Espresso sponge cake with golden turnip ice cream, candied turnips, blood orange and honey foam, "soil," and Asian carp
Espresso sponge cake with golden turnip ice cream, candied turnips, blood orange and honey foam, "soil," and Asian carp Credit: Julia Thiel

The Chef:
Bryce Caron (Blackbird/Avec)

The Challenger: Erling Wu-Bower (The Publican)

The Ingredient: Asian carp

Bryce Caron grew up catching carp while fishing in Tennessee. He’d throw them back, he says: they were bottom-feeders with an “overgrown catfish kind of flavor.” But there are several different kinds of carp, and Caron says the invasive species that everyone’s worried will take over the Great Lakes taste much better.

That doesn’t mean he’s a fan. “It’s a terrible, terrible fish” was the first thing he said about it. Asian carp are extremely bony and difficult to fillet—and since Caron has been a pastry chef for the last six years, he hasn’t had much experience lately with breaking down fish.

Chef Bryce Caron of Blackbird/Avec
Chef Bryce Caron of Blackbird/AvecCredit: Julia Thiel

The problem with trying to fillet carp, according to Caron, is that you have to “find the tiny little sliver of edible flesh that’s in there, because there are so many bones. They’re pin bones, but they’re thick and tough, and you can’t pull them out with tweezers, and it’s just kind of a disaster all around.”

A 17-pound fish, Caron says, yielded three pounds of meat. Still, he liked the flavor of what little there was. “It’s freshwater, so it’s supersweet,” he said. “It’s tasty. It’s white, it gets flaky, but it has a lot of bite to it, a lot of texture.”

Another challenge he faced was lack of time. He couldn’t get any carp by his requested delivery date because the fishermen didn’t catch any, so he didn’t have long to experiment with the fish.

“I had a bunch of ideas: freezing and dehydrating and grinding the fish, putting it in ricotta for crepes and stuff,” he says. But on a tight schedule, he decided instead to incorporate it into a dessert on Blackbird’s current menu: an espresso sponge cake with golden turnip ice cream, candied turnips, blood orange and honey foam, and “soil,” a mix of flour, coffee oil, sugar, and burned barley malt. The carp he cured briefly to take a little of the moisture out and panfried it before placing a little chunk atop the dessert. “Who doesn’t love fish and ice cream?” he said.

After tasting the dish, he declared it “pretty delicious,” adding that the earthy turnips helped bring out its savory aspects. “I think the cake is the binder of this whole thing,” he said. “You have to go ice cream and cake or cake and fish. Because if you make the jump over it and go ice cream and fish—a little bit too much.”

He was especially pleased with the fish, although he continued to find bones in it as he was eating. Asked if he’d work with Asian carp again, Caron didn’t hesitate. “Absolutely not,” he said. “Never again.”

YouTube video

Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon

Who’s Next:

Brandon Baltzley of the underground supper club Crux, working with flour. “You can either make bread or you can do something completely left field, wackadoo, Brandon Baltzley style,” Caron said. “Either way he wins.”

Espresso sponge cake with golden turnip ice cream, candied turnips, blood orange and honey foam, “soil,” and Asian carp

Espresso Chiffon

285 g all-purpose flour

340 g sugar

12 g baking powder

4 g salt

120 g rice bran oil

210 g espresso

30 g trablit coffee extract

85 g egg yolks

285 g eggwhites

115 g sugar

Coffee Oil

800 g oil

100 g coffee

40 g glice/600 g coffee oil

Coffee Soil

340 g dark brown sugar

310 g thick coffee oil

10 g salt

100 g black cocoa replacer

410 g bread flour

Yellow Turnip Ice Cream

1438 g milk

850 g turnips, diced

688 g cream

174 g milk powder

444 g sugar

200 g trimoline

12 g IC stabilizer

8 g salt

cook to 85°C

Blood Orange Foam

26 g Campari

150 g blood orange

75 g honey

.7 g xanthan

5.5 g Versawhip

Turnip Balls

Cook 190°F approx. 14 minutes

Blood Orange Gel

600 g blood orange

120 g honey

7.2 g agar

10 g sugar

For the chiffon, sift the dry ingredients. Using a stand mixer, whisk together the yolks, coffee oil, coffee extract and water until foamy. Add the dry ingredients and whisk until glossy. Prepare a French meringue with the remaining egg whites and sugar and fold it into the mix. Bake on a half sheet tray with a frame at 325 F approximately 20 minutes.

For the coffee oil, blend the oil and coffee beans until very hot. Strain the mixture through a coffee filter. Heat the oil and the Glice until the flakes are dissolved. Cool over an ice bath. Reserve some in a squeeze bottle. The remainder will be used in the soil.

For the coffee soil, mix the sugar, thickened coffee oil, flour, salt, and cocoa replacer until combined. Bake at 325 F approximately 25 minutes, stirring periodically. When the soil is cool, grind it in a food processor.

For the turnip ice cream, cook the turnips sous vide at 195 F for 2 hours or until very tender. Puree them with the milk, cream, and milk powder. Add the sugar, trimoline, and stabilizer and cook to 85 C. Cool the mix and pass it through a fine chinois. Rest the base overnight and process in an ice cream freezer according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

For the blood orange foam, combine the honey, Campari, and blood orange puree in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Shear in the versawhip and xanthan gum and whisk it on high until it has tripled in volume.

For the turnip balls, use a melon baller to cut half-inch spheres. Cryovac them in honey and cook at 190 F for 14 minutes or until tender.

For the blood oranges, supreme them and dress lightly with Campari. Dehydrate at 140 F for 35 minutes. Reserve.

For the blood orange gel, combine the sugar and agar and shear the mix into the blood orange puree. Bring the mixture to a boil and maintain a simmer for 5 minutes. Cast the mixture in a thin pan and allow it to cool completely. Place the gel in a blender and process until smooth. Pass it through a chinois and place it in a squeeze bottle.

For the carp, filet the beast and discard the bones. Season the filets with salt and sugar and let cure for 30 minutes. Portion the filets into 1 oz pieces. Pan roast them on medium-high heat approximately 1 1/2 minutes per side, or until cooked through.

Portion the cake into 1″ cubes. Sautee them in clarified butter.

To plate, place 4 dots of blood orange puree on a plate. Place small dots of coffee oil adjacent to the blood orange puree. Place the cake in a whimsical fashion. Add two piles of coffee soil. Place 3 segments of blood orange on the plate. Follow that with turnip balls. Add 3 pillows of foam. Place the carp filets on top of the cake. Toss two small quenelles of turnip ice cream in the coffee soil, and place them on top of the soil on the plate. Garnish with micro red vein sorrel.