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With my mind on an oyster and an oyster on my mind.
It is startling to me how many of our culinary ideas have been the brainchild of our dining room Maestro, Bill Talbott. Bill was the first person I called to handle the front of the house details when I decided we would not be operating in the style of Schwa where the cooks double up on dining room detail. It was fortuitous in many ways. A polished front of the house pro who was on the opening team of both the legendary Charlie Trotter’s AND Alinea – with a good portion of time sandwiched in with Les Nomades – Bill was the third General Manager of Lockwood within our first 6 months of opening. The position there was perhaps the most challenging in the hotel. Considering that Lockwood was brand new, operated 365 days a year, three meals a day (that couldn’t have been more stark in contrast in styles of service between each meal period), to call the position a challenge may not be giving it proper depth. To complicate it ten fold, the influence and blanket of the union made maintaining a standard nothing short of maddening. Either candidates could handle the speed and volume of the first two services, or they had the refinement and grace to corral the higher standards of dinner. It was an easy decision for me to endorse him for the position at Lockwood as my baby was the dinner service and that was where I wanted his pedigree. Just the same, I knew it was going to take an unreasonable amount of fortitude to be able to withstand all the extracurricular weight that came with the operation and the levels of command, and that would likely either squash his standards or bury him altogether. It came with little surprise the day he told me he couldn’t take it anymore and moved on.
I felt before speaking with him that he would be a perfect fit for what I envisioned with our dining room, but I couldn’t have guessed the depth of what he would bring to the table. To begin, he has crafted what I can immodestly say is the most eclectic, off the wall, and perhaps best playlist in the city. Though really skeptical on our first week or so of opening (I saw the music aspect of EL being closer to Schwa’s heavy hand) the overwhelmingly positive response of our guests quickly swayed me. He has re-upholstered our dining room chairs, designed and put up our chalkboard, and created blinds from the corks our guests have left behind. We have also bumped our heads a few times, but as with cats and dogs, that should really be expected between passionate back and front of the house professionals. Where this little rant began however was on his contribution to our menu.
In addition to the concept of our past plate licking course (a new one currently on the menu will be posted soon), to Chef Brochu’s Bourbon Balls (which invoked his memories from childhood), to our current menu items of inverted French Onion Soup (Chef Kevin McMullen), to a Green Eggs and Ham I am working on today (for St. Patrick’s Day), to the Gin & Juice concept I will eventually get to, Bill has been a key figure in the forging of our culinary identity.
He voiced his idea for this course one evening as the charitable Foss owned and operated ‘EL Carpool’ exited the restaurant after a shift. Chef Brochu was still with us at the time and I half expected him to take the idea since gin was his preferred drink. It was likely a month or so after Andrew left that the idea came back and I claimed it. Bill was at first a little upset that I stretched the concept out as far as I did in regards to how the gin and juice were represented, but after reviewing the lyrics to the song, nothing was alluded to as pertaining to the juice other than that it contained Seagram’s. Sorry, but I wasn’t about to use that crap. I thought to use cucumber as the juice. Not a big fan of gin in general, the only ones I have really liked are low in juniper nuances and higher in botanical character. Chef McMullen – who has also clocked some time as a bartender – recommended a cocktail he once made combining gin and creme de violette. After discussing how we were going to get it into the dish and attempting to use it as a foam, we settled on a gel which he developed. Using the richness of a raw oyster was also in my original idea, and the rest of the ingredients were put in to play off the botanical nature of the Botanist Gin I picked up from Binny’s. Though the photo above was taken the day after the dish originally hit the menu, it has since evolved to include shards of a pink peppercorn candy which at least subliminally drew influence from good friend/chef Curtis Duffy’s brilliant take on Alakan Crab with Sugar Tuile.
Botanist Gin & Creme de Violette Gel
Beets in Champagne Vinegar
Cucumber in Champagne Vinegar
Citrus- Coriander Blossom
Pink Peppercorn (later introduced as candy)