INTRO: By now the I was beginning to feel the two hour trek from beach to PDX each way. Finishing a day of baking from 5:00 am to 1:00 pm is not bad in itself, but getting up at 2:00 am to get there and getting home at 3:00 pm makes for a long day. After somewhat of a good night’s sleep, I arrived at Ned Ludd at 11:15 am.
A very professional Rob Baki, chef de cuisine of the restaurant, welcomed me and after a brief but thorough tour of the operation, we huddled around the prep table and I was given my list: glazed cipollini onions; butternut squash; turnip and leek ragout; rutabaga mash, and fermented sauerkraut. I was told the cipollini onions would take a while and we discussed the techniques to employ. As I set out to work on my production list, I was also encouraged to ask questions and take time as needed to see what else was happening in prep around me.
I placed 10# bag of cipollini onions into a steamer set-up over simmering water with wine and thyme. After about 20 minutes the onions had steamed sufficiently as to allow and easy peel of their skins. Although a sticky undertaking, the skins eventually came off their tender bodies leaving my fingers feeling like they had been super glued with onion skins. Next I cut all the skinned onions horizontally through the middle, leaving two perfect spheres. They were then tossed with EVOO, salted and placed in the wood fired oven. I created a glaze of reduced balsamic, sugar and sherry wine which were drizzled over the now caramelized onions and then placed back into the oven for a short finish allowing for cohesion of flavors. This became the basic mise that would later be used with the sous vide braised short ribs one order at a time from the wood fire oven at service.
The butternut squash and turnip leek ragout were dovetailed into my prep schedule as I waited for some of my other preps to cook or chill. The squash was a quick mise that would later be added to a wild rice blend and finally make its way on the finished plate with the house brined, smoked, rendered and finally wood fired duck breast with cranberry gastrique.
As for my next prep, the rutabaga mash, I discovered it was partially done before I arrived. Last evening the rutabagas had been wood fire roasted until perfectly tender and cooled for finishing today. I was to reheat them in the oven so they were warm enough to peel easily and then mash “gobs of butter” (my description) and kosher salt. Simply prepared and yet a fantastic medley of sweet and savory flavors for yet another component of the short rib plate mentioned above.
The sauerkraut was a timely prep item for me since Lenore and I had recently discussed doing more fermented products on our menus. A simple recipe of 15# head cabbage shredded and tossed with 2% of its weight in salt, massaged several times over the course of the day and finally placed in a large German crock with a lid and moat reservoir for water, a neat system to keep a tight anaerobic seal during fermentation.
Other prep items of note that I either did myself or helped, or observed included; spiced flatbread from starter; smoked trout; house made crackers using day old flatbread dough (ingenious); charred broccoli; smoked roasted beets; smoked roasted potatoes; mushroom ragout; polenta; roasted shallot salsa verde; spiced roasted carrot which would be served with my new favorite “cashew cheese.” Yes, cashew cheese! A simple enough preparation consisting of 24 hour to 2 day soaking raw cashews in cold water, covered. After soaking the water is discarded, and the cashews are salted and blended with the water off of fermented toasted wheat berries, a fermentation of 3 days at room temperature. And to quote Rob, this fermented water makes everything taste like cheese. I admit I was skeptical but Rob was spot on. Later that evening when Lenore and a couple friends came in for dinner, we all enjoyed the cashew cheese!
The restaurant opened as I was prepping in the back kitchen. Tables began to fill in what would become a steady ebbing of guests, including this night, a Japanese television show featuring Rob and the Ned Ludd experience. No one missed a beat as the orders came fast and furious. Each cook with a zen like flow ordered, staged, fired and then picked up as we say, each component of each dish, and worked together in ballet unison. Soon it was time for my party to be seated and my turn to enjoy the dishes. It had already been determined that our table would enjoy what the menu called, “the feast,” consisting of the chef’s picks prepared in smaller bites to allow group participation. It’s as if Rob had been keeping track of all my comments throughout the day and the feast for us became a sampling everything I wanted to try.
In all what a day! The hospitality was given so freely by Rob and his culinary team, not to mention the services staff and, of course, Carlton Dunlap, the beverage manager, who had prepped his station for the evening as if a sorcerer of magical potions. An unforgettable day — the kind of day that you plot your next visit before you leave.
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