Poetry to the Palate

This week I asked my elementary school creative writing students to compose a haiku about their favorite food. I explained to them that because haiku are so short -- three-line poems with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third -- every word counts. It's especially important to use descriptive words, I said, so you can get your point across in a small space. They nodded agreeably enough and took up their pencils, complaining only when I said yes, the poems had to be in cursive.

Now, I don't expect my kids to be Matuso Basho (a Japanese poet of rare distinction). I certainly didn't think they'd write about foie gras and caviar, either, nor would I want them to. So when the 70-odd haiku were turned in, I wasn't surprised that most of them in one way or another were about pizza.

A big fan of passionate purple prose, I was, however, a little disappointed in their choice of adjectives. The cheese wasn't gooey or melty or elastic or stringy, it was yummy. The sauce wasn't sweet or garlicky or juicy, it was yummy. And the crust wasn't crisp or soft or tender, it was yummy. In fact, a standard haiku written by a nine-year-old, I discovered, goes something like this:

Location Info

Map

Two Chefs

8287 S. Dixie Highway
South Miami, FL 33143

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: South Dade

I like pizza 'cause
it's yummy with cheese and sauce
Yum yum pizza yum

No, no, no, I told them, handing back their poems. Use words that have a smell to them, a flavor. You want your reader to experience the pizza as you experience it, to taste it the way you taste it.

I don't understand, they said in one voice. One great big whiny voice. Obviously I was asking for the impossible; after all, there aren't any words in the English language more descriptive than yum. Unless it's yuk.

Communication between teachers and students breaks down easily in an elementary school. Clearly, I had to stop reacting like a food critic and start thinking like a kid. I needed to remember how I was speechless when served that most delicious of meals, pizza and Coke. I needed to touch base with my teachers, to redefine awe for myself.

Enter Two Chefs.
Located in the Dixie Pointe Shopping Center on South Dixie Highway and Ludlam Road, Two Chefs is the culmination of an extremely profitable partnership. A couple of years ago, San Francisco emigre chef Jan Jorgensen closed down his namesake Coconut Grove restaurant, Janjo's, and teamed up with local legend Soren Bredahl, former chef-proprietor of Food Among the Flowers, a Design District hit. The two chefs, both Danish and with a common background in European cookery, took a break from the crushing labor of running restaurants and opened Two Chefs Cooking, a culinary institute for nonprofessionals. (Their poetic motto includes the lines "We may live without friends, we may live without books/But civilized men cannot live without cooks!") The school also sells cookware, appliances, and a range of homemade goods, giving JoAnna's Marketplace (in the same shopping center) customers an alternative for spending their dough.

Maybe that retail experience is why the adjoining 75-seat restaurant looks like a page from the Williams-Sonoma catalogue. Exceptionally well designed, the space is elegant and sleek without pretensions; a California bistro in atmosphere, the entire restaurant is nonsmoking. Decorative plates and copper cooking utensils hang on the molded white walls, as does practically the entire series of framed food posters from Ten Speed Press, depicting everything from chili peppers to varieties of eggplant. The open kitchen in which Jorgensen was hard at work on the night I visited is fronted by a wood-burning brick oven that emits lovely aromas to those sitting near enough (we were).

Our table was one of the only two bad ones in the house, angled off to the side of the main dining room, where they stick ladies lunching and poor relations. All night long I got dripped on, from either a leaking roof or an overworked air conditioner. That wood-burning oven made up for it, though, baking everything from the dense country homemade bread served in a ceramic tart pan with butter and light green olive oil to the crisp pizzas to nutty garlic to game birds.

The fare is a conglomerate of the chefs' varied experiences. Bredahl, who graduated from the Copenhagen Restaurant Institute and served as private chef to Princess Grace of Monaco, adds a regal touch with traditional ingredients. Jorgensen, a veteran of the famous San Fran eatery Stars, provides some California whimsy. Both men are innovative and like to use regional goods and purveyors. If we had to label it, we could call the cuisine Califloropean. Or, like my students, we could simply say, "Yum."

The menu changes every two weeks, so the seared prosciutto-wrapped foie gras with huckleberry jam and parsnip chips or the baked Malpeque oysters with pine nut and reggiano- sabayon custard starters might not be around for long. No matter. They'll be replaced with something as good as the oxtail, braised in a dark, wine-rich sauce. Served in a bowl, garnished with collard greens, and earthy with leeks, the sections of oxtail were a fabulous appetizer, lean meat sliding right off the bones like lamb shank. Of course, bread-dipping opportunities were at an all-time high, especially considering the spongy homemade loaf.

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