The Chef’s Club décor for Chef Sota Atsumi
I have no memory of eating frozen shaved foie gras before dining at the Chef’s Club last week. But since doing so, I can confidently say that I will never forget Chef Sota Atsumi’s Foie Gras Kakigori.
Sitting at the bar, my curiosity caused me to inquire about the dish. Kakigori, I discovered, is the Japanese name for a machine that shaves ice. The foie gras is frozen and then shaved over the crab meat, artichoke heart and pear. I had to have that.
When the plate was served, I thought about shaved white truffles I’ve had in Alba, Italy, the center of the white truffle universe. During autumn there, waiters present the earthy nuggets tableside, and glide them across hand-held slicers. The truffle flakes float down to the risotto or pasta (and the bill rises upward with each grating). Chef Atsumi is kinder with his decadence: He sends the crab meat, artichokes and pear out beneath an avalanche of shaved iced foie gras for the cost of only a few flakes of white truffles.
I was startled by the color and taste of the frozen foie gras shavings, which reminded me of milk chocolate—and the perfect compatibility with the vanilla-like flavor of the crab meat. Could this be from Atsumi’s work in Joël Robuchon’s test kitchen? As I lifted the forkful of artichoke, I thought it wouldn’t blend with the other ingredients. I was wrong. Then, I gathered the full quartet onto my fork. The crunch of the bosc pear and the counterpoint of the soft crab meat, the suave texture and flavor of the poached artichoke, and the satiny texture and rich flavor of the shaved iced foie gras could have been dissonance, but was, instead, harmonious.
My love for game birds and mushrooms is boundless, so, there was no hesitation in ordering the smoked squab with morels, rhubarb and beets.
The roasted squab’s two-toned bronzed skin was offset by the exquisite pink breast meat. Its rich flavor was enhanced by an abundant serving of the delicious honeycombed morels, which, in spring, seduces me with its woodsy, nutty tastes as the white truffle does in autumn. And the blazing red beet sauce reminded me that a few nights before, Atsumi’s strawberry pavlova was brilliantly red, too. This chef’s outward modesty—his quiet concentration and simple cooking shirt—masks a flamboyant inner self.
Dessert was Angel Cream: mousse of Cremet d’Anjou, pineapple and lemon ice cream. Cremet d’Anjou is a classic dessert from the Angers region of the Loire Valley, made with fruit, fresh cream and egg whites—sometimes with a little fromage blanc beaten in. It offers a blank canvas for a chef.
As I looked at the classic-shaped parfait glass capped with an ice cream cone, I wondered what Atsumi conceived. After all, only an hour before, he created a quartet of flavors that were as thrilling as they were unexpected.
My spoon slid into lime-infused whipped cream with specs of lime zest, and I entered citrus heaven. On the way down the parfait glass, I captured two cubes of sweet and tart pineapple. At the bottom was the elegant lemon ice cream, which coated the pineapple on its upward passage. The cream’s richness—offset by the acidity and intense flavors of pineapple, lime and lemon—will not leave my sensory vault.
Artistry married to discipline is a rare combination in the heat, speed, and labor of the kitchen. Chef Sota Atsumi has mastered it and New York’s dining scene will be dimmer when he returns to Paris at end of his residency July 21.
Photos by John Foy