2009 International Chefs Congress Wrap-Up: Main Stage Day Three

Chef Richard Blais assumed the MC post for the last day of the International Chefs Congress. Blais brought a hands-on chef perspective to the Main Stage that kept the pace of the presentations going strong throughout the day.

Chef Juan Mari Arzak oversees his chefs on the mainstageThe day began with legendary Spanish Chef Juan Mari Arzak, who took to the Main Stage to talk about his restaurant, his flavor laboratory, and demonstrate two of his signature dishes. Arzak spoke of his restaurant, which he calls his home, and his chef daughter Elena in a touchingly heart-felt way. He described the flavor laboratory he began 15 years ago with Ferran Adria, which contains over 1,600 products from all over the world, neatly catalogued in a computer database. Next, Arzak and his team demonstrated two dishes, including his 2001 Space Odyssey-inspired Lunar Rock."We live to play with the presentation," he said. The rapt audience was thrilled to see the chef on the stage. Bouts of applause erupted throughout his presentation and, upon his departure, Arzak received a standing ovation."Always be honest," Arzak said in closing."The kitchen is freedom."

"The signature of Vietnamese cooking is about herbs, the freshness, the lightness," said Charles Phan of The Slanted Door in San Francisco at the next Main Stage presentation. It's easy to bring those qualities to San Francisco, he explained, where they stress the use of local ingredients and unique vegetables. He demonstrated two Vietnamese street foods that he’s adapted to the American setting of his pioneering modern Vietnamese restaurant. The first was a steamed rice flour dumpling filled with mushrooms, onion and ground pork. And the second was a Vietnamese crepe typical of southern Vietnam, which emerged from the pan brown and crispy, bursting with mung bean sprouts. Phan remarked how Americans have changed in the last 15 years in relation to food, noting that his customers no longer send back fish dishes because the fish head is still attached."We take them in baby steps," he said.

Pastry Chef Paco TorreblancaIn his Main Stage demonstration, famed Pastry Chef Paco Torreblanca wowed the audience with a peek into his creative process and the techniques he uses at Pasteleria Totel. He took an audience of attentive observers through the steps for molding white chocolate in the shape of an oyster shell using acetate, a hair dryer, and a zester. He presented the faux oyster with a spherified pearl to give it that fresh-from-the-sea look. In another impressive feat, Torreblanca created a mock egg, made of chocolate and filled with chocolate mousse and sugar"caviar" to appear like the savory egg custard in the shell with caviar. Torreblanca said that the American ingredient that is most influencing his desserts right now is corn, which has inspired several applications in his kitchen.

Going all American, Sean Brock of McCrady’s in Charleston demonstrated the innovative ways that he uses heirloom, often nearly extinct ingredients in classic Lowcountry/Southern dishes. He breathed new life into shrimp and grits by grinding the corn and shrimp with liquid nitrogen; he turned red beans and rice into a dessert by grinding the dried beans into a flour and mixing lard with tapioca maltodextrin—certainly not your typical southern cuisine. Brock discussed the farming project he is working on with a farmer who not only works to preserve heirloom ingredients, but also provides food and jobs to kids with disabilities. Brock left everyone inspired to look into the rich history of American ingredients and techniques, saying that he hopes the future of American cuisine is a blending of tradition and innovation.

Chefs Nils Noren and Dave Arnold kill black sea bass on the mainstageFCI techno-team Dave Arnold and Nils Noren closed the Main Stage with a knock out demonstration of their latest kitchen expeditions: extracting pecan butter and oil using a centrifuge;"gluing" thin sheets of lamb and tuna on a warped board to create a marbled lamb/tuna meat slice; clarifying with pectin X; and, as usual, distilling moonshine using a rotary evaporator. The on-stage drama ensued when the two sedated a black sea bass with clove extract and then butchered it live for its über fresh flesh that went into a dish with tuna spinal jelly—yes, spinal jelly—brunoise celery, pecan yokan, and yuzu. It was served in one of the coolest natural containers we’ve ever seen: a tuna vertebrae with the rib bones spiking out (boiled it in Oxyclean to make it stark white). They concluded their demonstration and the Congress with a synchronized audience-group shot of caraway aquavit done Norwegian-style—staring one another straight in the eye as a mark of respect and recognition, very apropos of the 2009 ICC.

by Amanda McDougall, Katherine Martinelli, Emily Bell, and Carolina Daza Carreño