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mjc

Sous Vide: Recipes, Techniques & Equipment (Part 5)

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[Moderator's note: this continues the discussion from Sous Vide: Recipes, Techniques & Equipment (Part 4)]


As I mentioned above I was planning to make a Wagyu Brisket Sous Vide. I setup the sous vide equipement with an Auber PID and a Waring roasting oven which I got on Sale + Coupon from Bed and Bath. I Drilled Holes in the lid for the temperature probe and the aquarium circulator.

gallery_7926_2631_1056.jpg

I cooked a turkey breast sous vide once before and I think there is a post about it somewhere in this thread. I did that one the stove in a Le Creuset Oven, but since this was an entire 10lb brisket and would cook for 48 hours, I figured I needed a better setup.

Here is the brisket cooking. Before adding it to the bags, I divided it into three pieces, seasoned, and seared it.

gallery_7926_2631_64068.jpg


I decided to set the bath to 144F. Seems that people cook the brisket at a wide range of temperatures and times. After reading Under Pressure, I was kind of nervous to cook it at 135, but after re-reading Douglas' guide, I think I would try the next one at that temp.

It turned out pretty well. I've never cooked a brisket before. At my first dinner I served the leanest part with a sauce bordelaise, turned glazed carrots, chanterelle mushrooms, and potato gratin. The meat was really tender, and not dry, but not all that moist either.

I liked the less lean part better. I served the middle piece a different day, just about the same way (changes to shitake mushrooms/Julienned carrots). This piece was a little bit pinker and more juicy.

gallery_7926_2631_44245.jpg

I dropped and pretty much ruined camera just before the last picture.
gallery_7926_2631_30350.jpg
I've got the third piece in the freezer.


Mike

The Dairy Show

Special Edition 3-In The Kitchen at Momofuku Milk Bar

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I got some New Zealand Grouper, and made this:

gallery_57905_5970_57761.jpg

Sous-vide Poached Grouper, Broccoli Stems, Enoki Mushrooms Fricasse, Shitake Foam, Red Wine Quail Egg, Truffle Salt :

broccoli stems were spoached SV with Long Bali Peppercorns and butter @ 77C/4 hours,

grouper cooked SV with a touch of espelette and French truffle salt @ 61C/15 min,

Enoki mushrooms were quickly caramelized and pan braised,

Shitake foam was made with cream and lecithine,

quail egg was SV in red wine @ 63C for about 45min.

Observations:

- I much prefer 85C/3 hr for roots/hard veggies;

- Grouper is EXTREMELY sensitive to SV temps, in fact I tried it @ 61C, 62C and 63C, any temp above 61C resulted in tougher texture;

- truffle salt is a superb seasoning for SV applications, and is highly recommended;

- SV quail eggs are hard to peel;

Does anybody have an opinion/suggestions on the latter issue?


Edited by MikeTMD (log)

"It's not from my kitchen, it's from my heart"

Michael T.

***************************************

My flickr collection

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One reason I cooked this at such a high heat 150/160 was because of this article:
From : http://amath.colorado.edu/~baldwind/sous-vide.html

Tough Meat

When cooking tough meats, two processes are of particular importance: the dissolving of collagen into gelatin and the melting of solid (saturated) fats.

Before sous-vide cooking, the dissolving of collagen into gelatin required cooking meat well done (between 160°F/70°C and 180°F/80°C) and holding it at that temperature for a couple of hours. The reason being that while collagen begins to dissolve at 131°F (55°C) [Thi06], it must be held at that temperature for 12--72 hours to have a significant effect---something impossible to achieve with conventional cooking methods. However, thanks to sous-vide's precise temperature control, it is both possible and quite common to cook tough cuts of meat for 24--48 hours at 131°F (55°C).

While collagen will begin to dissolve at 131°F (55°C), only 5--10% of the saturated fat in pork and beef will melt at that temperature. Nearly 60% of the saturated fat in pork and beef, the saturated fatty acid palmitic, melts at 145°F (62.8°C). The remaining 30--35%, the saturated fatty acid stearic, melts at 157°F (69.6°C). So in order to melt the saturated fat in pork and beef, it must be heated either above 145°F (62.8°C) or 157°F (69.6°C), depending on how much of the fat you want to melt.

The 2 paragraphs talk about 2 cooking ranges... 131 (which several people have done, including the beef ribs) and the higher temps to melt saturated fat. Since my personal trainer would normally want me to stay away from beef DUE TO saturated fat, I thought this test would see what happens if this PALMITIC and STEARIC was removed from the meat. Only problem is to determine IF IN FACT saturated fat was indeed removed. And from close up pictures of the flat slices, you can see there's plenty of connective tissue still in the meat. Any most telling to me is that this morning in my home kitchen was a 1/2 pan with all the au jus from the last bag of brisket. I fully expected it to be congealed fat (75-78 deg room temp) but it was almost yummy enough to drink. There was just a tiny thin scum layer on the top but nothing that resembled cold grease. If it (the fat?) wasn't in the bag, then was it still in the meat?

We cook an already awesome smoked brisket AND beef short rib on our smoker, so I don't see much value in using sous vide for these meats. I'd like to try more brisket flat at a lower temp just to experience that. It would be nice to hear from anyone who has an idea as to the fat issues.

More pics available directly from my gallery section:

http://www.jaymer-que.com/gallery/?Qwd=./B...umbs&Qis=M#qdig

jaymer...

Anyone ever give you any answers to your questions/findings Jaymer?

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There is no other place for fat to be than in the meat or in the bag. So if it is not in the bag, it is still in the meat.

Cooking meat at or above the melting temperatures does not necessarily mean that you will drain or render all of the fat out of the meat. Fat is bound up in fat cells. The fat cells are usually surrounded by other meat tissue. Melting the fat changes the taste and mouthfeel, (which is the point Douglas Baldwin was making) but even if melted it it can remain bound in the tissue.

The most effective techniques for rendering involve fine chopping the meat and fat in a meat grinder or even a blender or food processor - for example here on recipe gullet.

Mechanically breaking up the meat assures that the fat can leak out of fat cells. Of course that is for rendering. This approach defeats the purpose you seem to be after - which is rendering fat from meat that is still intact.

That is best accomplished by either trimming fat away (before cooking, or on your plate), or cooking at even higher temperatures for a long period of time. However, this will create dry meat - indeed dry meat is exactly what you get after rendering. Removing a little fat is fine, but ultimately if you want rich beef taste with moist tender meat, there has to be some fat present.

Finally, I will point out that brisket is actually not that fatty. There is a thick fat cap on brisket, but if that is trimmed away the remaining meat is actually quite lean. There is connective tissue in brisket - but that is mostly collagen and not very high in fat. In fact, this is one of the challenges in cooking brisket - it is easy to make it too dry.


Nathan

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Finally, I will point out that brisket is actually not that fatty.  There is a thick fat cap on brisket, but if that is trimmed away the remaining meat is actually quite lean.

Just for the sake of completing Nathan's comments... we should mention that the foregoing is true of the first cut (aka "flat) part of the brisket, and not as much true of the second cut (aka "deckle") part of the brisket. The latter can be quite fatty throughout (which is why it is so delicious!).


Edited by slkinsey (log)

--

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One reason I cooked this at such a high heat 150/160 was because of this article:

Your pictures look like the meat was delicious. I recommend trying at 135F some time so that you can compare the results. From the pictures and temperature, I would guess that the taste texture was along the lines of a braised brisket. Certainly yummy but quite different from what you would get at a lower temp. At 135F (more so than 147F), the texture will be radically different. The texture will be more like fork-tender roast beef than it will be like brisket--fork tender but with the meat maintaining its 'integrity' for lack of a better word--very tender but not falling apart.

Just a thought.

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Just a little post by way of self-introduction. Having come across this thread, and thence into the little world of sous vide, a few months ago, I eventually got tired of just reading, and went on a little buying spree: an Auber WS-1500, the Foodsaver V3825 from Costco, and an Aroma brand 15-cup rice cooker from Walmart. I'm just about entirely happy with all three of them so far; the cooker could be a tiny bit deeper, and the Foodsaver could use roll material a bit more efficiently, but I think this trio will serve me pretty well for now.

My quantitative side has been going through withdrawal since I started graduate study in the humanities, so one of my first projects was to tune the PID using the most quantitative-ish guidelines I could find: those from the eBook Practical Process Control: Proven Methods and Best Practices for Automatic PID Control. Once I realized that the cooker is better modeled as an "integrating" process--when the heater's on more than about 20% of the time, the temperature continues rising without stabalizing at some particular temperature--I filled the cooker up to the "2.4L" line (actually more like four liters) and took some very simple measurements with a kitchen timer and the temperature display on the Auber.

I've written up a little condensed step-by-step guide here. I spent two afternoons playing around, but having figured out how to do it, recording the data only takes a few hours.

Projects so far have included:

  • Chuck roast, cut up and at 131 for 46 hours, served as part of a grab-bag Christmas dinner to positive reviews; I only managed to grab a bite or two and found it a bit dry, although the out-of-a-bag "au jus" sauce helped.
  • Potatoes for french fries, parcooked with some butter at 181 for a few hours and deep-fried, to more positive reviews and frying oil all over the place. Incidentally, since we had the oil hot--I was home with family, and we never deep-fry--we just had to put some other stuff in. I stole some little pickle slices from the hamburger fixin' platter and dipped them in the onion ring batter (out of Joy of Cooking); they were fantastic.
  • A few failed/insipid projects, notably the beef ribs at 135 for 48 hours. I hadn't trimmed them correctly; I've never worked with ribs before. The meat was wonderful, but surrounded by all sorts of inedible fat and connective tissue.

And finally, in the past two days, the real payoff successes:

  • Tri-tip "steak" from Costco, bagged with salt and pepper and a little bit of bottled hibachi sauce, 135 for about 46 hours; browned with my new blowtorch and EVOO; bag liquids warmed, strained through a wet paper towel, reduced a little, and thickened with unsalted butter. Glorious! The connective tissue had broken down just the right amount; perfectly tender, but still some body; great flavor. I haven't had a proper hunk of beef in a long, long time. I only had about forty-five minutes to prep, eat, clean up, and go; no rush.
  • Cheap boneless chicken breast. This was the other big reason for buying the system: weeknight chicken dinner 2 hours after coming home, with virtually no hands-on prep time. (I'll try putting in the chicken before leaving in the morning some day; I wonder what will happen?) Tonight, 148 for about 2 hours (got distracted); browned with the blowtorch and EVOO; bag juices warmed, strained, reduced a little, and thickened with cream. Served over jasmine rice. Next time I'll try using some chicken broth to produce more sauce; there was barely enough to cover the chicken, much less sauce the rice. But again, very good; more tender than the last one I made (at 146), very serviceable weeknight dinner.

Next projects? Well, I've got some more tri-tip and chicken in the freezer, already bagged. I've made a few 2-hour eggs, which are good but I haven't really learned to eat yet; I guess I'll have to have my grandmother show me. (20-hour eggs--I got distracted--don't work as well...) I'll try some vegetables, too; I'm looking around for decent really-cheap food sources in my area. I haven't summoned the courage to buy one of Costco's enormous chuck roasts or briskets and figure out how to cut and bag it.

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On Doug Baldwin's great website, the section on roast beef indicates that the meat needs to be less than 2.75 inches thick for safe cooking (at 131F).

Can anyone (Doug or Nathan) comment as to whether 2.75 inches is indeed the maximum thickness for a piece of beef to be cooked sous-vide. I'd love to try cooking a cross rib roast but the smallest I have found is about 4 inches thick -- and I'd hate to cut it into smaller pieces because I'd like to sear the outer fatty side after cooking.

I have a note in my notebook that 5 inches or less is safe. The source was this list but I haven't been able to find the posting that I got that number from -- so maybe I jotted it down wrong.

Thanks.

p.s. Doug, I followed your instructions for a flat-iron steak and my guests were blown away and wolfed it down. I served it with a brandy cream sauce made using the bag juices and the crispy bits that stuck to the pan during the searing.

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As with every food safety question, it is somewhat complicated. On the one hand, the interior of intact beef muscle is essentially sterile and so the roast can be as large as you want. On the other hand, if the interior is not sterile and contains (a high initial load of) C. perfringens, then the coldest part of the roast should reach 54.4C/130F within 6 hours.

So, how big can a roast be if you want the center to reach 54.4C/130F within 6 hours? Well, it depends on how hot the water bath is, what the thermal dynamic properties of the meat are, the shape of the meat, and how "thick" the roast is (among other things). The higher the water bath temperature is above 54.4C/130F, the larger the roast can be. The more spherical the roast is, the larger it can be. If you want to cook in a 55C/131F water bath and the roast is approximately cylindrical then it can be up to 95--135mm/3.7--5.3in thick (depending on how close the roast is to a perfect cylinder and what the thermal diffusivity of the meat is (see Table A.9 of my guide)).


My Guide: A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking, which Harold McGee described as "a wonderful contribution."

My Book: Sous Vide for the Home Cook US EU/UK

My YouTube channel — a new work in progress.

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As with every food safety question, it is somewhat complicated. On the one hand, the interior of intact beef muscle is essentially sterile and so the roast can be as large as you want. On the other hand, if the interior is not sterile and contains (a high initial load of) C. perfringens, then the coldest part of the roast should reach 54.4C/130F within 6 hours.

Yes, Douglas puts it very well.

The interior of intact muscle of virually all food animals is sterile from pathogens. Bacterial contamination is almost all external, and almost all fecal in origin.

So, if you have a hunk of intact beef muscle - i.e. a roast which has not been stuffed or cut open, or larded, or injected, then as Douglas says, there is no problem cooking it pretty much however you want.

To get a high load of C. perfringens in beef would be pretty hard to do. However if you did have a high load, AND you then follow FDA rules for what is "acceptable", then there is a limit of 5 to 6 inches.

Even that is unlikely to make you sick because C. perfringens dies easily with heat. Its spores do not reproduce well until heat shocked to 70C (well above the temperature where any sane person cooks a beef roast). So even in this very unlikely case the application of the rules is misleading.

But, just to be nit picky, with a high enough pathogen load, even that might not be enough. There is no "right" answer here.

The fact is that intact beef muscle is virually always sterile, so in practice you can cook big roasts sous vide without difficulty.

Yes there is some chance that you have the first case of non-sterile beef in history. Or maybe your butcher poked into the center of the meat with a knife that was dirty from cutting pork skin. On the other hand, maybe you get run over by a bus on the way home from the butcher shop - in fact that is statistically a lot more likely.


Nathan

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So, how big can a roast be if you want the center to reach 54.4C/130F within 6 hours?  Well, it depends on how hot the water bath is, what the thermal dynamic properties of the meat are, the shape of the meat, and how "thick" the roast is (among other things).  The higher the water bath temperature is above 54.4C/130F, the larger the roast can be.  The more spherical the roast is, the larger it can be.  If you want to cook in a 55C/131F water bath and the roast is approximately cylindrical then it can be up to 95--135mm/3.7--5.3in thick (depending on how close the roast is to a perfect cylinder and what the thermal diffusivity of the meat is (see Table A.9 of my guide)).

So, it sounds like you and Nathan think that a roughly cylindrical (more like a tapered cylinder -- i.e. a cone with the pointy end chopped off) that is about 4.5 inches in diameter and 4 inches roast cooked in a 132F water bath should be relatively safe.

When vacuum-packed, the cross-section is likely to flatten quite a bit. The flattening is likely to make it wider but less thick. I would think that this would make it even safer.

Does that seem reasonable?

I tend to err on the side of caution.

Would you both feel comfortable cooking something like that for 24 hours? (I think you already answered that but want to double-check.)

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I have a question for all the technical experts out there - Douglas Baldwin, Nathanm, I hope you're out there!

I recently stumbled onto a paper which summarized a two day seminar given by George Pralus in David Bouley's test kitchen back in April, 2006. Some of the things Pralus was saying is a little contradictory to what I had learned from this thread, and from what I get from the 2005 FDA food code....

Pralus put a graph on the whiteboard showing temperature safety zones...

50-55C - danger zone

55-60C - tolerance zone

60-63C - start of pasteurization zone

> 63C - assured pasteurization zone

It was also stated that heat treatment only kills vegetative forms of pathogens if the core temp. reaches 60C.

I've been routinely doing flank steak for 24 hours at 55C - granted my lack of problems is not statistically significant....

Can anyone shed some light on this??? Thanks!

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There is absolutely no problem cooking meat at 55C/131F. Most food pathogens stop growing by 45C/113F (Listeria, Salmonella, etc.), almost all the rest stop growing by 50C/122F and only C. perfringens is able to grow up to 53C/127.5F (and only because of a Phoenix phenomenon that is occasionally observable in laboratories). Certainly pasteurization takes longer at 55C/131F than it does at 60C/140F, but this is easily achieved in a water bath; besides, even the conservative 2005 US Food Code gives pasteurization times at 54.4C/130F (in section 3-401.11.B.2). Furthermore, the interior of intact beef muscle is essentially sterile and doesn't even need to be pasteurized (see discussion up thread).


My Guide: A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking, which Harold McGee described as "a wonderful contribution."

My Book: Sous Vide for the Home Cook US EU/UK

My YouTube channel — a new work in progress.

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Thanks for your input - I didn't think there was a concern - but I was curious if anyone knew why Pralus was saying what he was saying...

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Well I read this thread ove rthe past few months or so and have been looking for an IC on eBay off and on. After a failed acquisition (won it, got it and it did not work...I got my $$ back tho) I finally got a properly functional IC made by Lauda (Thanks Sam for your help and advice). I have not played too much with it but I did try a few things so far and I am looking forward to jumpo in to more serious lonjg temr cooking. I cannot wait to try some chuck or brisket at 135 for 48hrs. That is the most widely accpeted way of getting a properly cooked and flavorful tender piece of meat. Right?

Anyways here's what I tried so far:

- Initial test: I cooked two eggs for about 8 hours. I forgot what the temp was, but I followed e-monster's recipe from early on. this was done mostly to test the machine and make sure it maintains it's setting. It did, but the eggs yolk was a bit overcooked and the white was ok. I'm thinking a shorter period and hiher heat might be better.

- Pork chops. bagged with butter and seasoning and cooked at 140 for a couple of hours. Ver juicy and deliciuous with a slight pink color. I served these with braised red cabbage. I wish I had taken pictures of all this stuff, but I was still testing.

- Desserts seem a bit absent from this thread. I used a recipe from my Alinea book for persimmon cake and adapted it to make a chocolate/banana/coconut cake. This was cooked at 82C for 3.5 hours. It was sliced and served with toasted almonds and coconut foam. This was beyond delicious! My wife -who is very skeptical of the IC- loved it. It was rich and chocolaty. I would like to make it more cylindrical next time and be able to slice perfect rounds after it is CSV. Not sure how to do that yet, but a collagen suusage casing might be involved and I will post pictures next time.

- Mahi Mahi fillets. These were cooked a bit too high and too short. They tasted ok, but were a little tough on the outside and undercooked on the inside.


E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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- Initial test: I cooked two eggs for about 8 hours. I forgot what the temp was, but I followed e-monster's recipe from early on. this was done mostly to test the machine and make sure it maintains it's setting. It did, but the eggs yolk was a bit overcooked and the white was ok. I'm thinking a shorter period and hiher heat might be better.

A quick note about eggs, take a look at Doug Baldwin's great site -- he has pictures of eggs at different temps. When I am going to leave them in a long time (mostly just so that I can put them in before I go to bed and have some eggs ready for my wife when she wakes up), I will use 146 or 147F. The drawback to those temps is that the whites some of the whites will be very watery.

Interestingly, time at a given temp seems to have a bigger impact on the yolk than the white. At 147F, the yolk will be more set when left overnight than when cooked for 90 minutes. BUT, the whites won't be terribly much different.

My general pref these days is a 147 or 148F egg cooked for about 80 minutes

The freshness and origin of the eggs seem to make a huge difference in terms of the exact temperature that things set at.

I am still trying to figure out the way to get the ideal egg. I like the yolk of a 147F egg as it is after 80 minutes -- but want the whites to be slightly more set. I am thinking that the trick is probably two baths -- a high temp bath just under boiling for a minute and then into the 147F bath. I have explored this a little but haven't had the time to get it right.

Anyone else have some egg experiences to share. I'd love to find the secret to the truly perfect egg.

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After experimenting with different times and temperatures, I've decided I don't like sous vide eggs. The truly perfect egg is poached :biggrin:


Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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Has anyone tried Octopus yet? Keller's book says 5hrs at 77c, curious about the results.

chris

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Does anyone know where to get food grade closed cell foam tape for making temperature measurements with a needle proble? I know some people have used the closed cell weatherstripping, but I'm a bit concerned that there may be some toxic stuff in the adhesive...

Any thoughts or suggestions?

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I purchased a package of the foam tape from JB Prince when I purchased my immersion circulator. The tape added so little to the order ($6) it was an easy addition. I have not tried to use the foam tape yet. (So little time so many things to cook and experiment with.)

The foam tape JB Prince sells appears to be a product they repackage from bulk rolls into a small coil in plastic bag. There is no manufacturer marking on the bag or the tape. It appears to be identical to the weather stripping available locally. (I have not tried to use the weather stripping for sous vide either.)

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This is my first ever post. I recently left my job as a teacher to follow my passion for food. I cater privately and work at a high end steakhouse.

Thank you all for your great input on this site.

Some findings and questions:

1) chuck cooked for 30 hours really does come out like NY strip or filet. (135 degrees)

2) don't put citrus zest in the bag and try to make osso bucco- yuck.

3) eggs at 148 are great

4) sous vide magic and the people that work there are great.

5) For a tender steak (filet-NY etc.) I still prefer starting in a low oven, 250 or so, until the internal temp is 100-110 then searing. Much better flavour.

6) chicken breast at 148 is too cooked for me.

7) A rice cooker works WAY better than a crock pot with a PID. 7.5) apparently you can also make rice when you buy a rice cooker.

although I read this entire beast of a thread and the various links, I don't remember seeing the following answered:

If I cook a piece of meat at say 133 for a day or two, how long can I leave it out (in the bag or out) before it must be seared or chilled? (there is a reason that this would be convenient for me) I prefer not to sear first as I don't like meat cooked past medium-rare and I want the smell from the last minute sear.

If I took that same piece of meat and threw it straight in the fridge (assume the fridge went above 4 degrees here and there), would it be safe to eat? For how long?

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Welcome howsmatt !

I'm sure a microbiologist will give a better answer eventually, but, as an initial response, my 'take' is that - if you intend storing for subsequent reheating - the faster you do the cooling, the better.

Turning that round, the slower you cool it, the shorter the 'shelf-life'.

Hence, from hot bath to cold bath is a much better bet than mere air-cooling, let alone cooling in a timed-out, and subsequently very slowly cooling hot bath.

I think that's the basic idea, but I wouldn't want to be the one to put numbers on it!


Edited by dougal (log)

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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Sorry for the semi-crappy pic. I had to use my Blackberry since my camera was nowhere to be found at the time.

I had to share my first serious SV attempt. 36-hour Shawarma style beef chuck cooked at 57C. It was marinated with red wine with alcohol cooked off, various shawarma spices and CSV with an onion wrapped in saran with ends open al la Keller. Pretty phenomenal, tender but not mushy, very much like a good beefy steak. I served it with pita among other things.

gallery_5404_94_817712.jpg

Quick question about reaheating chilled CSV items. How does it work? Say I cooked a steak or some chicken and quick chilled them in an ice bath and stored in the fridge. How do i properly reheat them for dinner without losing the benefit of CSV and without having to have to wait for an hour or two for it to come up to temp again in a water bath?


E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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If you want it to stay the same, you need to reheat it in the water bath (not strictly true, but true as a practical matter). That said, getting things just up to temperature is pretty fast if they're already cooked and don't need to spend time at temperature. Also, a lot of the time you can reheat certain things CSV via more conventional means and still keep the benefits of SV cooking. I occasionally use SV chicken breast in omelets and things like that, and they seem to keep their SV juiciness and tenderness through the reheating with the eggs (probably what this means is that they wouldn't be fully cooked if I were using raw chicken in the same recipe).

IMO, it doesn't make much sense to cook-and-chill SV at home unless you are (1) planning on reheating in the water bath; (2) planning on serving the food cold; (3) it's something hammered through like SV duck confit; or (4) it's something you always planned on cooking partially SV and partially via conventional means (this is something that Keller does a few times in "Under Pressure" -- cook, say, veal breast a long time SV to convert the collagen without drying it out, then later on cooking it to a more conventional "doneness" to finish it for service).


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        Thanks.
    • By mjbarnard
      I cooked two turkey breasts sous vide. This year had access to the Meater+ thermometer probe which I managed to vacuum seal in the bag without difficulty (it is small). Since it works wirelessly I was able to monitor and it records the internal temperatures at the thickest part of the breast.
      I thought the results were interesting. I cooked at 60C for 8 hours. I have always used https://www.chefsteps.com/activities/a-better-way-to-turkey-cook-that-bird-sous-vide-for-the-best-feast-ever which gives long cooking times at lower temperature. I have found that as according to this page https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2014/11/sous-vide-turkey-breast-crispy-skin-recipe-thanksgiving.html that 55C gives turkey which is just a little too pink for most tastes. Over the last few years have increased the temperature up to 59/60 and I find it perfect - very moist and tender, but pale not pink.
      See attached images. I changed my mind a couple of times and started at 58 then 60 then 59 again, so ignore the slight variations. The thing I found interesting was that the thickest part (of a large breast) reached 55C in around 1 hour 40 mins and target of 59 in 2 hours 30 mins. Now I appreciate that sous vide is a combination of temperature and time or duration, but the data make me think that around 4 hours would be sufficient, as per the seriouseats table. I have previously used the chefsteps 55-58 for their much longer advised times, up to 12 hours and the meat is still quite pink at the end, so I dont believe 55 for 12 hours would effectively be the same.
      From now on I will watching the internal temperatures with interest. This has always been the (relative) unkown for sous vide amateurs. 


    • By chefg
      I have to say designing the Alinea kitchen has been one of the most exciting experiences thus far in the opening of this restaurant. I have been fortunate to have been “raised” in some of the best kitchens in the country. When I arrived at the French Laundry in August 1996 the “new kitchen” had just been completed. Often times you would hear the man talk about the good old days of cooking on a residential range with only one refrigerator and warped out sauté pans with wiggly handles. When I started about 50% of the custom stainless steel was in place. The walls smooth with tile and carpet on the floors. I recall the feeling of anxiety when working for fear that I would dirty up the kitchen, not a common concern for most cooks in commercial kitchens.
      The French Laundry kitchen didn’t stop, it continued to evolve over the four years I was there. I vividly remember the addition of the custom fish/canapé stainless unit. Allowing the poissonier to keep his mise en place in beautiful 1/9 pan rails instead of the ice cube filled fish lugs. Each advancement in technology and ergonomics made the kitchen a more efficient and exacting machine.
      When I returned to the Laundry this past July for the 10th anniversary I was shocked that it had metomorphisized once again. The butcher room was now a sea of custom stainless steel low boys, the pot sink area was expanded, the walk-in moved, and an office added to the corner of the kitchen. The kitchen as I left it in June of 2001 was beautiful and extremely functional, of course it is even more so now. It is the relentless pursuit of detail and concise thought that allows the French Laundry kitchen to be one of the best for cooks to execute their craft…..16 hours a day.
      This was good motivation.
      When it came time to design my kitchen I drew on experiences at Trio, TFL and other kitchens I was familiar with to define the positives and negatives of those designs. We were faced with a 21x 44' rectangle. This space would not allow for my original kitchen design idea of four islands postioned throughout the kitchen, but ultimately gave way for the current design which I think is actually better than the original. But most the important aspect in shaping the final design was the cuisine. Due to the nature of food that we produce a typical layout with common equipment standards and dimensions do not work. Here is where the team drew on our experiences from Trio. By looking at the techniques we utilized we came to several conclusions.
      1. A conventional range was not our main heat source. We do need the flat tops and some open burners for applications such as braising and limited stock work. But our overall use of this piece of equipment is somewhat low. Given that we wanted four open burners and two flat tops with two ovens I began to source out a reliable unit. We settled on the Molteni G230.

      2. Upon analyzing our other heat source needs we decided to place a large focus on induction. By utilizing portable induction burners we are allowed the flexibility to give as much power as needed to a specific station in the kitchen. Obviously induction’s radiant heat is very low, and this allows us to keep the temperature in the kitchen reasonable, yet the power is quite high. 31,000 BTU's of highly controlable heat. But the main reason for choosing this flexible source of heat is the fact that each chef typically employed at least four different cooking applications on a given night. This huge flux in technique and the realization that the menu would change entirely in 8 weeks time meant that we had to design a kitchen that could evolve on a nightly basis. And last, we are very specific with temperatures; induction makes it easier for us to hold a liquid at a predetermined temperature for long periods of time without fluctuation. They operate between 85 and 500 degrees farenheit. We did a great deal of research on the different producers of induction and favored Cooktek. The fact that they are the only U.S manufacturer of commercial induction cooking equipment and located in Chicago made the decision easier. Their innovative approach to induction may prove to be even more exciting as we are already talking about new product development in the future.

      3. a. The complexity of the presentations and a la minute plate-ups of the food require a great deal of surface area devoted to plating. This was one of the most critical factors in determining the basic shape of the kitchen. The size of some of today's popular plates, the amount detail in each composition, coupled with the fact that producing tasting menus vs. ala carte means sometimes large waves of same dish pick ups made it necessary for us to have over 44' of linear plating surface.
      b. Virtually nothing goes vertical above the 36” counter top in the space. All food, plates, equipment, and dry good storage are contained by under counter units. There are a few exceptions such as the infrared salamanders, the three-door refrigerator, and the hood. This allows all the cooks a clear line of communication between each other and the front staff. It allows me an easy sight line to survey the entire kitchen’s progress with a quick glance.
      Given these two points it seemed obvious that we needed to combine the two and create custom pieces that would fulfill both needs. Large spans of plating surfaces with all food and equipment storage below. As you can see we ended up with two 22’ long units. Each function as a pass and under counter storage.
      The building is 21’ wide wall to wall. This allowed us just enough space to create two lines on each exterior wall with their passes forming a 60” corridor for the pick up of plates and finishing of dishes.
      4. We decided to add a station to the kitchen. At Trio we had five including:
      a. pastry
      b. cold garde manger
      c. hot garde manger
      d. fish
      e. meat
      Now that we had more space, and the ability to give each station multiple heat
      sources regardless of their location in the kitchen, we could spread the workload even further. We also realized it doesn’t make much sense to identify each station by classic French Bragade terms. A saucier did not solely cook meat with classic techniques and prepare various traditional stocks and sauces…in fact quite the opposite. This holds true with most of the stations, with the exception of pastry, but even they will have very unconventional techniques, menu placement and involvement in the kitchen systems. We will add a station that will be responsible for a large majority of the one-bite courses both sweet and savory.
      5.Given the size constraints of the building we realized a walk-in would not be possible in the kitchen. If we were to have one it would be in the basement. Having experienced this at Trio we decided to design the kitchen without a walk-in, making up for the space in various lowboy locations and a three-door reach-in. I experienced the walk-in less environment when I worked at Charlie Trotter’s. It is certainly different, but as with most things if done properly it provides a very efficient environment. It works best in situations where fresh products are brought in daily for that days use. And prevents ordering in large quantities. It also provides us with very specific units to house different items. We will utilize the 3-door refrigerator to store the majority of the vegetables and herbs along with some staple mise en place, and items that cannot be made in very small quantities like stocks. Raw meat will have it’s own lowboys as well as fish, dairy, and all frozen products.
      6. At Trio we found ourselves using the salamander a great deal. It is very useful for melting sugar, bringing on transparent qualities in things like fat and cheese, cooking items intensely on only one side, and it is a highly controllable non-direct heat source. Due to the air gap between the foodstuff and the heat elements the cook can control the degree of heat applied to the dish based on the technique he is using. It becomes a very versatile tool in the modern kitchen, so much so that we will install three Sodir infrared salamanders.

      Again, this is to insure that all the cooks have access to all of the techniques in the kitchen. As I said before it is important for our cooks to be able to sauté, simmer, poach, fry, grill, salamander, and freeze at the same time and sometimes for the same dish.
      We have a few unusual pieces of equipment in the kitchen; the most is probably a centrifuge. A few months ago Nick and I were driving home from a design meeting and ended up talking about signature dishes and menu repetition. Of course the black truffle explosion came up and he asked if I would have it on the menu at Alinea. I replied a firm no, but shortly thereafter said I would enjoy updating it. We threw around some tongue and cheek ideas like White Truffle Implosion, and Truffle Explosion 2005….I said it was a goal of mine to make a frozen ball with a liquid center….but then dismissed it as nearly impossible. Within a few minutes he said …”I got it…we need a centrifuge” His explanation was simple, place the desired liquid in a spherical mold and place on the centrifuge…place the whole thing in the freezer. Within days he had one in the test kitchen. I guess this is better suited for the kitchen lab topic that we will be starting in a few weeks…
      We are working on a upload of the kitchen blueprints. When those post I plan on going into more detail about certian aspects of the design. Doing so now would be pointless as the viewer does not have a reference point.
    • By ronnie_suburban
      It’s the first day of cooking in Alinea's Food Lab and the mood is relaxed. We’re in a residential kitchen but there’s nothing ordinary about it. Chef Grant, along with sous chefs John Peters and Curtis Duffy are setting up. The sight of the 3 steady pros, each in their chef’s whites, working away, does not match this domestic space. Nor does the intimidating display of industrial tools lined up on the counters. While the traditional elements are here in this suburban kitchen: oven, cooktop, sink, so too are the tools of modern restaurant cookery: pacojet, cryovac machine, paint stripping heat gun…wait, a paint stripping heat gun?
      In the physical realm, the Food Lab is a tangible space where the conventional and the unconventional are melded together in the quest for new culinary territory. With Alinea’s construction under way, the team must be resourceful. This meant that renting a space large enough to house both the office and the kitchen aspects of the food lab was out of the question.
      The decision was made to take over a large office space for the research and administrative aspects of Alinea and transform a residential kitchen into the Lab. Achatz and the team would work three days per week at the office researching all aspects of gastronomy and brainstorming new dishes, while managing the project as a whole. The remaining time would be spent in the kitchen executing the ideas formulated at the office. “At first I thought separating the two would be problematic,” says Grant “but in the end we are finding it very productive. It allows us to really focus on the tasks at hand, and also immerse ourselves in the environment conducive to each discipline.” The menus for opening night—containing as many as 50 never-before-served dishes--must be conceived, designed, tested and perfected. The Alinea team does not want to fly without a net on opening night.
      On a more abstract level, the Food Lab is simply the series of processes that continually loop in the minds of Chef Grant and his team. While there is no single conduit by which prospective menus--and the dishes which comprise them--arrive at Alinea, virtually all of them start in Chef Grant's imagination and eventually take form after brainstorming sessions between the Chef and his team. Menus are charted, based on the seasonality of their respective components, and the details of each dish are then laid out on paper, computer or both and brought to the kitchen for development. In this regard, the Food Lab provides something very special to the Chef and his team. “We consider the food lab a luxury,” says Grant. Once Alinea is open and the restaurant’s daily operations are consuming up to 16 hours of each day, time for such creative planning (aka play) will be scarce. Building a library of concepts, ideas and plans for future menus now will be extraordinarily valuable in the future. Otherwise, such planning sessions will have to take place in the 17th and 18th hours of future workdays, as they did when the Chef and his team were at Trio.
      Today, several projects are planned and the Chefs dig into their preparations as soon as their equipment setup is complete…
      Poached Broccoli Stem with wild Coho roe, crispy bread, grapefruit
      Stem cooked sous vide (butter, salt, granulated cane juice)
      Machine-sliced thin bread
      Dairyless grapefruit “pudding”
      Dried Crème Brulee
      Caramel orb shell made with bubble maker and heat gun
      Powdered interior made with dried butterfat, egg yolks, powdered sugar & vanilla
      PB&J
      Peeled grapes on the stem
      Peanut butter coating
      Wrap in brioche
      Broil
      Micro-grated, roasted peanuts
      Instant Tropical Pudding
      Freeze Dried Powders of coconut, pineapple, banana
      Young coconut water spiked with rum
      Muscovado Sugar
      Cilantro
      Candied Chili
      Jamaican Peppercorn
      Vanilla Bean
      The steps required to comprise each dish are, as one might imagine, intricate and numerous. For the Poached Broccoli Stem, Chef Grant begins by separating the broccoli stems from the florets. The stems are stripped of their fibrous exteriors and pared down until they are uniform in size. Grant comments on the use of the second hand part of the vegetable: “This dish started with the roe. Every year we receive the most amazing Brook Trout Roe from Steve Stallard, my friend and owner of Blis. Typically, we serve the eggs with an element of sweetness. I find it goes very well with the ultra fresh salinity of the week-old roe. This time around we wanted to take a savory approach so I began looking into complimenting flavors in the vegetal category. About the same time, our group had a discussion about secondary parts of vegetables and the stem of broccoli came up. I had a past experience with the stem and found it to be very reminiscent of cabbage. Knowing that cabbage and caviar are essentially a classic pairing, I felt confident that we could work the dish out. Now I'm struggling to decide if this is a broccoli dish or in fact a roe dish, I think they really battle for the top position and that helps makes the dish very complex."

      Chef Grant processing the broccoli

      The stems are placed in a polyethylene bag, along with butter, salt and granulated cane juice. The bag is sealed with a cryovac machine

      The sealed stems are placed in a 170 degree F water to cook, sous vide, until extremely tender; about three hours

      Broccoli stems after cooking
      The crisp bread element is fabricated via the use of an industrial deli slicer. Chef Grant then brushes the sectioned pieces of poached broccoli stem with eggwash, affixes them to the thin planks of brioche and places them in a fry pan with butter.

      Grant's mise...not your ordinary cutting board

      Poached Broccoli Stem and Crisp Bread cooking

      Ready for plating

      A bright green broccoli puree is made with a vita-prep blender. Here, Chef Grant "mohawks" it onto china given to him by Thomas Keller

      Smoked Coho roe has arrived via Fed-Ex, courtesy of Steve Stallard

      Chef Grant devises a plating scheme for the Poached Broccoli Stem while Curtis looks on

      Chef Grant ponders one potential plating of the dish. He called this incarnation 'predictable' and started over.

      Another plating idea. This version is garnished with broccoli petals and ultra-thin slices of connected grapefruit pulp cells. The yellow petals are stand-ins for what will ultimately be broccoli blossoms
      Grant is still displeased at the dish's appearance. "The dish tastes as I envisioned it....texturally complex, with the crispness of the bread, the soft elements of the floret puree and stem, and the pop of the eggs. The buttery richness from the bread gives the stem the flavor of the melted cabbage I loved at the [French] Laundry. And the hot and cold contrasts from the roe and broccoli …I like it…..I just don’t like the way it looks.” Another attempt and the group agrees, it is better but not “the one.” The use of the thinly sliced cross sections of peeled grapefruit energizes the group. In the next rendition, they make small packets with the ultra thinly-sliced grapefruit containing the roe...

      A third plating configuration for Poached Broccoli Stems; this one featuring the packets of roe wrapped in ultra thin sheets of grapefruit pulp cells
      At this point the team decides to move on and come back to it next week. After some conversation they decide that in the final dish, broccoli will appear in at least 5 forms: poached stems, floret puree, some raw form of the stem, the tiny individual sprouts of broccoli florets, and the blooms. Grant feels that Poached Broccoli Stem could be ready for service, although he still envisions some changes for the dish that will make it even more emblematic of his personal style. “Our dishes continue to evolve after they hit the menu. It is important for us to get to know them better before we can clearly see their weaknesses.”
      The thought for the dried crème brulee originated over a year ago when a regular customer jokingly asked for a crème brulee for dessert. “He said it as joke, I took it as a challenge,” says Grant. "Of course, we never intended to give him a regular crème brulee.” The team tried various techniques to create the powder-filled caramel bubble while at Trio to no avail. An acceptable filling for the Dried Crème Brulee has been developed by the Chef and his team but several different methods, attempted today, to create the orb from caramelized sugar have been less than 100% successful.

      Caramel blob awaiting formation. Chef Curtis kept this pliable by leaving it in a low oven throughout the day

      Chef Grant’s initial idea to use a metal bubble ring and heat gun (normally used for stripping paint) to form the bubbles does not work as hoped. Attempts to fashion them by hand also come up short.
      Says Grant, “At Trio we tried a hair-dryer. When Martin told me about these heat guns which get up to 900 degrees F, I thought we had it for sure. If it was easy everyone would do it I guess.” Eventually, Alinea partner Nick Kokonas garners the task’s best result by positioning a small, warm blob of sugar onto the end of a drinking straw and blowing into the other end. The results are promising. Curtis suggests using a sugar pump to inflate the orbs. That adjustment will be attempted on another day.
      “We intentionally position whimsical bite in the amuse slot, it tends to break the ice and make people laugh. It is a deliberate attempt to craft the experience by positioning the courses in a very pre-meditated order. A great deal of thought goes into the order of the courses, a misalignment may really take away from the meal as a whole.” For PB&J, the grapes are peeled while still on the vine and then dipped into unsweetened peanut butter. They are allowed to set–up, and then they are wrapped with a thin sheet of bread and lightly toasted. When the peeled grapes warm, they become so soft they mimic jelly. The composition is strangely unfamiliar in appearance but instantly reminiscent on the palate. PB&J is, according to Grant, virtually ready for service. There are a couple of aesthetic elements, which need minor tweaks but the Chef feels very good about today’s prototype.

      Chef John peels grapes while still on their stems

      Peeled grapes on their stems with peanut butter coating

      Chef Grant studies the completed PB&J in the Crucial Detail designed piece

      PB&J
      Often, creative impulses come by way of Alinea’s special purveyors. “Terra Spice’s support over the past couple of years has been unprecedented, and it has accelerated with the start of the food lab,” says Grant. “It is great to have relationships with people that think like we do, it can make the creative process so much easier. Often Phil, our contact at Terra, would come into the kitchen at Trio and encourage us to try and stump him on obscure ingredients. We always lost, but not from lack of trying. He even brought in two live chufa plants into the kitchen one day.” The relationship has developed and Terra team has really made an effort to not only search out products that the chefs ask for but also keep an eye out for new ingredients and innovations. In August, Phil brought by some samples of products that he thought the Alinea team might be interested in trying.

      Phil of Terra Spice showing the team some samples

      Coconut powder and other samples
      Grant recalls “the most surprising item to me was the dried coconut powder. When I put a spoonful in my mouth I could not believe the intense flavor and instant creamy texture, it was awesome.” That was the inspiration for what is now Instant Tropical Pudding. The guest is presented with a glass filled with dried ingredients. A member of the service team pours a measured amount of coconut water into the glass and instructs the guest to stir the pudding until a creamy consistency is formed.

      The rum-spiked coconut water being added to the powders
      At the end of the day, the Chefs assess their overall effort as having gone “fairly well.” It’s a mixed bag of results. Clearly, the fact that things have not gone perfectly on Day 1 has not dampened anyone’s spirits. The team has purposely attempted dishes of varying degrees of difficultly in order to maximize their productivity. Says Grant, “Making a bubble of caramel filled with powder…I have devoted the better part of fifteen years to this craft, I have trained with the best chefs alive. I have a good grasp of known technique. The lab's purpose is to create technique based on our vision. Sometimes we will succeed, and sometimes we will fail, but trying is what make us who we are." The team's measured evaluations of their day’s work reflect that philosophy.
      According to Chef Grant, “The purpose of the lab is to create the un-creatable. I know the level at which we can cook. I know the level of technique we already possess. What I am interested in is what we don't know...making a daydream reality.” With little more than 100 days on the calendar between now and Alinea’s opening, the Chef and his team will have their work cut out for them.
      =R=
      A special thanks to eGullet member yellow truffle, who contributed greatly to this piece
    • By ronnie_suburban
      Sometime this week, at an undisclosed location in the city of Chicago, Chef Grant Achatz begins the next leg of his journey to open his new restaurant, Alinea. Grant will christen the 'food lab' where the menu for Alinea will be developed. eGullet will be trailing Grant and his team throughout the process -- not just in the food lab but through every facet of the launch. Over the next six months, we will follow the Alinea team as they discover, develop, design and execute their plan. We'll document behind-the-scenes communications, forwarded directly to us by the Alinea team. We will be on the scene, bringing regular updates to the eGullet community. And Grant will join us in this special Alinea forum to discuss the process of opening Alinea. eGullet members will have the opportunity to ask Grant, and several other members of the Alinea team, questions about the development of the restaurant.
       
      A Perfect Pairing?
      By the time he was 12 years old, Grant Achatz knew that he would someday run his own restaurant. The story of Alinea is the story of Grant's personal development as a chef and a leader. Grant was brought up in a restaurant family. He bypassed a college education in favor of culinary school, after which he ascended rapidly to the position of sous chef for Thomas Keller at The French Laundry in Yountville, California. In 2001, Grant took the helm of Trio in Evanston, Illinois, which had previously turned out such noted chefs as Gale Gand, Rick Tramanto (Tru) and Shawn McClain (Spring, Green Zebra). In 2003 Grant won the James Beard Foundation's "Rising Star Chef" award, and other prestigious awards followed. By 2004, Grant was recognized as one of the most influential and unique voices on the international culinary scene.
       
      In January 2004, Grant met Nick Kokonas, a successful entrepreneur who was so obsessed with haute cuisine that he had traveled the world in search of it. After globe-trekking specifically to eat at such culinary meccas as Alfonso 1890, Taillevent, Arpège, Arzak, and the French Laundry, Nick was in near disbelief when he realized that the "best food in the world was 10 minutes from my house." Nick had not previously consideredbacking a restaurant, even though he has both relatives and friends in the industry. But in Grant, he saw an opportunity to help create something great.
       
      Through Grant's cuisine, a bond formed between the two men. So inspired was Nick by Grant's culinary ideas that he returned to Trio almost monthly. Finally, he challenged two of his friends, one from New York and the other from San Francisco, to fly to Chicago and experience Trio. He wanted to prove definitively to his skeptical, coastal buddies that Trio was the best and most important restaurant in the country, assuring them that "if the meal at Trio isn't the best meal you've ever had, I'll pay for your meals and your flights." Nick won his bet: his friends were blown away.
       
      Later that night, after service, Grant joined Nick and his guests at their table. The men chatted about a variety of topics and in the '14 wines' haze of the late evening, they discussed Blue Trout and Black Truffles: The Peregrinations of an Epicure, Joseph Wechsberg's gastronomic memoir. The next day, Grant emailed Nick to ask again about the title of the book they had discussed. Not only did Nick remind him, but, within a few days, sent Grant a copy of Wechsberg's book. A friendship was born.
      Shortly thereafter, Grant sentNick his business plan for Alinea, sending an email after evening service. By the following morning Nick had read it and replied with his own enthusiastic amendments. With a burgeoning friendship already in place, trust developing between the two men and proof they could work together crystallizing before their eyes, it became clear that they would become a team. Says Grant, "I think most people, in a lot of ways, look for themselves in other people in order to match with and I think to a large degree, the reason why we get along so well is that our personalities align very well."
       
      Nick felt the same way. "It's one of those situations where everything just lined up right. I had the interest, I'd started a number of different businesses and I felt like it would be an opportunity to work with someone who I'd get along with very well. I wouldn't want to build a restaurant just to build a restaurant and I doubt I'll ever develop some other restaurant. I think this is the right situation at the right time."
       
      Grant adds, "I think we're both very driven and passionate people. So for me, it was about finding someone I could trust, someone that I knew was going to think like me, be as motivated or more motivated than me. Those things were very, very important--and something I hadn't seen--or something I didn't believe in--that I saw in Nick." Nick continues, "I think a lot people come to a chef with their pre-existing vision of the restaurant they want to build. I didn't even want to build a restaurant before I saw his vision, so it wasn't like I was saying 'I'm building this restaurant and I want you to be my chef' -- it was more like 'I think you should build a restaurant, what can I do to help you build it?'" Grant would have the additional supportive backing he'd need and Nick would have another venture -- and one he solidly believed in -- in which to direct his business acumen.
       
      It's All About The Container
      Anyone who's eaten Grant's cuisine at Trio knows that he is intensely concerned with food and the optimal ways to prepare and serve it. His dishes innovate in flavor; they challenge, tease and delight the senses. But Grant is also driven to innovate in service and technique, constantly seeking new vehicles to deliver sensations to the diner. He works closely with a trusted collaborator, Martin Kastner of Crucial Detail in San Diego, CA to create original service pieces for many of his dishes. And as Grant has searched for additional ways to expand the continuity of the dining experience, it has become clear to him that it starts before the diner even gets to the restaurant's front door.
       
      According to Grant, "You can pull it back as far as you want. The experience is going to start before someone even picks up the phone to make a reservation to this restaurant. It's going to be about their perceptions; why are they picking up the phone to make a reservation? What did they see? What did they read? What's leading them up to that point? They call to make a reservation, that's another experience. The drive to get to this neighborhood is another experience. The minute they open their door and take one step out of their car, now they're surrounded by another experience."
       
      Advancing the functional elements of how food is served is an innate part of the cooking process for Grant, who seeks to render the traditional boundaries of dining obsolete. When asked what he will be able to accomplish at Alinea that he couldn't accomplish at Trio, Grant says, "the obvious is to create the container in which we create the experience. I think that's the very exciting thing for me that I've never been able to have a part in." For Grant, a restaurant's physical space represents the ultimate container and the ultimate personal challenge. The result should break new ground in the world of fine dining.   Grant and Nick are intense and competitive. In both their minds, "crafting a complete experience" is the primary focus of Alinea. According to Nick, "the whole idea is to produce an experience where the food lines up with the décor, which lines up with the flow through the restaurant and from the moment you get, literally, to the front door of the place and you walk in, your experience should mirror in some respects--and complement in others--the whole process you're going to go through when you start eating." Grant takes it a step further. "It's about having a central beacon from which everything else emanates and therefore, it's seamless. The whole experience is crafted on one finite point and if everything emanates from that point, then there's no chance that the experience can be interrupted."
       
      The search for Alinea's space further reflects not only their shared philosophy but also their separate intensities. Says Nick, "One of the things we felt really strongly about, and we both came to it, was that we wanted it to be a 'stand alone' building because if you're in something else you can't help but take on some of that identity. And it's really difficult to find the right size building in the right kind of location, with the right kind of construction that was suitable for the identity of Alinea."
      Nick and Grant drove down every street within a chosen geographical band, armed with a giant map and a set of green, yellow and red markers. Once they had found a set of acceptable streets, they asked a realtor to show them every space available on them.
       
      "Once we did find the building," says Grant, "whichever space we would have chosen, we would have analyzed and considered each different aspect to provoke a certain emotion, a very controlled emotion depending on how we wanted it arranged. But I also think that we wanted the neighborhood to feel a certain way, the street to feel a certain way. Is it like Michigan Avenue where I have people 4-deep, walking straight down the sidewalk, non-stop, all day and all night or is it more of a tranquil environment outside? All those things were spinning around and once you identify the golden egg, then you have to go find it."
      While they would probably never admit it, each innovation, each step they take together in building their venture serves as yet another a opportunity for the Alinea team to challenge the restaurant's competitors. Their attention to all the details provides countless opportunities to distinguish Alinea from other restaurants.
       
      Here the two men can share in the creation, combining their diverse skills and experiences into a unified and shared vision. Alinea will be their baby. They want it to be the best --not just the best food -- but the best everything. They even want the experience of calling for a reservation to be a memorable one.
       
      The Path From Here
      In that spirit, the Alinea food lab opens this week. Grant refuses to promote even one of his legendary creations to 'signature dish' status. Instead of populating Alinea's menu with previous favorites from Trio or 'trial' dishes that have been only roughly tested, Grant and his team will take six months to devise, develop and perfect the dishes and delivery modes that will appear on Alinea's opening menu. When the idea of maintaining a kitchen staff for six months before the restaurant's opening was presented to its investors, in spite of the additional expense, "it seemed like a no-brainer" according to Nick. Grant is an equity partner--a true chef/owner--in the venture and there is a solid consensus among all the backers about the priority of his vision.
      * * * * *
      In addition to being one of today's foremost chefs and culinary innovators, Grant Achatz is a long-time member of eGullet, and a lively, provocative contributor to our discussion forums. Read his March, 2003 eGullet Q&A here.
      Photos courtesy Alinea
       
      eGullet member, yellow_truffle, also contributed to this report
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