Some experiences defy words, despite how many things remain to be said. Pop-up restaurants come and go by definition, a fleeting glimpse into a chef’s vision unleashed on the plate, but the memory of Jay Kitchen will stay with me for a very long time. Eight courses, many familiar faces, countless new friends, all packed into one evening. Even if the food had been middling it was a recipe for success, but let me assure you, conversation came to an abrupt halt with each new dish. Eating and savoring, the quiet was periodically interrupted only with utterances of pleasure.
What really gets me is the fact that Jay Astafa, mastermind behind all this, is only 20 years old. 20! Younger than me by four years, and so immensely talented, so accomplished. Now the tables are turned and I understand why so long ago, many writers felt it necessary to preface any article about my first book with a mention of my age.
Though I lingered in the kitchen quite a bit more than was perhaps helpful to the cooks buzzing about, assembling and sending out plates at the speed of lightning, the kindness and warmth I felt throughout the entire night was incredible. Never before have the staff actually raised the lights in the entire dining room so that I could get better photos. Or let me in the shoebox-sized kitchen, in the teeth of the dinner rush, snapping away amid the chaos. Any decent photos I stole should be credited to everyone behind the scenes and the lengths they went through to accommodate me. It was a simply amazing evening.
And that’s not to mention the food itself. I find myself tongue-tied trying to describe what I tasted, so unparalleled in its finesse that comparisons are impossible. Though the temptation to describe each dish in painstaking detail remains strong, I really think that the photos speak for themselves…
King Oyster Mushroom Scallop with Aged Balsamic Caviar and Green Pea Puree
Spring Crostini Duo (Ramps & Cashew Chèvre and Sorrel-Mint Pesto, Micro Pea Tendrils, Green Peas, Cashew Parmesan)
Chilled Potato and Leek Soup with Chive Olive Oil Foam
Ravioli with Asparagus and Ricotta (House Made Cashew Cream Butter, Cashew Parmesan)
Smoked Cauliflower Steak with Sunchoke Puree, Morels, Fava Beans, Snap Peas, Green Garlic, Truffle Vinaigrette, Shaved Black Summer Truffle
House Made Cheese Plate with Aged Cashew Cheese and Brie, Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote, Orange Infused Vegan Honey, Rosemary-Almond Crackers
“Dragon Breath” Caramel Popcorn (A Fun Surprise)
Grand Marnier Infused Chocolate Tart with Pistachio Gelato, Raspberry Coulis, Pistachio Tuile, Raspberry Pop Candy, Fleur de Sel Salted Caramel Powder
For even more photos from the evening, including behind-the-scenes photos in the kitchen, visit my set on Flickr.
Picking a favorite would be impossible, harder than picking a favorite child, or worse, picking a favorite cookbook. However, it was the brilliant green crostini, festooned with tender peas and pesto so bright in flavor that it sparkled on the tongue, which truly stood out in my recollection of the affair. Immediately upon my first bite, I knew that I needed the recipe. Jay, generous and sweet as he is, readily surrendered his secret formula for everyone to enjoy. It’s just one tiny bite out of the whole experience, but one well worth savoring. I can only hope that it’s just a matter of time before Jay opens up a traditional restaurant, less fleeting than this tantalizing glimpse at vegan fine dining, so everyone can share that same incredible experience.
Crostini with Sorrel-Mint Pesto, Green Peas, Pea Shoots, and Cashew Parmesan
by Jay Astafa
makes about 24 crostini
For the crostini
1 good quality baguette, sliced into thin slices
extra virgin olive oil for brushing and drizzling
2 cups shelled fresh green peas
pea shoots for garnish
1 pint sorrel-mint pesto (recipe follows)
1/2 cup homemade cashew parmesan (recipe follows) or store bought Parmela Parmesan for garnish
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Brush the baguette slices with olive oil. Toast for 8-10 minutes until golden brown.
Heat up a medium pot with water to blanch the green peas. When water is boiling add the green peas and blanch for 1-2 minutes. Transfer into an ice bath.
Heat up a pan over medium high heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil. Sauté the green peas for a few minutes, until tender.
To assemble the crostini:
Spread a tablespoon of the pesto. Then top it with some green peas. Garnish with some pea shoots and cashew parmesan. Drizzle with a good quality extra virgin olive oil.
For the Sorrel-Mint Pesto:
makes 1 pint
1/2 cup pinenuts
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 cups mint
2 cups sorrel
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup cashew parmesan (homemade or Parmela)
1/4 cup lemon juice
sea salt to taste
In a food processor, combine the pinenuts, garlic, mint, and sorrel and pulse until chopped. Slowly pour in the olive oil. Finish it with cashew parmesan and lemon juice. Process until smooth.
For the Homemade Cashew Parmesan:
This cheese is amazing! It has the same sharp, tangy taste as regular parmesan cheese has. It adds an intense umami taste to anything you make! It takes about 3 days to make, plus 2 days for the rejuvelac but it is so worth it. A good helpful recipe for making rejuvelac is in the book Artisan Vegan Cheese. I always make mine with quinoa. This recipe makes about a quart so you’ll have more than enough than you need for this recipe. -Jay Astafa
Blend the soaked cashews and rejuvelac in a high speed blender until smooth. Add the nutritional yeast, sea salt, and miso and blend until incorporated.
Transfer the cashew cheese into a bowl and cover with cheesecloth. Culture for about 36-48 hours. The culturing time depends on the weather. The hotter it is, the quicker it will culture. The cheese will have firmed up and risen by 36-48 hours. It will also smell cheesy and sharp.
Spread it on the dehydrator trays lined with non stick sheets. Dehydrate at 115 degrees for 8-12 hours. After 8-12 hours, flip the cheese and dehydrate the cheese until dry for another 8 hours.
After it’s has dried out, process in a food processor until it’s grated. This cheese will keep for about a month in the fridge. It can probably stay longer, but it always finishes so fast so I’ve never kept it longer than that! (If you don’t have time to make the homemade cashew parmesan, I highly recommend Parmela Parmesan as an alternative)