An Evening with Kitchensurfing + Chef Eric Bolyard
As you all know, there are few things I love more than a good dinner party. But truth be told – unless I'm just having friends over mid-week for a pot of soup – hosting one is a lot of work! By the time I've cleaned the house, shopped for groceries, wine, and flowers, prepped the food, and set the table, there's usually about 15 minutes left until guests arrive, and I'm left debating whether or I can squeeze in a quick shower. But I love having people around my table (and I clearly love cooking!), so I make the extra effort to open my home as often as I can.
However, I'm not gonna lie: it's nice to have someone else cook for me every once in awhile. So when my friend Coralie asked if I'd like to have a chef (an alum of Eleven Madison Park, no less) cook us dinner at my apartment, my instant response was "Yes!" followed by "When?!" Coralie (who recently relocated to NYC from Paris) works for Kitchensurfing, a startup that allows clients to hire private chefs to cook anything from simple family dinners to multi-course tasting menus. The company launched last year in NYC, and has expanded to the Hamptons, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Berlin.
A trio of under-$10 wine pairings: an organic cava, a Corsican rose, and a still Prosecco; the yellow table set for dinner.
The concept is really cool because, essentially, you can have a restaurant-level dining experience in your own home. They've got chefs who specialize in all manner of dietary restrictions (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, you name it), ethnic cuisines (should you fancy, say an Ethiopian wat, or a spicy Szechuan stir-fry), and price ranges. You select the date of your dinner, the number of people, the type of cuisine and your budget, and they recommend chefs that fit your criteria.
It's a great concept for wine-lovers as well, because rather than paying restaurant mark-ups, you can pair the meal with your own wines. (Case in point: the 3 wines I selected for the meal were each under $10.) But for me, perhaps the greatest perk of all, was the chance to be a guest at my own table. Rather than hopping up and down all night, clearing dishes and grabbing food, I could just sit and talk to my guests. And once the party is over, in lieu of my usual piles of dishes, I was left with a sparkling kitchen. Sold.
Eric and Coralie: a.ka.a. Team Kitchensurfing!; Eric's insanely detailed prep list.
OK, back to our dinner. We set the date for Wednesday night and she booked Eric Bolyard, a talented young chef who spent the past 2 1/2 years cooking at Eleven Madison Park. (Before that, he spent time cooking at top restaurants in Spain's Basque Country, in London, and on Long Island.) The occasion? Coralie wanted to celebrate the completion of The Cookbook Diaries, so she generously treated me, Brandon, and her roommate Sarah to this incredible meal. (Thank you, Coralie!!!) Eric and Coralie collaborated on the menu - she wanted something that was "rustic Italian" with lots of seafood, spring ingredients (like asparagus and rhubarb) and two desserts. When he sent over his proposed menu, I was blown away: not only did it sound insanely good, but I couldn't believe that he was going to prepare this meal in my tiny kitchen. I figured I'd watch and learn...
Eric arrived at 6:30 (dinner was at 8) and I helped him carry his crates of pots, pans, and tools up my stairs. For the next hour and a half, I sat and chatted with him while he cooked, and he patiently answered my endless questions.
It turns out he never went to culinary school: instead, he got a business admin degree from Boston University and started cooking after he graduated, slowly working his way up from prep cook to sous chef over the past seven years. He left EMP in December to focus on personal projects, including a monthly Williamsburg supper club called Tasting Society, Kitchensurfing dinners, and an upcoming trip to Italy to cook at a friend's restaurant in the Veneto area. Deeply influenced by his time in Spain, Eric loves cooking with seafood and lots of seasonal produce.
Any man who does dishes is welcome in my kitchen.
I was reminded of several things watching him work: a) Advance prep is key. Given that his menu was so complex, Eric had EVERYTHING made in advance. All he had to do was cook a few elements (pasta, clams, cod) and plate each dish. b) Stay organized. Eric had everything in little tupperware containers and kept the kitchen about a million times neater than I do just making a weeknight supper for Brandon and me! c) Clean as you go. I never saw a dirty dish stacked up all night. Eric was lightening fast at cleaning everything immediately. d) In every dish, incorporate a variety of colors, flavors, and textures. Each of his dishes was a work of art – with some element of creaminess and crunch, something tart, a bit of spice, a splash of acidity, the right amount of salt – everything was brilliantly balanced and delcious.
A chef always travels with his knives...
Ready for a toast!
To start: charred bread (from Bakeri) + whipped browned butter + sundried tomato tapenade. Yes, please.
Sarah and Coralie, good friends and new roommates.
Spring on a plate: a medley of raw and cooked asparagus, with buffalo mozzarella, kumquats, and Sicilian pistachios.
Eric grated bottarga over clams and homemade cavatelli. Quite possibly my favorite course.
Eric plating the cod with artichoke puree, crispy artichokes, and saffron aioli.
The beautiful cod presentation – those tiny clear dots are a gelee made from the artichoke poaching liquid.
Mid-dinner party...stealth camera-attack!
A duo of delicious desserts, inspired by Coralie's request for rhubarb and "something coffee."
Brandon and me, full and happy!
Our lovely dinner companions, Coralie and Sarah.
I loved everything about the meal, though I'm still dreaming about the handmade cavatelli with sauteed clams, bottarga, and chili lemon bread crumbs. (Hoping Eric might be willing to give me the recipe...!) Oh and the beautiful asparagus salad with buffalo mozzarella, kumquats, and a Sicilian pistachio vinaigrette. The cod with saffron aioli and arichoke puree was off the charts, as were both desserts: a rhubarb agrodolce with ginger granita, homemade ricotta, almonds with lavender sugar and lavender leaves, and an olive oil cake with homemade espresso ice cream and a brown butter cocoa nib sauce. Literally every single element was painstakingly prepared from scratch. I am beyond impressed.
Eric, thank you for an absolutely phenomenal evening – best meal of 2014 so far! – and Coralie, thank YOU for making this happen!! I am thoroughly spoiled to have you as a friend.
Have a great weekend, everyone!!
*This post was NOT sponsored by Kitchensurfing.