When the chef at one of the hottest restaurants in town calls a certain dish the “best thing he’s eaten all year,” Western New York gastronauts should sit up and take notice.
The chef in question is Mike Dimmer, from Marble + Rye, and the dish being given ‘Best of’ status was the Goat en Crepinette with daikon butter from The Crucible, a culinary pop-up from two local chefs and a local sommelier.
Described as a “trial by fire” on their Facebook page, The Crucible are at it again, with another pop-up event slated to happen Monday, April 3.
In a recent conversation over coffee and scones, the Crucible’s chefs, Manuel Ocasio and David Roque, told me the menus for their rave-reviewed events, as impressive as they turn out to be, are actually done by the seat of their pants – with the dishes cooked for the first time on the day of the event.
“Cooking has so much to do with technique and being comfortable with ingredients,” Roque said, trying to explain how his team always seems to make their dishes click at the last minute.
“Like when you make something in your house, and it’s a kind of patchwork recipe,” he continued. “I think that if you have a certain level of intuition, technique, and skill, you should feel comfortable putting something together in your brain, putting it on paper and saying, ‘Alright, we can do this.’
“There’s a lot of tweaking that happens, but that happens on a daily basis in every kitchen, like if a recipe calls for ‘juice of two lemons’ and one lemon has a ton of juice,” Roque added. “You know things can vary and you’re always going to have those moments. So long as you have some technique and an idea in place for how something is going to go down, you just make it happen.”
The culinary duo behind The Crucible admitted that there have been a few times when a dish didn’t coalesce as planned. When this has happened, the approach has been to tweak it as best they can, cross their fingers, and serve it to their guests with a side of self-assurance.
“For this one salad, we did a beet and buttermilk emulsion, which I don’t even know how that idea came, but, uh, it was super weird,” Ocasio admitted. “I didn’t know if it was going to be good, but it was already on the menu. We just rolled with it, and the guests were like, ‘That salad was awesome!’
“There are moments like that sometimes,” Roque chimed in. “It’s almost become like a mantra: ‘Hail Mary, there’s one around every corner.’
“That doesn’t necessarily speak for how confident we are in the menu, or our own abilities – but to whether or not the guest is going to receive it: 1) the way that you’ve envisioned it, and 2) the way that you’ve executed it.”
Roque and Ocasio assured me that guests to The Crucible aren’t signing up to be culinary guinea pigs. With tickets to the upcoming Crucible IV running at a cool $100, the duo said they understand both the financial and time commitments that people are making in order to sit down at their tables.
“It’s a lot for anybody to commit to,” Roque said. “You’re not only paying for a tasting menu from people who you don’t really know all that well, if at all, you’re sitting down for two hours, or two-and-a-half hours. That’s your time.
“With that in mind, we’re always streamlining the process and making it more accessible,” he said.
Crucible IV will be the second consecutive event the team has held at The Black Sheep, which should be seen as a tacit endorsement by the chefs behind the nationally-recognized restaurant. Crucible events are also billed as culinary conversations, and with these events held on Mondays, you should expect to see a lot of the top area chefs coming out to this one, potentially to hash out and forge the next wave of ideas to hit Western New York’s most interesting menus.
For more info on The Crucible pop-up and to hear about upcoming dinners, check out their Facebook and Instagram accounts. For tickets to their next dinner on April 3, go to eventbite.com. Also, check out a recent review of The Cruicible via Buffalo Spree here.