As I sat writing, trying to describe the taste of great olive oil, the Chef plopped down this tray of butternut squash flans. This metal tray, tested in his oven a hundred dozen times, was burnished and crackled. It felt ancient.
When I saw them, I oohed and said, “Oh my god, can I have one?” He smiled, because he loves how much I love his food. But no. They were for the restaurant. He was trying out the first batch for his new menu, a monthly revelation.
I admired the smooth surfaces, noted the cracked ones, and grabbed the camera. The light falling through the large windows felt so urgently vivid. I captured them before I ate one.
Last night, I turned to him in his little restaurant kitchen, and said, “You know, you still haven’t given me any of that flan.” He nodded, his eyes snapping open, and smiiled his slow grin at me. Before he started serving it, he tweaked the recipe three times. Even though he had been serving it, and all the plates had come back clean, he would not let me eat one until they were done.
Finally, it was time.
He prepared an order for me. He ran a hot knife around the edges of the flan, tipped the little metal cup onto a clean white plate, and flipped the plate over. After a solid thwack, he turned the plate up toward the light. There it was — a perfect flan, solid and just a big jiggly. Around it, he placed toasted pecans, then drizzled some of the sherry gastrique. The plate passed toward me.
I sat on the patio, under the heat lamp, alone in the glimmering light of twilight. My fork dove in.
Soft. Warmth. Full taste of butternut squash, the quintessential taste of autumn. Slightly sweet, with layers and depth. Something pungent, wonderfully smooth. The taste escaped, down the sides of my tongue.
I dipped the next bite in the sherry gastrique, dark brown and drizzled. It tasted of roasted onions, somehow, even though there were no onions in it. “That’s the carmelization,” he told me, hovering at my shoulder, watching for my reactions. The sharp bite of vinegar, the yielding kindness of sugar. All of it dancing in my mouth.
I leaned up my face to kiss him in the darkness.
He grinned and walked back to the kitchen.
I turned, once more, to my plate.
WARM BUTTERNUT SQUASH FLAN, WITH TOASTED PECANS AND SHERRY GASTRIQUE
— one of the appetizers being served this month at Impromptu
— and of course, it’s entirely gluten-free