Have you ever been to a hair salon for dinner? 15 guests enjoyed this experience two weeks ago, when my friends from the Ceci n’est pas un restaurant supper club – featuring yours truly – hit Uschi’s hair salon in Frankfurt and served up a fabulous 5 course dinner amidst mirrors, vanity tables and hairdressing supplies after closing time.
A trademark of a typical Ceci dinner, apart from light, creative food, and wonderful wine pairings by vin vivants are the surprise locations where the actual dinner is held, and which the guests are informed about just before the event. When Alex and I went for our first dinner, we were seated at and on designer furniture in an upscale Frankfurt furniture showroom, enjoying the view of the 25.000 € ceiling lamp while covering an exquisitely beautiful and equally unaffordable carpet with crumbs of the delicious goat’s cheese, bitter orange and black olive crostini in our hands. We probably would have never set foot in the store if it hadn’t been for the supper club – and that’s the beauty of it, really: for one evening, everything’s new: you go new places, taste new things – and meet new people. I enjoyed this as a quest, and I SO enjoy it as a cook. It’s great fun coming up with a themed menu for strangers – and getting to know them by serving them food.
I found serving a meal at a hair salon particularly enticing – since both giving someone a haircut and cooking for someone really are tasks that focus on the happiness of the customer as a result – while both still give you a chance to show and train your creativity. Now, as you can imagine, cooking up a seated dinner for 15 in a hair salon is quite the challenge. During our brainstorming phase we did actually (and also not very seriously) contemplate using hair dressing equipment like drying hoods and curler heaters for cooking – but eventually we settled with preparing the bulk of the dinner ahead in Jette & Klaus’ kitchen and did last minute cooking and finishing touches on two rented induction burners in the (tiny) salon’s staff kitchen. Space limitations also allowed for a nice change with having the plating happening up front next to our guests. I myself love watching dishes come together from various pots and pans, and I think our guests enjoyed it as well.
We wanted the menu to reflect the boldly boisterous, down-to-earth-but-over-the-top, powder-plush-potbelly personality of the salon’s face, drag fairy godmother and benecolent-dictatorial manageress Uschi. After a Negroni cocktail (with Gin, Campari and red vermouth) topped with an orange bitter ‘styling’ mousse, we kept it local and traditional, yet pink and party for starters, with a veal tartare and beet root pickled quail’s egg, with sprouts and mustard butter. It was followed by a jiggly beet root jelly with feisty horseradish cream and – a favorite of the evening – neon curcuma pickled radishes with black sesame as a palate cleanser.
For main course, we really dished up a variety show. With Uschi’s full-rounded … character, we just had to have belly on the plate. And for the salon theme – we threw in some curls: in the form of octopus. And because pork and pulpo in itself wasn’t crazy enough, we paired it with hot and cold sides. The pork belly is my classic home-version, which I braise in soy sauce, sherry and heaps of star anise before crisping it up in the oven. I give you the (simple!) recipe below. It shared half of the plate with caramelized apples. The pulpo was cooked in laurel and only seasoned with salt, as it was accompanied by a raw, chopped salsa of tart apple with highlights of pink gari, dressed with sesame oil, rice vinegar and an oh-so-delicate touch of garlic.
By then (and a few bottles of a spec-ta-cu-lar l’Oiselet by Yannick Pelletier later), spirits and blood sugar levels were high and everyone, including Uschi’s second-in-commands slash head hairdressers and our exceptionally welcoming and likable hosts Sascha and Stefan, was having a good time (and discussions about ‘food babies’). We finished the meal with a beautiful mess of a dessert creation we named ‘pretty in pink’, with yoghurt & rosewater ice cream residing on pink chocolate ganache (generating more discussions about ‘unicorn puke’), scattered with rose blossom and hibiscus meringue shards and (forgive the unseasonal touch) fresh raspberries. It was a wonderful evening – thanks for having us, Uschi!
Classic braised pork belly with star anise
Active time: 20 minutes, cooking: 90 minutes, roasting: 10 minutes
Ingredients (serves six)
1,5 kg pork belly with rind, bones optional
2 cups soy sauce
1 cup dry sherry
3 cl rice vinegar (or any vinegar)
4-6 star anise, whole
0.5 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
2 spring onions
4 cloves garlic
2 dried red chilis, whole
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 This is the kind of dish you can easily make by eye. No need for exact measures, just keep rough proportions with the seasoning. Fill a large pot with 1,5 l of cold water and add everything but the pork belly. Bring to a boil and add the pork belly, skin side down and put the lid on. Turn down the heat and let the belly simmer for about 90 minutes until tender when pierced with a knife. Give it a turn now and then.
2 After cooking, take the pork belly out of the broth and cut the skin in a diamond pattern with a sharp knife or kitchen-cutter (like here). Preheat the oven to 230 °C top and bottom heat. Meanwhile put a ladle or two of the cooking broth in a small saucepan, add the brown sugar and boil down on high heat until it reaches a syrupy consistency. Bake the pork belly in the hot oven for a while until it begins to loose fat from the skin. Then glaze with some of the reduced cooking liquid and bake again. Repeat until the skin is nicely caramelized and crispy.
3 We served it with just a little tart apples, caramelized in sugar and butter. At home, I like to eat it with white jasmine rice, to which I add some coconut cream while cooking, raw sliced spring onion, sesame and the cooking liquid. Cucumber is optional, but lust and abandon are absolutely obligatory.