Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Think Like a Chef

Heston Blumenthal, on left, scenting the room in a similar fashion he does at his restaurant, The Fat Duck, England.
Think Like a Chef
By Lourdes Castro

Its an age old question ... What to make for dinner tonight? While inspiration surrounds us in the form of cooking shows, magazines, even the Internet, it seems we are always in a rut. The same ingredients keep showing up in our refrigerator – chicken breast, salmon steaks, salad greens. And the same uninspired food keeps showing up on our plates.

But this is New York. And a good meal is only a phone call away. So we leave the “dirty” work to someone else. Let the restaurants figure out how to keep our taste buds engaged and coming back for more. But if we are talking about taste bud engagement, the one ultimately responsible for this is the chef.

How does a chef come up with a dish? How does it occur to him or her to combine two ingredients – say artichokes and cured beef – and create an appetizer? Or decide to braise veal shanks until the meat is falling off the bone and serve it with creamy turnip puree?

Culinary conferences – a gathering of food industry professionals sharing their knowledge and expertise – offer a potential answer to those questions.
Table at the mixology workshop on bitters lead by Toby Maloney from The Violet Hour, Chicago.
StarChefs.com International Chefs Congress is one such conference that takes place in New York City. Last week a culinary who’s who gathered at the Park Avenue Armory for three days of demonstrations, workshops, and symposiums.

Chefs such as Heston Blumenthal, Marco Pierre White, Daniel Boulud, Grant Achatz, and Wylie Dufresne gathered to discuss techniques and trends. Some topics were controversial (should restaurants subject their patrons to 20+ course menus), while others were truly mouthwatering (old school techniques for making suckling pig).

But probably the most gratifying display of true “chefdom” was Daniel Boulud’s demonstration where he explained how he is able to have multiple successful restaurants without sacrificing his standards to high quality. In a word ... mentoring. Chef Boulud selects whom he considers rising stars in the field, guides and inspires them, but ultimately allows the chef’s personality to shine through in their menus.

The trust he has for his chefs is the reason why his operation runs the way it does. He inspires them to be the best they can which in turn inspires menus full of great dishes we are only a phone call (and reservation) away from.
Chef Daniel Boulud during his demonstration surrounded by his chefs from Restaurant Daniel, DB Bistro, and Bar Boulud. Grant Achatz from Alinea, Chicago, during his demonstration.
Clockwise from top left: Old and new techniques for making suckling pig, Chef Candido Lopez (Meson de Candido, Segovia, Spain) and Joan Roca (El Cellar de Can Roca, Girona, Spain); Michael Ruhlman, Marco Pierre White, and Anthony Bourdain during a round table discussion; Heston Blumenthal, on left, from The Fat Duck, England, preparing frozen egg ice cream; Heston Blumenthal during his demonstration.
A glimpse into the kitchen ... This recipe comes from Chef Gavin Kaysen of Café Boulud, and appears the way Chef Kaysen wrote it for use among his staff.

Sashimi of Kampachi with Fried Garlic, Butternut Squash, Daikon and Ponzu

Yield: 4-6 Servings


Ponzu Sauce:
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
11/2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
Zest of 1/2 lime
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1 1/2-inch piece kombu
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons yuzu juice
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons lime juice

Chef Gavin Kaysen of Café Boulud.
Butternut Squash Pureé:
1 butternut squash, peeled and roughly chopped
1 cup chicken stock
11/2 cups cream

To Assemble and Serve:
2 tablespoons cooked butternut squash, finely diced
1/2 bulb fennel, finely diced
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 jalapeño pepper, finely diced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced very thin
1 cup canola oil
1 filet of fresh kona kampachi, skin removed, trimmed


For the Ponzu Sauce:
Wash the kombu in hot water to remove the white mold, and place in a bowl of hot water to soften. Combine the rice wine vinegar, sugar, ginger, lime zest and lemon zest in a pot and bring to a boil; remove from the heat and add the softened kombu. Cool to room temperature and then add the soy sauce and citrus juice. Store in the refrigerator, covered, for at least 24 hours to steep the flavors. Strain and taste; you may dilute with water if the citrus flavor is too strong.

For the Butternut Squash Pureé:

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and add the chopped butternut squash. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, being sure not to color. Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Carefully transfer to a blender (you may have to do this in batches) and puree with the cream until smooth. Pass through a fine meshed sieve and season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill.

To Assemble and Serve:
Combine the diced butternut squash, fennel, red onion, and jalepeño. Make garlic chips by combining the sliced garlic with enough milk to cover in a small saucepot, bring to a boil; strain and repeat two times. Place a fine mesh sieve over a heat-proof bowl. Pat the garlic dry and transfer to a small saucepot with the canola oil; bring to a boil. Lightly simmer, stirring carefully until the bubbles subside and the garlic hardens slightly but does not color. Remove immediately and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Very thinly slice the kona kampachi against the grain. Arrange a few slices on each plate; top with ponzu sauce and finely diced vegetables. Spoon butternut squash puree around in a decorative fashion and garnish with a few garlic chips. Serve chilled.