“Can I get a TC?” yelled Brad.
“Time check! 7:00pm!” I yelled, adrenaline coursing through my veins. The room we were sitting in instantly became smaller and hotter.
It was June 9 and we had 1 hour left until the deadline to submit our short film for the 10th Annual 72 Hour Film Shootout competition sponsored by The Asian American Film Lab. This is how it works: You assemble a team (director, writer, editor, DP, sound, actors, etc) and on Friday night at 8pm ET, the contest announces a theme (This year’s was “Color of My Hair”) and you have until Monday night at 8pm ET to submit a finished product. Finalists get their films shown at film festivals. My teammates and I had that weekend free and decided to enter.
“We still need music!” shouted Lawrence, the director. “Brad, go to the keyboard and just play something that fits the intro scene. Think sad. Pixar Sad.”
My team’s experience allowed us to brainstorm an idea and execute everything in the short time frame. We had all the shooting done over the weekend and now we were on the final lap of editing which usually takes the most time. Despite our collective experience, making a short film in 3 days still proved to be challenging.
Brad walked over to his shiny red Korg keyboard. He hit the record button and played a haunting melody in real-time to match the emotional nuances of the footage scrolling on the computer screen. As an accomplished musician, he only did one take and quickly sat back down in his chair to finish editing.
“Running out of time, just export what we have and upload it,” I said. A collective sigh emanated in the apartment. Win or lose, we were proud that we finished.
7 weeks later...
So our team won First Place out of 400 submissions. I was the only one that attended the screening of the Top 10 films at a theater in the east village last weekend. The rest of the team were moving into their new apts and didn’t think we had a shot at winning anything. After they announced the Third and Second Place winners, I began daydreaming of faceplanting into a nice bowl of soba at Sobaya when I was snapped out of my reverie.
The microphone crackled to life.
“The Grand Prize goes to Return, Team Moon Jacket, led by Jesse Hsu!”
Afterwards, my solo celebratory cold soba at Sobaya tasted of validation and triumph.
I wanted to throw an official celebration at my apt this past Saturday for the crew. My contribution was the protein, more specifically, 6 lbs of short rib and 1 lb of beef brisket. With asians in attendance, some people (everyone) will arrive late in waves. If you roast in the oven, you run the risk of overdrying the meat. If you cook the meat in the cast-iron, you have to wait for everyone to be there in order to start. With 7 lbs of meat, that would have taken a significant amount of time to cook off in multiple pans. The steaks that are cooked off first would then be cold and be prone to overcooking and undercooking.
The beauty of sous vide is having control of the temperature and length of cooking. It didn't matter when people arrived because the meat will be uniformly cooked and won't ever get overcooked. Finished with a quick sear in the smoking cast iron skillet, each piece of meat will have the consistency of butter. Guaranteed.
Last Thursday, with ten minutes left until closing, I rushed to Whole Foods and bought out their remaining short ribs and a pound of brisket. First, I washed the meat and patted it dry. Ok I lied. First, I just stared at the mound of meat, taking in every inch of it. My god, it was glorious. I traced my finger along the short ribs...exquisite marbling, soft to the touch.
After instagramming some photos, I lovingly massaged a dry rub of spices on each piece of meat and placed them into two separate FoodSaver bags and vacuum-sealed the shit out of them.
I then dropped them into a water bath after calibrating the Anova to 140°F knowing full well that 48 hours later, they would be ready.
Saturday rolled around and Jon showed up a few hours early. He had brought his pasta attachment that connected to my KitchenAid mixer and began mixing white and semolina flour.
He then mixed in 3 eggs initially and then gradually added the 4th egg to avoid a yolky mess from the get go. While he wrapped up the mixture and let it rest, Christine made the pesto with basil, Partanna olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, and grated cheese.
Tip - pour olive oil first into the blender and add basil in small batches. Pulse in gentle bursts.
At this point, everyone started trickling in and Jon began using a makeshift rolling pin (aka wine bottle from Michelle Cherng’s wedding) to flatten the dough.
Tiffany and Sandra began washing and cutting brussels sprouts. The dish would be simply roasted in a tray with some olive oil, salt and pepper with a squeeze of lemon. The other vegetable dish would be sauteed white mushrooms with olive oil and garlic.
Later on, we decided to fry up some thick cut bacon for the brussels, which quickly enhanced the tantalizing aromas of garlic, oil, basil, and short rib that permeated the apt.
Some of us got hungry from all the smells and almost ate raw dough. I mean...it's the same as raw cookie dough, right?
In the kitchen, all hands were on deck. In my previous apt, the narrow galley kitchen had tiny counters to prep and could barely fit 3 people at once. This new kitchen had ample prep space and could fit 6 people comfortably - perfect for dinner parties.
After searing off the short ribs and brisket in the cast iron, I let the meat rest on a plate, its own juices waiting to burst forth from its sinewy cage, through the Maillardized crust, and into our stomachs. Finished the dish with a drizzle of Franklin BBQ’s Espresso BBQ sauce which wasn’t overly sweet and complimented the flavor of the meat without overpowering.
Jon began tossing batches of fettucine in the fresh pesto while Lawrence and Tiff made sure it was cooked al dente, Lady and the Tramp style.
The table was set and we popped the bottle of custom engraved Blue for a well-deserved cheers all around. Everyone marveled at how “smooth” it went down unlike other whiskeys that burned like gasoline.
After a few glasses, everyone was in a fuzzy good place which made our next activity even better - the screening of our competitors’ films for the first time.
At around this time the Blue kicked in hard for everyone. We were on Cloud 9.
Still on Cloud 9.
We then had intermission for apple pie that Brad brought from Corner Bakery and Sandra’s homemade scones with blueberry + dark chocolate nibs.
All in all, a great dinner party with a talented group of friends. Can’t wait to do it again next year.
Sous vide: Great for large groups coming over for dinner. Just be aware that you need to think ahead (48-72 hours, depending on the cut of meat and how tender you want it). Out of the cuts I have experimented on, boneless short ribs are my favorite since they have some nice marbling and they aren't as expensive as other cuts. 48 hours was great for the short ribs, but next time I do brisket, I'm going to try for 72 hours as it could have been softer. Also the temperature needs to be adjusted in order to render the top layer of fat correctly.
Gear: I chose Anova because it is cheaper than a Polyscience ($200 vs $800) and it works fine. I sous vide only once every other month and don't need commercial grade equipment until I start my pop-up called HsuVide where I will have 3 proteins: brisket, short rib, pork butt, + 3 sauces: bbq, gochujang, jerk marinade + 3 cooking times (24hrs, 48hrs, 72hrs) to choose from. Hsu think I'm kidding?
Fresh Pasta: Jon did a kickass job and made 3 lbs of spaghetti and fettucine. Between the 10 of us, we ate about half and it was enough. Leftovers are easy to freeze and can be boiled in minutes for a quick weekday dinner. The taste of fresh pasta is just significantly better and worth the hour to make a large batch for the week. Having friends come over to help makes the process that much easier and is unabashedly fun too. Hell, make 3 sauces from scratch and have yourself a pasta party. I'm probably going to buy the pasta attachment after seeing how easy it is. The only note that some people had was to salt the boiling water more and to add a few pinches when mixing with the pesto. Simple mistake: we were cooking large batches and didn't salt accordingly.
Pesto: At first we were having issues. We packed the blender to the rim with basil leaves, added all the ingredients and hit the "Food Processor" pulse button. Blades whirred but everything just sat there. Fail. Going forward, add the olive oil first (I use Partanna due to its rich, clean flavor) and add a few handfuls of basil. Pulse in small batches along with pine nuts, garlic cloves, S&P (salt and pepper) and some grated cheese. Keep tasting and adjust as necessary.
Blue: After having my a glass of Blue, neat, I committed a grievance and ...and after tasting Christine's concoction, I too added a splash of black cherry ginger ale to my next glass. After many disapproving stares, shaking of heads, and refrains of "WTF are you doings?!", I was so overcome with embarrassment that I didn't even finish my glass and poured the foul, contaminated drink into the sink. I've learned my lesson: the only thing you are allowed to add to blue is ice.