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Msk

Cooking with "Modernist Cuisine" (Part 2)

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Question on the mushroom ketchup - I made it today, and it's delicious. But it makes a ton! I don't see any reason why I can't freeze it, does anyone else? As much as I like a good burger, I'd have to eat one every day for a month to use up this much ketchup.

It seems like it would freeze pretty well, but we keep finding other uses for it. Two good ones are as a condiment for Tater Tots and tossing it with roasted green beans.


Dave Scantland
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Eat more chicken skin.

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I don't have the KM to look at, but my guess is that it is referring to a parametric recipe on vegetable purees. Is that what is on page 55 of KM? That would be my bet. If so then the reason you can't find it is that it is not a recipe per se it is an entry in a parametric recipe table.

That is what's on page 55, but tomatoes aren't on the list.


Dave Scantland
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Eat more chicken skin.

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The first curry recipe on page 225 of the Kitchen Manual calls for a tomato puree and references one on page 55 of the same manual. I am not finding that recipe anywhere even doing a search of the full index to MC and the table of contents of the Kitchen Manual. Is it my eyesight or my search skills? I have reported it to the MC team but wonder if I am somehow missing something that is in clear sight. I can easily make a tomato puree but this is really starting to aggravate me. Anyone?

I don't have the kichen manual handy - in fact, I don't have my own copy of the book yet!

But if you look at Volume 5, the curry recipes (page 5.89) refer to a tomato puree on 3.290. That is probably it.

If you look at 3.290 you find a parametric recipe that calls for making tomato puree by cooking peeled seeded tomatoes cut into quarters and cored, and cooking at 85C/185F for 25 minutes.

I don't have the KM to look at, but my guess is that it is referring to a parametric recipe on vegetable purees. Is that what is on page 55 of KM? That would be my bet. If so then the reason you can't find it is that it is not a recipe per se it is an entry in a parametric recipe table.

Thank you, Nathan. Yes on page 3.290 there is a recipe for cooking a tomato puree sous vide. I think that it has somehow been left out of the Kitchen Manual on page 55.


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)

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OK - so I've started work on the dinner for next Saturday. After running around in the rain, I was able to get 2 pounds American Wagyu beef cheeks, 2# berkshire pork belly, some awesome smoky bacon, a whole berkshire pork shoulder (I cut into 3 2# portions), marrow bones, high quality kombu, and a bunch of beef chuck.

First up: the pork belly had skin removed, and is being brined in a 0.7% equilibrium brine. My initial brine has a TDS measurement of 5870. The skin is being pressure cooked in some salty water to be puffed or crisped later.

First question - in the parametric table on 3.172, it recommends a 72h soak followed by a 2h rinse and 24h rest. Is that for equilibrium brining or high concentration method? I'd imagine an equilibrium brine wouldn't need to be rested since it should already be at the proper salinity. But, if it does need resting, since it will be cooking SV for 40h at 144F, can you include the resting time in the cook time, or does it have to be sequential?

The pork shoulder will go in 150F for 3 days starting tonight!

The beef cheeks have the same temp (144F) as the pork belly, so they can be done together, starting with the cheeks, and putting the belly in midway through.

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A friend called me this morning and wanted to know if I wanted to roll with him to the kitchen supply store (he was getting his knives sharpened) - hard to turn down a trip to that store! (Northwestern Cutlery on Lake St. in Chicago). Anyway, they had the Kuhn Rikon 7+ quart pressure cooker there. I've been reading quite a few things here about the use of a pressure cooker in the book including a couple accounts on this forum about the carrot soup (Chris). I've never owned or used a pressure cooker, but was intrigued. I whipped out my phone and looked up the pressure cooker on Amazon doing a price check - weird...about the same price - so I grabbed it! I made the carrot soup as best I could this evening. It was totally awesome and the pressure cooker (even though I was a tad intimidated) worked easy and flawlessly. My wife at first made the "frown face" about more kitchen equipment, but once she tasted the soup she quickly noted that we need to make this for her parents on their next visit. That is a major "thumbs up"!!

Awesome!

Todd in Chicago

P.S. I feel like a complete newb asking this, but the recipe indicates to peel and core the carrots....how does one core carrots? I simply sliced around the core as best I could and used those pieces. Also, I thought I read that the core contained the most sugar, so I wasn't sure why those were not being used - anyone know?

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The "mold" is what a confectioner would call "caramel bars" or what a cheapskate would call "a couple sticks of aluminum taped together and set on a Silpat." It's what I use for layered dipped chocolates: each bar is 12" long and 1/4" square cross section, hollow. I make the shape I want and then tape them together so they don't slide around. Real "caramel bars" are heavier and will stay in place on their own.

Thanks for the reply. I can't believe how expensive little bars of aluminum are. After seeing the prices I went to Lowes and bought a 1" x 48" square aluminum tube and cut it down to four 11.5" pieces. Now I have caramel bars and they only cost me $20. Sure they might be hollow, but for the money I can't complain.


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Not sure if I am missing it or something, but on 2-425 in the puree table for onion puree it references page 2-426, but that only have two recipes on it, broccoli and hazelnut puree and creamed watercress. Not sure if it is supposed to reference something else or not.


John Deragon

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The "mold" is what a confectioner would call "caramel bars" or what a cheapskate would call "a couple sticks of aluminum taped together and set on a Silpat." It's what I use for layered dipped chocolates: each bar is 12" long and 1/4" square cross section, hollow. I make the shape I want and then tape them together so they don't slide around. Real "caramel bars" are heavier and will stay in place on their own.

Thanks for the reply. I can't believe how expensive little bars of aluminum are. After seeing the prices I went to Lowes and bought a 1" x 48" square aluminum tube and cut it down to four 11.5" pieces. Now I have caramel bars and they only cost me $20. Sure they might be hollow, but for the money I can't complain.

I did the sane thing a few months ago. However I filled the tubes with sand and filled the ends with epoxy to give the bars some more weight. Works pretty well.


John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

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I feel sorry for people that don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day -- Dean Martin

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If you want to not make your own bars, it looks like you can order a 12" t304 grade stainless 1/2" square bar online for about 7 bucks a piece here


John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

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I feel sorry for people that don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day -- Dean Martin

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Finally getting around to making the Modernist Mac & Cheese recipe. Ordered some sodium citrate from Boots Chemist online, trying hard to choose one that is not cranberry flavoured... once it arrived I saw on the front of the packet, "Lemon Flavour". Oh well, I proceeded with the recipe, the cheese sauce seemed to taste pretty nice anyway, so I have popped it into the freezer in preparation for tomorrow night's dinner.

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Todd - we must be synchronised! I christened my pressure cooker with the carrot soup this weekend too. Fabulous stuff - I'm amazed how much caramelisation I got from the pressure-cooked stage.

I looked at the instructions to core the carrots, considered that the core is my favourite bit if I'm eating a raw carrot, and simply chopped up the whole carrot and put it in. No regrets; wouldn't do it any other way. I did omit the centrifuge step for the juice, though ...


Leslie Craven, aka "lesliec"
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I attempted to correct my earlier mistakes with the carbonara, and served it for lunch today. Yesterday's cheese stick was 1/2" thick and 1 1/2" wide. The recipe calls for a stick 3/8" thick and 2" wide, but I'm guessing from the photo that it's actually only about an inch wide, so that's what I made today. I am out of eggs at the moment, so I changed up the toppings a bit, but otherwise this is basically the same thing as yesterday:

Spaghetti Carbonara - Take Two.jpg

Reducing the amount of cheese helped a lot, but I think it could be reduced even further. It's also quite possible that when served with pork belly (as suggested in the recipe) the ingredients balance better on the plate overall. Or maybe the MC team just likes parmesan more than me.

This is beautiful work Chris. I know they recommend pork belly in the book but that seems too rich. Maybe pork tenderloin might work better.


E. Nassar
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P.S. I feel like a complete newb asking this, but the recipe indicates to peel and core the carrots....how does one core carrots? I simply sliced around the core as best I could and used those pieces. Also, I thought I read that the core contained the most sugar, so I wasn't sure why those were not being used - anyone know?

I would leave the core in.

To core the carrots though, cut them into 3 inch lengths or so and then into quarters lenghtwise and slice the cores off.


E. Nassar
Houston, TX

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

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I'm going to make the mac & cheese tonight when I get home (to serve with some pulled pork sandwiches and a few other things), so I thought I'd share a tweaked version of the ratios in the book. We found that it was a bit too salty, and I wanted a stronger cheddar component. I also tweaked the techniques a bit.

Whisk & simmer

  • 100g water
  • 75g (wheat) beer
  • 10g sodium citrate
  • 4.5g salt
  • 1.25g iota carrageenan

Grate and combine over low heat:

  • 140g aged gouda (was 200g)
  • 145g aged cheddar (was 80g)

Stir until melted/emulsified. Pour into container; bring to room temp; freeze. Just before serving, pull it from the freezer and grate/shred 160g.

Boil over high heat:

  • 300g water
  • 100g macaroni
  • 1g salt [down from 24.g]

Don't drain it. When pasta is al dente, add cheese and heat through until smooth and combined.

I then put it in a Le Creuset au gratin pan, topped it with seasoned breadcrumbs, and let it sit until the broiler for a couple of minutes.

Oh, and, yes, that's dried macaroni, not fresh.

So I just made the macaroni and cheese. It was pretty tasty!

I didn't have any problems with my cheese setting. It went pretty darn solid. So solid in fact that I had problems removing it from the container! However it started to get pretty sticky in my hand and inside the grater when it was approaching room temperature.

I followed Chris' suggestions of quantity of gouda and cheddar. I already read his advice of scaling the salt in the water down from 24g. Since his suggestion was 1g, and what I read in the post was 24g, I decided I would just try 5g... that was way too salty!

I then checked Volume 3 Page 387, and saw that the recipe calls for 2.4g of salt in the cooking water, not 24g! Haha... I think I had better double check the books in future!

It was still pretty nice though! Just overly salty!

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If doing mac and cheese for now, why the iota carrageenan ?

The set and grate seems an extra step that while useful in a restaurant etc could be skipped at home. Could be wrong as it may change moth feel but when I made it with kappa carrageenan it worked fine, if doing it for immediate use can the carrageenan followed by set and grate step be skipped


Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

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I've been thinking about brining - the equilibrium brining, specifically. I've been brining pork belly for 2 days now (jaccarded first), and I've been checking the progress with a TDS meter which measures dissolved solids in parts per million. I've calculated what the final TDS should be once the brine and pork are at equilibrium, and it's getting there... but it's really slow. The book describes the movement of salt as a diffusion process, so if that's the case, do you think it would go faster if the system was at higher temperature? Which then brings up the logical conclusion that if I'm going to be cooking for 40 hours or so, can I cook the meat in the brine so that it will brine as it cooks?

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Tonight I converted a Beef Fajita recipe into a modernist version and it was very successful. I tried a few "modern" techniques:

* I made a tomatillo salsa verde and thickened with 0.2% xantham gun - this worked extremely well

* I tried pressure cooking onions using the same ratio for butter, salt and baking soda as the carrot recipe. After about 30 minutes I pulled it off and instead of getting caramelized onions I ended up with a caramelized onion jam. Not at all what I expected but it worked extremely well and I smeared this over the tortilla's before laying on the meat and toppings

* flank steak cooked at 60C for 24 hours. My wife doesn't like red meat so bumped it up from their recommendation and the 12 hours they recommend doesn't really work from a timing perspective unless I popped it in at 5am so no harm leaving this cut in for 24 hours. I actually pre-seared the meat as well for the usual reasons and then finished on a 400C inferno in my big green egg for a brief sear

This is what I'd consider a really effective use of simple Modernist techniques to improve a non-modern dish. What I'd really like to do is start a new thread that contains recipes and pictures for MC inspired dishes but perhaps I'll wait until I get through more of the volumes and have attempted a bunch more of these conversions.

rg

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P.S. I feel like a complete newb asking this, but the recipe indicates to peel and core the carrots....how does one core carrots? I simply sliced around the core as best I could and used those pieces. Also, I thought I read that the core contained the most sugar, so I wasn't sure why those were not being used - anyone know?

I would leave the core in.

To core the carrots though, cut them into 3 inch lengths or so and then into quarters lenghtwise and slice the cores off.

Thanks for the tip!

Todd in Chicago

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The set and grate seems an extra step that while useful in a restaurant etc could be skipped at home.

I didn't see the point of freezing and grating the cheese either. I made a "bulk" batch of cheese, then portioned it into 160 g portions by weighing this amount into the bottom of a bunch of round Ziploc containers. After freezing, I was able to pop the cheese 'pucks' out of their containers, and store them in a 1 gal Ziploc bag in the freezer. When I want to make a 100g batch of macaroni, I just melt the cheese puck in a saucepan over low heat, then add it to the macaroni once they are cooked. A simple stir, and it's ready to serve.

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Overpressure / underpressure (a geek's Mulligan stew)

The posts in this topic on pressure cooking made me reactivate my old Kuhn Rikon Duromatic. I had these vegetables at hand:

gallery_65177_6901_160595.jpg

I had planned to make a stew with a cut of brisket I had previously cooked sous vide ("underpressure") 55.5°C/48h. So I decided to cook the stew under overpressure.

Here's the mise-en-place:

gallery_65177_6901_137499.jpg

I sautéed the onions in butter, added the stalk celery, deglazed with 1 liter of vegetable stock plus the pasteurized gravy from a previous brisket, added the rest of the vegetables and cooked 120°C / 7 minutes. Then I let the stew cool down

gallery_65177_6901_29560.jpg

to avoid boiling the medium-rare brisket (reheated SV 55°C/3h), which I cut into cubes small enough to expose more surface to the Maillard reaction but large enough that 2 minutes of stir-frying in smoking hot rice bran oil would not cook them well-done:

gallery_65177_6901_296061.jpg.

After stir-frying I let the brisket cubes rest for a moment before adding them to the stew. In fact, besides being spoon-tender and succulent, they had remained pink inside.

SWAMBO found it delicious, me too.


Edited by PedroG (log)

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My copy hasn't arrived yet (slated for a July arrival according to Barnes and Noble), but I have a really good Bergblumen sitting in the fridge that I wanted to turn into a delicious grilled cheese. I've read about the reconstructed cheese slices and want to try that out, but have read mixed stories online different variants and was hoping for some clarification. Heston Blumenthal has a reconstructed cheese recipe using sherry, some spices, cheese and sodium citrate, but no gelling such as iota carrageenan. I believe I have read that he recommends 500ml of infused sherry to 850g of cheese. Is the Modernist Cuisine recipe similar or does the authors suggest add a gelling agent to the liquid prior to adding the cheese and chilling (as in the mac and cheese recipe)? I have read about some people having trouble with Blumenthal's reconstructed cheese not setting properly which is the primary reason why I ask.


Andrew Vaserfirer aka avaserfi

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Tonight's dinner included a 72-hour 145°F brisket, as suggested by MC:

Sous Vide Brisket.jpg

I just eyeballed the seasoning on the meat before cooking it: salt, pepper, and Pimentón de la Vera. I should have measured it, I think it needed more overall. I made a "pan sauce" ("bag sauce"?) from the liquid in the bag by thickening it lightly with cornstarch and tweaking with brown sugar and red wine vinegar. That worked pretty well. In terms of texture, it's similar but not identical to the traditionally-slow-cooked method. In particular it feels a bit firmer when slicing and eating at first, but when chewing it actually breaks apart faster. I thought it was a very good, if not exactly revelatory, texture (contrast with the pork shoulder cooked in a similar fashion, which was amazing). Part of this may be due to my use of the flat part of the brisket (the point is in a pastrami brine at the moment).


Chris Hennes
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My copy hasn't arrived yet (slated for a July arrival according to Barnes and Noble), but I have a really good Bergblumen sitting in the fridge that I wanted to turn into a delicious grilled cheese. I've read about the reconstructed cheese slices and want to try that out, but have read mixed stories online different variants and was hoping for some clarification. Heston Blumenthal has a reconstructed cheese recipe using sherry, some spices, cheese and sodium citrate, but no gelling such as iota carrageenan. I believe I have read that he recommends 500ml of infused sherry to 850g of cheese. Is the Modernist Cuisine recipe similar or does the authors suggest add a gelling agent to the liquid prior to adding the cheese and chilling (as in the mac and cheese recipe)? I have read about some people having trouble with Blumenthal's reconstructed cheese not setting properly which is the primary reason why I ask.

I think I have answered my own question. the iota carrageenan stabalizes the emulsion created by the cheese, liquid and sodium citrate so the mixture be frozen and stored. If used right away I don't believe the iota is necessary, even in the mac and cheese. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.


Andrew Vaserfirer aka avaserfi

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I think I have answered my own question. the iota carrageenan stabalizes the emulsion created by the cheese, liquid and sodium citrate so the mixture be frozen and stored. If used right away I don't believe the iota is necessary, even in the mac and cheese. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.

I made the Mac & Cheese with nothing but kappa, and it ended up being runny even at fridge temp, but I think other people have reported the same results with iota. It froze just fine - I used about a third immediately, then the rest a couple weeks later.

There was no separation or anything like that, if that's what you were thinking. It was fine after being frozen, just runny, like those jars of icky cheez whiz kinda stuff they sell by the chips in the grocery store. Tasted great, though!

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I think I have answered my own question. the iota carrageenan stabalizes the emulsion created by the cheese, liquid and sodium citrate so the mixture be frozen and stored. If used right away I don't believe the iota is necessary, even in the mac and cheese. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.

I made the Mac & Cheese with nothing but kappa, and it ended up being runny even at fridge temp, but I think other people have reported the same results with iota. It froze just fine - I used about a third immediately, then the rest a couple weeks later.

There was no separation or anything like that, if that's what you were thinking. It was fine after being frozen, just runny, like those jars of icky cheez whiz kinda stuff they sell by the chips in the grocery store. Tasted great, though!

Does the reconstructed/processed cheese from the burger recipe use the same technique as the mac and cheese? My understanding is that the reconstructed cheese should be solid enough to roll out and cut into slices. I'm not concerned with it separating. I am more concerned with an inability to work with the cheese once I emulsify it because it is too gooey to form into slices for grilled cheese sandwiches.


Edited by avaserfi (log)

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      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
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