New York: A team of Croatian chefs whipped up a pungent meal on Thursday, infusing the flavor of the tobacco leaf into baked stone bass filets, bread and butter, a rich demi-glace sauce, even ice cream. The result was a tangy heat that one taster likened to ancho chili powder, and a powerful finish with all the nicotine kick of a chubby Montecristo cigar.

"Wow, buzz city!" Gary Heathcott, a public relations worker from Little Rock, Arkansas, who also writes for Smoke magazine said. He said that it was the first buzz he ever received from biting into fish. Grgur Baksic, owner and executive chef of the Gastronomadi dinner club in Zagreb, led the demonstration before a standing-room-only crowd of aficionados at a Havana convention center as part of Cuba's 15th annual Cigar Festival.

It's a six-day bash that brings together hundreds of cigar sophisticates from around the world, and culminates Saturday night with a gala and auction of humidors worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. A dozen cameras following their every move, Baksic and two other chefs carefully wrapped the bass filets in tobacco and banana leaves, with a sprinkling of garlic and honey to draw out the smoky flavor, media reported.

As the mild white fish baked for about a half hour, they demonstrated how stirring tobacco sauces into butter can create a sharp spread for bread and crackers, and used a torch to dry out liquid-infused tobacco salt that can be employed in just about any dish. Baksic compared it to putting chili on a sweet or a sour dish, or adding honey on a fish and on a fruit and on meat.

Baksic said Thursday's demonstration was the result of two years of trial and error. He said they unsuccessfully tried American, European and African tobacco varieties before settling on Cuban tobacco, which he called the finest in the world.

The chefs warned tasters not to eat the leaves themselves, which would be hard on the stomach. Some at the demonstration found the ice cream, a creation by Italian chef Bruno Luciani, overwhelming. What started out as a smooth, milky sweetness soon set throats on fire.


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