episode 33 :: molecular

episode 33 :: molecular

After attending the long-anticipated Molecular Gastronomy class at Sur La Table in Los Angeles, taught by Michael Young, Executive Chef of Domenico Ristorante I came back feeling super-charged, inspired, and with a far clearer understanding than I anticipated I’d leave with.

The question became “Are you a craftsman, or are you an artist?” Not an easy question to answer. I’d like to think I’m a little of both, but I really can’t be sure.

In this episode:
• Molecular Gastronomy Class recap
• An Oscar Watch party not to be forgotten
• Afaf, my new friend who opened my eyes to the wonderful food of Syria
• Top Chef Season 5 Recap, complete with audio and spoilers (go home, Casey)
• BREAKING NEWS: Albert Adria leaves El Bulli
• Coming on MLaaF, something to either turn your head, or your stomach

Listen to episode 33 :: molecular here

Hey, I started a molecular cookbook! Download recipes from this episode here, and start making your own molecular treats at home. (recipes courtesy of Chef Michael Young)

Also, Jo from My Last Bite took a ton of pictures at the class, so we made a slideshow. Enjoy:

Le Sanctuaire
My Last Bite
Alinea at Home
Sur La Table

Special thanks to Jo, Peter, and Cody for an exceptional day full of food and adventure, and to my new friends Afaf and Ray for bringing the world of Syrian Cuisine to the forefront of my mind.

So my final question to all of you is this: Are you an artist, or a craftsman?

Camembert Le Rustique

Le Rustique

I’ll admit it – I’m a cheese whore. I can’t drink milk due to some enzyme my stomach can’t manage to produce, but thank God I can eat everything else that comes from a cow. If the day ever came that I couldn’t eat cheese, you may as well just pass the sleeping pills to me. Yeah, it’s like that. That’s how a cheese whore rolls.

I love discovering new cheeses, especially the off-the-wall “house of funk” type of fromage. Bourdain once expounded upon the glory of the runniest, stinkiest of cheeses, and it became my goal to experience that.

In my search, I found some stinky cheeses, some runny ones, but nothing stinkier or runnier than the farmhouse funkfest that we found in a small shop called “The Cheesemaker’s Daughter” in the square of downtown Sonoma. I don’t remember what that cheese was called, but it was then that I realized where my limits were. With all due respect to the wonderful cheeses The Cheesemaker’s Daughter offers, I’ll stop just short of “bad feet”, for lack of a better phrase. Again, no disrespect. Everything she offered was wonderful.

So today I discover perhaps one of the greatest authentically French rounds of Camembert cheese to ever grace my pallet. From Fromageries Riches Monts in Normandy comes Le Rustique — a mild, creamy, nutty, medium-bodied round of love that had just the right amount of funk to make me feel like I was having a phat-assed picnic on some remote farm in the center of heaven. Pass the Belgian Golden Ale – it just met its mate.

Normandy is the home of Camembert. It all started there. Camembert is made from cow’s milk, and cows that produced the milk for this particular cheese are allowed to graze freely on the lush green pastures of Normandy. This gives Le Rustique it’s authentic flavor.

Oh how I love you, grass of Normandy.

The quality ingredients and the traditional methods used to make the cheese add so much to the richness, that it really brings me back to what I say all of the time about brewmasters. It takes an artist to make a really good beer. It takes an artist to make a very memorable bottle of wine. As well, it takes an artist to bring all of the elements together to make a cheese like this. This gets right to the heart of why I love food, beer, wine, music, and art house movie.

Art. It’s always about art. When it fails to be about art, it fails me entirely. It’s as simple as that. If it’s weird, I’m down with it.

Their web site tells the story:

Our story begins in 1909 when Mr Mallet opened a shop selling farm butter, eggs and poultry. In 1937 he added milk and cream. In 1960 the Jules Hutin dairy bought the business. This was when production of Camembert and butter started.

In 1974 Express Dairy Food bought the dairy and asked the manager, Jean Verrier, to produce a Camembert that was a little out of the ordinary. Drawing on past experience and longstanding Normandy traditions Verrier succeeded in developing the celebrated cheese. Some time later, members of the production team met a paper broker with a large stock of disposable, chequered napkins. They had the idea of using this as the packaging for their cheese. All that was missing was the name. And that is how Le Rustique came into existence …

I warmed the entire round in the oven for a few minutes to soften it, as I tend to do with most bries and rounds of Camembert that we bring home. The rind is snowy white, the center is gooey, soft, and creamy. The nutty, mushroom aroma that lifts off every single swipe of this cheese as I spread it on a chunk of fresh crusty bread leads me to believe that the farmers that made this cheese had me in mind while they were making it. I thank them for that.

I have to wonder if stronger, bolder cheeses appeal more to men than women. Then again, it was a friend’s wife who was the only one who could stomach the “bad feet” cheese that day, so I’m not sure how much weight that theory holds.

If you dig a medium-bodied, creamy cheese with a heavy nutty aroma and flavor, I simply cannot recommend Le Rustique enough. Available at Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and Wild Oats. Or simply visit your local cheese shop and ask for availability.

Pea Ravioli

Pea Ravioli

With a week to go before my anxiously awaited Molecular Cooking class with Chef Michael Young, and my chance to finally meet Jo from My Last Bite and her husband Peter, I just couldn’t wait to try one more thing. It was going to drive me crazy all week if I didn’t at least break out the chemistry and attempt another amateur El Bulli-type dish.

So I re-read Jo’s first post on her class with Chef Young that started all of this madness, and her experience making Pea Ravioli with her nephew Cody. Along with the fruit caviar and carrot foam, this was one of those dishes I’ve always wanted to taste. And I purchased some fresh peas this week, so what did I have to lose?

I read her post and a few others online that also seemed to have been successful for them. I changed a few things from Jo’s recipe, scaled it down a bit and (because they seemed like good ideas) decided to use fresh peas instead of frozen, and use a blender on high speed to mix everything instead of my immersion blender.

I had plenty of time on my hands, so what the Hell, right?

To make the pea mixture, I used:
260 grams fresh peas
325 grams water
3 grams sodium alginate (approximately 1 tsp)

For the calcic bath:
750 grams ice cold water
5 grams calcium chloride (approximately 1 tsp)

To begin, I combined cold water and calcium chloride in a large bowl. This was whisked until the calcium chloride was dissolved, then stored in the refrigerator to keep it cold (the colder, the better).

I shelled my fresh peas until I’d collected 260 grams (about 1 1/2 cups). I brought 2 cups of salted water to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, I added the peas, brought the water back to a boil and cooked for 4 minutes. I took the peas off the heat, drained them, then shocked immediately in an ice water bath for 5 minutes. This is the only way to keep the skins of the peas looking bright green. Otherwise, they’d continue to cook and turn grey.

Then I got to work on the algin solution. I added 325 grams of water and the sodium alginate, and blended with an immersion blender until the sodium alginate had completely dissolved in the water. Then I brought this to a light boil over high heat. I stirred it constantly. Once I let it go 15 seconds without stirring and I noticed it starting to stick. Once I got slow bubbles rolling, I removed it from the heat and allowed it to cool to room temperature.

Once the algin solution was cooled, I strained my cooked peas and added them to my blender. In went the algin solution and I blended it on the LIQUEFY setting until completely smooth.

Now I removed my chilled calcium chloride mixture from the fridge, scooped the pea mixture into a tablespoon measure, set the bottom of the tablespoon measure against the surface of the calcium chloride mixture, then poured the mixture in with a gentle turn of the wrist. Just like Jo said, it magically formed a skin the minute it hit the calcic bath.

The ravioli sat in the calcium chloride bath for two minutes, after which I used a slotted spoon to remove it, drained it as much as possible, and placed it in another bowl filled with cold water to rinse it for about 30 seconds.

I removed it from the rinse with the slotted spoon, tapped the bottom of the spoon dry on a clean towel, gently slid it into the serving spoon and topped with a few grains of Hawaiian sea salt.

Just as advertised, the pea puree is held together by a very thin membrane of it’s own. When you slide it into your mouth, it literally explodes pea puree as you crunch down on the tiny particles of sea salt. What an amazing trick. If you love the taste of fresh peas, you’ll want about 10 of these.

That should hold me over until our class next Sunday. I seriously can’t wait to learn more about this. With the right ingredients, patience, and (as Jo says) enthusiasm, it’s really not that hard to accomplish.


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Episode 32 :: Love & Food

Love & Food

Let’s face facts here – Valentines Day is for rookies and amateurs. You’re not really going to try to make reservations, are you? Seriously? If you’re in the early years of your relationship, sure – do what you’ve gotta do. But the true connection between love and food goes a lot deeper than reservations at a “romantic” restaurant. And really, how much romance is there in a crowded restaurant next Saturday anyway? Even the darkest corner of that sneaky hideaway does not equal romance, my friends.

No, the true balance of love and food is in your kitchen, and that’s the topic of the day. Feeding someone you love makes a true connection between food and love because feeding someone you love makes them feel loved by you, which then leads to the real bottom line. And for all intents and purposes, there’s a very good reason to get good in the kitchen.

Are you following me here?

In this episode:

• Bourdain and Batali on Food & Sex
• The real reason why we’re all sick and allergic to pretty much everything – processed food
• “Watersgate” – Bourdain throws the gloves down on Alice Waters
• Burger King is reaping the benefits of our economic downslide
• Prosciutto in Iowa? Oh Hell yeah!
• Top Chef Season 5 update
• Season 6 of No Reservations, and why I’ve all but lost interest
• Jose Andres’ “Made In Spain” and a connection to Dracula (in good fun, of course)

Listen to Episode 32 now.

Music in this episode by Christophe Goze. Download his song in the iTunes store.

Don’t forget to visit Jo’s site My Last Bite. The woman’s been on an absolute roll lately, and has provided me with loads of new material. Cheers, Jo!