2009 International Chefs Congress Wrap-Up: Main Stage Day Two
The second day of the International Chefs Congress was kicked off in playfully irreverent fashion by "Three Men and A Dessert" pastry chefs Johnny Iuzzini, Sam Mason, and Alex Stupak. The trio booted the collaborative theme of their presentation—too many chiefs, as Mason explained—and instead each prepared a modernized classic American dessert on stage. Iuzzini made his version of a dirt cup using his usual innovative techniques, like a super-airy chocolate sponge and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate "gummy" worms. Mason impressed the audience with his technique for infusing BBQ sauce into vodka using liquid nitrogen, which was sealed in a vacuum bag with cubes of watermelon—his Southern-inflected version of a Jell-O shot. Stupak stood reticent in the back until it was his turn to share with us the most modern version of the all-American apple pie we've ever seen, using agar-gelled diced apples, crumbled pie crust, brown sugar sheets, and—the most avant garde flavor Stupak could think of—vanilla ice cream. When asked about their relationship Iuzzini explained, "We're fortunate to have each other; we have open communication. We're not going to get better without each other. You know, we all rise together. We share products … even hair gel."
Jose Andres stole the show as usual with a knock-out demonstration of several classic American dishes, like New England Clam Chowder and Ham and Eggs. He combined traditional flavors with modern techniques. For the chowder, he avoided the usual over-cooked clams by flash-cooking them in a vacuum-sealed bag in boiling water for just 15 seconds. Andres interspersed his demonstrations with practical tips on how to innovate without resorting to overly complicated tools and ingredients. "We don't need to use high tech ingredients," he explained. "Sometimes we have to remind ourselves there is a lot of room for innovation just using every day things that are in front of us."
Masaharu Morimoto graced the Congress stage for a second year in a row and took the crowd through a flurry of fish butchery that covered eel, aji, hamo, yellowtail, and a live fluke. Referring to his Iron Chef challenges, Morimoto told the audience "I usually have an hour for this, but today I only have 45 minutes… so I have a lot of helpers." Accompanied by his StarChefs.com Rising Star Award-winning chefs, Yoshinori Ishii (a 2008 winner) and Jamison Blankenship (a 2009 winner), the chef demonstrating his expert knife skills, making scaling a fish with his knife look as easy as spreading soft butter on toast. Arguably the most exciting moment came when the chef hacked into the head and tail fin of a still wriggling live fluke—the audience actually gasped.
Restaurateur Rohini Dey and Chef Maneet Chauhan of Vermilion (Chicago, New York) addressed the topic of fusion in cuisine. "Who are we to define cuisine as it stands today?" Dey challenged, and cited restaurants who have changed how we think about cuisine today by blending "foreign" ingredients from other cuisines into traditional cuisines: "Nobu pioneered South American in Japanese [cuisine]… Jean Georges was a pioneer to meld Asian influences in French techniques." Chauhan ended the presentation with a demonstration of her Tandoori Skirt Steak—a perfect example of Vermilion's fusing of Indian and Latin cuisines.
The excitement continued into the afternoon as the very first ICC Main Stage mixology presentation took place, with cocktail royalty Audrey Saunders and London-based Tony Conigliaro. The two discussed their exploration of aroma in cocktails and guided the audience through their joint evolution of aroma delivery methods, from house-made tinctures to essence-infused eggs, mists, and even carbonation and dry ice. Saunders and Conigliaro both experiment with hydrosols and blend their own natural essences for their concoctions. When asked by an audience-member how they know when a drink is ready for the public, they agreed that "you just know. It's like a musician with his song."
Next, Josh Emett of Gordon Ramsay at the London in New York broke down a New Zealand lamb from head to tail and showed the Main Stage audience four different preparations for four different cuts. He gave tips on how to serve a bigger portion without messing with profit margins by combining an expensive cut with a lesser cut, like rack and shoulder. "When doing butchery," advised Emett, "don't be afraid to wrestle around with it." As he worked, Emett described the difference between American and New Zealand-raised animals, the former raised on corn feed and the latter on grass. The Ambassador of New Zealand was in attendance specifically for this demonstration, and we can only assume he prefers his native, grass-fed variety.
The last Main Stage presentation was arguably one of the most anticipated panels of the entire three days: "Modern Cuisine: A Generational Discussion" with Grant Achatz, Daniel Boulud, and Pierre Gagnaire. It was a free-flowing conversation between the three renowned chefs, covering topics from where they get their inspiration to the art of opening multiple restaurants, concluding with a general discussion on American cuisine. Gaganaire proposed that the United States was so large and diverse that it's too difficult to nail down a national cuisine, but Boulud countered that with the help of companies and media outlets, like StarChefs.com, it's possible for chefs to tap into industry buzz and trends. Overall, the effect was powerful: in essence Boulud and Gagnaire passed on the proverbial baton to Achatz, who they described as the leader of the current generation of American chefs.
by Amanda McDougall, Katherine Martinelli, Emily Bell, and Carolina Daza Carreño