Posted on 10 November 2010 by

Tomato the Extrovert

tomato-dinnerBy David Harbilas

Food is fickle.

Some days it seems like the supermarket is carrying only the best, most perfect tomatoes and unblemished basil, and other days all that seems to be available are green, rock-hard tomatoes and basil with black tips and leaves that look like they haven’t seen water in over a week.

At no other time and in no other place is this evident than in a restaurant kitchen during service.

Two weeks ago I participated in a local farm-to-table dinner at Aka Bistro, where I work as the restaurant’s sous chef. Our chefs, Chris Chung and Christophe Santos, and pastry chef Jillian Rosenberg wrote a simple, four-course menu, the first of which featured last of the season heirloom tomatoes. Part of the challenge for us was timing the preparation of the food to coincide with the service, and luckily the tomato dish didn’t involve any actual cooking and could be plated in advance.

Unfortunately–or perhaps fortunately–the tomatoes we used were so ripe they were nearly literally bursting with juice. Blotting them out after slicing them helped a little, but they still ended up running out liquid, effectively ruining our presentation, which was a simple one. We fanned four or five slices of tomato over a tablespoon of purple shiso vinaigrette. Shiso, a Japanese variety herb, has a minty or anise-like flavor.

The tomatoes had also been lightly dressed in a curry vinaigrette, so that the dish had sweet and slightly hot flavors in it. It was finished with a crab-filled avocado ball, a few tiny herb leaves, and dried, ground kalamata olives that served as the salt for the dish. Not only does this dish reveal the complexity of our chefs’ imaginations, but it also reveals the nature of tomatoes themselves.

On their own, tomatoes seem bland and obvious. When paired with a variety of seasonings, vinegars, herbs, and perhaps a protein of some sort they ironically become the center of attention. They are, in a sense, extroverts that seem embarrassed when left alone. Luckily we were able to give them a lot of attention and company that night.

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