NEW YORK — Chef Amada Hassner has heard all the jokes. Of course, she heard the jokes.
At Gatto Bianco, the hostess does not show you to your table. She just points at it with a laser pointer.
Hassner was one of two chefs at Gatto Bianco, a pop-up restaurant in lower Manhattan that had a brief three-day run last week. It was sponsored by cat food company Fancy Feast – Gatto Bianco means “white cat” in Italian – and was created to give customers a better idea of how cats experience food.
Hassner is the in-house chef for Fancy Feast at the Nestlé Purina PetCare Co. campus in St. Louis. Her job is to cook human food, as she puts it, for people who create food for pets. She demonstrates new ideas and trends in cooking to people who ultimately use these concepts to create new types of pet food.
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“It’s a way to examine, understand and imagine dog and cat food through the human food experience,” she said.
She added, “I like to think of it as human food as an allegory of dog and cat food” (she was a college English student).
Hassner attended the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute and worked in restaurants before answering a call from a friend working in Memphis, Tennessee, in Kraft’s ingredients division. Seven years later, she joined Nestlé Purina and now works in the pet food division.
At Gatto Bianco, be sure to knock your glass of water off the table.
The pop-up restaurant was based on the same idea as what she does at Purina. She and star chef Cesare Casella created a nine-course meal that gave customers a feline perspective on their meal.
The first part of the menu consisted of exercises “intended to help people understand how cats experience food through their own sensory experience,” she said.
“For example, I’m going to talk about texture. The texture is huge for cats. Aroma can be amazing, and we talk about aroma and the fact that we don’t really experience flavor without aroma,” she said. “But the texture, the mouthfeel, the amount of chewing also influences the flavor.
“It might smell wonderful, it might taste wonderful, but if the texture isn’t right, a cat might just walk away. That’s how they let us know it wasn’t. wasn’t quite right,” she said.
At Gatto Bianco, I’ll arrive an hour early and scream until they seat me. And then I will refuse to eat.
Another course focused on temperature. First, the chefs presented a Caprese salad – tomatoes, basil and mozzarella cheese – but they served it chilled (“that’s unfortunately how you get it in some restaurants,” she said. declared). Then they served another over hot plates and lightly warmed mozzarella, which brought out the aromas and delicate flavor of the cheese.
“It’s a great example of why, if you feed (a cat) half of the box all at once and then put the rest in the fridge, why the cat doesn’t necessarily go after that much enthusiasm that he did it.
“If you serve it cold from the fridge, the experience is different, just like people experience, side by side, cold Caprese next to hot,” she said.
At Gatto Bianco, I’m going to send back five dishes because I don’t like them, and then I’ll decide I like the first one after all.
For the second part of the meal, the two chefs alternated the dishes. Casella, originally from Tuscany, would bring out an Italian dish that he loves to cook and that makes sense to him. Then Hassner followed that dish “with something that’s a little bit closer to what a cat would like,” she said.
Casella made branzino, a fish from the Mediterranean Sea, with capers, olives and herbs. Hassner followed with a salmon with osso bucco sauce, which emphasized the savory, meaty flavors that cats love.
“I didn’t take it down to cat food. I don’t feature anything resembling Fancy Feast. I’m just showing the progress of exactly what I’m doing. … You take what’s genuine and gradually bring it to where a cat is going to enjoy it,” she said.
At Gatto Bianco, we ask: “Still water, sparkling water or eau de toilette?
“Which is weird,” she said, “because cats don’t drink from toilets.”