Don’t be surprised when the world’s culinary kingmakers recognize Alessandro Cartumini as one of today’s best chefs. Hailing from Italy’s Piedmont region, the bespectacled son of a pastry chef came to the Four Seasons Resort Santa Barbara (aka The Biltmore) in 2010, immediately delivering a boost of exciting energy by blending traditional, Old World techniques with cutting-edge, Californian creativity. Among other accolades — including a 2013 Foodie Award from this paper — Cartumini was one of a handful of Four Seasons chefs from around the country invited to cook at the famed James Beard House in New York City on September 30. And since his best trait may be his down-to-earth friendliness, Cartumini graciously invited us into his kitchen to see how the dish he created for N.Y.C. is prepared.
Uni with Sweet Corn, Tortilla–Lime Salt, Abalone, Finger Limes, and Avocado
The stars: Uni, the creamy, yellow, sea-foam flavored goo (actually sea urchin gonads), is this plate’s protagonist, but Cartumini uses it sparingly. “I’m kind of a wussy when it comes to sea urchin,” he admitted. Thinly sliced abalone, from the Cultured Abalone on the Gaviota Coast, also plays a big role. Unlike the softer abs from Hawai‘i, the locals are a little tougher, Cartumini says, “like beef cheeks compared to tenderloin.” He braises it slowly “so it holds its size” and cuts on the same board where he sliced limes, giving it some citrus kick.
The supporting cast: While pan-roasting corn with tarragon, Cartumini crushes up tortilla chips with lime zest and sea salt as a topping, explaining, “You want something with a little crunch in there.” He then lays down a fascinatingly snappy microgreen called petite seagrass, mixes up some avocado with crème fraîche, throws the caviar lime beads into oil before dispersing, and drops dollops of his two purées, a sweet corn that fills the gaps and a Meyer lemon that gives it zing.
The review: The as-stunning-as-it-sounds dish is primarily a study of texture — creamy, crunchy, chewy, snappy, and smooth — and disappears rapidly. “One dish and 1,500 ingredients,” laughed Cartumini. “That’s how we like to do it!”
Enjoy this and the rest of the James Beard House experience during special dinners on Friday and Saturday, October 24 and 25, when Cartumini’s team re-creates that menu in conjunction with epicure.sb, alongside wine pairings inspired by the movie Sideways. Reservation are $98 (or $140 with wine); call (805) 565-8237 or see fourseasons.com/santabarbara/dining.