The Definition of Cuisine

Our recent trip to Minneapolis included a wonderful dining experience at Heyday, led by Chef Jim Christiansen. The setting was intimate, with tables nestled in right next to the open kitchen, and the menu was inventive (the company was excellent as well, but you’ll have to supply your own on that front). We elected to begin with a set of three seafood dishes to share which included a revelatory presentation of Blue Mussels with frozen yogurt, pickled cucumber and dill. The balance of dill with the salt and sour of the dish inspired an almost immediate sense of the ocean. We then moved on to a number of meat dishes.

Our selections included (clockwise from left):

Grilled beef culotte, coal roasted carrots, turnips, and turnip leaf relish. Culotte is essentially a cut of sirloin, also called the sirloin cap, which in this case was cut with the grain, then grilled and served rare.

Guinea hen served with pressed beets, fresh wasabi and basil. The compressed beets were sweet with all the full richness of slow roasting, but far firmer in texture.

Roasted squab with a raviolo (singular form of ravioli) made from kohlrabi and filled with sour potato, parmesan, and thyme.

The flavors on these dishes were unique and incredibly well-balanced. The combination of flavors elevated each dish beyond a mere sum of the parts. Part of that sensibility comes from the time Chef Christiansen spent at Noma, in Denmark, which he credits for creating his awareness of wild foods but also of connecting to the local harvest.

Noma has been named the top restaurant in the world four times, so it’s a pretty good place to learn some lessons. But a recent video they published on their site is what really inspired this post. It’s ten minutes, but it is worth watching. They discuss a upcoming change to their restaurant location and format, but more importantly to us at Great Lakes Cuisine, they spend the first four minutes discussing the difficulty in defining cuisine.

They discuss their initial vision which included approaches such as using ingredients only from the Nordic “territory”, “distilling [the] landscape onto plates of food”, and using methods of preservation as inspiration. They discuss throughout the video the ideas of seasonality. At the same time, the recognize the somewhat arbitrary nature of defining a cuisine. Discussing issues like where to draw geographic boundaries, what “imported” foods to allow, and how far back one should go into history, they discuss the difficulties with defining what is “authentic”.

Here at Great Lakes Cuisine, we have wrestled with the same linguistic, historic, ethnic questions. Why are we comfortable with the sausages, beers, and rye breads from Chicago, but begin to wonder about the fit of deep-dish pizza within our definition? More broadly, why favor the Eastern European, Slavic, and Nordic culinary traditions in our approach over the Italian or Italian-American traditions? Why do we work so hard to avoid citrus in our approach (for fear of introducing a “foreign” flavor) while embracing vinegar made from the newest craft beers?

Some of this we have already addressed in our pages on Definition and Ethnic traditions. And some of these issues are exactly the point of what we are doing. We want to inspire the conversation, inspire the questions. These tangle considerations of history, geography, ethnicity, and seasonality are the very point of cuisine. Talking about Napa cuisine, or Tex-Mex, or any regional cuisine is not an objective process. It is inherently subjective. It is not about absolutes, but about inspiration.

Though the offerings of Heyday would have to be considered more global than local, we can say without reservation they were a source of inspiration. For that, we thank you.



Pheasant and Cranberries

A recent trip to Minnesota to visit good friends included a bit of cooking, as any trip to visit good friends should. A later post will address a wonderful dining experience we enjoyed at a local restaurant, but for now we’ll focus on some of the dishes we created together. A bountiful harvest of pheasant provided inspiration and we further challenged ourselves to incorporate cranberries in each dish.

We allowed for global inspiration and the main dishes were decidedly more global fusion than Great Lakes Cuisine. But our opening tasting bites stayed pretty close to home and fall neatly within our definition of Great Lakes.

Pheasant - Cranberry

The bites were presented smørrebrød style (our passion for smørrebrød has been covered here and here) with two served on whole grain rye from Rubschlager, brushed with duck fat and toasted. The bite on the far right above is a turducken terrine, the middle is a pheasant breast mousse, and the far left is a country pâté of pheasant dark meat.

The turducken terrine was the result of leftover turkey from Thanksgiving, which had been roasted with onions, apples and savory. A combination of light and dark meat was then pureed with a bit of apple and turkey fat until fairly smooth. The process was repeated with a smoked duck, and chicken was poached with lemon and herbs, and treated the same way. The mixture was layered and allowed to cool overnight. We served it with a spiced cranberry/stone ground mustard.

The pheasant mousse was made from poached pheasant breasts, pureed very smooth with shallots, herbes de Provence and cream. A bit of gelatin was added to help give the mixture body and then allowed to cool. We then piped the mixture onto beet crisps and topped with a wine candied cranberry.

The country pâté consisted of finely chopped (not pureed) poached pheasant dark meat, carrots, onions, and spices. It was topped with a quick pickled relish of red onions and thin sliced cranberries.

Just to satisfy those of you who are curious, the main courses were a PiriPiri spiced pheasant and a Korean BBQ-style pheasant. The spiced pheasant breast included sumac and grated cranberry in addition to more traditional spices and allowed to marinate overnight. After being grilled over very high heat, it was served on a caramelized corn waffle with a spiced cranberry syrup. The Korean BBQ pheasant played off the flavors of Kalbi ribs, with pureed pear and cranberry added to the marinade of soy, sesame, and spices. A portion of the marinade was later reduced to provide a sauce, topped with the quick grilled pheasant breast, and served with turkey broth rice and a kimchi/bok choy slaw made with thick-cut bacon.

In every variation, the rich flavors of the pheasant were highlighted by the tart fruit of the cranberries – a natural Great Lakes Cuisine flavor combination.