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Ken Fox

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  1. Ken Fox

    Burgundy Update

    The assumptions I made were based on such things as (obvious) written English fluency which is not something one sees all that often from native French speakers (although it obviously does exist). It is not my goal to excuse poor service and if this is what you received than I am sorry both for you and for the establishment. This is not something I have seen there with any frequency, and given your proficiency in the language I would ask you why you did not bring it to the attention of either a Maitre d'Hotel or Mr. Lamy, the proprietor. I assure you that had you done so that the situation would have been resolved 100% to your satisfaction. I know the 3 Maitre d'Hotels and Mr. Lamy well enough to know that the very last thing they would have wanted to see is for someone like yourself to have left the restaurant as dissatisfied as you obviously were. I am intimately familiar with the fact that Lameloise has a very large and loyal clientele of repeat customers. I was around at the time that they temporarily lost their 3rd star, which most of their regular customers regarded as being unwarranted. I ate there approximately 25 times during this two year period. I saw how these regular customers responded during this period and these responses included many hundreds of letters sent to Michelin (Jacques Lameloise had 2 scrap books full of them, since the customers often sent him a copy of the letters they sent to Guide Michelin). I was also in the dining room several times when a table full of diners would spontaneously have someone get up and engage the entire salle in which they were located in a discourse directed at the red guide for what was perceived to be a real absence of fairness on their part. The entire dining room would then erupt in applause. I don't think you develop a regular repeat clientèle like this for no reason. You develop it because you do a good job both in the kitchen and in the dining room. I am sorry that you had a bad experience and I have no doubt that out of the many hundreds who eat in any fine restaurant each week, that a few leave dissatisfied. I am certain however that your experience was not typical and that if you had made an effort to communicate your dissatisfaction to someone above the level of that sommelier, that whatever could have been done to satisfy you would have been done, and that you would have left the restaurant felling better than you obviously did. I have had isolated bad experiences at a number of reputed gastronomic restaurants in France. I had one in particular 6 months ago that I have thought about documenting online but that I have resisted doing so, so far, because I just cannot be sure that my experience was representative and I don't care to sully the reputation of a business without being more certain that what I experienced was typical. That is just my view and I am not saying that it is the correct one. ken
  2. Ken Fox

    Burgundy Update

    I'm in the area near Antibes, France, right now and spending time with a French friend who is a graduate of a French Hotel/Restaurant management school, and who has managed a couple of restaurants near where I live in Idaho. I discussed with him the etiquette of refusing a bottle of wine in a restaurant today, and he does not necessarily agree with what I have posted. I thought I would share his opinion. He said that if he were running a restaurant and a client relied upon a sommelier's recommendation, that he would allow the customer to refuse the bottle even if it was not defective. He said this doesn't actually happen all that often in a real restaurant and it is an expense that a restaurant can afford to take to keep customers satisfied. He also said that usually the restaurant can then take the opened bottle and sell the wine in it by the glass. He said that when he was managing his last restaurant (in Idaho) this past winter, that he would generally be able to sell the whole bottle by the glass during the same meal as it had been refused by the original customer. I'm a little sensitive on this subject because I have seen diners abuse this privilege. I remember clearly one experience I had when I was invited out by the director of a company in Germany about 7 or 8 years ago. Our table had several other people at it, numbering perhaps 5 or 6 in total. The host had no clue whatsoever about wine and he ordered a bottle that clearly was perfectly fine but then refused it after realizing that he didn't like that particular type of wine; it was an expensive white Burgundy. I think he was trying to impress us, his guests. I can see where as a restaurateur this sort of behavior could get old very quickly. ken
  3. Ken Fox

    Burgundy Update

    Isn't there a world of difference between simply asking for, and accepting a recommendation and the above. If I had had a lengthy conversation and requested a wine of a particular style I feel I would be justified in returning it if it failed to live up to the sommeliers description i.e. if I wanted a good composty Pinot and get a very light fruit driven one. I ate at Lameloise a few years ago (in it's two star period) and wasn't that enamored with it. The food was OK, but the overly formal service got in the way for us. I can see the attraction, but as they say, horses for courses..... I noticed the name but just having a French name does not necessarily make one French. If Pierre is French, then of course the communication problems should be discounted. I'll leave the comment as I wrote it as it does reflect my opinion about communication problems which occur when people travel, and I think it does explain a lot of the difficulties that people have. I thought all 3 star places have "formal service" and that this was a requirement in order to get that standing. I've never considered the service there to be "haughty," and I have experienced that in other places (and I hate it) but formal service in my view comes with the territory in a 3 star place. I'm very much on the fence about your comments on wines. I have sent bottles back but they have been clearly defective bottles. The last time I did so at a fine restaurant (it was not Lameloise) was a few years ago, and rather than saying "this bottle stinks, take it back," (or somesuch) I told the sommelier that I thought there might be something wrong with it and requested that he taste it. After tasting it, the sommelier's face turned red, he apologized profusely, and got another bottle. The next bottle had exactly the same flaws as the first one. After that bottle was opened the sommelier said he thought they had gotten a bad case and they were going to send it back, and he steered me on to a different wine. Perhaps I'm just not as particular as you are when it comes to wine. I do have a very large cellar and I do appreciate many different styles of wine. I have dined with people who say things like, "that dish needs a "Griotte" or somesuch, which I generally regard as being silly. But no, I do not send perfectly good bottles back that just don't happen to be to my taste. The only exception is when a sommelier pushes me really hard to take something that I would otherwise not order under any circumstances (such as a 2003 red Burgundy), as has happened a few times. Generally in that situation the sommelier has said something like, "if you don't like, tell me, and I'll open something else for you." This exact scenario has happened and generally I've liked the wine and did not send it back. In an otherwise normal interaction with a sommelier where several wines are being discussed and one is chosen -- I just take responsibility for that myself unless the wine is flawed. ken
  4. I'm just completing a week in Corsica, just at the end of the tourist season here, so it is most likely that anyone reading this will be interested for next season, rather than for now. So be it. I divided my week in Corsica into two venues, because I wanted to get a feel for the island but at the same time did not want to spend all my time in the car, driving, which would be easy to do since this is a fairly large island. I arrived in Ajaccio but immediately drove north to Piana, which is very close to Porto. Piana is just around the bend from "Les Calanches de Piana," a beautiful area that abuts the sea and which has some superb hiking trails (which is why I went there in the first place). It is not a dining destination and not a place I would go if I was seeking fine dining above all else. I did find one pretty good restaurant, located in the hotel "Les Roches Rouges," in the small town of Piana. While not "star" quality, the food is very good, creative, and well plated. The wine list is decent and the prices are very reasonable. I had a first course of a salad with scallops around the periphery, and a main plate of steak, which was served in two pieces and resembled tournedos rossini (filet mignon) in shape but was clearly not that cut of meat; it was more like an entrecote. It was good but a bit stringy, as French beef often is. I had the cheese plate and not dessert. The cheese plate had only 3 different cheeses however the portions were quite ample. This was all washed down by a good Calvi AOC Corsican red, that cost about 25 euros on the wine list. The other place I ate in Piana, twice in fact, was just this side of edible. It is called "Le Casanova" and from what I heard is the best of the cheap "edible" places. The pizza and the fish soup were not half bad. Once again, Piana is not a place that you visit seeking a gastronomic experience. After 3 days in Piana I moved on to the other side of the island and spent 4 days in Erbalunga, which is 8km up Cap Corse from the metropolis of Bastia. As to Bastia, it is a rather charmless relatively large city, at least from what I experienced. I don't think it is viewed as a major tourist destination, although a lot of people enter the island via either the airport or the port of Bastia, and most move on quickly. Erbalunga is rather charming, if small, fishing village, and it boasts a very nice hotel (Castel Brando) which has 3/5 stars and is quite nice. Across the street in the village proper, which abuts the sea, is a 1-star (Michelin) restaurant "Le Pirate," which is very good and fully merits its star. This is a seasonal restaurant that is about to close now for about 5 months, and I think I hit it just at its ebb; it would probably be better in mid season, but now they are getting ready to close up, and there aren't many diners coming in. Nonetheless, it was excellent and the service was excellent also. I especially enjoyed the fish soup, the risotto de poulpes (octopus) colored with "l'encre de seche" (a squid-like creature), and the cote de veau (veal chop). The cheese selection was a bit limited and the one dessert I had (a lemon tarte) was good but not exceptional. The wine list is good and has a very extensive selection of Corsican wines at very reasonable prices. I'd rate the place as a very solid one star fully meriting its rating and well worth a visit or two.
  5. Ken Fox

    Burgundy Update

    First, as regards the "young sommelier," the person to whom you refer has been there about 2 weeks at this point and other than opening my wine and pouring some of it (and conversing with him, a little) I don't know him nor his taste. Jean-Pierre, who was there for around 4 decades, retired recently and they have now added a 3rd, who is new. I don't know if he is from the region or a recent graduate of "sommelier school" in another region. Normally, the 3rd sommelier does not take wine orders, so I'm not exactly sure what transpired. They use the 3rd person to open and to serve wines, but not to take orders, normally. Perhaps one of the other sommeliers called in sick. I do have to disagree with your approach, however. Unless I know a particular sommelier, ANYWHERE, I never put 100% faith in their recommendations. I do know the other two (longtime) sommeliers at Lameloise, so I will accept their recommendations without reservation, but someone I do not know, and I don't care where they work, nor the level of the restaurant, just cannot be trusted to "know my taste" to the point where I'll accept their recommendations without some consideration on my part. That is plain and simple fact; tastes differ, and no one else knows my taste as well as I do. As a result, I never go to a region anywhere, not in France, not anywhere, without at least a very basic understanding of the wines from the region, the best recent vintages, and who are the best producers. If all else fails, I have a bit of knowledge between my ears and I am never completely dependent on a sommelier to have him or her pick for me what I will drink. I go in with enough knowledge to be able to pick at least a decent choice. If I depend on a sommelier, or even if I pick the wine myself, I NEVER reject a wine because it fails to be what I thought it would be. I ONLY reject a wine because it is BAD, e.g. has flaws, such as being oxidized, corked, or whatever. If I made a bad choice, or if I relied on a sommelier to tell me what to order and he picked something that just didn't happen to meet my own personal taste (but was nonetheless good), then I just drink it. I don't think it is fair to a restaurant to leave them with an opened bottle of perfectly good wine that just didn't happen to be to my taste. I think you discount the problems in communication that come with dealing with a person who speaks a foreign language and who tries to accommodate you, in YOUR language. The opportunities to misunderstand what someone is saying due to cultural or other reasons are just too great. And, honestly, I don't care if it is a 1 star, a 3 star, or a no-stars restaurant; language barriers are REAL. I speak French, but I still have language-based problems in communication nearly each day I am in France. I think you expected too much, and as a result you (presumably) sent back a perfectly good bottle of wine that got wasted and that cost the restaurant a fair amount. You were dissatisfied with your second bottle. Perhaps if you had put a bit more effort in, yourself, before you went, to study the wines of the region, perhaps then you would have been able to get something to go with your dinner that would have suited you more. Sorry to be so harsh, but that is how I feel. ken
  6. Ken Fox

    Burgundy Update

    I can tell you from 20+ years of experience with Lameloise, and in the last 5 years 12-15 dinners per year, that the majority of the clientele is most specifically NOT American, and I doubt that Mr. Lamy would have intended to give you that impression. Last week there were a lot of Americans there; a high end bike tour stayed there (in the hotel, and ate nightly in the restaurant) for 3 days in a row and they numbered around 25 individuals, plus one night a canal boat cruise full of Americans was there also. I happened to be there during that period so I know that from personal experience. But in general I've encountered relatively few Americans there, especially since the dollar has tanked. The foreigners that I see there the most are either other Europeans or Japanese. As to the food being heavy, you really have to be joking This is not the sort of food that your cardiologist (or gastroenterologist; take your pick) would recommend, nor is that to be found in any other restaurant of this category. If you actually eat everything they put on your table, you are talking about (maybe) 5000 calories for dinner. A little judgement is called for . . . . both in ordering, and in how much of the extra "free stuff" they put in front of you, that you consume. I never have cheese and dessert both, the same dinner, and frequently order half portions in a place like this. As regards the wine, there is no accounting for taste. I can, however, tell you how wine is chosen for the Lameloise wine list, as I understand the process quite well, and have even accompanied the sommeliers on a couple of tasting visits with them on prior trips (I will go with them again, the first week of Nov., for 2 winery visits). There are 3 sommeliers at Lameloise (one just retired and has now been replaced, but the total # remains the same). One day a week they visit 2 or 3 domaines, and spend approximately one and a half hours at each place. While there, they taste basically everything the domaine has, both in bottle and out of barrels. They all take notes on every thing they taste. At the end of the visit the three of them discuss their impressions together and if they find something that they like as a group, then they propose it to the owner and the chef, who will then taste it also later and then decide, as a whole group, whether one or two of the wines of the domaine in question will go on the wine list. Lameloise considers its wine list as a showcase for the wines of the Cote Chalonaise, the Cote de Beaune, and the Cote de Nuits (and to a smaller extent, maybe, to the Burgundian wines from further north, such as Chablis). Most Burgundy producers consider it an honor to be listed on the Lameloise wine list and actively seek that distinction; it is the best restaurant in the region. As such, the sommeliers will not except in very rare situations have more than two wines from any one domaine on the list, as they want to have wines from as many domaines as possible, realizing that there is no way they can have wines on the list from all of them. When the sommeliers recommend a wine to the owner and the chef, it is not always because it is the very best of the wines that they tasted at a domaine (which might be at a level that is duplicative of many other offerings they have on their list, already). Rather, it might in an individual case be because a particular wine or wines they tasted at the domaine offered an especially good price-value relationship and as such filled a niche at a particular price point for a particular type of wine that they felt could benefit the list. All of the above is not to excuse the fact that you did not like the wine you got served there (for whatever reason) but to explain that these people take their wine list very seriously, and what goes onto that list only gets on that list after a lot of time and sincere effort on their part. I think that if you compare the prices for wine on the Lameloise list with the exact same wines on other lists at other restaurants of its class, you will see that Lameloise's prices are very reasonable in comparison. What I value the most about Lameloise is CONSISTENCY. I have found it to be an incredibly consistent place where dishes are very rarely less than outstanding, which cannot be said for any other 3 star place I have dined in where I have had a number of expensive disappointments, and for this reason generally avoid 3 stars as a group, especially given the dollar's weakness. Finally, if you were there for Sunday DINNER, then having the place 2/3 full would be quite an accomplishment for any restaurant in France. The big meal on Sunday in France is LUNCH, a family affair, when French families deluge restaurants everywhere in the country, or make huge meals at home. Sunday dinner (for French people) is apt to be a bowl of soup and a salad, at home. This would also explain why the place would be proportionately full of tourists, since in my experience few French people eat out for a big Sunday dinner. ken
  7. Ken Fox

    Burgundy Update

    I spend a month in France twice a year, one month in the spring and another in the fall. In fact, I'm posting this from France right now, although I am technically in Corsica (which is part of France). I have yet to have a meal I'd bother posting about here in Corsica, so I'll confine my comments to the 4 places I eat at frequently in Burgundy, all of which I have eaten in during the last 9 days. Burgundy is my favorite region in France, so I spend half my time in France there, which adds up to a month a year. My 4 regular restaurants in the region are, from north to south, Ma Cuisine in Beaune, Lameloise in Chagny, and the two great one stars of Tournus, Aux Terrasses and Greuze. Ma Cuisine is of course the famous unstarred bistro in Beaune that all the winemakers eat in. It is run by a couple, the Escoffiers, Pierre who runs the dining room, and his wife Fabienne, the chef. The place has a stupendous wine list with an encyclopedic list of Burgundies at very reasonable prices. Fabienne cooks up very tasty fare, and in my view makes the best soups I have ever eaten, anywhere (available only during cold weather months, in my experience). The menu choices are written on a chalkboard daily. This is a bustling place, and in addition to the excellent food and wine, the surroundings are always a surprise depending upon who else is dining there, in this always-full restaurant that is only open Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. If you want to eat here, reserve ahead, as drop ins are greeted by the always present "restaurant complet" sign in the window of the front door. Lameloise, with three well-deserved stars in Michelin, has a new chef, Eric Pras, who has replaced the now retired Jacques Lameloise. Eric is an MOF, or "MEILLEURS OUVRIERS DE FRANCE." This is quite an honor, something almost impossible to get, however that would not in and of itself make the place worth a visit. Fréderic Lamy has taken over the direction of the establishment. Fréderic is a nephew of Jacques on the other side of the family. All of the foregoing is of no importance whatsoever, if one is looking for good food. As a long time (20+ years) devoted fan of the place, I can say with no reservations that the food is better than before, with Eric as the chef. He is a gifted, talented, and creative chef, who moved over to Lameloise from Regis Marcon (another 3 star) to replace Jacques. Eric has actually improved the old standard Lameloise dishes that remain. As an example, the Millefeuille de homard appears to have a lot less fat in it than before, presumably less mayo, and is still cohesive, a hard feat to pull off. The Tarte Fine aux pommes (a dessert; best apple tart anywhere) now has a bed of chopped apple under the ice cream (granny smith flavor!) which used to be put in a separate dish but is now put directly on the tarte and does not melt because it is on a bed of cool apples instead of being on top of the hot tart. Eric and Fréderic have retained all the staff, and the feel of the place is as it always was, like a really good neighborhood restaurant. I can't recommend the place enough. Moving south, we have two terrific one stars in Tournus, in the Maconnais. Aux Terrasses has been around a long time and the changes there have been very much evolutionary, under the direction of the Carrette family. After the death of Michel, the longtime chef, I feared for the future of the place, but his son Jean-Michel came back home from Troisgros where he was working as a chef, and has made continual improvements in the cuisine which just keeps getting better and better. Jean-Michel's wife Amandine and his mother Henriette run the dining rooms and have continued to renovate them to make them even more comfortable. This place is one of the most reliable one star places I've ever found and the prices remain extremely reasonable. The other Tournus one star is the recently revitalized Restaurant Greuze. This place was once a two star under the direction of Jean Ducloux, who is now in his nineties and hasn't run the restaurant for a decade. He was replaced by another chef who put the place in bankruptcy, and it has now been rescued by Yohann Chapuis, recently former second chef at Lameloise, under Jacques Lameloise. Yohann had the opportunity to take Greuze out of bankruptcy and did that more than a year ago, and the results have been impressive. Quite astonishingly, Yohann was able to get a star after only running the restaurant for a few months. Yohann is a very creative chef, and I remember well the dishes he created at Lameloise, such as St. Jacques suspendus (basically scallops served on a platform elevated above the plate), as one example, which is lamentably not available at either Lameloise or Greuze, anymore, as far as I know. Yohann's wife Stéphanie runs the dining room at Greuze, which is a large single salon with small alcove that holds 3 additional tables, located in a historic building. The food is simply excellent. The first couple times I ate at Greuze the wine list was lacking, a reflection of what the earlier chef had left behind, however that has now been completely fixed and Greuze now boasts a very complete wine list with very reasonable prices for a restaurant of this class. Tournus has now become a great dining destination, in addition to being one of the more charming Burgundian villages. With two great restaurants it deserves a multi-day visit, and can be used as a base for visiting surrounding towns extending southward to Macon and northward to Chalon sur Saone. Aux Terrasses is a nice, if somewhat modest hotel that one could base in (I do). It is not the Ritz, but then it doesn't have prices like the Ritz, and if basic it is very clean and well kept up, with flat screen TVs in the rooms and plumbing that actually works There you have it, my four, no risk places to eat in Burgundy, which I eat in multiple times each every year. I can't recommend these places too much, they are simply terrific and that is why I eat in them so often. All of these places will treat you graciously and make you feel welcome, something that you can't put a price on, but that you will really notice when you walk in the front door. ken
  8. Ken Fox

    Week in Cote d'Azur

    Le Clos St. Pierre in Le Rouret, in the hills about 25 minutes above Antibes, is among the best one stars I have ever found (and I mean EVER, over the last 25 years). I have eaten there 3 times in the last year and a half, and each time it has been outstanding. The formula is with a prix fix menu each night, with your only choice the opportunity to eliminate one plate for a very modest reduction. The price a month ago was 58 Euros for 3 plates, cheese, and dessert. Everything was done perfectly, and the service is very good. The chef came out at the end of the meal and even denied that he had a star; this was in the context of our conversation, in French, where I told him that I detest the great majority of starred restaurants I've ever eaten in and that his was a huge exception, so much so that I'd eaten in the place 3 times in 1.5 years even though I live in the USA and seldom get down to the Cote d'Azur. He (the chef) said, "I have no stars; the only stars in my restaurant are the clients." He was so convincing that my French friend asked me on the way out to the car why I had told him the place had a star, when obviously it did not!! This place is not to be missed, however you will need to reserve as they have been completely full each time I've eaten there, including midweek.
  9. My first concern is food safety. When home and professional chefs cook sous vide, they have completely control of the cold chain. It is highly likely that the food you sell will be temperature abused, and sous vide prepared foods do not spoil safe. At the very least, you should pasteurize the food for a 6D reduction in Listeria monocytogenes and have very short and prominent expiration dates. This of course limits what you can prepare --- most fish will taste overcooked if heated for the pasteurization times in Table 3.5 of my guide. ← Ditto. If you poison anyone, your business model will suffer an early death
  10. Ken Fox

    Farm Raised Salmon

    Wild salmon runs have been decimated by hydroelectric dams and other forces. There are still many healthy wild salmon runs in western continental North America and in Alaska. I believe there are still vibrant runs in Europe as well, although most salmon served in Europe is farmed. My impression, based on no real knowledge, merely observation, is that some of the farmed stuff available in Europe is actually quite good. I don't know if species differences or the way the stuff is raised accounts for this. You can find salmon on the menu in many fine European restaurants that I am sure would not serve it if it was the same stuff you find farmed over here in the USA, and in response to questions I've usually been told the stuff was farmed. If someone can explain this I'd be interested to know why. ken
  11. Ken Fox

    Farm Raised Salmon

    HOST'S NOTE: The following salmon discussion started out from this post in the Sous Vide topic. Firstly, the salmon looks delicious, although personally speaking (as someone older than yourself) I hate getting sick and I'd have cooked it at a higher temperature. But then, that is just me. In your blog you state it is Coho salmon and you aren't sure if it is wild or farmed. To my knowledge, none of the 3 "fine" Pacific "salmon" species are available farmed, they are all wild. I am speaking of King, also called Chinook, which is a larger fish than the other two, and Coho (often called "silver,") and Sockeye, the smallest, also called "Red" and sometimes "Blueback." Other wild Pacific salmon species include "chum," also called "dog salmon" by Alaskans, and "Pink," generally found canned, also called "humpback" or "humpies." The latter two are generally regarded by those from salmon producing areas as inedible unless eaten directly out of the water or smoked, and (otherwise) best served as dog food or maybe to prisoners in the state penitentiary. True Atlantic salmon, as found (or used to be found) in Scotland and Norway, are often called "true salmon," whereas Pacific salmon is not regarded as really being salmon at all, but rather as "sea run trout." Farmed salmon, often called "Atlantic Salmon" on restaurant menus, is (to my knowledge) some sort of hybrid and not the same thing as the true wild Atlantic salmon. I personally regard it as inedible however it is prepared and have tried every which way to avoid eating it for a number of years. What sous vide might do to it I have no clue. I'm no expert on salmon taxonomy and I'm just repeating what I learned as a former resident of Alaska and someone who has read a lot on the subject, never claiming to really have understood it. Anyway, nice picture, and glad it turned out well. ken
  12. I'd contact Fresh Meals Solutions if I had bought anything from them, but I think it would be impolite to do so being as I am not a customer I checked the mfr's website before I ordered the rice cooker, and I believe there is only one model of this rice cooker, at least only one that is sold in the USA: http://www.tigeramerica.com/product_JNO.php I think there is either another model available elsewhere, or the other model was discontinued, or as you suggest, there is a common typo regarding model #s. This is not an electronic device in the sense that it has a brainboard or complex integrated circuits. The switch is mechanical, going between heating, warming, and off. In this way it is not dissimilar from other recommended mechanical rice cookers. I agree that at least on reflection (now that I have bought the thing) it is overpowered for the application. It does, however, work just fine if you operate it with the lid up. I only observed about a degree or so of temperature variation during the hour plus that I cooked the chicken breast last night. The power is only one issue, however, as I observed when I tried to use the thing on reduced power through the "155 menu" on the Auberins controller. Even going down to 20 or 25% power, the same behavior is observed albeit reduced in magnitude. What happens is that by the time that the controller "realizes" that the temperature setpoint has been reached, there is still a lot of potential temperature gain to follow coming off of the heating element whose impact on the internal container is a bit delayed in time. This characteristic of this commercial rice cooker is then magnified by the heavy duty insulation which prevents the heat from getting out quickly. Since no PID controller working solely on a heating element can possibly do anything about excessive heat (other than to wait for it to be vented off), the period of overshoot in this hyperinsulated rice cooker is extended. I think that the mention of rice spoilage in the manual has to do with the fact that these things are designed for use in (Asian) restaurants, and they contain massive quantities of cooked rice when they go onto the warming phase. If the thing was to sit for hours, unheated, in a restaurant setting where the public health is at risk, I can see the cause for alarm. Finally, your comment about "most espresso machines" behaving like a "totally dumb water heater" is certainly true if you are talking about very cheap low end machines which hugely outsell those that are sold to enthusiasts. The higher end machines that enthusiasts buy nowadays (costing, say, ~$1000 at retail and up) contain a plethora of brain boxes and other integrated circuits that can control everything from boiler temperature to shot extraction pressure to shot volume to boiler fill. I have two different single group commercial espresso machines, both Cimbali Juniors. One was manufactured in around 1985 and the other about 10 years later. The older one is, as you suggest, a relatively simple and dumb machine (or at least it was before I hacked the crap out of it ). The newer one, which I have also extensively modified, has most of its various behaviors controlled by a brain board, whose replacement would probably cost about a third of what I paid for the whole machine! ken
  13. I come to this forum having spent a great deal of time previously working with PID controllers in commercial espresso machines. The goal in using a PID in an espresso machine is to try to attain a degree of espresso shot temperature control that is not normally delivered by the equipment in the stock configuration(s). People who have perused the Auberins website will notice that the site also sells some preconfigured PID equipment that is intended to be installed in certain (simple) espresso machines. The more adventurous among us in the "espresso community" have installed similar equipment in more complex machines, buying the controller (most often a Fuji PXR3), an SSR, and a heatsink separately then cobbling together a custom install. It is also very common in the espresso community to "hack" the espresso machines themselves in order to achieve various objectives. Although way outside of the scope of this post, I think it is fair to say that the application of PID technology to sous vide cooking is far simpler and straightforward than is encountered by espresso machine enthusiasts, who must deal with a system that is constantly being "perturbed" by such actions as making espresso shots and expelling large amounts of steam through a steam wand (massive heat loss) in the process of frothing milk. But I digress I'm eager (probably TOO eager) to hack (modify) equipment when it doesn't suit my needs. One obviously needs to consider such issues as potential damage to equipment and safety before proceeding. People using complex water bath systems are presumably designing them as "one-offs," so they are modified from the beginning, but is it common for people using simpler devices, such as rice cookers, to modify them physically for sous vide cooking? I have been trying to get the huge Tiger rice cooker to "behave" under PID control. There IS a warning on the Auberins documentation about the hyperinsulated commercial rice cookers not being satisfactorily controlled with the PID unless they are operated with the lid opened. This was certainly my observation yesterday in trying to "tame" this beast . . . . Basically, the heating element produces a LOT of heat in this very well insulated cooker, with the impact of this heat production being delayed, and by the time that the PID controller has shut off the power to the element, due to the setpoint having been reached, the heat continues to rise and there is considerable overshoot of several degrees which takes a long while to reverse (and during which time your food would be "overcooked.") So far I have tried the following, none of which has (yet) worked all that well: (1) autotuning: this does not work and the autotune cycle would go on ad infinitum without resolution. I let the system try to autotune itself last night and after 5 hours gave up. (2) modifying the PID parameters: I've been experimenting with bumping up the P to as high as 250 from the pre-set 180, and the i (which only goes up to 900, max, from the pre-set 700; I've also tried cutting the maximum heat output in the "155 menu" both by itself and in concert with the "P" and "i" modifications. Also, I tried using the "warming" button setting rather than the "heating" setting, however the 52 watts this produces is inadequate to maintain temperatures. Obviously, these things interract, and although one might curtail overshoot, if this is at the expense of the equipment taking too long to get back to the desired temperature after the food pouch(es) are introduced, then this could be a net negative in spite of better control of overshoot. One could compensate however by preheating the water bath a few degrees above the desired cooking temperature, and with the reduction one gets on introduction of the food, the desired result (stable temps when actually cooking the food) could be obtained. (3) modifying the rice cooker itself: I took the inner lid off the top and found there were 8 phillips head screws holding the lid together. I removed these and found a soft plastic/silicone seal, insulation, and wiring that presumably is for either an overheating safety mechanism, or is what triggers the cooker to go into "warming" mode rather than "heating" mode after the rice is cooked. Either way, this wiring can best be viewed as a safety mechanism that should not be disturbed. I decided not to modify the rice cooker at this time and reassembled it. My impression is that one could remove the insulation, and probably also the metal piece residing in the steam vent, which would (by reducing the insulation) probably reduce the temperature overshoot period and would give a large port for introducing an aquarium bubbler line plus the probe from the Auberins controller. My questions at this point are if anyone has come up with a set of PID parameters that work well with this sort of cooker, and failing that (or in combination with that) has anyone "hacked"/modified the rice cooker itself in a way consistent with safe operation, and if so, what were those modifications and what are your results? These modifications are so simple in comparison to many I have done on espresso machines, that I am eager to try them out, however given my total lack of experience with this sort of equipment and with sous vide cooking in general, I think I ought to step back a bit and see what others have done before I jump in with both feet . . . . . Thanks for any suggestions. ken
  14. First off, thanks for your lengthy and quite valid responses! I had independently decided that the tiny Rival rice cooker was going to be suboptimal for anything other than a very tiny "food load," such as maybe a few scallops or something else small, like an entrée for one person. I'm pretty sure at this point that my "suboptimal" results the first time out were related to the food load being a bit too large for the size of the appliance. On Friday I received the Tiger 20 cup commercial rice cooker, model #JNO-A36U, the same upper end model sold (as one option) by the Sous Vide Magic (Auberins) dealer in Toronto, although I bought it from costco.com. I successfully prepared a chicken breast last night which I will try at a slightly lower temperature the next time, but which came out well. The Tiger rice cooker is ENORMOUS, and from a practical standpoint I do not want to be tying up so much kitchen counter space with this thing except on occasions where I might have large quantities of food to prepare. I have therefore already purchased a 10-cup sized (5L) rice cooker from ebay which should arrive next week and which (I expect) will become my primary sous vide device. I will likely also buy an aquarium bubbler the next time I'm in a pet store that has one for sale. I want to raise another couple of issues about PID controllers and cooker modifications, however this post is getting to be so long that appending these issues here will make it too long, so I'll start a separate post below addressing these issues and asking for further advice . . . . Thanks again! Ken
  15. This is my first post on these fora and I want to start out by thanking all of you who have pioneered the sous vide technique for use in the home; people like me are basically catching a free ride on your coattails, and I do thank you for your previous efforts. This post is kinda wordy so feel free to jump to the end to read the question I am posing The equipment I have purchased for this sous vide pursuit includes an Auberins PID controller plus a couple of rice cookers. I'm previously very familiar with PIDs, having installed a couple of them from the individual components years ago in the two commercial heat exchanger espresso machines that grace my kitchen. As an aside, the application of PID controllers to sous vide cooking is hugely less involved than what one has to deal with in a large espresso machine, but I digress. When I ordered the sous vide equipment, I ordered the controller plus one of those massive 20 cup SS Tiger America rice cookers, from costco.com. The rice cooker took a rather circuitous route to me courtesy of UPS, so it did not arrive until this afternoon, a few days later than scheduled. In the interim I decided to pick up a smaller rice cooker at our local overpriced drug store, and this is what I am writing to ask about today. I have yet to use the 20 cup Tiger, which has 4.5 times the water volume of the smaller "10 cup" Rival model I purchased earlier. The little Rival rice cooker, rated at 400 watts, will hold about 700 ml of water when full. I foodsavered a 9 oz piece of previously frozen wild sockeye salmon filet yesterday, and sous vided it for 18 minutes at 120F. The surrounding water volume was at least 4x the mass/volume of the vacuum packed salmon, and the controller had no difficulty maintaining the set point temperature within a degree, even though I was too lazy to autotune it to this small rice cooker (I had previously done a dry run with just water in the rice cooker and it did not over or undershoot much over a period of half an hour). I found the resulting fish to be undercooked to my taste, but of course that is a matter of personal preference and perhaps my taste will change. In any event, the degree of doneness appeared to be consistent throughout. My question is this: I haven't read any posts here or elsewhere about using a very small volume rice cooker for sous vide if one is preparing a very small quantity of food. I am single and cook for myself most of the time, although I do enjoy entertaining as well. As long as one is surrounding the food to be cooked in enough mass of water that the controller can maintain a stable temperature, and there is several times more water surrounding the plastic vacuumed pouch, is there any reason why a smallish rice cooker (or other device) cannot be used for sous viding rather than using a large cooker such as the Tiger rice cooker I have also purchased? Thanks in advance for any information and once again, thanks for all the information that has been posted both here and elsewhere that those of us just starting with this technique can take advantage of! Ken Fox EDIT: The inside liner of the small Rival rice cooker (model # RC101) indicates the pot holds 1.0 liter, however I measured the capacity by pouring water in with a measuring cup. Surprisingly, it holds 2 liters with the water level nowhere near the rim (e.g. a usable level). I'm thinking about buying a second controller and another rice cooker intermediate in size between the two I have, which will give the possibility of cooking more than one sous vide item at a time, plus the ability to appropriately size the cooker to what it is that is going to be cooked without wasting too much energy in the process.
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