At Striped Bas, Chef Chris Lee Hatches His Own "caviar"


PHILADELPHIA, PA - Christopher Lee, chef de cuisine at restaurateur Stephen Starr's landmark seafood restaurant Striped Bass located at 1500 Walnut Street, is making his mark on the culinary world as one of only a dozen chefs in the United States that can make "caviar." Using a secret recipe, the young and enterprising chef fashions a concoction, infused with sweet and savory flavors, that bears a striking textural resemblance to real caviar. To date, Lee has "caviared" a host of ingredients, including mandarin-orange, basil, coffee, soy and passion fruit.

For the time being, guests can enjoy his caviar with the Wild Striped Bass Ceviche, which is served with basil caviar, red and yellow tomato petals, black olive oil, a black olive oil tuile, basil seeds and micro basil. Like most chefs, Lee cooks with the seasons and as time passes, his caviar reflects the flavors that are most appropriate for that time of year.

Lee, who was recently awarded the highly regarded Gallo Sonoma "Rising Star Chef of the Year" Award at this year's James Beard Awards, has been turning heads ever since Consulting Chef Alfred Portale selected him to head the kitchen at Striped Bass in April 2004. With faux-caviar now under his belt, he is bound to turn a few more. Originally developed by avant-garde Catalan chef Ferran Adria in 2000, the closely-guarded secret craft has been widely reported and talked about amongst chefs, but remains hard to find on restaurants' menus.

After reading about Adria's exploits, Lee tracked down a "black market" recipe comprised of an incomplete list of ingredients, a rudimentary formula and a brief description of the process. Lee spent two years experimenting with different ingredients, proportions and methods to perfect his own version of the recipe. To pull off this feat, he carefully adds specific quantities of his own secret combination of raw ingredients to a calcium chloride solution. A chemical reaction with the calcium chloride solution causes the droplets to congeal, resulting in hundreds of semi-gelatinous, caviar-like orbs.

"I was so thrilled when I finally worked out the right formula that I started serving my own caviar that same night for dinner," says Lee, who was also awarded "Best Chef 2005" by Philadelphia Magazine in its annual Best of Philly issue (August).

At Striped Bass, Lee uses his own specially designed and created caviar machine, which consists of hypodermic syringes, with the needles removed, and other medical equipment modified with a combination of ordinary professional culinary tools.

For his next triumph, Lee is working on creating what he affectionately refers to as "fizzy fruit," which he creates by embedding carbonation into fresh fruit with a specially modified espuma container.

With the kitchen under Lee's direction since opening, Striped Bass has received rave reviews for its stellar cuisine. Travel + Leisure included it in its "Best New American Restaurants 2004" issue and Gourmet selected it as one of the country's top restaurants. Philadelphia Daily News noted that "Lee brings his own style and ambition to the Striped Bass's plate" while Philadelphia Magazine wrote, "who doesn't love a guy so inspired by his adopted city that he invented a 'cheese skate' dish, playfully combining braised short ribs and lightly breaded skate wing with caramelized onions, exotic mushrooms, and a schmear of parmesan cream sauce?"

Striped Bass is located at 1500 Walnut Street, and is open for dinner Monday through Thursday from 5 until 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 5 until 11 p.m., and Sundays from 5 until 9 p.m. Brunch is served on Sundays from 11:30 a.m. until 2:30


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