The Workshop – An Exploration of Grain
When I started this website, part of the goal was to find the cool things that chefs and restaurants were doing to elevate food and engage both the mind and the stomach in creative ways. To achieve that I started following Buffalo Eats, my Buffalo based food blog compatriot, to try and explore some of the Buffalo food scene since I don’t want to be completely limited to the Rochester area. Of course Rochester will remain the main focus of the blog, but sometimes you’ve got to expand your culinary horizons geographically! I had only heard good things about Chef Ed Forster from posts on Buffalo Eats and Paul Vroman from Brick N Motor couldn’t sing his praises enough, so I made sure to sign up for information his new project called The Workshop as soon as I saw it. Luckily, even though I was a bit late to the game, I was able to get an invite to their pop up style dinner this past Thursday so we headed out after work to see what they had in store for us.
The pop up restaurant concept wasn’t new to me in theory having seen them on some of my favorite food travel shows, but I was beyond excited when I got the information on where and when to show up for my first live experience with one. The basic idea is that instead of having a traditional restaurant location and menu, the pop up can be anywhere and will usually involve a menu that is more creative or focused on a concept. This was definitely the case for The Workshop’s first event which was held at Silo City just south of Buffalo proper and offered plays on grains in each of the dishes and drinks served throughout the evening.
We arrived at the prescribed time of 6:30pm to an area that at first glance just seemed like abandoned grain silos and gave us the feeling of driving into an ambush or something, but we quickly found a parking area and got checked in. We headed toward a covered shed area that housed the cold appetizer and drink section of the dinner. Our first taste of Chef Forster’s food was a pair of cold appetizers that served to get us even more excited about the meal to follow.
The first of which was poached shrimp lightly coated with burnt nori (seaweed), a kaffir lime matcha gel, and a crunchy rice puff served on a flat stone meant to be skipped on the water that was next to the event. The shrimp were tender and the burnt nori added an interesting charred dimension that I enjoyed. The gel had a bit of citrus and a lot of green tea flavor. Entertaining presentation, a tasty dish and on the same table was the beef tongue preparation. I’m a huge fan of beef tongue and this was some exceedingly tender, fall apart tongue served with a barley flavored yogurt and pickled shallots. I would have preferred a touch more salt to cut through the richness of the tongue and the tangy yogurt, but still successful regardless.
Since I don’t drink I won’t go into much detail about the grain themed offerings that evening but people (including my fiancée) seemed to enjoy both the cider and fig grain vodka cocktail and the corn foam topped Manhattan. There were also three different beers on tap from Community Beer Works for those that didn’t want to partake in hard liquors.
Our warm appetizer was the first dish cooked on site and the setup they were able to whip up was pretty impressive. A small bank of deep fryers was setup to cook the raw lentil block shaped croquette that was filled with a mustard broth and perfectly cooked rabbit and puy lentils and topped with a small amount of finely cut mustard greens. Definitely my favorite of the appetizers and it hit every note I love with the perfect amount of mustard and salt for me and the whole thing kind of reminded me of a giant French lentil soup dumpling in the best possible way. This was high end restaurant food cooked in an outdoor setting and that was an impressive feat to say the least.
Following the impressive appetizer round, we moved inside the grain elevator to start the entrée round and as we walked in I was blown away by what they had in store for us. A loop of old black and white grain themed films were projected against one of the walls in the expansive former industrial interior, seemingly random art installations were painted on columns and people had written grain themed stuff in chalk on steel beams leaving me feeling like we were gathered to eat at an art installation. I think it left me in a perfect mood for the experimental meal we had ahead of ourselves. We started it off with some corn tostadas topped with roasted Oles Farm chicken, a seasoned avocado puree, charred corn, chicory lettuce and some mint that hit salty, sweet and savory notes and the chicken held up well against the other ingredients.
The elote (Mexican street corn) inspired chowder was rich with a block of chihuahua cheese panna cotta in the broth and popped with some sharply hot harissa aioli and acidic lime tapioca. The whole combination was pretty fantastic and really brought out some traditional Mexican flavors in an unexpected fashion which to me fell right into what I hoped for with the whole dinner experience.
Our last course was the most spectacular in terms of presentation and exemplified the theme of the meal and the creativity of the team of chefs making our food. A large pile of cold mixed grain salad was layered with Sultana raisins and 63° eggs, topped with some expertly cooked barley rubbed striploin which got finished with some exquisitely salty roasted farro and beef jus. The salad had al dente cooked grains and was lightly dressed and had pops of extra flavor from the raisins, onions and fresh herbs. When the warm beef was mixed with the barely set eggs, salad and salty jus it was a perfect bite into contrasts of temperature and texture.
We grabbed some chocolates that had crisp grains inside (mint in the dark chocolate and orange flavored in the white) on our way out of the dinner along with a puffed rice and cranberry crisp which got consumed on the way back to Rochester. The meal was fantastic and one of the most memorable food experiences I’ve had in the last few years. I was so happy to be a part of Chef Forster’s first showing of The Workshop and for me the value was extraordinary. The food and atmosphere led to some fascinating conversations with some people I knew like Donnie from Buffalo Eats and Paul and other food obsessed people from the Buffalo area. It was inspiring to be in the same room as all these passionate people and makes me excited to see something like this eventually happen in Rochester. Until then, I’ll be eagerly awaiting the details on the next event and even if I can’t attend I want to see what is coming up next!