When Sharon Stone, the beautiful Hollywood actress, strode down the Academy Awards red carpet in 1996 wearing a stunning Valentino ballgown skirt paired with a simple, black, Gap-brand turtleneck, she unwittingly created one of the most influential fashion moments of all time. This was the instant the world was introduced to the concept of “high-low” dressing, thereby changing fashion forever. While dining is missing a similar seminal moment, why should it not evolve in the same way? It is easy to apply such a philosophy to food – all you have to do is to use a couture ingredient to make a simple, everyday dish. This piece of advice will stand you forever in good stead, and help lead your culinary exploits to wonderous results.
The key to mastering high-low dining is to make it look effortlessly chic. By this I mean you must serve it with a touch of sangfroid – that aura of cool confidence under pressure – and without formality. The food must be unfussy and familiar, food that satisfies the soul and gets people talking. The atmosphere must be relaxed. The tableware could even be mismatched, although a beautiful set of Limoges china would not be out of place either. Keep in mind that this untroubled, casual air does not mean you will be eating Cheetos on toast. There will be high quality ingredients, fresh napkins at each plate, and plenty to drink. Even better, there won’t be an elaborate array of cutlery at each place setting, for this is simplicity, but with exacting standards.
What will you serve? Plan a menu that is fun to eat and not intimidating. Keep it very simple and build on nostalgia, since familiar food is always comforting. The trick is to turn up the volume on the most basic dish by using excellent quality ingredients, and perhaps some tasty surprises. For example, give your guests burgers using Angus beef jumbled with grated truffles. Nestle these decadent patties inside a few softly warmed, fluffy brioche buns lavishly slathered with herbed beurre Bordier. Throw some authentic French frites in the oven to crisp nicely (you can buy them frozen and they are delicious). In such a scenario, you may even find yourself dispensing with the cutlery altogether. Your guests will be giddy with delight when they taste this high-low spread. These are simple dishes with surprising complexity.
Why not expand it further by going for a surf-turf vibe and start with some delicious mini crab cakes, which are easy to make with high-grade tinned crabmeat? While traditional crab cakes are typically a casual food eaten either at home or at an unassuming “crab shack”, the cakes, when paired with a delicious aioli and made bite-sized, can also be the perfect sophisticated starter.
Be sure to end the meal in high fashion by having a special dessert (essential in my mind), or better yet, with an entire assortment of sweet things. Best of all, you don’t have to prepare any of them. There are such wonderful sugary delights available ready-made. Strew some caramel bon bons on the table, open a box of assorted chocolates, and serve a spectacular cake from your favourite patisserie. There you have it – dessert, done.
The simplest things are often the most difficult to execute. However, if you stick to remembered flavours and familiar foods elevated with quality ingredients, the rest will be easy. Even if you are serving just burgers, do not forget to light the candles, or to play some beautiful music. Details such as these are the set pieces of a perfect high-low meal, the kind of thing that turns your ordinary ready-to-wear into glorious couture.
Written by: Aparna Dubey
From Chef Martin Garbisu
Signature dish of The Jockey Club
Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Washington D.C.
1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, like Phillips
2 teaspoons mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
Fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, like Bordier
2 teaspoons chopped parsley
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Remove shells from crabmeat if necessary. Mix together egg, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Salt and pepper to taste,. Add egg mixture to crab. Add enough bread crumbs to mixture to bind so you can make cakes with your hands.
Flour the cakes on both sides and sauté in clarified butter. Brown one side, turn and immediately place in a 350 degree oven. Bake for 4 minutes or until centre is just warm.
Melt unsalted butter and heat until butter foams. Add parsley and lemon juice and stir briefly. Pour over crab cakes.
1 cup mayonnaise
3 Tbsp of Chili Ketchup
1 Teaspoon of Coleman’s Dry Mustard (more if you like it!)
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Horseradish
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
4 medium scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon capers, chopped (optional)
Mix all ingredients together and serve with the crab cakes if desired.