Monday, May 22, 2006

One on One with Om's Chef Rachel Klein

Click image below to enlarge.

When I go out to eat, I often wonder what goes on in the minds of chefs. Where do they get their inspiration? How do they find the best ingredients? Do they go to farmers markets and specialty stores like you and me or do they have special suppliers? What is their background (geographic, ethnic, educational) and how does it influence their cooking style?

I figure if I'm curious about these things, others must be too. So I decided to begin going to the source and interviewing chefs around town about what makes them tick. I have started at the top with Om's Rachel Klein, the hottest new chef in town, who graciously agreed to be my first "victim."

When I originally went to Om, I was blown away by the inspired dishes - the flavor combinations, the presentation and the "deconstructed" nature of many of the menu items. I thought to myself that this chef had ventured into territory not explored by many local chefs. This chef had something truly unique to offer the Boston restaurant scene and I was thrilled she decided to pack up her chef's knives and move here from Providence. I was even more thrilled when she agreed to meet with me and tell me more about herself and her new spring menu at Om.

Om has been open about 5 months and the restaurant has quickly become a hot spot. When I spoke to Rachel and she told me that they now have a spring menu, I was dying to know what would be on it. I was also interested in how she goes about modifying a menu at a new restaurant. How do you change things without alienating customers who have come to love what's already on the menu? How do you introduce new dishes that seamlessly integrate with the dishes that are staying on the menu?

Rachel told me that she starts thinking about her menu a season ahead. So during the cold winter months when virtually nothing is in season around here, Rachel is dreaming up her spring menu. She says it's sometimes a challenge because you forget what comes in season first. Produce catalogs are good for inspiration. They tell you what you can get now, what you have to look forward to, where the produce is coming from, etc. These produce catalogs also have "reps" who visit the chefs in their restaurants and bring in ingredients to show them. This is extremely helpful to chefs who are really too busy to go out and about to markets browsing for ingredients. However, Rachel does enjoy going to farmers markets and places like Whole Foods. Because she can see everything at once as opposed to individual pages of a catalog which isn't as inspiring.

In terms of creating dishes for the menu, Rachel's approach is to think about textures first and how they will work together. Then she tries to strike a balance of sweet, salt and spicy to best bring out the flavors of each of the key ingredients. She always has salt, pepper, acid (citrus, vinegar) and sugar on hand in her kichen to help create that balance she is looking for.

The introduction of Om's spring menu has been a staggered process which is a great idea to let people get their feet wet with a new dish here and there as opposed to a whole new menu all at once. This answers my question about how you go about introducing dishes to a menu that is just getting established. So what's on the spring menu so far?

Colorado Lamb. Colorado boneless loin of lamp with braised artichokes, sweet olive relish, coriander emulsion and parmesan shavings on top. When I asked Rachel how she thought to bring all these things together in one dish, she said "salivating." Hmm. Interesting. At first I wasn't sure what she meant. But then she explained...after a bite of each of these items (particularly the parmesan and artichokes), you get this salivating feeling in your mouth. When I started combining all the flavors on the dish and took a bite, I totally got it. What an interesting way to pair things together. And, by the way, an absolutely heavenly dish. Lamb naysayers will reconsider when they try this. The lamb has more of a steak quality to it. It's prepared medium rare and you can practically cut it with your fork. Take a little of everything, combine it and what a burst of flavor you will enjoy. Lamb is actually outselling the steak right now which is Rachel's signature dish. That goes to show you how delicious the dish is.

Korean Beef. Chili spice & brown sugar rubbed sirloin,
yellow watermelon, Asian herb salad. This is a first course but could easily serve as an entree. Again, it's the combination of all the different flavors and textures that make the dish. And as always, beautiful to look at. I love the contrast of the unusual bright yellow watermelon against the greens and the beef. Definitely created with spring in mind.

Also new to the menu is Georges Bank Scallops which includes sweet English peas, Chinese sausage, thai basil, mint, pickled red pearl onions and Chef's garden bowtie arugula. Very fresh and light.

She wants to add a soft shell crab dish to the menu but is waiting for the price of crabs to come down. She doesn't want customers to have to pay outrageous prices, so her plan is to introduce crabs to the menu when the price is more reasonable.

On the dessert front, there are several new creative, tempting choices. I have not personally had the opportunity to try these yet but will definitely have to return to indulge.
23 Karat Gold Cake. Carrot cake and parsnip ice cream sandwich with creme fraiche icing, toasted walnuts, habanero chili caramel sauce and gold dust. How chic.
Linzer Bar. Guava jelly, mascarpone sorbet, hazelnut crust and micro upland cress.
Coconut Layer Cake. Madras curry ice cream, cocoa nibs and baby fennel confit (candied).

As you can see, Rachel is no ordinary chef nor is her menu run-of-the-mill. If you're looking for an adventure, head to Om. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Thank you to Rachel for taking the time out of her busy schedule to let us get in her head a little bit and learn more about what makes her a great chef and Om such a wonderful place.

Om Restaurant/Lounge
57 JFK Street
(entrance on Winthrop Street - across from Upstairs on the Square)
Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA, 617.586.2800


Anonymous Donna said...

This chef is interesting and complex - a real thinker. Can't wait to try Om. Everything sounds delicious.

9:37 AM  
Blogger Carol said...

this is fascinating and makes me want to head over to om right now! i'll definitely check them out. thanks, lynne, for this special and mouth watering ("salivating"!) peek behind the scenes.

1:36 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Very interesting to read how Rachel plans the menu according to seasonal ingredients. Thanks for sharing!

3:54 PM  
Anonymous madeira mama said...

Rachel must love this review. Your description of the menu items is most inviting.

8:21 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home