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ronnie_suburban

Inside the Alinea Food Lab

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As an outside observer I feel very privileged to be afforded the opportunity to watch Chef Achatz work in the Alinea Food Lab. While I am intricately involved in the business of Alinea, obviously I am not a chef and will have no involvement in the creation of the dishes. As an amateur I have a unique perspective on Chef Achatz’ creative process, and the craft of cooking at such a high level.

Several things are striking.

Perhaps most surprising is that there are no shortcuts, nor are there significant differences in speed between Chefs Achatz, Duffy and Peters and a passionate, skilled home cook.

I watched Chef Peters peel grapes for nearly 2 hours, sweating at the brow, holding the grapes up closely to his eyes to be sure that he had removed all of the peel. This was accomplished with a pairing knife. Occasionally, one of the grapes would fall from the vine – which was intended to remain attached – and thereby render that grape useless. This all seemed like a terrible bother to me… peeled, unpeeled, what’s the difference? I thought this expenditure of tedious effort was for a minor difference in taste that would hardly be noticed. I mentioned this to Chef Peters.

“Have you ever tasted a peeled grape, Nick,” Chef said.

“I don’t really know,” I replied as he handed me one of the fallen grapes and picked a fresh one off the vine. I tried the grape with the peel first. Then I tried the peeled grape.

The difference was not subtle. The peeled grape was sweeter, fruitier, and lacked any bitterness or tannic taste. I must have given a curious look, because he just laughed, smiled at me, and went back to peeling grapes. Now I understood why.

gallery_21344_267_1098333950.jpg

Chef Peters' Peeled and Coated Grapes

Obviously, I think there is a great difference in speed and skill between Chef Peters and me. It would have taken me all day to peel those grapes, and they would have looked lousy. But my point is, I could peel 10 of them well – and serve them to guests – and it would be a lot of time and effort, just as it is for Chef Peters. There is no fancy grape-peeling gadget (at least, not that we know of…), and despite the difficulty, Chef Peters happily struggles through because it tastes better. And that is enough.

Watching Chef Achatz plate the Shellfish Sponge dish today was another eye opener. For several hours this morning he created the components to the dish. One of the key components, mussels, was cooked and then the mussel was removed. Then, Chef G spent another half hour removing small portions of the mussel to feature just the cutlet – a sort of filet of mussel.

Meanwhile, after reducing, gelatin in the form of alginate was added to the mussel broth and whipped for 30 minutes into the sponge. All of the complimentary flavor components were also cooked or cut delicately into their final form.

In and of themselves, none of these steps were significantly different than what I do for a typical dinner. I braise, I reduce, I sear. OK, I admit I don’t use much alginate, but once I see how that is done, I can blend in some alginate too if I need to. I can even use a kitchen-aid mixer!

But then, assembled before him are all of these components. And a mold ring. And 5 minutes later, using just a spoon and an offset spatula, there is this beautiful plate. It was nothing short of amazing, and it reminded me immediately why I am involved in this whole venture.

gallery_21344_267_1098323831.jpg

Grant plating the Seafood Sponge dish... this does NOT look easy!

gallery_21344_267_1098323936.jpg

CHef Achatz' "Seafood Sponge" as seen from above

All of this ends up sounding like a Monday-morning-quarterback watching a football game. Hey, he says, I can throw a ball, too. And it definitely feels that way. In the end, you know you can’t do it, but you think, just maybe, you can. And that is the fun of watching the process up close. The illusion of simplicity is right before you – there are no tricks – and yet, there exists this finely honed craft hidden just below the surface.

____________________________________________________

Very separate from the actual execution of the dishes is the process of conceptualizing them. In this regard, Chef Achatz considers everyone’s input and is one of those people who truly listens to what one has to say.

Today, one of the questions he had was, “what is pure bitter – how can we achieve pure bitter?” It sounds simple, but the contrast was: pure sweet is sugar, pure sour is citric acid, and pure salty is salt… so what is pure bitter?

In these exchanges Chef Achatz will listen to everyone. He is exceptional at taking in a divergence of thought and honing the concepts down to the salient idea. In this case, everyone had some input ranging from “burn anything and it’s bitter” to specifics like coffee, unsweetened chocolate, a tea of hops. As a first effort, Chef Duffy burned sugar (intentionally..), and then diluted that with water, then reduced it. The final dish might be self-encapsulated flavors of sweet, salty, sour and bitter… then again it may not. But the process is one of pure creation… of shouting out ideas without fear of judgment.

And here, in the purely conceptual realm, everyone is an equal player.

__________________________________________________________________

There are several techniques I will certainly take away from watching the chefs and use in my own home cooking….

The most obvious is cooking Sous Vide. I know that sous vide cooking has been covered extensively on eGullet, so I will not delve into the details. But it is a wonderful cooking method that can be achieved with a FoodSaver, a digital thermometer, and a pot of water. It is difficult to overcook items if the water temperature is properly regulated, and the flavor lives up to the ideal of chefs like Achatz, Keller, and Trotter: a purity of flavor based on the foodstuff itself.

On that same note, I am constantly struck by the fact that the best sauces I have ever had have but one main ingredient in them – the thing itself. So at this point if I wanted to make a grapefruit sauce, or a pea soup, or a tart lemon sauce, I would cryovac the grapefruit, cook it sous-vide for a few hours, and blend it smooth (peel and all) with a little cold water. At the end I might add some sugar or salt. That’s it.

gallery_21344_267_1098334790.jpg

Chef Achatz spices the vermouth for the mussels, while halved passion fruit cook sous vide

It is astonishing to see this method and then to taste the final product. Yet, despite the relative simplicity of the cooking method itself, and the ability to craft one component of the dish well, I am left amazed by Chef Achatz' ability to create a unified whole out of 10-15 flavor components. Ultimately, this is the real skill, the art, which eludes the rank amateur.

I am left with a note, Chef G ends up with a composition.

gallery_21344_267_1098322183.jpg

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Simply gorgeous. I'm astounded at the beauty represented here.

On that same note, I am constantly struck by the fact that the best sauces I have ever had have but one main ingredient in them – the thing itself. So at this point if I wanted to make a grapefruit sauce, or a pea soup, or a tart lemon sauce, I would cryovac the grapefruit, cook it sous-vide for a few hours, and blend it smooth (peel and all) with a little cold water. At the end I might add some sugar or salt. That’s it.

I am very happy to hear that very inspiring bit of advice.

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ChefG:

I have a question regarding the seafood sponge...

I came across a kilo of alginate and have only experimented minimally with it. I am amazed by the potential of this product. My problem is: there aren't too many resources regarding the use of alginate in cooking that I have been able to find. I love your use of it to create this ethereal, whipped mound of flavor...but I am curious: what ratio do you use it in? From experience I have found that a little goes a long way, but I thought it might be worth the time to ask the mad scientist himself. So far I have only used it to keep gelato from crystallizing and thicken lightly reduced sauces...but even then it was pretty much a guessing game as far as amounts. Can you lend any advice?

Thanks

B


"Make me some mignardises, &*%$@!" -Mateo

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I cannot believe we are actually observing this process, the Alinea R&D oner could call it. It really is one of the most amazing things to see how these delectables are created.

With the broccoli dish, it is very interesting how rustic the stem/bread combination looks right before plating and how refined it becomes after it is plated.

Thanks for sharing this with us.

Elie


E. Nassar
Houston, TX

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

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Please keep this coming. It is amazing. I can't wait until I have the opportunity to try some or all of these dishes and others. The sheer creativity is phenomenal. The writing, too, is a pleasure to read.

As far as the dried creme brulee, are you going to discard the idea because someone else came up with a similar product presumably through a different process? That is the impression I got and I hope it ain't so as yours looked marvellous.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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ChefG:

I have a question regarding the seafood sponge...

I came across a kilo of alginate and have only experimented minimally with it. I am amazed by the potential of this product. My problem is: there aren't too many resources regarding the use of alginate in cooking that I have been able to find. I love your use of it to create this ethereal, whipped mound of flavor...but I am curious: what ratio do you use it in? From experience I have found that a little goes a long way, but I thought it might be worth the time to ask the mad scientist himself. So far I have only used it to keep gelato from crystallizing and thicken lightly reduced sauces...but even then it was pretty much a guessing game as far as amounts. Can you lend any advice?

Thanks

B

Actually that is a typo on Nick's part. We used gelatin to make the shellfish sponge. We use the alginates as thickening agents and as a method for encapsulation.

This seems slightly off topic but I feel your segue is the perfect opportunity to comment on something that has bothered me for some time now.

Mad scientist is not an image that I would proudly carry, and I think there is a real problem with the misconception and labeling of chefs that are executing forward thinking cuisine as being such. Science is important in cooking, and some might be able to argue that the techniques that are becoming widely known as of late seem very scientific on the surface. But I can’t say how different any of them are compared to the leavening qualities of baking powder.

We are somewhat to blame for this public perception. Simply calling our test kitchen a lab certainly doesn’t help matters, nor does the use of freeze dryers, syringes and memberships to IFT. The important thing is to understand is these things are tools and knowledge…… NOT the origin. The syringe is merely a tool, the understanding of the molecular structure of gellan gum is knowledge.

For some reason we all seem to enjoy the vision of a chef in the kitchen filled with test tubes and beakers mixing ingredients together in random fashion and impatiently awaiting the results. It happens quite the opposite. Each of these concepts are developed based on their intent. If one of us brings an idea to the table that requires the development of a new technique, the processes and ingredients must be sought out and worked on. Each step is guided by the cooks’ instinct far more than his knowledge of food on a molecular level. Food originating from science lacks a tangible comfort, it lacks sensuality, it lacks soul.

My commentary is not meant to be defensive. However, as this style of cooking becomes more popular I think the people involved in it need to take control of its image so the public perception is not false. At the core of any great meal is a great cook, regardless of the style of cuisine, not a great scientist. I want my food to be enjoyed just as Chef Keller,Trotter, and Adria want theirs to be, on every level.


Edited by chefg (log)

--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

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I apologize, Chef... I certainly meant no disrespect towards your cuisine or the techniques and struggle and strain that go into its creation. If anything, I was attempting to show great respect for you and those chefs out there who do break down preconceived notions of preparations of food. Too often I hear disdain for what is referred to as avante garde cuisine. People who hear, see, think, and even taste dogmatically commenting on the lack of culinary value. Whimsy is as important to cooking and eating as I believe science is. Like you say, you can set a tone for an entire tasting just by appealing to an emotion, memory or philosophy of the diner with the first bite.

So again, I apologize...you are certainly not "mad"...


"Make me some mignardises, &*%$@!" -Mateo

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Too often I hear disdain for what is referred to as avante garde cuisine. People who hear, see, think, and even taste dogmatically commenting on the lack of culinary value.

This is exactly what I am talking about.

No disrespect taken.


--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

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okay, so all that aside, in making the sponge, you obviously use less gelatin than you would to make a firm gel, right? In the pictures in does appear to be very resilient (seeing the pool of green liquid suspended in the sponge suggests this), but I am curious as to what kind of proportions you recommend using for these results.

Also, with the alginate...do you use a digital scale to get the amounts needed for the encapsulation? I also have 100 g of calcium chloride, but I have yet to purchase a scale that measures in grams, so I am leary of experimenting quite yet. I know that you are supposed to make a 2% solution of the liquid being encapsulated and the alginate and a 1% solution of the calcium chloride...so in the kitchen do you measure these amounts out with a digital scale?

I am sure that this is not the exactly appropriate place to post these q's, but I figured they would be seen quicker. Thanks, chef...

with the utmost respect.

B.Lee


"Make me some mignardises, &*%$@!" -Mateo

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okay, so all that aside, in making the sponge, you obviously use less gelatin than you would to make a firm gel, right? In the pictures in does appear to be very resilient (seeing the pool of green liquid suspended in the sponge suggests this), but I am curious as to what kind of proportions you recommend using for these results.

Also, with the alginate...do you use a digital scale to get the amounts needed for the encapsulation? I also have 100 g of calcium chloride, but I have yet to purchase a scale that measures in grams, so I am leary of experimenting quite yet. I know that you are supposed to make a 2% solution of the liquid being encapsulated and the alginate and a 1% solution of the calcium chloride...so in the kitchen do you measure these amounts out with a digital scale?

I am sure that this is not the exactly appropriate place to post these q's, but I figured they would be seen quicker. Thanks, chef...

with the utmost respect.

B.Lee

The sponge is the result of a ratio containing 1 sheet of gelatin to 75 ML of shellfish liquid.

Yes, very acturate digital scales are required for the measuring of most ingredients in the kitchen. All of our recipes are in metric and all of them are documented to the gram, some to the half gram if necessary. Your percentages seemed to be reversed. We basically use a 1% solution of alginate and a 2% calcium solution, but that can vary depending on what base liquid you are dealing with.


--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

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ChefG

In the food lab, it looks like you guys are cooking sous vide in a pot over the range, albeit with a thermometer. Many of the folks on the forum swear that you need to have a lab water bath or super special equipment to cook via this technique? Is that true or can you use a regular range as long as you are careful to keep the temp within a couple of degrees?

Thanks again for sharing your vision with the group


"That the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred." Goethe

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ChefG

In the food lab, it looks like you guys are cooking sous vide in a pot over the range, albeit with a thermometer.  Many of the folks on the forum swear that you need to have a lab water bath or super special equipment to cook via this technique?  Is that true or can you use a regular range as long as you are careful to keep the temp within a couple of degrees?

Thanks again for sharing your vision with the group

No special equipment required. However, I have neither used nor seen a special “lab water bath” as you stated, it may provide the ultimate control in regards to temperature. We have been highly successful with a conventional range and an electronic thermometer. We even used a food saver at Trio until we could afford a commercial machine to vacuum the bags. We feel that induction heat sources are the most accurate and economical type for the sous vide cooking we do. They provide very consistent, low maintenance temperature control.

Depending on what you are cooking, and the desired effect, determines the temperature range you must keep the ingredients in. For proteins we are within 2 degrees of the determined temperature. It is amazing the difference between 136-138-140 degree lamb when cooking in this manner. The fact that the entire piece of protein is the target temperature leaves little room for error. In other words if you are sautéing and finishing a piece of meat in the oven and you mis-time it a few minutes early the middle will be rare…but graduating out from the center you will find medium-rare, medium, medium well and well. So the rare in the middle becomes less obvious. If you mis-temp during sous-vide by a few degrees you will be left with the entire piece either chewy rare or protein coagulated medium-well.


--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

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ChefG

In the food lab, it looks like you guys are cooking sous vide in a pot over the range, albeit with a thermometer.  Many of the folks on the forum swear that you need to have a lab water bath or super special equipment to cook via this technique?  Is that true or can you use a regular range as long as you are careful to keep the temp within a couple of degrees?

Thanks again for sharing your vision with the group

No special equipment required. However, I have neither used nor seen a special “lab water bath” as you stated, it may provide the ultimate control in regards to temperature. We have been highly successful with a conventional range and an electronic thermometer. We even used a food saver at Trio until we could afford a commercial machine to vacuum the bags. We feel that induction heat sources are the most accurate and economical type for the sous vide cooking we do. They provide very consistent, low maintenance temperature control.

Depending on what you are cooking, and the desired effect, determines the temperature range you must keep the ingredients in. For proteins we are within 2 degrees of the determined temperature. It is amazing the difference between 136-138-140 degree lamb when cooking in this manner. The fact that the entire piece of protein is the target temperature leaves little room for error. In other words if you are sautéing and finishing a piece of meat in the oven and you mis-time it a few minutes early the middle will be rare…but graduating out from the center you will find medium-rare, medium, medium well and well. So the rare in the middle becomes less obvious. If you mis-temp during sous-vide by a few degrees you will be left with the entire piece either chewy rare or protein coagulated medium-well.

Chef,

there was this cool sous-vide thread earlier on eGullet that had a link to an ebay page with medical waterbaths available at a great price.

the thread is here:

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showto...st=60&p=741029&

i have had great success with the medical baths over the past year (they are very reliable overnight for 24+hour slow cooking) with gentle heat sources and narrow temp ranges that the med industry requires. I think they are worth a look/see.

We also have used the on-range technique you described above the with smaller packages/digital thermometer to much satisfaction also.

hope that is informative in some way and good luck in January.

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Chef(s) -

A question was posted earlier and I don't think it was answered, but I am also very curious to know. Are you still going to serve the Caramel orb creme brulee even though, Jose andres is doing something similar? It just looks amazing and it had a lot of time invested in it for it to go to waste.

Elie


E. Nassar
Houston, TX

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

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Chef(s) -

A question was posted earlier and I don't think it was answered, but I am also very curious to know. Are you still going to serve the Caramel orb creme brulee even though, Jose andres is doing something similar? It just looks amazing and it had a lot of time invested in it for it to go to waste.

Elie

This brings up an interesting point I think, and one that has been debated ad infinitum elsewhere: what is the value of originality and can you be truly original.

I read about the Jose Andres Caramel Light Bulb and brought it to Chef Achatz attention. The irony to us is that we had no knowledge of its existence and yet Chef Achatz independently conceived of a similar dish and the team was working to make it happen. No doubt, had Chef Achatz not acknowledged the existence of the "other" orb, he would have been accused of being derivitive or worse. So one is made sensitive by the nature of this medium - - the internet and its instant information -- and the nature of the critic and of creativity itself. Also, it should be noted, we still have not seen this other orb, and do not know if it is indeed similar to Chef Achatz' Orb of Dried Creme Brulee. Perhaps someone else could inform us on this matter.

I have even seen it happen with my ideas... as most likely you have as well. I have had a few notions of how to technically realize some of Chef's ideas only to find out that someone has done that already. At the end of the day, we may feel like we are a beaten to the punch... but then again, it is easy to point out, how many caramel orbs have you seen?

I may not be expressing my point very well here, but it is this: two artists within the same craft often arrive at similar ideas at or near the same time. Neither should be diminished by this... if anything it is empowering. It certainly has precendents that I can think of in other mediums - -- most obviously visual arts.

So in my book, this is an excellent, well achieved amouse that should remain on the Alinea tasting menu.... but ultimately this is always for Chef Achatz to decide... and I do not know his decision on this...

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Also, it should be noted, we still have not seen this other orb, and do not know if it is indeed similar to Chef Achatz' Orb of Dried Creme Brulee. Perhaps someone else could inform us on this matter.

Nick,

Check out this thread, page 3 (scroll down about half way).

José Andrés' Minibar, run, don't walk, to Café Atlantico

=R=


"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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Thanks Ron... I figured someone would find a picture for us.. just not that fast (and I did Google it!)...

Well, Chef's is quite different than that -- they are similar in that they are both (I assume) "pulled" sugar -- or in our case moulded sugar. Is there anything inside the Andres Bulb...?

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It would appear Jose's lightbulb has existed for quite some time now....

Mike


Edited by mikeczyz (log)

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Well, Chef's is quite different than that -- they are similar in that they are both (I assume) "pulled" sugar -- or in our case moulded sugar.  Is there anything inside the Andres Bulb...?

José Andres uses hot isomalt to make the bulb.

They place a blinking (usually blue) LED inside.

J.

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The sponge is the result of a ratio containing 1 sheet of gelatin to 75 ML of shellfish liquid.

Chef,

I remember a "dessert" course in the TDF that was a rutabega sponge, was this the same ratio that you used for that?

And have you used other "gelling" agents to be able to do the sponge warm?

Thanks in advance for the info.

Really enjoying the thread.


Patrick Sheerin

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Hi Chef Achatz,

I really enjoy reading the Alinea Food Lab posts. I think it is very interesting that you seem to be blending both culinary and food science knowledge. After reading about the Caramel Bubble and the PB&J, where do you draw the line in your menu development? Are there any ideas that are too absurd? I'm also wondering what it is you are striving for with the Alinea menu...what standards must these new items meet? What is it that makes you say "okay" to one menu item and "no" to another?

Thank you for your time,

Rebcameron

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Chef Achatz,

This is truely amazing stuff! I have to tell you that reading about your platings is a somewhat perplexing experience. I wish I had a 3D display (with zoom capability) on my computer! Flat images are coming up a bit short, IMHO, but please keep posting them. :cool:

- Would you please introduce your Sous Chefs in brief detail? Who are Mssrs. Peters and Duffy, and how did they come to be selected for duty in the lab? How far in advance are they made aware of your recipes?

Recently, on the serviceware thread, you show several images of the Nantucket Bay Scallop with roasted pear, oil and licorice being served on antennas.

- Forgive my ignorance, was this recipe developed in the lab? Is a close up of the Scallop serving available?

Thank you for your time.

Regards from DC,

- CSR


"There's something very Khmer Rouge about Alice Waters that has become unrealistic." - Bourdain; interviewed on dcist.com

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Chef(s) -

A question was posted earlier and I don't think it was answered, but I am also very curious to know. Are you still going to serve the Caramel orb creme brulee even though, Jose andres is doing something similar? It just looks amazing and it had a lot of time invested in it for it to go to waste.

Elie

I have not decided what to do with the dried crème brulee. My first impulse was to abandon the dish. This undoubtedly stems from past accusations that my cuisine is imported directly from el Bulli. Of course the dish is like nothing I have ever seen produced by Adria, and after some research I discovered it is also very different than Jose’s. After realizing the originality of the dish was still intact, I was still reluctant to pursue the dish to completion. This was frustrating and it ultimately lead to more thought on the subject of “being first” and how important that was.

The priority to bring ideas to the table before the peers will undoubtably produce a cuisine that is very shallow. I prefer to let the process happen organically, this way the dishes that come out of contemporary kitchens will have certain maturity. If the point is merely to be first, the result will be a style of cuisine that is haphazardly conceived, executed and short lived. Each dish and technique destined to the garbage can at the expense of the next and so on. This will leave no grounding elements, no identifiers, and eventually the characteristics that make this style of cuisine so exciting will kill it off.

Creativity, originality and evolution are still the driving forces behind what we do.


--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

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Recently, on the serviceware thread, you show several images of the Nantucket Bay Scallop with roasted pear, oil and licorice being served on antennas.

-  Forgive my ignorance, was this recipe developed in the lab? Is a close up of the Scallop serving available?

Here is the picture you requested:

gallery_21344_267_1099403290.jpg

Chef Achatz developed this dish for this benefit. It was conceived and prepared by Chef G and the Alinea team in the "lab".

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. This was frustrating and it ultimately lead to more thought on the subject of “being first” and how important that was.

Creativity, originality and evolution are still the driving forces behind what we do.

i was told by my former headchef who worked for the creative team at el bulli in this last season that ferran adria doesn´t read any cookbooks or has a favourite chef or anything else....

i like this attitude a lot because it shows that mr.adria is like an artist. inspired by almost everything he is getting in contact with visual, emotional etc....

challenged every year to be the "first" mr.adria is using the power of pr and marketing to announce his new creations before anybody else is coming up with something similar.

i think this new form of avantgarde cooking led to a head to head race. everybody wants to be first. new machines and techniques are essential and you don´t have to be a trained chef anymore which is, in my opinion, a little bit sad. where is the end of this avantgarde "cooking"? eating gels, airs or even just aromas? having the ultimate experience? time will show us....

anyway i like your version of "creme brulee" and i think you should share your vision with your audience. marco pierre white once said "at the end of the day it´s just food"

you are so right marco!

vue

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    • By mjbarnard
      I cooked two turkey breasts sous vide. This year had access to the Meater+ thermometer probe which I managed to vacuum seal in the bag without difficulty (it is small). Since it works wirelessly I was able to monitor and it records the internal temperatures at the thickest part of the breast.
      I thought the results were interesting. I cooked at 60C for 8 hours. I have always used https://www.chefsteps.com/activities/a-better-way-to-turkey-cook-that-bird-sous-vide-for-the-best-feast-ever which gives long cooking times at lower temperature. I have found that as according to this page https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2014/11/sous-vide-turkey-breast-crispy-skin-recipe-thanksgiving.html that 55C gives turkey which is just a little too pink for most tastes. Over the last few years have increased the temperature up to 59/60 and I find it perfect - very moist and tender, but pale not pink.
      See attached images. I changed my mind a couple of times and started at 58 then 60 then 59 again, so ignore the slight variations. The thing I found interesting was that the thickest part (of a large breast) reached 55C in around 1 hour 40 mins and target of 59 in 2 hours 30 mins. Now I appreciate that sous vide is a combination of temperature and time or duration, but the data make me think that around 4 hours would be sufficient, as per the seriouseats table. I have previously used the chefsteps 55-58 for their much longer advised times, up to 12 hours and the meat is still quite pink at the end, so I dont believe 55 for 12 hours would effectively be the same.
      From now on I will watching the internal temperatures with interest. This has always been the (relative) unkown for sous vide amateurs. 


    • By chefg
      I have to say designing the Alinea kitchen has been one of the most exciting experiences thus far in the opening of this restaurant. I have been fortunate to have been “raised” in some of the best kitchens in the country. When I arrived at the French Laundry in August 1996 the “new kitchen” had just been completed. Often times you would hear the man talk about the good old days of cooking on a residential range with only one refrigerator and warped out sauté pans with wiggly handles. When I started about 50% of the custom stainless steel was in place. The walls smooth with tile and carpet on the floors. I recall the feeling of anxiety when working for fear that I would dirty up the kitchen, not a common concern for most cooks in commercial kitchens.
      The French Laundry kitchen didn’t stop, it continued to evolve over the four years I was there. I vividly remember the addition of the custom fish/canapé stainless unit. Allowing the poissonier to keep his mise en place in beautiful 1/9 pan rails instead of the ice cube filled fish lugs. Each advancement in technology and ergonomics made the kitchen a more efficient and exacting machine.
      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
      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
    • By chefg
      In November of 2002 I decided to pursue the development of service ware to support the cuisine we were producing. This process was initiated by one dish; we wanted to present a frozen sucker of unusual flavors. The making of the actual dish seemed easy…basically pick a flavor. But finding the appropriate holder proved very difficult. It was this difficulty that forced us to entertain the thought of building are own.
      I contacted over 30 designers via email explaining my desire to produce service pieces based on function as the priority as opposed to aesthetics. Pieces would be built around the food, supporting the dish based on its characteristics. Of the 30 designers I contacted only one replied, Martin Kastner of Crucial Detail. We bounced emails back and forth for a period of time, as we got to know each other’s desire to be involved in this collaboration the process developed into more than just a holder for a frozen sucker.
      As you can see




      Martin proposed several solutions before we settled on the final form. He suggested that the sphere of ice had enough strength to support three pivoting legs.

      The legs would become the holder, and when squeezed they would collapse to form the utensil from which the pop would be eaten.

      We realized that the service of food has remained basically the same for the last 200 years. Looking at how cuisine had developed in the last ten years it became obvious that the need to support the food functionally and emotionally was crucial to the success of the cuisine itself. The involvement of the serving pieces and actual eating utensils plays an enormous role in the emotions that guests can experience while dining. The pieces can add humor, surprise, intrigue, excitement and even a sense of intimidation to the meal. When these emotions are triggered, it leaves a very personal stamp on the experience based on the individual’s reactions. I realized the synergy of food and the serving pieces helps the chef convey the message to the guest. A personalized emotional experience is created, solidifying a meal into a form of art.
      As food has advanced in technique it has at times become more difficult to serve. For example we wanted to create palate cleanser that was a single bite of intensely flavored ice. I wanted the food to quickly melt on the palate as opposed to the normal sorbet course. We created an ice chip the size of a half dollar and about 3 mm thick. This rapid dissolving is the essence of a palate cleanser…if its purpose is to refresh do you really want multiple bites? One bite…an intense clearing that lacks time and monotony is what we decided this course should be. The problem was finding something that we could serve this very thin ice chip on. This led to the creation of the eye.


      Of course sight is essential to conveying emotion and in all of the pieces developed we look at the aesthetic value. But in some cases the final form is very dramatic. This is the case of the squid.

      Upon the creation of the Tempura Shrimp cranberry, preserved lemon, vanilla fragrance we found it necessary to present the composition in an upright position. This would give the guest a visual cue as to how to eat the dish, lowering the end into their mouth while keeping the vanilla bean vertical. Since the dish was tempura fried it was necessary to provide air circulation to avoid steam from softening the exterior. All of these attributes lead to the design of a very dramatic piece that executes the function but also adds a high level of visual appeal.

      During the course of developing these pieces we made conscious efforts to create pieces that would change the mechanics of eating. The repetition of lifting a piece of silverware to ones mouth seemed unnecessary in some cases, and this thought lead Martin to the antenna concept.

      The goal was to eliminate the need for a plate and utensils with the exception of the skewer itself. It becomes the only vehicle in the process of preparation, serving, and consumption of the course. Additionally it controls the way the three different components of the dish hit the palate due to their position on the skewer.


      This helps us achieve complexity in flavor and texture.
      After several discussions about serving pieces and what we were trying to achieve, Martin approached me with a concept that involved hiding the food.



      This had been done before; we have all experience the dramatic lifting of a cloche…revealing the food underneath. But what about taking that a step further? Hold the surprise of what was “underneath” until it was on the guest’s palate. We have been working on the pouch since March.

      This service piece could help us provide a great sense of excitement and intrigue when a given course is served. This concept has not yet been completed. As you can see we started with a few approaches and it has evolved into something quite different.




      The bow was designed specifically to hang foodstuffs that had characteristics of lightness, motion, and delicacy. Rather than lie a thinly sliced piece of cured duck breast or a piece of savory vegetable leather on a plate, we could give the food dimension.... and encourage movement by creating a piece that swayed slightly when transported and placed on the table.

      It has become quite typical in high-end restaurants to serve small bites on spoons propped up on folded napkins. I wanted to create a plate that would support the spoon from the bowl not the handle. When Martin presented me with images of the antiplate I knew it was perfect. The simplicity and scale of the piece draws attention to the food and at the same time makes it very easy for the guest to pick up the utensil. I am going to hold this image back for a period, we will insert it later.
      We have more pieces in development, as they mature I will add them to this thread.
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