A few days before I left my life in America forever, I decided to cook one last extravagant meal for my more-than-hospitable hosts. After all, I owed them this. For all the times they housed me at their quintessential New England home in Ridgefield, Connecticut. All the times they drove all the way to Hyde Park and back to transport me to and from the CIA. For making me feel at home during Christmas and Thanksgiving. For giving me tips on how to fit into an American lifestyle and most of all, for just being them.
The Sankars could best be labeled a foodie family. Their vacation albums are always brimming with pictures of food, markets, and restaurants. They most definitely know what they eat and can appreciate a good meal. For me to cook for them was not just a pleasure but often a challenge as well. They always had an appetite for my dishes and were more than happy to eat the dubious results of my cooking experiments. In fact, they encouraged it.
Aunt Sudha, the Queen bee of the family, is a skilled cook herself but always washed her hands clean when I stepped into her kitchen. Instead of partaking in the activity, she would get a notebook and pen down my actions questioning things she hadn't seen done with food before.
Uncle Ravi, the spirit of the home, could never figure out why I needed more than one or two pots and pans to carry out the cooking; he would always be the one cleaning up after me though. He is one for being economical and rational about food but would go great lengths to procure expensive ingredients if and when he sees value in them (he has been known to get truffles and foie gras from France for me to use while cooking for them).
The kids, Amrita and Shrutika merely love to eat and are fairly curious about cooking. That was good enough for me to find them to be prefect receptacles of my food. The chef's most important ingredient is after all a willing audience.
Having tasted my dishes right from the first time I met them three years before, the Sankars have watched me grow as a cook. "You always cooked tasty food but used to strictly follow recipes and couldn't really innovate," uncle Ravi would say. "Now, I can tell that you cook by instinct, knowing when to supplement or substitute and with what."
With just days left in the USA, I sadly realized that I wasn't going to be able to cook for them anymore. This last meal had to be more special than any they've had made with my hands before. I've cooked for them on several special occasions before, including birthdays, Christmas, and Thanksgiving but I felt that I had to top all that this time.
So this was going to be a tasting menu -- a five course tasting menu -- something I had never before attempted on my own. I decided to theme the meal around luxury and extravagance.
The first course was a Salmon Tartar with mayonnaise and chopped scallions served on a slice of cucumber. In the heat of summer, this was a great way to start the meal.
The second course was inspired by a quintessential Le Bernardin dish, the Pounded Tuna. It consists of a pâté of foie gras smeared on a crouton which is blanketed with a thinly pounded carpaccio of raw yellow fin tuna and finished with a sprinkling of sliced chives, chopped shallots, and a squeeze of lemon. It was simple but perfectly delicious.
For the third course, I made Fresh Fettuccini dressed in a light butter sauce with thinly sliced prosciutto and shaved truffles. This was decadence on a plate!
I wanted the last savory course to be something meaty and I knew the Sankars had never tried dry aged beef before. I chose a 23 day aged strip steak. The beauty of dry aged beef is the texture and flavor and there was no way I was going to spoil their ability to discern either of those by incorporating flavorful sauces, unnecessary cooking techniques, or intricate presentation. I needed them to taste the meat in all its carnal glory. I simply seasoned the meat with salt and freshly ground black pepper and seared it on both sides on a very hot cast iron pan before finishing it in the oven. Just to break the meatiness between bites, I served some grilled asparagus on the side. And there you had it, Seared 23 day old dry-aged Strip Steak with Grilled Asparagus.
There aren’t too many desserts that scream panache like the soufflé and that’s what I decided should be the final course for the evening. I found beautiful fresh strawberries in the market and decided to take that route. I could’ve made chocolate soufflé but felt that it would’ve been overkill at this point. So Strawberry Soufflé it was.
All in all, I think I did justice to my time there and was quite content with the way the meal turned out that evening. The Sankars didn’t complain either.