You don't eat caviar because you're hungry. But the portion set before us at a dinner the other night was capable of staving off a serious quantity of pang. We all eyed the presentation set before us perched on the tiny bases of empty, over-turned, long -stemmed Riedel Burgundy wine glasses. This caviar "amuse" course was done in the style of the legendary "beggars'purses" as created by Barry Wine, once chef and owner of the Quilted Giraffe in Manhattan. Chef Wine used to insist that his guests use no hands, (much less forks or spoons) when eating the purse. He favored taking pictures of many of his guests donning elegantly designed handcuffs he had at the restaurant, leaning way over with their arms and hands pulled behind them— taking it between their lips or teeth— and then standing upright and eating the salty cargo within the chive-tied crepe. I did not wait for anyone to insist otherwise and picked up my beggars' purse with one hand... bit half off enjoying it tremendously... had a small gulp of the 1965 Krug... finished the other half followed by some more of the Krug... The evening was looking up. Did I mention that the purse was filled with beluga caviar? There are three great caviar. Beluga, Sevruga and Osetra. The determination of which caviar it will be is done by several criteria. At this level it is matter of personal taste. Malosol in Russian is the term meaning "little salt" and fresh caviar has very little. The presence of salt preserves it but masks the flavors. Caviar should be served as simply as possible. With caviar of this quality, forget chopped eggs, capers, onions and the like. World-class caviar is one of life's musts even if only once in a great while. Handcuffs are optional.

Works consulted: A.J.McClane's, "encyclopedia of Fih Cookery".

Copyright by Norman Van Aken, 2000 All right reserved.


The English are so organized! God love 'em. There's a specific time of the day when everyone from the Queen Mother to the lorry drivers of Sherwood forest take a collective "chill pill", (as we might say in the U.S.), and have a cup or two of tea. When we say tea, we are talking about a vast variety of flavors that come from one plant: Camellia Sinesis, which is actually an evergreen bush. Now, in the strictest sense, we would not be talking about herbal teas, which are properly referred to as infusions, not tea. However, infused teas work quite well in the kitchen too. "Tea as food? Not just as a beverage? ," You may question. Well, it takes coffee to make a true "red-eye gravy" so why not tea as a food element, too? , I reason. The flavors of tea are as intriguing as the diversity of wine. Black, oolong and green teas are organized in terms of the rate of fermentation. Black has the most, oolong is semi-fermented and green has none. The smoky Lapsang Souchong tea was one of the first teas to really make me think of tea as an ingredient to cook with. I was checking out a bag of it and passing the dark and aromatic dried leaves through my hands one afternoon it occurred to me that the tea looked like dried herbs and my mind expanded one extra little inch and I thought, "Let's try to use it as if it were an herb." So I made a caramelized shallot, balsamic and tea mixture which I sparingly rolled into some beautiful King Salmon Spirals that we grilled and served on a light lemon butter, connecting tea and lemon in a whole new way. Many people might not have identified the mysterious flavor the tea lent, but I got great feedback. I still serve it that way on my menu at NORMAN'S. Tea. It's not just for drinking anymore.

Copyright by Norman Van Aken, 2000 All rights reserved.