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A Dish


In many restaurants, the menu changes nearly every day. So, when I need a new idea, I often refer to some of my favorite dishes as influences. On one particular Friday night, my challenge was to create a modern version of one of my favorite breakfasts: the bagel, lox and cream-cheese sandwich. 

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A Dish


In many restaurants, the menu changes nearly every day. So, when I need a new idea, I often refer to some of my favorite dishes as influences. On one particular Friday night, my challenge was to create a modern version of one of my favorite breakfasts: the bagel, lox and cream-cheese sandwich. 

A bagel, lox and cream cheese has been one of my favorite breakfasts since I was a child -- the dish immediately transports me to the kitchen table at my Nana's house on a Saturday morning. The flavors are classic yet sophisticated; this seemed like a perfect dish to deconstruct for a modern appetizer.

"Deconstruction" is a cooking concept that means reimagining the elements of an established dish in order to create something new. I love deconstruction because it allows me play with one of my favorite elements of cooking and eating -- memory. Memory is instrumental in creating positive associations with certain ingredients and dishes.

My former boss, Chef Joan Roca, once told me that his favorite dining experience was when he ate the best version of a beloved dish -- rather than the experience of trying a new dish or flavor combination. 

"For me, there is nothing like eating the best bowl of spaghetti Bolognese I've ever tried -- I don't care if you've come up with the most revolutionary dish made from watermelon and chicken feet, it just doesn't resonate in my memory banks like the flavors of Bolognese do."
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Research


The first step in recreating the bagel, lox and cream cheese sandwich was to look into the origins and variations of the dish.

Research


The first step in recreating the bagel, lox and cream cheese sandwich was to look into the origins and variations of the dish.

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I wasn't surprised to learn that the word "Lox" stems from the Yiddish word for salmon, “laks” (even though preserved salmon has its roots in Scandinavia, where fishermen preserved salmon in saltwater brine). 

What I didn't know was that in 1869, the transcontinental railroad began transporting barrels of salted salmon which gave rise to its popularity in New York City, especially among the Eastern European Jewish immigrants who came over to the U.S. with a taste for cured and smoked fish. 

The ingredients to the rest of the sandwich came from all over the world. Bagels were first seen on the silk route in China, and then refined in Italy in the 14th century. My polish grandfather told me he used to buy "hard bagels with a huge hole" as a child in Radom, Poland. Capers came from Italy, cream cheese has roots in Britain, and tomatoes came from the new world.

So, none of the key ingredients to the sandwich come from New York City, but New Yorkers figured out that putting them together is an incredible combination. The fact that the dish didn't have traditional roots in the 'old country' made me more relaxed about reinventing a Classic -- at least I knew that my version wasn't bastardizing some 1000 year-old dish, the dish itself had always been a food bastard.

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Synthesize


Eating the sandwich (countless times) and reviewing cookbooks and the indispensable "Flavor Bible" informed me of my options for concocting a modern take on this classic. 

Synthesize


Eating the sandwich (countless times) and reviewing cookbooks and the indispensable "Flavor Bible" informed me of my options for concocting a modern take on this classic. 

I looked at more than 50 restaurant versions and cookbook recipes for bagels, lox and cream cheese. Then, I extracted all of the possible elements and techniques that went into the sandwich.

The ingredients included: lemon, lime, chili pepper, black ground pepper, white pepper, cayenne pepper, red onions, white onions, radish, avocado, cucumber, butter, cream cheese, capers, caperberries, olives, pickled scallions, hard boiled egg, chives, dill, tomato, etc. The list of possible combinations was huge!

I also looked at the possible preparations that were applied to each ingredient on my list: fried, scrambled or hard-boiled eggs; raw, baked or smoked salmon; pickled or marinated vegetables. Reviewing and organizing all of these options helped me begin to formulate the version of this dish that I wanted to prepare.

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Brainstorm


The primary goal for my version of this dish was to maintain the essence and flavors of the original dish while surprising the diner by employing some modern techniques and plating it in a modern style.

Brainstorm


The primary goal for my version of this dish was to maintain the essence and flavors of the original dish while surprising the diner by employing some modern techniques and plating it in a modern style.

I created a spreadsheet with the list of ingredients and techniques I'd compiled in my research. The lefthand column listed each possible ingredient; the middle column listed the traditional preparations for each ingredient; and the righthand column listed the options for modern techniques that could be applied in place of the traditional ones.

Bagel, lox and cream cheese research -> Click to enlarge

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Prototype


Production in the kitchen means taking the ideas born from brainstorming, executing every proposed version from start to finish, and then sitting down and tasting each creation (with pen and paper in hand). 

Prototype


Production in the kitchen means taking the ideas born from brainstorming, executing every proposed version from start to finish, and then sitting down and tasting each creation (with pen and paper in hand). 

I went through 10 - 12 incarnations before finding the final version. Conceiving a modern version of the dish that triggered my childhood memory was a bigger struggle than I had initially imagined. For the first 4 - 5 versions, I got caught up in fancy techniques and lost track of flavor. One of the versions I came up with was just a bunch of powders -- really terrible!

Finally, I realized that in order to successfully transport myself back to my grandmother's kitchen table, I had to leave the core elements -- bagel, lox and cream cheese -- in their original, unadulterated form somewhere within the dish.

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Implement


My final version was a successful mix of old and new -- the presentation and techniques of the dish placed it strongly in the modern kitchen while the flavors remained old world.

Implement


My final version was a successful mix of old and new -- the presentation and techniques of the dish placed it strongly in the modern kitchen while the flavors remained old world.

The final dish included smoked salmon, toasted bagel, cherry tomato, fresh dill and Philadelphia cream cheese. It also featured smoked salmon rillettes; sieved egg whites and yolks; a Meyer lemon granita; dehydrated purple onions; powdered chives, powdered tomato, and powdered lemon zest (some of the powders made the final cut!); sweet, fried capers; cucumber ribbons, pickled shallots and nitro-dill cream cheese (cream cheese of the future!).

While eating the final product, I could almost hear my Nana telling me, "ess mein shyna yingele, ess."

 

The Final Dish

 

An Article about the process