Monday, August 1, 2011

Stretching the Topic...Peaches & Tango

L.G.C. Smith

There can be many reasons for including sexy scenes in any novel, but the most important one is simple: Sex reveals emotion and aspects of character that are integral to story, and which are best conveyed through sex. Sex is a real and interesting part of life. The potential for drama and conflict is inherent. Physical intimacy is sexy. Add emotional connection of pretty much any flavor plus decent writing, and you get fire.

It’s worth repeating: We learn things about characters during sex that we would learn no other way.

That’s sexy.

Okay, on to some other fun stuff. I’m going to hark back to one of our past topics, celebrity, because I finally met a celebrity! A real one! My celebrity meet is Chef Richard Blais, winner of Bravo’s Top Chef: All-Stars.

For my birthday, my sister, the organic farmer, gave me a VIP ticket to a special event, Peaches & Tango, at her farm, Frog Hollow Farm, home of what are arguably the best peaches grown in North America. Jeffrey Steingarten once made that claim, at any rate, and he’s a fairly rigorous critic. The event was a benefit for Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard, and Richard Blais was the chef. He and his wife have been Frog Hollow fans for a while. Lucky us! And lucky me to have a birthday the week he came to the farm. Otherwise, I’d have had to have done volunteer staff duty like the rest of the family.

I went early, and started taking pictures in the kitchen while the prep was going on. When I walked in, there were four cheffy volunteers making chutney, peeling cheese rinds, chopping, chopping, chopping, and dropping pearls of horseradish cream into a big plastic bucket of liquid nitrogen. All of a sudden, Richard Blais popped through the swinging doors from the reefer and went to work. Eeeeek! He looked just like he did on TV!

I took pictures and stayed out of the way. I didn’t introduce myself. Too chicken. Whatever. I talked to the helpers, who seemed tickled to be there. They explained what they were doing and smiled a lot. Private chef, Andrea Boje, told me what had gluten in it and what had fish sauce (shellfish allergy--bah), and went about the business of calmly solving every problem that arose. That kind of competence is sexy.

Blais’s sous chef, Spencer, worked with focused calm. Also sexy. Blais circulated from station to station, tasting, checking, directing. Then he’d hop on the turf truck and trundle down to the outdoor kitchen being set up south of the packing shed. One time he took a load of oysters on ice. The turf truck isn’t so sexy, but Blais seemed to really like it. Then back to the kitchen he’d come to keep everyone on task.

After the staff meal, everything from the kitchen was loaded into vans and carted over to the outdoor kitchen. Once there, trays of oysters were dressed with a mango salsa and readied to receive their horseradish pearls. The toasted pimento cheese sandwiches with gentleman’s relish were precisely cut into golden brown bite-sized squares. Chef Andrea balanced the beet tartare on spoons topped with candied wasabi.

When the guests arrived, they’d take one look at Blais and start grinning. One couple, among the first to arrive, were so excited to be there they repeated the story of finding out about the event sixteen times in four minutes. They glowed. They fizzed. The man videotaped Blais. They were darling. Blais was utterly sweet to them. Then a group of four beautiful young women, dressed to kill, and in five-inch heels (in an orchard?!), stopped as one the instant they clapped eyes on Blais. Their jaws dropped. They gasped in unison. One of them whispered reverently, “There he is!”

Blais was unstintingly gracious, charming, and kind to the guests. He kept everything moving as he shepherded his delicious, elegant courses onto plates and into the servers’ hands. He demonstrated with the liquid nitrogen in two 600-gallon steel tanks. All the while he signed autographs, posed for pictures, and cooked.

Oh, he cooks sexy food. This is the chilled hiramasa with fried chicken, smoked aioli and pickled radishes. Raw fish isn’t one of my favorites. Radishes—meh. But in Blais’s hands? Crisp, clean, smoky, sweet, tart, salty, creamy yumminess. Sean Seufert of Terra Bella Farms said it put him in mind of the best BBQ potato chip imaginable. I thought it was considerably more refined than a chip, but that sprinkle of fried chicken skin and the smoky aioli definitely evoked some of those flavors. The textures of the dish were perfectly balanced—firm but tender fish with a slightly crisp, moreish bite. Balance is sexy.

Up next was the cutlet of petrale with cherry tomatoes and anchovy raisin butter. I think there’s also a dab of browned butter foam under the fresh herbs. I couldn’t eat this one because the fish sauce was in the dressing on the tomatoes, but I tasted the anchovy raisin paste and nibbled the fish and the butter foam. Delicious. For all the pretty presentation, Blais’s dishes suited the ambience of the orchard setting. They were particular without being fussy. Totally sexy.

At the end of the evening, I gathered up some menus that guests had left behind and asked Blais to sign them for my sisters and their friends who had helped all day and served all evening (and me). His eyes drooped and his shoulders weren’t quite as straight as they had been, but he turned on his smile and I didn’t feel like a dork for keeping him from getting back to his family for five more minutes.

The sexiest thing all day, however, came in one of those behind the scenes moments when Blais’s wife and little girls arrived. Not once did either of my sisters or I see Blais look at anyone with anything other than professional courtesy, meticulous attention to detail, and polite interest. When he saw his family, though, he lit up. “My girls!” he exclaimed, and in the time he spent with them this bright, kind, talented chef was the sexiest guy in the world.


Juliet Blackwell said...

Wow, SO sorry I missed this party! The pics are amazing, the stories wonderful. Thanks for sharing it -- and giving us a peak into the many realms of sexy.

Mysti said...

Thanks for the fabulous pictures and great story. Competence is indeed an unrecognized fount of sexiness, I agree!

Sophie Littlefield said...

aww, lynnie, what a great recap! you made it sound like such a special evening. and those food photos....yarmmm

Rachael Herron said...

Awww. He has a new fan in me! Also, now I'm SUPER hungry.

Lisa said...

Lovely. And damn you, I was already sorry I couldn't attend due to being financially challenged. After looking at pics and reading your descriptions, I am doubly sad. Yum! :)

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