Main Stage: Hearing Nature, Tasting Time, Respecting Place

Main Stage: Hearing Nature, Tasting Time, Respecting Place

The second day of the Pastry Competition began bright and early on the Main Stage, as the 11 remaining competitors tried to whisk, pour, and scoop their way into round three. After the last plate was tasted by the judges—and the kitchen was transformed from 11 stations into one—the day’s presentations began.

Emotions to Share: A Total Immersion in Sensations and Pleasure

Pierre Herme gets personal in his "Emotions to Share" Main Stage presentation

Pierre Hermé gets personal in his "Emotions to Share" Main Stage presentation

Legendary Parisian Pastry Chef Pierre Hermé started off the second day of the presentations with a kick, sharing his thought’s on two desserts he gives the title “Entrée” (signifying “Between”).  By thinking outside the confines of a cake-defined dessert—and superfluous garnish—Hermé created desserts similar to tiramisu in texture with original flavor compositions. In one, strawberry gelées, mascarpone-olive oil cream, and tomato puff pastry matchsticks came together; in the second, Hermé combined a variety of grapefruit preparations with wasabi gelee and matcha green tea marshmallows. When questioned about his distinct flavor combinations, Hermé said that the idea of taking a dessert too far does not exist. “Limits are everyone’s own interpretation,” he added, encouraging chefs to not give up on unique flavors, even if they are not readily accepted.

Interpretation by Interaction: Divining the Art of a Dish

Sanghoon Degeimbre plates "From Pointalism to Pollock" for the Main Stage

Sanghoon Degeimbre plates "From Pointalism to Pollock" for the Main Stage

Belgian Chef Sanghoon Degeimbre of L'Air du Temps in Noville-sur-Mehaigne brought the Sixth Sense to life during his Main Stage presentation Tuesday afternoon. Using the elements of sound and smell, he shared several dishes with two randomly chosen (and lucky) audience members. His first two dishes mimicked the experiences of walking through the woods and along the beach; as diners dipped into a bowl of mollusks, seagulls called out in the background. In the final third presentation, the chef invited the couple to take part in his creation of art. Beginning with a plate of dotted sauces, Degeimbre encouraged the diners to add additional elements, including an aerated lemon mousseline and squid ink, to take the plate from “Pointillism to (Jackson) Pollock.” During the entire plating and serving process the enthusiastic chef spent time explaining his creative process, and said he felt this interaction was vital for the future of cuisine: “It is difficult for a chef to create something and not share its genesis.”

Expressions and Gestures

Chef Paul Liebrandt with Devil's Horn, an herb he discovered while reading historic British food texts

Chef Paul Liebrandt with Devil's Horn, an herb he discovered while reading historic British food texts

Chef Paul Liebrandt made “three little dishes,” conveying the essence and emotions of autumn during his afternoon Main Stage presentation. Driven by color—especially deep crimson—Liebrandt looked deep into fall ingredients to produce modern, flavor-driven little masterpieces. His first dish was an homage to Japan with huckleberry powder-cured Madai (Japanese snapper), a white fleshed fish that he topped with a spiced red wine circle, shiso, and raw goat’s milk chantilly. In a nod to Modernist Cuisine and the flavors of earth, he composed a second dish of foie gras “cherries” on top of a beet-hibiscus borscht gelée. The foie gras was gently cooked, set in molds, dipped in liquid nitrogen, and then dipped again in beet and hibiscus glaze. On a black plate with a sheet made from beet juice and dried black olives, it looked like two shiny orbs were dropped (with tweezers) on a black forest floor. His third dish—black truffle-glazed sunchokes with black flour meringue, huckleberry fluid gel, and huckleberry meringue—also recalled the earth. Before coating the sunchokes in truffle glaze, Liebrandt vacuum-packed the sunchokes with a 2 percent calcium lactate solution, let them sit overnight to dry, and baked them, which gave the sunchoke a baked shell and perfectly cooked, moist center. To finish the dish, Liebrandt plated just blistered shishito peppers and girolle mushrooms alongside the sunchokes, and he garnished the plate with devil’s horn (an herb he discovered in an 18th century cookbook and got farmers in the Midwest to cultivate from seed; he’s currently the only chef in the United States to use it). Although Liebrandt’s dishes have a modern perspective and plating, his fall dishes demonstrated his passion for history, art, culture, and (first and foremost) product. “I try to stay away from manipulation of the actual product. Let the natural flavors speak for themselves.”

Chef of the Sea: Cultivating the Ocean's Purest Flavors

Angel Leon shares the Ocean's Purest Flavors on the Main Stage

Ángel León shares the Ocean's Purest Flavors on the Main Stage

Spanish Chef Ángel León walked onto the Main Stage, greeted the audience with a warm smile fresh from Spain’s southern Atlantic coast, and introduced close to 10 cutting edge techniques and concepts out of his kitchen at Aponiente in El Puerto de Santa María outside of Cádiz. He bases his cuisine on the ocean’s food chain, from the smallest sea creature (picture plankton) up.  Squeamish audience members wrinkled their noses at the green plankton paste passed around for them to taste, but on the tongue it was salty, briny, buttery, and delicious. Beyond being the first chef on Earth to sow, harvest, and serve plankton, León seeks out other sustainable means of respecting the sea, like transforming the kind of catch deemed unfit to sell by fishermen into menu items at his restaurant. He also transports harbor-bound, bottom-feeding (and hence, petroleum-filtering) carp to a natural reserve “paradise” fish sanctuary. After a time there, the fish bellies go through total detox. León’s team then harvests their unctuous fatty bellies and produces charcuterie that parallels pork-based boudin blanc or chorizo in texture and whose flavor carries a touch of brine—which made a splash with a crowd full of hungry ICC attendees. To close, we got a deeper glimpse into the heart of Aponiente: “He sido cocinero desde pequeño. Pero fue primero el mar que me llamó.” (I’ve been a cook since I was little. But it was the sea that first called to me.”)

Chile's Native Son

Rodolfo Guzman shares the  time and place philosophy of Borago on the Main Stage

Rodolfo Guzmán shares the time and place philosophy of Boragó on the Main Stage

A young Chilean chef took the stage, earnest, focused and transparently passionate. He began by introducing in a few words the work at his restaurant Boragó in Santiago. Culinary foraging trips across the scaly, notched spine of Chile’s 2,650 miles have resulted in the discovery of long-forgotten foodways and 32 different kinds of mushrooms and other ingredients previously unknown outside of indigenous cooking. The Sixth Sense struck the audience with a shiver when Chef Rodolfo Guzmán began to demonstrate his food. A simple preparation of native kra kra fish from Easter Island visually represented time and place, as terroir from sea-to-plate blended with the ancient technique of cooking over volcanic rocks. Rainfall in cold, near-Arctic Patagonia transformed into a bite-sized snack and visible wisp of mentholated air. Guzmán´s final dish started as a story about the discovery of a tree in the middle of nowhere. It’s special to the Mapuche people because its seed pods produce a haunting spirit call in the wind. In the video that followed (painstakingly produced by Guzmán), the chef demonstrated a chocolate “seed pod” with a rattle that echoed through the hearts of all those in attendance, a global community of chefs in love with food and cooking.

The Modernist Revolution

Chris Young of Modernist Cuisine brings science to the Main Stage

Chris Young of Modernist Cuisine brings science to the Main Stage

“Memorization will never lead to innovation,” said Chef Chris Young. “Cooking should challenge all of your assumptions.” And assumptions were challenged on the Main Stage as Young broke down techniques from Modernist Cuisine, written and painstakingly researched by Nathan Myhrvold, Young, and Maxime Bilet. Pulling highlights from the six-volume tome, Young demonstrated the power of the pressure cooker, a 17th century innovation, with an important role in the modern kitchen. By adding baking soda to vegetables and fruits, the pressure cooker (which can raise food temperatures above boiling point) can caramelize onions for French onion soup or bananas for an intense, sweet purée. And Young’s culinary tool du jour is the centrifuge—“it’s amazing what you can accomplish with G-force”—with which he produced a pure pea juice and pea butter made from the natural fat found in the legume. With (by now classic) sous vide technology, Young prepared a rare steak jus with aged beef and bromelain (to extract extra juice from the meat) by cooking the beef at 53˚C, then sending the blood red juice through the centrifuge. Young also waxed on concentrating flavors without overheating liquids and altering their natural state. To achieve this, you have to lower the pressure of a cooking vessel and therefore lower the boiling point to as low as room temperature. Young said you could either purchase a $40,000 Dave Arnold-approved rotavapor or build your own version with $400 and Ebay (Young is considering writing a blog post with instructions). The power of boiling at room temperature fully erupted on stage when the cork on Young’s boiling beaker exploded for added drama. For his last technique demo, Young made New York barbecue (AKA pastrami) with equilibrium brining to achieve the perfect level of saltiness and seasoning. After brining and checking the saline solution with a refractometer, Young rubbed secret spices on the meat, and then cryo-fried it, first dipping the meat in liquid nitrogen and then flash frying it to achieve the perfect temperature and meat texture (Emcee Josh Ozersky gave it his thumbs up approval!).

Black (Thai) Magic: From Technique to Instinct

Chef David Thompson demonstrates how to build curry paste with a mortar and pestle (and an assistant and a glass of wine)

Chef David Thompson demonstrates how to build curry paste with a mortar and pestle (and an assistant and a glass of wine)

Following Chef Chris Young, Chef David Thompson said of Thai cuisine, “This is the opposite of Modernist Cuisine.” And the pik pok pik pok pik pok pik pok of the mortar and pestle punctuated his presentation. Thai food, Thompson said, springs from thousands of generations of Thai women, who cook every evening and are indoctrinated into food culture at an early age—they cook (like Thompson) on instinct rather than recipe and hard formula. Thompson (with a glass of wine in hand) instructed a hardworking assistant, Clair, on pounding—with a loose wrist—dried and soaked chilies to start the base of a red curry paste. He demonstrated a country-style red beef curry with red chilies, green chilies, lemongrass, garlic, shallot, kafir lime zest, galangal, dried shrimp, coriander, and cumin seeds. Clair pounded the ingredients (one at a time, until they reached the perfect consistency) while Thompson smelled the curry to determine what and how much needed to be added next. From season to season and region to region, the intensity and flavor of the ingredients change, so aroma and taste dictate whether a curry is developing properly. After the paste was complete, Thompson cooked garlic, beef, and then the pounded paste in a whopping ladle-ful of pork fat, which is “almost irreplaceable” for the unctuous quality it offers the curry. After smelling the spices, “throwing in more chilies for contempt,” adding “British stock” (water), more chilies, and sugar, Thompson deemed the curry balanced, beautiful and ready for a bowl of rice—the starch that “has sculpted the countryside” of Thailand. “Good cooking ain’t about thinking,” said Thomspon. “It’s about forgetting, and falling into a seamless combination of flavors,” flavors which the Main Stage audience lapped up readily, attacking Thompson’s pan after the demo was complete.

By Katherine Sacks, Jessica Dukes, and Caroline Hatchett