2010 International Chefs Congress Wrap-Up: Savory + Pastry Workshops and Demonstrations Day One

2010 International Chefs Congress Wrap-Up: Savory + Pastry Workshops and Demonstrations Day One

Rick Moonen Rick Moonen
The fifth annual StarChefs.com International Chefs Congress got off to a rocking start this morning, with a triple-header in the workshops department. A passionate advocate for sustainable seafood, Chef Rick Moonen started out his packed sous vide session with a brief talk about sustainability—what it is, how we can help, and how we can tell what’s sustainable (he recommends the Monterrey Bay Aquarium iPhone app).

Using Julabo and Multivac sous vide equipment, Moonen explained that sous vide “is unbelievably precise, which is why I love it.” Talking about the versatility of this technique, Moonen noted potential applications, including compressing fruit, infusions, and marinades. Moonen and his executive chef Adam Sobel demonstrated a striped bass dish with sous vide baby corn, corn pudding, and chanterelles. He used the bass belly to make a mousseline, coated the bass fillet with it, wrapped the fish in its own skin, then plastic wrap, then cooked it at sous vide at 62.5°C for 25 minutes, set on soft/low.

Although Chef Moonen doesn’t use sous vide for everything, he says, “In a restaurant scenario when you’re really busy, precision cooking is your savior. It comes out amazingly well every time. Even if you’re off by 15 minutes it will still be good. Sous vide gives you that flexibility.” When Moonen removed the fish from the bath, he and Sobel finished the dish by rolling the skin in brown butter. In the end, says Moonen, not all fish is adaptable to sous vide cooking, but sea bass certainly is.

Chef Tom Aikens of restaurant Tom Aikens in England’s capital city demonstrated his philosophy of treating raw ingredients, like New Zealand salmon, as simply as possible. Marinating portions of salmon first in chili, lime zest, and olive oil, Aikens then cooked it sous vide—a technique he praised for its cost saving and convenience. Providing the meat or fish is cooked at the correct temperature, there’s no going wrong. “There’s no blaming the ingredients,” in sous vide Aikens pointed out, as any overcooking is the chef’s error. While the salmon was cooking, he proceeded to prepare apple pickle, sliced fresh and pickled radishes for textural contrast. The marinade from the salmon was reserved to add to the dressing. He completed the dish with a peanut-almond crumble spiced with cayenne pepper, paprika and lime zest, as well as assorted micro greens dressed in olive oil, lime zest and salt. An apple-chili compote helped balance the sweet and savory elements in the dish. He consistently layered the chili and lime throughout the dish while offering textural contrasts between crunchy and soft elements for a cohesive—and delicious—result.

Chef Bryan Voltaggio presents Advanced Techniques with Liquid Nitrogen Chef Bryan Voltaggio presents
Advanced Techniques with Liquid Nitrogen
Meanwhile, at Chef Bryan Voltaggio's Advanced Techniques with Liquid Nitrogen, his guests were being treated to an ice-cold (literally, having just been removed from the Irinox Blast Chiller) cocktail, icee-pop style. Voltaggio went over his concept for the 21-course tasting menu at VOLT, where he likes to put a twist on the familiar to shake things up. He had a word to say about dewars, regarding cost and safety, when you consider that they maintain the nitrogen for up to 50% longer than a regular mixing bowl, and they are resistant to slippage—very important in a busy kitchen.

Inspired by a tasting he took part in at the 2007 ICC, Chef Voltaggio provided the audience with a twist on an old favorite, peanut butter and jelly, this time around matching peanut butter powder with frozen foie gras. He followed up with a dish served at VOLT, an heirloom tomato salad with dipping dots in three flavors, gazpacho, fennel, and cucumber. Sweet dishes included a simple lemon curd dunked in a liquid nitrogen bath and served with a toasted pistachio powder and finally a sticky toffee cake with frozen coconut cream, for a play on hot and cold.

Next up, Double Crown and Public Chef Brad Farmerie began Monday’s savory hands-on workshop by lamenting the 7% of an animal that is wasted when you let blood just drip down the drain. Using Cervena venison blood and pig blood, he demonstrated how to prepare blood pudding as well as blood sausage made with apples sautéed in Zacapa rum, before giving the attendees a helping hand to prepare blood sausage themselves. He discussed the storage and sourcing issues with blood. Different types of animal blood were covered, including an overview of how they vary in viscosity and flavor profile, despite the fact that they are chemically similar.

Blood presents a number of cooking challenges, and Farmerie steered attendees through avoiding separation of solids and liquids in blood, and warned against the grainy texture that comes with overheating. Techniques and ingredients for blood recipes vary from country to country, but Farmerie explained that “blood represents the soul” in some cultures and so certain religions consider blood a taboo food substance. He ended the session by offering samples of global dishes containing blood, including Swedish Pig Blood Rye Bread with Smoked Salmon, Taiwanese Blood “Popsicles” which tasted “like a savory Snickers” said Farmerie. There were also samples of the very same blood sausage the attendees had just prepared, sandwiched in baguettes with a little pickled onion and lettuce. This workshop ran the gamut of historic dishes like blood pudding that date back to 1000BCE and modern innovative dishes like foie gras served with blood-thickened spice sauce, showing just how versatile a player blood can be in every chef’s pantry.

And in the next exciting, packed session (attended by fellow presenter Chef Michael Meredith, among others), Pastry Chef Jimmy MacMillan illustrated various ways for pastry chefs—and chefs in general—to update their arsenals. While the emphasis was placed on using the latest tools and toys (like the Bravo Trittico and Irinox Blast Chillers), MacMillan also noted the importance of ingredients. And while he’s all for the locavore movement, MacMillan stressed that if the opportunity arises to use a better or more exciting ingredient from France or Japan, he’ll take it. In a moment of brevity, he likened molecular gastronomy to 90s grunge, but said he makes an effort to try out all the latest technologies every year, despite his classical training. MacMillan demonstrated a mango buttermilk gelato on the Bravo Trittico (putting its unique, extra-sharp scraper to use), and passed around freeze-dried fruits and flowers and dehydrated foods. His Barolo dessert deconstructed the individual flavors of a fine Barolo wine (roses, strawberries, chocolate, and vanilla), and reconstructs them as a plated dessert. He also placed special emphasis on the role that molds can play, and discussed his own line available through the Chicago Mold School.

Poetry on the Plate: Modern Kaiseke Poetry on the Plate: Modern Kaiseke
The interactive workshop Poetry on the Plate: Modern Kaiseke was a jam-packed session that started out as history lesson in Kaiseki, given by Chef Isao Yamada from Bouley Studio in New York. He took the participants down the two paths of modern Kaiseki with a look at its historical roots, beginning with the "robe and stone" Kaiseki of monasteries, samurai, and early tea ceremonies of the war-torn sixteenth century. Banquet-style Kaiseki, a tradition which began among townspeople in the peaceful eighteenth century is less formal and involves sake. Chef Masoto Nishihara represents the Shojin application of Kaiseki, which is purely vegetarian and, true to Kaiseki's roots, hyper-seasonal. He showed photos of dishes from his New York restaurant Kajitsu, and discussed the significance of the seasons of each of the ingredients involved, symbolism being an important element of Kaiseki cuisine. Next, Chef Nori Sugie, creator of the IRONNORI brand (specializing in Kaiseki plateware and pop-up restaurants), showed off his wares, inviting the guests to take a look at the dishware used for Kaiseki, also an important element to the cuisine. Finally, Chef Makoto Okuwa of Sashi in Manhattan Beach, California demonstrated techniques in the preparation of sushi Kaiseki, emphasizing the importance in slicing the fish cleanly. He invited the guests to listen as his microphone picked up the sound of his knife scraping the spine of the fluke as he cut away the flesh.

Pastry Chef Jordan Kahn Pastry Chef Jordan Kahn
At Pastry Chef Jordan Kahn’s interactive workshop, there were references to Chopin and psychological discourse, as the surrealism-loving pastry chef used his guests as guinea pigs to test the limitations of sensory perception with an experiment in coloristic dissonance. Each participant was masked, using goggles with red lenses, which warped their perception of color. The participants were invited to taste and plate items that became instantly unfamiliar with the help of the goggles. Once unmasked, the guests were surprised that something as basic as a banana puree had become absolutely unrecognizable. Likewise, nobody had been able to guess at either the buttermilk cake or the mashed lychee. That left one unnamed ingredient, a mysterious amber-colored puree. Hypotheses were rampant: Apricot? Cough Syrup? Jolly Rancher? Dirt? Once the identity of the mystery ingredient was revealed, a collective sigh escaped the crowd, as murmurs of “Of course!” were heard throughout the room. It turned out to be a gelee of Red Bull®, just going to show that perception is definitely a factor for chefs to consider when experimenting with innovation.

by Jessica Dukes with Kathleen Culliton, Katherine Martinelli, and Francoise Villeneuve