by Michael Mina with Joann Cianciulli
Einstein’s prime contribution to science was the theory of relativity; star chef Michael Mina's legacy may very well be the theory of trios. At his eponymous restaurant in the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, Mina has refined his trio concept: "a primary ingredient…accessorized with a trilogy of accompaniments." In Michael Mina: The Cookbook, nearly all preparations come in this triplicate fashion. He begins with a central protein, be it scallops, squab or slow-poached kobe, and creates three presentations of flavors anchored by a few key ingredients, usually seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs. These spotlight ingredients are then utilized in three ways to bring out the greatest range of flavor, yielding a total of nine variations on a theme, a sort of multiple-course tasting menu compressed into one special plate. (Mina in fact spent more than a year designing the perfect china on which to present his creations).
This may all be a little confusing in theory but is delicious in practice. To give a full example of the three by three concept: an olive oil-poached rack of lamb invites a triad of complements—cucumber/mint (cucumber raita, mint gremolata, heirloom tabbouleh), red pepper/rosemary (harissa ratatouille, rosemary gremolata, rosemary-scented baby potatoes) and curry/cilantro (matsutake garam masala, cilantro gremolata, date basmati). The level of intricacy is a little head-spinning, but, for those who don’t have time to render all three possibilities at once, Mina reassures us that each preparation can stand on its own. Though the trio concept dominates in everything from a first course of foie gras to a collection of berry cobblers for dessert, Mina does save room at the end for his one-plate classic dishes like lobster pot pie and root beer floats. With wine pairing suggestions and ample photographs of the artfully plated trios, Michael Mina: The Cookbook is more than just a collection of the chef's finest recipes; it’s a philosophical treatise of modern American cuisine.
Reviewed by Rachel Levin
(Updated: 12/11/08 SB)