10 course tasting at home

Last weekend Nithya and I made our first really complex dinner at home. It was a 10 course vegetarian tasting menu for 6 and it defintely gave me a much greater appreciation for what chefs have to deal with in getting a multi course menu on the plate at the right time. The following post is a quick recap of the various dishes we made:


Our first attempt at spherification pretty much followed the Beet Sphere and Goat Cheese recipe with the only difference being the use of straight calcium lactate instead of calcium lactate gluconate in the beet juice. I also used sodium alginate and let it hydrate overnight instead of using the magic sphere mixture. Everyone seemed to like it but I personally felt that there was a bit of an chemically aftertaste from the beets. Having never had beet juice before it may just be what the juice is like or it may have been a mental block since calcium lactate is supposed to have a stronger flavour than the gluconate.
For tips and tricks I would recommend using a store bought beet juice instead of making it at home. It is quite painful to make without a juicer and just did not have the payoff IMHO. Also getting the bubbles out of the blended juice mixture is difficult and can result in the frozen beet sphere fragmenting as you pull them out of the mold. It’s better to leave the mold in the freezer and pull them out one at a time to spherify. The good part is that even if they have the occasion bubble or fragmentation in them, the spheres still come out great and while it sounds like a complex process in reality its actually quite simple to do.

The second course was Savory Ice Cream Salad that Nithya made. The cce cream is a bit on the salty side and it does surprise you at the first bite when you find something frozen but not sweet.
The hardest part in this one was actually finding the microgreens to serve it with as they were not available from any of the local stores – Nithya eventually found them at Draegers in Menlo Park. As you would expect the ice cream was made beforehand and all you have to do is plate before serving. For serving the question was how to actually eat the dish – people used a combination of spoons and forks with no clear winner as to what the best way way. The really cool serving bowl is the Jars Tourron low bowl that Nithya picked up at Crate & Barrel.

Pairing: 2014 Cuvee Luke from the Davis Family Vineyard

This was the simplest and easiest dish to make – a chilled pea soup with ricotta. It is even cooked in the microwave and the only item you need is a blender (I used an immersion) to blend the puree and the ricotta. Great flavour, can be prepared in advance and works wonders on a hot day. Extra points for being probably the best taste to effort ratio of the meal ๐Ÿ™‚

Pairing: 2011 Amourette Chardonnay from Williamson Wines

Brussels Sprouts
This course was interesting because I knew I wanted to do the Momofuku Brussels Sprouts but also knew that it would need some sort of accompaniment to make it a course instead of a side. My first thought was to use sous vide spicy paneer steak but Nithya nixed that one as not having a matching flavour profile. In the end we settled on the Rich as F*ยขk Biscuits as something to add some carbs and volume to the meal.
Brussels Sprouts
As the first hot course I had to get the timing right and this is where the sous vide machine really helps out. I dropped the brussels sprouts into the water just before serving course 2 and basically let it sit there until ~5 min before serving. The biscuit dough was made a few days earlier and was sitting pre-cut in the freezer. I put the dough into the preheated over at 400F as we served course 3 and waited the 12-15 minutes it takes for them to complete. When I pulled the biscuits out of the oven I switched it to broil and put the sprouts in the top shelf for finishing. After 5 minutes the sprouts were nicely browned and I pulled them out for mixing and plating while using the off but still warm oven to keep the biscuits warm. Once the sprouts were plated all I had to do was add a biscuit to each plate and serve.

Pairing: 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel from Portalupi

The next dish was the Pixar Ratatoile which is the only one I think looks better pre-serving (above) than it does on the plate (below).
I made a test version of this the weekend before and was not too happy with the taste of the sauce which felt bland and was very brown in colour. I then realised that this was due to the eggplant scraps in the sauce and dropped them for this attempt – just red peppers, onion, garlic and tomato skins. This second attempt looked and tasted better but for the amount of effort it takes to do the initial prep I doubt if I will make this again. Also in order to get the serving time and temp right I cooked this for 90 minutes before people arrived and then left it sitting in the cast iron dishes for the first half of the meal. I then set the oven to 300 once I took the biscuits from the previous course out and stuck the ratatoulle pans back in to warm them up.

Pairing: 2013 Cortina Zinfandel from Seghesio Family Vineyard

Potatoes & Leeks
This is one of my regular go-to vegetarian sous vide dishes. This time I deviated from the original recipe by doing only potatoes, leeks and romesco. Having done this several times before I feel that the beans and broth dont add enough while making the dish harder to both plate and consume. The picture below is from one of my previous attempts and not from the dinner itself as we forgot to take a picture while serving. A shoutout to Nithya for making the romesco from scratch – it is a significant step above store bought stuff.
Potatoes and leeks with gidandes beans and romesco
In order avoid timing issues while serving I precooked the stuff and stored the in the fridge. I then put them in a 70C bath while serving the previous course so they were warmed up for the finishing and plating. I also deviate from the recipe by using a Searzall to finish the leeks as it reduces the time on the stove and is easier to clean.
Pairing: Koloa Kaua`i Dark Rum & Coke
This was a bit of an ad hoc pairing as the diners saw the Koloa rum on the shelf and wanted to give it a try. My original plan was to open a Seghesio Defiant.

The fizzy fruits were another thing that we forgot to take a picture of. I used the dry ice in a cooler method and was able to carbonate grapes, blackberries, oranges and watermelon slices. I felt that the grapes turned out the best though different folks liked the blackberries and oranges as well. The watermelon did have some carbonation in them but unfortunately were too frozen in parts to enjoy them properly. FYI you can buy 10 lbs of dry ice for $10 from SF Ice.

This was a completely new dish that I created for the dinner. Since I was going to have the spherification bath prepped for the beets I wanted to try something else as well and decided to make mango puree spheres. This whole dish came around from the idea of the sphere looking like an egg yolk and the original plan was to make the yolk and serve it over a blue cheese dip of sorts to make it look like a fried egg. In the end however I decided to do only the mango sphere and really like how they turned out from both a taste and appearance perspective.
The recipe consisted of 300g of store bought mango puree blended with 4g of calcium lactate. Because the puree was quite thick to begin with I did not add any xantham gum as used in the beet sphere recipe. The puree was a bit too sweet and I added some smoked paprika powder to balance out the sweetness and give it a very light kick. I did try adding chipotle pepper powder as well but found that adding enough to change the taste would also dull the colour which I did not like. The smoked paprika on the other hand added some redness to the puree which made it look more orange and yolklike. After the blending I let it sit overnight in the refrigerator to remove the bubbles and used the same mold and reverse spherification technique like the beets.

A+ dish – will definitely do this again.

I then handed over to Nithya for the dessert courses and she started out with the fantastic Orange Creamsicle dish. This was a very complex dish that required making vanilla ice cream, orange gel, olive oil cake and candied blood orange. Excellent flavour profile especially of the ice cream with the gel and cake.
The vanilla ice cream had a very pleasing texture due to the various gum additives and had a mouthfeel very similar to store bought ice cream. The candied blood orange recipe uses a vacuum sealer repeatedly to infuse the simple syrup but we did it using just water displacement method.

Pairing: Dolce Nero Espresso Liqueur

The molten chocolate souffle was the perfect way to end the meal – beautiful textures and flavour along with a squeeze bottle of creme anglaise to entertain the juvenile ๐Ÿ™‚

Pairing: Selby Bobcat Port

Lotus Evora 400 first drive


Last week Tom Sutton from Boardwalk Lotus invited the GGLC to swing by and take a look at the new Evora 400 which will be begining US deliveries later this summer. This particular car was one of two euro-spec demo cars that have been going all over the US to attend the auto show circuit and had 21000 kms on it. I got the chance to drive it for a few miles and wanted to write up my thoughts on the car. These are all my personal opinions and will be coloured by my experiences from owning an Elise for 10 years and an Evora S IPS for ~8 months.

When the Evora 400 was first announced I have to say that I was not a big fan of the looks. The sharp lines on the new front and rear looked a little “boy racer” to me and pushed me into getting an Evora S instead of waiting for the 400. However seeing the car in the flesh I have to say that the new front end looks much better in person and works really well in this carbon grey colour. The black line above the splitter kind of merges into the body and removes the thing I found most annoying about the front. The plastic grill replacing the mesh looks quite good as well.

The rear also looks much better in person and I’d have to say that the Evora 400 looks very modern and contemporary.

This is perhaps the single greatest improvement of the 400 over the first gen Evora. The side sills are a lot lower and narrower than those of the Evora S (below) which means it is as easy to get in and out of as a regular sports car – no lotus position needed. Additionally the speaker enclosure in the door has been made smaller and thinner which means your feet don’t hit the door every time you get out (even with size 14 shoes). This has been my biggest annoyance with the Evora as a daily driver as you have be even more careful with your feet getting out that you have to in the Elise.

The first thing you notice about the interior is the extra legroom in the drivers seat. The narrow sill appears to have continued towards the wheel well to give your left leg more room. The manual cars now finally have a dead pedal where you can rest your foot and if feels like there is more footroom in general which came in handy for my size 14 feet. That said my Evora S is an IPS so its hard for me to compare against the manual 400. It also felt like my right knee had some more room though the console didnt appear to be much narrower.

The next thing you notice is the easy access and visibility of all the switchgear. You no longer have to cock your head and look behind the steering to squint at the controls. Plus they are now black with white lettering which makes them significantly easier to read than the old chrome buttons. The digital parts of the dash are now white on black and people who have been driving the car for extended periods tell me that they are easier to read that the red displays on gen 1. The steering wheel material has changed and feels more “rubbery” than my S – this is one change I would love to make to my car if possible. The side mirror controls have been moved to the dash for easy access while the trunk and fuel buttons have been moved to the door. Extra points for the trunk button no longer requiring the impossible combination of key in ignition, car in park, ebrake on, full moon night, fifth wednesday of the month, etc… to work ๐Ÿ™‚

The other thing I really liked was the HVAC controls are easier to turn and have many more detents instead of the current half dozen or so. The stereo is also different but I did not get a chance to play around with it. The glove box is now manual instead of electric which aligns with simplify and add lightness.

The seats have switched from Recaro to Sparco and now have side airbag included. The stitching is a little different but they are just as comfortable as the original car. They now have a little leather pull to flip the seats forward which is much easier to reach and IMHO looks a lot cooler. The rear seats are as vestigial as ever.

Driving impressions
I only got to drive the car for a few miles in traffic but the ride and handling felt the same as the S. It felt fast but with the lmited opportunities to accelerate it did not feel that much faster than my S. The thing I really liked about the drive was the exhaust which is sportier (louder with better tone) and has a button that controls the noise level independent of the ECU mode. This means you can drive the car in sport mode with the quiet exhaust or be in regular mode with the loud exhaust – the S ties the louder exhaust to the sport mode only which can get a little annoying in city driving. The shifter is also really smooth and felt a better than the other Evoras I have driven and miles ahead of the Elise.

The other thing I liked is that the Evora 400 is better built than the Elise and does not have all the rattles and squeaks you have come to expect from a Lotus. The demo car had over 13k miles on it and felt like a quality item just like my S does after 2 years and ~15k miles.


Final Thoughts
My biggest takeaway about the Evora 400 is that it is a much more useable car than the S. It retains the excellent driving dynamics of the original car and adds a nice boost in power while making it easier to live with on a day to day basis. People considering a Porsche 911 as a daily driver should really have a look at the Evora 400 – it is now a competitor in terms of usability as well as performance. For me personally while it is a lot more car I can’t justify the premium over my existing S. That said the upcoming 400 convertible might make me change my mind ๐Ÿ˜‰

Lotus Evora 400 @ Boardwalk Lotus

Cross posted on the GGLC blog

Lotus Elise Suspension comparo: Base Vs Nitron 46mm SA Vs Penske SA

One of the great things about being a car guy in CA is that there is a large number of fellow addicts around. This means that if you ever want to put some high dollar upgrades on a car you can usually find someone with a similar setup and get some first hand info about it. The latest to take advantage of this was Vincent from the GGLC who has been thinking of getting a set of single adjustable coilovers for his Elise and was having a tough time deciding between the Nitron 46mm Race Pro 1-Way and the BWR Penske Single Adjustable. Since the shocks run $2500+ he sent out some feelers on the forums and was able to get 3 cars together to try some back to back to back driving on some interesting roads for a highly subjective and completely unscientific comparison.


Mag Blue (Vincent)
2005 Elise
Base suspension
LSS wheels
R888 tires

Black (Scott)
2008 Exige S 240
Nitron 46mm Race Pro 1-Way (450/600 “soft” springs)
Exige Wheels
R888 tires
A-arms for extra camber

Titanium (Rahul)
2006 Elise
BWR Penske SA (500/700 “street/track” springs)
Rota wheels (15/16)
RA1 tires wider than stock (205/50R15 245/45R16)
Aligned, lowered and corner balanced to BWR spec

The road we used for the test was CA-35 from CA-92 upto Alices Restaurant which is an extremely bumpy road with lots of cracks and undulations. It is however quite a twisty road so is very popular with sports cars, bikers and cyclists. We also did drive La Honda road from Alices down to CA-1 but that section of road is so smooth that we could barely tell the difference and ended up using the original stretch again.

This was far from a scientific test and is basically about subjective feel of the various suspensions on a fairly bumpy road. We did not have any specific test criteria going into this and just wanted to drive all 3 cars. I am just going to describe my feedback from all 3 in the order I drove them:

Nitron 46mm Race Pro 1-Way (450/600)
The first car I drove was Scotts Exige S240 on the Nitrons. The car was set to 15 FFH front and rear which is a little softer than the recommended Nitron settings. The two things I noticed were that the steering was a lot lighter (extra camber A-arms) and that ride did feel pretty harsh on the on the bumpy sections. I had plenty of confidence in the car but I was feeling a lot of bumps and vibration through both the seat and the wheel. That said it certainly was not undrivable – just harsher than I would want on an everyday drive.

Lotus Base Suspension
I thought the Nitrons were harsh but when I drove the base car over the same section of road I realised just how much worse the base car is. It was crashing and skipping over the bumps and got lots of unpleasant feedback through the wheel. I should add that this is in relation to the Nitron/Penskes only – the base suspension Elise is still an incredibly capable car and I drove mine for 90k miles on that suspension including dozens of trips down CA-35. Driving the base car is still a great experience and only felt bad because it was sandwiched between two more capable (and more expensive) setups.

BWR Penske Single Adjustable
After driving the other cars I took my car for a spin down the same road just to see how it handled those bumps. While I have ~800 miles on these shocks most of them were at COTA and I had not driven a truly bumpy road on them before. The car started the day in my “highway” settings of FS/FS-5 which are significantly softer than BWR suggested settings for the street. These settings disconnect you from road harshness and expansion joints but can hit the stops on big bumps which is no fun. After Vincent drive in my car he said it felt too soft so I moved it up to FS+10/FS+25 for Scott before following him on the second run. I did notice that the rear appeared to be “bouncing” a lot over the bumps which is something he reported as well at the next stop. I started out the first couple of miles on the same settings and quickly realised that while there was no high frequency harshness the car was just too bouncy and underdamped over the bumps. I pulled over and bumped it to FS+15/FS+35 which gave it a much more compliant ride with minimal harshness (less than the Nitrons).

Final results
In the end I have to say that the Nitrons and the Penskes are both a significant improvement over stock in terms of comfort and drivability. From this informal test I’d have to say that the Penskes can be adjusted to a softer setup (this might also be due to the extra tirewall from the 15/16 wheels) but some folks can find that to be too “Cadillac-y” and unconnected. The Nitrons were very good on the smoother sections but cannot be made as “soft” as the Penskes. That said we dont know if the softer adjustments cause the Penskes to lose a bit on track (not AutoX). I have driven 3 days at COTA with Penskes but that is possibly the smoothest track in the US plus without a back-to-back its hard to really judge.

In the end if you want a good aftermarket suspension you cant really go wrong with either of these options and both vendors will work further with you to come up with the right package for your specific needs. They are both a massive upgrade over stock in terms of drivability and I wish I had bought them years ago instead of waiting 90k miles to make the change.


Update: Added a note that the ride comfort of the Penskes is affected by the extra tire wall from the smaller wheels.

Cross posted on the GGLC blog

Lotus Evora S IPS on track – Take Two

In my previous post about the Evora S on track I spent a lot of time complaining about the 400 treadwear tires that the car was on. I was getting a lot of tire lock under braking and the car generally did not have enough grip on the track. Luckily I was then able to replace the tires with a set of Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires on the optional forged “sport” wheels for the Evora and hit Laguna with the GGLC once more.

As you can see from the video I was able to pull a 1:48 lap without really maximizing any of the turns. The grippier tires gave me a lot more confidence in the car and I was able to drop 3 seconds off my best from the previous visit. That said I still have several seconds available to me on track if I actually start pushing and should be able to get the Evora down to the 1:45 range pretty easily.

In the not so good section I have to say that while the car ran great at the track I ended up with very bad brake judder when I got home and had to manually sand all four rotors with garnet paper to get them usable again. Apparently this is a known issue with the stock Evora brakes and the official lotus remedy is to sand the brake pads and rotors to remove brake transfer. I have now switched my car to EBC Yellow stuff brakes and hope that it will prevent reoccurrence.

Spring 2016 EKO Hackathon report

Building on the success of the Fall 2015 EKO Hackathon, I was privileged to help organize the Spring 2016 EKO Hackathon. This time we kept the same event structure for the hackathon but conducted the bulk of the hacking and the presentations at the offsite EKO location. We did have some of the inevitable wifi challenges that offsite events bring but in the end it was a successful event with a lot of great work being done by the hackers. As with the last hackathon we made it a point to invite folks from outside engineering and had healthy representation from groups like support, services, education and BTC in the final list of 44 hacks. And now without further ado I’d like to present the winners of the hackathon and their own descriptions of their projects

Judging Panel awards
These were selected by judging panel of leaders from across the company:

ESX host statistics collection without vSphere credentials by Will “Padre” Guyette, Seb “Patrick” Roy, Matt “Not Ahrens” Amdur
setup-host-infoVMware provides a number of statistics that are very useful when trying to debug performance problems of a Delphix Engine. Today these statistics are only available by logging into vSphere or the ESX host, something we can’t do by ourselves nor something the typical Delphix admin has permission to do. In this hack we’ve extended our integration with VMware tools to pull out information about the physical configuration of the ESX host that the engine is running on as well as statistics related to the %RDY time of the engine (which is time the engine wants to be on CPU but isn’t). This data is collected from within the Delphix engine without requiring any credentials to authenticate to vSphere.

Speeding up OS compilation times by John Kennedy, Paul Dagnelie
We used ccache to cache object files created during a full build of the OS. Subsequent full builds can use these object files when the sources are unmodified to skip the compilation step. We measured roughly a 2x improvement in the compilation phase of a full nightly build.

Producer-Consumer model for Upgrade testing setup by Prachetaa Raghavan, Derek Tzeng, Emmanuel Morales, Sumedh Bala
Upgrade testing currently takes about 7 hours to finish and is likely to increase as we add more testing in the future. The solution was to take advantage of the 3 phases of upgrade testing:

  • Presetup which takes about 2hrs
  • Upgrade which takes about an hour
  • Post-upgrade which takes about 4 hours

The presetup phase does not depend on the code under development. Most of the bugs are present in the upgrade phase and we would like to get to this phase as soon as possible. Since the presetup is common across developers we would run a few instances of the presetup and store the configuration in a database which is accessible by git-utils. When a developer wants to test upgrade, git-utils would kick off automation on one of setups which is preconfigured. A different process would go and replenish the database with new setups.

Resumable Masking by Manoj Joseph, Abdullah Mourad
Today, if masking jobs fail, provisioning the VDB fails. And the admin has to restart the entire masking process. If the masking jobs take a long time, the time spent redoing the masking can be significant. This project addresses this problem by taking snapshots between masking jobs and restarting just the failed ones.

Audience Choice Award
The most coveted prize at each Hackathon is the audience choice award as the winner gets to be a judge for the next hackathon. For the first time we had a tie between two very different hacks:

Greenhouse Data Mining by Ardra Hren, Elizabeth Liu, Kevin Greene & Nav Ravindranath
We have a lot of interviewing data from Greenhouse but haven’t yet used it to improve out recruiting process. For our Hackathon project we took a first stab at analyzing some of this data and examined the correlation between interview traits and hiring decisions as well as variance between interviewers. We’re looking forward to leveraging this data to make our recruiting process as fair and effective as possible.

Using blackbox to reproduce bugs through plugin configs by Zachary Reese-Whiting & Eric Muller
Using the existing blackbox plugin for rerunning test cases and defining test states that describe bug conditions it’s possible to use blackbox to run tests until difficult to reproduce bugs are triggered, snapshot the VMs at the point of failure, and stop the automation run. This project provides access to this functionality through the blackbox GUI which allows us to attach these specific configurations to bugs so engineers could use blackbox to reproduce difficult to trigger issues without the need for manually rerunning tests.