorgeous flowers and reminds me of one of my most mold-forward menus. The Angel in the House was in full swing in March of 2020, and the whole menu was a flower explosion. Chrysanthemum salad with Burmese tofu molded into flowers. Pear, beet, and roasted garlic soup topped with goat cheese flowers. And Lemon Lavender Madeleines served with blackberry Chantilly cream. (Britt Ness, Nordo’s sous chef and an extraordinary baker developed the recipe for the Madeleines which were glorious. I have no sweet tooth and I could not stop eating them.)
Moldy menu for The Angel in the House – Chrysanthemum Salad with Tamarind Burmese Tofu, Beet, Pear and Roasted Garlic Soup with Pistachio and Goat Cheese roses, Maple Leaf Duck Breast wrapped in Swiss Chard with Duchess Potato Rosettes, Lavender and Lemon Madeleines with Blackberry Cream.
Summer is the perfect season for this spongey little cookie, but you’ve got to have the mold. Time to start your collection but look out: the mold collection tends to grow.
A few of my molds.
*Deceive the eye
Lemon Lavender Madeleines
- 3 cups AP Flour
- 1 1/3 tbsp Baking Powder
- 2 tsp Salt
- 8 eggs Large
- 1 1/3 Cups Granulated Sugar
- 1 tbsp Dried Lavender
- 3 Lemons Zest of three lemons
- 1/2 cups Melted Unsalted Butter
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees
- Whisk together Flour, Baking Powder, and salt. Set aside.
- With a hand mixer or stand mixer Whisk Eggs and sugar until light in color and smooth.Whisk in Lavender and Lemon Zest.
- Add in your dry ingredients followed by butter. Mixture should be smooth and sticky.
- The batter can be put in to a piping bag, ziploc or spooned into butter and floured Madeleine pan. More is more in this case. Indentations should be 2/3rds full.
- Fear Not if you do not have one!!! Pipe the mixture onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet in almost any shape roughly 1 ó inches in diameter.
- Bake for 8-10 minutes. You are looking for the slightest hint of gold on the edges and their characteristic mounded center.
- Serve warm dusted in icing sugar.