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“What makes food soulful?” Richard Blais asked Hector Solis on the Main Stage at ICC. Solis, the short-in-stature Peruvian chef, presents a cuisine at his restaurant Fiesta in Lima, Peru that stays true to traditional recipes that have been passed along for centuries. Solis demonstrated to attendees how he cooks with soul and maintains deeply-rooted traditions in his dishes. “Cooking tradition is cooking food that reminds me of childhood memories and the sense of family,” said Solis, as he swirled a saucepot containing the hearty—yet super simple—purée of choclo (Peruvian corn) called pepian.

To him, it is of utter importance for chefs to understand the roots of the cuisine—the flavors and the philosophy that are the heart and soul of the food. While modern chefs like Virgilio Martínez opt for a more elaborate, forward-thinking approach, Solis stays low to the ground, firmly sticking to tradition.

However, tradition hardly means homely and inconsequential. “It is my job to get the best ingredients I can possibly find and use the modern techniques to make the food better,” Solis says. His presentation of sudado is deceptively humble at a glance, but take a closer look, and you’ll see a whole host of techniques that make his stew relevant to the contemporary language. Whether you’re making plain ole' mac and cheese or truffled agnolotti, always embrace tradition and cook with soul.

On day 2 of ICC, Asia took over the trade show floor with our Hey, Asia! showcase. Washington D.C.’s Seng Luangrath of Thip Khao, a representative of Laotian cuisine, served a dish that took Brooklynites (and ICC participants) by fiery surprise. Her betel leaf wrap—packed with in-your-face flavors like funky fermented dorade (called som paa), raw, crunchy Thai eggplant, bird’s eye chile, ginger, and one helluva hot sauce—was unabashedly sap lai lai (that’s ‘very delicious’ in Lao).

Luangrath’s betel leaf wrap was successful in flavor, execution, and in concept. With hundreds of hungry participants looking for an instantaneous pick-me-up between demonstrations, the wrap just made sense. They're super easy to eat—read: no forks, knives, spoons, sporks, or whatchamacallits required. Using Luangrath’s template, chefs can reach beyond the lettuce wrap: collard greens, lacinato kale, chards, cabbage, or even shiso. Luangrath's wrap proved that Laotian cuisine is a force to be reckoned with.

Charcutiers, don't go rogue, play it safe: If you’re looking to (or are currently) curing meat in your kitchen, make sure everything is up to standard. “As a food handler, you don’t want anyone getting sick,” said Susan Isberg of the United States Department of Agriculture at the How to HACCP panel at ICC this year, where she was joined by fellow USDA inspector Thomas Collaro, and Chefs Joshua Smith and Greg Biggers.

“You just have to know what you’re talking about, know the lingo, and be able to answer all questions,” said Biggers, who uses a TouchBlock program at Sofitel Water Tower in Chicago. The program includes a Bluetooth temperature probe and will alert him anytime one of his walk-ins drops below standard temperature. “You can’t do HACCP at 500 bucks. You have to invest,” he says.

At New England Charcuterie in Waltham, Massachusetts, Joshua Smith opts for a less costly approach: ThermoWorks thermometer and hours of grinding through paper work. Smith develops his own detailed flowcharts and forms, and documents everything that happens throughout the lifespan of his salami. “From receiving to displaying or product discarding and staff training, it has to be documented,” he says.

One thing that two chefs agree upon: there is no clear-cut, singular way to make a HACCP plan. It takes time, effort, and more time, but it can, and must be done. “Make use of existing samples. Find what works best for you and develop your own system,” Smith says.


 

José Andrés has figured out how to end unemployment in America.

Put minibar’s pesto-filled fusilli on the menus of restaurants across the country. No ordinary pasta, his team makes “fusilli” out of Parmesan-infused water mixed with two gelatin agents. Prep cooks dip corkscrews in liquid nitrogen and then into the Parmesan water. Then they untwist each clear, hollow shape from the screw and fill them with traditional Genovese pesto through a syringe.

Opening this year’s International Chefs Congress, Andrés had plenty to say about politics, but mostly, he had fun with liquid nitrogen—a tool he likens to the extreme heat of frying, just at the opposite end of the spectrum at -346°F and -320.44°F.

Take his twist on a fried floral cake popular in Spain and Latin America. Instead of dipping a floral mold and batter into a deep fryer, Andrés sends his mold into a bath of liquid nitrogen. The next stop is a 9:1 blend of pumpkin seed oil and cocoa butter, which he unmolds into a crisp “tart” shell and fills with mandarin purée and sea salt. “It’s transforming oil into a texture. It’s unbelievable how it melts,” he said.

On stage, Andrés also used liquid nitrogen to highlight his favorite mushroom—the matsutake. The base of the dish is a bed of simply cured matsutake mushrooms. He and his team then replicate the matsutake visually by freezing molds in liquid nitrogen and filling them with matsutake cream to form a shell. Next a matsutake espuma gets piped in to firm up. After unmolding, the “mushrooms” are still cold enough to dip into truffle juice to dye the mushroom’s “stem.” The ingredients are all straightforward—cream, onions, mushrooms, truffles—but the liquid nitrogen gives the dish new shape and contrast. “My mouth doesn't get bored,” said Andrés.

Critics have dinged Andrés for “gimmicky” liquid nitrogen dishes like his ode-to-Ferran Dragon’s Breath, but he ignores them in favor of showing diners a good time and expanding the textural boundaries of ordinary foods. “We look at things like we are kids.” Now get out there, and have fun. 

This year, six of the country's best haute dog makers brought their a-game to kick off Eat@ICC. With a room full of smoke and a buzz reminiscent of a house party waiting for the DJ drop beats, the dogs trumped childhood memories of ketchup-stained cargo pants at summer baseball games. There were no wi(e)nners or losers, but a frank favorite was Chef Bill Kim's Belly Dog. Currently featured on the menu at Belly Shack in Chicago, the all-beef dog released attendees inner Asian-grandma, laced with kimchi salsa, tart pickled green papaya, curry mayo, and crunchy egg noodles. It made ICC look more like Coney Island than Congress. The only complaint: the mini-version of the dog was just not enough.

Pastry Chef Kriss Harvey's signature dessert at The Bazaar by José Andrés in L.A.—The Chocolate Cake of Your Dreams—lives up to its lofty name. From surface to core, each layer melds together, leaving the diner with a head-in-the-sky high. But “it's not just about the guest's experience. How we do things and the ingredients we use matter,” said Harvey.

At ICC 2015, Harvey indulged attendees with a few technical tips on how to achieve light-as-a-feather mousse, as well as how to ensure quality and efficiency in your pastry program. (Fun Fact: There are 71 impeccably executed items on Harvey's menu. He knows what he's talking about.)

  • Use cream that has a 35 percent fat content. Anything higher is too heavy.
  • When creating a ganache insert, make sure it's fully emulsified and has the same texture as the surrounding mousse. You don't want to cut into the cake and encounter a brick.
  • For a moelleux, use bread flour, preferably imported from France. It allows you to make a loose and light batter that can still hold together.
  • Unmold mousse when it is -40°F to -30°F. If using liquid nitrogen, quickly dip, then warm up in the fridge.
  • If making multiple recipes that require gelatin, have a large batch soaked and ready to use. Gelatin only absorbs about 4 times it weight in water. Calculate the exact amount you need and use directly (example: 100 grams gelatin + 400 grams water; if you need 10 grams of gelatin, take 50 grams from the pile).

 

 

Melissa Kelly’s cotechino has humble beginnings and a spectacular finish. Step one: fill an orange bucket with scraps. “We have white, blue, and orange buckets—one for compost, one for chickens, and one for the pigs,” said Kelly, who presented her full-circle kitchen on the 2015 ICC Main Stage. Those buckets are conduits for moving energy from the top to the bottom of Primo's food chain. “Customers are first, then us for family meal. It moves down to my 85-year-old dishwasher. Then the pigs, chickens, and compost. Nothing gets thrown away.” Enter the swine. 

Kelly and her team raise 9 pigs each year for slaughter in late October. “They recycle food waste and come back to us as delicious meat. It’s hard not to raise pigs,” she says. Kelly sells fresh cuts at dinner service, hoards the lard, and cures the rest, making prosciutto-style hams, salumi, terrines, pickled ears, and her prized cotechino. (Only the blood gets discarded, courtesy of USDA slaughterhouse rules.)

Originating in Modena and traditionally served on New Year’s day with lentils, cotechino is essentially a sausage-stuffed pig’s leg. That sausage is distinctly made of boiled skin, meat, and winter spices, such as nutmeg and clove. After being filled, the leg is sewn shut and gently poached. To avoid tearing, Kelly seals hers in a vacuum bag and cooks it sous vide at 145°F. Next it’s chilled and thinly sliced to order. It’s not uncommon for chefs to bread and fry said slices, but Kelly’s kitchen takes it one glorious step further. She breads the whole damn leg, fries it in the pig’s own lard in a cast iron pan, heats it through in the oven, and slices the goodness for her guests—who, in turn, will help start the cycle all over again. If there are any non-pork products left on their plates.