‘Culinary genius’ shares a coveted recipe from his famous Kemah eatery
Here’s a surefire way to impress guests at your next dinner party: Serve them an addictively delicious corn butter from one of the world’s most exclusive restaurants and remind them most people wait six months to experience this taste sensation.
Corn butter is the brainchild of David Skinner, owner and chef at Kemah’s Eculent restaurant, which is famous for targeting all the senses: touch, sight, sound, smell and taste.
Skinner has a reputation for being a “culinary genius” and “mad scientist.” His exclusive restaurant, seating just six to 12 guests a night, is hailed as a place for a “once in a lifetime culinary experience.”
Eculent serves the corn butter as a single bite with a shrimp on top, Skinner said.
“It is one of the most popular things we do,” he said. “The food critic for the Washington Post asked for the recipe, and people tell me they want to eat a whole bowl or be hooked up to an IV drip filled with corn butter.”
The Oklahoma native remembers long summers eating fresh corn grown by his family and neighbors. Skinner, a Choctaw Native American, said corn is his favorite vegetable and special to him.
“Corn is one of the ‘Three Sisters,’ along with squash and beans, that makes up three important staples in the Choctaw diet,” Skinner said. “My grandmother always had corn. I just love it and I love butter. It is just the best. But you don’t really see corn served in high-end restaurants. I wanted to find a way to elevate corn and make a Michelin Star dish out of it.”
Skinner experimented with pureeing corn to make a sauce and liked the taste but not the gritty-mouth feel, he said. Juicing the corn was the lightning bolt of inspiration he needed, he said. It creates “a beautiful, yellow liquor” that makes corn butter so special, he said.
Skinner’s grandmother was a pastry chef who taught him to cook when he was just 4 years old. He opened his first restaurant at age 16, while still in high school, in the back of his grandmother’s gourmet grocery store. Skinner’s restaurant, La Vie En Rose, was open in the evenings when Skinner finished school and became known for serving fine French food.
Next came a farm-to-table inspired restaurant called Christopher’s — his middle name — that used produce from a network of local farmers and ranchers, he said. Skinner could have continued down this path, but his mother intervened, insisting he gain a degree not related to cooking, he said.
Armed with degrees in economics, finance and statistics, he embarked on a 30-year career as a corporate consultant advising energy companies. While he loved his work, eating at the world’s best restaurants and seeking local food experiences were the highlights he sought out, he said.
When he sold his business, rather than retire, Skinner decided to open a restaurant. He imagined a restaurant unlike any other and briefly considered fusing two world cuisines or introducing diners to an obscure cuisine, he said.
“But I realized every cuisine from every continent has already been done in a restaurant,” he said. “I started to think about atmosphere and realized most restaurants are static.”
Skinner thought about how manipulating the senses can manipulate how we experience food and even how it tastes, he said.
“I realized I wanted to create a restaurant that was a dynamic experience where I could have a conversation with the guests,” he said.
Skinner spent the next six years researching and then honing his concept. Today, Eculent has a much-envied reputation and incorporates a food laboratory, garden and restaurant. Skinner even employs a potter to create bespoke bowls and plates.
Skinner has used the pandemic closures to imagine and create more memorable dining experiences, he said.
“I have been using our downtime to finish a new menu that has been two years in the making,” he said. “At the moment, I’m experimenting with augmented reality projectors. When we reopen, people are going to lose their minds.”
Eculent’s Corn Butter
1 ½ quarts of corn juice (from about 15 stalks of fresh corn)
1 pound of non-salted butter (Skinner recommends European grass-fed cow butter.)
1 ½ teaspoons of salt
0.7 ounces (2 grams) xanthan gum (optional, can be purchased online)
Cut the corn from the cobs and juice in a high-powered blender or juicer. Fresh corn is best but frozen corn also can be used. Skinner doesn’t recommend canned corn. Be careful to remove any pulp from the juice as this will give the corn butter a gritty texture. Run through cheesecloth or strainer if necessary.
Put the corn juice in saucepan over a medium heat. Slowly add the butter stirring continuously. It should take at least 10 to 15 minutes. Don’t let the corn juice get too hot because it has a lot of natural sugar and will easily burn. You need to be patient and take it slow because you want the corn butter to have a soft, creamy texture like a yogurt. It will thicken with heat. Gradually add the salt.
The corn butter is ready when it coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and strain. You could stop there, but there is an optional step to sprinkle xanthan gum and mix with an emulsion blender. This will help the “mouth feel” but is optional. The corn butter can be frozen and then reheated to 135 F.
For a Michelin Star result, cover the recess of a plate with corn butter, place a fillet of sous-vide salmon on top and then spoon fermented blueberries on top of the salmon. (Skinner prefers Kvarøy Arctic salmon from Norway.)
Eculent’s Fermented Blueberries
1 pint of blueberries
Weigh the blueberries and calculate 2 percent of the weight. This is how much salt you’ll need. Add blueberries and salt to a plastic bag. Push all the air out of the bag and leave on the kitchen counter for one week. Burp the bag occasionally. The blueberries will soften but retain their shape and have a nice tart, sweet flavor.