Chefs Get Fired Up About Dishes Coated in Ash
Burnt Vegetables Make Tasty Flavoring, They Say; Taking a Blowtorch to Hay
It's the height of barbecue season, which means millions of apron-clad, backyard chefs are engaging in that ever-familiar ritual of flipping their burgers and rolling their hot dogs while making sure nothing slips through the grill and accidentally hits the ash.
But for Frank McClelland, a Boston chef, restaurant proprietor and organic farmer, it's the ideal time of year for the opposite approach: He likes to coat his food in ash.
One of the latest cooking trends is cuisine that incorporates ash. Chef Frank McClelland of L'Espalier in Boston, demonstrates a steak dish coated with an ash mixture made from spices and charred vegetables.
At his Apple Street Farm in Essex, Mass., he spends many a morning preparing edible ash by burning vegetables in a trough, so by night, he can use the result on all sorts of foodstuffs, from venison to New England oysters, at his French-inspired L'Espalier restaurant. The ash's fresh-from-the-fire flavor, said Mr. McClelland, in the midst of a recent morning burn, "awakens that primal, caveman part of your brain."
And it's a flavor that has Mr. McClelland's clientele, who can pay up to $200 for a tasting menu, clamoring for more. The chef is thinking about packaging his ash—made from several kinds of burned vegetables—for sale. "Lots of people want to take it home," he says.
"It's a complex flavor, but in a good way," says Herbie Bohnet, a Boston attorney who sampled Mr. McClelland's vegetable ash-covered veal tenderloin.
Chef Frank McClelland burns vegetables for edible ash in Essex, Mass.
Indeed, in culinary circles, 2012 may be remembered as the year of the ash. Chefs at high-end restaurants are winning over diners with their inventive use of an ingredient that's more normally considered a byproduct of cooking—and a seemingly unappetizing one at that.
At New York's Aquavit, Executive Chef Marcus Jernmark favors an ash made from hay. He is known to take a blowtorch to it in the kitchen.
"It's not a good thing to do in your apartment. I can't stress that enough," he says.
In San Francisco, chef Mourad Lahlou uses a leek ash to flavor ...