As I mentioned in the last post, the brightest light at the Star Chefs Congress is the community of chefs present. I did not touch upon the highlights of this, and so I wish to do so now. While still fairly fresh in my mind, I've gone through my scribbled notes from the event and compiled them into a form that is more easily accessible for me. Below is a list of some of the chefs who did mainstage presentations. This is not an all encompassing list, but only a rundown of those professionals that made an impression on us, and that we had the privilege of watching presentations or simply getting to say "hi" to while walking the floor.
This is a long list, so if you find it boring just scroll down to any names that may interest you or don't bother with it at all.
Grant Achatz- This was an interview format type of presentation with Kim Severson providing the questions and bouncing board. Although it is always a pleasure to hear Chef Achatz's philosophies on food and art and life in general (and we have heard him speak several times) I really wish he would do a culinary demo once. The man has solidified so many great techniques. I would be great to see some of these demonstrated instead of getting a run down on Kastner's serviceware and how different it is from round plates.
Laurent Gras- I have never before seen Laurent Gras doing a presentation, but there was obviously a bubbling anticipation for this one... especially after getting glimpses of the man's mind from his blog and his eccentric character. His demonstration embraced the theme of the 6th sense by focusing on creating a representative presentation of a fish through the medium of analytical cubism. If this sounds strange, it is (and obviously is open to interpretation from anyone). He focused on visual references to fish (eyes, silverly scales, sense of freshness). While we did not learn any technique from this, the doors were open to ideas and thoughts... which is the most important thing to take away from any chef presenter. This concept would have fared equally well for last year's 'Art vs. Craft' theme. For those of you who follow the food scene, Chef Gras has long been gone from L2O in Chicago and now resides in New York. When asked if he could give any details on his forthcoming restaurant, he simply replied "no." Interestingly enough, an article on Laurent Gras on Eater popped up as I was typing this section.
David Burke- This was the 2nd time we've seen Chef Burke doing a presentation. Both times were focused on meat... I'm cool with that. He is an authority. When we saw him 4 or 5 years ago, he was buying his own cows, aging the meat, and even created an aging process where the meat was left in air controlled rooms lined with Himalayan salt blocks (the salt actually transferring to the meat through the air). As of his current demo, the process has been patented by him. He also demonstrated some new interesting cuts of meat mostly focused on lamb. The standout for me was the double lamb chop... taking the loin slice from one end of the saddle and rolling it over to bind with the other loin piece all with one rib bone to create a hearty lamb chop. Some of the other notable points of the demo... coating meat with pastrami spice before drying and cutting off the outer dried edge to use as pastrami jerky, roasting meat inside of a wooden box filled with hay to infuse the wood and grassy flavors to the meat, head & shoulder pie, and making candles into a warm vinaigrette (an idea we tried with flavored butters a few years back, but were not nearly as successful as he was). I always walk away from a Burke presentation inspired. If I may be so bold as to add (of course, using Ricky Bobby's segway), "with all due respect" Chef Burke is one of the sloppiest chefs I have ever seen do a plate-up, but damn he's inspirational. I hope he keeps coming back.
The Swedish Guys (Björn Frantzén & Daniel Lindenberg)- As a representation of the ever food news blazing Nordic movement, this savory/pastry team brought forward some interesting ideas. The most shocking of these... aging fish. This goes against every bit of chef mentality in our veins (or in our brains). Working on creating better textures, they age fish for up to 20 days. They showed us how to slightly cook and flavor fish by holding a piece of binchotan charcoal between the torch flame and a slice of fresh eel. They made leek ash by roasting leeks until black and pulverizing it into a powder. Very interesting. Our 2nd favorite Swedish chefs after Nils Noren (best of luck, Nils, wherever you are and whatever you're doing... Sköl!).
Daniel Boulud & Gilles Vérot- Daniel Boulud is like royalty at these events. He is very smart to utilize the incredible talent he has under his empire. This year he brought Vérot, who is a master 3rd generation charcuterie master from France, along and everyone was at attention. They demonstrated how to make a classic 7 meat pie (fortified with typical French lavishness such as foie gras, sweet breads and also including duck, venison, and wild boar). I was not one of the lucky few who got to try the pie afterwards, but damn I know it had to be good. Vèrot also has a recipe for his classic pâté de campagne in the ICC book, and we will definitely make this soon.
Angel Leon- There seems to be an endless basket full of amazing Spanish chefs to select from for these types of events, and Chef Leon was a great choice this year. He emphasized sustainability in our oceans by focusing on seafood as an endless pantry of ingredients... not just fish and shellfish. His demonstration showcased the use of plankton in various ways. He dehydrates it and reconstitutes it immediately before service (insisting that freshness is necessary when dealing with plankton due to the bacterial risks involved... probably from the unsanitary conditions of the Chum Bucket). I like Chef Leon's motivation. He uses plankton to flavor a particularly bland and unpopular oyster and elevate it into something extraordinary. He also takes a well-known 'trash' fish and by changing it's environment and as a result, its food source, gave it an exceptional flavor. He does not, as our friend Frodnesor suggested to me, use it to flavor crabby patties.
Pierre Herme- Another member of the respectable French culinary royalty, Pierre Herme has a presence onstage that is befitting of his stature. His demonstration was simple and intriguing, focusing on his approach for matching flavors in his flagship store in France. I do not normally crave desserts or feel the need to sugar indulge, but I was almost salivating during Chef Herme's presentation. Combining many savory flavors into his design may be commonplace now on many dessert menus, but watching these evolve in the hands of a perfectionist master is amazing. Getting a couple of his macaroon recipes in the program book was icing on the cake.
Paul Liebrandt- An all time favorite chef of mine (as of many others). I've never eaten his food, but it speaks of meticulously concentrated flavors and a sense of finesse that is unmatched. Just watching Chef Liebrandt hover over a plate with intent focus and careful movement of hands is a testament to the care put into his food. His demo food was a reflection of his feelings of Autumn. The seasonal dishes were represented with huckleberry (in various forms and techniques including a cure for Japanese sea bream), red shiso tops, black-toasted flour to resonate the flavors of crusty bread, smoke, and a praise for peanut oil. He was one of two chefs presenting new ideas using the ancient practice of nixtamalization (the other chef being Andoni Aduriz).
Chris Young- If you don't know who Chris Young is then just be aware that he, along with Nathan Myrvold, is responsible for the huge cooking tome that made waves over the last year titled "Modernist Cuisine" (on every chef's Christmas list... poor Santa). If that isn't enough to get you excited, then also consider that he was once the Chef de Cuisine at the Fat Duck. The stage for Chef Young's presentation was elaborated with so much specialty equipment, it's a wonder he was able to touch on it all in the time slot of his demo. He talked about pressure cookers... pressure cooker onion soup (which has made it's way around the internet), using baking soda to encourage the maillard reactions, pressure cooking bananas to create a dark 'chocolatey' rich substance, pressure cooking barley seeds, using the technique to caramelize carrots for soup. He discussed their rare beef jus method using sous-vide and enzymes to break down the meat and release the ruby red juices. The pastrami he showed on stage looked so amazing, it made you want to sack Josh Ozersky for being the only person in the room who had a chance to taste it. He then went on to discuss the incredible results achievable from centrifuges, some DIY equipment ideas to save thousands of dollars, and equilibrium brining (a 'doh' common sense technique introduced to us by Michael Ruhlman which allows you to brine indefinitely without over-salting). The bonus was hearing Chef Young talk about their love for barbeque (which goes mostly unmentioned in most articles focused on the book... let's be real, there is much much science in the art of barbeque). A few onstage jabs towards Dave Arnold, who was in the audience, led me to believe that a round table type discussion between these two geniuses next year would make a great presentation (although it would probably just fly over most of our heads).
Andoni Aduriz- Speaking of royalty, Andoni is King! Somehow, somewhere I had seen Chef Aduriz's accompanying video online sometime before the ICC (I believe he may have done the same demo at MAD food camp). The big initial focus was using nixtamalization to change the texture of pectin-rich vegetables (he used sunchokes and salsify). A soak in a 2% lime solution followed by roasting yielded crispy exteriors and flaky soft interiors. A Jerusalem artichoke dish was paired with crab meat (cooked sous-vide at 70ºC for 40 minutes) because of the resemblance between the two. He presented a playful dish titled "cat's got your tongue" which used partially dried braised tongue pulled into strands and called for the diner to guess what they were eating. The other three dishes showcased were more on the sweet side. He used molds to create both incredibly realistic walnut shells and egg shells. The walnut shell was made of a mixture of gianduja chocolate, cocoa butter, and white clay. The eggshell was made from sugar and was inspired by a dish he ate in Japan. A playful dish titled rusty nails consisted of nails made from clove and something else (possibly chocolate? My notes are vague here. Does anyone out there remember?). I thought the use of clove in a nail was creative on other levels (also considering French word, clouet, for nail which is used to describe cloves in certain applications). Part of the dish consisted of a 'meringue' made from 1 liter milk, 50g flax seeds, and sugar soaked for 30 minutes, heated to 60ºC, then strained and chilled. The mixture must be very cold, but in that state can be whipped up like meringue... very very interesting, especially considering the health benefits of flax. He used a mixture of gelling agents in most of the dishes and promoted the slight use of xanthan gum to prevent syneresis (seepage). Too many notes taken too fast.
Stanislav Vadrna- This wasn't a planned event for us. We were standing near the entrance after just entering the Congress talking with Food Player Linda and Kevin Sousa. Spontaneously, someone invited us to participate in a mixology demo if we were interested... of course, we were. Call it fate or chance, you don't mess with destiny when it involves learning how to make drinks. The class was, however, focused on other matters behind the bar. Instead of learning cutting edge mix-master skills, we were handed toilet paper and reminded to just be ourselves... the point being that we are all constantly play-acting in our daily lives whether it is with our families, friends, or co-workers. The only time we are truly ourselves according to Stanislav is when we are wiping our asses. As funny and off the wall as this seems, it was a great presentation. It focused on engaging the guest and the quality of the product. All in all, it reminded me of the classic Allan Benton business philosophy, "Don't worry about the bottom line. Focus on quality and the bottom line will take care of itself." Stanislav relayed various stories of his career to us after moving from Slovakia to New York. He told of the revelations he had which led him to focus on getting handshakes instead of tips. Engage the customer, make eye contact, and stay in the moment and the tips will come without you thinking about them. Amusingly enough, he has a watch that instead of featuring hours and minutes simply reads "NOW." What time is it? It's now... go out and live in it.
Michael Laiskonis- It's funny that in the ICC book interview questions, Michael states his favorite chef is Thomas Keller for being a constant "beacon of professionalism." It's funny because this is exactly how we view Chef Laiskonis. He is one of the most erudite and detailed pastry chefs in the business. Aside from that, he is an amazing writer. We've had the pleasure and privilege of assisting Chef Laiskonis during his past trips to Miami for his dessert courses in a couple of the tribute dinners for the SoBe W&FF. As a result, he has always been courteous to us and we are proud to know him. It's hard to imagine that a place like LeBernardin could exist... with all of the amazing press and astounding leadership of Eric Ripert, to have as a bonus an amazing pastry chef like Michael Laiskonis as part of the package is just incredible. If I could be so bold as to add anything else to this section, it would just be this... "Please bring back the blog posts!"
H. Alex Talbot & Aki Kamozawa- These two have been a presence of the ICC long before they were official participants. We've had the pleasure of knowing them for a few years now and even getting to work with Alex when he came to Miami for a Cobaya dinner. This year, they did a work shop on sous-vide (a great recap of which is here). They will be down in South Florida soon (west coast) to do a workshop, and hopefully we can make the drive out to check it out. It's also fun to watch how much Amaya has grown over the last couple of years as she is just a couple of months older than my own daughter. What else can I add to this? Oh yeah, Alex is a freakin' genius. The word now is that they are already working on a second book, and if it's anything like the first you might as well just go ahead and pre-order now (just kidding, it's too early but keep your eyes open and jump on it as soon as pre-orders are available).
Kevin Sousa- We haven't seen Kevin since the 2nd Star Chefs ICC, and it's awesome to have him around again. He has spent the last few years working towards developing his restaurant, Salt. It's been open for more or less a year now, and the tweet pic's of the dishes and the guest feedback all suggest that it was worth the long wait. It's awesome to see someone so thoughtful and creative as Kevin get his dream. He's a great chef and a family man, and he once left a comment on my blog when my daughter was born which reminds me everyday how important it is to be both. Thanks, Kevin. I look forward to seeing you revive your blog. You have far too much to share to leave it dormant.
Linda Anctil- More famously known as "Food Player" because of her blog, Linda is brilliant for her ideas. She seems to know more about plants and horticulture than any other chef I personally know, and she has been great company for us during the last few trips to NY. Her intelligence is balanced by her personality which is very down to Earth. We've eaten some great food together, and look forward to more great times in the future. The ICC is unfortunately the only time of year we see her.
Shola Olunloyo- This is the chef behind the Studio Kitchen blog. Some very interesting things have been shown on this blog over the years. I still don't fully know what Shola's background is or how he manages to supply himself with so much expensive cutting edge equipment. You can either feel jealousy towards it or just sit back and soak up the inspiration. I've had the pleasure of meeting Shola twice over the last couple of years and he is very polite and approachable... basically, a damn nice guy. Cheers.
Katsuya Fukushima- Once again, hanging out in the Gastropod. Katsuya looks all too comfortable in the airstream now. In actuality, he is very close to opening a restaurant in DC. The place will be called Daikaya, and the focus will be ramen. Not the typical ramen joint, Katsuya will be getting back to the Japanese side of things while throwing in some of the more eclectic things he has become well-known for. This is all good news. Katsuya needs a forum of expression. He is too talented. He remains to be one of the most bad-ass chefs I know.
Dave Arnold- We didn't see Dave until the last day. Not sure why the FCI of NY wasn't involved with all of the behind the scenes work of the ICC this year, but Dave looked incredibly more relaxed than usual. He was drinking cocktails instead of making them. Either way, it was great seeing him. What a talented and smart guy. You could almost hear the gears in his head crankin' while you speak to him. The only question I forgot to ask him... "Where's Nils?"
Greg Grosman- I'm not sure how old Greg is now, but he made a bit of PR splash a couple of years back by being the youngest 'molecular gastronomist' out there. This could easily be dismissed as some BS marketing hype, and we've all seen similar themes of kid 'prodigies' out there. Honestly, it takes years of study and apprenticeship to become a chef so where does some teenager who for some reason fancies him an Adria-like wizard get off calling himself a chef? I mean, even if he could learn a few modernist tricks and went right from the childhood chemistry playset to the El Bulli Texuras kit without learning about true cuisine from the school of Hard Knocks, how could he actually create food that was worthy of acknowledgement when most kids his age are still learning how to make peanut butter sandwiches? The only real problem with this assumption anyone would have about Greg is that he doesn't come across that way at all. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that he is a very humble and down to Earth person. He doesn't seem at all to feel privileged or take for granted the blessings he has thrown upon him. In fact, he exhibited all of the necessary qualities we would normally look for in any line cook aspiring to become a chef. Basically, he's a good kid. I'm fortunate to have met him a couple of years in a row now, and we would love to get him down to Miami for some sort of dinner or event in the future. As long as he continues to be inspired and willing to learn, he will be a great chef no matter what his age is. He is worth the investment.
The Miami Chef Contingent- The list is growing. This year we had a posse representing from the 6th burrough. The most visible was Jeremiah (it's hard to miss a shiny silver airstream parked on the showroom floor). Alberto Cabrera was there. Timon Balloo showed up for his first year (funny how we have to go to New York to meet chefs from Miami) and we hung out for a while. Chris Jones who isn't in Miami, but on the Naples side of the 'island.' Kyle Foster, formerly of Talula, was there on the gPod. Sean Brasel of Meat Market was in attendance. If I'm missing anyone here, my apologies. Can we consider Daniel Boulud a Miami chef now also... maybe not.