By Colleen Richardson
Sous vide and foams were demystified this year, no longer the rarefied
techniques of avant guard masters. Here’s a look back at the
year’s hottest equipment that made these and other innovative
cooking methods possible.
Cryovac The recent buzz over sous vide
has brought attention to the Cryovac machine and the process in
which food is sealed in airtight bags and then cooked for an extended
period of time at extremely low temperatures. The process of hermetically
sealing food in plastic bags is referred to as “Cryovac-ing”
and helps food retain their natural juices and aroma during cooking.
Benno of Per Se in New York acknowledges that
a quarter of the work done in his kitchen is sous vide, and his
Cryovac machine is an indispensible kitchen tool. However, Cryovac
machines serve purposes other than just sous vide cooking. The vacuum
sealing is used for preserving, marinating, and storing food items
that would normally have a shorter life in the average hot kitchen.
Because the air is extracted from the bag, products such as perishable
nuts and fish have a much longer shelf-life when properly stored.
Hotels and chain grocery stores use Cryovac machines to allow advance
preparation and ensure consistency in food items that are assembled
in a central commissary and then distributed to various locations.
Techne Immersion Circulator In keeping
with low-temperature cooking, chefs are using science-lab grade
immersion circulators that serve as a type of thermostat which evenly
heats and moves water in a water bath and whose temperature can
be adjusted to within a tenth of a degree. This whisk-like device
is used in sous vide cooking. Chef
Wylie Dufresne of wd-50 in New York
has an immersion circulator at just about every station in his kitchen.
Hold-o-mat This amazingly reliable low-temperature
oven comes to us from Switzerland and provides non-direct, even
heat. There are two important functions this oven provides to chefs
in a busy, high-production kitchen: 1) Meat and fish may be cooked
for extended periods of time at temperatures as low as 68°F
without drying out or burning (This method actually tenderizes the
meat and improves flavor and texture due to the extended resting
periods.); 2) The oven holds finished dishes by regulating temperatures
and humidity, ensuring that food maintains peak integrity for service
time. The convenience of this low-temperature cooking allows chefs
to plan menus in advance and get more creative with dishes such
as vegetables which tend to be left as the after-thought to meat.
Pacojet Another impressive product to
come out of Switzerland – this mixer grinds and purees deep-frozen
ingredients into a mousse or cream by rotating at high speed. This
machine is used to prepare everything from freshly-made ice cream
and sauces to flavored butters and silky purees. Melissa
Perello of Fifth Floor in San Francisco likes
to experiment with new flavor combinations in hers. One of the greatest
features of this product is the chef’s ability to deep-freeze
and store multiple flavored concoctions in one-liter steel beakers
until ready for “Pacotizing” – a process by which
the machine purees the product to a silky smooth consistency at
a temperature of 53.6°F.
Thermomix This multi-purpose tool is
manufactured by Vorwerk in Germany, and is popular for its ability
to blend and heat items within a very narrow range of temperatures.
The machine functions not only as a blender but also as a food processor,
microwave and scale. It is useful for the preparation of soups,
purees, sauces and even pizza dough. It also makes the perfect Hollandaise.
iSi Gourmet Whip Siphon chargers and
N20 cartridges were once strictly the domain of the pastry chef,
but they are now useful tools for the culinary chef as well, thanks
to Ferrán Adrià, whose “espumas” –
the Spanish word for foam – have transformed gastronomy over
the last decade. A traditionally heavy sauce or dressing is aerated
to become light and frothy – resulting in an entirely new
mouth-feel. The technology behind iSi’s Gourmet Whip allows
chefs to create soups, sauces and garnishes that are lighter than
air. The container’s hygienic closed system preserves food
quality and actually intensifies the food’s natural flavor.
iSi even makes a Thermo Whip which can keep contents cold for up
to eight hours without refrigeration needed, or it can keep ingredients
hot for up to three hours.
Rational CombiMaster With five cooking
modes – Hot air, Steam, Combination, Vario-steam and Finishing
– this versatile oven provides the professional chef with
the flexibility of many cooking techniques. There is also the ability
to cook widely differing meat products, such as stuffed pork belly
or veal roast, regardless of whether the oven is full or part empty,
or how big the individual pieces are. You just simply set the oven
to “overnight roasting.” Baking is also made easy by
choosing SelfCooking Control on the oven.
These cutting-edge tools allow chefs to take their food to another
level of creativity and taste, but in no way are they meant to replace
a thorough mastery of traditional technique. Chef Shea
Gallante of Cru in New York has the most high-tech
tools per square foot in his kitchen, boasting every single piece
of equipment on this list. Even so, he warns, “If you don’t
understand the basic foundations of cooking, then none of this new