Max Shapiro isn’t your run-of-the-mill home cook. Riffing on the techniques of culinary giants like Ferran Adria and Wolvesmouth’s Craig Thorton, Max, along with sommelier Max Coane and Sous Chef Jason Miller has created an underground supper club, BRK Dining, that is one of the most unique eating experiences happening in town. Though he’s not a professional chef and learned to cook in his spare time, he has befriended and worked on the line with some of LA’s most prominent chefs and he’s quickly gaining a reputation as the source of some of LA’s most original and electrifying food. Once a month, Max invites friends, friends of friends and the food-curious into his home where he creates wholly original dishes and cocktails (anywhere from 7-10 courses) using cutting-edge technology and techniques and ingredients that he has often hunted and foraged with his own hands. With elements like olive oil pop rocks, shrimp sausage, spherical margaritas that explode on your tongue, and salted pretzel ice cream it’s an outrageously memorable eating experience that is worth checking out for yourself.
Before you read Max’s Q+A below and click through to see the gorgeous food photos, we wanted to give you a heads up that there are two BRK Dinner scheduled for April 20th and April 21st. There are only a few seats left for both seatings so if you’re in the LA area and love innovative and delicious food, head on over to BRK Dining or email Max and his crew at firstname.lastname@example.org to see how you can snag yourself a seat and one of the most exciting meals ever for around $100 a person.
PS. If you love good food and social media follow them at @brkdining on Instagram and Twitter!
WHAT IS THE MOST EXOTIC INGREDIENT YOU’VE EVER USED?
I like to use exotic ingredients at all my dinners, but the one ingredient I have used that was so foreign to me was the Szechuan buzz button. Its a flower bud that electrifies and numbs your palate for about a minute. Because of this, i needed to do a little bit of R&D. I thought that an entire bud would just lightly shock the palate, but no way… about 5% of the bud will do that. An entire bud would numb someones mouth for an entire evening. Due to that, just the right amount would act as the perfect palate cleanser paired with a citrus element to bring you into the next dish.
WHAT’S THE MOST UNUSUAL KITCHEN TOOL OR PROCESS YOU USE IN THE KITCHEN?
I don’t necessarily use anything unusual in the kitchen. Things I use may be unusual for the normal home cook. I love using my chamber vacuum sealer and my immersion circulator. I sometimes become too dependent on the circulator because you just set your protein to the perfect temperature and it keeps it that way for hours or even days without over cooking. Unfortunately, that makes my a la minute cooking suffer as I do it much less since I have been cooking foods sous vide.
HOW DID YOU BECOME SO PASSIONATE ABOUT COOKING?
I have always been a lover of food and always felt it to be incredibly creative outlet for me. As I got older and found myself hosting dinners at home, I attempted to make somewhat interesting and well-prepared food for guests. The more I experienced different cuisines and preparations, the more I became intrigued as to how the masters do it. That curiosity led to research on techniques and the proper ways of preparing things. From there, the sky is the limit. Once you learn the techniques, you can create endless dishes because that foundation is already in place.
WHAT IS THE BEST MEAL YOU’VE EVER HAD?
This is an unbelievably difficult question. I have had so many great meals throughout my life and they were all great for different reasons. One amazing meal I remember was when I was in Barcelona and stopped into a place called Alkimia for lunch. It had 2 or 3 Michelin stars, so I knew I was in for some great service and well-prepared food. What came next was one of the most surprising and playful meals I have had to date. Each dish was a technical culinary masterpiece as well as a piece of art. The play on flavors was so new to me and that is why it is one of the best meals I can remember. The late Ubuntu was also an unexpected great meal. At the time, the only Michelin starred vegetarian restaurant in the country. The vegetables they used, the way they used them… It was all such an incredible experience. Something truly magical and in all honesty making you forget about meat all together because of the intense flavors and execution of what they were doing.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to obtain an ingredient?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that anything I have done is crazy, but some people would think going hunting to get an ingredient is a bit extreme. It isn’t extreme to most of the country, but for an LA kid, hunting your food is a bit different. I think its something special to eat a game bird that you hunted that very morning. It allows you to see the environment that your food came from and obviously how it was killed.
What’s your process when you’re planning a meal?
I haven’t quite figured out a process yet. I always seem to come up with ideas while I’m in bed late at night. 90 percent of the dishes I make for these dinners are something I have never made before. The reason I create dishes unknown to me is a learning and experimental experience. I always have strange flavor pairing ideas that I like to see come to fruition.
They way I create a meal is definitely a progression. The normal menu layout is usually formatted this way: Hors d’oeuvres upon arrival, Aperitif some kind, raw fish or light dish preparation, another seafood dish, meat dish, trou normand (palate cleanser which is usually an interesting sorbet), dessert.
As far as the atmosphere goes, I like to have everything perfect. The flowers, the music, the flatware, the stemware, the plates. I want it to be an overall experience for my guests… and something they will remember. We makes incredible menus that people can take home with them to remember the meal. I think that’s a special touch. One thing that has improved with time is the vessels on which we serve the food. Slate plates, ceramics, olive wood egg cups etc. You can really make a statement with what you are serving the food on.
What inspires you in the kitchen?
There are so many things that inspire me. It could be a single ingredient I have found that just makes me want to create something around it. My friends (like Max my sommelier and Jason my sous chef) are incredibly instrumental in everything I touch in the kitchen. Their palates are unmatched by most people. They have such a sensitivity to seasoning and flavor pairings, so I run everything by them to get my all needed approval. I usually go with their critique unless I feel so strongly about something, but that rarely happens. Max and Jason also reel me in and simplify my crazy ideas. I often times get out of control with ingredients and components in a dish. They bring me back to reality and eliminate what they feel in not value added.
Aside from friends, a lot of restaurants and chefs really inspire me. Ricardo Zarate (Picca, Mo-Chica, and Paiche as well as 2011 Food and Wine best new chef) allowed me to cook as his sous chef for three nights during the incredible Test Kitchen run which is now where Sotto Restaurant calls home. The experience and knowledge that Ricardo gave me during just those three evenings of service has really fine-tuned the way I prepare and create my meals. For him to let some kid cook in his high profile kitchen is something I will never forget and always appreciate. Another Chef that is a true inspiration is Craig Thornton (Wolvesmouth/Wolvesden). Craig has been doing underground and invite only dinners for years, even before it became all the rage. The reason he inspires me is his complete dedication to the art of new creations. He is always creating new dishes and flavor combinations that nobody has seen before. Craig even cooked 40 different courses for someone’s 40th birthday. 40 COURSES! Another guy that really keeps me on my toes and is gracious enough to give me tips every now and again is Ari Taymor. Ari is chef/owner of Alma in Downtown LA. The inspiration I get comes from his absolute respect of ingredients and the way he can manipulate that ingredient to make it shine.
I am a complete sponge. When I see something cool or inventive, I try to mimic that in my own way and make it my own. That’s the beauty of cooking and creating. All chefs take something from an experience they have had at some point and make it their own. The possibilities are endless and the fun will never stop.
Can you walk us through a sample menu:
GINGER BEER BATTERED PATE DE CAMPAGNE. VANILLA SRIRACHA MAYO. MARINATED FRENCH BREAKFAST RADISH. MICRO CILANTRO
“This dish was actually a last thought as I felt the dinner needed an hors d’oeuvre. It was comprised of what I had in the fridge and was not planned for this dinner at all. I love the flavor and texture of fried pate, but most of the time people bread and pan fry pate which gives it a very heavy and oily after-taste. That’s why I decided to do a tempura fry. The batter is so light and airy and it allows the fat to melt in just the right way. The batter I made was a simple 1/1/1 recipe (1 cup flour, 1 egg, 1 cup liquid). I wanted to use actual beer, but had none at home. I looked around and saw ginger beer and thought that would be perfect! Ginger beer has less sweetness than ginger ale and has a tang because it is yeasted. I thought that tang and strong ginger flavor would be perfect to cut through the fattiness of the pate. Next was the quick marinated radish which I just julienned and threw into some rice wine vinegar, with a touch of sugar and touch of salt. This gave the radish a pickled flavor but still maintained its very fresh crunch. The vanilla bean sriracha mayo was a condiment I had made for homemade shrimp toast a while back. It was loosely inspired by Son of A Gun’s shrimp toast with sriracha mayo but I added a bit more dimension. Vanilla bean isn’t sweet in its natural state, it’s more aromatic and floral. I thought that by adding the fresh vanilla bean to the sriracha mayo would give it that extra something to put the flavor over the top. Its just such a subtle flavor that really makes a difference.”
TOMMYS MARGARITA SPHERES
“This dish….what a pain it was for me to figure out the recipe for this thing. Most of my scientific voyages into food are inspired by the one and only Ferran Adria. The most famous chef in the world and the godfather of science in cooking. His famous spherical dish is the olive sphere where he takes the best arbequina olives and juices them to get the purest olive essence. He then turns them into a sphere making them the shape of an olive once again. When you break through the encapsulation, you are just left with pure olive essence. Ferran sells his brand of ingredients to do such things and gives some recipes. I use the sphere technique almost exclusively with alcohol and for the purpose of an aperitif. I love margaritas and my favorite margarita is a Tommy’s margarita. It only consist of 3 ingredients. Tequila, lime and agave. I think it gives you the best appreciation of what an agave plant offers. The nectar in its sweetener form and the tequila in its distilled alcoholic form. The spherification is a result of the Tommy’s margarita ingredients mixed with calcium lactate being submerged into a bath solution with sodium alginate. The alginate creates a thin skin on the outside of the mix once it comes into contact, creating a perfect sphere. I finished the dish with finely julienned kinome. Its the leaf from the prickly ash tree that has a similar flavor to mint, but has a lingering heat to it that I find very interesting.”
“This is the salad I basically make nightly at home. The beauty of the salad is that every ingredient and the dressing are completely interchangeable. Add what you want, take away what you want.
This dinner was comprised of the following ingredients: Fennel, brussel sprouts, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), jicama, pistachios, goat cheese, manchego cheese, radish, sugar snap peas, arugula, radicchio, lola rosa, frisee, puffed wild rice, reduced balsamic. The dressing was olive oil, hazelnut oil, pumpkin seed oil, red wine vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, agave, fish sauce, shallots, salt, pepper.”
CURED KANPACHI. FENNEL POLLEN. SUDACHI/SHOYU/RED YUZU KOSHO. POWDERED ANDOUILLE SAUSAGE FAT. PUFFED WILD RICE. PEA/UPLAND CRESS PUREE. MICRO CRESS
“I am obsessed with curing raw fish, but I never cure a fish completely. Its a very light cure just to improve the texture of the raw fish. The way I cure fish is by mixing together equal parts sugar and salt. In this case, I used maple sugar and coarse salt. I drop the raw kanpachi into the mixture and make sure it is well coated. I then seal it in a bag with a chamber vacuum sealer. From there, I put it in the fridge and let it chill out for a couple hours. I then remove the fish, rinse it off with cold water, pat dry and slice it up. The flavor combinations in this dish are a serious mish-mash of flavors, but surprisingly it all came together nicely. The creamy sweetness of blanched and pureed English peas goes so well texturally with the slightly firm fish slices. Fennel pollen gives you that subtle black licorice flavor and aroma. The sudachi or Japanese lemon, Shoyu (type of soy sauce), yuzu kosho (yuzu zest with red chili) gives that floral citrus heat that is so amazing with raw fish. The powdered andouille fat was inspired by Louisiana, birthplace of one of our guests. I like to play around with taste buds and do things people have never seen before. Andouille sausage is native to Louisiana and I wanted to use it with the raw fish. Pork and seafood are always a match in my book. Of course, I didn’t want to be literal with it and just cook up some sausage and throw it on the plate. Instead, I rendered out the fat from the sausage and mixed it with tapioca maltodextrin. Tapioca maltodextrin a tapioca starch that absorbs fat and turnes it into powdered form. Once it touches your tongue it reconstitutes itself back into a liquid. The puffed wild rice is for texture and it kinda tastes like popcorn.”
SCALLOP. SHRIMP SAUSAGE. FRESH CHICKPEAS. CARROT/CORIANDER PUREE. MICRO RED MUSTARD GREENS
“This dish was an experiment for me. Shellfish and sausage are an incredible pairing, but I wanted to make shrimp look like chorizo to make the diners think they were having a scallop dish with some sort of pork sausage. I made the shrimp sausage by dicing up half the shrimp and blending the other half into a paste. I threw all the spices found in Spanish chorizo in the bowl. Then I mixed in transglutaminase (meat glue), which is an enzyme that bonds proteins together. After the diced and pureed shrimp were mixed in with the spices and meat glue, I rolled them into sausage form using plastic wrap and I left those in the fridge over night. The next day I put them in my immersion circulator and cooked them at 52.5 degrees celsius for 40 minutes. I then removed them and let them rest, and put them back in the fridge to cool down. Once ready, I sliced them up and seared them a pan like sausage. I thought that the sweetness of carrot would play well with the seared scallop and spicy shrimp sausage, but I wanted to add a citrus element to it. Not going the obvious citrus route, I used coriander seed (which when planted turns into cilantro). Coriander seed has a really interesting citrus flavor, so I used that as my citrus element in the carrot puree.”
PURO IBERICO DE BELLOTA SHOULDER. PORK REDUCTION. FIDDLEHEAD FERNS. GRILLED RAMP SALSA VERDE
“This dish was inspired by spring veggies and the incredible pork I found at the market. Puro iberico de bellota pork is a special kind of Spanish black hoof pig that goes from mothers milk to acorns. This creates and incredibly marbled and buttery flesh. Think of this pig the same way you would Japanese Wagyu beef. This pork is so incredible you can eat it raw. I like to cook it medium rare as to not freak anyone out. Trichinosis is nowhere to be found on these type of pigs. I cook the shoulder in the immersion circulator again to created an even heat distribution at just the right temperature. Once ready to serve I take it out and sear it just for a little color and crust on the exterior. The pork reduction was made from some pork bones with a little meat on them that I had purchased. I made a stock with them and reduced that stock down into a nice sauce. I served them with fiddlehead ferns—they look freaky but taste like asparagus. Ramps are wild leeks that have such an incredibly delicate onion/leek flavor. I grilled the ramps and diced them into a salsa verde, which cuts through the fat of the pork beautifully.”
CHOCOLATE GANACHE BAR. PRETZEL ICE CREAM DOME. HONEYCOMB POWDER. OLIVE OIL POP ROCKS. MIXED MICRO GREENS
“This dessert came from the love of all things salty and sweet and what is a better representation of that than the almighty chocolate covered pretzel? This is a play on those flavors with some extras added in. The chocolate bar and the pretzel ice cream are the literal translation here, but I made the chocolate bar very dark and bitter with barely any sweetness at all. The pretzel ice cream was intended to taste like creamy salty pretzel, so minimal sugar was used. The sugar comes into play with the homemade honeycomb. I make that using sugar, water, honey, glucose syrup and baking soda. The baking soda thrown in at the end gives it that honeycomb appearance, but in this preparation it didn’t really matter what it looked like since I was going to pulverize it anyway. The olive oil pop rocks are an ode to Spain’s love affair with the pairing of chocolate and olive oil.”
Photos via: Scott Nathan.