On Monday I took the bus across town which was super easy. Practically door to door.
The opener for the day was Jordi Butron of Espai Sucre who opened with a question on the difference between Store pastries and Restaurant plated desserts. He gave us a little history of the restaurant dessert.
In the seventies and before the dessert cart (or chariot in France) was the prevalent way that the dessert was served to the client. Then in the 80’s the dessert cart followed one or a few plated desserts. When I was at Georges Blanc in 1989 the first section I staged in was pastry. We were at the crossover spot of including two plated desserts prior to sending out the Dessert cart and finishing with mignardises.
When I returned in 1998 with a group of students to eat lunch the cart had disappeared and all we received were two plated desserts and mignardises. Not complaining as the dessert cart was really an act of gluttony after such a satiating meal.
When we went to Paul Bocuse on several occasions in the years that followed he only offered the dessert cart, and boy did the staff push the desserts on the carts. Baba au Rhum with an extra dose of aged Habana Club and so on and so forth.
The point that he made is that the plated desserts and the immediate art of the pastry chef is really a fairly new concept and as such it needs to be properly chronicled and defined.
He then went on for quite some time on his system of creativity in designing a plated dessert. He outlined it in these steps.
- Ingredients: know everything about the ingredients that you plan to use. What are the promiscuous ingredients (ones that associate freely with other items e.g. Strawberries) and what are the monogamous ingredients or ingredients that have a hard time pairing with other ingredients e.g. rhubarb. A funny visual. Imagine rhubarb the monk walking by madame strawberry’s whore house made of chocolate and cream.
- Technique: Is the technique appropriate to the ingredient or combination of ingredients
- Plating: What plating arrangement best shows off the technique and maintains the integrity of the ingredients. Too many flavors and textures can create confusion that the palate cannot differentiate.
The presentation was fascinating as it explained the Spanish System of Creation (Ferran Adria uses a similar method). The problem was with the translator who was probably not that well prepped in gastronomic verbiage and struggled to translate some of the material. It is a hard job to simultaneously translate (having had a lot of experience with this through my trips to France). You have to know the subject for which you are translating or you can lose some of the context. Fortunately I know Spanish, so the presentation was not as painful as it might have been for some of the other spectators.
Next up was Masaharu Morimoto the OG Iron Chef Master was quite entertaining. His big demo, deboning a whole monkfish hanging from a hook was educational and what was especially interesting was how he used the whole fish to produce several courses. Of course Japanese chefs are no strangers of tail to hook cuisine, but it is refreshing to see creative ideas for using every piece including the gills.
I have often been given the monkfish foie gras by my fishmonger in Avignon to cook off with students and I am particularly fond of monkfish cheeks which have an even more crab or lobster like like texture than the rest of the fish. Morimoto took all the bits and converted them into a dish of kombu wrapped monkfish loins cooked buried in hot rocks, deep fried gills, monk fish foie gras caprese salad and on and on until all that was left of the fish was the dangling skeleton you see hanging to the right of Morimoto.
He started off his presentation by saying that this monkfish was sustainable. I was happy he used all of the fish which is truly a more sustainable way to cook than how we process the fish in the US…..lob off its ugly head and sell the tail.
Next up was Marcus Samuelsson who made a foie gras and sea urchin molten flan with watermelon rind. He was one of the few chefs who actually offered up a taste of one of his dishes. He talked fondly of the lessons learned at Georges Blanc and all I could imagine was how he managed to get past the open bigotry that some displayed against their dishwasher from the Comores island off the coast of east Africa. He was the whipping post for everyone’s negative energy in that restaurant and the open acts of racism were enough to make you cringe. It is hard to imagine how an Ethiopian orphan adopted by Swedish parents gets to NYC and then decides to make a career out of featuring Nordic cuisine with an African twist.
He talked at length about the African flavors and hopes that someday we’ll be going to P.F. Congo not P.F. Changs. His molten foie gras cake was quite good and he must have plated a 100 or so with the help of his staff.
Next up was Ana Sortun who spoke of Middle Eastern Flavor profiles. I however needed a break so I did not catch her presentation.
The day ended with a tandem presentation of New School vs Old School with Joan Roca and Candido Lopez and was truly an inspirational presentation. Candido was up first (same translator as with Jordi) and spoke of tradition which for him includes the skill of Roasting whole suckling pigs. His restaurant has been opened for business for over 200 hundred years. Someone asked him how many pigs he roasted a year and he calculated 10,000 a year. So if you do the math that’s 2,000,000 little baby pigs since they first opened their doors. Funny enough he showed pictures of himself snuggling up with the baby pigs in their pens. The Spanish love their milk-fed baby lambs and pigs. Many of their classic dishes feature the careful roasting of these young succulent quadrupeds.
Candido slathered the little pig with rendered lard and baked it in the oven at around 360°F or 180°C on its back for 1 hour then flipped for the remaining cooking time. During much of the conference temperatures and weights were quoted in metric. He had already placed one in the oven for our later enjoyment.
Joan Roca came up and talked about his family’s restaurant El Celler de Can Roca and some of the dishes that he features including a mar e montagna (surf and turf) called “Treasure Island” in which he extracted the scent of dirt from outside his restaurant with the use of a rotovapor and incorporated it into a dish of oysters and sea foam. He is famous for writing a book focusing on the use of Sous Vide technique. He also demoed sous vide techniques to replicate the same textures and crispiness of the Candido pork. When asked why he uses so much sous vide in his restaurant he responded that it allows him un-parallelled control over the precise cooking of ingredients. At the end of his presentation He and Candido took plates and used them to cut the milk-fed roasted Cochinillo. The idea is that the pig is so tender it can be cut with plates. The audience descended upon the pig in anticipation of a morsel. I can vouch for the crunchiness of the skin and butteriness of the meat. Oustanding.
After this presentation Starchefs had arranged a cocktail party with famous bartenders making libations for the audience. Eben Freemen the bartender for “Tailor” made a bourbon using smoked coca cola syrup. The booths from the products fair had prepared all kinds of canapés and hors d’oeuvres.
After, my friend John and I walked to checkout Bar American and see if the chef from the night before had really put us on the guest list. This is a beautiful restaurant and I noticed that it is where he films the opening sequence for “throw down”. We were not very hungry but still indulged in a dozen oysters and a tuna tartare. They threw in a few extras like their potato chips with blue cheese Mornay and their trio of seafood. We had great service and I left feeling positive about Bobby Flay’s venture especially since I entered into it expecting the opposite.
I walked to the subway station to get a ride uptown and came upon a news crew filming with a crowd assembled. I looked around and noticed that I was in front of the Lehman Brothers building. It was not until I returned to the apartment and turned on the news that I heard of the events that took place on Wall Street. A dark cloud had just fallen on Manhattan.