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Michael Laiskonis

eGullet Society staff emeritus
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  1. Chef, I am continually impressed by your many accomplishments and your skill in successfully wearing many hats; beyond merely being a chef, you are a businessman, author, televison host, and intentionally or not, widely considered an ambassador for Spanish cuisine here in the US. I also find it fascinating that your projects run such a wide range, from 'low' end to high end, from the artisanal to the hyper modern. And in an age where the 'celebrity chef' is certainly not a foreign concept, you seem to be one of the few who is able to diversify and democratize cuisine truly on his or her own terms, without losing control, or, dare I say, the appearance of pandering to some lowest common denominator. I'm not sure exactly what my question is or how to phrase it, but I would love to read your thoughts on how you approach all of these facets of your career and how you see them complimenting each other. And I would also be interested in learning how you do keep it all together; beyond surrounding yourself with capable and talented collaborators, what are the key factors in actually managing everything from devising and opening new concepts, intense research and development, and the overall PR juggernaut? While the word 'branding' is often casually tossed around, and not always in a positive way, do you feel you approach your projects and make decisions based on the 'Jose Andres' brand? At a time when a chef has evermore opportunities and many examples to either follow or avoid, I appreciate and thank you in advance for any insight you could share on such an admittedly broad and vague topic!
  2. Hey Nicole, A 0% fat fromage blanc makes a nice neutral base with which to emulsify and stabilize your mixture; maybe 'google' Philippe Conticini and his olive oil sorbet and play with the sweetness level... And with hydrocolloids all the rage, something that could help bind the mixture might be xanthan, etc...
  3. What Ted said, basically, except I would sift that powder (a coffee grinder will get it down to a superfine dust) directly to the silpat through a handmade stencil, sized to the measurements you need. No rolling or cutting, no burnt fingers, no in and out of the oven- and you control the thickness by how heavy you sift. This method also allows you to introduce any number of other powdered ingredients or garnish to add flavor. Depending on your oven temp, this method will only take 90 seconds or so for the powder to 'melt' into shape. I will also sandwich another silpat on top, and I'll allow it to cool a moment or two before peeling back...
  4. It's funny how this same topic rears its head every year around this time. While perhaps the criteria subtly shifts over time, I believe Mr. Schneider and staff have often explained (and sometimes defended) their choices and methods- if I'm not mistaken, usually in the perennial issue 'Ten Best' issue itself. I've always thought, in order to save themselves a little grief, they should simply call the issue 'The Ten Pastry Chefs We Think Are Cool At This Particular Moment, Excluding Those We've Already Mentioned in Years Past'... But then the public likes their neat and tidy Top Ten lists, and the word 'Best' simply streamlines it. As for the criteria, I really think they are trying to present a cross section of the industry (we can certainly argue how broad it should be)... a hotel chef, a competition chef, a corporate chef, an educator, an 'avant garde' chef, etc. Then I'm sure they factor in geography (people will always argue the high proportion of New York chefs chosen, but I think it in some ways reflects the high concentration of talent here), gender (always touchy, but I'm sure they try to balance it out)... Sometimes the primary consideration is simply about discovery, sometimes they will choose someone who's been kicking around for awhile, but have just recently hit a personal peak. And as much as their world tends to revolve around either the New york scene or the realm of competition, they are interested in seeking out fresh faces- even I was plucked from the obscurity of suburban Detroit and given the nod a few years back. In any award system (and there is no cash award here- simply bragging rights, a plaque, maybe a Kitchenaid mixer, and the honor of cooking for hundereds of guests at your own party!) people will find faults. You could say the Beard Awards have neglected a far larger portion of the industry, yet their criteria are much different, and ultimately chosen in a sort of popularity contest. Of all the media out there, in my experience, Pastry Art and Design is one that actually stands outside the whole PR system (at least in relation to the huge glossies), instead relying more on a sort of 'good old boy' network of chefs and people in the business. Anyone who thinks they need a publicist to crack their world simply hasn't picked up a phone or licked an envelope. And Michael Schneider has even said as much on these very pages. And if I recall, it was criticism from these pages that may have already done a little to influence the scope of the 'Ten Best', if not the magazine itself. As I wrote this time last year, intead of worrying about who is or isn't on the list, and why or why not, I'd rather congratulate those chosen and see what I may be able to learn from their story and from their work.
  5. Before I was ever lured into 'fine dining', I had dreams of creating just this type of scenario- allowing you to not only be a different space for different people, but at the same time also growing within the confines of and perhaps truly defining the broader vision you opened with. I only wish I lived closer. 'Tis a commute for my coffee...
  6. Here are the facts. From my perspective as a consultant, all I can add to that is that everything looks great and on schedule...
  7. Having gone through the experience (defeated yes, yet still dignified I think) I can tell you that due to, on the one hand, a more than modest food budget (those items which the chef obviously orders in advance), and on the other hand, very tight logistical limitations (um, you know, cooking for TV), any foodstuff can become worthy as a secret ingredient. And, with total, sincere humility, I think those of us who were asked to participate in the first season held up the credibility of the whole thing to make it 'ok' for those who appeared in this round. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing Wylie, of course, but also Michael Symon (Lola, in Cleveland), an oft unsung hero, in my opinion, and Desjardins, too. And, dude, David Burke! Pastry chefs will want to tune in to Cat Cora's battles if only to see Elizabeth Faulkner (Citizen Cake, San Francisco) pickup sous chef duty, and something tells me the Aaron Sanchez v. Morimoto show will be, well, interesting...
  8. I like the site- actually, I admire and am envious of it. I picked up the 'Tentations' book several months back while in Paris (which has given me a ton of inspiration, a little for what I'm doing at LB, but also with regard to consulting projects I'm working on), but also heard through some reliable sources at the time that he had been very ill (trying to recall if the Tokyo shop had also closed or not). I know Dorie is good with up-to-the-minute news on the Paris patisserie scene- hopefully she still drops in now and then and let's us know what she does. But yeah, I had first been exposed to Conticini pre-Peltier, maybe even pre-Petrossian NYC, at Petrossian on La Tour Maubourg in Paris, where he did both the sweet and savory (I believe it still holds one Michelin star, and while a quick browse of the the menu still appeared to carry his signature stuff, it wasn't clear to me if he remains at the helm). My two meals there (circa 1999-2002) and a couple trips to Peltier (Klc steered me to the shop, as I remember. And that being around the time Herme also first opened on Rue Bonaparte, my opinion of and interest in retail pastry took a sharp turn), along with all the media I absorbed at the time, made me a huge fan. I'm a pretty firm believer that he is directly or indirectly responsible for any dessert you see served in a shot glass. Unfortunately, I don't think he ever hit as wide an audience here in the US as, say, Herme, so I understand why his influence hasn't spread as far as it should. His 'virtual shop' reminds me of what Balaguer is doing in Barcelona, or at least appears similar in spirit. When I met Oriol this past Spring, I learned that his pastry shop is, essentially, not open to the public, or at least it isn't geared toward walk-in business. Clients basically pre-order items from a seasonal menu he distributes, and those items are made to order for a precise pick-up time in order to ensure ultimate quality control (and he turns a profit, though I'm sure his internet chocolate sales and consulting help). Makes me not only rethink the whole notion of retail pastry yet again, but also makes me extremely jealous!
  9. Reading all this I feel I've learned a bit more than I needed to know about the sociology of breakfast, but I can recommend Coquelicot, at 24 rue des Abbesses (take a right out of the Abbesses metro). It's a boulangerie with both tables on the sidewalk and a cozy room upstairs. It is Montmartre, but it didn't have a tourist feel. On a Saturday morning, it looked to be full of folks from the neighborhood, in fact a Parisian had invited me there for a 'working' breakfast. Basic fare- coffee, croissants, tartines, etc. And if you are taking the train in or out to CDG, Gare du Nord is quite close.
  10. Interesting idea, Will. I think this is something a lot of us ponder, and I think pastry books in particular do suffer from a sense of similarity- very few stand out in terms of their general approach or subject matter. One thing that has interested me in recent years is the dessert tradition of other cultures, from Asia to South America, and beyond. Not simply a dry anthropological case study, well some of that, but also someone's personal journey in discovering them, connecting them, and ultimately seeking out the ingredients and tools and preparing them, while also placing them in context of where we are today. I also like the idea of, say, Gray Kunz's book, applied to pastry. One where the building blocks of flavor and texture, coupled with dicussion of ingredients and techniques, form a sort of creative process and understanding of how a dish is constructed. I don't really know anymore what might give crossover appeal to a general audience! I just spent an amazing couple of weeks immersed in many different aspects of pastry and culture, on two continents, with the added bonus of rubbing shoulders with many luminaries in the field. It led me to want some grand opus, combining the forward thinking of Oriol Balaguer, the cultural context someone like Bill Yosses captures, the scientific context from Harold McGee, the technical foundations of Perruchon and Bellouet, the cool generosity and spirit of Stan Ho, maybe the sweet, grounding narration of Dorie Greenspan, all sprinkled with a pinch of the humor and irreverance that results when you throw a bunch of pastry chefs into room and lock the door. If that book were on the shelf, I could probably do away with of all the others. (And yes, I did have the pleasure of hanging with said folks, and yes, you all should be jealous!) And then there is the aspect of collaboration- pastry chefs teamed up with those in other disciplines, like design, fashion, architecture, etc. Or simply a study of both the individual and collaborative creative process between two or several pastry chefs. I find the simple evolution of an idea interesting, but the results of two minds together could be downright illuminating. But then, a simple manifesto would satisfy certain needs, too.
  11. While breaking my relative silence, I don't want to go into any of the 'behind the scenes' stuff. As for my tempering mishap, yes, a huge blow and I don't want to make any excuses, but... One, temperature, time, and patience. Two, that marble was awfully tiny and I didn't have the sense to adapt under the gun. And three, dry ice condensing all over chocolate? Ouch. My nerves and stress aside, it was fun and Mario was both nervous and empathetic of my position. It was an awesome experience, but if ICA offers me a rematch, I'm in. Thanks for all the supportive comments!
  12. Thanks for the tip. And the cool thing is, I live two blocks away; no longer is it among the dozens of otherwise unnoticed establishments I walk by on a daily basis. Thanks, eGullet. What scares me, however, is Iron Sushi, at 78th and 1st, which apparently opened within the last week or so...
  13. ...sounds like the consensus is, the less you cook your sugar, the softer it is, and the more you cook it, the firmer it is, right? This is where that second phase of 'cooking' with the blowtorch becomes vital. Bakerboy stumbled onto the right idea, and lucked out- cook your sugar too much and it will crystallize immediately upon hitting the cool egg whites, or worse yet, the bowl or whip. Cooking to the hard ball stage will make for a nice delivery, though for the perfect texture of the finished product, you must cook further, hence the torch. It may seem awkward at first, but simply moving the torch around the bowl is all it takes. To know it's working, you will notice the mixture pulling away from the bowl where the heat is being applied. While I now can get a sense of it being 'done' just by sight, the best test is to periodically spoon a bit out and place into a bowl of ice water to check the firmness, as I mentioned in that earlier post upthread. I've recently become a fan of a chocolate version- the added cocoa butter aids in the texture but also makes for a slightly less sticky result- no need for nougat paper or tpt. Applying the same method (I now cook the honey just beyond a boil, to 121C, and adding the melted chocolate and cocoa to the mixture just before the nuts) is this variation... 425g honey 500g granulated sugar 120g glucose 200g water 90g egg whites 30g granulated sugar 10g egg white powder 275g chocolate 100% 20g cocoa powder 250g hazelnut 250g almnd 150g pistachio 125g candied orange peel
  14. Scoats, I might be able to make something happen for you. PM me if you're interested.
  15. Cory, when I had this dish several weeks ago, did you plate for me the 'a la carte' version, or something smaller and tighter? Upon reading your list of all the components, I have to admit that there are a few that I don't recall tasting; perhaps the yuzu simply buries some of the intended supporting players, or perhaps they simply got lost in that particular composition. With regard to texture, I recall even less. You have to realize, though, by time I had eaten that dish, I had succombed to a bit of sensory overload... But generally, I agree with Will on introducing a bitter note. For starters, after sweet, sour, and, as of late, salty, bitterness in dessert is still underappreciated in my book. I don't know if you recall (though the 'monkeys' surely will), but by time I had left I was throwing confit of whole lemon and kumquat on everything, out of sheer fascination with the subtle bitterness and how it pushed and pulled other flavors. The idea of an emerging earthiness to contrast sounds good as well. Though it very well might have been the dessert this dish replaced, that green tea ice cream grounded and balanced the runaway sweetness and acid in the old rice pudding, don't you think?... But is that really what you are asking? You seem content with the flavor profiles... Sometimes I approach a dessert concept from a 'subtractive' point of view. Rather than build onto an initial concept, I've taken to immediately stripping away until I think I've lost the essence of the original idea, thus concluding what is absolutely necessary. Though we haven't discussed it much, this is an essential process in my present context; I don't mean to say I'm thinking more simple, but more pure. It's the gulf between those two that I'm exploring now. And don't discount the mechanics of a dish- how it is eaten, and the order or combinations in which the flavors are introduced. You might drastically rearrange the state of each ingredient, without necessarily losing them if you feel they are important, and discover a whole new presentation. I think 'deconstruction' is over as an end goal, but much can be revealed in the dismantling and reconstruction of an idea. In other words, 'if ain't broke, well, let's break it...' Which is what I think you're doing with us here...
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