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MikeTMD

Sous Vide: Recipes, Techniques & Equipment (Part 6)

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[Moderator note: The original Sous Vide: Recipes, Techniques & Equipment topic became too large for our servers to handle efficiently, so we've divided it up; the preceding part of this discussion is here: Sous Vide: Recipes, Techniques & Equipment (Part 5)]

This weekend I've cooked with two somewhat non-traditional cuts of meat:

Lamb Tenderloin:

- Slow Baked Beets, Compressed Aian Pear and Microgreens, Red Wine Jus ("Sauce au Poivre")

gallery_57905_5970_12719.jpg


The tenderloin was sous-vide with kubbeh spices @ 63C, for about 20 minutes

Cap of the Ribeye:

gallery_57905_5970_34911.jpg

This is a pretty straight-forward dish - cap of a prime rib ( "lifter meat") sous-vide to rare with simple seasoning, 61C for about 15 minutes

Both cuts truly shine when SV technique is applied.


Edited by Mjx Moderator note added. (log)

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

Michael T.

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

My flickr collection

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Mike, normally I would think that 15 minutes isn't enough to bring prime rib or rib-eye to medium rare, but I guess that depends on the starting temperature.

Why do you use 61C, instead of something like 55.5C?

How did you sear it afterwards (or before)?

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Hi all,

thanks for the great inspiration you ALL gave me over the past months!

I did some experiments with sous vide cooking, and all went fine...until yesterday. :sad:

I cooked brisket at 57°C for about 40 hours. The meat came out quite nice looking, but after cutting, it looked quite well-done and was very dry to eat. It had a strange consistency which was quite tender but on the other hand quite tough...the taste was good anyway. But overall it lacked the moisture I usually get from meat cooked SV.

Some facts to the cut:

Thickness between 0.5 and 2 inches, but the result was absolutely homogeneous.

Things I can exclude:

1. Water temperature was constant @57°C, I use a lab waterbath with perfect ability to hold temperature.

2. Vacuum bag was intact for the whole cooking process.

So here are my questions:

1. What went wrong?

2. I put some frozen beef stock in the bag for marinating - does this matter?

3. After opening the bag, I put the meat in the oven at 90°C for about 5-10 minutes to cook the sauce from the bag liquids - was this the reason for the meat drying out?

4. How come that the meat looked well-done at this temperature? Was the cooking too long (I suppose not).

I would be very thankful if you guys could help me out - keep on writing your experience here, it helps GREATLY!!!

Markus from Munich

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57C plus 10 minutes in a 90C oven plus subsequent resting time (especially if the meat rested in the pan you had previously had in the oven) could take the temperature of the beef up another 14 degrees. And then you're right at the temperature of hammered-through well done.


--

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SL is right on about having put it in the hot oven after the meat came out of the bag.

There are a few other things that I have found with brisket:

1) 48 hours at that temp vs. 36 or 40 makes a difference in tendering the meat -- it should be fork tender but not mushy or falling apart

2) The marbling makes a huge amount of difference.

When I cook it, it spends no time in the oven, it gets blasted with a propane torch to brown the outside -- but the interior is pink pink pink.

The first few times that we did brisket, we were not impressed because the meat came out as you described (although pink inside and now well-done). On both occasions, we were using the "flat" part of a brisket that had almost no interior marbling. I have found that the "flat" can have marbling -- but you may have to go to a couple of butchers before you find it.

For the next couple of experiments, we did a whole brisket and found that the more marbling there was in the brisket, the better it was. When cooking the whole briskets, one end was a bit too fatty (but made delicious hash the next day when diced and sauteed with potatoes and onions till browned) and the other end a bit to dense/dry but the middle section was delicious: tender and moist.

You may have to hunt down the right piece of meat--the flats of a lot of brisket is very dense with little to no interior marbling -- but you should be able to find some that has marbling. The next time, we are going to get some Wagyu brisket because it has much better marbling even in the flat part than most of the briskets from local butchers.

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I agree with the above posters. I cook the flat part of Choice grade brisket for 48 hours at 55.5C, with nothing on the brisket except some chipotle dry rub on the fat side and perhaps some Liquid Smoke. The chipotle rub colors it dark enough that it doesn't really need even a torch, much less searing in a skillet. Just don't let the butcher slice off too much of the fat.

Leave the meat in the bag, but pour off whatever liquid there is, put it in a sauce pan and bring it to a hard boil, then strain off the scum with a chinois. Add whatever precooked vegetables you would like to that au jus sauce, e.g, some caramelized onions and carrots, to make a simple gravy or topping.

Slice the brisket thinly (2 mm) across the grain, like a London broil, pour the topping over it, and the results should be fantastic.


Edited by Robert Jueneman (log)

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Mike, normally I would think that 15 minutes isn't enough to bring prime rib or rib-eye to medium rare, but I guess that depends on the starting temperature.

Why do you use 61C, instead of something like 55.5C?

How did you sear it afterwards (or before)?

Robert, 15 minutes would most certainly be not enough time for a large cut like whole prime rib, and I would have give it another 5-10 minutes for a rib-eye steak. However, cap of the rib-eye is a relatively thin muscle, so I cook it just like I would cook tenderloin, as far as time/temp are concerned.

I have to ask you for clarification of what you mean by "starting temperature" - I start and finish SV at precisely the same temperature, depending on how I want my protein cooked ( generally speaking: 54-56C for fish, 61-64C for steaks)

There is no benefit of having a cooking bag in the bath as it being warmed up, if that's what you are asking.

61C is internal temperature for any steak done rare, 62-63C - medium rare, 64C - medium. 55.5C would be undercooked by any standards.

Typically, I flash sear my steaks in very hot clarified butter ( 5-10 sec. on each side) after poaching, immediately prior to serving.


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

Michael T.

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

My flickr collection

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Thanks for your replies.

What I did not consider was that putting the in fact cooked meat in the oven will dry it out completely and bring it to well-done, especially because it was a very thin cut. I will keep an eye on that for sure!

I prepared the meat myself, it was a very big cut of 2.5 kg with a lot of fat between the muscle meat. I removed most of it because I am not sure, how this fat would influence the taste over such a long cooking time. The cut itself was not marbled at all, so it might also be not the best base for a good SV brisket.

Unfortunately, the meat in Germany are is cut quite different from that in the US which also can be a problem... :hmmm: But I should contact a real good butcher for having a cut that is more suited for cooking SV.

I still got another of these cuts in the freezer, and will do the following:

1. Prepare it without too much liquids in the bag

2. Maybe lower the temperature to 55 or 56°C.

3. Cook it for full 48 hours.

4. Just torch it and the serve it - I won't try to keep it warm in the oven anymore :angry:

Of course I am going to give you impressions from that as well!

Thanks and have a nice day

Markus


Edited by lordbre (log)

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61C is internal temperature for any steak done rare, 62-63C - medium rare, 64C - medium. 55.5C would be undercooked by any standards.

Typically, I flash sear my steaks in very hot clarified butter ( 5-10 sec. on each side) after poaching, immediately prior to serving.

Mike,

Did you mis-type those temperatures? If not, your rareness scale is very different from mine.

Did you mean 51C for rare, perhaps? 61C is 142F which is much hotter than rare (which is somewhere in the mid 120s). If I ordered a steak and got one cooked to 142F, I would send it back and would probably not return as a diner.

I think that most people would consider anything over about 133F or 56C to be heading into medium range for beef. With 129 to 133 (or so) to be medium rare and rare to medium rare in the 51C (124F) to 53C range.

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I'm with e-monster. I typically do medium-rare beef sous vide to around 54C, and that's how it comes out: bang-on medium rare.


--

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FWIW I too agree with e-monster. I find that in order to get anything cooked SV which resembles rare steak cooked conventionally I cannot exceed a core temperature of 48C/49C. At 54C any beef I've cooked is what I would call medium - i.e. uniformly pink throughout with no red/raw appearance at all. Cooking at any temp higher than 54C the beef starts to lose it's pinkness and becomes increasingly grey as the temperature is increased. For me any "greyness" at all starts to get into what I describe as well done.

Cheers,

Peter.

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I got this table from wikipedia.org:

Term Description Temperature range

Extra-rare or Blue (in French, bleu) very red and cold 115–120°F 46–49°C

Rare (saignant) cold red center; soft 125–130°F 52–55°C

Medium rare (à point) warm red center; firmer 130–140°F 55–60°C

Medium (cuit) pink and firm 140–150°F 60–65°C

Medium well (bien cuit) small amount of pink in center 150–155°F 65–69°C

Well done gray-brown throughout; firm >160°F >71°C

Of course, this source may not be that reliable at all, but from my own experience, the temperature ranges given correspond very well with the final results. Just for discussion...

P.S: Sorry for the bad formatting :sad:


Edited by lordbre (log)

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The ranges for rare, medium rare etc are all over the map. Many sources disagree strongly about this.

The Wikipedia entries listed above are more or less consistent with my own taste.

For beef, I would say that 130F/55C is medium rare. Rare is 120F-125F (48-52C).


Nathan

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I totally agree with Nathan and have always assumed that a rare steak should be 120°F or thereabouts. Some of the confusion here may be due to the fact that a traditional grilled steak has to be removed from the heat when it is still 5 to 10 degrees below the desired temperature whereas

a piece of meat cooked sous vide is , or should be, ready to eat and at the desired temperature as soon as it is removed from the bath


Ruth Friedman

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Others chimed in before I had a chance, but I agree with the general tenor.

I cook my steaks at 55.5C, partly because my wife doesn't like particularly rare beef, and also because that is sufficient to pasteurize them (depending on the time, of course). If I were cooking for myself, I would aim a little lower.

What I meant by starting temperature was the resting temperature of the steak before throwing it in the SV bath. Was it at freezing or below, at refrigerator temperature (around 38-41F), or ambient room temperature?

I haven't calculated how long it would take a steak to come up to say 131F from say 70F, but even then I doubt that 15 minute would suffice, unless the steak was quite thin.

???

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There are quite a few points that I would like to cover with regards to internal (core) temps and degrees of beef doneness , however for right now may I suggest a link with pictures from Certified Angus Beef ®

Degrees of Doneness

Few quick notes:

I'm with e-monster.  I typically do medium-rare beef sous vide to around 54C, and that's how it comes out: bang-on medium rare.

... I find that in order to get anything cooked SV which resembles rare steak cooked conventionally I cannot exceed a core temperature of 48C/49C. At 54C any beef I've cooked is what I would call medium - i.e. uniformly pink throughout with no red/raw appearance at all. Cooking at any temp higher than 54C the beef starts to lose it's pinkness and becomes increasingly grey as the temperature is increased. For me any "greyness" at all starts to get into what I describe as well done.

Cheers,

Peter.

This is critical:

Whether we apply conventional cooking technique, or cook our steaks SV the goal is to achieve right internal (core) temperature for a desired degree of doneness. Needless to say, SV allows to achieve much more precise internal temperature, as well as allows to do it with ease.

However,

temperature points of doneness are identical for proteins cooked conventionally, and for the same proteins cooked SV.

I would also like to ask any of you to support your statements about degrees of beef doneness with appropriate pictures, please.


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

Michael T.

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

My flickr collection

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temperature points of doneness are identical for proteins cooked conventionally, and for the same proteins cooked SV.

I would also like to ask any of you to support your statements about degrees of beef doneness with appropriate pictures, please.

No, that is not correct for many reasons.

Beef cooked to a the same internal temperature - say 130F/55C should be more or less the same chemically, but it will NOT look the same with different cooking methods.

Most people assess "doneness" by color or visual appearance. Cleary that is your goal in asking for photos. But that depends crucially on several things, most important of which is access to oxygen. Sous cooked meat can be much less red, until you let it sit in the air where it becomes redder.

The length of cooking time can also affect redness. Indeed as mentioned in other posts on this thread, long slow cooking can under some special circumstances fix the meat color to bright red even at very high temperatures (160F or above). Conversely, if cooked without oxygen you can have fairly colorless meat at quite low temperature - especially intially when first taken out of the bag and cut.

The cut and grade of meat can affect redness too - look at heavily marbled Japanese wagyu ("Kobe") beef - it looks light pink even when raw!

In fact, the sous vide cooked steak cooked for several hours at 130F/55C will look different if you cut it immediately after taking it out of the bag, or cut it and let it sit in the air for a few minutes. It will not in general look identical to a quick grilled steak. Similar yes, after it has a chance to get oxygen on it, but it is incorrect to expect it to look the same.

Another factor is that most conventionally cooked meat has a strong temperature gradient - if the center is at 130F/55C, then that is often only a thin strip exactly at that temperature. As you move away from the center the temperature changes - getting quite high (and the meat gray) near the edges. So you can't expect sous vide that is perfectly uniform to look the same unless you isolate a small portion.

Photos over the internet are nice to look at, but don't expect them to accurately convey doneness. You won't be able to tell the difference between different levels of doneness.

To really get good color reproduction you need a calibrated monitor, and color management software, and the right viewing conditions in the room. Web browsers and JPEG files are typically NOT color corrected this way. You also need to take the photo with proper white balace and camera profiling.

For my cookbook we are going to try to print some meat color tables that are accurately printed, but this is a real challenge.

Don't expect that eGullet photos show you accurate color. In fact, look at this thread or other threads - a very common remark people make about their own photos is that they don't look the way the food did on the plate. That's because of all of the variations in camera, JPEG processing, monitors and color management.

The photos on the Certified Angus beef site show all of these effects. The likihood that you could match color closely enough to tell the difference between say "very rare" and "rare" is slim to none unless you had calibrated files, calibrated monitors, color management software and the whole works.

The photos on the certified angus site are almost after the meat has had a chance to get oxygen for a while while the photographer set up the lights. This would make them significantly redder than they would be immediately upon cutting.

But, even with all those limitations, the photos look wrong to me. "very rare" to me means that there is some translucency characteristic of partially raw meat. This starts to fade with cooking, then goes away completely leaving a red, but opaque meat surface. This is always a bit hard to see in photos because it depends on a subtle optical quality of the meat, not just the color.

However, I don't see that in their "very rare" which to me means that it is NOT "very rare".

Or, if want to call what they say is "very rare" then you need to define a "very very rare" which seems like a bit of a waste to me.

That is consistent with the fact the Certified Angus people are about 10F/5C too hot on most of their grades. For me "very rare" would be more like 120F than 130F.

But anyway, it seems that the Certified Angus people have a very different idea of beef doneness than I do, or for example than the chefs at the culinary school I attended in France.

Which is fine - this is all about taste, so there is no absolute right or wrong.


Edited by nathanm (log)

Nathan

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There are quite a few points that I would like to cover with regards to internal (core) temps  and degrees of beef doneness , however for right now may I suggest a link with pictures from Certified Angus Beef ®

I would also like to ask any of you to support your statements about degrees of beef doneness with appropriate pictures, please.

Mike,

Your earlier claim that the temperatures you posted are a universally accepted standard is simply not true. I am having difficulty finding any chefs I admire who use the ranges that you posted.

If that is how you like your meat, that is great. It is (as Nathan has mentioned) subjective and a matter of taste.

Photographs of meat at various temperatures is hardly proof of anything. I have a lot of photographs of cooked meat (I have posted quite a few on this site), but they hardly prove anything. I don't see you saying "e-monster posted a picture of meat that was cooked to 133F and it sure looks like it is in the medium-rare to medium range". Lighting conditions, etc. have a lot of impact on the appearance -- even if the person taking the picture does not have a vested interest in making the food look appetizing.

The Certified Angus Beef association does has a vested interest in making the food look appealing. With PhotoShop, it is easy to adjust the color content of images. I have a friend that is a commercial food photographer...let's just say that what you see in pictures is not necessarily an accurate depiction of reality. A lot of work goes into making the food look like they want it to for the picture -- and there is no guarantee that to get the picture of rare meat that it was cooked to the temperature in their tables. But that is really neither here nor there.

I will take the word of a host of food experts over pictures or a beef grower's organization -- especially since the word of those experts is completely consistent with my experience. I cook meat to 129F to 133F a lot -- I have never had a steak come out of a 129F bath that would be considered rare by more than a few people.

The tri-tip that I cook to 133F comes out with a degree of doneness such that the people to whom I have served it (many of whom have considerable experience eating food from world-class chefs like Grant Achatz and Thomas Keller) have disagreed with each other about whether it could still be called medium-rare or whether it is approaching medium.

As Nathan pointed out, any Google search will show that there is no objective answer, even among professionals, as to what precise temperature "rare" or "medium-rare" is.

However, there is enough consensus among the top flight chefs of our generation, that there is a range of temperatures that covers what most of them would consider rare, medium-rare etc. The temps you posted are considerably higher than that range of temps.

Would you consider Harold McGee to be a reasonable expert? He is considered by many professionals to be one of the most knowledgeable experts on the science of food. There is a table in his book "On Food and Cooking" on doneness. The temperatures he mentions are in agreement with what most of us have said.

He specifically mentions in the table that the 'USDA" standard designations are on the order of 20 degrees fahrenheit higher than that used by most chefs.

Because there is no precise definition, he provides ranges -- and I haven't found a recipe by a contemporary chef I respect whose definition falls more than a few degrees outside these ranges.

Rare - 120 to 130F

Medium Rare - 130 to 135F

etc...

That being said, it is largely a matter of taste. You are entitled to whatever idea of doneness you like. It is simply wrong, however, to say that the Certified Angus Beef's (or the USDA's) doneness tables are a universally accepted standard -- especially since they are not very close to the ranges accepted by the leading contemporary chefs.

(p.s. Apologies if this is not my most concise or clearly written post -- that was a lot more words than I intended to write - and I am not sure that my point came across)


Edited by e_monster (log)

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I don't know why the Angus Beef Association's pictures look so far removed from what I, at least, would consider "reality."

Nathan, whom I certainly respect, tends to blame the photographer, or JPEG, or the lack of a calibrated monitor. Well, my monitor is calibrated, and I'm a photographer with about 50 years of experience, and I still would have trouble explaining the look of those pictures, particularly the degree of transparency.

A much more reasonable explanation, I believe, is very poor quality control when it comes to the thermometer used. I think their thermometers are off about about 14 degrees F, as their 145F corresponds to what I get at 131.5F, using a thermometer that is calibrated to plus or minus 0.09F against NIST standards. Having a thermometer be off by 14 degrees is not particularly uncommon in my experience, and especially one of the dial-type instruments shown adjacent to the text, as opposed to whatever is lying in the pictures.

Yet another explanation is that the editors, or perhaps their lawyers, decided to "adjust" the pictures and the text to make them agree with the USDA recommendations for hamburgers.

The "From the Chef" page also repeats the canard that "Searing the meat locks in the juices."

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gallery_64063_6721_58032.jpg

MikeTMD asked for some photos. As I said above, I don't have any quibble with the appearances of the meat vs. the labels attached -- they seem to be right on. I do, however, question their temperatrues

THere is a 50mm rib-eye steak, cooked at 53.0C/127.0F for 3.5 hours, in a 10 liter rice cooker with a Sous Vide Magic1500B controller. The SVM controller was calibrated with my Traceable 4000 thermometer calibrated to NIST standards, and I double checked the temperature of the water bath, so I'm quite certain of the temperature.

I sprinkled the steak with a Mesquite dry rub after removing it from the bag, then briefly seared it in a cast iron pan with about 1 tsp of butter and a good dash of olive oil, heated to the point where the butter was beginning to brown but not smoking. The sauce is Bordelaise French finishing sauce, from

Williams-Sonoma.

I corrected the output of my Canon 1D Mark III by applying auto white balance post-processing of the photo in Lightroom to correct for the tungsten lighting in the dining room. Although this may be more accurate in the technical, 5500F daylight sense, the picture actually looks warmer and more inviting with the tungsten light, although not particularly redder, and certainly not more translucent or "wetter".

I normally cook my steaks to 131.5F, but decided to try it a little more rare. just for Mike's sake. :biggrin:

My wife, who often complains about meat being too rare, raved about it; and the two cats practically clawed my leg off begging.

And my Cro Magnon ancestors smiled down on me, as I was gnawing on the bone.

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Any suggestions for a white-fleshed fish that does well with SV treatment?

I am looking for something that will not become mushy, and will have some firmness to it.

The idea that I have is to glue together a rectangular "sheet" of fillets in a quarter-sheet pan with Activa, then spread on a filling of fish mousse (made with the trimmings), minced parsley, and something like crab or chopped shrimp. Then I'd roll the whole thing up into a tube around the size of a soda can, roll in plastic film and twist the ends, bag, bind, and cook sous vide. Hopefully, when it comes out of the bath, it can simply (and carefully!) be cut into slices and plated.

I could always do this with something like salmon, but I'd like to try it with something leaner and less expensive (this will be for a large group dinner).

Suggestions are welcomed.


--

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I also like striped bass, but another good one is black bass... I actually find that it is better SV than any other method because it is so easy to overcook... I think I did it at 117F the last time and it came out great - moist, flaked perfectly... I think you can usually get it at the Lobster Place for $8.99pp....

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It's a bit of a shame that the first article on Sous Vide I've seen in my home town is probably more misleading than informative.

The idea that meat becomes tender because the vacuum in the bag lowers the boiling point is just nonsense, and the suggestion that brisket can be cooked for 18 hours at 65C and still be medium-rare is a bit off by my standards. (No wish to re-open the doneness vs temperature debate ;-))

The idea of infusing strawberries with strawberry juice is interesting though!

I've written to the editor of the Good Living section of the SMH and I have received a response that they've forwarded my mail on to Catharine Munro the writer of the article. If I get any meaningful response I'll post it here.

Cheers,

Peter.

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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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