Henry Jordan leans against the worktop, syringe in hand, looking more the mad scientist than the new chef at Elements. The 26 year-old American squeezes a mix of soy sauce and agar agar on to frozen olive oil, where it forms into little beads. These ‘soy pearls’ are one of a multitude of inventive garnishes for tuna with raw charcoal taste, the dish he’s cooking today.
“The fun thing at this restaurant is the creativity,” he says. “I like to use modern ingredients and techniques. But I don’t want it all to be powders, gels and moulds. We’re a casual restaurant, not only for special-occasion dining. Since I arrived we’ve made a smaller menu and lowered the prices.”
He’s previously covered the raw tuna in a blend including chives, parsley, ground coriander, salt and pepper, formed it into roulades, vacuum-packed and marinated. Before serving he drops it briefly into a sous vide bath – “just to bring to room temperature” – then grills one side over charcoal. It’s a smart idea, bringing just a hint of charcoal and textural bite to the raw fish.
The sauce is a stock of tuna scraps rendered down like fish fumet. Henry adds a little sweetness, with sea urchin roe, so it “balances out the acidic edge to a nice savoury flavour”.
Other garnishes include ginger steeped in oil then put into tapioca maltodextrine to form a crumble, and popcorn chilli, made from polenta. Another is feuille de brik tuna cigars, formed by wrapping pastry around a wooden spoon handle and dangling into a deep fat fryer. To serve, Henry slides off the hollow casing, dehydrates and fills with tuna.
The crack of the cigar against soft, soft tuna, with wasabi and delicate hits of fresh ginger; the crunch and sweetness of the popcorn chilli – there are so many textures and flavours in there.
Henry also served me one of his signature dishes, venison carpaccio, foie cubes in cacao, quince and gingerbread. The meat, marinated in juniper berries, Szechuan pepper and parsley, had been wrapped into a roll and frozen, “so not to overcomplicate the flavour of the venison”. Later, the chef poaches quince in cognac and white wine, then caramelises the liquid to layer into traditional foie gras terrine with cocoa powder, which is marinated for 24 hours. Three slivers of the meat form discs in the centre of the plate, garnished with burnt aubergine dust.
“You just put an aubergine in the oven and forget about it,” he says. “It doesn’t pick up the flavour of the burn, so you just get a dust texture.” Cubes of foie gras and quince sit alongside, with blobs of quince purée, honey poached cranberries, and gingerbread that’s been in the dehydrater for a couple of days and crumbled.
“The concept of the restaurant is there’s nothing we can’t serve,” says Henry, as he sets it down. And with prices at B750 each for these two dishes, even journalists can afford to be part of the experiment.