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  1. Grant Achatz is a partner and chef at Evanston's Trio restaurant -- click here to view their website. Trio describes itself as "Progressive French with a wide range of global influences". But that scarcely begins to describe this innovative restaurant. eGullet members who have dined there praised its outstanding service and its "tour de force" menu that brings over 20 courses to the table and features dishes such as lobster served with rosemary vapor. Chef Achatz, though only 27 years old, has already won numerous awards including a nomination for the Beard Foundation's Rising Star Chef award. Food and Wine magazine selected Achatz as one of America's best chefs in 2002, commenting that "his imaginative combinations, such as foie gras with roasted bananas in a chocolate-sweet onion sauce, aren't just risky; they're delicious, too." Before coming to Trio, Achatz worked at the French Laundry for four years, rising to sous-chef; he has also cooked at Charlie Trotter's and completed a stage at el Bulli. Grant generously reached out to eGullet, offering to answer questions in a thread on the Heartland forum. A lively conversation emerged on this thread; we've captured that in "The story so far" thread, posted in this forum. Please read this early Q&A before posting, so that you don't repeat questions that have already been asked and answered. Grant Achatz has agreed to answer roughly 10 questions per day, so we ask that members limit themselves to one question. If there's time later on, we will invite further questions. Let's not have follow-up questions, at least in the first few days of the forum. Grant is one of the country's most interesting chefs, and all members should have an opportunity to ask him questions. As with Symposium and other eGullet Q&As, this Q&A will use a moderators' queue. (Edit, on Wednesday: follow-ups are now OK. Please be reasonable in the length and number of follow-up questions).
  2. Cabrales In reviewing the indicative menus on your website, I noted Chef Achatz's attention to the solid, liquid or other state of certain components of his dishes. Are you aware of some of the chef's thinking in this regard, and could you compare that thinking to the approach adopted by certain Spanish chefs, if you are familiar with certain of the latter's dishes? Examples of menu items that appear to have "solid/liquid/other state" effects are: watermelon ice cubes; horseradish foam; ginger glass jelly; liquid black truffle ravioli. The scrutiny of foodstuffs in their natural state, as well as any state they can be manipulated to, allows the chef a more intimate knowledge of the ingredient itself and its relations with other foodstuffs in the composition of a dish. Ice tastes different than water. Ice feels different than water. Steam carries aroma better than ice and water. Steam carries no palatable taste, only olfactory flavor. Surface area exposure to flavonoids is increased in liquid state due to coverage, but dissipates faster due to dilution and consumption. What tastes more like carrot? Carrot juice or a carrot? Manipulation of states alters the mind's perception of flavor memory. Your mind processes textures and aromas with flavors to create a food memory. If one chooses a flavor and presents it in a different texture it is a new experience for your mind. A greater degree of focus is applied to the task of consuming. Flavors are heightened, memories are etched, smiles are produced. Cabrales In the Food & Wine Best New Chefs issue, Chef Achatz noted that the most "exotic" item on the Trio menu was rosemary vapor. "We pour boiling water over rosemary sprigs at the table, so it perfumes the air and adds a new level of complexity to our lobster dish." Could you describe how the rosemary vapor is intended to interact with the perfume emanating from the saucing of the lobster dish and the lobster itself? The intent of the rosemary vapor is to flavor the lobster dish. As most know, olfactory sense plays a huge part of taste. Rosemary when infused tends to be bitter due to the natural resin present in the plant. However, the flavor of rosemary with lobster and rosemary with mushrooms is appealing. Rosemary is not palatable in a chopped state. We try to introduce rosemary flavor in a palatable, texturally appealing way. Cabrales The indicative menus on the Trio website include the "Bloody Mary" dish, which is described as including vodka mist. Could you discuss the role intended by Chef Achatz for the vodka mist, if you are aware of it? The vodka mist adds two elements to the "Bloody Mary" 1. A slight alcoholic "burn" to the dish when it consumed, which makes it faithful to the beverage. 2. Completion from concept to execution. Cabrales If you have information on the Trio "pushed" foie gras item, could you share it with members? For example, is duck or goose foie gras utilized, and which type do you prefer? What is the texture of the pushed foie gras, and are the fatty connotations of foie gras accentuated or mitigated by the preparation techniques? Quite simply "pushed foie gras" is a kitchen term applied to the passing of cured foie gras through a fine mesh screen or tamis. Chefs de partie physically "push" the cold liver through the screen. Duck liver is used from the La Belle farm in the Hudson valley of New York because of its consistent high quality. The liver is shredded into strands resembling shredded wheat breakfast cereal. These thin stands of foie melt instantly when they come in contact with anything above 92F. What this means texturally is a sudden and smooth melt in the mouth, without residual matter. Cabrales The Trio website describes the restaurant as offering "progressive French cuisine with a wide range of global influences". Could you discuss what primary "global influences" might be involved, including with respect to the utilization of spices/ingredients from other regions of the world? Do you see some culinary techniques at Trio as being influenced by global approaches as well? Global influences refer to the world. All cuisines are explored and taken seriously at Trio. It makes us stronger as cooks and as a restaurant. Why mold ourselves to the French diagram, to become one homogeneous cuisine? We take cues from South America, Asia, Eastern Europe, all parts of the US, Africa, the tropics...everywhere. The techniques of the areas are explored and executed. Integrity is important at Trio, and it is painstakingly followed through in the food. Trio wants to produce an experience that takes diners to every gastronomically tangible place known. The ceiling is nonexistent in this kitchen, the blinders are removed, but the focus is intense. The ultimate stars guide us. Cabrales Could you discuss how frequently the 20-course tour de force menu is ordered by diners? Are you aware of Chef Achatz's thinking behind having so many courses, and how that might relate to his experiences at French Laundry? TOUR DE FORCE MENU 1.19. 03 "Caramel popcorn" Osetra caviar Kola nut ice, frothed milk. Puree of celeriac soup. Shaved bottarga curled bread, arugula, red wine vinegar Watermelon-smoky paprika ice Oysters and beer Lightly grilled Florida Cobia, flavors of the sea Fennel bulb and heirloom beets licorice, goat milk sorbet, grapefruit. Black truffle explosion Maine diver scallop with orange rind vapor. Steamed wild steelhead black truffles, rutabaga-mustard juice "Pizza" Poached loin of venison four flavors grated Pig tail and crispy cheek, red wine braised cabbage, quince "Dry shot" Braised prime beef short rib root beer flavours Point Reyes blue cheese white chocolate, mint, dried banana pudding Ginseng fizz blood orange, grains of paradise Pushed foie gras, Bosc pears, Sauternes, salt roasted pear sorbet Roasted buttercup squash flan bacon, curried pineapple Tea smoked chocolate, crystallized nori, plum sorbet, pickled plums Black truffle and banana milkshake The French Laundry offers 2 menu options: a five course with choices in each category and a 9 course tasting. A menu of greater length is not offered, but is consumed by people nightly if they become "VIP'ed". This includes people dining by themselves, people in the industry, journalists, celebrities, friends of the restaurant. Having both cooked and consumed meals of great length, and enjoying them, the idea was to make that experience available to every guest at Trio. The TDF is not for everyone, it takes at least 4 hours, it ends up being a lot of food. Too much? I don't think so most finish it without issue. Again we say 22 courses, some of those are less than 1 bite. Like the "pizza" for example, basically a 1/2" x 1/2" piece of paper, or the caramel popcorn, a nickel-sized lozenge. You do not come to Trio because you are hungry. Reservations are made weeks in advance. This is an experience in dining that goes beyond food and hunger. It is entertainment, if the guest is willing to let it be. The Tour de Force tells a story, it's about 22 pages long. RyneSchraw I ate dinner at Trio last night. The meal was excellent: perfectly composed from start to finish, dishes were unique and all tasted wonderful and there was a very balanced progression of tastes throughout the meal. Never did I feel that I had had too much of a flavor, nor did I ever really wish the portion was bigger. I'm really starting to appreciate at Trio how well the transitions of flavors from savory to sweet are handled, without letting any course over-shadow the one preceding or following it. Because of this, a real star emerges in the pastry kitchen, led by pastry chef Paula Haney. Her desserts are intense, to say the least. They are extremely memorable, which says a lot after eating over ten other courses which are also extremely memorable. They are refreshing (very important after the heaviness of the preceding meat courses) and provide a needed change right around the time one starts to doubt one's ability of making it through the last stage of the meal (esp. with regards to the Tour de Force menu). And they are also very fun; the Black Truffle-Banana Milkshake and the test-tube/Erlenmeyer flask that accompany the Ginseng Fizz - both very cool. However, they all fit in perfectly and remain true to Chef's style and his vision, so the experience becomes seamless. List of courses I had: Amuse-bouche - "Caramel popcorn": this is warm sweet-corn pudding enclosed in a caramelized sugar shell. it "pops" when you bite down on it...a very fun and sweet way to start the meal. Osetra caviar, kola nut ice, frothed milk: Iranian caviar in a martini glass with kola nut ice and frothed milk...Caviar was very good quality so I wasn't really concentrating on the taste of the other two elements, but they did provide a nice texture. Fennel bulb and heirloom beets, licorice, goat milk sorbet, grapefruit: probably one of my favorite dishes of the night...chilled fennel and heirloom beets with licorice foam, goat milk sorbet, grapefruit puree and grapefruit cells...a lot of intense flavors, which all worked great together...bitterness of the beets and grapefruit was complimented well by the goat milk sorbet and licorice. I really would like to have this dish again. Purée of celeriac soup, black truffles, pears, celery branch: soup came in a clear PVC cylinder, hollow on each end, which was lifted when it was served, allowing the soup to pour out into the bowl. Very sweet and creamy, but also had a light consistency...not very heavy as I expected it to be. There were some huge slices of shaved black truffle, along with a custard infused with black truffle oil, so this was the dominant taste. The soup itelf doesn't have the strong bitterness of celery, and the pears add the sweetness. Very cool dish to watch being served, and the truffle servings were very generous. Maine diver scallop, butternut squash, prosciutto, orange rind vapor: Replacement to the infamous "Maine lobster with rosemary vapor" dish and served the same way (small bowl in larger bowl with hot water poured over the orange peel in larger bowl to release the aroma). I always loved the lobster/rosemary dish, and so did a lot of people because it was on the menu for about a year, I believe. When I heard the menu was going through some huge changes, I was worried Chef had taken this off completely. Glad to see that he didn't, since it brings such a different level to the meal. After eating the said lobster dish several times I don't think I'll ever be able to smell rosemary again without thinking of the dining room at Trio or lobster. I say 'the dining room at Trio' because anyone who's eaten there knows that even if you are eating off the 4-course Prix Fixe menu without this course, you will smell it, when the 4-top next to you is having hot water poured, simultaneously, over four bowls. Anyway, after eating this dish, I probably would say I still enjoyed the lobster better, but this dish is excellent. The butternut squash gave it a nice sweetness and the prosciutto was dried and provided a texture to contrast the tenderness of the scallop (which by the way was the best scallop I have had...bigger and more tender than the one at Spring a month ago). The orange peel was cool...certainly a flavor that would not have necessarily been great squeezed over the scallop, but as an aroma it worked. I spoke to Chef Achatz after the meal and he said they were still playing around with this dish, so there will probably be some changes in the near future. Steamed North Atlantic halibut, black truffles, rutabaga-mustard juice: coolest and most creative fish course I've had. The steamed halibut came wrapped in mustard leaves; it looked exactly like sushi wrapped in nori, with a packet of rutabaga on top and shaved black truffle and gnocchi spread around. Then the dish was sauced at the table with a beaker full of rutabaga-mustard juice! This was a very fun dish and a cool take on sushi. Fish was cooked perfectly...tender and flaky. Mustard sauce might have covered up the taste of the black truffle a bit too much, but there wasn't a whole lot of truffle on it and it wasn't supposed to be a dominant flavor. Also I really liked that it was sauced at the table and the beaker was cool - it gave off a 'mad scientist' alchemy feel. "Pizza": fun course. A stamp-sized square of vegetable paper dusted with the flavors of pizza. Dissolves in your mouth, and tastes like...pizza. The complete antithesis of those Listerine 'Cool Strips.' Poached Elysian Fields Farm lamb, sweet potato, four flavors grated (those being: black truffle, chocolate, hazelnut, brioche flavored with Jamaican Peppercorn). Perfectly cooked lamb. I believe Trio and The French Laundry are the only two places to serve Elysian Fields Farm lamb. Truly it is excellent. Poached en sous-vide. They poach the lamb in a vacuum-sealed bag at 120 degrees F (I think, but again you might want to check that) for a long time. Lamb ends up very tender and looks almost rare, all the way through! Sweet potato and chocolate cookie go great with the lamb and the sauce is a reduction of the 4 flavors. Same 4 flavors are all grated separately in Brussels sprout leaves...allowing you to test and see what each flavor brings to the lamb, but the chocolate and black truffles were the standouts. Braised prime beef short rib root beer flavors: they did a different dish about a year ago with the same root beer flavors: vanilla-scented burdock root, sassafras root, and fennel (I think) but from what I hear it was a completely different preparation. The dish came in what looked like a rocks glass blown up to twice or three times its normal size. The braised prime rib was served pretty simple with prunes and two sticks of salsify, looking like frites on the side and with the root beer flavors it provided a cool deconstruction of a hamburger, fries and a glass of root beer. Artisan and fermier cheeses, seasonal fruits, candied nuts. I didn't write the cheese names down and there is no way I'll ever remember them...there were four and I do highly recommend ordering this extra course for $14. The fromagier is extremely knowledgeable and they have a great selection of cheeses. Intermezzo - yogurt water granita, caramelized onion sorbet/or custard (don't quite remember which it was) Caramelized onion was sweet and savory, while the yogurt water granita was more of a refreshing texture than anything else. Not sure onion is the greatest thing for clearing the palate though, but it was an interesting dish. Parfait tangerine, sunchoke: layer of tangerine curd on the bottom, fresh tangerine supremes above that, vanilla sunchoke custard and maté foam on top. Offered as an extra course, compliments of the pastry chef, this was one of the best desserts I've ever eaten Trio tarte. Another excellent dessert I really am not sure about...it consisted of apple with a porter beer foam, and then a blue cheese sauce that you poured on the side of the plate. There was a sorbet on top, but I forget what it was...maybe graham cracker sorbet...not sure. I really like apple and it reminded me of an apple bavarian dessert with maple foam and swiss chard granita they were doing last month...both very memorable, but different Black truffle-roasted banana milkshake. Looks exactly like an Oreo-milk shake, but it's really black truffles - back again at the end of the night for an encore! I also had the white truffle-roasted banana milkshake at Trio last November, and both work great. Comes in a flute and they put sea-salt around the rim to really give the flavors a kick. Ginseng fizz, blood orange, grains of paradise. This is awesome, if only for the way they bring out a huge 500-1000ml beaker full of crushed ice with a test tube submerged in the center, and then the straw in an Erlenmeyer flask. It's very strong, with the blood orange and grains of paradise, which is a citrus like fruit from the Middle East (Iraq I think). A cool and refershing way to end the meal. It's really funny to see people throughout the night with what looks like an elaborate science experiment sitting on their table, sipping from a test tube. Definitely this was a meal that raises the bar for Trio and Chef Achatz. Having seen the menu change completely a few times over, it's clear how he is defining his own style and direction. In most reviews and articles about Trio, it is noted how he had been sous-chef at The French Laundry for several years and had a stage at el Bulli and that he has been influenced by both Thomas Keller and Ferran Adrià. One meal at Trio, however, and you see how much broader his influences really are. At Trio they explore everthing - high and low cuisine, old and new, the world over - and really it makes the whole experience something so different than the 'norms' of fine dining. Another aspect worth mentioning is the freshness and quality of ingredients and purveyors. Lots of private farms (the butter comes from a lady in Vermont who only owns 8 cows) and really just a lot of people who care about what they do as much as the chef and staff at Trio. Having never eaten at The French Laundry, but obsessively studied the cookbook, this seems to me one of the most apparent concepts Grant has brought with him from there to Trio - the strong bonds connecting purveyor to restaurant to customer. Mikeczyz RyneSchraw: other than the obvious of fish being wrapped in a green, vegetal wrap, in what way does the "halibut dish with rutabaga-mustard that is a take on sushi" remind you of sushi? RyneSchraw Well, first there is the way it is served, like you said, wrapped in mustard leaves (I think), and second is the usage of mustard in the sauce, which has a similar effect to wasabi. Of course the dish itself is not technically sushi at all, as the fish is cooked and served heated. Definitely, though it was a suprising and very creative dish. 'Chefg' is correct about the smaller dishes and canapés tending more towards creativity, but lately some of the main courses have that feeling about them as well! Guru How long do diners take to get through the Tour de Force menu? and how much time do you allow between courses? The tour de force menu averages 4 hours. Time between courses should only be 5 minutes. Steve Plotnicki I ate at Trio this past November. You can find the review on The Heartland board under the title of Trotter's & Trio etc. My question for you is, why 21 courses? I found the number of courses a little oppressive. Can't the same statement, possibly a more focused one, be made in say, 14 courses, just to pick a number mind you. Pick your pony. Trio offers 3 tasting menus nightly. A 4 course which turns into a 7 course after the amuse, canapé, and mignardise. An 8 course which is really 11 after the aforementioned and the (currently) 22 course tour de force. They are designed to provide dining experiences for people willing to commit to different levels of time and exposure. Cabrales Do you have a view on the value of the "molecular gastronomy" school of thinking, including how it may interact with the solid/liquid/vapour/other state of food products? As food evolves and becomes more creative the need for a better understanding of foodstuffs will become necessary for cooks to manipulate ingredients further. Trio finds this approach to food very exciting, as it opens many new doors to not only the way we cook but the way the guest eats. This movement, in combination with the highly creative movement, will redefine high level dinning in the years to come. New techniques will be born and food will become more thought provoking and entertaining. The days of putting a piece of protein in a hot pan are almost over. Observant cooks will continue to incorporate tools and techniques from other professions into the cooking arena. Some examples include the ISI foamer, liquid misters, Pacojet, wine press, centrifuge, bag cookery (sous-vide), nitrous freezing: the list goes on. It will continue to make dinning exciting, both for the cook and the guest. Steve Plotnicki I can't tell you the thread it is in, but there is a debate on this board about whether the cooking at El Bulli (and that name is used as a generic example) is going to be lasting, or is it a flash in the pan. And I will pose the question we asked there to you. Granted (excuse the pun) the cooking tools and techniques chefs impose on ingredients will be revolutionary, and granted that it will continue to make dinner exciting for the cook and the guest, but where is the identifiable cuisine that people will speak of? For example, I ate at Trio in November and had a terrific meal. But I am hard pressed to communicate that meal to others unless I go into detailed descriptions of each dish. I never had that problem eating at 3 star restaurants in France. Each one is identifiable by the region they reside in. Even the ones in Paris, aside from Pierre Gagnaire and Lucas-Carton, are usually heavily influenced by the chef's native region. Even in this country, The French Laundry is described as "whimsical" because the dishes mimic classic American concepts like Coffee and Donuts etc. So how are we going to describe this new cuisine you are talking about other then "modern and inventive?" There is another aspect to this as well. If I wanted to be cynical about it, if the new cooking techniques you describe had such a tremendous positive impact on flavor, why the need for unusual pairings? What about using a Pacojet or mister has caused chefs to shuffle the flavor deck? Why isn't just enhancing the flavor you used to get with more traditional cooking methods, plus the improved texture you get from the new cooking technique, enough? To simplify this question, if a new cooking technique makes for a steak that tastes better, why for example does a chef need to pair it with date purée? And to simplify it even more, it seemed that traditionally chefs tried to make combinations that were intended to last. But I don't see that happening as much anymore. Today the modern chefs seem to be in a free-for-all where the main goal is to surprise. Do you really think that dining will be become almost exclusively about what the chef does? And can that genre of cooking style last if an identifiable cuisine doesn't spring out of it? This will take some time to answer. I will probably break it into several parts to help illustrate my points and focus. The "identifiable cuisine" is in the virgin stages of being created. It is not yet complete because it is new. Look at how slowly the progression of food moves. In the kitchens of the great restaurants in this country, and in Europe, the same basic techniques are still utilized today that cooks used 100 years ago. Styles have come and gone in ingredient pairing, presentation, globalization of cuisines, but little headway has been made in terms of new technique. Roast, braise, sauté, steam, grill have been used by Escoffier and Keller and everyone in between. Of course some new methods have come along, but for the most part cooks have been executing classic techniques and putting their own twists on them for many years. These classic techniques may never go away, but it is refreshing to see developments and more importantly mindsets committed to discovering new techniques. I feel, and correct me if I am wrong, that the identifiable characteristic you are relying on is regionalism. This is very difficult in the States compared to Europe. Let's use France as a general example. First of all they are their own country and have been for many years. The U.S. has the disadvantage of being the melting pot that it is with much less historic gastronomy to call "its own". Also in terms of food culture France is less reluctant to advance with the times. Example. From my experiences it is much easier to find a small farmer producing milk from a small herd of cows there than here. That farmer has been on his land for many generations and has sold the milk or cheese to local restaruarants for years. The relationships between small farmer, fisherman, etc. has a long lineage. Therefore cuisine in a certain region of France is shaped more dramatically by society. In the States it is very difficult to establish these intimate relationships because it tends to not be profitable for the small guys to exist. Define American cuisine? Is cuisine defined by ingredients? I would say so, primarily. I have a hard time with "whimsical" being a type of cuisine. The use of unusual ingredients is not an attempt to do anything but create a new cuisine, at least for Trio. Not for the sole purpose to surprise. It is surprising because the diner has never sampled this pairing before. I am sure it was surprising when people said there was a machine that moved people from place to place without a horse. I see your point. As a chef, when we come across an unusual pairing, we second and triple guess ourselves. Why are we doing this? Because it tastes good has to be the answer. But it is even surprising to us, and we conceptualized it! If we are confident in a pairing it will be plugged into the repertoire and stay there. For example, Trio feels confident that bittersweet chocolate and Niçiose olives pair well together, as well as Campari and grapefruit, olive oil and green apple, orange and mustard, blue cheese, and white chocolate, kola and caviar, sardines and foie gras. It is our way of advancing the cause of fine dining. It is our way of inventing the wheel. Advances in technology mean the same thing in cuisine as they do in medicine. With the invention of the Pacojet, and cryovac machine cooks are giving heart transplants to food. It is another tool in the carpenter's belt. Yes, I feel in today's world of globalization, with the internet, FedEx, and blurred foundation of what is ours, cuisine will move more towards chef brands as cuisine types. If you go to an Alain Ducasse restaurant you know what to expect as well as Thomas Keller, Jean Georges, Daniel Boulud, Pierre Gagnaire, Ferran Adria… All of these chefs use ingredients, and techniques borrowed from other cultures and their peers but, even blindfolded, you know whose restaurant you are sitting in. Because they are the cuisine, just like Monet is to impressionism, and Mozart is to classical. Describe the year 2004. Steve Plotnicki I agree with all of this. But my point goes more to how the cuisine is going to spread, not so much to the actual success factor based on how things taste. There is more to great cuisine then someone creating a recipe. There is bringing the cuisine to a worldwide market. And to do that successfully, one needs to be able to quantify what one ate so they can communicate it to others. If we look at El Bulli, the most famous restaurant in the world when it comes to being creative, they are a phenomenon amongst the trade but virtually unknown amongst the public. There are a number of reasons for this, but probably none greater then people who eat there cannot describe the cuisine adequately outside of the context of describing the chef's technique. This is something new for cuisine as far as I know. As you stated, for the past century, cuisine has somehow or another been derivative of Escoffier. In reality that means that people have applied techniques derived from Escoffier to regional cuisines. And we can take this approach all the way to Keller being "whimsical" by which I mean, he took some famous American dishes and adapted them to haute cuisine. This is a particularly complicated issue, and do not take my questions or comments to be criticism. In fact, I am more interested in contemporary chefs getting over what might be a hump because it will make for more interesting eating. And currently I think the expansion of modern cuisine in the U.S. is moving at a snail's pace. But I am not seeing the point as to why the application of new technique means divorcing regionalism from the cuisine? I might have an old-fashioned way of looking at it but, when I go out to the Heartlands from NYC for the weekend, I want to come home feeling like I tasted the Heartlands. Some of the ways you can do that are to eat cultural constructs like Italian Beef sandwiches. But at the high end, diners are looking to see that amazing technique applied to easily identifiable things like lake trout and Wisconsin cheddar. When that happens, it resonates with them in a certain way. Tied to the past and the familiar, but reorganized into and for the future. If you find the el Bulli conversation I was referring to, you will see the conversation ended up in a discussion of the avant-garde. And why the avant-garde in both classical music and jazz never took hold with the public. I don't think it was discussed there but it occurs to me that unlike art, where museums basically subsidize the exhibition of what we would call the avant-garde, music is more of a business. Like a restaurant which is dependent on customers, it is dependent on a certain level of commercial success from the sales of recordings. And some of us wonder, that unless someone applies the new techniques in a way that is consistent with past applications, the "modern and inventive" can end up becoming esoteric in the way that Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp became esoteric (avant-garde jazz sax players for those who don't know.) Because there will always be diehards like Ryne, Cabrales and me. But we do not make an audience if you know what I mean. Mind you, we are counting on you to make sure this doesn't happen. Interesting comment on worldwide market, and perfectly valid. I disagree with el Bulli being lesser known than most 3 star restaurants. With the exception of Ducasse who has brought his food to the U.S. I doubt many people could name any 3 star chef dramatically over Ferran. In fact he has received a great deal of press in U.S. magazines within the last 3 years. Gourmet, F&W, Bon Appetit, Art Culinaire, and I would assume the New York Times although I haven't seen any such piece. All of this because he is doing food that nobody else is. He is huge in Japan and even Australia. I agree, the pace of modern cuisine in the States is painfully slow, or is it? The movement itself just started not so long ago in France and Spain. Think of the 5 most highly regarded chefs at the high end level in the states. They are all over 40 and have been developing their style or "brand" for quite some time. Along comes a more creative approach to food, chefs saying: hey it's OK to take some chances, its ok to develop new techniques. But the chefs here have already made their mold, developed their repertoire, implemented their systems. They are the ones in the public eye, on the TV Food Network, in the Grimes reviews, on the cover of Gourmet. They are the pinnacle of fine dining here. The new generation or next wave of chefs are just coming onto the scene, and they will bring a more modern cuisine. I feel it will be dramatic. I see it in the cooks I deal with, the ones currently in culinary school, the ones "on the lines" in the kitchens of our best restaurants in this country. They will be the hope for a modern cuisine in the U.S. not the ones that are in the spotlight right now. New technique does not mean divorce of regionalism. The problem is regionalism itself. What is it in the States? To look at the current menu at Trio, The French Laundry, and Daniel, what ingredients display a sense of regionalism to each respective restaurant? TFL uses Hudson Valley foie gras not Sonoma, lamb from Pennsylvania, Great Lakes whitefish, Cobia from the Gulf of Mexico, French black truffles, yuzu from Japan, hearts of palm from Hawaii, huckleberries from Oregon, asparagus from Jersey, and so on. Trio is the same. Daniel (I think) is the same. Root vegetables dominate all of the menus. Today it seems chefs have the convenience of internet research, FedEx shipping to get any ingredient they desire or prefer the next day. Trio certainly falls into this category, sourcing products from all over. Quality is priority. Trio is sensitive to local products and tries hard to support them, which in turn gives the food a sense of regionalism but not exclusively Midwestern. California seems to have the advantage since they have all the resources at their disposal. Wine, ocean, farmland and most importantly the social awareness to provide the small purveyor-restaurant relationships. At least in northern California. Your point on the avant-garde is a great one. It was a very thought out topic during the rebirth of Trio 1 1/2 years ago knowing the food would move in that direction. The response has been good to the food, even despite the "comfort food" craze that followed 9/11. Publications as influential as the NY Times recently ran front page (food section) story on no more foie gras, give me a burger....or something like that. When society is bombarded with these messages they will follow. As the more open minded come into positions (chefs, writers) that allow them to shape the horizon of dining, this country will see the change that is sweeping Europe. RyneSchraw It seems to me there are two issues being dealt with here: techniques of preparing food and the food itself. My opinion is that what becomes very "modern and inventive" (not only at Trio, but also with Ferran Adrià, Thomas Keller, and hopefully other chefs in other countries more and more now) is focused more on the former category, rather than the later. This deals with the usage of all the techniques mentioned earlier by 'chefg' and also with the way common dishes are deconstructed and presented in new forms. Having eaten at Trio several times and seen the menu change over the months, one thing I've noticed is Chef Achatz does indeed tend to play with "classic American dishes" that he and we all grew up with: hamburger and root beer, milkshakes, pizza, popcorn, ice cream sandwich, potato chips, etc. As you mentioned Keller also does this as well (having grown up with the same things), but in complete contrast, Ferran Adrià's food contains references to traditional Catalan dishes from the areas of Spain he grew up in. A meal at el Bulli will include a tapas section and he seems to focus a lot on sardines, prawns, Mediterranean flavors of the sea, etc. So I do have to disagree and say Trio fits in as a sometimes highly American cuisine, albeit very "modern and inventive." I will also note, that it seems Keller is a bit conservative by comparison, as far as technique is concerned; he seems to favor some of the more traditional French methods of yesteryear, with regards to cooking meats and fish, and does not use a lot of foams, ices, gelatin. But, with these chefs, there are also the global influences, which come up from all over the board. Two good examples from Trio are the passion fruit (or sometimes mango) lassi they serve, a traditional Indian drink and the halibut dish with rutabaga-mustard that maintains the essence of sushi (partly). And finally there are the dishes -- many of them -- which are completely original and new, but still aren't just random flavor combinations; rather, modern approaches to flavors that do work together, or otherwise they would never make it out of the kitchen. And I would be hard pressed to really think of something I've eaten Trio that didn't work. I've had heard rumours that this has been the case of late at el Bulli, but I'm still dying to go! Still, these three chefs do get grouped together for a reason. They are all doing food that is (to steal Steve's way of putting it again, since it is such an excellent way to do so) "modern and inventive" (and I'll add two more words: fun and entertaining). As 'Chefg' stated earlier, "The days of putting a piece of protein in a hot pan are almost over." I would have to agree. Ferran Adrià also can be quoted as saying "it's over for the French chefs," right after receiving his third Michelin star. As new technology becomes available along with the access to practically any ingredient desired (by the way, what are: paw paws, crosnes, limequats, galangal, cardoons?), why should a chef not use them and only stay true to one region of France or one "identifiable cuisine"? Steve Plotnicki Well it's more then just cosmetics. "Modern and inventive" only describes the technique. It doesn't describe the food. Since we are used to describing food from the perspective of regionalism, I'm not sure what is going to happen here. The Spanish chefs have a similar problem, which in part is why they aren't better known in the U.S. among diners. They are chefs in Spain who are known for cooking in a very modern and creative style, not for having created a modern version of Spanish cuisine. My feeling is that if they were known for the latter, you would see it being copied more in other countries. What I am talking about is how to describe the cuisine. Regionalism makes it easy to communicate to those who weren't at the meal what it is that you ate. To say that Michel Guerard had a modern take on Southwestern cuisine filled in many blanks for those who wanted to know for their own future reference. But for example, even though my meal this past November at Trio was better then almost any meal I have had in the U.S., I am hard pressed to describe it in a way other then "modern and inventive." And if I had an easier way to describe it, I could convince more people to try it. I think this is a slightly larger problem then people give it credit for being. And it is one of the reasons that "modern and inventive" cuisine hasn't had as much traction in U.S. restaurants as one would have expected. I will agree that the days of putting a slab of protein into a pan are going to end one day, possibly soon by the way we measure time in cuisine. But I am skeptical as to how soon it will be unless someone can describe what the cuisine expresses other then saying it showcases the amazing technique of the chef. That will only take us so far. It has to be part of a greater esthetic expression, whether derived in regionalism or something else. People are used to eating "regionalism." Will that stop because of great technique? RyneSchraw Steve does make a very good point. Aside from pulling out all the four-star reviews or explaining how Chef Achatz was sous chef at the French Laundry for several years (and then what that implies), I've found it difficult to talk people into going to Trio for the first time. But once you get anyone in there, it all makes sense. Really the food speaks for itself, but as Steve pointed out, it would be a lot easier to have a concise and precise way to talk about it. But really this almost seems impossible in a way; trying to explain a movement in cuisine that is focused much more on a mindset and approach towards the future, than with any region or ingredient. All regions apply, as do all ingredients (if desired by the chef). Also, there is the point ChefG made, about how it's really the beginning of this type of cooking, so for any of this to become clearly definined...well this may take some time. Steve Plotnicki All this talk of eating at Trio has made me have the desperate need to go back there in the near future for another extravaganza. If I might ask, which do you suggest, the spring or summer cuisine as the better platform for the ChefG philosophy? Trio feels that it displays sound examples of its cuisine in all four Midwestern seasons. Maybe ask yourself what ingredients are more exciting to eat and base your decision that way. Certainly after a long winter it is nice to see things like asparagus, morels, peas, taking the place of root vegetables! It's tough to let go of the truffles though. Cabrales Could you discuss whether you see the element of surprise to a diner from receiving a food product in an unanticipated state to be itself a positive effect? How do you see surprise as interacting with taste memory, given that familiar flavors can also evoke taste memory? Have you considered playing with temperatures that are unnatural for a given food state? In other words, a food state, while it generally has a related temperature when ice or vapour is involved, could surprise if that temperature were tampered with, for example. Absolutely. The element of surprise can be an incredible tool in a chef's kit, but you run the risk of failing, which makes you look quite silly. Surprise comes in many different forms. Not knowing which you are specifically asking about I will go through a few. At Trio nearly all the food has some surprise value due to the fact that you won't find a dish on the menu that you have seen elsewhere. There is surprise in unique combinations such as bittersweet chocolate and Niçoise olives, actually hiding an ingredient or a large concentration of an ingredient in a dish to be discovered by a diner, like a sliver of raw ginger in the "oysters and beer", as when a diner sees "pizza" on the menu only to be confronted with a stamp size piece of "paper", to see flavors that are familiar presented in an unusual manner like the root beer of beef short ribs, to begin consuming a beverage and feel it drastically change temperature as they drink, the sudden release of liquid in the liquid black truffle explosion and so on. All of these are examples of surprises that I feel add drama, entertainment, creativity, and in some cases flavor enhancement to a meal. It is a strong technique in the highly creatives' separation from their peers. A chef once wanted to make hot ice cream. It can't be done, although the effect would be amazing. Less dramatic examples are used at Trio all the time. To freeze something that is normally hot or heat something that is normally frozen is easy, but what are you left with? Hot chocolate becomes chocolate sorbet; the difficulty comes in when the original and the manipulated are identical. This is easy: "Dry Martini". What do you visualize? It's in a Martini glass, it tastes like a martini, but you chew it. It is not liquid at all. But how does Trio make you drink something without the sensation of wetness? Is it possible? Not yet. Cabrales Could you discuss Chef Achatz's views, if you are aware of them, on the utilization of local produce? Please mention what types of produce would be considered local for purposes of your response. How does the sourcing question relate to Trio's "global influences"? Produce is purchased on a quality and availability basis. Trio has found that not all "local" produce is better than other sources and sometimes it is impossible due to our geographic location to source the foodstuffs we want locally. It is difficult to find fresh hearts of palm in Illinois. At any given time 50-85% of our produce comes from a organic co-op in Madison, Wisconsin. Our contact has relationships with a group of farmers in the area. He compiles a list twice a week on the products available and drives them to Chicago twice a week. The products are wonderful, the freshness is amazing. Besides the quality of the vegetables Trio feels good supporting local farms that take the integral approach to their craft. Before the season starts the group talks to the chefs and discusses products that they would like to use. So such oddities as skirret, and many other "wild crafted" items such as cattails, wild watercress, morels, acorns, and so on become available. Trio also works closely with a local spice purveyor that works hard to find the chef's unusual requests such as kola nuts, long peppercorns, sassafras root, mallow root, licorice root, fresh eucalypus leaves and so on. As far as what is local, currently we are using celeriac, burdock root, rutabaga, beets, turnips, potatoes, parsley root, sunchokes, crosnes, radishes, and organic eggs. Trio is not a "locally only" restaurant like some other restaurants in the Chicago area. Some of the more "global ingredients" Trio utilizes are fresh Hawaiian hearts of palm, fresh curry leaves, Mayhaw Berries, tosaka seaweed, yuzu, paw paws, sunchokes, crosnes, black truffles, limequats, anise hyssop, galangal, cardoons, Buddha's Hand, the list goes on but for whatever reason they are slipping my mind. Cabrales What is the dish on the Trio menu that you believe is the most delicious? Is that the same dish of which you are most proud, from a culinary technique perspective? By far the toughest question yet, but at least it was broken into two parts which is very important. Braised Prime Beef Short Ribs root beer flavors gets my vote for the "most delicious", It's winter in the Midwest, you have a luscious, rich, flavorful braise of fatty beef. That is tasty. What separates it from other restaurants short rib dishes, I feel, is the concept of root beer flavors. When you analyze old fashioned root beer you find its components are very easily deconstructed and remarkably well suited to a dark, rich, meat. Burdock root, fennel bulb and seed, prunes, molasses, star anise, sassafras, vanilla, and black pepper. It produces a highly aromatic dish with layers of flavor. The small dishes that Trio produces tend to be my favorites. It is easier to be creative with smaller bites than with the more substantial courses. Tart apple-olive oil, dry shot, pizza, spice water, watermelon-smoked paprika ice, black truffle explosion are some that fall into most proud category, although their technique is not so complex. They are products of our environment, and awareness of it, that brought them to life. Techniques that Trio utilizes well, that produce complex results are dehydration, sous-vide cookery, gelatin work, sugar work, foams, to name a few. I feel strongly about the Osetra Caviar kola nut ice dish. Cabrales If you are comfortable discussing it, do you dine out at other Chicago-area restaurants, in your free time? How would you contrast the approach of Chef Achatz to, say, the culinary principles prevailing at Tru? Yes, although my time is very limited, especially since discovering eGullet! The last post addressed to Steve Plotnicki may give you some understanding of my views on the state of restaurants in Chicago. I have dined at Trotter's, Tru, Carlos, Topolobapmo, Spring, Campagnola, Blackbird, Arun's, Le Français, and I am sure more but I can't recall. I don't review restaurants, sorry. Cabrales It's wonderful solo diners are always VIP'd at FL. Are you aware of what might have been the thinking behind that? Also, do all VIPs on a given night tend to get the same lengthier tasting? Thomas assumes solo diners are there to dine. A lot of people frequent high end restaurants. Some are there because their dining partner wanted to go, some because it is the "in place", some because it adds a level of prestige, and others because they like to dine. If you go alone chances are you are into it. From a chef's perspective there is no one I would rather cook for. Not all VIPs get the same menu, depends on your VIP-ness. Steve Klc Say something like the pushed foie gras becomes so lauded, so repeated in the media it begins to take on mythic proportions--it comes to be seen as defining your whole approach to cuisine. You know it is just one dish among many and that you could hardly be defined by one dish, any dish. Would you take it off the menu at the end of this season? Are you already thinking about how to re-work or re-conceptualize it? Unlike the past masters--who wouldn't think of removing their signature dish--or even, it seems, Thomas Keller, who seems to keep signatures on his menu for years--how do you feel about that? Are you closer in spirit to Adria who won't repeat dishes from season to season and in fact, seems beyond the whole "concept" of a signature dish? All his dishes are signature dishes and reflect his process--and that accepting the mere notion of a signature dish would be too limiting. That said--signatures are something the media can latch on to--like a sound byte--are they a necessary evil? Trio has made a general decision to not have signature dishes. They prevent further creativity. Some dishes will stay on the menu for long stretches of time, like the lobster with rosemary vapor. Some may go away for long periods and reappear as totally reworked dishes like the "root beer" of beef that is currently on the menu. The kitchen team at Trio gets bored with dishes after a certain period. We often reflect back on dishes that we felt good about at the time but that would not put on the menu now. I feel we advance at a rapid pace, and it shows in the food. The menus run very seasonally and only dishes that defy seasonality remain for longer than 2-3 months. As soon as a new menu is in place the team begins the task of developing the next menu, it never stops. We do not have the luxury of being seasonal. To be able to take a few months off to just "create" must be wonderful! The development process is lea by the chef, but the kitchen is very collaborative in nature. Discussions are held to brainstorm new ideas and elevate the current set of dishes. The staff is incredibly special in this regard. A think-tank environment is present. The staff is fully aware of all techniques, no secrets are held, they are ones executing the food. As far as philosophy, the team is very aware of our goal, parameters, style, and focus. This is achieved by both being immersed in the environment and through deliberate discussions of it. Even the waitstaff is highly tuned in to concepts of the food and overall method. Steve Plotnicki Well those are both marketing issues that restaurants have to deal with. Obviously, the better people can communicate what a restaurant does well, the easier it is to convince people to dine there. Sure you can say that at Trio the food is "modern and inventive," that just won't sell as many covers as "modern and inventive take on Midwest cuisine." And I'm not suggesting that ChefG should alter anything he does. But the market is the market. It's hard enough to change the market's perceptions about tastes and textures, changing the methods we use to communicate how things taste, and why we should go taste them, is just one more burden. When someone first said "Nouvelle Cuisine," everyone knew what they meant. I'm still waiting for someone to describe what is going on in Spain in a more descriptive fashion then "cooking with total and complete freedom," a description which has not exactly made every American jump on a plane to go have dinner there. There is another aspect to the entire signature dish/masterpiece debate. I mean it is nice to be able to walk over to the Met from my apartment and see Autumn Rhythm. Or to put on the CD and hear Miles still play that great solo on So What Live at Carnegie Hall. And even though it's not quite the same, it is also nice to be able to go to Yountville and have Thomas's White Truffle Custard. And while I understand the concept of progress, I hate to see masterpieces discarded in the name of it. That one doesn't really work for me either. Cabrales Apologies for not having information on Trio's cheese plate, due to not yet having dined there. However, to what extent is cheese served at the restaurant sourced locally? A similar question, with respect to US cheese? RyneSchraw Cabrales - This is a direct quote from the pastry chef at Trio, Paula Haney: "In addition to planning and overseeing Trio's pastry menu, I am also responsible for designing our cheese offerings. Like my pastry menu, the cheese plate has a strong seasonal focus. While I never put geographic limits on my cheese courses, I usually include one or more American artisanal cheeses." It's from the American Cheese Society website http://www.cheesesociety.org/cgi-bin/membe...ge.cgi?id=00543 Cabrales Could you discuss whether you see the location of Trio outside of central Chicago as being more helpful or as being overall less desirable? For example, do you see the distance as allowing the restaurant to attract a large proportion of diners who are interested in Chef Achatz's cuisine and travel for it? RyneSchraw Trio is inside the Homestead -- http://www.thehomestead.net. It's a really charming inn on a residential street with some very nice homes, lots of trees and some great architecture (a few really huge churches). The area itself is beautiful, a few blocks west of the lake and south of Northwestern University. Also it puts the focus entirely on Trio, as opposed to being in a huge city with a lot of top notch places a few blocks away, and gives it that secluded, quiet feel. Kinda similar in way to the other restaurants that have come up in this thread (FL and el Bulli). People who live in the city have to make somewhat of a "trek" out to eat here. But really, Evanston is such a cool town - it's like my home away from home (but only 20 min. away Cabrales RyneSchraw -- Could you discuss the nature of the dish descriptions provided by the dining room team, when you order, and, separately, when a dish is presented? How do the descriptions become provided if the dish is temperature-sensitive or otherwise deteriorates with the passage of time? Do dish descriptions omit new techniques, as one might expect? To what extent do you see the dish descriptions as aiding diner comprehension of the dishes? Do you believe that Trio diners generally understand at least some notion of what was intended to be conveyed? RyneSchraw Cabrales - When ordering the menu is presented and after having some time to think, the staff (who are all extremely knowledgeable and very helpful) will come to answer any questions about certain items. At this point you have a vague, unpolished idea of what you will be eating (if you look at the menu you will understand why - it tells you the elements of a dish, but rarely makes a mention of how they will be used or with what technique). This leaves a ton of room for suprise for when the food actually arrives at the table. The real description comes when the dishes are presented. Depending on the dish, they first deal with ingredients and the forms they are served in, such as "this is a goat's milk sorbet next to...". The focus is put first on the main element in the dish (the item underscored in my example above) and if a technique warrants mentioning (such as how they poach some of the fish and meat in a vacuum sealed bag at low heat) it will be mentioned. Secondly the other elements of a certain dish are explained, and your attention is expected as some dishes are really complex and you will have no idea what the third layer is if you don't listen. At this point they will answer any questions or repeat anything you didn't catch (sometimes it's a lot to take in). In regards to the stability of certain dishes, the descriptions are never a problem, but there have been times where a question leads to a conversation and after a few moments I'll be told to eat my fish before it gets cold. After eating in this type of atmosphere, it's hard not to notice it missing immediately (and wish it was there) when you go somewhere else, where it does not exist. It's more than just being a luxury of the meal; it's really an integral part of appreciating and understanding the food. With prix fixe, multi-course menus, it would be impossible to remember what you read a few hours prior about what the course now sitting in front of you really is. This can almost go for à la carte menu's too, and I have eaten in nice places before where you order a piece of fish and it is brought out to you on a bed of something and next to something, but just set down on the table with no explanation. And aside from just explaining what you are about to eat, there is also a sense of story involved with a lot of the food at Trio. For instance the butter comes from Animal Farms in Vermont (The French Laundry also used this butter - extremely rich and a dark yellow color), owned by a woman who only has eight cows and they all have names and she sends notes explaining how each one is doing. So really you are getting both an appreciation of what Chef Achatz is doing in the kitchen and an appreciation of the food itself, and the life it had before it arrived at the door of the restaurant. As far as if other diners get all this, I'd like to think everyone who eats there and commits that much time and money to the experience would care at least this much about it, but then again, people do eat at places like this for many different reasons; and not always about the food. But in general, I do feel the other diners are all really into it and you'll hear gasps and laughs when the "Carmel Popcorn" amuse is served or the hot water is poured over orange peel. People seem to connect with it and have a lot of fun. RyneSchraw Thoughts and comments relating to the spread of modern cuisine: I think Chefg makes a very good point, that anyone out there who's doing these types of things with food is still greatly out-numbered by the stalwarts of the traditional French model. Just take New York for example--there is Blue Hill and Gramercy Tavern, but the focus remains with the French chefs. They are still having their day, and while this is not a problem at all, it's clear their days are numbered. This is not to say there won't be any more traditional French restaurants, but no one can pretend anymore that it all ends with Escoffier. There is definitely a "Food Revolution" going on with high-end dining, and similar to the Industrial Revolution it started with a small few, and will just get transferred on and on and be modified and improved on by the younger cooks who are just starting out now, or are still in culinary school, or who haven't even been born yet, with no end in sight and no way to stop it. And the press does play a huge role in this as well. The French Laundry really wasn't huge until Ruth Reichl wrote about it as being "The most exciting place to eat in the United States" in The New York Times. El Bulli has collected, over the last 10 years, an almost ridiculous amount of press (I posted a thread earlier on the http://press.elbulli.com and since then they have updated yet again with new articles from 2002, bringing the total to over 400 meticulously clipped and scanned articles.) As a testament to the effect of this exposure, el Bulli filled up for the whole year in one day last month. Which proves that people do indeed enjoy this type of cuisine. So, while el Bulli, Trio and FL all stand on the very edge of cuisine and are all very avant-garde, they are not so in the elitist sort of way that can be associated with avant-garde art, cinema, fashion, etc... Rather the food does a lot to please the people who eat it (not just those creating it), and they do try hard and succeed in making it accessible to the public. I've gone with friends, my sister, mom, etc., none of whom really have any interest in high end dining or food and they have all loved it and all wanted to go back. I think when it comes down to classifying and talking about this food, it works best to treat it as entertainment, and to communicate it as being that way. You certainly don't eat at any of these places simply because you are hungry--the whole experience goes way beyond that. Really it is food as the show- not dinner and a movie, but rather just dinner. pixelchef If I may ask, approximately how many diners opt for the Tour de Force on any given night? The Tour de Force flucuates between 12 to 20% of covers. January 2003 was the highest number of TDF we have served at Trio since its inception over a year ago. The number of diners that choose that option has steadily risen. This trend is exciting for Trio, as the composition of its guests shift to a more "foodie" clientele. The menu offers the most creative food served at the restaurant and can be ordered spontaneously, although we encourage guests to make us aware at the time of reservation if they have already made the commitment to the. It is currently 22 courses long, course being a relative term for dishes as small as a stamp, but 22 compositions will be consumed by the diner. Vegetarian and no-meat menus have been served, with less enthusiasm from the kitchen due to the limitations on techniques using gelatin and certain animal products. The average diner will take 4 hours to complete the meal, this is variable due to number in your party, how fast you eat, the sense of urgency in the kitchen, and whether wine flights are being consumed with the meal. The menu is composed of dishes both from the four course and eight course menus and items not on either menu. It is designed to flow from beginning to end in a progression of flavors, textures, techniques and temperatures.
  3. eGullet's Vedat Milor (vmilor) proposed the following topic for discussion. Quite a few contributors to eGullet forums have been discussing the elements of Haute Cuisine (HC)* and the relative merits of various national cuisines, especially French and Italian. In my mind, there indeed is a bifurcation in the world of HC today, but it is less along national lines than what I name Post-Modern and Renaissance schools. I believe this cleavage cuts across national borders and is also felt in major dining centers of the United States. Both of these schools can excel in what they do, and the best examples of each rightly get crowned with the maximum numbers of stars and toques. My concern is that, primarily due to economic factors, the post-modern school may gradually drive the Renaissance school out of the market or squeeze it into the margins. I would hate it if the pinnacles of HC all turn out sophisticated French "dim sum" at the expense of classic sauces (Albufera, Perigourdine and Bordelaise to name a few) and the best examples of rare game and fish dishes. Let me elaborate. I call the first school "post-modern" because some of the more creative dishes prepared by the likes of Thomas Keller, Alain Passard, Ferran Adria, Marc Veyrat, Martin Berasategui, among others, bear very little resemblance to the dishes eaten otherwise universally, albeit, at their best, these dishes advance the limits of culinary esthetics. These dishes are often soft and creamy in texture in which flavorful mousses, gelees, ice creams (!) abound (hence pejoratively called "cuisine for the baby"). Post-modern chefs prefer to present their creations in a procession of small courses prior to the fish and meat courses. Although some final courses prepared by these chefs can be stunning in texture and titillate all sensations known to mankind (like bone marrow with caviar of Adria and baby venison chops with herbs of Passard before he earned his third star), it is not unfair to claim that the post-modern school excels more in the "pre-meat" and "pre-fish" courses than in the dishes just before cheese or dessert.. I call the second school "Renaissance" because the most gifted proponents of this cuisine, like Bernard Pacaud (L'Ambroisie in Paris), Gerard Rabaey (Pont de Brent near Montreux), Alain Ducasse, Philippe Chevrier (Chateauvieux outside Geneve), Santi Santamaria (Raco de Can Fabes outside of Barcelona), David Tanis, and Alfonso Iaccerdino (Don Alfonso near Naples) are not dogged traditionalists, but intent on subjecting traditional dishes to a rigorous re-evaluation. Some of the best dishes created by these chefs (such as Pacaud's wild duck torte, Chevrier's roasted woodcock, and Iaccerdino's fisherman's soup) look deceptively simple. But the truth is that these dishes often represent the culmination of an arduous and intelligently executed research process. The element of creativity in some of these dishes is expressed perhaps less in the main element of the dish (which is often a whole roasted meat or fish), but in the way the sides have been chosen, organ meats (kidney, heart, liver) separately cooked and artistically presented, and beautifully balanced sauces have been prepared without shortcuts. While some of the entrees prepared by these chefs (try Rabaey's frog's legs or Pacaud's raw scallops with white truffles) are mind blowing, it is fair to claim that this school excels more in the preparation of main courses. I love both styles of cuisine and each has its place. (It is also hard to pigeonhole some chefs whose cooking combines elements of both, for instance Pierre Gagnaire and Hilario Arberaitz of Zuberoa near San Sebastian.) But it is hard to deny that the center of gravity nowadays is shifting towards Catalunya, San Sebastian, and the Haut-Savoie at the expense of more traditional places. Consequently, it is much harder for many skillful young chefs to resist the temptation of "creating" Post-Modern dishes. Economic considerations are driving this trend too. It is more profitable to concoct creative dishes based on cheaper ingredients and then top it off, say, with a frozen black truffle slice. It is also possible to name the dish after a sought after, rare ingredient, such as percebes (a barnacle fished off the Galicia coast) or abalone, and then use only a tiny bit of the rare ingredient in the final concoction and justify the practice in the name of "refinement." The overall problem is that as more and more young chefs are imitating the market leaders of the Post-Modern school because it is more economical and a quicker road to celebrityhood, the consumers are losing in three senses of the term. First, the results are often mediocre because it is not easy to imitate the likes of Adria and Gagnaire, and superficial resemblance of textures often conceals qualitative differences. Second, we all end up paying very high prices because the chef is supposedly at the cutting edge. It is understandable to pay $500 for two at the French Laundry, but do you think your $490 at Elisabeth Daniels when you brought your own wine for the "truffle" menu that gave you some crumbs of black truffle with chi-chi dishes has been well-spent? Last but not least, are we bound to end up in a state where biting into a whole black truffle en croute with sauce Perigourdine will strike the gourmet commentators as an illicit act committed by less refined souls of the 19th century? I am wondering if Renaissance cooking at its best will be able to hold its ground against the march of Post-Modernism. The cost of many dishes created by those chefs is simply going through the roof. Some of these time-tested dishes are very complex, and it has already been observed here that, as a matter of broad generalization, today's dishes in upscale restaurants are somehow less complicated and sauces are less ambitious compared to the gems of yesteryear. (See the thread started by Wilfrid: "Is Haute Cuisine Less Complex Than It Used to Be?" -- click here) Compounding the cost issue is the fact that some of the ambitious dishes, which require complicated sauces, can only be prepared for two or more people. Nowadays, it is getting rare even to have a couple agree on what to order. Add to this the trend towards "healthy" eating, and one may understand why many of these dishes for two or four are gradually disappearing from the menus. All in all, I am concerned that forces from different directions and industry dynamics are making it increasingly harder for the Renaissance chefs to hold their ground and prosper. For those of us how have been privileged to experience some dishes from these chefs, it would be a big loss if the most talented members of the next generation chefs all opt to go Post-Modern and do not follow the footsteps of more classic chefs. Let's hope that this will not be the case. ----- *Three defining characteristics of HC come to my mind: "harmony," "optimality," and "flavorful." These characteristics can apply to a single dish in an exquisite meal, or to the whole meal. Harmony refers to a chef having an impeccable sense of balance and he or she strikes a good mix between different taste sensations such as sweet, acidic, salty, and so forth. Optimality refers to a certain state where if one takes away one element/ingredient in a dish (or one course in a meal), your taste buds may still be scintillating, but less so. Conversely, if one adds an element, the dish may become more "chic" but the taste may suffer. Last, flavorful refers to the quality of ingredients used and techniques utilized to bring out the best in them.
  4. I had lunch at the much-discussed Blumenthal's Fat Duck in Bray today. This was my first visit, and I had a very good meal. If Wilfrid has the time to make the short journey to Bray and has not visited Fat Duck before, this restaurant should be preferable to Petrus, Embassy, La Trompette, etc. The lunch special menu is a very good value-for-money. I could have had a wonderful meal for under Pounds 40 with wine by the glass, had I cared to limit costs. Lunch Menu, Three Courses at Pounds 27.50 (Items not chosen included in square brackets) -- Snail Porridge, Jabugo Ham, [Veloute of pumpkin, fricasse of ceps and pigs' cheeks, or Parfait of foie gras, fig compote and Banyuls] -- Braised Lamb Shank, [Petit sale of duck, green coffee sauce, pommes puree, or Poached skate wing, cockles, braised celeriac, and tonka bean veloute] -- Salted Butter Caramel, roasted pistachios and peanuts, chocolate sorbet and cumin caramel [or Nougat Glace, praline rose, fromage blanc ice cream] Glass of Louis Roederer champagne (approx. 13-14) Glass of Aligote Goisot, 2000 (5.50) Glass of Chateau Jouvent Graves 1996 (9.00) Coffee and petits fours (separate charge, 3.95) The first amuse was average -- an emulsion of green tea and lime sour, served in a slender V-shaped glass. This was light and airy (perhaps due to Adria influences? note I have never eaten at El Bulli). A dining room staff member indicated that vodka had likely been utilized in the dish, but this was not apparent. The tea flavors were too suppressed, resulting in a certain blandness and an emphasis on the citrus elements of the flavoring. The lime tasted much more like green apple to me, with nice notes of sweetness combined with sourness. Overall, however, this dish was still slightly bland and tended on the insubstantial side. Then, a much better second amuse of a little serving of Pommery mustard ice cream, to which was added (from a cute ceramic jug) a gaspacho of red cabbage. Amusingly and wonderfully, this liquid was a beautiful medium purple in color. It tasted refreshing and yet also (appropriately) salty and with a subtle "kick". I do not recollect having seen a purple this intense in a dish, except when violets or lavendar saucing was used (e.g., Club Gascon). The appetizer of snail porridge was appealing. I generally do not like oats, but here softened small oats were integrated with diced bits of snail, garlic and parsley. A parsley-based oil bound this satisfying dish together. The Jabugo was appropriately limited to thin slivers atop the porridge mixture. The reference to porridge is a misnomer, if it connoted Chinese-style congee consistency. This dish was much more a risotto-type preparation. On top of this mixture were placed thin, translucent strands of fennel -- this was unnecessary in my assessment. The Aligote white Burgundy taken with this dish is a relatively classic pairing with snails. For me, the snail porridge was the best dish of the meal. The lamb shank tasted good as well. I received a very generous portion, with a large angular expanse of bone protruding from it. The textures were nicely varied, with the caramelised and darkened overtones of the outer portions of the shank giving way to tender, well-prepared flesh inside. The only very minor area of improvement was that the sauce, which was nicely made, was a very little bit sweeter than I personally would have preferred. Softened slices of carrots were a good accompaniment. A dish I enjoyed, and paired with an appropriate wine by the glass recommended by the sommelier. A trio of pre-desserts arrived. A thin circular-shaped crisp, which the maitre d' described as a "lollipop", with red chilli flavor; a beetroot gelee (quite dense, but not in a negative way) and a tart with basil and a bit of dried fennel on top. Quite different, although it highlighted the desire to be different as well (I guess there's nothing wrong with trying to appear innovative). The dessert was a rich, elastic piece of dark-tasting caramel. As discussed in the "Pierre Herme" thread under France, there is a trend to combine saltiness with sweet sensations in dessert, and this dessert was consistent with that trend. The salted butter did add interesting elements to the caramel, and, while not a big fan of chocolate, I liked the melting chocolate sorbet as it hit the caramel. There were too many hard pistachio bits embeded in the caramel piece for my liking, but that is a pet peeve. The cumin ingredient in this dessert, described on the menu, was not noticeable. The meal ended with a chocolate containing tobacco (a la Adria), with a thin crisp (as thin as a veil) with bacon flavors (taken separately). A very good meal, with no obvious flaws. I am beginning to consider accepting the position that it might not matter whether Blumenthal derives "inspiration" from other chefs, so long as his food tastes the way it does. Fat Duck deserves its two Michelin stars. Modern and well-prepared food. Perhaps Blumenthal tries hard to make his dishes seem innovative, but the flavor combinations on the plate generally worked. I also found the menu interesting enough to ask whether there was a table available for tonight or tomorrow's lunch, perhaps due to cancellations. (Unfortunately not yet) The restaurant appears to be less busy during Saturday lunch than during Saturday night or Sunday lunch. It is closed Sunday dinner and Monday all day. Access, Decor and Service Bray can be accessed from Paddington station, from which I took a 30-40 minute trainride to Maidenhead (Pounds 7.50 return fare). Then, a quick (less than 10 minute) cab ride (approx. Pounds 5-6 each way) brought me to the little bend in the road that I had passed at various times on my way to Waterside Inn in the same town/village. There was the Fat Duck! The exterior of the restaurant is quite unassuming. However, the interior is modern, with hues of yellow, turquoise, and some limited amount of purple/light green in the artwork. Wooden beams. A fireplace area with a modern-looking sculpture placed inside. Chairs of a color between mustard yellow and a light olive. Modern artwork, and a large glass wall area near the entryway with blue hues. The maitre d' was wonderfully detailed in explaining each dish. The dining room team member who, together with the maitre d', primarily assisted me spoke fluent French (Andy -- I don't know why I like speaking French at restaurants in London, but I do). The sommeliers recommended fitting selections by the glass, and were knowledgeable and friendly (and spoke French). It was nice that the service was effective, but not stuffy. I liked the "French" aspects of this restaurant: (1) the availability of Chateldon sparkling water (less common in London and not available at, for example, Petrus), (2) the provision of Langiole knives for the lamb, and (3) butter from France, brought to a table in a large circular slab and described as having been aged appropriately (this butter did not taste impressive, but the effort was there). A fairly strong, although in some cases not inexpensive, wine list (including Delamotte champagne, an item I like alot even though it probably does not have appeal to most). The tasting menu offered was Pounds 75: -- Roast scallop, caramelised cauliflower puree, jelly of Oloroso sherry -- Crab biscuit, roast foie gras, crystallised seaweed, marinated salmon and oyster vinaigrette, or Cauliflower risotto, carpaccio of cauliflower, caramelised cauliflower puree [Wilfrid -- deconstruction of cauliflower?] -- Poached breast of Anjou pigeon, a pastilla of its leg with cherries, pistachio cocoa and quatre epices, or Poached-grilled red mullet, veloute of Borlotti beans with rosemary and vanilla -- Pineapple and chilli jelly, pain d'epices ice cream and crab syrup -- Delice chocolate, chocolate sorbet, cumin caramel The a la carte menu is Pounds 58 for three courses: Appetizers -- Roast scallop (see above) -- Crab biscuit (see above) -- Cuttlefish cannelloni of duck, maple syrup, parsley and perilla broth -- Cauliflower risotto (see above) -- Ballotine of foie gras with jasmine, jelly of mead, Sichuan peppercorn -- Lasagne of langoustine, pig's trotter and truffle (6.50 supplement) -- Radish ravioli of oyster, with truffle and goat's cheese, fromage de tete Main courses -- Pigeon (see above) -- Saddle of lamb cooked at low temperature, lamb tongue, onion puree -- Pot roast best end of pork, gratin of macaroni (for two) -- Roast spiced cod, castelluccio lentils, braised cockscombs [interesting!] and pea puree -- Sweetbread cooked in a salt crust with hay, crusted with pollen, cockles a la plancha and parsnip puree -- Red mullet (see above) Dessert -- Delice Chocolate (see above) -- Chocolate coulant (M. Bras) [note crediting] with blue cheese, fromage-blanc ice cream, Sichuan pepper and wine pear -- Tart tatin, bay leaf and almond foam, vanilla ice cream -- Millefeuille of pain d'epices, pineapple and chilli jelly -- Smoked bacon and egg ice cream, pain perdu, tomato jam [interesting] -- Artisan cheese from La Fromagerie (if additional course, 10 pound supplement)
  5. First off, thanks for taking time from your very busy schedule to answer our questions and brighten our days. I am also quite glad to see your book is about food, family and children, a topic both of abstract and personal interest. I have heard that your restaurant is quite welcoming to children and greatly look forward to dining there with our 3.5 yr old when we visit the UK in the spring. My main question is about how you interact with wine (and other alcoholic beverages) both in the practical world of service at your restaurant and when you conceptualize dishes and flavours. Is it difficult to create wine suggestions for diners due to the specific interactions of disparate flavors in your dishes as wine (or alcohol) might ruin the relationship? Is wine perhaps not the best beverage for many of the dishes? On the more theoretical level, do the complex flavours (created by so few ingredients) of wines ever inspire you? Do you ever take a wine, particularly a difficult or complex one, and use it as the inspiration for creating the flavours of a dish? Have you worked with the flavour chemistry of other beverages like scotch or beer? Thanks, A.
  6. Heston, I’m getting a bit nervous about Molecular Gastronomy. I’m concerned that it may be overshadowing the tried and true, if not proven, field of Solid State Gastronomy. I may be alone in mourning its demise, but I still like a solid piece of meat; tearing into a solid whole chicken for two, perhaps with truffles under its skin; a solid, entire fish like a sea bass “en croute”. I have nothing against foams, capsules, and jellies, but my mom told me that in order to be a happy lad, I should have at least two solid meals a day. Any chance that Solid State Gastronomy will ever make a comeback? Since satire is what closes on Saturday night, let me be serious and ask you this legitimate question: I have not seen the expression in many years, but I remember food writers of 20 years ago speaking of the cuisine of certain Nouvelle Cuisine chefs as having a taste that “explodes in the mouth”. Perhaps currently less-sensitive taste buds are a bit of a factor, but I remember enjoying food at the great restaurants of France tasting better than it does in all but a handful of restaurants today. As I have stated or implied many times (maybe now too many times) on e-Gullet, I find that besides less generosity, more “control-freaking” (not only are more chefs telling you what you have to eat, but also how to eat it), I also find less succulence or naturalness in my dishes, often so with the unexpected Adria-inspired dish that I encounter. In fact, so far (and this does not include The Fat Duck which, believe me, is visit number one the next time I go to the UK) I would have to say that Adria-inspired food works best in the context of a meal “Chez Adria”. In the interest of brevity, then, how do you view cuisine that is offered in new delivery systems (or altered states) vis a vis cuisine made by complete, masterly chefs using impeccable produce stunningly prepared and made with tried and true technique, and do you think that the collaboration of chef and food scientist is slated for a meaningful long term future?
  7. Heston, have you ever felt that speaking of "molecular gastronomy" might be a little, well, off-putting? Were there other phrases you had considered to describe your interest in this aspect of cuisine? By the way, I don't know how much you actually have to do with the design of your web site, but congratulations. I first encountered it several months ago and have re-visited it many times. I have found your comments there very useful.
  8. I have eaten at the Fat Duck but have yet to try the Riverside Brasserie. I understand that the menu at the latter is more traditional. Could you tell us to what extent you are using your innovative methods (low temperature cooking, flavour encapsulation, distilled flavours, etc.) at the Riverside Brasserie? What "niches" or "spaces" do you see the two restaurants as occupying? When would you want to eat at one as opposed to the other?
  9. When I read about chefs who are described as experimental, and who collaborate with scientists to create new combinations and improve coooking techniques, your name and Ferran Adria's often appear. (Unfortunately, I've not yet visited your restaurants or El Bulli.) To what extent have you been influenced by Adria (and vice versa), and to what extent do your individual contributions complement one another (or not)?
  10. Chef Blumenthal, how did you come by such a melodious and unusual combination of names?
  11. I recently had dinner at Midsummer House in Cambridge. Whilst the menu was more traditional than those I've enjoyed at the Fat Duck, Daniel Clifford added a number of touches that were reminiscent of yours, most notably the green tea "palate cleanser" to start. Could you tell us what you think of other chefs imitating or adapting your innovative dishes? Similarly, it would be interesting to understand how free you feel to adopt dishes or techniques developed by other chefs?
  12. The current issue of this UK magazine has a longish article on the boys of MG: Blumenthal, Gagnaire, Adria, Tim Pak Poy (Claudes in Sydney) and Juan Mari Arzak (Arzak in Spain). Insiders, we're told, "say the confident French chef Philippe Conticini at Petrossian is the next one to watch." No new ground is broken, but there is one unintentionally hilarious 'eeeuw' moment: "Inspiration can come from anywhere. Chef Tim Pak Poy...discovered that an orchard farmer used beetroot to kill off infection in an injury. Pak Poy went to work translating this in the kitchen, and the result was beetroot-cured sea trout."
  13. What is your honest opinion of molecular gastronomy and its exponents? Is it a good thing for the British restaurant industry?
  14. The Ouest website mentions that Philip Howard's degree in microbiology encouraged a unique approach to cooking. I'd appreciate learning some details on Chef Howard's beliefs, and the ways in which there are similarities with, and differences from, the "Molecular Gastronomy" approach pursued by Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck, Bray, and Pierre Gagnaire, Paris, among others. Below is a thread on Molecular Gastronomy: Clickety Are there other chefs in London that utilize the type of approach Chef Howard advocates, and how do you incorporate his insight into your dishes at Ouest (to the extent you do)? On Chef Howard, how did your role as sous chef at The Square differ from your role as souf chef to Raymond Blanc at Manoir? Also, I haver heard mention that The Square's dining room team can be a bit cold at times. What are your views on the kitchen team's perception of the dining room team at The Square?
  15. I have been rereading Charles Hennessy's "The Making of Marco Pierre White, Sharpest Chef in History -- Marco" with an view towards understanding MPW's relationships with his many progeny chefs (including Ramsay, H Blumenthal, J-C Novelli and, according to the book, to a greater or lesser extent, P Howard). Here's an excerpt bearing on the MPW/Blumenthal relationship: "Another worker in the kitchen [at R Blanc's Manoir au Quat' Saison] had reason to be grateful for Marco's arrival. Seventeen-year-old Heston Blumenthal . . . . had been taken on as an apprentice by Raymond Blanc. Compared with his dreams, he found the kitchen -- as all kitchens are -- hell, and his colleagues brutal. Marco immediately and instinctively assumed the role of protector during Heston's *brief* stay, and became a friend and guest of his family . . . . *With Marco's help* . . . he opened a small bistro in Bray. The plucky little competitor to Michel Roux's grand Waterside Inn in the same village was called The Fat Duck (The name was Marco's suggestion: When asked why, he asks, why not?)."
  16. I also think Thomas keller is extraordinary, but would appreciate it if you would go into more detail.
  17. I was very interested to read Jay Rayners review in the Observer today of The George hotel in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight http://www.observer.co.uk/life/story/0,6903,668701,00.html and was suprised to read that his amuse bouche was a version of Thomas Kellers Oysters and Pearls. It sounds like a dumbed down version with an oyster sitting in a salty broth with grains of tapioca. The original is a sort of custard made with sabayon, tapioca, creme fraiche and whipped cream with the oysters placed on top in a butter sauce of vermouth, oyster juices shallots and vinegar with some caviar on top. This must be the first instance of a Californian chefs signature dish turning up in an Isle of Wight kitchen isn't it? As you will read Jay didn't like the dish and likened it to snot! Has anyone had the original, did that taste like snot?
  18. No, but hardly an unenviable position from someone who loves to eat fine food more than talk about it as well as someone who prefers to talk about it rather than criticize it. It appears to be a nice site, by the way. Looking forward to greater examination.
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