Ian's Challenge - February's Dessert

I painted Jacaranda after arriving back to the mainland from my honeymoon. It was my second visit to Hawaii. That was 31 years ago. I remember it as if it were yesterday.

My first glimpse of the Hawaiian Islands was several years earlier. It was a dark, cloudy, rainy afternoon and the big island of Hawaii was shrouded in clouds. We were landing in Hilo on the eastern side of the big island.

The lights flashed on and off overhead and the voice over the intercom asked us to buckle-up, raise our seats to an upright position, and prepare to land. My heart rate increased as I readied myself with the expectation on seeing the island. As we flew lower and through the clouds my body tensed. The clouds began to breakup and for a brief moment I was able to see land. The beads of water began building up on the outside of the window distorting my view. As I stretched and contorted my body to combat my restraints we broke through the clouds. In that instance I was suspended between a foreign landscape below and a blanket of clouds above both extending into infinity. Time seemed to stop. The abrupt hum of the jet engines and the sound of the flaps moving to slow us down broke my gaze. I recalled images from movies I watched as a child, such as, The Lost World, King Kong and The Land Before Time. As they flashed through my mind, they became real and filled me with an overwhelming sense of adventure.

Although the panorama was shaded and subdued by the heavy cloud cover, the saturated colors of the island came through as though they were lit from within. I had never seen such rich earthy blacks and measureless varieties of greens. Browns and rust colors of the earth seemed to glow with life and vitality. Creation was ever present and exposed, the earth’s chi exposed and apparent for everyone to observe. The view was surreal and I was transformed.

We walked in Eden, lavish, unobstructed yet well ordered. The air was perfumed by the scents of the earth, the flora, and the sea. The birds flew free like bursts of color streaking across a canvas. They would come to a sudden stop on tables recently occupied by patrons harvesting the scraps they left behind. Pilfering was their art, doing it with an exact precision, never getting caught.

Beyond the trees were the mountains. They reached up to the sky disfigured and deeply scared by their laborious past, yet beautiful pinnacles reaching towards for the sky. From their summits you could see a perpetual sea of color, blues and greens interrupted only by the cresting white caps that broke on the sun-soaked sand below.

Jacaranda is my bookmark to those memories. Whenever I look at it, it brings me back to a place unique unto itself. For this reason I decided to create an amuse-bouche for this month’s dessert. For those of you that may not be familiar with this term, it is a French phrase that plainly translates to mean, amuse the mouth. It is a dish that expresses and exemplifies a chefs flavor palette, a comprehensive dish in one bite. I hope that this dish transports you to another place, a place just like Hawaii.

The dessert

I wanted to include two of Hawaii’s major exports in the dessert, sugar and coffee. I began by making a dry caramel to which I added some strong coffee, a touch of cream, butter, and a pinch or of Hawaiian sea salt to make a sauce for my dish. The caramel took on a molasses flavor, enhanced by the sea salt. It is reminiscent of beginning the morning there with a fresh cup of Kona coffee and images of the billowing smoke from the burning sugar cane ready for harvest.

Next, I introduce some of the fruits you can find on the islands. I made chutney using pineapple, banana, coconut and macadamia nuts fragranced with allspice. The final grey product resembled poi, a traditional Hawaiian staple made from taro root. Although I was but back a little from its color, I did like its inference to the poi and it flavor profile was spot on. For the final presentation, it would be topped with a slice of fresh kiwi, pineapple and strawberry for the much-needed color and balancing acidity.

A quenelle of lavender sabayon compliments the dessert with creamy, soft texture, and floral note. A sprinkle of toasted chocolate cake crumbs finishes it, adding a crunchy component to the dessert. All neatly packaged and served in a strawberry rum tuile.

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