by Raffaella Pietropaolo
Techie Taste: San Francisco Michelin Star Chef Michael Tusk Serves Truffles…on iPads.
We are the tech generation. We order and pay through apps, we work from cafes also in our free time, we are connected with people on the other half of the world and are never isolated even when we are alone, we receive news live and, in spite of what we are doing, contribute to the sharing of information 24/7. We do not merely stare at art paintings, clothes collections and furniture, we experience art, fashion and design through performances that involve our senses and our presence at that moment and in that specific space purposefully created to strike our attention with a sensation. We are the generation who is always logged in and always ahead of the game.
Michelin starred chef Michael Tusk speaks to this tech-savvy generation, he speaks to us.
The tasting menu of his Quince restaurant in San Francisco offers an innovative course that not only addresses our mouths but our need for stories, our craving for understanding and our desire to live a unique experience. “A Dog Searching for Gold” is in fact the name of a dish containing white truffles which is served on an iPad showing how the truffle-seeking dogs found the “white gold” before chef Tusk transformed it into a recipe.
I hunted down chef Tusk to give you some insight on how he interprets our millennial era.
R: How did you get the idea?
M: We have been doing the dish for a couple seasons. The idea came after I was cooking at Blackberry farm and loved meeting there Lagotto Romagnola truffle dogs.
R: What should people look for in this scene?
M: It’s a dog in search of gold which is the white truffle or magnatum pico.
R: Do you serve just truffles in this manner? How do you believe the experience could be replicated with other dishes?
M: We have done a black truffle dish and also a frogs’ leg dish using the iPad.
R: Clearly, behind this innovative way of serving food, there is much more than a culinary experience. What are the senses that you wish to address and why do you think people should be concerned with the story of how the food on the dish is provided?
M: It’s just a snack or canapé at the end of the day, but it is a lot of fun. I kept on shaving truffles the year before and everybody asked if the truffles were from Alba. It was a good lead in to where truffles are from since there is more than one region where the truffles come from. They also thought pigs were more predominant and it was a good topic of discussion.
R: Why are the background images not enough? Why do you decorate the scene also on the iPad?
M: We only decorate the scene since mainly the “soil” is edible.
R: A more technical question: how can forks and knives together with the hit of the dish not ruin the iPad?
M: Forks and knives never touch the iPad, it is a snack and this never occurs. The idea is “to be picking up the truffle from your trusted canine friend or grabbing it directly from the ground.” No silverware is used whatsoever. The iPad is also protected by a clear plastic sheath so you can see the video but the food never touches the iPad itself. Finally, the sheath is washed just as a plate is when it goes to our polishing room after each use.
R: Is this dish available just on particular dates or is it a must-have on the menu?
M: The dish is available during white and then black truffle season and whenever we decide to be inspired to tell a little visual story. Our next dish may be inspired by our farm, possibly with some harvesting going on. The kitchen helps with the planting and harvesting process so I am working on a new idea.
R: More details on what is served: how do you prepare the food?
M: The “white truffle” is made with celeriac, porcini mushrooms and is dusted with porcini powder to make it look like an actual white truffle. The “Perigord or black truffle” or melanosporum is a béchamel base infused with Iberico ham and is dusted with vegetable “ash” and garnished with a sherry vinegar jelly.
R: What does the dish have in common with the design of Quince? Is the connection to the atmosphere and the taste of the furniture relevant to your dishes?
M: The dish’s connection is that we are in a city influenced by tech booms and also tech busts, unfortunately. We have various designers from some local companies so I was just trying to bring a touch of technology to gastronomy and vice versa.
When not using the iPads for service we use them for staff education, wine tastings, recipe documentation and anything that helps both the front and back of the house. We watch culinary videos on YouTube such as the Bocuse d’Or when the USA won its first gold! Finally, employees are also able to use them during staff breaks if they like.
R: Have you received any comments so far about your creation? What are the aspects that caught people’s attention the most?
M: Most diners seem to really like it; we have received super positive feedback as it adds an element of fun and education to the dining experience.
R: Do you wish people to know something more? If so I will pass the message on!
M: Thank you, yes!
Chefs put food on rocks, porcelain, glass and slate. This is no different, just trying to have a little fun and provide some insight into what goes on behind the scenes with in this case, truffle foraging. At the end of the day it is one bite in a lot of flavors you will try when you dine with us at the restaurant. To me, the best part of this process was collaborating with the woodworker who built the enclosure for the iPad, Luke Bartels. Not everybody gets to go truffle hunting and it lightens up the beginning of the meal when sometimes the guest is new to the restaurant and needs glass of Champagne—they get a little snack and a story about a truffle dog.