Day 3 International Chefs Congress

I took the bus again as it is soo easy and cheap.  This time I had to make it at a designated time to catch the one break-out class I chose to attend “The ABC’s of Digital Food photography” with Jamie Tiampo from “See food Media” and Antoinette Bruno the CEO and Editor in Chief of Starchef.com

It was a very informative hour though it left me grasping for way more info which I hope to supplement in the future.  The key tips I got out of it was know your light source (natural light is always best), shoot at the lowest aperture and don’t try to take photos of food on long rectangular plates….oh and turn your plates to get pictures from a different perspective.  Well all I have at present is a point and shoot albeit one of the best you can get a Canon G9 to take the photos you see on this blog.  I don’t want to get an SLR digital just yet until I can get a firm handle on what this camera can do and honestly it is way more convenient in the setting in which I use it.  Still gadgets, gadgets, gadgets.   So much to learn, but a medium I have used for some time.  As Antoinette said in the presentation she learned to take pictures in 2005 to save on paying for photographers who didn’t understand the food pictures she wanted. Great photographers with no concept about food.  Seems like I have worked with some of them as well.

Jamie made a nice presentation and his opening slide was of Matt Selby’s tattooed fingers that spell out FOIE GRAS. Now that is dedication to fine cuisine or ink or whatever.

Antoinette had to rush out of the presentation to get on stage for Daniel Boulud or “boulod” as she pronounced it.  I was looking forward to his presentation especially after reading “letters to a young chef” in which he fondly reminisces of his times at Georges Blanc.   We had a common friend who I wanted to ask about when I met him.

His demo was awesome and he assembled virtually a star studded line up of his top cooking crew.  Nobody was going to be eating lunch at DB, Bar Daniel or Daniel today.  He had five cooking stations set up with different cooks working on different dishes, everyone using sous vide in some way, but returning every time to very traditional dishes. My mouth was watering at the sous vide slow cooked pork belly then seared to crackling brown.  What really got me jacked up was that he had hired a master charcutier to move to NYC to make traditional charcuterie at his restaurant and they displayed and went over the gamut of traditional Lyonnais sausages and pâtés, describing what went into every one of them.  You can shout about molecular gastronomy all you want and you can try new things with air, foam, liquid nitrogen, etc. but nothing replaces the fulfilling comforting feeling of traditional preserved meats done by a master craftsmen.  I know which I would choose to take to a deserted island.

Daniel Boulud is a skilled master chef who has obviously integrated into the belly and soul of America.  He was reverent of his American staff (only two of them up on stage) but he said that one could cook French better than he could.  Now that is a compliment.  He gathered all of his staff up on stage along with his father and I managed to sneak in to take this picture.

The Daniel Boulud Brigade with his father to his right

Next up was Carlo Cracco (FGN – Fucking Great Name) came up and shared his vision of creativity by demonstrating his seafood notebook.  He ground up different kind of seafood (cuttlefish, scallop etc.) and rolled the meat into a very thin sheets which he then de-hydrated and bound into a replication of an Italian school kids notebook.  Then he showed how he created different dishes from this notebook of the sea.  It looked cool, but not something that I will be rushing to Milan to eat.  The Italian aesthetic has always blown me away.  Somehow they take art one step further.

I remember the first time I drove accross the border from Nice to Portofino and spent the night in Margharita.  The first thing I noticed was that though the houses were painted in different colors like in Nice the Italians took it one step further by painting elaborate frescos on the facades.  I’ll never forget hanging out at Cafe and seeing this hot Italian woman dressed to the nines light up a cigarette, straddle her Vespa side saddle and zip off like she had been doing it all her life.  I was hooked on Italy from that moment on.  The French have their style, but the Italians take it to whole other level.

Their cured meats are also soft spot for me and on this day I had the good fortune to stop by the Principe food booth and met Olivier Do-Vale, we started chatting in French and I learnt a ton about truffles and Olive oil.  Like I didn’t realize that they harvest white and black winter truffles all the way down to Umbria or that what really distinguishes great olive oil from poor olive oil is the quality of the equipment used to press and centrifuge.  I of course had to know why a Frenchman was representing Italian products. The answer is that the Italian food and specialty product portfolio is a hundred times greater in the US than the French portfolio.  We talked for quite sometime and then I had to find out why Culatello was un-available in the US. He turned me over to Alberto Minardi who is the GM for Principe . It turns out that it had to do with internal anti-competitive politics in Italy.  Apparently the biggest producers of Parma ham don’t want to compete with Cullatello exporters in the US.  The USDA has approved the product for entry in the US.  I hope someone can find a way to get that stuff into our country, because he pulled out a whole Cullatello he had managed to bring into the US and sliced it for the show.  It was sublime.  Now Spain had huge representation at the show and when it comes to Jamon they are also sublime artist.  They were slicing pata negra which has it’s own unique perfume and fat marbling.

After Carlo came René Redzepi of Noma Restaurant in Copenhagen Denmark.  This guy blew me away.  He is brilliant in his modern interpretation of nordic cuisine.  He put together six dishes featuring onions.  He arrranged some of his dishes on rocks that are found near his restaurant.  Extremely creative, using foraged herbs and seagull eggs (he didn’t bring those from his homeland and had to substitute the hen variety).  Don’t know when I will get a chance to go to Denmark but this is a new destination restaurant on my list (futnny how that list just gets longer and not shorter).

Michel Richard was supposed to be the next chef up but apparently he couldn’t make it.  I have a good foot in mouth story about him though.   When I was in Paris in 1989 doing my year long stage at top French restaurants, I went into Dehillerin and ran into Jean Louis Palladin and him checking out the equipment and since I knew Jean Louis Palladin from the times he came and did demos for us at l’Academie de Cuisine when I was a culinary student,  I came up and said hello.   He was glad to see me and I turned to Michel and said “so you must work with Jean Louis” and he said with a look of total disdain “no I own Citron in L.A.”  The conversation ended pretty quickly after that as the magnitude of my gaffe settled in.

Next up was Michael Anthony from Gramercy Tavern , however at this point I hit a wall and had to circulate.  Too bad as I was very much interested in hearing about his garden project and how he is going about teaching farm to table curriculum to the young.  My wife is trying to get a similar project off the ground at my son’s elementary school. The French have “la semaine du gout” a week devoted to having children taste all kind of products and have chefs & food professionals come to schools to discuss their trade.  When it comes to food education it’s not hard to find a beacon of light coming from the Gallic shores, though in actuality they are desperate to maintain the culinary patrimony as opposed to creating one where none existed before.

The last act was much anticipated and as it turned out somewhat controversial.  Grant Achatz came to stage, slowly paced back and forth and delivered a heartfelt response to his perceived insults from the larger than life Marco Pierre White and Anthony Bourdain.  It was good and it was easy to agree with his side.  Artists create, art evolves, styles and fashion changes and a whole industry revolves around this perpetual evolution.  Imagine if the fashion industry remained static, or the music industry.  Everyone wants the 2009 version, the 3G, the Wii or whatever. This does not mean that the Stones will ever go out of style, or that Levy jeans will fade away, or that we won’t preferably choose a nice dish of Cassoulet.  Art needs to evolve.  Humans need to evolve.  Sometimes it’s good and people recognize it right away and sometimes people don’t see it or understand it until the person is dead.  I applaude the creative, but also believe that creation without respect to tradition lacks credibilty.  Very few people leap frog into genius. Grant seems to be an exception (though he has paid his dues with his time with Thomas Keller and Ferran).  The controversy has caused quite a buzz on Michael Rhulman’s blog , if you want to read 86 comments on the subject.

The work he is doing with re-evaluating the art of eating, the sheer mechanics of lifting a fork to mouth and designing individual serving utensils that force the consumer to think about what he/she is eating is illuminating.  We evolved from eating with our hands, foraging, killing animals and eating them raw to eventually controlling fire and setting standards of table etiquette.  Right now food product developers are looking at how to create the perfect food on the go.  One that doesn’t drip or crumble, because we don’t want to mess up our cars or office.  The role of food in our life is changing whether we like it or not.  I am not comparing what Grant is doing to fast food, but merely stating that the way future generations will eat will be different.

The Alinea Book is just coming out and I should get my copy soon.  I look forward to reading it.

I had coordinated to go to dinner with my former student: Owen Clark at Tailor.  This is the student that did a stage in the lab at the Fat Duck.  He then moved to NYC and started working for Wylie at WD-50 and in a radical departure from the extreme experimental cuisine he is now working at Blue Hill the quintessential Farm to Table kitchen.

The place is known for its avant guard cocktails (remember the Waylon from day 2) and the Chef is the former Pastry Chef for WD-50.  The meal was awesome and Sam really hooked us up.  I especially remember the tongue dish with pickled beets, the pork belly and the frozen cereal dessert (imagine a sphere of ice cream rolled in frosted flakes on top of a slice of banana….just like being a kid).

After we went to meet eveyone in the kitchen.  Very nice crew in a fairly small place.  I loved that he had dual iPod mixing station.

Sam Mason and Owen Clark

Sam Mason and Owen Clark

I had to rush home to prepare for an early flight the following morning.  My whirlwind tour of NYC was smooth and very inspiring.  I want to thank my boss Morey Hecox for funding my professional development and Starchefs for granting me the opportunity attend the Congress.  Hopefully this summary (with the most links I have ever added to a post) of the three days will inspire others to go next year.

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