Scott Anderson and Mike Ryan
CHEFS: Scott Anderson and Mike Ryan RESTAURANT: elements LOCATION: PrincetonBY FRAN MCMANUS PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM CLARKE
STORY OF A DISH
Despite all the critical acclaim that has been directed his way,chef Scott Anderson is disarmingly deferential. When I sat down to interview him at elements in Princeton, where he is executive chef and co-owner, he quickly asked if Mike Ryan, his culinary collaborator and chef de cuisine, could join us, noting, “We collaborate on just about everything that we do.” Together they describedtheir shared history around patranque—a traditional rusticdish from the Auvergne region of France—and the innovative waythat Ryan used it in a dish he created for a recent tasting menu.
Patranque is a cheese-and-bread stuffi ng that makes good use of dayoldcountry bread. It’s a long-time favorite at elements; Anderson and Ryan have used patranque in many different forms over the years. Theyrecommend pairing it with roasted chicken and meats—provided youcan avoid the temptation of eating it right out of the pan.
“The texture is very soft and cheesy,” Ryan says. “It’s rich and delicious.”When asked where he fi nds creative inspiration, Anderson doesn’tmention memories of trips to France (turns out he has never beenthere) or his deep commitment to culinary tradition (he’s comfortablepulling culinary inspiration from all over the world). “It’s notas straightforward as people think,” Anderson says. “A lot of timesthe ideas come from left fi eld. They start backwards. Sometimes they start with a piece of squash and end up with fluke.”Success with this serendipitous approach is possible because ofAnderson’s intense focus on the quality of ingredients. At elements,ingredients aren’t just purchased from local farms—he and his team are actively engaged with their farmers to ensure that varietal and breed selection and farming philosophy produce superior fl avor. The chefs at elements are flexible enough to respond to what arrives fresh from the farm—and are free to take those ingredients across culinary cultural divides.
Case in point is Ryan’s dish, Pumpernickel Patranque with Sea Urchin, Rye and Egg Yolk—a playful Italian-French-Vietnamese reinterpretation of crostini with sea urchin and lardo.
With an abundance of Vietnamese coriander and assorted basils and mints that he picked on his daily visit to Z Food Farm in Lawrenceville,Ryan began playing around in search of new ways to use these intensely aromatic herbs, which are often combined as a garnish for pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup. That exploration landed the herbs a starring role as the seasonal finish for his Pumpernickel Patranque.
In place of lardo, Ryan tops plump, briny sea urchins with anotherclassic Vietnamese ingredient —warmed, thinly sliced beef tendon.
Beef jus and rye berries add texture and richness to the dish, which isfi nished with a smear of egg yolk and topped with the fresh herbs. Allof this sits on a foundation of patranque.
Anderson and Ryan were first introduced to patranque, and to eachother, while working at the Ryland Inn. Their version, which they say differs significantly from the Ryland’s, is a blend of classic ingredients with a few twists.
Using Cantal cheese, which is from the Auvergne region, is classic.
(Anderson says that Gruyère also works well.) Using pumpernickel,which deepens the fl avor, and rye berries, which, Ryan says, add “apop and crunch,” is not. It is also decidedly not traditional to incorporate patranque into an East-West cross-cultural dish.
Defying tradition, however, can yield a fl avorful reward. From his first taste, Anderson says, he knew that Ryan’s pairing of patranque with buttery, salty sea urchins; rich beef flavor; and vibrant local herbs “was an easy home run.”
Pumpernickel Patranque | Serves 4
2¼ cups diced pumpernickel bread, dried
2 cups milk
7 tablespoons butter
Half a medium-sized onion, cut into small dice
2 medium-sized cloves garlic, sliced thin
1¼ teaspoon fresh thyme
¾ cup cooked rye berries
4 ounces Cantal cheese or a good melting cheese
7 tablespoons vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Soak diced bread in the milk for 1 hour or until soft.
In a sauté pan, melt butter, then add onion, garlic and thyme. Cook onionsuntil soft. Add rye berries to the onion mixture.
Squeeze bread to break it apart. Note: You want the bread to be totallycrumbled. Add the bread and milk to the onion mixture and warm through.
Once the bread is warm, add the cheese and pull the pan off the heat. Allow the cheese to melt, while stirring the mixture. Once cheese has fully melted, add the vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve the dish with your favorite meat, such as chicken or beef. “A lot of times the ideas come from left field. They start backwards. Sometimes they start with a piece of squash and end up with fluke.”