A 2,000-Degree Dinner Party with the Artisans at Esque
At Esque Studio in Portland, Oregon, things happen quickly. In less than five minutes, a glassblower can transform a small molten blob at the end of a long tube into a drinking glass; in about half an hour, the glassblower can create a foot-long vase. And in the studio’s 2,000-degree oven, a roast beef for eight people—the main course for an amazing dinner party—will cook in only about three minutes.
Andi Kovel and Justin Parker, cofounders of Esque, are part of both fast-moving experiences. The pair launched Esque a dozen years ago after meeting at Parsons design school in New York City. They soon became known as glass artists, creating beautiful but functional items in saturated colors like fuchsia and mint green. For the spring 2012 season (like fashion designers, Kovel and Parker create two lines a year), Esque features items like oil and vinegar cruets that resemble elegantly mutated test tubes and paperweights that look like bubblegum bubbles.
Esque’s studio, in an industrial part of the city, is very much a working space; still, Kovel and Parker sometimes host dinners there. Parker, an avid cook, learned this style of entertaining from his former teacher, Italian glassblowing master Pino Signoretto, who would have elaborate Italian meals in his studio after a day of work. Parker’s specialty is tacos: He brings carnitas or roasted root vegetables from home, then very briefly heats flour tortillas in the glass oven. But sometimes the studio meals are more ambitious. Periodically, Kovel and Parker open the huge garage-style door, spread white tablecloths on one of their long worktables and invite a great local chef, like Naomi Pomeroy, to come cook.
Pomeroy, an F&W Best New Chef 2009, first met the Esque team in 2002, when they made glassware and art for her now-defunct restaurant Ripe. For a recent dinner to celebrate the expansion of her current restaurant, Beast, Kovel and Parker created serving dishes specifically for her food. When Pomeroy decided to serve curried spring carrot soup with tarragon oil, Parker designed sky-blue soup bowls that look like pools of liquid glass—a version of Esque’s clear Lump bowls.
Parker and Kovel are usually blowing glass when guests arrive, and this party is no exception. “It’s a little performance-arty, but we’re usually about 10 pieces behind schedule,” says Parker, who gives guests a quick glassblowing lesson. (His girlfriend, Kim McCleod, who works at the boutique Oregon winery Anne Amie Vineyards, comes for the meal but passes on the class.) Then Pomeroy begins cooking vegetables in the intense heat of the oven, blasting snap peas before tossing them simply with lemon oil and shredded mint. “In the glass oven, the snap peas cook so fast, but they stay bright and crispy on the inside,” she says. “It’s like you’re walking in your garden picking peas, but they’re caramelized peas.”
For the main course, Pomeroy sears eye of round beef in the oven in minutes, taking it out of the intense heat every 20 seconds or so to be sure it stays rosy pink inside, then serving it with a conserve of oven-roasted tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. “I love cooking like this,” says Pomeroy. “People are standing around while you’re taking things from the oven that are incendiary. And the drama: You pull out a piece of meat, and it’s smoking, and it’s crazy. But then you see that it’s just steam. And when the steam clears, you see this beautiful piece of meat. It’s like knife-throwing dinner theater.”
High-Heat Cooking Tips
To make sure that ingredients cook evenly and don’t stick, preheat pans or skillets before adding the vegetables or meat. (And make sure they’re ovenproof.)
Rub With Oil
Rub meat or toss vegetables with a little oil before putting them in a very hot oven. “You don’t want them to brown too quickly,” says Naomi Pomeroy.
Use Prime Beef
Any meat that benefits from quick cooking does well in a very hot oven (many steak houses cook beef at 1,000 degrees and above). A little bit of sugar helps beef brown.
Sturdy green vegetables, like asparagus and snap peas, caramelize in a very hot oven, becoming sweet and brown on the outside while staying fresh and crisp within.