Inside the MOFAD Lab Opening Gala: Fabian von Hauske, Alex Raij, More Show Off for Food Fans


This feature was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and Infiniti. Vox Media editorial staff was not involved in the creation or production of this content.

Photos by Daniel Krieger

A week before the opening of MOFAD Lab, the Museum of Food and Drink's first physical space, in a former garage in Brooklyn, exhibits were pushed aside and tables loaded in for a pre-opening gala dinner. The museum's first exhibition is Flavor: Making It and Faking It, and accordingly the dinner's theme was the five tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. MOFAD founder Dave Arnold handled the bitter category with a few cocktail options, while four New York City chefs were challenged to represent the other four tastes, course by course.

"We couldn't make things too easy, so we created some unconventional pairings," said executive director Peter Kim. "We made chef Fabian von Hauske create an umami-forward dessert, and chef Alex Raij was tasked with serving a sweet main." The results? Kelp mousse for dessert, and a sweet squid entrée, black as night.

As the evening started, guests sampled Arnold's bitter-tinged cocktails: an Old Fashioned swirled with Guinness syrup, a vodka-orange juice cocktail with milk syrup and bitter Campari, and a gin and tonic tinged with cinchona bark, the source of for tonic's quinine. MOFAD staff mingled with museum supporters — among them Wylie Dufresne, Harold McGee, and the evening's host, Scott Conant — and explored the museum's smell-generating machines, scattered around the room. At the press of a button, these machines would let out a whoosh of air and the scent of fake grape or real strawberries or fake butter would drift across the room. Servers passed around bite-sized hors d'oeuvres, which they presented only as "sour," "salty," "bitter," "sweet," or "umami," while the chefs prepared their dishes.

​Tel Aviv-born Einat Admony, of Balaboosta, Bar Bolonat, and falafel mini-chain Täim, decided to tweak the traditional Israeli street food sabich, a pita stuffed with hard-boiled egg, warm fried eggplant slices, hummus, cabbage, lettuce, sometimes pickles, and a spicy sauce. "I love, love, love this sandwich," she said, and for the event she reinvented it as a tostada, delicately piling the ingredients on top of a fried corn tortilla rather than loading them into a pita. The result is a riff on the classic, made with plenty of sour amba aioli — a homemade mayonnaise spiked with fenugreek and turmeric, among other spices — and layers of tahini, eggplant, egg, nigella seeds, and micro-cilantro. For extra sour, Admony supplied each table with a kaleidoscope of pickles: red onions, curry-tinged cauliflower, sweet bread-and-butter slices, and banana peppers, prettily layered in a jar.

Alex Raij, who with her husband, Eder Montero, is the chef behind hit Spanish restaurants La Vara, Txikito, and El Quinto Pino, immediately knew what to cook for the sweet entrée course: squid. "When I met my husband in 1999, it was on the menu at the restaurant where he worked," said Raij. "He taught me how to make it." Called txipirones en su tinta, or "squid in its own ink," it is a classic dish in Spain's Basque region. "Squid naturally has a little bit of sweetness," Raij said, "especially when you sear it." Her dish, made from Long Island squid, is not "clobber-you-over-the-head sweet," she said, but slow-cooking and confit onions added a distinct natural sweetness to the dish's oceanic flavor."You don't expect it to be sweet," said Raij, which makes it "an arresting dish." The appearance is also arresting. Raij serves it ungarnished, just a puddle of jet black sauce cloaking the tender squid. Simple, but to her mind "super gorgeous, like what you'd see in a museum."

For his assigned flavor, "salty," chef Mark Ladner, of Mario Batali's four-star Italian restaurant, Del Posto, chose to cook a dish that employs salt not only literally but also figuratively. That dish is "a favorite pasta with a controversial history — pasta in the style of the strumpet" — or, as the Italians call it, puttanesca, literally "of, relating to, or characteristic of a prostitute." It amused Ladner to serve a sauce legendarily tied to such salty characters, but his traditional recipe also has plenty of real salt, in the form of briny olives, dried capers, and salted anchovies all cooked down into a spicy tomato sauce. This was tossed with his homemade pasta, cooked, as he explained, in heavily salted water. The result was salty, yes, but in a way that was complex, not overpowering.

Fabian von Hauske, the chef - along with Jeremiah Stone - of Lower East Side hot spots Contra and Wildair, wasn't fazed by the idea of an umami dessert. Having concocted seaweed custards for dessert at Contra, von Hauske — who handles the pastry side of things in both restaurants — his thoughts turned oceanic. "Kelp is naturally umami," he says. In fact, as anyone who spent time browsing the exhibits before dinner would know, kelp is the original umami, the ingredient in which Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda first noticed the fifth flavor he dubbed "deliciousness" (umami in Japanese). Von Hauske paired his kelp mousse, which was lighter than whipped cream and not at all fishy, with a Concord grape granita tinged with elderflower syrup—as beautiful as it was intense.

As the evening wound down, each table passed around a cheese board put together by Anne Saxelby, the owner of Saxelby Cheesemongers. On it were three cheeses covering the full flavor spectrum from sweet, milky ricotta to salty, funky blue, for a last bite that was a flavorful as the first.

This feature was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and Infiniti. Vox Media editorial staff was not involved in the creation or production of this content.

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