I set my GPS with the address of the Test Kitchen and away I went. I came upon an old building with no name on it bathed in a red paint with black trim standing regally on Pico Bl. I parked in back and came through the back door and followed the signs downstairs into the kitchen. I walked in to see the crew from the restaurant all lined up doing prep. The crew had been there since 10am busily getting ready for the evenings performance. You see Test Kitchen brings in chefs from all over to test out new recipes and concepts for their restaurants or new establishments to be opened up. The prep was in the final stages when I got there. As always my first thing is to ask what else needs to be done.There were a few last minute things such as slicing some more cibatta. I also had to use the slicer to cut buffalo tenderloin for Carpaccio. The Tenderloin had to be frozen to make cutting to the right thickness easy. The one thing that I don’t understand is why restaurant slicers are usually in less than optimal condition. Noisy seemingly on their last legs yet they do the job.
Chef Adam Horton of Saddle Peak Lodge made sure that he had plenty of help in the kitchen, to keep things running smoothly making everything looking effortless. They put Kaz, the pastry chef, in the back corner of the kitchen like a sequestered mad scientist experimenting with all he could find.
I saw crisp chicken skin on his station and I was wondering what that was for. I soon found out, chicken skin nougatine. The wonderful combination of flavors sweet from the caramel, salty from the chicken skin and salt and and a bit of heat from green curry to finish it.
Another item I saw on his station were apple slices that had been infused with hibiscus using the cryovac. The flavor combination of the hibiscus with the apple was addictive. This was part of their cheese course which included Parmegiano reggiano with white chocolate namelaka black olive nougatine and aviation cocktail sauce (gin, lemon juice sugar water Creme de violet) micro celery and a thin curved crostini. It is a very creative and tasty way to do a cheese course and tastes absolutely divine. The apple hibiscus combination is so refreshing and pairs perfectly with the intense flavor and saltiness of the Parmigiano-Reggiano.
At this point the kitchen is shifting it’s energies to setting up for service. Meanwhile the front of house staff is busily readying the dining room for another big night. The next item on the list is to make on of each course for the wait staff to see and taste so they can accurately describe it to their customers. The chef gives the order to fire and the plates begin to materialize. One by one they get put up on the pass and taken to the staff table so that Adam can
describe each and answer any questions that might come up. Wild Boar spread with grilled toast, Heirloom tomato buffalo and it’s cheese, Escolar with summac, edamame, horseradish uni, flavors of pho and puffed rice, Pork belly with vadouvan apple yogurt and cucumber, Elk with almond bacon brandied cherries and squash, Parmigiano Nero with apple hibiscus, white chocolate and olives, Dessert Thai green curry with chicken lemongrass cilantro and lime.
The menu is heavenly and of course I had to taste each dish, for safety’s sake of course. They all passed with flying colors.
One of the new experiences for the Saddle Peak staff was the open kitchen which keeps everyone on their best behavior.
The Test Kitchen staff was very accommodating and everyone seemed to be working very well together. Service begins and there is a slow ramp up as the dishes are easily put together. One by one, Joshua Pressman, the expediter for the Test Kitchen, calls out the orders to the kitchen as Chef de Cuisine Chris Kufek confirms them and keeps the kitchen staff humming. The dining room begins to fill as sommelier and master mixologist
Christopher Barragan is manning the bar pouring 5 drinks that he created just for the evening. They are Tang’ent, My Darling Clementine, Q-Cumber, Pearl Jasmine, En Fleur, Testing Cocktail and Testing Mocktail, so ask for these when you see Chris at the Saddle Peak.
Meanwhile Joshua Buckner, GM of the Saddle Peak bridges the gap between kitchen and front of the house to make sure all is going well and of course it is.
Some of Adams friends and even current and former wait staff from the saddle peak come by to congratulate him and say hi. The plates are going out at a steady pace one of the nice things about having only one set menu is it makes it easier for the kitchen staff while making the dining experience even more of a pleasure.
Service is at full swing now. The board is full with orders, “Carpaccio out, 53 four out, 4 elk grazing on judges table 44 out, a boat here for 31, 44 walking” are the call outs from Joshua to the kitchen as he inspects each plate for drips etc… before releasing them to the servers throughout all stages of service.
The focus and concentration of the expediter as he continuously scans the tickets is intense . Keeping the proper timing going is job “ad 2 more desserts, 5 all day” then he pulls the tickets down for those tables.
The elk with beef sauce is so tender and sweet. The mesquite wood grill ads just the right amount of oakyness to the flavor captured with the sous vide process. The wild boar has a full flavor to it mixed with the reduced braising liquid with sherry wine. The flavor has that sweet fresh sense of the woods. The way it is raised, there is a buttery quality to the meat that is not often found in boar.
The quenelle of lemongrass comes through beautifully. It’s like tasting lemon with the additional flavor of slight bitterness. It’s layered with candied carrot slices etc… A wonderful refreshing alternative dessert.
The call outs continue as the peak of the evening has passed. 9:04 and things are beginning to slow a bit. “27 pork is squeeling” as another order goes out. Ramon keeps the grill flowingChris Kufek works with Josh the expeditor to make sure that all flows smoothly. 9:09 a lull in the storm. Things are slowing. Then another wave comes in. There are 10 first courses being readied to go out. The dishwashers are humming along. Sean is busily making the butternut scramble for the elk as Ramon keeps the grill fired up and humming along with elk and the grilled cibatta slices to go with the boar. Pork bellies are frying and all cylinders are firing at the same time 9:19. Things can change at a moments notice during service. “25 & 54 elk grazing. 22 Abraham lincoln, Kufek you need boar for three Rick asks to get clarification, “pick up 3’pork 5 all day.” The board is full again and the orders are moving out.
Josh comes back to tell us that the people are really happy with the food, “pick up 4 deserts goes the call as the plating continues.” Each facet of the meal is going out in perfect harmony with the next. The last table is in and now its just a matter of working through each ticket and knocking them out one by one. One by one the dots go down on the plate then the cucumber balls and finally the pork belly, fried to crispy perfection with a soft center. One by one the tickets disappear and the last of each course gleaming. “33 fish are swimming” As the evening winds down the staff begins to clean up each station one by one as the last Wild boar Spread goes out, then the Buffalo carpaccio, then Escolar, the last of the pork belly and then Elk, and finally the Parmigianno Nero and last but not least the Thai green curry dessert.Meanwhile well wishers come into the kitchen to congratulate Adam and staff on a spectacular meal. One person asks Adam how he would describe elk, “It’s like filet mignon on drugs”
It was a highly successful evening as Chef Adam Horton and the Saddle Peak team came together to do what they do best, create a great experience and make great food.