5.07.2009

Counter Intelligence: Haidar Karoum of Proof

Melissa McCart of Counter Intelligence goes behind the kitchen line to see what's cooking at DC-area restaurants.

A few hours before dinner service, Haidar Karoum is washing 10 pounds of ramps he's using for the World Cocktail Day dinner at Proof on May 11. As I head into the kitchen, their pungent scent greets me before I see them, dozens of flat green leaves and white bulbs stacked in a bowl.

Karoum is prepping to make ramp kimchee, a spin-off of the Korean spicy cabbage condiment. It’s no surprise that he’s interested in kimchee. When I interviewed him for a piece in The Washington Post about H Mart, Karoum said he stopped by his local Asian market for kimchee tastings featuring dozens of renditions on weekends.

Proof, the host of DC's World Cocktail Week celebration for the second year in a row, will feature five dishes inspired by different regions around the world, paired with cocktails from some of the city’s most creative bartenders. The kimchee that Karoum is making will accompany pork belly served on black sesame brioche. Derek Brown of The Gibson and his brother, Tom Brown, of Cork, will concoct the drink to complement pork that’s been brined in cinnamon, cloves, brown sugar and other seasonings.

"Taste this," Karoum says, as he opens a jar containing a fragrant dried pepper from Syria. "It's aleppo." Karoum has been deciding how to use this uncommon flavor that smells smoky and tastes sweet. He has been playing with the ingredient since he got it from Behroush Sharifi, who's also known as "The Saffron King."

"The guy is wild," Karoum says. "He'll come by to drop off an order and leave dozens of dime bags filled with spices I’d never heard of or tasted before." Iranian-born Sharifi, who's based in New York, sells to Mario Batali, Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, among others.

Aleppo pepper joins a fresh Thai green chili in the kimchee, along with a second dried pepper, rice vinegar, soy and ginger. “It’s so grassy and floral,” the chef says of the pepper. He’d normally use garlic in kimchee, but doesn’t want to muddle the ramps’ flavor.

Other dishes Karoum is making for the event include an abalone ceviche with ginger, cucumber and avocado; Shenandoah lamb with farro tabouleh and black rice; a lemongrass panna cotta with a guava gelée; and a selection of artisanal cheeses.

Joining the Brown brothers for cocktail pairings are Adam Bernbach of Bar Pilar, Gina Chersevani of PS 7’s, Justin Guthrie of the soon-to-open Blue Ridge, Owen Thomson of Bourbon, Todd Thrasher of Restaurant Eve, Chantal Tseng of Tabard Inn, Rico Wisnor of Poste, Jill Zimorski of Café Atlantico and Sebastian Zutant of Proof. Tickets are still available but selling fast. For more information, email proof@proofdc.com or call 202.225.6495.

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