The Meal That Changed My Life
Plus an outside-the-box recipe for peanut butter and jelly canapés.
WD-50 photos by Katie Ett
2003 was an auspicious year. It was the year I ate The Meal That Changed My Life. Until that point in my nascent post-college life, I thought that distinction would solely belong to a meal I had at The French Laundry in California. But who says your life can't be changed more than once? Heck, I hope my life (and perspective) gets changed many, many times.
I'm sure I've written about Wylie Dufresne and WD-50 before. It's almost impossible that I haven't at this point. It was a meal at this little restaurant in New York City’s Lower East Side that first introduced me to “modernist” cuisine.
What’s modernist cuisine? Think of it as consummately creative, boundary-pushing, progressive food-as-intelligent-entertainment.
WD-50 was my introduction to sous vide, foams and spheres, well before these techniques became gratuitous crutches. Sure, I’d had amazing meals before WD-50, but this was a different experience entirely. It forced a recalibration of how my senses engage with a dish.
As each course was presented, “The chef did what with what?!” was a common refrain.
Each plate was a tromp l'oleil — radishes shattered as I put them in my mouth, little bright red pearls exploded to reveal the most intense tomato flavor and root vegetables blended exquisitely in five different forms, from solid to liquid to froth.
Each individual component on the plate was unexpected. And the sum of those parts? Incomparable.
From 2003 on, I've made it a point to visit some of these “modernist” restaurants whenever a holiday or business trip took me reasonably close to one: Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck, Jose Andres' Minibar and Grant Achatz’ Alinea.
And so it was with great pleasure that I opened last month's Food & Wine magazine, and this recipe from Grant Achatz jumped out. It’s a reimagining of the flavors that make up our beloved peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich in a way that my mere mortal brain couldn’t have dreamed. There are no special effects, no sodium alginate, liquid nitrogen or fancy machines required. All you need are simple ingredients from your kitchen and a palate waiting to be pleased.
It is a conversation-starter dish to serve this summer. It’s an artfully simple repurposing of grapes and a break from the common canapé.
Recipe by Grant Achatz
Yield: Six servings
- 16 green grapes*
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon
- ¼ t. sherry vinegar**
- Fresh ground pepper
- 12 thin baguette slices
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- Maldon salt, or any good sea salt, for serving
* Original recipe calls for peeling; I didn't bother. Also, this would look great with green and black grapes.
** Original recipe suggests Blis Elixir, an aged sherry vinegar. If you don't want to mail-order this, find the best sherry vinegar you can get your hands on.
1. Preheat the oven to 325. In a small bowl, crush the peeled grapes using a fork. (I did this once, but on the second iteration, I finely minced the grapes.)
2. Stir in the minced tarragon and vinegar. Season with pepper.
3. Brush the baguette slices with peanut oil and toast in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until they are crisp.
4. Top with the crushed grapes, sprinkle with Maldon salt and serve at once.