Recap: Chef Ángel León @ Minibar
Jonny Grave | Nov 7, 2016 | 1:00PM |

We’ve gone off the edge of the deep end, and our feet can no longer touch the bottom.

A meal at Minibar requires a certain suspension of disbelief. World-class chefs, under the wing of José Andrés, are given space to try new ideas, create other-worldly dishes, combine flavors that common sense tells us shouldn’t be combined, and craft the impossible. Within moments of walking into the restaurant, the guests were served a “Divine Wind,” the bar’s take on a Kamikaze. The iridescent blue butterfly pea flower turns purple on contact with the clarified lime juice. This is no longer just a press lunch; it’s a magic show.

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And the cocktails are just the opening act. In the dining room, guests found an apple hot toddy waiting for them. A hot toddy is generally considered a post-dinner cocktail, but Chef Andrés enjoys toying with conventionalism and assumptions. A hot toddy is also not usually served inside a pitted apple. If there were any doubts the meal about to be served would be ho-hum, the hot toddy and amuse-bouche eliminated them.

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Shortly after seating, and a few cursory remarks from Chef Andrés, guests introduced to Chef Ángel León, the mastermind behind the day’s meal. This was the vaudeville portion of the lunch; Chef León spoke in Spanish, explaining what we were about to put into our mouths, and Chef Andrés translated into English. Our opening dish was a selection of what Chef León calls “Embuditos Marinos,” literally translated “Sausages of the Sea.” What appeared in front of us were altogether ordinary-looking selections of charcuterie, but the taste, texture, and composition immediately betrayed the assumption. These are sausages made from cured fish. Chef León shares a similar joy in throwing conventionalism out the window.

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From there, the courses flew, and the tether to the real world began to slip away. Ceviche, truffle toast, Sardina Matrimonio, and a score of other other-wordly dishes were put in front of the guests. Chef León explains his mission to the guests, and what’s driven him to create these groundbreaking dishes; he’s fascinated with the ocean. He’s not approaching fish with the same rigor and attitude traditional, western-european chefs have toward fish. He’s not looking for the top-grade tuna steaks, or delicately cured salmon. Chef León works with second and sometimes third-quality fish.

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He then goes on to call fishing practices into question, and forces those at the table to think about where exactly this food comes from, and how it’s harvested. He explains that things like high-grade sushi will simply not be around for much longer if we don’t stop over-fishing. Chef León pushes the envelope even further with a series of plankton-based dishes, telling the guests that life itself originated in the sea, and that this plankton is necessary to human survival. Not only does it provide food for fish, but also provides a significant of the world’s oxygen. With these dishes, he successfully acknowledges one of the building blocks of life on earth, and finds a new way to turn it into an brilliantly creative dish. It’s socially-conscious cooking at its finest.

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This is all part of the set-up, not the real trick. As the dishes arrived, one after another, and the sherry was replaced with champagne, and a giddy Chef Andrés introduces the guests to the staff of chefs and cooks behind the counter, Chef León was pounding away at something with a mortar and pestle. This, he tells us, is another way of touching back to cooking something old. What he’s preparing, though, is something altogether new.

Chef Ángel León has successfully found a way to make food glow. The lights go out, and the bowl turns an eerie bright blue. He doesn’t achieve this by using a phosphorescent pigment under a blacklight, and not by using a synthetic edible chemical dye; Chef León has developed a way incorporate the natural bioluminescence of a certain kind of phytoplankton into an edible powder. There’s simply no other way to describe it than just “magic.”

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Photo courtesy of Minibar

As the lights go back on, and the guests are brought back to the table, with an assortment of sweets waiting for us, our chefs explain the potential applications for this kind of glowing powder. It could be used in a dashi, or a tapioca, or even a cocktail. By throwing convention out the window, the possibilities are legitimately endless.

This is what happens when you allow people to play with their food.

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