Monday, August 27, 2012

The History of Cobaya

This month marks the 3rd anniversary of Cobaya.  What started as a conversation on a valet doorstep has ended up as three years of truly awesome "experiments".  I decided to take a look back at all of our past dinners, the recaps, the photos, and the attendee lists.  It was a mental meal remembering all my favorite dishes and the good conversation at the tables.  There were some spectacular highs, some tests (eating half a goat's head was one), and tons of really fun times.

Here's some stats compiled over three years so far:

Number of Cobaya experiments: 251
Number of diners served: 881
Average dinner size: 35
Number of "off campus" experiments: 9 (36%)
Number of outdoor Cobaya experiments: 4
Number of offal dishes: 25
Most courses: 22 (Cobaya Carmellini)
Number of wipeouts: 2 (Chef Galiano & Chowfather @ Cobaya Gras)
Number of injuries from wipeouts: 0 (thankfully)
Number of disclaimers added to Cobaya to protect from wipeouts: 1
Ratio of male/female Cobaya hosts: 22:4
Chefs hosting 2+ Cobayas: 4 (Bullfrog, Hales, Galiano, Jantz)

I really enjoyed looking back, re-reading just at Cobaya Central, reading the comments, thinking about the many, many, many highs and the very few not-so-highs. Just looking back on the response from each announcement was cool.  I loved sifting through all the attendee lists, watching Frod's meticulous attendee methodology adapt from meal to meal - the time stamps, the X-outs, the yellow highlighting, the transition from first-come-first-serve to the introduction of the current lottery system.  As time went on it got way easier to read and cut & paste into the main spreadsheet I created to gather history stats. It was cool seeing a few times when we really tried to max out attendance, if only to figure out that it didn't really work, at least in a formal environment. At more casual events, it totally worked and provided a chance to meet lots of new faces for great food and a lot of fun.  It's interesting to see how happy people are when enjoying great food, especially if it's in an unconventional way. 

It's awesome that this gig has formed friendships too.  Hell, we hardly knew each other when we first got this thing going.  The three of us send a TON of emails back and forth each month talking about Cobaya.  It's probably not healthy.  It was cool to think back on those emails back and forth.  All the ideas shared and either accepted or rejected always with the greater good of Cobaya in front of mind. We have stayed true to our core mission, tried different stuff, and always challenge each other with thoughts on how to make it better.  Any criticism received from others is valued whether positive or negative.  We've rejected media requests simply because we didn't want the publicity.  We wanted to keep this thing as "underground" (a term we use very loosely) as possible and let it grow organically.  I like to think we've succeeded at that.  We didn't mind when blurbs appeared on websites like UrbanDaddy or Eater as they were merely reports that echoed our announcements.  Looking through the archives I was also reminded of Frodnesor's spectacular beatdown of a post when another local food blog decided it would be fun to write a negative article about Cobaya dinners...only they had never dined at one before.  Of course, when an opportunity rose up to have Cobaya featured on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, we went with it.  You know what?  It was an over-the-top spectacular meal and one helluva night.
I think the concept makes it easy for chefs to enjoy being involved too. We have stayed away from the "we have a big group, give us a ton of food for next to no money" mentality.  Instead we work with the chef and give him full creative control to cook anything and everything.  At the end of the day, all the chefs that have participated in Cobaya are experts in their craft.  They aren't going to serve anything "bad". That, I am 100% confident of.  It's been fun watching how the chef participants have also evolved. Each has pushed the envelope in a different manner whether it be flavors, textures, cuts, science, simpleness, history.  They size up whats been done and how they can raise the bar.  And boy has that bar been raised!  I see chefs getting more people involved with Cobaya dinners now whether that be a somellier pairing wine, a bartender/mixologist creating cocktails, or a pastry chef plating multiple desserts.  There's always something new to be digested, mentally as well as physically.  I have always thought that the best takeaway, the one that separates Cobaya dinners from a regular coursed meal.  It is that knowledge, the ability to have a chef talk about why they've done what they've done and how they've done it. You can't put a price on that.

The Cobaya Bus has some serious tread on its tires
Lastly, there's the diners or "guinea pigs" themselves.  People come to a Cobaya dinner to have an interesting dining experience.  Discussion at the table ensues and covers what's liked and disliked, what a dish reminds them of, or what their favorite of the night is.  On top of the meal, most leave with additional info to use later, like a place to find great Korean BBQ or what spot has the best chicarrones.  They bring nice bottles of wine and share with others at the table, most of whom are total strangers.  Their common bond is the meal and things develop from there.  We've had people of all types at Cobaya dinners - lawyers, deckhands, medical professionals, bartenders, college students, even chefs and other industry folks in the Miami area.  We even had one person design the infamous Cobaya Bus pictured above!  The attendees all contribute to the fun at each event and their spirit is what keeps this whole thing going.  We are always humbled by the response when the next "experiment" is announced.

As this post is being typed up, the lottery for our next experiment is being conducted.  We'd love to see you at a future event.  To get involved, hit up our website aka Cobaya Central to learn more about becoming a guinea pig and then sign up to our Google Group to receive emails when each new experiment is announced.  From there you're an email for seat requests and a lucky ping pong ball away from joining us "underground".


1 Upon further review, we have decided that Paradigm Redux was not a true Cobaya and thus was eliminated from the ranks, leaving the count at 25.

Friday, August 10, 2012

New England Summah - Steamahs

Last week, we went over how to make a propah lobstah roll.  A good New England summah pahty always needs some appetizahs though, so this week we're gonna talk about anotha of my favorites - steamahs!!

Steamahs, or steamed clams, are usually what we eat down the beach before the lobstahs come around.  A "steamah" is a soft shell clam that lies buried in the mud of tidal mudflats.  Like other bivalves, they have a long neck that makes its way above the mud to suck in seawater which is filtered for food and then spit back out.  Some people actually call these "piss clams" because sometimes when they are hahvested from the mud they spit out the water they are holding, resembling someone takin' a piss.  They are also known as longneck clams.

This year, Dad decided we were gonna old school and fatten our clams up with cornmeal.  I was excited because the last time I can remembah doing this was when I was about 7 years old.  The process is pretty simple - fill a bucket with seawater, dump in your clams, and add cornmeal.  Why do this?  Well, it helps to get ya a less mucky more flavaful clam, that's why.  What happens is the clams will do their regular eatin' routine, suckin' in the cornmeal seawater and spittin' out the refuse water.  This fills their bellies nicely and adds some sweetness from the cornmeal to the flava of the clam.

A bucket of ocean
Add in ya clams
Now add in ya cornmeal
It really doesn't mattah how much cornmeal ya add as long as you don't add too little.  Clams live in the mud so if ya put too much in you're not gonna bury them to death.  You're basically giving them a huge buffet!  So, my advice is to err on the heavy side.  Use a half can to a whole can.  Dad and I went with about 3/4 on this batch which was more than enough and left a few clams buried at the bottom.  Fill a bag with some ice and toss it in to keep the water cold.  You can use a towel to insulate and get more life outta ya ice too.

Clams like some privacy when they're gettin' their gorge on
You will wanna give the clams some time to get their grub on so hit the beach for a few beers and some bocce.  Just keep in mind that the loser in bocce has to pick up the balls when you're done!

Dad playin' pickup!  A rare sight!!
Murky water is a good thing, it means bellies are gettin' fat!
As ya can see, the water is a lot more murky than it was when we stahted.  That's the clams doing their thing.  From what I've seen, they love the cornmeal.  Just look at how happy they look!

Necks out, bellies full
Consider it a nice final meal on death row for 'em because after ya strain out the water and leftovah cornmeal, into the pot they go!!

The steam pot
Take whatevah type of steam pot ya can get your hands on.  This one is one that we've used since I was a kid that goes right on the stove.  We've also used one of those outdoor steam pots that sits on a rack ovah a burnah.  The lowah pot is filled with water and the upper pot is basically a strainah that allows the steam from below to cook the clams.  Now, some knuckleheads will add potatoes, lemon, herbs, and other crap like that.  That's nonsense.  It takes too much time and, much like eatin' lobstah, you're gonna wanna get the flava of the clam!

Clams gettin' steamy!
You'll want to let the steamahs go for a bit until you take a peek in and see lots of open shells.  Stay away from closed shells as they likely ahn't cooked through.  Remembah to save the water from the steamah pot as you'll wanna dunk your steamah in there aftah you've removed it from the shell and peeled off the exteriah neck lining.  From there either pound it down or dunk it in a little drawn buttah and then send it down the hatch!

Salty, sweet, delicious
So, there ya have it.  Now you've got two major ingredients to a propah New England Summah seafood pahty.  Aftah that it's simple stuff like fresh shucked oystahs, corn on the cob, pahdaydah salad, and maybe a gahden salad if you like that healthy stuff.  Of course you'll also want some beers to wash it all down.  Or maybe some champagne?  Or maybe The Champagne of Beers?

Livin' the High Life!
There's not much time left so make sure to enjoy the rest of the summah!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

New England Summah - The Lobstah Roll

Fair warning: you're getting the accent for this entire post 

If you ask me, it really doesn't get better than summatime in New England.  For the past 11 years that I've lived in Miami, I've looked forwahd to my annual trip home in July when my family would rent a beach house on my favorite beach in the entire world, Long Beach in Rockport, Massachusetts.  Last year, my folks lucked out and found a place up fah sale that they were able to make their own.  It's a cozy cottage with plenty of bedroom space for visitahs and a screened in porch that has a bed for catchin' some Z's while listenin' to the waves crash on the shore.  Needless to say, the frequency of my trips home has increased.

I've written about our summah beach blast before and all the family and friends that come to enjoy the treasures from the seas that grace our dining table - oystahs, clams, steamahs, and my favorite, lobstahs!  This year, the lobstahs were fantastic.  On my trip last weekend, I declared the 2-pound lobstah I ate on our porch the best I've evah had.  It had it all - briny, succulent, meat that needed no dip in butter whatsoevah.  It was loaded with flava!

The best thing about getting lobstah for a group is that there is almost always leftovahs.  And you know what leftovah lobstah means???  Lobstah rolls!!!  Much like how I am with makin' an Old Fashioned, I'm very particulah about my lobstah rolls.  Here's where I'll share with you how to get 'er done!!

1.) The Roll

New England split top hot dog rolls are where it's at when making a lobstah roll
When it comes to a lobstah roll, the bun is key.  After all, it's the vessel that will be carryin' this big bite of awesome intah your mouth.  As important as capacity is, flavorin' is equally important.  That's why the only way to go is with a New England style split top hot dog roll as shown above.  The sides are flat and perfect for gettin' 'em buttahd up and toasted on a flat top1 so all that buttery flava gets baked on in.

Buttahd & toasted is the play
2.) The Lobstah Mix

Ok, so you're gonna need some lobstah to make this magic happen.  Boil or steam2 up a lobstah or two, let cool, then shell those bad boys for everything they've got - claws, knuckles, tail, legs, fins have all got good meat in them although the legs and fins are probably bettah for consumption while you shell the rest of the meat.  Reward yourself for your hahd work!  Lobstah rolls are best when you use as much claw and knuckle meat as possible3.  This meat is much more tendah and flavaful than the tail. My favorite paht is tip of the claw which adds a dry, rich flava.  Since we don't want to advocate wasting perfectly awesome lobstah, toss in some tail meat too.  I advise breakin' it down into bite sized nuggets to make it easiah to bite into and chew.  You can do this easily by hand by pullin' apaht the tail down the middle (which will allow you to toss out the intestinal tract that's usually filled with poo), then pullin' off each little nugget of meat formed by the shell. 

Go easy with the mayo!
A key thing to remember when makin' a lobstah roll is this: you're makin' this because you want to eat LOBSTAH!!  Sounds pretty obvious but I can't tell you how many times people forget this and the proof is in their lobstah mix.  Most often, the main offense is a heavy hand with the mayo.  The mayo here is mainly a light flavaring agent and bindah for the mix.  The flava of lobstah is delecate and the mayo need only to coat the lobstah ever so slightly.  Don't go crazy, a little goes a long way!  As you'll see in the picksha below, I used a tiny bit on a knife when I made this mix for three lobstah rolls.  If you ahn't confident in your mayo distribution skills, there is an easy way out...  Instead of addin' mayo to the mix, you can put a thin coating on the inside of the roll.

A little goes a long way!!
While I prefer not to add it, many people like tossin' some diced celery into the mix.  If you're gonna go this route, make sure to dice as finely as possible so that the celery adds a little crunch but not an overpowerin' flava.  Half moons of celery are a huge foul!!  Some people also add lettuce leaves which I strongly disagree with.  Lettuce leaves in a lobstah roll are like tuckin' the tablecloth intah your pants.  When you bite intah the roll, the lettuce usually isn't bitten through all the way and as you pull away to chew the lettuce pulls the rest of the lobstah out of the roll and into your lap.  Dumb idea.

3.) The Assembly

The Main Event!
It's showtime!  Grab a toasted bun and load it up with your lobstah mix.  I like to load tail and knuckle meat in as a base and save the hunks of claw meat for the top of the roll.  Once loaded, I hit the spice rack and add a little bit of seasonin'.  First I make a pass over the roll and hit it with some dill then I follow that with a very light dustin' of paprikah.  I find the dill adds to the fresh flava of the lobstah and the paprikah gives it a tiny kick while letting the lobstah flava continue to shine.  Now set that bad boy on a plate, gahnish with some crispy potato chips and maybe a slice of pickle or two and getcha grub on!!

Nothin' says summa like a lobstah roll and greasy chips


1 You can also toast on a grill. You'll add a chah flava but you'll lose a little of the buttery-ness.  I also find it dries out the bun a little too much.

2 Or maybe you lull your lobstah to sleep first?

3 I'm going to staht this off with an apology to my Florida readers. I'm sorry to tell you that when it comes to a lobstah roll, Florida spiny lobstah simple does not produce anywhere near as good a product as New England lobstah!! Spiny lobstahs don't have claws, just tails.  So do yourself a favah and do this the right way with a New England lobstah, ok?