This is a very interesting and immense topic which I am not sure if I can do justice in only 1 story, but I will at least open the topic which I am sure I will continue at a later date.
One of the strongest points of Progressive Cuisine is that it is very precise, this allows us to understand exactly what happens and When. Being a Head Chef it also gives you the advantage of being able to consistently maintain your standards. When passing over a new dish to your more junior Chefs it is important that you leave nothing unmeasured and nothing for them to make there own mind up about. When you are dealing with Humans you will always have errors as each one of us will interpret the same request in a different way, this is why we put in place measures. In Cuisine these days everything is measured and correct to the Second, Millimetre, 0.01 of a Gram and 0.1 of a Degree.
This may sound a little absurd but take into consideration that it is a Chefs task these days to really understand food and it’s limitations in order to get the best result. Take the picture above as an example (sorry it is so bad), this is 2 terrines of what I call “Choco-Gras Aero” which is a mix of Chocolate and Foie Gras fat which I make into a Aerated Chocolate terrine which melts away to nothing in your mouth. This is a technique involving many techniques, and if just one of them is slightly wrong it will not work. Let me help you to really understand:
- If the chocolate and Foie Gras are not the exact same temperature – IT WILL SPLIT!
- If the Siphon is not tempered, THE MIX WILL NOT COME OUT!
- If it is not shaken enough in between charges, BUBBLES INCONSISTENT
- If not charged and extracted within 2 minutes, IT WILL BE TOO COLD
- If the mix comes out below 37.4, IT WILL NOT SHINE, THE BUBBLES WILL BE SMALL AND IT WILL MELT IN YOUR FINGERS
- If the mix comes out hotter than 38 degrees, IT WILL NOT HOLD THE AIR LONG ENOUGH TO SET.
- If the quantity is not enough for the terrine, THE WALLS OF THE BUBBLES WILL BE TOO FRAGILE AND IT WILL COLLAPSE WHEN PRESSURE IS RETURNED.
- If the Marble plate has not been chilled sufficiently by the liquid nitrogen, IT WILL COLLAPSE AS IT IS SETTING
- If the terrine is one the marble too long before the vacuum has started, THE BASE WILL SET FIRM WICH YOU WILL HAVE TO CUT OFF AND YOU WILL LOOSE VOLUME.
So I guess you can see the point! In the picture the terrine on the right was prepared by a colleague and it was only half a degree more which he did not seem to think was a problem, as you can see it was! The terrine rose then immediately fell as the air was escaping from the fragile bubbles. Just think that this is not the most complicated thing that we do. But always remember……….. “THERE IS A TECHNIQUE FOR EVERYTHING”, think about everything in life and you will find from brushing your teeth to washing your car there is a particular way that you must do the things.
So I wholeheartedly refute the claims from the Chefs who say that by cooking with precise measures and utilizing science you will loose the passion and feel for food. Taste is a personal thing which is confusing when you have a brigade of up to 20 Chefs, you do not want to be tasting 20 different interpretations on how each dish should be.
What is it that makes us return to places frequently?
Well it can sometimes be a combination of many things and other times it can be for 1 thing in particular. For Example; A great view, 1 or many particular dishes which are amazing, the ambiance of the restaurant, the chemistry between the staff, the energy of the place, etc, etc.
The reason I am writing this story is because I have been studying the psychology of the whole dining and eating experience.
This time I am writing about personalized service and the love of what you do.
How special do you feel when you walk into a place and the owner or manager stops whatever he is doing or his conversation to personally welcome you? It sounds a little sad but we all like to be recognized. In this case as pictured above, it was in Santorini during my holidays in Greece. On my first trip to Greece 7 years ago I found the best place in town for Gyros (Greek Kebabs), so of course I was there pretty much every lunch time during my stay and I built quite a funny re-pore with the owner Lacky. So this time of course I wanted to bring my brother there, amazingly enough after all of this time the owner still recognized me. So we repeated the same tradition of lunches there again almost everyday.
We could of bought pretty much the same Gyro in 100 different places on the island but we would travel to Lucky’s Gyros everytime. The difference is that he hired people that love there job and took pride in what they were doing even down to how they folded the paper so the sauce did not leak and remembering our exact preferences.
HervéThis strongly believes ”The most important ingredient in cooking is Love” and when we cook it is important to love the food and when we share this with people we are expressing our love for the people.
It’s a bit of a dis-jointed story, but what I am trying to say I guess is: If you are hiring people for the front of house, make sure they love what they are doing and they are focused on making every guest happy, because remember that people come to restaurants to have a good time and we the service industry need to make sure this happens each and every time. And as for us Chefs in the kitchen remember we all started this career because we love food, don’t be miss-led into thinking that the more senior you become in your role that this is the time to stop cooking and start carrying a clip-board.
During times of crisis we should be able to look to our respective governments for guidance, well time and time again this has proven to be a bit of a joke! This case is no exception! We have known for a long time that the stocks of Bluefin tuna are being depleted to an almost unrecoverable level, maybe this message has not reached those clowns getting paid to run our countries. The mediterranean holds the key to the species survival as this is where a great number of those fish which are still surviving go to breed. If the EU cannot take the responsibility to stop all the fishing until the stocks reach a sustainable level than we will not have any for future generations. I personally love Blue fin tuna but I will not eat it until I know they are safe from over fishing. Read the below article from this mornings Independent in London.
This weekend I was in Cataluña (north of Spain) filming a documentary with the BBC. I was asked a few months ago if I would be interested to do some research into what Hannibal Barca (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hannibal_Barca) and his men would of eaten on there epic journey from North Africa through Spain, France, Italy then back to Tunisia. They come from an era and people we do not know too much about these days called the Phoenicians (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenicia), The more I learnt about these people the more I wondered why they do not teach us anything about them. This makes the research very hard as well, it seems most of there existence has been erased from history (possibly due to how close they were to defeating the Romans). Do yourself a favour and read a little about them in the above 2 links! Anyway this is not a history lesson!
So the meal I prepared was as follows, and is correct to the best of my knowledge and according to the meal structure from 2300 years ago. The hour as well was authentic as most dinners started at 4pm in the afternoon.
- Porridge made from Emmer, Salt and olive oil (I did not have time for this one)
- Mojama with Olive oil (Sun Dried Tuna loin)
- Porcus Trojanus (the Trojan Pig) I will explain after
- Vegetables cooked in Vinegar
- Oysters and Cold Clams (were the first dessert and a great example of how our eating habits have changed)
- Selection of fruits (Authentic to historical records: Dates, Pomegranate, Figs, Plums, Peaches, Etc)
All of this was washed down with an ancient way of drinking wine from the barrel which is; Taking a very rustic (Bad) red wine and mixing it with honey, which was actually very nice. The second drink was a very authentic wine which originated in Carthage (the home of the Phoenicians) which was a sweet raisin wine called Passum which is still around today.
OK, the Trojan pig and the star of the show! Obviously the name is not Phoenician due to the reference to the Trojan Horse, but they do say it is something that could of been eaten by the Phoenicians. The idea is that it is a whole pig which has had the insides removed and in it’s place filled with Sausages and fruits. For this I used Morcilla (spanish blood sausages) which would of definitely been eaten back then, Chorizo, Butifara, Etc. I added a selection of fresh figs and plums for the fruit component. When all of this was inside I stitched the pig shut then skewered him for the spit. Back in the day, this would of been carried to the Head Table once cooked then stood up on its feet (which is harder than it sounds, and it also sounds hard) where the cook would of sliced open the belly, you can imagine what happens next……………….. The sausages fall out like the intestines, once again a very funny example of what they found appetizing and what most today would find repulsive.
Everything went pretty much to plan, well as much as you could expect anyway! There was no protection on the Beach so I had to dig a very deep hole for the fire and had to keep adjusting the height of the pig.
So to make a short story long, Everything went well and a successful day of filming!
As some of you may remember I reached the 100 posts mark about 6 months ago, but sadly while changing hosts I lost all of the data which I could not retrieve from Google Cache. But the up-side is I learnt a very good lesson in “Back-up” so this will not happen again.
For those of you who have stuck with my blog THANK YOU! For those of you who are new WELCOME!
My blog is about to enter a very interesting phase as there are many many interesting projects and amazing things coming up (I will let you know very shortly).
During this week we have Carlo Cracco Peck here from Milano to serve a special menu in Collaboration with Paco Roncero. Carlo is a 2 Star Michelin Chef from Ristorante Cracco (http://www.ristorantecracco.it/), he is here this week with his Head Chef. Today he showed me a very basic but very interesting technique using the peel of Parmesan (which we normally only use for making stock) and a microwave.
When you put the outer peel of the Parmesan in the microwave it puffs up like children’s puffed rice snacks. The flavour does not alter at all, but the texture becomes edible where normally it is not. Very interesting stuff!
C.F.P = Casino (De Madrid) Fried Pigeon.
By this stage some of you may of already stopped reading and the rest wondering “What was he thinking?”
I was taught a long time ago ”Nothing is as it seems”! This case is no different.
Ok, from the start……………… It is almost the season for wild quails here in Spain, so I took a box of wild pigeons from France to work out a new plate so when the quails arrived I would only need to make some minor taste balance adjustments so we can make the most of the 1 month season without wasting a day. In the process of searching for a new idea for the quail plate I ended up finding something amazing for the Pigeon! I started off wanting to do a play on the very famous Duck dish from France “Duck a l’Orange” but exchanging the duck for the quail and changing the Orange for an infused fanta (yes that’s right, the soft drink). First this was met with some pretty stiff apprehension from the Spanish as they relate this soft drink to a drink for small Children and not something you use in a Michelin star restaurant. Just on this point, this is a concept called “Supermarket cooking”, the person who taught me this was my friend Paul Pairet. He would very often include many things people associate with things you would find in the supermarket but using them in high Gastronomy, I utilize this theory a lot to show humor in an otherwise very serious meal.
Sorry now back to the topic, For the most tender result I decided to use an Asian method to poach the pigeons. This method is basically to thread a string through the necks of the birds and lower them into the boiling stock which in this case was the fanta with many aromats, herbs and Asian sauces. You dunk the string of birds into the boiling stock and leave them only a few seconds before taking them out, bring the stock back to the boil and repeat the process 3 or 4 times depending on the type of bird. The final time just leave the birds inside and remove from the heat. After 10 – 12 minutes remove the birds and Chill overnight.
So now I have the birds cooked, What’s next? I want a very crispy skin without overcooking the very tender Pigeon. Here’s where I found a little technique I am very surprised I didn’t find before. I basically took some dehydrated pork skin and blended it into 3mm crumbs. Then same like you would do to crumb something; lightly dust in flour then into an egg wash then I attached the pork skin like I would do with Crumbs. When fried the result is amazing! The skin puffs up and becomes white and the crunch is something you just don’t get with roasting birds normally.
To keep with the Asian theme, I put some fermented black garlic paste underneath the tenderloin before frying. This gives it many opposing reactions in your mouth, to highlight this I have also put some orange reduction on the top as well as some fresh spring onions.
I love the very figurative form and I would not put anything else on the plate, all the flavors are contained within the puffed pork shell.
There are certain techniques in cooking which are the absolute basics, these are generally the ones which I take the most pleasure in as they are based on generations of knowledge. These can cover things such as Bread making, Pasta, sauces, Pastries, Pickling, dairy products preparation, etc.
One of the things I love the most is fermenting Milk products, one of the easiest being yogurt. I used to make my own yogurt many many years ago, but for some reason I stopped and didn’t start again until last week. I was looking at the amount of yogurt we were going through on a weekly basis plus the fact that they come in 120g containers which is a headache to open when you need 100 of them! So I started my first base yogurt last week and let it ferment over the weekend, the result I got was so convincing that Paco and I ate the whole batch (except my starter for the next batch) in 1 day!
The technique is so easy that you can even make it at home! Simply take 750g of whole fat milk and bring it to 85 degrees Celsius. Chill it down to 45 degrees Celsius then incorporate 70g of natural yogurt base. Keep the mix in an area which is between 30 and 40 degrees Celsius (I have used a container of hot water like a hot water bottle), keep it in this area for 4 and a half hours. Refrigerate and allow to naturally ferment for 3-4 days depending on how acidic you like you yogurt (the longer the time the more acidic). If you want a Greek style yogurt which is more firm and generally easier to use and more stable, hang the yogurt in a cloth over a container in the fridge over night to take out all the un-needed liquid.
As you can see it is not rocket science! Once you have started the base there will not be any need to buy yogurt any more as you will just use your yogurt as the next starter. From this base you can add your favorite flavors and/or sweeteners. You can keep the yogurt safely for up to 1 week.
Generally when it comes to real estate or choosing a location for your business there are 3 very important rules:
- And most importantly……………… LOCATION
This is a very commonly known principle and is rarely ever contested. Have a look in the photos above which I took during my summer in Greece, it is a very small town just north of Peloponnese called Nafpaktos (http://www.nafpaktos.info/index.php?lang_code=en). It has a history dating back more than 3500 years and is now a quaint little port town. Ok, that’s enough about that as this is not a tourism blog!
The topic of this story is about choosing the right location for your restaurant. How many times have you been visiting another country and made your decision of where to eat purely based on the location or view of the restaurant? It’s the most obvious way to choose a restaurant as generally it is also the restaurant which has the most people. Now also think how many times you have selected this restaurant only to be disappointed by the poor quality of the food and service? One of the most unfortunate things in this industry is that these places will do well if they are good or bad due to the best location, and generally they choose to be bad as it is cheaper and they will always make money anyway. My worst restaurant experiences have been in the best locations around the world (one of the most scandalous of all was a dinner I had in the top of the Eiffel tower in Paris at a restaurant called Le Jules Verne (before Ducasse took it over) which was 2 Michelin Star, lucky the night turned out amazing due to a special occasion but the food was some of the worst I have ever had). The strange thing is people will suffer bad service and/or bad food if the view is amazing, which is something I do not understand????????
Now take this picture as an example which defies this rule. It is a location the locals and holiday makers alike frequent everyday at sunset. The setting is magic!!! You have a medieval castle standing on the top of the mountain at your back and spread out in front of you is a beautiful medieval port and the picturesque town of Nafpaktos. It is more a bar but all the same everything was perfect!
I am sure at some point we have all eaten Fried ice cream in a Chinese or Japanese restaurant. Eating fried ice cream inspired the first real technical food question of my life, I must only of been about 6 or 7 years old. My family were eating dinner in a Chinese restaurant in Australia with my grandfather and we were all given a ball of fried ice cream, I still remember every aspect of that experience. First I was amazed at the perfectly round golden ball which was presented in an old fashioned glass ice cream bowl, the second shock was that the crust was very crispy and the obvious (or not so obvious to a child of that age) was that the ice cream was frozen on the inside of the hot outer shell. So without even knowing it at that point I was already beginning to question all of these things, luckily someone at the table was able to tell me that it was just a matter of deep freezing the ice cream so it didn’t have time to melt (a very basic overview but one that satisfied my curiosity).
So 22 years later I have decided to use deep fried ice cream in a dish.
But like everything that I do it comes with a much more complicated story, but for the rest the details are not important. I started replicating 2 Cantonese sweet soups that I love and used to eat very often when I was living in Shanghai. The 2 soups are Sweet black sesame soup and sweet peanut soup, both of which are served hot and have the texture of cake batter. Both of the soups turned out very well so I couldn’t decide which one to use……………. So I used them both! Now that I had decided to use them both I had the task of finding something to compliment the 2 very different flavors and bring everything together to balance the plate. To add to the Chinese theme I have used a yin yang pattern for the soups and the 2 points are made from the water inside of a coconut thickened with Xanthan Gum.
Now to add the main focus which will bring everything together, thats where the Fried ice cream comes into the whole picture. As there were already 2 elements which are chinese why not make the flavors of the sorbet Chinese inspired as well? Fried ice cream has a certain percentage which is hot so it made sense to use something with a strong perfume in the ice cream as when something is hot you sense all the aromas. The sorbet flavors are Lychee, Jasmine, Greek yogurt and Spanish Extra Virgin Olive oil. The negative point from regular Fried Ice Cream I had to over come was the very dense and icey texture of the ice cream due to the deep freezing up to minus 40 degrees Celcius. So for this point I freshly churned the ice cream then (with the help of liquid Nitrogen) molded it. To fry it sounded much easier than it actually was! First I fixed the outside very hard with Liquid Nitrogen then dipped it into an egg bath then into some crushed corn flakes to cover all spaces.
The result is balanced perfectly, it has the right amount of perfume, temperatures range from Frozen to hot and everything in between plus the texture from the cornflakes balances out the lack of texture in the soup.
A dessert that is far from finished but it ticks all the boxes already!
My recent 3 week vacation was just what the doctor ordered, I have now come back to Spain as they say “Como un Toro” which means like a Bull!
During my time in Greece I experienced some amazing flavours and products, but with the good there were also some (very few) bad. The most puzzling of them all was an experience I had in a place called “El Pecado”. It is a very strange place located in an area they call the Athenian Riviera. The Decor was very Avant Garde and almost bordering on Burlesque. It is located in a beautiful spot next to the ocean which was the reason we chose this place to have some lunch.
In places like this I generally choose a club sandwich as it seemed like the safest option (yeah right!!!). After waiting for the club sandwich for about 50 minutes it finally came. It came with some very large potato chip slices which I started to eat first. My brother started immediately on the sandwich, it wasn’t until I took my first bite that I realized there was something wrong. But having one of my “not so intelligent” days it took me 3 more bites to realize that the funny taste was coming from the chicken. There was an un-mistakable gassy smell and a metallic taste, so we immediately stopped eating and I asked the service staff to take the plates away as the chicken was off. He then said he would get the manager, so leaving the plates he went to get the “Manager” and I put this in quotes as he was only 1 step up from the cleaner. He came over and apologized and brought 2 more beers over on the house. You would of thought that this was a nice gesture until the bill came, by this stage we had realized he had charged us for 2 x 15€ club sandwiches. I assumed this was a mistake so I asked for the sandwiches to be removed as they were clearly off.
Here is where the fun started……………………….
The manager came over again and said he had given us the 2 beers to make up for the sandwiches. So I said I would simply not be paying for the sandwiches as it was not that I didn’t like it but in fact the chicken was rotten. So he said “ok, so I will only charge you for the potatoes you have eaten off the plate plus the 1 quarter you ate of yours and the half your brother ate of his”. Funny enough through his calculations this equalled 7€ for me and 10€ for my brother!!!!!!! How is this possible? So obviously I said I would pay everything else on the bill but I would not be paying for the sandwiches. The owner was then called and then subsequently the Police were called. So if it wasn’t already ridiculous then the next part is even more funny. 3 Police came to discuss the 2 club sandwiches, and they insisted to talk about it in front of all of the other guests. They seemed to take the side of the restaurant and even asked me to show them my wallet to prove that I had money. Luckily there was a Lawyer on the next table who jumped up to defend me, without him I am sure I would of been put in Jail!
Cut a long story short, I ended up paying for 1 Club sandwich then they also decided to charge me for the 2 beers which were origionally given on the House.
This is not really a story about new techniques nor is it about an amazing new product. But it is a story about the dining experience, you cannot do something like this to your guests as you may think you have gained a few more dollars but you have also created very un-happy people and ultimately a negative story on the Internet.