The prep of our lentil salad was straightforward and came off fairly well and uneventfully. It was a cold salad of cooked lentils with a tiny dice of carrots, celery, onion, and parsely, tossed with olive oil and lemon.

The grapefruit panna cotta was an interesting idea, simple to make and quite tasty. A panna cotta, for those who don’t know (which included me last week), is, broadly, a cream/milk mixture flavored as desired and set with gelatin. A great, quick dessert.

For our designed salad, I persuaded the group– I hope I persuaded, instead of railroaded– the group to attempt a deconstruction of a salad, featuring a tomato gelée. We had a tomato gelée in our multi-course meal at Janos in Tucson in July, and I’ve been intrigued by it since. The idea went through several mutations before settling into its final form, a caprese salad with the gelée in place of the usual tomato. A tomato gelée is simply gelled tomato water, and it works even when 80% of the tomatoes are of the rubber commercial variety. We pureed the skinned tomatoes in the robo-coupe and set them aside to drip through a muslin filter overnight. Eight to 10 tomatoes yielded a pint and a half of tomato water, which was set with gelatin in two layers, with small basil leaves and cherry tomato slices between. We then used a circular cutter and knives to make disks of fresh mozzarella and gelée, which were stacked with a parmesan crisp and balsamic reduction.

Our intention had been to create a flower shape inside the gelee, using the basil leaves a petals and the tomato slice as the center, instead of a random distribution, but the leaves floated away when the second layer of liquid gelée was poured on top. Nonetheless, I was pleased with the product. The concept worked: a bite of gelee with a basil leaf in it, mozzarella, and balsamic tasted like a caprese salad, and it looked interesting.

I will pause here to observe that working in a group to create something (as opposed to making it according to direction) is very difficult and stressful due to the social dynamics. While good ideas can– and did– arise that any given individual might not have had, there is also a lack of the coherent vision that in individual in charge would bring. Were they solely own responsibility, I would have tweaked a number of things in the execution of both salads. Is that being too fussy? It probably depends on the context. From the social perspective, in a group of peers, yes; there are distinct limits. If producing the best food possible is the primary goal, no. I feel this as a powerful tension, and I suspect it won’t be the last time I struggle with it. However, I have consciously kept in mind that the purpose here is education, and I did learn a number of useful things, not only about techniques, but also processes, and how difficult– and important– it is to execute properly in a "chaotic" environment. Lots to think about.

Monday we’ll be moving on to canapés. 

Here’s a photo of the entire salad bar: