An Evening with Elmi

Keep calm; do not adjust your screens.  What looks to be something straight out of Alien is actually the original parchment paper/sous vide/fata cooking method that has been used for centuries.  Wait until you see how it was prepared!  Any guesses on identifying this dinosaur egg/balloon looking thing? (Keep reading to see if you’re right…)

On Monday June 18, 2012 I had the pleasure of spending an evening with Nicholas Elmi of Rittenhouse Tavern at COOK.  Nick is the Executive Chef at Rittenhouse Tavern which recently opened within the Art Alliance off Rittenhouse Square.  He started his cooking career at the age of 15 and is a 2002 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.  Most notably he was the Executive Chef at Le Bec-Fin 1.0 with Georges Perrier for the past three years.  He has a wealth of experience working in kitchens alongside many great chefs in New York City, Paris, and Boston.

I need to thank his brother for allowing Nick to crash with him in Philadelphia after culinary school.  That’s how the New Englander got his first experience of Philly, and somehow he keeps finding himself returning to the City of Brotherly Love.  Now we get to experience the amazing dishes he has to offer at Rittenhouse Tavern daily.

Since departing the arena of French Fine Dining, Nick is now able to apply French techniques within a comparatively more casual environment.  Here’s some of the exceptional food I experienced that night.

I had a huge smirk on my face as I entered COOK doors and glanced over the menu board.  I really had no idea what to expect but I didn’t need a description of what was being served that night.  I just saw (+pork) six times on the menu and that was enough for me.  I like the way Nick thinks, and thankfully for him none of the other guests had issues with pork.

mise en place

Though it seemed like the menu was thought up that morning, everything in the preparations says otherwise.  Honoring his French roots Nick sets his mise en place “everything in place” prior to class.  It allowed Nick to cook straight throughout the class without having to stop and gather items.  Even each pan was labeled for the corresponding dish he would be cooking. And I thought I was OCD!

KISS (Keep it simple, stupid!)

Yes, that object in chef’s hand might look familiar to you.  Dare I ask, “Would you like grated cheese with that?” Ah the trusty cheese grater you would find in the fine dining establishments of Olive Garden.  Though it would have made a nice photo having Nick microplane individual pistachios on each of our plates, what can you do when 16 hungry patrons are waiting for their first course?  Save time by keeping it simple, stupid!

Country Pâté (Pistachio + Pork)
This little piggy went to market.

Frog Legs & Pork Rinds w/ Speck Over a Goat Cheese Façade Mosaic
This little piggy went home.

Philly loves snails? Don’t believe me?

Check out this article by Jason Wilson from The snails were provided by Doug Dussault, aka “The Snailman” the man who brought National Escargot Day to Philadelphia. “Potironne is the prime importer of wild Burgundy Snails from Henri Maire, considered by many to be the best snail purveyor in the world.  The snails are gathered by hand, then poached in a classic court-bouillon before being packaged and shipped” (Wilson).

The snails were prepared with two types of almonds: fresh and young green

Seriously, all the pans were labeled

Yeah, this dish had a healthy scoop of caviar. Nick must have been feeling really generous. Or perhaps it was the tequila shots we were feeding him all night..

Escargot in Pork Jus, Fresh Almonds & Young Green Almonds w/ Caviar
This little piggy had roast beef.

This is Michael Griffiths, Chef Nicholas Elmi’s Sous Chef for the night.  Mike is a young gun currently working at Rittenhouse Tavern with experience at Ela in Queen Village and Lacroix.  He’s working the room in preparations for his time to shine at COOK’s Open Stove Competition.  You can still pick up July’s tickets here!

Rabbit and Panchetta w/ Radiatore
This little piggy had none.

Dover Sole Stuffed with Pork Belly w/ Mushrooms & Radishes
And this little piggy went wee wee wee all the way home.

If you guessed pig bladder, you’re correct!

What Nick is holding is illegal to buy in the United States.  The pig bladder takes a nice trip from Europe to Philly by way of Las Vegas.  Nick knows a Guy.  But now that I write this hopefully the FDA doesn’t catch wind.  Pig bladder has been used for centuries for many cool things, I know this because I googled it so you didn’t have to.  Did you know pig bladders can be dried and ground into “pixie dust” to regrow fingers?  Back in the day they used to inflate it and tie it to a stick as a balloon for carnivals.  They’ve been used in athletics for footballs and rugby.

But the pig bladder was used that night to steam the guinea hen, the traditional way.  This technique has been used for centuries and was the original parchment paper and sous vide.


Loop it, Swoop it, Pull.

“What’s that you say?  You’re a fan of archeology; right here on the bottom shelf you might recognize this as a Tyrannosaur-rex egg.”

We so excited, so excited.

Guinea Hen Prepared in a Pig Bladder w/ Morels and Foie Gras Sauce
This little piggy had his bladder inflated by Nicholas Elmi.

I enjoyed the foie gras sauce so much I decided to save some on my shirt for later.. Clean plates all around.

Cherry Tart

I love desserts with a cherry on top, but…

A Cherry Tart topped with Lardo is even better.

What a great night!  We enjoyed amazing food with an amazing chef.  If you haven’t checked out Rittenhouse Tavern yet what are you waiting for?!  Enjoy Happy hour on their beautiful patio; they’ll have an assortment of firkins throughout the summer.  Go for Sunday brunch and stay for Sunday Amish Chicken dinner.  Grab the braised pork belly with poached eggs and blue lentils, or the Rittenhouse Tavern Burger made with La Frieda dry aged beef.  Try the mussels, scallops, and octopus!

You can catch Nicholas Elmi and a Motley Creu of local chefs at World Cafe Live for Ommegang HopChef on July 10th!

Finally, here’s a video of Nick inflating the pig bladder!

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