So, how did we end up at The Cass House Inn? After all, it's not a pizzeria, it's far from big population centers, and we're ending this series not with a pizza but with a fancy lamb dish and a plush wine. To answer this question let me reiterate what Pizza Quest is beyond the search for the perfect pizza: a celebration of artisans and artisanship (or, as noted in our Vision Statement, over in the right hand column of the website, "…a site dedicated to the exploration of artisanship in all forms…").
Some background: We were headed to San Francisco on our first road trip, having filmed a great series of webisodes with Nancy Silverton at Pizzeria Mozza in LA, when Brad suggested we veer off the highway and visit a place in Cayucos, on the coast, that he had recently discovered. As we've mentioned before, there's a certain kind of magic and "go with the flow" energy that takes over when you are on a road trip, and sometimes you feel like surrendering and just trusting the "road." So we did and, as a result, ended up with great footage at a number of places that you've already seen, including The Taco Temple (I can still taste that killer Sea Scallop Taco), the Brown Butter Cookie Company, Ruddell's Smoke House, and especially The Cass House Inn. If Pizza Quest is, as we say, more about the quest than about the pizza, these various webisodes make the point better than any words -- and the pizza was pretty amazing too, even if the Cass House Inn is not a pizzeria; I'd put our smoked albacore pizza and Jensen's Merguez Lamb Sausage pizza up against any pizza we've had anywhere.
So, on Pizza Quest we just follow the bread crumb trail, wherever it leads, and let the magic of the Quest do the rest. One of the takeaways for us during our maiden road trip, of which we still have upcoming footage to show you, is how important it is to put yourself on a quest, whether it be for pizza or anything of value, and how the simple declaratory act of questing creates a vacuum that gets filled in with all sorts of unanticipated adventures. It's the side trips, the detours, the following of the signs that provide the bonus features, not only on film but in life.
In this final installment from the Cass House Inn, Chef Jensen takes us into his kitchen as he prepares a lamb tenderloin, wrapped in caul fat, along with accompaniments such as ratatouille and raitta (yogurt sauce), that earlier had appeared on his Merguez pizza. In other words, a white tablecloth versus checkered tablecloth expression of similar flavors and influences. What I like about all this is that it captures one important aspect of the artisan at work, the ability to think outside the box, utilize local, seasonal ingredients, and connect the dots on the flavor trail (another variation of what I, a baker, call the bread crumb trail) to create new, exciting gastronomic experiences. This webisode segment, then, is like a mini-seminar in creativity, including the choice of wine that Grace Lorenzen shows us at the end.
But, my favorite moment in this segment is, and it happens quickly so don't miss it, when Jensen drizzles his reduction lamb demi glace jus over the plated lamb. It was a wow for me then, and watching the video brought me back to that moment and how intense and visceral it was, tapping into an emotional place within me in that unique way that truly great sauces can. I've often said that if I could start over as a chef I would probably become a saucier, as I believe that making sauces is the most alchemical of all cooking, it's like cooking on an altar, transmutational and, at its highest expression, a signifier of transcendence. Since you didn't actually get to taste the sauce in the video as I did seeing it now may not transport you as it did me, but keep an eye out for that moment, near the end, and let me know if you can catch even a glimpse of what I'm talking about.
For me, these are the defining Quest moments, and I want to thank Jensen and Grace Lorenzen one final time for letting us into their world nestled in a small sliver of Central California's Coastal region. Let us know if you ever get to The Cass House Inn and, if you do, say hi to Grace and Jensen for all of us here at Pizza Quest. And get some of that reduction sauce!