Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 1:45 p.m.
Piccolo chef and owner Doug Flicker's signature, soft scrambled eggs with pickled pig's feet and truffle butter
In the search for the Twin Cities' best culinary creations, we often come across dishes that stop us mid-bite and force us to reflect on the level of thought and artistry chefs put into their work. The efforts of the chefs are often laborious, and the end results are regularly consumed before the full concept can be appreciated. We've been tracking down some of these dishes to get the chef's side of the story; their thoughts, motivations, and processes. It's our hope that we can give you a deeper insight into the talents of Twin Cities chefs and to have a better understanding of what you're getting when you sit down to dinner.
Doug Flicker, chef and owner of the critically acclaimed south Minneapolis restaurant Piccolo (and coming this spring Sandcastle), has been a staple in the Twin Cities food scene for close to three decades. Having worked in many local restaurants over the years, Flicker is more than just a product of his work experience. Piccolo features a unique menu that has helped to transform the current state of dining throughout the region. This week Piccolo turns three years old, and we sat down with Flicker to talk a bit about how he got where he is now and his legendary signature dish, soft scrambled eggs with pickled pig's feet and truffle butter. The dish has even received national attention, including high notes of praise from both Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain.
Chef Flicker moved to the cities around the age of 20 and attended a votech school for culinary arts at a time before the Twin Cities had any major culinary programs. After graduation he joined the D'Amico family of restaurants at D'Amico Cucina, where he moved up the ranks from garde manger, to sous chef and eventually to executive chef. Flicker's time at D'Amico Cucina was a pivotal building block in his career, as he was given a good deal of creative freedom to invent and explore, but at the same time he was also met with certain culinary restrictions. "I remember I wanted to use ham hock for something, and I was told that was too "peasanty." I wanted to tea smoke something, and that was too Asian," he says.
After five years with the D'Amico family, Flicker decided it was time to move on. "At that time there was kind of a critical point where I realized that if I did not on my own leave the empire, I would never. It was that nice of a place, and it was instrumental, but I just gave my notice and left," explains Flicker.
After leaving the D'Amicos, he moved around a bit, discovering new scenes in the world of Twin Cities restaurants. Eventually he moved on to open his first restaurant, Auriga. Auriga was a learning process for Flicker, as it afforded him the luxury of exploring his own creations, yet he still felt somewhat confined by an obligation to stick to a standard menu format. "I think it was very ahead of its time and very forward thinking, but at the same time in the back of your mind you still had a format where you had to have a salad. You still had to have your entrees, and you still had to have your sections of the menu," Flicker says.
Auriga lasted a healthy 10 years before the restaurant eventually met its fate. From there, Flicker again spent some stints at other restaurants, including Porter & Frye. It was at Porter & Frye where Flicker first conceived his now signature dish.
In 2010 Flicker opened Piccolo, a restaurant that would allow him to do things his way. Its non-standard menu format consists of a variety of small dishes, so diners can pick and choose their courses, essentially building their own customized tasting menu. Though Piccolo's menu constantly changes with the season, the one dish you'll always find is the soft scrambled eggs with pickled pig's feet.
The dish is a simple construct yet is so highly refined that diners find themselves taken aback by the complexity of flavors and textures. "It's a scrambled egg that has butter and cheese on it. They're all very simple concepts. The key is undercooking the egg gently, stirring it a lot, and then slathering it in truffle butter and parmigiano reggiano and then adding the twist of the pig's feet at the end," says Flicker, "On some level it was one of the most difficult and challenging dishes on the opening menu. It was one of the things that people talked about the most and pushed back on a little bit, until they had it, and then they gushed over it. In retrospect, when Auriga first opened, one of the first dishes on the menu was polenta with scrambled eggs and a baked Parmesan rind. On some level it's a reincarnation. I think that dish got best dish of the year from Rick Nelson, whatever year that was."
Piccolo's dish consists of an egg, some melted truffle butter that uses preserved white summer truffles, parmigiano, and diced, pickled pig's feet. For the feet, Flicker braises them overnight, and then the fatty skin and bits of meat are picked off, chopped, and sent into a quick pickle brine that consists primarily of salt, sugar, white wine vinegar, and various aromatics.
In a demonstration, Flicker adds his truffle butter to a pan over medium heat. Once the butter is hot, he cracks a full egg into the pan and begins to lightly scramble it, being extra gentle so as to not overwork the egg. Once the mixture becomes custard like and the egg has just begun to set, Flicker removes it from the heat, giving it a few more soft turns, and then adds it to a small bowl. He then pours the remaining truffle butter over the soft eggs and tops it with the diced pig's feet. He finishes the dish with a few shavings of the parmigiano reggiano. The resulting dish is rich with complexity. The custard-like texture of the egg is sublime, and the richness is enhanced by the earthiness of the truffle butter and the parm. The pickled pig's feet add just enough acid to help cut through the overall richness of the dish, and their slight chewy texture adds an additional yet subtle layer to the overall composition.
Flicker is not a man who focuses on the past, but instead is constantly looking for ways to reshape the way we look at food. "I don't really know what dish or what defines me," he says. "Is it something I've done in the past? Is it what I'm currently doing? Or is it what I'm going to do in the future? Every time in the menu-writing process I go through 'Am I brilliant?' to 'I think I'm an idiot.' It's like I don't know how I'm going to write the next menu, and then all of a sudden I start writing and it happens. Everytime."
Photo by http://hilaryrobertsphoto.com/