2009 International Chefs Congress Wrap-Up: Savory + Pastry Workshops and Demonstrations Day Two

Paco  Torreblanca

"Recipes are important, but not the most important thing to me." So said pastry god Paco Torreblanca in Monday morning’s workshop "Mano a Mano with a Pastry Master." Torreblanca lead the group of apt pupils through a whirlwind tour of his most recent dish developments. In fact, one of the dishes was so new that no else outside of his bakery laboratory had seen it—ICC got a sneak preview from Torreblanca! In just 60 minutes, the pastry master discussed his complete replacement of butter with Spanish olive oil in all of his pastry, demonstrated his chocolate mousse molds and flower capsules, showed a video of the elaborate process to create his liquid-filled candies,  and—the best part—shared how he creates his most recent dish of "oysters and caviar" for which he replicates an oyster shell with a custom a la minute plastic mold and white chocolate.

Chef Rubén García’s and Dr. César Vega’s "Liquid Nitrogen 201" took us through a hands-on culinary journey that included scientific studies and culinary innovations using liquid nitrogen. The secrets of the Leidenfrost Effect, variations of lemon sorbet, popcorn dragon’s breath, and a Margarita cocktail granité were just a few of the creative and tasty results of the use this magical atmospheric gas.

The interactive demo "The Art of Presentation: Making Eatable Art" featured Gabriel Bremer of Salts in Cambridge, Massachusetts demonstrating the method behind his beautiful, elaborate plating. "Plating," he explained, "is when we take our thoughts and put them onto the plate." Bremer expounded on his philosophy of presentation: he sees plating not simply as an aesthetic concession to the diner, but part of his gift as a chef—part of the total sensory package of the meal. "The food presentation is the chef’s personal expression of his craft," Bremer said, and what’s more, it should represent the dish, compliment the concept and main ingredients, and not be merely decorative. Bremer guided participants through plating a cylinder of foie gras au torchon filled with an organic maple reduction, which we admired and then rabidly consumed.

Charles Phan of The Slanted Door showed off his Vietnamese street food know-how with a hands-on workshop that lead participants through two of his classics: a Vietnamese crepe and a spring roll. Phan started off the workshop explaining his leeriness about the use of the term "authentic" when it comes to food. "Food changes all the time," he exclaimed. He also gave tips on how to judge a quality fish sauce (it should look like iced tea), explained the importance of fresh herbs in Vietnamese cooking in terms of flavor and texture, and gave one-on-one instruction on how to properly roll a spring roll (don’t overfill and use your fingers to tuck and roll). Chef Mark Miller was in attendance at the workshop—and his spring roll was very nicely done.

Sean Brock

Sean Brock doesn’t call himself just a chef anymore—he’s a self-proclaimed farmer, too. Brock describes his farming as working back through time, attempting to restore American Heirloom Ingredients once grown in Charleston, SC. From Mayflower seeds, sea island peas, and Carolina Golden rice to corn, wheat, and fresh peas, Brock uses unique pre-Civil war produce in his kitchen. He showed us his iconic and ultra-modern Southern Smokey Grits with Shrimp in Four-Ways dish—a perfect melding of avant garde techniques with classic American southern cuisine. Brock emphasized the role that history and sustainable farming can play in kitchens, enriching the food and techniques.

In her Interactive Demo, Pastry Chef Maura Kilpatrick of Boston restaurants Sofra and Oleana took us on a Middle Eastern-inspired trip down the spice route on day two of the Congress. Kilpatrick demonstrated how she uses the pastry methods, myriad spices, and dramatic aromatics of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. She brought several spices and spice blends with her, including smoked cinnamon and tangy wild sumac. We tasted several Middle Eastern-inspired recipes containing a variety of the spices, such as a milk pudding Kunefe, where layered shredded phyllo sandwiched aromatic milk pudding thickened with mastic gum—a staple in Middle Eastern baking which Chef Kilpatrick explained "makes everything gummy and chewy." Kilpatrick hopes to make Middle Eastern spices more accessible to chefs: "You just look in many, many Middle Eastern cookbooks and see how people do it and adapt it to make it more restaurants friendly." And judging from her demo, her formula works!

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