Personal Note about Haute Tea Cuisine

Many years ago, I encountered a meal that left me completely dumbfounded by its intricacy and complexity. It was my first experience with haute cuisine as a young man. I did not know where to begin deciphering the ingredients or techniques the dish required. Whipped foam of beets and carrots fought for dominance with a thickened goat cheese in a single bite, and a creamed foam of cauliflower sought to convince me that it belonged with foie gras.  I still remember how the varying flavors seemed to compete for territory on my tongue, yet they coexisted in delicate harmony. I still remember asking myself when I could accomplish the same.

I’ve always been curious about haute cuisine and the incredible attention that someone could pay to a dish. To me, something that niche and rare was certainly not affordable, and was certainly elusive to the home cook. I assumed there must be a secret technique in every dish, a skill so prized and sought after that it would only be passed from master to disciple. Yet, as I studied and experimented over the years, taking classes, reading avidly, and asking questions whenever I could, I came to realize that fancy dishes were not as complicated as I thought they would be. The information and guidance on creating such dishes is out there, available to anyone who cared to look.

I don’t have a professional kitchen at home, but I do have a big cutting board that I got from IKEA for 20 bucks. I don’t have fancy equipment, and I don’t need them. I’ve trained my knife technique so I can cut well, so I didn’t have to invest in expensive chopping gadgets as seen on TV. I pound my peppercorn with the bottom of an old pot, the way the French chefs in cooking school taught us, so I don’t need a kitchen hammer. Detailed, sophisticated-looking food can be prepared with just a few pans, some pots, an oven, maybe a $35 food processor with free shipping from Amazon, and most importantly, some sharp knives.

I still remember one night, staring at a thick, unassuming sauce next to the $35 food processor, which was operating on its second year with no signs of slowing down. I’d just received the worst feedback I have ever faced from my family for the sauce in front of me, to the tune of “stop wasting your time, you’re not getting anywhere” or “don’t make a mess in the kitchen if it’s going to taste like this.” The sauce was a complete failure, I had to admit. I sat there and I thought about it. Eventually, everyone went to sleep. It was past midnight when I finally came to my senses and washed out every bowl, pot and pan, and started over. Common wisdom says that tea leaves are fundamentally bitter and cannot be eaten, but I refused to conform to what my grandmother taught me. I decided to use extremely sour flavors to hide the bitterness; heavy, fat-like olive oil to hide the sourness, and just enough salt to hide the fat. By 3 a.m. I had made my sauce. The cheap food processor, still functional to this day, ground the tea leaves perfectly. The next morning my family tasted the sauce and no one complained about the mess in the kitchen. Since then, I have gone on to many more complex sauces using artisan teas, the simple equipment in my kitchen still humming along. With passion, patience, and commitment, I have innovated and created without breaking the bank. I truly believe that haute cuisine can be attained by anyone, even those on a budget.

This book represents a year of research and experiments with artisan teas infused in French sauces. It was done in the best kitchen in the world—the one at home.

FoodFred Yu