Barry Wine of the Quilted Giraffe, 1990’s (?)
When you are known by friends and acquaintances as a “food person”, there are a few questions that get asked regularly. One of the most frequent would have to be, “What is the best thing you’ve ever eaten?”
My answer? There are a few… and that’s not hedging my bets. Perhaps 5 on my list, but hey, I’ve been around a while now and eaten a lot of great food. Place, company, event… all contributed to the reason they were best dishes and the top spot changes from time to time even if the list rarely does.
I’ll let you know about one that’s been at the top for 20-odd years that came from Barry Wine’s The Quilted Giraffe in NYC. The food was all over the place, eccentric and full of hits and misses but creative and fun… this guy was pushing the envelope. The dish that made me want to genuflect to the diminutive Mr. Wine? Beggar’s Purses… crepes filled with beluga caviar, crème fraiche tied with a chive. You popped them in your mouth… I think there were 3 on a plate. I believe I was such a glutton we had to get another plate and that threw the service off but I didn’t care… I was in love.
Mr Wine was inspired to make them after a visit to another great self-taught chef (like himself) in France, François Clerc at La Vielle Fontaine outside of Paris. Clerc’s Aumônière (that means a little draw-string bag/pouch) became Wine’s beggar’s purses and reading about Clerc I can see why…he and Wine shared the same wild souls when it came to food (although the mad moustache was all Clerc).
Wine was a University of Chicago-schooled lawyer with very little training in the cooking arts (he took a few classes at The Culinary Institute in Hyde Park) but it was probably the fact that he had no preconceived notions that drove him from “chicken cordon bleu and a salad with canned mandarin oranges” to really inventive cuisine. The NYT wrote “ By the early 80's, Mr. Wine was drizzling red-pepper oil around portions of grilled swordfish, serving sea urchins from Maine and thickening a sauce with mashed potatoes, all strikingly new concepts at the time. David Burke... said Mr. Wine "was the first chef who showed me how creative and whimsical you can be." Don’t forget Wine was the guy who introduced tuna and wasabi pizza and hazelnut-coated sweetbreads!
The Quilted Giraffe was also a veritable breeding ground for great chefs. Aside from David Burke, David Kinch of Manresa spent 4 years there and considered Wine a mentor, Tom Colicchio (Craft and Gramercy Tavern) another self-taught chef, also cooked for Wine – leaving a gig at Alfred Portale’s Gotham to take the plum opportunity to work with the mercurial Wine. They (and so many others) remember the experience fondly. Collicchio remembers making those beggar’s purses all day long!
For years at my New Year's house parties in the country, my great friend Diana would bring a tub of good caviar as her offering. We all would pig out on caviar and whatever the main course and desserts were that year and drink champagne… normal New Year's behavior. But New Year’s morning, I would get up late and as the sleepy guests made their way downstairs I would begin making beggar’s purses and a line with plates would form and reform and reform as people returned for 2nds and 3rds and 4ths. Warm crepe, cool caviar and crème fraiche with a tiny bit of lemon… it was worth not being piggish with the stuff the night before so we could indulge in these beauties for a great beginning to a New Year, with the rest of the champagne of course!
Since then I have done them with salmon caviar, smoked salmon, foie gras even once with whipped cream and raspberries (sans chives!) and they are always wonderful.
The remarkably generous and creative bloggers Natasha and Lazaro (of 5 Star Foodie and Lazaro Cooks) invited me to be part of a great group asked to come up with something fun using bacon and eggs... I was thrilled with the challenge. I thought I would do something Mr. Wine would appreciate… throw a concept on it’s ear and make something different.
I decided to make the crepes -- but instead of fancy caviar -- fill them with chopped bacon in a creamy cheese sauce. The idea of popping them in my mouth at brunch appealed to me utterly. I think they would also be fun with a piece of grilled fish, chicken or pork for dinner. They can be made ahead and warmed gently in the microwave for a few seconds…. They are very rich and 1 or 2 should be plenty (Dr. Lostpast said 3!). PS, I had chives in a box… bad idea… get full length so they are easy to tie!!!
The recipe for the beggar's purse crepes comes from The New Basics… the classic 80’s Silver Palate cookbook. They are nearly foolproof.
Bacon and Cheese Beggar’s Purses, makes 10-12
¾ c milk
½ c flour
¼ t salt
butter for pan
Throw the milk eggs flour and salt into the blender and let ‘er rip for a minute or 2. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve.
Use a stick of butter to coat your pan with butter like a magic marker…be especially generous the first few and use the butter before each pour of batter. Swirl batter around the pan and flip once set... do not allow to brown too much!
Use 2 T of batter per crepe.
Bacon Cheese Sauce
2 T Butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
½ c cream
pinch of nutmeg
1/8 to ¼ t chipotle pepper, ground
1/8 t pepper
3 T grated parmesan
¼ cup finely grated cheddar
1 t cognac or armagnac
1 t cognac or armagnac
4 strips smoky bacon, chopped and cooked till crisp
12 chives, put in salted boiling water for 5 seconds and drained
Sauté the garlic and shallot in the butter till softened…. I like the butter to brown for an added nutty flavor.
Add the cream and warm, reduce a little and add the cheeses and cognac.
Lay out a crepe, fill with about ½ T bacon cheese sauce (it is rich). Tie with a chive into a purse… should your chives not be long enough… tie them together and cut off the excess… makes it easier!