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Chris Amirault

Cooking with "Modernist Cuisine" (Part 1)

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My understanding is that the metal is a heat sink in the oven. You don't actually cook on it. If it doesn't come into contact with the food and doesn't melt or release noxious chemicals when heated there shouldn't be a problem. Maybe I'm misguided but this makes more sense to me.


Edited by nickrey (log)

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

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

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I have not seen what the book says, but the WSJ article referring to the book says:

Get a ¼-inch-thick sheet of steel from a metal fabricator (Google a local one), have it cut to the size of your oven shelf and insert it in the rack closest to the broiler. Preheat the oven at its highest temperature for ½ hour, then turn on the broiler and slide your pizza onto the metal plate. It should emerge perfectly cooked in 1.5 to 2 minutes.

I was quoted $295 for 1/4 inch measuring 17 x 23.75.

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I am not well versed on safe conditions when it comes to heating different kinds of steel. I learned that non-stainless steel has contaminants. I was not entirely sure, but when the steel fabricator and supplier couldn't confirm that there weren't any safety issues, I was a bit concerned. Doesn't All-Clad use T316 and they warn against temperatures above 500 and using the broiler?

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Why would anyone be concerned with cooking pizza on aluminium?

Most pizza restaurants (except for those with wood fired ovens) make their pizzas on aluminium pans and they use ovens which can reach 600C.

A very large percentage of commercial saucepans are aluminium also.

The only issue with aluminium is that it is not good to hold anything acidic after the cooking is over.

So given that aluminium is cheaper and lighter than steel or stainless steel - would it perform as well?

Regards,

Peter.

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One of Nathan's Seattle neighbors is Wood Stone who make the ceramic cooking ovens seen in so many restaurant kitchens. They have developed a method to cast the floors and walls of their wood fired and gas fired ovens with their proprietary high-temperature ceramics.

As I shared elsewhere, in my oven I have one of their baking slates which is the ceramic material poured into a baking sheet pan. It works wonderfully as both a heat sink and as a pizza stone. They are not cheap, but I believe may work for what you desire.


"A cloud o' dust! Could be most anything. Even a whirling dervish.

That, gentlemen, is the whirlingest dervish of them all." - The Professionals by Richard Brooks

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The point of the steel plate is the heat transfer properties. It is able to transfer much more heat more quickly than a stone can, which is why, theoretically, baking a 2 minute pie is possible even if the steel is only at say 550, instead of 800 for a stone. The same amount of enegery is transferring into the pie in 2 minutes from either a 550 deg. plate, or an 800 deg. stone...at least that's the theory.

It makes sense. though i'm quite sure a 1/4" plate would not have sufficient thermal energy stored to work...whoever said 3/4" is probably more accurate. If th

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"---The point of the steel plate is the heat transfer properties. It is able to transfer much more heat more quickly than a stone can, ---"

I see that potentially a problem, not an advantage. When heat is transferred faster than a pie's ability to conduct heat, the outside gets burned, and the inside gets un-cooked.

Besides, the permeability of stone allows steam to escape and allows crispier crust to develop.

dcarch

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Agree on the stream aspect, thought the same thing. I'm just explaining the theoretical physics behind the system. I assume if they wrote about it in the book they actually tried it, and the bottom wasn't overly burned before the center done.

My concern is having the top done before the bottom burns. Ghats the hardest balancing act.

I don't know about other ovens but if preheat mine to 500 (max) the broiler isn't coming on bc theoven is already maxed out. The boiler doesn't just come on no matter what, is overridden by the current oven temp.

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Having reread the appropriate section in the book, you do place the pizza directly on the metal plate to cook.

It's an extension of the technique described in the quest for perfect pizza reported in Heston Blumenthal's "In search of perfection." This is not a surprise because Chris Young, who is one of the co-authors of this book, assisted Heston Blumenthal in development of the original technique (something that is acknowledged in the text of Modernist Cuisine).

In the Modernist Cuisine book, they recommend using a steel or aluminium plate 2cm (3/4 inch) thick for the process.

Another alternative they mention is to use an inverted cast iron pan as your cooking base. Before you go out and buy expensive equipment, it may be worthwhile checking the book for substitutes.


Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

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

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I see that potentially a problem, not an advantage. When heat is transferred faster than a pie's ability to conduct heat, the outside gets burned, and the inside gets un-cooked.

Perhaps what you are thinking of as "pizza" is not what they are thinking of (or at least not what this technique applies too). Consider Chicago-style vrs Napoli-style pizza, and the difference in cooking them


Edited by Paul Kierstead (log)

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Actually, I can see steel plate for pizza, but not for pies.

You are basically dry-frying, frying without oil.

The steel plate is so hot, the steam generated actually lifts the pizza up (similar to hovercraft) to avoid burning too quickly and sticking.

dcarch

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I am not well versed on safe conditions when it comes to heating different kinds of steel. I learned that non-stainless steel has contaminants. I was not entirely sure, but when the steel fabricator and supplier couldn't confirm that there weren't any safety issues, I was a bit concerned. Doesn't All-Clad use T316 and they warn against temperatures above 500 and using the broiler?

If you are cooking at home, mild steel - also refered to as non-stainless steel - is fine. As is thick aluminum plate. Mild steel will be by far the least expensive.

I'm guessing your fabricator is unwilling to vouch for materials that are not approved for restaurant usage. Keep in mind that a cast iron pan is basically elemental iron and carbon. Mild steel is elemental iron and carbon. Slightly different ratios, but it is for the purposes of food safety a distinction without a difference.

The contaminants idea is pretty much bogus, but in out litigious society businesses have to take liabilities real and imagined into account when they talk to the public. I'm sure that one could theoretically add contaminants to any pizza stone, but in the real world the same real cleaning you would give any new kitchen item will take care of the usual dirt and gunk that transportation, packing, handling etc entail.


Edited by cbread (log)

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When I bought my first cast iron pan the guy in the shop gave me good instructions about seasoning, etc. The first step he recommended was to put a good layer of table salt in the pan and heat it on the stove; the theory was this would 'suck out' any contaminants in the iron. I have no idea if there's any science behind this, but I figured it wasn't likely to harm anything. No reason you couldn't do the same for a simple steel plate.


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

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

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So I've started thinking about St. Patrick's Day so that I don't miss my brisket curing window. I'm curious how MC deals with corned beef (3.169, it looks like) and cured meats in general. The execution of curing meats seems to be pretty straightforward, and in the duck confit recipe, there didn't seem to be any curveballs until the cooking. I guess I don't know what to expect--maybe a treatment of wet vs dry cures, curing time, and cure salinity? Or commentary on the appropriate timing of when to introduce spices (a la the marinade debate)? Or is their advice simply a more parametic-version of the Ruhlman/Polcyn treatment? More selfishly, I was planning on using the Ruhlman recipe, but if MC says it can be done better, and one of you can give me a general idea of their recommendations, I'll give it a go.

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OK, so here are some comments about the pizza plate.

The key idea is to get a very hot surface to cook the pizza on, which has sufficient heat capacity. The thin metal used in pans does not have sufficient heat capacity for this purpose.

A ceramic pizza stone will work, but it transfers heat more slowly. The great thing about a thick metal plate is that the thermal conductivity of metal is very fast, so when you put the pizza on the metal plate it transfers its heat to the pizza fairly quickly.

The thicker the metal, the more heat capacity, but also the longer it will take for it to heat up. You can use anything from 1/4" thick up to 1" thick. Concievably you could even use something thicker. The page in MC says 3/4" but you could use something thinner. In fact, I might change the text to say that for the next edition.

Stainless steel, aluminum and mild steel are widely used in cooking. Most cookware is either 304 or 316 stainless. This is expensive if you get a really thick piece, because it weighs a LOT as a post above points out.

The only advantage of stainless is that it won't rust, but that is not that big an advantage frankly.

Woks, and many saute pans are mild steel, and they are used in many restaurants. You will need to rub cooking oil on the pan after washing it to prevent rust - just as you would for a wok or cast iron pan. There is a section in MC showing how to do this for a wok - doing it for a steel plate is essentially the same.

Mild steel is MUCH cheaper than stainless. A 1/2" thick plate ought to be easy to find and that should cost $30 to $50. You could go thicker if you want, but it gets very heavy so be sure you want to lug it around.

Aluminum is the most convienent choice because it weighs less. In that case 3/4" plate should cost $60 to $70 depending on size. The actual alloy of aluminum does not matter much, but 6061 is a pretty standard aircraft aluminum.

Scrap metal places may have stuff cheaper. There are places online that will cut metal to order and ship it you if there is nobody local, but usually there is a local supplier.

By the way, we also recommend a 3/4" thick to 1" thick aluminum plate to go on top of a gas burner if you want very even heat. It is much cheaper than an All Clad or similar fancy pan, and does a MUCH better job of evening out the heat. Evenness is not needed as much as people think - there is a section on this in the book.

Whoever cuts it for you should deburr the edges so you don't cut yourself. That just takes a few minutes with a file or grinder.


Nathan

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So I've started thinking about St. Patrick's Day so that I don't miss my brisket curing window. I'm curious how MC deals with corned beef (3.169, it looks like) and cured meats in general. The execution of curing meats seems to be pretty straightforward, and in the duck confit recipe, there didn't seem to be any curveballs until the cooking. I guess I don't know what to expect--maybe a treatment of wet vs dry cures, curing time, and cure salinity? Or commentary on the appropriate timing of when to introduce spices (a la the marinade debate)? Or is their advice simply a more parametic-version of the Ruhlman/Polcyn treatment? More selfishly, I was planning on using the Ruhlman recipe, but if MC says it can be done better, and one of you can give me a general idea of their recommendations, I'll give it a go.

We have a very extensive section on cured meats, including a novel approach to curing we call "equilibrium curing". We make pastrami all the time, and our recipe is one of our favorites.


Nathan

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By the way, there has been a lot of press on the book recently, much of which discusses recipes or what the food tastes like.

Wired Magazine has a big article.

The Washington Post also has an article about the book, which inculdes a couple recipes. They also have a Q & A section. There is also an article about one of the dinners we had for food writers and chefs.

Newsweek also has an article.


Nathan

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OK Nathan,

I read the Wired article with interest and having tried Heston's chips with some success I now find that having a chamber vacuum machine is not enough to make the perfect French Fry (we call them chips here in Aus like the Brits).

Does the book explain the equipment needed for ultrasonic cavitation? I have a small device which uses ultrasound to clean my wife's jewellery, but given it only holds about 1 litre of water I'd need lots of small bags of potato batons and a long time.....

With any amount of luck I'll have my copy of the book(s) within 2 weeks - I can't wait!

Cheers,

Peter.

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OK, so here are some comments about the pizza plate.

The key idea is to get a very hot surface to cook the pizza on, which has sufficient heat capacity. The thin metal used in pans does not have sufficient heat capacity for this purpose.

A ceramic pizza stone will work, but it transfers heat more slowly. The great thing about a thick metal plate is that the thermal conductivity of metal is very fast, so when you put the pizza on the metal plate it transfers its heat to the pizza fairly quickly.

The thicker the metal, the more heat capacity, but also the longer it will take for it to heat up. You can use anything from 1/4" thick up to 1" thick. Concievably you could even use something thicker. The page in MC says 3/4" but you could use something thinner. In fact, I might change the text to say that for the next edition.

Stainless steel, aluminum and mild steel are widely used in cooking. Most cookware is either 304 or 316 stainless. This is expensive if you get a really thick piece, because it weighs a LOT as a post above points out.

The only advantage of stainless is that it won't rust, but that is not that big an advantage frankly.

Woks, and many saute pans are mild steel, and they are used in many restaurants. You will need to rub cooking oil on the pan after washing it to prevent rust - just as you would for a wok or cast iron pan. There is a section in MC showing how to do this for a wok - doing it for a steel plate is essentially the same.

Mild steel is MUCH cheaper than stainless. A 1/2" thick plate ought to be easy to find and that should cost $30 to $50. You could go thicker if you want, but it gets very heavy so be sure you want to lug it around.

Aluminum is the most convienent choice because it weighs less. In that case 3/4" plate should cost $60 to $70 depending on size. The actual alloy of aluminum does not matter much, but 6061 is a pretty standard aircraft aluminum.

Scrap metal places may have stuff cheaper. There are places online that will cut metal to order and ship it you if there is nobody local, but usually there is a local supplier.

By the way, we also recommend a 3/4" thick to 1" thick aluminum plate to go on top of a gas burner if you want very even heat. It is much cheaper than an All Clad or similar fancy pan, and does a MUCH better job of evening out the heat. Evenness is not needed as much as people think - there is a section on this in the book.

Whoever cuts it for you should deburr the edges so you don't cut yourself. That just takes a few minutes with a file or grinder.

Thank you! That clears everything up. Can't wait to try this technique and I can't wait for the book to arrive!

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We have a very extensive section on cured meats, including a novel approach to curing we call "equilibrium curing". We make pastrami all the time, and our recipe is one of our favorites.

Is your approach different to what the FDA handbook refers to as "method 2" for nitrate absorption? Basically where the brine, meat and spices act as a single system where given enough time an equilibrium is reached between the meat and brine?

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... And aluminum, seriously? Come on, Nathan, you have to be aware of the aluminum's conductivity. You can pre-heat it for as long as you want and the moment you open the door, the temperature will plummet. Aluminum will not store heat- and for pizza, stored heat is critical.

The suggestion that a massive plate aluminum at 550F or similar will drop precipitously in temperature the moment the oven is opened is erroneous. Aluminum has a very high heat capacity when used in similar mass to iron and steel. I'm too slow a typist to do justice to the physics of common cooking materials and heat so I won't try. All that has been well explained here and elsewhere many a time.

Good references are:

http://www.cookingforengineers.com/article/120/Common-Materials-of-Cookware

Here's a non technical way to look at it. Put a really thick aluminum pan on the stove on high and you will find it takes a long time to heat to the temperature you need. It absorbs much heat energy and only gradually attains high temperature. Some folks really don't like truly massive aluminum pans because they take a long time to heat up. Think of big slabs of aluminum as particularly effective storage places for heat when compared with similar masses of steel or iron.

The same happens in reverse. Once the pan has got to a high temperature, turn off the heat and that massive aluminum pan stays hot enough to cook for a surprisingly long time. Try it by turning it off and tossing in some food. You'll be able to do quite a bit of cooking before the pan is ineffectual. The heat can leak out of the pan only so fast.

The reason it stays hot enough to cook is the same reason a massive pizza slab in the oven will. Materials can only lose heat as fast as combined actions of radiation, conduction and convection will allow. Those are the only mechanisms by which the slab or the pan can lose heat. They happen for steel and aluminum in pretty much the same way. Aluminum's very high conductivity evens out the temperature of the pan or slab better than most materials, but it does not miraculously jet heat out of the surface in ways not allowed by the laws of physics. A pound of aluminum takes more energy to heat to a given temperature than a pound of cast iron. Takes longer to heat and takes longer to cool. There's no miracle that will suddenly suck all that heat energy out.

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Nice summary, cbread. And of course, this is all covered in detail in the book, too. Your oven stores heat in its walls (and in any big hunk of metal you put in there...): the air is almost completely incidental. So opening the oven door has far less affect on the oven temp than is commonly assumed, since air is such a horrible conductor.


Chris Hennes
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Does the book explain the equipment needed for ultrasonic cavitation? I have a small device which uses ultrasound to clean my wife's jewellery, but given it only holds about 1 litre of water I'd need lots of small bags of potato batons and a long time.....

The ultrasonic cleaner we use is similar to the one for your wife's jewelry, only bigger. They come in various sizes. You could test the recipe out with a 1-liter ultrasonic bath, but you won't be able to make large quantities that way.


Nathan

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If I remember, Aluminum hold more heat than steel.

It depends on if you're talking about equal masses or equal volumes. Aluminum has a higher cp on a mass basis, but iron has a higher cp on a volume basis. Wikipedia has a sortable table of heat capacities.

Those thinking about this problem should definitely reread the eGCI topic on cookware if you haven't read it recently. The treatment of the various thermal properties of iron/steel, aluminum, and copper is very thorough and nicely explained.

Just out of curiosity, how fast can a pizza suck heat out of an aluminum "stone?" Ignoring issues of practicality, would putting heat xfer fins on the underside help, or does the preheated "stone" already contain enough heat at ~550F to achieve the desired results? Nathan/MC-people, did you monitor the temperature of your metal "stone" during baking?

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3. What I believe should be considered in the total thermal dynamics thinking of the oven is the black body/radiation characteristics of all materials. For instance, Bright Aluminum can be close to 95% reflectivity. This can make a huge difference.

dcarch

The reflectivity (and thermal emissivity) is also discussed the book, although not in the pizza section.

Basically, the story is this:

1. Because the aluminum is shiny, it will take longer to heat up than it would if it was black. This is particularly true for heat from the broiler element which will mostly be infrared radiation.

2. But, once it is hot, it will not lose heat by thermal radiation. This is why many griddles and planchas are shiny chrome - they do not lose heat to thermal radiation. So while it will take longer to heat up a shiny plate than a black plate, it will also lose heat less.

3. Once the pizza is in contact with the metal plate, heat will be primarily by conduction, not radiation, so the heat transfer to the pizza will be pretty much the same regardless of whether the aluminum is shiny or not.

4. One could make the aluminum black through a process called anodizing. This is similar to the dark finish on Calphalon pans. This would be faster to heat up than a shiny plate.

5. A mild steel plate is pretty dark, and if you season it with oil as you would a wok it will be quite dark. This will absorb heat from the broiler element much faster than the aluminum will, but the conductivity is much lower, so the trade off will depend on thickness.


Nathan

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      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
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