Search This Blog

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Modernist Cuisine Event at The Institute of Culinary Education

I was very fortunate to have been invited to The Modernist Cuisine Gala at The Institute of Culinary Education in NYC. I was one of the first to arrive, and was happy to see the book on display. I flipped through some of the pages and all I have to say is, WOW! Everything you would ever want to know about savory cooking can be found in the book. A notable guest list included many of my idols - Johnny Iuzzini, Michael Laiskonis, Paul Liebrandt, Marcus Samuelson, Gail Simmons, Nate Appleman, Marcel Vigneron, and Stephen Shaw.

Nathan Myhrvold gave us a quick overview of the book and then took some questions. Following this we were escorted to the 14th floor to enjoy some truly fantastic food. The corned beef was my favorite dish of the night; I have never eaten meat so tender in my life. The acidic sauerkraut tingled my tongue in the most pleasant way. A close second was "the most creamy" polenta I ever had that was paired with a strawberry marinara. Pretty cool stuff. The only dish that did not blow me away was the carrot soup, which was too sweet and heavy for my tastes.

This book is going to change food for the better; techniques like nitro-shucking and centrifugal seperations will revolutionilize food. I have already started saving up.......

Roasted Corn Elote
freeze dried with N-zorbit, brown butter powder, lime and ash powder

Oyster Cocktail
cryo-shucked kusshi oyster, centrifuged pear juice, shaved foie gras

Mushroom Omelet
constructed egg stripes, steamed in a combi oven

Polenta and Marinara
pressure cooked in mason jars

Caramelized Carrot Soup
 pressure-cooked with baking soda

Pastrami, Sauerkraut, Cognac Mustard
cooked sous vide for 32 Hours, precisely cured, brined, and fermented

Goat Milk Ricotta and Peas
fresh ricotta, centrifuged pea juice layers, essential oils

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cooking Sous Vide

Every project I get I try to spin it so it can involve food somehow, so for my chemistry project I wrote about sous vide cookery! Read on!

Sous vide is a method of cooking where food is placed in a vacuum sealed bag and cooked at very low temperatures for a very long time (usually). This new cooking technique was developed by Georges Pralus in 1974. The equipment involved in cooking sous vide includes an immersion circulator and a cryovac. The immersion circulator is placed in a water bath and controls the temperature of the water to .01 degrees of what you set it at.  A cryovac takes all of the air out of the bag by using a vacuum. This produces food that is cooked uniformly throughout. When you traditionally cook a steak you would sear it over a very high temperature and the resulting product will be overcooked on the exterior and under cooked in the interior. When a steak is cooked sous vide the whole piece of meat from top to bottom is cooked to a perfect medium rare (55 degrees C). Food cooked sous vide is more flavorful and as well more nutritious. When you blanch broccoli for instance lots of the nutrients leach out of the broccoli (diffusion and osmosis) to try and form equilibrium. When broccoli is cooked sous vide nothing leaches out of the broccoli because the bag that it is placed in is vacuum sealed. Furthermore, cooking sous vide prohibits the growth of aerobic pathogens because there is zero air in the bag when it is sealed properly. Sous vide is the most efficient way to transfer thermal energy from water to your food. Sous Vide cookery is used in 99.999% of all of the great restaurants. The only place where to my knowledge it is not used is at Le Bernadin, where Chef Eric Ripert does not like the effect it has on seafood. Cooking sous vide eases service at restaurants because fewer things need to be prepared or heated a la minute. Braised meats can be held sous vide at temperatures lower or equal to the desired doneness because the product will not overcook in the period of a service, but if held too long the proteins will start to turn into mush.  Some products are cooked for days sous vide (short ribs are cooked for 3 days). Typically traditional short ribs are overcooked, but the collagen turns to gelatin and remoistens the meat. Cooked sous vide short ribs can be served medium rare and the collagen is also denatured into gelatin.

First off all of cooking is a science. Chemical reactions are constantly taking place, whether a cake is being baked or pork is being brined. In regards to sous vide cookery lots of scientific reactions occur as well.  A cryovac works by creating a low pressure environment in and around the bag, which allows the gas to escape and the liquid to contain. When pressure is decreased at constant temperature volume expands. This expansion in volume lets the gas molecules expand out of the bag, so all of the air becomes removed. A phase change that takes place is the vaporization of alcohol. If alcohol is not evaporated before added to your bag it will go through a phase change from a liquid to a gas in the bag, which is extremely detrimental. This will both alter the temperature of the bag – cooking the meat unevenly and can lead to the spread of anaerobic pathogens. Another cool technique that can be done with a cryovac is “quick pickling”, where a brine is added to a vegetable and the vacuumed. When this happens osmosis and diffusion happen at a much higher rate. The vegetables cell walls break down and swell up with the brine. If you bag an ingredient in a cryovac its shelf life is increased by 3-5 times because oxidation cannot take place because the food is an anaerobic environment. In traditional cooking raw mierpoix (onion, celery, carrot) is added to food while cooking to add flavor, but in sous vide it does not work because the temperatures do not get high enough for the vegetables to denature and give off flavor. When eggs are cooked with an immersion circulator (not considered sous vide because the eggs are not placed in a vacuum bag) they go through a phase change from liquid to a “solid” (However they should not be cooked all the way to a solid state, then they will be over cooked. The perfect egg is cooked to 63.3 degrees

A common criticism of sous vide cookery is that there is no roasted or savory flavors. This is true if you do not sear your meat before and after it enters the bag. Searing meat inhibits the maillard reaction to take place, which involves the combination of amino acids and sugars at very high heats. The reaction itself has over 100 products, so there is no way it would fit on this brochure.

As stated before in this brochure, sous vide cookery has numerous perks (I don’t see a point listing all of them again, so I will only list a few). Cooking sous vide makes cooking much more precise and as well accurate. If you place a duck breast in a vacuum bag and cook it with an immersion circulator at 130 degrees Fahrenheit it will never cook past 130 degrees. This helps restaurants be more consistent, which is a must for a great restaurant. The storage of meats is greatly enhanced by the use of a cryovac, and makes for less space. I can go on and on…..

The one major hazard of sous vide cookery is the growth of anaerobic pathogens, mainly botulism. If food is not cooked long enough or not heated to a specific temperature it can make you very ill. The temperatures and time depend on the product and the size of the product you are using. The price of the equipment is also very expensive, both the immersion circulator and cryovac combined can set you back over $3,000.

Do benefits outweigh hazards? In short yes!!
The benefits of cooking sous vide are endless and are changing restaurant cooking for the better. I think in about 30 years housewives will be cooking a version of sous vide for the ease in using and the constant great results. The sous vide supreme debuted this year which is the first time cooking sous vide was marketed for the home cook. It is not as precise, but very close and still costs a hefty $400.  Mind you if cooking sous vide becomes too popular it will end cooking itself. The huge corporate company that decides to completely adapt cooking sous vide to the home cook will destroy it. When they start selling food already vacuum bagged in the super market and instruct you to throw it in your water bath that will be a sad day. Cooking sous vide removes some emotion of cooking, you don’t get to smell your food while it is cooking, or listen to the bubbling braising liquid. You just “throw” it into a bag. Cooking techniques like searing, braising, roasting, poaching, etc. must always still be in practice. If cooking sous vide wipes other cooking techniques from existence it will destroy food.

(Pictures I did NOT Take)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My Top Bites.....So Far

I have got to say I would think that I have eaten better than 99.999% of the kids my age. I am very fortunate to live near the restaurant mecca NYC and as well as Philadelphia. Both cities offer endless pleasures that I am just starting to enjoy. Below are my top bites, in no specific order....

1st Course: Del Posto's Amuse of Chicken Soup with Parmesian and Egg
2nc Course: Meme's Roasted Bone Marrow with Caramelized Onions and Toasted Baguette

3rd Course: Gramercy Tavern's Scallop Dish
4th Course: Gramery Tavern's Shrimp and Grits
5th Course: WD 50's Eggs Benedict

6th Course: WD 50's Aerated Foie Gras

7th Course: Eleven Madison Park's Pork Belly
8th Course: Kefi's Octopus with Cold Bean Salad

9th Course: Kefi's Sausage with Tzatziki
10th Course: Basset's Vanilla Ice Cream with Caramel and Chocolate Covered Pretzels
11th Course: Springers's "Dark Knight" Ice Cream - Blackberry Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate
12th Course: WD 50's Rainbow Sherbet

13th Course: Bouchon's Caramel Macarons

What would your favortie bites be?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What I Have Been Reading Lately

Life On The Line By Grant Achatz

Blood, Bones, & Butter By Gabrielle Hamilton

Noma Cookbook By Rene Redzepi

Ideas and Food By Aki and Alex

These books have been occupying most of my spare time and I strongly recommend them. You will be inspired and learn more than you could imagine by delving into them.

I apologize for the recent lack of posts, and will make sure to keep more coming.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Meme Review

When executive chef David Katz decided he wanted to open a restaurant he wanted it to be the type of place where he would like to eat in - a casual spot where the food speaks for itself. David Katz uses locally sourced produce to create rustic, yet contemporary food. The menu is small and is dictated by what is available in the market that day.

Mussels arrive at the table singing and dancing with joy; sizzling in a cast iron skillet the aroma is redolent. These plump beauties are devoid of their shell and suprisingly crispy. The flavors are strong and come from lemon, garlic, and fresh herbs. Can I get some more?

Sizzling Mussels with Lemon, Olive Oil, Herbs

Agnolotti were expertly crafted into little pillows. Instead of being stuffed with feathers these pilows were stuffed with a farce made of pig's face. I don't know if I would want to sleep with these, but I definately loved eating them. If I had a small complaint it would be that the dish was slightly underseasoned.

Pig's Head Agnolotti

Roasted Bone Marrow was stunning. The fatty goodness of the marrow played off well with the sweet onions. Scooped on a toasted baguette this was a morsel of food that will be remembered.

Roasted Bone Marrow with Toasted Baguette and Caramelized Onions

The only dish that failed to wow my palate was the garganelli. The dish was crying for acid and just didn't leave me craving for more.

Garganelli with Broccolini, Chilies, Parmesan

The safe dish on the menu of "meat and potatoes" was shockingly exciting. The strip was cooked perfectly and seasoned well. Every garnish on the plate was so flavorful and complemented the beef.

Roasted Strip Steak with Grilled Asparagus, Roasted Potatoes, and Chantrelle Mushrooms

A massive Pork T-Bone was well marbled and opulent. The meat near the bone was divine and the fat was super crispy, almost like a "pork foie gras". The sweet potato puree was comforting and incredibly smooth. This dish was a perfect example of how cooking on the bone greatly enhances the final product.

Pork T-Bone with Sweet Potato Puree and Caramelized Onions

A moist chocolate cake was gooey and warm, served with an intense vanilla gelato it was sublime. How can that not make your mouth water?

Chocolate Ganache Cake with Vanilla Gelato

Pound cake, studded with lemon zest, was refreshing and rich at the same time. The kumquats had a nice acidity and an interesting chew. Fresh whipped cream brought the whole dish together.

Toasted Pound Cake with Candied Kumquats and Whipped Cream

Service was amiable and very down to earth. Our server was joking around a lot and having tons of fun with us. The only mistake was a forgotten dessert, but that was fixed upon notice. 

Meme is a restaurant where there is no pretense in sight. You can go and eat great food while feeling welcomed. If you are in Philadelphia and are craving exciting food in a cosy atmosphere this is the place.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Trailing at Gramercy Tavern

Walking into greatness I did not know what to expect. Would I be put in the basement peeling carrots, or would I be mentored by the masters. Luckily it was the latter. 

Changing into the kitchen attire, I could only dream, has David Chang worn this uniform? ColicchioBennoCanora? The amount of culinary talent that has worked in Gramercy Tavern is mind-blowing. The next "culinary rock star" could easily be honing their skills right now under Chef Michael Anthony's supervision. 

Climbing up the stairs to the kitchen I felt like the young Achatz did when he arrived at The French Laundry for his first day of work (By no means am I comparing myself to Chef Grant Achatz, I am just using his story as an example). I was nervous and excited to say the very least.

I was asked to finely chop parsley, tarragon, and dill until I filled seven pint containers, that is a lot of herbs. It was my first impression on the cooks so I had to make sure I was going as fast as humanely possible. Once all of the herbs were cut I cleaned my temporary station until it was clean to the point where a surgical procedure could take place. You will never see a mess in kitchens of this level.

After I finished my minimal tasks I was greeted by the Executive Chef Michael Anthony. He gave me a tour of the whole restaurant and explained the philosophy behind the cuisine. "The food at Gramercy Tavern has to be as local and as seasonal as possible" Chef Michael Anthony continues, "We don't use any crazy ingredients, we just use what is best and is in season right now".  Then, Chef Michael Anthony and I talked about career options and how the food is produced at Gramercy Tavern. He was so nice and spent a lot of time with me, which I really appreciated. 

Once service began I was issued to go up to the pass and watch the restaurant do it's thing. One of the sous chefs was expediting and taught me how it is done at Gramercy Tavern. Meanwhile, the kitchen was sending me tastings of numerous dishes on the menu, which was extremely kind. Everything, and I mean everything was delicious. A perfect dish of Shrimp and Grits was the apex. The flawlessly cooked shrimp were buttery and sweet; paired with impeccable grits it was one of the best bites of my life. Furthermore, a plate of unilaterally seared Nantucket bay scallops served with cauliflower, capers, and almonds was divine. Straight forward flavors executed with masterful technique always produces enticing food. 

I was asked to help plate food for a private party and of course I lent a hand. At first I was really nervous because I did not want to screw up, but swiftly the nerves vanished and I was able to execute skillfully. I plated about six of the plates for the first course, which each had about 20 separate vegetable garnishes and sauces. For the main course I also aided in plating components for both the lamb and sea bass - I had a phenomenal time assisting the staff.

After saying my quick good-byes it was unfortunately time to go. Chef Michael Anthony invited me to trail another service in the near future, and without a doubt I will be back. Hopefully, I get to spend a good amount of time developing my skills in this famous kitchen; if only I could drive.......