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World Chefs: Fraser finds freedom in expiration eatery

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - John Fraser, who owns the Michelin-star Dovetail restaurant in New York, has opened a creative restaurant that will last only nine months.
/ Source: Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - John Fraser, who owns the Michelin-star Dovetail restaurant in New York, has opened a creative restaurant that will last only nine months.

Since starting the restaurant, What Happens When, in January, Fraser and his partners have created a new art-inspired menu and ambience each month. In the latest "movement," they drew inspiration from American jazz and the flavors of New Orleans.

The 35-year-old California native spoke about his new cooking outlet, creativity and experimenting with a new concept.

Q: Is What Happens When a pop-up restaurant?

A: "No, I would discourage using that word, and I've done a few pop-up restaurants. It denotes a place that's not their own and cooks for a limited time like a week, and with a borrowed staff and borrowed ideas. This is really a restaurant. It just happens to have an end date."

Q: So it's a restaurant with an expiration date?

A: "We are going with the concept that every month it will change. Every month in the nine months, we are going to change the design and the food and the composition of the music. It's really more like a sort of circus than a restaurant."

Q: This is something you always wanted to do?

A: "As a creative person, I found myself at Dovetail working every single day and within the brand of Dovetail, there is only so much creativity we can express. So I wanted to open a different outlet for myself. And this way it also allows me to selfishly collaborate with other creative people and grow personally."

Q: Compare Dovetail and What Happens When.

A: "When you put them side by side, they are equally refined. They are equally well thought out. But one of them is riskier. There is a certain bucket list feeling and just have a good time with it, as opposed to Dovetail where we take a lot of time and care."

Q: Would you consider opening What Happens When at another location once its nine-month run is over?

A: "I don't know. It's really kind of fun to not have to think about what's next. The only thing we have to think about is next month. That's one of the things that make this exciting. You can just focus in on the moment."

Spinach and Artichoke Dip/Salad

For the artichokes

4 large globe artichokes

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 large onion, peeled, cut into large dice

1 head garlic, peeled of outer papery skin, split in half

and crushed

4 sprigs thyme

1 bay leaf

2 cups white wine

juice of 6 lemons

For the cooking liquid; in a large pot, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and sprinkle with salt, stir until lightly caramelized and then add the garlic, thyme, and bay leaf. Cook for 30 seconds longer and then add the white wine. Cook the white wine until reduced to 1/4 cup and add 8 cups of water, the juice of 1 lemon and season with salt. Simmer over medium heat while you trim the artichokes.

Prepare a water bath of the remaining juice of 5 lemons and 8 cups of water to keep the artichokes from discoloring.

Remove the outer leaves of the artichoke and discard until you reach light yellow colored leaves inside. Cut off the bottom of the stem and the top 3/4 of the artichoke leaves and discard. Using a paring knife, carefully trim down around the outside of the artichoke until all the tough green outside is removed and does not appear fibrous.

Dip the artichoke in lemon water as you go. Using a spoon, scoop down into the center of the choke and scrap out the fuzzy purple center of the choke. Keep the cleaned artichoke submerged in the lemon water until you finish cleaning the remaining chokes.

When all the artichokes are cleaned, place them in a pot and strain the cooking liquid over them; add any extra water necessary to keep them submerged. Turn the stove to medium heat and cook for 15-20 minutes until tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Turn off the heat and let cool in the liquid.

For the dip

6 cooked artichokes

3 oz fresh basil, stems removed

1 lb washed spinach

1 egg yolk

1 clove garlic

juice of 1 lemon

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 cup canola oil

3 dashes tabasco sauce

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 3 tablespoons of salt. Also prepare a bath of 8 cups of water and 3 cups of ice to shock and cool the spinach. Add the basil to the pot and stir, cook for 1-1/2 minutes and then add the spinach and stir. Cook for an additional 20 seconds and then use a large slotted spoon to remove and place in the ice water.

When the spinach and basil is cool, remove from the ice water to a colander and press out the extra water with your hand. Then using a large clean dish towel, place the spinach/basil into the center and twist the sides over a sink to squeeze as much water out as possible.

Place the spinach on a cutting board and roughly chop into smaller pieces. Place into a mixing bowl.

Cut 4 artichokes into 1/4 inch size dice and also place in the bowl.

In a blender add the remaining 2 artichokes, egg yolk, garlic, lemon juice and 1/4 cup of the artichoke cooking liquid. Turn on the blender medium and drizzle in the olive oil and canola oil to form an emulsion, season with salt. Add as much or as little of this dressing to the spinach and chopped artichokes to make it creamy and stir together with a rubber spatula. Season with more salt and the tabasco as necessary.

For the cured onion

1 large vidala onion, peeled

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

zest of 1 lemon, using a microplane

zest of 1 orange, microplane

Method: With a sharp knife or mandolin, slice the onion into 1/8 inch thick rings and place in a mixing bowl. Mix the salt, sugar and both zests together and sprinkle over the onion, then toss to coat evenly. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

To assemble

1/2 loaf sourdough bread

2 tablespoons butter

1 head frisee, trimmed, washed, and spun dry

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 teaspoon olive oil