2010 International Chefs Congress Wrap-Up: Tasting and Mixology Day One

2010 International Chefs Congress Wrap-Up: Tasting and Mixology Day One

Dave Arnold and Nils Noren Dave Arnold and Nils Noren
Putting the FCI’s Dave Arnold and Nils Noren in a room full of liquor and expensive, high-tech machinery is always a great idea. In today's hands-on workshop, Shaking Up Mixology with the Latest Toys, Arnold and Noren gave cocktails the chem-class treatment in front of an audience of fellow culinary science jockeys and mixologists. “I hope you had breakfast,” Arnold warned as they began their RotoVap, Centrifuge, iSi whipper, NO2 tour of modern mixology. Anyone looking to clarify their fruit-liquor distillations? Dave and Nils know the exact enzyme for the job (it’s distilled from fungi, with no mushroomy residue).

The high-cost of high-tech might seem prohibitive to many would-be modern mixos, but the yield is always better (and faster) than traditional distillation methods, sometimes close to 1:1. They started the day with a “beef shot” – the informal name for an as yet unnamed cocktail that combines the meatiness of veal stock consomme, jalapeno, and vodka for a thick, savory result. A garnish of rice-vinegar pickled tomato made it seem almost like the breakfast attendees should have had. While the centrifuge did a number on a bananas, apples, vanilla bean, rum, and that fungi enzyme, the dynamic duo created a carbonated cocktail of clarified fig juice, aperol, gin, and a pinch of salt. It wasn’t all futuristic mixology—there were wild-caught beaver tail chicharrones for those in need of a snack.

Giuseppe Gonzalez, Richard Boccato and Pastry Chef Johnny Iuzzini Giuseppe Gonzalez, Richard Boccato
and Pastry Chef Johnny Iuzzini
Next up in mixology was Island Revolution. Mixologists Giuseppe Gonzalez and Richard Boccato of Manhattan’s Painkiller teamed up with good friend and award-winning pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini to serve up tiki classics like never before. Combining components of molecular mixology (agar-clarified lime juice, liquid nitrogen, and agar) with ultra-authentic recipes (Gonzales and Boccato traveled the globe in search of unadulterated tiki), the trio created drinks of bankable consistency and durability. Multiple methods for clarification were on display—essentially “removing flavor buffers,” said Iuzzini—with bursts of CO2 and NO2 to carbonate and chill recipes, respectively. But the session felt decidedly un-futuristic, mostly because Boccato, Iuzzini, and Gonzalez weren’t looking toward the future; they were combining the best of the past and the present. The blender showed up—a refreshing twist in a purist age of scrupulous authenticity—churning out thick, yogurt-textured versions of the classic Beachcomber that stood up to the test of time. Meanwhile, a carbonated Beachcomber danced with sharp, tight bursts on the tongue. The key lesson of the day was avoiding classification in favor of imagination. Cocktails exhibited flavor, balance, consistency, and texture—leaving concepts like modern and historical aside. The result was an amalgam of old and new school mixology that feels very much like what the present tense of bartending should be.

Keynote Jesse Rodriguez and Chef William Bradley
In this panel discussion, Wine Director Jesse Rodriguez and Chef William Bradley of San Diego’s celebrated Addison restaurant told of how finding harmony at work between food and wine guaranteed their success. Joining together in the philosophy of “refined simplicity”, Rodriguez, who sees himself as a “maitre d’ with a corkscrew”, discussed the common language and respect he and Bradley share, which allows the chef the room to evolve, and motivates Rodriguez to move forward with him. Bradley deeply appreciates Rodriguez’s “somme mind” that can catalogue menus and tastes and make stellar suggestions. A particularly illuminating question came from an audience member, who requested that the duo cite an item on the menu and offer a wine pairing. Chef William began with a favorite dish at Addison: King crab-legs poached in seaweed and served on baby romaine lettuce. The buttery meat of the crab is brought out by the buttery flavor in the baby romaine but cut by the lettuce’s acidity. Then Rodriguez briefly explained his process for pairing wine: first, protein; second, preparation; and third, sauce. For the dish in question, he considered his process and recommended a Reisling. The two men clearly have a friendship that enhances their creative process and inspires their team to reach ever greater culinary heights, as well as making for a very entertaining workshop.

It was a keen palate that could detect the subtle difference between MS Geoff Kruth’s six mystery Syrahs. And some excellent sommeliers were in attendance at “A Blind Exploration of the Many Faces of Syrah.” But even these stellar somms were surprised by the identities of the wines, some Old World, some New, that were placed before them. After briefly debunking the myth that Syrah originated in either Persia or Sicily, and actually comes from the south of France, Kruth continued to present challenges to his guests. Six glasses were judged by color, standing, smell, and taste; attendees were stumped as to the origin of each of the wines.

For Derek Brown, mixologist of DC’s acclaimed Columbia Room. and The Passenger, a talk about cocktails is a talk about philosophy. He brings the culinary approach of the Japanese, who seek to honor the true quality of their ingredients, with ancient Greek philosophy, all the way back to Aristotle. Everything you need to know about the perfect martini can be found in Aristotle’s works, according to Brown. He explained that it’s the quest to make art that imitates nature. A cocktail, as originally defined in the 18th century is something strong mixed with something weak. Aristotle would say that to create essence you must consider causality. The ingredients, technique, and the goal of each drink must be separately analyzed. To mix the perfect martini, water must be pure, gin cold; your technique must be specific—the temperature should be perfect 28 to 31°F, no more or less. Finally, set your expectations beforehand, to really adhere to Aristotle’s view, and to Brown’s.

by Jessica Dukes, Emily Bell and Kathleen Culliton