Well, several Geekquinox dinners have come and gone since last I blogged about them, and I may go back in time for those two at some point, but after the fall of 2012 (Autumnal Geekquinox, that is) I decided I needed another themed dinner, and so I spoke out. Foolishly? Perhaps. Regardless, because one of my friends is a huge Star Trek fan, I told him it was his turn to shine, and that the next dinner would be Star Trek themed.
And so Trekquinox was born! So having thrown down the gauntlet of themed dinner, I had no real ideas of what I could do. But it seemed to me that for a futuristic theme like that, I could break out the Modernist cuisine and cook with a little science. Also, it might provide an excuse to buy or borrow a lot of kitchen gadgets, and sending me to the kitchen store is like sending the characters from the movie Trainspotting to an all-you-can-shoot heroin bar. I’m uncontrollable. So this seemed like a good idea. My friend and fellow chef Doug had gotten the ridiculously complete and expensive Modernist Cuisine cookbook for a past birthday, so I had all the techniques documented relatively close at hand. (This didn’t stop my from buying myself a copy of Modernist Cuisine at Home, the slightly more modest 1-volume, $100 book. Come on, both kitchen hardware and a book at the same time? This is a heroin and cocaine speedball for your humble narrator.)
So after spending, oh, quite a lot of time (months) thinking about what to serve and how it might tie in thematically, and discussing it with (annoying) my girlfriend, I eventually settled on an ambitious 11-course meal. Or more, or less, depending on whether you count the drinks. As you will find out later, some items landed on the scrapheap of expediency as the night progressed, but it was an ambitious menu nonetheless. Both figuratively and literally, the creation of the actual menu was an ambitious project. I wanted to make it look like a Star Trek display, and in the end crafted a video menu that could play on my TV and look like a Star Trek computer. Devoting 2 minutes of footage to whatever episode or episodes the course was related to, along with surrounding LCARS display (the style of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s displays on the TV show), it weighed in at around 35 minutes. And video editing is time-consuming! So hours and hours were spent literally creating the menu, rather than creating the food that the menu was listing. Folly number 1! Still, here is the main menu screen to serve as a reference for the rest of these posts.
So, food and drink fit for… well, people with big appetites and a lot of time, it turns out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a dinner party which takes its own sweet time – the longer the food lasts, the later people tend to stay, even (and especially) the non-drinkers. But several of these items were planned and never panned out, and were truthfully not missed by anybody. And there were some highlights to be proud of!
Still, if I learned anything from this entertaining evening (for the guests and myself) or the terrifying weeks (for me the planner, who was perhaps a tad ambitious here), it is this: seven or eight courses is plenty. Not only is it about as much as one cook can feasibly handle, even with a day or two off to prepare, but it’s all that anyone can eat. Interest in food dwindles, interest in drink and talk swells, and after that you’re just shouting into an empty forest. Metaphorically. With the food.
Lest I end up sounding entirely too bitchy, let me be clear that I’m glad I attempted it, that everyone had a great time (or at least is spectacularly good about lying to me to spare my feelings, and I don’t really associate with that sort of friend), and I nearly pulled it off. So read on, dear friends and worthy enemies, and we’ll go through the dinner course by course.
I did mention that Modernist cooking takes a lot of science? In the full, 6 volume edition of Modernist Cuisine they make use of a $30,000 laboratory centrifuge. Not available, it turns out, at Bed Bath & Beyond, nor even the Paderno store. So I didn’t go entirely certifiable in the shopping department, but a lot of these did require some unusual technology. In fact, I have an LCARS display for that too:
Cooking sous-vide (“under vacuum”) features highly in Modernist cuisine, and so I did buy myself a Sous-Vide Magic PID controller. Full of buttons and LED displays, it would by no means have looked out of place on the decks of the original Star Trek show. In fact I had two, since I borrowed Doug’s as well – I needed to be cooking simultaneously at two different temperatures. Pressure cooker (bought), vacuum pump (borrowed), deep fryer (owned already) are some of the other technology highlights. The ceramic 3D printer sounded exciting, but the place I found that will do 3D printing for you are a European and U.S. shop, and only ship via UPS. So no matter how small and cheap the gewgaw you’re producing, UPS will charge you a $50 Customs processing fee. No thank you! Also, it turns out that modelling stuff in 3D is harder than it looks. So that was the first casualty; the plan had not survived contact with the enemy. At three weeks to go, my enemy was time and a little inherent Scottish cheapness, found too late.
So there’s the start of the tale. Next time, we’ll dive in to the first listed menu item (and the best pun of the lot), the Smorgas-Borg Cube.