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Progressive cuisine is not Dead!


Adam Chef
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It's not about hand crafted vs sterile factory production... It's about equipping yourself with the best tools possible. Right now my main gig is as a pastry chef, and I'm sure as hell not going to be hand-churning iced cream simply for the sake of nostaligia.

But anyhow, on the topic of sous-vide cookery - vacuum cooking a steak is a misuse of the technique, sure you get consistency, but is consistent doneness necessarily going to make it taste better? (in my experience, sometimes imperfection tastes better than supposed perfection). At the same time though, sous-vide is a great technique for making infusions and sauces, where you really CAN notice the difference vs. traditional technique... And for the environmentally inclined, you can do a lot of water bath cooking in sealed reusable jars (not a true vacuum, but you can still achieve some great results).

And no matter how much technology we use, there will always be the human element and art... Modern technique doesn't guarantee anything, a good cook will produce a good meal if you tell him to cook over a stone, (interestingly enough, Marc Veyrat - a chef known for using ultramodern techniques, does just that occasionally, I'm sure he's not alone), and I've also seen plenty of chefs misuse modern technology. And who's to say a whipped up emulsion is any less hand-crafted than a traditional sauce?

And since you brought up manual transmission cars and hand-made watches, keep in mind those were once cutting edge, and the artisans who make them today use modern tools...

As for where my preferences lie, I love the taste of food grilled over a wood fire, but I'm also going to use every bit of knowledge I can to get the most of my ingredients...

Edited by Mikeb19 (log)
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First let me respond to my friend Baron,

I would love to answer your thoughts in the order which you have brought them up as I would hate to miss one!

1. The serving on fabricated caviar was only a dish when it was a new technique, now it is not new nor is it interesting to serve a spoon full of caviar. When a technique is new you cannot confuse the guest too much by complicating the plate and giving them too much to think about as you will not have the required impact, what follows the discovery of a new technique is the Chefs who will incorporate these techniques into dishes they have created and not simply displaying the fabricated Caviar and calling that their dish.

2. When common decency tells you that it is ok to use. Chefs work for a very long time to create and perfect techniques, I can tell you there have been some that have taken me as long as years to perfect and start to use, when I hear of this being used days or weeks later I get angry as I know how much effort went into it, then some other Chef will take it and claim it as their own discovery. It is not the credit myself or others want, it is merely being given the time to explore all the possibilities of that technique before another comes and beats you to it on your technique (sounds petty, but you would think the same if you were working on something for a long time and someone started claiming it as theirs).

3. This one is very hard to answer as there is not enough space............. It is a very common thing. I even know of certain Chefs who have demonstrated techniques that belong to others in conferences before the other Chef has even used it.

4. It is a slight resemblance but who may of been inspired by who is the question. If you remember I mentioned that it was when I was coaching the Bocuse d'Or team from Spain....... Bocuse d'Or finals were back in January 2009 (which given your love of classic cuisine I am sure you already knew), the sandwich in question was published on July 14 2009! I had previously published a story about this Rubiks cube back in January of 2009 but I had a major failure on my site and lost all the data in April of 2009. The date on the picture is as follows: "Friday, November 21, 2008, 4:04:38 PM".

I do what I do and I do it how I do it because I can almost Guarantee with 100% certainty that it will be the same every time! When dining in a restaurant the most important thing is consistency. If you are an average Chef who cooks Average food people will have expectations of what they are going to get, if one day you decide to put in a lot more effort and produce some amazing dishes and the next day you cant be bothered and produce the same average food then you will confuse the guest. A great restaurant is only as good as it's worst dish on it's worst day, to be great on one day is easy! So I am sorry but your overcooked poached fish story would not be acceptable in my restaurant as the guest is not paying for your mistakes, nor are they paying for your nostalgia which leads to their below standards meal.

Doing what we are now doing with food gives you another option to the Vending machine if you want close to perfect food every time! It is about understanding food and it's strengths and limitations, when we have perfected something there are always so many measurable limits that can be observed every time (Time in seconds, Temperature in 0.1 of a degree, Measurements in MM, weight in 0.01 of a G). What I try to remember is the guest is coming to the restaurant on the reputation of the Chef and his food, they are not interested in having an interpretation of how the line Chef thinks it should taste. I have managed kitchens of up to 36 Chefs, imagine having 36 Chefs from 11 different countries interpret your meal!

Testing can be done in your day to day cooking, it is about finding a better way to do it until you believe it is perfect for what you want to do with it, then it is about competently managing the process to ensure it can be replicated every time. I do this in my home even when I am cooking dinner every night, so as you can see you don't have to have a lab but you do need a desire for perfection.

Always a pleasure,

Adam Melonas - Chef

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Hi Mikeb19, Brianemone and nickrey,

Not too much else to say then.......... Agree, Agree and Totally agree,

But it is always fun to discuss, I love to see and try to understand the perspective of others. Food is such a broad topic!

:-)

Adam Melonas - Chef

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Thank you for the evasive response reminiscent of a US Senate hearing and congratulations on being the progenitor of food presentations based on a Rubik’s cube. Clearly whoever designed the novelty cubewich is a faithful (though unethical) reader of Madrid Lab because no one else would independently think of making a cheeky sandwich based on an iconic toy that has been around for 30 years and sold over 350,000,000 copies.

I do what I do and I do it how I do it because I can almost Guarantee with 100% certainty that it will be the same every time!...

Doing what we are now doing with food gives you another option to the Vending machine if you want close to perfect food every time!

You do not serve guests at the Madrid Lab so your ability to experiment with top of the line equipment without food cost or interference is a luxury that only a handful of chefs will ever know. Ideally everything should indeed be perfect, but that is not a reality for many restaurateurs who work in cities or towns that have not been lauded by Michelin, are not capable of charging premium prices based on their neighborhood or economy, don’t require a brigade and can not be sustained by reservation-only seating. What is de rigueur for elite restaurants is not the case for others whose payroll can not afford captains, proper equipment and their rent isn’t paid for by the hotel. Perfection is extremely difficult and accordingly rewarded. The course of pursuing such perfection will likely be tested by errors –a long ticket time, dropped plate, guest went to smoke a cigarette…or that one overcooked fish which has to go out so that the meals of 30 other guest aren’t jeopardized.

Most of those problems can be avoided in well budgeted sterile environments where nothing can go wrong and guests pay what I earn in a week, but they are not accessible to most and do not fill the need for guests that are dining for the pleasure of dining rather than expecting a life changing experience.

I measure recipes by gram units, use thermometers, timers and strive for consistency as does any disciplined cook, but the gadgetry and Cartesian approach of delineated ingredients is not within the reach of most cooks. Molecular gastronomy (or whatever you want to call it) appeals to few people and therefore is not a viable style for most chefs to adopt. Your standards are reasonable and the progressive theory/practice is sound, but it requires much training to do well (lest they be the focus of your scorn –for doing it in the first place too) and working chefs are not immune to the occasional hiccup.

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I think the comment about being politician like in my response sounded a little like a Compliment in disguise Baron, could it be that you are showing your soft side? No, false alarm, it is just your same dry humor coming through.

Your point about it not being possible to serve perfection nearly all of the time is still incorrect according to the way I set my dishes. Yes I work in a Lab creating and perfecting all day long (but I do also serve media and other people every week who taste what's new) but remember Up until 2 years ago I was in my restaurants all over the world and I still managed to achieve the same level of perfection due to the precision of the recipes.

The chaotic crazy kitchens of before are becoming less and less as with the adoption of some of these new theories Chefs are realizing it doesn't have to be like that, in Chaos things get missed and done differently then they were intended. Now we are able to run the meal of a guest like a Swiss watch, with everyone knowing their function and how to do it on exact timing. Yes it may cost a little more in the development, but this will be made back in the saving you will make from having a consistent product that is cooked or prepared right EVERY TIME. This way the 30 guests will never be Jeopardized and the Chef can keep his focus on the whole room.

Remember the computer you are using right now was once dismissed as an unneeded luxury by those loyal to the typewriter, now we could not live without it.

Nostalgia is a great thing to reflect upon but isn't a practicle tool for the kitchens of 2010.

Always a pleasure,

Adam Melonas - Chef

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... Molecular gastronomy (or whatever you want to call it) appeals to few people and therefore is not a viable style for most chefs to adopt.

On the contrary. Back up there in post #21, Mike said:

Molecular gastronomy has nothing to do with the form a meal takes, the use of chemicals, etc... It's merely the science of what happens to food at the molecular level

... which is as good a summation as you're going to find. It's not a 'style'; it's about knowing more about what happens when, for example, you poach an egg.

Although I acknowledge it's quite possible to cook something good simply by following a recipe (hell, that's how I do it most of the time), I'm a huge admirer of chefs such as Adria or Blumenthal (or somebody like Harold McGee), who have developed a much greater understanding than I'll ever have of WHY things behave and are traditionally cooked in a certain way. And from that understanding, they gain the ability to know how to break the 'rules' or combine ingredients in 'unusual' ways. Certainly, not all their experiments will result in something everybody wants to eat - I imagine that would apply to any chef/cook using any technique (I don't care that this piece of pumpkin was hand-reared and milk-fed - I still don't like pumpkin!). But surely an important point is that professionals in any field, whether it be cooking or car maintenance, could be expected to be able to do a better job with a better understanding of the how and why of their trade.

Shalmanese said it: it'll be good when we accept it's just food.

Leslie Craven, aka "lesliec"
Host, eG Forumslcraven@egstaff.org

After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relatives ~ Oscar Wilde

My eG Foodblog

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Initially you started this post by discussing what would usher in the end of "Progressive" Cuisine. In america we are finding ourselves being hamstrung when using "Progressive" techniques. It started in NYC as you are most likely well aware of, you need a HACCP (hazard analasys critical control point) plan to use these techniques now. Restaurants aross the country are being told to cease and desist until they submit a HACCP plan. I do not wish to go into great detail with where I work but suffice it to say that the Dewar, Vaccum Chamber, and Circulators have been shelved until we pay out the nose for something that should be standardized by now and included in the USDA guidelines as opposed to each restaurant replicating the same research at their expense. I believe this is what will quell the on rush of the modernized kitchen more than anything else. Hopefully it will change or diners will be forced to go to the now elite kitchens that are able to successfully pass an unnesscessary litmus test.

Veni Vidi Vino - I came, I saw, I drank.
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Baron, I have to disagree with your post. I work for a restaurant group that does casual dining (ie. main courses are 15-23 dollars CAD), and I'm bringing alot of 'progressive' techniques into my pastry menus... In fact, I personally think concepts that come from molecular gastronomy are just as applicable in lower end dining, for instance take a look at what Marc Veyrat is currently doing in France (fast food). As for not every kitchen having the resources or time to do this: strait up, all it takes is good planning and owners who are willing to invest in doing things properly. With the new economic situation, restaurants will have to become more efficient, and modern technology/techniques can achieve this, at any price point.

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Those techniques and equipment definitely have their merits, particularly in a small kitchen with limited eyes and hands to oversee everything, but with a 4-5 person service line-up I'd be hesitant to pay someone to watch duck breasts cook in a water bath. I'm content to use the electric motors in a kitchen-aid or ice-cream machine since it is little more than a mechanized version of the same movement (be it water, horse or electrically powered), but that whole discussion has exhausted me.

However, I'd like to offer Mr. Melonas a triumphant piece of video chocolate to confirm and celebrate the accusations of chefs using techniques that they have not developed and not clearly attributing credit. Consider Michael Voltaggio's "aerated brioche", pretty much copied verbatim from Albert Adrià's microwave cakes. While Mr. Voltaggio does not claim that the technique is his own, he ambiguously uses "I", does not credit Mr. Adrià, and given Michael's recent televised celebrity (and culinary validation?) it is possible that viewers/"fans" would assume the techniques to be his own, and that's not right. At the very least he could have provided a link or credit to Albert on his website. A forthcoming recipe has not yet been added.

Michael Voltaggio's "aerated brioche" demonstrated by Michael Voltaggio

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Not sure I'd give total credit to Albert Adria for 'inventing' a microwave cake... People have been microwaving cake batter ever since those shitty cook-everything-in-a-microwave books came out in the 60s/70s... Heck, I 'discovered' the merits of microwaving cakes a few years back, when myself and my bored chef, one slow service started nuking all sorts of random things just for laughs lol... Aerating cake batter in a siphon might be a lil unique, but it's a fairly basic concept, and again, not sure you could call it Adria's personal invention. Fact is, many of the techniques of progressive chefs are actually industrial cooking techniques invented many years before they ever appeared in high end restaurants (sous vide cooking is a good example)...

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