Hmmmmm. Everything old is new again.
Went to the Kahala Hotel & Resort Thursday to a press preview of this weekend’s Wine & Food Classic. Chef Carolynn Spence of Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, the famed celebrity hangout and now culinary destination, prepared a quartet of amuse bouche — more like “tease” bouche. You know how on “Top Chef” they’re always making amuse bouche that’s too big? Not here. These were just enough to leave you panting for more.
The food was deeply interesting to me because it was both familiar and strange. She made a deviled egg, for example, a big seller at Chateau Marmont — she couldn’t even begin to estimate how many they sell in a night. A deviled egg! Isn’t that something your mom or you grandma used to make to put out when the ladies came to lunch or when the church group was meeting at your house? You had those twee serving platters with the half moon indentations so you could nestle the eggs safely because they were such, as Julia Roberts said in “Pretty Woman,” “slippery little suckers?” But there was something in this deviled egg — anchovies, perhaps? Something salty and fishy in a good way. Wanted more.
There was also a shred of smoked trout on some bread (she called it “bacon of the sea,” and it is, indeed, called baconfish in some parts of the country. And there was a little, I don’t know, liverwurst thing? But the bit that got me going in my head was the bacon-wrapped date, a cousin of a dish I’ve made hundreds of times. I turned to my friend Lynn Cook, the only other person of my generation among the gaggle of late afternoon media and said “Rumaki.” And she nodded, smiling.
Rumaki belongs to that family of tiki kitsch dishes created by the likes of Donn the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s, pooled from the imaginations of marketing-driven owners and anonymous Chinese line cooks. Technically, rumaki is chicken livers wrapped in bacon but it’s become an uber-name covering all manner of bacon-embraced nibbles: oysters in bacon (“angels on horseback”), almond-stuffed dates in bacon (“devils on horseback”), Spanish olives in bacon, chunks of cheese in bacon, chicken livers in bacon (said to have come about because there was an oversupply of livers in the days when restaurateurs actually bought whole poultry carcasses).
The thing that differentiated this particular bacon-wrapped indulgence was the sauce — a smear of dark-as-sin, reduced-to-the-nth glaze with a heady flavor of honey but also mysterious other things. Simple as the dish appeared, speared on a Japanese bamboo skewer, the bacon-date-honey-whatever marriage sang rhapsodies when it hit the mouth.
In her interpretation of this half-century old idea, Spence left me in the dust. I wanted to be that bacon and date, pierced through the heart but also coddled in sticky sweetness.
The Kahala Wine & Food Classic
Sept. 16 and 17
Two gala dinners, cooking demonstration by Spence, wine seminar with Rich Frank of Frank Family Vineyards, cigar lesson and after-dinner “Cigar Experience”
Information: www.kahalaresort.com or e-mail wineandfoodlcassic@kahala resort
Room reservations (kama’aina rates available): 1-800-367-2525
Wrap the water chestnuts in bacon, too.