Rosemary pistaccio bamboo salt palletteDoing an event with Michael Recchiuti is a little like surfing on the back of a dolphin.  Constant movement, sort of an ongoing momentum toward an unknown something or other, and a near constant rush.  Though “dolphin” isn’t very Recchiuti like.  There is nothing particularly aquatic about him.  But I want to hold on to the surfing metaphor.  Maybe surfing on the back of a beaver.  A marmot?

I was there to talk salt for a chocolate and salt class for 30 people at Recchiuti’s factory in San Francisco.  While there, I took it upon myself to assume the role of in-house naturalist.  Below are a handful of examples of my attempt to capture, with a cell phone camera, Michael Recchiuti in action.  For my own purposes, I also tried to soak up as much information, technique, and ideas as possible.  I’m still processing the experience, but this is sort of how it went:

Candied pistachiosMe just off the plane from Portland, he just out from a marathon morning at the chocolate factory, we meet at Piccino, share a bitter salad and a pizza with mildly junipery speck, chat and share a bite of burnt caramel ice cream (made by Recchiuti) with two beautiful women at the table next to us (who introduce themselves the moment the ice cream arrive), then race off to buy glasses for the salt and chocolate class, scheduled for the following day.

Returning to the factory, located in a huge industrial building in the uber hip Dogpatch district of San Francisco, I park my luggage at the door and am introduced to everyone in the “kitchen,” then everyone in the office.  The “kitchen” has mixers, temperers, coaters, conveyor belts, warm rooms, cool rooms, and giant kettles reminiscent of jet engine parts.

Michael Recchiut caramelizing apples in butter and sugar for tarte tatinWe survey the presentation area, chat over ideas about how to seat people, how to present salted caramels (there will be a flight of eight with six salts), where lights should go, where the tent went that was supposed to be here already, where homemade graham crackers can be set out alongside palettes of chocolate melting atop a Himalayan salt block, the general drift of how people will arrive, how they will dredge said graham crackers in said chocolate atop said Himalayan salt block and then find a seat.  How all their knees are going to be touching because the event is fully booked.

Then Michael starts disappearing.  He’s in the humidity controlled walk-in.  He’s rummaging for tubs under a worktable.  He’s grabbing something from a file.  He’s tossing a heavy cast iron pans on a counter top and pouring sugar over butter.  He is up on top of the giant walk in fridge fumbling with octopus plugs.  I intersect with him from time to time, busy either wondering what to do, brainstorming about something that will or will not happen, helping with some random task, photographing something.  We do this for two days together. Michael and his team had been working on it for a least a few days prior to my arrival as well.

I realize that somewhere along the line I’d started eating things.  Michael throws me a cherry bomb, I pluck a caramel-encrusted pecan from a tray, snack on a few real-mint-junior mints, dip my finger in some apricot, gouge a glop of sorbet from the spout of the ice Sel gris on crust of tarte tatincream machine, gouge a glop of sorbet from the spout of the ice cream machine after some egg white has been added, sprinkle some bamboo salt or sel gris or fleur de sel or smoked salt on each of the above and try them that way. (I’m also not 100% sure that it’s okay for me to be tasting things; this is, after all, a real factory, with spoken and unspoken codes of behavior, defined economies, ongoing production streams, etc.)  But I realize that I’ve already learned something from Michael: eat what you preach, and eat it often.  Which may be simplified as: eat.

(This is not to say that we relied exclusively on chocolate as a fuel source for the long days leading up to the salt and chocolate event.  Recchiuti has just bought a new espresso machine, and he is eager to try it out at every opportunity.)

chocolate salt cupsBut by now everything was coming together, which has a soothing effect on me and an intensifying effect on Michael.  Now he is almost impossible to see.  Suddenly spun sugar appears on a tray.  Tarte tatin appears in neat squares.  Marshmallows of flash frozen lime foam glow mysteriously on the counter.  The dish washing station is piling higher and higher with bowls, spatulas, knives, molds, beakers, trays.

I am taking pictures, still, and helping where I can.  I rim glasses for malted milk in powderized cocoa nibs and smoked salt.  I roll chocolate swizzle sticks in flaky salt.  I eat.

The guests arrive, we serve cocktails, and soon, the event is under way.

Menu:

Welcome Cocktail
Champagne Apricot Freeze made with Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs, celery and radish juices, and a salted chocolate swizzle stick.

Dip-It-Yourself Breadsticks
Recchiuti’s housemade graham crackers and single origin chocolate on a Himalayan salt block.

A Classic Opening
Tarte Tatin baked with Sel Gris de L’ile de Noirmoutier and finished with a suspended animation sprinkle of Okinawa Snow salt.

“Palette” Cleanser
Single Origin “Ocumare” by Amano Chocolate. Topped with pistachios, rosemary foraged from Michael’s street and 3x Roasted Korean Bamboo salt.

Frosty Beverage
Chilled Chocolate Malt drink made with El Rey 41% Milk Chocolate and organic roasted barley malt from Oaktown. Finished with a rim of Iburi Jio Cherry salt.

Intermission
Recchiuti factory tour.

Salt Flight
A comparison of six artisan salt caramels: Pangasinan Star, Kona Deep Sea, Shinkai Deep Sea, Halen Mon Gold, Amabito no Moshio, Cyprus Silver.

One Last Dance
House-churned Burnt Caramel Ice Cream (the same one that elicited the attention of the two women at the restaurant the previous day). Garnished with a drizzle of Stonehouse Olive Oil and Haleakala Ruby Salt.

And to take home…
A box of salt caramels to share (or not) with friends.

Two articles I’ve found on (or relating to) the Recchiuti Bitterman Chocolate Salt event so far:

http://www.foodporn.com/pescygourmet/2009/05/recchiuti-salt-and-chocolate-tasting.html
http://www.thedinnerfiles.com/?p=1089