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Dish of the Week.....In the Gallery.......

Dish of the Week

Sous Vide Pork Belly

I did not come to sous vide cooking as a fan, quite the opposite.  The idea of using a plastic pouch to cook ~ instead of relying on traditional methods that depend upon smell, touch, and taste ~ just seemed a bit of a cop out, little more than an upscale version of Uncle Ben’s ‘boil in a bag.’ Where's the magic?

But just as there’s science in alchemy, I’ve come to see that suspending food in plastic and setting it loose in a constant swirl of soft heat actually takes a page from some of the oldest culinary traditions in history which called for wrapping or burying foods and slowly cooking them for long periods, the better to capture the essence of their flavor.

Chef Ryan has always said that for him sous vide isn’t about convenience so much as consistency, that and the ability to control the outcome of a dish in a way that extends the potential of each ingredient. For a little light reading he gave me Thomas Keller’s “Sous Vide,” a trade manual Keller wrote for PolyScience a few years back which succinctly explains the complex way a precise control of pressure, temperature and time allows a chef to infuse flavor (which even with marinades is often lost to the braising liquid) and enhance texture (which over the course of cooking heat can easily destroy).

The temperatures used in sous vide are always kept below a simmer ~  but within that lower range they vary greatly depending on the type and cut of the protein, the cellular density of the vegetable, and what, if any, other cooking techniques you intend to use in the dish. With Pork Belly, where you have an inordinately high fat to meat ratio to begin with, the object is to use the fat primarily to flavor the meat, delivering a finished dish with a perfect crackling that beguiles the mouth when you bite through it to the soft fragrant depths below. Too fatty, too dry, not enough flavor, and it's game over.

For Dish of the Week, Chef cooked pork belly sous vide for 12 hours in a heady mix of shaved apple (Cox's Orange Pippin from the farm), white wine, garlic, leeks, rosemary and carrots.

Two things were notable when he finally lifted the pouch from the water: the first was the degree to which the long cooking process had allowed the meat and fat to take on the flavors of the marinade, all but melding them together.  The second was that by taking the pork from this nearly gelatinous state and immediately chilling it (above left), Chef was able to reduce the fat as he compressed the meat into perfect shape and portion sizes, essential for a dish which can easily become overly rich. He then refrigerated it again ~ cooling the pork before letting it hit the hot skillet which resulted in a perfectly crisp surface without pulling any moisture from the meat.

To accompany the Pork Belly, Andrew, Chef's entremetier, caramelized cauliflower florets in VOO before adding raisins, capers, herbs and shaved almonds.

The final component to this starter was a finishing ‘sauce,’ something which could cut through the richness of the belly but would not overwhelm the sweet, sharp and crunch of the cauliflower nest. For this Chef reduced Pinot Noir to the syrup stage, then broke it with Preston Olive Oil, producing a gorgeous, deep red vinaigrette.

Slow Cooked Pork Belly served on a whoosh of Cauliflower Purée with Caramelized Cauliflower Florets, Capers, Raisins, Almonds and Pinot Noir Vinaigrette….15 hours start to finish…done.  To perfection.

In the Gallery

There’s an old-fashioned capacity for heartfelt joy embedded in the DNA of Healdsburg which makes it the perfect place to get married. This is not news to those of us who live and work here. But thankful as we are for the visitors who keep our local economy humming all Summer and Fall, boy, do we look forward to the Holidays and Winter. That's when the homegrown parties begin, the ones which seem, more than any others, to refresh the spirit and invigorate the soul.

Saying thanks to co-workers, gathering family and friends together to eat and drink with joy, kick back, maybe even dance  ~ all used to be part of what we all did at the end of every year to celebrate the fact that we were still standing.  Resourceful and thankful. We still should be.

There’s a particular magic to the fêtes we throw here in the Studio we’d love for you to experience. Doesn't matter if you come for a night of cocktails and hors d'ouvres or sit down to one of Chef Ryan's incomparable menus. We're especially proud of our staff, as committed as we are to supporting this food shed and all those who work within it. An art gallery is a great place to spend an evening. And this space sings.

To throw a party in the Studio this Winter all you need to do to start the ball rolling is give us a call.  If budget's a concern just let us know and we will figure out a way to make it work.

707.431-7404 info@barndiva.com

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales(unless otherwise noted)

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Rhymes with Play

(originally posted September 29, 2010)

Healdsburg made a joyful noise on Saturday night ~ especially on our part of Center Street where 200 elegantly dressed people of all ages came together and kissed, wept, drank, ate, laughed, told stories, then lost their shoes and danced their hearts out. Our weddings are always very special, but something else was in the air as well. As if the brief return of a warm night coupled with the sense that only a few weeks are left of summer heightened the mood so it swelled beyond the happiness felt by this particular couple and their families and friends. It reminded me how important it is going to be in the coming year to express delight whenever we can. We will continue to face seemingly insurmountable problems ~ a faltering economy, an ailing ecology, a paucity of leadership ~ that history has placed at our door. Most solutions will come in tiny packages. All but a few will seem to take too much time. Many of us reading this will not be around to see how it all plays out for our children and grandchildren. But we are in the game right now, and each of us with a powerful role to play. With the stakes so high, we need to keep from feeling overwhelmed. It’s essential we stop when we can to acknowledge that good things are still happening, though sometimes they need a jump start.

The first thought we came up with to keep the parties going ~ stay tuned for lots more ~ was to open the Gallery for musical evenings, films, talks and fun cocktail parties of any size. We will waive all facility rental fees to make use of the space more affordable. Our menus will be keenly priced, but will continue to be sourced locally and sustainably. Our farmers need to feed their bottom line, as do we, but we want Studio Barndiva to feed something else as well ~ a sense that as a community we have a great deal to be thankful for.

We like the French word soirée, even though it sounds a bit poncy, because it really does capture what we’d like to see happen in the Studio. To wit: “An evening party or social gathering esp. one held for a particular purpose” yes, that hits the nail on the head! Besides, it rhymes with archway, which is nice. Sometimes friendship alone pulls us through to the next courtyard in life, sometimes it’s music, or the spoken word. The point is to keep moving in an interesting direction. Yet real social contact is precisely what our all-consuming electronic media is robbing us of. What’s most important when we come together in groups, after the work of the day is done, is often simply that we are together. And while it’s great when you know people at a party, often it’s more exciting when you don’t. In a community our size ~ with so many interests and passions and so much talent to express them ~ it almost doesn’t matter what draws you away from the campfire of your hi-def screens and out to the town square. Your presence alone has the power to redefine the space, and claim it. Not knowing the outcome is part of the magic.

Of course it helps when there is great food and drink ~ which we will happily provide. When Ryan first came to us we weren’t sure how he would feel about all our weddings and special events. Lots of chefs look down on events, understandably. It’s not just the amount of work that goes into coordinating them. From a chef’s point of view, because of the timing and the sheer number of plates, most often they don’t showcase a chef’s talent in the way fine dining does.

Taking his cues from Lukka, whose joie de vivre is legendary, Ryan has fun with the menus, be they family style or comprised of many wine paired courses. He approaches a glitzy Oscar Night or a serious dinner where each course is paired with the dirt it was grown in with the same intensity, and as his talent blossoms it reflects on each and every farmer partner. Even for those working the events the sheer exuberance and style of our parties is contagious. By summer’s end we will have sent thousands of people back to their own cities and towns across the country talking about what’s going on in Healdsburg. Not just Barndiva ~ but the connection they made here with the surrounding community. Hopefully it sent them looking to recreate parts of that experience closer to home.

By making the story of local sourcing the point of our food, we haven’t relegated Ryan’s talent anymore than Bonnie Z’s, whose gift for arranging flowers is sometimes subsumed by the sheer extravagance of her locally grown blooms. Talent and product become indispensable to each other, and for the end user, indistinguishable. We all live in cultivated landscapes, in self-curated spaces. What we choose to seed and grow and prune is up to us. If only a fraction of our wedding guests go back to their hometowns and seek out a Farmer’s Market, that’s a fraction more than had the desire to do so when they sat down and unfurled their napkins on a warm summer night beneath the fairy lit arches in our gardens.

But make no mistake: Joy is the carrier of that message. And Joy, while clearly not in abundance these days, does not need a wedding to thrive.

So listen up: If you own a business and want to say thanks for a year of hard work (with another yet to come) or are a group of friends wanting to meet up to raise high the roof beams, we want to make Studio Barndiva ~ and the food and drink we serve ~ available to you. While we hope you will join us for some of our upcoming scheduled events (first up: the opening party for the much anticipated Susan Preston Exhibit: One Button Off) consider this an invitation to think up your own reason for a soirée in the coming months ~ rhyme it as you will.

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