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adey73

Sous Vide: Recipes, Techniques & Equipment (Part 3)

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Much like I said, Roca/Bruges know and understand the SV process well. Wish it was the case with you, my dear pounce and e_monster...

Stooping to an ad hominem arguement here? Sort of cheating, no? ;)

I am not saying there is only one answer,  but rather suggest to do things right, or not at all.

This is a little contradictory. This thread is loaded with posts describing how people have been successful with the approach. Maybe you need to define "Right" so we understand you better.

I appreciate that you bought a lab bath, an expensive book and have poured over its pages. It's exciting stuff. You can see from the amount of input in this thread how much I enjoy SV. I am however a little puzzled why you feel you need to jump in and tell hundreds of people they are wrong in what they are doing.

Vacuum is not required. Like I said you just want to remove the air or gas. You do not need a vacuum for this. There are other techniques. Do you own a chamber vacuum sealer with gas flush?

You don't need a hermetic seal. You probably know this from poaching in oil. You can cook things in plastic wrap. It's a fact. Read up thread. Do I use a sealer? yes.

A temp fluctuation of one degree is not going to dramatically effect a 48 hour cook time. I appreciate the science aspect of SV and I do like things to be precise, but there is a little fuzzy factor in practice. It's good to be precise in a book. Its gives a base on which to be creative or deviate from for the Art in Culinary Arts.

Can you tell us the make and model of your immersion unit?


My soup looked like an above ground pool in a bad neighborhood.

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I would just like to put something out there...

I've recently cooked a pork tenderloin "sous vide" by wrapping it in plastic wrap and trying to keep a constant temp in a stock pot a la Michel Richard. While the results may not be scientific quality, it certainly shows that you can get fantastic results without ANY sous vide-specific equipment. I don't know a whole lot about the science behind sous vide, but I can tell you that for certain circumstances, it's not a big deal to lack vacuum, hermetic seal, circulation, or even strict temperature regulation. I wish I had photos to prove this, but I got perfectly acceptable color and delicious taste with no setup.

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think we are splitting hairs here.

horses for courses

If you are SViding on very regular basis or on a large or commercial level or doing very long cook times then invest in an immersion circulator.

But if you are at home, cooking for your family and friends, I think it would be hard to justify the expenditure unless you got money to burn.

I'm sure there are lots of us out here using pid or induction hobs, etc.

that are turning out perfectly good food that you would be very hard pressed to differentiate from food cooked using lab equipment.

Proof is in the eating.

If you are adamant that you would not be able to do SV without the lab equipment then so be it but seems that might be stiffling creativity?

For instance I am using an induction hob and and a Galtek shuttle chef (thermos pot) and getting excellent results.

of course excellent is a subjective thing

so all IMHO

but i have a haake c10 IC ordered

so hopefully I can do some tests next weekend

if i do i will post my results.


Edited by origamicrane (log)

"so tell me how do you bone a chicken?"

"tastes so good makes you want to slap your mamma!!"

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Throughout 14 episodes of Top Chef season 3, Hung employed crude sous vide methods, using stove top burner, what looks to be an analog candy thermometer, and possibly without vacuum. His food amazed the judges, which eventually led him to win season 3. He used sous vide and spoke of sous vide so often that the editors of Top Chef season 3 pieced together a segment of Hung saying "sous vide" countless times in jest.

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I think he used a Food Saver for the duck breast (ie sort-of-vacum) in the finale, but otherwise it was a stock pot and a candy thermometer. I think one comment he got on the duck breast was "three star food"", perhaps even from Eric Ripert?

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First, and foremost: vacuum in SV is essential. The whole point of SV cooking is to eliminate oxygen, and, as such prevent reaction of oxidation, which dramatically affects color (esp. when you are cooking veggies) and taste ( esp. when you are dealing with fatty proteins). But, good luck cooking fish wrapped in plastic...

And a foodsaver doesn't vacuum? Nothing wrong with typical home setups here.

Also, you absolutely do need a seal - paramount concern here is to prevent bacteria-rich cooking liquid from getting into your vacuum bag, especially if you are cooking for an extended period of time.

Again, why doesn't the foodsaver seal?

Second point is temperature. If I may, this is an exact quote Roca/Brugues (those two fellas kindda know what they are talking about, it seems like... biggrin.gif ): "... the power comes from the vacuum, but the control lies in a mastery of time and temperature-this is what leads to the prime objective, precise cooking values for each ingredient." ( "Sous-Vide Cuisine", Montagud Editores, 2007, p. 86)

The idea here is precision. If you allow cooking temps to fluctuate, at some point the internal temp is going to get away from you desired range - imagine rocking a boat: if you did it, would you be able to stop it at once? If memory serves right, nathanm made a similar observation in his early posts.

Third point is circulation. If your water doesn't circulate, then you are going to have different temps in different areas of your cooking vessel, which brings me back to the point of precision. Here is another quote: '... maximum variation of + 1C/1.8F, which is an acceptable margin for sous-vide cooking." ( "

Sous-Vide Cuisine", Montagud Editores, 2007, p. 95)

I don't have a circulator in my setup, however I get less than 1F temperature variation simply using the Auber and the Commercial Pro 25 cup rice cooker (after it has come to temp). Unless you really need it to be dead on in a very short period of time or have a less "ideal" container, even circulation isn't necessary.

Why again do I need a $900+ immersion circulator?

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You absolutely do NOT need a circulator. The reason circulators are used in labs is because they're putting a couple dozen vials in what amounts to a hotel pan and the heater is a coil off in the corner. Since the surface area of the water is so great making it easy for it to cool. Since the heat is not being applied homogenously underneath the pan it means without circulation you have to rely on conduction to transfer the heat. Not good enough when you need 0.5F temp differential throughout the water.

In home situations where you are using a crock pot, or a kettle, or a homemade bucket with an element installed near the bottom you have two things going for you. A high insulating vessel and convection to transfer the heat.

You do not need a circulator. You don't even need a PID. A thermostat will do as long as you can program it to within a degree or two.

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I don't have a circulator in my setup, however I get less than 1F temperature variation simply using the Auber and the Commercial Pro 25 cup rice cooker (after it has come to temp). Unless you really need it to be dead on in a very short period of time or have a less "ideal" container, even circulation isn't necessary.

Why again do I need a $900+ immersion circulator?

Are you using the display from the Auber unit as your measure or are you measuring the temperature at different points in your pot independently? If not, while I do believe you can acheive 1F stability at the probe, I somewhat doubt that the actual range of variation throughout the rice is less than 1F without circulation.


Martin Mallet

<i>Poor but not starving student</i>

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Are you using the display from the Auber unit as your measure or are you measuring the temperature at different points in your pot independently? If not, while I do believe you can acheive 1F stability at the probe, I somewhat doubt that the actual range of variation throughout the rice is less than 1F without circulation.

I'm reading the display, but this is while moving it and holding it in different places in the rice cooker. If I'm just looking at one point, it *never* changes value once settled.

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I don't quite recall where it was posted (not in this thread), but at least one person using the Auber/rice cooker combination reported very good stability throughout the water bath when nothing was in there, but once the food was added and various parts of the bath were sampled with a separate thermometer, there was temperature variation on the order of several degrees.

Whether or not this is important to someone is a matter of personal preference. Fundamentally we're talking about (usually) wrapping food in an impermeable covering of some kind, sucking (some/most of) the air out of the covering and then cooking it at a (reasonably) precise temperature. Each one of these variables is associated with a certain cost, and also with a certain range of possible effects. It is, of course, possible to make "sous vide-style" (I would argue that it's not properly called "sous vide" without any "vide") using a stock pot over a conventional gas burner, lots of plastic wrap and a thermometer. One can, and plenty of people have, obtain very tasty results this way. On the other hand, there is a certain amount of control, and a range of effects that are available to the cook using a precision recirculating water bath and a chamber vacuum that are not available to the guy using the stock pot and thermometer. In between those two extremes there exists a variety of different price points and associated ranges of possible effects. One simply has to choose. Fundamentally this is not that different from choosing conventional cookware: It is perfectly possible to create an amazing dish using a $10 thin stainless steel pan. You don't need a $200 stainless-lined heavy copper pan. But the $200 pan is capable of doing some things that the $10 pan cannot do, and it offers greater reliability and predictability.

I think the Auber PID/rice cooker combination is a great solution for those who don't mind spending $150 on a setup but aren't comfortable with snagging a circulator off eBay for $400 or more. It's ridiculous to say that sous vide cooking isn't possible with this setup. At the same time, it's not correct to say that the PID/rice cooker setup offers the same range of effects, reliability, predictability and flexibility as using a precision recirculating water bath heater. But, so long as the rig you have allows you to do all the things you want to do within your price point, and you're happy with it -- who cares?


--

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I am using the Auber and a rice cooker and I HAVE sampled the temps including surface temp using a probe thermometer and they do not vary by more than a fraction of a degree. I am not a scientist nor do I have scientific equipment but that was my finding . I checked over many hours and over short times and the temperature remained stable.


Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

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Here's the post I was thinking of:

As an experiment (until the immersion circulator I won on eBay arrives), I have set up a 6-quart crock-pot (on low heat) with a PID controller and let it stabilize at 141°F.  I then put in a single thawed (vacuum packed) chicken breast.  The temperature reading on the PID stayed nice and steady the whole time. 

After one hour I checked the water temperature with my favorite thermapen, and found that the temperature ranged from 136°F to 141°F.  The 141°F, of course, was at the temperature probe of the PID (on the bottom of the crockpot) and the 136°F was near the surface in the center of the pot. 

At least in my crockpot, the food seemed to really hamper the normal convection currents in the pot.  Before I put in any food, the water temperature varied by less than 1°F when I measured it at various points with my thermapen.


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I've been looking around online for Immesion Circulators unit in the UK.

thought this might be helpful to uk egulleteers

There are a several lab suppliers that sell new IC unit

http://www.fisher.co.uk

http://www.coleparmer.co.uk

http://www.cliftonfoodrange.co.uk/

http://www.cuisinetechnology.com/thermal-circulators.html

http://www.julabo-sous-vide.com/products1.htm

http://www.julabo.de/session_uk.asp

http://ecomcat.jencons.co.uk/action_catalo...asp?sat=2&saa=3

http://www.camlab.co.uk/

http://www.grantsousvide.com/checkout.aspx

the cheapest new IC unit I found was a Haake C10 at £496 from Fisher

https://extranet.fisher.co.uk/insight2_uk/g...tSetPosition=14

You could try Ebay where I got a cheap new C10 :laugh:

or i also found this site for used scientific equipment website.

www.thebranfordgroup.com

They actually got a lot of waterbaths and IC units on the Syngenta auction ending next month.

Some of the photos of the equipment look pretty crudey!! but there were a few IC and water bath units that looks reasonably clean and new.

if anyone else knows of a cheaper new IC unit please let me know :)


"so tell me how do you bone a chicken?"

"tastes so good makes you want to slap your mamma!!"

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Vacuum is not required. Like I said you just want to remove the air or gas. You do not need a vacuum for this. There are other techniques. Do you own a chamber vacuum sealer with gas flush?

You don't need a hermetic seal. You probably know this from poaching in oil. You can cook things in plastic wrap. It's a fact. Read up thread. Do I use a sealer? yes.

A temp fluctuation of one degree is not going to dramatically effect a 48 hour cook time. I appreciate the science aspect of SV and I do like things to be precise, but there is a little fuzzy factor in practice. It's good to be precise in a book. Its gives a base on which to be creative or deviate from for the Art in Culinary Arts.

OK, allow me to retort...

Vacuum is not required in SV cooking. And, ice is not required for ice skating. :-)

My dear pounce, saying something over and over doesn't make it right, no matter how many times you've repeated it.

Would you please explain to us WHY vacuum in SV doesn't matter? And, what other gas besides oxygen are you trying to remove from your cooking bag?

Again, vacuum (the "vide") in Sous-vide is essential. You need to remove oxygen to prevent food from spoiling, changing color and more than anything - preserving taste. Some cooks are able to fill their bags with non-reactive gas, but that goes well beyond home and restaurant cooking, and remains the prerogative of industrial production.

As far as sealing/cooking in plastic wrap: if you don't have a seal, and soak meat in warm water for hours at a time - you will have achieved a successful bacterial multiplication. Enjoy your adventure in food poisoning! If you are cooking fish, yes - the time/bacterial load are not large enough to develop, but shellfish may be a different story, and meat will spoil in just a few hours. You use a sealer yourself, so why are you trying to argue the seal issue?

FYI, I don't own a vacuum chamber - the least expensive unit I saw was $1900 - well beyond of what I am willing to spend right now, but I will invest in one of those some day, mostly for cured meat/sausage making, as well as SV.

Temperature issue comes down to what kind of consistency you are trying to achieve: it may be more important in a restaurant set-up, than at home.

We are all here to learn form each other, and any information is important, and any opinion is welcome. It's not about who is better, but how to do the best we can. That having been said, one needs a proper wok and sufficient heat to stir fry, exact measurements for baking, and the right equipment to SV. Don't you agree?

I don't want to end up in the proverbial land where any poaching is called "sous-vide", but rather aim to preserve and develop the art of that approach to cooking. Some may disagree... Well, those same people would most likely mix powdered wasabi with soy sauce and pour it over overcooked fish and call it a great sushi experience. I just hope it's not you.


Edited by MikeTMD (log)

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

Michael T.

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My dear pounce, saying something over and over doesn't make it right, no matter how many times you've repeated it.

Would you please explain to us WHY vacuum in SV doesn't matter? And, what other gas besides oxygen are you trying to remove from your cooking bag?

Do you think you have any other pressure than your existing atmospheric pressure on the bag once it's sealed? You have only removed the air or anything else that escaped. I think there is a common misconception about SV and whether there is any vacuum in the bag after it's been sealed.

As far as sealing/cooking in plastic wrap: if you don't have a seal, and soak meat in warm water for hours at a time - you will have achieved a successful bacterial multiplication. Enjoy your adventure in food poisoning!   If you are cooking fish, yes - the time/bacterial load are not large enough to develop, but shellfish may be a different story, and meat will spoil in just a few hours.  You use a sealer yourself, so why are you trying to argue that issue?

Not sure where you are getting all this bacteria. Do you cook in pond water? :blink: If you are cooking food to safe temps in the bag your tap water in the bath should also be safe. This isn't some 80's hot tub party. heh.

I'm mearly stating fact about using plastic wrap. If I didn't own a sealer I'd use it for things that required short cooking times. Why not if it works?

FYI, I don't own a vacuum chamber - the least expensive unit I saw was $1900, well beyond of what I am willing to spend right now, but I will invest in one of those some day, mostly for cured meat/sausage making, as well as SV.

If taken to the nth degree one might say you are not being correct or right in not using a chamber vacuum with gas flush. I'm just playing with you here, but seriously if you are using a FoodSaver or similar you are most definately not getting vacuum in the bag or really all of the available oxygen out of the bag. You can get a chamber machine for under 1k adequate for home use. That's still high in my opinion, but less than what you may have seen so far.

Temperature issue comes down to what kind of consistency you are trying to achieve: it may be more important in a restaurant set-up, than at home.

Thanks for qualifying this. I think I understand now that you are ok with the various techniques people are using at home.

..That having been said, one needs a proper wok and sufficient heat to stir fry, exact measurements for baking, and the right equipment to SV. Don't you agree?

Can you define the proper equipment for SV if it's not too much trouble? Is it a Lab IC and Chamber vacuum sealer? Or do you allow a heater, controller, circulator and some means of removing air and keeping the bath liquid away from the food?

* adding up thread reference

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showto...dpost&p=1069360


Edited by pounce (log)

My soup looked like an above ground pool in a bad neighborhood.

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Do you think you have any other pressure than your existing atmospheric pressure on the bag once it's sealed? You have only removed the air or anything else that escaped. I think there is a common misconception about SV and whether there is any vacuum in the bag after it's been sealed.

The pressure in a properly sealed vacuum bag is always less than the atmospheric pressure, that's just basic physics and the definition of vacuum. However, in SV our objective is not to depressurize a cooking bag, but rather to remove air/oxygen. The reason is to prevent aerobic microorganisms ( i.e. the ones that need air to function) from multiplying, and thus spoiling the food. The drawback is that anaerobic flora (microorganisms that can only live without oxygen) would flourish, so we have to cook things relatively quickly ( e.g. fish), or for an extended period of time (e.g. meat), because the SV cooking temps are relatively low, and it takes a lot longer to kill harmful anaerobic bacteria ( it's similar to canning/preserving, which is also cooking under vacuum, BTW)

Not sure where you are getting all this bacteria. Do you cook in pond water?  :blink:  If you are cooking food to safe temps in the bag your tap water in the bath should also be safe. This isn't some 80's hot tub party. heh.

Microorganisms are native to food products, for example - Salmonella is associated with chicken/poultry, E. Coli contaminates beef, etc. Boiling would kill most of those "bugs", but in SV we typically don't get into the boiling water temps (100C), so the solution is to remove ALL air and ALL oxygen ( 19-21% of air content), and pretty much "choke" the harmful microorganisms to death.

If taken to the nth degree one might say you are not being correct or right in not using a chamber vacuum with gas flush. I'm just playing with you here, but seriously if you are using a FoodSaver or similar you are most definately not getting vacuum in the bag or really all of the available oxygen out of the bag. You can get a chamber machine for under 1k adequate for home use. That's still high in my opinion, but less than what you may have seen so far.

FoodSaver wouldn't create the full vacuum, and the FS seal is somewhat weak, which is why it's too risky to use it for SV cooking. Where did you see a vacuum chamber machine for $1000? I want it!

Can you define the proper equipment for SV if it's not too much trouble? Is it a Lab IC and Chamber vacuum sealer? Or do you allow a heater, controller, circulator and some means of removing air and keeping the bath liquid away from the food?

Proper equipment is any device/devices that would create full vacuum, support the vacuum seal, maintain constant temperature and circulation. Water bath is just as good as any immersion circulator, steamers would work as well as autoclaves. If a SV vacuum bag leaks - I am not serving whatever we cooked in it. Hopefully, you understand why.

My next project is to SV shellfish. Suggestions, please!


Edited by MikeTMD (log)

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

Michael T.

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Yes, check your FoodSaver manual, it'd would tell you the pressure range for your particular model. A good indicator is freezer burns: if you see them - there is no vacuum.


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

Michael T.

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

My flickr collection

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My next project is to SV shellfish. Suggestions, please!

Buy a chamber vacuum sealer and a better IC or risk certain death!! :raz:

Did you read the referenced thread/post?


Edited by pounce (log)

My soup looked like an above ground pool in a bad neighborhood.

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I did read it.

Proper vacuum would minimize (but not eliminate) the risk of bacterial contamination, BTW.


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

Michael T.

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

My flickr collection

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FoodSaver wouldn't create the full vacuum, and the FS seal is somewhat weak, which is why it's too risky to use it for SV cooking.

That's an interesting statement. Do you have any data to back this up?

Yes, check your FoodSaver manual, it'd would tell you the pressure range for your particular model. A good indicator is freezer burns: if you see them - there is no vacuum.

What i mean is do you have data indicating that using a foodsaver instead of a chamber machine is inherently UNSAFE.

On top of that, i've had steaks in the freeze for over a year, and there is no freezer burn whatsoever.

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IF you are that worried, double seal and double bag it

I usually put two seals on with my foodsaver, but the bags (and vacuum) are perfectly OK.

If you are that concerned about botulism make sure the food is acid or ina a mildly acid sauce.

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"Microorganisms are native to food products, for example - Salmonella is associated with chicken/poultry, E. Coli contaminates beef, etc. Boiling would kill most of those "bugs", but in SV we typically don't get into the boiling water temps (100C), so the solution is to remove ALL air and ALL oxygen ( 19-21% of air content), and pretty much "choke" the harmful microorganisms to death."

I highly suggest you purchase a copy of On Food and Cooking if that is truly your understanding of food adulteration.

"Vacuum is not required in SV cooking. And, ice is not required for ice skating.... Again, vacuum (the "vide") in Sous-vide is essential."

The given name of an entity or action does not necessarily define or limit its action. I played American football this past weekend, but I didn't use my foot.

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Microorganisms are native to food products, for example - Salmonella is associated with chicken/poultry, E. Coli contaminates beef, etc. Boiling would kill most of those "bugs", but in SV we typically don't get into the boiling water temps (100C), so the solution is to remove ALL air and ALL oxygen ( 19-21% of air content), and pretty much "choke" the harmful microorganisms to death.

There are a couple of issues with your statement.

1) Bacteria is killed by a combination of time and temperature, not temperature alone. Cooking a chicken breast at 140 for 1 hour is just as safe as cooking it to 212.

2) Many bacteria, including one of the deadliest (botulism) is anaerobic, meaning instead of "choking" the microorganism to death, you're actually making it quite hospitable.

I'm sure many people here don't mind answering questions, but making statements like this one, and the one categorically stating that somehow the vacuum pulled by a foodsaver machine makes cooking sous vide with it unsafe, demonstrate little understanding of the topic and little effort of research in this thread.

I know for sure that the time/temperature issue has been covered MANY times by our resident expert NathanM.

jason

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      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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