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Challenging Element: Oysters


Shred or die.” That’s the saying Kyle Mendenhall, executive chef for the collection of The Kitchen Community restaurants, engraved on a silver tasting spoon—an heirloom from his grandmother.

I feel pretty confident giving an ingredient challenge to any chef with a utensil like that—which is how Mendenhall ended up with a Valentine’s Day-inspired ingredient,   not all too familiear to chefs in the land-locked state of Colorado: oysters.

It’s a solid base for so many Valentine’s Day dishes because of its sultry status as a popular aphrodisiac and the overall extravagance of the ingredient.

I called chef Mendenhall one afternoon to give him his challenge, and 24 hours later, I was sitting in the sun-filled, easy-going dining room of The Kitchen Boulder, savoring an elegant oyster quenelle. Champagne and heavy cream sauce. Topped with bits of red apple texture, blanaced by a touch of lemon. And then a complementary glass of Champagne to ease the rich, delicious dish.

By Mendenhall’s definition, a quenelle is “old school French cooking.” A mix of flour, butter, eggs, milk and fish, all mixed together and poached to create a delicate mousse perfect for anyone looking to discover what it truly means to indulge.

“When we serve oysters here, we serve them raw on the half-shell,” Mendenhall said when I asked him what elements made the dish challenging. “The real hard work is in sourcing the [ingredients], where they come from, and the quality of it,” which for Mendenhall, meant taking those quality, fresh ingredients that are the lifeline for The Kitchens’ rustic-style cooking and dressing them up to the nines. But it worked. The oyster juice added into the quenelle mixture and the whole oysters folded in created a strong, but not overpowering flavor for
the dish.

The quality ingredients used in any menu item, regardless of how it’s prepared, is what makes a delightful dining experience at any one of The Kitchen Community’s three downtown Boulder restaurants; but the possibility of a decadent dish such as chef Mendenhall’s oyster quenelles is what really makes it special. Then again, I’d expect nothing less from a chef with an engraved tasting spoon.

The Kitchen is located at 1039 Pearl St., Boulder. thekitchencommunity.com.  

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