I’ll say it again, I LOVE COOK! Each night, their studio kitchen presents a fresh opportunity to let chefs shine and the culinary team from Pumpkin, west South Street’s BYO-of-choice, was damn near blinding. Walking into COOK that Halloween night was like ringing the door bell on a house that gives out the best treats on the block. Treats tossed in lots of butter. HELL. YES. We were off to a great start.
What Pumpkin laid before us that night was a beautiful balance of refinement and approachability; effortless expertise; living proof that loving what you do is the only option. Executive Chef/Owner Ian Moroney, Chef de Cuisine Chris Kearse, and Sous Chef Craig kept us laughing as they “stacked flavors” through 6 of their classic courses & new creations. Hey, guys!!
I consider myself to be quite knowledgeable about food (I read cookbooks like great novels), but these guys were throwing around ingredient names that I’ve never heard of. Good thing class was in session as they took turns explaining the obscure items and processes being used. I can’t act like I didn’t have to look some up again when I got home – like nasturtium. This peppery & tangy watercress was featured in an ice cream created using agar, flavored with black cardamom, atop ground almond, next to a sudsy mountain of sudsy apple cider foam.
What’s the orange and crimson flame on the back rim, you ask? A speck of flavor-packed honey-miso with a beautiful edible petal. It was already a bowl of amazingness and the starring layer was still to come – a simple velvety autumn vegetable soup. Lily, executive director of COOK, helped pour lakes of the sweet puree, flooding the textural shores with flavor and color.
If I didn’t know 4 more courses where headed my way, I’d have asked for seconds. Luckily, Chef Ian shared the recipe and some words of wisdom after my own food-loving heart.
“Recipes are meant to be changed. It’s most important to use quality ingredients and good cooking practices.” – Chef Ian Moroney
Pumpkin’s Autumn Vegetable Soup
1/2 lb of each, peeled & chopped
- sweet potato
- 1/2 lb unsalted butter
- 1/2 qt heavy cream
- Melt butter in a heavy pot and add onions, sweating until translucent over medium heat.
- Add remaining vegetables and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then simmer until tender. Drain any excess liquid and return to pot.
- Add heavy cream and salt, to taste. Puree with an immersion blender or standard blender. Serve.
4 more courses for your viewing and reading pleasure after the JUMP!
The intense color palate and complexity of each dish had my imagination on hyperdrive. The next course, curly-cues dancing over the vibrant orange of longneck butternut squash, whisked me away into a familiar fairytale complete with a pumpkin reference – Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage. The shaved celery root & whimsical greens were delicately tweezed over rich, perfectly prepared offal: evil-ly delicious stepsisters of pigs feet & sweetbreads chasing foie gras dressed in a huckleberry gelee fit for a princess. Mulled wine sauce, white balsamic, and argan powder completed the happily ever after.
Next up was a beautiful piece of pan-roasted sturgeon with a horseradish caviar sauce. If you haven’t had sturgeon before, like me, it’s a hearty mild white fish and Chef Ian cooked it to perfection. Beets rounded out this Russian-esque dish.
Have you ever heard of pork cooked in hay? Me neither, but apparently it’s a classic preparation that Pumpkin’s chefs took to the next level. They cloaked a beautiful roast in cheesecloth, covered it with hay, and sealed it in a plastic bag for a slow poach in their immersion circulator. Linda Geren, of the sustainable High View Farm in North Hanover, NJ, was on hand to make sure her ham (and hay) were duly represented. She certainly put her piggies in the right hands.
As with all the dishes, many components come together to perfectly achieve the flavor stacking that defines Pumpkin’s cuisine. The pork cooked in hay was modestly seasoned with a hint of honey, allowing the natural flavors to shine on their own or the chance to pair each bite with a different combination of the accompaniments: chestnut puree, parsnip, black garlic chips, salsify root cooked in red wine, and a lady apple stuffed with scrapple (you heard that right).
All that and we still had dessert! White chocolate is caramelized under the broiler and combined with goat cheese for the most decadent cheesecake I’ve ever tasted. Golden yam ice cream, textural argan powder, and candied poached cranberries offset the richness with savory and sweet. I can see why Chef Craig dubbed this dessert, “The Panty Dropper”.
Pumpkin’s cuisine pairs subtle moleculer gastronomy with big flavors, creating a Halloween memory I won’t soon forget. Their balance of complex ingredient combinations, technical preparation, and artful presentation – each aspect receiving equal attention – are to be admired and deserves great recognition (more that I feel they receive). It is haute without intimidation, as Chef Ian and his crew at Pumpkin welcome you each night into the kitchen (literally) to learn and experience the love they put into each seasonal dish. Grab a few great bottles of wine and stop in to see them soon!
1713 South Street
Philadelphia, PA 19146
Twitter – @PumpkinPhilly
FB – Pumpkin BYO