2011 Starchefs – International Chefs Congress – Day 3

Ground Zero

This morning we were able to catch up on sleep as I wasn’t expected to be at the Congress until 12:30pm.  We took the opportunity to head down to ground zero.  The apartment we were staying in has a straight line view down 6th Ave all the way to ground zero.  I can only imagine the vantage point if you were per chance looking out the window that morning on 911.

The area is a major construction zone. We asked how we could get in, but were told we had to go 5 blocks to see if we could pick up tickets to enter the memorial.  So instead we headed just one block east and landed on the occupy Wall Street park.  There was a heavy police presence for what appeared to be a fairly small group of campers.  Makeshift offices with generators powering computers and tarps at the ready for inclement weather.  A kitchen area and re supply area for all the occupiers needs.  A group was having a town hall meeting at a seating area in the park.  It was hard to imagine that the activity in this little park could spark the explosion of discontent across the nation and beyond we are seeing at this time.

Many clever signs in the park

This is what democracy looks like

We walked another block over and arrived at Wall Street which is barricaded against any attack.  We got back on the subway and headed uptown.  We walked up to the Armory and starving dropped into a Korean Express – which rocked.   Most times I am more excited by inexpensive ethnic fare available in NYC than the starred options.  The kimchee was so nicely sour and spicy that it has become my new point of reference.

The Somm Slam final two took their positions. Each of us had a jar of curry in front of us and another blind tasting wine.  Fred Dex began the competition by explaining that the two would have to go through the blind tasting verbally in front of us.  I smelled the wine and instantly thought Sauvignon Blanc but a more subtle one on the nose.  It did not have the intensity of a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand nor could I imagine that it was an old world Sauvignon Blanc.  That left based on what was left of the selection Chile or Australia.

Dex allowed Jill Zamorsky (Sommelier for Brian Voltaggio’s Restaurant Volt) who won the blind tasting on the previous day to choose who would taste and evaluate first. She decided to go first. A lady in the second row who is a Master Sommelier was to write down all the descriptors each contestant used in their allotted 4 minutes.  Alexander LePratt (Sommelier for Café Boulud) left the room and we got to watch Jill go through the process.  She narrowed it down to an Australian Sauvignon Blanc.  Alexander came back in and went down the same path and narrowed it down even further to a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillion and said it came from Margaret river.  Pretty amazing really except that these finalists have had a little time to snuggle up to this selection over the course of 3 days.  It would have been awesome if they were faced with a wine that was not included in the selection.  Still it was amazing to watch each of the finalist vocalize their sensory evaluation and indicate what they are looking for when they narrow down the options to their final decision.

They each had to open up a jar in front of them to evaluate a spice blend (Curry) and determine what the mix was composed of.   They both did well in listing the typical elements in the curry blend.

Their final pairing exercise came down to two dishes created by Indian Chef Hemant Mathur of restaurant Tulsi.  One dish was a type of croquette with spinach and Garam Masala and the following dish was Tandoori style Lamb rack chops with apple chutney.  Jill chose a St. Joseph Esprit de Granit (Syrah) to go with the first dish and Alex chose a Chilean Chardonnay.  I felt the St. Joseph was a better pairing.  Jill chose a  Pinot Gris and Alex chose a Pinot Noir both from the same producer, Mt Difficulty, in New Zealand with the lamb.  I felt that Alex’s choice was better with this dish, though frankly I would have been happy with either choice with this pairing.

I retired from the Slam a little early so I could catch Andoni Aduriz on stage, which I was sure was going to be the highlight of the Congress.

I sat down mid movie that showed some of the producers from his region.  It brought me back to my brief stay in the Basque country where I was struck by the mountainous verdant coastline that runs all the way to the west of Spain.   He showed a few dishes as well where he used Calcium Carbonate (Lime) to cook vegetables to create very unique effects and textures.  Andoni loves to mimic nature in his cooking.  Make potatoes look like rocks for an example as he did when he was at the IACP in Denver.  In one dish he soaked Jerusalem artichokes in calcium carbonate mixture for 3 hours then cooked them. When he cut into them the interior looked just like crab meat, which he of course incorporated into the dish.  The show stopper of the presentation was when he showed a dish that was a 5 year process to perfect.  The dish was  inspired by an an egg dish he had in Japan at a Kaiseki restaurant.   He wanted to create an edible facsimile of an egg that he could stuff with a substance similar to egg white.  So he had to create an egg mold and then find the perfect edible mixture brittle enough to replicate the cracking characteristics on an egg.  He created a mixture based on Manitol poured it into the mold and emptied it out to get the right thickness.  Then he unmolded the egg, drilled a hole in the thick end and filled it with a mixture meant to replicate egg white (I was hoping  he was going to fill the center with an egg yolk that would form inside, but maybe that will be in another 5 years) and then he sealed the hole with a thin layer of manitol mixture.  Table side they bring out egg yolks that have been cured in sugar and pull one of these eggs out of an egg carton and smash it onto the plate in front of the guests (seems like a lot of work for something you are going to smash). He asked his assistant to bring him a box of eggs which he then proceeded to throw into the crowd. Some of the eggs smashed in the audience’s hands.  Quite dramatic and fun.

After that amazing presentation I strolled around the vendors area and got a call from Lucy who was heading my way.  I met her at the door and while she at the ladies I ran into Jorge and Bruce and talked to them about their meat retreat at Peter Lugers.  Lucy came up and Jorge passed her his pass to check out the event.  We went in and strolled around and I passed by the Winston Industries booth and for laughs filled out a card for a CVap oven.   The CVap stands for Constant Vapor and is a low temperature oven that allows you to cook items at a precise temperature in vapor (not steam) environment.  Think Sous Vide without the bags.

We stayed in the vendors area for awhile and then decided to head off for a beer at a nearby pub.  We no sooner get out of the Armory and down a half block when I got a call from Winston Industries and Jill lets me know that my name was picked out of a bowl and that I was the winner of the CVap oven and which included the whole Modernist Cuisine Book Series that was just published and getting much deserved hype as the most expensive and revolutionary cook book to ever hit the market.   I was beyond elated at my good fortune.

What a way to end a great Congress! Thanks Winston Industries. Thanks Starchefs.

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