It is one thing to sit within the controlled atmosphere of a restaurant and enjoy the dishes put forth by a chef who is masterful at weaving the essence of flavorful ingredients into a unique tapestry of delicious composition. It is quite another to be invited into that chef's inner sanctum and offered a firsthand glimpse into the magical transformation that takes place as a mere idea is shaped and developed into a delectable masterpiece. It is an experience not unlike witnessing John Lennon putting the finishing touches on his anthem to a generation, "Imagine", or perhaps, McCartney penning the lyrics his timeless classic, "Let It Be".
Okay, perhaps it doesn't approach the magnitude of either of those compositional milestones, but I am sure you get my point. Having the opportunity to watch an artist walk the path of trial and error without the security of a safety net is a rare opportunity indeed. To watch a dish prepared from concept to creation is a special privilege and one that is an infrequent occurrence.
To understand the origin of Chef Barrett's penchant, and remarkable talent, for Modern Spanish cuisine, we must travel back almost twenty-two years to the latter part of 1993. While working as a line cook at Le Chanticleer Restaurant on Nantucket, the summer had come to a end and with it, Chef Barrett's steady work. Rather than toil at yet another meaningless winter job close to home, Hank decided to be a bit more adventuresome. Always thirsty to expand his culinary horizons, he decided to try his luck at obtaining seasonal work abroad in Spain.
He arrived in Barcelona and was at once, struck by a sphere of culinary influence he had never expected. It was his first experience with Spanish cuisine and the impression it left upon the young chef was one to stick with him for the rest of his days. Unfortunately, Barrett's search for seasonal work proved fruitless, but even so, he was determined to make every minute of the trip worthwhile, and take from it, experiences that would play to his strengths for the remainder of his career.
As we stepped into the kitchen I prodded with a gentle, " So what is it?"
"Well, I've got some great ingredients and I've got this idea," he implied with a smirk. "Ever have Foie Gras?"
I was impressed by the talent that was on display that day in Chef Barrett's kitchen, but I am equally impressed by how much this man loves what he does. Creating food is in his blood and not merely his vocation. We should all be so lucky. That afternoon, I had watched a culinary maestro conduct an edible symphony, and for that I was grateful. Perhaps, in retrospect, Lennon & McCartney is not such a stretch after all.