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Unforgettable Umami @ Next

November 12, 2011

Tastebuds work, moving from sweet and salty toward the front of the tongue onto sour and bitter towards the back.  Those are the 4 tastes most of us learned about while growing up. The fifth taste, umami,  Japanese for  “pleasant savory taste”  or umai (うまい) “delicious” and mi (味) “taste” was coined in 1985 at the first Umami International Symposium in Hawaii. Thank goodness for the Japanese and for the masterminded team of Grant Achatz and Dave Beran who created two unforgettable and unique recreations of classic Midwestern taste memorabilia for Childhood, the third themed dinner in the restaurant Next’s ever-changing repertoire. I’d had the good fortune to dine there for the Tour of Thailand dinner and knew I wanted to go back, regardless of the theme. So when the phone rang saying “we got a four top for tonight at 9:45, can you join us?” I knew I had to go and I’m so glad I did. Mind you our Thai dinner started at 5:30, a bit on the early side, but when we left a little before 9 I said “I could never do this with a late reservation”. Never say never…and thanks to an espresso at “dinner time” I was just fine. We were seated at 9:45 and wowed for the next 3 hours. One course after another of mind-blowing creativity, whimsy and fun that escapes most adults after adolescence. My dining companions were exceptional – and we had as much fun as 4 kids on a playground (or carnival or beach or woods). We were walked through plates that beckoned back to our youth. Duncan grew up in England so we had to do some ‘splanin’ since the concept of PB&J is strictly American as is mac ‘n cheese and even chicken noodle soup. We also had flashbacks to Mickey d’s, a small town bakery, the school cafeteria and the comfort of our own homes after a cold day of building snow forts. Every bite was a party in my mouth and the beverage parings were spot on. What, upon first sip, tasted like a very mineral heavy wine melded into a slow dance when accompanied by a nibble of ‘oreo’ from a ziplock bag. Which brings me back to umami. I’d started this post awhile back having purchased a tube of #5 umami paste, that’s when I did a little research on the origin of the word and concept of a fifth taste sense but needed to come up with a good recipe to showcase it. Schazam,  these two creations from ‘Childhood’ shouted umami to me.  While both had sweet elements, the flavor profiles of truffles and foie gras are quintessential umami and one’s I’ll put in my scrapbook memory bank. Thank you Melinda, Duncan and Liz for skipping, running and laughing through an unforgettable evening at Next.

Black Truffle and chocolate ‘oreo cookie’ with white truffle cream center, taken from a ziplock snack bag, just one treat in my Strawberry Shortcase lunch box.

Apple cider doughnuts with foie-sting (foie gras frosting)

Licking the beaters was encouraged, just like at home and the foie-sting was just as good that way as it was on the apple cider donut hole


Since people have asked for details on the full-blown meal, I’ve posted photos of the other dishes from ‘childhood’ as a video on YouTube. Click on this link .

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 12, 2011 10:39 am

    How wonderful!!!! I’m so jealous… can’t wait to talk to you more about it tomorrow!

  2. brc permalink
    November 12, 2011 12:54 pm

    I love the way you wrote this up. I feel like I was there! The analogies to childhood experiences are so vivid!!!!

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