Octopus Flowers, “Cobra Skin,” and Watermelon Tuna: My gastronomic dining experience

My Gastronomic Dining Experience

On Wednesday evening, The CVS crew and the bloggers in attendance were invited to a dinner party celebrating the release of a new all-natural candy line called “Unreal.” Celebrity chef Adam Melonas created the new line of candy, which will be carried in CVS locations later this summer (and I’ll have a blog giveaway for you too when Unreal is closer to hitting the stores.) But on Wednesday, Chef Adam prepared a gastronomic dining experience as part of the Unreal candy launch. It lasted over three hours and culminated in a tasting party for all of the new candy. But before that, you won’t believe what I ate.

Adam specializes in progressive cuisine, or what some call molecular gastronomy. It is an art of presenting foods in ways you’ve likely never seen or tasted before, with a variety of flavor, scent, and texture combinations. The event was held at Aspire in Providence, though what we ate wasn’t on their menu at all – the restaurant was closed to the public for the night in lieu of the special event. Chef Adam prepared Beetroot Mojitos in the lounge, which consisted of a frozen, hollowed-out beet shell, the beet juice and mojito ingredients in a bowl, which was then crystallized with liquid nitrogen.

I don’t drink, so I passed on this one, but it certainly looked interesting.

We headed into the dining room and sat down.

I had a vague knowledge of molecular gastronomy dining prior to the event (Alinea in Chicago specializes in this, though I’ve never eaten there) but I knew enough to realize that we would probably be expected to eat the centerpieces on the tables:

And, when Chef Adam welcomed us to dinner, that’s what we were instructed to do. The centerpiece is one of his signature dishes, which he calls an “Octopop.” It is octopus tentacles bonded together into a flower form, cooked and coated in an orange/saffron mixture, suspended on a dill plant.

Did I eat it? Yes! I’ve had octopus before, albeit as sushi. The Octopop was much more tender and flavorful than octosushi though.

(I have to say that I was totally up for this adventure and wanted to eat as many things as I possibly could. I do have some food texture issues that prevent me from eating anything slimy or odd-textured – I just can’t do it! Even runny eggs are enough to turn my stomach. Ditto orange juice with pulp – I truly cannot even swallow it. I also cannot swallow pills at all – I hide them in applesauce. But I digress. Aside from my own issues, I really did approach this experience with the mindset of eating as many things as I possibly could.)

The CVS crew must have known that this would be a memorable dinner, as they thoughtfully placed instant cameras and film on the table for us to use. (Did you know that while the Polaroid is no longer in production, Fuji has stepped up with their Instax camera? It’s got that instant-gratification of a film photo that pops out with a satisfying “zzzip!” sound once you snap a picture. What’s more fun than a bunch of bloggers “shaking it like a Polaroid picture” at dinner?) In a weird retro-to-modern twist, many of the bloggers were then taking digital photos of their film photos to immediately post to Twitter and Instagram.

The first course arrived. Chef Adam called this “Oyster Oyster Cucumber.”

It was a pureed oyster, topped with another (intact) oyster, topped with green cucumber foam.

Did I eat it? Partially. I have attempted oysters in the past with disastrous results. It’s that texture thing again – and nobody wants to gag and retch in a room filled with other bloggers with cameras documenting the event in real-time, do they? I did eat the foam, which tasted just like a fresh cucumber.

The second course arrived. It was called “Parmesan Roquette.”

This was arugula leaves and a spicy brown sauce that was sort of soy/Worcestershire-like, with Parmesan cheese presented two ways. One was a kind of caramelized “cracker,” and the other was puffed up into a very crunchy cheese puff.

Did I eat it? Yes! It was good.

The third course arrived. It was called “Salmon and Salmon,” but I immediately called it “Cobra Skin” due to its ready-to-attack-you appearance on the plate in a pool of frothy salmon foam.

Did I eat it? Yes! It was good. The foam was a little odd, but I’ve had salmon skin in sushi hundreds of times. It was like a big, crunchy fish chip.

The fourth course arrived. It was called “Aero Mash.” I secretly wondered if perhaps Aerosmith was coming in to mash some potatoes for us, but alas, no. Here’s what we got:

It was mashed potatoes whipped with olive oil, with mashed black olives in the bottom. But it was indeed aero-whipped into a fine, delicate texture very similar to whipped cream, not like potatoes at all. It melted in your mouth immediately.

Did I eat it? Yes! It was delicious. Everyone at our end of the table really liked this one too.

The fifth course arrived. It was called “Square Soup of Jamon.” I immediately knew I would have problems with this one:

(Oh, look at that egg. For someone like me with food texture issues, I knew I couldn’t do this one.)

Chef Adam said that this was his take on ham and eggs. The liquid is ham juice, and the egg is cooked for hours in it at an extremely low temperature so that the white of the egg just barely gels together and the center stays liquid.

Did I eat it? Not really. I did cut a small piece of the white off to taste it, and it had the texture of grape jelly liquifying in my mouth – it was that slippery and fluid, and not solid at all. I seriously could not eat any more than that, guys. I can’t eat eggs unless they are completely cooked – no over-easy or fried for me – either scrambled or hard boiled, and nothing in between. While I know it took a great deal of time to cook this egg to the “just-barely-staying-together” point… I could not do it. I did eat the croutons and the sprouts though. The chef said the croutons were “butter baked,” and indeed, they were tasty, filled with butter flavor and the taste of the ham juices.

The sixth course arrived – “Szechuan Tendon.” Chef Adam explained that this is a delicacy in Asia – taking beef tendon, which is normally the toughest cut of beef, and slow-cooking it for days:

Did I eat it? Not really. Again, I tried. And while it is marvelous that one can slow-cook a super-tough tendon into a nearly-liquid, gelatinous state… I can’t even eat Jell-O, guys. I had a small piece to sample the flavor, which again had a very wiggly, gelatin texture… and that was it. Could not eat. I did eat the peanuts and coriander, which were on top.

I got very excited about the next dish – “Tuna Sashimi.” I LOVE sushi, and I love raw tuna:

I could smell this before the server even set the plate down! It was crusted with wasabi and nori flakes down one side, and as we waited for the chef to explain the dish, one of the other bloggers said “That’s not tuna. It’s watermelon.” And she was right. It WAS watermelon. But I would have sworn it was raw tuna. Chef Adam explained how he removed the watermelon juice and flavor, then infused the watermelon’s flesh with tuna oil. He said that it was designed to trick your mind and mouth — you smelled tuna, it tasted like tuna, but it crunched like watermelon.

Did I eat it? Yes! It was strange and wonderful at the same time. Definitely a wild combo that I thought rocked:

(My friend Melissa Garcia, from Consumer Queen, disagreed! :)

Next up: Yogurt and Pollan Risotto:

This one was really interesting too. Chef Adam explained that instead of chicken stock, the risotto was made with the whey of yogurt that he’d made from scratch, then drained from the yogurt. (To give you an idea of how much preparation goes into some of these dishes, Adam has a post on his blog about how much time goes into this dish alone – four hours to make the yogurt from scratch, ten days for it to cure, then even more time to strain the liquid back out of the yogurt.) The yogurt also had some seeds in it and small cubes of lemon agar. It was very tangy and tasted even more so the more you ate. It was good though and I think everyone at our table unanimously agreed that this one was a win.

Did I eat it? Yes!

The next course was “Miso Salmon with Horseradish Sorbet.”

Chef Adam explained that the salmon was cooked just to the point where it appeared raw inside, yet flaked like cooked fish. It did. The salad was pickled fennel and grapefruit. The chef explained that he froze the grapefruit with liquid nitrogen, shattered it, and then let it cool back into grapefruit slivers. The sorbet was horseradish. The chef explained that the horseradish wasn’t terribly hot, but the combination of all of these things together would taste hotter than it actually was.

Did I eat it? Yes! I wasn’t terribly fond of the fennel/grapefruit combo, but the salmon was fantastic. So, so good. So good that I ate Melissa’s too, who was sitting next to me. (She doesn’t eat seafood, so why let it go to waste..!)

The last course was “Teriyaki Steak Frite and Ferns”:

This is exactly what it looks like – teriyaki steak, a potato wedge, and cooked fern fiddleheads with a delicious dressing. I’d never had ferns before, but they tasted kind of like asparagus.

Did I eat it? Yes! (And so did most of the bloggers who sat out some of the more creative dishes.)

So what’s this all about?

Chef Adam’s dinner was to celebrate the launch of “Unreal,” a new candy line that will be carried by CVS. Unreal’s theme is “Candy… Unjunked!” Adam has created healthier versions of candy that you already know and love. If you’re a fan of M&Ms, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and Snickers, you’ll likely love the Unreal versions. All of the Unreal candy has natural and organic ingredients, with no artificial colors or flavors, as well as 40% less sugar than its popular counterparts. There are no hydrogenated ingredients, no corn syrups, no preservatives, and no genetically-modified ingredients. (Loving it already? I am.)


Our dessert consisted of five of the new Unreal products: Plain and peanut candy gems, peanut butter cups, a chocolate caramel nougat bar and a chocolate caramel peanut nougat bar. At the dinner, Adam said that his goal with Unreal was truly to un-junk the junk food in candy, because face it… we all like candy and want candy. He said “We know we need to eat better, and we eat less flavorful things like health food bars and what not, and then we’re unsatisfied, because what do we really want sometimes? Candy!” Check out the ingredients list for the candy gems (like M&Ms.)

Each of the products also contains fiber and protein — the chocolate caramel peanut nougat bar has the most of both, with 5 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein. Unreal’s goal was also to offer its candy at the same price points that the big brands are offered for. Unreal is also coming to CVS stores later this year (though it’s already on the shelves at the CVS Plan-O-Gram store!)

So how is it? Really, really good. The peanut butter cups are similar to the ones you know and love, but… better. Richer tasting and deeply satisfying (who doesn’t love a good peanut butter cup?) The candy gems are really lovely in color, with bright, natural tones derived from beets, turmeric, purple cabbage, and other plant sources. And, as a mom, I love the idea of candy that’s better for us. Once Unreal hits the stores, I’ll have a blog giveaway to share with readers too. This was the first media event that’s been held for Unreal to date, so it was fun to get a sneak preview. You can learn more about Unreal candy at their website. And I also had my first progressive cuisine experience..! Truly, it is a dinner I will never forget.

Chef Adam and me. He was a gracious host for all of us, speaks with a delightful Australian accent, and is, well, adorable. Many of the bloggers in attendance remarked that he can come make dinner at their homes anytime. LOL!

CVS/pharmacy sponsored my trip to Providence, Rhode Island, for their “Extra Extra Care” blogger’s event. This dinner was sponsored by Unreal Brands, Inc. All opinions expressed on JillCataldo.com regarding the event, CVS/pharmacy, and Unreal Brands Inc. are my own.




  1. PatK says

    Thanks for the infomation on molecular gastronomy. I can’t wait to try Unreal.
    I am right with you on the eggs. No soft boiled!

  2. Outlander says

    It looks to me like everybody was still hungry after that dinner! :)
    I would be like “Can we get some real food now?” LOL
    It must have been fun though.