I kissed a lemon Buddha. Like all great first kisses, it was both sweet and tart and unexpected.
In the same vein as automobiles, martinis have transitioned from a dependable standard to boundary-pushing elixirs that (can) border on gimmicky. And like martinis, a good steak can be served up straight-laced or fully dressed - whether you prefer the tradition of school marms or the excitement of drag queens typically depends on deeply rooted ideologies, and I mean that metaphorically and in relation to food though it can go much, much further.
While a Hendrix gin martini and lightly seasoned prime rib can hold their own without the fixings, various additions can tease out their bossy bits. Call me a glutton for punishment, but I respect a bit of bossy, especially if it is directed at my palate. I got a good dose of it after a recent encounter with the Whistler Four Seasons' newest flavour boosters - home grown herbs and savoury rubs.
In the middle of the Sidecut Modern Steak restaurant kitchen is a huge, glass-paneled machine with transparent doors protecting hundreds of tiny herbs from the outside world. In its deliberate, photosynthetic atmosphere lettuce, arugula, pea shoots, tatsoi, sorell and cilantro grow under 64-watt T5 strip lights. The machine is essentially an herbal greenhouse designed for indoor use in commercial kitchens, though a smaller residential version is available. It spells the end of unsuccessful herb kits with lackluster greens sitting in a kitchen window.
Created by Urban Cultivator, a Surrey-based company with roots in the medicinal marijuana industry, the Kitchen Cultivator allows for relatively easy year-round herb growing, putting it in obvious favour with Sidecut's team of chefs. It's also the reason the Buddha's Hand martini I was sipping was rimmed with an Herbal Ember rub and lightly touched with green curls of chervil trimmed moments before. And why the steaks coming out of the kitchen were dressed in all sorts of homemade spice rubs infused with dried, smoked herbs from the boxed micro gardens.
The rubs were designed by Sidecut's chef de cuisine, Edison Mays, Jr., who dreamed up the idea under the tutelage of Chef Scott Thomas Dolbee while both were working at the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire.
"He likes to break rules, he's always challenging us to think outside of the box," said the buoyant Mays, who has designed six Sidecut spice rubs thus far and has another six in the works. "There is nothing wrong with relying on tradition as a base but...you have to feed the soul as well as the stomach. That's the vision."
Of Mays' rubs, the most popular (and prominently displayed in the restaurant) is Edison's Medicine, which incorporates coarse ground cumin, chili, clove, celery, paprika and pimento, to name a few without giving the recipe away. The others: Herbal Ember, Black Angus, Rising Sun, Blueberry Hill and Caribbean Jerk enhance the flavour of various proteins such as duck, venison, shellfish, fish, lamb and steak. If it's a pre-dinner shiver you're seeking instead, the rubs can just as easily be dusted over the rims of glasses for cocktail and martinis. There is no real end to the use of herbs - we drink them, heal with them, bath in them, put them in our shampoos, teas, cleaning products and food. But rarely do we experience them in their unaltered glory - fresh picked, delicate and aromatic. Like a pheromone, they add something unique to each bite or sip.
Sidecut offers custom spice rub workshops for interested clients wanting to play with the endless combination of dried, smoked, salted spices and take them home. To find out more, contact Four Season's Resort Whistler's PR guru Michelle Cooper at 604-966-2660 - she'll point you in the right direction.