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Inside the Alinea Food Lab

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#61 Bicycle Lee

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Posted 04 November 2004 - 11:46 AM

I would go as far as to make the argument that such things are already common place, only that the context is different.

Giant food companies have been doing this kind of thing for years and years yet no one marvels


Yeah did you know that pimentos from the center of cocktail olives are made using the sodium alginate/calcium chloride method?
Funny. huh?

Edited by Bicycle Lee, 04 November 2004 - 11:47 AM.

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#62 docsconz

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Posted 04 November 2004 - 11:58 AM

This has been an interesting discussion. I would like to add a few thoughts. Novelty for its own sake is shallow and soon becomes worthless. What makes food like Chef Achatz' and Adria's and others interesting and great is not nor should it be that the food is only novel or original. That may be necessary for "greatness", but it most certainly is not sufficient. It must also be delicious and beautiful IMO to be considered creatively "great". This does nothing to diminish the work of someone less conceptually creative who is able to produce stellar food from within a tradition, but that is another discussion. What separates this kind of cooking for me is the sense of imagination, whimsy and playfullness that takes cuisine beyond a mere sensual experience and into an intellectual one as well. It is the succesful marriage of the sensual and the intellectual that defines the greatest and most unique dining experiences for me.
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#63 alexw

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Posted 14 November 2004 - 04:32 PM

Ultimately the taste will rule the day. all the tricks in the world are useless unless whatever food you are producing tastes fantastic, one of the first things I learned as a commis was that presentation only encouraged the first bite, and the flavour made you eat the rest.

I know that many of the chef Grant and Adrias etc food is only one bite however if one of them is a dud then it is almost impossible to regain that guests trust for the rest of the meal.

not that we should produce food that is so middle of the road it straddles the lines, however if something is perfectly executed then if someone doesn't like a particular product/flavour then they will accept it and move on eagerly to one they do like.

Itching to get to Chicago, as you can see the journey is a bit longer for me than others posting, but hopefully I will blag a "business trip" early in the new year.

can't wait.
after all these years in a kitchen, I would have thought it would become 'just a job'

but not so, spending my time playing not working

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#64 inventolux

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Posted 15 November 2004 - 03:23 AM

This has been an interesting discussion. I would like to add a few thoughts. Novelty for its own sake is shallow and soon becomes worthless. What makes food like Chef Achatz' and Adria's and others interesting and great is not nor should it be that the food is only novel or original. That may be necessary for "greatness", but it most certainly is not sufficient. It must also be delicious and beautiful IMO to be considered creatively "great". This does nothing to diminish the work of someone less conceptually creative who is able to produce stellar food from within a tradition, but that is another discussion. What separates this kind of cooking for me is the sense of imagination, whimsy and playfullness that takes cuisine beyond a mere sensual experience and into an intellectual one as well. It is the succesful marriage of the sensual and the intellectual that defines the greatest and most unique dining experiences for me.

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True, food must taste great. I believe Chef Achatzs language of gastronomy is some of the most delicious food I have ever had. This is essential for repeat diners and Chef has many. I believe when someone REALLY commits to the basic fundamentals.....
a) delicious, well defined flavor structure that is desirable
b) forgetting everything else you know
.....you can end up with tasteful combinations that conventional preparations arent tapping into.

Sensualness and the intellectualization of consumption are equals and soon, one can no longer exist without the other. The "tricks" are guiding us into a world we have only begun to understand.

Edited by inventolux, 15 November 2004 - 03:27 AM.

Future Food - our new television show airing 3/30 @ 9pm cst:
http://planetgreen.d...tv/future-food/

Hope you enjoy the show! Homaro Cantu
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#65 johnnyd

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Posted 15 November 2004 - 12:48 PM

Fascinating Thread. I echo the others who are in awe.

The caramel bulb problem reminded me of a school trip to the fornace on the island of Murano years ago where artisans made colorful glass vases and objets d'art. They said the kilns where they melted blobs of glass at the end of long tubes hadn't been extinguished since the war.

Is it too far a stretch to imagine a miniature kiln where blobs of caramel are heated, spun and "blown" into shapes of the chefs whim, and nipped by tiny pincers to form handles or flourishes? The balloons formed a perfect orb, but this technique, expensive I'll admit, offers alternative shapes.

My humble respect to all at the lab
Johnnyd
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#66 chuck

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Posted 03 December 2004 - 10:01 PM

I still want to know how the caramel orbs were formed around the balloons. Popped balloons and burnt fingers, and then it worked somehow. Maybe just a hint...

Isomalt? Caramel temperature?
If we aren't supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?

#67 alexw

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Posted 05 December 2004 - 03:00 PM

Last year at a chefs conference in sheffield we had the closing dinner which consisted of a peach sorbet intermediate course, Willie pike made these by blowing sugar and indenting it to look exactly like a peach.
eh showed how he made them during a demo earlier in the day. Then filling it with the peach sorbet and a schnapps granita. looked and tasted great but a bit blooming laborious for 330 guests, christ knows how long he and his team took to make them.
after all these years in a kitchen, I would have thought it would become 'just a job'

but not so, spending my time playing not working

www.e-senses.co.uk

#68 PurpleDingo99

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Posted 06 December 2004 - 10:00 PM

Have you considerend making some sort of savory dish into a long, hard, skinny shell? sort of like a taquito, but perhaps out of a hard and crunchy shell (flakey?) fill it with just about anything and stand it up either straight or at a diagonal. you could do dungeoness crab, shredded apricot, and peanut or veal, truffle, mushroom, and bamboo, or any such crazy combination. I think, properly done, could be a medium all its own (like a carpaccio or fajita)

#69 speidec

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Posted 09 December 2004 - 09:00 AM

Reading all the posts there seems to be several classic personalities. There is the young chef reading and hoping to get a secret clue so they can go back to their kitchens in smalltown, USA and wow all their foodie friends and adventurous customers with new tricks while distancing their bread and butter customers. And there is the group who don't cook professionally, but love new and interesting food and thought. I applaud any new, or shall we say, avant garde thought whether it is in music, art, food, architecture, etc, but I get this eerie feeling when I read about the 'food lab'. Like I've read about it before, in a book, published two years ago. I hope Chefg and staff continue to document gram by gram their research, with pictures, notes and commentary, but I would rather them do it behind closed doors. With all the reality shows thrown in our faces, you can't help notice the pandering to the camera. I think better and more original work can be done in private. Then published later.

#70 edsel

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Posted 09 December 2004 - 06:51 PM

(...) I applaud any new, or shall we say, avant garde thought whether it is in music, art, food, architecture, etc, but I get this eerie feeling when I read about the 'food lab'.  Like I've read about it before, in a book, published two years ago.  I hope Chefg and staff continue to document gram by gram their research, with pictures, notes and commentary, but I would rather them do it behind closed doors.  With all the reality shows thrown in our faces, you can't help notice the pandering to the camera.  I think better and more original work can be done in private.  Then published later.

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speidec, you appear to have quite the opposite reaction to mine. I think that this very public exposure of the development process is very valuable (not to mention unique). Sure, there are chefs such as Adrià who's every move is subject to close scrutiny and speculation (see here for example). This forum has provided us with an intimate view of the whole process, well before the restaurant has opened for business.

ChefG may be a bit too thin-skinned regarding the whole originality issue, so perhaps he's trying to inoculate himself against charges of being derivative. I say to hell with the whole Caramel Light-bulb thing! Not to mention the it's-been-done-in-Spain thing....

Creative chefs should be allowed to explore similar territory without worrying about "who was first?" - sizzleteeth summed it up nicely in a previous post. This ain't no "reality show", it's a fascinating window into the creative process.

#71 johnnyd

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Posted 09 December 2004 - 06:58 PM

Bravo!
"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II
Portland Food Map.com

#72 speidec

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Posted 10 December 2004 - 09:00 AM

I love the fact the entire process is being recorded in detail and there should be no worry of 'who did it first', but I feel Grant really blossomed at Trio and made his mark without the 'pressure' of an informational outlet hovering over his back, watching and reporting every move, failure, and success. Don't get me wrong, its great entertainment and I am as fascinated by the work as anyone else. I only hope Grant feels he can create to his fullest potential while under the microscope.
The boys at elBulli only went public after many years of trial and error. This is similiar to the private space race recently chronicled on the Discovery Channel. The entire process was filmed and documented, but not released until much later.
Trust me I know what everyone is thinking, but my fear is peoples' best work is not always captured on film as it happens. I do understand this is Chefg's wont. And I merely speak on behalf of opinion.

#73 sizzleteeth

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Posted 10 December 2004 - 09:32 AM

I suppose there is the question of the intentions of the suppliers of the information - is it truly to provide insight into the process... or is it a viral marketing tactic? Are successes and failures truly represented in the documentation?

In many cases not being able to see behind the veil is the very thing that protects people of any craft, it is the practice of artists especially, generally, to only show you successes – you never see the ratio or nature of the failures – you never see the bad photos on the roll of film... the failed painting.

You never see that the amount of money given by someone to charity is the exact ratio to work the tax angles to actually keep as much money as possible... while garnering plaudits from the public for being philanthropic.

If you could see inside the bubble of perception that is supported by and protects the people inside the bubble, YOUR perception may be much different – in other words if one could see the truth one may not think what one thinks.

The caveat being that “seeing inside the bubble” in these days is also a tactic that is manipulated by the presenter so that you see exactly what they want you to see – the only way to really see what is going on is to have it documented and presented by an impartial third party.

Be wary of anyone who offers to show you the truth about them… because they are the most likely to be biased and provide select information… this is true of everyone, including myself.

There is often a large variance between the truth and the “whole truth”.

The “whole truth” is often shielded from your eyes – a partial, manipulated truth offered in its place.

It is brave of anyone to offer a candid look into something as they bring it into existence or even after it exists – the difference here being that, on a reality show, the participants do not have control of the camera – but the producers and cameramen still manipulate your perception.

There are many levels of granularity to consider in assessing something like this, which brings me back to my first point – do you know the true intentions of the suppliers of the information?

Without that piece of information, an accurate assessment cannot take place, and how do you get that piece? Is it even possible?

“Do words agree with actions? – There is your measure of reliability.”

Edited by sizzleteeth, 10 December 2004 - 12:26 PM.



nathan gray

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#74 Lactic Solar Dust

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Posted 10 December 2004 - 12:07 PM

Also remember that Chefg was ASKED to document the evolution of his restaurant by the folks at egullet.com. He kindly obliged for not only the benefit of egullet's members, but for advertisment, hype, and insight to his restaurant.

#75 ronnie_suburban

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Posted 10 December 2004 - 03:18 PM

Also remember that Chefg was ASKED to document the evolution of his restaurant by the folks at egullet.com.  He kindly obliged for not only the benefit of egullet's members, but for advertisment, hype, and insight to his restaurant.

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And even before that it was chefg who approached us, volunteering to answer our questions.

=R=
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#76 Mallet

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Posted 04 March 2005 - 10:36 AM

Fascinating thread!

I know it's a bit late, but I thought I would might contribute something about gelling agents, specifically agar.

In molecular biology research labs (I'm a student), we use agarose, which is basically the ultra pure/refined gelling component of agar. It forms a very tight matrix (we use it to separate molecules of DNA), and is very clear, almost transparent.

I don't know if this product is currently used in the food industry, but I think it is a ingredient which may be of interest...
Martin Mallet
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#77 Mnehrling

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Posted 04 March 2005 - 11:12 AM

I suppose there is the question of the intentions of the suppliers of the information - is it truly to provide insight into the process... or is it a viral marketing tactic? Are successes and failures truly represented in the documentation?


Even if it is, so what? Viral marketing is a legitmate form of advertising (and effective). In this case all parties benefit.
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#78 sizzleteeth

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Posted 04 March 2005 - 11:27 AM

Even if it is, so what?  Viral marketing is a legitmate form of advertising (and effective).  In this case all parties benefit.

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I wasn't suggesting that it is nor does it matter to me either way - I was simply making a distinction between documentation for the purpose of documentation and documentation for the purpose of marketing in response to the previous post #69.

{edit} :

No, actually it's not completely true that it doesn't matter to me:

There are those who do things because that is what they truly believe and there are those who do what they believe will garner the best reaction.

It IS important ( to me at least ) to be able to distinguish between those who are sincere and those who are merely taking advantage of a public relations opportunity – and if both, to what degree each plays a role.

Edited by sizzleteeth, 04 March 2005 - 11:42 AM.



nathan gray

"At the gate, I said goodnight to the fortune teller... the carnival sign threw colored shadows on her face... but I could tell she was blushing." - B.McMahan


#79 tan319

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Posted 04 March 2005 - 09:58 PM

I've never had the feeling that Achatz was anything but sincere.
Everything is about cross marketing these days but It seems that after that article in the F&W 10 best chefs ish with the 'Pastry Provocateurs' article that mentioned the Alinea kitchen concept, and the subsequent mention here on the 'gullet about it (scooped?) that chefG and EG decided to document the development and opening of it.
2317/5000

#80 sizzleteeth

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Posted 04 March 2005 - 11:22 PM

I've never had the feeling that Achatz was anything but sincere.

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I can agree with that - he seems genuinely interested in sharing many aspects of his work for more than the sake of "becoming famous".

I attended the cooking demo he and his team put on at The Chopping Block, preparing dishes that (at that time anyway), were said to be destined for the menu at Alinea.

In my eyes it was an opportunity to do more than sample the dishes - but to witness the process of the team making and plating the dishes and to get a feel for them as people.

The dishes were distinctive and enjoyable and the team was mild mannered in that setting, including Grant - not much of a trace of large ego and I have no reason to believe that is not typical.


nathan gray

"At the gate, I said goodnight to the fortune teller... the carnival sign threw colored shadows on her face... but I could tell she was blushing." - B.McMahan


#81 tan319

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Posted 10 April 2005 - 01:04 PM

chefG...
Firstly, I hope everything is moving ahead with Alinea and can't wait to read about the opening.
In the meantime I was hoping to get some advice on encapsulating liquids, namely green olive.
the chef I'm working with wanted some garnish for a martini and my exec PC & I set about making piquillo pearls or caviar and we were trying to come up with a green olive shape, we call them "lava lamp' shapes.
We rinsed the pitted olives free of oil and brine and then liquified and strained thru cheesecloth.
We finished off the olive liquid with a bit of brine from the holding liquid, it tasted great.
We found that our shapes were not setting up swell.
We upped the alginate in some more olive liquid, it did a bit better, but I wanted to try upping the calcium cholride in our setting solution, which my cochef didn't want to hit yet.
We were also trying to decide how to cure the look of it as it was slighly unappetizing visually (but that's another story).
So, any advice from yourself or any other interested parties in what could be the problem here?
Could it be residual oil from the olive cure or too much salinity?
Does anyone ever read a ph level for the C.C. solution?
Thanks in advance for any help, always much appreciated.
P.S. all was not lost.
The piquillo pearls made a great garnish for a cerviche!

chefG wrote on Oct.24, 2004...
Yes, very acturate digital scales are required for the measuring of most ingredients in the kitchen. All of our recipes are in metric and all of them are documented to the gram, some to the half gram if necessary. Your percentages seemed to be reversed. We basically use a 1% solution of alginate and a 2% calcium solution, but that can vary depending on what base liquid you are dealing with.

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[/quote]:

Edited by tan319, 10 April 2005 - 01:05 PM.

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