Being a Chef Coffee is one of the most important elements of the day, it is generally the relaxed time at the beginning of the day where ideas are discussed and the time in the middle of the day when you need that boost get you to the end of the day. There are times when I have been so busy, stressed and exhausted that I have been known to consume up to 20 double shot coffees in a day! One of my most fond memories of living in Shanghai and generally of my career is arriving in the mornings and discussing Food, Chefs and life in general with Paul Pairet (who is still one of the most knowledgeable Chefs I have ever known (I would say Genius but I am sure it would go to his head)), during this time we would plan the days testing and production plus I would soak in his wealth of experience. We would be talking and drinking coffee until we realized how much time had passed then we would get back in the kitchen, but in this time we could drink many double espressos without a problem. I guess what I am trying to say is Coffee is an important part of any Chefs daily routine.
Now back to the topic of “The technique of Coffee”. Many years ago when I was living in London I was fortunate enough to recieve an invitation from the owner of the only Organic Coffee company in London to come and learn the art of coffee roasting. So we spent the day going through every process of history, growing, harvesting, shipping, roasting, grinding, and brewing. So basically everything! As a Chef it is interesting to know where it comes from etc. but for me the most interest was in the different types of beans and even the variance of flavor of the same bean which has been produced in a different climate. When it comes time for roasting there are many things to look or even listen for to see when the beans are ready. The roaster reminded me of a fancy cement mixer as it is a copper drum which is heated from the outside and is constantly spinning, when it is almost done the roaster will remove a few beans every 20 seconds to see if it is done, what they are looking for is a line of white to appear on the split in the bean, if you listen carefully you can actually hear them pop when the white appears.
The first reason I wanted to write about this is because Baristas seem to have a very strong passion for there product as do Chefs. There are a very few elements involved in making a coffee so bad technique cannot be hidden like a plate which has only a few ingredients. Starting from the grind of the coffee each step has its Critical control point, if the grind is too fine it will be too hard for the water to pass through therefore the coffee will be bitter and burnt. on the flip side if the grind is too coarse the water will pass through too fast and not allow enough time to extract the Crema (oil). Next we have how much coffee to put in the group head and how tight to pack it with the same results as point 1. The milk is a very interesting topic, I have been taught by many people in Australia (where I still claim you can get one of the best cups of coffee in the world from almost everywhere and it is purely down to how silky the milk froth is), on my last trip to Copenhagen I met with a man who was conducting a 6 month study all the aspects of milk foaming for coffee in the University of Copenhagen. The best kind of milk to use is Homogenized and it should be started from around 2-4 degrees, the smaller the bubbles in milk makes it appear silky on your tongue and ensure you coffee does not drop an inch like when you have big bubbles. To get the best bubble pattern you need a vertical rotation so the bubbles are constantly being split into smaller bubbles.
My last point is one I hope you share with others, you do not need to boil the milk for coffee. I cant tell you how many times I have burnt my mouth trying to drink a coffee, any good barista will tell you the milk should only reach a maximum of 65 – 70 degrees as it will hold the air better and it also blends with the coffee without disturbing the beautiful crema on top.
You may be asking (if you didnt give up reading before this point)why has he got so much to say about coffee? A bad coffee at the end of a meal can leave a bad taste in your mouth and over shadow the experience of your dinner. The most ironic point of this whole story is I am sitting here writing this drinking a camomile tea as I am on a 3 week detox diet (maybe thats why I am dreaming of coffee).
One of the most Highly anticipated debates of Madrid Fusion 2009 was a collaboration between 5 of the industries greatest; Ferran Adria, Heston Blumenthal, Andoni Luiz Andruiz, Harold McGee and Davide Cassi. It was a debate of the name “Molecular Gastronomy” and when the cuisine was first created. I was interviewed by Time Magazine yesterday and asked my reaction to the debate. As anyone knows who reads my blog, I am very passionate about pushing creativity and encouraging people to construct dishes with Flavor and Balance as paramount. I personally don’t think it is so much in the name of the cuisine, but instead if all Chefs were honest and stopped thinking of Progressive cuisine as a way to get your face on the TV and Magazines through their magic shows whatever name it was called would still be relevant. I am developing my own style of Progressive cuisine everyday and creating new techniques both Chemical and non Chemical so I am not against this cuisine,I am part of it. I am against stupid people (sorry there is no positive way to put it), if you are honest with food you will be recognized (and get your TV appearances as well), you don’t have to do something you saw on the Internet or read in the small brochure when you bought your Texturas Spherification pack, imagination is a lot better! Classic techniques and good cooking will always be the backbone of progressive cuisine, if you don’t understand food you will not respect it, and if you don’t respect it you will never get the most out of it. I guess I am just getting a little tired of the same dishes and techniques in different restaurants. So I believe the name is totally irrelevant (yes I agree Molecular Gastronomy sounds pretentious and I have never used it to describe my food) it is the people who are practising the style, all Chefs have the responsibility to act as an ambassador to the cuisine or else the next name will need to be changed as well. 1 option Ferran offered was “Gastronomic Science”, but I liked Harold McGee’s take on the whole thing better Simply “Gastronomy”
All Chefs agreed that the Chefs and Consumers who are fighting the use of science in the kitchen need to take a good look around themselves as everything in our society is a product of one science or another.
Try to think of the last time you visited the same restaurant twice, was it the same both times, chances are no? A Chef is measured on consistency, and when you have a team of Chefs numbering more than 30 as I have had in a couple of my restaurants you need to be sure they are all doing it the same way, by applying science to what you do it becomes more precise and you have measurable goals and limits using more specialized instruments than your finger or your eyes. This does not take the instinct away from a Chef as many are afraid but it just allows your Chefs to be able to replicate a flavor or technique you love and the guest to get what they paid for.
Something I am very crazy Passionate about is Foie Gras terrine’s. The reason is Foie Gras is such a delicate product and to achieve the perfect terrine takes a lot of effort, practice and strong knowledge of cookery, both basic and modern techniques are necessary. In 7 out of 10 places you order Foie Gras terrine you are sure to get an average to bad result. This is because there are so many crucial points to pay attention to and often in a busy kitchen 1 or 2 steps are missed or overlooked and the result tells this story. One of the most important points of making a foie gras terrine is you need to make it when you have a clear mind and the time to dedicate only to the terrine, it MUST be made with Love and absolute attention! For all those Chefs out there who spend their life buying pre-made terrines that come off an assembly line (Rougie for example) take some time and learn the skill as the satisfaction is an amazing feeling and the result can slightly vary each time depending on the time of year, quality of Foie gras, weight, etc. The perfect terrine (according to me) is one where you can see all the individual lobes arranged on top of each other when you cut a slice but stays firmly together. So here are a few points (without giving too much away) to help you next time to attempt a terrine:
- Always work with Gloves and some silicon paper on your chopping board as Foie gras is a fat like butter and will take even the slightest of smells (as flavor is made up of up to 80% aroma this makes a huge impact).
- Select all the lobes very carefully; Duck foie gras should be about 500 – 550 g and goose around 700g and springs back when you press your finger in. An over weight lobe has been produced with profits in mind but will all melt away on cooking as the cells can’t handle the amount of fat and the result will be a dry terrine.
- Give the Foie Gras enough time to temper (become room temperature) wrapped in some baking paper, this way the veins will come out much easier.
- When de-veining make sure you know what you are doing first of all, and second that you make cuts and not “paste” the Foie Gras as cut foie Gras will melt less in the cooking process. For a terrine it is best to only take the primary and secondary veins from the large and small lobes to not disturb too much and melt during cooking.
- Marinating in Sodium Nitrate (saltpetre) will keep the terrine Pink.
- Dry sufficiently before seasoning
- When seasoning work out the quantities of each that best suits your taste, every chef has a proportion that he uses religiously (and please don’t forget to season as this is a mistake I made only once as a Apprentice and I will remember this lesson forever as I was punished Harshly, and for good reason).
- Arrange in terrine mold ensuring no air gaps, a well built terrine is half the battle. Vacuum pack in the terrine to eliminate the last of the air.
- Allow to set over night in the fridge.
- Cook in a steamer at 80 degrees until your desired core temperature (this you will have to work out for yourself as I can’t do all the work for you).
- Press after cooking firm enough to bring together and expel the small parts of fat and blood but not too much to make it dry, reserve the fat and use for another purpose later. Chill over night then remove from terrine.
- Keep out of the light as much as possible using aluminium foil.
I was lucky enough to have the right contacts (Journalists, 2 embassies, General manager and Chefs) to get into Noma (Restaurant magazine number 3 in the world) with only 4 days warning, as I was told the wait list is now 3 months, so thank you for all those who helped make it happen. It is a restaurant with many varying opinions from everyone I have spoken to, some totally love it and others really did not get it and felt scandalized when the bill arrived (as we paid 350€ per person), but there is an old saying which is you can tell how good a restaurant is when the bill arrives as if you thoroughly enjoyed it the amount does not make you flinch but an average to bad experience will make your stomach sink. We arrived 30 minutes early so we decided to take some drinks in the bar, the Sous Chef came out to greet us as he was aware I was coming and they brought us some exceptional snacks to go with the drinks such as; Radishes in a pot with fake edible “Dirt”, a crispy chicken skin sandwich, hay smoked quails egg. The beer almost stole the show as it was spectacular, made with tree sap and brewed on the premises! The menu was chosen for us to give us the best overall experience of the restaurant and as the food was chosen we left the wines in the capable hands of the Sommelier. The Style of Noma is very light and honest, with a wide use of different products mostly all from Scandinavia and a large majority of dishes containing no meat or seafood but instead vegetables cooked to perfection and very well balanced. The style is a little rustic, which suits the food very well as it is a more natural presentation to match a uniquely light and natural content. The bread was a little heavy as it was baked in cupcake molds but the butter served was truly addictive it was a high quality danish butter blended with fresh cheese from Iceland, we must of eaten 4 dishes of it. The table agreed that the highlight of the night was the plate which contained many types of root veg (all of which came from an area in Denmark with a high salt content in the soil) and was served with a Milk gel that melted in the mouth. The whole dish was fresh with the right amount of crunch in each vegetable like they had all been cooked by 1 Chef each, finished with a spoon of Burnt butter the dish pleased every aspect of texture and balance. Even with a 350€ price tag I will be definitely returning on the next trip to Copenhagen.
A couple of weeks back I made a anti plancha (a teppan grill that works with cold (-190 degrees celsius)) using liquid nitrogen instead of heat. Since then I have been trying to achieve a hot and cold macaroon that is prepared at the table by the service staff. Well it pretty much Rocks! Today I made a hot and cold Truffle Aero mash, the texture is “melting” with a definite frozen crack on the top and bottom and as you bite through you reveal a warm mousse comforting inside, so effectively you have 2 textures and temperatures of the same flavor. But I will let you work out the rest of the flavors and process yourself, I don’t want to give too much away………..
When you get a fantastic photographer to photograph your food it can make it really come alive, but on the flip side if you take a bad picture the food can look like rubbish. Like Chefs every photographer has his own unique style and generally the good ones are as temperamental and bad tempered as Chefs. A photo was taken of a very simple dish of mine 2 or 3 months ago and as you can see, it is simple yet spectacular. It is a technique on puffed salmon skins which take about 3 days to prepare and it goes with a salmon roe mousse hence the name “Salmon and salmon”. This will be the front cover of my first book one day, for sure!
I realized today that the symbol of my blog has never featured in a story, so I will correct that. The octopop was created during my time in Burj al Arab and it has come a long way since. The original idea started out with a desire to create a Octopus terrine with the flavors of Saffron and orange (same flavours as in my first Chef de Cuisine (Head Chef) position 7 years ago in London), which had some sentimental as well as historical meaning. But my wishes changed as wanted to pan fry it and serve it hot and my old method would not of worked, so I incorporated a product I have been studying for a long time which is Transglutaminase (an enzyme which bonds proteins) a form of meat glue. Basically as the testing went I found and interesting form which was to lay the legs of the octopus (which had been cooked in vacuum at a very low temperature for 12 hours, just in the juice of the melting natural collagen) in a straight line, put transglutaminase and roll with a large amount of pressure. When sliced it resembled the cross section of A head of Garlic……….. So to highlight this I Dipped it into a clear yellow Gell (made with Kappa) of Orange and saffron, and after it resembled a flower so of course the only way to serve this is in the floral form. The flowers of Dill are very aromatic and when the plant goes to flower the stems are very strong so I put the octopop on the end of the stalk so when you eat it you get the aroma of Dill which goes very well with Octopus. Hence the birth of the “Octopop”.
The story doesn’t end there: Whenever you move countries (as I have 5 times) as a Chef you need to adapt your food to the taste of the locals and this can take anywhere up to 6 months. According to the Spanish, they only like to eat octopus in 1 way which is with paprika, olive oil and potato. And the especially don’t like it with Orange…….. So I Confit some potato in Olive oil and stuck it inside using an advanced Transglutaminase technique and dipped it into a Paprika Kappa. And this one is served hot.
I said to myself when I first started this blog that I would keep it positive and show negative through examples of good. But in this case I will make an exception, as there is no positive way to put it and it needs to be shared.
There is nothing worse than eating out in restaurants and finding by the end of the meal you have had the same ingredient 2 or more times or the same technique used in a few courses (or the majority). In this day and age with the menus getting longer (average 27 courses for many Avant Garde menus) and our exposure to different fresh produce, there is no excuse for this. But I find in a lot of places where I eat all over the world that more and more I am getting the same techniques used in several courses (and we are not speaking about low end restaurants, these are some of the top), and the main example of this is Spherification. The technique of spherification has been around in the production industry for many years, but in 2000 Ferran Adria made it famous to use in restaurants. Since then the whole world has come to learn of this technique and the chemicals are available even for the home Chef. This is both good and bad; on one hand if done well and for the right reason it can be spectacular (such as the hot Liquid Croquetta from El Bulli, which I cant get enough of) but in many cases (and there are a lot of Shocking ones) the Chef does it to feel like a part of the “Molecular Gastronomy” movement and put no real thought into flavor or texture, and I am sorry to tell you ”this does not constitute a dish”. In the age of the Internet more and more young Chefs (and older ones) are going online and just simply downloading recipes to avoid having to be creative, so we are not only getting repetition in the same restaurant of techniques and products but we are getting the same dishes in different restaurants. I could list you 100 very bad examples of Spherification (Caviar, Liquid Raviolis, Etc) I have eaten and about the same of “Foams” and Liquid Nitrogen, where I don’t understand WHY? Chefs who are very good at there cuisine who are trying to add these techniques for “Show”, when in actual fact it detracts from what they are doing. In my opinion, whenever you are creating food no matter what the technique you must pay attention to all the key points of what makes a dish great, particularly if it is only 1 bite. Don’t forget one very good point from Herve This, “Food must be legible” it means it has to be clear and understandable, this includes Textures, Temperatures, Quantity, cutlery, plate, Etc. The most ideal situation is to highlight 1 technique per plate (not just chemical techniques) and plan your menu accordingly.
Second is Repetition of Products, this one is the hardest to understand. With an ever growing and infinite amount of products available for Chefs to use it is out of my mind why I can eat the same garnishes or even worse the same primary products 2 or more time in a meal……… One of the more common examples of this mistake is the same herbs to garnish different dishes (with no attention to if that herb goes with that product, just a green “decoration”) or flowers. As a Chef we are lucky enough that suppliers come to us on a weekly basis showing what is new on the market, but often we take the free samples and only ever use 10% or less.
So Come on Chefs, lets really challenge the guests knowledge and give them a little education for there $$$. With all the new cooking programs on the TV the general public (civilians) are becoming more aware of the uncommon, so lets use this as a chance to further our cuisines and STOP REPEATING!!!!!!!
This article is an attempt to undo some of the damage done by generations of people giving these little miracles a bad name. If there is a more hated vegetable out there I would love to know which one as Brussels sprouts seem to bear the brunt of all the Jokes and bullying. Well as I have always said when people tell me they hate a certain type of food “you can’t judge until you have tried all possible ways”, in my opinion peoples hatred towards these poor innocent things is misdirected and the finger should be pointed at the person “Cooking” them or should I say Killing them. The traditional way to cook Brussels sprouts is to boil the hell out of them until they are soft (and the whole house smells of methane), but if you really study the water you will notice it is a very dark army green and what you can see are all the nutrients which you will never get the benefits of when you are forcing yourself to eat them (no wonder no one likes them. Part of a Chefs mission is to try to understand all individual ingredients and how to treat them, very much like clothing, 1 fashion does not suit all people even though we are all humans………….. So to better understand every ingredient we need to take the time and go through the process such as; What result do I want? What is it to be used for? Nutrition, limitations, Characteristics, Etc. One of the characteristics of cabbage is the very fresh peppery flavor which disappears after exposure to long periods of heat, so the idea is to keep the cooking time to a minimum. Another characteristic is very compact layers of frilly leaves which separate with a little steam, this texture on your tongue is salad like. So this being said the method I worked out is Keep the whole process in 1 pan and a maximum of 1 and a half minutes.
- Trim bottom off and remove first 2 or 3 layers of leaves (as they are a little blemished and tough)
- Cut on either side of the stalk which will remove the core and cut down cooking time
- In a hot pan add a small amount of water then add the sprouts cut face down in the steaming water
- Cook until the water evaporates
- Add enough butter to generously coat the pan and leave the sprouts face down ensuring a layer of butter under
- Leave until caramelized in points then remove, remember to watch your time!
I have converted every person who has ever told me they “hate” Brussels sprouts, and I personally eat them 5 times per week during the season (which in Europe is right now). Another thing my doctor told me is that Brussels sprouts are the only food item which repairs your liver naturally (and living in Spain This is a good thing to do after every night out (hence the 5 times per week Brussels sprout habit)).
Today I finished the first part of a major project which will basically take an infinite amount of time. I have put together a team of key professionals (Michelin Star Chefs and world class scientists) from around the world to begin the profiling of individual flavors and pairing them with there perfect partners. I discovered a graph system developed by a very dynamic guy in New York (CT) which will suit the project perfectly and through discussions (like everything in my life) it has blossomed into something much larger which covers something for everybody. The primary aim of this system and the work we are doing is to become a reference point for Chefs all over the world who will be able to use our system which is in a quick and easy format while being extremely comprehensive and diverse. Obviously at this point I can’t give away too many details, but we are aiming to release this in January 2010 at Madrid Fusion. I will post updates in my website as we go along but for now we are standing at the base of a mountain and there is much rewarding work to be done. Keep reading for more details……………….
In what other job in the world can you spend the day testing Haribo mixed gummies and not get into trouble?? I often take my job for granted and still complain about the small things (which is human nature I guess) but I really do stop and think sometimes how good I have it. Let me list a few benefits of my job; No services (which is both positive and negative), I can take a break from managing large brigades of Chefs (in my other previous restaurants in 4 other countries) and think for 1 person, NO WAITERS OR HOTEL POLITICS!, everything is about the food and how to understand it better, Etc.
So today I spent the whole day on Haribos, although I did not finish anything to use them in, I did discover some very interesting techniques in Crystallization, wrapping, stabilizing and my favorite “Gummy bear candy floss”. Plenty more work to be done on this topic, but enough for today as my teeth hurt!
Last week I went to Copenhagen to speak with Dr Peter Barham, world renowned Food Scientist and contributor to the development of cuisine in the Fat Duck. Peter Barham is 1 of 3 food scientists in the world majorly responsible for bringing “Molecular Gastronomy” (or as we like to call it these days “Progressive cuisine”) into the main stream, the other 2 are Harold McGee and Hervè This. Dr Peter Barham is a professor in Bristol university but also has many other projects and postings around the world, We met in Copenhagen as he is Honorary Professor in Copenhagen University. The talks with Dr Barham were truly thought provoking and we look forward to working with him in the future. During my time in the university I met with the rest of the team who are working exclusively in Molecular Gastronomy, but in many different projects and areas of Gastronomy. A machine I have not come across until this trip was a pressure chamber used for sterilizing meats, the way it works is you put a food item (they are still testing as to which items go well) into a vacuum bag and place it into the chamber with water, when you start the machine it hydraulically applies pressure (equal to the pressure 80 000m under the sea), for a period of about 15 minutes. This technique basically destroys the bacteria while leaving the food item relatively unchanged (except in a few cases where the molecules break and change the color or texture), this will make food safe as it kills all bacteria (inc. Salmonella) but the only thing is it won’t kill spores so when re-exposed to oxygen you still need to use caution as spores can hatch. Until this day I also did not really know too much about the study of “Sensory Science” and after a brief description from a sensory science professor my brain is racing with possibilities, once again I hope this is the start of an interesting relationship that benefits both sides. A Big thanks Primarily to Dr Peter Barham and also the team in Copenhagen University Faculty of Life Sciences as they took so much time out to explain there work.
A topic very close to my heart is the one of Australian products, and what can be more Australian then “Bush Tucker”? Used by the Aboriginals long before the “White man” settled Australia, this food of the earth has only become popular in the last decade mainly due to one man, Vik Cherikoff (http://www.cherikoff.net/cherikoff/). I started using bush tucker firstly due to its relative novelty appeal in one of my restaurants 7 or 8 years ago, but once I started using them I understood that they are very special and go much further than novelty value. With every product you get a new food experience like no other, my personal favorites have to be the dry spices as they are so strong with aroma and very particular.
We immediately jumped at the chance to test this range of products to see if we can incorporate them in our food. So over the next few months we are going to be testing these products using new technique thanks to the generosity of Vik who was happy to have me fly the Australian flag here in Spain. The box contained all of my favorites: Alpine pepper, Lemon Myrtyl, forrest anise, wattyle seed powder and extract (which tastes like earthy coffee), Quandongs, Riberries and rosellas. I will keep posting updates as soon as we discover something new or interesting.
I’m sure we all have things that when we see them we get a big dose of nostalgia, be it a movie, a song or my personal favorite FOOD. The idea of playing with Nostalgia in a meal is not a new one and generally the expert in this is Heston. I am starting to learn more about Sensory Science through some brilliant scientists I have me recently, and on some level memories fall into this category as it stirs emotions. I guess what I am trying to say is I had a very strong nostalgic moment a few nights ago and it all started with a candy watch…………… Basically I was in a bar (I know it is hard for you to believe since Chefs don’t like to Party) a few nights ago and at several intervals during the night they came around with a tray of old fashioned sweets as a giveaway in the bar. At one moment I stopped my conversation as found myself grinning from ear to ear, I had spotted something which had been given to us as children by my father and memories came flooding back. I interrupted everyone’s conversation and proceeded to tell them all about my story relating to the candy watch (still with the biggest smile on my face and semi euphoric feeling in my stomach), I must of looked and sounded so pathetic that one of my friends offered hers to me which I took with no hesitation. Funny thing is I brought them into the lab and asked myself “How can I make something that reminds me of this?” The answer is nothing, when I tasted it I suddenly became a lot less nostalgic as to a child it tastes like the best thing in the world but now it just tastes like Dextrose and a lot of Citric acid (and I mean A LOT!) to the point where I actually felt ill afterwards. Like most things in life the way you remember something generally surpasses reality, but for that moment to have all those memories flooding back and particulary in a Bar was magic. Memories and nostalgia are a very powerful emotion and we as Chefs should be trying to utilize it more often.
Ever since I watched “The Bee Movie” I have been dreaming of things to with Honey. The first thing I did was a Honey and olive oil chewy candy which had an inside which basically melted when you bit into it. It has been a while since I have worked on any more items on the subject of Honey. On the back of the success of the Choco-Gras Aero, I thought to use a similar technique to achieve a soft honeycomb Gel using Agar agar. Well it worked! As honey is very aromatic, when you bite into it the bursting air pockets push the volatile molecules which contain the aroma into your nasal passage, this is a benefit I did not factor in. So now I am drying them at a very low temperature for the next 2 days to see if I can keep the structure intact but take away all the liquid, this will give me something that is as light as violet crumble but made with basically pure honey. I’ll keep you posted.