Getting (Sur)Real at the PEM

Posted: July 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Event, Salem | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

During a cooking demonstration, Chef Matt O'Neil creates a layer of chive cream for his tuna tartare

The Peabody Essex Museum is throwing several evening parties this summer. We decided to check out Thursday night’s event because one of our favorite North Shore chefs, Matt O’Neil of The Blue Ox, was doing a cooking demonstration.

Army of Broken Toys provided the evening's soundtrack

The night was dedicated to surrealism, with a special exhibit of Man Ray paintings and music by Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys.

O’Neil was serving up tuna tartare with chive cream on a potato crisp. The connection with surrealism is the surprise of combining seafood with cheese (there is mascarpone in the cream under the tuna). Surreal or not, it was an outstanding combination of texture and flavor.

Sushi grade tuna awaits dicing, adding the "special" sauce, the finished tuna tartare

The chef mixed together one part sour cream to two parts mascarpone and added a generous amount of chives. He suggested making the cream a day ahead for more “chive presence.” The cream is piped or spooned onto thick potato chips (potatoes soaked in water for one hour and then fried).

The sushi-grade tuna gets finely diced. O’Neil prefers the very-tender loin over the belly (torro) for this preparation. To the tuna, he adds the green part of the scallion, black sesame seeds, cilantro, diced cucumber, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt.

The last step is the addition of his “special sauce,” which includes sriracha, soy, sesame oil, seasoned rice wine vinegar, and honey

The live chess game

Tastebuds satisfied and recipe in hand, we were ready for the final event of the evening: a live chess game, complete with outrageous costumes.

Check out upcoming events at the PEM here. The next summer party is Waterworks on August 25, featuring a cash bar, experiments with water, Andrew Sempere’s Bowl of Oceans sculpture, and Susan Fishman and Elena Kalman’s The Wave, an interactive installation in the Asian Garden.

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Mixing It Up Mayan Style at the PEM

Posted: July 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Event, Salem | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

There was a serious party in our mouths last night as we sampled spicy Mexican hors d’oeuvres, Taza chocolate, and a variety of specialty beers. Another part of our bodies was stimulated, too—our brains.

We had a great time at the Peabody Essex Museum where about 150 people gathered to learn about chocolate’s importance to the Mayan culture and why it was considered the food of the gods. The event, Beer + Chocolate = Food of the Gods, was held in conjunction with the museum’s Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea exhibit, which runs through July 18.

We sampled a variety of treats like flatbreads with cinnamon chile butter, mini beef burritos, vegetable empanadas, and chicken morditas with chipotle crème fraiche. While we sipped the various beers and enjoyed the food, we learned a great deal about Mayan chocolate culture from PEM assistant curator George Schwartz. For example, chocolate’s rarity and association with the maize god and the sea made it so valuable it was sometimes treated as currency.

The other speaker was Taza Chocolate founder Alex Whitmore, who told us an enormous amount about the chocolate-making process, from fermentation to grinding and finishing. We had never tasted Taza’s products and were completely blown away—the cacao nibs are processed in a stone grinder, producing an amazing texture. The chocolate feels grainy for a moment, then melts in the most wonderful way, allowing you to taste all the flavors of the bean. (For those interested in seeing the action, chocolate tours at the company’s new Somerville facility begin in August.)

Seven chocolate-influenced beer samples were delivered during the presentation, with Schwartz describing each one’s origins. There were four chocolate stouts, an American stout, a craft brew from Dogfish Head designed to re-create one of the earliest chocolate beverages in the New World, and a saison that was a favorite with all—a rare beer crafted by Brasserie Fantome in Belgium.

After the presentation, we had the chance to create our own chocolate beverages. Each table was given two plates of chocolate to combine with hot water in a large pitcher. We aerated the mixture using a molinillo (wooden whisk) and added our choice of ingredients like allspice, chili powder, vanilla, and honey. The resulting mixture was incredibly rich and full flavored—about as far from Swiss Miss packets as you can get. The chocolate froth created with a molinillo or by pouring from one ceramic pot to another evokes its original connection to the sea, in the form of foam.

If you’re a chocolate lover, we highly recommend trying Taza chocolate, which is available at Whole Foods and gourmet markets like Shubie’s. We tasted plain, vanilla, cinnamon, chile, yerba mate, and salted almond (my favorite). We also tasted two unusual treats from North Shore chocolatier Turtle Alley: chile bark and a luscious chocolate stout truffle.

We also recommend the PEM’s food-related events. Although not inexpensive, this unique event in the museum’s gorgeous atrium featured a satisfying abundance of beer, chocolate, Mexican treats, camaraderie, and intellectual stimulation.

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