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KaffirLime

Sous Vide: Recipes, Techniques & Equipment (Part 4)

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Great correlation between expected and actual results in the sous vide model!

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Brilliant.

Until someone put the Wired article up, I had Nathan down as enormously generous fella with the same obsession as the rest of us. But to discover he's also an exuberant polymath puts my faith back into humanity and , ahem, Americans. :raz:

Anyway, everytime he posts I find myself looking at new bits of kit. (got the Extech dual Thermometer he recommended).

That Turbochef also looks fantastic, he could start selling equipment like the guy off the old Remington Ads.


“Do you not find that bacon, sausage, egg, chips, black pudding, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread and a cup of tea; is a meal in itself really?” Hovis Presley.

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One thing I noticed is that I seem to always be doing the ghetto version of things...

In the video he shows a centrifuge and mentions it clarifies stock. Here is my version @ £120. I also dries jeans very nicely ;)

http://www.creda.co.uk/macro/productprint....r=261&prmenbr=2

adey73, do you have the needle probe for the thermometer? Do you use it during the cooking time? I'm curious what you are using the plug the hole you make.


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

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i use this stuff in black.... http://www.tapes-direct.co.uk/index.php?ma...products_id=731

And use two of these during cooking time (cheapest I could find in the UK) http://www.tomsgadgets.com/products/details.aspx?pc=KP180-51

Are you really in Cuba?!


“Do you not find that bacon, sausage, egg, chips, black pudding, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread and a cup of tea; is a meal in itself really?” Hovis Presley.

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Great correlation between expected and actual results in the sous vide model!

Yep, even the linear heat equation does a surprisingly good job. Just for fun, I measured the core temperature of a 27mm thick piece of Mahi-Mahi (in a 131F {55C} water bath) every 20 seconds and compared it with my numeric calculations.

gallery_58061_5604_3341.png

In the plot, I used a thermal diffusivity of 1.24 mm^2/sec and a heat transfer coefficient of 1000 W/m^2-K (since I used a circulating water bath). The blue line is the surface temperature of the Mahi-Mahi, the red line is the predicted core temperature and the blue dots are the core temperature as measured by a ThermoWorks MicroTherma2T with a needle probe.

In my guide I use a thermal diffusivity of 0.956 mm^2/sec so that I am 97.7% confident that my predicted temperature will be lower than the measured temperature. I also use a heat transfer coefficient of 100 W/m^2-K since many people use naturally (rather than forced) convection water baths.


My Guide: A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking, which Harold McGee described as "a wonderful contribution."

My Book: Sous Vide for the Home Cook US EU/UK

My YouTube channel — a new work in progress.

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I have done similar charts - it is amazing how close one can get....the mathematical model matches reality very well indeed.


Nathan

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In the plot, I used a thermal diffusivity of 1.24 mm^2/sec and a heat transfer coefficient of 1000 W/m^2-K (since I used a circulating water bath).  The blue line is the surface temperature of the Mahi-Mahi, the red line is the predicted core temperature and the blue dots are the core temperature as measured by a ThermoWorks MicroTherma2T with a needle probe. 

In my guide I use a thermal diffusivity of 0.956 mm^2/sec so that I am 97.7% confident that my predicted temperature will be lower than the measured temperature.  I also use a heat transfer coefficient of 100 W/m^2-K since many people use naturally (rather than forced) convection water baths.

That's quite cool indeed. How did you arrive at the thermal diffusivity numbers? Is this out of a table of td numbers for different materials/substances/etc, or did you calculate it based on the empirical curve?


We''ve opened Pazzta 920, a fresh pasta stall in the Boqueria Market. follow the thread here.

My blog, the Adventures of A Silly Disciple.

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That's quite cool indeed. How did you arrive at the thermal diffusivity numbers? Is this out of a table of td numbers for different materials/substances/etc, or did you calculate it based on the empirical curve?

For the Mahi-Mahi, I used thermal diffusivity as a fitting parameter (that is, I calculated it from the measured data). Even if had found the thermal diffusivity in the literature, I would expect it to vary from fish to fish and species to species; much of this variation comes from differences in fat and water content.

This variation in thermal diffusivity is the reason why I tabulate the `worst case' cooking time in my tables instead of trying to predict the actual cooking time (as Nathan does). That is, if the water bath is just above the desired final core temperature, I am assuming it is much less of a sin to cook the meat longer than needed than to not cook it long enough*. While this assumption seems reasonable for most meat, I have begun questioning its validity for fish --- often when I cook fish based on my cooking tables, I find that they come out mushy because the fiber-weakening enzymes are still very active at my desired final core temperature (~120F/50C). Without a good source for the thermal diffusivity of fish in the literature, it will take me quite awhile to determine the range of thermal diffusivities in fish experimentally.

* This is especially true if the meat is being pasteurized, since underestimating the temperature of the meat would result in food which hasn't actually been pasteurized.


My Guide: A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking, which Harold McGee described as "a wonderful contribution."

My Book: Sous Vide for the Home Cook US EU/UK

My YouTube channel — a new work in progress.

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Does anyone have first-hand experience of veal liver SV? What temperature should it be brought up to?


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

Michael T.

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My flickr collection

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All right - I just finished my lat night SV dinner:

Veal Liver - cooked to 140F/60C for 40 minutes + demi glace + caramelized onions + duck fat fries ( not healthy, but so good!)

140F cooks veal liver to perfect medium, leaving a touch of pink color - liver solidifies very nicely, and is a lot easier to handle after cooking. I prefer my liver on somewhat medium-rare side - I would like it at 130F, but it's a very personal choice ( regretfully, most wouldn't touch liver no matter how it is cooked). I suspect high heat and clarified butter would be a better way to caramelize veal liver after cooking, although medium heat/non-stick griddle is acceptable.

Veal liver vs/ foie: foie should be SV at higher temps (Broca recommends 140F), and would brown nicely on medium-high heat, whereas veal liver is fairly lean, and as such calls for lower temp range.


Edited by MikeTMD (log)

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

Michael T.

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

My flickr collection

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What would the proposed application of the baths bet? Unless I am misreading the specs, the capacity seems to be only 2 liters which doesn't seem like it would be adequate volume for most sous vide application.

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What would the proposed application of the baths be? Unless I am misreading the specs, the capacity seems to be only 2 liters which doesn't seem like it would be adequate volume for most sous vide application.

2L capacity is large enough for 2-4 individually packed 8oz portions, isn't it?


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

Michael T.

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

My flickr collection

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That would leave a pretty small amount of water relative to what is being cooked which makes keeping the temps stable tricky when the food is first added. When I am cooking small amounts of food (i.e. one or two chicken breasts or a 12 oz. ribeye), I use a 6.5 quart cooker (three times the volume of a 2 liter cooker) and wouldn't really want to use less water than that -- otherwise there would be a pretty significant temperature drop as soon as you add the items.

I would think that for anything other than eggs, one would want 6 or 7 quarts/liters minimum.

Anyway, that is my take. And, I might be wrong.

Anyone else have thoughts about this?

What would the proposed application of the baths be? Unless I am misreading the specs, the capacity seems to be only 2 liters which doesn't seem like it would be adequate volume for most sous vide application.

2L capacity is large enough for 2-4 individually packed 8oz portions, isn't it?

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Last night I SV large shrimp ( w/heads, shells, claws - everything) - I had to triple bag those ( claws are very sharp), so, although there was no air in the bags I ended up with a lot of unnecessary "insulation", and as such had to adjust temps to 50C. Fairly speaking, that was barely enough to cook shrimp to rare.

So, lessons learned:

- shell-on shrimp requires higher SV temps

- when cooking shell-on shrimp thermometer/temp reading is essential

- three bags create an extra heat barrier, so SV T/time s/b adjusted accordingly


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

Michael T.

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

My flickr collection

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Took a big packer choice brisket and separated the point and flat, plus trimmed most of the fat off the fat side. Normally, BBQ folk would trim it to 1/4 inch thickness of fat before going on the smoker, but since I knew that fat wasn't going anywhere, I trimmed as much off as I could.

Trimmed the brisket into smaller pieces that would fit in my 8x12 vac. bags.

Browned all but 1 piece in a skillet w/oil. Meat turned gray, with a tiny bit of brown. Didn't want to cook it too much. Seasoned with the same rub (salt/pepper based) that I normally put on Brisket for the smoker.

Put 5-6 bags on a sheet pan then into my warmer oven which is normally at 150. I kicked this up to 160 from 8pm to 8am, then back to 150 during store hrs.

There was one piece of point meat that I mis-trimmed. So I had a very thin piece of point meat that I tried after 40 hrs. That piece was pretty incredible - kinda like a pounded piece of veal.

med_IMG_9509.JPG

One thing I thought was interesting was that this thin piece of fat wasn't even tender enough to break and would support the weight of this piece of meat. If that was cooked to 195 on a smoker you wouldn't even be able to grab it (or barely grab it and it would break).

med_IMG_9510.JPG

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Here's the 1st piece of Brisket Flat at 47 hrs. Yummy au jus outta the bag. I took this off heat (was 150) and cut into right away - I would think I could have let it rest a bit and it might have sucked some moisture back into the meat. I had some friends come into the store and had an idea to share this with them, so didn't have the time to let it rest. I thought it was a bit dry, but they liked it.

med_IMG_9511.JPG

Here's what it looks like sliced.

med_IMG_9512.JPG

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There was one more piece of browned flat. Here it is, alongside 2 slices of smoked brisket. 48 hrs.

med_IMG_9519.JPG

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And now the final piece that was not browned in a skillet NOR browned after removal from the bag. I did let this one rest 5-10 minutes on the counter. Sliced it up and poured au jus back over it on the plates. VERY yummy. Peppery from the rub... very enjoyable. Stayed together as slices (didn't crumble) and I'd just flip a slice down into the juice and cut it with the fork. Another good friend shared this with me and we both loved it.

med_IMG_9522.JPG

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CONCLUSIONS

-----------------

One reason I cooked this at such a high heat 150/160 was because of this article:

From : http://amath.colorado.edu/~baldwind/sous-vide.html

Tough Meat

When cooking tough meats, two processes are of particular importance: the dissolving of collagen into gelatin and the melting of solid (saturated) fats.

Before sous-vide cooking, the dissolving of collagen into gelatin required cooking meat well done (between 160°F/70°C and 180°F/80°C) and holding it at that temperature for a couple of hours. The reason being that while collagen begins to dissolve at 131°F (55°C) [Thi06], it must be held at that temperature for 12--72 hours to have a significant effect---something impossible to achieve with conventional cooking methods. However, thanks to sous-vide's precise temperature control, it is both possible and quite common to cook tough cuts of meat for 24--48 hours at 131°F (55°C).

While collagen will begin to dissolve at 131°F (55°C), only 5--10% of the saturated fat in pork and beef will melt at that temperature. Nearly 60% of the saturated fat in pork and beef, the saturated fatty acid palmitic, melts at 145°F (62.8°C). The remaining 30--35%, the saturated fatty acid stearic, melts at 157°F (69.6°C). So in order to melt the saturated fat in pork and beef, it must be heated either above 145°F (62.8°C) or 157°F (69.6°C), depending on how much of the fat you want to melt.

The 2 paragraphs talk about 2 cooking ranges... 131 (which several people have done, including the beef ribs) and the higher temps to melt saturated fat. Since my personal trainer would normally want me to stay away from beef DUE TO saturated fat, I thought this test would see what happens if this PALMITIC and STEARIC was removed from the meat. Only problem is to determine IF IN FACT saturated fat was indeed removed. And from close up pictures of the flat slices, you can see there's plenty of connective tissue still in the meat. Any most telling to me is that this morning in my home kitchen was a 1/2 pan with all the au jus from the last bag of brisket. I fully expected it to be congealed fat (75-78 deg room temp) but it was almost yummy enough to drink. There was just a tiny thin scum layer on the top but nothing that resembled cold grease. If it (the fat?) wasn't in the bag, then was it still in the meat?

We cook an already awesome smoked brisket AND beef short rib on our smoker, so I don't see much value in using sous vide for these meats. I'd like to try more brisket flat at a lower temp just to experience that. It would be nice to hear from anyone who has an idea as to the fat issues.

More pics available directly from my gallery section:

http://www.jaymer-que.com/gallery/?Qwd=./B...umbs&Qis=M#qdig

jaymer...

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Put 5-6 bags on a sheet pan then into my warmer oven which is normally at 150. I kicked this up to 160 from 8pm to 8am, then back to 150 during store hrs. 

jaymer,

What type of SV equipment do/did you use for your brisket?


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

Michael T.

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My flickr collection

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Well, my favorite buffalo vendor was not at the Farmer's Market today, so the "only" other choice was bison from Twin Valley Farm in Wisconsin.

I opted for tenderloin, primarily because of the smaller cut size ( and as such - lower total cost), as well as perfect SV-ready packaging. The vendor lady warned me that bison cooking time would be about half compared to similar cuts of beef, she also said: "... if you overcook it - you ruin it". I explained that I would cook the meat in the vacuum bag, at a very low temperature - she appeared a bit confused: "I never heard of anything like that..."

I cooked the tenders at 60F for about 20 minutes, and held them at temperature for another 10 minutes - just enough to reduce veal stock to lucious demi, then seasoned the meat and seared it at high heat for 20-30 on each side before plating.

The texture of bison tender cooked SV is incredible - it is, literally, as soft as a marshmallow. Will make again anytime.

NB: 60F - medium-rare, more on the rare side - I don't know if bison tenders could sustain temperature any higher than that, without loosing juiciness and taste.


Edited by MikeTMD (log)

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

Michael T.

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

My flickr collection

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Hi all:

I'm just getting into sous vide and this thread is really informative. I have two questions that I need some help on:

1) I noticed that on Nathan's tables the rest times seem to vary from a few minutes to close to an hour. In conventional cooking, I would interpret rest time as the time out of the oven/skillet/grill etc. For example, For a 1.18 inch thick piece of meat cooked to a core temp of 60C, according to the table the cooking time is 54 minutes 28 seconds and the resting time is 54 minutes 29 sec. So, am I supposed to pull the bag out after an hour and let it rest for an hour? Or should I be doing something different?

2) In searching this thread I saw the recommended temp and time for lamb loin is 55C for 2-3 hours. Is that cook and serve? If I were to cook it for 3 hours, ice for an hour and refridgerate, how long can I hold the loin until I serve it?

Thank you for any advice you can throw my way!


Cognito ergo consume - Satchel Pooch, Get Fuzzy

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... In conventional cooking, I would interpret rest time as the time out of the oven/skillet/grill etc.  For example, For a 1.18 inch thick piece of meat cooked to a core temp of 60C, according to the table the cooking time is 54 minutes 28 seconds and the resting time is 54 minutes 29 sec.  So, am I supposed to pull the bag out after an hour and let it rest for an hour?  Or should I be doing something different?

Sartain,

I believe nathanm defined "resting time" as the period during which internal temperature stops rising and begins to fall, so it's really plateau time rather then resting time. You don't have to let your cooking bag sit for an hour after SV poaching, in fact I would strongly advise against it for Food Safety reasons - you choices are to serve immediately, or to cool your cooking bag rapidly, and refrigerate till service.

As far as how long to keep your SV bags refrigerated prior to service - you will hear a wide range of opinions on this matter, primarily because there isn't a magic number. Personally, I would be equally comfortable with 24-48-72 hour span, but, again, there will be other suggestions.


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

Michael T.

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

My flickr collection

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Food Safety reasons was precisely what gave me pause. A prolonged "rest" didn't make sense to me and I thought that maybe it should be a combined time (cook time + rest time = total time in bath). I guess that's not it either. :wacko:


Cognito ergo consume - Satchel Pooch, Get Fuzzy

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I believe nathanm defined "resting time" as the period during which internal temperature stops rising and begins to fall, so it's really plateau time rather then resting time. You don't have to let your cooking bag sit for an hour after SV poaching, in fact I would strongly advise against it for Food Safety reasons - you choices are to serve immediately, or to cool your cooking bag rapidly, and refrigerate till service.

Yes this is exactly it.

The only reason to have it rest is if you use a cooking bath temp that is much hotter than the final temp. Then you need to remove it and let it rest to allow the core temp to come up. But frankly this is a silly way to cook in most cases.


Nathan

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Food Safety reasons was precisely what gave me pause.  A prolonged "rest" didn't make sense to me and I thought that maybe it should be a combined time (cook time + rest time = total time in bath).  I guess that's not it either.  :wacko:

No, it's not. :-)

My personal preference is to cook for immediate service at home, which is opposite to what I'd do in a commercial environment.

What kind of SV set-up do you have?


Edited by MikeTMD (log)

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

Michael T.

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

My flickr collection

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I've got a Polyscience immersion circulator, which I hook up to a lexan tub. I'm relying on good ol' Foodsaver for now - can't afford a chamber machine yet. I did some chicken breasts tonight with some herbs, carmelized onions, gelled stock and butter. Didn't do the finishing step because I wanted to get that pure SV taste and texture sensation. Not bad - pretty tasty actually, but I would probably have preferred a quick sear at the end.


Cognito ergo consume - Satchel Pooch, Get Fuzzy

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      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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