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Michael Laiskonis

eGullet Society staff emeritus
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Posts posted by Michael Laiskonis

  1. pierre gagnaire, la cuisine imediate published by robert lafont 1988

    great book though as far as i know only in french


    ...and sadly long out of print. I tried to put my name on a waiting list at Kitchen Arts and Letters, should they ever come across a copy, years ago, and at the time I was politely told not to hold my breath... Was never able to find one at Librarie Gourmande either.

    I'm excited for a new Gagnaire book, but somehow apprehensive as well. Perhaps I'd be disappointed with anything but a complete Adria style documentation of his work...

  2. question? what role does order of service play on cuisine which is interprative?  example: if one were to recieve alain passards stuffed and roasted tomato would there be any discusion? would foie gras chantilly bat an eyebrow at the beginning of a meal rather than at the end served atop a mole cake?

    The traditional structure and course progression is the only model most of us know. And as more chefs immerse themselves in an 'interpretive' cuisine, the more that structure can be rearranged, or removed altogether. Inserting techniques into places they once did not occupy is becoming commonplace. What is the next step from there? Is it the swapping of ingredients, or have we done that too? What do you think?

    or should it be up to the diner such that a tasting menu is served not as a progression but as a large selection; one big dim sum house with haute cuisine along side that inspired by gray's papaya?

    I think that is an entirely valid approach, yet I also think there is room for a chef to display his/her intentions with regard to sequence. And at a certain level a sense of surprise is welcome, and perhaps at times a certain level of trust is called for as well. Recalling history, this is really just service a la Russe vs. service a la francaise, isn't it?

    thus is order of service a technique, an ingredient or a whole other entity in the cooking foreum?

    Perhaps all three. Or merely a way to get from point A to point B. Different cultures have their own unique structures. Kaiseki, for instance, is bound more by a progression of cooking techniques. Maybe, for centuries, at least from the European tradition, the sweets have simply been the incentive to get through the rest of the meal! Seriously, I think the removal of a traditional structure does not necessarily imply culinary anarchy, or a lack of order. Surely, the challenge is to remove structure while retaining meaningful transitions from one course to the next. Paraphrasing something I read long ago, some snippet of anarchist theory: 'Destruction only has value in its reconstruction.' Or something along those lines.

    oh yeah and where does wine fall into the equation?

    Beverage pairings can also be examined more closely. A savvy sommelier should be able to recognize the range of flavors and nuances of a dish, isolate a potential match, and then make further decisions regarding what came before and what will come after. Yet I found myself at conflict with the wine pairing at my aforementioned meals at Susur; simply inverting the structure, working from Cabernet to Champagne then to 'dessert' wines, did not necessarily prove successful.

    side note to michael: an atomizer does not work for me to give cold foods an aroma.  a dining room is not the place for a bloomingdales sales person at christmas pushing the latest fragrance.  help me with my work please

    I hear you. There are too many variables that may present problems. I remember considerable debate here on that very subject with regard to Trio's 'vapor' dishes. What have you discovered in your process toward that goal? What else has failed, and what favorable leads might you have? Are there ways we can subvert/manipulate what Blumenthal refers to as the 'brain to palate connection'? Can we fool ourselves into merely thinking that we are smelling something when we actually are not?!

    Thanks for your compelling input.

  3. ...Be careful with the Cluizel--since it doesn't have lecitihin anymore if you let it sit around too long it will attract moisture and can seem thicker...

    Steve, when you have a moment, can you expand on the role lecithin plays in chocolate formulation? Specifically, how and when it is added in the manufacturing process? Apart from claims of 'purity', which Cluizel actively promotes, what do they achieve by not using it?

    As an 'eating' chocolate, Cluizel is at the top of my list. As I'm currently considering adding some Cluizel to my inventory as a 'working' chocolate, are there any factors I should consider, and what should I know as I put it to use in a testing capacity?

  4. I don't mean to sound negative...

    I think I know what you're trying to say, Bux, and thanks for your perspective. I'm not so sure that I'm even thinking in terms of envelope pushing, or looking to create something that has never been done. Having been invited to participate on this project, the process thus far, even in its infancy, has become very personal and introspective. I'm eagerly looking toward the Blumenthals, Marcons, Veyrats, Adrias, Liebrandts, for insight and inspiration... yet part of me is also trying to block them out, to look inward and challenge myself in my own little vacuum. I'm asking myself a lot of questions, and though I may not end up satisfied with the answers I get, I will at least have made myself a better cook.

    Speaking only for myself, my motives are limited only to the pursuit of creating something 'in the moment,'- 10 courses, one room, one night- to be experienced by 60 or so guests, and by extension, the handful of cooks and servers who will be an integral part of its execution. Wait- isn't that what we strive to do with every night's service?!

    That this collaboration has begun with a casting aside of conventional wisdom and preconceived notions of sweet and savory, simply opens up the dialogue and transfer of ideas between two chefs. It is refreshing and daunting, exciting and kind of scary. That we may end up reigned in by traditional structure, well, that might be inevitable. But the opportunity to work through the process itself is rewarding enough. And sharing the results of that process will be the icing on the sea urchin, er, I mean, the icing on the cake...

    With chefg's blessing, I'll continue to offer updates and thoughts as the menu development proceeds...

  5. I humbly suggest looking at Scandinavian menus.  There is a lot of crossover... 

    ...But I wonder whether it is the intellectual or the sensual effect you are going for (both, I guess).  For example, is it important that they recognize the ingredient and know that it is being used differently?

    Good angle babyluck, and that's precisely why I've always enjoyed and been inspired by the work of Marcus Samuelsson at Aquavit.

    And yes, I do think the featured ingredients may act as secondary players; many of the ingredients I threw out into the open would be best used in such a manner. Perhaps how either of us chooses not to use a particular ingredient, or rather downplay it, is just as valid as how we might choose to feature it.

  6. One of my most memorable chocolate tasting experiences was my first sample of Cluizel's 85%. As it melted, it threw off an immediate tannic bitterness that slowly gave way to a subtle sweetness, all the while offering up a range of flavors often lost behind the sugar and milk solids added to chocolate. But then, I'm a habitual user of strong, black coffee. I'm a fan of bitter.

    I do enjoy milk chocolates with a higher cacao %, those approaching or exceeding 40%. And I find myself going through phases- who doesn't pop a pistole at work now and then- sometimes I gravitate toward the dark, though sometimes I just have to seek out a sliver of Varhona Jivara or my dwindling sample bag of E. Guittard's milk.

  7. ingredients, techniques, ideas are all interwoven such that with the deft hand savory is sweet, sweet is savory and depending on the position in the menu the dish works double duty or perhaps as merely a bridge with no affiliation.

    Yes, that's exactly where we are with this.

    With each layer of convention we peel away, we find ourselves with ever more possibilities. Coming up with the dishes themselves may be easier than figuring out where in the 'progression' we end up putting them. I also think it would be an interesting idea to not list whose dish was whose on the menu, to further add that element of surprise, though it may be obvious to those who are quite familiar with Grant's cooking and style.

    And to the table I bring the recent experience of a similar guest chef dinner at Susur in Toronto, executed in his 'backward' style, though my desserts still found their place as a traditional ending. I'm still figuratively digesting that experience and concept. Perhaps merely inverting course progression doesn't move us anywhere at all.

    I like sous vide, as it is surely a technique that has yet to be fully exploited by pastry chefs. The use of the freezer as a 'tool' is turning some wheels in my mind. I also appreciate your quest for adding aroma to cold dishes, and I've been considering the role of atomizers toward that end- and don't forget Grant's well-practiced 'vapor' technique.

    As for your list of ingredients, you make some interesting suggestions... Hay came into my head along with sweetbreads (recalling an old Blumenthal dish I had seen ages ago), though I've never worked with it, nor tasted its effects. I see dried shrimp easily working its way into something; looking to the Japanese and other Asian cuisines, their snacks and 'junk food' alone offer a lot of inspiration. I love hyssop, and I thought of sorrel, but didn't include it as I associate it more as an early spring ingredient. And cocoa nibs- I can't believe I forgot that one!

    Good stuff.

  8. Proof positive that there is just too much to read here on eGullet these days... I can't believe I missed this! I did notice lou's ADPA reference on another thread, but had no idea she landed the gig for four months...

    You've mentioned Ducasse's off and on presence, what about Frederic Robert? Is he around and hands on? Is there a separate lab some place where he develops things, and is everything 'his', or is the pastry chef there given control over his desserts?

    I'm jealous.

  9. Ok, some of you have brought up some lucrative suggestions, some of which made my list. Other ideas remained rather safe, and 'in the box,' but are good nonetheless.

    I like mjc's idea of a true collaborative nature, on each dish, though geography and time constraints might be too limiting. And there are so many potential foodstuffs that it would be easier to compile those that might never work- it would certainly be a short list!

    Some of your notes that mirrored some of my mine, include porcini mushrooms, truffles, sweet potato, cucumber (and melon, as when cooked it takes on a cucumber-like flavor), eggplant, bacon, chili peppers, olives, foie gras...

    Remember also my initial reference to course progression. This menu will not necessarily conform to the conventional notion of starting from savory and progressing toward sweet. I believe the term 'rolling hills' has emerged as the underlying concept for this project. Thus, proteins begin to enter into the mix. We've mentioned bacon and foie gras, and I like docsconz's idea of crab and shellfish- I recall Heston Blumenthal's use of crab in dessert when he gave us a preview of works in progress during his eGullet Q&A. Other animal-derived thoughts crossing my mind include duck fat, sea urchin, dashi, marrow, caviar, and, perhaps only for the potential play on words, sweetbreads.

    I am also keenly aware of this chef's progressive use of ingredients and flavors. Not only do I want to avoid repetition of concepts he has already explored (parsnips, pine, olives, jerusalem artichokes- to name just a few of many), but I do want to bring ideas into the discussion that will challenge him. The crossover does extend to his 'savory' interpretations as well as my 'sweet' ones, and I am very interested to see what we both might do with the following...

    Celery root, cauliflower, licorice (root or candy), concord grapes, yuzu, sea vegetables, yogurt, beurre noisette, tamarind, tea and coffee, soy (either edamame, soy milk, or soy sauce), sesame, salt water, chestnut, dates, grains (barley, rice, amaranth, etc.), beer, 'curry', juniper, saffron, malt, quince, 'smoke', sake, banana, persimmon, shiso/oba, gingerbread...

    ...to name just a few.

    So now I widen the scope of this discussion to call for techniques, cooking methods, or general concepts that may prove interesting in the context of this exercise. Let's see what you've got.

    PS... For some background on this collaborative menu, it may be helpful to read an initial conversation which began here, and continued privately, as well as a discussion that briefly touches on putting this theory into practice.

  10. I was going to suggest candy button mushrooms.  I can't remember the name of the chef from... Oregon?  He did a demo at the IHMRS Show. Tiny caramelly smelling mushrooms?  I think they were candy button....

    That was Paul Connors from Minneapolis (formerly of Radius, in Boston) and he demo'd his ice cream utilizing, I believe, 'cinnamon cap' mushrooms. Paul and the rest of us, along with a couple of new faces, will be teaming up for series of demos again at this year's IHMRS.

  11. Finding myself preoccupied by the heavier topics of discussion lately, I feel the need to blow off some steam and have some fun. And a timely way to do so...

    I am in the planning stages of an exciting and challenging collaboration. Next month I will be teaming up with a chef to execute an eight course menu. Four ingredients will be chosen, and for each, the chef and I will create our own interpretation- his in the savory realm, and mine in the sweet one. As the seed for this concept was planted months ago on our very own eGullet, I thought it would be interesting to open it up and see what some of you might come up with on your own!

    So, give me your ideas for ingredients or products with interesting potential for savory/pastry crossover. The only rule is that there are none. The only limits are those of the imagination, though for the sake of this exercise, realize that real guests will be paying to sample these dishes, so a sense of good taste is obligatory. Also mandatory is the willingness to think outside the box, or better yet, to ignore the box altogether. Rid yourselves of any preconceived notions of course progression. Set aside the conventions of what is or is not a typical pastry component or technique.

    Truth be told, I've been making notes for over a week now, and I'll be submitting my initial list of ideas shortly. But don't let that discourage you from brainstorming with me!

    I'll show you mine if you show me yours...

  12. I realize I asked a great number of questions, and just to be clear, I tried not to portray any hidden agenda or bias, but rather honestly and openly attempted to throw some ideas out there, from different viewpoints. I simply don't know the answers to these questions! I'm pleased with what has been written so far, yet I think we've still just scratched the surface.

    Allow me to fully digest all the points made, before I weigh in with more, but another thought that occurred to me... Why no French women pastry chefs? I honestly cannot conjure up the name of a single one! Given that we have entered the 21st century, I can't really speculate why that is, tradition or no tradition. And since competition, and its inherent 'French-ness,' has been pushed to the fore in this discussion, how many women competitors preceeded En Ming Hsu in the Coupe du Monde, and has any other woman been part of a winning team?

    And perhaps relevant, perhaps not, this just happened to cross my desk today...

    The End of Chocolate...

    The European Union has ruled that chocolate can contain some vegetable fats, and the French just can't swallow that...

    This at a time when here, in the US, we are still trying to turn people on to what real chocolate is!

  13. ...or simply MOF. Literally, Best Worker of France, an annual honor bestowed upon certain skilled trades, Patissier (Glacier, etc.) being just one. Jacques Torres, for example was awarded the MOF circa the mid 80s, and was, at the time, the youngest to have earned the title, if I'm not mistaken. It's a pretty big deal among chefs, or as I posed the question, is it still a big deal, with regard to public perception?

  14. Discussion in some recent threads lead me to think about the position and status of pastry in France, as well as the reasons why many French chefs are drawn to America and elsewhere. A random collection of thoughts and questions...

    Obviously, the long tradition for fine pastry in France is deep rooted, as it has a place in daily life there that one could arguably assert is absent elsewhere. Is this assumption still valid? Has the globalization and homogenizing (some may say Americanization) of culture at large also affected the every day appreciation and consumption of pastry? As we read more and more often, from the New York Times to Gault Millau, French haute cuisine is perceived to be in crisis. Is it possible that French pastry, no doubt still the gold standard worldwide, may eventually suffer a similar fate, and perhaps find itself also in need of a public relations facelift?

    For aspiring students of the pastry profession, the system of education, apprenticeship, and working one's way up the ladder (and not to exclude the common inheriting of the profession from previous generations), appear to be based on log held standards, not just in France, but in Europe in general. Is this tradition still holding up? Are young teenagers still looking to commit to a metier at such an early age? Are there any flaws to this system of training? Or is it still considered the ideal? What do the short, accelerated programs, more common here in the US, say about us and the future of our industry here, and what does it say, if anything, about the people running these programs, a few of whom are indeed French?

    With a few exceptions (Frederic Robert, for instance, though he is, in a sense, ‘corporate’ pastry chef for the Ducasse empire), we likely couldn’t name many French pastry chefs whose domain is limited to the restaurant kitchen. Why is this? Why do patisserie-affiliated chefs seem to enjoy more recognition? In the culture of French dining, are the expectations of restaurant/plated desserts different from the expectations of take away pastry from a boutique? And just how much respect and status do pastry chefs, in general, find in France? Apart from the ‘branded’ names, like Lenotre or Thuries, is it the name with which the public

    identifies, or just the product? Outside the profession, how much weight does the title Meilleur Ouvrier de France hold?

    And so I come to the question of the appeal North America (not to exclude the UK, Japan, etc) has. What pulls some of France’s best pastry chefs away from their homeland? Presumably at the top of their game, why does a Payard leave Lucas Carton to end up at Le Bernardin, or a Torres, from a Maximin to Le Cirque? How did Sebastien Cannone, barely in-country, take the helm of the Chicago Ritz Carlton (in his mid-twenties), to later co-found perhaps the most influential pastry school in the US? What does it mean when an all French pastry team, representing the US, goes head to head in competition with a French pastry team, representing France? And what do the likes of Bajard, Caffet, or Brunstein, who visit the US periodically to teach and consult, what do they see in their audiences and classrooms? Are there freedoms here, an excitement here, that no longer exists at home? Are economic issues a consideration (weakened economies, stringent labor laws)? And what about competition or over-saturation? Are there simply too many pastry chefs in France? Apart from importing their styles and techniques, have they managed to inject some of their culture, that attitude and passion for pastry, into ours? Has the awareness here changed, to the point where an Herme could set up shop in a major city and succeed, where Lenotre tried and failed years ago?

    No doubt the French dominance and influence on American-born pastry chefs has existed for decades. But are the apprentices and students of these French masters beginning to form their own identity? Where will this generation of American pastry chefs go from that initial inspiration, and will they in turn inspire the work of pastry chefs in France and the rest of Europe? Have they already done so? Perhaps not overturning the tradition of decades of technique, but maybe influencing the spirit of their work? Is this good, bad, or just plain inevitable?

  15. Is there something not astonishing about a collection of pastries using "collection" in the sense of a fashion house? Food is rather ephemeral, certainly the meal we consume is more ephemeral than the clothes we wear, have cleaned and wear again, but chefs have tended to present new ideas as revolutionary and not as passing fashion and dishes that are well received tend to become classics that stay available in a restaurant's repertoire--at least up until nueva cocina. One can only hope that Hermé is documenting his desserts as well as Adria is documenting his dishes.

    I think that borrowing this page from, say, the fashion industry, is a good, smart move. It is refreshing and inspiring to see Herme roll out a whole new line of desserts for the season; in addition, he tags it with a general theme or concept, perhaps, a color, and an ineffable 'emotion' that may conjure associations with memory and our other senses, apart from taste. Ah, but you say that it's really just cake, isn't it?

    As for whether a dish is a passing fashion, or potential classic... I think the best chefs, the ones who constantly push their own limits, and by extension those of their peers, tend not rest on yesterday's achievements, and are always well into the next idea. You won't see La Cerise sur le Gateau at Herme's shop today, just as Ferran Adria has implied that 'foam' is dead, a thing of the past.

    The epitomy of spontaneity and the pursuit of change, for me anyway, is Pierre Gagnaire. Known to change and redirect his dishes in the middle of service, he has strong feelings with regard to that fleeting, temporary, and ephemeral quality that haute cuisine, and food in general is capable of. By drawing analogies to other art forms, primarily jazz, Gagnaire seems to approach each plate as a unique entity, and taking into account every possible variable, one that could never be recreated. Hence, he has come to avoid the recipe- the standardizing and codification. In his case, the lack of a record is quite regrettable.

    Not to take the issue too far away from pastry (which, in the interest of consistency, cannot afford the spontaneity of Gagnaire) and Herme... I too hope that he is documenting his work of the last couple years. And, as he has done with his first book, I hope he eventually shares it with the rest of us!

  16. Look here for loufood's summary of Herme's latest offerings.

    nightscotsman, I'll work on that new topic this morning. There are so many interesting facets open to discussion... and it would be great to get Jacquy in here for his perspective!

    And thanks for the kind words, Explorer. If you did make the drive, you wouldn't likely see that tart! Had you been at Susur when we were in town last month, you would have gotten a much more exciting series of tastes!

    With regard to Payard, it seems with each visit, I'm less impressed than I was on the previous visit. I could attribute that to any number of factors, so I wouldn't say there has been necessarily any drop in quality. But his style, as Lesley noted, is decidedly French.

    As for Torres, I think he has, in a very delibrate and calculated way, decided to market his product more toward the masses, sort of a 'give them what they want' attitude. While he may not be shooting for 'world class', at the same time he's probably educating some of those same folks, introducing them to a certain higher level they were unaware of. I've only been there once, but world-class... no. And he is now primarily a chocolatier anyway. Regardless of any compromises he makes, be they real or perceived, he still commands the respect of his peers, because he is showing us, by example, one more direction pastry chefs can take their knowledge and craft.

  17. What, I've got to drive all the way to Grand Rapids for this thing? You can't all come to my restaurant and spend large sums of money? Actually, you better not... by the sounds of it, this crew might put my job in jeopardy!

    So put me in the 'perhaps, possibly, maybe, at this time unconfirmed, if it doesn't conflict with something in my schedule that I don't know about yet,' category. Plan something cool and groovy for Sunday, as that is my best shot of attending.

  18. And I nominate the Peltier in the 7th on Rue St. Dominique.

    Thanks, as always, for your local perspective, loufood. I remember the St. Dominique location from last summer... wasn't it the more scaled down of the two? It seemed to me the Rue de Sevres location of Peltier, steps away from the Vaneau metro stop, was the flagship...

    And glad to hear the good review of Kayser; the original Rue Monge shop was on my list to visit last time, but I never made it. And lou, how did you know it was you I had in mind when writing that 'love-it-or-hate-it bit'?!

    And lou, who is the chocolatier at south end of Rue Cler, on the main street (I forget the name, La Motte-Piquet, maybe?)... I want to say JP Hevin, right?

    And not only does Herme have operations in Japan, but they were there long before the opening of his current shops in Paris! I haven't heard any news recently, but I do believe Peltier is now or will be appearing in Japan as well. Kayser has been there for awhile too.

    I'm woefully behind on Herme's latest... thanks for the update!

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