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Ode to a beet, the beet is most intense of vegetables.

The words above begin the novel Jitterbug Perfume, a modern classic by Tom Robbins. The beet plays an important role in the story; it ties together the book's themes of sex, love, religion and immortality. Like the apple, the beet is one of the few things we eat that has it's own mystique and thus can carry these heady themes through a novel. As Robbins was inspired to write by the ruby root vegetable, chefs Claudio Aprile and Matthew Dillon have cooked for us their beet inspired dishes. Turn the page and let the delicious dramas unfold.

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For Chef Claudio Aprile, cooking is more than a career. It's a matter of life and death.

The turning point of Aprile's chef life is bracketed by a fiery plane crash and a Fiat teetering on the edge of a precipice. He told us about these life-changing close calls when we sat down to chat at the bar of his restaurant, Colborne Lane, in the anything-but-dangerous downtown of Toronto. There he recounted his cinematic stage that began with a fireball and nearly ended with Aprile staring down the sheer face of a cliff.

August 2, 2005

First there was the acrid smell of gasoline. Then they saw the fire. Aprile, his wife and two-year-old son were at Toronto Pearson International Airport watching Air France flight 358 burn. Miraculously, all on board escaped after the Airbus skidded off the runway and burst into flames during landing. Media dubbed the crash the "Toronto Miracle." The plane the Aprile family watched go up in flames was supposed to have taken them to France. Shaken but determined to get to their destination, they put the horrific images of the day aside and left on the first flight the next day. Once safely across the Atlantic, they made their way to Spain's Costa Brava, to the Catalonian town of Roses. Aprile's ultimate destination: El Bulli.

Aprile arrived at El Bulli a little the worse for wear but eager to begin work. He had in hand a letter confirming his position in Ferran Adria's kitchen and a few bottles of Canadian ice wine a cross-cultural gift to make a good first impression. His wife and child were back at the $500 per night hotel. Aprile was met by Chef de

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Cuisine Albert Raurich, who promptly informed him he had no place in the kitchen; they were full. Aprile insisted, showing Raurich a printout of the e-mailed appointment letter. In return, Raurich showed him a subsequent e-mail that stated the offer had been retracted since the kitchen was, in fact, full. Aprile had never received it.

The trip had been years in the making. Aprile first heard of a dish called Fisherman's Bread Sorbet and a chef, Ferran Adria, in the 1990s. He had had a culinary epiphany. Aprile thought of the sorbet as a metaphor for fearlessness in the kitchen. He realized there was much more to cooking than he had previously imagined. His eyes were suddenly open. To say that Aprile was disappointed to have finally arrived at Chef Adria's kitchen only to be so flatly denied would be a serious understatement. The refusal was soul shattering.

A sous chef saw Aprile distraught and close to tears. He intervened on his behalf and asked Raurich to give Aprile a chance, just one day. Raurich refused. Aprile, at a loss and as a gesture as much of resignation as desperation, handed Raurich the ice wine he had borne across the Atlantic. Wine in hand, Raurich turned to the devastated Aprile and said, "Okay ... one day."

Aprile had a day to prove himself. "I worked my ass off. Nonstop. All day." The following morning he received a call in his hotel room. He was out the door within seconds of the conversation, stopping only to grab his chef whites. He had been asked to complete a stage.

El Bulli is famously situated off a perilous country road, atop a northern elevation on the Gulf of Roses. At the end of his first official shift, Aprile piled into the Fiat of an Italian chef along with two others from Japan and Holland. In the blink of an eye, the driver lost control and the car careened off a cliff. Just as suddenly, it hit a boulder and became impacted; free fall averted. Call it the "Roses Miracle." Once back on solid ground, the driver fell to his knees, clasped his hands and prayed. The chefs swore they wouldn't speak a word of their near-death experience at work the next day or ever after a pact Aprile kept until he sat down to speak with us.

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The lesson of this tale may be: when dedication, planning, persistence and even heart fail, break out the ice wine! Or maybe a more plausible response is: even when plunging into the abyss, all may not be lost. Rather than a universal moral, however, this story illuminates the character and cuisine of Chef Claudio Aprile.

Aprile believes "accidents can be inspiration." He enjoys taking risks. "Creative people need fear to create," whether that fear is of the unknown, of failure or the terror of a car wreck. Aprile has spent his life searching the world and his soul to figure out who he is as a chef. Perhaps that truly makes his food soul food.

He's about to take yet another daring leap, closing the doors of the we44-estoblished Colbome Lane to start down a new path. The restaurant garnered much acclaim due to Aprile's singular take on the techniques of molecular gastronomy applied to the flavors of Southeast Asia and South America. The restaurant will reopen in 2012 as Project, Aprile, who is originally from Uruguay and has a second restaurant in Toronto called Origins, has reached another turning point in his career. He is abandoning his hard-earned identity as a chef to create something entirely new. He is nervously excited and says Project will be a center for culinary creativity and experimentation. He says it is something he must do to move forward, to keep evolving and creating as a chef.

Chef Claudio Aprile presents the following dishes as he closes a chapter in his life. They symbolize another turning point Once again Aprile is pushing limits in pursuit of a new incarnation of himself and of culinary perfection. He focuses and drives forward, perilously close to the edge where he's clearly most comfortable.
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Publication:Art Culinaire
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2011
Words:1076
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